Saturday, October 30, 2010

Weekend Worship—Recognizing God’s Voice

When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." John 10:4-5 (NIV)

Throughout my years of teaching—whether at a Christian Writers Conference or a Bible study—probably the question I’ve been asked the most has been, “How do I know it’s really God speaking to me?” The answer is at once very simple and very hard. You can tell it’s God’s voice, because you recognize it.

I’ve come to realize that voice is vitally important to a writer in two ways:
  • We have to come to embrace and utilize the uniqueness of our own personal voice when we write. This is a topic of craft.
  • We also have to come to recognize God’s voice so that we can share what He has for us to share. This is a topic of the heart.
So how do we recognize God’s voice? How do we recognize anyone’s voice—by becoming familiar with the timber, pitch and way of speaking. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of answering the phone and having someone begin the conversation without identifying themselves. Sometimes I can spend several moments wondering who they were. I’ve found this doesn’t often happen when the person on the other end is a close friend.

To recognize God’s voice we have to spend time with Him—quality time—in prayer, worship and study. With that commitment of time comes the reward of a deep relationship and the assurance of knowing whose voice we hear. This doesn’t mean there aren’t still times when I question whether or not it’s God speaking, but I can say with certainty that those times become less and less, the closer I get to God.

What are some ways you’ve found to recognize God’s voice? I’d love to hear your stories.

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thursday Review—Southwest Christian Writers Studio

Today I want to welcome Linda Mitchell. She and I met at the Southwest Christian Writers Studio and I was instantly impressed with her level of knowledge and professionalism. Linda also serves on the faculty of the Florida Christian Writers Conference.

When I mentioned to a friend that I had chosen to attend the Southwest Christian Writers Studio in Glorieta, New Mexico, he asked, "Why this conference?"The answer was a no brainer for me, "I want something different and I think this conference has it." Like most writers, I'm on a tight budget so I put a lot of thought into what I wanted from a conference and into deciding which one would best meet my goals.

I expected a great director…after all, Alton Gansky has written over 30 books, operates Gansky Communications, and in conjunction with Lifeway, directs the successful Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in North Carolina. What I didn't expect was his fun sense of humor and his desire to make certain I not only gained knowledge about the craft of writing but had a blast doing it.

I expected a lovely location…after all Glorieta is in the mountains of New Mexico. What I didn't expect was the closeness I felt to God in the prayer garden or the personal message in His lavish display of beauty.

I expected a talented faculty willing to guide me in efforts to improve my craft. What I didn't expect was their generosity and graciousness in meeting me where I was in my writing journey and then coming alongside to walk with me and offer suggestions targeted to my individual needs.

I expected a lot but I received more. I came for ice cream and got a banana split, piled high with whipped cream, covered in chocolate, and topped with a cherry… I scarfed down every bite.
  • Michelle Adams and Edie Melson teamed up to offer a megawatt, fast-paced workshop on making money in the freelance world. I left with so much info it was leaking out my ears and with enough hand-outs to bump my suitcase over the weight limit. 
  • Alton Gansky's track on Writing an Unforgettable Nonfiction Book was to writers what a GPS is to directionally challenged travelers. He taught from his experience as an award winning author but willingly recalibrated when any one of us took a side road with a question or a need.
  • Chip MacGregor shared his extensive knowledge and expertise, but the best was when he offered "What do you want to know?" and gave us a glimpse into the mind of a brilliant agent, editor, and writer. This workshop alone was worth the price of the conference.
I was impressed with the accessibility of faculty and their genuine heart for writers. From award winning author Jack Cavanaugh to Emmy winning producer Cecil Stokes, they were available at meals, after hours, and for individual consultation.

SWCWS fostered camaraderie, created an atmosphere of encouragement, and provided an opportunity for creative minds to meet and shoot some sparks. I arrived alone and knowing no one—violin music please—but by Thursday night when we piled in cars to visit Santa Fe I had new friends with similar life maps. When I headed home on Friday I felt inspired and equipped to better serve God with the talents he has given me. Expectations met. Ice cream anyone?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Silencing Our Inner Editor

I’ve spoken with a lot of writers who have trouble disconnecting their INNER EDITOR. This overly helpful person lives inside most of us and comes in handy when we’re putting the finishing touches on our manuscript. But when we’re in the midst of a creative surge, that same person can short circuit our progress.

There’s a scientific reason for that roadblock. The creative act of writing your first draft stems from the right side—or creative side—of the brain. Later in the process, when polishing begins, the left side takes over. Here are some of the characteristics of each side.

Right Brain
  • Visual in process, focusing more on patterns and images
  • Generally intuitive, led by feelings
  • Is the epitome of multi-tasking, able to process ideas simultaneously
  • Progresses from the big picture to the details
  • Lacks organization, utilizes free association
Left Brain
  • More verbal, needs to find specific words to express ideas
  • Analytical, led by logic
  • Takes things step by step, one idea at a time
  • Organizes details first before moving to the big picture
  • Very organized, utilizing lists and detailed plans
Mixing up the process—trying to use both sides of the brain at the same time—can lead to a tangled mess and a major roadblock. All of this information is good to know, but what if our left-brained, INNER EDITOR won’t go away? How do we make her be quiet? Unfortunately, there isn’t one way that works for everyone, but here are some tips that should help.

  1. Don’t give in to temptation. Our INNER EDITOR gets stronger the more frequently we give in to her demands. If she thinks you need a certain word before you can finish that sentence, stay strong. Type XXX and go on. Later, during the rewriting process, you’ll have plenty of time to find the right word. This goes for anything that demands you slow the creative process. At this point in your manuscript speed is your best friend.
  2. Set a daily and weekly word count goal. This can often sidetrack the INNER EDITOR because of her need to meet a goal. Sometimes, in her drive to succeed she can even become an ally.
  3. Make lists in a separate notebook. Use your computer for the story, but if the need for details overshadows the creative urge, make a quick note in a notebook. Don’t let yourself get bogged down, but let the free association part of your right brain give you ideas to explore later with your more logical left side.
  4. Don’t give in to fear. Many times our INNER EDITOR is driven by fear. Fear that this draft isn’t good, won’t work or just doesn’t make sense. Remind yourself that this version isn’t written in stone. Sometimes just giving ourselves permission to write what Anne Lamott calls the sh*%&# first draft is all we need to derail our INNER EDITOR.
All of these can help, but I’d like to know what tricks you use to keep that INNER EDITOR quiet.

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thursday Review—I Love to Write Day

I Love to Write Day - November 15
John Riddle, founder

I am so excited to introduce you all to one of my first mentors in the freelance writing world. I know so many writers who got their start through his generous heart and wise counsel. John Riddle is also the Founder of I Love to Write Day. This date - November 15 - is also a great opportunity for you to let others know you're a writer. I'm sure you'll enjoy hearing about this idea came about and how it's grown. Be sure to stop by John's website and take advantage of his mentoring program, as well as his many ebooks.

What is I love to Write Day?

I Love To Write Day is a grassroots campaign I launched in 2002 to have people of all ages practice writing. Everyone is encouraged to write something: a poem, a letter to the editor, start a novel, finish a novel…the possibilities are endless!

People of all ages will celebrate I Love To Write Day on November 15. Founded in 2002 by Delaware author John Riddle, I Love To Write Day is now celebrated in over 22,000 schools all across the United States. Bookstores, libraries, community centers and everyday people also join in the fun. Many Governors from across the United States are recognizing the importance of writing, and are encouraging their residents to celebrate I Love To Write Day on November 15. In fact, Governors from the following states have "officially proclaimed" November 15 I Love To Write Day: Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan and Texas. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have been invited to participate in I Love To Write Day.

When did you start it and why?
In the spring of 2002 I was driving from my home in Delaware to the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s conference in Asheville, North Carolina, where I was scheduled to speak My oldest daughter, Bonnie, was in the car with me; she was a college student at the time and interested in attending some of the workshops. Even though she was already a published writer, she knew the value of learning more about the craft of writing.

As I was passing through the Richmond, Virginia, area, I was thinking about a magazine interview I had to do the following week. Normally I am the one interviewing someone and then writing an article, but this time I was going to be the subject of the article. Writer’s Digest magazine wanted to do a profile of me, highlighting my success in writing for so many Websites over the past few months.

When I worked in the fundraising field a number of years ago I loved planning big special events. One time I tried to set the Guinness Book of World Records by having the largest number of people dance the "Twist" in one location. I even got Chubby Checker to tape some Public Service Announcements to help promote the event. As a writer and author, I knew I needed a Website, and when I came up with the name I Love To Write, it wasn't long before the idea of holding the 'world's largest party for writers' came about.

I told Bonnie to “remember this moment,” because I “officially declared” November 15 to be I Love To Write Day, and I knew that I Love To Write Day would be a success.

However, never in my wildest dreams did I believe how successful it would become! About two weeks after the conference was over, I established the I Love To Write Day Website and began sending out press releases to media outlets all across the United States. I also sent information to schools, bookstores and libraries.

About ten days later I started getting numerous media requests for interviews and more info about I Love To Write Day. And the response from schools was absolutely overwhelming. By the time November 15 rolled around, over 11,000 schools all across the country had signed up to hold special ILTWD events and activities. Bookstores, libraries, churches, community centers and even a few malls joined in the fun. When USA Today published an interview with me on the first ILTWD, my phone didn’t stop ringing, and I lost track of how many e-mails I was receiving.

Share with us a little of your background.
I am the author of 34 books and have worked as a ghostwriter on numerous projects. For the past 16 years I have been working out of my home office here in Delaware, and enjoy going on the road to speak at schools, colleges and conferences. Before I became a full time author/ghostwriter, I worked in the nonprofit world as a fundraiser.

How many people do you estimate participate in ILTWD?
Over the past 9 years, we have heard from just over two million people!

Has it spread outside of the US? If so, where else?
Each year I get requests from other countries to start an I Love To Write Day program in their location, but I’m not going “International” until after our tenth year. Canada, Spain, Australia and Japan are a few of the countries that are waiting for an I Love To Write Day movement.

What are some of your favorite I Love to Write Day moments?
There are so many success stories associated with ILTWD; here are a few.
  • A school in South Carolina sent their honors English students to a nearby nursing home, to help the residents write their life stories.
  • A group of elementary students in New Jersey wrote to the Governor, and asked him to "officially proclaim November 15 I Love To Write Day in their state; (he did, along with 8 other Governors).
  • The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence uses ILTWD as a way to encourage women and children to journal about their feelings (I spoke at their International conference in Washington, DC).
What can we do to help promote it?
Please help spread the word in your community! Tell everyone: family members, co-workers, Facebook friends, local schools, bookstores and libraries, etc.
Please share the link with everyone ASAP! Contact with any questions, or to sign up for ILTWD.

Now that you know about I love to Write Day, I encourage you to use this time to make a difference in the lives of others as a writer. Let's keep track of what everyone's doing. Leave your comments about your plans and then I'll report on everything we've done after November 15.

And, Don't forget to join the conversation!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Match Your Message to Your Medium

How often do you consider your audience as you’re writing? Probably not as often as you should. I critiqued an article last week for a homeschooling newsletter and I was struck by two things. First, the depth of the research and the genius behind the conclusions the author drew. And . . . the boring way she conveyed that information. Ouch. As difficult as it was to share my insights without discouraging this budding writer, we all know how hard it was to receive this kind of a critique.

Tough stuff, but we’ve all tried to wade through writing so formal you had to wear a suit and tie to read it. The facts are there, but polished to the point where there’s no life left in the words. Here are some tips to avoid missing the mark.
  • Define your audience. You have to have a clear picture of who you’re writing to. This means you need to familiarize yourself with the publication or website or group. A little pre-writing can save you a disappointing rejection.
  • Define the mood. Yes, even non-fiction has emotion. It’s more subtle, but it’s there. For example, when I write for a Do It Yourself website I keep the articles upbeat and encouraging. The purpose of the website is to let people know they can accomplish a particular project—not keep them from even trying.
  • Define the gender and the age. Men and women express themselves differently and our writing needs to reflect that. I spent a year as managing editor for men’s college magazine and I discovered this first hand. I finally had to come up with two lists or, word pools (which I explained in a previous post), labeled—Girlie Words and Man Speak.
Now it’s your turn—how do you tune into your audience?
Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Weekend Worship—Keep In Step

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25

When I was in high school I was in marching band. I remember the anticipation I felt before my first summer band camp. Once there, I found out just how hard it is to march in step with a large group of people. It became even more difficult when you added playing a musical instrument to the equation. I have never been overly coordinated and marching in the band pushed the outer limits of my ability. But I kept at it, spending hours each day that week learning to master this skill. It paid off; when school started I was right there on the field with the rest of the band, successful.

Sometimes I fight that out of step feeling with God. Things happen in my life and in the lives of those around me and I want to throw up my hands and wonder what God is thinking. It’s those times when I most appreciate God’s Word. When nothing makes sense I can go to the Bible and read about men and women who faced the same doubts and anxieties. I can see the end to their stories and realize that God has the same blessings in store for me. Because I’ve spent hours reading the Bible (learning to march in step with God) I can keep going, certain that everything will turn out right.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thursday Review—Writing Excuses Podcasts

Today I'm privileged to introduce you to Dave Suggs, Jr. Dave and I met at the Blue Ridge Mountains Writers Conference and I was immediately impressed. I'm excited he agreed to share a review with us. Be sure to check out his website and blog!

And don't forget to join the conversation!

Writing Excuses

I read with my ears. It’s quite easy pleasant, really, and often necessary when I want to read a story. My hands and eyes are invariably too busy to hold a book and read it, so naturally I’ve turned to the audio book revolution to meet my entertainment needs.

The same applies for writing books, when I feel I need a quick refresher course. I’ve listened to many writing books since I picked up my pen, hoping to hone those skills every writer needs to perfect their craft, but I often find that they leave something to be desired in the way of practicality. Teach me the rules of writing, sure, but give me practical, real life solutions to common problems writers face, as well.

This is where the Podcast Writing Excuses really shines. Three writers with a real sense of what it’s like to be a burgeoning author get together once a week and dole out informative and—just as important—entertaining advice on what it takes to be a writer. Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, and Dan Wells—with special guests from time to time—break down and examine writing techniques often taught, but rarely explained in such simple, easy to understand terms. They cite examples, often brainstormed on the spot with hilarious results, of how to avoid narrative summary, stilted dialogue, stereotypical characters, and other common writing pitfalls.

Their tagline, “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart,” sums up the flavor of the quarter hour long show. They offer gut-busting humor paired with real insider secrets to help you blow the dust off that old manuscript you’ve tinkered with for the last nine months. I found one nugget of wisdom frighteningly true while listening to an episode titled, This Stinks and I’m a Horrible Writer, since I found myself in the latter subject’s shoes during the beginning of my writing career.

“There are two groups that never get published. The first group writes Chapter 1, says it's trash, and then writes Chapter 1 again -- day after day, week after week. The second group says that's awesome and writes and writes. They finish a book, say it's trash, and start another book. They never go back and revise.”

Having recently discovered Writing Excuses, I’ve missed many of their older shows. However, they have a very efficient tag system and search engine to help you find a Podcast on nearly any topic you might need help with. Since catching up with all the older shows, I’ve become a constant listener of their show, receiving alerts on my Blackberry each and every time the dynamic trio hit the stage. In a day and age where many if not most of us are too overwhelmed to sit and read (“If I have time to read, that’s time I should write,” sound familiar?), it’s refreshing to have such an informative source in a new, convenient medium.

You can find Writing Excuses at their website, or download the podcasts through a special offer delivered by a sponsor of theirs, Audible. I’d suggest starting with the first episode. Listening to these three guys getting into the swing of things, while still very informative, is absolutely hilarious.
—Dave Suggs, Jr.

Dave Suggs, Jr. is a freelance writer and novelist who has written three novels, one of which built a fan base of more than 6,000 readers online before publication. He also has written a score of short stores, many of which have been published and one of which was a recent winner of the Abbey Hill Literary Short Story Competition. He was also nominated for a GCE Writing Award, and has participated in writing groups and workshops.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Industry Submission Standards—Part Three

Today we’ll finish up with How to Format a Book Proposal for email submission. One thing I can’t stress enough is the need to find out if the editor/publisher you’re submitting to will allow emails with an attachment. There is no industry standard. Some publishers allow attachments and others require submissions to be pasted into the body of the email. For our purposes, we’ll assume you’ll be sending an attachment. If they require it to be within the body of the email, just make sure everything is included.

After you’ve determined how to send your proposal, the next thing to do is to check the publisher/agent’s website. Many of them have specific requirements for submitting a proposal. ALWAYS follow those requirements. The information I’m giving is general, never give that more importance than what the website says.

NOTE: Unlike an email query, the parts of a proposal need to be formatted so that they can be printed out, if the editor/agent so desires.

COVER LETTER—every proposal, whether fiction or non-fiction, needs a cover letter. This is in addition to the introductory email that you will of course send.
  • Author’s contact information – Name, physical address, phone number and email
  • Editor/Agent contact information – Name, title, physical address, phone number and email
  • Short hook – to remind them of why they requested the material
  • Specifics of when they met you or requested the material (possibly through a previous email)
  • Short explanation of the material (This is a 30 day devotional or This is a 85,000 word romantic suspense)
  • Formal signature line
COVER PAGE—this will be included in any proposal, no matter the length
  • Title—in bold letters and large font, centered
  • Contact Information—Repeat your contact info
  • Genre and Manuscript Length
TABLE OF CONTENTS—no matter the length of the proposal, always include a Table of Contents

NOTE: Everything after the table of contents should include a header and a footer. These should be single spaced. For the header, include an extra line below the second line to separate it from the body of the proposal pages.

  • Upper left corner—Title/Genre
  • Upper right corner—Word Count
  • Second line of upper left corner—Your name
  • Second line of upper right corner—Your email address
Page Number—this can be centered or in one of the corners, just make certain that the placement remains consistent throughout the proposal. Include the COVER page and the TABLE OF CONTENTS in the page count. This means page 3 will be the first page where you see the page number on a page.

Most of your proposal will be single spaced. Here are the exceptions.
If the editor/agent wants a synopsis that is more than one page long it should be entirely double spaced. If they only want a one page synopsis it should be single spaced.
These will ALWAYS be double spaced.

There are multiple, excellent websites that include sample proposals for fiction and non-fiction. These detail what to include much better than I ever could. Here are a couple of the best:
To follow up on a proposal you’ve sent, ALWAYS check the website guidelines. If there are no guidelines, I recommend waiting at least three months and then follow up with a polite email. NEVER call the publishing house or the agent.

I hope you’ve found this series helpful. If you notice anything I’ve forgotten, please add it in the comments section!
Don't forget to join the conversation!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Thursday Review - Plot and Structure

Join me in welcoming back Lynn Blackburn as our First Thursday of the Month Reviewer!

Plot and Structure
by James Scott Bell

The first writing book I bought was Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. I could have borrowed it from the library, but I’m glad I didn’t. And, no, you may not borrow my copy. You may go out and buy your own. They aren’t expensive and if you give up a few mochas, you’ll have enough to order a copy and have change leftover.

My book is highlighted and dog-eared. Some pages have stains which I can only presume are chocolate. Because, let’s face it, when studying up on the craft, you need fuel. And chocolate is my writing fuel of choice. (Followed up by mochas, but I didn’t want to mention that because you may have to do without them for a few weeks since you’ll be buying this book soon.)

Now, some people balk at the idea of structure in their writing. And, believe it or not, I can understand that. I want to write the story in my head without worrying about whether or not it fits standard conventions. I mean, writing is art.

Isn’t it?

Sure it is.

But here’s where the real world crashes into my fantasy land.

Publishing is a business.

And as much as I love stories and believe a good story will carry a reader through a poorly written book, the reality is that publishers buy books that will sell. And most readers want an unpredictable storyline but a predictable progression from beginning to end. They may not realize it, but they do.

Now that you’re sufficiently depressed, grab a bite of dark chocolate and take heart.

Plot & Structure is a funny read and it’s full of ideas. Ideas to take the story in your head and structure it so it flows naturally for the reader. Suggestions for how to structure your plot if you are a detailed outliner or an intuitive, go with the flow kind of writer. As well as a few ideas for what to do when you want to throw the whole thing out the window.

One of the best parts about writing is that it is art. You can break the rules. But you need to know what they are before you break them.

Besides, you may find that the story in your head, the one that flows out of you without regard to rules, already has all the key components you need to structure a fabulous plot!

So what about you? Do you plot? Outline? Ignore conventions?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Lynn Huggins Blackburn has been telling herself stories since she was five and finally started writing them down. On her blog Out of the Boat she writes about faith and family while her blog Perpetual Motion documents the joys and challenges of loving and rearing a child with special needs. A graduate of Clemson University, Lynn lives in South Carolina where she writes, reads, knits, takes care of two amazing children, one fabulous man and one spoiled rotten Boston Terrier.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Industry Submission Standards—Part Two

Last week, in Part One,  I shared general submission standards for our industry. This week I’ll share how to handle an email query professionally. Ten years ago, virtually all submissions were handled through snail mail (that’s with an envelope and a stamp). Now they take place through the Internet. There are good things about that—the time factor has improved slightly. And not so good things—with formal letter writing obsolete, it’s hard to know how to present yourself as a professional without appearing to be part of the Stone Age.

Query Letters/Emails
This is the correspondence when you are INQUIRING about an assignment (this applies to both non-fiction and fiction). Even though you aren’t typing this on a real piece of paper, it’s important not to forget everything you learned.
  • Include all your contact information at the top of the email
  • Use a polite salutation (like Dear Mr. Jessup)
  • Make certain you have the correct name
NOTE: You can check this on the organization’s website. It is also a good idea to make certain you have the correct gender as well. As I’ve mentioned in the past, it really irritates me to be referred to as a Mr. when I’m a woman.
  • Keep your correspondence focused and sharp
  • End politely (Thank you for your consideration)
Here are a couple of things NOT to do.
  • Just because you don’t have a specific page length in an email, keep it as short as one typewritten page. Being long winded won’t get you a job. All editors are incredibly busy and don’t have time to read long dissertations.
  • Do not expect an editor to take time to click on a link. What I’m talking about are links to online portfolios or your personal website. It is fine to let the editor know that you can send them links to articles that have been published (these are known as clips). But unless requested, don’t assume they have time to visit web pages to see if you can write. That is part of the purpose of this correspondence. As a part of your ending signature it is acceptable to include a personal link or two.
Next week I’ll share how to format a cover letter and a proposal.

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

My Ways are not Your Ways

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.
Isaiah 55:8 (NIV)

Have you ever wished you understood God completely—understood why He allows things to happen? I have and I’ve had some pretty uncomfortable conversations with non-believers about that subject. It’s hard to answer why a perfect, loving God would let evil proliferate in our world.

As believers, we know the Biblical answer—because man is sinful and because God allowed us freewill. Translating that into actual application when someone is hurting is difficult at best. But I have come to an understanding that allows me peace, in spite of all the incomprehensible things in this world. That’s what this verse is all about. God has a bigger perspective than I can even imagine. And I’ve come to be so thankful He does. Because, I have to tell you, if my God was small enough for me to understand and anticipate, I don’t think He’d be large enough to worship. I’m blessed, time after time, by His timeless viewpoint and by the fact that I am not in charge.

My personal challenge for this week is to let go of needing to know why and instead, learning to rest in Who.