Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Outlines and Planning Ahead

Last week, a reader asked: I would love to know if any of you have suggestions on how to write a novel outline. I never really plan ahead in my novels, but right now I am stuck on chapter three and am considering the outlining process.

This isn't really a cut and dried answer, because everyone writes in different ways, and some people don't use outlines at all.

But here's what I do:

Because I now sell on proposal to my editor, I have to - duh - have a proposal. =) And a proposal includes a synopsis (of varying lengths), so for me, I have to have a clear vision of my story before I get it contracted and then written. This is great in a sense, because it means if they reject the idea, I didn't waste time writing a book that didn't sell, and can move to a new idea and try again immediately. But it's also frustrating because that means I have to stick to what I told them would happen, and obviously means I have to KNOW what happens in the story.

There is still room to fudge around with details though, and its happened before that when I was writing the story, half-way through I realized This plot thread was leading toward This, and would fit perfectly with This, etc. So I sent my editor an email, ran it by her and kept going with approval. So don't feel that when you get to this point of selling on proposal with your publisher or future publisher that it stifles your creativity or boxes you in. It doesn't have to at all.

What I do is prepare a 3-5 page synopsis with a clear outline of how the story opens, the heroine and hero's main goals and motivation and conflict throughout (what they want, how they're going to get it, what's keeping them apart, etc.) and the external plot (what's actually going in the story outside of the romance between the hero and heroine). I have a beginning, a middle, and an end that works together and wraps up with a happily ever after (my publisher demands HEA's!)

Since I'm such an organized, detail-oriented person to begin with, I typically thrive on having my story plotted in full previous to writing it, because then I don't have writer's block. I don't ever wonder "what happens next" or sit there staring, wondering where the story is going. I know where it's going because I had to decide before I started. That's another bonus - plotting a full story before you write it lets you dictate a story before you get involved with the characters and the emotion. It's like a pre-writing, bird's eye view, more technical perspecctive of "will this work? is there enough conflict? are the goals clear throughout? are there enough characters? too many? is the setting suitable?" etc. After you're involved in the writing process of the story, revisions hurts more from an editor because you're already so invested. Does that make sense?

Anyway, to get technical about my personal choice of outlining and plotting, here's what I do - I just sit down with a fresh Microsoft Word document page and start writing my ideas for a story. Usually this stage is just me typing, very informally, very amateurish, just getting thoughts on the screen all jumbled and half-finished. Then when I get a full idea fleshed out I go back and tie it together and brainstorm for "why did he do this" type justifications, and fixing what I call "plotholes" (potholes!) of things that don't make sense and need to be filled in, etc. Then when it's all there, I edit it into something presentable and official to present to my agent and editor.

That's it!

So don't feel that you have to have a formal, worthy-of-presenting-to-your-high-school-english-teacher outline with points and subpoints and everything else.

However, there is much praise in the industry for Randy Ingermanson's "Snowflake Method" of plotting, but I haven't ever actually used it myself. I just know it's highly recommended if you are the type of person who works best with a more formal, detailed outline.

Bottom line - do what works best for you, whether that's plotting a lot, plotting a little, or not plotting in advance at all. Just write =)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Story Continues - With a Prize

Last week, 16 of you added to the sentence, "it reeked of death." (Go here to view the rest... your comments made me laugh so hard!)

This week I want to wrap it up with how you want to end the story. Here's the last paragraph -- add your finale after it:
Blogger The Dreamer said...

"P-promise?" I stuttered. And then I remembered. The day after I had meet Ethan, Cole had tried to kiss me. I told him - promised him - I would never speak to him again.

Since you turned the story into a romance, I have a gift for one randomly drawn commenter. I'd like to share a book with you from Sarah Sundin -- her debut novel, Distant Melody! She sent me this copy and I just started it -- excellent. I'd love to share a copy with you! (More to come soon about my thoughts on the novel.)

So start commenting! And be sure to leave your email address or some way for me to contact you if you win.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Conference Time!

I spent the past weekend helping out at the Christian Writers Guild conference in downtown Denver - SO FUN!! My mom came with me and we had a fabulous girls weekend and loved hanging out with the staff of CWG.

This was our NINTH conference with CWG (gosh!!!). So, I hope I was able to help a few of the first-timers who were there! Conferences can be SO intimidating! So, I made a few mental notes for you ScribbleChicks out there who might be getting ready to head to your first conference!

1. Wear comfortable shoes! And maybe more importantly, make sure those shoes are broken in before you go.

2. Bring a couple of copies of your proposal. If you don't have a proposal, bring a few pages of your current work-in-progress as a sample of your writing. CWG's conference lets you sign up for 15-minute appointments with publishers. Even if you aren't hoping to sell something, bringing a sample of your work can allow you to get valuable feedback. Take advantage of those meetings! When else will you get 15 minutes to talk to an editor at a huge publisher?

3. Have courtesy for other writers. Don't push and shove your way through the conference trying to get the best of everything. If you don't get an appointment with the editor you wanted, try to find a time to see them outside of the appointments - but don't be annoying. Remember, first impressions are extremely important!

4. Respect the rules. This goes along with my last point, but it was amazing how many people tried to bend or stretch the rules at this past conference! I probably noticed it more since I was working on the crew instead of attending, but still. First impressions DO count and a publisher is going to notice if you aren't being polite or if you aren't following guidelines. I'm pretty sure most publishers wouldn't be jumping in line to look at a manuscript submitted by a person who couldn't follow directions - how will they know that you'll follow a deadline?

5. Relax and breathe. Conferences are overwhelming, but they don't have to be completely mind-numbing! Take a few deep breaths and gather your nerves - especially before you meet with someone. Also, take advantage of free times to get a much needed break. Go get a coffee and put your feet up for a few minutes. The breather will be so helpful later on that night!

6. Don't waste time. Take breathers, but don't spend the day in your hotel room. Take advantage of the time - meet other authors and try to keep your eyes open for authors in your area and in your genre. Be friendly. Also, talk to the crew (that was me!), because a lot of times, they will have insider insight that the other conferees might not.

7. Bring snacks. Sometimes, hotels serve...well, hotel food. Which may not be something you can or want to eat. Beyond that, they only serve it at meal times. Be sure to bring some trail mix, granola bars or some sort of energy-inducing food with you. You'll be thanking me during that afternoon session when your blood sugar has dropped below the floor!

8. Pack plenty of extra room in your suitcase. Conferences are known for giving out freebies and you'll want to have room to bring them all home!

9. Take ridiculous notes. The sessions only last a few days and so they'll be packing weeks' worth of information into those classes. Bring a notepad or your laptop for extra note-taking room. And be sure to chat with the people in your class. Odds are, they write something similar to you.

10. Have fun! Conferences are some of the most profitable times for writers, but be sure that the I-need-to-take-care-of-business pressure doesn't keep you from having a good time. Relax and enjoy it! Conferences can be inspiring - so let the inspiration flow!

Hope you all had a great weekend!

Erynn :)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Recharging Your Passion

It was May 1st. I had a lined notebook and my favorite pen. One little story idea was all that I knew, but I started writing what was to become my first novel. My main character was to be a real estate agent. Her sister lived on a farm. And I wondered if the sister on the farm was to share Jesus with the other.

That's it. No outlines. No plot summaries. Nothing. Of course, the story changed dramatically over the years, but the gist remained the same, interestingly enough. (And the book later became my first published novel.)

I still have that notebook and occasionally go back and shudder at my teenage writings. See, I knew nothing about writing a novel. My only experience was the many books I'd read. But you know what? That was a good thing. I didn't come into it with any pre-conceived notions. I just wrote.

And this is something I need to remember. I wrote because I loved it. As time went on and I learned more, it didn't come as easily to me. Words were harder to pull from my mind. But there's something beautiful about those first attempts. I believe fiction writers need to write, first of all, for themselves, and THEN think about their audience. Because if you're not interesting yourself with your story . . . then honey, you're going to have trouble finishing that novel.

Maybe you're stuck right now in your writing. Or maybe you're not a writer at all, and you feel like your life is just stalled. May I suggest going back to the basics and remembering what used to excite you? Perhaps it's something that still can. Did you always want to write a fantasy novel but got side-tracked on the latest fiction fad? Have you always wanted to travel to Alaska but let life drag you down? It's never too late to live your dreams. Sometimes it might take time to reach them, but start today by taking a step in the right direction.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sometimes You Just Need a Helping Hand

Does your writing need a jumpstart?

Well, I'm not usually a fan of writing instruction books (most times they're a lot too "duh" for my taste), but this one has gotten me through a slew of challenging times—James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure.

And when you write magazine articles, movie reviews and the like every day for a living, you need all the reassurance you can get sometimes when pursuing your passion project in the wee small hours of the morning, evening, you know, whenever you have the opportunity...

While many of James Scott Bell's techniques won't probably hit someone over the head with their sheer brilliance, it's more of a gentle reminder of how to make our fiction writing really jump from the page (his section on energizing a lethargic middle was particularly helpful when writing Around the World in 80 Dates). And if you're like me and also occasionally struggle with your ending, there's all sorts of sage advice that'll help you pull through...

Trust me, if you're a fiction writer (or aspire to be), it's the best $11.55 you'll spend.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The elusive editor/author relationship...

Last week, a reader asked if we could share what it's like working with editors. Great suggestion! I'm happy to share my experience from working with an editor in the Christian fiction industry. Maybe another Scribble Chick can add to this later or share from a non-fiction side as well.

I had no idea what to expect when my first novel was contracted with Steeple Hill. I didn't know if my editor would become my friend, like my agent had, or would it continue to be strictly professional? Would she email every day, or once a month? What was expected of me in return? Did she want to see pictures of my baby or hear about my personal life, or not?

The answer - all things in moderation.

My editor is not my best friend, and shouldn't be. That relationship fares better when left professional. Not to say we don't care about each other, but I know few if any details of her personal life, and she only knows a little about mine. She's an encourager, but my agent is my real cheerleader. My editor is going to be the one to suggest - even if it's negative at first - how my book could be better. And guess what? That's her job! =) So it works. We email regularly while working on a contract, then communication might slack for awhile as I meet deadlines or am in between books. But she is always there with a fast turn-around time when I have a question or comment and always tries to balance her criticism with encouragement or compliments.

That said, I think I have an ideal relationship with my editor. If we were too close personally, the working aspect wouldn't work as well, and that's what it's all about. I do still send her a Christmas card and the occasional - very, very occasional - picture of my daughter because she does seem to truly enjoy that, but I don't assault her with personal issues on a regular basis. And that would be my advice to you! Vent to your agent. Complain to your agent. Whine to your agent. Celebrate with your agent. Send family photos to your agent (if you have that kind of relationship. SOME agents in the industsry I would imagine would also prefer a more professional relationship, but mine does not) and not to your editor.

Anyone have specific questions?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Group Activity - Your Turn

In the spirit of writing, the Scribble Chicks invite you to join us in this continuing story. Here is how it begins:

It reeked of death.

Your turn. Add a sentence to this story in the comments, and someone will add a sentence after you. (Be serious or humorous.)

Feel free to return and add another.

I can't wait to see how this turns out!

PS - I just responded to your comments from last week. Sorry I missed a few before!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Reflective Birds

*** I posted this awhile ago on blog, please forgive me for the reprint! We have had quite the day and you can read about it on my blog! ***

We have a bird's nest in the high corner of our roof. Jon and I heard little baby birds a few weeks ago up there, just chirping, chirping, chirping!

However, this little mother bird picked an awful place for her nest. So far, we've found two baby birds - so young they don't even have feathers yet - on the ground below. It's so sad! I can't decide if they slipped out or started walking and hopped out. I told Jon we need to stick a little fence up there so they won't fall out until they are able to fly.

Timing is key for baby birds. A few weeks early, they'll fall to their deaths. A few weeks later, though, and they'll soar above the trees.

Timing is critical for book proposals too. You can propose the same novel for years and it never goes anywhere until one day, suddenly and without warning, it takes off.

There is so much that has to happen before a baby bird can fly. They have to be fed so they can have the strength to fly. They have to grow feathers so they'll stay dry and warm.

It's the same with books. There is so much that goes into selling a manuscript! You need to take the time to craft the proposal and make it sing. You need to learn patience because this isn't a "microwave" process - it takes time. It takes energy.

We've already talked about going to conferences, meeting with publishers and agents. But I want to talk about the "meanwhile". You've got your proposal out there. Meanwhile...

Meanwhile, try to cultivate patience. Try to remember Who is really in control, and if God's plan for you includes a career in writing, you'll get that call.

There's a story that Amy Carmichael tells - she's one of my favorite missionaries (if you can have favorites!) and also one of my favorite writers. She references Micah 3:3 which says, "He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness."

She then tells a story about watching goldsmith working in the village she served in. She writes: "'How do you know how long to sit and wait? How do you know when it is purified?' we asked our village goldsmith.

"'When I can see my face in it,' he replied."

She continues with: "Blessed be the love that never wearies, never gives up hope that, even in such poor metal our Father may at last see the reflection of His face."

Don't ever give up hope. Let your writing be an outpouring of the refining that God is doing in you. When you are struggling with doubt and wondering if you are even cut out for this, when you are facing rejection after rejection, remember this.

I love this story because just as a goldsmith refines the gold, just as a painter perfects the painting, just as we rewrite and rewrite our stories, God is working on us too, creating us more and more like His Son.

Instead of seeing the pile of rejections as a bad thing, let's treat them as gold would a fire. Let's count them as blessings that teach us how to polish our stories. Don't give up! Don't back down! Dust yourself off, fine-tune your work and get back out there. Treat your writing as the "offering of righteousness" Micah talks about. Don't get tired. Don't get weary.

Baby birds need food. They need a warm nest. They need to grow and stretch and develop. We need to be fed with the Word. We need the support of family and friends. We need the patience to grow. Sometimes it takes months. Sometimes years. Sometimes decades.

Blessed be the love that never wearies, never gives up hope...

I don't ever want to give up. I don't ever want to get tired. I don't want to miss that second when I realize I'm soaring. I don't want to miss the moment I pray for - that one day when I'll look down at myself, I won't see me.

I'll see His reflection.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple, Silly)

I'm currently in the middle of a new novel proposal, and I'm at the critical point—the one-sentence promise.

Basically, in just one, compelling yet succinct sentence, I'm answering these crucial questions: What exactly is my book about? And why should the publisher or potential readers care?

While crafting this oh-so-important sentence for the better part of the morning, I couldn't help but think of one of my favorite movies, Sideways.

One of the main characters, Miles, is also a novelist in hot pursuit of publication. His last hope is a small specialty press, and truth be told, he's not feeling all that confident about his chances given all the rejection he's faced in the past. Perhaps, if he had a better one-sentence promise, (or a stronger idea in general) his chances would've improved drastically.

Case in point: Here's the conversation that happens once Miles' potential love interest Maya asks what his novel is about...I seriously can't help but crack up every time he answers her.

Maya: So is it kind of about death and mortality or...?
Miles Raymond: Mnmm, yeah... but not really. It shifts around a lot. Like you also start to see everything from the point of view of the father. And some other stuff happens, some parallel narrative, and then it evolves—or devolves—into a kind of a Robbe-Grillet mystery—with no real resolution.

And then later on, as if things can't get any worse, a friend offers Miles this lovely encouragement.

Mike Erganian: What is the subject of your book? Non fiction?
Miles Raymond: Uh, no. It's... it's a novel. Fiction. Yes. Although there is quite a bit from my own life... so I suppose that, technically some of it is nonfiction.
Mike Erganian: Good I like non fiction. There is so much to know about this world. I think you read something somebody just invented, waste of time.
Miles Raymond: That's an interesting perspective.

I guess I'm sharing this as a reminder to always have a clear sense of what your work is about. Basically if you don't know, chances are, no one else will either.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tick Tock

We had a loyal reader ask :

I have trouble finding the time to sit down and write and not feel guilty about it. (i.e. during work - since I do work from home but am required to be logged in/available/working on projects during normal business hours, during after work hours - time when I am either exhausted or feel like I need to be spending it with my family, etc.)

Erynn touched on this answer, but suggested one of us with children answer, since that is such a time absorber.

Here's my view on time. EVERYONE is busy, whether they have kids or not. Kids definitely make one busier, especially moms, who often stay home with the kids and still have to work a side job or manage the house and clean and cook, etc. all while still being available to their husbands and families, and not forsaking their own spiritual growth by spending time with the Lord.

But it comes down to this: No matter who we are, how busy we are, how many responsibilities we have tugging at us, we ultimately MAKE time for what's important to us.

Think about it. We make time to eat. We make time to go to the bathroom. We make time to clean the house, even if it's not as often as we'd prefer (lol) We make time to sleep. But even beyond neccesities, how many people who are legitimately busy still have a favorite TV show they watch once a week? (even if it's recorded and watched late at night, they watch it!) How many people who are legitimately busy still make time for sporadic lunch dates with a friend, a shopping trip with their mother, a night out with Hubby, etc.

All of that to say it's possible to make time to write. You just have to be willing to MAKE the time. Erynn suggested lunch hour writing for those who work outside of the home or those who work at home but still take breaks. That one hour of writing while munching can be very productive, I did it while at my outside job in the years before I quit work.

You can also get up early or stay up late, which cuts into your sleep - but again, it's about making time for what's important.

Another tip is to get your family on your side. My husband had a best friend growing up whose mother was like Super Mom. I'm still often intimidated by stories about her. She worked an 8 hour job outside of the home, yet came home EVERY evening to her husband and two sons and cooked them a full course meal, WITH DESSERT. Every night! She also managed to cook breakfast in the mornings before work and keep the house tidy and not go insane.

But she had a secret - she had Friday nights. On Friday nights, she came home from work, popped herself a bag of popcorn, and sat in the recliner with a magazine and the remote control for as long as she wanted. She did nothing else for no one, and everyone in her family knew they sure as heck better not ask! It was "fend for yourself" night and they happily consumed a sandwich or bag of Ramen noodles because they knew as well as she did that she deserved the break.

So sometimes that little bit of motivation for coming "me time" goes a long way to propelling us through even a full week of seemingly never ending tasks. Don't think that if you don't have time every day to write, that its impossible. It might be that your time for writing is better taken in bigger chunk of time, say every Saturday afternoon. Or every Sunday evening between the hours of 5-9. Get creative and do what works for you, with your family, and your schedule. And don't be afraid to ask for outside help. Most moms have someone - whether it be a husband, a grandma, a best friend, etc. - who wouldn't mind babysitting on a regular, once a week basis for a few hours to give you that much needed time.

(The real test comes in when you have that time, using it for writing and not watching that TV show! lol)

As a mom, here's my second tip. Don't feel guilty. Right now, as I type this blog, I'm sitting on my couch in my PJs, with Max & Ruby cartoon in the background, and my sweet toddler sitting in the chair beside me, drinking juice and munching Lucky Charms and enjoying her cartoon. Using the TV as a "babysitter" sporadically is not the sin that some "experts" say it is. Don't get caught up in letting all those so called pros tell you how to parent or what's okay for your child. You know your baby or child best, and you know what they can handle and what's good for them. So don't feel like you have to be thinking up crazy, creative, entertaining games for your baby or child literally all day long. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you should park 'em in front of the tube for hours straight!! lol Hopefully you all understand what I mean here.

I feel like I've found a good balance in playing with my child during the day, but also letting her learn to play by herself a little sometimes too. I'm always THERE, and readily accessible, but even if I'm on the laptop for a few minutes shooting my agent an email or posting a quick blog, she knows that if she needs me, all she's gotta do is come tug at me or yell MAMA and I'll be running to refill her juice or whatever else she wants. I also don't do my major writing unless it's her naptime, so I don't get too asborbed in the story and ignore her, or vice versa. So find the balance that works for you and your children and do it!

I hope this helps. Time is a tricky thing, and it flies so quickly, even more so when you are watching your children grow up before your eyes. And that said, time to go play =)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Truth vs. Fiction


1. Walk to car.

2. Open door.

3. Insert finger between hinge.

4. Close door.

If you followed the above instructions -- I envy you. Because I would rather follow them than do what I did last week.

Two words: house hunting.

Don't kid yourself. It's not as fun as it sounds. Unlike other types of hunting you don't get to shoot at anything.

Even when I really really wanted to shoot I didn't get to. Not even in self-defense. Not even when the Realtor endangered my life by slamming the golf cart brakes so hard that I turned into human graffiti on the outside of her office.

Not even when I asked her, "Does this house have an alarm system?" and she answered, "It sure does. It's the box right here."

"I don't see any buttons on it," I said. "How does it work?"

"Well," the nice brake-slamming Realtor said, "If you hear someone breaking into the house, you pull this cord and the box chirps at you."

"It chirps at me?"

"Yes. Just to let you know someone's breaking in."

"So... I pull the chord to let myself know someone's breaking in?"


People have been known to do strange things under stress. I begged. I cried. She finally took me back to her office.

Then the brake-slamming Realtor closed our meeting by handing me a piece of paper.

"What is this?" I asked.

"It's a lease. For the house."

"The house that chirps?"

"Yes." She nodded.

I told her to go follow instructions one through four.


One thing I love about writing a newspaper column is that I get to make stuff up. Part of this column is truth, part of it is fiction. Which parts do you think are true?

For you fiction writers out there -- how much of your fiction is based on a true story?

I'd love to hear from you.


B.J. Hamrick is the editor of Real Teen Faith.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Questions and Some Answers :)

On my last post, one of our sweet readers left some really good questions! So, I'm going to attempt to answer them. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts! :)

1. As a Christian writer, how do you handle/get past the feelings of marketing yourself and your writing? (Not sure if that question makes sense, but I wasn't quite sure how to word it.)

If you are talking about a sense of almost guilt (or even unworthiness?), then I hope this answer will help a little bit! A little background info on me - I would be voted the LEAST likely to succeed as a salesperson. I'm pretty quiet until I know someone really well, I don't like to talk about myself or what I do for a living. Sometimes, I'll have known someone a couple of months before they find out that I'm a writer. Actually, I'm the worst marketer in history.

So if this is what you are talking about - then you've come to the right place!! Here's how I've learned how to handle it. I like to think about it like this: I am a writer, yes, but MUCH more important than that, I'm a Christian writer. And I've gotten into several conversations about Christ with people who normally wouldn't bother to talk to me about Him after mentioning that I'm a Christian fiction writer. It's really a fun witnessing tool!

As far as the actual "marketing" goes, all you are really doing is sharing what God has placed on your heart - whether that's with editors, publishers, readers or fellow writers. Start a blog and start writing about what's important to you that day - whether it's the fact that your son just learned something new or you found something in the Bible that really stuck out to you. Marketing doesn't have to be stiff and structured - think outside the box. Build a blog audience by being you. General rule of thumb - if it's important to you, it will most likely be important to others. Are you writing toward moms? single girls? college age? Find your audience and write toward them.

2. I am a full-time working wife & mother of a 4 yr old son. I want to delve into writing as a career, but have some fear that we may not could financially handle it.

:) I'm about to have this problem!! (I'm due in July with my first!) Betsy and Christa are the people to ask about this since they balance writing, kids, husband and life in general on a daily basis (hint, hint, girls!). I've been asking this question for the last several weeks as well - how do you fit writing into a life with a baby/child? Basically, I've heard that if you can find half an hour in the mornings and half an hour at night, maybe that's all the writing you'll get in that day. But what's important is that you are writing. Time is in God's hands and He does know your crazy schedule! Give it to Him. Maybe you can get up an hour earlier and write then? Or stay up an hour later? I used to work full-time at an office and I would write over my lunch break in between bites. I only got a few pages done every day, but I did end up finishing the book.

As far as the financial situation, I don't know what yours is like, but I don't have good news for you. Writing is probably one of the worst jobs ever if you are looking for a steady income (or even any income at all!). There are months where my books seem to do pretty good and there are months where things are very tight.

It's definitely possible to have a full-time job and still find time to write. Things might need to adjust a little bit, but it's possible!!

3. And, related to the above, I also have trouble finding the time to sit down and write and not feel guilty about it. (i.e. during work - since I do work from home but am required to be logged in/available/working on projects during normal business hours, during after work hours - time when I am either exhausted or feel like I need to be spending it with my family, etc.)

In other words, I guess, how do you make the transition from the non-writing career world to the writing career world?

Again, maybe if you get a lunch hour? Or if there is time before or after work that you could work on your writing for a few minutes?

One of the most important things I've learned in regard to writing is time management. I can always find something that needs my attention - it's finding the time to set all of that aside. BUT if that thing is your family (like you mentioned), then I think you might need to set aside your writing and spend time with them. Think of it like this: Can the distraction wait? If it's your husband or son, I don't think they can. But laundry can wait. Dishes can wait. Maybe you could work something out with your husband that he cooks/cleans/does laundry/has dad-son time one day a week so you have time to write.

4. How do you handle the thoughts (insecurity) about how there are so many wonderful Christian authors out there in every genre, that how can/why should I stand out among them?

I hope you read CJ's last post about comparison! It's a struggle for every writer, I think. We are always our own worst critic - keep that in mind when you are reading your work. I tend to be a perfectionist and it is very easy for me to rip my work to pieces whenever I read back through it. Trust other people's opinions more than your own.

As far as how can and why should you stand out, you'll stand out because you are unique and your story is unique! Like CJ said on Friday, you are the only person who has your story. And maybe there is someone out there who needs to hear exactly what you have to say.

I know there are SO many things that you still need to figure out, but I really do hope you are able to find time to write! :) Even if all you have time for right now is a blog and you only have time to post every other day, then make that your goal for the time being. I'll be praying that God just opens windows of time for you during your day! :) And please let me know if you have other questions or if I didn't answer these very well!

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Comparison Trap

The first time it happened was after reading a book that was everything I wanted my novels to be. The plot moved me, the characters were real, and the message was powerful. You’d think I would’ve been inspired to head to my keyboard, but instead I felt like throwing in the towel. Every time I sat down to write my own fiction I would think about this other author. There was no way I could write like her. My characters were cardboard. My plots lame. What was the point? How could I possibly write that well?

I didn’t realize I’d fallen into the comparison trap. All I knew was that I was miserable and ready to quit. In desperation I asked for advice from novelist James Scott Bell. He’s been my writing mentor for almost ten years, and as usual, his words hit home. He assured me I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. All serious writers and artists have been in my shoes, he said. What I needed to understand was that no two writers are the same. I had my story that no one could ever write like me.

Doubts come to all of us. Even best-selling, award-winning authors like Francine Rivers or Frank Peretti. It helped me to realize that others who are much further along on this journey still struggle at times. It showed me feelings of inadequacy are just that—feelings. They often have no bearing whatsoever on the real quality of what I write. We’ll always need to improve in our craft, but there are times when we must forget about what we lack and ignore the negative thoughts swirling in our heads.

As Jim Bell said, we all have a story to tell from our own unique perspective. Several years ago a bunch of CBA novelists got together to prove it. They decided to each write short pieces of fiction based on the same strict guidelines. All the stories had to include the same first and last lines. They had to include a case of mistaken identity, pursuit at a noted landmark, and an unusual form of transportation. Do you think these stories ended up sounding similar? Hardly. The authors wrote an amazing variety of tales (one even wrote in the point of view of a dog). Why were none of them the same? Because all the authors came to the challenge with their own toolbox of life experiences, and they wrote from their one-of-a-kind view of the world. (Those stories were published in book form, by the way. Check out What the Wind Picked Up.)

Jim shared something else with me. He compared writing to what God does with spiritual gifts. Not everyone has the same gift, but when we develop what God has given us, it contributes to the whole tapestry of the body of Christ in the world. He told me I needed to be the best C.J. I could be. And if I gave my full attention to my own writing, not comparing myself to anyone but just digging deeper into my story, the doubts would go away.

What would happen if we stopped looking to others for validation? My writing is never going to be like Karen Kingsbury’s. But on the other hand, Karen’s writing is never going to be like mine. Or yours. That’s the way God designed it. We’re all different, to reach different people. Someone who will snatch up the latest Ted Dekker might never crack open a Janette Oke.

In his latest writing how-to book The Art of War for Writers Jim says: “One of the biggest obstacles of all comes from comparison with other writers and worrying about your status in the publishing world. This is the way to ultimate madness. The writing life is crazy enough without you making it worse on yourself.”

Escaping the comparison trap is not only vital to your mental health as a writer, it’s also biblical. “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else . . .” Galatians 6:4. So dive into your writing without distraction. There are readers out there God is preparing right now to read the stories only you can write.

[Originally posted on Rachelle Gardner's CBA Ramblings blog]

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Case for Christian Fiction

Growing up in a no-stoplight town in western Wisconsin, sometimes the best adventures happened in whatever book I was reading at the time.

After all, my hometown of Ladysmith didn’t have the whole quaint small town thing going like Stars Hollow, the quirky fictional home of “Gilmore Girls,” one of my all-time favorite T.V. series. Not only were there no mother-daughter combos who spoke fluent pop culture, but there wasn’t even a dreamy, endearingly grumpy diner guy who put up a good fight whenever you wanted yet another shot of espresso.

For the record, the best coffee in Ladysmith was the java you brewed at home with your own beans. Your other option? A vanilla cappuccino from the local Qwik Trip, a sickly sweet substance that in no way resembled an actual cup of joe. And as you probably guessed, the gas station also had a criminal shortage of cute baristas. Sigh.

With no good coffee and little to do, I lived vicariously through the characters in novel after novel—Elizabeth Bennett walking through miles and miles of rolling hills in Pride & Prejudice, the pre-Lost adventures of British boys struggling for survival on a mysterious island in Lord of the Flies and Fudge Hatcher making his older brother Peter’s life rather precarious (and that’s putting it mildly) in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Superfudge.

But as I continued to grow in the newfound faith, my 12-year-old self began wondering if there were actually any books that reflected my Christian worldview. You know, something beyond My Utmost for His Highesta fine devotional, but not exactly what I was hoping for in terms of pure storytelling bliss.

Truth be told, I was pretty happy with the stories I was reading already, but I still couldn’t help but wonder from time to time—what if darling Elizabeth Bennett had a relationship with God, too? And how would that influence how she lived?

Then after a visit to a friend’s house came a revelation! Apparently, there was an entire genre of literature written by Christians, and my friend was willing to let me borrow as many books as I wanted. So happy to hear that the very thing I dreamed of actually existed, I grabbed a stack of paperbacks without giving it much thought.

Later that evening, after carefully arranging and re-arranging my covers and adjusting the lighting (a pre-reading ritual to make sure the mood was just right), I excitedly dug in. Curious about what this reading adventure would entail, I could hardly turn the pages fast enough to get to the beginning, and then it happened before I even made it to chapter 3.


For whatever reason, these prairie women protagonists were about as thrilling as a piece of tilapia with no seasoning for dinner. I couldn’t relate to them on any level, and I wasn’t interested in figuring out how. Ok, so one bad book, let’s see what’s next in the pile…

Yep, you guessed it, more prairie women in hoop skirts. More sand. More deserts. More covered wagons. More boredom.

The rest of the books were more of the same–something my friend warned me about after I complained about the lack of variety. Given my lackluster introduction to the genre, I was determined I’d right that wrong in the future and create a story of faith that readers like me would enjoy.

In the meantime, I returned to my old novel standbys and forgot all about Christian fiction. Until my senior year of high school, that is. My mom was meeting a friend of hers who owned a small Christian bookstore, so I decided to go along for kicks. And lo and behold, there was a novel there I thought I’d really like—the first book in the “Christy Miller” series, Summer Promise by Robin Jones Gunn.

Now here was a protagonist I could relate to—and she was even from Wisconsin! Needless to say, my opinion of Christian fiction changed with the first ten words of this book. And thanks to many, many girls feeling the same way about Christy, Todd, Doug and even ol’ Aunt Marti, Gunn kept the series going for a while, much to my delight.

These days, the world of Christian fiction is night and day different from the prairie girl novels of old, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of the fun with my own novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. However, from time to time at book signings, online and the like, I still encounter people who don’t think much of the genre. That not only makes it a challenge to get people reading, but doesn’t say much about Christians as artists, now does it?

Trust me, I get it. Some of these characters are still so heavenly minded, they’re no earthly good. Yes, there are still a few too many pat answers to actual real-life struggles. Worse yet is when Christian fiction has simply been reduced to the “safe-for-the-whole-family” alternative (and really, when is taking up your cross and following God supposed to be safe?) to something’s that already popular (cue the Christian version of Twilight or “Sex and the City”…usually five years too late).

But if we continue (as readers and writers) to champion quality faith-filled art, I’m convinced that even more will be crafted. And that way, no small-town girl with an insatiable love of reading will ever have to escape to the prairie again—that is, unless she wants to.

Thank goodness.

Originally published on with permission from my illustrious editor Amy Sondova.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Too Real to be Fiction

Do you ever have one of those days, that starts with discouraging news, and somehow ends with you standing in the middle of your kitchen in your underwear, yelling at your daughter to quit sitting inside the refrigerator?

I have.

Let me explain. We got some semi-bad news about my husband's job search, which set a dark tone for the day. At the same time, my 18 month old has discovered a new favorite spot - the middle of the fridge. She climbs inside, and sits on the lowest shelf with her back resting against the vegetable drawer. It's actually pretty funny and cute, except when you're in a bad mood and trying to cook dinner while all the cold energy rushes out of the fridge. I was actually resorting to bribing her out with chocolate (something I would never do, normally) when the chicken I was boiling in the Dutch oven (to make chicken enchiladas, which ironically later came out very tasty) sloshed out of the pan and coated my LSU t-shirt and black yoga pants with boiling broth-water.

I screamed and danced, and that's when Little Miss decided to emerge from the fridge, to dance and laugh with me. "Ow ow ow" was our reluctant chorus. When she realized Mommy was actually upset, she gave me a very sweet hug, which made the burn much better. And the fridge door was finally shut without protest.

But that's how my husband came home to find me - he walks in with bags full of groceries from Walmart, and sees me standing there in my underwear with a wet rag pressed against my stomach, mopping the floor with another dishtowel.

Turns out he had a story to trump mine...which is the point of my blog post today. Do you as authors ever have stories to tell that you're convinced an editor would reject, saying it wasn't realistic or believable enough? That's my life, basically, especially in the last 2-3 years, and last night was no exception.

Get this...

Hubby ran to do some errands yesterday, including signing some papers at his mother's nursing home and buying groceries at Wal-Mart. He was standing there in the lotion aisle, searching for the brand I had instructed he find, when he hears a woman scream. A young woman with a baby/toddler and an older child had been at the other end of the row, and the woman was suddenly very distraught and pointing to a guy running away from her in a blue hoodie, yelling for someone to stop him.

Hubby immediately feared the runner had just kidnapped her baby. He confirmed the blue hoodie was the target, then took off. A few other men joined the chase but gave up pretty quickly, losing interest as Blue Hoodie ran through the garden department and outside into the parking lot.

Hubby says at this point he realized the man wasn't carrying a child, but he knew something was still obviously wrong, and he had already committed thus far, so why not see it through? He kept up the chase, across the entire parking lot, down the street, over a hedge of bushes, past a Wendy's drive thru, and TACKLES the guy in the parking lot of an Exxon, where he proceeded to hold him in a full Nelson until the police arrived minutes later.


At this point, I, understandably, had questions. "Did he even try to fight back?"

Hubby's response. "Yeah, he got me in the ear, but I elbowed him in the head, so we're good."

"So you just laid there on top of him until the police came?" (apparently someone at Walmart had called the cops and pointed them in the right direction)

"Yep. Had 'im in a Full Nelson. He told me he couldn't breathe but I told him I was an EMT and fireman and knew for a fact he could breathe, if he was talking, and he was just gonna have to wait."


Turns out the guy had stolen the woman's pink iPhone. Apparently the reason she spazzed the way she did was because the dude snatched it out of her baby's hands in the buggy. I'd have freaked out too if a stranger snatched at my child and made her cry and then ran off with my phone.

The police arrested the guy, hauled him off, and, my favorite line of the night, he actually told the cop "Not bad for a laid-off Bossier City fireman, huh???" HAHAHA. Priceless. The cop agreed.

So, the woman and her kids and phone were all safe, and my hero had a good dinner before going to bed. Again, though, I'm just not sure I could convince my fiction editor this was real enough to be published. ;)

PS - my burn is okay. Apparently it likes a good hero story.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

iMistake: What's in A Name?

Americans were visibly shaken last week when Steve Jobs made his (first ever) marketing error – naming Apple’s new product after a feminine hygiene item.

Jokes spread faster than bacteria in the seventh grade boys’ locker room– “Does the iPad come with wings?”

(Just so you know, I’m still buying one. And I wish it WOULD grow wings so it could get here faster…)

So while I stare at my computer screen and hope more zeros appear in my bank account (I can dream, right?), I’m doing some thinking: If Steve Jobs can mess up with a name… is there any hope for me?

Only you can answer that question. And these:

* How do you name a manuscript?

* What’s the most creative title you’ve seen?

* And for those who work in the publishing industry: How important is the title if you want to grab an editor’s attention?

Maybe we could get a conversation going here. And who knows… it might save me from accidentally naming my first book The Taming of the Loo… or something equally embarrassing.


B.J. Hamrick is the editor of Real Teen Faith.

Monday, February 1, 2010


My dad and brother are both engineers. And as engineers, they tend to use some of the acronyms/technical words/math terms in their conversations with me.

You can imagine how well this tends to go over.

I'll be complaining about something like how come stores can't just say "Now $2.99!" instead of "Now 33% off!". Which is when Dad and my brother will burst in with something like this:

"Oh, but it's just so simple to find out what 33 percent is. You just take the square root of the original price, multiply it by pi, and then add 17. There's your answer."

Well. Something like that.

Math is not my forte.

But, I'm beginning to notice how much we do this as writers. How often do you hear the words proposal, agent, or contract and as a novice writer, have no idea what other authors are talking about?

With that in mind, here's a rather short glossary of very common terms used very frequently in the writing business:

Agent - A person hired by you - not the publishing house - to propose manuscripts, facilitate publisher/author relations, and handle contract offers. Typically, they will receive about 15% of all the money you make when writing. They are SO worth it!

Manuscript - Sort of self-explanatory, but this is what we call an unpublished book. Try to steer clear of terms like story, exposition or much worse, palimpsest. :) This should be a digital document (so bring copies on discs to writers conferences!), though in rare instances an acquisitions editor might want to see a hard copy, so be sure you have at least one hard copy of your complete manuscript printed out. Use Microsoft Word (preferably the latest edition, though not necessary) to write it and adjust the margins to be double-spaced.

Editor - An editor is often used interchangeably with Publisher, because your first contact with a publishing house is likely to be an Acquisitions Editor. This is the person who is in charge of all new manuscripts bought by the publisher. They present them to the publishing board - who decides whether or not they want to / can afford to publish your book. After signing your book, you will then meet the first person who edits your book. They may or may not work at your publishing house - some publishers use freelance editors. After the first edit, you'll then be introduced to a Copy Editor. They do a line-by-line edit of your book. They check to see how many times you use a word, spelling, grammar, etc.

Proposal - This document is the first thing a potential publisher will see from you. See here for more tips on how to write one. Make sure this is as pristine as you can create it!!

Pitch - Basically, this is a short proposal. Ever heard the term "elevator speech"? A pitch is something that should be the first words out of your mouth whenever anyone asks you, "Hey, what's your book about?" Write it out ahead of time and memorize it. That way, if you are at a conference (or anywhere really - I once ran into an editor at a tiny dude ranch in Colorado!), you can tell them exactly what your book is about.

Contract - Not only is this probably the happiest word a writer ever hears, it's also the scariest word a writer can hear. A contract is a legal obligation for you to write exactly what you proposed to the publisher. If you proposed a legal thriller and four months later you give them a romantic comedy, you'll be in a bit of trouble. The contract is also where the deadline will be specified.

Genre - Think of it as someone asking what section your book would be placed in at a bookstore. Is it science fiction? Women's contemporary? Young adult?

Freelancing - Unless you are hired specifically by a magazine or online website, you are considered a freelance writer, even if you are under a contractual obligation to a publishing house. This really only matters when it comes to how to file your taxes as a writer (something we'll probably talk about when it gets closer to April!).

Marketing - CJ wrote a great post about how to market your book before it gets published here. This definition will mostly apply to after the book is published. Most first-time novelists assume this is the publisher's responsibility and while they will help you out a little bit (like by putting your book in their new releases magazine that they give to bookstores), the majority of the work is going to be on your shoulders. You'll need to come up with all the materials you need to market your book (such as bookmarks, postage for mailings to contest winners, blog setup fees, etc.). Right before Miss Match was released, my mom and I traveled to the ICRS in Denver and handed out my business cards (which had my name and book cover on it) and a mini box of Chicklet gum (since I write chick-lit ;) ) to everyone we saw. Come up with a clever marketing scheme and get it put in place.


This is only a very brief explanation, so if there's anything that really doesn't make sense to you, please be sure to leave a comment! There are no stupid questions when it comes to the publishing process - each of us has been in your shoes before and we are all still learning!