Monday, May 26, 2014

Execute the Exclamation!!!!

by Andrea Merrell

You might be wondering about the title and exactly what I mean by executing the poor little exclamation point. After all, what's he done that's so bad?

Actually, let’s look at it two ways, according to Merriam-Webster’s.

First, we can "carry it out and produce what is required or expected to give validity to." We can also "perform the fundamentals properly and skillfully."

Second, we can kill it—wipe it out—put it to death.

To prove this point (no pun intended), let’s look at a portion of literary agent Chip McGregor’s blog post, What Drives an Editor Crazy?

Someone wrote to ask a favorite question: “Are there certain editing errors that drive you crazy?”

Yes! Of course! Here’s one! Novelists who use exclamation points as though the period key didn’t work on their keyboard! I hate this! Really! What’s worse is the writer who needs to use several at once!!!!!
As an editor, I say a hearty "Amen!"

Are we saying you can never use exclamation points (EPs) in your writing? Absolutely not. The key is to know when and how to use them properly. They are appropriate when someone is shouting or showing extremely strong emotion.

Example: As three-year-old Susie was about to wander into the busy street, her mother shouted, “Susie, stop!”

In most cases, writers use unnecessary EPs when they are trying to make a point (pun intended), or they are very excited about what they are sharing. I once edited a book that contained anywhere from 200-300 EPs—honestly—no exaggeration. All but two or three were deleted from this otherwise excellent book.

This is an issue that could cause immediate rejection of your manuscript by an agent, editor, or publisher. Don’t take that chance. Limit your EPs to personal e-mails, texts, tweets, and FB messages (notice I said personal . . . not professional).

To eliminate this problem altogether, use strong verbs and more showing. Trust your reader to get it. Anything in your writing that is redundant (exclamation points, italics, quotation marks, ellipses, en and em dashes, words, or phrases) will wear on your reader. We will touch on these elements in another blog post. Until then, leave a comment and share your battle with the infamous EP.

(Photo courtesy of

Monday, May 19, 2014

10 Things I Love About Writers Conferences

by Alycia Morales

Winning awards is always nice. Having your work critiqued by a professional in the industry is a great benefit. Finding an editor or an agent who says "Yes" is the best feeling in the world for a writer. But there is so much more to be said about writers conferences.

Here are 10 Other Things I Love About Writers Conferences:

1. The opportunity to worship with like-minded people. Come on, we all know that writers are an odd lot. Put Jesus in the midst of them, and you can hear the angels sing.

2. Daily Devotions. As a writer, it's easy to get a big head. It's humbling to be reminded each morning at conference that we do this for the glory of God, not the glory of self.

3. Fellowship. Writers spend days and nights staring at our computer screens in glowing isolation. It's always a relief and rather refreshing to spend time with others who get you.

4. Meeting your roommate. This can be a bit nerve-wracking. You may know the person's name, if you're lucky, and now you're sharing a room with them. Not easy for an introvert. But worth it. My roommates and I have spent hours into the night talking about life, family, and books.

5. Dinnertime. Maybe this doesn't happen at all conferences, but the ones I've gone to allow you to eat with faculty. Some of the conversations have been terrifying and would make great story fodder, while others have been food-spitting funny.

6. Wisdom. There is a ton of knowledge present at these conferences. The faculty come prepared to teach it, and I come prepared to receive it. What's even better is when you can dig a little deeper and find those nuggets of wisdom.

7. Aha! Moments. With all of those writerly brains around, there should be plenty of Aha! moments at conference. Aha! I've found my "brand." Aha! I know what my novel needs to take it to the next level. Aha! That's what social network I should focus on. Aha! I never thought of that before. Aha! That's God's hand in my career - right there.

8. The Registration Desk. (Maybe I should have listed this one first.) "What?" you say. But have you ever stopped and looked around? Felt the electricity in the air? Seen the smiling faces as we begin to gather? It's the first place we come together. It's the first moment in our week/weekend together. It's the first in a series of next steps on our journey. It's the place long-distance friends spot each other across the room for the first time in a year. Love the registration desk.

9. The Journey. Whether I'm driving or flying to get to conference, I love the journey. I love spending a few final moments in prayer. I love the opportunity to brainstorm, the expectancy of what God has in store, and anticipating the hugs and smiles of friends.

10. The Vacation. For me, conferences are a vacation. They are a break from everyday life. They are fun and exciting like a theme park roller coaster. You never know which way your career path is going to turn next. And that, to me, is thrilling.

What do you love about conferences? What would you add to the list?

Congratulations Vie Herlocker! You are the winner of Ann Tatlock's novel.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Be Patient

by Ann Tatlock

Some things just take time. Consider the pearl. Most people know that a pearl is formed when a grain of sand or some other irritant gets inside the shell of an oyster. The irritation causes the secretion of nacre, which forms around the grain of sand, thus forming the pearl. But it doesn’t happen quickly. For a saltwater pearl to form it takes between five and twenty years. The longer the pearl stays in the shell, the larger it will be.

Learning to write well is one of those things that simply takes time. But I’m finding that some people want to rush it, with unfortunate results. Without taking the time to hone their writing skills and really polish a manuscript, they are offering editors, agents, and publishers what amounts to a grain of sand rather than a pearl.

Even though I’m a novelist, my degree is in journalism. It took me quite a while to feel confident about my fiction-writing skills. I never took a creative writing class, but I read a lot of great literature and I wrote eight novels over eleven years before I finally came up with a manuscript I considered ready for marketing. The first seven novels were never published nor will they ever be. They were my training ground, necessary to my development as a writer but certainly not fit for public consumption!

If you have yet to be published, take your time and use it well. Read lots of good writing. Study books on how to write. Go to writers conferences and take classes. Join a writer’s critique group. Hire an editor to work with you and listen to what he or she has to say. And most of all, write, write, and write some more. All of this will improve your skills, so that when you do offer your words to the world, you’ll be casting pearls instead of sand.


Are you giving your readers sand or pearls? @Ann Tatlock #write #amwriting (Click to tweet)

How to be patient while waiting to be published. @Ann Tatlock #write #amwriting (Click to tweet)

Ann Tatlock is an award-winning novelist and children's book author. She also serves as managing editor of Heritage Beacon, the historical novel imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She lives with her husband and daughter in the mountains of Western North Carolina. You can read more about her work at

(Photo courtesy of

Ann is giving away an autographed copy of her book, Sweet Mercy. All you have to do to enter the contest is leave a comment below. The winner will be announced on May 19th.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Perfectionism Is Not Your Friend

by Andrea Merrell

Except for the occasional writer’s block, putting words to paper or fingers to the keyboard is generally the easy part. Writing for publication is the hard part, but it can be done with time, study, and determination. You just need to know the rules and guidelines.

In the movie Finding Forrester, Sean Connery’s character (a famous author who has become a recluse) gives this advice to an aspiring young writer: “No thinking. That comes later. You write your first draft … with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is … to write, not to think.”

Great advice, but that being said, the second key to writing should be to think.

If you’re a natural editor, getting your entire story on paper without constantly going back and making corrections will be difficult. Perfectionism is not your friend (at least at this point). It can keep you working on the same few chapters for months, even years, without finishing your book. If this is a problem for you, politely, but firmly, tell your inner editor to be quiet or to take a vacation so you can finish writing. When you’re in the zone and words are flowing (some writers call it word dump), you don’t want to stop the flow to make sure all your words are perfect. There will be plenty of time for that later. As you continue with the story, you’ll make lots of tweaks and changes, and you don’t want to keep going over and over the same ground.
Your writing time is valuable. Use it wisely.

Once you have your words on paper or safely tucked away in your computer, it’s time to start the editing/re-writing/proofreading process. If this is difficult for you, go back over your material and read it aloud. Read it slowly. You’ll be amazed how much this little exercise will help you. Chances are you’ve read it so many times your eyes will skip over obvious errors. By reading aloud, you’ll get a better feel for syntax and sentence structure. If possible, have someone else read it to you and listen carefully as they read. Software programs are available for your computer that will read text, and some are free. Google “Computer Reading Programs” for a list of options. Getting feedback from others is always beneficial.

Ultimately, even the best editor needs an editor, but every writer can learn to catch common mistakes and produce clean, professional manuscripts.

Are you a natural editor or do you struggle with the process? Would love to hear your comments.

(Excerpts taken from Murder of a Manuscript by Andrea Merrell, published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Used by permission.)  Photos courtesy of

Be sure to join us next Monday (May 12th) for our first guest blog post by Ann Tatlock. Ann will be giving away an autographed copy of her book, Sweet Mercy.