Sunday, July 31, 2011

Weekend Worship—Meditations from Ethiopia #6—True Worship

But You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Psalm 22:3

Worship in the small church in Ziway, Ethiopia was another of my favorite memories. I loved being a part of the exuberant praise that so exemplified their celebrations. Rather than try to describe the experience, today I’m posting a video. This was taken during one of the services we attended.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thursday Review—Which Blogging Platform is Best?

Why do you use Blogger?

That question—or some variation—seems to always come up when I speak about blogging. And the answer is simple—and complex.

The reason I started with Blogger was because it was so easy. And when I started my blog you could hardly fill a sentence with what I knew about blogging, much less a book!

But the reasons I continue with Blogger is a little more complex.
  • I’ll be honest, I have an affinity for Blogger because we've sort of grown up together. It seems that every time I’m ready to take that next step with my site Blogger has added a new upgrade.
  • Blogger is run by Google. Now Google isn't perfect by a long shot, but they have a HUGE presence on the Internet and they—as well as anyone—know where the business is headed.

I am familiar with WordPress and also with Typepad as blogging platforms. And I don’t want to leave them out. They both have some great options as well.

  • The thing I like best, and least, about WordPress is it’s tutorials. It walks you through the mechanics of building a blog, but you also have to move through a lot of the focus of your blog. It’s a lot to get through to just get started. When I built my blogs it was harder to get started with WordPress if you didn't know anything about websites and such. Now, with their directions it’s pretty easy. Their tutorials are much more thorough than Blogger’s. Blogger walks you through the steps—WordPress explains them.
  • WordPress is also constantly updating its options. As a matter of fact, my next blog will be built on WordPress. Not because I’m unhappy with Blogger, but because I want to expand my knowledge base and play with a new toy!

This platform isn’t free and it’s my least favorite, maybe because I’m not as familiar with it. But I’m coming up to speed quickly because I’ve taken over joint management of a large typepad site.

Surprisingly, since it’s a fee based service, it seems to have the least options. It seems that every time I want to do something it’s only possible in the next pricing tier.

Everyone has their favorite platform and to be truthful they’re all pretty good. WordPress and Blogger are definitely the frontrunners and they tend to swap the lead back and forth. For a while Blogger offers the newest and best options, then for a while WordPress does. I don’t think you can lose with either one.

So I’m dying to know—what’s your favorite blogging platform and why? Did you try a lesser known one and love it . . . or hate it?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bloggers Beware—the Dreaded Diva Disease may lie just Ahead

I’m sure there may be many of you who are unaware of this threat. But when I describe it’s symptoms you’ll recognize it for what it is.

A diva, in today’s language, is someone who is high maintenance, who has to have things just so in order to be satisfied. 

Many of us fall into that trap with our blog posts. We believe our grammar, syntax and style must be perfect before we click publish.

Actually nothing could be farther from the truth. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating sloppy writing. But, I am on a mission to get some of you to relax a little and get on with it. Blog posts are supposed to be short, to the point and, above all, conversational. And let’s face it, we all sometimes speak in sentence fragments.

Besides all that, mistakes in this medium are easily correctable. It’s not like we have to reprint a book or magazine.

Being a perfectionist with a blog post is a colossal waste of time. I know, we all want our posts to go viral and be referred to for years as a masterpiece, but that is highly unlikely. Day to day blogging is almost disposable writing—it’s here for a day or two and then gone—left to linger in the archives.

That isn’t to say it’s without benefit, but it’s the sum of what we say and how we say it that proves our value to our readers.

So how do we cure ourselves of the Dreaded Diva Disease?
  • Set a time limit. Blogging isn’t something we can invoice a client for so we shouldn’t spend too much time and effort in its implementation. It CAN augment our income by showing what we can do and proving our worth as a writer, but it isn’t an income source.
  • Find a system to writing your blog, and USE it. Here’s how I compile a blog post. First I write it out in a word document, then I read it out loud, finally a do a quick grammar and spelling check. After that I publish it. Then on to the next task.
  • Post more often. Yep, you read that right. If you’re agonizing over every word and nuance in your post you have too much time on your hands and you need to step up the frequency of your posts. This will do two things. First, it will force you to spend less time because your deadlines are tighter Second, it will require you to relax your standards.
Now it’s your turn. Have you discovered you suffer from Triple D? Have you battled this disease successfully? If so, let us in on your secret.

And don’t forget to join the conversation!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Clash of the Titles - Gut Wrenching Passages

Guest post by Michelle Massaro, Asst Editor for Clash of the Titles

This week COTT is focusing on gut-wrenching passages, which are some of my favorites! So it got me wondering, why do we so enjoy reading those scenes that tear our hearts out and end with an empty box of tissues? 

Most of us already know about stress hormones and how they build up in the body, causing all kinds of problems. According to one article I read, emotionally-induced tears contain protein-based hormones as well as leucine enkephalin, a natural painkiller. So "a good cry" flushes all those stress hormones out of our system.

Well, the science is all fine and dandy but I still wanted some experiental answers. Here's what some of you had to say:

Diana Prusik: Tears are cathartic. There's nothing like a good cry during a touching scene . . except for a good cry followed by laughter. (Think Sally Fields' stellar graveside scene in Steel Magnolias. Poor Ouiser!) Something about reading or watching a scene like that feels emotionally cleansing.
Brian Heffron agrees: Catharsis
Barbara Robinson: Because a book has to touch us emotionally or it's nothing to us. It must evoke reader emotions. If I don't feel anything when I read a book, the book is not any good, and I wouldn't finish it.
Christine Lindsay: I think we need to cry as much as we need to smile and laugh. Although when we cry, it's because we are always reaching out for hope. That this sad situation will not remain, but that the sun will shine again. It's about hope.
Jessica Patch: God designed us to connect with others. The bible says rejoice when others rejoice and weep when others weep. We're built to care. We want to. Real life or fiction, we're drawn to it and good writing makes us feel like it's real even when it's not.
Those are some great answers! What about you? Why do you love those gut-wrenching scenes? (Or if not, why don't you care for them?)

~ Connect with Michelle at her blog, Adventures In Writing.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Weekend Worship—Meditations from Ethiopia #5—Mountaintop or Valley?

The eleven followers went to Galilee to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. On the mountain they saw Jesus and worshiped him, but some of them did not believe it was really Jesus. Matt 28:16-17
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I fear no evil, for You are with me. Psalm 23:4

Spending time in Ethiopia has changed my entire perspective on valleys and mountaintops. I’ve always equated a mountaintop with something good that happened, or an easy time. And for me, a valley was a time of want, or need. I’d always unconsciously assumed my mountaintops were a sign of blessing and the valleys a place of testing.

In Ethiopia I experienced a time of intense want—I would have given anything to be able to meet even a fraction of the needs I saw on every side. I wanted to bless, to give, to love, but I was powerless. And yet . . . within that I experienced more of God than ever before. It was like I could see with His eyes, walk with His feet, and touch with His arms.

I found a mountaintop in the midst of the valley of death.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thursday Review—Google Plus

Have you heard the hype? Google is out to change the world—or at least the online part of it. Chances are, if you’re connected at all, you've heard the rumblings that have marked Google’s entry into the social networking arena with Google Plus.

I’m a small player in a big world, but I’m loving the view from the sideline. I’m observing the polarizing effect this is having as the big dogs take sides. I, for one, am cautiously impressed. After a short time of experimentation I’ve found Google + a big improvement on many of the other options out there.

Here are the things I particularly like:
  • Privacy settings. For me, they were easier to navigate and gave me more options than those I've been able to decipher on Facebook. It’s not perfect, although I can choose from more options, once I share a post with someone they have the option to share it and I can’t stop them.
  • Circle concept. I like being about to separate my conversations. Many writers (and other professionals) have had to decide whether or not to enter the social networking arena for friends, family or profession. The circles allow me to have ONE account and still keep my private life private.
  • Post editing. I can’t help it—I’m an editor at heart—and I like to edit. In Facebook or even Twitter, once I put something out there it either stands or falls . . . as is. With Google + I have the option to edit things I've already posted and decide whether or not to allow comments. 

Granted Google + is still in beta mode, but I’m enjoying this new universe. I recommend you find a way to wangle an invitation and begin to test the water. Many thanks to my new friend, Nolan Webb, for my invitation! Let me know what you think.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Feeling Emotional, Don’t Tell Anyone . . .

instead show them!

Telling the story, instead of showing it, is one of the most common mistakes beginners make. During the first draft almost all of us, no matter how advanced, tend to tell a lot of the story. It’s only natural. This is the time when our manuscript comes together and telling allows us to develop the bones or structure of the story before we refine it into a compelling work of fiction. But beginners often stop the refining process too early. So how do we take a story from just bare bones? One of the best ways is to add depth by showing how our characters feel without naming the emotions.

Now, I know a lot of you are probably having the same reaction I did when I first heard it wasn’t a good idea to name an emotion. I had a rather loud conversation with the writing book that first shared this nugget of information.

“You have got to be kidding me! Who made up this stupid rule? How can I tell the reader what’s going on if I don’t use words like scared or angry?”

And there is the crux of the problem—beginning writers always default back to telling the story. Writing fiction is hard work. It takes a lot of time and effort to write a book and write it well. You already know this—after all that’s why you’re taking the time to read and study about how to improve.

Like I mentioned, I didn’t have a positive reaction to my first exposure to this convention. But now it’s an aspect of rewriting that I enjoy and even look forward to. I look on this as a challenge—a game of sorts. The best part of this game is that when I, the author wins, everybody else does too. Am I nuts? Absolutely, but I am, after all, a writer!

Let me give you some examples. I’ll start each out with an excerpt where name the emotion. Then, in the second, I'll let you see how I changed it to let the reader name the emotion by interpreting the character’s actions.

Example 1
Emotions Named:
She began to cry as shame and anger warred inside. “I didn’t do anything wrong.” Her voice sounded hoarse as she tried to control her frustration.

Emotions Implied:
Tears flooded her eyes, making his features blur as she lifted her head and tried to focus. “I didn’t do anything wrong.” Her voice came out like a croak and she tried to clear her throat, but choked on the unshed tears.

The first excerpt tells the reader what’s going on. Granted, the writing is clear, but we’ve all heard the expression that a picture is worth a thousand words. The second excerpt is that picture. It invites the reader into the action and leaves them to draw their own conclusions.

Here’s another one.

Example 2
Emotions Named:
Manaen rose, her anger giving her strength as she faced her brother. “Do not think to intimidate me.” His arrogance amazed her even as it infuriated her. “I am not a child to be bullied. My Lord’s Spirit speaks to me as clearly as to you.”

Emotions Implied:
Manaen rose in response, her eyes almost even with his as she drew herself up to her full height, oblivious of her feminine garment. “Do not think to intimidate me.” Her jaw worked as she gritted her teeth. “I am not a child to be bullied. My Lord’s Spirit speaks to me as clearly as to you.”

And a final one.

Example 3
Emotions Named:
Rage sent Josiah shooting to his feet. “I tell you, Manaen, I’ve never witnessed any Elder behave in this manner.” Josiah paced, feeling like his world was collapsing. Confusion made him restless. “I just don’t understand.”

Emotions Implied:
He shot up from the desk, upsetting the chair. “I tell you, Manaen, I’ve never witnessed any Elder behave in this manner.” Josiah prowled through the briefing area of their quarters, picking things up and setting them down again. “I just don’t understand.”

Now it’s your turn. Take one of these two sentences and show us the emotion in place of naming it.

Example 1
Susan’s agony flooded through her as sorrow mingled with guilt. “What have I done?”

Example 2
“Hello? Who’s there?” Jenny’s fear reached a crescendo as the footsteps above moved toward the stairs.

I can't wait to see what you come up with - so
Don't forget to join the conversation!

PS. If you feel like you're having a déjà vu moment, you are. This is a repost from January. This subject came up at one of our local writers groups (AnAuthor World) this past week when my good friend, Vonda Skelton was teaching Five Fatal Flaws of Fiction. Since I'm traveling, teaching this week I thought it would be a good time to revisit!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Clash of the Titles - Ellie Gustafson and The Stones

This week, COTT's Book Club is taking a further look at The Stones by Eleanor (Ellie) Gustafson!

Much of it is narrative, but when Ellie pens dialog, she does it with expertise. The things her characters say either crack me up or sober me with their depth of wisdom. Ellie is indeed a master at crafting compelling dialog.

The event that stood out to me the most during the second quarter of the book was David’s move from Hebron to Jebus (which he renamed Jerusalem). I’m not sure if I just glanced over it every time I’ve read it in Scripture or if there just isn’t much there, but it was practically new information for me.

Ellie wrote a nail-biting account of the take-over of the city from the Jebusites. I never thought about who occupied Jerusalem before David or for how long. For those who haven’t read the book, the Jebusites had control of the city for hundreds of years before David decided he wanted it for his capitol. But that’s all I’m saying! You’ll have to buy the book if you want to find out exactly how David entered the highly-defended and, up to this point, unconquerable fortress.

Before the battle David addressed the troops. This is what he said:
“Look up, all of you, to the hill above Jebus. Mt. Moriah, Abraham brought his son Isaac from Beersheba to this place to sacrifice him in obedience to God’s command. He stood right where you’re standing now. He looked up in dread, yet set food to the mountain, confident that God—somehow, in some way—would provide. And he did. As Abraham raised his knife, the angel of the Lord stayed his hand. So shaken he could hardly stand, Abraham looked around, and there in the thicket, caught by its horns, was the sacrifice God provided in place of Isaac.

“Abraham called the mountain, ‘The Lord will provide,’” David continued, “and we’ll hold to that word today. We’ll climb Mt. Moriah, and there Yaweh will provide. Here, in the name of the Lord, we claim that miserable shelf called Zion. It shall be cleansed of Jebusites and be forever known as Jerusalem, Mt. Zion, the Holy City of God.”

That passage deeply impacted me. Having grown up on the Thoene’s work, I’ve always been fascinated with Jerusalem, but Ellie took me back to the beginning and drew a thread through the centuries, through David and to Christ. Although you didn’t mention it, the reader easily draws the thread the rest of the way through to present-day and the ongoing struggle for God’s Holy City.

Our God is an awesome God! History is already written and he sees the big picture with perfect clarity. We can only hope to catch a glimpse.

Head over to COTT's Bookclub Blog, or join us on Facebook, to hear what the author has to say!

Have any of you visited Israel? If so, share your favorite part of the experience. If not, tell us the first place you’d want to see if you were told you’d be flying there tomorrow.

I hope you'll join us over at our Book Club headquarters for more conversations on this wonderful book And if you'd like to read along with us next month, make sure you pick up your copy of COTT champ, Delia Latham's, Destiny's Dream. We'll be discussing this fun romance in August!

~April Gardner is the Senior Editor of COTT and author of Wounded Spirits.

Weekend Worship—Meditations from Ethiopia #4—The Power and Freedom of Weakness

But He said to me, "My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you." So I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ's power can live in me. II Corinthians 12:9 (NCV)

God is still revealing the lessons behind what He showed me while I was in Ethiopia. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I have to admit I am. The majority of things He showed me weren't what I expected. Oh, I tried to go with an open mind—I even told several people I didn’t have any expectations. But, as always happens with my best intentions, preconceived notions had crept in unaware.

I had expected to be exhausted when I got home—a perfectly logical, harmless expectation that seemed to make perfect sense at the time. After all, working for God was hard and would take all my strength.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.  
  • What I found was that I wasn't working FOR God—He was working THROUGH me.
  • He hadn't sent me there to do something FOR Him. He had sent me there to do something IN me—and then to use it to touch others. 
  • I immediately realized that I couldn't accomplish a thing with all MY strength—but when I relied on GOD'S strength I saw miracles.

These truths brought with them a time of refreshing and a miraculous freedom. A veritable flood of blessings in the dry, dusty continent of Africa. It was a freedom that could only come through total dependence. I had no control over where I stayed, what I ate, or even the work assigned to me.

And it was absolutely glorious. I experienced the truth that when I let go—then and only then—everything falls into place . . . and I pray I will never be the same.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Warning: Self Promotion, Social Media Marketing for Writers Book Tour

Many of you are familiar with my views on self-promotion. But for those that aren’t here is a link to my post.

It definitely makes me uncomfortable to be in the spotlight, but I see the necessity of it.

All this to say I’m launching my blog tour for my new eBook, Social Media Marketing for Writers. I’m really excited about this book, mainly because it wasn’t my idea.

The entire idea came from my publisher and friend, Eddie Jones. He’s been pushing me to get my notes together from the workshops I teach on this subject, and he’s the one who compiled the main part of the book. Without his expertise, guidance, and encouragement it would have never happened. Eddie, you are the best!

Social Media Marketing for Writers
I’ll be posting links to the blogs highlighting my book or interviewing me on the left hand side of this blog each day. I encourage you to visit these blogs—a lot of them are a little smaller—but they are each a great example of excellence and I’m humbled to be featured on them. Hopefully you’ll find some new places to hang out and make some new friends in the process.

Today’s launch is from my good friend and yours—Lynn Blackburn.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Life Sucking Modifiers—Don’t Kill Your Copy (or your prose) with Adjectives and Adverbs

Don't kill your copy (or your prose) with adjectives and adverbs

The goal of almost any writer is to write—and write well. The first part is simple to understand and apply. All it requires is a little time and discipline. (Okay, I said simple . . . NOT easy. But that’s a post for another time) The second part is truly hard—mainly because there are so many definitions of what good writing is.

Let’s start with what good writing isn’t
  • It isn’t flowery or verbose.
  • It doesn’t attempt to prove the author’s intelligence by requiring a dictionary to read. (see previous point).

Simply put, good writing conveys the author’s intent clearly and concisely.

This means sentences full of adjectives and adverbs are a good writer’s enemy. It’s always better to use specific nouns and active verbs rather than rely on modifiers to convey your meaning. Let me show you what I mean.

Not: Stuart walked quickly across the yard.
Instead: Stuart darted across the yard.

Do you see how walked quickly is a poor choice? It’s much harder to visualize because it’s not specific. Darted is a much more visual choice.

But what about adjectives—don’t those add depth to writing? Only when used with care.

Not: The pale purple petals released their sickly sweet odor causing her over-active stomach to heave in revolt.
Instead: Lavender hyacinths added their odor to her already reeling senses.

This example may seem over the top, but I assure you it isn’t. I’ve edited hundreds of articles, devotions and manuscripts filled with enough excess verbiage to fill a swimming pool.

boring writing
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t describe things, only that your descriptions should be tight. You want to provide enough information for the reader to get what you’re saying without boring them. Anytime a reader scans or skips over something there’s an issue.

So what can you do to help tighten up your writing?

First, be on the lookout for passive verbs. These encourage the use of adverbs.
SPECIAL NOTE: The verb was isn’t always passive tense—sometimes it’s past tense.
Second, double check your nouns—are they general, like walk or run? If so, choose a more specific word.
Finally, practice your craft. There’s never a good substitution for actually doing the work.

Now I'd like to learn from  you. Have you encountered writing that overflows with adjectives and adverbs? Share some examples of either good or bad writing. 

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Clash of the Titles Book Club

-guest post by COTT Senior Editor, April W Gardner

Since we’re in the middle of Clash of the Title’s two week summer break, we thought we’d introduce you to the book club COTT has recently begun. All this month we’re delving into The Stones written by COTT champ, Eleanor (Ellie) Gustafson.

The Stones is a historical/biblical novel based on the life of Kind David. Most of us know how the story ends (wink), but Ellie presents the details in such a fresh and unique way that I find it’s almost as if I’ve never read the story before. It’s hefty reading, but I’m really enjoying it. Ellie’s prose is lovely and almost poetic. It’s enchanting. And the historical detail simply fascinates me. Actually, I’m quite in awe of all the research she’d done.

My favorite so far in the book is Abigail, David’s third wife. She was always one of my favorite female Bible characters. I think it’s rather romantic that saving her retched husband’s life earned her the (future) king’s love. Her dead husband was barely cold in the ground before David took her to wife. Talk about making an impression!

Quite the colorful character in The Stones, she’s strong-willed (which wasn’t a gift in those days) and usually the cause for tension. But it’s generally because she’s fighting for what she believes God requires of them. David’s standing before God and the people is more important to her than her staying in his good graces, which she doesn’t lose for long anyway. David loves her too much.

Care for a tiny peek into her personality? Here she is chiding David for bringing booty home from the Amalekites he’s just raided and killed.

She says, “Did you consult Abiathar and the Urim and thummin to find out if you’re the man to do it? It seems to me you’re tearing off this ‘vengeance’ thing, when it’s the Lord’s business to—”
 “Enough, woman! You have a find hand on my faults and don’t hesitate to say so.” (great line, by the way) The flare died quickly, and David sighed as he wrung a cloth and wiped his dusty face. “Abigail, Abigail, you don’t understand. We have our reasons. We—”
 “You mean Joab has his reasons. This was his idea, wasn’t it?”
 “Yes, and it’s a good idea.” His voice grew irritable again. “We must get Achish to trust us. Once he thinks we’ve made ourselves odious to the Israelites… And besides, I thought you’d like clothes and jewelry.”
 “They’re soaked in blood. I’d never wear them” (Wow. A scene with this feisty gal is always interesting!)

Historical/biblical fiction is my all time favorite genre, but I can’t help but wonder the entire time that I’m reading--Which parts are real and which are made up? In a book club setting, I get to ask the author questions as I’m reading. How fun is that?!

If you’ve ever had a question about the life of David, Ellie’s your gal. She will be available all month long at the Clash of the Titles Book Club to chat with her readers and anyone who would like to meet another of our amazing COTT Champs!

Clash of the Titles, is on the search for a new staff member! If you are a writer who’s looking to gain exposure, connect with other authors, add bullets to you professional bio, and have a blast doing it, we would love to chat with you to see if we are a good fit. Please contact us for more details: contactcott(at)gmail(dot)com.

--April W Gardner is the award-winning author of  Wounded Spirits.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Weekend Worship—Meditations from Ethiopia #3—Material Girl

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear? For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:25-33

Material Girl
God spoke to me in many ways during my trip, but the lessons I learned about need and materialism were foundational. Because I am, in so many ways, a material girl. I worry about what I wear, what car I drive, even what I serve my family for supper. But while I was there those concerns melted away and I found myself concerned—or more accurately—obsessed with following God’s will.

Looking back I know there were a lot of reasons for this dynamic shift. But the biggest reason was the overwhelming need I saw on every side. Everywhere I turned, every second of the day, I saw people with needs. I’d only been in the country for a few hours when I realized how truly powerless I was to meet anyone’s need. I knew immediately that the only way I’d be of any use at all was if God chose to use me—and He could only use me if I was focused on Him.

Coming home I’ve realized how much mental and physical energy I waste on trying to fulfill my own needs. For instance, in the past when I’ve felt down or depressed, I’ve tried to pick up my spirits with a shopping trip. And it is enjoyable—at least for a while. But the newness of what I’ve acquired wears off and the depression returns. Instead of material things, what if I’d turned to God to be uplifted and inspired? That would have brought about permanent changes, instead of fleeting happiness.

Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever buy things—far from it. The Bible assures us that God wants to bless us, in many ways. But if I let God be one hundred percent in charge of what I spent my money on can you imagine the things (spiritual and physical) that would follow?
  • I wouldn’t have to worry about what I ate or drank, because God would be in charge.
  • I wouldn’t have to worry about what I wore or how I looked because that too, would be covered by God.
  • I wouldn’t even have to worry about what to do next, because His priorities would guarantee that I would have time for everything important.
Oh how real this series of verses has become to me! And what a blessing to have experienced this truth. I pray that all of us will daily find a way to live out this truth in our lives.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thursday Review—Writing Fiction for All You’re Worth

Writing Fiction for all You're Worth: 
Strategies and Techniques for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level
James Scott Bell

A Review by Lynn Huggins Blackburn

I read a lot of books on writing. I have to. I blog about them once a month, right here at The Write Conversation. And so far, I’ve learned something valuable from each book I’ve read.

However, I can’t say they’ve all been page-turners. Useful? Absolutely. Pleasurable reading? Not always. Let’s face it. Some books on the craft of writing read more like a textbook than a novel.

But not all of them. James Scott Bell has written some of the classic writing texts of our time—Plot & Structure, Revision & Self-Editing, and The Art of War for Writers. All of which should be on your shelf if they aren’t already. And all of them downright enjoyable reading.

I follow Bell on Twitter (@JamesScottBell) and I make it a point to stop by the blog, The Kill Zone, every Sunday to read his posts.

So when I heard he had an eBook out that was a compilation of many of his previous posts on The Kill Zone as well as some new material, I was intrigued.

When I found it was available for $2.99 as a Nook or Kindle download, I was sold. Sure, I could go the The Kill Zone and spend hours hunting through months of posts. But I have a life.

Besides, there are more than blog posts included in Writing Fiction For All Your Worth. We get a peak inside Bell’s writing notebook, interviews with successful authors, and “Consider Your Worth” questions to make you think deeper about where you are as a writer.

And this book is funny. I wondered if I found some sections funny because I read them at 3AM while feeding a newborn. And just about anything can be amusing at 3AM. But a quick re-read at a more respectable hour confirmed it. This book is a fun read that’s also packed full of writing wisdom.

After a brief introduction, the book is divided into three main sections. The Writing World delves into the digital revolution and the rise of self-publishing. The Writing Life covers everything from Bell’s personal writing routine to practical and sometimes unusual methods writers use to keep their heads in the game and their fingers flying. The Writing Craft hits on first lines, last pages and everything in between.

While the bite-sized sections in this book make it easy to read in increments, you’ll find yourself wanting to read just one more, and then another. And when you’ve finished, you’ll be itching to sit down at the keyboard and write for all you’re worth.

Note: You don’t have to own a Nook or Kindle to enjoy this or any other e-book. Both Nook & Kindle are available as free downloads to your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

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 three amazing children, one fabulous man and one spoiled rotten Boston Terrier.
Follow Lynn on Twitter @lynnhblackburn

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Motivation Malaise gives this definition for malaise, a vague or unfocused feeling of mental uneasiness, lethargy or discomfort.

That totally describes my feeling today. As you know, I spent most of June traveling. Then this past weekend was a holiday weekend. So it feels like a long time since I’ve kept regular working hours. Because of this, I’m finding it hard to get motivated.

Now I pride myself on being a go-getter when it comes to my writing/work schedule, so this unexpected set-back caught me by surprise. I couldn’t resist trying to find the basis for my lethargy and the results surprised me.

I found three issues that seem to be the basis of my malaise.
  •  Mental Fatigue: like I mentioned, I’ve been traveling for the better part of a month. Add to that the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in early May—with all the preparation needed and I have been living in overdrive for just under two months.
  • Disrupted Routine: I’ve discovered writing takes a certain set of mental muscles—and mine are woefully out of practice.
  • Insecurity: yep, you read that right. I’m the poster child for low self-confidence when it comes to writing. I find myself fighting against that voice in my head which insists everything up to now was blind luck and I’ll never write another publishable word again.
Having ferreted out what I think are the root problems, I immediately set about devising a plan. Here’s what I came up with.
  • Mental Fatigue: I’ll be watching the clock and taking frequent breaks during my workday to stretch and walk around my house or neighborhood. I’m convinced exercise is the key to breaking through this roadblock. 
  • Disrupted Routine: for this, I’ll be very dogmatic with my schedule. Watching the time I spend on specific tasks will help me make up lost ground in the quickest way possible. This kind of discipline will also help build back up my writing muscles.
  • Insecurity: this one is a little trickier. I’ll be building in rewards for accomplishments—like lunch or coffee with a writing buddy or a trip to the local bookstore. This will help me begin looking for my successes, as well as easing me back into a regular routine. 

So how well does this work? I’d love to tell you this is a foolproof answer, but I’m just starting this part of the journey and I really don't know. I started this post early this morning and am writing this paragraph at 7pm, so I can say these strategies have worked amazingly well for today. You’ll just have to stay tuned to see if it continues help me refocus and regain my momentum.

What about you? Have you ever dealt with a similar issue? If so, how did you ease back into the real world? Any advice . . . warnings? I’d love to hear from you.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Clash of the Titles Victory for Joanne Sher

Guest post by Michelle Massaro
The winner of this week's COTT battle is....

Joanne Sher!
Joanne joins the notable COTT Conquerors family as a pre-published author. Her writing passion is Biblical and historical fiction—paving rough roads with God’s presence. Joanne says her dream is to be able to submit to Clash of The Titles as a published author. We are confident that day will come.
Her winning excerpt came from her manuscript entitled Handmaiden to a Princess:
“Don't you have to leave now?” Mama took a sip of water and looked out at the sun. Rivka's eyes followed her mother's. The colors of the sunrise were already beginning to fade into the blue of the Israeli sky.
Rivka nodded. “Good bye, Mama. Off to the gardens.” She half-jogged toward the next part of her morning ritual.
Rivka’s sandals flip-flopped on the dirt, her steps brisk and light. The scents of the lilies of the valley and hyacinths slowed her pace the closer she got. The grass before her, still touched with the last of the morning’s dew, slapped against the sides of her sandals. She stopped, closed her eyes, and took in a long, slow breath.
Aroma fit for royalty.
read the full excerpt, and that of her most worthy competitor, Mary Hall, here. 
Some reader comments:
I felt that excerpt 'A' was really good in that the little girl was so a part of the description.
I want to go walk in the garden!
I felt the soil in my hands, and smelled the fragrance of flowers in the air. Lovely!
I could see and smell the flowers
About her win, Joanne said:
WOW - I'm SO excited! What an honor. And what a FUN clash it's been.
Like the other members of the COTT family of authors, Joanne and Mary both praised each other's work and exuded a Christ-like spirit throughout the competition.
Get to know Joanne through her interview with her COTT hostess, Gail Pallotta here.
Congratulations, Joanne! We can't wait to see you in print!
Join us at COTT for our next Clash. Vote for your favorite and be entered to win a free book. Have a book or theme suggestion? Send it in! Have you written the next blockbuster hit? Send us your 500 best words. We want to hear from you. 
bio: Michelle Massaro is Assistant Editor for the literary website Clash of the Titles. She has written for The Write Conversation, Pentalk, COF Ministries, and Romantic Times. She and her husband of 16 years live in sunny So Cal with their four children. Above all, she is a follower of Christ Jesus, unashamed to stand upon the Word of God from beginning to end. Connect with her on her blog, twitter @MLMassaro, and Facebook.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Weekend Worship—Meditations from Ethiopia #2 - Contentment in All

. . . for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13

I’m already looking forward to returning to Ethiopia next year.

When I share this, my listeners always want to know why.  They want to know what it was that stood out most about the people of Ethiopia. My response is always immediate and emphatic—it’s their unwavering joy.

This usually catches the questioner by surprise. You see, by western standards, most people in Ethiopia live in extreme poverty. Many are homeless, and those that have homes live in circumstances we can only imagine. In comparison, here in America, we live with wealth beyond belief. Yet we’ve become a people who let our circumstances dictate our outlook. Our joy, or despair, is determined by what we have, or don’t have. We’ve let our riches replace our blessings.

I met countless people on my trip who had suffered extreme persecution for their faith, and yet their joy sustains them. One elderly woman, introduced to us as Mama, put it so well when we visited her small home. “I live like a princess. I am rich beyond measure because I’m finally free to worship my Jesus.”