Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Writing Fears, Part Two

I'm with ya, Betsy...being a writer can be a scary, scary thing filled with fears galore.

Like every time I work on a manuscript, I wonder if readers will get my sense of humor. Or if they'll like the characters I've created, the crazy scenarios I've dreamed up, the themes I've tried to tackle.

I'm also afraid my computer will go on the fritz right before I submit my manuscript to my editor (yeah, that happened three days before deadline before), and I'll have to start from scratch.

I also have the somewhat irrational fear that I'll never have a creative impulse ever, ever again, will have to go back to college and study something different altogether.

Such is the life of a writer. We've got neuroses like everyone else...some founded, some, well, not so much. But in the end, it's all absolutely, positively worth it, and hey, isn't conquering our fears part of life anyway? :)

What are you afraid of?

Halloween is looming, and I thought it a fine time to share our greatest fears regarding our writing.

Here's a few answers I polled and gleaned online from various sites...

Some days I fear that I will slave over my novel and finally (oh, finally!) finish it, only to find that it is horrible and no one will publish it and even my friends and family hate it.

I fear that I will never finish my novel at all. That life, children, and work will coalesce until I become so busy that it just sits on my computer unfinished. And then I'd wonder...

My biggest writing fear is that someday, somehow, I suddenly stop loving to write.

My greatest fear is that I won't "make it."

My biggest fear is that I'll stop for good.

I fear people won't tell me truly how my writing is.

I think my biggest writing fear is that my stories are too weird, too unrealistic and out there.

What are you afraid of?
The good news is, on Halloween and every other day of the year, even on our most insecure, self-doubting days, God's word is still truth.

Consider Psalm 56:3 "What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee." and 2 Timothy 1:7 "For God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind."

Kick those fears to the curb! Come out from under the covers, boot up that computer, sharpen that pencil, and get to writing. Fight back against the darkness by writing in the light - the light of God's grace and glory.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chinese Guy Rescued from Man-Eating Toilet

Next time you’re tempted to write while you sit on the toilet, remember China.

If you think I’m going to say that’s where your phone was made, you’re probably right – but I’m also going to remind you about the Chinese man who recently dropped his phone down the loo while texting and decided to fish it out.

Only... he discovered the hard way that arms are not as thin as fishing lines. Let’s just say his body obstructed justice for his phone.

The details are sketchy on how the man managed to call for help – but it wasn’t with his cell phone. It took the strength of several firemen to smash the toilet to smithereens and pull the man’s arm to freedom. (It’s still unknown if the firemen had to ask advice from the Chilean rescue workers.)

Which leads me to the second life-lesson this Chinese man teaches us – not only should you avoid texting on the toilet, but you should be grateful for each day you're given, even if it is really cr*ppy.
BJ Hamrick writes the Bare Naked Truth about life...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Writing Prompt

You've lived in darkness and filth for 17 days, terrified you'll die in there too. You hear the noise again -- they are drilling; they haven't given up hope. But you the day is fast approaching when you know you won't hear the drill anymore.

Suddenly the noise grows. Dirt falls and you begin to wonder if you're hallucinating... is that a drill coming through the ceiling? There are shouts.

Can you describe your feelings in this moment? Use no more than three sentences.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bundling Up

It's getting to be that time of year again!

I love, love, love when the weather gets colder, the houses get warmer and the cider, hot chocolate, tea and coffee start flowing. I love wearing slippers around the house and bundling up in super cute coats and scarves to go outside. And when I don't have to go outside, I love snuggling in a blanket, drinking a hot cup of something steaming and hunkering down into my story.

This is the season for writing!!

It is so hard for me to get motivated to write when it's all summery outside. Particularly when it's an absolutely gorgeous day and all I really want to do is go swimming or take my dog to the park. Summer, to me, is for activity.

But fall and winter? Perfecto for writing time!

Are you guys like that at all? Is there a season - or a time - that you seem to get more writing done? I used to be the most productive in the mornings BTC (Before The Child). Now, I'm more of a hit and miss as far as time during the day.

But, I'm going to make the most of the time I do have! And seeing as how it's getting to be cooler (or sweather - sweater weather, as some of my friends call it), I'm so excited to see what God has planned for my writing now!

So, when do you write the best? And how can you plan your days around that?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tested by Praise

Today in my Bible reading I came across a Scripture that hit me over the head. You know that type? You're reading along and all of the sudden something pops out? This is what I saw:

Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but a person is tested by being praised. Proverbs 27:21 (New Living)

Usually as writers we think it's the negative reviews and critiques we have to watch out for. Those are the ones that can derail us and set us off into a hole of self-doubt. Right? Sure, we can be impacted by negative reviews, but what about the positive ones?

Now I'm not saying we shouldn't listen to praise from our peers, family and friends. We all need encouragement. But something I was very surprised to find when my first novel got published was the temptation to believe my own press. Not that I got many huge, glowing endorsements or beautiful reviews in prestigious publications. Sometimes my test came just from someone telling me, "After the years you put into it, you deserved to be published." It would be very easy to think, "Yeah, I do deserve this."

The problem with that type of thinking, for me at least, is it can (notice I say can) lead to a wrong attitude about why, as a Christian writer, I'm doing what I'm doing. The truth of the matter is I don't deserve anything more than the next gal.

This same principle can apply to critiques of our as-yet-unpublished writing too. If someone tells us we're the next Jane Austen, and we let ourselves believe it, it could possibly make it harder for us to receive constructive criticism from an editor. After all, we write like Jane Austen. Why would we need to change anything?

You see what I mean?

So the key in all this is not to beat ourselves up and never receive praise but to remember every good thing comes from above. If our writing connects with someone, it's because of God's grace and His giftings in our lives. Not because we're better than anyone else. This will help us keep a balanced perspective when the good reviews roll in, but also when the bad ones come (and they will). Neither one should derail us.

What do you think about this subject, friends?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What I DIdn't Know Four Years Ago...

Four years ago today, I got some happy, happy news.

I was awarded my first book contract.

I still remember the congratulatory e-mail plain as day and how excited I was when relaying the news to my hubby, Will. I'm pretty sure the words "slow down" and "breathe" were used.

We celebrated later that evening with a 5:00 p.m. matinee (and yes, I still remember the movie) and a great Italian meal.

Now four years later, I'm feeling a little nostalgic and remember all things I didn't know when I got that contract—like how many hours a day I'd be writing for the next four months to actually finish my first novel (16 was the norm), what the whole developmental edit process was like (not nearly as painful as I expected) or that novels weren't written in AP style (as a journalist, I can't tell how difficult it was actually spelling out numbers over 10 with actual words like "forty" or putting that comma after the third item in a series, always a no-no in the magazine world).

Even worse yet is how ill-prepared I was for what happens after the novel is finished. Yeah, that's when the real work starts. As anyone who's already done so already knows, writing a novel is hard work. But convincing a bookstore owner that you're worthy of having a signing in his/her store, well, that's another matter entirely.

Now as I'm carefully plotting out my third novel, I come into it, knowing far more than I did in the beginning. But it's amazing how the world of books is a constant learning curve, and trust me, I understand why it's completely overwhelming for aspiring writers because I've been there. But I guess I'm writing all of this to say that it's absolutely, positively worth it, and I already can't wait for you to celebrate your book contract because indeed, it was a beautiful day.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Through new eyes

There's something I've been pondering and praying lately, especially as I drive through downtown on my way to work three days a week.

I drive pass the homeless standing on corners with their wilted cardboard signs, glimpse the glittering lights of the casinos and the not-so-gentlemanly "gentlemen" clubs a block to the right, and see the Tarot card reader/psychic building with it's neon sign to my left. I watch numerous minorities pile on the buses at the dirty bus depot, while across the street, well-dressed men and women in pressed businesssuits and briefcases, toting cups of Starbucks, waltz into their places of work. I see the top of the church steeple beside my office towering over the street, while joggers in sports bras and windshorts rush by it's shadow, right past another homeless man still sleeping in the shelter of the church's door.

And I I really see them? Do I see them as Jesus does? Or do I see them as an inconvenience? A misfit of society? Or a ministry waiting to happen? Do I see lost souls beneath the rags and the name-brand suits? Or do I just see the exterior shell?

I've been praying lately that I will start see God's people as He does. That my heart won't be hardened by fear or indifference, but softened with love and compassion. That I'll be full of mercy instead of judgment. That I'll be willing to give instead of grip my purse tighter to my side. That I'll look them in the eye and smile -- all of them -- without thought to race, gender, or wealth.

And I hope that maybe, just maybe, they'll see a little bit of Jesus in me.

What about your characters in your story? How do they see the world? Are they jaded, or desperate to help? Are they afraid, or eager to give?

Then spin it. How does the world see your character? What would I see in your character if they passed me on the downtown street?

Dive a step deeper into your characterization today in your novel. And while you're studying your fictional characters, maybe you'll get a fresh glimpse of the realistic characters God has placed in your life.

We might be the only Jesus they ever see.

And our characters might portray the only Jesus a reader might ever read.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

More Snapshots

This snapshot happened about six years ago, just before Jesus touched my body and made me whole.


Nothing in common.  Nothing to share.

Every morning I walked past her house.  Every morning I waved and smiled cordially. Every morning I glanced into her yard.

Three kids.  One smiling woman.  We had nothing in common.  Nothing to share.

"I'm glad the holiday's over," she said last Monday, as she bent over her flowerbed.  "Now I can get my pansies into the ground."

Whatever that meant.  I just nodded and kept trekking.

Small talk.  We'd spoken maybe… twice in the past four years.  Six sentences altogether.

I guess I never really cared… until yesterday.

The helium balloons caught her attention.

I stood on her doorstep and she smiled as I handed her three balloons – one for each child.

"I hope they can come to my house sometime," I said excitedly.  "I have a club for kids every week."

She smiled politely.  "Maybe they'll do that."

My heart sank.  What was I thinking?  Why should this woman trust me? She knew nothing about me.

We had nothing in common.  Nothing to share.

I paced down her driveway, staring at the broken concrete beneath my feet.

Suddenly her voice called.

"You wouldn't want some pansies, would you?"

Slowly I turned and saw them -- her pansies -- sitting on the porch. Plats of dirt and withering petals stretched as far as my eye could see.

"I--I couldn't take your pansies," I stuttered uncomfortably.

"Please," she said, "I'll never get them in the ground and it's about to frost.  They've been here forever.  I'm overwhelmed."

I don't know what made me say it.  I didn't even know her.  She was a perfect stranger.  But the thought echoed through my heart,

"When I was thirsty you gave Me something to drink…"

I could almost hear Jesus whisper, "When I was tired you planted My pansies…"

I smiled at the thought.

Suddenly the words flew out my mouth:

"Do you want some help?"

She stared, trying to determine if I was serious.

"Sure," she smiled.  "I sure would."

"I'll come back tomorrow," I promised.  "In the afternoon."

I waved goodbye and silently began to question my sanity.  When I was tired, you planted My pansies… the words echoed through my heart again and again.

"But we have nothing in common," I whispered.  "Nothing to share."

When I was tired, you planted My pansies…

Dusk turned to dawn and morning turned to afternoon.  Slowly I walked the short distance to her house and rang the bell.  Two tiny eyes peered from behind the curtain.

"Can I help you?" the little girl asked as the door squeaked open.

"Yes," I said.  "I'm here to plant the pansies, and I don't know where your mom wants to put them."

"She'll be out in a minute," she said as the door closed again.

The knob turned and there my neighbor stood.

Suddenly it struck me -- I didn't even know her name.  And I was planting her pansies?  Once again I questioned my sanity.

"You were serious." She smiled.  "Thank you so much for coming back."

We started in opposite beds, making quiet small talk.  She told me everything there was to know about the history of the neighborhood and who lived on this land long ago.

"You've only been here for four years," I said, "And you already know more than I do about this place."

"It's my job," she smiled.  "I'm a journalist.  I ask questions."

My breath caught in my chest.

A journalist?

I paused.  Should I tell her?  Really, it wasn't much to talk about.

But it was something in common.  Something we shared.

"I'm… I'm… I'm a writer too," I stammered.

Her eyebrow went up.

"Yeah… have you ever heard of Focus on the Family?" I asked.

She nodded.

"I freelance for them, and other organizations like them."

Then the worst happened.  She asked the dreaded question.

"Have you ever thought about taking your writing beyond freelancing? You know – a job in the corporate world of words?"

"Well… umm…"

My mind raced.

Should I tell her?  Should I tell this stranger my deepest darkest secret?

Shakily, I told the truth.

"I'm disabled," I said.

"Oh no!  What happened?"

"Autoimmune disease," I shrugged.  "I go through remissions and relapses.  So working from home seems to be the best at this point."

She looked at her shoes and then she looked at me.  A question hung in her eyes.

Was there something she wanted to say?

"I'm disabled, too," she finally said.

What?  Was I dreaming?

"C.P.," she shrugged.  "The prognosis isn't good."

I nodded.

"There comes a point at which you can no longer curl up in a ball and shut the world out," she whispered.

"You have to go on."

"Yes," I said.  "Exactly."

Slowly we turned back to our work.  In an hour we planted six plats of pansies.  Six plats of tiny withering flowers.  Six plats of hopeful little seedlings.

We saved those pansies from the winter's first frost, and in the process God saved me from the winter of loneliness.  Somehow the chill of chronic illness was lessened by the realization that I wasn't in it alone.

We had it in common.  We had it to share.

As the sun set behind the trees, I tucked my spade in my pocket and said goodbye.  She smiled broadly and waved as several small children crowded around her feet.

"Thank you so much," she whispered.  "I really couldn't have done it without you."

I smiled as I realized – together we'd planted a garden.

But somehow I knew we'd planted much more than pansies.

Your turn... what's a snapshot of something that's affected your writing? 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Love Story

This last weekend, my husband and I went to a marriage conference offered by our church here. It was a really great conference!

One of the verses they mentioned was Genesis 2:18, which says, "Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.'"

Thinking on what to write on Scribble Chicks today, I started thinking about this verse. For those of us who write fiction that has some romance in it, how do we apply this verse to our characters?

I think so often we're told to focus on the conflict. "Where's the conflict in their relationship?" "Without conflict, there's no story!"

That's true, but unless there's a real sense of compatibility in your story, it won't ring true. Sleeping Beauty stories - where it's nothing but conflict and the characters themselves don't ever talk to each other (seriously. They only sing. I like Jon's singing voice, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't handle him singing to me all. the. time.) only work in Disney movies.

I can think of a hundred reasons why Jon and I are perfect for each other. If he's strong in one area, I tend to be weaker and vice versa. We fit each other in so many ways and yet, that doesn't mean that there's never conflict.

So, when you are crafting your next story and working through your next characters, think about the "helper" part of the verse. Why do your characters belong together? Why should we - as the readers - want them to end up together? And when they do end up together, is it a believable pair?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Tonya asked the other day "How do you know when you're done editing?"


I wish there was a cut and dried answer for this. But there's really not. Sometimes it's an instinct, sometimes its by the advice of critique partners, and sometimes, its just because of a time constraint or deadline.

I recommend taking my daughter's advice. Yes, she's only 2 years old but hey, she's got good ideas. :)

She's recently realized that red means stop and green means go in regards to traffic lights. At a red light, she'll say "Go mama!" And I'll say "I can't, baby, the light is red." She'll wait a second while she cranes around the seat in front of her to look out the front window of the car, and then starts yelling "Greeeeen...GO!!!!" Like she's trying to convince the light to change so we can rush on to our next agenda.

Sometimes, you just gotta change that light to green and GO - stop editing and send that manuscript out to whereever it's going.

If you're truly not sure when your project is considered "Done", you need to get connected with a crit group who will help you know when to stop editing. Because truthfully, its easy to "over-edit". That's just as dangerous as just not enough editing. You don't want to send in sloppy or poorly crafted work to an editor or agent but you also don't want to send in prose that's been so red-marked by your editing pen that the voice isn't yours anymore and the dialogue is stiff and the pace too tight, etc.

As with all things, practice makes the decision easier. :) It will get better! Just keep writing. Keep editing. And keep submitting.