Monday, February 29, 2016

What Can I Expect From a Writers' Conference?

By Andrea Merrell

I just returned from the Asheville Christian Writers Conference, also known as Writers Boot Camp. This annual conference is held each year at The Billy Graham Training Center—The Cove. It was a fabulous conference with over 80 percent newbies, and I had a great time teaching and meeting with conferees.

With conference time getting into full swing, many of you are probably trying to decide which one is the best fit for you. Some of you may be wondering if you even need to attend a conference, especially with the cost, time, and effort involved.

Wherever you are in your decision-making, let’s look at a few things you can expect.

There is no greater place to connect with like-minded folks than a writers’ conference. They say writers are a peculiar bunch, but this is a venue where you can know for sure people “get” you. You will meet people from all across the country, from newbies to multi-published authors, to agents, editors, and publishers. Exchange business cards. Follow up with them after the conference and establish a relationship.

You never know when God will give you a kingdom connection, and you never know how it might come. He may surprise you with those He chooses to pour into your life and help you move forward. Sometimes our greatest blessing may come from the last possible place (or person) we expected.

Learning the Craft
Most conferences offer a wide variety of classes from social media to how to write a novel. You can learn everything from the basics of writing to marketing. Writing is a lifelong learning process, and this is the best way to sharpen your skills. Think of it as continuing education for writers. Always be open and teachable. Take notes and brainstorm with other conferees. If the classes are recorded, be sure to purchase the MP3s or digital downloads. This way, you have the entire conference to listen to over and over.

Pitching Your Work
Whether you have a completed manuscript or simply an idea for a project, this venue will give you the opportunity to meet with agents, editors, publishers. and established writers. Attending a conference is the only way to have access to these industry professionals who will give you honest and valuable feedback. If they like what you have to offer, they may ask you to send them a proposal or sample chapters.

Contests and Critiques
Many conferences will allow you to send in your work ahead of time to be critiqued. This is another great way to get feedback on your writing. If they offer contests, don’t hesitate to enter. It’s not important whether you win or lose; it will be good experience for you to submit your words.

Corporate Worship
Most Christian conferences offer corporate worship. This is a wonderful time of connecting on a spiritual level with other writers and believers.

Bottom Line
Are conferences and workshops important to your writing career? 


The best advice I ever received as a newbie was to “join a critique group, attend writers’ conferences, and network, network, network.” I took that advice and have never regretted it for one moment.

What about you? What have you gained from attending conferences? We would love to hear from you.


Monday, February 22, 2016

2 Things Your Characters Shouldn't Be Doing

by Alycia W. Morales

See if you can tell what is wrong with this section of writing:

Andrea watched as Alycia typed her newest blog post. She saw that Alycia was making a ton of mistakes - not only in punctuation and spelling, but in grammar as well.

"Um ... Alycia?" Andrea motioned toward the computer screen.

Andrea watched as Alycia turned her attention toward her. "Yes?"

"Well, it's just that ... I noticed you're making a lot of errors in your blog post. Aren't we supposed to be teaching others how to write well? If we don't write well, how can we expect others to learn from us?"

She saw Alycia laugh and shake her head. "That's the point of this post. I'm going to have everyone check to see if they can find the errors I'm making. Then I'll award a prize to the person who catches all of the  mistakes."

Andrea put her hand down and smiled. "Ah. I get it. What happens if more than one person wins?"

"I'll draw a name for a grand winner."

"Sounds great. I'll let you get back to your writing."


What's wrong is that we have two characters in the same room, so they can see each others actions. But instead of showing Alycia's actions, we have Andrea watching and seeing all she's doing. This is telling instead of showing. It's also passive writing, rather than active writing.

To correct the mistake, we would just have Alycia do everything Andrea's watching her do. So now the section would read like this:

As Alycia typed her newest blog post, Andrea noticed she was making a ton of mistakes - not only in punctuation and spelling, but in grammar as well.

"Um ... Alycia?" Andrea motioned toward the computer screen.

Alycia turned her attention toward Andrea. "Yes?"

"Well, it's just that ... I noticed you're making a lot of errors in your blog post. Aren't we supposed to be teaching others how to write well? If we don't write well, how can we expect others to learn from us?"

Alycia laughed and shook her head. "That's the point of this post. I'm going to have everyone check to see if they can find the errors I'm making. Then I'll award a prize to the person who catches all of the mistakes."

Andrea put her hand down and smiled. "Ah. I get it. What happens if more than one person wins?"

"I'll draw for a grand winner."

"Sounds great. I'll let you get back to your writing."

Are your characters watching others in the room? If they are a wallflower, that may be acceptable. But if they're part of the action, 'tis not.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Don't Shoot the Editor

By Andrea Merrell

 As the saying goes, "Don't shoot the messenger." Well, I say, "Let's not shoot the editor." 

Editors have been called everything from Grammar Nazis to Professional Nit-pickers. Most people have a love/hate relationship with the editors they have worked with. The first time we get our manuscript back and see where the editor has literally bled all over the pages with red ink, our heart almost stops, and our brain goes into panic mode. The same could be said for all the track changes and comments on a digital copy. Our first thought might be, Oh, my goodness, I thought I was a writer … guess it’s back to flipping burgers.

After the initial shock wears off and we readjust our attitude (putting on our teachable hat), we begin to learn from the process. What we have to realize is that the editor is not our enemy. On the contrary, his or her role is to help teach us the basics, introduce us to industry standards, and make us look as good as possible. Input from a seasoned editor with an eye for detail and a heart for good writing can make or break our stories.

We all need help. Trust me, no one is perfect. Even the best editor needs an editor, and a good editor can be a writer's best friend. It's time to heed the advice when your editor tells you to:

  • Tighten your writing by eliminating redundant words and phrases. 
  • Cut out the exclamation points, quotation marks, and italics, and only use when necessary. 
  • Work on showing, not telling.
  • Keep your tenses consistent.
  • Stop using too many -ly and -ing words. 
  • Pay careful attention to POV (point of view) and stop head-hopping).
  • Learn how to create a good hook.
  • Use proper formatting. 

Here are a few funny quotes I think you will enjoy:
“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” 
― Dr. Seuss

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” 
Stephen KingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“There Are Two Typos Of People In This World: Those Who Can Edit And Those Who Can’t.” 
Jarod Kintz

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” 
Stephen KingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“I'm writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” 
Shannon Hale

“Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.” 
Patricia Fuller

“Edit your manuscript until your fingers bleed and you have memorized every last word. Then, when you are certain you are on the verge of insanity ... edit one more time!” 
C.K. Webb

“Editing is the very edge of your knowledge forced to grow--a test you can't cheat on.” 
S. Kelley Harrell

“You should edit before and after editing.” 
Dwayne Fry

“There is no great writing, only great rewriting.” 
Justice Louis Brandeis

“Writing is like shadow boxing. Editing is when the shadows fight back.” 
Adam Copeland

“Remove the comma, replace the comma, remove the comma, replace the comma ...” 
R.D. Ronald

“When reading, I pretend I’m an editor, though when writing I realize I’m not.” 
Fierce Dolan

“Apparently, my hopes, dreams and aspirations were no match against my poor spelling, punctuation, and grammar.” 
Red Red Rover

“Editing is like pruning the rose bush you thought was so perfect and beautiful until it overgrew the garden.” 
Larry Enright

“Edit your author as you would be edited.” 
Barbara SjoholmAn Editor's Guide to Working with Authors

As my grandparents always said, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. It might not be easy, but our job is to strive for excellence in all we do, especially as Christian writers. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17 NIV).

So ... what are your thoughts on the editing process? We would love to hear from you. 

(All quotes courtesy of Goodreads.)

(Photos courtesy of Miles/TAW4/pandpstock001.)


A good editor can be a writer’s best friend. via @AndreaMerrell (Click to tweet)

Even the best editor needs an editor. via @AndreaMerrell (Click to Tweet.)

And the winner of Lori Roeleveld's book is ...
Cyn Rogalski. Cyn, contact me at andrea merrell 7 @ gmail dot com with your address, and your book will be on its way. Congrats! You will love it. :)

Monday, February 8, 2016

How Quitting Keeps Me Writing

Today's guest post is by author and blogger 
Lori Roeleveld. We will be giving away 
a copy of her new book, Running from a Crazy Man, so be sure to leave a comment below to be entered for the drawing. The winner will be announced on February 15th. Don't forget to check back to see if YOU are the winner.

By Lori Stanley Roeleveld

One skill writers must perfect is the knack of therapeutic quitting.

That’s right. If you haven’t quit yet, you’re not a real writer. From the novice to the veteran writer, we’ve all felt like quitting (or will) at some point. There’s a good reason for that.

One reason is frequent opportunity for discouragement. In some jobs, you interview once and it’s yours. Writers interview all the time – for agents, editors, marketers, reviewers, and for every reader. Inherent in all those interviews is the possibility of repeated rejection. Pre-published writers may spend years writing in obscurity. Once a writer begins publishing, it can still be a long road to a lasting sense of success.

Watch out for the creative curve
Another reason is the natural lows of the creative curve. When a writer is engaged in a writing project, he or she feels a sense of purpose and value. Once a project is completed and leaves the writer’s hands, there’s a natural period of letdown and depletion. Sometimes, writers battle fear that they’ll never write again. One way to handle these challenges is therapeutic quitting.

The art of quitting
On my way to becoming published, I’ve made a habit of quitting. My family’s become accustomed to my process. My daughter will hear my pronouncement from the other room, watch me shut down my computer, and then stalk to the kitchen. “That’s it. It’s too hard. I quit. I’ll never write again. I stink at writing.”

She knows the right response: “You really do. There’s no reason to keep at it. You should quit. I’ll set the timer.”

The timer. That’s key to the therapeutic quitting process – a time limit and one simple rule. Each bump in the writing road makes me want to give up, so giving up on my own terms for a limited time allows me an opportunity to give grief its due without wallowing in it for long.

So, I quit until quitting time is up. Most rejections (or contest losses, or uncooperative manuscripts) only require a one or two hour period of being quit. If a project made it far in a publishing house or if I was a finalist in a contest, I might choose to quit for an entire 24-hour period. There is only one solid rule for the quitting time: no writing.

I’m free to be sincere about quitting. I’m free to tell friends and family that I’ve quit. Sometimes I do something productive such as clean, but other times I binge-watch Netflix. Frequently, I’ll make a list of the blessings in my life. I have dreams for my writing but my life revolves around God, not those dreams. Remembering His presence in my life, come what may with writing, renews my perspective. However I spend the time, I quit writing until the time is up. As soon as it is, I start writing again.

Benefits of quitting
It can be cathartic to quit after completing a major project too. Many writers feel a sense of depletion or loss after completing a book or play. Much like a child growing up and leaving home, a manuscript completed and released to a publisher deserves a moment of acknowledgement. I’ve learned to quit writing after a big project, circle a date on my calendar, turn in my keyboard, and remind myself that there is life beyond my laptop. When the circled date arrives, I un-quit and power up the computer once more.

As writers, we must develop thick skins and be willing to endure, but we’re not machines. We have feelings about rejection, about losing or not selling well, and about completing major projects. Therapeutic quitting gives those feelings a safe space to have their moment and then exit stage left, freeing us to move on to our next chapter.

So, what about you? Are you ready to quit? I’ll set the timer.

(Photos courtesy of Miles/Salvatore Vuomo.)


Don't forget to leave a comment 
for a chance to win Lori's book. 

Lori Stanley Roeleveld is a disturber of hobbits who enjoys making comfortable Christians late for dinner. She’s authored an unsettling blog since 2009; a pursuit that eventually resulted in her first book, Running from a Crazy Man (and other adventures traveling with Jesus). Her next nonfiction book, Jesus and the Beanstalk, is scheduled to release September 2016 from Abingdon Press. Though she has degrees in Psychology and Biblical Studies, Lori learned the most important things from studying her Bible in life’s trenches. You’ll find her at her website If not, know she’s off somewhere slaying dragons. Not available for children’s parties.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Why You Shouldn't Have Your English Teacher Edit Your Book

by Alycia W. Morales

You've finally written THE END on your manuscript, and you've been over it three times yourself, correcting and moving around and making it your best project ever. Now it's time to get another set of eyes on it before you send it off to the publisher. Or CreateSpace. Or any other publishing platform.

You think about your close circle of cheerleaders, and you wonder if someone you know may be able to help you. And, typically, the first person to pop into an author's head is their high school English teacher. (Or English/Language Arts - ELA - if you're a bit younger.)

I wish there were a very large STOP sign I could throw up in front of you. Don't get me wrong, I love my high school English teachers. College ones too. English is still my favorite subject with all its reading and writing and thinking. And Mrs. Atkin and Mr. Burns and Mr. Palen were wonderful encouragers as I wrote poems and papers and decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I still admire them today. (Along with Mr. C, my middle school math teacher.)

But English teachers don't know everything about writing and selling a book. Here are a few things I've noticed along the way that stand out:

1. Their MLA style guides don't translate to book editing. MLA style guides are for writing research papers. The Chicago Manual of Style is for writing books. Just like you wouldn't use the Associated Press Style Guide (used for newspaper writing) to edit your manuscript, you wouldn't use the MLA either.

2. They most likely don't know such details as how conversational-style writing is necessary in non-fiction books. A reader isn't going to pick up a non-fiction book that's written text-book style, as though the author were standing in the front of a classroom teaching them. Nor are they going to want a book that reads like the author is the end-all expert on a subject and points fingers at the reader. What a reader would love is a book that reads as though you, the author, are sitting across the table from them having a cup of coffee and talking like you're their best friend in the world. Like they have time for you. Conversational-style writing.

Nobody likes having a finger pointed at them.
3. Which leads me to the point that most English teachers may not pick up on your overuse of "you." If you're writing non-fiction, you need to include yourself in the audience. Avoid the use of "you" as much as possible and write with the perspective of "me," "I," "we," and "us." Include yourself in the group so that it doesn't come across as you pointing fingers.

4. If you're writing fiction, your editor needs to understand story-world development, that characters should talk like normal people do (not like a grammar book), and they need to understand the entire craft of writing fiction. Not every English teacher knows this.

Granted, some English teachers are professional editors. I know a few. But these teachers are also immersed in writing their own books. They've studied the craft of writing a book. They've gone to conferences and networked with other writers, learning the lingo of this book world we love to live in. And they've taken the time to practice writing books. These are the English teachers you want to hire or convince to edit your books.

If you want to involve your high school English teacher in your book project, thank them in your acknowledgments or invite them to be a member of your launch team, where they can cheer-lead you some more by leaving reviews and encouraging others to purchase your book.

Author's Addition:
After having a close friend of mine who is an editor/author/High School English Teacher combined review my post, he made some great additional points I'd love to share with you.

1. One thing I (Alycia) may not have conveyed is that I would encourage you not to hire an English teacher as your editor OVER hiring a professional editor who is working in the publishing industry. It's okay to allow your English-teaching colleagues to review your manuscript, because it's always a great idea to have more than one set of eyes looking at it. However, after they've provided input, hire a professional editor to do the actual edit.

2.  Most teachers (my mom was a teacher - this friend is a teacher, so I can say this at an expert level) are already overworked and most likely tired. They teach, they plan, they grade, they attend workshops to learn new teaching methods or updates, and so much parents and children don't see once the school day is over. So they may not have the time to put into your manuscript edits that a professional editor would. Sure, they may offer to look at it as a favor, but they are more likely to browse over it rather than pay attention to the minute details, as their main focus is on their students and everything the education system throws at them these days.

Before you have your English teacher edit your book, please read this: {Click to Tweet}

Why You Shouldn't Have Your English Teacher Edit Your Book via @AlyciaMorales {Click to Tweet}