Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year ... New Goals

By Andrea Merrell

All too fast, 2016 has come and gone, and we are now facing a brand new year. 

How many times have you made a list of resolutions that usually end up as unrealistic (and unmet) expectations? We all do it—make promises to ourselves to eat healthier, exercise more, go to the gym, and lose weight. Some of us plan to have lunch with an old friend, clean out the garage, or spend more time in God’s Word.

As a writer, have you made resolutions for 2017? Maybe you’re determined to finish a manuscript and work on those proposals and query letters. Perhaps you plan to make a schedule and set aside a certain portion of each day to devote to writing. If you’re like most writers, you’re probably trying to decide which conference is the right fit for you. There are countless opportunities for us to grow as writers and polish our skills.

Whatever your desires might be for this year, try something different. Instead of making the usual resolutions—which fade further and further away with each passing day—establish small, bite-sized goals that can easily be achieved. When we set unrealistic expectations, we end up disappointed, frustrated, and ready to give up completely. In other words, don’t vow to have your book on Amazon by this time next year. Instead, establish some reachable goals and then stick to them.

But stay flexible. Life happens. When it does—and it derails your best efforts—don’t beat yourself up and pronounce yourself a failure. And, whatever you do, don’t quit. Tomorrow is a new day, and God’s mercies are new each morning.

Here are a few ideas to get you started. Pick out a couple of items, and then put them on your calendar or to-do list.

This Year I Will Commit To:
  • Pray over my writing and commit each project to God.
  • Set aside a certain amount of time each day/week to write.
  • Clean and organize my desk/workspace.
  • Spend less time on FB, Twitter, and computer games.
  • Attend at least one workshop or writers’ conference.
  • Take an online course.
  • Stop procrastinating and complete one unfinished project. (devotion, article, blog post, short story, or novel).
  • Step out of my comfort zone and try a different genre.
  • Start a blog (or blog more).
  • Update my website.
  • Join a critique group.
  • Offer to mentor another writer or help them promote their book, blog, or services.
  • Send thank-you notes or e-mails to those who have helped and inspired me. 
Do you have other suggestions you would like to share? We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of Miles/satit_srihinm.)


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Twas the Night Before ...

Alycia and I are so honored to bring you informative posts each week that will help you in your writing journey. Thank you for taking the time to read and share our words over this past year. We would both like to wish you 
the merriest Christmas ever.

By Andrea Merrell

As a change of pace from our normal posts, I offer you this silly little poem for writers. (I'm not a poet, so be kind with your edits and critiques.) 🌝

Twas the night before deadline
And all through my mind
No creative thoughts were stirring
Of any shape, form, or kind

Reference books were stacked
By my computer with care
In hopes inspiration
Would quickly be there

My family was snuggled all warm in their beds
While visions of book sales swirled round in their heads
And me with my ratty old robe and hairband
Settled in at my desk with dark chocolate in hand

When out on the porch there arose a loud crash
I sprang from my chair and made a mad dash
Away to the window to see who was there
Hoping new ideas had been delivered with care

I opened the window to get a quick peek
While snowflakes gathered rapidly on both of my cheeks
Then what to my sleep-deprived eyes did appear
But a man dressed in red on a gigantic reindeer

My hands flew to my face as I was turning around
Down the chimney came the big guy without a single sound
A large furry bag was flung over his back
And he looked like my editor opening his pack

He spoke not a word but went straight to his task
I watched him with wonder, not daring to ask
He gave me a package, then touched the side of his nose
He winked and he nodded as up the chimney he rose

I opened the package as he sailed away like the tide
Knowing my muse was tucked safely inside
Scrambling back to my desk, my fingers flew fast and tight
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-night! 

(Photos courtesy of Miles.)


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

10 Unique Gifts for Writers

by Alycia W. Morales     @AlyciaMorales

As Christmas rapidly approaches and gift exchanges abound, what can you get the writer in your life? Tired of the status quo gifts of blank journals, coffee cups and Starbucks gift cards? Here are a few unique ideas.

1. Write the Story journal. This one isn't just a blank journal. It's one I just discovered at Barnes and Noble this morning. The story topic is at the top of the page, along with a list of words to be used in the story. I found it at my local Barnes and Noble on the Bargain Priced shelf for $9.98. Or you can buy it on amazon via Piccadilly.

2. A gift card to their favorite place to shop for clothes. We always hear about giving money to support their trip to a writers conference. What we don't consider is the dress code. Pre-conference is the time I always go clothes shopping. Sometimes it's because I've eaten too many holiday goodies over the winter and need a new size. Or I want something fresh in my wardrobe. Find out where your author loves to shop and get a gift certificate for there.

3. An iTunes card or amazon card. Writers typically have a soundtrack they put on when they sit down to create a story. Mine varies with what I'm writing. Having a fresh gift card allows the freedom to pick out a new soundtrack listen to as they write their first novel of the year.

4. Board Games. Not every writer enjoys a board game, but I would say quite a few do. Especially if they have children or grands. My family loves to come together to play, and after spending all day looking at a computer screen and interacting electronically, I'm ready for some face time with family. We love Clue, Dominion, Life, Monopoly Empire, Scattergories, Risk, and others. What do you like to play?
Click the photo to link to Etsy.
5. Essential Oils. This may sound crazy, but I recently won a set of essential oils and a diffuser. There's nothing like plugging that in after a long day at a desk and relaxing to the warm scent filling the room while it also helps fight against the dryness of the winter season. I'd much rather have that than candles. Beware that some people have allergies to scents. But if not, this is a great gift.

6. A writing retreat. Maybe you're a husband who wants to bless his writerly wife or vice versa. Every writer loves being alone for a period of time, or they wouldn't have chosen writing books as a career path. What better treat than to send them off on a writing retreat? Maybe you know someone with a time share that would be willing to donate a week to your spouse. Or you know of a cabin tucked away in the woods or a cottage at the beach.

7. A subscription to Artful Blogging. This blogging magazine is perfect for the blogger in your life who loves photography as well. Produced quarterly, it's $14.99 on the shelf. A subscription would be a wonderful gift.

8. An annual gym membership. Let's face it, writer spend the majority of their time on their butt. In a chair. In front of a screen. We really need exercise on a regular basis if we don't want to gain 100 pounds. What better way to get your writer out the door and active than giving them an annual membership to the local gym?
Click the photo to link to Etsy.
9. A standing desk. Ranging from $100 or so up, these desks keep us on our feet and off our backsides. They promote healthy posture and help burn calories that wouldn't be burning if we were sitting still. Personally, I would love one of these. And my own office space in the house. Like a room. By myself. With all my books.

10. Shop Etsy for hundreds of unique gifts for writers. I love Etsy. There are gift ideas in abundance, and they're all handmade or vintage. These Sherlock pencils are a hoot. I, for one, would love a vintage typewriter. I also know a writer who collects them.

11. BONUS: What does your writer collect? Find a piece of their collection they don't already own and go with that. Perfection!

What would you wish for if you could ask for anything a writer would love? Be sure to leave a comment. We'd love to hear from you!


10 Unique Gifts for Writers {Click to Tweet}

What would your writer ask for this Christmas? 10 Giftable Ideas via @AlyciaMorales {Click to Tweet}

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

29 Quick and Easy Social Media Updates to Share

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson

Sometimes connecting with our readers through social media seems like such a time-consuming chore that we can’t pull together the energy to even try. Truthfully though, by doing a little bit on social media consistently, we can make great strides. Today I’d like to share some easy—quick—ways to make those important connections. My tips are divided into three sections—things we can do now and share later, things we can share on the fly, and things we should avoid sharing.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Team of Writer and Editor

By Andrea Merrell

In my last post, we talked about the importance of paying for a professional edit. Today, let’s discuss the writer and editor working together as a team.

Writing—at least for most people—is not a solitary venture. Most of us are members of critique groups, attend writers’ conferences on a regular basis, and have writing buddies who love to get together to brainstorm ideas. Some of us even have wives, husbands, children, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and friends who love to read and can give us valuable feedback on our stories.

But there’s another person who plays a vital role in the quality and success of your project: your editor.

Whether you plan to self-publish and hire a freelance editor or have one assigned to you through your publishing company, this person can become your greatest ally and even a valued friend. The partnership between writer and editor is a key factor in the process.

An editor’s input is essential for both the new writer and the experienced author.  Once we write, rewrite, edit, proof—and then start the process all over again—we can become “blind” to our own mistakes. As writers, we know what’s supposed to be on that page. We know our story and characters so well we dream about them and have conversations with them in our head. But after we’ve read through our manuscript a number of times, our eyes begin to skip over obvious mistakes. That’s why we all need help. As I like to say, even the best editor needs an editor.

So, what can you as a writer expect from your relationship with your editor?

When you and your editor are working together as a team, I truly believe you can learn more about the writing process than in a workshop or conference, because this is doing and not just hearing.

Bottom line: trust your editor. Work with him or her and learn from the process. If you have questions and suggestions, don’t be afraid to voice them. Your editor is there to make you look good and help your words shine.

Do you have any questions about the relationship between writer and editor? We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of Miles/Master isolated images.) 


Monday, November 7, 2016

Why Pay for a Professional Edit?

By Andrea Merrell

A recent email from a potential client asking about my rates for editing ended with “I’m holding my breath.”

I had to laugh because this is the way many—if not most—writers feel when it comes to paying for a professional edit. I certainly felt that way in the beginning of my writing career. I couldn’t imagine how someone could charge so much per hour to proofread and make corrections to my words. 

How little I knew …

There’s much more that goes into a thorough (substantive) edit than simply looking for typos. Along with an eye for punctuation, grammar, and spelling, your editor will look up and verify Scripture references and check the meaning of unfamiliar words. He or she will double-check hyphenated words, quotes, facts, and rules in the CMOS (Chicago Manual of Style) and CWMS (Christian Writer’s Manual of Style). These are the go-to books for editors and are considered industry standard.

A good editor will also look for:
·       Your writing style.  Your editor should never try to change your voice. After all, this is your story.
·       Formatting and consistency issues.
·       Redundant words and phrases. Sometimes we tend to overuse certain words without realizing it. Your editor will help you catch these redundancies that can ruin your story and wear on the reader.
·       Strong hooks. Using strong hooks will keep your readers turning the pages.
·       How well you set the scene.
·       POV (point of view) issues. Head-hopping will frustrate the reader.
·       Dialogue issues. This will especially apply to speaker beats and tags.
·       Showing, not telling. Your editor will help you put your reader in the scene and even inside the character’s head by showing external and internal conflict.
·       Proper use of backstory.
·       Syntax. This is the rhythm and flow of your sentences and paragraphs.

There are many other elements involved in the process, but this will give you a better idea of what to expect.

A professional editor can comfortably edit six to eight pages per hour. Best case scenario (a manuscript that requires less work) would be ten. Most editors will go through a manuscript at least twice and sometimes more. This depends on the quality of the writing and the amount of editing that needs to be done. It’s virtually impossible to catch every single mistake the first time through.

There are also notes for the author, e-mails, and (sometimes) phone calls.

Alycia has done several posts over the past few months about how you can save money by learning the craft of writing and applying those rules to your projects. Here is the link to part  1: The More You Know, The Less You'll PayI would encourage you to go back over these posts and study each point. This information will help you submit a much cleaner manuscript that will require less time, effort, and—ultimately—dollars.

So, back to the question … why pay for a professional edit?

An editor’s job is to make you, the writer, look good … to make your words shine. This person keeps up with industry standards and plays a vital role in the quality and success of your project. Unfortunately, there are many poorly written books on the market today because the writers did not think it necessary to pay for a professional edit.

Next time, we'll talk about the team of writer and editor. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on professional editing? If you have a success story you’d like to share, we’d love to hear it.

(Photos courtesy of Miles/iosphere.)


Monday, October 31, 2016

Writing Memes for Halloween

"I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat."
- Edgar Allen Poe

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."
- Anton Chekhov

Feel free to share! :) Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 17, 2016

The More You Know, The More You'll Save: Part X ~ Dialogue Do's and Don'ts

by Alycia W. Morales

As authors, we're always looking for ways to save money and time. This is the eighth post in a series that is meant to help you save both. On the front end, putting forth the effort to learn these points will cost you some time, but in the long run, it will save you money on professional edits.

Last week, we went over showing vs. telling and active vs. passive writing. This week, we'll take a look at dialogue.

Speaker Tags: said, asked, yelled. These are speaker tags. They designate who is speaking, especially when there are more than two characters in a conversation.

When using speaker tags, don't use words like "laughed," "cried," or "growled." Keep it simple. Said is the best. "Asked" goes well with question marks, but you could also use "said" with question marks. Use "yelled" before you use an exclamation point (use a period instead). But people can't cry words. Nor can they laugh words. If your character needs to laugh or cry, use a speaker beat.

Speaker Beats: When our characters do something between dialogue sentences, we use speaker beats. It's better for the reader, especially if you have a bunch of back-and-forth dialogue, if we use speaker beats to designate who's speaking because it gives the reader an idea of what is happening in the story.

For example:
Mariah laughed. "You've got to be kidding me." She tossed the book onto the table and shook her head. "There's no way I can finish that in one night. What was she thinking assigning us Great Expectations on such short notice?"
Elizabeth picked up the book and flipped through it with a frown. "Yeah. There's no way I can read that overnight, and I'm a speed reader."

What you don't want to do is use a dialogue tag with a beat. There's no point in using the tag.
For example:
James stood and said, "I don't think we need to read the whole thing. Let's go to Barnes and Noble and get the Cliffnotes."
We know he said the sentence if he stood just before he said it.
James stood. "I don't think we need to read the whole thing. Let's go to Barnes and Noble and get the Cliffnotes."

Talking Heads: Using speaker tags and speaker beats helps us avoid having talking heads in our novels. Talking heads are characters that go back and forth with dialogue, leaving the reader wondering who is saying what. If you have more than a few lines of dialogue between two characters without a tag or beat, you have talking heads. If you have multiple lines of dialogue between more than two people, and your readers have no idea who's saying what, you have talking heads.

Dialect: When using dialect to notify your reader of a particular way of speaking, use it just enough in the first chapter that the reader catches on. Then revert to using normal dialogue for the rest of the novel. Otherwise, the dialect will slow down the reader.

Casualties: Don't use the casualties. When your character answers the phone, we don't have to hear them say hello. They don't need to ask how the other person is doing. They don't need to say goodbye. Get right into the conversation. In other words, get to the point.

Dialogue Do's and Don'ts {Click to Tweet}

What's the difference between a speaker beat and a tag? Dialogue tips via @AlyciaMorales {Click to Tweet}

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Day I Wanted To Quit

Today's special guest is author and speaker, Lori Hatcher. She will talk to us about tackling the mind games that discourage and defeat us.

By Lori Hatcher @LoriHatcher2

Your proposal is rejected—again, and your head swirls with doubt, disappointment, and confusion. You pour your heart out in a blog post, take hours to format it just right, click post, and wait. The only buzz you hear is from the ceiling fan above your head, and the only comments you receive are from your mother and Aunt Fran.
 Every writing conference you attend seems populated by successful, profound writers and brings new battles with jealousy and insecurity. You compare your blog, book, or platform to your superstar colleague and wonder if you’re deluded in thinking that God could ever use you or your story to impact someone else.

It’s been my experience that struggling writers (and we’re all struggling writers) deal with three main areas that make us want to quit: comparison, insecurity, and competitiveness. In each area, we find lies that can defeat us and truth that can deliver us. If you’ve attended one of my writing workshops, you know there’s more to winning this battle than I can share in a brief blog post, but here are a few thoughts to aid you in the fight.

Lies: She’s a better writer than you are. She’s got thousands of blog subscribers and you have fifty. She writes like a New York Times bestseller and you write like a kindergartener. Your personal life is a wreck, and she’s got it all together. Who’s going to take you seriously?
Truth: God has given each of us a unique set of life experiences, communication styles, and spheres of influence. He’s allowed our circumstances to prepare us for the specific audience he wants to impact through us.

If God has called you to write, then he has called you to write, not despite where you are, who you are, or what you’ve been through, but because of where you are, who you are, or what you’ve been through.

Lies: I’m not articulate enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not witty enough. I’m not well connected enough.
Truth: “He who called you is faithful” (1 Cor. 1:9).

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

“I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand” (Isa. 51:16).

Whenever we struggle with insecurity, we need to have our I’s checked. Instead of focusing on ourselves and the real or imagined inadequacies we have, we need to exchange our “I’s” for “He’s.” We must examine the valid and unwavering sources for our confidence—God’s calling, God’s empowering, and God’s Truth.

Lies: If I help her, she’ll get ahead, and I’ll be left behind. She received a book contract, and I received a rejection letter. I could help her promote her book, but why should I? I’m always the book bridesmaid and never the bride.
Truth: Fellow author Cindy Sproles once said, “The world is big enough and broken enough and lost enough to need every one of us sounding the message of Christ. We’re all on the same team. We’re working toward the same goal. Someone else’s success doesn’t diminish my own, because we’re comrades in arms.”

I hope you’ve figured out by now that the secret of tackling the mind games that foul our minds and distort our perspectives is to exchange lies for the truth. To do this, we must have a firm grasp on Scripture and bathe everything we do in prayer. As Bible teacher Beth Moore says, “We're going to have to let truth scream louder to our souls than the lies that have infected us.”

My prayer for you is that you fight the battle, win the war, and write on for the glory of God.

This post is an excerpt from Lori’s writing workshop by the same name. If you’d like information on the full presentation, please contact Lori at

Lori Hatcher is the editor of Reach Out, Columbia magazine and the author of two devotional books, Hungry for God … Starving for Time, Five-Minute Devotions for Busy Women and  Joy in the Journey – Encouragement for Homeschooling Moms. A blogger, writing instructor, and inspirational speaker, her goal is to help women connect with God in the craziness of life. You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God. . . Starving for Time . Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter (@LoriHatcher2), or Pinterest (Hungry for God).

(Photos courtesy of datta/Digitalart.)


Friday, September 30, 2016

The More You Know, The More You'll Save: Part IX ~ Show, Don't Tell

by Alycia W. Morales

As authors, we're always looking for ways to save money and time. This is the ninth post in a series that is meant to help you save both. On the front end, putting forth the effort to learn these points will cost you some time, but in the long run, it will save you money on professional edits.

Last week, we went over avoiding repetition. This week, we'll take a look at Showing vs. Telling and Active vs. Passive Writing.

Show, don't tell! It's an editor's mantra some days. Throughout my years as an editor, I've come to realize that a lot of telling is also just passive writing, plain and simple. So how do we know we're doing it? And how do we fix it?

The simplest form of passive writing comes when we use passive verbs. Search your manuscript for "was" and "were." If your characters was running, he ran. If they were going to the store, they went. Use the active verb, usually with a past tense, -ed ending. The exception would be if you're writing in present tense, of course, or modifying.

Next, search your manuscript for "began" or "started." If a character began to sweat, she was already sweating, so "she sweat." Remember, if we start or begin to do something, we're doing it. Use the active verb. Leave out "started" and "began."

Another common sign of inactive or passive writing is using the words "caused" or "made." This signifies an emotion or an action or something someone said acting upon the character instead of the character simply responding to it. For example, "The noise caused Ella to jump." Instead, try, "A clap of thunder echoed across the valley. Ella jumped."

If your character "watched," "observed," "noticed," or "saw" something another character was doing or something another character portrayed, you're in passive writing mode. Let the thing happen, rather than having your character observe it happening. When they watch something, you've removed them from their third person POV and made them an omniscient narrator.

Naming emotions is a clear tell that you're telling instead of showing, and it's one of the most common things authors do. Find a way to show the reader that your character is angry instead of saying that something another character said angered him. Facial expressions, body language, something he says. These are all great ways to show the reader your character is angry.

Shortcuts are never good in writing. It leaves the reader wanting more and likely to drop your book and pick up another. Make sure your character is experiencing the world around her, rather than the world around her affecting everything she does and says. The reader wants to experience life with her, not have her tell them what is happening. These are the keys to showing vs. telling.

How do you know if you're showing or telling? A few hints via @AlyciaMorales {Click to Tweet}

Show and Tell and the Writer {Click to Tweet}

Monday, September 19, 2016

You Know You're a Writer When ...

By Andrea Merrell

“Hello, my name is Andrea Merrell, and I am a writer.”

Sounds like a simple statement, but it took me a long time before I had the courage to say it out loud, especially with confidence.

When you’re called to write, you know it. Or, as my grandmother used to say, “You know that you know that you know. You know it in your knower.” But even when we have that assurance, we sometimes feel we have to earn the title. We set high standards and unreachable goals for ourselves, and we constantly compare ourselves with others. It’s easy to feel like we just haven’t done enough to make it so.

One author writes, “When I was sixteen, I knew I wanted to be a writer. It took thirty years before I introduced myself as a writer for the first time because I wasn’t sure I had done enough to earn that title. Between sixteen and forty-six, occasionally, I was a writer, but I felt like a failure because I didn’t write often enough, didn’t read enough, didn’t sacrifice sleep enough, and didn’t juggle my life with enough finesse to produce bylines and fans.” **

Can you relate? Do you see yourself in this writer’s words? Are you struggling to hit the mark and discover your calling as a writer?

I’m certainly not Jeff Foxworthy—and I promise we won’t talk about rednecks—but let’s look at a few things that will help you define your calling so that you can say with absolute assurance, “I am a writer.”

You just might be a writer if:

  • You wake up in the morning thinking about writing.
  • You go to bed at night thinking about writing.
  • You think about writing all during the day.
  • You wake up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea for a blog post.
  • You can’t read a book or watch a movie without getting inspired.
  • You get excited when something bad happens, and you can use it as a scene.
  • You think about your characters and have conversations with them in your head.
  • You take tragic events and turn them into devotions.
  • You go to the mall—or Walmart—and look for weird people to put in your story.
  • You get angry at someone and plan to kill them off in your next novel.
  • And last—but certainly not least—you write because you can’t not write. (Not the best way to say it, but you get the point.)

Do you fit into any or all of these categories? Then you, my friend, are a writer.
Whatever God has called you to write (devotions, articles, blog posts, novels, or Bible studies), step out in faith, be confident in your calling, and do what you were born to do. Don’t compare yourself with anyone or let discouragement and rejection letters derail you. And don’t worry about being qualified. God does not call the equipped … He equips the called.

Having your name on the cover of a book does not make you a writer. Having a heart to share the words God places within you that will bless someone else … that’s what makes you a writer.

** Excerpt taken from The Mighty Pen: Christian Encouragement from Writers to Writers/Guilt Trips/Nicey Eller.)

(Photos courtesy of Miles/surasakiStock/Master Isolated Images.)