Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Hidden Gem of Time - Four Tips For Encouraging Glimmering Words

by Elizabeth Van Tassel @ElizVanTassel

Perhaps you’ve been nurturing a writing project for a long season. You’re hoping to get an agent or sell your story. Or you are trying to keep making progress amidst the current uncertainty we all are experiencing as the ripples from the Corona virus pandemic continue. 

I’m a gemologist, or expert about jewels, and saw some beautiful opals when I was traveling last year. They were rare pieces from Australia that glimmered in the light, surrounded by diamonds. I photographed this necklace since I write gem mysteries for middle graders and love to focus on beauty in my social media.

Right now, during the Corona virus pandemic, life can feel stagnant, or on hold, and at times very scary with loved ones either on the front lines or at risk. My problem has been “brain fog” after watching too much news. Determined to keep working after over two months on lockdown in California, I’ve fallen back on methods I honed after we survived a horrific loss years ago. I realized I need to keep pressing into my goals and dreams, and continue taking little steps, not unlike like how opals develop over time.

Opal forms when liquid slowly sifts through layers of silt-filled soils or animal remains. Miners have discovered opal-filled areas in Australia that are especially vibrant due to repeated exposure to erosion and water. The extreme conditions brought about just the right circumstance for opal to take shape in minerals or even fossilized animals, plants, and shells. Beauty emerged, quite literally, from murky soils or due to death and destruction.

When I first started writing my story, I was months into applying what I learned at my first big conference, and then tragedy struck. We awoke to flames outside our front door that had traveled twenty-five miles overnight in a huge series of wildfires. After grabbing our children and fleeing, others watched on national television as our home and dreams burned. Strangely enough, our home’s ruins were visited by famous actors and politicians and featured on every television station we watched for several months. We were left with the rubble to rebuild. In one day, we lost our home, our belongings, our community, our church, and our school since we had to move far away into temporary housing. That’s a lot of change. But persevering through that death sharpened my fiction and nonfiction writing. They were both much better. I could go—THERE—with my characters and with my reality. 

More recently, it took a leap of faith to relocate once more to the Bay Area for my husband’s work. Moving set into sequence events that led to me getting a wonderful agent. I could see that all those little drips of water—those articles, speaking, TV work, those guest blogs, connecting with local writers, and honing my craft—everything you learn to do over time actually, very slowly, were working. 

There’s a pithy saying: “Slow and steady wins the race.” It’s attributed to one of Aesop’s fables, the tortoise and hare’s race. We had a pet turtle when I was growing up because I was allergic to anything cute. While I’ve wanted the quick path and cheered on many friends with their writing success, I’ve also seen authors burn out and fail with life’s more important things. 

So, don’t be discouraged if your path is slow and steady. There are hidden benefits perking beneath the surface, like the opal and its formation. While the world seems to be holding its breath, waiting to hit “start” as the pandemic eases its hold on us all, whatever you can accomplish will build something of lasting value. Perseverance, and even resilience to rise above your circumstances, will be honed and developed and help you in all of life’s areas. 

Here are four tips to keep your approach fresh and your goals glimmering.

1. Problem: I’m not sure I’m writing the correct thing, or in the right genre.

Consider: Ensure you are writing in your “lane.”

Is this a calling for you—something you must do—or is it just a hobby? Are you in the right genre? You’ll know it if the topic keeps returning to you despite life interrupts and challenges. The real secret to knowing what you are called to write is to ask, “What must I do before I die?” I know that’s a serious question, but it really distills what’s important, like the sand does in making the shining opal. 

2. Problem: I’ve had delays…life keeps bringing interrupts and I don’t know how to start over…. I have brain fog from the sad news on TV…More edits are needed, how do I remain energized about this project?

Consider: Is it time to show your work to a different audience?

Perhaps getting fresh thoughts from a qualified editor or writing partner would be a good idea. But you have to be willing to listen. And they have to enjoy the genre in which you are writing. I rewrote my book after an editor who lived in the country I was writing about discovered some plot holes I just couldn’t see. I didn’t view her critique as defeat, since she was very qualified. Instead, I tried what she suggested and it made all the difference.

Another idea is to attend an online conference, webinar, or join a supportive Facebook group in your genre so you have more feedback and training available. I’ve used NanNoWriMo, word count goals, daily bursts in writing groups, and the like to keep writing or diving into edits. Remember, opals form over a long time so keep pressing in to improve your work.

3. Problem: This agent -or- publisher is taking a really long time…

Consider: Perhaps your approach needs a fresh vision. 

For finding an agent, try something different. Read the acknowledgements in books like yours to find new resources. Try a local retreat (once travel is open, or perhaps an online one now) instead of a big conference—or the other way around—do something different this year and see what happens to your writing.

Your general life may need re-organizing so you have more focus for the possibilities ahead. And keep building your network by doing all the “things” like writing articles, guest blogs, building online opportunities, finding a mentor relationship, and getting training.

4. Problem: I feel alone and unconnected. My friends keep getting awards and accolades, but where are mine?

Consider: Be proactive about building your network.

Again, ask for mentorship and partnership. Go to conferences, join writing network groups or dive more deeply into ones you’re already subscribed to and bring them a new project. Keep building your friendships and know that everyone is feeling a bit “off” from the current circumstances. 

Another outlook could be paying it forward with friends by helping to promote their books coming out (they really need it during this pandemic and afterwards with no book tours or school visits!) Having that community will serve you well once you are published at long last!

Finally, remember to look outside of writing for inspiration – perhaps taking a walk, planting a garden, redoing a house project, painting, or learning to cook a new meal could revitalize your outlook.

Know that even if everyone can’t see it yet, with perseverance, your work can become a gem like the opal over time. 

Addition resources for coping during the COVID19 here on www.ElizabethVanTassel


Elizabeth Van Tassel has lived with diamonds, wildfires, and miracles. The Graduate Gemologist and communication specialist writes middle grade fantasy adventures and encouraging nonfiction. She also pens articles for two tween blogs and magazines. From South Sea pearls to South American emeralds, her work in gemology and writing have brought exciting travels. But life is rarely all sparkle. In one night, her family lost their home, possessions, and community in a terrible wildfire. Determined to thrive, over time she developed an outlook that spots potential even in loss. Her creative eye and stories help audiences and readers rise above circumstances, finding hope and courage. Using her background in jewelry, ten years in corporate marketing and PR, and youth ministry, Elizabeth speaks and blogs for adults and kids on living a diamond-resilient life. Her products and interviews have appeared on CBS and Fox News, and she shares hope with moms, parents, teens, and women in both faith and corporate settings. You can find her at

Cover photo credits: Photo by Elizabeth Van Tassel at Van Balen Fine Jewelry in Hawaii. 


  1. Great article. It must be interesting working with jewels. Thanks for encouraging us today 🙂

    1. Thank you Jennifer! I loved working with jewelry and helping people celebrate happy occasions. Now I write gem fantasies for middle grade/young adult audiences so I really enjoy sprinkling in a little science to enhance the mystery at hand. And the research is beautiful too! So glad you were encouraged.

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  3. I appreciate your advice, Elizabeth. Your approach via gems is unique and attractive to the world right now.

    1. Thank you Roberta! I actually drafted this well before Corona Virus hit, but then it seemed to fit perfectly. Especially how opals form so slowly over time and use minerals and leftovers to make something pretty. That image helps me be more restful and hopeful right now when I'm getting things done in little drops.

  4. Thanks for the encouragement, Elizabeth! Challenging times need a healthy does of positive vibes! Cheers!

    1. I've so appreciated our SCBWI group and recommended it for Kidlit writers on my website as well as a lot of great podcasts and groups to consider so people don't feel quite so isolated. You are a delight!

  5. I love this post and the connection to gems. Opals are among favorites and your photo is beautiful. The list of tips is very helpful and encouraging. Thank you!

    1. Thank you Barbara! I'm coming to love opals even more. If you have time, look up the black opals from Lightning Ridge - they are amazing too but have a dark background. I'm glad the tips are helpful as well!

  6. What an encouraging story of perseverance in the face of great loss! Thank you for sharing it and some very helpful tips!