Just Keep Swimming: Finding Passion and Motivation

Along with the release of Smoke and Ashes my life has been humming along in the background, busier than ever. In the many events, signings, travels, and interviews I’ve been involved with lately, I had loads of wonderful questions, but one really great one… a question about my that has stuck with me over the weeks and helped me to objectively evaluate all life’s exquisite motion.

The question was simple: What motivates you to keep pushing forward?

At the time it was just a question about writing and in that case the answer was simple. I write because I’m drawn to it. It is my passion. It is just as Life Lesson Passionmuch a part of me as the air I breathe. There are days in which I don’t write, in which life steps into the way and blocks me from my passion. Those are the days I feel lost, adrift in a world that is moving fast, changing, and evolving under my fingertips. In a way, writing is the way to experience the changes, the evolution of life and feelings, and the way to process all the information that barrages my thoughts and actions.

I’ve been writing forever. Since I was a child. I didn’t know I was destined to be a writer. I had MANY moments in time in which people pushed me away from writing, even though I had a strength for it (ask me about being falsely accused of plagiarism in high school, but be ready for an earful). So when it came time to decide where I wanted to focus my attention in adulthood, writing wasn’t an option. In my very sheltered and rural world I felt I had only two viable options: 1) Teaching (which would have been great, but I have the patience of a lion trying to peel a banana—a HUGE thank you to all of you out there who have become teachers. NO seriously. Thank you.) or 2) Going into the health care field (this I tried, turns out I also have terrible patience for undeserved whining—yes, please tell me how bad that sliver feels while I’m sitting with a sick child or an elderly woman with two broken hips who is so tough that she refuses her pain meds… please, I dare you).

Eventually I became a mom, focusing on the family and the needs that went along with being an island. I was a safe haven. I supported others around me as they followed their passions and found their callings in life. And I looked at my own, I reflected, I thought of the toughest moments of my short-ish life and analyzed my soul.

I’m adventurous by nature, one of those people who will try anything once—even when fear tries to hold me hostage. Writing was like that. I knew I liked it. It made me feel something beyond being an island. It made me dig at those sore spots, the ones that everyone has—those moments in time that you make the wrong choice, or embarrassed yourself, or made yourself act in a way that was for the sake of others rather than for yourself… there are a thousand of them. And I drew off them. I drew off my fears. I drew off my past failures. And I set pen to paper. Literally. The first novel I tried to write was five pages on a yellow legal pad. I gave up. I was afraid. I was afraid I didn’t have talent. Heck, I hadn’t taken a creative writing course since high school. I was too old and too young to have such frivolous ideas of writing a book. I mean do you know the odds of being published? (That was before I knew anything about the world of Amazon.) No one I knew had the freedom to be a writer—except journalists. And well, frankly I didn’t know any of them either.passion2

All I knew was that I needed to keep pushing. So I started out small. Writing little, unpaid pieces for a small, local startup magazine (which is now not a small magazine, rather a magazine with world-wide circulation and one heck of an editor).

These little things empowered me to finally start and finish my first real novel. It was terrible. (I looked at it the other day and saw some redeemable qualities… a few random gems in a dump of words.)  I sent it in to publishers and received the almost obligatory rejections that all first-time writers get.  After a few months. I saw it for the massive sinkhole it was. I cried. I picked myself up. I joined a writers group. I finally recognized that I had an obsession a passion for the creative process, and I was going to dive in head first.

Fast forward a few years… There has been ample struggle. There is always the fear of rejection. There is always the fear of being judged for your passion (someone refused to come to an event I was hosting recently because as a ‘romance’ author I wasn’t a good example for their child).  Needless to say, there continues to be struggles. The battles change from where they started at the beginning, but day-to-day you must fight. You must dig deep and often sacrifice for your calling. When people try to strip you of your passion, or marginalize it, you must have the strength to carry your head high and let their acidic words drip from you without letting them leave you with too much of a scar (I’d love to tell you to simply let them roll off, but the truth is that we’re human. No matter how old you are, male or female, rich or poor, words will always carry the vitriolic power to leave a mark.)

When you look back and are asked what motivates you the answer must always be simple: it must be the power inside you. It must be the passionate fire that burns away the negative and even in the darkest moments lights your path.

Wherever your passion lies, hold on to it with both hands. Passion is power. And power will always lead to success (often not the kind that you were seeking, but the kind of success that rests in the heart).

Top Ten Truths About Being an Author

I am often asked what is like to write a novel. On this journey of the mind and soul, I have learned a variety of often painful and sometimes pleasant lessons.  So I decided to share a few of my gems in case you are tempted to think about writing a book or if you are just an author looking for a little laughter!

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  1. If you are stuck and can’t decide what to write, drink anything highly caffeinated—don’t worry about the pain in your chest after your fifth espresso, that’s just ideas being born.
  2. Ergonomics is for wimps. If your neck, back, wrists, and eyes don’t hurt after a long day of writing, you are doing it wrong.
  3. Coffee shops are your mecca. Once you accept that you are the stereotype of a writer, you can make great use of any place that has quirky people and uppers floating in the air.
  4. Not talking about your story until it is complete is impossible. It’s like talking about your children, sometimes you just have to share. Your friends are just going to have to accept that your life revolves around little souls and souls that exist nowhere else but in your mind (don’t worry when they call you a border-line schizophrenic, take it like a compliment).
  5. In your marriage, killing a character is an acceptable rule for being in a bad mood; unless it is an antagonist, which is reason for jumping around the house like a mad woman/man.
  6. Sickness will come to the household whenever you are nearing the end of a book deadline. Make sure to get your work done early because nothing promotes a peaceful and harmonious writing environment like the soft scents of Lysol and a child’s feverish face.
  7. Putting your kids to bed early because you have a revelation about your current WIP is not only acceptable but almost required as there is nothing worse than forgetting/not utilizing the muse.
  8. Ideas only come after all of your pens are lined North to South and your chair is tilted in an exact 10 degree angle from your computer screen (or when you are trying to go to sleep and have somewhere to be early the next morning).
  9. It’s normal when you are having a conversation with one of the few friends you have left (after months of being in your writing cave) that everything they say relates to something that you have written. In fact, if this is a true friend, they will love you more for it (even if they are rolling their eyes).
  10. Every character in your book is based on someone you know. We are creatures of habit, why create a character when you have a well-known acquaintance that (not so secretly) loves to dress in drag and only eats yellow food on Wednesdays? HELLO, character quirks!

What about you? What gems have you learned along your journey?

 

*Danica’s next novel, The Curse of Zeus, Book 5 of the Nymph Series will be out Fall 2015!

5 Rules of Being an Enduring Author

I have been writing professionally for several years now. I have seen writers come and go. I’ve seen fabulous talent fizzle under the pressure that comes with the business side of writing and it breaks my heart. So, in an effort to be honest to upcoming authors or those of you who dream of being a writer, I want to share five undeniable rules that can keep you moving down the long road of being an author. road

Rule 1: Follow your heart. Don’t write what you think people want to read. Yes, it is important to be able to market to a certain group of readers (e.g. Vampire lovers), but it is even more critical that you are passionate about what you are writing. I’m a wee bit notorious for writing whatever strikes me, but I have found that my readers have followed. They read my books because each one is created with deep, unwavering passion for the topic and the characters.

Rule 2:Be involved. Writing can be a lone wolf career path. You can sit in an office each day, diligently writing away and working your fingers to bloody nubs, but unless you are out there in the ‘real’ world, people aren’t going to know you exist. No one owes you anything. No one has to be your friend. You need to go out, introduce yourself and find like-minded people. I’ve said it a thousand times, but it begs repeating, I have met some of my dearest friends at writers conferences and readers events. I LOVE talking books with people who are passionate about the world of romance and literature. These are great allies when you are feeling down. These are the people that remind you of why you love writing.

Rule 3:Study. Study. Study. This can mean in the craft of writing in addition to researching your book. It is critically important that you are constantly learning and changing with the times. In just five years, there has been a dramatic shift in publishing and what readers want. In another five years, I can guarantee that it will continue to change just as dramatically. If you are not learning and watching the world around you, you will be left behind.

Rule 4: Grow a thick skin. You are going to cry. You are going to scream. And then you are going to need to step away from your anger or pain and be ready to smile. The act of being an author isn’t easy. You are going to get negative critiques, even more nasty criticism, rejection, and fluctuations. We all get them. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been published or are a New York Times Bestseller. Someone out there is not going to like you or what you write. Elizabeth Lowell said it best, “Whenever you stick your head above the crowd, someone is going to take a shot.” I like to add, “But if you never stand up for what you are passionate about, you will be nothing more than a face in the crowd.”

When I have tough days, I force myself to think about what could come, or better yet, what will  come if I just keep going. I can’t stop to lick my wounds, instead I let them heal in the reassurance that there are better days ahead.

Rule 5:This is by far the most important rule. NEVER STOP WRITING. I have small children, a job, a husband, pets, family (that sometimes puts the fun in dysfunctional), friends, I get sick, sad, happy, crazy (though I try to keep that under wraps as much as possible), and I get bored. I’m human. You’re human. We all have things that require our time and attention; regardless, we have to make time for what we love.

There are many days in the job of writing where it would be easy to just quit. People are cruel. You can’t let them put you down and keep you from your dream, your passion. If you do, you are your worst enemy, not them. So ignore the fervor around you, the neigh sayers and critics, and put your blinders on and write!

You are in control of only one thing–yourself.

 

 

How Writing Saved my Marriage

A few years ago, I was a brand new mom hell bent on doing the best job I could to raise my children—which to me meant I would stay home and raise my children while my husband went to work.  We never meant it as a statement on gender roles or my mental aptitude for success, no.  He and I met young and he was in a stable industry which promised us a secure income (not bathing in hundred dollar bills, mind you).  When I finished college we made a choice that instead of heading off to a nine to five job we would start a family and as soon as our children were in school we could readdress the issue of my job-seeking. 

At the twedding bandime, I thought this was a fantastic idea and to this day I still agree with my initial decision.  It made little sense for me (a trained Archeologist by day and a Telemetry Tech by night) to go after a job that would keep me traveling or force us to move and thus make him give up his secure job. 

After our first child was born, I decided that I wanted to do something for my child and I decided to write a children’s book in honor of their entrance into the world.  Amazingly enough, though I knew virtually nothing about publishing, the book was picked up by a publishing house and my journey as an author began.

During this time, I tried to promote my book (though these were the days before the Facebook and Twitter booms).  I reached out to all the people I knew and pocket sold a fair amount of books.  I loved that in some small way I could contribute financially to our growing family. 

Soon we had a two-year-old and another on the way.  And just as soon as I found out I was pregnant with the second child I soon found out that we were having a miscarriage.  I blamed myself.  I blamed my life.  I blamed the world.  In hind sight I know that it was just one of those things which happens to many women—it was unstoppable.  Against our doctor’s orders we went ahead and got pregnant again—and six months into the pregnancy I was told I would have to be on bed rest for the next four months.  The time was maddening. 

While confined to a bed I considered writing more children’s books, but after having gone through the marketing and distribution of the first book I made a choice—writing children’s books just wasn’t the direction I wanted to go.  I needed more of a mental challenge.  I wanted to write full length fiction—and more than that I wanted to write romance—the genre that I had always wanted to write, but had previously been scared to admit to my friends and family. 

Before I could begin my first romance novel, my second child was born—only a few weeks early and relatively healthy.  The days and nights flew by and soon my husband was back to work and taking care of our family’s financial needs.  I found that I was by myself with two small children all day (he worked nights) while he slept and then was by myself when he went to work and the kids went to bed.  I kept thinking about writing the romance novel of my dreams, but each time I thought “I’m not creative enough…”

Each time I started to pick up the pen I made another excuse as to why I couldn’t do what I wanted.   I began feeling the strains of being a new mom, of being lonely (I didn’t want to be a mom that watched the clock and waited for the exact minute my husband was supposed to be home), of not financially contributing to our family, and I still held wounds from losing our second baby. 

In an effort to follow my heart and to begin the healing process, I started writing short stories and pieces for parenting magazines—it was a comfortable move from children’s fiction to family-centered non-fiction.  I loved writing the pieces and before long found I had a small cult following.  I then won a writing contest in which I talked about the emotional rollercoaster which followed the loss of a pregnancy. 

That win pushed me.  Someone…well not just someone, but many…loved what I wrote.  That day I sat down and started writing my first novel. 

I had never written a full length novel.  I’d never written creative fiction—not even in college. But I knew it was what I wanted.  I wanted to create a work of fiction and contribute intellectually to the world.  I wanted to show those who thought I was just a stay at home mom who was strapped to the kitchen stove—I could do more (during this time someone—not my husband—told me that they would never have married a woman like me as I had no earning potential).  Nothing drives me more than being put down.  I always cheer for the underdog. 

The first book I wrote took me a year to write.  I sent it out with the blind hope that someone else would love what I had to write. 

The book failed.

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It failed big.

One editor told me I should go back to college (oh, how I wish I was kidding).  I cried in my husband’s arms and hated that I had given up a year to write the book.  I hated the thought that I had spent time which I could have given to my children in order to follow my dream.  I felt selfish and stupid.  I pitied myself and cursed my dream.  I fell back into the loneliness of being a stay at home mom with a husband who worked nights. 

And then one day my husband asked me what I wanted to do.  As much as the wounds of failing hurt, I told him I still wanted to be a writer.  I didn’t care if I ever made money, but I wanted to see my name on the cover of a book in print.   Just as before, he promised his love and support.  And in that moment I realized what a wonderful man I had married.  Here he was accepting that I may never get published, that I may never contribute anything to the family, and yet he knew I was going to require many hours in which he would need to take the kids and keep the household in order so that I could write and focus on my dream.  He promised that we would work together and he would support me in whatever I wanted to do—regardless of the outcome. 

Again I was barraged with insults from strangers and family alike—why would I keep on doing this if I had failed?  Why didn’t I just stick to children’s fiction?  The best—That I didn’t care about my family because I was selfishly going after my own foolish desires (talk about pouring salt on a wound).   I drove on.  I joined professional organizations for romance authors.  I joined critique groups.  I spent our money on going to conferences so that I could take more classes and talk to authors.  I gave my dream everything I had. 

I wrote another book.  I submitted.  I waited for the rejection letters/hate mail.  Because this isn’t fiction I have to admit the letters started coming and I was faced with the possibility that once again I may have failed.  But then I received an offer… and another…and another…and another…

Fast-forward a couple of years to today.  As I sit here and write this I am proud to say that my family is stronger than it has ever been.  My husband still works nights, but in a funny turn of events I now look forward to his going so I can focus on writing.  I have a book out in print and several more as e-books.  I have made the bestsellers list on different occasions.  I have signed a multiple book contract with Crimson Romance for The Nymph Series (the second book comes out May 6 entitled Montana Mustangs).  I have met several amazing editors in person who I thought I would never meet.  I have met several famous authors and been absolutely star-struck.  I have won more awards for my writing.  I have taken a job at a publishing house.  I have started to teach classes to new authors.  I’ve been featured in The Independent, the Missoulian, several other newspapers/magazines, and USA Today.  I’m succeeding at following my dream. 

I have to admit that I have more dreams.  I think once you take one step you must take another or you will only stand still.  My biggest dream?  One day I hope that I will make the USA Today and New York Times Bestsellers lists. 

Yet, if this dream is not fulfilled I’m okay.  I have the knowledge that I have had the courage to stand up against neigh Sayers and the fortitude to survive heartbreak.  And most of all I have the most amazing husband in the world and I know that if I wouldn’t have had him and his support I would have never had the strength to follow my dreams.  So to him—Thank you, you are incredible.