Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Running after Your Dream

My words to Ethan this morning: "I can't handle your nose anymore!" Apparently after an entire night of listening to allergy induced "sniff... sniff... sniff...", I turned heel and ran for the couch.

I vaguely remember any of this.

To say that I was facing the day well-rested would not be factual (I was also facing the day very embarrassed for my lack of sympathy toward my husband).

I know that many of you reading this haven't felt well-rested for years. You face each day overwhelmed with responsibilities... exhausted, and hopefully caffeinated enough to make it through.

The last thing you have energy for is writing.

But there's a reason you read this blog. You're living vicariously through other writers. You dream of making the time to write for yourself... but instead you only have the energy to read about what you want to do.

This blog post is for you. Today is your choice. You can say "I can't handle your nose anymore!" err... "I can't handle this dream anymore!" Or you can turn heel and run toward your dreams straight on.

They're waiting for you... so whaddya say?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I leave you with a smile...

May your table be full, your family healthy, your children happy...
and your pants elastic-waisted :)
Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Three Ways Gratitude Can Improve Your Writing...

Well, Ladies, with Turkey Day just one day away, I started to think about three ways gratitude can improve your writing:

1) Be grateful for the time you have to write. It may not be an hour each day, but use the twenty minutes you have before the kids get home from school, or after they go to bed. Make what you have count... your willingness to acknowledge God's gift of writing in your life (even in small increments) may just push your writing over the edge to greatness.

2) Sincerely thank someone who has helped your writing life. It may be a blogger, a mentor, an agent, or a publisher -- even someone who spent five minutes with you at a conference. Remember their words of encouragement, and dare to write them a thank-you note today. It's wonderful writing practice, and who knows? That publisher might just remember you because of that thank-you note [even though that's NOT why you're writing it :].

3) Thank your spouse for putting up with your crazy obsession with the written word. You might just be surprised at how much he or she will be willing to put up with in the future -- if you simply acknowledge their sacrifice they make today.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Points of View

Great post, Betsy!!

I was reading through the comments (P.S. Thanks so much, Emma and Betsy!!) and I noticed Tonya's question about maybe having too many points of view in her current work-in-progress and if that could be why she's having trouble figuring out her story.

I've done both (only been published in first person, but I've written two unpublished books that will never see the light of the publication world in multiple POVs.). Honestly, I think it is easier to write in multiple POVs, but more natural for me to write in first person.

In first person writing, you can really get the voice of the character and develop that through the entire story. The storyline progresses with the character, so while it is easier to get "stuck" in certain scenes because you don't have that convenient "hey, this scene is going nowhere, so I'm going to just switch to the other character's POV". BUT, it is also very natural to add thoughts, ideas and backstory without it seeming weird, odd or awkward.

For third person and multiple POVs, you do have that convenience of switching scenes and people whenever the story starts to fall a little bit. But, you're right, Tonya, it can be hard to keep all of the individual storylines going! Plus, you've got the added challenge of keeping each character's voice unique from the others.

I think the best example of multiple POVs is actually in movie-form. Did y'all see Valentine's Day? Such a great example of how you can have TONS of points of view and still have a cohesive story that works them all together. Notice that no two characters were alike and every character had their own issues and problems. And notice too how seamlessly they all worked together.

If you're going to write in multiple POVs, I would recommend getting a journal out and writing out each character - names, descriptions, jobs, lives, etc and make a special note about quirks in their particular voice (like, for example, "Leonard's POV will include multiple sports references."). Be especially careful of bleed-through - don't allow the same voice to transfer to different characters.

As far as keeping all the ideas and plotlines straight, write them all down in that journal! I really think it's easier to write in a linear fashion - start in Chapter One and finish when you write "The End". But, y'all know me - I don't outline worth a flip. Another tip that might be helpful is to read back through your story every day before you start working. Back up to a point where you've written about all four characters and read through each of them before continuing, just to refresh your brain on each of their different storylines.

Hope this helps!! :)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rachelle's Question

Last weekend, Rachelle (Rose) asked: I am an 18-year-old college freshman and I want to be a writer. I've had articles published online and I write for my church newsletter. Yet, I really desire to see one of my stories published. I plan on attending a writer's conference either this summer or the next. Herein lies my question: I currently have about 10 manuscripts. Some consist of less than 10 pages and some have more than 50. I'm thinking about taking a proposal to the conference. How do I choose which story idea would be best to take?

2. How do I decide which is my "best yet?" I've heard that first time authors are best off with a complete manuscript so go with one of my nearly complete or complete stories right?

3. I also have a series in which the first book consists of a short manuscript, the second is full-length with some expansions planned, the third is half written, and the fourth is but a dream.

Hi Rachelle! I'm going to answer your questions in stage, and Chicks, chime in on the comments if you have other suggestions or opinions! =)

Congrats on the online publications and the newsletter. Those are great stepping stones. Which conference are you attending? That's another wonderful step, as conferences can open doors that otherwise would remain shut much longer. In person networking is truly priceless.

My first thought about your various manuscripts is length. If you're wanting to pursue the Christian fiction industry (known as the CBA) a ten page story isn't going to work, nor is a 50 page. You really need to focus on word count instead of page count, since printed pages of computer paper hold more words than a printed novel page in a book.

Typical word counts for the CBA include:

Romance/Contemporary: 60-85k
Historicals: 85-100k +
Suspense/Romantic suspense: 75-85k
Young Adult: 60-85k

10-50 printed pages isn't going to make those limits. Maybe for a novella? I write for Steeple Hill Love Inspired, and our stories are slightly shorter at 60k average. Heartsong by Barbour Publishers are 55k on average. Other houses are going to only be longer. Definitely go with your longest manuscript and the one that is completed or will be completed by the time you go to the conference. It helps a LOT to be able to say "this is a completed manuscript" when you pitch it to an editor or agent. Golden words, I assure you.

If you have enough time, then I would pick your favorite manuscript of the group regardless of length and work it up to be long enough for a completed submission. The book that means the most to you will help during a pitch session to an editor or agent because they will be able to see your excitement and passion for the story. That's another key factor in a pitch at a conference.

So that sort of answers your #2 question - go with the story of your heart and it will be your best.

As for #3, I'm not entirely sure what to say but to reconsider my advice about word count and maybe decide which House or agent you are targeting and go from there. Different publishing houses have different guidelines and rules, and I'm sure that if you were to pitch a series, they would require a proposal that was outlined according to their rules (which can be found on most publishers websites) A fourth novel in a series that is nothing but a dream is probably not going to go over. Not to say you can't have a dream sequence within the story, but its going to need more than that to be published traditionally. I would definitely advise following the rules of the House you are most wanting to publish with and then formatting your stories to match their guideliness. Does that make sense? Also, be sure to read a lot of novels published by that House to see what they typically go for and publish.

I hope this helps!! Let me know if you have any more questions or if I misunderstood something.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Woe to Me...

Today has not been the greatest of all days.

It began at 6AM when my husband woke me up with these sweet words: "I heard Nathan making noise and went in there and Kody had pooped all over Nathan's room and I need your help."

Kody being our dog. Nathan being our son. Help being something I do not like giving at six o'clock in the morning.

So, by eight o'clock this morning, we had scrubbed carpets, banished the dog to the backyard, been to Wal-Mart for supplies and started the process of deodorizing the house.

Kind of a crappy day. No pun intended.

However, my day could be much worse. My mom reminded me of this since one of her friends is facing the idea of her husband being deployed to Iraq for a year.

It made me start thinking about how much drama I make in my own life and how much of it really doesn't matter. Carpets can be cleaned. Dogs can sleep in crates. Naps can be taken.

So as much as I like to moan about my day (and trust me, I have), it really isn't that big of a deal.

How often do we do this in our stories? How often do we settle for meaningless drama rather than attacking the heart of the issue in our characters' lives? One of the best things we can do for our readers is write about things that they themselves are facing.

So what are you facing? What is the Big Issue for you today?

Now - how can you incorporate that in your story?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Can Writing Actually Be Learned?

After I posted last week, I noticed Skylar's questions in the comments section and thought I'd provide my .02 in today's post:

I don't know if I should put this in the last post or not, but I I've a questions for you girls. So many writers talk about always being storytellers that when they were little teachers noticed or they were always able to keep people entertained:

1. Were any of you like that?
2. Do you have to be a great storyteller from a young age to be a novelist?
3. Can writing be learned?

Ok, Skylar, here goes:

I'll admit, I was definitely one of those weird little kids who loved to tell stories and put them down on paper from a very young age. Ultimately, I thank my Grandpa for that because he always loved reading to me.

In fact, my Mom always said I was actually a pretty cheap child to entertain because all I ever wanted was paper, markers and a few pens to write my stories. I'm pretty sure my first one was about a turtle named Buddy who liked to go to birthday parties—real Pulitzer Prize-winning stuff, I tell ya.

And yes, I'll also admit that English, reading and composition were always my favorite subjects in school. I always got a kick out of writing papers and coming up with the weirdest storylines possible for my creative writing class. I loved it whenever my peers laughed when I read my latest tale out loud and considered that the mark of a pretty good story.

Even with all that said, however, every writer's journey is a little different. My husband Will says that Abba's wristwatch has a tick-tock all its own, and I definitely believe that's fitting for when He reveals our calling in life, be it writing or otherwise. Even Jesus didn't begin His public ministry until He was 30, so if that doesn't prove that God uses people of all ages, I don't know what does.

In many cases, I think people who love words—and love to write—do realize that early on. But that doesn't mean that you can't still be a novelist if that "a-ha moment" arrives a little later. If anything, the more life experience we have, the more colorful the writing. It's sort of akin to Miley Cyrus writing her autobiography at 16. Sure, she's had whirlwind success and has traveled places that most people don't have an opportunity to at such a young age, but how much wisdom has she really gained along the way?

Your last question, if writing can be taught, is particularly intriguing. I've always believed that successful writers make their way with about 10% talent and 90% hard work. After all, how many people do you know who say they really, really want to write a novel but haven't even started yet? It's always the thing they plan on doing before they turn 30 or maybe it's something on their proverbial bucket list. But to actually sit down and do the hard work is an entirely different matter...

As probably any of my fellow Scribble Chicks will admit, it takes a lot of hard work, stamina and a great deal of patience to dream up engaging characters and put them in conflict, all while hitting on some compelling themes that readers will hold close to their hearts. And that's just the writing...we're not even talking editing, marketing, promoting, blogging, etc.

I do believe the talent to write is something people either have—or don't have. There's really only so much that can be taught. But if you're willing to learn and stretch yourself, I believe your basic writing ability can always improve.

Even though I've been a professional writer for 10 years now, I'm always challenging myself to use new words, stay away from clich├ęs and to become the best at my craft that I can possibly be. But I've found that comes a lot more by actually doing it than reading a how-to book or taking a class, although both can be valuable tools that nudge you to the next level.

I think great writers are also great readers. What makes your favorite authors your favorite authors? What is it about their work that inspires you? That's also something very valuable to consider as you pursue your craft. Of course, you never want to copy their style verbatim, but every writer has his/her influences, and what somebody else has written (or hasn't written yet) can definitely inspire you on your journey.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

C is for Contract

Thanks for contribuing some questions last week, guys!

Here's one I'll tackle today...

Reader asked: "I know contracts and deadlines seem to come up on here a lot, but I'm still kinda confused about the whole topics of contracts. Does a contract mean you're forced (depending on what you signed on for) to write a book every year or two years? Can you ever just decide that you want to write something and write it, or do you have to do a book proposal first?"

This is all varied but typically, a contract is per book or per book series - not per career.

For example, here's how it works for me at Steeple Hill. I think of a story idea, create a proposal (which includes the proposal elements such as hook, back cover copy, target audience, etc. and a 3-5 page synopsis and the first 3 chapters of the novel) and submit to my agent. She then submits (after her approval/suggestions/opinions, etc.) the proposal to my editor at Steeple Hill. My editor then will either say "no, this won't work for us, try something else" or she'll say "i like this idea but you need to tweak this and this before I can contract it" or she'll say "I love it, let's contract it now".

( FYI - side note. Since I'm multi-published with Steeple Hill, I don't have to write the full manuscript before they will decide to contract or not. I "contract on proposal" whereas new authors starting out with a House must typically write the full manuscript first.)

That contract is good for that story. If it was a series, it'd be good for that particular series. That's it. Does that make sense? My editor WANTS me to submit as often as I can and keep books cranking out but I'm not forced to. It's in everyone's best interest for me to do so, but again, the contract doesn't state I must. I don't believe any publishers contract in that way but correct me Chicks if I'm wrong.

As for the last question in the above italics...I'm not sure entirely sure I understand what you're asking so if I'm off in my response, please correct me in the comments and I'll try again! :) I think you're talking about writing on proposal versus having to turn in a full manuscript as a new author? In which case I already touched on that. OR...are you talking about wondering if a contract forces you to stick to a certain/specific idea? If so, then a contract is done after the proposal is written and submitted, so it would be based on the idea you already pieced together. Does that make sense?

OR...are you asking if you have to follow the current trends of marketing or can you write the book of your heart? Which I think we talked about earlier in the week as well. The answer to that is always write what you feel called to write, not what is currently a hot topic or fad.

Sorry for the confusion! Hope this helps. Any more questions? Fellow Chicks, chime in!! =)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tell Us: Who's Your Eccentric Character?

This is for all of you out there who are writing fiction. One of my favorite things about fiction is the random eccentric character. So here's some fodder for ya:

It’s not really a habit for many people in our generation, but I realize that there are some folks out there who enjoy canning. Peaches, pears, figs – you name it. So when I read recently about a man who keeps navel fluff in a jar, I assumed the article was referring to canned oranges… if there is such a thing.

Turns out the words “navel fluff” are actually the Australian way of saying “belly-button lint”. (See? Suddenly I’m bi-lingual.) And not only does the man have one jar full of belly-button lint – multiply that by three.

I’m not going to lie – the pictures are disturbing. The owner of the navel fluff, Graham Barker, has been collecting his prized possessions since 1984. But out of all the questions that entered my mind upon seeing the photo of the “fluffs”– the most disturbing question was, why does each jar contain only one color of belly-button lint?

Although the jars are marked by years (the collection is divided into almost 10-year increments), the first jar of fluff is white, the second red, and the third blue. Leading me to ask… did the man ever change his shirt during those ten-year increments?

You can see why I felt not only distressed, but slightly nauseated while writing this column. Apparently news of the collection does not cause all people to feel badly, however. Some people are actually using the navel fluff collection as inspiration for the upcoming holidays.
In the words of one commenter on Barker’s website, “I find [naval fluff] so rarely, it really is a joy when it happens. Like Christmas, really.”
Real Question: Who's your most eccentric character?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

For Anonymous: Bible College or Writing?

One of our readers posed the following question: I am an 18-year- old senior who is going to bible school next year because I feel God is calling me there, but I still really enjoy writing. I can write novels and freelance stuff... any suggestions what to do for the rest of the year? ( I am not published, but dream of being)

Back when I was deciding what to do with my life and what my college major would be, (I briefly considered majoring in education because my Mom thought it was a good idea, but I eventually convinced her that journalism was the way to go, and 10 years into my professional career, I'm so glad I did), I knew that it would involve writing somehow. I just didn't know to what degree.

And once I made my way to bible college in Minneapolis, I was definitely the proverbial square peg in the round hole because everyone else had future pastoral aspirations or were planning on moving somewhere exotic like Bangladesh after getting their degrees in cross cultural ministries.
Yet, while those are all certainly valuable pursuits, I was reminded by a wise professor of mine not to ever believe that writing is any less noble of a pursuit. Or worse yet, that it's not God's work. Some of the biggest culture-shapers are writers, after all...

See, when you've got a love for words and creating stories, (and I believe that's a God-given talent), you'll always find an avenue to use that gift, even if it's not your main focus. And just because you're enrolling in bible college doesn't mean that your interest in writing has to go to waste. I'd encourage you to take electives that will help you hone your craft. If your university has a school newspaper or literary magazine, I'd make sure I was contributing, too, because it's clips like those that will lead you down the prized road to publication.

But even more important than actually seeing your byline in print is that you'll be using your ability to its fullest, which is really the best blessing of all, whatever you decide to do.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Chicks to the rescue...

Anyone have any more writing-related questions today? Us Chicks are here to help!

Sometimes it's hard to think of topics we haven't already exhausted. We don't want to bore you guys! We'd love feedback. What type of topics/posts do you most enjoy reading? Which ones do you tend to skip or not read/enjoy? Would you guys be interested in reading author interviews on this blog? Any particular authors you'd like to read about specifically? We have pretty good connections through various groups and could easily get some Christian fiction authors represented here if you're interested. Just let us know yes/no, who/what! =)

Do you have any questions on editing, the agent/author relationship, the editor/author relationship, critique partners, writer's groups, the benefits of writer's conferences, blogging vs. websites, writer's block, etc. etc. etc.

We're happy to help! Just pipe up and let us know what you need! =)

Chicks to the rescue!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Character Spoke To Me...

I have met numerous writers who have told me some version of this when asked how they dream up their stories: "Well, I just heard the character in my head. They told me their story. And I wrote it down."

I alternate on being envious, fascinated and very creeped out by these people. Envious because it doesn't seem like they have to put a lot of work into their writing if they are hearing the words in their head. Fascinated because they are hearing voices in their heads. And very creeped out because, let's face it...


Unlike these writers, I have never heard a character's voice in my head. I've never had a whole scene "come to me" like a movie reel, I've never had a dream that plotted my entire book and I've never felt like my characters were my friends - nor talked about them like they were so.

I think all of us here at Scribble Chicks enjoy writing tremendously. We love to spend hours working on a story, we love to see where the book ends up, we love the ins and outs of creating great stories.

But, I think all of us would agree. Writing is work.

Hard work. And sometimes, writing is more hard work than fun. Which means that instead of hearing our characters talking to us, we're more concerned with the ebb and flow of a particular passage or grinding our teeth over a scene that is making us want to throw the whole computer out the window.

When I'm coming up with a character, I usually have a vague thought about the kind of person I want them to be. Most of the characters I write are loosely based on a culmination of people I know. Tall, short, heavy, thin, glasses, curly hair - I have a basic thought of what they look like physically and a lot of ideas about their personality. Lastly, I have a overarching theme of what I want to explore with the book (with Miss Match, it was the sovereignty of God. With Cool Beans, it was learning to trust God).

So, maybe you're like me and you've never heard a character tell you his or her entire life story. Fear not - you might have to discover how hard writing actually is.

But in the process you'll also have a whole lot of fun.

And that makes it all worth it. Regardless of your ground-down teeth. ;)