Thursday, May 28, 2009

Writing workshop

I participated in a local writing workshop a few weeks ago. Many local writers and wanna-be-published-writers attended, manuscripts in hand. The purpose of the afternoon was to read each others' manuscripts and offer constructive criticism.

As a writing teacher, I am accustomed to reading and evaluating student writing. Some weeks I read and evaluate ninety-six papers. It is impossible for me to comment on every aspect of a paper so I usually make an overall comment about the manuscript's potential for the intended reader and identify three strengths and three areas for improvement.

At the workshop I was required to comment on far less work, but I approached it the same way. I mentioned the pieces' strengths and then a couple places for improvement. I was very aware that my comments were my opinion--although I do think my opinion is the right one--and the writer could heed them, or not. I wasn't even assigning a grade to the piece. I learned that commenting on someone's work, even with the best intentions, can create hurt feelings. Even when the comment seems innocuous to me.

I wanted to say,"Get a thicker skin or you'll never make it in the publishing world."

I didn't.

I've spent some time thinking about the situation. We writers need feedback if we are to make our writing better. However, it is easy to bristle at even the most benign suggestions.

To eliminate hurt feelings and make a feedback session valuable next time I'm going to ask participants to answer the following questions (suggested by Sheila Bender in "The Writer".
1. After listening to my draft, what words remain memorable?
2. What feelings do you experience from reading my essay that you think are intended?
3. What feelings do you have that interfere with the ones the essay is going for?
4. Where are you curious to know more?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Writer's Journey Continued

Thud. Thud. Thud. Crack.

That's the sound of my forehead beating against my computer screen. I returned from a week's vacation and simply cannot regain my writing focus.

Maybe it's the four thousand e-mails awaiting my response. Or the overdue newspaper columns. Or preparing for the 5 speaking events looming. Or perhaps the untitled, unfinished, unorganized book manuscript taunting my name. Overload. Danger, Will Robinson, danger!

So what's a poor writer to do when facing more mountains than she can climb?

1. Quit whimpering, sniveling and whining. The only way to get something done is to get off the floor and do it.

2. If you can't skirt the mountain, start ascending step by step. Begin. Now. Break the mammoth task down into small, accomplish-able goals: spend one hour on e-mails, then one hour each on columns, presentations and book. Then go for a walk. Breathe. Scarf chocolate. If not cross-eyed, repeat process.

3. Quit obsessing over distractions. You can't change life. It will never be a perfect writer's world. You must work. You must feed your family. You mustn't live in a pig sty. You really should go to the funeral of your friend's mother that will eat up many precious hours of your writing time. Go. It's the right thing to do.

Okay. I have a workable plan. Now I just have to replace my cracked monitor, strap a cold compress over the knot on my head and take the first baby step. Here I go!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Thought for the Day

"If you're going to make it as a writer, talent comes second--after staying power."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

First Draft

I've been working on the first draft of my novel and struggling a bit. Although I know where the novel is headed and I have a vague idea of who will be in the novel, getting the first draft on screen is arduous for me.

Today, I pulled a book off my shelf called, "The Passionate Accurate Story" by Carol Bly. I reread her chapter on first drafts and it's going to help me when I sit down to write tomorrow.

Here are some of Carol Bly's ideas:

First write a values list. Write down two goals or values which make life good. Write down two goals or values which cause injustice and suffering or lessening of joy. Write down two missing goals or behaviors. As a child, you thought that grown-up life would have these. Now that you are adult, you don't see them around. List two injustices which you see about you and should keep an eye on, even on your wedding day.

Your values list, says Bly, will be something to return to when you get stuck in your first draft. Returning to it will remind you what you want to write about and will also help you write literature that matters.

Bly writes that the first draft should be writing without effort to shape. You can develop first draft by asking questions: what else did this character do? Where was all this? How did these people feel?

The skills of generation are questioning...and inviting the unconscious to join. Be certain not to cut anything.

Follow the strong feeling. Follow the intensity wherever it takes you. If you feel no intensity, pull out your Values Listing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Late Bloomers

"Christy" by Catherine Marshall planted a seed in me as a teenager (I read it 9 times!) to one day write a book that would touch other hearts the way "Christy" touched mine. The fertilizer didn't kick in for thirty years, but one fine day in 2002, "The Distant Shore" bloomed large and lovely. Ten books followed in quick succession.

I guess you could say I'm a bonified late bloomer. Are there others out there like me? Those who need a few extra years for ideas and motivation to marinate before coming to full robust flavor?

You betcha. You may be one of us.

Julia Child's first cookbook was published at age 49 and her television debut occurred in her 50s. Prolific author Raymond Chandler published his frist novel, "The Big Sleep" at age 51. Morgan Freeman found movie fame at age 52. Paula Dean overcame agoraphobia to open up a small catering business in Georgia and published her first cookbook at 50; this led to her own TV show at age 55. World famous artist Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson) began painting in her 70s. Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 when she published the first of her "Little House" books.

So how about you? Are you feeling the itch to bud?

Take heart - it's not too late to propogate, fertilize and harvest your latent talent! So put on those gardening gloves and coax some gorgeous fruit from those fallow fields today.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

An Amateur

Are you new to writing? Do you consider yourself an amateur? When someone asks yourself what you do, do you start with "I'm a writer..." then add the word "but..."

What's so bad about being an amateur?

The word seems like such a putdown. Yet the word is rooted in the Latin verb amare, "to love."

At the turn of the twentieth century, when the Olympics were revived by English gentlemen, they insisted on amateur status for the contestants to keep the money-grubbing lower classes from competing and destroying the high moral purpose of the games. Yet today professional has come to mean "someone who takes his work seriously" while an amateur is considered a dilettante.

We Grit for the Oyster authors have a motto: "Do not despise these new beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin" (Zechariah 4:10).

So don't apologize for being new to this writing gig. Take it and run with it!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Writing questions and one answer.

I'm trying to write a novel this summer and mostly I have lots of writing questions, like: how do you name characters? Do you give them names that symbolize their role in the story? Do you give them the names left on your list of "names I like" after you've finished having children? How do you know when you've selected the right name for your hero or heroine?

Will the characters in your novel be based on people you know? Yesterday, I was biking with a friend and when I told her my plan for writing a novel, she asked, "Will I be in it?" So far, the answer is no. The people in my novel are based on variations of me. But I'm going to have to branch out because just me will make for a boring novel.


My sister is placing her daughter and son-in-law's wedding announcement in the newspaper. She needed to cut twenty-five words to get a reduced placement rate. She asked for help. Rule number one for cutting words: the work "of" is a red flag that you can probably rearrange and cut. Example: John and Colleen Rodgers, residents of State College becomes State College residents John and Colleen Rodgers... By following that simple rule, we were able to cut twenty-five words from the announcement, cut the cost and express content more clearly.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Exceeding Abundantly Beyond!

It's been an amazing week!

Papa God never ceases to drop me in my tracks by the way he prepares the details of our lives and touches us with those awesome grace notes of His. Case in point: Four, count 'em, FOUR articles appeared in different local newspapers last week about the release of Mom Needs Chocolate and my Saturday LifeWay Choc-Tastic Book Signing.

Coincidence? Not a chance. Although I had prayed ceaselessly about this all-important debut of my new book, and queried all forms of media about coverage (like a good little author should), I had no way of knowing they'd all come through in clutch...during the same week! God, however, proved once again that He is in control and is definitely a clutch player.

As a result, the turnout was fantastic and more than 100 books were sold. The manager danced a gleeful jig and the ulcer I had been nurturing over the whole thing during the three previous weeks suddenly chilled out.

My new mantra was reinforced BIG time: "To Him who is able to do EXCEEDING ABUNDANTLY BEYOND all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory...forever and ever. Amen." (Eph. 3:20, NAS)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mt. Everest and Dreams

When you think of the number 17 and the Himalayan giant (world's tallest landmark, Mt. Everest) what comes to mind?

Perhaps you think of the number of expeditions that have succeeded? Maybe it's the number of base camps (or stopping points) along the way?

How about 17 as an age. No? Yes. The age of a kid from Malibu, CA who is aspiring to be the youngest Westerner ever to climb Mt. Everest (a 15 Nepalese Sherpa has the record at 15). His name is Johnny Strange and he is attempting to conquer the Seven Summits (the highest peaks on each continent).

I read about Johnny in an LA Times article today written by Pete Thomas and was blown away by the sense of purpose displayed by Johnny.

You can follow Johnny's quest at his blog here. I am.

And while I read Jon Krakauer's great book on Everest (Into Thin Air) and watched a reality show on TV (name escapes me) a while back, this is a story I am anxious to follow.

Here is a kid living out his dreams (acting on his ideas) at a very young age. And, while many of us are older than Johnny, the chance to live out our own dreams is still right there in front of us.

We just have to get going.

So, when will you get going?

10 Tips for Blog Promotion

Promoting your book or magazine articles on a blog is an easy, inexpensive, and efficient way to promote. You can even schedule your blog posts a month in advance--called blog dripping--to plan ahead and make the most of your time.

1. Post a chapter excerpt

2. Write an article

3. Be a guest blogger on another blog

4. Feature a question and answering day

5. Introduce your characters

6. Host a contest

7. Offer a workshop

8. Schedule an online book tour

9. Post book reviews

10. Interview your author friends/have them return the favor

Source: Wanza Leftwich
The Gospel Writer

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1

Well, this is my big week! Mother's Day is, of course, prime time for my new release, Mom Needs Chocolate, and we're in the final countdown.

But before I say anything further, I want to stop right here and put in a sincere plug for Suzanne Fisher's new book, For the Love of Dogs. I've just finished reading it for the second time, and it just gets better every sitting. The characters spring to life and you find yourself feeling their elation, victories, frustrations and grief. I've learned sooo much about guide dogs and the day-to-day challenges faced by the visually impaired that I never knew existed. So if you haven't yet ordered your copy from, do it this very day!

As for my own writing journey, during the last three weeks, I've lived through three large speaking events, four Choc-OUT Parties (privately hosted parties featuring Mom Needs Chocolate, a chocolate fountain, chick chat, and lots of sweet treats), one television interview, five phone interviews (radio and newspaper reporters) and still have three Choc-OUT's, one radio interview, and a LifeWay Choc-Tastic book Signing yet to come before Mother's Day.

And a partridge in a pear tree!

It's been fun but hectic. I ran out of books (had to run to Family Christian and LifeWay to buy my own books for two events), was slammed with a nasty migraine (complete with nausea and vomiting) right in the middle of a live radio interview, and accidentally left a bushel of chocolate bars in my scalding car while I was at work (yep - still working as a hand therapist two days a week).

I'm planning to drape across a hammock and stare with glazed eyes at the fluffy white clouds drifting by when it's all over. Happy Mother's Day to me!

So what project are YOU working on? Do you have a game plan? Have you set production deadlines? That's essential, you know.

Just yesterday I set August as my deadline for completing the first draft of my next, as yet title-less book. You have to take the first step, regardless of all the busy circumstances that surround you (which will ALWAYS be there), and keep taking a new step every day, no matter what. That's the only way to reach your final destination.

So fellow writing sojourner, let's keep plodding away together, and the journey won't seem so hard.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Roses and Such...

My new release, For the Love of Dogs, is selling rather briskly, if I do say so myself! I've loved hearing readers' comments about it. In fact, if you've read it, please put in a customer review on Amazon! (Assuming you liked it, natch.) It only takes a second and it is a huge, huge help for authors.

I'm starting work on Novel #3 set in a series based on an Amish community in Stoney Ridge, Pennsylvania. I'm trying to get about 2500 to 5000 words written a day...doesn't mean those words won't be slashed and edited and chain-sawed, but that's my goal. So far, so good. I'm up to about 19,000 words. (By the way, most novels are 75,000+ words.)

And I love this story line, too. Haven't come up with a title yet, but I have my characters in place. It's based on a rose farm, where a funny, quirky Amish grandmother makes old fashioned rose petal jam and cooks up a bundle, including a mystery or two.

Have you ever had rose petal jam? I was in Oregon recently and went to a street fair with my daughters. A vendor was offering samples of rose petal jam, saying that if angels eat, this would be their food of choice.

Wow...she was not kidding! Sweet but not too sweet, with a delicious, gently perfumed taste.

So I've been studying about roses and learning all kinds of odd and unusual bits of info.

For example, did you know that Coca Cola makes a great pesticide?! Maybe it's just me, but that is a little bit of a scary thought. What is it doing to your innards?

My friend Nyna says that Dawn dishwashing detergent works well, too.

So if you know anything about roses, or even have a favorite variety, send me an e-mail: or leave a comment. And if I can incorporate it into the book, I promise to add your name in the acknowledgements. I am nothing if not a grateful author!