Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Golden Rule for Writing

We all have rules we go by when writing. It might be to outline, or not. To write so many words a day. Or not. It might be to never use an adverb or kill those nasty little words like "just."

We all have rules we come by whether from reading books on craft, attending writers' conferences or from our critique partners.

But I have one favorite rule that I've had to come by the hard way.

I like to stick to schedules. I enjoy order in my life. I especially like goals. All of these parts of my life are good and help me to move forward. But when it comes to writing, I had to learn to not rush my work.
I wrote my first novel back in the nineties when I owned a Christian Bookstore. After reading and falling in love with so many wonderful books, I whipped off a romance novel and sent it to Barbour--back when you didn't need an agent to submit.
I received for my efforts a lovely one page rejection letter telling me my characters were flat.
They were flat because I didn't know any other way they could be. I hadn't studied any writing books, had never been to a conference, nor taken the time to get feedback from anyone. I was so confident my book was good that the publisher would beg me for it.
Today, after writing eight novels, I use a different approach before I submit. I am still orderly but there is a rigorous list my book must go through before it is queried. I edit it myself several times. I send it to my critique partners. I then make the changes and print it off. I read it out loud twice. I make more changes. I then pay a professional editor to review it. I make more changes. Then I ask for Beta readers to voice their opinions. Make more changes...until finally I am ready to query.
But before I even begin to write my next book,  I read more craft books and try to elevate my skill level. I also read everything I can on the Internet about writing. Constantly.
So are you in a rush to submit that sweet WIP you've written? Don't be. Your chances of success highly increase if you step back and ask what more can you do to ready it. Once you have taken all the reasonable steps, LET IT GO. And yes  I want to break out into THAT song but I won't. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Top Five Writing Goofs Guaranteed to Ruin Story

I thought I might share with you in the next few blog posts some of the worst mistakes I've made in my writing journey. Over the past seven years, I've hired several editors to edit my novels and tell me what I was doing wrong. One editor told me she about threw the book at the wall as she was that frustrated with my work.

Thank goodness her bluntness didn't stop me from writing. So here is a glimpse at what I've been told NOT to do in my own work. I hope it helps.

  1. Make Your Main Character Unlikeable.  In one of my earlier novels, my main character was a young, pretty, blond single girl on the verge of inheriting millions. She drove a sports car and lived in a beautiful condo. Can I say that she came across a little conceited? I didn't mean her to be that way. I gave her a nice best friend and the inability to find a love match but it wasn't enough. No one who read that story could connect with her. And if a reader can't empathize with your main character, they aren't going to read your book. So I learned to give my MC something right from the start--a characteristic or problem that a reader might care about her more.
  2. Dump Endless Backstory into the Opening.  Yes, I've did this in several of my books. I felt my reader had to know everything to connect and understand my story. Um, they don't. My job as a writer is to reveal the backstory in sprinkles throughout the book. Learn to slice your words. Find creative ways to add a piece of information. It really does make the story better.
  3. Describe everything with hundreds of adjectives and adverbs.  Describe that tree as tall, green, broad and waving fast in the wing... No, that doesn't work in this day and age. I grew up reading descriptive writing but today the reader wants to get to the plot and not sift through endless words. Everything is faster today. You don't want to bog down the reader with paragraphs of description that does nothing to move the story along.
  4. Head-Hop. Probably one of the first writing tools I needed to learn about was Point of View. I had to understand that if I wanted to draw the reader into my character, I needed to keep in that character's head and not jump all over the scene into others' heads. It takes work but really makes the story that much better. And yes I had to do a lot of reading on the topic to get it.
  5. Be so Thin-Skinned you never improve. Ouch. It wasn't easy to read my first critiques from writers and editors. But I had to put aside my feelings and recognize that if I wanted to write and get published, I needed to be open to learn. That meant take advice and recognize my weaknesses. Some writers can't do this and will never improve. That's sad because they are good writers but with a tweak here and there, they can be great writers.
I hope some of these suggestions help you in your writing journey. I will share more of what I've learned in my next post. Until then, HAPPY WRITING.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Understanding Happy

I never thought it would take me fifty-nine years to get it.

I thought I knew when I was eighteen and entered college. Free from my parents, I could make all my own decisions--including bad ones. Then I thought I understood when I was twenty-two, married my sweetheart and moved to a big city where I could capture my career. When my daughter was placed in my arms at aged twenty-nine, oh, then surely I understood. Motherhood would fulfill me. Another good career and finally God saw fit to put me in a ministry--my own bookstore. Yes, I thought I understood then. Travel, meeting authors, witnessing to others. And then writing. Oh yes. Happy. Happy times.

But I never truly understand  happiness in any of those big moments in my life.

You see, I had this concise plan for my life and as I aged, I checked off my list of accomplishments. Sure, I endured a few failures here and there. Who doesn't?

What I didn't understand about understanding true happiness, was I needed to experience the flip-side.

I'm not saying everyone should. I needed to because of the way I defined my life.

This morning as I look around our small rental and study the bare walls and the furniture bought at Goodwill, my heart expands with an overwhelming sense of joy. I'm still here. We're making it. And it's perfectly OK if it falls apart again.

Bad things happen. Bad things can go on for a long long time. I get that now. I get that more bad times are headed my way. But what I also get is I can survive even if the bad takes a long long time.

That's where my understanding of happiness comes from now, not from where it once did--possesions, friends, family, career.

No matter how many nightmares raise their ugly heads, no matter how bad my life might turn, God will carry me through. I finally get it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Pushing through the galley stage

Last Monday, I received the email I've been waiting on for a few months. The finished galley of my new book The Mulligan.  The publisher gave me ten days to scour the work and find any errors in punctuation or spacing that might have occurred during the layout.

At first, I didn't want to open the attachment. I mean, here it is. My work in print form. Do I really want to read my whole book again and maybe find errors I can't change?

No one warned me what this stage in publication might be like. It's scary but exciting all at the same time. So I took a deep breath and opened it.

And probably like every other writer who has their first book coming out, I gasped as I read a sentence I couldn't change. Really? Did I really use that form of verb? Did I really mean to say it that way?

Of course, as I continued to read and email all my friends who already have been published with books, I calmed down.  What is. . . is.  I had to remember that my book has undergone major editing by others than me.

So I read on. And yes, I'll admit, I cried in two different places. Not because I hated the writing but because of the story. Dumb maybe but it gave me peace.

It's taken me seven years to get to this stage of my dream. But I'm here and learning as I go. That's what being a writer is all about. The celebrations and the discouragements.

Are you pushing on in your walk as a writer? What are you celebrating today?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Writing the ugly

I'm reading a friend's book called Beyond the Scars. It isn't my typical book but after reading a blurb she posted on Facebook, I knew I had to buy it.

I've known Elaine for many years. Oh, we've never met in person, almost, but our lives seem to criss-cross and so we remain email/Facebook/Blogger friends. One time she offered to call me when I was having a pretty low day. I turned her down. I was too afraid to share how I felt with a pastor's wife. I was afraid she'd tell me what someone else told me--I lacked faith to get through my battle.

Today I read Chapter 11. Making an Apology to Suffering. She writes about how she wanted to help someone who was suffering but the woman kept her at arm's length. (Kind of how I did to her.) But when she went through her own season of pain, she understood her friend better. She also said she thought she knew God before her cancer. She was wrong there too.

So was I. I figured I was a good Christian--attended church, tithed, helped others. You know the list. But when my time to suffer arrived, I fell apart. I remember the moment I finally got mad at God. It wasn't a pretty day.

So why am I writing this particular post? Because Elaine's words made me understand my life in a new way. Because she took the time in her darkest days to pour on paper what she learned about her suffering and God's love through it.

We don't always want to share the hard facts. The ugly secrets kept behind closed doors. The deep emotions that might chase others away. It's too risky.

But is there value?

Most certainly.

I applaud writers who write from their guts. I applaud writers who aren't afraid to reveal their humanity and vulnerability so someone else can benefit.

Today I challenge you as a writer, or as a friend or neighbor, not to be afraid to share your truth, your trials, your something like Elaine did.

You just might change a life.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Full Circle

My life has made an unpredicted full circle. Many who follow my blog know I've moved around the country abit after my husband lost his job in 2007. All this moving wasn't my plan.

 It's called survival.

We moved to Texas because neither of us could find a job in Florida that would support our basic needs. We both worked part time at jobs we hated and our savings was nearly gone. So we packed our belongings and made for Austin Texas--a place we'd never seen.

It was a long year. Bad job, bad hours, and overall a bad life. I was ready to go home, pick up where we left off in 2001. So in 2012, we packed our belongings, made the cross-country trip to PA and started over again.

So we thought. After starting to build a home with our remaining reserves, a long bitter winter struck. No work in the construction industry. When my husband got the chance to start over in Florida, he jumped. I didn't quite jump but hey, I like to eat. We packed a third of our belongings, and headed south in the middle of the winter to another unfamiliar town.

Full circle.

I wish I knew how long I'd be here. I wish I knew what will happen to my unfinished home in PA. I wish I knew why I ended up in Florida once again.

For now, I'm going with it. Trusting each day. Being open to new friends and opportunities. Writing. Reading. Saving to finish my house. Praying.

My blog might take a few detours and circles in the coming months. I'd like to continue to journal this road God has me on so please be patient with me while I do.

This much I know. It's no accident why I'm sitting in Florida. It was no accident that my husband lost his very good job. It was no accident why we started to build a home and had to leave PA. It's no accident that I'm back in Sunday School and attending a woman's Bible Study again.

God can turn anything around.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dear Jayne - Why I write what I do.

Did you ever get a Dear Jayne letter?

I did. In my second year of college. Until that time, I'd been the one in a relationship to break off the romance. I still remember the day the letter came. I couldn't believe what it said. He was going to marry a girl who had been their family's foreign exchange student years before.

I threw myself on my bed, sobbing, my heart broken. I refused to attend classes for the next two days and lamented what was so wrong with me that he would choose a girl he hadn't seen in years over me who he had been dating him on his leave from the Air Force.

When he came home to buy her ring, I did what any rejected girl would do--I went out with him. Yes, I tried hard to win him back but it didn't happen. I was in love, you see. Deeply in love.

Or so I thought.

Life has a way of throwing us curve balls. That incident carved deep scars in my ego and self esteem. The next few guys I dated paid the price. When I finally married my real true love, he also felt the scars. Trust didn't come easy.

Why am I telling you this story? Because life is full of these kinds of events. My path is strewn with them. I journal and journal when they happen but sometimes only words leave me--not the emotions.

I tried writing sweet romances.

They fell short. Very short. I needed something else from my stories. I wanted to watch the woman conquer the pain in her life. Even if it meant that not everything worked out in the end but at least she didn't give up.

So that's why I write Women's Fiction. I love the journey we go through. I love writing about the emotions and the way we turn to God for guidance and trust when our worlds turn upside down.

Life isn't always about the rainbows. But they come.  After the mountains. After a few valleys. After a few letdowns and trials.

They do come. But what a journey until they do.

Why did you choose your genre?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Balloons of Joy

With this move to Florida, God has given my husband and I back all we lost. A steady income. A nice place to live. A warm climate. Free cable. Two bathrooms. An ice maker... the list goes on.

But what truely amazes me, is I only need half of what I lost.

When we first dropped cable, we moaned for days. We bought an antennae and learned to love whatever was playing when and if we had reception.

When we moved to a house with one small bathroom after leaving three, I hated rushing so my husband could use it too. But I learned to shower faster.

When we rid ourselves of boxes and boxes of our belongings so we didn't have to rent a larger truck to move, I wondered if I would ever get over the loss. But I was able to ride in the same truck with my husband and enjoy his company.

I learned to buy used for practically everything. Clothing, household items, knick-knacks. I also learned to tell friends we couldn't eat out anymore, and enjoyed making new recipes at home.

I learned to shop discount grocery stores and not waste leftovers. I learned that finding books for three for a dollar can excite me as much as finding the perfect new shoes.

Last weekend, I bought two custom framed prints for my bare walls at 90 percent off with a 25% discount. I paid eight dollars. I will learn to love those water colors just as I have learned to love whatever God gives me.

What excites me most through all of this learning time in my life, is how I discovered that things don't make me who I am. Things don't bring me that joy that they once did. Things come and go. What I need most is the security that God knows what I need.

His way. Not mine.

But as I like to say, His plans are always much better.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Setting boundaries

I'm not leaving the house today. Maybe tomorrow too. I'm dressed in gym shorts and a T-shirt. My bottle of water is nearby, on the table. My TV is off and my phone . . .well, my phone has caller ID so I will answer when my daughter calls me in about one hour.

But that's it.

What's wrong with me?

We moved here about a month ago. I'm unpacked, settled in this villa and made a few acquaintances. But I haven't gotten organized with my writer life. I scanned a few blogs this am and noticed many other writers struggling with the same problem.

We work at home and home calls us, friends call us, the beautiful weather calls us---all during the time we should be hard at work writing.

I'm in the middle of edits for a book I would love to see published some day. I finished it last fall and then all this move stuff happened. My plan is to send it off to a freelance editor by mid-summer. Maybe sooner if I can get my writing partner to critique it before then.

That's my goal. To accomplish this goal I have to make some major decisions--like treating my time at home more like work. (It isn't easy telling your one and only daughter who lives across the country in another time zone to not call me three times a day.)

I checked my time on Tuesday and noted that five hours had passed and all I had accomplished was a run to the grocery store, mopped one floor and prepared supper. Two hours of that times was spent on the phone with friends.

Sure we need that time with others. I need that time with others. But I also need to treat my writing with more commitment.

How about you? What takes you away from writing and the goals you've set?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Changing the way we look at life

I've lived many places in my thirty-six years of marriage. Today I call Bonita Springs, Florida home--a gift from God.

When we started building last spring, we never dreamed we wouldn't finish by this year. I had hopes of seeing my cabinets completed and inviting my first guests over for dinner. I saw myself planting a garden this spring and painting my porch furniture to match my front door.

Today this street view is what greets me every morning. It's nothing like the two acres we own in a small town in Pennyslvania. They call this development resort style living. People ride bikes and jog and swim in the two pools or work out in the fitness center that overlooks one of many lakes. Every day at two, I walk across six bridges to the town center post office to check for mail. If I want I can get my hair cut, my toes painted, pump gas, plan a vacation, do banking or dine in one of their many ammenities.

It's different. But then I knew different would come with this territory when we made the jump. Different will face me many more times as I find a new church, a new doctor, a new stylist and new friends. Being open to different will help.

Being open to what God wants from me will help too.

You know that feeling when you wonder what God is doing with your life? I'm there. I've always been a homebody type of person. I like stability. I thrive on it. For some reason, that part of me needs to go away because change seems to be the norm now.

Who knows when we might move again?

So I'm riding a  twenty-year-old bike, working out in the gym, saying hello to new neighbors and driving around unfamiliar territory in search of a great thrift store.

I'm opening my heart to the change in my life. Are you?