“Write what scares you”
…is an oft-quoted bit of writing advice. It has been said in numerous ways by many people. If you are unaware of this, type it into a search engine such as Google or Pinterest and see what comes up. 🙂
Most times this bit of advice points to spilling out your heart and delving into the things that frighten you to say, think about, or reveal. And it is good advice that matches well with one of my favourite quotes on writing by William Wordsworth. This is it on this meme >>
Filling my stories with things which are close to my heart and with the emotions I feel when considering a situation has always been one of my goals. I want my writing to have purpose. I know that what I write — sweet romance — is not considered by some to be ‘serious’ writing. (As if somehow being light or happy negates intellect. arches a disbelieving brow) However, no matter your form of writing or your topic of choice, all writing should be done with purpose. In fact, knowing your purpose is one of those things we teach when teaching writing.
Having said all that and before I end up wandering down some tangent to my purpose in writing this post today, let me say that I am not going to approach this advice to write what scares you from the normal trajectory. (Is anyone truly surprised that I am going to take an approach that is different than normal? If you know me at all, you shouldn’t be. LOL)
I was chatting with an author friend a while ago while I was in the beginning phases of writing a story. I was staring at a blank page – the file where I write my new words before I paste them into my main book document. I knew what I wanted the story to be about. I knew the main goals and desires of my characters. And I wanted to do those things justice in such a way as to honour both the concepts by sharing them in a thoughtful, yet entertaining and plausible fashion, and the readers who would read this future book by delivering the story in a way that would give them a satisfying reading experience. (You know the type where the characters become like friends who you miss when the story ends and whose fears and triumphs are a shared experience?)
And that’s when this bit of writing advice, “write what scares you,” popped into my mind. Fear was what was holding me back…again. You see, this was not a new phenomenon for me. I tend to feel this same fear at some point or, more accurately, at many points during the writing process because being a writer can be a frightening thing.
Think about it. As a writer, everything I write and share with readers is subject to scrutiny, criticism, and rejection from my audience. That in and of itself can be scary stuff. It can keep people from ever sharing their writing. It kept me from sharing mine for a time until my husband threatened to share it for me. (I think he was tired of my “it’s not good enough” comments about why I was not sharing it with readers.)
However, the fear I felt was more than that. For me (and likely most authors), there is this ever-present fear of failing myself and my characters’ story. And that, in turn, would mean I am failing my readers — not being rejected by them but failing them.
So what did I do? I wrote.
Did the fear disappear? No. As with most stories, that worry dragon has just hung out in the room with me and occasionally, attempted to grow big and bossy, and I have done my best to ignore him or to tell him to button his lip because sometimes I just have to write what scares you — no matter what he says.
As I am writing this post, I can’t actually remember which story it was that was scaring me this particular time. It was likely one of the three on which I am still working (and which are still terrifying me on a regular basis). Those three stories are as follows:
Her Secret Beau (my current Sweet Tuesdays story and book three in my Touches of Austen sweet Regency romance series)
Persuading Miss Mary (my current Thursday’s Three Hundred story and book four of my Marrying Elizabeth series)
Addie: To Wager on Her Future (book five in my Other Pens, Mansfield Park series)
Today, I’m going to focus on Addie’s story as my “scary” story of choice. This story has reached the point of first-round edits, which are done by me. This is where I decide if the story is to a point where I wish to send it off to any other editor. Normally, this round goes quickly as I have been doing some editing during the writing process. However, this time is different. Something felt like it was missing when I came to the conclusion of the story. Each chapter was good, but the story on the whole, in my estimation, did not feel right.
Well, I slept on the feeling — sort of. My mind was a little too active to sleep as well as it should have. 🙂 Then, in the morning, I consulted with a couple of writing friends who gave me some suggestions about possible story items to be considered, and then, I got the advice to just read it through. So, I did — well, actually, my computer read it to me as I worked on creating a cover for the story. It took me six chapters to get the cover to where I wanted it, and another chapter before the lightbulb went off.
Remember how I said above that I want to fill my stories with the emotions I feel when considering the events in a story? Those emotions are what connects us as readers to the characters and make us care about the outcome of the story. As I was listening, I did not feel the connection I am used to feeling. I heard entertaining events, there seemed to be trouble around every corner, and I felt some concern for the characters. However, it wasn’t enough. And, honestly, that was extremely unusual for me.
(FWIW, I have analyzed why this might have happened, and there are several factors which I believe contributed to this, but I am not going to get into those here. 🙂 However, knowing this information should help me avoid this occurring in the future.)
So what does an author do when she discovers that something is missing in her story? Why she edits, of course. She pushes aside that worry dragon who is saying “See. I told you,” and she rolls up her proverbial sleeves and wades into the story intent on improving it.
I have only just begun this process, and I can already see and feel the difference. Would you like to take a look at the improved, though not perfectly proofed, beginning of Addie’s story? If so, keep reading. 🙂 This long excerpt will take you right up to the meeting of our hero and heroine.
A sheep bleated as clouds floated overhead. The sun was warm and the smell of dew dampened grass still clung to the edges of the breeze. However, all the perfectness of this spring morning was lost on Adela Atwood. Her focus was where it nearly always was — on a horse. This particular horse was a newcomer to the area and even from a distance, he was a beauty.
“Look. See how he rises from his seat just before his horse begins to fly down the course?” Addie only spared a glance for her companion. She would not be distracted from watching such a fine beast and rider. How she wished she was still allowed to ride astride instead of constrained by society to ride aside. It was not that one could not cover a great deal of ground in a short amount of time while seated like a proper lady. It was just that one could not stand in her stirrups and urge her horse to thunder across the ground as the horse she was watching did.
“That.” She spared her friend a second glance. “That is what James needs to do. He rises but not so high. Nor does he lean so far forward. Silverthorne’s horses are fine animals, but they do not show as well as they could. If one – just one — of our horses could place near the front of the field — first or second, we could charge much more for the stallion’s services.”
It was perhaps not the sort of thing with which her aunt Edith would say a proper lady should concern herself, but her father would not reprimand her. Whenever her aunt visited, she was forever scolding Addie’s father that Addie was given far too much freedom and would never make a good match if she continued as she was. Her father would always give his sister a look which said she was speaking out of turn and reply that he wagered she was wrong.
“But your brother will not listen to you,” Susan Price reminded her, “for, to him, you know nothing of horses.”
Addie groaned. “He has become such a ninny.”
He had not always been a ninny. At one point, he had been a great friend and companion. It was his stupid friends who were the problem. They seemed to think it a great sport to make fun of her and her friends, and James was too complacent to not follow their lead. Why must going away to school change a fellow so much? He never used to think of her as incapable of thinking as well as he did.
“I likely know as much as he does,” Addie grumbled. “It is not he who has been helping the grooms with the stables. That has been me, and do you know why? It is because he has been too busy doing whatever it is that his friends decide he should do.” How she wished he would be his own man instead of following others.
“He has only this term and then he shall be done with school,” Susan reminded her. “Surely, being away from his friends for long stretches of time will help. Will it not?”
Susan, who was as sweet as a fresh-baked apple pie, was always attempting to find the good in a situation. Unfortunately, Addie was not certain there was a great deal of good left in her older brother. If there was, it was well-hidden. The thought made her heart ache. How she missed the old James!
“Do you not think so?” Susan repeated her question.
Addie shrugged. She hoped it, but she was too uncertain to answer with a resounding yes.
“Two of his friends are set to travel once they complete their schooling.” That was a good thing. “James was going to go with them until… well…” And his not going was an even better thing except for the fact that it came at the expense of her father’s condition.
Susan reached across from the grey mare on which she sat to grasp Addie’s hand. “It is a terrible thing to have a father or an uncle fall ill.”
And never recover, Addie added to herself. Susan still expected her uncle to regain his health and strength, but again, Addie was too uncertain to agree with her friend. Of course, a severe injury like Sir Thomas had sustained was not the same as a stroke, but the result was often the same as the patient was either left in a weakened, nearly useless condition such as her father was, or, more mercifully, succumbed to death before he was confined to his chambers to waste away during his remaining months or years. It went without saying that she would never wish death upon her friend’s uncle, but, just as surely, she also could not hope for him to survive in such a state as her father did.
“I almost wish James would be gone longer than this term. Mr. Shepherd heeds my advice because it is so similar to Father’s. I fear things will not go so well once James returns.” They never used to argue as much as they did now. Again, she blamed his friends.
“Tom can help him,” Susan offered, “and if not Tom, then Edmund. Edmund is very good with numbers and exceptionally wise.”
Addie chuckled. It was just like Susan to offer help. She was excessively charitable, much like her sister Fanny. Providence had most certainly smiled upon Addie to give her friends such as Susan Price and Fanny Bertram, for Addie was given to seeing dark clouds of trouble on the horizon rather than the sunshine Susan seemed to carry about with her.
It had not always been so. Addie used to be nearly as cheerful as Susan, but then, James had gone to school (and become a ninny), her father had had two strokes in as many years, and with the last apoplectic seizure six months ago, the running of the estate had fallen largely on her for her father could no longer write or do much for himself. She could have sent for James to come home, but her father would hear nothing of keeping James from completing his education.
“I am certain James would benefit greatly from their assistance,” Addie said. “But that is only if my brother will seek help from them.”
That was likely her greatest fear in the whole ordeal. Her brother might take advice from others to help him settle into his new role as master of Silverthorne Court, but would he accept it from a knowledgeable source or would one of his friends move in and become co-master? She shuddered. If any of his friends were to do such a thing it would likely be Mr. Willet. That gentleman was as slippery as a snake and likely just as dangerous – at least, to a lady’s virtue, for the gentleman did seem to be the overly friendly sort of fellow who said what he must to charm whom he willed.
She would likely find out in two week’s time when the term ended.
“Have you had a good ride?” Edmund Bertram’s question interrupted Addie’s contemplation of her brother.
“Indeed, we have. Have we not, Addie?” Susan responded brightly. “What brings you out on this fine morning? Is Fanny well?”
Edmund chuckled. “Fanny was in perfect health when I left the parsonage. I was looking for Tom. He had wished to discuss some particulars about the work to be done on the damaged wing of the house, but he desired to ride out with Miss Eldridge first. Have you seen them?”
Both Addie and Susan assured him that they had not and then agreed to join him on his ride for neither of them had had their fill of riding. Was it even possible for Addie to have her fill of riding?
“Have you let your mare run?” Edmund asked Susan.
“Not yet. We have been very sedately ladylike,” she replied in a teasing tone.
“Indeed? I find that a trifle hard to believe since you are with Miss Atwood.” Edmund’s smile was warm and welcoming.
“I assure you that it is true,” Addie said with a laugh.
“Then, you would not be opposed to a race to that tree on the knoll?” Edmund looked between Susan and Addie for their response.
It was not the first time that Addie had raced with Susan and her cousin. Both Susan and Edmund knew how to be all that was proper when in company, but they were not always so. There was a small longing for adventure – safe, well-regulated adventure – in both of them.
“I would find a good gallop to be most delightful,” Addie assured him. Her longing for adventure was slightly greater and less well-regulated than that of her friends. She often dared to do things where Susan held back.
“As would I,” Susan agreed. Of course, Susan’s gallop would be less aggressive than Addie’s. Susan was not as compelled to win races like Addie was.
“Then, move ahead of me,” Edmund instructed as he always did.
Ever the gentleman, he always insisted on allowing the ladies to have a one-length advantage, and Addie seriously doubted if he ever truly gave his horse his head when racing with them. To Addie’s way of thinking the advantage was unnecessary. However, Mr. Edmund Bertram was a sweet man, always looking to the needs of others whenever he saw them, or when his wife pointed them out. Therefore, she did not protest his directive even if it did make the race somewhat unfair.
Having taken her place in front of Edmund and across from Susan, Addie leaned forward and whispered a word of encouragement to her mount, a beautiful chestnut Arabian named Damon, and then, when Edmund shouted, she and her gelding were off. She continued to lean forward, urging Damon to fly.
“You always win,” Susan complained with a laugh as she came to a stop a distance beyond the specified tree.
“Silverthorne’s horses are excellent,” Edmund reminded Susan.
“That they are,” Addie agreed.
“And Addie is the best rider I know – who is not male, that is,” Susan added.
“You know very few other female riders,” Addie cautioned, although she knew herself to be a very adept horsewoman. She had not lost her seat since she was twelve. Once had been enough. Thankfully, she had not suffered any serious injury.
“I would have to agree with Miss Price.”
Addie turned to see the rider she had been watching earlier. When had he approached? She did not remember seeing him anywhere near where they were.
“You ride very well,” the stranger said. Then, he leaned forward and added, “Likely better than my sister, but do not tell her I said so.” He winked, causing Addie to smile.
Whomever he was, he seemed a friendly sort of fellow.
“Miss Atwood,” Edmund said, “I do not believe you have had the opportunity to meet Mr. Eldridge.”
Now, that excerpt feels right. I was kind of sad it ended (and I know what happens) 🙂
Say, here’s a question for you. Does anyone remember Robert Eldridge from Tom Bertram’s story?
As I mentioned above, Addie: To Wager on Her Future is book five in my Other Pens, Mansfield Park series. I expect to have this book published before the end of next month and will likely have a giveaway for it as part of my Austen Authors post in October.
The Other Pens, Mansfield Park series began with Henry’s story, and that book is currently free in the Kindle store until 11:59 pm PST, tomorrow, September 25, 2019. If you do not already own a copy of this book, you can find it in your Kindle store at this link:
Keep an eye on my blog and social media pages for updates on Addie’s story as it gets ready for publication.