Monday, June 7, 2021

Writer, Don't Listen to the Lies

By Andrea Merrell

I will always remember the day I heard a multi-published, award-winning, best-selling author say, “Even with all the books I’ve written and all my success (she said using finger quotes), sometimes I still feel like a fraud.

Have you ever had that thought? I have, many times.

At my very first writers’ conference, waves of insecurity washed over me until I feared I would drown. Then I heard, Look at all these people. They’re all somebodies. You’re the biggest nobody here. You should just pack up and go home. You don’t belong here. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t silence that negative voice in my head.

Fast forward thirteen years. My resume now consists of three published books, hundreds of devotions and blog posts, contributions to over a dozen anthologies, and numerous published articles. I’ve taught classes at conferences from Kentucky, to North Carolina, to New Mexico. I’ve served as a general editor for Lighthouse Publishing and Iron Stream Media, as well as a professional freelance editor.

Why am I telling you all this? Certainly not to “toot my own horn.” It’s because at times, even with all my success (note the finger quotes), I still feel like a fraud.

I can vividly remember sitting in a room filled with other writers—some seasoned and some hopeful—at the end of a conference. The keynote’s objective was to encourage and strengthen us for the journey ahead. “God has a plan for you,” he said. “A purpose for your writing that is uniquely yours. If you’re faithful to your calling, He will use your words in ways you could never imagine.”

I sat there, looking around, hearing the lie that those words applied to everyone in the room—except me. I listened to the lie and went home discouraged and defeated.

I share this to remind you that when the Lord places a calling on your life—no matter what it might be—the Enemy will always try to derail you. He will whisper lies that tell you, you’re not good enough and never will be. You’ll never make it. You don’t have what it takes. You might as well go ahead and quit. There’s no room in this industry for you anyway.

They say anything good is worth fighting for. As writers, we need to learn to persevere. Obstacles and setbacks will happen. Rejection and criticism come with the package. To succeed and keep moving forward, we must develop that tough rhino skin and let things bounce off. We must keep learning. Keep growing. Keep moving forward. Most of all, we must keep trusting the Lord and allow Him to guide us on our journey and open the doors only He can open.

One writer says sometimes we want something because it looks good in someone else’s life. We should never look around with envy or compare our gifts with others. Our eyes and heart should always remain focused on the Lord.

If God has called you to write, be faithful to that calling. You are not a fraud, my friend, you are a writer.

 

Photos by sydney Rae and Jackson Simmer on Unsplash


TWEETABLE

If God has called you to write, be faithful to that calling. You are not a fraud, my friend, you are a writer. via @AndreaMerrell (Click to tweet.)

 

Monday, May 31, 2021

Lazy Rivers

 By Kevin Spencer


The Doobie Brothers wrote the song “Black Water” about building a raft and floatin’ on the Ol’ Mississippi. It talks about jumpin’ catfish, thumpin’ paddle wheels, and rollin’ black water. It also mentions the Mississippi moon.


Okay, I can hear your questions. What do the Doobie Brothers have to do with a writing blog?

 

Well, it's not the Doobie's per se, although I do love their music, but it's the imagery invoked by the song. Floating on a raft on a large lazy river, the river banks gliding past quietly, the water still, but moving, an almost imperceptible current moving you along.

 

What is it that makes a book you can't put down? At the very heart of any manuscript, what is it that makes a particular story one of those where the pages begin to turn themselves and the chapters mysteriously fly by? It is that lazy, flowing river the wonderful Doobie Brothers describe.

 

"Huh?"

 

(I know that's what you're thinking, so I went ahead and stuck the word in there for you. You're welcome.)

 

When I work with writers, I tell them to imagine their readers' eyes as a raft on that languorous river, drifting along from word to word to word. That's what keeps a reader drawn into a story. You want to keep those eyes moving, sliding along word to word, sentence to sentence, chapter to chapter. You want your manuscript to flow like a river, just pulling the reader along.

 

What you DO NOT want are rocks in your river. You don't want boulders with their plumes of white water that will spin your raft out of control. You don't want submerged logs just under the surface that will catch and flip your raft. And you definitely don't want to run up on a dam stretching across the river from bank to bank.

 

One example of rocks in our manuscript river is the exclamation mark! Even worse are multiple exclamation marks!!!!! What happens when you read an exclamation mark? Your eyes stop. The flow stops. You hit a rock. It is far better to DESCRIBE whatever you are exclaiming about than to lazily use an exclamation mark.

 

Robert Ludlum, the creator of super-spy Jason Bourne, was in love with the exclamation mark. It used to drive me insane trying to get drawn into his novels because he would throw exclamation marks at his manuscript like he was salting popcorn.

 

Other rocks might be unnecessarily complicated words or sentence structure. It might be an acronym or abbreviation. It might be stilted or out-of-place dialogue. It could be anything, really, that stops the reader. 

 

You aren't going to eliminate ALL the obstacles in our metaphorical river. Even I allow a writer two (but just two) exclamation marks in a work-in-process. However, the more rocks you can eliminate, the more you can keep your readers’ eyes gliding effortlessly from word to word, like a lazy flowing river.

 

"Old black water, keep on rollin' …"

 

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Baitong333 and Master isolated images.)


TWEETABLE

You’re reading a book you can't put down? What makes that particular story one of those where the pages begin to turn themselves and the chapters mysteriously fly by? (Click to tweet.)


Kevin Spencer is a freelance writer and professional editor and is privileged to be a staff writer for Christian Devotions. He lives in Middle Tennessee with his beautiful wife Charlotte and his wonderful fourteen-year-old grandson Caleb. A former prodigal son, Kevin has been blessed beyond measure and lives a life far, far better than he deserves. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Scene Progression

By Eddie Jones


Not that I do this with every novel, but when I have time, when I'm in my right mind, or not too far into the Jesus Juice, I follow the following formula for scene progression.


But before I get into the structure of scene building, let me offer some thoughts on Amazon’s new Kindle Vella program.


According to Amazon: “Kindle Vella is a serial reading experience. To protect readers from purchasing Kindle Vella content they have already read in a different format, you cannot incorporate your Kindle Vella content into other long-form content (e.g., a book) in any language. If you wish to incorporate an episode or story into other content, you must unpublish all episodes of that story from Kindle Vella.”


There remains some confusion as to whether you can publish a serial story in novel form, but the phrase, “If you wish to incorporate an episode or story into other content, you must unpublish all episodes of that story from Kindle Vella” seems to suggest you can.


Kindle Vella may be a great way to introduce readers to a forthcoming novel, gain valuable feedback from Vella, and grow your fan base. That said, if you’re planning to plunge into Vella publishing each episode needs to hook the reader and pull them into the next scene and next episode.  

  • State the goal of your Lead at the beginning of each scene.
  • What does she want?
  • What does he need?
  • How does he plan to acquire the thing he wants?
  • What will she give up for the thing she wants?
  • This “want” is your Lead’s stake in the ground.
  • Promise pain through foreshadowing (tears, heartache, physical discomfort).
  • Deliver pain through action (show your Lead suffering).


Allow your Lead to progress from:

  • Goal
  • Conflict
  • Disaster
  • Choice

\

Suspense is anticipation, so announce the reward for your Lead early in the scene. Restate your Lead’s goal as necessary. Halfway through is a good spot for reminders.

  • Never let your Lead relax for too long.
  • Increase the risk of failure.
  • Toward the end of the scene add penalties for failure.
  • Tension comes from unresolved conflict so leave your character’s world messy.
  • Promise a payoff for that scene, then delay the payoff until later.
  • Deliver some payoff, but not the thing your Lead sought.


Either introduce a new wrinkle to the story or alter something significant (new wrinkles that promise pain and problems AND altering a significant element in a negative way will generate reader interest IF they care for your characters).

I write middle grade paranormal murder mysteries and YA pirate novels so my readership will be different from yours, but you should be able to apply most of these general principles to your genre.

Write on. Write fast. Write as if Jesus will come tomorrow.


(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net, IndypendenZ.)


TWEETABLE

Writer, write on. Write fast. Write as if Jesus will come tomorrow. via @EddieJonesTweet (Click to tweet.)


Eddie Jones is an award-winning author of middle-grade fiction with HarperCollins. Father of two boys, he’s also a pirate at heart who loves to surf. An avid sailor with a great sense of humor, Eddie has been married to a girl he met at a stoplight in West Palm Beach during spring break for ... "too many years," Eddie's wife says. "Not enough," says Eddie.

Monday, May 17, 2021

One Writer’s Editing Process

 By Debra Dupree Williams


The editing process is one we either love or hate. I don’t mind the edits, it’s the revisions that often stump me. Once I’ve written something, I struggle to change it. Wasn’t it perfect the first
time?

 

Hardly.

 

We fall in love with our words, and it hurts to cut them or change them. But change is necessary if we want our work to sing.

 

As a musician, auditions are required for all manner of groups, from my high school choral groups to the most professional of church choirs. Even though I’d studied singing for years, those auditions were necessary to create the most harmonious, well-blended group possible. Some singers were cut. There were times when I was one of those.

 

The same holds true for our written words.

 

We spend years learning to string together coherent thoughts and then we sweat over each one as it appears on the blank page before us. Eventually, they form a story, or a blog post, or an article. But is every word necessary? Is each one required for a harmonious story?

 

Likely not.

 

The editing process is necessary to make our stories the best they can be. As a fiction writer, I found an excellent editor to help walk me through my manuscript before I submitted it to agents or publishers. She found and saw things I never would have found because my work was too familiar to me . . . too close to my heart.

 

My advice to any writer, but especially to new writers … write from your heart. Then invest in good books on self-editing. When you’ve done all you can to make your work the best it can be, hire an editor who will make it even better.

 

The process my editor and I followed was simple. I submitted three chapters per week, she read over them, and sent them back to me with Track Changes within Word. At that point, we met via telephone to talk about what she changed and why. It was a learning process for me for sure. This was my first novel, after all, and I had much to learn.

 

The entire process took around twenty weeks, and the manuscript became a 265-page book. To me, the money spent was so worth it. Without a doubt, the finished product was so much better than it would have been without the help of a professional editor.

 

It can get expensive to hire an editor, but I still urge you to find the best one your budget can afford. If you can’t afford one, be sure you are in critique groups where many of the members are editors or seasoned authors with years of experience. Word Weavers and ACFW are two groups which have all manner of aids for the writer. If you’re a beginner, these are the places for you. Find your local chapter and join.

 

But first thing to do? Pray over the work of your hands and heart.

 

But then you still need to edit. Not one of us is perfect.

 

 

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

 

TWEETABLE

The editing process is necessary to make our stories the best they can be. via @DDuPreeWilliams(Click to tweet.)

 

Award-winning author, Debra DuPree Williams, tells stories of faith and family set in the deep south. Debbie’s debut novel, Grave Consequences, A Charlotte Graves Mystery, has earned praise for its authentic voice, setting, and characters. A classically-trained lyric coloratura soprano, Debbie’s first love is Southern Gospel. Debbie and her husband have four sons, a beautiful daughter-of-their-hearts, and two perfect granddaughters. When not writing or in search of an elusive ancestor, Debbie and her husband enjoy life in the majestic mountains of western North Carolina. 

https://www. DebraDuPreeWilliams.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Writing Fiction for the Joy of It

 By Emily Golus

 

Some time ago I was at a wedding and struck up a conversation with another guest. When I mentioned that I was an author, he quickly found his wife and introduced us. “She’s wanted to write for years now,” he explained. “She has all of these story ideas in her head and wants to get them down.”

 

His wife—a classically trained musician who made her living performing—agreed. “I think about these characters all the time,” she said. “It’s just that I don’t have any training in writing. Is it worth it for me to start?”

 

My guess is that her real question was this: Is it worth investing the time if I have no guarantee of professional success?

 

“Do it,” I told her. “If it’s in your heart, then write. It doesn’t matter if you ever get published—do it because it’s good for you.”

 

Because here’s the thing: you don’t have to “go pro” for fiction writing to be worth it. The main benefit is to your own inner person.

 

What’s Art Good For, Anyway?

Yes, I know most of us reading this blog want to polish our manuscripts so they’re professional enough to get published. But let’s take a step back and ask ourselves why we’re actually doing this writing thing in the first place.

 

As fiction writers—especially when we’re first starting out—we sometimes take ourselves too seriously. “What’s the point of writing this book,” we ask ourselves, “if it doesn’t become a beloved bestseller that changes the fiction world?”

 

But art isn’t just about the final product. It’s about the process and what it does for you.

 

If one day my son wants to learn guitar or piano (or heaven forbid, the trumpet), I’m not going to tell him, “That’s a nice idea, but you’ll never be good enough to appear on the Billboard Hot 100, so what’s the point of trying? Just give up now.” Or “Don’t bother to learn how to paint, kid. You’ll never get your art into a museum, so why even learn?”

 

Most of us recognize that art—whether it’s playing an instrument, dancing, painting, or you name it—benefits us personally. Expressing our creativity through art is deeply satisfying and can even help us work through our problems.

 

Art makes our daily life richer, whether or not it ever makes it to the stage or into a gallery. You don’t have to be a professional artist—or even a good artist—to reap the benefits of creativity.

 

A Reality Check

We tend to think of the day we get published and hold that book in our hands as the I Have Arrived moment, where the Happily Ever After begins and the movie credits roll.

 

But that’s not typically the case. If you do get your fiction published—which is by no means a guarantee—you may find the response to your work is underwhelming. Also, now you have a new hobby: marketing that book and working hard to get traction.

 

Even if a published book is fairly successful, if you divide the money the book brings in by the hours spent writing it … well, let’s just say there are far more profitable ways to make a wage. The wild success stories are the exception, not the norm.

 

And consider this: if you have a message to get out, fiction is a far less direct tool than a sermon or article or another medium that takes much less time to create.

 

So why do it? Why spend all that energy writing and editing and getting critiques and attending conferences and getting that story just right, when there’s no guarantee it will go anywhere?

 

Because the process sparks something inside of you. Because you can’t not write.

 

The Joy of Fiction

Writing fiction fires up your imagination, filling it with delightful characters and taking you on vivid adventures that you get to enjoy, even if no one else does. It can help you organize your thinking, making you wrestle through ideas and come to clarity—or else help you realize some things are more nuanced than they seem on the surface. Fiction writing can sharpen your observational skills as you glean ideas from the world around you, and make the world a more interesting place. 

 

And if you join a critique group or attend writers’ conferences, you’ll not only learn to be a better writer, you’ll get to connect with fascinating people you may never have met otherwise.

 

We write primarily because we love the art form. Publication is a great bonus that may or may not happen, but it’s not the WHY.

 

I remember holding my finished manuscript for the first time—nearly four hundred sheets of printer paper crudely bound together, the labor of more than ten years. And at that moment I realized: if I never got this book published, it still would have been worth all the time and energy I’ve spent. The process made my life richer and more interesting, and was even a means of God’s grace in my life.

 

So, if you’re at the beginning of your writing journey and aren’t sure whether you’ll be good enough to “go pro”—start anyway. Do it because it’s good for you, and enjoy the adventure.

 

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


TWEETABLE

Why spend all that energy writing and editing and getting critiques and attending conferences and getting that story just right, when there’s no guarantee it will go anywhere? via @WorldofVindor (Click to tweet.)

 

Emily Golus has been dreaming up fantasy worlds since before she could write her name. A New England transplant now living in the Deep South, she is fascinated by culture and the way it shapes how individuals see the world. Golus aims to create stories that engage, inspire, and reassure readers that the small choices of everyday life matter.


Her first novel, Escape to Vindor, debuted in 2017 and won the Selah Award for young adult fiction. Its sequel, Mists of Paracosmia, followed in April 2019.

Golus lives in Upstate South Carolina with her rock-climbing husband, an awkward cat, and two adorable little boys.

Keep up with Vindor news at WorldofVindor.com and EmilyGolusBooks.com, or find her on Instagram as WorldOfVindor.