Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A writing challenge

We're all anxious to get into the game of life. I remember being nine and how I couldn't wait for double digits. I also remember how I couldn't wait to celebrate eighteen because age brought more freedom. Oh and then I couldn't wait to get married and become a wife and mother.

I mostly remember wanting to be a real writer--to get published. My first publishing credit came through an online magazine at about ten o'clock at night. I watched with my daughter as the screen cleared and there it was. I was published.

I was officially off and running in the race to be a great writer.

That was many years ago and I've not reached my goal.

But I'm still in the game.

I used to tell my daughter when she played softball to just have fun. Don't worry if you win or lose. It's the fun in playing the game. I've had to come to that same place with writing. The challenge to do better every time I write a story is what counts. Will I whip out a better novel than the last time? Have I  improved my skills and can I put them into practice?

I'm in the game to have fun but also to be the best I can like the rest of my life.

Where are you with your writing today? Are you sitting on the sidelines waiting for the right time to jump in or are you in it to your neck--loving every moment?

Join me! If you read this post and need an extra eye to look over a stubborn chapter, let me know. I would love to be your cheerleader like so many have been mine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

An Unlikely Beginning

I didn't plan to meet my future husband in a bar--a run-down redneck bar, no less. They used to call it The Bucket of Blood when my father hung out there years before. I think thirty-seven years ago they called it Ray's. That fall night when I showed up with my younger sister, all we hoped for was to join others on the smoke-filled crowded dance floor. My big plan that night was to find my sister another boyfriend. Not me.

Late into the evening, two ex-servicemen asked to sit at our table. The dancing and joking and hanging out commenced but for me, it wasn't working. You see, I only had eyes for the man who had befriended my sister.

So the following Saturday night, I returned to Ray's armed with a good friend. Yes, I left my sister at home. When that same man walked past my table, I did something I never in my life thought I would do in a bar. Or anyplace else. I spoke first--I said hello.

He remembered me. He dropped down across from me and it began.

We danced--me in my pink sweater, plaid stove pipe pants and he in his Earth shoes and blue corduroy bell-bottoms. It was 1976. I was graduating from college--ready to move into the next phase of my life.

I was also practically engaged to marry another man.

I don't know if God thought something in my life needed to change or something in my future husband's life did because that night He changed both of us. Eventually, we went outside and strolled in the moonlight on that country road while the blare of rock and roll music faded behind us.

It was the dumbest, most dangerous decision of my life. I know that now. It was the first time I ever left a bar with a man I didn't know. But for some reason, I trusted this man enough to do it.

The next day, I broke up with my boyfriend of two years and waited until the man I gave my heart to the night before called me.

There's more to the story but for me that was our beginning. Our marriage began like a ship in a thunder storm but eventually settled into smoother waters.

Over the years, I've learned that despite difficult circumstances, we can make it. Together.

And we do. A day at a time.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Why it's ok when an Agent rejects my Query

I keep this notebook to record my queries with agents for whatever book I'm writing. No, I don't have an agent yet. But since I'm old-school and lack the confidence to self-publish, my eventual goal is to retain an agent. I want to be published in those publishing houses that won't accept my own query and I also want the experience with contracts that an agent brings.

But so far, I have garnered many, many rejections.

So why do I say that's ok?

When I first started writing, I hoped everyone would love what I wrote. Thankfully my mother did, then my husband and a few best friends did. But in reality, that isn't enough. Is it?

I read a lot. So does my husband. We have stacks of books around our home. I don't read what he loves. He won't touch mine. I might rave over the newest women's fiction that comes out and he turns his nose up to it. It would bore him to death.

So what am I getting at? I've learned that the best agent a writer can have is one who loves what you write. She/he should be your biggest fan, your cheerleader, your support. Because if they don't love what you write--then how are they ever going to get behind it to sell it to a publisher?

I used to want an agent. Any agent. Someone so I could say I had one. You know that cool thing authors do by putting their agent's name on their blog or getting their picture taken with one at a conference. Well, cool isn't what I want anymore. I want the agent who will tell me "I couldn't put your book down!"

I want them to ask what else I've written and tell me they will give it their all to get my work out there.

So maybe I have to write book number nine or ten or eleven until that happens. That's ok too.

Because someday I'll get that call. And I'll know that's the agent I've been waiting for.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What my editor shares with me

My opening chaper for The Mulligan changed a zillion times. It changed several more times after my freelance editor got her hands on it and then the publisher changed it too. It seems I make a common mistake I should have learned long ago.

Last week I sent my current WIP to my editor for a quick sample edit. She sent me back the same advice she gave me with The Mulligan.

I keep the reader guessing too much so they are confused right from the start. Not intrigued.

But I thought I needed to do that with suspense? Apparently not. Once she pointed out my problem and I did a quick rewrite, I understood. A second time.

I'm not a fan of backstory and most writers know we need to give it in dribs and drabs. Not in the first chapter. But I also don't give any clear motivation about why my main character might act the way she does in those first pages. With The Mulligan, I had to write an entire scened to show her disconnect with her father before the book was accepted. With this WIP, I needed to throw in a few lines to explain why Eliza always shied away when men came up behind her.

Just enough. Not a lot.

As I get back my editing changes, I'll share some of them here with you. For now the other biggie is formatting. I tend to make crazy paragraphs and don't indent with tabs like I should. When you are sending a manuscript to an agent or publisher--it's important to have it as clean of errors, including formatting, as you can. In The Mulligan, I learned how to make chapter breaks. With this book, I'm learning about indenting paragrahs correctly. (Try Control/Shift/8 to see what your formatting really looks like.)

Again, more reasons to hire an editor. We can get caught up in the love of our stories and miss major flaws.

What have you learned most from edits?

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.