Thursday, December 31, 2009

Project 2010

Ok, I guess I have less than a day now to get used to the sound of 2010.

2010.

Yep, it still doesn't look right.

I don't know about you, but it sounds like something straight out of a bad sci-fi movie. I mean, really, weren't we supposed to be flying by now? Or at least driving cars that did a la "The Jetsons?"

Whether I like it or not, however, the new decade will be right on schedule at midnight, and to be honest, I've been anticipating its arrival with a mix of fear and excitement.

I mean there's something quite fantastic about a new year...it's a fresh start. A few days before every new one begins, I make a list of things (writing, spiritual and otherwise) I hope and resolve will be different this time around.

And even the act of doing that makes me feel like I can do anything—even lose those stubborn pounds that have been hangin' out with me way too long. Or finally finishing my third novel which feels like it's been forever in the making. And with God's help, (Philippians 4:13) anything really is possible, a valuable reminder when you've got a list that feels a mile long.

But as much as I love making the lists, making the changes isn't nearly as easy, which is inevitably where the fear comes in. And I guess that's why I've focused less on specifics for the upcoming year and more on long-term lifestyle changes.

Instead of going on some crazy diet that promises I'll lose 20 pounds in a month (surprising since all I'd be eating is grapefruit and protein shakes, right?), I'm determined to simply eat healthier and exercise. When you're sitting on your duff a good chunk of the day in front of your computer, getting up and moving is essential, and that's something I've often let fall by the wayside. Ditto for eating when I'm not really hungry, a casualty of working by yourself all day (although that's really no excuse).

Ditto for how I use my time...while I wholeheartedly believe that procrastination in various forms and the life of a writer go hand in hand, I know there are ways I can be using my time better. Maybe that means checking Facebook just a couple of times a day instead of several. Or watching one less TV show. But whatever that looks like, I hope to make strides in that particular area as well. Time simply passes too quickly not to make the most of it.

So with that said, I wish each and every one of you reading a very happy start to 2010. I'll be sure to keep you posted on how the life changes are going here...instant accountability, no? :)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Glowing in 2010

You guys, I've been taking Erynn's advice so seriously today, getting back into the groove for my rapidly approaching January 19th deadline, that I forgot to post!

Yikes. So, now that its practically Thursday, here is an article of mine that I was honored to see run on the home page of www.crosswalk.com What a blessing!

"Let Your Light Shine Before Men" in 2010
Betsy St. Amant
Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer

My Christmas tree is somewhat of a prodigy.

The very first Christmas we were married, my husband and I bought this cheap little pre-lit tree. I think it might have been $60 on sale from Wal-Mart. That's five years ago now, and the lights haven't been replaced a single time. Amazing. Most pre-lit trees, at least the ones I've heard about from my family and friends, last maybe three years before the strings start burning out.

I was actually having that very conversation with my mother a few weeks ago, and she said she bets they've lasted so long because I always worked full time, so my tree was only turned on for a few hours in the evening when my husband and I were home together.

Well, this is my first Christmas as a stay-at-home mother, and my tree stays lit almost all day long. If we're home, which is most of the time, it's ablaze in all its green and golden glory.

That is, until last week, when the top strand of lights burned out.

Figures, I thought.

For a week, I moped to my husband about it. He used to be an electrician; surely he could do something, right? "My tree is sad," I'd say. And it was. It just looked mellow, all bright and stuffed full of ornaments and memories from the years — except for the top.

He fiddled with it one night for a little while, and came to the conclusion that he'd have to go light by light through the entire string -- which could take hours -- or he could go to the store and buy a short strand to drape around the dead bulbs. I didn't like that idea, because then the lights wouldn't be spaced evenly on the top compared to the rest of the tree. Plus, it's hard to find short strings around here -- the extras I found in the closet were 127 ft! At that point we'd have to wrap the entire tree and, with the additional lights, well, it'd probably be visible from Mars. I don't know about you, but I prefer admiring my tree without the need for sunglasses.

I kept whining about my sad tree, but to no avail. Two days before Christmas, there it still stood, tall and straight lit and beautiful—except for the highest portion by the star topper.

And now it's teaching me a lesson.

Are all my lights burning for Christ?

As the bustle and hustle of 2009 passes us by, leaving a trail of wrapping paper and bows, I must ask myself, did I shine as brightly as I could have? Will I look back with regret? Will I see opportunities in hindsight where I could have spoken up for Christ, yet remained dimly silent? Did others see the light of Jesus in my words and actions this year?

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16

I don't want to enter into 2010 with regrets. I want a clean start and renewed bulbs. My husband might not have wanted to go bulb by bulb over the top strands, searching for the culprit, but I want to go bulb by bulb through my life. One little sin can dim an entire tree. Have you investigated your light strands lately? Is there one little bulb keeping you drenched in shadows?

Next year, my sad tree will be boxed away and a new one will replace the saggy branches and tired bulbs. That's fine, that's what happens. Nothing on this earth can last forever.

But I don't want to be replaced as a Christian. I don't want God to stop giving me opportunities for His work because I was irresponsible with my last assignments. I know I have His full love regardless, but I want my lights burning at full capacity, not weak and fading in the night. I want others to see the glow within me and crave it for themselves, finding peace and forgiveness with Christ for their New Year. I want to burn for the Kingdom of God! And not just at the holidays - but all year long.

As wonderful as my tree has been these past five years, it's just a fact that a fully lit tree is more appealing to the eye than a half-lit attempt. And the same goes for us as Christians. If we're not walking with the Lord and glowing from His glory, then how will others see the path to follow?

Which tree will you be in 2010?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I Am Resolved

It's that time of year again. No, I'm not talking about the time of year to get your flu shot. I'm talking about the time of year to make your 2010 resolutions. And if you're like me, there will be 2010 of them.

At the top of the list, of course, is losing a few pounds. When I was in my teens, losing those pounds was as easy as wiggling my pinkie finger a few times to kick start my metabolism.

When I wiggle my pinkie finger now, the chub waves back.

For this reason, I've developed an exercise program for 2010. If you're looking to lose a few pounds, please feel free to target the following problem-areas with me:

The Double-Chin

The solution:

The best workout for the jaw is to talk. A lot. However, if you're like me and you're already about to lose your job for talking too much, a good alternative is to chew on something crunchy. (I have already purchased potato chips for this purpose.)

Thick Thighs

When you work a desk-job, everything you eat migrates to your thighs.

The solution:

Sit in your chair with your feet on your desk. Over time, gravity will pull your fat toward the floor and reshape your legs. This way, you will look skinny from the front.

Big Belly

Trying the whole ab-crunch thing can be time consuming and painful.

The solution: Maternity clothes. These can be purchased at any retail outlet. It doesn't matter if you are male or past child-bearing age. Maternity clothes will still fit you.

Finally, don't forget to take your flu shot this year. Or, you could skip it altogether. If you're like me, you might be one virus away from being your ideal weight.

****

Writing Application Questions:

  • How do you plan to trim the writing-fat this year?
  • What are your 2010 writing resolutions?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Getting Back Into The Groove


Christmas is my favorite time of the whole year. So it is not surprising that it is AWFULLY hard to make myself do any work over the Christmas break. And it's even worse because my husband is home for the two weeks around Christmas since schools have it off.

Motivation level is around a negative six right now.

How do you guys get back into a writing routine after being off for a little bit?

For me, sometimes just sheer bull-doggedness is what keeps me going. I clear my schedule, send my husband somewhere so I've got the house to myself and turn off the TV. I make something hot to drink and gather everything I might need for the next couple of hours so I don't have the excuse of getting up.

Then comes the hard part.

Re-reading the last few chapters gets me back into the character's lives and voices. Also, even though I hate proposals with a passion, they are convenient to refer to when I need a plot refresher. If you haven't written a proposal for your current work in progress, be sure to keep a notebook with a few notes on where the plot is headed when you leave off so you don't forget key elements.

The most important thing? Just start writing.

I hope you all had a very merry Christmas! And I'm so excited for this wonderful New Year to start! Just think of the possibilities of a brand new year - maybe publication? ;)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!!!

Here at Scribble Chicks, we love Christmas!

Which is why we are taking a break from posting this week so we can hang out with our family and friends. And go get that last package that we just remembered we forgot to get.

So....




Hope this week is filled with laughter and fun as you celebrate the birth of Christ!

Love,

CJ, Betsy, BJ, Christa and Erynn :)

Friday, December 18, 2009

You Have A Novel . . . Now What?

I remember the day I sent my first book length manuscript out into the world. I celebrated with a run to my local bookstore (where I picked up three novels), then ended up sitting in a comfy chair at Starbucks sipping a cappuccino.

I had mixed emotions. I was elated to have completed the project I'd been working on for years. But I also felt sad, like I was saying goodbye to the characters I'd known for so long. I knew they weren't lost forever, and I also knew they weren't real, but still . . .

Fast forward a couple years. That manuscript was rejected left and right, but four years after I sent it out into the world it was finally published. And you know what? I'm glad it took that long for it to find it's home. Yes, you read that right. I'm glad I wasn't published right away. Because during those four years I wrote my next novel, without the pressure of a contract deadline.

My number one piece of advice for all aspiring writers holding a complete manuscript in their hands . . . is definitely start submitting. But then get started on your next book. You don't want to be a one trick pony, right?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Just Say Yes, Won't Ya?

Other than "wait," I think one of the worst words a writer can hear is "No!"

And trust me, it's a word that a writer hears a lot...whether you're a beginner, an expert or somewhere in between.

Sometimes, no matter how fabulous your manuscript is, a fellow writer/editor/agent simply isn't going to catch your vision...even if it is nothing short of brilliant.

Before my first novel, Around the World in 80 Dates was published back in 2007, I heard the words "thanks, but no thanks" by two other publishing houses. Now I'll be the first to admit, hearing those words, even by e-mail, stung. I'd worked so hard on crafting my proposal and getting those sample chapters just right, but whatever reason, they just didn't see what I was so confident about.

But after sulking for a few days, I used that rejection as a springboard for seeing if there was a way or two that my work could be improved. And low and behold after having some time away from my WIP, I identified a few different places were my writing could be more engaging, my characters more developed, my dialogue more life-like. And low and behold, a publishing house eventually "got" me and Sydney Alexander's life journey became more than a vision in my head.

I guess I'm sharing that because as writers sometimes rejection can get the best of us. After hearing "no" time and again, we might give up on something great we have in progress. But that "no" may also be an opportunity to improve upon what you've got already...and maybe even enough for that important editor to finally take notice.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The next step - acquiring an Agent


A reader recently told us Scribble Chicks that she has a finished manuscript...now what? Hence our series of topics this week. Erynn posted on writing that great proposal, and BJ posted on the pros and cons of attending a conference.

My topic for you today is AGENTS. What the pros and cons of having an agent? Is it really necessary? How does one go about obtaining an agent?

These are all questions new writers have, and important ones to cover. I hope to help clear up a bit of the fog surrounding the topic (pardon the cliche!) If you have any more questions/comments, please post them in the comment section. Remember, this entire blog is ultimately for YOU, the reader. =)

First of all, let me say that in today's industry, having an agent can make all the difference. Most, not all, but most traditional publishers don't accept submissions unless they are from an agent. A few houses still do, such as Steeple Hill and Barbour, but majority do not. Also, having an agent when submitting even to those two houses still is a benefit, because it gives your work that extra boost to the top of the pile. Someone has already "vouched" for it, so the editor is taking less of a "wasting my time" risk. So you essentially cut your waiting for a response time in half or more. Sounds good, huh?

(Now, if you're wanting to pursue a small POD press like Desert Breeze or White Rose or if you are planning to self-pub, an agent is not necessary. There is no advance in those situations, no monetary details to negotiate, etc. It's more cut and dried...wow, how many cliches can I use in one blog post?!?!)

Here's a quick interview and picture with my agent, Tamela Hancock Murray with Hartline Literary. Tamela and I have been a team since September of 2007, and she's been not only a professional ally but a cheerleader and friend. I'm so blessed God brought us together. (pic taken at the ACFW 2009 conference awards banquet last September)





1. What is your favorite part about being an agent?

My favorite part is calling authors to tell them a publisher has offered a contract! I find great excitement in bringing worthy authors to publishers. I love being part of bringing new books to readers, adding to the number of quality choices in reading available everywhere.

2. As an agent, what is a quick word of advice you can give aspiring authors?

Learn as much as possible about your dream market. Then write a story that will be a logical fit for that market, yet be unique enough to get the editor's attention. Yes, it's a tall order, but not impossible. The more familiar you are with the market, the easier it will be for you to write a great book and back it up with a stellar proposal.

3. Do you have a life motto Bible-verse?

At this point in time, the verse resonating with me most is: Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. Matthew 10:16This verse didn't speak to me as strongly when I was younger as it does today, probably because I knew I wasn't wise. Now that I am blessed to know many more people both professionally and personally, I strive to be wise and considerate in my dealings. At no time do I seek to harm another person. The following prayer, along with the Lord's prayer, keeps me grounded every day: Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

4. What would you say is the biggest benefit of an author obtaining an agent?

The agent is your gateway to publishers. While some excellent publishers will work with authors directly, the agent can open many more doors. Editors pay attention to agented submissions because they know the agent has screened them already and has formed the opinion that the work in question is suitable for the publisher. Editors' time is valuable, and they appreciate the work an agent does even though they can't accept every manuscript.

5. What are your thoughts about the current state of the book publishing industry?

I think the Lord is blessing CBA authors and publishers even during this recession, proving once again that He is more powerful than the world economy. I believe publishers are, rightfully, responding to the prospect of readers being in possession of less disposable income by being exceptionally careful about the books they select to be published. In response, writers must be more diligent than ever to present their very best to editors. To God be the glory for every new CBA book!

Here's Tamela's website and Hartline's website, if you're interested in pursuing them further.

So there's some words of wisdom from a trusted agent in the industry! Thank you, Tamela.

Moving on, I really can't think of any cons to having an agent on your side. They are your support, encourager, at times your editor. They are your motivation and your go-between for all those awkward moments that can arise between you and your editor. Unpleasant questions can be fielded in that way, and guess what? Agents do all this for a very small percentage of what you make!! If they don't sell your books, they don't make money. Period. If you're pursuing a parnership with an agent who is asking for ANY money from you upfront, run. Run far, and run fast. This is a scam artist, and they're everywhere. If you have any questions about the quality of an agent, especially those willing to represent Christian fiction, please ask us here on Scribble Chicks or visit Preditors & Editors. We'll shoot straight! (another cliche! ha.)

Okay, so we've established that agents are great to have and you really do need one if you're going to pursue traditional publishing. "Now what?" you ask. "How do I find one of this illusive creatures??"

First of all, you need to shop the market. SALLY STUARTS CHRISTIAN MARKET GUIDE is a great resource for compiling a list of agents suitable for your needs. You can even Google "CBA agentes" and find some hits. Be sure to check the fine print before submitting your proposal that Erynn talked about on Monday - nothing is a bigger turn off to an agent than your not following their guidelines. Some agents want handwritten proposals, other emails. Some prefer query letters only, others want a full proposal. Some agents represent Christian fiction, others don't. Do your homework before diving in, or you'll end up embarrased or with a strike against you from the beginning.




You've probably heard it said "A bad agent is worse than no agent". This is true. Before targeting an agent and especially before signing with an agent, research them. Ask fellow authors who their agents are and if they're happy with their relationship. If an agent hasn't made any sales in a long time, it's probably not a good idea to go with them. An agent who isn't going to be aggressive on your behalf is a waste of your time. But on the other hand, an agent who is overly aggressive or who has a bad reputation in the industry isn't going to help you much either. At the 2009 conference, I asked a trusted agent in the industry, who used to be an editor at a large traditional house, about this very thing on behalf of a friend. He said that he remembers a time when, during a committe meeting years ago, the board opted to turn down a book they really were excited about because they didn't want to work with that particular agent again - that's how bad this agent was.


So be careful, and don't be afraid to ask questions. Us SCRIBBLE CHICKS will be happy to help you if you have questions about particular agents. Email any of us privately. My email is betsystamant@yahoo.com.


Finally, I'd like to encourage you to join the ACFW - American Christian Fiction Writers. This is a wealth of information available at your fingertips, for a low annual fee. I've been a member for what feels like forever now, and its amazing. The networking opportunities, the friendship, the support, the prayer back-up...more than worth it. So check out their website here: ACFW The ACFW also offers annual conferences where you get to schedule face-to-face meetings with agents and editors and pitch your stories. That is invaluable, and every agent/editor in the industry will back that up.

Any questions?





Don't be discouraged!! This is a big process and sometimes, it seems its just hard to land a quality agent as it is to get published. Both attempts take a ton of time and patience and prayer. Just do your best work and trust God with the timing. He'll see you through! =)


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The North Pole & Writers' Conferences


OK, it’s official. B.J.’s lost her mind. What three things could The North Pole and The Writers’ Conference possibly have in common?

1. The Elves

There are A LOT of busy little elves at the writers’ conference. Hundreds of them, in fact. Many of these elves have worked just as hard as you to pull together ideas, pitches, and projects. And they’re working just as hard to get the attention of editors and agents.

But before you stand on your head and jiggle your bell-clad toes, pause. Remember – not all attention is good attention. (Do you REALLY want to be remembered for all time as the elf who wrote his own name in lights on the floor of Santa’s workshop?)

Like your big elf ears, your writing will stand out on its own. Get out there. Share your work. People will notice it for its own merit.

2. The Frivolity

What do you get when you put 300 extroverted elves together?

300 karaoke rounds of Santa Got Run Over by a Reindeer.

Do yourself a favor: enjoy the frivolity. Hang out with people. Don’t refer to it as “networking”. Build relationships because you WANT to, not because you secretly hope to add everyone to your mailing list. And definitely not because you’re hoping the elf with the pointy toes will jab them into the editor at his publishing house and the editor will notice you and publish your brilliant piece of writing that you created while you sat in that boring session about run-on sentences.

3. The Sleigh Ride

Folks, anyone who tells you a writers’ conference isn’t a crazy ride is selling something.

Your emotions will swing from exuberant to exhausted in the span of about three hours. You will be so tired of people that you will want to move to the South Pole just to get away from it all.

Do yourself a favor. Take a break. Skip a meal. Walk through the woods. Ask yourself why you are doing this. Get back to why you started on this crazy ride.

Because when it comes down to it, we aren’t really working for Santa. When we figure it out, we realize it’s about something much, much bigger.

We all just want to be the best little elves we can be.

****
B.J. Hamrick is a journalist, humorist, and Real Teen Faith Editorest.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Art of Proposals

This week on Scribble Chicks, we are going to be talking about a few of the nuts and bolts of the publishing biz - what do you do after you have a manuscript ready?

I wrote this a little while ago for my blog, and forgive me for copying and pasting tonight - I'm in the midst of making caramels for Christmas and I'm also dealing with a spacey brain (I'm blaming it on this one). :)

I want you guys to imagine the day you get proposed to with me. You've been dating this guy for a while and you're pretty sure he's The One.

So, one day, he takes you out on a date. You're all dressed up, but when he rings the doorbell, he's wearing shredded jeans, a grass-stained sweatshirt and his hair looks like it hasn't been shampooed in a little while. "Ready, baby?" he asks you.

You're a little wary, but you climb in his car and he drives straight to an alley between two buildings, right behind a dumpster. You look at this guy and say, "What are you doing?"

"Well, I'm getting ready to propose," he says. "I love you and I want you to be my wife. I just want you to know that I am probably not the most romantic man. I require dinner on the table at five-thirty on the dot. I am not planning on working hard ever, so you're going to have to bring home most of the money before you make dinner. And I really would like kids, but I don't want to help raise them, so if you wouldn't mind doing that. And taking care of the laundry, because obviously, I can't even dress myself. Oh, and I'm out of shampoo and I hate going to the grocery store, so I was hoping you would go get it afterward tonight. Pretty much, I'm going to just squash on the sofa and watch ESPN all the days of our lives."

Then he takes your hand and says sweetly, "What do you say, honey? Oh, I think I just saw a rat next to that dumpster."

If you have any sense at all, you'll be screaming, "NO, NO, NO!", jumping out of the car and running for your life, carefully avoiding the rats.

But...what if your proposal went something like this instead?

You open the door and your boyfriend is standing there, dressed in an amazing suit and holding a bouquet of gorgeous flowers. He takes you to the most beautiful outlook in town, leads you out of the car and to a picnic table he had set up there. There's a whole steak dinner made just the way you like it and flowers on the table.

"Baby," he says. "I love you so much. I will always love you. I'll always take care of you. Whatever you need, I'll make sure you get it as soon as I can. I've been preparing for this for the last several months, so I already have money saved up so we can buy a house or whatever it is you want. You never need to worry about the future. Will you marry me?"

Odds are, you would probably be more inclined to say yes to the second guy. He took the time to plan it, prepare for it, and he's promising to take care of you.

Now compare this to writing. Why would a publisher take a chance on someone who is like the first guy? Who doesn't know what they are doing, who doesn't care what they are doing and who hasn't prepared for it?

Proposing your story to a publisher is actually very similar to a guy proposing to a girl. You are trying to look your best, sound your best and you'll be promising some type of security in the future - a completed book.

So, how do you propose?

First, finish your book. We've already mentioned this, but the unspoken rule in publishing is that publishers prefer first-time authors to have a complete manuscript. It's security for them and less stress for you.

Second, you'll write the proposal. A proposal is a document about three to five pages long that contains everything anyone needs (and didn't need) to know about your book. It's a frustrating thing to write. Ask any writer and they'll probably say they hate writing proposals more than cleaning moldy food out of a sink disposal.

Now that you're all excited to write this proposal... :) Here's the elements that every proposal needs:

1) Your name, address, phone number and email address * This goes in the top left corner of the page. DOUBLE CHECK THIS!! You don't want an acquisitions editor to love your work and not be able to get a hold of you.

2) The approximate word count
* Write this in the top right corner of the page. Don't worry about putting something like this: 70,231 words. Just stick with 70,000.

3) The title
* Put this about a fourth of the way down the page, centered. You can write "Book Proposal" underneath it, if you like. Word of the wise: Don't get too attached to the title. It's very likely it will change.

4) The teaser
* Ever heard the term "elevator speech"? It's a three-sentence synopsis of your book that you could theoretically propose in an elevator ride. This goes underneath the title. Draw the editor in. Don't reveal the ending and it works perfect to end it with a question. "Will Gertrude ever find love?"

5) The synopsis
* You do get to reveal the ending here. Make this about two pages of your proposal. Don't get too wordy, you're focusing on showing the editor that you know how to create characters and craft a plot. Play with this! If you are going to break rules, here is the place to do it. Explain exactly what happens in your story.

6) Your qualifications
* Why are you the one who should write this book? What makes you more qualified than anyone else? Put down anything and everything that could possibly relate to your book that you have done or accomplished. If you are writing a book about a girl who is a marine biologist, and you are a marine biologist, definitely put that in there! If you've published magazine articles, newspaper articles, or whatever, write it down. If you have a blog that reaches 3,000 people a day, definitely write it down.

7) Marketing
* What genre is this book? Where would it be placed on the shelves? What is the targeted audience? And what are you going to do to get it in the hands of the targeted audience? Be as specific as possible here. Don't say this: "My book will pretty much be loved by every person who reads it." Say this instead: "This book is aimed for Christian women ages 16-24." Are you a speaker? No? You're going to have to change that fast - editors want writers who will market themselves. Be sure to say something to this effect and mean it: "Erynn will do whatever she can to help market this book!" (Just don't use my name - I can't promise I'll do whatever I can to market your book) :)

8) Uniqueness
* How is your book different than everything else out there? What are books it is similar to? How does it stand out from the ninety other proposals on this editor's desk? Again, be very specific. "This book is different from the competition, because all of the characters have a third eye."

9) Sample chapters
* These aren't taken into account in the three to five page count I gave you earlier. Insert the first three chapters (and polish those within an inch of their life!) into the end of your proposal.


And there you have it! Get it all typed up and looking sharp (remember the guy with the grass stains versus the guy with the spiffy suit). Knock the editor off their chairs with your charm and charisma. Editors want to be wowed!

If you have more questions or want to see a sample proposal, send me an email at erynnmangum@gmail.com. I'll be sure to send you one. :) To quote High School Musical, "We're all in this together!"

Merry Christmas!


Photo credits go to AlanBabb and Vocaris from stock.xchng (sxc.hu) :)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The God of Creativity

I was listening to a teaching CD awhile back by Rev. Dr. Ladonna Osborn and something she said really stuck out for me:

"Thinking for a Christian is waiting for the Holy Spirit to generate a creative idea in you."

What a profound statement.

As creative people we're constantly searching out our next story idea, our next blog entry :), our next letter to friends . . . but why is it that so often we dig and dig by ourselves without waiting to hear what God might be speaking to us? I'm just as guilty of this as the next person, so don't think I'm pointing fingers here.

I don't want to forget that God is just waiting to speak to me, and He does all the time. It's ME who either doesn't hear, or more often than not, doesn't take the time to pause and LISTEN.

As Christians, we're supposed to be a little bit different from everyone else. We're not supposed to think like the world. I encourage you to take time to pause and wait on the Lord at some point during your day today and listen to the ideas that pop up in your head. And don't let your mind talk you out of receiving a creative idea just because you think it's you and not God. Chances are it's the Holy Spirit nudging you, like He so beautifully does.

Think about it. Your next creative endeavor could come straight from the Lord Himself! Will you receive it?

I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.
--Proverbs 8:12 (KJV)


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Giving Procastination the Heave-Ho...Now!

Ok, since nobody wanted to weigh in on the social networking front last week, I'm taking my thoughts in a new direction today...:)

But seriously, if anyone has any sudden epiphanies on how you fit twittering, facebooking, myspacing, etc. into your life (and what tangible results it has provided), still feel free to give a shout in the comments section. I do all of these things regularly, but I'm still curious about how fellow writers view all that extra time spent online.

Today, however, I've got something else on my mind, namely procrastination and the upcoming new year.

For the record, like many writers, I'm the queen of procrastination. I thrive from the sheer buzz of being so dangerously close to a deadline. And no matter what's going on, I can find a million ways to stay distracted while the clock ticks closer and closer to said deadline. In fact, my favorite way of not concentrating on my work is IMDBing my favorite actors (and even some I couldn't care less about) and reading their respective pages, right down to the really random trivia.

Of course, given that I review movies for work, too, I can easily justify this as "research," which makes me feel way better while I'm wasting time. But if I'm honest with myself, I'm thinking I'd get a little further on my current WIP if I wasn't reading about Hugh Grant's favorite restaurants or Jude Law's shoe size.

But I digress...

As the New Year gets closer and closer, (something I still can't believe, even if the calendar assures me that it's so), I think it's tempting for many a writer to put off his/her literary goals until the ball in Times Square has officially dropped. Starting on January 1st just feels a little more tidy somehow, a little more definite. But if the Queen of Procrastination has anything to say about it (and she points that finger right back at herself, too), she'd encourage you to keep right on writing. Yes, NOW!

After all, that's how New Year's resolutions get broken year after year, isn't it? We create this ginormous laundry list of things we want to change about ourselves and our habits, and then get upset when it doesn't exactly work out. But if we start being disciplined (or at least having a semblance of discipline) before January 1, well, that's one less resolution to break, right?

Now that doesn't mean that you shouldn't actually take time to enjoy the holidays. I'm all for that (and can't wait to do that myself). But getting into the mindset that you'll really start writing once the New Year rolls around is a whole lot of pressure to put on yourself. Remember Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will your story be, so you'll want to take each and every opportunity you can to start crafting it.

So step away from the IMDB.com and start writing now. You won't regret it, I promise.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Q & A

Well, guys, I hate to "take the easy way out" for my post, but Little Miss and I have both been under the weather this week, and now my grandfather is in ICU for having an emergency double bypass last night. We're appreciate prayers for his full healing. I gave my info on his situation on my blog at www.betsy-ann.blogspot.com

So you can see how my brain isn't in deep-thinking mode today! However, I would like to offer the chance for our readers to ask questions. We started this blog with a lot of questions, and they've phased out, so if you have anything new you'd like to us, please go for it! Just ask in the comment section here and us Scribble Chicks will answer as we can during the day. =)

And hey, if you stump us - free books for life. J/k! haha. ;)

Or if you don't have questions but would just like to share where you are with your writing and glean some encouragement or sympathy, well that's great too. Have at it!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Working While You Wait


Want to know what an author's least favorite word is?

It's not copyedit. It's not proposal. It's not outline, research or rewrite.

An author's least favorite word? Wait.

And if you're wanting to become an author or you are already established as an author, you'd better get used to waiting.

A lot.

You wait for an agent to get back to you on whether or not they'll take you as a client. Once they say yes, you wait for them to look over your proposal. Then, they make suggestions, you make changes and you wait for them to okay it. Then the hard waiting comes. You wait while they propose it to publishers.

And you wait for a response. And wait and wait and wait.

In the words of Indigo Montoya, a character from one of my all-time favorite movies The Princess Bride, "I hate waiting."

But then I notice how many other things God has us wait for. We wait for husbands. We wait for kids. We wait for dinner, vacations, promotions. And I wait for Christmas starting December 26th every year.

"Wait on the Lord," the Bible says over and over.

Be still. Wait on the Lord.

But being still does not necessarily mean being inactive. Writing through the wait is not only cathartic (I'm still writing!), but it is also a smart idea. Try your hand at new ideas. Experiment with different cultures and times. Listen to what the Holy Spirit is teaching you and write about it.

Not only will you then have a bunch of other ideas and proposals on the back burner should the current proposal not pass with the publisher, but you will have grown that much more as a writer.

So what are you waiting for? :) And how will you work in the midst of it?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Going With Your Gut

Most writers think about their stories and characters at all hours of the day. We'll be in the shower and a scene idea will pop into our head (and we'll scramble to write it down on the wall with a bar of soap). We'll be making dinner and a snappy line of dialogue will appear out of nowhere. This is especially true if you're brainstorming for ideas of what to write.

After I wrote my first novel Thicker than Blood, I really struggled with what to write next. Should I write a sequel or something new? I bought a little notebook at Barnes and Noble, called it my Novel Notebook, and started jotting down ideas. Early on in the book I made myself answer the question, "What I really want to write about is ____". I got the idea from James Scott Bell in his book Plot & Structure, and I figured if it worked for him, then I could give it a try.

Weeks passed. I kept writing in that idea book. I asked myself the question, "What I really want to write about is ____" again. I had an answer, but I still didn't know if it should be a book. I had so many different snippets of ideas, but I kept shooting them down. I was floundering and miserable.

But that's not really the point of this post. :) Fast forward several months, even a year. I eventually decided on an idea and started writing my second novel. Then one day I finished it and happened to go back to that original idea notebook just for fun. I discovered something that shocked me. Every one of those responses to the "What I really want to write about" question I had incorporated into the novel . . . unconsciously.

Or maybe not.

There often comes a point in our writing when we have enough information (even if it doesn't feel like it), and the breakthrough will come when we sit down and write. You know more than you think you know about your story. Why not try the unfettered approach today? Just write. Trust your instincts. I bet what you really want to write about will come through.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Putting the "Social" Back in Social Networking

I've got sunny California on my mind, and that's because I'm heading to L.A. tomorrow for a movie junket. Before you get too jealous, however, (ha ha) I must disclose that it's a movie junket for Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.

But hey, a writing assignment is still a writing assignment even if singing chipmunks are involved, right? And when warm weather in California is part of the perks package along with the paycheck, which is absolute bliss for a Minnesota girl like myself, well, I don't care what movie I'm writing about.

Even if they're butchering Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," a song I don't care for much without all the squeaky delivery.

Getting ready for a trip is always a fun challenge when you're on deadline...or in my case, several deadlines today. But like oh-so-many days in the life of a freelance writer who also moonlights as an author, a good chunk of my day is spent in the social networking sphere. Yes, that's a just a fancy way of saying that I'm tweeting. Or Facebooking. Or MySpacing. Or all three.

For me, this is the trickiest part of my schedule to manage because you have to do it (after all, a great deal of being a successful author is all about the marketing and networking, right?) but still, you can't exactly measure it's value. Basically, I don't know if my tweets are making a twinge of difference at getting the word out about my work or the building of my brand (an idea that's still feels a bit pretentious if I'm honest), yet I know it still plays an important part somehow...

So I guess instead of giving advice or offering my proverbial .02 on writing, authoring and the like today, I'm asking for yours. As a writer, published or otherwise, how do you fit social networking in your day, and what do you believe its value is? You know, other than being an technologically savvy excuse for procrastinating on the writing of my next novel?

Ok, with that question hanging in the air...I'm back to my regularly scheduled packing...see ya next week!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Breaking through...

Lately, I've been sort of stuck on a WIP.

I chalked it up to the holiday season, to needing a break, even to hormones. I prayed about my lack of motivation and my struggle with the story - this was the story of my heart, yet the words were NOT coming. I doubted all sorts of things, and asked my grandmother to pray that I would be sensitive to God's prompting and not force the story if the timing wasn't right.

(do you have someone in life that you go to for prayer requests like that? I know God hears all His children but it seems like when my grandma prays, things happen faster. lol)

I indulged in some holiday fun time over Thanksgiving and took a much needed break, then finally, yesterday, I sat down to work for the first time in almost a week. I prayed before writing, as I usually do, but this time, even I could hear the desperation in my voice. I needed this story to be my best, and in admitting that, I realized that I was putting a lot of pressure on myself that didn't belong there. This story isn't ultimately in my control - it's up to God what happens with it. I don't want to "do my best and let Him handle the rest" - I want Him in every step along the way, forming my best.

Because to be honest, my best alone is pretty bad. But my best with Him...now that knows no limits.

So, feeling a little freer than before, I incorporated changes from a critique a friend had done the other day, and that forced me to re-read and really think about the chapter. I ended up skimming other segments of the story as well, and suddenly...

Breakthrough.

A new plot twist fell into place, and when I examined it from every angle, it was like a missing puzzle piece. It added layers and depth I couldn't have otherwise created, and really amped up the conflict between the hero and heroine and gave the heroine more motivation for her actions, which was sorely needed.

I emailed my two crit buds and one of them called me immediately. I asked if I was crazy for even considering such a change to the story, especially with my current timing (long story there), and she just sat in stunned silence before exclaiming "Why didn't we think of this sooner??"

Now, I'm motivated! Now, the words are flowing! Now, I have a vision for this story that is so dearly important to me!

All that to say, next time you're feeling a little stuck - don't give up. Sometimes God might want us to put a story aside for days or even months/years, and you should of course be sensitive to His prompting. But sometimes, it might be that you just need a little intercession from a godly grandma and a heap of encouragement from a crazy crit partner.

And a few heartfelt moments spent with the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

When You Can't Write Your Own Story

"Don't do it, little girl! Don't go in there!"

I couldn't believe my ears.

Was the lady next to me in the dark theater seriously telling the main character in The Chronicles of Narnia not to go into the wardrobe?

Obviously this woman was scared of what would happen to Lucy as soon as she touched the door handle. And rightly so. But I still wanted to scold the lady for shouting. Clearly... she didn't understand:

Without the wardrobe there would be no story.


You probably see where I'm going with this.

There is nothing more frustrating than being a writer who cannot write her own life story.

Today I cried out to God to heal a situation in my life. Like really, really cried. Desperate tears. As I told Him about my anxieties, I felt His response... without the wardrobe there would be no story.

So here I stand on the threshold of all He has for me. My fingers grasp the door handle... my heart pounds. Unlike Lucy, I am somewhat aware of what is ahead.

I walk through this door on purpose.

As I take my first steps everything inside of me screams, No! Don't do it little girl!

But my heart argues. My heart knows that... without the wardrobe there would be no story.

Jesus -- let this be Your story.

****

B.J. Hamrick loves this blog and Real Teen Faith.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Well...

Okay.

This is not about writing, I recognize.

But...

Well, it's Christmas season now! And is there a better way to celebrate the happiest season of the year than with a goofy rendition of "12 Days of Christmas"?

So...

I apologize for the lack of writing-related subject matter. But on the non-writing related subject matter, here's a song that I hope makes you giggle, take a deep breath, a short break, maybe grab a candy cane and then hop back into your work in progress relaxed, refreshed and ready for a few more pages.

Enjoy!


Friday, November 27, 2009

When I'm Not Writing...

Happy Day after Thanksgiving everyone!

I'm a day late with my blog entry this week, and it's because I was cooking for a whomping six hours yesterday for Thanksgiving linner (we eat around 3:00, so it's more a linner than a lunch or dinner).

For some reason, I love being the overachiever, and I don't let my guests bring anything, not even dessert. So between the turkey, homemade stuffing, red-skinned mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, orange cranberry compote, cheddar bay biscuits, turtle pumpkin pie and the carrot cake cupcakes with homemade cream cheese frosting (because the store-bought stuff just wouldn't do for a national holiday), I was a bit too exhausted to post anything. Plus, I was in a turkey-induced coma like the rest of the planet, so I'm guessing I would've written something along the lines of the following: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Now some of you may think I'm insane to take on all the Thanksgiving cooking, but I love it. I love shopping for all the ingredients, I love figuring out how I'm going to get everything done—and hot—to serve to my guests at the stroke of 3:00. I also love trying out new recipes and hearing the ooohs and aaahs from my guests.

I think my favorite dish this year was the sausage and cranberry stuffing I made, and well, the gallon of frosting on those cupcakes. See, for me, cooking is the one big creative thing I do that's not writing. And I must say it's fun being inspired in a different way.

Stepping away from my computer screen (something that I touched a bit on last week) has done my creativity a world of good. And now that I've eaten way more than I should've these past couple of days, I need to get inspired to head downstairs to the treadmill. But in the meantime, I think I shall return that turkey coma state one more time...just once more.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Writer's Christmas Tree


Writing a novel is a lot like putting up a Christmas tree.


Think about it.

First of all, there's procrastination. You stare at the box, i.e. your computer. You think, I really need to get the tree out of the box. (really need to sit down and actually start typing.) But motivation is low. You stare for a few days, then realize you really do need to get busy or Christmas will pass you by, along with all the opportunities for your novel in today's market.

So, you roll up your sleeves, eat a piece of chocolate, and dig in. The limbs scratch your arm as you wrestle the tree into submission, connecting pieces, dodging bugs and spiders that snuck into the box when you weren't looking. You mutter and groan and grunt and huff, until finally, the tree is in place, firmly in its stand, and your novel has a foundation.

You celebrate with another piece of chocolate.

Then you realize while the foundation is secure, the branches look awful. You start fluffing the limbs as you add more depth and detail to your story.

When you step back, the tree is fluffed and if you're like me, you've bought a pre-lit one, so you're feeling pretty good about the whole thing. Despite the stinging on your arms, you think, that wasn't so bad. This is actually going to work. I can do this. I am Christmas Tree Queen. I am a writing warrior. This story (tree) is going to be the best I've ever had! People will come from miles around to see my tree! (buy my book!) I will be known!

Motivation is now at its peak. You eat more chocolate to keep up the glow as you pull out the tubs of ornaments. Nothing can stop you now!

You begin adding ornaments to your tree, fleshing out characters, adding subplots that enhance your story's theme. Candy canes and snowmen and Rudolph and an unidentified object from third grade all get hung willy-nilly on the branches. You move so fast, you're a blur. A sparkly penguin here, a couple of pages of witty dialogue there. You, and your tree, are rockstars.
Finally finished, you're eating another piece of chocolate when you realize the tree that looked so glorious just a moment ago now seems...crowded. Stuffed, really, even more than you as you unbutton your jeans to breathe. You collapse on the living room floor, covered in lost needles, and eat the rest of the bag of chocolate as you mourn the loss of your creative art. You're a washup. A has-been that never was. A loser. This is the worst tree in the entire world. The few people that will bother to read your book will point and laugh. There's no best seller list. There's only media jokes and teasing in the streets. You suck. Your tree sucks. And your book sucks.

All.

Is.

Lost.

Until the chocolate coma clears, and you sit up, pine limbs sticking from your matted hair, brown drool on your cheek, and think "I can fix this."

Slowly, carefully, you begin taking down ornaments. You really didn't need six side characters or ten strings of garland. The disco ball on top of the tree can go, and so can those extra pages of witty dialogue that really, aren't that funny anymore.

You keep shaving, trimming, working, until finally...your tree is beautiful. Simple. Subtle. Glowing from within. Exactly how you'd pictured the entire time, except somehow, better, because the tree taught you a lesson. You learned that less is more. That clear,concise writing is better than fluff. That a little glitz goes a long way.

And as you head to the store to buy jeans in a larger size, contentment in your heart, exhaustion in your eyes, you realize that maybe, just maybe, Christmas trees aren't supposed to be about getting famous or being known. Maybe they're supposed to just draw attention to the One who created Christmas in the first place.
And He thinks your tree is beautiful.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dear Writing Mentor, Sir --

I used to think that an adult waiting to get an edit back on his book was like a child waiting to get spanked. The kid just wants to get it over with, but he wishes he could skip the event altogether.

In my old age I've become more optimistic:

I now realize that waiting for a writing critique is more like waiting for a doctor's report.

For a few days the patient sits around and worries that there's a tumor and he's going to die.

Then he KNOWS there's a tumor and he's going to die.

Soon dying is all he can thing about. So he eats a lot of chocolate-covered donuts, because he realizes there that if he's going to die, he might as well die happy.

50 pounds later, the report comes back.

"Sir," the doctor says (because he is a polite doctor), "There is a tumor."

"A t-t-t-umor?"

"Yes. Non-malignant."

And though the patient is fat from chocolate-covered donuts, his ears still work.

He realizes he isn't going to die.

He realizes he is now a FAT patient who isn't going to die.

And he says, "Kind doctor sir, would you please take the tumor out? Would you help me take the tumor out? Would you make me a new man? And would you do liposuction to remove all this fat you caused in the first place?"

So, here's a note to say thanks for helping make me a new man. Err... woman.

And... could you do liposuction to all the fatty writing I added to my book while I waited for your report?


Sincerely,
B.J.

Monday, November 23, 2009

When It's Time To Take A Break

As I'm writing this, I'm cuddled in a blanket with an empty tea cup, empty orange juice glass, a soon-to-be empty water glass, and a thermometer in front of me on the coffee table.

You guessed it. I'm sick.

And I'm on a deadline. And it's right before Thanksgiving and I still have an entire list of things that need to be done before the end of this week and definitely by the end of this month.

But, today, I am going to sit on the couch and rest.

Because sometimes, the best thing we can do for our writing is take a break and take care of ourselves.

I think that BJ touched on this a little while ago when she wrote about her friend who thought all writers just stared out the window and did nothing all day. If you're a writer, you know this isn't very true. Writing is work - hard work. No, we're not lifting 76 pounds a day or wrangling 32 kids in a classroom or waiting on people in a restaurant. But, maybe we're trying to figure out how to convey that our characters are doing those things - and by showing, not telling.

So, what do you do when you must write and yet something is preventing you from doing that?

Sit down. Realize that the God who has given you this desire for writing is the same God who has allowed you to get sick or get too busy or experience holidays with your family. And when it comes down to it, some things can't wait...and writing isn't one of those. Family, your health, your loved ones, however - they can't wait.

So, don't be afraid to stop. Put away your laptop, but keep your creative side of your brain on. Like CJ said on Friday, sometimes living life gives you way more ideas than you'll ever get staring blankly at a computer screen, sniffling into a Kleenex.

And with that, I'm going to go make myself another cup of tea. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving week, everyone!

Friday, November 20, 2009

When You're Stuck...

Tell me if you've been here: You're writing's clipping along at break-neck speed. You're meeting all your deadlines, even exceeding them. Ideas are flowing from your brain to your typing fingers as effortlessly as a rushing mountain stream. Then you hit "the wall". Your well dries up. Your brain feels like oatmeal mush. How could someone like you even begin to think you can write a book (or article or story) worth reading?

I'd venture to guess just about every writer on the planet has been in this wilderness before. But you know what? You don't have to stay there wallowing in frustration. Here's a tip I'm learning: If I want to write deeply, I need to live life. Sometimes it's very easy as writers to hole ourselves up in our offices and draw from our creative wells time and time again without ever refilling. We need to get out and live life!

I'll admit it. I'm an introvert. I'd rather take a walk by myself than go to a party. My idea of fun is sitting in a comfy chair reading a good novel. I don't mind being alone in a room all day long staring at a computer screen. But I need to learn how to get over some of these tendencies. Break out of my shell. Never be afraid to ask questions. Constantly strive to learn new things. I know I won't truly enjoy life if I don't get out there and do things my introvert self would rather avoid.

A couple years ago my local airport was having an "open house". I read in the paper they were offering helicopter rides. That sounded very cool to the more adventurous part of me, but it was quickly squelched by the cautious part. It took some prodding from a family member, but I finally overrode my hesitance and went for it. I plunked down my $25.00 and climbed on board a two-person Bell helicopter. I'm so glad I did. What an amazing experience. My creative juices were flowing through the entire five minutes (what if someone got on board expecting a five minute ride and was instead kidnapped ... what if a helicopter pilot and one passenger crashed in the wilderness and had to survive ....)

Don't be afraid to do something out of your comfort zone today. And while you're at it, try not to think about how you can use the research in your writing, like I did. Just enjoy the experience. It will be like adding buckets of water to your creative well.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Step Away From the Computer...

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy."—Exodus 20:8

I'll be honest, until a couple of months ago, the whole "Sabbath day" commandment isn't one I'd exactly given a lot of thought to.

I guess I always figured that as long as I wasn't taking God's name in vain, coveting my neighbor's stuff, stealing, lying, murdering or worshipping any other gods, well, I was doing pretty well.

I was wrong.

My a-ha moment, or at least the moment when I started giving the matter some serious thought, was when I was reading A.J. Jacob's The Year of Living Biblically. See, Mr. Jacobs doesn't necessarily consider himself a believer, but in the spirit of his wacky social experiments, he decided to follow the Bible's tenants word for word (yes, even the crazy ones from the Old Testament) and see if/how it would change his life.

While he didn't convert to Christianity after the project was through, he said that observing the Sabbath is still something he does today. In fact, other than learning to express gratitude, it's probably the greatest takeaway he had for the experience. So that, of course, got me thinking about my own Sabbath practices, which usually involved going to church, watching a little football and, well, working like every other day of the week.

Now granted, I love to write, and sometimes when you're in the midst of a book deadline, you really need all the time you can get. So Sunday afternoon seemed like the perfect solution by offering me a few additional hours.

But as time wore on, burnout (with writing and my life in general) really started settling in, and I was beginning to resent my Sundays as much as the typical Monday morning. That, of course, made me wonder if there was a better way to be living. What if I trusted God enough to help me get everything done in six days rather than seven and actually took a day of (gasp!) rest?

So that's what I've been doing ever since...I've stepped away from the computer and actually started enjoying my Sunday (morning, afternoon and evening) work-free—as difficult as that is for me. And I can't even begin to tell you how that's re-energized my life, not to mention my writing. Once Monday morning rolls around, I feel so much more refreshed and ready to go—all because I didn't spend my entire weekend in front of the computer.

I guess God knew what He was talking about when He commanded that, huh? Now I know...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

R E S P E C T



There's been a lot of drama lately. In my family life, in my personal life, and especially in my writing life. For example, recently on public forums, there has been a lot of debating on e-publishing vs. self-publishing vs. traditional publishing...

It's exhausting to watch, because all parties share equally compelling points and I can relate to all sides. I've been e-pubbed and print-pubbed by a small press, which paid no advance but standard royalities, and actually made a little money through them. Now, I've been multi-pubbed by a traditional house and see that side of things.

I've had no experience with self-publishing, but I know others who have, and while that's not an investment I would be willing to delve into, I still have respect for those who do.

That's what it comes down to. Respect. If you read my personal blog last week, you might have seen my post on how upset I was by a specific author who felt the need to (in my opinion) bash an entire publishing house and all of its readers and authors. Supposedly, that is not what that author intended to do and this author posted an apology on his/her site explaining as much, but the damage was already done.

As writers, we should know by now that our words matter - whether typed or spoken. Whether created in fiction or spoken from the heart. Whether tearing down or building up, they count. As authors, we should be the most careful of what we speak and write, more so than anyone else. So let's show some respect.

For instance, the debate right now on e-pub vs. self-pub vs. traditonal. Just because someone else feels led to take a path you wouldn't personally take, why are we bent on trying to change their mind? Why do we (as humans) feel compelled to change someone's opinion?

I'm working through that myself right now in a lot of areas. Sometimes, if its someone we love and we see them making a bad choice, we feel compelled to intervene out of concern and wanting the best for that person. That's understandable. But in the industry, it's different. In the publishing world, we need to respect each other as writers in all regards, and agree to disagree. Not everything has to be dramatic and a big showdown all the time. Not everyone has to agree on everything all the time. I wish our society today could learn how to disagree and still get along.

I'm so tired of the fighting. I'm so tired of the division. I'm so tired of the drama.

Let's move away from the cartoon boxer at the top of this page and move toward peace. Let's encourage each other in the Lord and in the goals He's given us as writers for His kingdom, and realize that sometimes those goals are going to vary. What's planned for me might not be planned for you and vice versa. What I feel led toward might be different from where God is drawing you.

In the words of Ms. Aretha...

R E S P E C T

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How to Advance Your Writing Career

It's amazing how quickly apartment-life ages a person. When I moved into this complex seven months ago, I was active, healthy, and 23-years-old.

Now I'm lazy, fat, and just scored 73-years-old in one of those "find your true age" tests online.

Is it just me... or am I graying prematurely?

Despite the stress of loud parties in the apartments beside us, robberies in the apartments beneath us, and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts in the store across the street, I've discovered that apartment-life is actually good for one thing: my writing career.

Here's why:

  • I can't sleep -- because when our 19-year-old-neighbor is not having parties, he's banging nails into a log outside our window (I'm not making this up). What is he doing -- anger management? The only thing I can possibly do to manage my anger at 2 a.m. (besides ring his neck) is -- you guessed it -- write.
  • I can't exercise -- because it's not like I'm going to go jogging around the complex when there are armed robbers on the loose. So I -- you guessed it -- write.
  • I can't clean house -- because it's a small apartment and you can only scrub the porcelain so many times before the acid in the cleaner eats away at the potty seat and your husband falls in. So I -- you guessed it -- write.
  • I can't eat -- because according to my physician's scale, I weigh 7 pounds more than I did seven months ago. That's one pound per month for my math-impaired readers. I can't afford to gain any more weight or people will start asking me when the baby's due. So I -- you guessed it -- write.

So even though I'm lazy, fat, and 73-years-old, my writing career is advancing.

I just hope I live to see the rest of it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Aiming for Uniqueness


Have you ever had one of those lightning-blot-light-bulb-stabbed-with-something-electrical moments where you just think: "OH MY GOSH - this book idea would make me the next Stephen King and would be the biggest major motion picture opening since Spider-Man?"

So, you excitedly sit down and pump out 47 pages of a novel that is so enthralling, so incredible, so completely and utterly unique that you can hardly breathe as you're writing.

Then your husband gets home. And reads the opening chapters. And says, "Hey, didn't we see a movie with Harrison Ford that was kind of like this?" Then he leaves to go change out of work clothes and you fight tears as you delete all 47 pages realizing that yes, it does sound an awfully lot like The Fugitive.

Ever had that happen to you?

Trying to find a unique twist on things has to be one of the hardest jobs as a writer. When I was first starting out, there was a whole huge news story about a girl who copied pages from another book and then published her copy of it. She got in major trouble.

And I didn't sleep for about a week. What if Miss Match was exactly like something I'd read or seen years ago and didn't remember reading or seeing? What if I was just a big copycat?

If you've had this fear too, fear not. At a writing conference, one of the speakers gave an entire room full of fiction writers a basic plot and told them to come up with a story. In an entire room full of people who do this or want to do this for a living, you'd think there would be at least one duplicate story, right?

Wrong. Every one was different. Every person took the same plot and came up with a totally different story.

And I started breathing a little easier. Unless you are actually copying something straight from the pages of another book, the odds of you writing the same story are very small.

Still, that doesn't mean that things don't sound scarily similar. Noticed the huge variety we now have of vampire-themed books?

Mm-hmm. Aim higher. Be unique! Find a story that resonates with you, not with Stephanie Meyer. Did something happen in your childhood that would make a great teen story? How about something that happened in your grandmother's childhood? Explore different times, explore different genres.

And let us know what's happening! We ScribbleChicks love to celebrate and we definitely love celebrating writing success! :)

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Editing Letter

I admit it. My brain is having the hardest time coming up with something to say here today. Ever had one of those days? Yeah. I so relate. But . . . I can't leave my fellow Scribble Chicks in the dust! So I give you this hilarious video entitled "The Editing Letter". I dare you to watch it and not laugh.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sometimes, Plan B is Just Better...

Anyone who knows me well knows that I looove to talk. In fact, my husband says I have the gift of gab.

Unfortunately, my junior high English teacher described it another way, namely with a visual I'll never forget. Without any regard for my fragile junior high emotions, she said I had diarrhea of the mouth.

Ick, right?

But as much as I love to talk, I'll be the first to admit that I don't exactly love public speaking. One-on-one? I'm in. Small group? Fine by me. But talking to a large group makes me nervous, really nervous...even if I have the material down cold.

Since public speaking often goes with the whole author gig, I've learned to make the best of these situations, even if I feel like I'm going to throw up beforehand. I find that once I'm actually introduced, I kick into speaking gear and feel totally comfortable in front of a crowd. But like so many things in life, the waiting is the truly the hardest part.

I was reminded of all of this on Monday night when I spoke in front of about 75 people at the Minnesota Christian Writers Guild's monthly meeting. A friend of mine kindly asked me to be the event's keynote speaker, an opportunity that a new-ish author certainly doesn't pass up. So I said "yes," even though I knew what that entailed...feeling sick and flu-ish before finally calming down.

Like any good speaker, I did my preparation beforehand and tried to memorize my spiel so I could simply refer to my notes, rather than using them as a crutch. After all, eye contact is crucial for success, so I wanted to be ready for anything.

So I wrote something I was happy with, a few encouraging thoughts on writing in what's certainly a volatile time with all the magazines closing, newspapers folding and book publishers becoming increasingly more picky about what they chose to publish.

But then something weird happened only moments before I was supposed to step up to the podium. I wasn't feeling my speech at all...not one bit. For whatever reason, I didn't think it was right for the audience, but what was I supposed to do? I didn't have any time to write something else. I certainly couldn't bail on these sweet, sweet people, but I also didn't want to look like a fool, delivering something I wasn't passionate about. So in my moment of near panic, I suddenly knew what to do. I would share my own story...the ups and downs of my journey as a writer along with a few of the practical tips I'd written down beforehand. And hopefully, if I told the story just right, well, there would some sort of takeaway value.

Thankfully, as nervous as I was, my gut instinct worked just fine. And low and behold, I was actually having fun doing something I normally hate...public speaking. Even better were the reactions as I looked out at the crowd. There were lots of approving glances, nodding heads, and my favorite part of all, plenty of laughs as I talked about my obsession with Judy Blume's writing while growing up in small-town Wisconsin, my journey to Nashville with one month's rent and an extra $100.00 in my pocket when I was 22 and how I've continued to sustain my freelance writing in our difficult economy today.

I guess I'm sharing all of this as a reminder to trust your instincts, especially in your writing. While critique groups and other people's proverbial two cents are definitely helpful in improving your writing, sometimes you just have to go with your gut when something doesn't feel right. And who knows, maybe just maybe, you'll have a small victory like I did this week. But even with that, I'm thinking that I'll still probably feel sick the next time I'm speaking in front of a crowd.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Day in the Life of...

I have an issue on my heart today, which is posted on my personal blog: www.betsy-ann.blogspot.com

Because of that, I'm unable to think of anything at the moment to inspire you here, so, I thought I'd offer a quick peek into the day of a life of a stay-at-home/write-at-home young mother. =) (PS - this is a typical day when my husband goes to work, which isn't every day as he's a fireman)

6:00 a.m. - Hubby, almost late as usual, finally makes it out the door to work, pausing to give me a quick kiss on the forehead.

6:01 a.m. - I grunt and roll over and beg God to let the door shut quietly so as not to wake Little Miss.

7:15 a.m. -Hear Little Miss stir through monitor, think I should probably get up, but hey, five more minutes won't kill her, right?

7:25 a.m. - Brush teeth, splash water on face, and immediately am energized to face the day. Seriously. I'm a morning person after that splash. Go and get Little Miss's breakfast bar and juice ready.

7:30-8:00 a.m. - Snuggle Little Miss in chair while she eats breakfast and enjoys her cartoons and snuggle time with Mama. Start brainstorming what I need to accomplish for the day.

8:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. - Think I should probably exercise, don't wanna get "writer's spread" but then realize that eating Lucky Charms and keeping my feet propped up while we enjoy Dora is much more tempting. I cave, and figure that avoiding the second bowl of Lucky Charms cancels out the need to exercise.

9:00 a.m. - 9:35 a.m. - Get my booty out of the chair, and enlist Little Miss's help in house work. We do dishes and laundry, making all of it a game, and giggle a lot. She loves peek a boo, so I randomly jump out from behind doors and tickle her, and she's quite content.

9:40 a.m. - Elmo on tube while I get dressed. Little Miss is stoked, and enjoys some furry red puppets with her snack of choice.

10:15ish a.m. - 11:30 a.m. - Play, watch more cartoons, go outside to get the mail, finish more laundry and dishes, make some phone calls (Little Miss thinks everything she touches can be a phone, and now walks around holding random objects, such as a child's New Testament or my sock to her ear, jabbering.)

11:30 a.m. - Little Miss in bed for nap. Blows kisses bye bye, reminds me how blessed I am to have such a sweetheart. I run for my Bible and do my quiet time before settling down to write.

12:00 noonish - 1:30ish p.m. - Sit with laptop and a Diet Coke and blog, catch up on emails, and eventually, write. This is when time flies and I rarely notice what time it is until once again, Little Miss stirs from down the hall. Usually she wakes up happy, and I can let her talk and play while I finish my scene or thought. Rarely, she wakes up a little grumpy and cries, which means laptop off NOW.

1:31 p.m. - Eat lunch with Little Miss, which turns into an exhausting array of back bends, squats, lunges, and stretches as I attempt to clean the floor of her discarded food. (see, I exercise! lol) We're still working on the "food stays on your tray" concept.

2:30 p.m. - Lunch finished, Little Miss hosed down and dressed, floor somewhat clean, high chair tray scrubbed, and she's now looking at me like "what's next Mom?" This is when I usually load us up on in the car to visit Nana, do some errands, hit Sonic happy hour, visit Hubby at the station, etc. If we have no excuse to leave the house and justify the gas from driving into town from the boonies, I let her play outside for awhile, or pick a random activity. (Like the other day she, with zero prompting, ran into the washroom, grabbed the swiffer wet mop, and proceeded to push it around the house. I was tempted to stick a wet rag on the end of it but figured that'd be bad for the carpets.)

4:00 p.m. - Tired from playing all afternoon, we sit down to snuggle in chair and eat a snack and watch Gilmore Girls - she loves the theme song. I usually am at this point filled with thoughts on how I wish I could write as witty dialogue as the writers for this show did

5:00 p.m. - I realize I need to make dinner, and hemm and haw between hamburger helper or mac n cheese. (though last night I made chicken enchiladas from scratch, no recipe, and they were quite tasty! woohoo!)

6:00 p.m. - Eat dinner, clean up from dinner, hose Little Miss off, and let her run around and digest before taking her bath. (I'd much rather the inevitable dirty diaper BEFORE the bath, not after, and definitely not during.. Hear hear, fellow moms???)

7:45 p.m. - Sitting down to snuggle with my freshly bathed, sweet Little Miss again while she takes her tiny bedtime bottle (almost off formula, not completely yet!) When she's done, I get a goodnight kiss, then ask "Wanna say your prayers?" which is met with an exuberant "YEAAA!!!" (she says "Yeah!" now when you ask questions about what she wants) and pray her nighttime blessing over her.

8:00 p.m. - Little Miss in her bed with mobile on, I literally run across the house for more caffeine and my laptop before hopping in my own bed, trusty gameshows on the tube, and write another chapter or two in between networking and catching up with more emails.

9:30 p.m. - Wish I had the energy to write another chapter.

10:00 p.m. - Wish I had the energy to stay awake through Deal or No Deal.

10:30 p.m. - Click TV off, thinking I'd have made much better case choices on Deal or No Deal.

10:31 p.m. - Drift into dreamland.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Curing Writers' Block

One of my friends recently told me that Charles Schultz, the creator of the famous Peanuts cartoon strip, claimed that his hardest work of the day was when he stared out the window.

"Wouldn't that be fabulous?" my friend scoffed. "I wish I had the life of an artist."

Then my friend glared at me.

I knew what my friend was talking about. After all, anyone (like me) who has time to stare out a window must live the life of luxury.

I don't stare out windows anymore. I used to, as a kid. That's when I developed my best story ideas – in those quiet hours. Then people started to worry about me. They convinced me that I was either:

a) Mentally ill

b) Vitamin D deficient

c) Going to jail some day because I was a freeloader who refused to do actual work

So in an effort to prove that I was stable, healthy, and independent, I decided there would be no more staring out windows. I would multitask. I would do household chores while I thought.

This was all great in theory, except for the time I accidentally cleaned my mom's rug with bleach instead of carpet cleaner. Or the time I accidentally washed my sister's pants with the ballpoint pen. Or the time I (accidentally?) fed the dog refried beans instead of dog food (hey – they smelled the same, but the results were definitely different).

Unfortunately, this pattern has continued into my adult life. I can no longer think while staring out a window. I have to have some sort of fabric-altering, household goods-damaging chemical in my hands.

Last week I was proud of myself. I will not clean with any chemicals while I think about writing, I thought. I will just wash the couch cushion covers.

With the bleach safely out of reach, I poured the mild detergent into the washer and watched the cushion covers spin.

Perfect. My story came together wonderfully in my mind while the machine worked.

An hour later I pulled the cushion covers out of the dryer. Oops, I realized. My niece was in need of some new couch cushions. She was in luck, too, because the ones I just dried on hot would fit her Barbie couch perfectly now.

My husband was calm about the whole ordeal. We could use the cushions as cup coasters, he suggested. Or hang them on tiny wires and make earrings out of them.

I rejected his ideas. After all, I would be afraid of losing such an expensive piece of jewelry.

It's been a week, and I feel another bout of writers' block coming on. Last I checked, though, my husband had hidden all the harsh chemicals and disconnected the dryer unit.

If I keep up with this writing business, I may never have to work again.

****

B.J. Hamrick is a journalist, humorist, and Real Teen Faith Editor-est.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo)

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Nanowrimo. Don't ask me how it's pronounced, but it stands for National Novel Writing Month. Some of you are probably already in the throes of writing your 50,000 words rough drafts, but for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about ...

During the month of November thousands of aspiring writers band together to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The goal is to just get a draft down. No one's expecting it to be a masterpiece. Then once the draft is done, you'll finally have something to work with.

But don't let the fact that we're already 7 days into the month deter you. Any month can be your Nanowrimo!

I attempted my own personal Nanowrimo a couple years ago when I was writing my second novel. I purposed to write 60,000 words in 6 weeks. I figured if I wrote 1500 words a day, five days a week, that would work. I ended up taking more like 8 weeks, but I did it. It was hard, I'll admit. But I was very glad I made the commitment.

But here's the thing that made it work for me. I did not allow myself to go back and re-read what I wrote the day before. I know. Sounds impossible, right? It wasn't as hard as I might've thought. Sure, I had some plot threads that got dropped midway. A character or two disappeared (with some others show up unexpectedly). But I found out I had more of the story in my head than I thought.

Have you been laboring over the first three chapters of your book for the past three months (ask me how I know what this feels like!)? Do you desperately want to finish that book you started years ago but put in a drawer? Why not give the Nanowrimo technique a try? You don't have to not read what you wrote the day before, but I guarantee it'll help you turn off that internal editor that hounds your every writing hour. :)

And now in honor of this year's Nanowrimo participants, I give you this video: