Saturday, December 28, 2013

I hope you all had a fabulous Christmas. Vacation at home has been a blast. I'll return next week with the next post. Have a wonderful New Year!


Friday, December 20, 2013

A Christmas Character Trait

This is the best time of the year. So many wonderful things to see and do entrance me. Don't you love the holiday music in most stores? How about the swags and wreaths everywhere? And the sunny farewells from store clerks?

It's a great time to observe most people at their best. And why would that be important? Who cares if the usually grumpy cashier is has a quirk in his mouth that may suggest a small smile daring to escape? Why would you want to notice your bank teller is singing under her breath? Aren't you too busy for these little nuances to matter?

But matter they do to a writer. Building character traits that jive and work together are paramount. Your keen eye will help make your characters more believable when you use your observations. People are consistent for the most part. All personalities tend to follow a pattern that can help you categorize their traits. Yes, we all know that certain things make us individualistic, but there are still general traits that make up a personality type.

Observation is the best way to learn, and first-hand experience is key. With just a few extra moments, we can mentally catalog these changes in the behavior of the people we encounter on a regular basis. Later, take the time to write a few notes in a journal so you can refer back to them. This will improve your writing by giving continuity to the personalities you've chosen to work with.


It's great to read up on the subject too. There are excellent books on the subject, like Writer's Guide to Character Traits, by Dr. Linda Edelstein.

Keep your eyes open. You'll be surprised on what you pick up this wonderful, busy, sometimes crazy season.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

One Big Move and a Remodel Too

It's been weeks since my fingers have stroked the keys of my computer to get a post out, and I miss it. We just went through a major move and started a remodel at our new house on the second day so I've been busy. So busy I had to set my writing and critique group aside for a bit. But I'm back in the writer's chair and ready to get to work on my creative side again.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Christmas is just around the corner too. It's that time of year when no matter how much you want to write, there's no time for it even if you don't move the week of one of the biggest holidays. I guess I'll just have to sneak in a bit here and there when I can.

Dear critique group you've been so neglected. Thank you for being patient with me. I'll get on top of your submissions this weekend.

Y'all have a great weekend and I'll work on some great material for you next week.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Great Ways to Show Instead of Describe

Describing places and people is so much fun. We can build these wonderful characters and make them so real to the reader. But it's easy to fall into the trap of explaining instead of showing.

Let me give you an example of what I mean:
  • The brunette peered into the mirror. Her red lips that had a natural pout to them, and her big green eyes were the talk of every man she passed. Her skin was flawless. She wore a purple shirt of the finest quality. Her jeans were the perfect cut for her figure.
  • The road was covered with heavy, overgrown oak trees. The grass had a faded appearance at the edge of the shadows leading to the trees. A house sat just beyond the little dip in the drive at the end of the trees.
You can picture this lady and the scene with ease, yet it's a bit flat. It sounds okay at first glance, but look deeper. This kind of surface writing dulls your work and slows the pace of the storyline.

Want to see an improvement? How about this?

  •       Jack studied the brunette. "Those pouty lips and big green eyes aren't going to get you my tickets. You should've gotten here earlier."
                Well it might work on any other man she passed, but he was different.
        She drew close to him. "Come on. The ticket holder promised them to me. I...I couldn't get here sooner."
                He tried to ignore the plea in her eyes, and did his best not to trail her figure with his eyes. Her well cut jeans and very tailored shirt didn't mean a thing to him. "Sorry."
    
  •      Brenna hunched low as she passed under the low tree line then laughed at herself and shook her head. Fear had no place in her mind right now. Yet she couldn't deny the death of the grass as it edged toward the drive her little Pinto crawled over.
              A glimpse of white indicated the house that seemed to move further away as she pushed the vehicle forward.

It's as simple as putting your descriptions into action. Make them visible through another's eyes as seen with Jack. Or show them by using action words to dictate what the reader is seeing.

So have fun with your writing. Find ways to bring it alive and entice readers to keeping reading using this simple technique.



Thursday, November 14, 2013

'Moving' Can Be Used As a Cuss Word

As some of you know, I've been in the process of moving for months now. One thing after another has deterred, held up, and lengthened the time to closing. It's so easy to get frustrated and upset when things keep going wrong, but I've learned a very important lesson from this episode in my life. Keep looking to God. Stop trying to make it work in my time and my way. Return to the peace and inner joy God has for me even through uncertain times.

 
This concept also applies to our writing. When we get to the end of a manuscript, we want to write it off as finished. Yes, it has to pass through some editing phases, but we writers try to minimize that part of the work. Sometimes our writing needs to be moved around. Whether it's a chapter or a scene, it's hard to face that our work isn't always complete.


There have been times I crossed my arms and shook my head at the computer. Move things around?! Now that's a cuss word in the making after what I've been through. Like moving, changing our manuscript can be a long ordeal. It's painful to cut and remold some of the work we've done. Yet, once we sit down and sort through the boxes, we can see where things need to go in the new format. We can rebuild in a better way.

 
Be encouraged. I bet most of us would say that it was worth the pain and grueling work when it's over. So press on and cut and move and remold your WIP. You'll be glad you did.
 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Check Out Linda White's Novel: Bloody Point

I love to find new authors who write Christian fiction. It's so exciting to discover a gem you didn't know existed, one that makes you stay up well past your bedtime because you can't put their book down. Last month, I started one of Linda J. White's books and I couldn't put it down.

I had the opportunity to meet this author at a conference this year, and purchased Bloody Point at a book signing. When I turned to the first page of Linda's book I couldn't wait to delve into the work of someone I'd met. I love suspense, and this novel was in that category. From the first page, I knew I wasn't getting any sleep that night. I'm a night owl by nature, so it was no surprise to me that the fast pace of this storyline was going to keep me up.


Right away, I liked the characters and cared what happened to them. To my writing friends, we all know how important it is that our characters are likeable. I was intriqued by the back story to Cassie McKenna, the main character.

The detail Linda used to show the community at marinas and life aboard a ship was new to me. I had no before hand knowledge, yet she made it all so easy to imagine. And the insight into FBI protocol and work was also intriguing and very realistic.

This fast-paced novel won five out of five stars with me. If you haven't had an opportunity to read any of her books, it's well worth your time.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Autumn Brings Out the Best In Me

It's that time of year when the trees are brilliant colors and the fall air is cool and delicious with the smell of leaves. It's my most favorite season. I watch for the leaves to change day by day, and I find myself outdoors with my kids more. The windows are opened almost every morning to allow the breeze to flutter through my house. I even seem to find more inspiration to write.

This fall seemed to come earlier with the colder temperatures, yet the leaves refused to turn. As I usually do, I watched for them each morning. But this fall I found myself fighting disappointment. Why haven't the usual signs begun to show? Why isn't my lawn littered with beautiful red and yellow leaves yet?


The anticipation has been killing me. Then today I noticed all of a sudden the street is lined with reds, oranges, yellows, and even purples as the season comes into full bloom. My hands raised to the heavens in thankfulness to our Savior for knowing when the right time was. It reminded me of other things I've been waiting on, one of which is whether or not to start my next manuscript. The idea hasn't come to me as it usually does. I figured it was because I'm in the midst of a lot of change, including a move in two weeks. But perhaps it's because it isn't time yet.

I'm reminded to look to God today. To wait on Him for His time when I can set forth on a new and wonderful journey with the next novel from my imagination. Or maybe to rework one of my other manuscripts and get it out to the agents.

Happy Harvest Time dear readers. May your weekend be filled with the wonder of this picturesque season. 
 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Christian Writing World: It's Big

Writing Christian fiction has opened my eyes to the enormity of the writing world. As a writer, there are so many avenues to learn the craft, meet other authors who struggle as we do, and to work toward getting published.

I'd been writing for a couple years before I found the community of authors I now know. It's a lonely world out there without them. I didn't realize how much I needed them to become the writer I am today. It's that connection that we all need in this tough world. They've been there to encourage and edify me. They were there when I needed help composing a proposal for the first time. And, they were there when I started looking for an agent.

With the internet, it's so much easier to find groups and others like ourselves. It's amazing how God can connect someone from across the country to us in a very personal way. We should utilize these associations to help us continue forward. There are others ways to join that world.

  • As hard as blogging and social media can be, it's a vital tool to hook us up to our audience, whether that's your readers or support for writers. Start one if you haven't already, and stick to it.

  • Local writing groups are a great way to meet people face to face who have a common goal. I loved it when I got a chance to attend a meeting with one of my friends recently. I left refreshed and ready to get back to my computer to get some work done.

  • Book signings are also a great way to meet authors and to make new connections. Authors love to share their journey, and many are eager to help fellow writers.

Step out and create some new connections. You'll gain more than advice or education, you'll gain new friends and relationships that can move you forward in your writing journey.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Show Me Don't Tell Me

I've learned a lot since I had my first book published. The writing journey is an amazing one. When writers decide to buckle down and finish that first manuscript, reality hits. It's hard. And it's a lot of work. There's all these rules you don't know about until your work gets in front of an agent or editor or you join a writing group.

When I joined ACFW, a Christian writing group, my eyes were opened to a whole new universe. They had lots of workshops and online classes to help strengthen my work. That's when I started to hear the buzz about showing versus telling in writing. My first instinct was to check out some of the best sellers out there to see how they did it. I was surprised by the impact a book had when the author showed their story.

Always show instead of tell to bring your story alive. Here are some examples to give you a clear idea what the difference is between the two.

  • Telling: She was mad.
  • Showing: Kira reared back and put her hands on her hips.

  • Telling: He felt upset.
  • Showing: He closed his eyes and lowered his head into his hands.

  • Telling: Embarrassment ran through Sabrina.
  • Showing: Heat climbed up Sabrina's face and her shoulders slumped.


'Was' is a very common word that will tell instead of show. Erase that word too when at all possible.

Odds are if you have to use the word 'felt', you're probably telling and not showing in most cases. So go back through those manuscripts and annihilate that word. Work on the best way to show your characters' feelings through actions.

Telling an emotion, as in the third example, is a good sign you need to rework a sentence.

Once you've taken the time to turn your telling into action, your book will come alive to your readers. It adds a whole new dimension to your story and keeps readers turning the pages. What are some common 'telling' words you find yourself using? Send them to me. I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Think Outside the Box Literally

I've been boxing up my house for weeks now. We're about to move so boxes are in abundance around here. They're lining the wall of my closet, my office, the garage. Every bedroom is packed and almost ready to go when the big day arrives. So seeing all this cardboard has given me an idea.

Sometimes in my writing I get snagged. I need to come up with a place and mood for the next scene, and nothing comes to me. Or I can't picture how my characters are interacting with their environment.

Here's where the box comes into play. What if I filled a box with items that'll help me create the next scene? If I rummage through the box without looking, and pull a designated number of items out I can build the next section of my plot in an interesting way. You can employ the same idea with your work in progress too.


To start, you could fill it with pictures of places. Get your hands on:

  • Old magazines
  • Pictures of your vacations
  • Newspaper clippings

Add different objects to symbolize the weather. How about:

      • Cotton balls for clouds
      • A bottle of water for rain
      • A tennis ball for sun
      • Sunglasses to represent heat
      • Scarf shows that it's cold 


And don't forget one important sense that gets left out of writing a lot-smell. What about adding:

          • Potpourri sachet
          • Cologne bottle                  
          • Scented candles         
          • A banana peel in a bag to represent a bad smell


Now you've got all the essential elements to get back on track, and you did it in a creative way. You could even take it a step further if you already know where you want the scene to occur, but you don't know how to set it up. If you know you want the scene to be in the kitchen then what about putting kitchen items in the box? If an item gets pulled out, make the characters have to use the item. What about:
  • A rolling pin- It could be a dangerous utensil in a suspense
  • A pressure cooker- It's comic what can happen when not locked properly or heated too high
  • A pitcher- tea anyone?
  • Apron- Is your male character only able to find a hot pink apron so he won't mess up his suit?
It's fun to find new ways to brainstorm and develop your plot. Think outside the box literally and have a great time creating your next setting.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Research In Kooky Places for Good Ideas

I'm getting ready to start a new novella with my critiquing group on fairy tales with a twist. When one of my partners suggested the idea, I was unsure at first. Then before I knew it, my mind was whirling with all kinds of scenarios.

I loved the idea of writing a novella about the old lady in the shoe. She had lots of kids. I have lots of kids. It would be so easy to relate to the protagonist. But then one of my other friends was quick to point out that the story was a nursery rhyme. Too bad. I'm glad though that she said something to me about it.

I got back on track, and decided to go to the library and check out some books on classic fairy tales. Wouldn't it be interesting to write about an old fable that not many people today know about, one that hasn't been overdone on television?


The hard part came when deciding which tale to spin off of. Should I do The Princess and the Pea? What about The Little Match Girl?


I went to the library to start my research. Of course, I'm sure you'd think of checking out books in the juvenile section for fairy tales, but it got me thinking. Non traditional places to find writing ideas could come from many different places. Would you search through picture books to generate an idea? What about looking in interior design magazines like House Beautiful( a personal favorite of mine)? Couldn't a living room in that magazine inspire a scene in your next manuscript? What about pictures in art galleries and coffee houses created by local artists? What about the Chik Fil A cow who was dancing around the restaurant you ate dinner at? What's his real life like?




Start looking around you. Consider the most non-conventional places to build your creativity and let your next great novel take off from there. You'll have that diamond in the rough that's so different from any other story.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

6 Rewards an Author Should Try

This has been a very productive writing week. I finally hankered down and got back to my latest manuscript. It's so close to being finished. The exuberance of typing the last word is building already.
 
A celebration is just around the corner. How will I reward myself for finishing it after so many months of hard work? I'm tapping my chin in thought at this very moment.
 
You're probably asking yourself why I need a reward? Shouldn't the work be enough recompense?
 
The answer: Sometimes yes. But what about those tough days when it takes everything you've got to finish a project? Rewards help us push forward. Rewards sometimes even help us focus.
 
Writers should give themselves something when they accomplish a goal, and it can take little to no money to make it happen. Here are a few ideas:

  • Sleep in the next day.
  • Plan a day where you do nothing but read. This is hard when you have kids, but it is possible if you line things up right.
  • Go out to eat with a writing buddy at a place with a value menu. Cheap can be just as much fun as a ritzy place when you're talking books while you eat.
  • Stash away your favorite sweet, and don't touch it until your goal is accomplished.
  • Get your favorite author's next book.
  • Stop at your favorite coffee house.


It can be something little or something big. But set it in advance so you have a tangible item or plan to look forward to. I rarely miss a goal when there's something in it for me. Are you the same way? What are some things you do to reward yourself when you meet a goal? I'd love to know.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Writers Who Inspired Me This Month

Boy did I have a rough few weeks. One thing after another went wrong. I got to the point where I just wanted to shut the world out for a bit. How did I do that? I pulled out a book and sat down to read.

This is the part where you Christian writers have a huge impact on readers. I found encouragement and strength in several books that pointed me to Christ, and gave me the edification I needed to keep going. It's amazing how much we can glean and take with us through the week from even a Christian fictional work.

Here's a list of the authors that inspired me through some tough days:

  • Carrie Fancett Pagels: Return to Shirley Plantation- A Civil War Romance Novella
    1. Carrie does a great job showing life on a plantation during the Civil War. She also opened my eyes to a little known fact. Her story revolved around a slave who was 1/8 African yet looked white and her niece and nephew who also appeared to be white but were slaves.
  • Kate Hodges: The Other Side of Miracles: Looking at the Miracles of Jesus in a New Way
    1. Kate does an exquisite job relaying the miracles of Jesus from the perspective of the people who received them. I loved how she dug into their lives and personal history to show why they needed a touch from the Savior.
  • Diane E. Tatum: Gold Earrings
    1. Diane's novel was a fun story about a woman who ventures out to find her own way in the Midwest. Although she didn't stick to the traditional view of the nineteenth century, I was encouraged by her message of the importance of looking on the inner man and not the outer one.
  • Christa Allan: Walking on Broken Glass
    1. Christa's novel really made me think. She wrote in deep point of view about addiction and breaking the cycle through her main character. I was inspired by her style of writing. Her voice is very unique and I can't wait to find more books written by her. 

If you haven't had a chance to read any of these, take the time to get your hands on them. You'll be encouraged and uplifted by the message God gave these writers.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A.D.D.- A Writer's Gift

It was a beautiful week and a half of vacation for my family and I. But, today was the day I had to get back to all my writing responsibilities. As a matter of fact, I had to chain myself to the computer seat tonight to make myself get back to work. And of course, I'm so misconbobulated from being away for those glorious days. If you saw me, you'd think I was the most ADD person you ever met at this moment. You can ask my buddies from the writers' conference. They can tell you what I'm like when I'm hyped up on forgetfulness. I become a human ping pong ball.

Sometimes my writing gets that way too. I jump from one subject to the next. My characters forget they were sitting when I make them leap up to spar. Or they speak out of character for two pages until I'm forced to retract and put the words back in their mouths to start the conversation right.

I even give my character the wrong name when my ADD kicks in. One of my critique partners will be reading along and all the sudden someone from my previous book shows up on the page(embarrassing!). That puts my partners in quite a quandary, I'll tell you.

So my answer to the craziness that only sometimes possesses me, oops sorry, a bit of an exaggeration there....
  1. The answer- stop.
  2. Take a deep breath...or two...maybe three.
  3. Start a list to keep on track.
  4. And fight the fidgets that do their best to capture me. 
  5. No changing tasks until the previous one is completed.
If you struggle with this sometimes wonderful, sometimes infuriating condition you know that it can wreck your intentions to write. It can make your plans fall to pieces, and make you want to hit the wall with your forehead when you have to back track three times to remember what you were on your way to do.

But its flip side is the ability to hyper-focus. It may take me forever to get into the mode of writing, but once I do, I can crank out some serious work. The first two hours of moving, dancing, bouncing around turn into three times as many hours of productive work.

Thank you God for my attention disordered gift.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Staycation: To Do or Not To Do

This week, I'm taking a staycation. It's going to be a glorious week of doing nothing, I hope. Scratch that. It's a week of doing almost nothing. Okay, okay. Scratch that. If anyone knows me, they know I can't sit around and do nothing even for vacation.

My best hope is to avoid my office. If I can. No peaking in at my computer, wondering what awaits my inbox. No stalking my husband's computer to get one quick glimpse of Facebook.

I need a big break. A vacation of sorts. My world has whirled around with endless writing, blogging, checking emails, Facebook, and Twitter. You know that 360 shingle you hang when you're really serious about writing.

So here goes my best effort. I pledge (hand on heart) to sit down and relax to the best of my ability. As long as I possibly can this week. I will not tiptoe to my laptop and work on my latest manuscript. I will not worry over the fact that it was supposed to be completed weeks ago. I will adhere to my oath to relax.

This is how I feel about relaxing!

Pray for me. It's going to be a grueling week of sitting back and kicking up my feet.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Emotional Side of Writing

There's nothing like reading a book and laughing with the characters, crying when they have a tragedy, getting chills when suspense rocks them. It's what makes us read late into the night when we should be sleeping. Gripping stories are why we can't put a book down to start dinner when we should.

What sets those kind of books apart from the rest? What makes us forget our world for just a bit as we venture into another?

The answer is emotion. We need to feel like we can relate to the protagonist in the story on a personal level. Without it, we can't connect. A storyline falls flat.

Here's some tips to help inject more emotion into your writing:

  1. Show the character's feelings.
    1. They put their hands on their hips.
    2. She slammed her fist on the table.
    3. He rubbed his neck and looked away.
  2. Dig deeper into why your character responds the way they do.
  3. Make sure your protagonist is flawed.
  4. Keep some of their past hidden until necessary. It'll keep the reader guessing as to why they act, react, or overreact.
  5. Show that your character doesn't have all the answers through their frustrations, wants, and needs.
  6. Keep their personality consistent. Avoid sudden shifts or you'll lose the reader.
  7. Allow them to have some type of emotional victory even if the story doesn't have a happy ending.

A great story has many elements, but one of the most important ones is using emotion to hurtle your story above the rest. Make us want to turn the pages. Give us something to connect with. Show us how your characters feel. If you use emotion to help tell your story, your writing won't be just words, it'll be a victory of connecting with your readers.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Books Are Like Gum

I'm a gum chewer. I can exhaust a piece of the best gum in no time flat. That also makes me a connoisseur of sorts. I could tell you which gum has the best flavor, which one lasts the longest, which one is most likely to trigger those happy childhood memories for most of us even if it only has five minutes of enjoyment in it.



 
 A book can be like gum. There are many types:

  • The ones that have the perfect flavor and texture all the way to the end.
  • Sometimes we pick up one with a great cover and we can't wait to taste the delights inside to find a surprise: we think it's one genre and it turns out to be different. 
  • Sometimes we fall back on our old favorites for the sake of familiarity.
  • Or what about the one that someone recommends to you and it has just the right taste for that day.
  • There are ones like the best bubble makers. They build and build with excitement, and you can't wait to see how they'll turn out.
  • And there are the ones that you know you're going to love from beginning to end just because you've enjoyed their brand in the past.
 
There are so many flavors, colors, and consistencies in this giant world of writing. Take a little time to enjoy something out of your comfort zone, something new. You may find it was exactly what you needed today.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Prayer...He's Waiting

There are days when you're down in the dumps, hanging on with your fingernails ready to split from the effort of holding on. You just want to let go. You just want to give up. You want to say you did everything you could.

But have you?

One of the most significant shortcomings we Christians fall prey to is lack of prayer. We remember God when things are crashing around us, but do we remember Him when things are going according to our plans? What about when we've had a major victory? Where is our thanksgiving prayer then?

It's an easy slide from depending on God in a time of need to forgetting to pray in our daily activity.

As a writer, the need is so very great for us to stay hooked up to God. Our mission to write comes from above. God has a specific message he intends us to share, and a target audience He wants to influence through us, even if it's only one person. How can we do that if we aren't talking to Him and listening for His sweet voice?

Busyness is one of my best excuses for not praying enough. I hit the ground running as soon as I'm out of bed. I whiz a quick noncommittal prayer upwards as I careen through my morning regime, and then I'm off to my life. I forget that it's not my life. It's His. And, I need Him all the time. Not at my convenience: at His.

Sometimes I sit down to write and before I know it two hours have passed. I didn't invite God into the room to show me what I was to work on for the day. So how can I trust my work is what He wants me to do? I may have wasted all the time I was trying to save.

If you're rushing around today, and so many writers are on their way to the ACFW conference as we speak, stop and take time to come before the Savior. Talk to Him. Pray before you get too busy to remember. He's waiting...




Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why You Should Create an Outline When You Write

There are two kinds of writers. The planners and the fly by the seat of their pants writers. The one can't quite understand the other. One must plot and plan. One can't take time to scheme. They let the creativity flow and don't worry about the behind the scenes work.

Well, I'm a planner. I spend countless hours fleshing out the characters. What is their story before the story? I have an outline for everything. One for places they live in or travel to. One for minute plot description. One for character sketches.

Being a plotter makes my life so much easier. Did I forget where my character stores her keys? Go to the 'Places' outline. Was one of my minor characters raised in a rural or urban environment? Go to the 'Character' outline. Did I forget to mention an important detail about the character's past? Go to the 'Plot' outline.

For the 'seat of your pants' writers, your reading this with scorn. You're wondering where my creativity even had a chance to breath with all these plans. Couldn't I worry about all that later? And, some of you planners may be new at outlining and don't quite know what the best set up is to make it an efficient tool for your work.

 
An outline benefits both kind of writers. With just a tiny bit of planning, you too can set up the dreaded outline to strengthen your writing. Here's some quick and easy steps to help you do minimal organizing to keep the details in order:

  1. Set up a separate folder for each outline you're making.
  2. If it's beyond you to plot first, put it in the outline as you go.
  3. Make each chapter a new bullet and give it a page number to make for easy searching in the future.
  4. Put a timeline with each chapter and page number. This helps you map out time spans.
  5. Only type the most important details or things you know you'll need to look back at later.
  6. Highlight sections in the outline where you know you need to go back and fill in blanks or give info that you haven't had a chance to finish researching.
  7. Mark the day you started the manuscript and what the theme is. You'll be wondering about it years later.
As much work as it seems to be, in the end you'll be so glad you did it. It'll minimize mistakes and help you find information faster when you're editing or trying to remember exactly how a specific scene happened. And, once you get used to doing it, you'll find you can't live without it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Great Places to Get Inspired to Write

There are so many places that can inspire and evoke a story if we're willing to step out of our comfort zones and do a little exploration. It's amazing where ideas can spring up. Have you ever been at the grocery store and saw an old lady pushing her cart with slow deliberation, or at the park when a young couple were walking together, arms entwined? These little moments in life are the stuff novels spring from.

So you're asking yourself where you should be looking. It seems obvious to check out the activity around you in public, but where else could you look? Here's a great list to consider:

  • Historical Locations- Could an old plantation have a secret passage or hiding place in the paneling? Ask the tour guide if you can get a sneak peak into off-limits areas.
  • The Mall- Could your main character be shopping for an engagement ring? What does a person look like when they're about to make such a big move?
  • Parks- Are you writing a thriller about someone running from an enemy? Check out the walking trails to see how someone reacts when they're exerting themselves. 
  • An Alley- Just standing in one even in the best part of town can get your pulse racing.
  • The Local Pound- What does it feel and smell like to be surrounded by the chaos of thirty barking dogs? Could you imagine your character surrounded by a wild pack?
  • An Old Crime Scene- Can you imagine how the assailant gained access into the location? Can you imagine the fear and adrenaline of the victim?
  • An Open Field- Sit down and take in the feel of the air, the rough grass, the remoteness.
  • A Rundown Barn- The smell of old hay and the dark recesses can stir unease or boost happy memories.

The list could go on forever if you had the time to read, but I think you get the gist. If you start asking friends and family, you'll be amazed at the response you get, and the opportunities that'll open up. A friend may know someone with a dilapidated barn or a farm with acres of fields. It's amazing how people jump in to help if you're willing to ask.

Think of it as an opportunity to use your five senses to improve your writing, not as a boundary issue. In the end, you gain more than two dimensional knowledge, you'll get to live the scenes before you write them.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

How Long Do Your Avoidance Tactics Work?

As I stood in my bathroom I had no choice but to admit the truth. I covered my eyes in shame. Nobody could know what I hadn't done. The shower glared in my face. It seemed to say, "you let me down." Brown grime covered the bottom of my shower. It hadn't been cleaned for too long.

Can you relate? Is there some work waiting for your attention that you haven't managed to get around to accidentally on purpose?

I pulled the cleaner out and sprayed the walls and basin in repentance. It would take a good half hour for the cleaner to do it's job. Meanwhile, I'd avoid its accusations. I'd come back and start scrubbing in a bit.

 Why not forestall as long as I could? And I knew just the way to do it: get onto Facebook, check emails, start a new post. The choices were endless. They had the capabilities of keeping me away for a long time. So I sat in my office and pretended to look busy.

It was so easy. Facebook had 29 new notifications. The emails were a mile long. I buried my head into my computer. My critique partners had sent new work to be edited too.

That was when it hit me. Critiquing and editing wasn't so different from cleaning a shower. I avoided using critiques to edit my work as long as I could. I hid them in a folder that I didn't have to see until I had no choice.

The problem with that is if I don't face the work as soon as possible I won't know to correct the same mistakes in the current chapter I'm working on. That means the problems continue to compile. We all do this in some area of our lives. It seems to be the easy way out.

It only took me a second to get up and return to the bathroom. I scrubbed. I rinsed. I scrubbed some more.

I'd learned a very important lesson. Stop avoiding the hard things. Take a deep breath and face the work now. It'll make the work in the end easier because there won't be any time for build up to cripple our forward motion.

So now I'm going to scrub that shower right away, and I'm going to do my best to keep up with my book editing. Will you make the same commitment with whatever work you've been called to do?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On the Wrong Mountain or Right Where God Wants Me?

It was two days before the conference and I was stuck on the side of a mountain. What was to be a three hour round trip hike with my family was getting scary. I knew I should've canceled the little gaunt. Why hadn't I listened to the inner voice of reason that tried to talk some sense into me? There was editing to be done on my manuscript, packing to finish, a proposal that needed to be touched up.

My inner complaining halted as I glanced up to see one of the children take their last sip of water from a sport bottle.

"Don't," I cried. It was too late. I watched the last drop fall into my daughter's open mouth. Four hours of rock climbing in the summer sun had drained us all, but the precious water must last no matter how thirsty we were. She moved forward with a sheepish look and an apology.

The peak seemed miles away still. My scuffed fingers and aching feet begged for a break, yet I knew there was no time to stop. We had to get to the top to reach the trail down. Tears threatened to dissolve me into a mess. All I could see was the rock cliff far out of my reach. How would we ever get there with the kids threatening to lay on the ground and not get up?

I squeezed through a rock crevice and the peak disappeared from sight. Climbing the face of a cliff, I pulled my niece up behind me. Some of my family was in front of me, some behind. There was the top again, only a smidge closer. I picked up momentum. Push forward. Keep moving. Focus on the trail in front of you and not the peak forever away.

God's Word came to me. I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. This was the reason I struggled up the mountain. This hike was symbolic of my walk with Him.

My stomach growled from hunger. My tongue begged for more water. Another rock outcropping then a path led to the edge of the mountain. I stood surrounded by eight kids, my husband, and sister. Just to our left was the elusive finish line.

"There it is. We can do this. Let's go. Can't you see it there?" I said. They all looked with doubt yet moved forward.

We climbed and pushed through the rocks, slid down fissures, and pulled each other over bulges in the mountain. Some fell behind again, and I pulled them forward.

At last, my feet landed on the peak. I stared. The beauty of God's world so high on a mountain brought a different kind of tears. We'd made it. Through travail and pain, pushing over rocks I never thought I could climb, we'd arrived. But, what was bigger than the victory of this trip was the lesson I'd take back with me. God wanted me to see that my walk through becoming a writer may be wrought with unbelievably hard work and frustration like the long trail up Old Rag Mountain, but in the end He'd bring me to the top of the mountain he wanted me to climb, with the exact amount of sustenance I needed. And, I wouldn't be alone.



 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Items You Won't Think to Bring to a Writers' Conference

As you all know according to my blog about Writers' Conference series, I went to my first conference recently. Being new at it, I didn't know for sure what should be brought along. The obvious things were packed. I even posted on the regional ACFW Facebook page to ask general questions. I got some great answers, and set to work preparing for my four day trip.

I'm one of those over preparers. You know, the ones that have the husband asking if the kitchen sink is tied to the roof of the van. I made my lists and checked it not twice but three times. There were enough clothes to last eight days instead of four. Extra shoes and flip-flops rested on the pocket of my suitcase. Notebooks and folders filled my laptop bag.

What I didn't count on was the empty slate of a dorm. It was sixth grade camp all over again. I even had to climb over bed rails to get in my bed. There wasn't even an old bar of soap to wash my hands with. You can imagine how upset I was that me, the one ready for anything in a moment's notice, hadn't considered there'd be no hand soap.

Later that day at dinner, I met some fabulous people and I realized I hadn't considered bringing business cards. It was a loss of opportunity to network with other writers. While I passed their cards down the line at the table, I had nothing to give with my personal information. One more thing forgotten.

On the second day it poured. And I mean poured. Before I left, everything in my mind was a sunny picture of perfection. I hadn't counted on rain: i.e. no umbrella. The cafeteria was on one end and the chapel and classrooms were on the other. I was ready to pull my hair out and weep like one of the best paid Jewish mourners there was. What was I to do with my laptop bag and my papers? What about my hair and outfit? I had three appointments that day. Yet another item never considered.

It's the small things that get you in the end. I learned a lot in those four days. Conferences can be in all kinds of settings: hotels, camps, colleges. It could rain or be sunny, hot or cold. If you're on your way to a conference, here's a quick list of extra things to consider bringing:

  • Hand soap
  • Towels/hand towels/wash cloths
  • Umbrella
  • An extra pillow/blanket
  • Extra notebooks and folders to help organize papers
  • A rainproof bag for important papers
  • Comfortable shoes if you'll be traversing a long walk throughout the day
  • A bag on wheels. You'd be surprised how many things you'll want to carry along from workshop to workshop, and they can get very heavy.
  • Business cards
  • An extension cord in case you want to take notes with your laptop and there's no close plug
  • A sweater for fluctuating temperatures
  • Your manuscript and proposal on a flash drive in case you need to print more copies  
Be over prepared. In the end you may not need everything, but you'll be so glad you had these items on hand when the unknown happens.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Should You Research Agents Before a Conference?

My phone alarm sounded as I sat in a workshop at a conference. Time to head down to the main level for my appointment with an agent. My hands shook, palms sweating. I turned to my friend to give her the knowing look. Yes, the one that says, "I'm going to the slaughter house, a.k.a the appointment room. Pray for me."

I was in a hurry. Two things had to happen before I 'hovered' near the agent's table to wait my turn. First, I had to make sure my dress was straight and there was nothing in my teeth. Then, I needed to read over the quick cheat sheet I'd made on each agent I had an appointment with.

I only had three minutes left before I must be in the room. When I whipped out the paper, I glanced over it. Funny how my mind didn't want to take in the bit of information. My nerves eroded that part of my brain. I read over the list twice. Still nothing solid stayed in my head. Shoving the paper back in my bag, I hurried to the line.

The agent's previous appointment stood and gave me a hopeful smile before leaving. When I sat, questions raced through my mind. What genre do they deal with? What company are they working for? Where did they work in the past? What didn't was the answers to all those questions. I froze. I couldn't even remember my pitch I'd worked on tirelessly.

My voice caught in my throat before a shaky remark came out. "You work with Young Adult, mid-grade level, but I saw that you're interested in some adult fiction?"

Her answer, "Actually, I work with non-fiction. But yes, I am looking for some adult fiction."

That was it. I'd done it. Now she'd think I didn't know a thing about her, which meant I didn't care enough to research, which meant she didn't care enough to give me a contract.

Don't let this happen to you. All the research you've done has a good chance of fleeing from your mind the moment you stand face to face with the agents you dream of working with.

Our brain can do amazing things when we're at ease. It's the times we're stressed, over tired, or very nervous that it poops out on us. When that fight or flight reaction kicks in, have the ground work so cemented in, you won't have to think too hard to say the precise words you meant to say.

Here's 3 things to remember:

  • Research: Check out the agent's website, their agency's website, and the bio page the conference puts on their site. Knowing the genres they work with is of utmost importance. 
  • Memorize: Break out your old school days thinking cap and memorize, memorize, memorize.
  • Plan: Keep a cheat sheet with you and check it before you meet the agent or editor in case you're too nervous to remember all the things you need to know about them.

In the end, what agents will remember about you, other than your amazing pitch, is the time you invested in them.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

REJECTION: WILL YOU CRUMBLE OR GROW?

Agents are amazing people. They hold our work, indeed it feels like our life, in their hands. With a few clicks on the keyboard, they can send us jumping out of our seats and leaping over buildings. Or they can set us at our deepest point of despair in the basement of our hearts. So many times I question my Savior. "Why God," I ask, "did you make them so? They are on a pedestal I can't reach. Will I ever be good enough in their eyes?"

As I sit in my chair, I hear the voice that speaks in its quietest form to my soul. "You do not write for them. They are only a tool I use to help you along. You write for me."

I shudder at the sound of the Spirit.

He continues. "Accept their rejection as a time to grow and learn."

"But they've discarded my work. So many hours, even years, I spent on it."

"Grow and learn."

My head shakes. "How can I? I've denied family and friends and time for this dream. And it has come to nothing."

"Trust me. I have a plan for you."

I want to say it's too hard, I can't go on.

"I will give you strength. I will guide you to the right one for you. Just keep writing. Keep working. You're doing it for me."

Tears wet my cheeks. I can't give up the purpose I am called to do. I must move forward. "Yes, Spirit. Help me to keep going. Encourage me."

"I will."

That day will come when we get the email or call, but only if we yield to the Spirit to grow and learn and improve. We must do this work of writing with all our might. Continue the work in season and out of season to be worthy of the call. And, we must remember we're doing this for our Savior.

Monday, August 12, 2013

CAN YOU SIT STILL AND WAIT?

This was the year. I was determined to go to a writers conference. And, if I was going to invest the money, I was going to be prepared. I perused every square inch of the website for the Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference. It didn't take long for me to be overwhelmed by the amount of information and forms that needed to be filled out and reviewed. Who should I list on my appointment form for agents and editors? What classes should I take? What should my continuing session be? The list was sky-high.

It wasn't long before my priorities fell into place. Let me stress the 'me' in that. I was going to meet agents and editors. Isn't that the real reason everyone goes to these things? All the other stuff was just extra, or so I thought. I made my lists, researched agents and editors, picked out the perfect outfits.

What I didn't realize was God had a bigger purpose, a higher meaning for me to grasp in this trip of discovery and making connections. The first night wasn't about getting to those agents. The next morning didn't bring me any closer to a real editor. What did happen? God used some amazing speakers and Marlene Bagnull to speak to my heart about the real issues of today. At first I wondered what they had to do with writing. I was practically writhing in my seat waiting to get to the appointment room. But then I stopped and listened. What did God have for me in these seemingly unconnected meetings?

It hit me. He wanted me to stop my plans and listen, to sit still and wait for His purpose, HIS PLAN.

Surprised, I sat bewildered in my seat. Without waiting on the Lord, my plans were empty. I'd get nowhere. None of my work would matter. It was in that moment I tuned out the noise of many around me and got alone with my Savior.

This is where the silence of waiting began, and then the prayers to
our eternal Father.

So when you get to you conference. Sit still and listen for His voice. Let Him direct you that your plans will align with His.

As God's Word says in Jeremiah 29:11-12 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.


Friday, August 9, 2013

The Most Important Thing to Take to a Writers Conference

There's a long list of all the supplies, proposals, and papers to bring with you to a writers conference. With American Christian Fiction Writers' conference just around the corner, lots of writers are heading to meet agents and editors. The demand is high to nail your pitch and write the proposal of the century. But one thing you may not be thinking of is your promises from the year before. Did you tell a faculty member or an agent you'd work on a specific goal at your last conference? Well guess what? They remember these things. My search in the Bible produced Paul's statement in Corinthians:

II Cor. 8:10-11 And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a perfomance also out of that which ye have.


So have you started a new manuscript, worked on your social media, or promised to improve your self-editing skills then fallen prey to doubts or busyness of life? I'm guilty of it myself. When I wrote my first post this week, I looked back at the one I'd created before. Guess what? The last one was written a year ago to the day. Oops.

Let me encourage you to get back to work. There's only about five weeks until the ACFW Conference. Return to the previous year's goals so you're ready when you get to the conference to say, "This is what I've done..."

The most important thing you'll bring with you is tangible progress.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

8 Reasons Why Writers Should Attend Writers Conferences

I'd been writing and composing proposals and sending them off for months when everything came to a screaming halt. The agents wanted to see potential clients face to face. How was that going to happen? They said not to show up at their office. No stalking allowed. So what could I do? I needed a writers conference. It was the next step to get published. After searching the web, the cost of attending one blared across the screen. I gasped in shock, and my jaw dropped. Could I find the money? My husband exclaimed that my writing was more important than money. Didn't the agents' websites suggest how much more likely they were to take me seriously if I made the investment to go? I found the Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference online, and squeezed my eyes closed as I hit the submit payment button.

God's leading was evident when I left for the conference. I met two amazing ladies the first day, and we stuck together through the conference. They were a great source of encouragement and companionship. The speakers were funny and engaging, and I knew I was where I was meant to be.

So you're asking yourself why I'm going on about this? I gained more than just contact with some great agents and publishers. This is what I got out of it:

  • Connecting with agents on a personal level
  • Meeting the most amazing people who are going through the same things you are in your writing career
  • Great workshops and writing clinics
  • Uplifting speakers who understand the difficult journey of a writer
  • Selling you published books in the book store
  • Advise from caring staff members
  • Hearing why God gave us this purpose we must fulfill
  • Encouragement
    So if you're wondering whether or not to go, take the plunge. You'll learn, grow, be strengthened in the Lord. For some of you, it'll be the answer to the question, "Should I keep writing or quit?" If this is God's plan for you, He'll provide the money.