Monday, November 11, 2019

Priming the Writer’s Pump

 By Tim Suddeth

I used to get frustrated when starting my old lawn mower. There was a rubber bulb I had to mash, and mash, and mash. By forcing gas into some thingamajig, it would—eventually—start the mower with a burp and a cloud of smoke.

The engine had to have gas in it before it could run. And getting that gas in is called priming the pump.

That’s a lot like how a writer’s mind works. (Not the burping and cloud of smoke part.) If you want to come up with new ideas and new stories, you need to continually prime the pump. A local college has a program called “Lifetime Learning,” and that’s exactly what is expected from a writer.

Today, we have more ways than ever to learn: podcasts, books, articles, blogs, videos, websites, forums, magazines, newspapers (yes, we still have them.), chat rooms, etc. And new information mediums are coming out all the time.

So, how are you keeping your pump (mind) primed?

My first thought goes to what you are reading. Are you reading the types of books, blogs, or articles you write or want to write? I’m always hearing stories about the shock agents and publishers have when they ask a hopeful writer what they are reading, and they answer they don’t read. Or they don’t read the types of stories they are submitting.

Then how can they know what is good, what has already been done to death, and what their desired reader expects to encounter?

They haven’t primed the pump. Or they primed it with water. In either case, the engine isn’t going to start, and the story won’t meet the expectations of the agent or publisher. Or worse, the reader.

If you’re thinking of writing a book, read other books in your genre. Definitely the works of respected authors but also non-published works. 

If you blog, read other blogs on your subject as well as those on totally different topics. Find what draws you in. 

There are other ways you can prime your writing pump. Listen to music. We all have our favorite types, and that’s fine, but don’t limit yourself to just one. I’m a big fan of Christmas music, new or traditional. Give me “Away in a Manger,” but I also want to hear the latest songs that come out each year. What are they about? How do they look at the same old Christmas story but from a different angle?

Take a nature walk. From a panoramic view of the ocean, the mountains, or the sky to the grains of sand on the beach and a slide under a microscope. Each will leave you grasping for new words to describe the wonder you’ll find.

The seasons remind me how our lives are constantly changing. You can also see this when you watch a river as it flows between its banks. On the other hand, a mountain seems as if it has stood silent, unchanging, since God first called out for it to rise.

God has made our minds to be His marvelous creations that allow us to experience His world. To experience Him. He has filled His world with things and people who give us an endless amount of creative ideas. Explore. Smell the roses … and the bugs. And remember, while you are searching for ideas, the Creator has left His fingerprints all over His creation. He’s just waiting for us to discover them.

To me, wispy, white clouds look as if God took a Bob Ross brush and—swish, swish—hung them high in the blue sky.

What is the most unlikely God fingerprint you’ve ever found?

 (Photos courtesy of, vectorolie, and everydayplus.)


Tim Suddeth is a regular attendee of The Blue Ridge Mountains Writers Conference and a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He’s currently working on his fifth novel. He has a monthly post on The Write Conversation and is trying to make a dent in his to-read bookcases. You can follow him at on his blog at or on Twitter @TimSuddeth.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Don't Let Rejection Derail You

By Andrea Merrell

Rejection stings. That’s a fact. But the truth is we have a choice when it comes: give up and quit trying or let it motivate us to press on.

Sometimes the rejection is a simple no without explanation. At other times it comes with constructive criticism that can help us improve our project—if we let it. The key is not to personalize the rejection. One writer warns against allowing the opinion of ourselves to be colored by the opinion of those who fail to see our potential.

In the writing world, rejection is inevitable. That’s another fact. But to be successful, we have to maintain a positive attitude and overcome it. Here are a couple of examples from author Bob Gass:

In 1902 an aspiring young writer received a rejection letter from the poetry editor of The Atlantic Monthly. Enclosed with a sheaf of poems the twenty-eight-year-old poet had sent them was this curt note: “Our magazine has no room for your vigorous verse.” Yet he became one of the most beloved and popular American poets of all time. Who was he? Robert Frost.

In 1907 the University of Bern turned down a PhD dissertation from a young physics student. Yet that student went on to change the scientific world forever. Who was he? Albert Einstein.

When a sixteen-year-old student got his report card from his rhetoric teacher in school, there was a note attached that read: “A conspicuous lack of success.” But he refused to accept it. Who was he? Winston Churchill.

I’ve heard dozens of stories—from both newbies and seasoned writers—about the piles of rejections they have received. Even Frank Peretti was turned down by fourteen publishers before This Present Darkness was accepted by Crossway Books. Thank goodness he refused to stop trying.

I could add my own stories to the mix, and I’m sure you could as well. But I learned early on that when my manuscript gets that dreaded no, it’s either not ready or it’s not the right time or place. The truth is when we write for the Lord and He gives us words to share with others, He will open the right door at the right time, and the right person will be on the other side of that door. You never know when that will happen. That’s why it’s so important to never give up or lay aside your God-given calling.

Words are powerful. God spoke the world into existence. He tells us that words contain the power of both life and death. Sticks and stones may surely break our bones, but words go deep into our innermost being. They have the power to wound the heart or set the captive free. One single word from God can change the entire course of someone’s life. What if God has entrusted that word to you? There just might be someone out there waiting to hear your story. Read your blog post. Savor your devotion. Learn through your magazine article. Be set free by your testimony. Or be impacted forever by your powerful novel.

Take your rejections and turn them into resources. Remain teachable. Learn from the advice and suggestions of others. Keep writing and never allow rejections to derail you.

Your time will come.

How do you handle rejections? Do you have some advice you would like to share? We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of and Stuart Miles.)


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

20 Things to Do On a Writing Retreat

by Alycia W. Morales     @AlyciaMorales

As an introvert and a writer, I find it important to make it a point to get away from life every once in a while and take a writing retreat. A writing retreat can look like many things. A weekend alone in the mountains. A week with writerly friends at the beach. An overnight at a hotel near my home.

Whatever a writer retreat looks like to you, we must recognize the importance of taking time to ourselves and getting away from life so our creativity can flow.

What can a writing retreat do for me?

It's down time to rest. Sometimes a nap is all we need to renew our creativity.

A writing retreat can increase our creativity. Getting away from the daily grind gives our mind space to create new ideas.

If we attend a writing retreat with writing friends, we have a wealth of brainstorming genius at our fingertips.

Are you stuck in a writing slump? On a tight deadline? Maybe you just need a break from life and a desire to spend that break writing.

Here are 20 Things to Do on a Writing Retreat:

1. Take a nap.

2. Brain dump. This is putting all your thoughts on paper so you can sort them out.

3. Brainstorm with friends. This is coming up with options for whatever you need in your novel.

4. Take a walk or a hike.

5. Play a board or card game, like Scrabble or Scattegories or Balderdash or Apples to Apples.

6. Put away your electronics (except your laptop) and turn off your internet for a few hours so all you focus on is writing.

7. Cook a meal or bake a dessert. Then enjoy it. Note the flavors and scents. Use them in your story.

8. Take some photographs.

9. Find a local shop where your character would browse and visit it. Buy a souvenir.

10. Write in 30-minute sprees. Take a 10-minute stretch-and-grab-a-snack break. Write again.

11. Focus on one thing you need to improve in your storyline. Keep at that until you figure it out.

12. Read a book that's been on your TBR list for a while. Read a chapter, write a chapter in your own book. Read another chapter, write another chapter.

13. Have a cup of coffee or tea (or whatever else may help your creativity).

14. Visit a historical site. Look for inspiration for your story.

15. Go out to eat. What would your characters order off the menu if they were dining together?

16. Even if you go with friends, take a day to stay in your bed or out on a porch or somewhere off by yourself to do a writing marathon. No interruptions allowed.

17. Have a friend critique your latest chapter. Take some of their suggestions and tweak a chapter or two. Or your plotline.

18. Have a word count challenge. Who can write the most words in any number of minutes?

19. Take the time to create a playlist for your novel.

20. Watch a show or movie you enjoy and take a scene you can tweak to fit your own novel. Remember, there's nothing new under the sun. You just need to change some things to make it your own.

Click to Tweet: When's the last time you took a writing retreat? Here are 20 Things to Do on your next one!

Which one of these things would you enjoy doing on your writing retreat? Do you have any more ideas to add to the list? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Monday, October 14, 2019

What is the Definition of a Professional Writer?

By DiAnn Mills

Do we have a clear idea of what it means to be a professional writer? Is it defined by the number of publications? Is the term equated with a particular genre or how long a writer has labored at the craft? The amount of the advance? Is the definition subjective and of little value? Perhaps the easiest way to describe a professional writer is to show what that looks like in the publishing world.

An accomplished writer is one who has spent hours perfecting the craft and gained recognition through publication. The work is hard and usually a solitary process. The writing life involves developing a tough skin to accept constructive criticism, rejections, edits, rewrites, and submit again.

The professional writer strives to create quality manuscripts by being aware of what’s happening in the world. The writer is concerned and creates posts to address heartfelt needs of readers.

Professionals face the challenges of their calling by establishing and achieving goals. The writer weighs the writing project, style, voice, networking, and social media content with their brand to determine if the manuscript is a good fit.

A professional writer is an authority about one or more topics related to the craft. An expert is capable of providing knowledge to others by offering explanations and instruction that are valued. The publishing industry respects a self-confident and reliable writer.

A writer enriches a reader’s life by using words as building blocks for effective communication. It’s an art accomplished by knowing how to place words in easy to understand language. The process also includes using correct grammar, punctuation, and mastering techniques to create an unforgettable experience. We enhance our skills through life experience and training.

A student is one who takes an interest in a subject and strives to learn more about it. The professional writer who embraces student status chooses the road of seeking more knowledge about the publishing world. This focus includes enhancing our skills in the craft, marketing, promotion, and constant changes in the writing industry. A student practices the art of continuous education.

The best teachers of writing are those who are accomplished, aware, career-minded, an expert, skilled, and embraces the role of a student. These people are role models. They offer advice and sometimes mentor those who are serious about their calling.

Are you on a path to professionalism?

(Photos courtesy of and Stuart Miles.)


Monday, October 7, 2019

Shoot the Weasel Words

By Andrea Merrell

Pet words and phrases, more commonly known as weasel words, are a major problem. All writers have them, even those of us whose job it is to edit them out of other writers’ manuscripts. 

If you’ve been writing for a while, you're most likely familiar with your own weasel words. If not, here are a few of the most common: that, just, really, surely, however, therefore, suddenly, quickly, quietly, softly, certainly, began to … 

The list goes on and on … and on.

Recently, I discovered a few of my own hiding in my current WIP. Let me share them with you: in fact, after all, tried to, cringed, possibly, probably, and struggled. You might be asking yourself what’s wrong with these words? Absolutely nothing—unless you do a word search and find them used forty times or more. Talk about a reality check. Ouch!

Few things are more annoying to readers than redundancies, especially seeing the same words and phrases over and over. I’ve read a few books over the years that I wanted to throw across the room because of too much repetition.

So, what’s a writer to do? We have to be aware of our pet weasels, be willing to part with them, find them, then shoot them. Bang! As they say, don’t marry your words.

Let’s look at a couple of examples, and you decide if the italicized words are necessary in the sentence.

  • Suddenly, Rae struggled desperately to keep her footing as she tried to survey the damage. Instead: Rae struggled to keep her footing as she surveyed the damage.

  • After all, may I at least reimburse you for the flowers? Better: May I reimburse you for the flowers?

Here’s another one for you to untangle:

  • Scott certainly thought that Karen was really just up to no good, so he suddenly moved quickly and quietly to the window just so that he could begin to see what she was doing.

Pretty bad, right? How about this? 

  • Scott thought Karen was up to no good, so he moved to the window to see what she was doing.

Do you see how eliminating those pesky weasel words tightens your writing? Be sure to do a word search and get rid of those little varmints. Your readers will be glad you did.

What about you? Do you have your own set of weasel words? We would love for you to share them with us.

(Photos courtesy of and