Why There’s Swearing in My Novels

When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time writing books. I finished a few of them, and they’re still bound in one-inch binders, stacked in my basement. More of them remained half-finished on my desktop, but there was one theme that ran throughout all of them, completed or not—they were Christian novels, with a very clear redemption storyline.

I grew up in the evangelical tradition, and a fairly conservative one at that, so swearing and sex and all those kinds of things were off-limits when I was writing, and I felt an obligation to have a prominent Christian theme as well.

But if you’ve read Remember Us, you know that it’s mainstream romantic fiction. There’s sex and swearing, and no mention of God or church or faith or anything like that.

I still consider myself a person of faith, although what that looks like has admittedly changed significantly since my teenage years (which is not really a discussion for this blog, is it?), but I no longer feel the need to write “Christian” books anymore. I’m an author who is a Christian, but I’m not a Christian author. Don’t expect I ever will be.

I wrote a long post on my personal Facebook page before I released Remember Us, preparing my friends and family for the content of the book. I was concerned that they’d be upset by parts of the plot and the language. Because, well, it gets a little salty. For the most part, it was really well-received, but I did have a few comments about the language I used, and I wanted to share some of my reasoning around that, especially since my next book will be very much the same, and even a bit darker as far as the storyline goes.

 

I know there are people who believe that swearing is lazy writing, that sex and violence are gratuitous and inappropriate, and that they don’t add anything to a book, but for me, it’s about believability.

My characters swear because that’s what people do. For me to write a book, especially one that revolves around a troubled, falling-apart marriage, without swearing, would have been ridiculous. And, not for nothing, there are only so many physical descriptions I can use to describe anger, when a well-placed f-bomb does the trick nicely.

I don’t have graphic sex scenes in my novels, because it doesn’t fit with my genre; same with violence. But unless I’m writing YA fiction, or there’s extenuating circumstances, adults are having sex. And if I choose to ignore that fact, my book is going to suffer. And we all need to remember that novels are fiction. My characters are making choices that make sense for them; it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’d endorse that behaviour or make the same choices myself, or that I speak the same way they do. It means that I’ve created characters who live, act and speak a certain way.

My job as a writer is to tell the best story I can. It’s to create a world my readers can immerse themselves in. It’s to develop characters they love or hate, but who make them feel something. It’s to invite them into a well-crafted world for a few hours, and one way I do that is to write the most believable world I can, with characters I think could exist in real life.

Readers obviously always have the final say in what kinds of things they want to read. I don’t read graphically violent books because the content really bothers me. I skipped whole passages in The Hunger Games and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for example, because of that. But I understand why it was there; I understand what it added to the book. And that’s the only thing I’d ask of readers who are wondering why an author uses the language they do, or includes violence or sex or other uncomfortable content. Why is it there? What is it telling you about the character? Most writers have very good reasons for why they include certain language, scenes, character traits, and I wouldn’t assume it’s to be offensive. If it’s not for you, that’s okay—we all like different things. But don’t villify authors for content choices; after all, it is just a book.

 

The Dream Job

Along with everyone else in the world, 2016 didn’t exactly turn out the way I’d hoped. I hate to be a person who is wishing time away, but I’ll be more than happy to greet 2017, and hope it turns out to be less of an asshole than this year.

This was going to be the year I published my second novel. In fact, at the beginning of last year I was well on my way, hitting the same word count and pace I’d seen for my first novel. I had dedicated writing hours a few mornings a week and I was committed to them, and by the spring my first draft was finished and I expected to be publishing my book sometime in the late summer, early fall.

Well, revisions ended up getting me stuck, because I was having trouble finding the true voice of the story. And then we bought a house, renovated that house, and moved. And nothing will destroy your creativity like the stress of moving. And, as I’ve said before, summer tends to be my creative wasteland anyway.

But nothing changed in the fall. At least, not around the writing. Some family and life things hit at the end of the summer, and my schedule and routine have been upended. And instead of figuring out how to make it work, I let the book collect dust.

Some of that is because I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to self-publish this time around. I bounced some ideas around with friends about editing and book covers, but nothing ever felt right, and in fact, it began to feel like I was pressing on something that needed to wait. And when I start to get that feeling, I know I need to step back and breathe for a moment. My implusive nature has landed me in trouble countless times, and at 34, I’m finally beginning to respect the signs.

It’s been a weird year. I’ve looked for jobs, I’ve dreamed about building my editing business into full-time work, thought about trying to break into freelance writing, I’m considering taking some courses. I’ve thought about walking away from writing, because maybe it’s not for me, and then a few weeks later wondered what financial magic I would need to perform to enable me to be home full-time so I could write. And came back again, because for whatever reason, I really believe that I am in the right place for me and my family right now. It doesn’t mean I’m not frustrated or restless, but it’s not time for big changes. I feel that in my gut.

So what now? Because I need my life to be about more than parenting and house responsibilities. I need something to do that excites me, that energizes me. And I’ve always known that thing is writing.

And as I started another day, same as all the others for the past few months, with a baby demanding my attention, and a cluttered house in need of tidying, I realized that my life isn’t going to get any less busy anytime soon. Flipping the calendar from December to January isn’t going to magically make my life easier to manage.

So I decided that if I want writing to be my dream job, then it’s time to make it happen. Not by up and quitting things or anything quite so dramatic, but by doing the small, quiet, boring things. I’m going to carve out time and protect it. And right now, it won’t be during my happy early-mid morning hours. Those aren’t times I have available to me, not for the next few months anyway. So it’ll be evenings and weekends, and maybe some early mornings before everyone else is awake. And it’s going to be tackling the revisions in this novel, even though they overwhelm me. And sticking with a story even when it’s not easy because it’s the story I was given, and the story I need to tell.

I’ll make writing my work by doing the work, instead of waiting for hours to open up, for inspiration to fall from the sky, for revisions to suddenly become crystal clear and easy.

And… *whispering* I’m going to query this book. It’s the thought, the nudge, that won’t leave me alone. When I wrote Remember Us, everything for self-publishing snapped into place. It was right. This time, though, it’s not working. And I know it’s for a reason. I don’t think that it’s necessarily because there’s a publisher dying for my book, or an agent who will be desperate to sign me, but I think it’s because I need to try. Because for so much of my life I have shied away from the kind of work that requires me to be judged and critiqued. I don’t want to find out I’m no good, or that my story is terrible. The idea of hundreds of rejections piling up does not fill me with glee.

But I think I have to do it. So I will. If for no other reason than because I know that this might just be a step along the way to self-publishing my book anyway, and I do want to see it out in the world. Also so that I get to working on another one!

Whew. That was a lot for one post. I guess I’ve had a lot on my mind the last few months, even if I haven’t been writing it all down.

2017 is going to be the year of work. Doing the work, trusting the work, believing in the work. Believing that the work of writing is valuable and necessary, and that maybe now more than ever, story is what we need.

Remember Us

Oh, this will be a self-indulgent post, so you’ve all been forewarned.

I released Remember Us a year ago today. Not my first completed book, but certainly my first published one. A story written from beginning to end, revised, edited and then put out into the world for friends and family and strangers to discover.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about the entire process. On one hand, I am proud of that book and the work that went into. It is certainly one of my proudest accomplishments, and the young girl inside me who always dreamed of being a published writer still shrieks with glee that a book with my name on it can be purchased and read.

But it has also been an eye-opening exercise in how difficult it is to make yourself vulnerable to critique, how hard it can be to promote your work, and the struggle of being a small indie author.

I’ve learned in this year that the risk isn’t the writing. The risk, for me, wasn’t even in the publishing. The risk was one I didn’t take, and that was standing up and saying, I think this is good, you should read it. I was quiet and nervous and awkward about the whole thing. I didn’t seek out bloggers or PR or say much about the book at all because I was so damn scared.

What if it’s terrible?

What if I get bad reviews?

What if these people end my writing career before it’s even begun?

And so my first book release was very small. And in some ways, that’s okay. But the reason it stopped being okay with me was because I realized I was still hiding, and I was giving all these nameless, faceless people around an inordinate amount of power over my life, and my dreams. How could I begin to think that someone could steal my writing, my art, from me? Why was I paralyzed at the idea of someone not liking my book and leaving a bad review? Art, writing, it’s all subjective. I certainly don’t like every book I read (although I will say the nastiness I see in some reviews is completely unnecessary, but you know, THE INTERNET).

I took this accomplishment of mine, this story, and I hid it. I told myself that I’d taken the risk, put it out there, done the hard thing. But I don’t think I ever did. I think I found a way to make it look like I didwithout ever actually doing it.

Art is personal. While Remember Us is fiction, it was born from a very real place. It holds truth in it, and the characters and story are real and alive and most definitely personal. And once art is made public, I can’t always trust people to handle with care. And I guess that scared me. Maybe because I was afraid they would be right. That it really wasn’t very good.

Whew, the mind of a writer. Exhausting.

Here’s what I’ve learned, and am still learning—readers find the books they need. Books find their readers. Stories are powerful, a way to unlock something in us that very little else can. It’s no wonder we feel so strongly about our favourite books.

I can’t go back and change the launch of my first novel. And that’s okay. It was really beautiful in its own way, and I received so many lovely personal messages from people who connected with my characters, who enjoyed the story, who said they couldn’t put it down. It was a brave thing, and it took a lot for me to even tell my friends and family that I’d written a book (my writing has always been intensely personal, so that was scary enough). While I plan to do things differently with Book Two, I can’t say I have regrets about Remember Us. Because it’s still there, finding its readers. It’s still my very first published novel.

But as I work through Book Two and wrestle with the ways that it has been different, I can sense that this experience will be about putting myself out there a little more. Risking more for my art, for my readers, so that this story lands in the right places too. I want to make a bigger splash with this book, even if it feels really really scary.

I wrote a book! And it’s been in the world for one whole year! And I will write more books, and sometimes, I’m so ridiculously thankful that I stumbled back into this life that I can’t quite believe it.

Here’s to taking risks! *clink!*

PS. If you’re interested in reading my book, there’s a link on the homepage of this site.

Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

Kylie Bartlett’s marriage is crumbling. There are fights and misunderstandings and words that no one can ever take back. Marriage can be hard, but she never expected this.

And then, he’s there. That boy. The one she loved first, a lifetime ago, the one who left—the one who she thought would be her one great heartbreak.

He’s back. And he’s not going anywhere.

Kylie never thought she’d have to make this choice again. And now, with her marriage in shambles at her feet, she wonders if this is the way it was always meant to be. Or should she leave the past where it belongs?

Remember Us is a story of love and marriage, of finding yourself, and of how things don’t always turn out the way you plan when you’re seventeen.

 

The Unpredictability of Creativity

This time last year, I was basically a week out from the launch of my first book, Remember Us. I believe I had even started the outlining and planning for what would eventually become my current work in progress. And at that time, my plan was to be publishing that book within the next year.

I finished the first draft with lots of time to be able to do that, and I had my cover artist booked. But, it didn’t feel right. There was a tug in my gut about the timing, and there was something not quite resonating with me about it. I pushed through, started work on my revisions, made a plan for editing. Shook it off.

But the nagging, as any good intuition, wouldn’t go away. And one of the things I’ve really learned in the last year or so is how important it is to listen to that small voice. Because if I don’t listen, then eventually the voice stops speaking…or I become numb to it, however you want to think of it.

Everything came to a screeching halt. I cancelled my cover artist, just in time, because he was just about to start work. I realized that I wanted to do some BIG work on the novel, to go in-depth on the revisions. I felt like I could make the book better. It was fine, but I was feeling like it could be great, and if that was the case, then I needed to do that.

Oh, the life of a creative.

I am learning that there’s no one way to do this. I’m learning that it’s okay to veer off course, to question, to wonder. I’m learning that just because something worked before doesn’t it mean it will work now. That I can change my mind, change my goals, embrace my own routine and methods. I’m re-learning that I need to listen to my intuition, to slow when it tells me, not to force things.

I don’t when this book’s time will be…I’m still aiming for 2016, but I know enough now that if I publish it before it’s ready, it won’t find the right readers. It won’t be the story it has to be. And that’s more important than when it’s published. Sooner isn’t better. When it’s ready is better.

Remind me of this next summer when I’m trying to launch a book in the fall—summer is just not my creative jam.

 

Over Consumption & Overwhelm

I totally grew up as the “read anything” kid— cereal boxes, instruction manuals, church bulletins left lying around. If it had words on it, I was game. And I am still so much like this…if I’m getting bored, I am looking for words to read. The problem, now, is that these words are usually found on my smartphone.

Sigh. I know. Another post about the overuse of phones and social media and how we all need to just walk away and take a break, smell the roses and all that?

Sort of. But hear me out. I am home with little people all day long, and sometimes it feels like my only connection to life outside of children is through my phone. Sports scores, news updates, Twitter, Facebook, whatever. I scroll to find something to read, something to pass the time.

Consume, consume, consume. That’s what’s happened. I am constantly taking in information, but not putting anything out there. Instead of engaging in dialogue on Twitter or Facebook, I’m watching someone else’s. Instead of taking the time to craft my own Instagram posts or blogs, I’m zoning out to others’. And there’s a balance, sure. I need to engage and take in from other people as well as put out my own information. But the over consumption is beginning to take its toll.

I was researching the other day, and it’s research for something that scares me. I’m trying to be intentional about learning more and stepping outside of my comfort zone and pushing myself. And so, I went to my old friend Google and began pulling up websites. And I read and I read and I read. And do you how I felt after a couple hours of this?

Overwhelmed.

Not encouraged or inspired. I didn’t feel ready to tackle the task. I felt like closing my laptop and forgetting the whole damn thing. Because when all you do is take in information, this is what happens. And I really believe that overwhelm is just fear in disguise.

I’m not going to make a grand declaration about stepping away from my screens, because I don’t know if I’ll stick to it. I’m trying to walk away from it. I’m trying not to use it to numb myself or kill time, or procrastinate the hard things I need to do. My first step is admitting that I can feel the over consumption, that I can feel overwhelm creeping in on me and threatening to take me down.

I don’t want fear to win, in any form.

So I’m going to finish this up, shut down my laptop and turn off my phone. I’m going to let thoughts settle and my subconscious work a little, and I am going to walk away from the screens. I’ve consumed enough. Now it’s time to create.

Dream Deferred, Again and Again

I have always lived in a very all or nothing world. If I can’t do something exactly the way I want, when I want, I freeze and do nothing. Yes, it’s perfectionism, but it’s also fear. (Maybe perfectionism is just a fancy word for fear anyway.) Fear that I will give my very best and still fail. Fear that it won’t look the way I’ve always imagined. Fear that whatever I give still won’t be good enough.

I’ve had this one particular dream since I was a young girl—I want to go to France. I know, this is hardly unique. There are millions of people who have fallen in love with this country. I’m bordering on cliche here, but it is what it is. All things Francophone captured my heart when I was young, and have held on for all these years.

My husband and I have this dream of staying in Europe for two months or so one year, taking our kids and immersing ourselves in European culture. I mean, honestly, if we’re dreaming big dreams, I want to live there. But I would settle for a months-long stay.

We’re not there yet. His job still keeps him tied here, with only a couple weeks for vacations. Financially we can’t afford it yet, on a few different levels. And it just doesn’t feel like the time in our lives to be up and practically moving someplace else for a few months.

So I tucked it away as one of our “someday” things. And expected that would be the only way I would see France. In a big, grand travel moment.

And then I was reading this book last night, set partially in Paris, and I got that familiar ache, that pang. I want to go. I mean, what if the stars never align for us to take that trip? Am I willing to keep putting off this dream trip simply because I feel like the only way to do it is in this HUGE WAY, or no way at all?

I made a line in my budget today. France. And I’m saving now, a little bit at a time, and I have a new goal: France next year. For a couple weeks. Is it perfect, the way I’ve always imagined it? No. It feels like not nearly enough time. But what’s better? A little bit of time in a country I’ve been dreaming of for most of life, or no time at all?

It’s not all or nothing. It so rarely is. It’s a lie we tell ourselves to put off big things, to hold us back from doing stuff, from shipping our work, from seeing dreams come true. All or nothing is just a way we let fear win, with some modicum of practically and logic. I’ll do it when the time is right. I’ll do it eventually. I have time.

Today is as good a time as any to start throwing a little bit of money toward a dream.

 

Mid-Year Resolutions

I’m a big goal-setter. Every year, around late December I start thinking about the things I want to accomplish in the coming year. And last year, I only had two real “goals.” I wanted to read more, and I wanted to write more.

I was early in the writing of Book Two, and set myself a goal of finishing it in 2016 (check! It’s in the editing phase right now, with a planned release for Fall 2016). I knew I wasn’t going to be able to write every day, and I also knew that my best writing happens in the morning hours. Once I hit the afternoon, I become pretty useless when it comes to creativity. I had three days a week where I was going to be kid-free and able to write without interruption, so I put the hours in my calendar and did my best to stick to them every week. I also made a goal in Scrivener for how many words I wanted to write each day, and I borrowed an idea from my friend Elora Ramirez and tracked my word count on a whiteboard in my main hallway. Being able to write another 5k on my board kept me motivated and accountable. I didn’t finish the book as quickly as I wanted, but I did finish it, and that’s all that matters!

2016-04-27 21.31.21

Reading. I love books, and I’ve never really needed much outside motivation for that, but I’ve been really trying to push myself lately to read more books. I started out strong, but then I hit the same reading slump that’s plagued me the last couple years. I know there are a few reasons for this—I get frozen by decision paralysis, so I’ll finish a great book and not have something else lined up, and then I can’t decide what to read next. So I read nothing, and it kind of snowballs. And then I find myself sucked into my smartphone. Also, I was editing a couple manuscripts and I find when I’m in the swing of writing, I don’t read as much (everyone’s different, that just seems to be my process).

So. I’ve decided that I am not going to let the last few months kill my year, which has been my pattern in the last couple years (I have a serious “all or nothing” problem). It’s time for some mid-year resolutions, and mine revolves pretty exclusively around increasing my reading. The kids and I are heading to the library tonight to grab some books, and I’m turning off Netflix and putting my phone down for some reading. I’ve got plans for some series that are new to me, so at least if they’re good, I’ll always have something new to pick up.

I’m doing some pretty detailed tracking of my reading this year and really enjoying it; I love seeing what I’ve read. I haven’t been keeping track of what I’ve started and abandoned, though, and I think I’ll do a better job of that this time.

Do you have any summer reading goals? Read anything fantastic lately? What are your tricks for reading more?

No More Rules

I have always tried to follow the rules. When they were unfair, when they seemed ridiculous, even when I didn’t understand them. At my core, I am a rule-follower.

And I tried for so long to follow the rules around writing and creativity and publishing. I never considered that there would be any way other than agent, publishing house, book deal, published author.

But there is no agent, no book deal, no resounding YES or affirmation from the powers-that-be.

So this rule-follower took things into her own hands. I wrote a book. I published that book, myself. And felt oh so proud that I hadn’t waited around for someone to tell me that it was good enough. No one is going to stop me from seeing my dream come true.

But then I tried to fit my indie writing career into a box, because as it turns out, no matter where you are or how outside the box you think you are, there are always rules. There are always tips and suggestions and ways to do things. And in this Internet world, those things can change on a whim. And I have been trying to keep up, to do what I’m supposed to do, to follow the rules, expecting that rule-following will get me the results I want.

It hasn’t. Because it’s not me. So this space is my attempt to create my own box, my own rules, to embrace this writing and creative life in a way that feels true to me. I want to connect and chat, I want to share my writing world with you. There is no weekly or monthly letter, but you can sign up to hear when I’ve got something special happening. OR you could just send me an e-mail and we can get to know each other, instead of a simple exchange of information that doesn’t actually change either one of us for the better.

I waited so damn long to publish a book. And I did it my way. It really only makes sense to do the rest of this my way too.