How I learned to love research

Aisles of books at a library

Photo via Visualhunt.

I used to think I didn’t like research. It was, to say the least, frustrating to have to interrupt the scene I was writing to figure out the difference between two kinds of swords, or how long it would take a horse-drawn wagon to go 60 miles (including any necessary breaks), or what the hook holding the pot over the fireplace was called.

It’s a pot crane, by the way.

One of the things I loved about fantasy vs contemporary fiction was that I could make it all up and no one would say, “I’ve been to that city, and what you wrote isn’t accurate.” But as I began to take my writing more seriously, it became evident that no matter WHAT genre you write in, not everything can be made up—you still have to do at least some research.

I would mumble and grumble my way through it, eager to get back to my story.

But then I converted from pantsing to planning my stories, and all that changed. Who knew that it wasn’t RESEARCH that I disliked, but rather the interruption of my workflow that I didn’t like? Seems pretty obvious now, but it was eye-opening for me.

Now I do almost all of my research ahead of time. Here’s my current process: Before I begin writing my novel, I write a pitch for my story, and then a synopsis. The synopsis always reveals the research I still need to do, after which the results will sometimes alter the synopsis. After I have a completed and polished synopsis (a summary of my novel from the beginning to end), THEN I write the novel.

This has dramatically cut back on the times I’ve had to stop writing to figure something out, so I don’t get as irritated. I also end up with better stories with less effort, because it’s easier to rewrite a summary paragraph than to rewrite three full chapters. Final bonus: I write faster when I don’t have to keep interrupting myself.

And now that I research at the beginning, when excitement is running high and I can stop and start more easily, I’m finding that research is fun! I love to learn, and reading or watching videos about topics that educate me and expand my story’s world is so interesting.

Do you enjoy research? In school I had always disliked homework but enjoyed in-class lectures, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that I enjoy watching YouTube videos of an expert discussing something I want to learn. I’d love to hear any tips for how you manage your research or story writing!

Dear new mother

A tired mother comforting a crying child

Photo via Visualhunt.

Dear new mother:

You are tired. I understand.

I understand it well enough to know that “tired” is an understatement. I understand the sudden rage that bubbles up in you, which you struggle to keep quiet under your plastic smile when someone returns your “How are you?” with, “Tired.” I empathize with your seething thoughts of “You don’t even know what tired is!”

But there is something you need to remember: You are not alone.

All the mothers that have gone before you… yeah, yeah, yeah. I see you tuning me out. But listen up, that’s not what I was going to say. So, pay attention.

When it’s the darkest hour of the night and you have a baby too sleepy to nurse but too awake to sleep, so you can’t sleep either and you’re ready to tear your hair out—

God is with you there.

When your husband moans about wanting just one morning to sleep in past 7 am, even though you’re the one who has to get up multiple times a night every night, and then is woken up for the day at 5 am by the children—

God is with you there.

When your two year old is sobbing about ridiculous injustices after a too short of a nap and the baby is crying from exhaustion but refuses to nap anywhere other than in your arms—

God is with you there.

When you’re at your wits’ end and you simply can’t handle another minute of caregiving, but you have to pinch-hit for your spouse who’s in an even worse state than you are—

God is with you there.

When your child is whack-a-mole-ing out of their bed in the evening, even though you’re exhausted and just want them to Go. To. BED!—

God is with you there.

When no amount of “we don’t scream or hit when we have a problem, we talk about it,” and “even if they’re mean first, we don’t be mean back,” will stop your child from repeatedly turning into a rage monster—

God is with you there.

When your child just won’t DO WHAT THEY’RE TOLD and after the umpteenth time you lose it—

God is with you there.

When the nursing is so painful, or the screaming is endless, or when your eldest’s “helping” really isn’t helping, or you’ve been spat up on and pooped on AGAIN—

God is with you there.

When you find yourself crying and begging, “Please God, please,” but don’t know exactly what you’re asking for—

God is with you there.

When you are done—just done—there, too, God is with you.

“He who planted the ear, does he not hear?
He who formed the eye, does he not see?
If the Lord had not been my help,
my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
When I thought, ‘My foot slips,’
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.”

(Psalm 94:9, 17–19; ESV)

So, take comfort. Have hope. Be at peace, sister. I understand.

Better yet, God understands, and he is willing and able to sustain you.

Hallelujah.

Love,
A fellow mother

 
If you’re a mother, can you relate? What were some of the feelings and situations you struggled with at first? If you’re not a mother, what scripture have you found comforting during hard times?

Pitch me your novel

Illustration of Cinderella running away from the ball

Photo via Visualhunt

I was recently challenged to write a pitch for my current work in progress. At first I was told “only thirty words or fewer.” Yikes! That was hard and took me all day to nail it down. Then I was told to write a hundred-word pitch for the same novel. I thought it’d be easier without such a tight limit, but it was even harder for me. There was enough room to bring in more details, but not all of the details. Deciding which subplot to leave out was more difficult than leaving them all out altogether.

After another day’s work I think I managed to pull it off. It ended up being really helpful in pinning down the heart of my story. All of the hazy parts still mulling around in my head are suddenly starting to take shape. I think I might challenge myself to write these at the beginning of every new story.

Here’s what I ended up with. What do you think? Would you read this novel? After reading the hundred-word pitch, do you think I left something vital out of the thirty-word pitch?

Category

YA fantasy (fairy tale retelling) / romance

Thirty-word pitch

The kingdom is in political gridlock after all the royals are assassinated. Who should inherit? Cinderella escapes abuse and ignites social reform in spite of no prince or magic.

Hundred-word pitch

For fifteen years, the kingdom’s been in political gridlock as nobles squabble over who should inherit the empty throne. The lower class’ needs are forgotten in the fuss, which Estella’s stepfamily uses to their advantage. Estella grows up knowing both privilege and suffering. Determined to improve the lives of those she loves, she acquires a job at the palace where she meets Henry, son of the Royal Steward. With his political reach and her heart for the people, they could change the nation. But if their connection is discovered, it could cost Henry the throne—or worse, Estella her life.

 
I’m passing the challenge on to you! Tell me what you’re working on in a pitch. You can write either the thirty-word or the hundred-word pitch (or both like me!). Your choice. I can’t wait to see what you’ve got!

Lessons I’ve learned

A birthday cake

Photo via Visualhunt

This is my birthday week! Is it any wonder that my birthday is in April if I’m named April? You’d think not, but I get asked if it’s true ALL THE TIME. Anyway, in celebration of turning 33 years old, here’s a list of 33 things I’ve learned during my lifetime.
 

1. Nothing beats a good piece of chocolate.

2. Staying up late doesn’t prevent tomorrow from coming.

3. “Please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry” make the world go round.

4. An allergy rash and the chicken pox are NOT the same thing.

5. You can fake confidence until it becomes true confidence, and that’s what most people who seem confident are doing. Yes, even that amazing person who has it all together.

6. You can’t make friends unless you be a friend first.

7. Baking chocolate is NOT worth snitching from your mother’s kitchen when you’ve been denied dessert.

8. Love is a gift of selflessness. You can’t earn it, you can only give it away. Love is an intentional choice that has to be made each day.

9. You will always regret not starting sooner, so even if you’re not ready, make today Day One.

10. If YOU’VE heard every joke and song there is with your name, chances are THEY’VE heard every joke and song with their name, too. Restrain yourself. Don’t make them do the smile, nod, and faux “ha ha” thing that you hate doing when others make a calendar joke.

11. Perfection is the enemy of good. “Done” is better than “excellent but incomplete.”

12. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas unless there are Christmas cookies, candles, seasonal music, and a decorated tree.

13. People are only as beautiful as they are kind.

14. In the things that don’t matter, achievement is more important than effort. In the things that do matter, effort is more important than achievement.

15. You need to keep the heat lower than usual for good results with eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, or pancakes. But keep it higher than usual for anything that needs to be seared or roasted, like steaks, burgers, or veggies.

16. I thought I loved to cook because I love to eat. Turns out they don’t go hand in hand.

17. The best way to get a stubborn person to do what you want is to let them think it was their own idea.

18. Just when you think you’ve figured out how to deal with your kid, they change.

19. The best way to get better at something isn’t necessarily the practice, but rather the commitment to showing up every day.

20. If you say, “I’ll pray for you,” keep your promise. It is not a phrase to be said lightly.

21. Kids’ taste buds are weird.

22. Anger comes from unmet expectations. If you get angry a lot, make your expectations clearer or adjust your expectations.

23. It matters more to be worthy of respect than to be popular.

24. Kindness and friendliness transcend all language barriers.

25. I am more like my mother than I swore I’d ever be. My teenage self would’ve refused to admit it, but it’s a good thing.

26. Being mindful prevents and solves most problems.

27. Your money goes farther if you’re frugal, and you don’t need as much as you think you do.

28. Singing lifts the spirit.

29. You can really embarrass yourself if you quote a movie line the other person doesn’t know and they take it out of context.

30. Medical advice often contradicts itself depending on which country you’re in, since there’s a lot we don’t really know yet about how the body works. A good chunk of what we’re told is cultural tradition. Trust your body to tell you what it needs or if something’s wrong. Doctors are dependable, but they’re not omniscient.

31. Children model what they see, not what they’re told.

32. Don’t start cracking your knuckles because it’s the cool thing to do in fifth grade. It’ll become a life-long habit you’re never able to break.

33. Words are incredibly powerful, more so than most of us give them credit for.

 
Whew! That’s a lot of stuff. And to be honest, some of them I’m still in the process of learning. But now it’s your turn: tell me something you’ve learned and are excited to share about! My kindergartener was very excited to learn the difference between living and non-living things in science class this week. My other son learned to do the monkey bars by himself. He’s very proud!

Type yourself

An Enneagram chart showing the nine personality types

Photo via Sarah A. Downey

I love introspective soul searching and dreaming about possibilities. I also love getting inside another person’s head to better understand what they’re feeling or thinking, or what their motivation might be.

As you can probably guess, I love personality quizzes.

When I was a freshman in college, we were required to take the official Myers-Briggs test. I learned I was an ENFP, but just barely an E. I knew I wasn’t a full extrovert, but figured the results proved I was an ambivert. After all, I loved going out with my friends as much as I loved being alone with a book.

When I was older, I began to question being an ambivert and took the MB test again, albeit an unofficial one online. I was definitely an introvert this time (although not as extreme as my husband). The description of an INFP is definitely more accurate of me.

I think parenthood can push a person’s extrovert/introvert meter toward the introvert direction since being needed by others constantly can be draining on anyone (so, an extreme extrovert might become an average extrovert, and a slight introvert can become an extreme introvert). That certainly was the case for me.

I’d also heard about the Enneagram, but since it cost money to take the official test and I wasn’t required to do so, I never got around to it. But yesterday I came across a link to a free unofficial test, which only took me five minutes to complete. It was enough to suggest my probable type, and since there’s a wealth of information at the Enneagram Institute Web site detailing the method, I was able to read up on it and confidently determine my type.

I’m a type 4—the individualist! It describes me very well, although I don’t tend to fall into depression. But my feelings can definitely run away with me sometimes.

I’m still reading all about it (I need to determine which “wing” I am, and so on), but I’m having fun. You can read about it on the official site too, or read the shortcut version at this Medium article.

After this, my next read will be Anne Bogel’s Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything. I always enjoy my binge reading/research, so I’m looking forward to this!

 
If you’re curious, you can take the 5-minute test as well. What’s your type? Do you like learning about personality types like I do? I find these helpful when getting into the heads of my characters when writing. But mostly I do them because I find them fascinating. I can’t help but type those around me as well, to better understand them.