Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Year's Resolution you might actually keep

The New Year is upon us, and I am thrilled. We now have an opportunity to look back on 2009 with lovingkindness, decide what we'd like to change and what goals we'd like to set, and move forward into a new year! At the same time, I recognize the statistics for people who actually reach their New Year's goals isn't very encouraging. Research shows that more than half of those who set goals fall off the resolution bandwagon by mid-February. Why do we abandon our goals so easily?

It's because we take on too much and make it all so complicated! We are overwhelmed and under-motivated. In order to make a New Year's Resolution we might actually stick with we need to put a few things in order first.

Create a Plan. In order for you to manifest your goals, you need to create a series of clear and simple steps that you can put into action. If you resolve to walk every day, don't let the rain dissolve your resolve! There are always the stairwells at work or at home! And there's even rain gear!

Be Specific. Don't write or say, "I'm going to lose weight ." Instead say, "I am going to permanently remove 10 pounds."

Visualize. When you visualize, your brain "practices" your action. See yourself eating less, exercising more, relaxing, succeeding, smiling, being in a happy relationship, making money, singing, dancing, etc! Woo hoo!!

Less is more. The more things you try to change in a short period of time, the less likely you are to change anything over the long term. Pace yourself. Don't try and change 50 things at once.

Find a Resolution Buddy and share your goals with them. You are now accountable to someone other than yourself, and you will also feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment from helping your friend reach her goals!

Set a Timetable. The difference between a goal and a dream is a deadline! It can make all the difference. Specifically, when were you going to reach your goal? And how are you going to do that?

Create a Vision Board. Find inspiring quotes, motivating pictures, or anything that reminds you of your goal and collage these bits n' pieces together on paper and place it where you can see it!

Remind yourself of your daily goals. Write your goals on Post-It notes and place them on your fridge or bathroom mirror, or write your goals in your date book, or on your calendar. You don't want them to fall off your to-do list, do you?

Accentuate the Positive. Looking at the bright side of things will definitely generate more energy and enthusiasm that will help you to go after your dreams. And actually celebrate failure If at first you don't succeed, try again! Reassess the situation, tweak it, learn from it and celebrate your moving forward.

Start a Journal. Record your successes and your failures. Your thoughts and a-ha! moments. And give yourself a gold star, while you're at it.

Steer Clear fo Negativity. Just as you will find people who will support you, you will also come across those who are negative and are likely to stop you from moving forward. Smile and walk away.

BE PATIENT! People want immediate results, but change takes time. Remember that it's the journey that's important. Remember YOU matter! Carve out time to give yourself the love and attention you need, and be sure to compliment yourself daily. Fully acknowledge all that you've accomplished and how special you are!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I’m sure we all remember the heroes of books from olden times. Square jawed, aristocratic nose, shoulders that started out as broad as a barn and tapered to a flat stomach with chiseled abs. As if. (Without workout equipment that targeted certain muscle groups, how did these guys manage such a physique? Powerful biceps and a bull like neck I get. But those abs? Get serious.) And don’t even get me started on his gleaming, perfectly straight choppers. How in the world did that happen? A fortunate few are born with straight teeth that never require a dentist or at the very least fluoride, but in those days? Everybody knows what the lack of proper prenatal care does to bones and teeth.

But I digress. In days of yore the hardest part of creating the hero of a dime store novel or bodice ripper was deciding on which color to paint the thick mane that fell in glorious waves past the requisite broad shoulders, even in his waning years.

Villains were just as easy. Their hair was always thin and greasy to match their lecherous smile. They generally had bad teeth and equally poor hygiene. They were usually thin. No ripped abs or rippling biceps on these guys.

Most discerning readers today expect a little more. We want a hero with meat on his bones. No, now wait a minute. Not that kind of meat, though a little is acceptable, especially if he’s married. We still want our heroes handsome, mysterious and in halfway decent shape. But he needn’t be perfect. In fact, if he is we don’t buy it.

Besides a few physical flaws that add to his charm and good looks, he better have an issue or two. A little baggage is good as long as it isn’t too grievous. Life has been tough on our hero but it can’t have turned him into heartless jerk. That’s what villains are for.

I’m currently rewriting my hero as if you couldn’t tell from the tone of this post. He has a job, a past—including an ex-wife and an obnoxious teenage daughter—and obstacles to overcome. No ripped abs, but no beer belly either. Somewhere in the middle is good. Powerful arms and calloused hands are a given. I like those on a man. But he hasn’t yet told me exactly who he is. Besides the obvious, I’m unclear on what he needs to accomplish by the end of the book. How will he grow? What will he learn about the man he is and who he hopes to become that he didn’t know before?

I’ve been dwelling on my hero for several weeks. He keeps me awake at night. I can see him when I close my eyes, but he’s still a little blurry. I need to know him better before I can adequately tell his story. Of course he will become clearer as the story progresses. At least that’s what I’m counting on.

Isn’t that the fun of writing? When the story is a journey of discovery for the writer as much as for the reader. Enough stalling. Back to work. Speak to me, Brock. Tell me your story. What’s on your mind? Where do you need to go…….

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

12 Pearls of Christmas with Anna Joujan

Magnificantby Anna Joujan

Holy. Holy. Holy is the Lord.
The familiar catch of breath. The sting in the eyes. And the tears begin to flow with the falling rain. Or do the tears fall with the flowing rain.

What is it in these words that I whisper that wrenches at my heart so? Why does Mary's prayer touch the core of my being, so many centuries after it was spoken?

I think it must be because I know that she was just a girl, just a human being, with a woman's heart like my own. And so, when I hear her wondering words, I can feel with her the emotion she must have felt. To bear the son of God-what wondrous mystery, what glorious honour! And she was, like me, just a young woman-much younger, in fact, than I am now. And so, no matter how often I hear the story and read her words, it still has the power to bring abrupt and unsought tears.

What a gracious God, to work wonders with such frail and faulty creatures as us!
Anna G. Joujan was born in South Dakota, as a Canadian citizen, and was raised in Zambia, the child of missionary teachers. Since her family's move to the U.S., Anna spent her childhood and early adulthood traveling throughout the world thanks to various educational and work opportunities . . . France, China, Peru, and Jamaica being some of the stops in her journeys. Her undergraduate degree in French Literature led to a Masters in Information Sciences, and to work as a college and high school librarian, and a cross country coach. She has also returned to Zambia multiple times to teach for individual families and for local schools. All the while continuing pursuing her passions of writing, artwork, photography . . . and running to a fault. She blogs at Full of Grace.
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A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!
12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

You Love it--Write About It

Personally, I love performing and music, so I often write about those experiences. When you write about something you know well and love to do, it automatically becomes interesting to others because you write it with ease and it just seems to flow.

I do have a really good tip for those of you who are still sitting there watching that cursor. Have you ever written a FAQ? It's actually surprisingly easy. Small business owners (and even people who work for larger corporations) tend to answer the same 10 to 12 questions all the time. Different people ask them, and they don't answer all 12 every day, but if you think about it, you probably have some pretty stock answers that you give over and over again.

One of the hardest things new marketers face is figuring out what to write about. You stare at the blank screen watching the cursor tick away while you start to doubt yourself. Maybe a bead of sweat rolls down your forehead. You start thinking, "Man, is it really worth this much pressure?" It doesn't have to be like that. You really can write, even if you don't think you're a writer. All you have to do is write about something you know and love.

Maybe you're a dog trainer: Write about the best method of house-training a puppy! Do you love to ski? Write about your beginning experiences with tips about how to stay in the game What does that mean exactly? Well, for one thing, it means that people generally want to know the same things about what you're doing. If people in real life want answers to these questions, you can bet that people are asking them out in cyberspace as well.

So here's the idea: Write down as many of those questions as you can. I did mine in a numbered list format. Then it's easy to just go back and simply answer them one-by-one. I almost felt like I was back in high school taking an essay test -- only this time I KNEW all the answers!

Once you've written and answered your list of Frequently Asked Questions, write an introductory paragraph or two. Ideally, you'll explain your business and let the reader know exactly what you're doing. You could say, "I run a website selling surveying equipment. These are questions I get asked all the time in my line of work, and I thought it would be helpful to write an article answering them once and for all."

You can go into as much or as little detail as you want in these intro paragraphs -- remember, no one is actually grading this paper! You just need to give your reader something that shows you're a person and an idea about what you're trying to accomplish in your article. Last, give it a read-through and spell-check and you're done! Then you can submit said article via your favorite article submission service and you'll be well on your way to fame and fortune. See how easy that was? Stop fretting and write your FAQ today. You never know how many hits your website might get as a result of that little bit of effort.Source:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Emphasize your Goals in order to Achieve

Regardless of what we strive to do, without goals it’s unlikely we will ever achieve anything.

I start nearly every Monday with a list of goals I want to accomplish by the end of the week. I also have a list of goals I hope to see come to fruition within a given year or other specific timeframe, as well as long-term goals, such as retiring in financial comfort and growing old without the aid of medication.

I do pretty well with the things necessary to achieve my long term goals. I save money, invest wisely, eat right, and exercise nearly every morning. It’s those short term goals that give me grief. I’m not sure why. They’re not that difficult or unattainable. The problem is I haven’t attached enough importance to them.

This week I plan to create a Twitter account for my new blog, Fit to Excel, write five articles to promote each of my writing businesses, and make some final changes to my latest manuscript. Unfortunately many of these goals are the same writing goals I didn’t meet this entire month.

Most of the time my short term goals are cast aside by the middle of the week, replaced by something more pressing. My problem is I have no boss breathing down my neck, demanding I produce. That’s where self-imposed deadlines come into play.

Goals have to be important in order for you to put an emphasis on accomplishing them. If they aren’t important, you won’t find the time to do them. People always find time to do what needs done.

You may have a very tight schedule without a spare minute. But I guarantee if you had a heart attack that schedule would no longer be important. All the important things you had planned that week would be cast aside for doctors’ appointments, procedures, arguments with insurance companies and discussions with your family.

Your goals must have a degree of importance. The higher emphasis of importance you put on them, the more likely you are to achieve them Any goal worth setting should be important to you. Each goal you set, give it a degree of importance.

Be flexible. Running the vacuum cleaner before going to bed may be very important until your daughter needs help finishing a science project. Your evening bubble bath may be high on your list of priorities until your sister calls from out of town calls and announces she’s met the man of her dreams.

Life certainly happens, so leave room for a little flexibility in your schedule. But keep your dreams high on your list of priorities and they will soon be within reach.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Last Full Workweek of the First Decade of the new Millenium

This is the last full workweek before Christmas. Actually it’s the last full workweek of the first decade of the new millennium. Yikes, that’s intimidating.

With a doctor’s appointment and party this weekend still to plan, shop, and clean for, my week is even shorter. Besides the usual gift wrapping, last minute shopping, and all the other things that need done well before the twenty-fifth, squeezing in writing time is going to be tough.

But this is Monday. A fresh start to make something happen in our writing before the relatives descend—or we catch a plane to their house—before the kids begin rifling through our closets in search of bounty, before the dog needs taken to the kennel and the cookies need to go in the oven.

What tips have you picked up along this writing journey that keep your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard? The key for me is routine and discipline. I wake up before six every morning and jump right in. I eat half a granola bar while watching Joyce Meyer and then do an exercise routine. After a shower and phone call to a friend, I eat my real breakfast and get straight to work. On days when I can’t keep this routine for whatever reason—like aforementioned doctor’s appointment—my entire day is shot. Even if most of the afternoon remains, my productivity level drops to nearly zero. I can't explain why an appointment or unscheduled visit from a friend renders me useless for the rest of the day, but it happens every time.

It’s the end of the year, dear writers. Two weeks and 2009 will be a memory. I have several projects to wrap up before then. If I don’t hustle this week, my totally manageable tasks will follow me into the New Year to be added to what needs done in the next decade.

Let’s practice some discipline and routine this week. This is your last workweek of the first decade of the new millennium. Now let’s get cracking.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Free Books for Christmas

From now until December 31st, buy two of Teresa’s books and get one free. There is no limit to the number of books you can get free and no specific combination of books. Much fewer restrictions here than you’ll find on those BONUS gift cards you buy at your favorite restaurant.

Cost per book--$15.00. Additional savings: I have reduced shipping and handling costs to the absolute minimum. Only $1.00 shipping per book. Again, no limit.

So take the hassle out of your gift shopping this Christmas. Books are a no-brainer for the reader on your list. I will happily autograph each book any way you like. Email me for more information or to place an order. I will put your books in the mail within 2 business days of placing your order.

Description of each title: Streams of Mercy—— On the day of her father’s funeral, seventeen-year-old Jamie Steele discovers he was the prime suspect in the disappearance and possible murder of an old girlfriend. All too familiar with his violent reputation and hard-fisted lifestyle, Jamie has to find out for herself if he was capable of the crime everyone in their small town thinks he committed. What will she do if he’s proven guilty? How can she forgive someone who never asked to be forgiven or admitted any wrongdoing? Can she find the mercy in her heart to forget the past and mourn the father she has lost?

Redemption’s Song—— One woman stands on the precipice of change and discovery. The other carries a twenty-year-old burden of sin in her heart that threatens to destroy everything she holds dear.

Jamie Steele and Abigail Blackwood share nothing more than love for one man. When heartbreak and tragedy test their faith beyond what either can imagine, will they trust the God of purpose, or will foolish pride drive them to take matters into their own hands?

Two women who share nothing more than love for one man. When their lives are shaken and faith tested beyond what either can imagine, will they trust the God of purpose who promises to stand closer than a brother? Or will foolish pride drive them to take matters into their own hands?

Evidence of Grace—— A phone call from a potential eyewitness leads Noel Wyatt to believe the real killer of Sally Blake got away with murder. He enlists the help of a young attorney and his old friend, retired prosecutor and judge David Davis, to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Was someone else involved in the events of that fateful night? Since the convicted killer is already serving time for the murder, is it too late for justice to be served?

A Tender Reed—— Michelle is a 33-year old never married nurse. She leads an uneventful, predictable life, but her calm exterior hides unresolved resentment and emotional insecurity. When Nicole, her irresponsible younger sister, abandons her two young children in Michelle's front yard, she's forced to recall her own mother's abandonment of her.

How Michelle faces her childhood demons while building a family with Nicole's kids offers a thought-provoking examination of family relationships. The author deftly handles Michelle's spiritual cynicism as she struggles to find acceptance and love.

Infused with humor and practical insights, A Tender Reed and its characters will capture the hearts of readers who love children, understand their challenges, and appreciate the many definitions of family.

The Ultimate Guide to Darcy Carter——Considered an expert on every conceivable topic, Ultimate Guidebook guru, Darcy Carter, can’t guide herself out of a paper bag. When her editor suggests she write The Ultimate Guide to Finding Mr. Right, Darcy wants no part of it. To avoid Mr. Right and hopefully find out where the discontentment with her life is coming from, she heads south to research one last ultimate guidebook. Soon she discovers there’s more to life than telling other people how to live theirs.
Don't delay. Offer for free books only good until December 31st.

Monday, December 7, 2009

3 Ugly Truths of Novel Writing

I found this post some time ago at by UK author and freelance journalist Sean McManus and thought I'd share it here.

Year after year the season from Halloween until the end of the year is the least productive for me. Every year I tell myself this year will be different. This time I will stick to my writing schedule. I will not be derailed from my goals. I will not get distracted, and I will not overeat...oh, that's another post.

Possibly you are more disciplined than me and can't relate to my dilemma. Or you find yourself in the same routine every Christmas. Regardless of what you face with your writing at this particular moment…even if things are going swimmingly, here are three ugly truths of novel writing that are not meant to discourage you, but to show how to enjoy the process when all seems hopeless.

“If you're going to write a novel, you need to accept three ugly truths.

The first is that you're not writing a bestseller. If your goal is to get rich, you're better off spending your time doing a paper route and buying lottery tickets with the money. In the UK alone, 130,000 new books are published annually. That means that there are 356 new books every day. Maybe you'll strike it lucky. But the odds are stacked so overwhelmingly against you. The only good reason to write a novel is that you'll enjoy it. It's not worth being a tortured artist in the hope you'll get a payday at the end.

The second ugly truth is that writing is hard work. It takes dedication to complete a book. If you're writing a story of 100,000 words, you'll need to write about 2000 words every week for a year. I'm not saying your book should be that long. Publishing formats (including online) are much more flexible nowadays. But you do need to be sure you can commit the time necessary to finish the kind of book you want to write.

The third bad tiding is that you're going to waste a lot of time. You'll need to rewrite scenes as your story evolves. You'll probably want to re-do earlier bits, as you get to know the characters better and improve your writing skills. You might spend a weekend writing a chapter you delete outright. Sometimes you have to write a scene to see whether it works or not.

I don't think anything from the first three months of writing (perhaps more) survived into my final story. And that is very much a good thing. If you can't accept you'll waste time, you'll find it hard to delete stuff that really should go.

Once you accept those truths, you have absolute creative freedom. You don't have to conform to traditional notions of what kind of books sell. You don't have to meet anyone's deadlines but your own. And you can write whatever you like. If you'll enjoy writing it, write it. You can publish online in a range of formats, including print-on-demand paper books and ebooks. Your book will definitely be published if you want it to be.

Write for the fun of it, and have faith that you can get your story into circulation at the end. You might not have millions of readers, but you will have a wonderful experience. Enjoy the journey.”

I especially agree with the last statement. Enjoy the journey, folks. There is joy to be found there. Have a wonderful writing week.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Is there a change in submission preferences?

Don't we all want to know what's going on inside an agent's head? Or the editor that passed on the manuscript we labored over so intensely? Here's your chance. Terry Burns of Hartline Literary Agency, who happens to be my agent has offered to let me borrow a post from his blog. Before submitting your next proposal, read on to see what editors require from authors.

I’ve been sensing a change in the way editors look at receiving submissions where the person submitting indicated the manuscript is finished versus a person submitting on proposal with a deadline for completion. We’ve long known the book needed to be completed for a person submitting on their first book, but how about for a person with previous publishing experience?

To see if there is indeed a different attitude I surveyed 175 editors, both mainstream and Christian. Most have now responded. What did I learn?

In nonfiction, selling on proposal seems unchanged except a majority said on a new author they wanted to know the work was complete even on nonfiction.

In fiction, most still say an author with no publishing credentials needs to have the manuscript completed. As to being able to sell on proposal once they have publication credits,

• 20% require the full mss submitted with the proposal instead of sample chapters.

• 33% - respondents said they required the manuscript be complete no matter the writers credentials.

• 12%- said they did not require a full manuscript but preferred knowing that it was.

• 30% - said that the manuscript needed to be completed before submitting unless they are a well published (some said A list) author or someone they had worked with before.

• 7% said they always bought on proposal. (mostly nonfiction)

I would say my new conventional wisdom is that a manuscript should be complete before submitting unless the editor has worked with the author before or if the author been not only published, but very well published with good sales numbers. Changing genre very much puts an author in a new author position in the new genre. Even though it was not part of the survey a number of editors volunteered the information that platform was very important on non-fiction and fiction alike.

Some specific comments that were mentioned:An editor's job is so fast-paced and overloaded these days, if a manuscript needs a complete overhaul, it can leave us in a pickle.

Well, I hate to buy a full-length novel from proposal if I haven't seen the author's published work or even a completed manuscript of a different title that proves the author knows how to start, bridge the middle, and wrap up a story.

I wouldn't say I've found myself giving precedence to completed projects for Heartsong. My search for new books hasn't changed much.

I have in the past contracted books from new authors just on the proposal...but there is a comfort level in seeing more, rather than less, of a manuscript.

Sales history is becoming a more important factor in our decisions than ever before. An author with a shaky sales history is more likely to sway me with a full manuscript I can read fully vs. simply a proposal.

We've been burned a few times by authors who told us they were going to write one thing and then wrote something totally different, or who did not offer the quality of manuscript we believed they would after reading their previous work. So whenever possible, we love to see the complete manuscript because then everybody is on the same page.

I think all editors have their own MO's and I can't generalize, but I'd say in my case I've always bought on complete ms unless I've worked with the author before, myself. Publishers are overall more cautious in this economic climate. Sales history of authors' previous work weighs heavily on acquisitions decisions...not just the fact that these authors have completed work.

I'm afraid I do require complete manuscripts from unpublished fiction authors. However, we have always accepted proposals from fiction authors who have established themselves.

Unless the fiction author is a name author (Angela Hunt, Janette Oke, James Scott Bell), we are probably going to want to see the entire manuscript. My exception in this case is because I do know the author and can vouch for her ability to complete a project.

I'm a bit more of a stickler in wanting to see the whole manuscript even from a previously published author. The reason is that I don't know how much work the other house or houses put into that author's unedited manuscripts before publication. I wouldn't feel comfortable going to the publishing committee unless I had read the entire unedited work by a new author to our house.

Yes, it’s changing. I’m told that it’s been true in New York publishing for some time that fiction tended to be sold on the basis of completed mss., rather than proposals. And that was true, in many or most cases, even with well-established authors. In that sense, the world of “Christian publishing” (and let’s face it—the line between the two is disappearing) has been behind the curve and is just now catching up. I have a much better chance of getting a project approved in Pub Board if I have a completed ms. rather than simply a proposal.

We are working sometimes a year in advance. For the author that means if we accept a proposal, the manuscript takes a year, and it takes us another year for editing, production, etc., the result is a two year time frame. I know a lot of authors feel like that's an eternity. So for us, the more finished the manuscript, or the more available for consideration, the sooner we know we can get it into the marketing cycle.

I want to see the completed manuscript before I buy anything. Especially since I'm new and still finding my feet here, I want to make sure that whatever I take to my editorial meeting is solid and well grounded.

For fiction, if an author had a big enough name and I really liked the project and the proposal included a good synopsis, I'd likely go ahead with it. But I admit I do feel much more comfortable with seeing the entire MS, especially if the subject is a controversial one.

Yes, I prefer to see a completed project over just a proposal. Gives me a better sense of the writing and the author's thought process.

If the author is one with whom I've personally had previous experience, I don't mind contracting based on a proposal and sample chapter/s. However, unless the author is WELL established in the fiction industry, all things being equal, if I am considering two similar proposals from authors of similar standing in regards to their publishing history, I would naturally go with the one who has submitted a complete manuscript.

No, I can't say this is the case with us. We'd never sign a new project without sample chapters of the writing, but whether the manuscript is complete or not is not a determining factor in our decisions.

As I know you've experienced, there can be a vast difference between a proposal and three chapters that have been honed to perfection and what we sometimes see as the completed novel. The current marketplace is being particularly difficult on mid-list and emerging authors. Even with publishing history, I have to be very selective about contract extensions and/or commitments to new authors at this level. The market is very crowded with competent authors at this level. With authors whose sales figures are consistent, but below the 25,000 range it is often much easier to sell in a first time/debut author. So . . books at this level need to deliver and publishers need to know that they're not committing to a book that will require rounds of rewrite. That's a long way around the bush to say . . yes, I think authors will almost always have a better chance with a complete novel.

Yes, I am much more likely to consider new(er) authors if they have a complete manuscript because then I know exactly what I'm buying. Publishers, including us, are not taking as much risk on B and C level material because the market is so tough. Obviously, for high-profile, A-level authors/books, incompletion isn't really an issue. In general it is more beneficial for our company to read through the entire manuscript, however, we can certainly give a feel for general interest based on a proposal.

For established authors new-to-our house, I want to see a detailed synopsis, sales history, and sample chapters. The mss does not have to be complete unless the author is changing genres and is writing in a different style than their previously published work.

With first-time fiction authors, or those taking on a new genre (be it fiction to nonfiction or vice versa, or a writing style change like going from romance to supernatural suspense), I almost need a full manuscript to know how the book will play out.

Post courtesy of Terry W. Burns--Inspirational fiction with a western flair

Monday, November 23, 2009

BICFOK--Look familiar?

BICFOK—Ever seen this acronym before? In case you haven’t, it means Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard.

What does that mean to you this week? Maybe you practice this faithfully and don’t know why other writers have such a hard time with the concept. Or perhaps you really needed this reminder at the beginning of a short work week.

Another Monday is upon us. Another Monday to complete the items on your to-do list before the end of the month. Another week of almost accomplishing half of what you wish you could do if you had the time to do a third of everything you want to finish before the craziness of the season hits you full force.

Since you are reading this blog, I will assume your passion is writing a novel. Suffice it to say you probably won’t do so before the family descends on Thursday. You may not even get a solid grip on your goal by New Year’s Day. Instead of worrying about what you won’t get done during this incredibly busy season, let’s focus on putting your goals into a few manageable chunks.

Don’t think small. Think realistically. I am hosting Thanksgiving dinner at my house this year for both my husband’s family and mine. Yikes. Four days ago my husband had knee surgery so the brunt on the work will fall squarely on my shoulders. This week I want to give the house a good scrubbing. Then there are lists, shopping, early preparations, phone calls, and of course, the actual cooking to finish.

It isn’t likely I will get far on my current WIP. Worrying over my lack of productivity won’t do anything but stress me out. Instead I will focus on working during the small chunks of time I carve out of my schedule. I am writing this post while waiting for a writers’ meeting to begin. I can daydream about character quirks and interactions while mopping the floor and hanging Christmas lights. During drives to and from the grocery I can think of topics for future blog posts. Those precious moments when my rear is actually in the chair and fingers on keyboard, I will be able to focus completely on my manuscript.

I still won’t be as productive as I’d like, but I’ll do what I can and not let the stress of this week thwart my bursts of creativity. How about you? Where can you start? Any fabulous ideas that work for you that you would be willing to share?

The writing world is waiting...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eliminate Your Fears

Remember when you were a little kid, and whenever you were afraid of anything you had a superhero to bail you out? Who can forget “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!” What about if you had a bad dream? All you had to do was run into your parents’ room, and they would make everything scary go away.

Remember how long the days used to be when you were a kid? Remember how long summer vacation lasted? Do you remember how slowly the school year went? First grade took forever. High school felt like an eternity. It seemed like every year was as long as a dog year. Things are so easy in grammar school. You go to school. You come home. Then you do crazy things with your friends.

Did you ever take a box you got from the supermarket, draw some headlights and a license plate on it, and then go for the ride of your life in it down the stairs? Sometimes you’d make it all the way down, while other times you would land on your head.

I remember as a kid I’d go sledding (or sleigh riding as we called it) on those plastic blue sleds down this huge hill. So one day I went sleigh riding with my brother and sister behind my house on Winged Foot Golf Course in Scarsdale. At the time, my brother was probably six years old, my sister was eight and I was thirteen. We got to the top of the hill, got on our plastic sleds, and then we all started down the hill.

Due to the icy conditions, we were all headed in different directions. I headed in the direction I was supposed to go because I weighed the most. My sister did continuous 360’s down the hill, while my brother headed directly for the brook. My sister ended up about 25 yards from me, dizzy and confused. My brother, meanwhile, was nowhere in sight. So I headed to the brook, where I found my brother about 12 feet from his sled laying face down on the ice.

I thought I had killed my brother . . . and boy was my Mother going to be mad at me for that!

Forgetting to take out the garbage was one thing, but killing your brother on a February day can’t be good. I kept screaming his name “Little guy! Little guy!!” Finally he lifted one side of his cheek off the ice. It was quite red. As I pulled him up, he looked at me with tears running down his cheeks and he said to me “Can we do that again?”

What happened to that fearless little kid in all of us?

I learned a long, long time ago, though, that the number one excuse behind which people hide is fear. What this is about is the excuses you make to stay hidden behind your fears. Time is ticking by. The days are shorter. The months are shorter. You don’t have long summer vacations anymore. We’re full of obligations. It seems like years go by in months and all we’re doing is getting older . . . but sometimes not getting wiser.

As kids, we are fearless. As adults, we live behind our fears. The difference is that as adults, we have the means to work with people to help us eliminate our fears. It’s funny. Have you seen the movie Defending Your life, where the lead character played by Albert Brooks finally realizes his life lesson was that he was cheap with himself? What’s the point of making money unless you can invest it in the most important thing – yourself? We spend money on clothes, expensive vacation and cars – all external things. So you can afford to go to the Bahamas for a week, but when you get there and see a woman (or man) to whom you’re attracted you are still the same fearful person you are at home.

Nothing will change unless you start changing things about yourself. Fear is the number one reason and the number one excuse why people don’t try something new.

Think back in your life. What was your sleigh riding moment as a kid? How did you feel being totally fearless?

Now think about your current life; your weight loss journey and your desire to wirte and become published and what you’re not accomplishing. Think about your fears and excuses. How would you rather be?

Would you rather be an adult having fun like a fearless kid, or would you rather hide behind your fears and not connect with the people you most desire. When was the last time you did something fearless without expecting a result?

The only thing preventing men and women from getting together are the fears that each of them have. It’s time you eliminate those fears and self-doubts, and live like the fearless five year-old who has gusto for life and embraces life as a new journey.

That’s how I live my life every day. If you want to go sleigh riding with me, I’m here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How to take your writing from bad to worse

If there is one single principle that is central to making any story more powerful, it is simply this: Raise the stakes. — Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel

Sounds easy enough but how exactly do you go about doing it? Your story is most certainly about something—at least we hope so. The key is to take that “something” to the next level. Your character can’t only be looking for love…or a job…or a retirement home for her grandfather. There must be other things going on, other insurmountable obstacles, other interests, distractions, and frustrations.

Perhaps your protagonist witnessed a murder and was seen running from the scene by the police…and the killer. The police are now looking for him as a person of interest in the crime. The villain is also looking to silence him before he can find proof to implicate the real killer.

Sounds riveting enough. But how could you punch it up? How can you raise the stakes by giving the protagonist even more obstacles to overcome throughout the course of the story?

What if he also has personal issues? Consider that the day of the murder he lost his job. Not only is he running for his life and his freedom, his financial concerns are paramount in his mind. The police believe this gives him motive for the crime. His landlord has locked him out of his apartment so he can’t retrieve the one item that would provide an alibi. Neighbors see him breaking into his own apartment and call the police. An off-duty officer gives chase when the protagonist runs through an alley. The killer who has been following our hero shoots the officer. Now the police believe the protag is a cop killer and are more determined than ever to shoot him on sight.

Or possibly the ex-wife of our protag announced she is remarrying and moving with his teenage daughter to the other side of the country. The daughter doesn’t want to go. She wants to move in with him. He doesn’t tell her about witnessing the murder, only that she should stay with her mother and make the best of it. The daughter thinks he doesn’t want her interrupting his life. Nothing can be farther from the truth, but he can’t tell her this. The ex-wife thinks he’s a selfish pig. The daughter won’t speak to him. Or perhaps she runs away from home. Not only does he need to keep out of sight from the killers and the authorities, he needs to find his daughter and bring her home.

Now we have created some real tension. The main plot is keeping the protag out of jail and safe from a killer while trying to solve a murder. But interesting subplots will make the book more marketable to agents and publishers, probe deeper into the character of your hero, and more importantly, keep readers turning pages.

It is quite possible that murders and eluding the police don’t fit into your book. Even if your story is of a tamer genre, there are plenty of ways to raise the stakes and insert thrills for the reader. First ask yourself what main conflict does the protagonist face. Then broaden your scope and see what those problems lead to. One problem generally leads to another, in real life as in fiction.

It isn’t likely that you face only one issue at any given time in your own life. Perhaps you have to pay for your daughter’s wedding. That may be the most important thing on your mind this very instant. But you may also be concerned about your mother’s failing health, rumors of downsizing at work, finding time to spend with your younger children, and your ever increasing waistline. On top of everything, your dog is having puppies.

It’s how life happens. Give these same issues to your heroine. Multiply them until the reader believes the protag cannot take one more crisis.

Pull out all the stops. Make his life wretched and miserable. At least for now. Then you can show the reader his true character by the way he overcomes it all.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Inspiration at the Polls

A few years ago someone in my polling district got sick or moved or retired or whatever. As a registered voter of the minority party in my county, I received a phone call from the election boards asking if I would be willing to work at my local election poll. Little did I know this would become a fulltime gig.

For a writer always on the lookout for material, manning the polls is pretty good fodder for the old idea mill. Since I seldom leave my house, I don’t hear much local gossip that could inspire a fiction work. Once a year this changes radically. Discussing the election or candidates and issues is off limits so we talk about the way things used to be, former residents and those we only wish would move away, unresolved scandals, and the bleak condition of the economy. Or rather, they talk and I absorb like a sponge.

The one thing all writers have in common is an insatiable curiosity. We’re not satisfied knowing something happened. We need to know why and how. If no one can tell us, we fill in the blanks. It’s how fiction writers are born.

Filling in the blanks is a habit I picked up as a child. When adults discuss the really good stuff around children, they speak in code they think the child will not be able to follow and leave key sentences hanging. Covertly listening in on these conversations is what encouraged the writer in me so many years ago.

Born and raised in a small town I heard stories, new and old, about unrequited love, jealous quarrels that ended in gunfire, robberies, back stabbings, cheating, lying, and coveting thy neighbor’s wife. It wasn’t long before I began writing stories that satiated my curiosity and allowed me to end them however I chose. The power over the lives of adults was intoxicating. Before I even knew how to write the stories down, I was addicted. I suppose writers never outgrow that love for the unknown, the unsolved. It’s what keeps us tapping away on our keyboards even when publishers are stingy with contracts and our agents consider another line of work.

It is my hope that my job tomorrow at the polls will deliver some interesting, intriguing tidbits that start me tapping away on some new material. I’m taking my Dana with me for when inspiration strikes. Who knows, I might even start my next bestseller. So get out and vote tomorrow. If you see old neighbors and friends with their heads together discussing the latest local scandal and a lone woman nearby tapping away on her keyboard, come over and say hi. I always like meeting readers.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ever feel like you're drowning?

“A writer should always feel like he’s in over his head” by Michael Cunningham.

I am so happy a writer of more importance, talent and accomplishment than I’ll ever have admitted this. I suppose it validates that I am truly a writer.

While in the throes of a writing project, I nearly always feel like I’m in over my head. I’m not especially gifted. I’m definitely under educated, and reputedly out of my league among my writing counterparts. So when one proclaims that a writer should feel exactly the way I do year after year, manuscript after manuscript, I breathe a sigh of relief.

Writing takes a lot out of a person. I think the hardest part of writing is to make it look effortless. Readers don’t care about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into creating a project. They want to get lost in the story. They want it to flow as if it magically flowed out of the writer’s pen…or keyboard.

Our role as writer is to create an exciting, restless, and unquenchable curiosity in the reader that compels him to keep reading through until the very end. It's not to make the reader aware of our anguish and toil.

A friend once told me of the difficulty she put into finishing a college paper. She said, “I’m not like you, Teresa. It comes easy to you. You don’t have to belabor every word like me.”

That was the greatest compliment I ever received. Of course, I had to go and ruin it by telling her she couldn’t be more wrong. I agonize over every word I write. I have been known to spend an entire day rewriting one paragraph where the hero tells the heroine he likes how her hair catches the light.

So no, it is never easy. But our readers should believe it is. Our egos cry out to let the world know how we toil over every word. We want them to know how we suffer, how we struggle, but yet, we overcome. Let’s face it. They don’t care. They don’t want to know. They just want a story.

This writing thing isn’t about us. Don’t kid yourself, dear writer. It’s all about the story. Every word, every carefully crafted sentence, every beautifully scripted page. It’s about the story. Let us not disappoint our readers. We should fascinate them. Intrigue them. Bewilder them. Enchant them. Even terrify them. But let us never be accused of disappointing them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Criticism--Helpful or Hurtful

I was asked today by a new writer how one can tell if her writing is truly publisher worthy. Naturally she thinks her stuff is pretty good. Her family and friends believe she is gifted. But those sources aren't exactly unbiased. So how does one know if he/she has talent, or just a loving, supportive core group who will love anything that comes out of their pen?

There's nothing wrong with showing your writing--or other gifts--to those closest to you. It's often difficult to resist the temptation when we are excited about our work and simply must celebrate it with someone. Our mistake comes when we believe that because Mom thinks we are the next bestselling author/recording artist/American Idol, the rest of the world will agree.

If you are serious about taking your talents to the next level, you must subject your work to an unbiased critiquer. Join a critique group at your library. Easier still for many people, join online groups of similar writers and ask for advice, help, and of course, critiques. This is very hard for a novice to do. In the beginning we see our work as perfect as is.

An aspiring writer once told me she would never let an editor near her work. She liked it as is and she wasn't going to change one letter to suit anyone. Needless to say, she is still unpublished. As far as I know, she is no longer writing at all.

Develop a thick skin and don't be afraid of criticism. I have a very good writer friend who is currently dissecting the first few chapters of my current WIP line by line before I send it to my agent. And believe me, some of her comments have been brutal. I would love nothing more than to hear what I write is brilliant. I would love to receive a letter from a publisher saying; "Teresa, we can't find a thing wrong with your manuscript. We are going to pay you an obscene amount of money to publish it just the way it is."

Instead of holding my breath while waiting for the grossly unlikely, I will open my heart and my mind to my friend's suggestions. Both of us want to see this book published, regardless of what it may do to my ego.

Every multi-published author I know--myself included--believes her work is better now than early in her career. I am almost embarrassed to open my first few books because my writing has improved soooooooo much since those early days. I think any writer worth her salt can see her weaknesses and wants to continue to grow, no matter how many books are on the shelf. We always have room for improvement.

Develop a thick skin before you send your baby into the world. There will always be someone who doesn't like it. Don't let this discourage you. Keep growing. Keep submitting and studying the market and you will have success.

Get back to writing!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Make NaNoWriMo affect your writing output

If you’ve been around the writing circuit for very long, you know that next week marks the beginning of the annual NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. If you aren’t in the middle of a project or facing a deadline, I suggest you hop over to the website and sign up. There’s nothing like accountability to get the old juices flowing.

Has anyone tried this before? Someone challenged one of my writing groups to a similar exercise in June. It worked out perfectly for me. I was at stalled 25K words in a novel that was going nowhere. My premise was great. The key characters were hashed out. I knew where the book would end up. Yet nothing was happening. The challenge was exactly what I needed. By the end of the month I had added 52K to my original writing. The first draft of the book was complete! And guess what? It didn’t stink.

I solved all the major problems that had left me stymied up to that point. When you free yourself to just write and not worry about how it will come together, your subconscious mind has no choice but to take over.

What about you? Do you have a book idea that’s been pestering you for months but you don’t know where to go with it. Or you are too intimidated to tackle a project like a novel? Or you’ve had a few false starts but can’t get past the first fifty pages? NANOWRIMO might be exactly what you need to kick your output into high gear. You might surprise yourself. If nothing else, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you can do it. You can pump out 50K words in a relatively short amount of time and they may actually be something to build on.

Like so many other writers, I wonder why the powers that be chose November to begin writing a novel. November couldn’t be a worse time for most people to tackle something as daunting as a novel, with Thanksgiving and Black Friday and all the things that go into planning a holiday season.

But maybe that’s why they chose November. This way we prove to ourselves that even amidst the busiest season of the year—with a little planning, discipline, and commitment—we can still write a novel. Or at least get a pretty good handle on it with 50 thousand words of a first draft.

The key is fastening your rear to the chair and staying there. The best thing about writing 50K words in a month is you don’t have time to edit, you don’t have time to second guess yourself or agonize over the best way to describe your setting. All you have time to do is pound out the scene and move on.

Quite liberating really. So take up the gauntlet and go for it. What have you got to lose? At the end of the month you can either be right where you are with your novel, or you can have a solid first draft with the potential to become something worthy of submitting to a publisher.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Author Reaches 1.5 Million Sales Mark

(THE WOODLANDS, TEXAS) On average, more than three hundred and fifty books by DiAnn Mills have been sold every day since the author released her first novel in 1998. With over forty novels, novellas, and works of nonfiction to her credit, it is not surprising that the author recently surpassed the 1.5 million sales mark.

How did she do it and what can I learn from her?

“This milestone in DiAnn’s career reflects her ability to connect with readers and build fans for her stories," says Karen Watson, Associate Publisher of Fiction at Tyndale House. "Beyond that, DiAnn is a model of professionalism and hard work for up-and-coming writers. She is a gracious woman blessed with a fun kick of imagination!”

Mills has often garnered recognition in her career, including multiple nominations for the American Christian Fiction Wrtiers Book of the Year; multiple appearances on bestseller lists, two Inspirational Readers Choice Awards, and a mention for the ECPA's highest award, the Christy. Colleagues state what lands Mills these accolades is hard work, perseverence, and the ability to write a book readers love.

"DiAnn has the ability to tell a compelling story, whether it be a romantic suspense or a historical, that just won't let the reader go. Unstinting in her research, she visits the settings she writes about and then brings them alive for us, her readers. Every DiAnn Mills book is a stimulating reading experience, which is how she has garnered so many copies sold," says Janet Grant, Founder of Books & Such Literary Agency.

Not content to merely gather accolades, Mills has plans to release several new novels in the coming months. Sworn to Protect the follow up to her March 2009 suspense novel Breach of Trust from Tyndale House Pubishing's Call of Duty Series will be in bookstores in the spring of 2010. Her historical, A Woman Called Sage from Zondervan Publishing is slated for a March 2010 release.

Sue Brower, Exective Editor of Fiction at Zondervan Publishing is especially excited to offer Mills' next novel to readers. "DiAnn is a joy to work with and I know her fans will be captivated by Sage."

When DiAnn was asked about this milestone in her writing career, she responded with her usual graciousness. "I'm truly honored and grateful to the many readers who have made this possible. I remain committed to my goal that readers can always Expect an Adventure."


DiAnn Mills is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Romance Writers of America’s Faith, Hope and Love, and Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also a mentor for Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writer’s Guild.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shake Things up in Your Fiction

Want to write something awesome, read awe-inspiring books. I’m currently in the middle of rewriting a manuscript I wrote way back in 2006. Ever wonder if you are growing in your craft? Go back and read something you wrote a few years ago. Don’t despair if it makes you cringe. That means you are growing, evolving, becoming better with every book, every page.

My book has lots of potential. I love the story. But alas, there are a few things missing. It’s a romantic suspense. Sadly there is little romance. Worse, there is virtually no suspense.

Back to Square One.

In order for a book to be suspense and not women’s fiction or contemporary satire, the element of suspense must be integral to the plot. The hero or heroine must be in clear and present danger. My characters are not. They learn a lot through the course of the story. They grow into more compassionate individuals. But no one is in any real danger, and the romance is minimal at best. Not good if I intend to market the book as romantic suspense.

I just finished reading a romantic suspense by a prolific writer whose books I enjoy. Throughout the course of the story, the characters kept getting deeper and deeper in trouble. Suspense mounted with each turning of the page. The villain became more twisted and brazen while the hero and heroine kept discovering new reasons to survive and renewed determination to help them reach this end.

Now I need to figure out how to incorporate these methods into my own writing. My heroine isn’t the focus of a serial killer. She doesn’t have enemies from a past life bent on silencing her. Danger must lurk behind every corner. Suspense is always fun for me. I like coming up with twisted, convoluted situations. That’s my task for today. Delete mundane passages. Insert suspense.

What about you? Do you need to up the ante for your characters? Have they become content and complacent in their circumstances. Shake things up. Insert some suspense—regardless of your genre—and see what happens.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Discovery in Fiction

The other day I wrote about one of my bad habits I often revert to in my writing--head hopping. I tend to enjoy writing from the viewpoint of every character in the book, whether major player or one scene wonder. In writing for publication, this isn't a good practice.

A friend posted a comment that explained much better than I could about why this is a poor practice. She wrote that head hopping holds you back in selling. And here's why. "When you write from only one POV, you are forced to discover the story as the character does. It builds suspense and makes the discovery a page turner."

Wonderfully put, Elizabeth.

Discovery in anything--whether suspense, romance, or a weather report--is what keeps people tuned in. The reader needs to care where the story is headed and how you will get there. Head hopping provides too much information too quickly.

During read-thru's this morning of my current ms I found a spot late in the book where a character explained something that the narrator "ME" had divulged in the fourth chapter. That's sloppy writing. The information came across much better when relayed through a character with a big mouth and an unforgiving nature than by my shrieking voice in the background.

Editing can be fun and informative. Don't marry your prose. Chances are you will find something that totally bites and you'll have to begin the painful process of separating yourself from it. Approach editing, red pen in hand and prepared to hate everything. You may surprise yourself and find you have a modicum of talent after all.

Of course you can't believe a word I say. I still like Omniscient POV in small doses: "Little did he know..."

Monday, October 19, 2009

What's holding you back?

A few weeks ago I decided to reach my goal weight by Thanksgiving. I've been struggling with those last few pounds for a year now and I am determined to get keep them from following me into the New Year.

As far as my writing is concerned, there are a few other things hanging around that I believe have kept me from getting a contract from a major publishing house. One of my biggest offenders: Head hopping, according to a friend of mine who is helping me polish my latest manuscript. I have a tendency to write my story through the eyes of whoever happens to be in a particular scene. It doesn't matter if it's a key player or a one time Joe who delivers roses to our killer's next victim.

Only tell the story through the eyes of your hero and heroine, my friend told me. Occasionally you may get into the head of the villian, but do so sparingly. I don't know if I completely agree. As a reader, I like to hear the story through conflicting viewpoints. I think it offers a greater depth into each character. But I suppose the main character is the only one the reader really cares about. Don't share the love too much.

Regardless of how much I like to head hop, I want to get this book published. Even if I don't agree with every rule and nuance, at this point in the game, I should be willing to play by their rules. What's that old saying? He who owns the game, makes the rules.

I would be well advised to remember that.

So what about you? What last few pounds are holding you back from reaching your writing goals? Do you head hop? Do you rely too heavily on adverbs and adjectives? Do you prefer to make up your rules as you go along and hope to find a publisher willing to bend her guidelines to suit your manuscript?

Here are a few tips that might help you on your journey to achieving your goals this beautiful October morning.

1. Never ever, ever quit! Consistency and persistency are the keys to success!
2. Thoughts become things. If you think you can do it …you can do it!
3. Join a team. Find friends who offer support, accountability and motivation for whatever your goals are.
4. Don’t just sit there. Roll up your sleeves and get to work.
5. Have written goals. Use them to create your action plan.
6. Start with one new habit and build on that.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Grand Openings

I'm in the middle of editing my latest manuscript, so the importance of wowing the reader with a grand opening is foremost on my mind. Today I am posting an article on that very subject from my good friend, author Molly Noble Bull. I hope it will help you as much as it did me.

Openings Are Invitations: by Molly Noble Bull

Remember those birthday party invitations we all got as children? One that I recall had a cowboy on the cover, signaling that the party had a cowboy theme, and I will never forget what was written on the inside of that card. I call the cowboy on the cover a sort of hook, encouraging friends to attend special events, but the meat of the invitation was found inside.

The W Rule

What do party invitations have to do with writing chapter and scene openings? More than you might think. To make my point, below is an example of a typical birthday invitation.

Who? Tom Brown

What? His tenth birthday party

When? Saturday, September 25, 2009

Where? 308 Creek Drive, Rockdale, Texas

Why? Because we want to celebrate Tom’s birthday, that’s why.

Like the cowboy on the cover of party invitations, every chapter should begin and end with a hook, and every chapter and scene should start with a problem. However, successful chapter openings and scene changes are identical in many ways to the format used in writing party invitations.

As an author, my goal is to invite the reader to a party of words, my words. In order to do that, I must send him or her an invitation answering all the who, what, when, where and why questions--henceforth known as the W rule.

Full-Bodied Sentences

A full-bodied sentence is one that answers the W rule questions, but writing full-bodied sentences at the beginning of every chapter and scene opening might not be the best way to coax readers to taste one’s work. However, I have learned that when I include the information found in the full-bodied sentence, my scene openings become more inviting to the reader.
The man went to town is a simple sentence, but it can become full-bodied. To answer the “who” question, I gave the man a first and last name, Jim Cooper. Jim Cooper went to town. Naming my character improved the quality of my sentence, but more information must be added for it to became full-bodied.

The full-bodied sentence below answers all the W rule questions. Here’s how.

(When?) “Early on an October morning, (Who?) Jim Cooper (Where?) left his small farm in rural Mississippi and (How?) drove his team of mules (Where?) to Oakton Corners (Why?) to buy medicine for (What is the problem?) his sick wife and child.”

“How” is also an emotional question and optional. The reader might also want to know “what” the weather is like? The final version of this sentence, answers the “how” question and tells about the weather. “Early on a (What is the weather?) cold, windy morning in late October and (How is his emotional state?) trembling with worry, Jim Cooper left his small farm in rural Mississippi and drove his team of mules to Oakton Corners to buy medicine for his sick wife and child.

Openings vs. Scene Changes
Every novel is divided into three parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end. The beginning part of a novel ends when all the W rule questions have been answered. These questions can be answered easily in one full-bodied sentence. However, it often takes several pages for that same information to flow smoothly into the text.

Scene changes are different from chapter openings in that all the beginning questions need not be answered a second time. For example, if the reader knows all about Jim Cooper, scene two could begin with “An hour later, he finally got to town.”

All my manuscripts don’t have a cowboy on the cover to hook the reader, but I never fail to issue invitations. I have learned that when I invite the reader to choose my novels by beginning with a hook and a problem and then answering all the questions listed above, readers attend my parties and read my books.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ideas for fiction outside the box

This weekend my husband and I traveled to the country to participate in an arts and crafts fair. I’m not a very crafty person. I crochet and make a few things that find a small market everywhere I go, but I won’t get rich this way. The main reason I set up is to sell my books. If you have a book and a free weekend in the fall, you may consider these venues. Most people show up at these events ready to spend money. And many will agree an autographed book makes a unique and fun gift.

It also helps if you live locally. Anything within a hundred miles is considered local as far as I’m concerned. Even though this one wasn’t far from home, I met readers who had never heard of me. Visibility is the goal here. So this weekend we enjoyed the fall foliage during our trip into the hills of southern Ohio. Selling a box or two of books was just the icing on the cake.

But the biggest benefits by far from this craft fair and many others like it were the tidbits of local folklore I picked up. Fascinating stories I’d never heard before that would make great additions to my books. One story in particular was a book in itself. Writers live for these moments.
I always warn people never to say anything in front of me they don’t want to end up in a book someday. What goes into my ears now belongs to me to do with as I please. So the next time a reader wants to bend your ear about anything, don’t pass it up. You may end up with an idea for the next bestseller.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Novel Checklist

Novel Checklist—and why you should have one.

Not long ago the members of one of my writers' groups were talking about a novel's checklist. No matter where you are in your current WIP, I believe this will come in handy. If you're just starting out and playing around with characters, this checklist will keep you aware of the reader who will someday lose herself in your masterpiece. If you are preparing to send your finished manuscript out into the world, go through the checklist to make sure you've crossed all your T's and dotted all your I's.

1. OPENING – Is there a hook to capture the short-attention-spanned reader’s interest? Does the book start in the right place, or is there too much backstory?

2. CHARACTERS – Are the hero and heroine vivid, likeable characters? Do characters have that “something special” that makes them come alive? Are they described well? Do they change and grow from beginning to end?

3. PACING – Does the pacing flow throughout the book? Does the reader want to keep turning pages?

4. DIALOGUE – Does the dialogue sound natural and realistic? Does the dialogue build characterization and move the story forward?

5. SECONDARY CHARACTERS – Are the secondary characters believable? Do they provide a valid addition to the story?

6. SETTING – Is a time and place established? Is the setting easy to picture without taking over the story?

7. POINT OF VIEW – Is the POV for each scene wisely chosen? Are the POV transitions smooth and important? Does the writer avoid head hopping?

8. STYLE – Is the author’s style unique and appealing? Does she have a voice all her own?

9. CLICHÉS – Does the writer avoid clichés in plot, characterization, dialogue and narrative? (This doesn’t mean tried and true plot devices can’t be used. But they need to be done in a fresh way that makes you want to read on.)

10. Would you recommend this book to a friend?

Print this off and keep near your workstation. I guarantee it will come in handy while you're editing your book.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What writers can learn from a friendly turkey and family reunions

Our neighbors have a pet turkey. Turkeys make better pets than you might think. This one is rather amusing to watch. He pecks around the yard, talking and garbling and intent on making friends with everything in sight. Unfortunately my dogs are not nearly as congenial with him as he is with them.

The other day while trying to enjoy a leisurely walk with the dogs, the turkey caught sight of us and ran out to greet us. While he saw potential friends, my dogs saw an early Thanksgiving dinner. As my husband and I tried to deter the turkey and keep my Lab from latching her jaws around his straggly turkey neck, my fingers became entangled in the retractable leash. If you’ve ever used a retractable leash, you know why they come with labels warning against getting your legs or fingers near the rope. The fingers of my left hand are seared top to bottom with rope burns that made writing nearly impossible all weekend.

The pain has subsided for the most part and I have mobility back in my digits. But Saturday and Sunday were a wash as far as accomplishing much with my writing. Losing a weekend writing and figuring out how to someday work a turkey encounter into a novel made me realize once again how inspiration can strike at the most unlikely times.

Sometimes a writer need go no farther than his front yard for ideas. Saturday before the turkey attack, we attended a family reunion. A niece talked with me about whether or not her boyfriend would propose and what she would say if he did. She loves the guy, and is pretty sure he’s the one, but what if she’s wrong. A husband and wife spent the whole time sniping at each other and drawing unwanted attention. I overheard a conversation about a cousin who disappeared about forty years ago. The family finally tracked her down in another state a decade or so back. She has children of her own and a life none of us know anything about. She emphatically stated she did not want contact from anyone in the family. Someone whispered about rumors of “incest” and knowing glances were passed around the table. The conversation quickly shifted to layoffs and unemployment and of family members who had died since the last reunion.

I’ve heard it said the best way to repair the sagging middle of a novel is to throw in a dead body. Since that scenario doesn’t work for every piece of fiction, you may want to pay attention to what the old folks talk about at the next reunion, wedding, or funeral. Or just walk your dogs around the neighborhood and see what kind of exotic pet captures their attention.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Make Time to Write Your Novel

I used to cringe when I heard people talk about growing old. “You better enjoy these carefree days while you can, kid,” they would tell me.

“My life isn’t carefree,” I always wanted to say. “I worry about everything.”

Of course I never said that. I just ignored their admonishments and went back to worrying about passing a test or how I’d tell my friend I lost her copy of Helter Skelter or whether the boy sitting behind me in World History knew I was alive.

It wasn’t until much later that I finally realized life truly is fleeting. The older I get, the more aware of it I become. Until I grasp the value of time I will continue to squander and waste it, not doing what needs to be done.

Since this is a writing blog I won't get into letting others know how much they mean to us or how we should stop and smell the roses, though that stuff is extremely important as well.

All I will do here is remind you that when we are gone, our stories go with us. The stories of our childhood, our parents, those frozen moments etched in our hearts that helped shape us into who we are today, are waiting to get onto the page. When we are gone, they will be lost forever.

I have a friend who says he doesn't have time to write though he enjoys discussing his writing ideas with me. He is a busy man. He has a family and a fulltime job and property that needs tended. But he also watches sports on television every weekend. He is nearly addicted to computer games and loves surfing the Net for news coverage.

He has time to write. You find time for what you like. But writing is hard. It's easier and usually more fun to sit around and talk about writing and discuss plotlines and characters than to actually buckle down and get to work. So we put it off. We say someday. We'll wait until we're inspired. Let me tell you, you get inspired by doing something, not sitting around and thinking about doing it.

Once we finally realize the value of our time, often for many of us it is too late. While your life might seem like a long time in the midst of it, truly it is a blink of an eye. Before you know it, you'll look back and wonder what happened to all the years that transpired since you first said you were going to write a book. Don't put it off. Even if you only take a small step today, stop procrastinating.

Write something today. Don't talk to your spouse or coworker or best friend about writing. Write something. Write down a memory from your childhood. Write the story your grandmother always told you about her childhood. I bet it's already harder to recall than it was twenty years ago. Get it down before it's gone. Don't depend on your memory. Don't depend on your sister who remembers all those old stories. Get it down so you can tell it to your child. Better yet, get it down because it may encourage you to keep going, keep telling, until you have a masterpiece ready to submit.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Writing workshops for every level of writing

Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself. – Truman Capote

As writers, we must continually learn the craft, and fortunately, there are numerous ways to educate ourselves. High school and college classes, books on craft, writing conferences, and nowadays, even online writing courses provide writers with endless possibilities to hone and polish their work.

Today, I’m thrilled to share with you about WIES Workshops. We began offering affordable, educational, online courses earlier this year. We usually have two or three courses each month, geared towards writers of all skill levels. Our workshops can be completed from the comfort of your own home and offer a great alternative (or even an excellent addition to) numerous conferences each year. Multi-published, award-winning, and/or best-selling authors considered experts in their chosen field teach our courses, so the benefits for the student are exceptional, for instruction and for networking.

Class size is small, format is easy to use, and the instruction one-on-one. Student feedback has been very positive thus far, and we can’t wait to hear of the successes as our students continue on their writing journey.

October course offerings include:
Writing Fiction Proposals, taught by Virginia Smith. This course covers all the elements of building a successful proposal, taught by one of the best. Virginia Smith has just signed her 12th book contract in four years, so she knows what she’s doing. She teaches other courses for us, and the students rave about her instruction. At the end of this 4-week course, Smith provides feedback on each student’s completed book proposal elements (minus the sample chapters.)

Reach for the Stars! A Writing Course for Young Authors is taught by Susan K. Marlow. This unique course is geared towards students ages 10-15. It’s a great unit study for homeschoolers, or for any young person interested in writing. Susan Marlow’s energy is contagious, so the class will be fun and educational. This 6-week course offers discounts for homeschool groups of five or more.

Writing Devotionals is taught by Jeanette Hanscome, who brings her experience to the table to help writers learn how to share God’s truth without preaching. This 4-week course will not only teach you the basics and formatting of devotions, but will help you learn to write tight and focused, and help you find home for your work.

Other upcoming courses include:
· Build Your Publishing Credits
· Head Games: Exploring Point-of-View
· Writing for the YA Market
· Writing Romantic Suspense
· How to Write How-To Books
· From Flat to Full: Characterization in Fiction
· Writing for Children
· Writing Women’s Fiction
· And MORE!

Each month new classes are offered, so check the schedule regularly for updates.

Courses range from four to eight weeks in length, and $100-$150 in price. Gift certificates and payment plans are available; scholarships may be available for some of the courses, so please send me an e-mail if you’re interested in one, and we’ll see what’s available.

For more information, or to register for any WIES Workshop, visit

Teresa, thanks so much for welcoming me to your blog. I’d love to hear from your readers.

About Tracy:
Tracy Ruckman is a freelance editor, writer, and photographer. She owns Write Integrity Editorial Services and WIES Workshops, and hosts the popular Pix-N-Pens blog for writers, editors, and photographers. Her story, Miracle of the Nativity, appears in the book Christmas Miracles by Cecil Murphey and Marley Gibson, releasing October 2009.

Tracy is the blessed wife of an incredible husband and the proud mom of two grown sons and one spoiled rotten dog. She loves to travel, fish, garden, and read - and usually has her camera with her at all times.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Best Writing Advice You'll Ever Receive

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

One of my writing groups posed this question the other day. You will have your own answer to this question and I'd love to hear it. But here's my answer.

Anytime I speak, I am usually asked a variation on this topic. Advice has come from many venues, but I believe the most useful I received has come by way of quotes. I love quotes. They inspire and motivate me. The best advice I ever received came from a quote by Raymond Chandler. I can't find the exact quote, but the gist of the sentiment was to write as quickly and as passionately as you can without stopping to see if what you're writing is any good. There's plenty of time for that later.

That is how I strive to write. Without editing. Without second guessing myself. Without worrying if it makes sense or if anyone will pay good money to read it. Just get the words on paper and worry about how it all turns out later.

Sounds easy enough, but it's quite difficult to put into practice. One of the hardest things for me to do is shut off the inner editor and get down to writing. I typically hate every word I write while I'm writing. It isn't until after I'm finished, usually with the entire book, that I read a passage and think, "Hey, this is pretty good. I don't even remember writing it."

That's when writing is fun and worth all the fear, frustration, and doubt that goes along with it.

So get to it. The story idea that’s been pestering you, the article you should’ve written last week, the blog post you meant to write but can't quite remember the point you wanted to make-- whatever it is--write it quickly and with passion. Don’t worry that it’s too long or too short or not original enough for anyone to want to read. Just get it down.

You've got a lifetime to edit. Now have a wonderful writing week.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How to be a Successful Writer--Part II

Welcome back to Part II of an article by Judith Krantz. Again, my thoughts are in italics.

7. Work regular hours, as if you were being monitored by a time clock. Whatever your schedule, commit to be at your desk during those hours. If you feel blocked, leave the desk, roll on the floor, groan if necessary but DO NOT leave the room.

This is another item on the checklist I need to give attention to. I almost beg for distractions, especially when I’m stuck on something. Work through, dear writer. If a section gets tough, move on to something else and come back to it later. Sometimes the answer to a problem comes when we aren’t struggling with it so hard. Just don't stop writing.

8. Keep good-sized pads of paper and pencils all over the house, particularly in the bathroom, kitchen, near your bed, wherever you read or watch TV. Take a pad with you if you're going out ANYWHERE. Inspiration is a tease and a flirt.

Love this one. I often get “Brilliant” ideas that I’m sure I won’t forget. I don’t bother to jot them down, and, you guessed it, ten minutes later, they’re out of my head forever. Don’t let this happen.

9. Don't talk about your work with your friends. It's better to write in secret until you've been published. This avoids the question, "How's it going?" and prevents using up the vitality of your creative energy in conversation. Show your work to only one other person for commit or criticism.

I don’t talk much at all about my work with anyone. When people ask how it’s going, they get a very vague reply. I usually talk to my husband when I feel like a brainstorming session. He’s good at bouncing ideas off of. Not a writer himself, he gives me matter-of-fact input and nothing else. Invaluable.

10. Learn to compose directly on a typewriter (or computer nowadays). Have a typing chair that supports the middle of your back while your feet are on the ground.

‘Nuff said.

11. Don't get discouraged. One great writer in the middle of her career wrote to a friend, "It's terrible to think, as I do every time I start a book, that I no longer have -- that I never had -- any talent..."

It is so good to know that all writers go through this. I am sometimes embarrassed to read my early books because I think they are so terrible. I almost want to apologize to every person who bought the books. William Styron wrote----“I certainly don’t enjoy writing. I get a fine warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting stated each day. Let’s face it—writing is hell.”

Amen, brother.

12. Rewrite. When your work is finished, go back to the beginning and rewrite, because now you are a much better writer than you were when you wrote your first page. Rewrite up to the end and then look it over again to see if you can't rewrite some more.

I love this and it can’t be stressed strongly enough. New writers especially fall in love with their words and don’t think it can be improved upon in any way. Wrong! Nearly anything can stand improvement. I’m willing to wager you’ve read a book by a famous multi-published author and found mistakes and poorly written passages. It happens to all of us. Read through with an open, critical eye, and rewrite.

And in case you wonder what's up with the squirrel at top of the post, check out my other blog Joy in the Journey to enter a very fun contest. (This will be my only hint.) Yes, there are prizes.

Monday, September 14, 2009

This is a summary of the article titled "How to be a successful writer: 12 suggestions by Judith Krantz." My input--if you care to read them--is in italics.

Part I

1. Don't allow yourself to be intimidated by the work of other authors. You may not be Cheever or Dickens but that doesn't mean there isn't a market for your work.

This one stymies me all the time. Even when I'm halfway through a manuscript and feeling like things are going pretty well, I wonder what gives me the right to think I will ever have something worth contributing to the world when there are already so many wonderful books out there. Tuning out that voice of premature defeat is a constant struggle.

2. Pick the area in which you would like to be successful, and read the works of writers in that area with an alert and analytical eye.

I enjoy this part of the process most of all. I must confess though I have become somewhat a bit of a writing snob, thinking I would've done it differently, thus writing a more engaging book. I realize this mindset contradicts what I wrote in answer to Number 1.

3. Don't imitate. The trick is to find your own voice -- the thing that you can do what others cannot. The only way to find it is to write and write some more. Keep a diary. Write to friends. Letters of complaint count. Keep on writing.

I couldn't agree more. Voice is often a difficult concept for an aspiring writer to grasp. It doesn't have to be. We spend years cultivating voice when it's really unnecessary. . Just get out of the way and tell the story as only you can. Your voice will develop and become more apparent with each work.

4. Outline, outline, outline! Whatever you're writing, from a novel to an article -- with the possible exception of poetry -- needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. Don't start until you know where you plan to go. Your outline will probably change as it grows more real and takes on a life of its own.

If the thought of an outline makes you want to throw down your pen and never take it up again, don't despair. Many prolific writers outline as little as possible, yours truly included. But it is a necessary evil if you ever want to be an efficient writer. Look at it as planning a trip. You may not know exactly how you'll get there. You may take a few detours along the way and encounter a few unexpected delights, but you should have a destination in mind and a road map beside you before you ever leave home.

5. In any fiction, identify your main characters early. List character traits for each one. Visualize them. Don't try to break new ground unless you're prepared to wait a long time for recognition.

I tear pictures out of magazines of how I imagine my main characters and pin them on my bulletin board so I always have a face in front of me. It reminds me who this person is. I fill out as much of a biographical sketch as possible early on. I learn more about my character as I go along, just like I do with people in real life who I've known for years. But it's good to know a lot going in. Your characters are living out their story through you. You should have a good idea what that story is.

6. Have a private place to work in. My (her) sign says, "PLEASE, do NOT knock, do NOT say hello or goodbye, do NOT ask what's for dinner, do NOT disturb me unless the police or firemen have to be called.

This seldom works for me. I'm too tempted to answer the phone or stop for food or take the dogs for a walk. I need more discipline in this area, especially if I someday hope for aspiring writers to think of me as some sort of expert in this field.

Tune in tomorrow for Part II of How to be a Successful Writer by Judith Krantz