Never Give Up on Your Writing

Hey there, writers and muse daters! Today I am really excited to Barbara Pattee, who has an amazing message for us about never giving up. Barbara is writing a romance novel, but one that dabbles a little in crime.

“I like romance that is a little more than ‘boy meets girl,’ or ‘girl meets boy,’ where everything ends happily ever after,” Barbara said.

Barbara joined the Writing Gym after years of writing on her own. For as long as she can remember, she has felt compelled to express herself through her writing.

“I’ve always been a writer,” she said. “I used to write in secret, because it wasn’t considered an important career. I even learned how to do shorthand.”

Her writing has taken many forms over the years. She has done short stories, poetry, and memoir pieces–including one she put together from stories her father told her when he had fallen ill.

“He started talking about his childhood, I started writing notes, and I wrote a memoir based on what he said,” Barbara said. “I read it to him, and he loved it.”

As much as Barbara enjoyed writing, there was something about it that left her unfulfilled.

“I wasn’t happy,” she said. “I knew that I wanted more. I’ve wanted to write something full-length.”

Barbara knew that she wanted to write a novel. But when she sought feedback–professional writers, writing groups, etc.–she encountered a lot of resistance. She wouldn’t allow it to deter her from her dream.

“I just said I would never give up,” she said. “And I didn’t.”

Like many writers, Barbara has her share of horror stories about what can happen when you look for feedback in the wrong places. One professor, a professional writer herself, read one of Barbara’s stories and practically drowned her in a torrent of negative criticism.

“She hated it,” Barbara said. “But classmates came to me, some in tears, saying they loved what I wrote. So I was getting a mixed messages.”

The feedback wasn’t helping at all; if anything, it hurt. Then, at a writers’ conference, Barbara saw Storytelling for Pantsers. The more she read it, the more she felt as if the book had been written just for her.

“I started reading it, and I thought, ‘She’s talking to me. She’s saying what I’m feeling,'” Barbara said. “I have dozens and dozens of books (about writing) that did not move me. But Storytelling for Pantsers spoke to me.”

The book spoke to Barbara’s aversion to outlining her stories. Finally, she had confirmation of what she had always believed: that she didn’t need an outline to write a good story.

“I’m a pantser,” she said. “I can’t do outlines. I had to do it in school and I hated it from the beginning.”

Reading the book inspired Barbara to get on a call with me.

“The call was very encouraging,” she said. “I liked that you don’t tell us we have to do something. What you do is you make suggestions, you give us ideas, you give us questions to answer.”

I invited Barbara to join the Writing Gym, and she accepted. Since then, we have been working together on her novel. Barbara enjoys the information and encouragement she get from the video modules on the Writing Gym website. She also loves the Salons, in which writers get together, write for 20 minutes based on a prompt, and share their writing with each other.

“There’s no negativity in Salon,” Barbara said. “And you also get feedback on what other writers hear in your story. Some things you may not think are that important wind up being extremely important and that encourages me as a writer.”

During one of the early Salons, Barbara wrote a piece that involved slavery–similar to the one her college professor had treated with disdain. As she shared it with the other writers, she braced herself for another barrage of negative feedback.

“I thought, ‘Am I going to get slammed again?’” Barbara remembers. “But I wasn’t. I was encouraged, and that was beautiful.”

Barbara said she has grown a great deal as a writer since joining the Gym.

“I have added a lot more emotion in my stories–which, as a child growing up I was taught that I had to hold back,” she said. “But, as a writer…I have to look inside myself, think about what I am feeling.”

Barbara’s writing is thriving. She credits her encouragement from me, and from her fellow “Gym Rats,” for helping her summon the courage to be vulnerable in her storytelling.

In the Writing Gym, we talk a lot about the inner critic – how listening to it can hold you back in your writing, and how you have to learn to silence it in order to maximize your storytelling potential. Barbara has wrestled with her inner critic for years. But now, she’s winning!

“My inner critic is upset, because she doesn’t have much to say now,” she said. “I’m smiling a lot more. Even my husband has noticed that.”

Barbara has been an amazing advocate of the Writing Gym; she recommends it to whoever will listen.

“I tell them about what it’s like being in the Writing Gym, and I’ve tried to encourage them to join,” she said. “I’m hoping that they will join even before my book is published. But after it’s published, I know they’re going to want to join.”

Barbara realizes that the Writing Gym isn’t for everyone. She knows it’s not a place for hobbyists.

“I think it’s really about deciding how serious you are,” she said about joining the Gym. “How much do you want to be a writer? Is it a hobby, or is it something you want as a career?”

Barbara has made her choice; she wants a writing career, and she’s willing to put in the work to get there. The more progress she makes, the more resolute she becomes.

“I will not give up. I’m going to continue.”

Thank you so much, Barbara! We love having you in the Writing Gym!

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