I’m in California… No really, I am. That’s where I live. Isn’t it amazing how a few simple words can become so indelibly linked with a song we heard for the first time less than four months ago? I love Adele. Gorgeous voice. I wish my writing read as beautiful as her voice sounds. Great singers undergo extensive training, of course, but you can’t learn to sing like Adele. She’s in that rare class of her own that clearly was anointed with a set of pipes the Maker himself blessed with perfection. I wonder, then, is writing the same way? Must you be born with the makings of War and Peace nestled in your DNA to ever become a Great Writer?

I, myself, have toiled and struggled to be a writer my whole life. The voice urging me on was always there in my head, and never for a single day did it ever leave. No matter how many years I avoided writing, chose other careers, threw books against the wall because I wanted, demanded that I write one better, through all those times I knew it was who I really was. There are so many intelligent young writers today seeing great success, capping on the stronger-than-ever wave of YA fans (contrary to what some think, books are not dead and never will be). These breakout authors are perfectly in sync with the YA heartthrobbing vibes and have moved way past Twilight to epic fantasy tales like Throne of Glass. I am probably too old-school (read too old) to ever be that in touch with that true YA audience, but I love the tween-middlegrade fan-base for that reason. Still sweet, still wanting an adventure-filled story with great characters, funny insults, and perhaps a burp or two to lighten the page.

When I set out to write the Legends of Orkney series I did it on a whim. My 12-year-old son challenged me to write him something he could read. Suddenly, all the years of avoidance and questioning and self-doubt became replaced by this idea that I could do this! So I did what I always do. I confidently raced ahead without really thinking about what I was doing. I busted out three manuscripts for him one after the other six months apart, delighting him to no end. But I quickly learned, writing is not a race that can be won with speed. Good writing requires finesse. Digging in and discovering what really makes your character’s tick. The art of choosing just the right word in a taut scene. Developing your characters into full-fledged three-dimensional creatures that readers will weep over. Finding the beat and raising the bar. I thought I could write the same way I read, flying through pages, boasting about word counts, and racing to the finish line.

Boy was I wrong.

A year ago I began editing the second installment of the series, a book I thought was basically finished. A year ago I fell into a deep hole of learning what it really takes to make a story come to life. When I finally sent in the revised manuscript to the publisher, I felt something I never had before. A sense of deep pride in a job well done. A sense of abiding connection with my characters and their journey. A confidence in knowing I had taken the time to really, really, get to know my characters and allow their story to be told. It may never be a bestseller, but I know I gave it my all.

My challenge to you is to do the same. Don’t rush. Take the time to really develop your writing. Get feedback from excellent editors who can push you and torture you into making the kind of story you never thought you could write. Give your characters your all because they deserve nothing less from you.

And when the critics get to you, keep an iron jaw. Get up off the mat and dig deeper.

Always. Keep. Writing.