Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
Photo by gabriel77/istockexchange.com
My recent ACFW conference was unsettlingly wonderful! Besides the obvious writing expertise, I was awed by the spiritual nurturing and support, particularly experienced among the Ponderers. I am so thankful for the relationships established during last October's MBT StoryCrafters Retreat. I cringe now to think I almost didn't attend because of budgetary concerns. The truth is, I couldn't afford to miss it.
Meeting in both Minnesota and Indiana with aspiring and accomplished authors willing to critique each others' projects, while praying for and with each other and sharing loving encouragement, reminded me of . . . Amish farmers.
Amish farmers are known for faithful diligence and abundant harvests. But it's difficult for Amish men to prune their own trees. When it's time to prepare their orchards, it's easier to prune someone else's trees.
So wise Amish neighbors arrange a day for orchard work. At a set time, men meet in the middle of the road between their orchards and shake hands. Then the farmers proceed to their neighbors' trees to do all of the cutting necessary to bring those trees to maximum potential in the next fruit-bearing season.
At the end of the day, the men give the trees a final look, ensuring they have done all the required pruning. They then meet again in the middle of the road, shake hands and wish each other well. From that point on, every farmer and his family enjoys seeing the orchards reach full potential.
So it is with Christian authors. We write for Him--but we also are meant to support one another as we pursue the creative process. We often meet in the middle of our writing roads, shake hands, exchange skills, bless each other and shake hands again, and then await and enjoy our mutual harvests--our successes. Because of our shared efforts, the blossoms seem more fragrant, the fruits more lovely. Most of all, God is pleased by our unselfish cooperation and freely-expressed love as we follow Him while serving each other.
It is now officially fall. Apples and other fruits are being harvested. But no matter what the calendar says, it is always the season to contact our writing "neighbors" and arrange to meet in the middle of the road between our orchards to exchange support, services and rejoice in many bumper crops.
Friday, September 24, 2010
|The MBT Ponders demonstrate the Heisman Move|
|Susie's acceptance speech for her Carol|
|Chip's devotional: Success vs. Significance|
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
The parable of the talents, found in Matthew 25, is familiar to most of us, but I doubt that many have ever looked at it Tim's way. He said that the Master intended his servants to invest their talents.
Now we all know that the Scripture is referring to talent as money, but as Tim pointed out, the word talent is a double entendre (meant to be understood in two ways). The talent also refers to our lives.
Each man took what the Master gave them and invested. All except the man with the one. He hid his. So, when the Master returned, he had this to say of the man who refused to invest: 'You wicked, lazy servant! (Matthew 25:26)
Tim reminded us that, "There is no failing when you invest. None that invested his talents were put to shame. The one that didn't invest was the evil one!"
So here's the thing. You know that writing talent that you've been wondering whether you should do anything with or not? Let me spell it out in plain English for you. DO SOMETHING WITH IT!
God is not going to put you to shame for trying even if you fail. You will, however, be put to shame if you do nothing. So come on, do something. Write for your church bulletin. Write notes of encouragement to your friends--or enemies, for that matter. Start that short story or novel or how about a non-fiction book on how to serve God or perhaps an article? The method does not matter, just pick up a pen and write something. Then share it.
Oh come on now, you didn't think the Lord would just have you write something and then bury it, did you? That's what the evil servant did. If you don't share it then it's not investing it.
Think about this for a bit. That humility you think you have inside you, the one that says, "Oh no, I'm not good enough." is really pride rearing its ugly head. Don't fall for it. If God can use the mouth of a donkey, He can use you and me just fine. So come on.
I want to hear from you. Tell us how you stepped out! I'm looking forward to hearing from you. And remember... you can do it!
Monday, September 20, 2010
Tongue firmly in cheek, Teri
Friday, September 17, 2010
Sometimes conferences, especially the ACFW Annual Conference, can seem completely overwhelming. Workshops provide information at speeds of 10, 25, 30 or 70 miles per hour and before you know it, information overload has brought your brain to a yield, or worse, a dead end.
Often you can work up an impressive panic attack waiting in two hour parking before you pitch to your dream editor or agent. When your turn to pitch finally comes, all of the sudden your tongue has thickly settled (can anyone explain that road sign to me? I mean, seriously…) and your perfectly practiced pitch doesn’t go one way, but the wrong way.
I’ll let you in on a Ponderers secret. Stop.
One of the best things about the Ponderers is knowing there is always someone who will lift you up in prayer at a moments notice.
We Ponderers would like to take a moment to lift each of you and your conference experience up in prayer. For those of you unable to attend, we’ll pray for you too. (And I suggest you check out Heidi’s post from yesterday. I’ll admit it, despite being in a hospital with a bunch of sick people and NOT at ACFW, I couldn’t stop laughing!)
Heavenly Father, thank You for preparing a journey for each one of us. Whether that journey takes us to Indianapolis or leaves us in our hometown this weekend, we know You are there.
Thank You that You alone know who the right agent or editor is for our manuscript, and You have divinely orchestrated each appointment and encounter the ACFW attendees will experience. May their pitches flow like honey to receptive ears. Prepare their hearts and minds. Calm their nerves. Bless those teaching, so attendees might learn and grow as writers. Unite us in forming new friendships and strengthening old ones.
For those of us unable to attend, may we see You at work in our lives this weekend at home. In Jesus name, Amen.
Okay, for those of you who are at ACFW right now: post what you are learning, experiencing, and how God is moving in your life at the conference this weekend. Also, post your prayer requests.
For those of us on the home front, let’s cover these writers and their requests in prayer this weekend and learn from what the attendees share with us.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
If you are a writer, then you know that this weekend is the American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. Every writing related blog/website is abuzz about the fabulous and exciting conference and unless you live in a remote village in Tibet (in which case you are probably extremely enlightened and completely at peace and need not read on) you have been inundated with valuable information on this conference, including some fabulous posts written by my fellow Ponderers.
Alas, I will be sitting out the 2010 ACFW conference due to some health issues, and the disappointment is sometimes a little overwhelming. I feel a little like Cinderella being left behind while my sisters (the ones I love beyond measure, NOT the ugly step-sister sisters!!) go to the ball. So, I would like to offer my list of my top ten things to do this weekend if you, too, are being left behind.
10.) Curl your fists into tight balls and pound them on the dining room table while stomping your feet (preferably on wood or tile floors for full effect) and shriek until you begin to feel better. Optional: hold your breath until you turn blue.
9.) Close your eyes, inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, and then exhale through your mouth. Repeat ten times, or as many times as it takes for you to begin to feel refreshed and/or in control of your emotions. Then eat a pint of your favorite ice cream.
8.) Close your eyes and wish for a fairy godmother to magically appear with plane tickets for a pumpkin shaped airplane with creepy mice-ish flight attendants, deluxe hotel accommodations at the castle, a fully written and edited manuscript, and/or a gigantic pink taffeta gown with satin and lace accents and lots of sparkles for the Saturday night awards banquet.
7.) Attach a room number to your bedroom door, along with a “do not disturb” sign on the doorknob. (Optional: hang the sign so that it reads “maid service requested.”) Inform your family that you will be "away" for awhile and that you will not answer the door for anyone other than room service.
6.) Post updates on your facebook that imply you are at the writing conference. Example: “Heidi Larson Geis just had the most amazing conversation with James Scott Bell on the best way to convey legal jargon to the average reader. James completely appreciated Heidi’s suggestions and will be dedicating his next book to her.”
5.) Visit the facebook pages of authors/agents/publishers you know are attending and/or teaching at the conference and post something like this: “It was so great to meet you. Wasn’t dinner amazing?” or “Your class on humor in fiction was so enlightening. Thank you!”
(Disclaimer: The preceding suggestions are for entertainment purposes only. If you choose to actually do any of these things, you do so at your own risk and Heidi is not responsible for anything that happens as a result. Unless, of course, the outcome is positive, at which time Heidi will take full credit. The following suggestions are the things Heidi actually encourages you to do.)
4.) Find some friends who are going and set up times to Skype with them. Make them tell you one or two things they have learned that will change the face of their writing, and then try to immediately implement them in your writing. (And possibly, although I can neither confirm nor deny that I know anyone attempting to do this, have your friend sneak in their pink Mac to Skype the awards banquet. Make sure you dress up, though, as Skype goes both ways!)
3.) Buy yourself a writing book by one of the many awesome authors teaching at the conference (Suggestions: The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction by Jeff Gerke, Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors by Brandilyn Collins, Plot and Structure or Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell, A Novel Idea by a variety of awesome Christian authors, and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass) and spend the weekend reading and taking notes on the book. Try to apply at least one thing you learn in one or two scenes of your manuscript.
2.) Use the internet to find other conferences and writing retreats that may better fit your schedule and/or budget. I have attended and can recommend all three of Susan May Warren’s coaching/writing retreats (AWESOME! ), the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Novelist Retreat, and an American Christian Writers conference. I am thinking about trying the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers conference (in North Carolina in May) or the Mount Hermon Christian Writers conference (in California in March.)
1.) PRAY. Okay, I think we all knew this one would find its way into the countdown, as well it should because the Bible is pretty clear about prayer and thanksgiving. Pray for those blessed to attend, for their safe travel and for their conference experience. Pray for those who are teaching and for the keynote speaker. Pray for the hotel staff, that they will be blessed by conference attendees and know that they are Christians by their love. Pray for yourself. (My husband is a pastor…he said it is totally okay to pray for yourself!) I prayed that God would help me with my feelings of discouragement and disappointment, and that He would help me to be happy for my friends who get to go. I also prayed that God would open doors for me to attend next year, IF IT IS HIS WILL. (That last part is kind of important.) Finally, I prayed that God would give me something else to do that felt almost more important than the conference (aka perspective) and it turns out tonight is my son’s first football game. His first one ever in his whole 14 years of life. There will be other writing conferences, but not other first football games. I am so glad I will not be missing it…it’s almost as if God knew why I needed to be left behind.
Be blessed beyond measure!
Heidi Larson Geis
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
What are you forgetting?
You may not even realize you're bringing a few expectations along with you. But, spoken or unspoken, we all have 'em. Here's a few recommendations about expectations.
photo by Jane Cleary
--Expect to go home with a contract. Most new authors expect to land a contract at a conference. After all, they love their “baby.” Surely, an agent or editor is going to see this fabulous work and offer a contract. Um . . . sorry. The industry doesn’t work that way. Even if you’re the next Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell. Even Stephen King has enough rejection letters to wallpaper a room. Even J.K. Rowling wasn’t an overnight success. At best, you may be asked to send a partial, usually the first three chapters.
--Don’t look around at all the other writers and become discouraged by the sheer number. They may want a contract as much as you, but are they all going to work as hard as you’re willing to work? You have to do your best and write for an audience of One. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
--Don’t use anyone. Ever.
--Don’t accost editors in the bathroom. Treat agents and editors with respect. They deserve off-duty time. And they definitely deserve a potty break! If you meet one in the lounge after dinner, just talk to them like you would to any acquaintance you happen to meet—unless you never ever stop talking about your novel. This is a small industry where reputations are remembered. This is a small industry where reputations are remembered. I suppose if you happen to catch one in the elevator regardless of the time of day, you may pitch to them, since the elevator pitch is named for this situation.
--Don’t be discouraged. Don’t think of the cost of the lovely hotel room, the conference, and the airfare and feel you’ve wasted money. You’ve invested in your dream. I’ve never met an unpublished writer who hasn’t walked down the hallway during a conference and thought, “What made me think I could do this?” We’ve all have doubts. Success isn’t going to come easily, which will make it all the more sweet when it arrives. Keep believing.
--Allow yourself some downtime. After attending a number of workshops and hearing all the things you’ve got to do to take your writing to the next level, your head may feel like exploding if you pump in one more fact.
--Network. This is one of the main reasons to attend a conference. Mingle, meet people, exchange business cards. Follow up with emails right after the conference while the contact is still fresh.
--Look for critique partners.
--Allow God to direct your career. I attended my first conference with unrealistic expectations. I wanted that writing contract. But I wasn’t ready in terms of craft or my personal life. God knew the unexpected tragedies in my life. I wouldn’t have been able to handle deadline pressures with my hectic life as the widowed mother of seven.
--Listen for industry trends. What are publishing houses looking for?
--Be friendly. Once, my friend and I noticed a woman sitting all alone at breakfast. She hesitantly admitted she’d almost stayed in her room because hadn’t wanted to come to breakfast alone. We offered her friendship. Several years later, she’s published. My friend and I still hope to be. Maybe one day, the shy author will write a blurb on my first published book.
You can make some of the best friends of your life with people who share your dreams, passion, who will pray for you, offer a shoulder when you’re rejected and celebrate when you final in a contest or land a contract.
--Meet your favorite authors. One of the perks. I don’t tell people I know Award-winning, Multi-published Author Susan May Warren. I say, “Susie knows me.”
--Keep a positive attitude. Honing your craft takes time.
--Make time to pray. At the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference, a room is dedicated to—and bathed in—prayer. Take advantage of the wonderful prayer partners.
What suggestions can you add to my list?
~ Roxanne Sherwood
Monday, September 13, 2010
2) Practice - Practice your pitch. I write it out on index cards and take it to the appointment. That’s because I’m not good at a practiced speech, and it gives me the confidence I need to give them my pitch. But I have still practiced it so I am not reading directly from the card in front of me.
3) Person - Remember the person opposite you is just that – a person. A business man or woman trying to find a good story that will make their publisher happy with their choices. They don’t have hidden talons waiting to rip you apart if you goof. But you do have to sell them on your story.
4) Pause - Take a deep breath. Spend some time while you wait for your appointment to review your story. You are the only one that knows those handsome heroes and classy heroines, and the evils you have put them through.
5) Promote - When you talk about your characters, act like they are your best friends. Well they have been haven’t they??? You have held their hand during heartbreak, you’ve ripped your new manicure from your nails when they’ve been in danger, and your heart has gone pitter-patter when cupid’s arrow finally hits its mark.
6) Pray - Pray for strength and wisdom.
7) Pitch - Now straighten your shoulders, throw out your chest, lift up your head and give it your best.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
See you there, Teri Dawn Smith
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Can you say that about your characters?
There really are no new plots, right? I mean, you can mix different components together and tell the story in your own voice, but just about everything's been done. So one way to make your story stand out is to make your characters stand out. Here are a few ways you can do that:
Irony: Rachel Hauck's upcoming release, Dining With Joy, came about because of this question: What if the star of a television cooking show couldn't cook? That question alone makes the character memorable. Lisa Jordan has a work-in-progress (WIP) where her coffee shop-owning heroine is allergic to caffeine. That's not quite as plot-changing as Rachel's character, but it doesn't have to be. It adds in a little touch of uniqueness that, combined with everything else, will help to set the story apart.
Contrast: Say a small-town shy chick buys a purple low-rider with ground effects, big wheels, a funny horn, and a really loud engine. Why would she do that? Because she's tired of being a wallflower but can't change that on her own? Just because she really likes the color purple? Or is it because, even though the car itself draws attention, the windows are tinted so she remains hidden? Or maybe she's not really shy-- she's just been pretending, because she's in WITSEC (Witness Security), but her drug world past can't keep itself hidden. Whatever the reason, that car is going to make you dig deeper, and it's going to add an element of surprise to the story. (Just fyi, it was none of the above. And I no longer own my little Sidekick, but isn't she cute?)
Out-of-the-ordinary: What about a first grade teacher heroine who whittles in her spare time? That's a little unexpected. Why would she whittle? That's what I wondered, too, when I wrote Double Take. The knife was added in only after a Genesis judge (thanks, Gina!) suggested Kenzie should be doing something with her hands while she's watching TV during a particular scene. Knitting? Nope. (No offense, Lisa!) Cooking? Well, it doesn't really fit in with the timing. How about whittling? That seemed a little random, though, so why would she have that hobby? Turns out, she had a pretty good reason, and the knife she used ended up being a rather important part of the story.
These things can not only develop unique characters, but also deepen your plot. So now it's your turn. What character really stands out from a novel you've read? Why? What is one quirk/hobby/treasured possession/whatever that you could give your main character to add a surprise element to your story? No stereotypes allowed!
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Monday, September 6, 2010
|Photo credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/147870|
July was a rough month for me--physically and emotionally. I realized I needed to take a step back in order to move forward. Sounds kind of like a contradiction, huh? I decided to do a social networking fast in order to focus on my novel. I didn't read or comment on blogs, spent very little time on Twitter or Facebook, and didn't do much web surfing.
Katie Ganshert wrote a terrific article in the summer issue of Voices about "Pursuing the Dream When Time is Scarce". While I loved the entire article, the one thing that really spoke to me was setting up a sacred writing time. Katie gets up every morning at 4 a.m. to spend time with God, and then to write before she gets ready for her day job as a elementary teacher.
In August I wanted to write the rough draft of my novel in 31 days. Wow, my own personal Nanowrimo. I set my alarm for 5 a.m. to write for an hour before it was time to get ready for my day job. I did a couple of things to prepare--I downloaded an online egg timer and I did some basic plotting. I set the timer for 30 minutes at a time, and then kept track of my of my word count. I wrote 40,000 words in 31 days. Even though I didn't make my goal, I completed two-thirds of the story and can write a full synopsis.
The biggest blessing I received from my novel writing month was having an accountability partner. I met Michelle Lim through Ponderer Amy and enjoyed chatting with her in the My Book Therapy chats. We chatted one afternoon and started brainstorming. From then on, Michelle sent me encouraging e-mails on a daily basis and spent a couple of hours a day pondering and brainstorming the next chapters in my novel. She helped me to create terrific characters whose unique qualities have taken my story to a deeper level. And I'm excited to say Michelle completed the rough draft of her novel by the end of August. So proud of her. I can't wait to meet her in person at the ACFW conference in ten days.
What about you? Do you have an accountability partner who helps you stay on task and possibly brainstorms with you?
Friday, September 3, 2010
Gulp. Oh, my goodness. The ACFW conference is only two weeks away! So much to do. So little time. So much pressure. I can’t believe they only gave me one appointment with an editor. Grrr. Maybe I can ambush, er, intercept an editor in the bathroom.
“Wait a minute.”
Gulp again. “Is that you, God?”
“I’m glad to see you recognize My voice. Why are you in such a dither?”
“Well, there this conference, the ACFW, and it’s really expensive, but if I can arrange to talk to at least four agents and that many editors, it’ll pay off. You know, like an investment. The people in charge just aren’t cooperating. Two appointments? Sheesh.”
“ACFW. What do those letters stand for?”
"Uh…American Christian Fiction Writers?"
“That’s what I thought. So, you’re a Christian writer?”
“God, you already know that. You told me that’s what You wanted me to do. Just like we’re talking now. Remember?”
“Then why are you worrying? Don’t you know I’ve already ordained who you’ll meet? Which editors, which agents. Didn’t you volunteer to work in the bookstore Friday? You might be surprised by the lady browsing through there who just happens to ask you what you write. Probably be a good idea to be ready with your pitch.”
I don’t know about you, but God’s already had this talk with me. He’s reminded me that the conference isn’t about me and what I can do, but about Him. Praising Him. Glorifying Him. Every meeting, every appointment, every meal and every session is in His control. If I don’t get to meet a particular agent or editor, He already knew I would be wasting my time.
So, relax. Put your agenda away. Go to Indianapolis and learn how to honor Him with your writing. Along the way, connect with others who want to honor him with their writing—you may make some life-long friends.
Cease striving and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10 NASB
I asked God for patience and He gave me a book to write.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
When you hear the word "edit," do you cringe? When you see an editor, do you grab your manuscript and run as fast and far in the opposite direction as you possibly can? When you meet editors at writers conferences, do you feel like you're participating in some sort of macabre publishing version of speed dating?
I'd like to change your minds about editors and editing. I have a novel perspective on the whole editor versus writer conflict. (Pun intended.) I have a split personality: I live my life just like you--pursuing publication--but as editor of Connections, MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International's leadership magazine, I also decide whether others are published.
I wanted to get into some nuts and bolts of editing in this post, but decided to lay some ground rules first.
Next time I post, I'll show you how I edit an article, sharing tips and tools to apply to your writing, whether it's an article or a book chapter.
Onto the rules:
- Editing is (initially) your responsibility. You don't have the option of saying, "I'm a writer, not an editor." Learn to self-edit, which means knowing your weaknesses and your strengths. Check out: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King and Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell.
- Editing is inevitable. Someone else is going to edit your writing. (My friend Roxanne read through this blog post for me.) It may be your critique partner or--Woo hoo!--an editor at the publishing house who bought your manuscript. At some point someone will attack . . . I mean, mark your words with the dreaded red pen.
- Editing is painful. Revising and reworking your manuscript is just that--work, not play, and therefore it isn't fun and games. Editing takes concentration, effort, and yes, sometimes it takes sweat and tears to craft writing that sings. Sometimes word count trumps that sentence or paragraph you love. Here's the question: Do you want to be a decent writer or an excellent writer? Editing can cut 500 words to 250--and transform ho-hum writing to captivating.
- Editing is discriminating. By discriminating I mean you edit carefully so you do not destroy a writer's voice--yours or someone else's. More on preserving writer's voice in a future post.