Monday, February 25, 2019

Writer, Put on Your Warm-Up Suit



By Yolanda Smith

There’s a word for the type of young athlete who feels he is above the necessity of a warm-up routine: lunkheaded.

There’s another word for the same fellow if he persists in his erroneous reasoning: injured.

 Whether he’s passing or punting, shooting or swinging, at a minimum his game will be so ineffective he’ll never reach full potential.


You, my writer friend, are an athlete of words. You move words from heads to hearts and pass ideas across a field of blank pages until they reach the goal: your reader’s thoughts and emotions. And like an intelligent athlete, you need a warm-up process for your brain to get in the game of writing. You don’t want to end the event hamstrung or fruitless. And how you end is conditional on how you begin.

What is your warm-up routine for getting in the groove of writing? Whether you have a sturdy warm-up method in place or you’ve never thought about having a warm-up practice, I’d like to offer a short list of possibilities for you to consider.

Brain Dump
This needs no interpretation. Set a timer for ten minutes, then empty your brain onto the page. Take all the thoughts—the chaotic scramble of random notions, the store of ideas you’ve been saving, the rant against your husband, even the grocery list—and slap them down on paper as fast as you can go. Ignore lines, punctuation, grammar, spelling, and any other conventional rules. You can also try this on your computer. Stream of consciousness is a proven method for unclogging a stopped-up mind. The only rule of this exercise is to keep your pen or fingers moving the entire time.

List Making
We’re not talking about the grocery list this time. Decide on a writing goal for the day, then make a detailed list of the steps needed to accomplish your target.

Copy Exercises
I can’t remember where I heard this idea, but it was genius. We all have that one author we admire and wish we could write like someday.  Grab a notebook, pen, and your favorite title by this hero writer. Set a timer for ten to twenty minutes, and begin copying chapter one, page one. Your subconscious will internalize rhythm and language, and over time you will recognize what works. Oddly enough, the more you copy someone else’s style, the more your own voice will emerge. Many of the world’s finest artists have learned their craft by copying the masters.

Read Books on Craft
When I read a chapter from a book on writing craft, I am instantly inspired to try something new, implement something I already know but need reminded of, or I’m given a new angle on something I’m struggling with. How-to books put a fire in my fingertips, and I’m suddenly ready to conquer the world.

Read a Chapter from a Book in Your Genre
If you’re anything like me, you’ll need to set a timer for this one. Otherwise you’ll find your whole writing time sabotaged by a captivating tale. There’s nothing like a good romp through the pages of an amazing story to inspire you to get busy and attempt the same.

Read Poetry
The reading of poetry unlocks the mind to explore creative paths that are otherwise hidden to the creative eye. Poetry has been described as the gateway drug for writing and for good reason. It evokes longing, imagination, curiosity, and other deep emotions that become a springboard for an abundance of ideas, helping the writer soar beyond the confines of space and time.

Try Them All
Any of these exercises can shift your brain into high gear for the creative work you need to do. I’ve tried all of these approaches over the years and keep them on rotation. This is how I trick myself into thinking I’m avoiding a routine. Find what works for you and stick with it, or cycle through to keep your brain guessing. But whatever you do, don’t skip your warm-up. We don’t want any injuries on the page.

Have you tried any of these strategies for warming up your brain? Do you have something different that works for you? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments.


(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Flare and Yolanda Smith.) 


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Six strategies for warming-up your brain before you begin writing. via @canitbeyolanda (Click to tweet.)


Monday, February 18, 2019

Five Things You Might Not Expect from a Writers' Conference


By Andrea Merrell

Writers’ conferences are essential in the life of a writer. Those of you have been writing for a while know this for a fact. We save our money and set aside the time to go and learn from the best. We expect to expand our knowledge, get inspired, network with other writers, and hopefully land an agent or contract. But here are a few things we might not expect.

New Friends
Over the past ten years, I have met many wonderful people at conferences. Little did I know in the beginning that some of those people would become dear friends. Many times, a conference will feel more like a family reunion.

Critique Partners

As important as conferences are to the life of a writer, so are good critique partners. If you don’t have a group in your area, this is a great place to forge relationships and create the support you need. You might meet people in your area who can meet on a regular basis, or you might form an online group. The important thing is to get involved.

Prayer Partners

God never ceases to amaze me at the way He knits hearts together. He has given me a wonderful group of prayer warriors who go to bat for me whenever I need it.


A New Perspective

Sometimes we go to a conference with a certain mindset, while God has a different plan. Proverbs 16:9 says A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. If you’re a novelist, He may inspire you to write heartfelt devotions. Or if you write nonfiction only, He may give you the idea for a great fictional story. You might be the shy person sitting on the back row whom God calls to a speaking ministry. You never know what God might do in your life when you’re open to His leading.

Unexpected Writing Opportunities

Networking is one of the most exciting things about a conference. You are there with like-minded people who “get you.” As you interact, you never know the seeds that are being planted. They might sprout immediately ... or show up years down the road. 

Last year at my first ACFW conference, I was seated next to an amazing woman who does a blog on fear. As we chatted, she invited me to do a guest post for her blog. Several years ago, when I was on the faculty of a conference in another state, I met a lady who was just getting started on her writing journey. She kept my card and contacted me three years later to write a few guest posts for her blog. As a result of teaching at a conference six years ago, I was recently contacted by a very sweet lady and asked to edit her book. Once at a table during a meal, I was asked to speak at the National Speakers Association because someone had cancelled at the last minute. Who knows, someone might invite you to do a radio interview or speak at their church.

Whatever you do—before, during, and after a conference—be ready. Whenever you ask God to bless you and open doors of opportunity, He will. The best way to begin each day is to pray for divine appointments, divine connections, and divine favor.

What about you? What unexpected blessings have found you at a conference? We would love to hear from you.

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



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Monday, February 11, 2019

Glimpsing God in the Frustrations of the Writer’s Life


By Lori Hatcher @LoriHatcher2

Do you ever wonder what in the world God is doing in this crazy writing life?

God, why did I work so hard on that article only to have it
rejected?

God, why was that piece chosen, but the one I really love not selected?

God, why did I spend nine months of my life on that project, only to have it sit in my computer going nowhere and reaching no one?

God, why do you fill my head with ideas to write about and wake me up in the middle of the night, then don’t grow my blog as quickly as I’d hoped?

God, if I’m obeying your call to write, why is it so hard?

God, what are you doing in this crazy writing life of mine????

If you can relate to any of these questions, there’s hope. Hope that comes, of all places, from the book of Job.

Imagine that.

God is laughing already.

Who would think that a man who had lost ten children in a tragic accident, went from millionaire to pauper in a day, and was married to a cruel, faithless woman would have any hope to offer? But in God’s upside down economy, it’s not surprising at all.

My latest devotional, Refresh Your Faith (due out in the spring of 2020 with Discovery House) spotlights uncommon verses buried in every book of the Bible. Job 26:14 is one of them. In the twenty-sixth chapter of the book that bears his name, he rehearses for his “miserable comforters” the might, power, and majesty of God.

“He hangs the earth on nothing,” he says. “He binds up the water in His thick clouds . . . He stirs up the sea with His power . . . By His Spirit He adorned the heavens . . . "(v. 7-13).

Then he concludes with this awe-struck realization: “Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways, And how small a whisper we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power who can understand?"

The mere edges of his ways.

I grew up on the rocky shores of Narragansett Bay in Bristol, Rhode Island. I’d often sit at the shoreline, walk in the shallows, or swim out until my feet barely touched the bottom. Because I had lived around the sea all my life, I thought I knew it well.

Then one day I boarded a ship that took me hundreds of miles off shore, where the water stretched from horizon to horizon and the ocean floor lay miles beneath me. Only then did I begin to understand the true nature of the ocean. Before that, I had experienced the mere edges – and how small a whisper they had been.

After pointing out our nearsighted perspective, Job lifts the fog on the ocean of God’s ways: “But the thunder of his power, who can understand?”

Paul, in First Corinthians, says it like this: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (2:9). And, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (13:12).

As Christian writers bound to the earth by our mortality, we glimpse only the mere edges of His ways. And hear only small whispers of Him.

But one day we’ll sail out into the vast expanse of no-time life. We’ll hear the clarion call of His mighty voice. We’ll witness the thunder of His power. And we will understand.

Every word typed in obedience to Him? Seed for the harvest.

Every hour spent hunched over a keyboard? Sandpaper smoothing the edges.

Every late night and early morning session? A fragrant offering.

Every pitch and proposal sent out for His glory? Stepping stones on the journey.

Job can speak into our angst and impatience because he, too, was a frustrated author. He shared our desire to see our words published. He, too, wanted others to benefit from the insight he had received. “I wish that my words were recorded and inscribed in a book,” he lamented in Job 19:23.

I’m not sure what steps his publishing journey included (I suspect it contained a Ghost writer), but I know none of his experiences or his words were wasted. Even today, thousands of years later, God still uses his insight to encourage us along the way.

Perhaps, one day, God will use our words to do the same.

“God is not unjust,” the writer of Hebrews promises, “He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them” (Heb. 6:10).

Now it’s your turn. What verse encourages you when you feel discouraged? Leave a comment and encourage us all.

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


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Lori Hatcher is the editor of Reach Out, Columbia magazine and the author of several devotional books. Hungry for God … Starving for Time, Five-Minute Devotions for Busy Women won the 2016 Christian Small Publisher Book of the Year award. Her most recent book, Refresh Your Faith – Uncommon Devotions from Every Book of the Bible is due out in early 2020. 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 FacebookTwitter (@LoriHatcher2), or Pinterest (Hungry for God).


Monday, February 4, 2019

Where Do You Find Inspiration to Write?

by Alycia W. Morales     @AlyciaMorales

Inspiration comes from many different places in our lives. Typically we think in generalized terms when we consider finding inspiration for our writing. We can go to Pinterest and scan the boards. We can take a walk in the woods and be inspired by a sunrise. Someone in our lives may have impacted us in a way that inspires us to do something great. But these are all general places we find things to inspire our writing.

Today, I'd like you to take out a piece of paper or pull up the notes app on your phone. Answer the following questions:

1. You've spent a sick day in bed (like I just did). What movie marathon are you watching? Or are you binge watching a series on Netflix? Why? What about that movie or series inspires you? Is it the characters? Plot? Setting? Does it thrill you? Encourage you? Challenge you? Bring peace? Dig deeper into why it inspires you and write that down.

2. You're writing the story of your life. What is the soundtrack? Most of us have songs or even entire albums that relate to moments in our lives. Think back to your childhood. What song did your parents sing when it came on the radio? My mom says I knew all the lyrics to ABBA and Captain and Tennille songs by the time I was two. We spent a lot of time in my early teen years traveling back and forth to my grandparents as their health failed. Four hours in the car meant Air Supply, the Top Gun soundtrack, and John Denver. I eventually tuned out and put Madonna in my Walkman. What about your first dance? First kiss? Wedding song? Write down your soundtrack. Take it a step farther and create a playlist on YouTube.

3. Go to your favorite place in your mind. What's it like? How would you describe it to someone else? Use the five senses. Write down what you see, hear, smell. What would you eat or drink there? What do the surfaces feel like? What do you love about that place? What's the one thing you would change about it if you could? Come on, everywhere we go, we can find one thing we'd like to change in order to make it more perfect than it already is.

4. This one has to do with characterization, and neither is going to be easy. Think about your best friend. Now, turn him or her into your worst enemy. But keep some of their positive traits. Because the best villains always have something we can sympathize with about them. Now, consider your biggest rival (we all had them in high school...). What did you dislike so much? Turn that person into your best friend (in high school). What would you have changed about them if you had the ability to do so? Remember, when we're writing, we're creating characters just as God created us. We give them their traits and make them who they are.

5. If you could change one thing in this world, what would it be? How would you rid the world of evil, cure a disease, put an end to abortion? What would your character do to do the same in his or her world? How would he or she inspire others around them to see things from their perspective? Does it have to do with their past? Their testimony? Expound for a few minutes.

Maybe you answered all of these. Maybe you chose one. Or two. The point is to really consider what inspires you in life. And then transfer that into your storytelling, whether you're writing fiction or nonfiction. At the base of our desire to write is usually a desire to inspire others with our words. By really looking at what inspires us, we are able to then translate that into our writing.

Share with us in the comments. Which of these activities did you choose and why? What inspires you?

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Where Do You Find Inspiration to Write? @AlyciaMorales has 5 prompts. {Click to Tweet}