Fiction Friday: Why I’ve been struggling to write fiction lately

Several times in the last couple of weeks, I’ve started a blog post about why I have been struggling to write fiction recently.

Each time I’ve started the post, I’ve stopped because no matter how write out my feelings, it comes out accusatory and whiny, with me alternating between defense and offense.

I know it’s not wise to try to explain something while a hurt is still raw, but my blog readers have been with me through many ups and downs, in my writing and in my personal life, so I feel like I need to share a little with all of you about what has been weighing me down lately. If it comes out as over dramatic to you readers, I totally understand.

A few weeks ago, I somehow got tossed into a situation where a last minute topic was needed for a writing group I was in. Long story short, my writing was tossed up in front of a bunch of people and critiqued as a “learning moment” for other writers.

This type of critique was something I had been avoiding for a while now, but especially recently because of the health issues and personal issues I’ve been going through. The author who conducts the critiques is very good at what she does but she’s also pretty hard on writers and I wasn’t in a good place emotionally for that.

I had explained that to one of the leaders of the group (a very sweet woman with stresses of her own) that I could not currently handle one of her critiques. I can only guess this leader was not fully listening when I expressed the desire to not be critiqued since, much to my horror, my work appeared on the screen during the weekly meeting/presentation. This weekly presentation is held with somewhere around fifty other women in attendance. Lines and red marks were scratched through most of the chapter being shared, with several comments off to the side listing of all my writing sins.

I didn’t ask for this critique. What I had actually suggested for the session was for the author to answer advice on how to handle what critiques on our writing. I had recently received what I felt was a critique, but it was sent privately so that made it easier to digest.

I wanted to know how to choose what to keep and what to dismiss from a critique, especially when it comes from someone who is not a professional author. I thought that my situation would be used to teach others how to handle a critique, not that my work would be critiqued again in a much more public setting. Even though the critique was anonymous, I knew many of the women watching knew the work was mine because I had mentioned my difficulty in processing part of the original critique.

I ended up turning off the second critique before it really got underway after it was launched by several minutes of mocking comments about my choice of metaphors. I did not feel these comments were constructive. Instead they seemed to be setting up what I gathered would be several more minutes of unhelpful comments. The unhelpful remarks continued until I felt like I was openly being mocked by the two women, one with 20 years of experience and another with a few.  I knew I was in a poor place emotionally to handle any more mocking.

I turned off the session and tried instead to mentally prepare myself for a doctor’s appointment I had the next day that I hoped would help me with some of my longstanding health issues.

It’s one thing to know that your work is cliché and rather silly but it is entirely different to be told that in front of a group of fellow writers on a live feed while two women cackle and laugh at the absurdity of your writing, while not actually calling it absurd. (Clarification here: it felt like cackling and laughing at me but I’m sure they don’t feel that’s what they were doing. They most likely thought they were being lighthearted and trying to make light of a situation because they were preparing to eviscerate my writing for “educational purposes”.) I had watched this happened the month before to another writer and knew I didn’t want it to happen to me. It was extremely disheartening to see her on a video chat a week later looking completely downtrodden about her writing and like the joy of writing had been completely sucked out of her.

 I was told later that I shouldn’t feel bad about my writing flaws because MANY writers do the same thing I did. I felt like I was being told that not only was I an idiot, but I was an idiot among many other idiots.

“You are cliché and silly but so are many authors,” is how I read a “somewhat apology” sent by one of the women in the group after I canceled my subscription. I say somewhat because the apology was more along the lines of “sorry if the critique of your work displeased you.” Yes, the word displeased was actually used. To be honest, it was not the critique that “displeased” me. I never had the chance to hear the critique. It was the fact I was critiqued when I never asked for the critique and that the so-called critique seemed more mocking than instructional.

I received the replay of it all a few days later, hoping to watch it again and see if I had over reacted. I was sure I had because many people have told me over the years that my feelings are wrong, my reactions are wrong, I’m too sensitive, too easily offended, too…whatever I am too much of that day. And sometimes they are right.

Unfortunately, the replay had been edited to remove the critique, as if it had never happened. I would hope that this was out of kindness, knowing I was upset, but I would instead guess it was for self-protection to make sure this author and her writing business didn’t look bad. I really hope my second theory is wrong because I do believe these women truly believe they are writing and serving in the name of Christ.

I would not disparage these women or the writing group based on this situation. Even if they were careless with their words, the program is a good one, offered at an amazing price and it is filled with wonderful Christian women who truly mean well and support each other. This is why I am not naming the group here. I would recommend the group to other writers with one caveat — make sure you communicate better than I did and if you ask for a critique be prepared to be absolutely shredded. That’s okay. The shredding can help you improve after your wounds heal.

In the end, the proof I needed to show myself that I had been overly sensitive was gone. So, there I sat in a weird kind of limbo of wanting to be wrong (because, hey, maybe I really was way too sensitive this time. I can totally own up to that and even now I feel I probably was.) but really not sure since I had no way to confirm what I had actually heard and what else was said after I logged out of the meeting.

Needless to say, all of this has taken a mental toll on me in relation to my fiction writing and why that may not be positive, what has been a positive is that it has brought me back to the path God originally set me on.

Even though the writing group was wonderful in many ways, part of me wonders if by joining it, I overstepped God’s desire for what role writing would fill in my life.

“I never told you to do this,” is the sentence kept popping up in my head when I first joined the group.

I promptly ignored it every time.

After the forth of fifth time this sentence popped into my head, I decided that maybe God was trying to get a message across to me. If he was, what was his message? He never told me to do what? Try to improve my writing? Try to make what I enjoy also something I could make money from – even if it was only a little?

It isn’t that I think God doesn’t want us to improve and get better at what we enjoy doing. What I do think is that for me, God was, and is, saying he never told me to push this writing journey to the point where I hate it as much as I ended up hating photography years ago.

I’ve said before that when it comes to writing I hold on to the words “just have fun.” It’s what drove my writing when I first started sharing it on the blog. I wanted to have fun sharing and connecting with my blog readers, focusing on something other than my medical issues or my loneliness. It served that purpose but then I began to believe that it needed to be something more if it was going to take up so much of my time. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be better at the activity you enjoy but God didn’t ask me to ruin my love of writing while trying to improve.

A lot of Christian authors would say they feel God has called them to write fiction because has called them to change and grow his kingdom with their writing. This may be true — for them.

However, I don’t  feel that way about my writing, or at least my fiction. For me writing fiction is about having fun and entertaining a little. Do I want to share messages of hope, redemption and forgiveness in my fiction? Yes. Do I feel like maybe God wants me to do that? I think so, but I also have never looked at my fiction as some grand ordination from God that makes me something special and my writing a gift to humanity. My writing is fun, silly, probably cliché and childish and that’s fine with me.

I think a lot of Christian fiction authors feel their stories and books are going to change the world and maybe they will. I have never felt that way about my writing, though. Could my writing change a few hearts and minds here and there? Yes, I hope so, but like I told a friend this week, part of me feels like God didn’t give me the passion for writing so I can change the world. He gave it to me to help change me first and foremost.

I need to change in many ways, I am the first to admit that. I need to change my attitude and my tendency to be offended, and the way I feel hurt so easily. I don’t think that’s all that needs to be changed in me, though. The change I believe God has wanted me to make is in how I think about life.

 He doesn’t want me to see life as something where rules are followed and others are appeased at the sacrifice of my own mental well being.  He doesn’t want me to see it as a place where I don’t fit in and I am never good enough. He wants me to see the world as somewhere where we all have our place, even if it isn’t at the front of the crowd or the same place as others. God wants me, and you, to know that he placed us where he placed us for a reason and sometimes that reason may not be as somber or as serious as we think.

Sometimes God places us where he placed us because he simply wants us to have fun, to have joy, to look beyond the challenges and realize that not everything has to be perfect or polished.

Sometimes life and what we do in it simply needs to be fun.

All this being said, I hate that this post sounds like I don’t welcome critiques of my work, especially when I ask for it. I wholeheartedly appreciate the written critique I was given. I was merely trying to process it and how it should lead to changes in my work when the second, more public critique, slammed into me. I will definitely be asking for critiques of my work again in the future and I am open to them, even if they are harsh. Harsh can help me improve. I simply don’t know if I think public harsh criticisms are all that helpful to writers who aren’t career-driven but are instead fun-driven when it comes to their fiction.

49 thoughts on “Fiction Friday: Why I’ve been struggling to write fiction lately

  1. See if you can find a copy of Brenda Ueland’s “If You Want to Write”. This may help you deal with “fussy-mussy” criticism. It helped me over that hump.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your feelings and experience here. I feel like that’s the beautiful thing about WordPress, we can usually share and find connection and support.

    Always remember that a critique is really just someone’s opinion and therefore we don’t have to agree, there’s nothing factual about an opinion. I love what you said here—part of me feels like God didn’t give me the passion for writing so I can change the world. He gave it to me to help change me first and foremost.
    I can do relate to that comment.❤️

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  3. *Correction: I agree with the principle of focusing on the happenings in our country. I do (not) and will not agree on this: exhibiting a disregard to ‘human’ suffering no matter where the suffering is happening. We are a human specie first and foremost. Period.

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  4. That incident Lisa, left me paralyzed for a few days after.

    I’d stop (just like you described you did as well), and I would question my own logic! ‘Was I in the wrong?! Did I say something offensive?! Was it ‘my fault’ for being too too nice and respectful?! Did he feel I was perhaps ‘a threat’ due to my creative suggestions and questions?!’…and all that

    I basically asked the group, their thoughts about what is going on in Shanghai?! As the news shook me but I couldn’t fully trust what I was seeing in the news.
    The host immediately cut me off ‘oh we cannot worry abt ‘those ppl’. We must worry abt what is happening in our backyard and focus on our country’.
    I agree with him, and very respectfully explained ‘I am simply curious of if you guys trust the validity of this news!’

    Well, he lectured and lectured again, and dragged his response to bait me into interrupting (just honestly felt like it, as I maybe nice, but I’m not stupid’. When I didn’t interrupt, he had to finally stop, and tried skipping me. I interjected to explain my intention again. He cut me off again. Was all so bizarre

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  5. This hit home to me. I had a similar experience last week. It wasn’t in a writing group. But the ‘trauma’ it caused me, was a complete shock on its own. Again, it was also public, an ‘audio’ public. A discussion group if you will.

    I felt humiliated. Especially I did not deserve the outburst that took place. I am sure, as I know it deep in my heart, that I was kind and respectful. However, another participant felt ‘I was being cut off by the host, and decided to confront his treatment of me’, he denied it, then when I very respectfully expressed ‘listen guys, I have no intention of causing any division here. I like your group and let’s just move on. Perhaps I am more suited to be a listener than a speaker’! He immediately became hostile, ‘THEN DROP DOWN TO A LISTENER!!’….Wow! I honestly couldn’t believe his tone! My response was a quiet ‘I’m sorry!!’, to express my shock at what I just heard. He, on the other hand, took it literally and said ‘NO YOU’RE NOT SORRY!’

    The lady who felt I initially needed defending jumped in again, trying to stand up for me. I, on the other hand, sat there feeling..numb! It felt, they were arguing about me, as if I no longer existed. It’s hard to explain. So I signed off. It was painful to listen any longer. Then immediately deleted my entire account and never to return.

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    • Oh wow! That’s awful! Sadly, no one stood up for me on this one and later seemed to act like I was in the wrong. It was strange but expected in some ways.

      I’m so sorry all that happened to you. It must have been so embarrassing and for that other person to tell you not to participate – I mean if that’s what the group was for then why even have a group? So odd! I’m glad that one person tried to help.

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      • I’m sorry you felt alone in that group, but if any consolation, ‘the group’ seemed to take the host’s side based on (what I believe), is a sad human notion these days. I call it ‘ganging up on the weak, just like uncivilized mammals and birds usually do’. I was grateful for that lady standing up for me yes, however, watching the ‘thumbs up, and hearts emojis, was honestly traumatizing as if it was happening to someone else’! It was all too quick!

        Lisa, I need to apologize for not being here lots lately. It’s been a tough year just like it has been for you, and many others I’m sure!

        I value your blog. In fact, you are probably the only one I still curiously (and respectfully) follow. I hope you forgive me.

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        • Oh, gosh, Kat. Don’t apologize for that! We’ve all been absent in more ways that we like. I haven’t been visiting blogs as much and forgetting whose blog I visited and didn’t. I’ve been completely out of it with everything going on and am still behind from the two months I had from having and recovering from Covid. LIfe happens! No need to apologize!

          I’m sure glad there were no emojiis during my critique. lol.

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        • I hope it’s all onward and upward for you Lisa. I hope and pray for complete healing. Your deep wisdom and God given ‘ever so lovely (good) and sweet’ nature, will guide you through it. You are going to recover from the last bit of it all. God will not forsake all that goodnesses you harness inside.

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  6. Pingback: Sunday Bookends: Cold weather continues and good books lined up and finished | Boondock Ramblings

  7. Oh, gosh, Lisa, what a horrible experience and what a horrible thing for that group to do! It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a writing group, but I definitely don’t recall shredding a writer’s work being a part of it. Writers are all in the same boat, so there’s just no reason for it, and definitely not when some requested it not be done. Critiques can be wonderful, but it sounds like what you got was just criticism, and not anything I’d take seriously anyways. You write what makes you happy! It definitely makes me really happy to read your stories, and I love how invested I get in the lives of your characters. I don’t know what purpose your fiction is meant to play, but I will say it’s been a huge pleasure to read over the past couple (few? I can’t even remember what year it is anymore) years and has been just the ray of hope I’ve needed to believe in people. Writers can seem oddly judgmental to me, nit picking at things that really don’t matter much. As a reviewer who also reads a lot of reviews, I can safely say there are a lot of well-written books and a lot of not well-written books, but there’s always someone who loved it just the way it was. Fiction reading is subjective and it will find its way into the hands of those who need it, just the way it is. But, absolutely, the writing group shouldn’t have done that; most writers have been thin skinned at one point or another and doing what they did just feels mean to me, but, then again, I’m very thin skinned myself and just couldn’t help but take offense at what they put you through. I hope you reach a better space soon! On a bit of a selfish note, I keep hoping for a new fiction piece every Friday.

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    • I really do think there was a misunderstanding about it all. I feel bad that this came off like these were horrible people. I mean it was hurtful to me but I am in a bad spot emotionally these days because of the rough time I’ve been having physically (among other things) but most people could have handled that better I’m sure.

      I think the way they do it publicly isn’t really supportive because it offers the opportunity for the women speaking to riff off each other and sound like they are mocking. I will be asking for critiques in the future and I truly had no problem with someone saying they don’t like my work and why – it was how they seemed to be snickering and looking down on me and on other writers. Like I said in another comment – I watched them do this to a couple other writers and it was so awful to watch that I didn’t want to be a part of that.

      The members seem to act like it is a “right of passage” but I didn’t join a sorority, I joined a group to quietly learn how to write better. I wasn’t prepared for hazing, so to speak. Lol.

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      • When it comes to romance novels, I know I complain a lot about how annoying all the misunderstanding and miscommunication, but your experience seems like perfect proof that it does happen, and it doesn’t have to be part of a romance. Misunderstandings can be so hurtful, but I think you handled it a lot better than I would have in your situation. And I hope you’re in a much better time now.

        I don’t think I would have thick enough skin for a public critique and just find it completely wrong for other writers to be seemingly looking down on other writers. It doesn’t feel supportive at all. What are writers supposed to be learning when the people critiquing them are snickering?

        Definitely not the kind of group I’d like to join! Just writing a first draft should be a rite of passage enough. No need to be mean about pointing out errors and problems. Haha, I like your analogy, though!

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    • I also liked what you said here: “As a reviewer who also reads a lot of reviews, I can safely say there are a lot of well-written books and a lot of not well-written books, but there’s always someone who loved it just the way it was. Fiction reading is subjective and it will find its way into the hands of those who need it, just the way it is.”

      I feel the same way. I’ve read some books that weren’t that great but for some reason I fell in love with the story and the characters so I ended up liking the book.

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  8. Dear Lisa
    I will surely keep praying for you in this process. And I have felt so similar about my own writing–that it is just as much for God to show me my own heart, perhaps even more so, than to win over the whole world. But I feel that the best stories come from that very place. I think that’s why I’ve always been drawn to your writing. I’m so sorry you had to go through that kind of “shredding.” But it kind of reminds me of the “mocking” Doctors I had in the first several years of my chronic illness diagnosis. They were so unkind, and so arrogant. And yet, through that process God deepened my trust in what HE says about me. And He let me see how often in the past I just minimized my own experience. I love your authentic writing, and I don’t feel your stories are cliche’ at all! I’ve read (or stopped) too many of those! So I will keep praying for God to shower you with His healing grace, and to guide you in the purpose that He has for you. Hugs & blessings to you, dear friend!

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    • Thank you, Bettie. Sadly, I’ve had to go through those situations with doctors too. The being mocked for being “an anxious person” started when I was quite young. A few times I proved doctors right that I really was having the issues and at least that stopped the doubts in some ways.

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    • Oh and thank you for the prayers. I hate that this post came out whining and like I can’t handle criticism of my work. I really would have liked to have heard more of what the person said about my actual work. I got too stuck on the mocking and knew I wasn’t in a good place for that. Helping me improve is one thing but laughing at me was another. Of course, I know that just because I felt they were mocking me it doesn’t mean they really meant to do that. I’m sure they weren’t thinking of it that way and if they had been able to see the looks on the faces of those who could hear them maybe they would have realized how they sounded. Good people, though, truly. There is so much good in them and I sure know I’ve made things sound wrong many, many times. I was hurt, but I know that the hurt will only make me stronger in the long run.

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      • Im sorry I’m so late in responding to this note, Lisa! I did not feel you were whining in this post, at all. I felt you were being honest with your own feelings about how you were treated. And I so agree with you that a proper critique should not involve laughter or mocking. But yes, you are also right in acknowledging that we’ve all failed at getting things right. That’s why it’s so important to be honest, so that we can learn what the Lord would want to teach us. I so appreciate your open sharing about how God is with you through all these hard places. And I’m so grateful we can pray for each other!

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  9. Constructive criticism is one thing, and of course, writers need that to improve and become aware of how to write better. But to “critique” in public someone’s writing when consent was not given just sounds very inappropriate to me. And honestly, it sounds condescending too. Some of the Christian fiction out there really isn’t that great. I get it, writers need to improve that. But not to the point of tearing someone down. After all, God’s Word tells us, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica: “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” I know I’m taking that verse out of its context, but as fellow believers in Christ, we are called to build one another up, not tear down. It saddens me to think what happened to you was in a “Christian” writers group.

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    • I hate that it was Christians as well, but I think these women are trying to shape writers into being traditionally published authors and they feel that to do that they need to break their writing down to fit a certain style. I do feel they believe they are doing what they should do but this situation just got a little bit out of hand and I know that I am in a very sensitive spot in my life right now so I may have just taken a lot of it wrong. I wish I had communicated more firmly that I didn’t want my work critiqued in that way in that setting, at least at this point in my life. They really are good people. Perhaps they shouldn’t have joked the way they did because it came off as mocking to me, but I don’t think they are horrible Christians. They simply got wrapped up in the moment. I’ve done this myself in the past and while I didn’t mean to hurt people, I’m sure I did.

      And I need a lot of work in my writing. I truly do. Right now I’m just having fun and goofing off a bit. My work is not award winning. My writing and plotting can be so much stronger and someday it will be. Right now, though, I’m learning and I guess that means I am learning the hard way. One thing I’m learning? I’m okay with not being a best-selling author. That’s way too much pressure for me at this time in my life.

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  10. As writers we pour our hearts into our words-it’s a piece of us. To have a group of people critique you so openly and without your consent sounds horrendous. I’m sure I’d want to curl up in a ball and never write another word publicly again if that happened to me. It sounds like it wasn’t done in a way which felt safe and kind. Hugs to you and please keep writing. We all need your words.

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    • I’m at that curl up in a ball stage thing right now. Sigh. I knew when I sent the few pages a couple hours before the presentation that it would be a disaster but I had hoped she wouldn’t have time to critique it because of the short time frame. I should have known that she works fast and can make mince meat out of the work of others within seconds. I just thought I was going to be told told to keep or toss from a critique. I guess she felt the original critique didn’t go far enough in saying how awful I was so she should add some more? Lol. I don’t know really but I know that usually these ladies mean well and are trying to instruct and lift up and not tear down. My perception of it will probably be much different down the road — though I can’t watch it again and decide if my perception should be different since they edited it out. 🤷🏻‍♀️

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      • Everything about that experience sounds defeating and definitely not instructive. I’ve been in critique groups and we’ve always been told to treat the material with kindness and respect. I can tell simply from reading your blog that you can write. Crafting a fictional story is difficult and layered. Good critique should point out what you did well and then highlight where the writing can be improved. It should be challenging without painful. Definitely not made into “mince meat” in seconds. The fact she edited it out is painful. Ouch. Did she reach out to you to apologize? If not, I’d find a new group if I was you.

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        • No. She did not. One of the other women did but she said she was sorry I was upset not really that they were wrong. She said I took it wrong not that they handled it wrong. The main woman is a powerhouse in CF, I don’t think she has time to apologize. Lol. She’s a fast-paced businesswoman in the middle of a new series that will be another best seller. One thin-skinned writer is the least of her concerns. That sounds like I’m being caustic but she really can’t stop for everyone who feels offended by her doing something she felt was helpful. I didn’t hear all the criticism so there may have been some positives tossed in. Not really sure. The woman who apologized said what she saw “seemed fun.” 🙄

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        • Yikes! I don’t think anyone should be so big they can’t apologize for a misstep-especially within the Christian community. Even if she doesn’t agree it was harsh, the fact you perceived it as such, at the very least deserves an apology. It’s simply unkind.

          The other woman sounds like she’s dismissing your feelings and trying to reframe them to fit the narrative of how she perceived things. Again, it’s simply unkind.

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        • And I am taking a break from groups for now but I do want to get back to that and critiques. I don’t want to be afraid of them and I do want to improve. I just prefer the critique be a little less public next time. Lol

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  11. I was going to copy and paste some of what you wrote here, but then I realized that if I were to copy everything that connected with me in this post my comment would be WAY too long. Isn’t it funny how we sometimes think we have to change the world in order for a pursuit to be worthwhile? Recently, I began writing fiction and I sensed that God actually wanted me to use it to explore some of my ‘darker’ feelings. Like you said, I think this is primarily for my own benefit. And in the end, others may benefit from it as well. It’s not always about having that perfectly canned Christian message. I love a writer who feels real. Maybe there are other readers who are looking for the same thing. And to finish off I will paste my favorite thing that you said, although it was so hard not to just repaste your whole article! “He wants me to see the world as somewhere where we all have our place, even if it isn’t at the front of the crowd or the same place as others. God wants me, and you, to know that he placed us where he placed us for a reason and sometimes that reason may not be as somber or as serious as we think.” Absolutely loved that. 😊

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    • Also, I was wondering, how long in word counts approximately are your novels? I’ve read that a novel should be 80,000 words. I don’t know if I can get past 30,000, LOL! I know none of this is about ‘shoulds’ anyway, but I was just curious, if you’re comfortable sharing.

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      • My novels are currently too long for my liking. 😂 The Farmer’s Daughter was 100,000 words and my latest book is about the same. The one before this current one was about 90,000. I’m pretty wordy I guess. Ha! 😂 My editor is currently cutting it down for me and I may chop it further after I get it back too.

        If you feel you don’t have enough for a novel, you could always write a novella. Anything under 40,000 is considered a novella length from what I have read. Some shorter novels are between 50,000 and 75,000 words. I hope to make future books somewhere between that – both for my sake and the sake of the reader.

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    • Every time I go to write right now I second guess everything. I also hate my current book and want to scream at it. I am in quite a mood with fiction writing at the moment.

      I have a feeling anything you write will be wonderful.

      I really worried about writing all this. I just didn’t want it to sound like anyone involved was vindictive or mean or like I didn’t think my work needs work (because does it!). Most of it was a total misunderstanding and the more time that goes by the more I realize it. We need people to look at our work to critique it because we are too close to it. I get that. It was just handled in a bit more of a public way than I could handle at that time.

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      • Yes, I’m in a (small) critique group as well and have found it really helpful, but if my writing had been treated the way yours was I would feel terrible too. It’s like me with my music; I’ve felt discouraged for so many years and have only now begun to heal and dare to touch the piano again. The creative impulse can be a fragile thing. And yet, can produce amazing results even with an imperfect player/writer…as we are all so imperfect. I still say, what matters is the authenticity. It seems reasonable to me to give ourselves time to heal and sort things out and wait for God to breathe his life into our creativity again. It is a gift from Him, after all. ❤️

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