Monday, November 30, 2009



This is not about writing, I recognize.


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"?


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.


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.




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?


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


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...


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:

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:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

From the Diary of Christa A. Banister

Even though there wasn't anything particularly noteworthy about my life, I started keeping a diary when I was only nine years old...

It wasn't all that different from the one in this was fire-engine red with a cheap gold lock so my Mom couldn't read it. Mostly, I was afraid she'd see how many times I dreamed about running away to somewhere infinitely more exciting and exotic than my hometown of Ladysmith, Wisconsin.

I had this whole gypsy life planned for myself, and I didn't want her to steal my thunder with practical questions like how I'd pay for my travels, what I'd do for work, etc.

I even remember carefully hiding the diary key in my dresser drawer with my Wonder Woman underoos (remember those?) like I had all these secrets that I desperately wanted no one else to read. But somehow, that air of mystery of writing something that no one else was privy to was simply exhilarating. I couldn't get enough of it, and I quickly filled pages and pages with my random thoughts and juvenile ruminations.

And many times when I'm sitting in front of my laptop these days, I'm still trying to find that youthful exuberance about writing. Sometimes I'll find any excuse (an episode of Rachael Ray's "30 Minute Meals" I must watch, laundry that has to be folded, M&Ms that will self-destruct if they're not snacked on) to put off the inevitable deadlines. And it's not because I don't love what I'm doing, (I do) but that it's become a job and something I have to do, rather than something I get the privilege of doing.

But as I'm really diving in to my third novel, I'm trying to write with the non-judgmental spirit I used to have when I was nine. I'm writing more stream-of-consciousness style and leaving the editing for later. (On a side note, this is not how I usually roll. I'm usually not content to move on to a new paragraph until what's proceeding it is my idea of perfection—or at least perfection that particular day). Now I'm writing like no one else is reading. And I have to say that it's really, truly freeing to approach my prose as if it were just a diary entry about this girl named Sydney and her wacky cast of pals.

I guess I'm telling you all of this because maybe you feel the same. You're in a rut, and you don't know why because you absolutely, positively love what you do. Truth be told, it's good to switch things up from time to time, you know embrace your nine-year-old self and see what happens. I'm personally hoping for great things (and it's nice not to have to lock the contents once I'm finished for the day).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Authors or writers?

Have you ever stared at the blinking cursor on your blank computer monitor, fingers curled in defense, head pounding with all the things you want to say but can't figure out how, eyes glazed, stomach growling in bitter protest of all the chocolate and caffeine you consumed in desperation, and ask yourself "WHY? WHY? WHY?"

Why do you write?

Why do I write?

What's in it for us? Money? HAHAHAHAHAHA. No, seriously. Unless you're Nicholas Sparks and land a million dollar contract on your first novel, or you're JK Rowling and hit it big with a random wizard you concocted during your day job, it's not for the money. We might, after much practice and a few decent sales figures, bring in something resembling a small paycheck, but that's it. Hardly the key motivation.

Is it fame? No. Again, unless you're one of the few, lucky, random big time names, it isn't going to happen. You might build a decent fan base on Facebook or through your blog, you might have women look forward to your books and email you fan letters, but seriously, the odds of any of us going on Oprah and The Today Show promoting our book is pretty darn slim. (and PS - no matter how famous any of us might get, I have the feeling our husbands are still going to expect to have the toilets clean and dinner cooked!)

Is it your sense of self worth? Hmm. I had to think on this one. Sometimes, I do feel like writing is all I can do - I'm not really good at much else. Never had genius grades in school. I have no musical talent, no artististic or crafty skills like knitting or crocheting or painting or sculpting or even scrapbooking...I can't sing great or cook great or even clean the house in a way, writing is my identity in my family and among my friends and church members. But then I remember immediately that it's not me. My writing is very much God through me, and that just brings me to my knees in gratitude that the King of the Universe would see fit to use me, a tired, broken, sinful vessel, to speak words of grace and hope into the world. Wow. What an honor.

I think I know why we write, and its best summed up in my favorite quote, the one on my website and blog and attached to my email signature.

"I write for the same reason I breathe - because if I didn't, I would die." - Sir Issac Asimov.

It's true, isn't it? I think there's a difference between authors and writers. Authors are writers of pieces. They have written things and had them published or appreciated in some form. Authors can be writers. But writers are more than authors. Writers have to write. Words are in their blood, in their genes, in their soul - in every fiber of being, begging for release. Words that must come out and splash onto a page regardless of the money, fame, or sense of worth. Regardless of what they get back, writers must write.

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Moving up from the Kiddie Table

Every time I look at my legs, I marvel at the fact they can walk. It's not that there's anything wrong with them –- it's just that I didn't use them until I was 12 years old, and that was because I finally told my sister to stop carrying me around.

Hello, my name is B.J., and I have a disease called "The Baby." Statistics show that 100% of families with children have one like me. These kids may learn to walk, talk, and think by themselves -- but their families will never acknowledge it.

I tried the denial thing. I went to college. I got a job. I got married. I acted like an adult. My family even cheered me on. Until I wrecked my car, forgot to feed my husband, left the laundry in the washer for 16 days, and –- well –- generally acted like The Baby.

Recently I decided to have my family over for an intervention. I would prove that I wanted to be an adult. I would serve them lunch, show them my well-kept house, and have adult-like conversation. Maybe they would even let me move over from the Kiddie Table.

About an hour into the family meeting, I was proud of how things were going. Our adult conversation ranged from how lovely my house was, to how nice the weather was, to how pregnant my aunt felt.

"You don't happen to have a pregnancy test?" she asked.

I couldn't believe it. This was the most important day of my life. My aunt was asking me for a pregnancy test. She was acknowledging that I was an adult.

"Why yes," I said. "I do. I also have a little cup for you to pee in. I use it all the time for my pregnancy tests."

I opened the cabinet but the cup wasn't there.

"That's strange," I said. "It was right…"

I turned just in time to see it. My sister was holding the pregnancy test cup, sipping root beer from it.

In the words of Dave Barry, "I am not making this up."

I couldn't speak. There was only one thing I could do: laugh.

I laughed so hard I cried. My aunt laughed so hard she cried. My mom laughed so hard she cried.

My sister just cried. And yelled.

"WHAT were you thinking?" she shouted. "WHO would keep a pregnancy test cup with her drinking cups?"

And silently but truly, we all knew the answer: The Baby would.

3 Application questions for writers:

1. Does your place in the birth order affect your writings? (I.E.: I'm the youngest child; I'm the entertainer in the family. Therefore the comedy genre.)

2. What qualities can you add to your characters based on their birth-order?

3. Do you believe any of this birth-order junk?


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

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Best and Worst Things In Life

Here's something that everyone reading this will admit to (and if they don't, I'm thinking we'll need some form of a Writers Anonymous group to fix that):

Writers are weird.

We make characters do horrible things and enjoy it. Fictional or not, these people die, suffer, are scared, beaten, bruised and fallen and we thrive on the emotion of it. Or, we force these characters into the most embarrassing situations ever known to man just for a laugh and what do we do? We revel in it.

We are a strange bunch.

We cry over these fictional characters. We ache for these people who, whether we'll admit it or not, sometimes seem more real to us than they probably should. We know their likes, their dislikes, their biographical histories. We know more about them than we probably know about some of our closest friends.

And when someone reads our work and cries or laughs as well?

Well. That is the jackpot, my friends. Who cares if they buy the book, we want our readers to be gripped by those emotions that we poured into that story!

Some of the sweetest times in my life - like when my husband proposed - I turned and wrote all those wonderful feelings into a scene. Some of the hardest times in my life - like when my sister was hospitalized and later when my grandfather died - I sat down and poured those heartbroken emotions into a scene.

Writers feel.

So, embrace the weirdness, my fellow writing friends. God has given you a unique perspective on life. Don't take it for granted, but instead use it to glorify God in your writing. Have you been struggling through an illness or someone you love is sick? Write through it and pray that maybe someone else will be comforted in knowing that they are not alone. Have you had the best week of your life? Scribble it down - someone else out there needs a pick-me-up and you making them laugh might just be a God-send.

Copy this verse and paste it above your writing desk: "My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that the grace of God is with you no matter what happens." - 1 Peter 5:12b NLT

So, let's be weird with a purpose. Who's with me? :)