What I Wish I Could Tell My Younger Self

by James L. Rubart

The premise of the novel I’m working on as I write is, What if you could go back and talk to your younger self?

With that idea peppering my mind, I thought about what I would tell my younger writer self. What would I say to the James of ’06 (which is when I dove into the publishing world) with the wisdom of the James of today.

At Least Three Things
 I’d slow down and enjoy the the wonder of it all much more

In The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis writes this about Susan: (using the Lady Polly as his mouthpiece)

Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

Getting published isn’t silly, but rushing toward it like that’s the pinnacle of life, is silly. More egregious is longing so much for that contract, or indie book to launch, that you miss the magic of the moments that are happening right now. Treasure them.

Ask any successful entrepreneur (and that’s what writers are) about their most treasured memories, and most will tell you things like  eating pizza in their office off of cardboard boxes because they couldn’t afford a conference table. I wish I would have cherished the struggling years more.

Take the time to make your first book great. I thought I was ready to publish in 2006. My 148,000 word manuscript was a masterpiece. Except it wasn’t.  (Yeah, a bit long for one thing.) I seriously considered self-publishing. Nowadays that’s a viable option, but back then it was the quick-fix to no publisher wanting to take a chance on me.

Don’t succumb to the quick-fix solution. Maybe indie is the way for you to go. Fine. But don’t do slap-and-dash publishing. Make sure your craft is honed. Hire an excellent editor; cover designer; etc. Make it a book you’ll be proud of two years, five years, ten years from now.

Have the guts to ask a friend (with the necessary experience ) who will be brutally honest about whether it’s time to publish, or whether you need to put in a few more years of training before you sign up for the marathon.

Sales, awards, and the praise of men don’t matter, so shun them!Yeah, I saved the toughest bit of advice for Young James for last. Inside most of us is a little boy or girl, still wondering if anyone is going to pick us for the playground game. So when the awards and the bestseller lists and the reader e-mails start popping up in our in-boxes, it’s hard not to let those things validate us.

But it’s vapor. Name me the ten bestselling novelists of fifty years ago. Name three. Not easy is it? We could make a few educated guesses, but that’s about it.

I’d tell myself, “James, seek Jesus. Follow the path he’s leading you on. Take his yoke on your shoulders every day. Nothing else matters. Nothing else is going to last.”

Your Turn

What would you tell you the writer from eight years back? 

James L. Rubart is the best-selling, and Christy award winning
author of six novels. During the day he helps authors make more coin of the
realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, water skis, golfs,
does sleight of hand, and takes photos.  No,
he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and two sons in the
Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a
madman. More at http://jameslrubart.com/


Ready for Middle Grade Novels?

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons and Andy Carter

We’re constantly told to write what we love to read. Easier
said than done, because I find that most writers read a wide range of genres.
But I had a long discussion with myself late last year and was forced to admit
that I love YA novels, even the contemporary, nearly romantic ones.

But it didn’t end there. I think somewhere around the time I
read Moon Over Manifest, I realized
the frightening truth.
I’m a middle-grade geek.
Here’s the other cold hard truth I realized: actual
middle-graders who love to read are honest to the point of cruelty and don’t
give second chances.
Mind you, middle-grade covers a wide range of reading
levels. The silly Diary of a Wimpy Kid
type books are a far cry from the aforementioned Moon Over Manifest, which has been equally popular among adult
readers. Both, however, are considered MG. Perhaps there are writers who can
cover that range. But I think it’s safe to say that the new MG novelist should
choose his or her narrow audience and write to that level. Middle-grade aged
children develop at a rapid rate, many will go from chapter books to adult
novels within a one year span (I was reading Stephen King at 12…my nightmares
were spectacular!).
However, there are some commonalities that cover the
accepted middle-grade range of 8 to 12, specifically differences between YA and
  • An MG character will tend to be very
    self-centered. The world revolves around 8 to 12 year-olds, as any parent can
    attest. A YA character, in her high school years, also tends to be
    self-centered, but will begin to see the world through the eyes of others. In
    fact, that’s a common character arc for a teen protagonist, from “it’s all
    about me” to “I’ll sacrifice for you.
  • MG readers want snarky humor. Even if a horde of
    zombies is about to invade his living room, the MG character will think and say
    humorous things. Dialogue, especially, will be filled with one-line zingers.
    For boys, yes, potty jokes will always be the rage (try it, say “fart” in front
    of a group of ten year old boys and watch them erupt into laughter).
  • So the drama. What adults see as minor blips in
    their day, MG characters must see as end-of-the-world scenarios. Her BFF didn’t
    “like” her Instagram photo of her first day of school outfit? Call the Marines
    and Dr. Phil.
  • A great deal of tension (and we love tension,
    right?) is gained from the clique-ish behavior of middle-school kids. Split
    your characters into groups and set them against each other. Most of us can
    remember it. Yes, it’s still that brutal.
  • MG readers are pretty darn smart. If they’re
    reading, they can handle three-syllable words. But they like a fast pace, lots
    of action, and–shall I mention it again?–humor.  Of course, action is easy when every little
    thing in the MG world is high drama.
  • Adults can be present, and even major characters,
    but they cannot solve the protagonist’s problem. Just like in adult fiction,
    your MG protagonist must be clever, smart, and move the story forward herself
    to its final conclusion. Mom cannot save the day at the end.

Those are a few of the tips I’ve picked up while delving
into MG fiction. It’s a fantastic world where we can dig deeper and release that
youthful voice that we must often restrain in our adult novels. It’s not easier
writing by far. Some of us have to reach back quite a few decades to find those
feelings we shelved on our way to adulthood.

But when you do it well, it’s magic. And when your “slightly”
older middle-grade readers latch on to a piece of their childhood through the
words you’ve written, it’s like you’ve tapped into a whole new world.
As Christian writers, of course, we have another
responsibility. Secular YA is already plagued with the world view, especially
when it comes to sexual relations. Many also included a skewed version of Christianity.
We have an opportunity to use our gifts and talents to reach children while
they’re still developing their beliefs and opinions. We can impact that for God’s
So how about you? Are you considering middle-grade for your
next novel? I’d love to hear from you.

8 Reasons to Write Something Right Now

Edie Melson is the author of numerous books, as well as a freelance writer and editor. Her blog, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains ChristianWriters Conference and the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy. She’s also the Military Family Blogger at Guideposts. Com, Social Media Director for SouthernWriters Magazine and the Senior Editor for NovelRocket.com. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

* * *

We writers tend to be an odd lot.
We writers tend
to be an odd lot. We obsess about learning to write better. We hang out with
writers online and in person. We buy books on How to Write, How to Write Better
and How to Sell What We Write.
But we do almost
anything we can to avoid the actual act of writing. Nothing shuts down a writer
quicker than a blank page and/or a blinking cursor.
We comfort our
guilt-ridden internal writer with the promise of writing when
  • That
    closet is clean.
  • The yard is mowed.
  • The
    kitchen is organized.
  • The garage is clean.
  • Facebook
    is checked one last time.
  • Groceries
    are bought.

You get the
Truthfully, the
longer we postpone sitting down and writing, the harder it gets. Avoidance
gives volume to those nasty little voices that live in a writer’s head. Voices
that say:
  • You’re not
    good enough.
  • No one
    will ever read this.
  • You’ll
    never get published.
  • No one
    will ever take you seriously.
  • You’ll
    never sell anything.

You know.
You’ve heard those voices.
Today I’d like
to share 8 reasons to write something RIGHT now.
You’re not getting any younger.
1. You’re
not getting any younger.

I know, it’s a cruel truth to begin with. But it doesn’t matter how young (or
old) you are, time marches on.
2. It won’t
get any easier
to start,
but it WILL get easier once you begin. The hurdle is the starting. And it’s a
hurdle that has to be surmounted every single day of your writing life.
Beginning rarely gets any easier.
3. If you
don’t start, you’re already a failure
and the voices have won. I hear a lot of writers say that if they
don’t start (or don’t submit) they won’t fail. That’s a lie. If you won’t
start, you’ve already failed.
4. As a
writer, NOT writing will hurt you.
I’ve seen writers deal with depression, anxiety and other issues that
immediately disappeared when they sat down and began to write.
5. Practice
makes perfect.
only so much improvement you can make by learning about writing. It’s time to
put what you know into practice.
Only writing makes you a writer.
6. Only
writing makes you a writer.
about it doesn’t really count.
7. What you
have to share through the written word matters.
Yes, this applies to everyone. We all
have things to contribute to the lives of others. The way a writer does this is
through the written word. So get on with it, someone needs to read what you
have to say.
8. If you
don’t, you’ll always regret it.
I’ve never met a writer who regretted writing, but I’ve met plenty who
regretted NOT writing.
It doesn’t
matter if I’m working on a book, a blog post, or something else. I have to
remind myself about these things almost every time I sit down to write. We all
fight the idea that we don’t have a contribution to make that’s worth the

What about you?
Please add to the list of reasons to write, RIGHT now. We’re all stronger

What Star Trek Can Teach Us About Writing

[Note: This originally ran on the Writer’s Digest website, but I promised someone I’d make it available again, and this seems like an excellent venue. Enjoy.]

Over the years
I’ve looked at what my dogs have taught me about writing, what Batman can teach
about writing, and today I’m going to extend the tradition. Today we’re
going to look to the stars for our guidance.

No, not

Mr. Spock.
Captain Kirk. Captain Picard. Bones. The Ferengi. Captain Janeway. And every
red-shirted crew member who has ever gone on an away mission and never made it
home again.

That’s right
(cue the funky theremin music), we’re talking about Star Trek. Gene
Roddenberry’s legendary space saga. And why not? Star Trek has some fantastic
lessons to teach us about the craft of writing.

Lesson 1: Red-shirted crew members seldom have a long life.

For those of
you who follow Star Trek (in just about any incarnation), you know that being a
red-shirted crew member (different colors signify different positions in the
hierarchy) is a lot like running through a field of bulls wearing all red and
swatting them all on the butt. Those unfortunate folks most often die.

So what does
that have to do with writing?

You need to
identify the literary equivalent of those red shirts.

Take the
ever-popular adverbs and adjectives. Much like Castor Oil, a little goes a long
way. So use them sparingly.

like “she expounded,” “he regurgitated,” should also be left on the surface of
the alien planet in a smoking heap. It’s perfectly OK (and generally preferred)
for characters to just say things. He said. She said. And not, “‘He
makes my heart beat like a rabid drummer,’ she said breathlessly.”

Ick. Kill that
“-ly” word on the spot (then kidnap the sentence and skip the ransom note).

Another red
shirt that deserves what’s coming to him is what the Marshall Plan for
Novelists refers to as Morse Code—the overuse of dots and dashes to make a
character’s sentences trail off. This is a common tool used by many beginners,
but like most tools, it has limited uses. You can’t hammer concrete nails with
a screwdriver, and a soldering iron is practically useless for joining two pieces
of wood. So go ahead and let the characters finish their sentences.

As Stephen King
said in his essay Everything You Need to Know About Writing – in Ten Minutes,
“When it comes to people, mercy killing is against the law. When it comes to
fiction, it is the law.”

That goes for
nonfiction too.

Don’t worry.
The red shirts died for a good cause.

Lesson 2:
Boldly go where nobody has gone before.

No pithy
lead-in here. Instead, simply: Go find your own voice.

A well known
acquaintance of mine was once touted in a book review as the next Stephen King.
His response? “I didn’t know there was anything wrong with the one we have now.
How about if I’m just me?”

There is only
one Jerry B. Jenkins, only one Peter Straub, only one Shakespeare, only one Ray
Bradbury, and there is only one you. That’s the way it works. Every writer is
who they are, and they have (if they put in the requisite work) a singular
voice. Their own voice. Why would you need to write like Brandilyn Collins or Tim Waggoner? We already have one of each.

The fact is,
there are things only those writers can write, and there are things only you
can write. And the only way to develop your own voice is to do the work.


Then write some

Boldly go where
no man or woman has gone before.

Lesson 3:
Always overestimate how long a job will take, and then look like a hero when
you come in under deadline.

Every engineer
on every ship or space station in the Star Trek universe has said, “Captain, it
will take at least nine hours to fix the cosmic flapdoodle widget.” And every
captain has said, “We don’t have nine hours. You have an hour and eleven
minutes before we are turned into chicken nuggets.”

And every
engineer fixed the left-handed sonic whatchamadiddle valve in the nick of time
and looked like a hero.

They hit the
deadline. And that is the optimal strategy for every writer who ever wrangled a
word. Give better than you promise, and always do it on time.

(Sure, there
are extenuating circumstances. This is real life, after all. But those situations
should be the exception to the rule, and when you know you need to adjust the
schedule, your first action should be to contact your very own Kirk—the editor
or your agent—immediately. If you are one of those writers who hits the vast
majority of your deadlines, when you find yourself in an unavoidable jam,
editors and agents will probably grin and say, “been there, done that,” and
make a new deadline possible.)

Lesson 4:
Sometimes the best strategy is to rush headlong into the problem.

Once in a while
a project turns out to be about as exciting as watching beige carpet rot. Or an
assignment is more work than you realized. Sometimes you’re up against a
deadline and are just tired.

This is no time
for procrastination. This is time for rolling up your sleeves, putting some
high octane coffee in the pot, and powering through. Like Captain Kirk (pick
pretty much any episode) when the grits are hitting the fan: Sometimes you
just have to grit your teeth and run headlong into the giant nine-uddered
mutant space cows from the planet Bovinicus and let the chips fall where they
may. After all, you helped create the monster.

Now, for next
time: Everything You Need to Know About Writing, From the Gang on Jersey

Or not.

Thomas Smith is an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, TV news producer, playwright and essayist. His supernatural suspense novel, Something Stirs, is available at a bookstore near you. In addition to writing he enjoys teaching classes for beginning writers at conferences and local writers’ groups. He has been a joke writer for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show. Currently in his fifth decade of service, he is considerably younger than most people his age. Find Thomas on Twitter and Facebook.