Sunday, July 14, 2013

Yes, You Really Are Special

This week the Rockville 8 is honored to welcome NYT best selling author Cathy Maxwell. Her latest book, The Devil's Heart, is available in stores now!

Cathy gave the closing talk at our local chapter's retreat this past April, and I'm thrilled to be able to share her wisdom with you here.

Thank you so much for joining us, Cathy!


Yes, You Really Are Special

gift noun \ˈgift\
1: a notable capacity, talent, or endowment
2: something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation
3: the act, right, or power of giving
Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When my friend, the writer Felicia Mason speaks to student groups, she will ask, “Who hears stories in your head?”

Several hands will go up.  Not many, but a number.  Felicia will point out that those who raise their hands are the storytellers and although it may seem simple to them to weave tales, it is mystery to the rest of the world. What they have is a gift they are born with.

And the gift for story telling, just like any other innate gift such as a talent for math or athletic ability, needs discipline to be developed. That means that of the small number of students who raised their hands, maybe only one will become a writer.

I admit, “discipline” is one of those more-than-four-letter words that annoys me. It has taken me years to come to terms with it—and I admit to far too many relapses.

So, if you are storyteller who longs to share your stories, here is a thought or two on how to develop DISCIPLINE:
  1. You don’t need to write the whole story in one sitting.  Books, scripts, any writing always begins, for me, in fits and starts.  A good sentence can make me happy.  One sentence leads to a paragraph and then a page.  Sometimes, to help my concentration, I’ll set a timer.  I bargain with myself—let me give fifteen minutes to the discipline of writing and then after that, I can go do something else and I’m not picky what that is.  I burst out of my office like a fifth-grader on the last day of school.
  2. Recognize when your best creative time is and then use it.  There is no point in forcing a night owl to rise with the sun to write. Or vice versa.  I’ve discovered my best writing time seems to start at one in the afternoon and last until six.  After that, I’m shot.  So why battle my natural inclinations?  Oh, by the way, I used to write first thing in the morning, but my creative clock changed.  Sometimes it resets for the a.m. I roll with it.
  3. Good books are in the rewrites.  I run into people who believe the first draft is the product.  Not so.  The first draft is to fill blank pages and develop a story arc.  It is like a big, ugly lump of clay.  Once I have an idea of where I want to go, then I can finesse.  And finesse.  And finesse again until I have it right/write.  
  4. Goals help.  I have daily writing goals and monthly writing goals.  I have used critique groups, workbooks, software programs, voodoo, and sage burning to help me achieve them. Fortunately, I’m competitive enough that goals work for me.
  5. You aren’t going to be happy until you try.  The stories will keep swirling inside you.  I did mention this is a gift?  That means it is unique to you.  It was born inside you and is part of what you have to offer the world.  Please, don’t back away from it.  Embrace it.  Using your gift isn’t about becoming a mega-millionaire writer (trust me, there are easier ways to earn money that story-telling).  It is about bringing yourself into the fullness of your being.  This is one of the many things you can offer the world that others can’t.  It is worth the exploration . . . and the discipline.  Trust me.

Cathy Maxwell has been in publishing over twenty years.  Over the course of those two decades, Cathy has written over twenty-five historical romances, hit the New York Times and USA Today lists, been nominated for and, occasionally, won some nice awards, made dynamite writing friends, and has had the time of her life.


  1. What a wonderful and genuinely helpful article, Cathy! I can't tell you how many times I've heard aspiring writers say they're 'done' with a book when they finish a first draft! And it is also reassuring to hear you say your internal creative clock has changed it's time frame...mine too. I used to be great from 8-11 p.m. and now I find keyboard imprints on my face at 10:30. Thank you so much for sharing...this is great advice for all writers at any stage.

  2. Cathy! I trust you!! Now, if I could only trust me...

    I've used the 20 minutes then take a break discipline trick to good effect.

    It's funny, I'm pretty competitive when it comes to board and card games. I never thought to apply that to writing goals...hmmm...I like it! See you in Atlanta!!

  3. Cathy,
    I love your advice and when you speak, I listen. Your sage advice has kept me focused, driven, and allowed me to embrace my writing. And, love your stories. If ever I need a fix of 'how to' touch a reader's heart, I grab one of your novels. I'm looking forward to reading, "The Devil's Heart." Your truly a blessing, and I wish you every success! *Hugs*

  4. Cathy I loved The Scottish Witch.

    I love your advice as well. Yes--it's good to hear someone so successful talk about shoring up goals and motivation with different tools, means of support--and mostly a great attitude!

  5. Miss Cathy - I so needed to read this today. Thank you for your wisdom and grace. I am no printing it out to come back to when I need the reminder and encouragement. Blessings...

  6. Cathy ~ Thanks so much for guest blogging this week! What wonderful affirmations and words of wisdom to share with writers (aka storytellers).

    I often forget that others don't think like I do. I get story ideas everywhere. And you're right. You can't shut them off. They swirl and swirl, begging to be dribbled on the page. It is a gift, but sometimes it feels like a curse. I once had a creative writing professor who said "If you can keep yourself from writing, then do it. Your life will be easier." He was basically saying the same thing--there are those of us for whom it is a compulsion--a gift that will not be ignored. ;0)

    And I love your explanation of the first draft--that it's to figure out the story arc. So true.

    Thanks again for your affirmations & admonishments. So good to hear (again).

  7. Thank you, everyone! I appreciate your feedback. Your encouragement feels good.

  8. I needed to hear every single one of those today! Thanks so much Cathy! :-)

  9. Cathy, thanks for hanging out with us here at the R8, and for sharing your sage advice with us.

    Writing certainly is hard work on its own, but it seems to me we often make it harder.

    Hopefully, we can take your suggestions and stop doing that!

  10. The voices in my head were cheering so loud I had to re-read this all the while sending them virtual you-need-to-be-quiet thoughts of my own. Yes, I talk back to them. They just don’t always listen.

    Really, thank you for this post. I’m not going to be at Nationals this year and I needed this reminder to sit back down and continue writing. It’s been a just a few too many months since I’ve been committed (no, not that type of committed, although I’m sure there are those who would question that), to writing in the way I always was before life jumped up and reared its ugly head.

  11. Your have a special gift of warming readers hearts and encouraging others in their efforts. You are a gift to Romanceland! Have fun at RWA!