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Samantha Ortiz On Writing With Balance, Discipline, & Passion

Greetings fellow writers and readers!

I was excited to get the opportunity to write to you all today. I am a fledgling amateur writer who -- for the first time in her life – can take the time to make her writing more than just a hobby.

Writing has always been in the background of my life. Growing up, I was an avid reader, and around ten years old, I decided “Hey, I can write something of my own!” So over the next two years, from ages 10-12 I wrote my first novel. It was something like 300 pages long, with a rambling story and probably horrible structure, but it taught me so much!

I remember reading it over with my father while he suggested better ways to use descriptive language. Or pointing out how many times I used “all of a sudden” or “suddenly,” (I still remember it was something like 72 times). Later I went back to him and said, “Dad, why didn’t you just tell me how bad it was!” and he replied “And what? Crush your dreams? I would never do that! But it was a great opportunity to teach you.”

And I’m thankful for that. Because what I want to talk about today, runs along those same lines.

How do you become a writer? You write. And you read.

Why Reading Is Important

It’s important to study our craft. If you don’t input, you’re going to struggle with output. Plain and simple. For instance, right now I have two books I’m reading: How to Write a Novel in 90 Days by Sarah Domet (instrumental in me learning how to outline!), and Story Trumps Structure by Steven James. But that’s not all I mean by reading.

I can’t tell you how many grammatical patterns, plot devices and descriptive techniques I learned naturally, just from reading. I remember when I was in grade school I got marks off in an essay because I was spelling things like color, “colour” and flavor, “flavour” and anyway, “anyways” because I had been reading too many British authors at the time and it had confused me! Haha!

Our subconscious learns from doing. And what better way to learn to write, than to read what others have written…submerging ourselves in prose and letting our brain soak it up. As we become more advanced, we can learn more consciously. For instance, I never read a Margaret Atwood book without learning something. I will consciously study how she writes action, how she characterizes, how she subtly unveils a plot, or leaves little clues along the way. J.K Rowling is a genius with small detail. That’s the trick to her creations – she doesn’t just tell a story, she creates a world. Orson Scott Card is an absolute master of exposition, characterization and “time-jumping.” Most of his books start with a young character and see them grow into adulthood.

In short, there is no end to what we can learn from other authors. Not to mention, my freshest ideas and moments of inspiration come after reading a great book. Not a reader? Here’s a challenge: perhaps you haven’t found the right genre. Do some exploring and see if you can sink your teeth into something new.

Why Writing is Important

And, of course, the best way to learn to write…is to write! I have finished four books in my life, two of them in adulthood, the other two when I was younger. And I can tell you, each has been a learning experience in its own.

Writing is a creative expression, that requires a logistical process. Often those two things are thought to fight against each other. The creative mind is passionate and explosive, the disciplined and logistical mind is dry and boring. And yes, there are truths to both things!

But the hard truth is:

if one cannot learn to balance the two

- bring discipline to the passion, and passion to discipline - one will never finish anything!

I love this quote from a National Novel Writing Month author during one of their pep-talks:

What makes a writer a writer? Writing. A lot of people would say ‘talent’, but talent is really just the ability to do something well that most people have to work hard at. If you don’t think you have ‘talent’, just work hard instead—the talent often comes with a cost, anyway: a lack of good work habits. The talented ones often never had to learn to work hard; so many of them don’t finish their work because they never had to—it was enough to be talented, to offer people a glimpse of what you could be. So don’t be that person—don’t be the person that everyone believes could have done something. Be the person who tried.” – Alexander Chee

I recently finished a Diploma of Ministry at the Hillsong International Leadership College, in Sydney Australia, spending two years in the Creative Stream of study. There I met, incredibly brilliant, creative people. And sadly, I can tell you story after story of the creative-type who can’t finish anything they start. They are slave to those moments of “inspiration.”

Don’t be a slave to the fleeting passion of writing!

Discipline is a skill, and it can be developed in any person.

Some suggestions?

1) Commit to an outline. Take two to three weeks to write an outline for your book. Get it all out. And then take the next month to writing one hour a day. Find a time in your day that works and don’t compromise it.

2) National Novel Writing Month is the perfect way to conquer your procrastinating-nasty-inner-critic, or your compulsive-edit-as-you-go tendencies that make it hard to finish anything you start. The goal of the month is just to WRITE. To prove to yourself that you can stick to it for a full month and that you CAN finish something. Like when Harry Potter sees his own Patronus in The Prisoner of Azkaban and says

I knew I had already done it, so I knew I could do it” so it will be with your writing. If you can get ONE THING DONE, it will give you confidence to do it again. And again and again.

So best of luck! As I'm writing this, NaNoWriMo is half way done – but that doesn’t mean you can’t commit to a month with a few friends, or hold a challenge for yourself! I believe in you! Get writing, and get reading ;)

- Samantha Ortiz

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