Monday, January 31, 2011
Friday, January 28, 2011
Mama opened the oven and grabbed the pan with a well-worn oven mitt. With one swift move, she plopped the pan onto the center of the table. My selfish grab
to get the first hot delight stopped mid-reach. They looked... well, different. All just alike. The same size. Same shape. Cookie cut.
My brother and I exchanged glances. My mom beamed with the satisfaction of a job well done. I bravely reached out, pulled one of the lifeless discs toward me and slowly raised it to my lips. As I took a bite and chewed, I could not hide my disappointment. The poor substitution was worse than I could have imagined. It was downright inedible!
Those so-called "Biscuits in a Can" fell miserably short of tastin' like Mama fixed 'em. She thought she'd done so well by finding a quick, easy way to make morning breakfast. What she succeeded in doing was ruining mornings forever! Ok, not really but the next morning I did not get up in time for breakfast. Why bother?!
I think of that morning often when I sit at my computer creating prose. Surprised? Don't be. I realize readers run to the table (the endless feast of novels in the stacks at the bookstore) anticipating a juicy, mouth-watering story. The last thing they will tolerate is some canned, predictable plot that is just like all the other ones in the pan.
Readers are looking for that unique biscuit. You know, the one with the little bump that sticks out on the side like a handle. It seems strange, perhaps even uninviting, but once they sink their teeth into it, the biscuit tastes so good it makes them rush back for another bite.
Don't settle for the quick and easy shortcuts to writing. If you do, when it's out there on the table, it will be sure to disappoint. Instead, take the time to mix up the batter, knead the dough and plop down that unique blob of flour, water and lard onto the cookie sheet. Shove those words into the oven and let 'em bake a while. When you pull the finished product out, it will bring folks out of their cocoons to buy your book.
Don't disappoint your readers by feeding them biscuits in a can. Give them you! Uniquely you! That's what writers do!
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
I don’t know about you, but as an aspiring writer, I look at the work of successful authors and try to figure out how they did it. How did they come up with the story line? The characters? The conflict? The scenes?
I looked at Susan May Warren (I got hooked on her Mission: Russia Series). I found out she was in Russia as a missionary. Now, I don’t know about you, but Russia is not only brrr…cold, but a long way from the conveniences we have here in the United States. Writing at that time in her life must have taken not only desire, but discipline and plain old hard work!
This year I plan to use the books from my favorite authors and start with a couple of questions on paper before I read. Why? Simple. I love to read and re-read books. The problem? I read the book and stop analyzing it!
So for me, just the advice to read the book doesn’t work. But if I start with some questions already written out, then I don’t get caught up in the book. (Okay, okay--not too caught up.) Why? Writing out questions beforehand helps when I’m stuck in my own writing. I pull out a “Quicksheet” of examples. I remember how authors set up the scenes, the emotions the scenes evoked, the pacing of the scene, the plot, etc.
How do you want to improve your writing in 2011?What specifics are you working on? Is it deepening your plot? Then ask yourself:
What made the plot of my favorite book so interesting?
What hooked me?
Are you working on creating more emotion in your writing? Find some scenes from your favorite novels. How did the authors create emotions? Ask:
What words did the author use that created emotions?
What else did the author do to tug at my emotions? Did the author use word pictures?
Write down the specifics of what the author did on your Quicksheet, so you can refer back to it when you are stuck and need a “live example”.
I’m a learn-by-example kind of gal. Show me! That’s one of the reasons I love My Book Therapy. During both the online chats and the retreats/classes, Susie uses examples from movies. The next time you're watching a favorite movie, you could add notes to your Quicksheet about how the writer creates a compelling story.
Monday, January 24, 2011
There's a voice in each of us that slanders our gifting or call. It tells us we'll never make it or the mountain is too high. It's a well honed voice crafted to such perfection that once wielded, never misses. It's called Discouragement.
It comes on the wings of a rejection letter or harsh critique from a trusted co-laborer. Or it comes slithering up from our own vain imaginations to keep us from taking the chance once again and putting ourselves out there.
From time to time this beast will wrap itself so tightly around our courage that we can't seem to function in even the most routine and mundane situations. And that's when we begin to question our gift.
The enemy of your soul would love nothing better than to neutralize you where you stand. To nullify your God-given calling. To strip you of everything God intended you to be. Even devour your calling if you will.
Don't fall for it!
2Corinthians 10:5 NIV Has this to say about our thought life.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Take those thoughts, that tell you things contrary to what God has already said, captive.
You have been called to a holy calling. You have gotten this far. Take a look behind you. Remember when writing was only a dream? Now here you are, putting words onto paper electronically or otherwise. Some of you have attended conferences, joined critique groups, received rejection letters.
Praise God, you climbed a mountain!
Writing is hard and anyone who tells you differently doesn't write for a living. It's just as hard for writers to write as it is for mechanics to fix cars, doctors to diagnose patients and teachers to teach a classroom of kids. It's work and nothing less.
James 4:7 tells us this:
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Friday, January 21, 2011
This past week marks the 4th anniversary of an event that changed everything I knew to be true. Up until that point, I knew myself. I reveled in my gifts and titles. The smart girl. Awesome hairstylist. Speaker. Teacher. Administrator. (Egomaniac?) I defined myself based on these titles and it worked for me for many years. And then on January 18, 2007, it all changed.
I was driving with my husband to our home in Spokane from a meeting in the Seattle area. As we made our way onto the expansive Vantage Bridge over the Columbia River, a semi truck in the right lane of I-90 hit some debris in the road, flinging it at our car in the right lane. The next thing I knew, a giant steel post flew through our windshield, barely missing my husband but hitting me in the chest and arms as I drove.
I was panicked. I thought I had been impaled and that I would be dead within minutes. I couldn’t see out of the windshield, I couldn’t breathe, and I was struggling to stay conscious. And with my arms pinned behind the post I couldn’t drive. My husband and God somehow got us parked safely, almost neatly, on the left shoulder of I-90. I never lost control of the car, we didn’t hit anyone else, and we didn’t end up in the icy river around us. More importantly, I hadn’t been impaled, just hit really, really hard.
We were literally in the middle of nowhere, with the nearest town 30 miles in either direction. Even though my husband called 911 immediately, it seemed like forever before an ambulance arrived. I sat beneath the cold steel post in freezing temperatures, terrified that if I moved any part of my body I would do serious and possibly fatal internal damage. Needless to say, God had my full attention, and I clung to Him, His promises, and His love.
Everyone we met that night, from the state patrolman and DOT incident responder to the paramedics and doctors, were utterly amazed to see that I was alive and not more seriously injured. The state patrolman said that the post looked as if it had been choreographed through our car because it appeared to have come through the only way it could and not been catastrophic. It’s true and God is a great Choreographer!
And so, by the grace of God, the x-rays showed no broken bones. I did, however, sustain extensive tissue damage and issues with the alignment of my ribcage and spine I am still dealing with every day. Debilitating headaches kept me from my family and my responsibilities. And then in the days and weeks following the accident, we all began to notice changes in my personality. I was having trouble with vocabulary, memory, and logic. It turned out the force of the post’s impact caused something similar to shaken baby syndrome. I had a traumatic brain injury.
The nature of my injuries made it impossible for me to work. I had been a hairstylist for 20 years, my entire adult life, and now I wasn’t. The brain injury robbed me of my awesome vocabulary; I was mixing up words like “map” and “menu” and frustrated by simple conversations. I struggled to remember movies I’d seen or if I'd turned off the stove. All of my titles were stripped away. Who was I? I didn’t know. My definitions were gone.
And then I looked to God. I realized I was letting the world define me when I should have been defined by my Creator, the one who made me for His specific purpose. He reminded me that in the beginning, He made me a writer. I wrote stories from the time I could hold a crayon, and I was passionate. I wrote my way through school until one guy, a bitter college professor, told me I was a hack. Nice, right? But, I believed him and, pardon the cliché, I never wrote again.
“If you want me to write, show me,” I told God. And He did! He opened doors, gave me an amazing mentor and divine friendships with other writers. Support and encouragement came from every direction. It was undeniable.
There is so much more to this story than what fits here; more details that further illustrate how God has control of every aspect of the accident and the four years that have followed. God says (in Jeremiah) He knows the plan He has for me. Apparently that plan includes me writing, so here I am. A new creation, starting a new life. A life defined by God.
Do you have titles or definitions you hold tightly? Does God have something better?
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
As writers, we try to avoid clichés in our manuscripts because as readers, they just don’t stick with us. One of these expressions I’m overly familiar with, as a runner (and let’s face it, a person striving to meet goals in life!) is “go the extra mile”. This expression is so common that hearing it barely affects me anymore.
However, sometimes by altering expressions, we can make them unforgettable. This very thing happened to me one day as I sat sardined on a bus between a guy chugging a Mountain Dew and a puffy-haired lady.
The puffy-haired lady was chatty, and I like to think I’m not rude, so I paid attention as she started telling me about her son. As an athlete at a local high school, he spent his summer rigorously training to be better at pole-vaulting. The previous year his maximum height was 12’ 11”.
Confession #1: I know nothing about pole-vaulting. So that sounded pretty impressive to me. Before I could ask her what his goal for this year was, she sat up a little straighter and announced, “This year he plans to hit 13’ 0”.”
Confession #2: I’m lousy at math. But I was pretty sure all that training only amounted to one more...inch?
Sensing my confusion, she smiled and said something I’ll never forget. “Sometimes going the extra inch is what takes a person from ordinary to extraordinary.”
So (besides avoiding clichés!) how will you train this year to advance your writing one more inch—from ordinary…to extraordinary?
Monday, January 17, 2011
Martin Luther King Jr., born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, is best known for leading the civil rights movement in the United States. Watch as he delivers his famous "I have a Dream" speech after leading a march of more than 200,000 people from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963.
Or read a transcript of the speech here.
*1954 became pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
*1955 received a Ph.D. from Boston University.
*1955-56 led an effort to successfully desegregate buses in Montgomery, Alabama.
*1957 helped found and served as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
*1964 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway at age 35--the youngest man to have received it. He gave the $54,000 prize money to civil rights groups to secure the rights blacks deserved.
*1964 became the first black American to be honored as Time magazine's Man of the Year.
*1965 created national support for federal voting-rights legislation with a mass march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
*1968 assassinated while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee.
You might say King was a busy man. From 1957 to 1968, he traveled more than six-million miles and spoke over 2500 times. Yet, he still managed to write five books and numerous articles. He dared to dream and then achieved it.
What's your dream? To become a published author? What's keeping you from achieving it? Do you have commitments to a day job or raising a family that limit your time to write? How can you carve time from your schedule to write every day? I'm told Frank Peretti completed his first novel, This Present Darkness, by writing two pages--and only two pages--every day.
Are you afraid of failure? Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times. Julie Lessman's first novel, A Passion Most Pure, was rejected more than 40 times, including rejections after it was accepted for publication. J. K. Rowling's first Harry Potter book? Yep, rejected by Penguin and HarperCollins. Yet, those authors eventually sold because they believed in their novels and persevered through rejections.
A lack of discipline? Discipline--the daily exercise of writing--turns into delight or desire as you see your efforts pay off and as your word count grows. Make time to ponder, then make time to write. Eventually, to be a published author, you've got to follow the Nike motto: Just do it!
Sometimes we're ill. Sometimes people in our lives need us. Bills need to be paid. Errands need to be run. Life interrupts. But every time you choose television over writing time, every minute wasted that could be used writing is a conscious choice of that pursuit over your dream. At the end of your life, do you want to know the top ten finalists of every season of American Idol or be a published author?
Let 2011 be the year of declaring your dream, then finding concrete ways to achieve it.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Lord what do you want me to do?
Have you ever asked that question and received nothing but silence? Did you ever wish there was a book in the Bible with a chapter called Operating instructions for (enter your name here) just so you had direction for your life?
Okay, so maybe I’m alone. But the past year has brought me to my knees several times asking that very question. Lord, what do you want me to do? I have questioned everything including (as some of my Ponderer friends know) whether I should be writing or not. If there is anything I want to be – it is to be in God’s will. I don’t want to step in front of the Almighty and have him say – you should have done . . .
Then one day I felt overwhelmed beyond description. The only thing I could ask of God was to let me sit in his lap and have him hold me. I could feel his fatherly arms surround me and his words penetrated my very being . . . Ecclesiastes 9:10 “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” as if unto me. (The latter part is not part of Ecclesiastes, but it was there all the same.)
He had finally answered by question.
Now that the New Year is upon us, I have but only one resolution – whatever I do, I will do it for God. As long as he is first in my life, and I do it for his glory, the list of what I can accomplish is endless!
So I challenge you as you approach the New Year and your list of resolutions (or look at the ones you've already tossed aside), instead of doing them grudgingly, lift up your head and do them as unto God. Our Savior, our Lord, and our friend. And do them with all the strength you possess. You just might finally be able to say you were able to keep a resolution past the first week of January!
Happy New Year! May God bless you all abundantly!
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Monday, January 10, 2011
Friday, January 7, 2011
After reading her post, I realized again how important building relationships are for writers. Attending conferences, retreats, & organizations allows you to meet potential mentors, critique partners, editors, and agents face to face.
I signed with Rachelle last March after establishing a relationship with her by meeting with her two years in a row at ACFW, reading & commenting on her blog, and following her on Twitter & Facebook. She was not a nameless agent to me.
The same goes for the publishing house I’m targeting. I met with the same editor two years in a row. She remembered me from the previous year. I read the house’s guidelines & forums. I know many of the authors who write for that house, so I geared my novel toward their guidelines.
I met Susie Warren at ACFW in 2005 after reading her books for the past two years. We developed a relationship that year that developed into a friendship. Her friendship and mentorship led to my role in helping My Book Therapy expand and to my growth as a writer. Brainstorming with Susie and Rachel Hauck redefined my writing.
The Ponderers formed after bonding through the My Book Therapy retreats. I knew several of the writers through My Book Therapy and ACFW, but without those lifechanging weekends, we wouldn’t have developed the intimate friendship we now share.
I have terrific friendships, a daily prayer partner, and a priceless critique partner who blesses me daily with her willingness to listen, brainstorm, and be honest with me.
Developing relationships in the writing world isn’t to see who you can use to get published, but help you grow as a writer. You never know where that friendship could lead.
What friendships have led to writing opportunities for you?
Mini contest for today only: Leave a comment with your email for an opportunity to win a first chapter critique from me.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
What???? It hasn’t been fifteen minutes since January 2010.
What happened to all those New Year’s resolutions and goals I had a year ago? You know the ones—
2010 was the year I would:
•Lose 10 pounds.
•Finish my WIP—totally finish, no more rewriting.
•Write at least a complete first draft of a new novel.
Accomplished goals for January 1, 2010 — December 31, 2010:
Nada. Zip. Zero. Not one goal met.
So, does that make me a failure? No Way!
First of all, I don’t think goals are supposed to be viewed at the end of the year to see if you passed or failed. I think what you actually did in the dash between January and December is much more important. It’s kind of like the dates on a tombstone. It’s not so much about the day the person was born or when they died. It’s how they lived the years in between, what they did with the dash.
A lot happened in my – between January and December. Thanks to Susie’s help, I grew as a writer. Deepened my characters, added layers to my story, learned how to write a pitch and a synopsis (woo-woo), finaled in the Frasier, attended the ACFW conference where I was asked to submit proposals, and actually got the first couple of chapters of my next book down. I even lost 5 pounds. So even though I didn’t meet my goals from last year, I feel as though I accomplished a lot.
And now for 2011, I’m ready to make at least one new goal. I will set aside regular time to write.
This is so important, yet so hard to do. Life grabs at our attention and time. But as writers, we must commit to carving out that time. I’m a free-lance speaker in schools and on the days I’m scheduled, I wouldn’t dream of not showing up or leaving the classroom to run an errand. This year I will respect my writing time in the same way I respect my real job. I will make a schedule and stick to it.
That’s the only goal I’m making for 2011. Want to join me?
Monday, January 3, 2011
I don't miss compiling the list. I don't miss wondering if I'd catalogued all the things I needed to do for the next 365 days. I don't miss the search for the lost list--usually about six weeks after I'd written it. I don't miss admitting I forgot most of my resolutions. And I most definitely don't miss the way the new year always rolled around again, demanding another list of resolutions--which I'd lose again.
Do you relate? Then join me in focusing on one word--just one word--during 2011.
I start mulling over my word for the upcoming year in late September. A word pops up in my quiet time. A particular verse thrums in my mind, alive with portent. This year, Isaiah 43:19 (NIV) jumped out at me:
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
Distilled down to one word, Isaiah 43:19 speaks of hope. I hung a silver-plated Christmas ornament of the word "hope" over my desk. (See photo.) I printed out Isaiah 43:19 and taped the verses in my kitchen and bedroom. My husband tucked several "hope" mementos into my Christmas stocking.
What were my words in years past?
2006: gratitude (I kept a gratitude journal and found my "glass-half-empty" attitude revolutionized.)
2007: simplify (A severe illness turned this word into survival. I embraced simpler things in ways I never imagined.)
2008: content--as in "be content with such things as you have" (Hebrews 13:5) (I bought a lot less that year!)
2009 & 2010: forgiveness (I had a lot to learn and unlearn about forgiveness.)
Why not abandon the rigmarole of resolutions and adopt a word for 2011? Maybe you've already written a long list of want-tos and won'ts for the next year. Could you summarize them with one word? (Ah, the editor in me shows up!)
So, what's your word for 2011?