Monday, May 14, 2018

Writing Regrets


By Henry McLaughlin

After several years on this writing journey and from talking with others on the same path, I’ve found six things I wish I had done differently. Maybe you share some of them.

1) Following trends instead of my heart
We all have stories in our hearts. Stories that we need to write. Sometimes it’s for our own inner healing. Sometimes it’s to share something we’ve learned with others. It’s that story that simply won’t let us go. It’s the story that keeps drawing us even as we write something else.

And there are trends in the marketplace. The temptation to write what’s trending is strong because it seems like a sure pathway to success. One thing about trends is they change. That’s why they’re called trends. Related to this is by the time we finish our novel set in the current trends, we’re out of date. The trend has passed.
If our story is compelling and well written, it will sell no matter what the current trends.

2) Not investing more time in my writing dream
There are times in our writing journey when we can’t invest more time in our dream. Family, health, finances and a slew of other things can plunge us into crisis, and we have to step away from writing to deal with it. These are those times when we must adjust our priorities.

Once it’s resolved, it’s time to reconnect with our writing dream and reconnect with the writing community. This means investing time and sometimes finances. Making time to write is crucial. We also must invest in improving our craft through books, classes, conferences, and writing groups.

One of the benefits of this investing is we build our network. We meet people who instruct us, who become our mentors, who become friends and encouragers, who share this writing journey with us, who are there when this journey is at its loneliest.

3) Letting others define success
Success is unique for each of us. Finishing a book is a success for some. For others, it’s a multi-book contract or a NY Times bestseller or a movie deal. And, in reality, except for finishing the book, we have no control over any of these. In essence, we let others define our success. We need to define success for ourselves and put all our energy into it. If we allow others to define success, we’re sunk. Their standard isn’t ours. We’ve been given a dream and a calling. And a responsibility to fulfill them. Chasing someone else’s definition of success will cause us to lose our way.

4) Not stretching my writing muscles
We have to grow as writers. It’s part of learning our craft and developing our talent. I write in different genres because each challenges me to tell my story in a unique way, using techniques special to that genre. Now I write contemporary and science fiction and fantasy. I’m also writing flash fiction, short stories and novellas. Each provides insights into how I write, insights I can apply to all my writing and to how I mentor and teach others.

5) Listening to negative voices in my own head
I don’t know about you, but negative voices in my head are a fact of life. Voices that tell me I couldn’t write a line of dialogue if my life depended on it. Voices that tell me my plot is crap, my characters are stereotypes and my story world is unbelievable.  Voices that tell me I’ll never be published again.

There are other voices in my head as well. Voices that tell me I’ve been called to this writing journey. Voices that tell me I’ve been gifted with talent and ability to write and to write stories that will impact people for the better. These are the voices I need to ensure I listen to.

6) Letting others derail me
We’ve met these people. And not just in our writing. They could have been the coach or dance teacher who told us we’d never make it. The teacher who treated us as the dumbest kid in the class. It could be a parent who told us we’d never amount to anything. They sowed the seeds of a negative self-image. An image we sometimes reinforce with our own negative self-talk.

On our writing journey, these are the people who never seem to have an encouraging word for anybody. They seem to find some flaw in our writing and pick at it until we bleed. Their motivation is not to help, but to cast themselves as better than us. Jealousy drives them. They have to win, even if it means putting others down.  down.

They’re like the negative voices in our heads.

We decide who we’re going to listen to.

What’s on your list of regrets?

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net, Stuart Miles, and Cooldesign.) 

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Tagged as “one to watch” by Publishers Weekly, award-winning author Henry McLaughlin takes his readers on adventures into the hearts and souls of his characters as they battle inner conflicts while seeking to bring restoration and justice in a dark world. His writing explores these themes of restoration, reconciliation, and redemption.

Besides his writing, Henry treasures working with other writers and helping them on their own writing journeys. He is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. He regularly teaches at conferences and workshops, leads writing groups, edits, mentors, and coaches.

Follow him on Facebook.


Monday, May 7, 2018

Writer, Be Yourself


By Andrea Merrell

We all love role models, and everyone needs a good one in his or her life. The danger comes when we spend all our time and energy trying to emulate that person (or persons), forgetting our own unique gift, talents, and abilities.

Pastor and author Bob Gass says, “When you devote your life to being like somebody else, you risk becoming something God doesn’t want you to be.”

The truth is our heroes and role models have their own set of weaknesses, character flaws, and blind spots—just like we do. But we can become so enamored with their notoriety and accomplishments that we fail to see those things. We also forfeit our individuality and miss the personal path God has set out for us.

Besides, there’s a lot to be said for walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. While we’re looking at the end result, we have no idea of the literal blood, sweat, and tears they have put in to make it to where they are today. If we knew the challenges and difficulties they faced and overcame during their journey, we might not be so quick to want to walk in those shoes. It takes hard work and lots of perseverance to get ahead. When we start out as newbies, we have a lot to learn. And that learning curve has no end.

One author says, “Some of the lessons God teaches us may be similar, but another person’s purpose, gifting, journey, and time frame will be different from yours.”

Writer, you are unique. God has called you because you have a story to tell, whether it’s in a devotion, article, blog post, or novel. He uses your personality, your background, your experiences, your training, and even your likes and dislikes to mold and shape the words He wants you to write. 

Be yourself. Find your voice. Step boldly into your calling, and let God open the doors of opportunity for you that only He can open.

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stuart Miles.)

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Don't Judge Me by My Synopsis


By Andrea Merrell

As writers, most of us shudder at words like proposal, query letter, and synopsis. We just want to write our stories and not be bothered with all the other stuff. Unfortunately, if we desire to be published, all these other elements are an important part of the process.

I can tell you from experience that writing a synopsis is not an easy task. Writing a back-cover blurb comes much easier for me. I can put a book in a nutshell without too much trouble. But my first attempt at a full-blown synopsis was a disaster. Some of it was all over the place, while other parts read like Cliffs Notes. Reading that first draft would not give anyone the desire to read my story. Back to the drawing board.

When you’re writing nonfiction, it’s much easier to do a chapter-by-chapter outline of your book. Each chapter has a title and a theme. You take that theme and break it down into bite-size portions that will whet the reader’s appetite. One short paragraph per chapter, and you have it.

With fiction, it’s much more difficult to break your story down without giving too much detail or leaving so much out the reader can’t follow you. I’ve read dozens of proposals by gifted writers who were unable to master the synopsis process. In other words, a poorly written synopsis is not necessarily a true reflection of your ability as a writer. Generally, when I receive a proposal, I skim through everything else until I get to the first chapter. It’s more important to me to see the quality of the writing—the storytelling and grasp of the craft—than all the preliminaries. If those first few paragraphs hook me, I am excited to read on. Then I'll go back and pay more attention to everything included in the proposal.

Does this mean we should not spend time making our synopsis the best it can be? Absolutely not. As with everything we do, we should always strive to give it our all. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:17 NKJV).

So, what did I do with my first synopsis? I sent it to a friend asking for an honest rip-it-to-shreds opinion. Then I took it to my writers’ group and asked them to do the same. This is how I ended up with a decent synopsis to add to my proposal for my first novel.

As we hear over and over, writing is not a solitary venture. We need a network of people who can help us get over the inevitable hurdles we face along our journey. As I’ve said many times before, the best advice I ever received early on in my writing career was, “Join a critique group, attend writing conferences, and network, network, network” (thank you, Vonda Skelton).

What struggles have you faced with writing a synopsis? How did you overcome them? We would love to hear from you.

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and David Castillo Dominici.)

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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Computer Tips and Tricks for the Tech-Challenged Writer


Our guest this week is computer-savvy author Linda Widrick.  We have asked her to share some of her computer tips with our readers. Be sure to check out her debut novel, Through a Shattered Image.


By Linda Widrick

You’re writing a best seller.  Your characters are driven, your adrenaline is flowing, and your plot twists and turns in ways you hadn’t expected. Yet you struggle when your lack of computer savvy hinders the speed with which you can brain dump into your masterpiece.
     
Here’s a brief look at a couple of computer tips I think you’ll find helpful.



Your New BFF – the CRTL Key
The CTRL (control) key typically sits on the far left of a PC keyboard. It changes the function of another key when both keys are pressed simultaneously. The shortcut list provided isn’t exhaustive, but let’s take a look at a couple of CTRL pairings to get you off to a good start. 

When your cursor is inside a Word document, pressing CTRL+N at the same time generates a NEW, blank document.  This is helpful when you want to move from your current document to a new one, such as when copying discard clips to a new outtake document.  The alternative (selecting the Start Menu>Microsoft Office>Microsoft Word) takes longer, while the simple CTRL+N saves time.  This applies to other Microsoft applications as well.

Pressing CTRL+N when your cursor rests inside your folder tree generates a NEW, identical window. This is helpful when switching between multiple folders.  

Most people are familiar with the copy/paste duo, CTRL+C and CTRL+V.  This pair is critical when creating subfolders in your folder tree. My current novel project, Cup Half Full, is a subfolder within my Writing folder. To create a subfolder inside my titled folder, I right-click the white space, then select New>Folder.   Then, I single left-click on the New Folder that I just created and press CTRL+C.  Back inside the white space, I press CTRL+V multiple times to create multiple empty folders that can then be renamed to better organize my project.  In seconds, I can rename these new folders with titles such as Research, Characters, Images, and Manuscript.  Organizing folder trees are an essential part of the writer’s life. 
  
Take Advantage of Auto Correct Keys
My current work in progress is set in Nicaragua. Unfortunately, I spell Nicaragua differently every time I type it. Rather than simply using Auto Correct, have you tried Auto Correct Options?  Right-click the misspelled, underlined word. Choose>Auto Correct>Auto Correct Options in the drop-down menu. In the center of the popup window, type Nic in the “Replace” box and Nicaragua in the “With” box.  Click “Add”, then “OK”.  Voila!  Each time you now type Nic, the word Nicaragua automatically appears. I use this feature for common words that I misspell frequently. 
            
Use Dual Monitors
You are using dual monitors, right?  If not, stop for a moment and research what you’ll need to purchase in order to set yourself up with two monitors.  You can see what graphics card is installed on your PC by going to the Device Manager, then clicking Display Adapters.  Take note of the information and provide it to your tech person (or your 2nd Grader).  Snap a photo of the back of your computer tower if you have to. Places like Best Buy or Staples can lead you to the right adapter if you need one.  I purchased an adapter for less than thirty dollars.

When working on dual monitors, I’m a stickler for continuity.  My manuscript doc is always on my right, and my discard doc, research materials, etc., remain on my left monitor.  I’m currently using a wallpaper image on my monitors that’s consistent with the setting of my novel. It keeps my head in that fictional place while the words continue to flow.
   
While this is only a taste of computer tips that are available, one thing is certain - there’s no need to fear technology. Understanding how to use computer shortcuts and tricks can streamline your writing process so you can more efficiently do what you love to do—write. 

Do you have any additional tips you would like to share. We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stuart Miles.)

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Fiction writer, Linda Widrick, desires to be a beacon of light in a dark world, sharing God’s love and grace through her writing. A dreamer at heart, she pulls her inspiration for stories from snippets of everyday life. She and her husband, Keith, live on Florida’s west coast, but enjoy spending time on their farmland in upstate New York, the setting for much of her debut novel, Through a Shattered Image, (Prism Book Group, 2017).  Linda’s novella, To Complicate Matters, is tentatively scheduled for publication in 2019.  Linda is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers International. You might see her at a writer’s conference with a latté in one hand, and a bullet journal in another.  Please stop and say hello, or visit Linda at www.LindaWidrick.com, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.



Monday, March 19, 2018

Are You a Waffle or Spaghetti Writer?


By Andrea Merrell

There have been many books written about the difference in men and women and the way they think and approach life, but my favorite is Men Are Like Waffles—Women Are Like Spaghetti by Bill and Pam Farrel.

The concept is simple. The Farrels explain how a man’s mind is divided into boxes or squares, just like a waffle.

The typical man lives in one box at a time and one box only. When a man is at work, he is at work. When he is in the garage tinkering around, he is in the garage tinkering. When he is watching TV, he is simply watching TV. That is why he looks as though he is in a trance and can ignore everything else going on around him.

Not so with a woman’s mind, which resembles a plate of spaghetti. Just as each piece of pasta touches or intertwines with the others, so does a woman’s thoughts. Because of this, she can jump from one subject to an entirely unrelated one and back, with five rabbit trails in between, and never miss a beat. Men have a hard time keeping up. To women, it’s normal. It’s the way we’re wired. This is why women are such good multitaskers. As the Farrels put it:


If you attempted to follow one noodle around the plate, you would intersect a lot of other noodles, and you might even switch to another noodle seamlessly. That is how women face life. Every thought and issue is connected to every other thought and issue in some way. Life is much more of a process for women than it is for men.

By now you’re probably thinking, what does this have to do with reading and writing? The answer is simple.

The male is a logical thinker. Everything must fit into a category (or one of his boxes) and follow a pattern. For example, let’s take a look at the book he’s reading. Most men feel they are being completely objective when they analyze every part of the book, dissecting it into neat little packages. This is how it makes sense to them. Knowing that most stories follow a certain path, they can tell you what’s going to happen almost as soon as they begin. For example, my husband can usually tell me within the first scene of a Hallmark movie, exactly what’s going to happen. Is he right? Most of the time, yes. But that’s not the point.

For me, and for most women, structure is not the most important element. We get lost in the story. We fall in love with the characters, relate to their weaknesses and problems, and become their personal cheerleader as we wait for the proverbial happy ending.

Here comes the disclaimer. We all know there are always exceptions to every rule. This is especially true when it comes to the plotter and the panster (seat-of-the-pants writer). While it’s true that most guys fall into the plotter category, there are some who sit down to write and let the story take them where it will.

While the majority of female writers (at least the ones I know) are pansters, there are some who take the more painstaking road of charts, graphs, plot points, and story boards. This is what works for them. This is how they process their thoughts and creativity.

So, who’s right? Both. The secret lies in discovering the way God has gifted you, then running with it. Whether you read and write waffle style or spaghetti style, just do it.

What about you? Are you a waffle or spaghetti writer? We would love to hear your comments.


(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net, photostock, Suat Eman, and Aduldej.)


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