Monday, May 10, 2021

Writing Fiction for the Joy of It

 By Emily Golus

 

Some time ago I was at a wedding and struck up a conversation with another guest. When I mentioned that I was an author, he quickly found his wife and introduced us. “She’s wanted to write for years now,” he explained. “She has all of these story ideas in her head and wants to get them down.”

 

His wife—a classically trained musician who made her living performing—agreed. “I think about these characters all the time,” she said. “It’s just that I don’t have any training in writing. Is it worth it for me to start?”

 

My guess is that her real question was this: Is it worth investing the time if I have no guarantee of professional success?

 

“Do it,” I told her. “If it’s in your heart, then write. It doesn’t matter if you ever get published—do it because it’s good for you.”

 

Because here’s the thing: you don’t have to “go pro” for fiction writing to be worth it. The main benefit is to your own inner person.

 

What’s Art Good For, Anyway?

Yes, I know most of us reading this blog want to polish our manuscripts so they’re professional enough to get published. But let’s take a step back and ask ourselves why we’re actually doing this writing thing in the first place.

 

As fiction writers—especially when we’re first starting out—we sometimes take ourselves too seriously. “What’s the point of writing this book,” we ask ourselves, “if it doesn’t become a beloved bestseller that changes the fiction world?”

 

But art isn’t just about the final product. It’s about the process and what it does for you.

 

If one day my son wants to learn guitar or piano (or heaven forbid, the trumpet), I’m not going to tell him, “That’s a nice idea, but you’ll never be good enough to appear on the Billboard Hot 100, so what’s the point of trying? Just give up now.” Or “Don’t bother to learn how to paint, kid. You’ll never get your art into a museum, so why even learn?”

 

Most of us recognize that art—whether it’s playing an instrument, dancing, painting, or you name it—benefits us personally. Expressing our creativity through art is deeply satisfying and can even help us work through our problems.

 

Art makes our daily life richer, whether or not it ever makes it to the stage or into a gallery. You don’t have to be a professional artist—or even a good artist—to reap the benefits of creativity.

 

A Reality Check

We tend to think of the day we get published and hold that book in our hands as the I Have Arrived moment, where the Happily Ever After begins and the movie credits roll.

 

But that’s not typically the case. If you do get your fiction published—which is by no means a guarantee—you may find the response to your work is underwhelming. Also, now you have a new hobby: marketing that book and working hard to get traction.

 

Even if a published book is fairly successful, if you divide the money the book brings in by the hours spent writing it … well, let’s just say there are far more profitable ways to make a wage. The wild success stories are the exception, not the norm.

 

And consider this: if you have a message to get out, fiction is a far less direct tool than a sermon or article or another medium that takes much less time to create.

 

So why do it? Why spend all that energy writing and editing and getting critiques and attending conferences and getting that story just right, when there’s no guarantee it will go anywhere?

 

Because the process sparks something inside of you. Because you can’t not write.

 

The Joy of Fiction

Writing fiction fires up your imagination, filling it with delightful characters and taking you on vivid adventures that you get to enjoy, even if no one else does. It can help you organize your thinking, making you wrestle through ideas and come to clarity—or else help you realize some things are more nuanced than they seem on the surface. Fiction writing can sharpen your observational skills as you glean ideas from the world around you, and make the world a more interesting place. 

 

And if you join a critique group or attend writers’ conferences, you’ll not only learn to be a better writer, you’ll get to connect with fascinating people you may never have met otherwise.

 

We write primarily because we love the art form. Publication is a great bonus that may or may not happen, but it’s not the WHY.

 

I remember holding my finished manuscript for the first time—nearly four hundred sheets of printer paper crudely bound together, the labor of more than ten years. And at that moment I realized: if I never got this book published, it still would have been worth all the time and energy I’ve spent. The process made my life richer and more interesting, and was even a means of God’s grace in my life.

 

So, if you’re at the beginning of your writing journey and aren’t sure whether you’ll be good enough to “go pro”—start anyway. Do it because it’s good for you, and enjoy the adventure.

 

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


TWEETABLE

Why spend all that energy writing and editing and getting critiques and attending conferences and getting that story just right, when there’s no guarantee it will go anywhere? via @WorldofVindor (Click to tweet.)

 

Emily Golus has been dreaming up fantasy worlds since before she could write her name. A New England transplant now living in the Deep South, she is fascinated by culture and the way it shapes how individuals see the world. Golus aims to create stories that engage, inspire, and reassure readers that the small choices of everyday life matter.


Her first novel, Escape to Vindor, debuted in 2017 and won the Selah Award for young adult fiction. Its sequel, Mists of Paracosmia, followed in April 2019.

Golus lives in Upstate South Carolina with her rock-climbing husband, an awkward cat, and two adorable little boys.

Keep up with Vindor news at WorldofVindor.com and EmilyGolusBooks.com, or find her on Instagram as WorldOfVindor.

 

 

 

Monday, May 3, 2021

No More Excuses

 By Andrea Merrell

 

I’ve heard all the excuses. To name a few: I can’t. I don’t know how. I’m afraid. I’m not ready. I don’t have the time. What if I fail?

 

As writers, we all wait for doors to open and opportunities to present themselves. But sometimes when that door opens, we hesitate and lose the chance to move forward. 

Author Jon Mason says, “Opportunity is often lost in deliberation.” We can spend so much time thinking about whether we should go for it, the door slams in our face. 

Another writer says, “Opportunity is a visitor; don’t assume it will be back tomorrow.”

 

As the old cliché goes, Strike while the iron’s hot.

 

Over the years, I’ve met with many folks at writers’ conferences who presented devotions and stories that were excellent. I asked them to send me a proposal to look over. Surprisingly, only about 50 percent responded. The others did not, for whatever reason.

 

I’ve done it myself. Neglected to respond to a request from an editor or publisher. It’s not ready. I need more time. What if they don’t like it? What if it’s not the right fit?

 

When God calls us to write for Him, He equips us with whatever we need: words, ideas, training, passion, writing buddies, tenacity, time—and opportunities. But those doors won’t stay open forever. When we feel Holy Spirit nudging us to walk through, we need to put the excuses aside and move forward.

 

  • Have you been asked to send in a proposal? Send it. The longer you hesitate, the harder it will be to let go.

 

  • Is there a contest you’d like to enter? Enter it. It’s a great way to grow and learn how to meet deadlines.

 

  • Is there a certain conference you’d like to attend? Make sacrifices. Save your money and go.

 

  • Has someone asked you to do a guest post on their blog or a live video chat? Do it.

 

  • Is there an anthology calling for submissions? Write that story and submit it.

 

  • Has someone given you feedback on your writing and made suggestions for making it better? Heed that advice. It can only make you a better writer.

 

When we sit back and make excuses, we never get anywhere. God has so many wonderful things in store for us, but we have to do our part.

 

Whatever is in your heart … just do it. In other words, carpe diem. Seize the day. Make the most of the present time, and don’t think so much about tomorrow. You might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome. And always keep your eye out for those open doors.

 

What excuses have you made? What are you putting off until tomorrow? We would love to hear from you.

 

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


(Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.)


TWEETABLE

Writer, seize the day. Keep your eye out for open doors of opportunity, and take that chance. via@AndreaMerrell (Click to tweet.)

 

Monday, April 26, 2021

Why Perfection Is the Impossible Dream

By Ramona Richards

 

In a fair land far away (Tennessee in the ’70s), I majored in English. Twice. The first time I had a minor in Modern European Studies (multiple classes in history, politics, and foreign languages) and an emphasis in grammar and composition. I took advanced classes in both. I can diagram sentences from James Joyce (yes, that was one of the exercises). I loved it.


Repeat that. Loved it. Correct grammar became a passion. People were afraid to write me letters. I became a grammar dictator.

 

The second time, for my master’s degree, I had to take a foreign language. German. Which taught me even more about grammar (German and English have similar Indo-European roots). By the time those degrees were in hand, I had Harbrace, and Turabian, and the Chicago Manual of Style, and Strunk & White memorized. I had a red pen grafted to my left hand. I was ready for publishing.

 

Then … I actually got a job in publishing. And here is the first lesson I learned in publishing: There is no such thing as a perfect book.

 

Not that I absorbed this lesson easily. I still remember that first letter of correction from a reader. I was devastated, even though I’d had nothing to do with the book. It had been published long before I even graduated from college.

 

My boss, however, was quite nonchalant, with her “no such thing as a perfect book” lesson. “Ramona, if you get upset over every mistake in a printed book, you’re going to spend your life in a tizzy,” she said gently. “Humans make mistakes. And grammar changes.”

 

Wait. What? Grammar changes?

 

Definitely not something I heard back in that fair land far away. I was just beginning to learn how far away it was. I soon began to read publications like The Editorial Eye, which covered the ongoing changes in grammar. Now I read grammar blogs and CMOS Q&A pages. I went from being a prescriptivist (one who dictates how grammar should be used correctly) to a descriptivist (one who describes how current grammar is used correctly). And I discovered that editing content, editing story, is far more satisfying to me.

 

Above all, I began to truly appreciate the overwhelming beauty of this whackadoodle language we call English. It’s fluid and flexible with rules that guide yet shift. It allows for different stylebooks to flourish (Associated Press is not CMOS is not APA style, and serial commas are not universal). It allows new words to be added and old words to change or vanish. Words are allowed to evolve. Nouns become verbs, and vice versa. Googol, a noun, inspired Google, a proper noun, which became a verb.

 

In fiction as well as nonfiction, English allows for the development of an author’s voice through selective syntax, dialogue, and dialectal phrasings. And I’m always amused at people who desperately fight some usages until they’re added to the Oxford English Dictionary. Then they’re OK, accepted by the “authority” of the OED, which has always been a descriptivist publication.

 

So what’s my point?

 

My point is that every book has mistakes (even if you don’t catch them) and some grammatical “mistakes” aren’t actually mistakes. When reading a book, try focusing on content, on story, not on the occasional trip-up by a copyeditor. Because if you let a few grammatical mistakes or typos upset your reading of a book, then you are going to overlook some of the most beautiful and well-written (if not well-proofed) books in our language.

 

Don’t get me wrong; in some ways this attitude (books must be perfect) is helpful to authors and publishers. We do take emails about mistakes seriously, and often readers find things that should be corrected. And, once upon a time, complaints about things that are not, in fact, wrong used to have little impact. (I once had a woman complain to me about the use of parentheses in the King James Version of the Bible, since nothing in God’s word is parenthetical. I had to explain to her the evolution of parentheses as punctuation and that in older versions of the KJV, they were perfectly acceptable.)

 

But now we have the internet, where a campaign against a mistake can cost an author a career.

 

Think I’m exaggerating?

 

A publisher I worked for was startled when they were notified that Amazon had pulled the “Buy” button from one of our books because of one reader’s complaints about the “mistakes” in the book. They sent us the list. Of all the “mistakes” on this reader’s list, one was a typo. One was a continuity error. The rest were not mistakes at all, but out-of-date grammar or the author’s voice in dialogue. So, no, these weren’t going to be changed, no matter how much one reader protested. They weren’t wrong; she was.

 

But even though this reader was incorrect on most of her complaints, she cost the author sales. And she has a platform to continue to complain. This was not justified nitpicking; this was just mean.

 

So, I beg of you, when you see mistakes in a published book, don’t grab a red pen and a platform. Don’t wail and jive in Amazon reviews about the lousy copyediting. Be biblical—go straight to the source first. Contact the author or publisher (we’re online everywhere these days), and alert them to the problem. Give them a chance to respond.

 

And if your grammatical knowledge is based on what you learned before 2001, please do not mention split infinitives. They’ve been acceptable since at least 1983, if not before.

 

Or to quote a CMOS Q&A column: “In this day and age, it seems, an injunction against splitting infinitives is one of those shibboleths whose only reason for survival is to give increased meaning to the lives of those who can both identify by name a discrete grammatical, syntactic, or orthographic entity and notice when that entity has been somehow besmirched.”

 

Another reason to love the CMOS folks.

 

It really is OK for us “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

 

And other places.

 

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

 

TWEETABLE

There is no such thing as a perfect book. When you see mistakes in a published book, don’t grab a red pen and a platform. via @RamonaRichards (Click to tweet.)

 

Ramona Richards is a forty-year veteran of the publishing industry. She is the author of 12 books, including Tracking Changes: One Editor’s Advice to Inspirational Fiction Authors, from which this post was adapted. She is currently an editor with Iron Stream Media and is working on books 13-17. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Confusion of Words

 By Andrea Merrell

 

It’s been said that the English language is the hardest to learn and understand.

For instance, most languages only have one word (maybe two or three at the most) to describe a happy emotion or something extraordinary. We, on the other hand, might say words like awesome, incredible, amazing, fantastic, astonishing, breathtaking, remarkable, wonderful, fabulous … 

You fill in the blank.

There are words with a negative connotation like rude, inconsiderate, impolite, disrespectful, discourteous, thoughtless, insensitive … shall I go on?

Then there are words that sound alike but have different meanings. Words like your and you’re; their, there, and they’re; its and it’s; who’s and whose.

And while we’re at it, why do we drive on the parkway and park on the driveway? But I digress …

No wonder it’s hard for other cultures to grasp the meaning of our words. But many times it’s hard for us as well.

As writers, it’s important for us to have a good working knowledge of words—both the meaning and the spelling. If you’re writing about a man who went to sea, you wouldn’t say he went out to see. See what? Big difference, right?

If your protagonist needs her husband to pick up a pear at the grocery store, you wouldn’t want to write a pair on the list. A pair of what?

Maybe your antagonist is peeking around the corner at his prey. You certainly don’t want him peaking (or piquing) around that corner at his pray.

These may sound like silly examples, but as an editor, I see these mistakes often. Just like a comma can make all the difference (Let’s eat, Grandma vs. Let’s eat Grandma), misspelled and misused words can derail our writing and irritate our readers.

Do we all make mistakes? Absolutely. Are we going to get everything right all the time? Of course not. But we need to do the best we can, especially when writing for the Lord.

Put your heart and soul into every activity you do, as though you are doing it for the Lord himself and not merely for others. For we know that we will receive a reward, an inheritance from the Lord, as we serve the Lord Yahweh, the Anointed One! (Colossians 3:23-24 TPT)

When in doubt, get out your dictionary or do a Google search. You’ll be glad you did—and so will your readers.

What particular words do you struggle with? We would love to hear from you.

 

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

 

TWEETABLE

Misspelled and misused words can derail our writing and irritate our readers. via @AndreaMerrell (Click to tweet.)

 

 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Post-Pandemic Writing

By Linda Gilden

 

Now that we feel like the pandemic is coming to an end, we need to think about how to come out on the other side with our writing. For quite some time, our writing has had the influences of the pandemic sprinkled throughout. Now it is time to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel and help people see how to establish a new normal in their lifestyles. Here are several ways we can do that.

 

Continue to Keep Things Clean

We are writing for the kingdom. Therefore, we need to not only keep our physical surroundings clean but also our thoughts and writing. Just as it takes a miniscule germ to infect a person’s entire body, one offensive word can turn your readers away from a lifesaving message.

 

Have you ever been waiting for a book to be released because you just know it will change your life. Then as you are reading, the author uses one expression or word that you find offensive and the whole book is ruined for you? Don’t let that happen to your readers.

 

Take Off Your Mask Only When Not in a Crowd

Masks can only help us when we use them properly. We have been encouraged to wear masks whenever we are around lots of people, even family.

 

However, we can safely remove them in our writing. Being vulnerable is important when we are sharing the message God has given us with others. Vulnerability is not the easiest thing to practice in our writing. But when your target is the heart of your reader, you will change lives when you hit that target.

 

When I took off my “mask” of vulnerability, I began to get mail from my readers as to how much my words had meant in their lives. They connected with me at a level I couldn’t reach when I was holding back and had my mask on.

 

Stay Out of Crowds

One of the things we have heard for the last year was to stay out of crowds. Every group over a certain number could be a haven for germs. This applied to friends and public gatherings as well as small family events.

 

Writing is a solitary activity, yet the easiest things to write about are often those which are on the minds of the crowd. Hence, the pandemic has been the topic of many articles and even books over the last year. However, stepping outside of the popular box and writing about topics which are related and sometimes difficult can have the greatest impact. Trust God to direct you and lead you to write what will change lives. Perhaps you can approach articles from a spiritual standpoint. How did the pandemic impact your faith? How did your faith grow as a result of changes in the world over the past year? It’s time now to reach out to other people, whether through your writing or in person.

 

This horrid virus has wreaked havoc on families all over the world. Let’s take a lesson from the new rules that have been imposed for our protection. It’s time to take off our writing masks, write our messages cleanly and clearly, and take a stand to encourage others to speak up and make a difference, one word at a time.



TWEETABLE

It’s time to take off our writing masks, write our messages cleanly and clearly, and take a stand to encourage others to speak up and make a difference, one word at a time. via @LindaGilden (Click to tweet.)


Linda Gilden is an award-winning writer, speaker, editor, certified writing and speaking coach, and personality consultant. Her passion is helping others discover the joy of writing and learn to use their writing to make a difference. Linda recently released Articles, Articles, Articles! and is the author of over a thousand magazine articles and 19 books including the new LINKED Quick Guides for Personalities. Linda’s favorite activity (other than eating folded potato chips) is floating in a pool with a good book surrounded by splashing grandchildren—a great source of writing material! www.lindagilden.com

 

 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Don't Edit Out the Edit

 By Martin Wiles

 

“Don’t turn your paper in after you put the last period.”

Sage advice I have given over the years to my writing students. Unfortunately, advice few of them have taken. More times than not, I watch them put the final punctuation mark, rise from their desks, and bring the paper to me.

But let’s be fair. Students who are taught writing in their educational journey aren’t the only ones who detest editing. Unless we are an editor or English teacher, we probably don’t want to dabble in MUGS (Mechanics, Usage, Grammar, and Syntax).

This is when we need a healthy dose of reality. Unless an editor finds our devotion, article, or book manuscript exceptional, he or she is unlikely to overlook obvious grammar errors that we could have easily corrected. Especially when so many programs and apps are available to help us.

Polishing our writing to the best of our ability makes acceptance and publication more probable. Anything worth writing—whether published or not—is worth the time, effort, and money to make it shine. What we write about matters. So does how it appears.

The following are two practical tools:

  • Grammarly – This program has a paid and a free version. The free version can now be downloaded as an add-on to Word. Although Grammarly still offers a Premium version, the free version will catch many common errors, such as incorrect article usage, redundancies, spelling errors, and other typos.

 

  • Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) – This program is not free, but is reasonably priced. Subscribers pay monthly or annually. It will catch a few things the free version of Grammarly won’t, such as passive voice sentences and dangling modifiers.

 

These two programs will clean up a piece of writing, but, as I remind my students, they are computer-based—and a computer, as hard as it may try, cannot know positively what a writer attempts to say. I recommend a few other avenues for the serious writer.

  • Purchase Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors and Editing Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, both by Kathy Ide. Let’s face it. Not all writers are experts in grammar and editing. If they were, they’d probably be teaching or editing for a living. These two books offer telling resources to polish our writing.

 

  • Join a critique group or enlist a critique partner who knows something about the writing world and the grammar world. I’ve heard it said that we shouldn’t enlist an English teacher. As an English teacher, I take some offense to that, but I do understand the statement. Just because a person is an English teacher doesn’t mean they are familiar with the publishing world.

 

  • Pay an editor. Not just anyone who claims to be one, but one who has the experience and knows what they are doing. Preferably, one who has worked in the genre we write. Swinging the cost might tax our wallet, but the investment will be worth it in the end.

 

Whatever you write, polish it as much as possible. When you’ve reached the end of your expertise, let someone who is more experienced piggyback. Whatever you do, don’t edit out the edit.


(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and keattikorn.)


TWEETABLE

Polishing our writing to the best of our ability makes acceptance and publication more probable. via Martin Wiles @linesfromGod (Click to tweet.)


Martin Wiles is the founder of Love Lines from God (www.lovelinesfromgod.com) and serves as Managing Editor for Christian Devotions and as a copy editor for Courier Publishing. He has authored six books and has been published in numerous publications. He is a freelance editor, English teacher, author, and pastor

 

 

 

Monday, March 29, 2021

A Writer’s Journey

 By Tim Sudduth

Finally, spring has arrived. To me, winter is the hardest season of the year. Between the cold, the dreary skies, and the ultra-short days, the energizer bunny in me has a tough time making it through the day. I seem to be able to do so much when the sun doesn’t go down before the six-o’clock news.

With the decrease in energy, I also have a harder time keeping a positive outlook. With the gray skies of winter comes a gray blah over life. A good snowfall helps, but here in the South, we know that only brings with it slush and icy roads. Ho-hum and bah humbug.

Because of this, I think it makes much more sense to make any annual resolutions in the spring instead of at New Years. Not only do I have more energy and a brighter outlook, but spring also represents new life and new beginnings. To the gardener in me, this is amplified by all the new leaves and blooms that pop out everywhere around my house seemingly overnight. The flowers and new neon-green leaves just make everything a little brighter.

Whether you already did this at New Years or not, I challenge you to take a new look at where you are in your writing life. Is this where you want to be or is there something you need to do to take the next step?

Actually, I think we should continually be doing this throughout the year. In Ephesians, Solomon wrote about how we will encounter different seasons in each of our lives. It doesn’t mean that we will all go through the same things, but it does mean that things change. Whatever is challenging you today will change given time.

A child must first learn how to crawl, then how to walk. Much later maybe how to walk with a cane, then a walker. Learning the alphabet and multiplication tables changes to whether to use a semicolon or leave a tip. Dating, parenting—well, you get the point.

No matter where you are in your writing journey, there are always challenges to face and lessons to be learned. If you are like me, first, I’m sorry. Second, although I wish I could fast forward through the tough, boring times in my life and get to the good stuff, often it is in those tough times that we learn the most lessons. Some truths can only be learned in the heat of the battle.

Even though these lessons are hard, they are important. And we need to take our time and make sure we learn them. That brings us to a tough catch-22. We don’t need to hurry out of the trial too soon, but neither do we want to dwell in it. And we can’t judge for ourselves how well we are doing.

We often don’t know when we’re ready.

(Well, Tim. That doesn’t help.)

The best thing about our journey—whether it’s writing, a career, a relationship, or life—is that we don’t travel alone. The One who designed and equipped us is also walking along with us. He knows when we’re ready.

Our job is to constantly be making sure we are walking with Him. And we can do that through prayer and seeking His will. I’ll admit, a lot of times I feel like I’m floating in the middle of the sea, alone, and waving my hand, saying, “Yoo-hoo, Abba. I’m over here.”

But remember Who is God and who is the creation. The feeling of being adrift from God is normal. Just because you don’t see or feel Him, doesn’t mean He’s not in the boat.

When you feel like your prayers aren’t even reaching the ceiling remember, they don’t have to. They only have reach to your heart.

There are two ways you should NOT use to determine if you need to make a change.

  • Don’t look at the calendar. I am struggling with that now. I have some finished manuscripts that are just sitting around, and I want to get them published. I know that I only want them out when they are ready, but when another year passes, yikes.
  • God doesn’t go by our timeline. (Maybe we should buy Him a watch?) And if you aren’t finished writing your book or whatever your goal is, by a certain age, so what. Are you where God wants you to be as best as you can determine? Are you seeking His will? Again, He is God. He has the wisdom and power we need to continue on this journey. And He understands that we don’t.

Don’t look at others. Everyone else in your writing group may have published several articles or books, and you feel left behind. Another writer’s sales may be eclipsing yours, but you know your characters are better. But none of that matters. Each of our journeys is unique. And maybe God has a lesson He is still teaching you. And He is smart enough, and kind enough, not to rush.

All of this boils down to the poem about the two sets of footprints in the sand. One set is yours, and one set is God’s. And the times when only one set is visible are those times when He is carrying you.

Think about what an awesome and mind-blowing gift we have that the Holy God of the universe has decided that He wants to take me, you, on this journey with Him. How long will it last or where are we going, we don’t know. We do know that since it is with Him, it will be more awesome than anything we could ever imagine.


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


TWEETABLE

No matter where you are on your writing journey, if you are writing for the Lord, you are never alone. via @TimSuddeth (Click to tweet.)



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 www.timingreenville.com or on Twitter @TimSuddeth. 

 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Writer, Don't Forget To Listen

 By Ann Tatlock

 

Your laptop is updated with the newest writing software, and the cursor is blinking. You’ve attended online writing seminars, tuned in to podcasts for aspiring writers, and traveled the vast circuit of writing blogs. You’ve got your characters situated on the stage of your mind and you have a pretty good idea of how you’re going to start their story and how it’s going to end.

 

So you’re ready for Chapter 1, right? Maybe, but let me add one more item to your Preparation Checklist: Listen!

 

Have you listened to your story? Have you spent time listening to what your characters are telling you about themselves: who they are, what they want, what they intend to do?

 

People think it’s strange when I say my characters speak to me, but it’s a good thing they do. They invariably make the story better when I look to them for the unfolding of the tale.

 

For instance, in my first novel A Room of My Own, my plan was to have the main character’s father die from his injuries at the end. But Papa insisted that he had no intention of dying, and he promised a better outcome to the story if I let him live. We debated it for a time, but I relented and discovered he was right. I loved that the book had a happier ending, and I’m sure my readers did too.

 

This is simply imagination at work. The gift of imagination is a mysterious thing, and I can’t really explain how it works; I only know that it does. If we let it. If we are willing to be patient, give it time, submit our own thoughts to it so that the voice of creativity can be heard above our own.

 

So how do we listen to our characters? It isn’t easy in a world in which news and information, emails, social media posts, and phone calls are coming at us like one loud chattering tsunami. We have to consciously take time away from all that, first of all, and second, we have to make an effort to quiet our own minds.

 

It’s almost like Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Be still. Quiet yourself. Listen. God speaks in the stillness. So do our characters. And I have a feeling that’s not by coincidence. After all, God’s Holy Spirit is our Muse, our inspiration. He guides us in our writing by igniting our imagination, His gift to us to be used for His glory.

 

My characters speak to me while I am taking my afternoon walk, making the bed, washing the dishes, listening to classical music. They speak to me when I am falling asleep, or in those moments when I’m waking up. Often they speak when I am reading the works of other authors who know how to listen to their imagination.

 

Creativity can’t be forced. Good literature can’t be rushed. We can’t simply churn out good books by forcing our characters to do what we want them to do so we can meet our deadline.

 

So I’ll say it again: Be still. Quiet yourself. Listen. Listen to your characters as they walk out the story of their lives with you. To me, this is the most important ingredient of good literature. Nothing will create a more beautiful story than the voices of your own imagination.

 

 (Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and stockimages.)


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One of the most important ingredients of good literature is listening to our characters and the voices of our own imagination. via @AnnTatlock (Click to tweet.)

 

 


 

Ann Tatlock is a novelist, children’s book author, and editor. Her newest novel, The Name of the Stars, was published in October 2020 by New Hope Publishers. She founded and is former  managing editor of Heritage Beacon, the historical fiction imprint of LPC/Iron Stream Media. Ann and her family live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Please visit her website at www.anntatlock.com.