Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2 Things to Help Writing Growing Pains

The more I learn,
the more I learn
I have more to learn.

There's more to that sentence than what meets the eye. Think about it a moment. Digest the meaning. 

Isn't it true that the more we learn, the more we know we need to learn?

Wouldn't it be fantastic to recognize a writing problem, grasp the concept and apply it all at once?

Unfortunately, we need to consciously understand a writing problem to learn. Once we do, we move forward applying what we've learned to what we write. Now we can discover another problem and the cycle starts all over again.

Here's the deal . . . a writer will always have writing problems. And that's not a bad thing. It's actually very good because it means we're growing.

So what can we do to help us through these growing pains? Two things: become aware of our short-comings and write all we can.

Becoming aware of our shortcomings can be very painful. We all have little glitches in our writing, rules that don't stick or we can't seem to grasp. But the more we're aware that we have a problem, the more we will avoid them. I'll be brave and use one of my many writing flaws as an example. I have had a problem using "that" when I should use "who." I know the concept. Use "who" when referring to people. Use "that" when referring to anything else. But it has taken me years and a concerted effort to overcome this problem in my own writing. I'm aware, now I need to apply what I've learned. I can only do that (notice in this case "that" refers to learning and not a person) by writing.

Write all we can because if we quit writing the flaws that haunt us will stop us from progressing. AND we want to progress. The only way we can is to write and write a lot. Go over and over the concept and rule that is hampering us. Learn it so we automatically write the proper way. Writing allows us to learn by practicing our craft.  

"A writer develops the habit of writing to develop the habit of learning about writing." (Leonard Bishop)

How do you remember a writing concept and apply it to your writing? Has it taken a long time for you to apply what you've learned without thinking about it? And, do you know a shortcut? (I had to ask.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

3 Reasons to Psyche Scribble

I don’t know about you, but... sometimes I have a hard time digging in and getting busy on my novel on Monday mornings. I’m still wishing it was the weekend so I could veg on the couch and watch a movie. 

But the week is starting and along with it is the need to be productive.

So in an effort to get back in the swing of things sometimes I do what I call “psyche scribble.” You’re probably wondering what in the world I’m talking about. It’s easy really. Some call it writing practice, some call it free writing, but to me it’s more thought purging. I just write for about five or ten minutes or however long it takes for me to get in the groove so I can be productive on my book.

The reasons I like to psyche scribble are many, but I’ll share three: it’s a good way to vent frustration, sometimes great ideas sprout, and there are no rules to follow.

Vent frustration…
If everything has gone wrong before I’m able to sit down at the computer, sometimes it helps to write about what’s bothering me. It’s as if writing frees my mind from stewing. Kind of like Dumbledore in Harry Potter and how he stored his memories in the remembrall. He put them there for safe keeping. For me, I can vent my frustration and then if I don’t want anyone to see what I’ve written I hit that clever little key called “delete” and puff it’s gone. =D

Great ideas sprout…
Really! I remember doing my little psyche scribbles one time and all of a sudden as I wrote I realized I actually had the beginnings of a great short story. One thought led to another thought and before I knew what was going on I had an entire story about a green giant who no one in town liked so he ran away and wanted to die (downer, I know). I didn’t say it was a great short story, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be tweaked and made into one.

No rules to follow…
I don’t know about you, but sometimes as I’m writing I worry “Did I already use that word” or “Is that spelled right?” or “Don’t I need a comma there?” In psyche scribbling you just write. You don’t worry about ANYTHING because NO ONE is going to see it. It’s just for you and helps to purge all the cobwebs that have cluttered your brain so you can sit down and work on your novel.

Tell me if writing practice, free writing, or psyche scribbling is something you might like to try? Or if it is something you already do, let me know how it works for you. What benefits have you seen in your writing by doing psyche scribbling?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Review - The Silence of God by Gale Sears

Have you seen the classic movie Dr. Zhivago? The first time I saw it, I was only a child. I loved the music. The images of the Russian people and their struggles during World War I stayed with me, even though I didn’t fully understand that war.

Several years ago, I was asked to write an activity book for young readers focusing on the inventions that took place during WWI. As I researched, I learned more about the sad plight of the Russian people during that time. I finally understood how they became so desperate that they accepted Lenin as their leader. But it wasn’t until I read The Silence of God by Gale Sears that I saw how a minority of well-organized people could take over a country. However, this book is so much more than just a historical account.

Here’s the blurb on the back cover:

Johan looked at her straight on. “Neither Marx nor Lenin knows how man will change from a selfish lout to a caring, hardworking comrade. They just believe that somehow he will . . . But you cannot change a man’s nature or behavior by outside means, Natasha Ivanovna. There must be a change of a man’s heart, and only God can do that.”

Sears sets her story in St. Petersburg and gives her readers a taste of what it was like during the turn of the twentieth century in Imperial Russia. She describes grand cathedrals, shows how faithful the populace was, and how they loved and revered Tsar Nicholas II and the Romanov family. But as World War I lingers on, and the Russian people are literally starving, revolution starts to boil.

A great deal of this story is seen through the eyes of Natasha Ivanovna Gavrilova. She doesn’t believe in God and supports those who want to overthrow the government. Thinking her cause is just, she helps write propaganda forwarding the Bolshevik revolution.

Other key characters in this story are the Lindlofs and their daughter, Agnes. She is Natasha’s best friend. Agnes and her family have three strikes against them in a communist society: they believe in God, are members of The Christ of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they’re wealthy. But this doesn’t stop Natasha from caring for her lifelong friend, Agnes. Their care and devotion to one another is heartwarming. As the story progresses things go from bad to worse for Agnes and her family.

As I read, I wondered would Natasha, a Bolshevik supporter, step in and help her friend? Would she have the courage to go against the authority of the Red Guard? Would she ever develop faith in God?

This wonderful, fictional story is rich with history. An interesting note to know as you read the book, the Lindlof family was a real family who were eyewitnesses to the Bolshevik revolution. What happened to them in this book were actual events. Sears writes, “It was an honor for me to place their story on paper.”

The story of Dr. Zhivago is a touching account of that tumultuous time. However, The Silence of God shows how faith in God, friends, and family can triumph.

(I purchased this book and reviewed it because I liked it.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Can Writers Have It All?

Spring is a very busy time of year. There's the garden that needs to be planted, the house that needs cleaning, the fun holidays that should be celebrated and the list goes on and on. During all the busyness of the season sometimes our writing gets pushed to the side. And sometimes it gets shoved.

I read in Dare to Be a Great Writer by Leonard Bishop how writers need to cultivate good writing habits. He said, "The only way to stop these distractions from stopping you from writing is to deliberately fortify yourself within an impregnable structure of writing habits. There's no other way."


Maybe I've been doing it wrong, but I've tried for years to be available to family and friends when they need me. If my son wants me to go to a movie with him, I stop writing and go. If my daughter wants me to go shopping with her, yep, I stop writing and I go. I don't want to miss being with my children. They are far more important to me than my writing. 

BUT writing means the world to me too. I eat and breath to write stories. What's a writer to do? Can a writer have it all?

It might take some juggling and a little imagination, but I think a writer can. Writers are creative, we enjoy a challenge, and we have something to say. So, how do we fit everything into our lives? I have a few suggestions: write whenever/wherever you can, never give up, and keep your goal front and center.

Write whenever/wherever you can . . .
Mary Higgins Clark said at a conference I attended that when she started writing she kept a notebook on her kitchen counter and in between fixing meals for her family she'd write a few lines. I don't know if you've read any of her books, but they are intense. To think that she penned her stories while lifting up oatmeal and doing dishes is mind boggling. BUT she did it. She loved to write, so she wrote whenever and wherever she could. I must admit that I feel most comfortable writing in my office, and when I know I won't be interrupted, but is that realistic? I don't think so. I'm going to try to keep my computer on and write all I can whenever I can. If I need to I'll shut the door for a while until I finish a scene, but I want my family to know if they need me I'm here for them. If Mary Higgins Clark can do it, so can I . . . so can you.

Never give up . . .
When I'm feeling as though I'm never going to complete a book, my husband always says "You only fail when you quit trying." (Yes, that's annoying, but he's right.) The lesson here, never give up. Plug away at your story, read books on writing theory, work on fleshing out characters, and shield yourself from discouragement.

Keep your goal front and center . . .
Yes, other things crop up and need your attention from time to time. They always will. But don't let them become your excuse to stop trying to achieve your dreams. Your dreams are important. Never forget that.

Spring is a wonderful time of the year. And there's a ton of things to do. BUT writers can have it all. Anyway, that's how I'm looking at it. 

Tell me what you think. I'm dying to know how you keep focused and writing even when there's going on.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Yes, Real Women Like to Fish!

In my new novel, River Whispers, the main character, Regina Bernard, likes to fish. Whenever she can, she steals away and drops a hook in Idaho's Snake River. Fishing calms Regi and makes her feel at one with nature. Of course, when she comes upon a dead park ranger in the willows, her world spins out of control, but it was bound to happen. After all, the book is a romantic suspense. Murder and mayhem is expected. And remember it is fiction.

Some people may say only a fictitious woman would enjoy fishing. Real women don’t like it. But some people would be wrong in that assumption.

My mother on one of her fishing trips.
How do I know real women like to fish? Experience. Since I was a little girl, I remember my mother becoming all dreamy-eyed on the opening day of fishing season. She absolutely loved putting on hip waders, tugging on her fishing vest, grabbing rod and reel, and spending the day on the Snake River. She knew the best spots and what time of day the fish were biting. She wasn’t squeamish about baiting a hook with a night crawler or a hellgrammite. I didn’t understand her passion for the sport. I usually played in the water or read a book, that is until she decided I needed to learn and talked me into giving it a try.

We drove to the middle of nowhere and had to walk through open grazing pastures where huge Hereford bulls roamed about, but my mother was a woman on a mission—to teach me the pastime she loved. We found a good spot where the water rippled over river rocks. I watched as she stuck and looped a worm on my hook, tossed the line out in the river, and then handed me the rod. She showed me how to hold it and tease in the line. She told me where to stand so the fish couldn’t see my shadow in the water. I stood there swatting horseflies, stepping on ants, and keeping my eye on those huge bulls who occasionally bellowed. I thought the day would never end. 

And then, I felt a fish hit my line.

My heart raced as I watched my graphite pole bend when the trout on the other end tried to swim away. All at once, I became caught up in reeling that fish to shore. Mom was jumping up and down just as excited as I was. The thrill of the moment took control of me. As soon as I had the fish close enough I couldn’t wait for the net and flipped it onto the bank. I’d caught my first fish!

But, you may say, that’s just you and your family. How do you know other women enjoy the sport?

According to Betty Bauman, the founder of the “Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing!” organization, she had a hunch that more women would fish if they had a chance. Located in Florida, she approached the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about a weekend seminar where women could learn fishing theory, practice fishing skills, and participate in a fishing trip. Over 120 participants showed up, women from all walks of life. Her program became nicknamed the “No-Yelling School of Fishing” and has expanded to other states. You can learn more about her organization at Ladies Let's Go Fishing.

Then there’s Claudia Espenscheid, President and CEO of Team Fishin’ Chix. After living through several hurricanes and having her world tossed upside down, she became focused on fishing. She said, “I demanded an avenue that allowed me to feel empowered and self-confident in my existence, which had completely spun out of control. It was so weird standing in line for ice, water, and food, something that I had never really thought twice about. If everything truly continued to go down the tubes, at least I would have the skill-set to feed my people.” So she went to a sporting goods store and asked for all the equipment she would need to go fishing. She said, “…at the age of 40, I unknowingly reinvented myself into a Fishin’ Chix.” She founded the Pink Rubber Boots Ladies Fishing Rodeo and other events. You can learn more at Fishin' Chix.

So . . . there are real women who like to fish. My mother was not alone in her excitement over the sport. I dare say there are thousands of women who are like my mother and me. Maybe we fish because it fills a need deep inside us to provide food for our families. Maybe we do it because we like to be at one with nature. And maybe we do it because the river whispers to us. But the bottom line is—fishing is just darn fun.

Do you like to fish? Comments from guys are welcomed as well. I'd love to hear about the fish that got away.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My 3 Simple Rules for Writing

I'm sure you've heard the three rules for buying real estate. No? Well, here they are:

1) Location
2) Location
3) Location

Now, you don't have to be a real estate agent to understand how important location is for buying property.

What do the rules of real estate have to do with writing? Not much, although I like the simplicity, which is a good motto for writing most anything. 

What about the redundancy? 

Sometimes it's necessary to get the point across. As I thought about redundancy and my three simple rules for writing, it became clear.  Here they are:

1) Write
2) Read
3) Write

Ha! You thought all three would be write, right? Okay, enough fun with that.

Yes, it's a no brainer that to learn to write you need to actual sit down and spend some serious time putting words in the computer or on paper. But it's also very important to read. And read everything you can get your hands on: the paper, the ad on the cereal box, fliers, magazines, that annoying letter from Aunt Marion who brags about her kids, just EVERYTHING.

The reasons are many, but I'll focus on one...inspiration. 

Inspiration comes from all sorts of places. You can be inspired from a novel that takes you to a different planet or you can be inspired by the athlete on your corn crunch cereal. Inspiration can come from the flier the neighbor dropped off about dogs running free on the block, and inspiration can come from a striking model in a fashion magazine. 

And that annoying letter from your aunt...well...hmmm.

Okay, how about you tell me, how could an annoying letter from someone be used in your manuscript? 

Be creative. 

And the letter doesn't have to be annoying, maybe it's a note or email from someone...oh, what if it's from someone who has died (hand from the grave sort of deal) or some long lost love your MC hasn't heard from for years...

See how it works? 

Become inspired and write, read, write!

Monday, March 14, 2011

What Hat Does Your MC Wear?

Saturday my daughter and I went shopping. What fun!!! Time with her is always a win. She was searching for the perfect hat.We went to one store after another. She bought about three different kinds. Trying on hats is always a blast. You're looking for just the right one that makes a statement about who you are.

So, of course, this started me thinking about characters in books. How many characters in your novel wear a hat? And if they wear a hat, what kind is it? Does it make a statement about who they are?

Think about how much fun it would be to write a character who wore a hat like this one.

Or this one...

Maybe this one...

And, perhaps, this one...

This one could work...

These make a statement...

So does this one.

I quite like this one myself. In my new romantic suspense novel, River Whispers, one of the main characters wears a hat very much like this. 

Hats make a statement. 

Tell me what hat would your hero/heroine wear? It doesn't have to be one of these. Does he/she wear a baseball cap, a football helmet, or a witch's pointy hat? Does he/she have a ski cap, a fez, or a green beret?  Maybe they don't wear the hat any more, but they hide it in their closet because it reminds them of the past. 

The possibilities are endless...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

3 Ways Deadlines Make You Stronger

I worked for an accountant for many years, and in so doing, I learned the importance of meeting a deadline. The Internal Revenue Service frowns on late payments, so much so that they fine you not only interest on monies owed, but they also tack on hefty penalties. April 15th is a deadline stamped upon every taxpayer's mind in the U.S. Working in an accounting office, I noticed a pattern with some people. Some always waited until the week before. Some brought their information in months ahead of time. And there were others who filed extensions, which wasn't an extension of payment, but only of the paper work. The money was still owed and interest and penalties were still charged. Harsh, yes, but that's the rule.

Though deadlines are a little different in the publishing world, I still look at them with my accounting lens because I have realized--deadlines make me stronger. I built up some good deadline muscles while accounting, but I've had to redefine them for writing. And it doesn't matter if your published or not. Developing good deadline muscles will help you become more confident, build trust, and earn respect.

Having confidence in yourself is something you build over time. For me, confidence to meet a deadline comes with making goals and accomplishing them in a timely manner. That sounds sort of stuffy, but it's true. My critique group used to make weekly goals and there were always a couple of people who, week after week, never accomplished them. Either writing wasn't a priority for them, or they felt making goals was a joke. But making goals and keeping them can teach discipline, give direction, and help develop confidence. I know because it did for me.  

Meeting a deadline is a trust issue between you and your publisher. You want them to know they can count on you, and that no matter what is going on in life you will deliver to them a quality book at the time agreed upon. Life has a way of throwing major obstacles in your path. Believe me, I understand. Seems as soon as I have a deadline to meet all of a sudden my family needs me or the dog gets sick, or I find a major flaw in my novel that ripples throughout the entire story, which means a big rewrite. You name it, it's probably happened to me and always just before a deadline. How did I learn to cope? First I prayed for help. Next I did triage on my family and dog. And then, I put my head down and closed my office door to work. I wanted my editor to trust me and know that I'd do whatever it takes to meet a deadline. But trust is also about letting your editor know when you're going through a rough time (like a death in the family or emergency surgery). Editors understand such things and will do what they can to accommodate you because they trust you. 

At another place where I worked for a short time some employees were always whining that the boss didn't respect them. They were fairly young and really didn't know the secret to respect. And they certainly wouldn't listen to me, the old lady. But I'll share with you how I think a person receives respect because it really isn't a secret. In fact, when you think about it, it's really common sense.  Respect comes after you've proven yourself. It comes when despite major obstacles in your path you do what's expected and more. Respect comes when you listen. Respect comes when you act with integrity and honor. Respect comes to those who are confident and can be trusted. But most importantly...respect is earned not given.

Meeting deadlines will make you stronger. Developing confidence, building trust, and earning respect can give you muscle to help you achieve your writing goals. 

I know I've left off something. I'd love to hear how you think meeting deadlines could make you stronger.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Black Light Your Story

As some of you may know, I have a little Yorkie named Lizzi. She's over ten-years-old and rules our household.

Last week I noticed that a rash the groomer had told me about was worse, so I called the vet and took her in. He checked her over, gave her some antibiotics, and sent me on my way. End of story, right? Wrong!
Saturday when I took Lizzi to the groomer's, I told her what had happened. The groomer asked me if the vet used a "black light" on Lizzi. I had no idea what she was talking about. She took me and Lizzi into a small dark room and turned on this cool light. When she moved it over Liz, bright green spots appeared. The groomer told me that I needed to call the vet again because the rash needed to be checked out immediately.


Needless to say, I was very upset with my vet and instead of calling him, Hubby and I drove to his office with poor little Lizzi quivering and quaking. She knew something wasn't right. Another vet was on duty. He did the black light thing also and found even more bright green spots under her chin and above her front legs. He did some tests. We won't know exactly what she has for several days, but he definitely thought it was a fungus of some type. He had his assistants dip Lizzi in a lyme bath. She's taking all sorts of meds and that lyme bath...that did not make her happy at all. Lizzi is a house pet and is never around other dogs or cats. And I keep a clean house, but the vet said this fungus could have been tracked in on our feet.

What does this doggy tale have to do with writing? Sometimes despite our best intentions our manuscripts can become infected with grammar errors, stereotypical characters, and a plot that fizzles. What we have to do is black light our books to help us find these flaws.

Okay, maybe we can't actually black light our pages and see wonderful little green images that point out the errors, but we can ask others to read our pages and tell us what they think. They may tell us we need to dip our masterpiece in a lyme bath, or they may tell us nothing is wrong and they love what we've done. Just make sure that you take your manuscript to someone you trust and who knows what they're doing. In fact, the more trusted people you have read your work the better it will be.

Have you used a black light on your story? How many green spots have you found?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Book Review - The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund

Last summer I discovered Jody Hedlund's blog. She’s a new author whose debut novel, The Preacher’s Bride, came out last fall. I was very impressed with her blog, so when her book was released I bought it. But with the holidays and signings I was very busy. I put her book in a safe place expecting that when all the chaos settled down I could read it between Christmas and New Year’s. 

Well, that safe place was so safe that I couldn’t find the novel. I searched everywhere to no avail. Luckily, I received a Kindle for Christmas. Determined to read this book, I bought the novel as an ebook. I’m glad I did. The book was everything I’d hoped for and more.

The Preacher’s Bride is a historical romance published through Bethany House. You need to know that the hero in this novel, John Costin, was inspired by the life of John Bunyon, who wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress in 1678. His Christian masterpiece has been translated into more than 200 languages and has never been out of print. He is quite well-known in Christian circles, but what about his wife? What kind of woman would stand by her man while he was persecuted, slandered, and imprisoned for years at a time? Hedlund wondered the same thing for in the Author’s Notes she writes: “While history gives due laud to John, it fails to recognize the woman who stood by his side and helped shape him into the hero we all know and love. It is my sincerest hope that in telling this story, I have brought to life Elizabeth Bunyan and have given her the recognition she deserves.”

Hedlund has done a splendid job of creating a very memorable woman who fought for what she believed in and faced life’s challenges with courage and determination. Elizabeth is a heroine you would love to know, someone you would admire and be friends with and have full confidence that she would always tell you the truth and be loyal.

John is a man of conviction driven by a deep love of God. At the beginning of the book he is suffering the loss of this first wife and has no idea how he will care for his children, one of which is an infant. So tormented by his grief, he gives up on the infant living. This is where Elizabeth enters his life. Headstrong and filled with compassion and the need to protect the innocent baby, she volunteers to care for all of Costin’s children.

The heroine and hero of this novel are riveting. I was enthralled reading about their world, getting into their minds, and understanding why they made the decisions they made. They lived good lives, served their God and their fellow men, and along the way despite incredible odds they found love. 

Here is the back cover blurb.

No matter the sacrifice, Elizabeth Whitbread would serve a wounded family.

No matter the danger, John Costin was determined to speak God’s word.

Neither expected to fall in love.

As enemies threaten to silence Costin—and those close to him—will following their hearts cost John and Elizabeth everything?

I think you’ll enjoy this beautiful story based on the lives of these spiritual giants of the 1600s.

By the way, I finally found the hard copy of this book that I’d put away in a safe place. It now has found a permanent home on my living room book shelf along with other classics.

(I purchased my own copy of this book and reviewed it because I liked it.)


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