Thursday, June 30, 2011

Don't Be a Cliché!

After sitting through the latest installment of Transformers for my movie reviewing day job, I was surprised yet again how people can allocate gazillions of dollars to stunning special effects but don't bother hiring a good writer for the screenplay.

I mean seriously, the script was ridden with one cliché after the next.

Now I know the cliché about how clichés are clichés for a reason (and that's because the inherent truth behind it is often true), but I still couldn't believe how downright lame the story was. Just because it's a blow-it-all-up action movie doesn't give it a free pass—or at least that's what I think...

And that got me thinking about an article I just read on Write it Sideways about the hideousness that is clichéd writing, whether it's the characters, the action or even your personal word choice. When you're writing, it's downright easy to opt for clichés; after all, they're the first things that usually pop into your head.

But once you've gotten those out of your system and racked your brain a bit for something more clever, you're not only doing your writing a big ol' favor, but you're giving a great gift to your readers, too.

Now how about you? Do you find that clichés are part of your favorite go-to sentences? And if so, how do you kick them to the proverbial curb so you (and your readers) don't suffer?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

True Confessions

So these days, Little Miss is in a talkative stage. And by talkative, I mean non-stop. As if, I think now her vocabulary (and lung power) is greater than mine. She's also asking "why" every ten seconds. Not "why is the sky blue" or other random questions (I bet that comes later!) but random "why's". Also "what"?

For example:

"Mama, why did you laugh?"
"It was funny." (referring to a TV show)
"But why?"
"Because that cartoon character just had a pie thrown in his face."
"But why did he do that?"
"Because it was funny."


"Mama, what did he say?" (referring to her cartoon)
"I don't know sweetie, I didn't hear it." (me, trying to write)

It's like she doesn't believe me when I say "I don't know". lol I guess that's a compliment, like maybe I SHOULD know everything ;)

As you can imagine, this stage can get a little trying at times, especially when you're trying to focus on ANYTHING else (like cooking or paying bills or writing or reading laundry or blogging or work)

So the other day, she hit this stage again, asking question after question after question,sometimes asking for a snack, or other random things. I was hurrying, trying to do my makeup so we can leave the house, and she kept calling me into the other room to ask various things that at the time, really didn't matter. She called one more time.

Me, losing my patience. "WHAT?"
"I love you all the time."


Talk about an eye opener. It made me patient for the rest of the day, and also made me rush my makeup so I could go play with her for a minute before we had to leave . It woke me up to my priorities for that day, and though I know better, I need reminders like anyone else.

I think this relates to our relationship with God. Sometimes, we're that kid, babbling on about things that ultimately don't matter, asking for "snacks" (material blessings) and favors when what we should be doing is what Little Miss eventually did - expressing our love and gratitude.

The difference is, God doesn't snap back at us. He doesn't lose patience or get weary, like us, in our human flesh, often do with our children. (even when we don't mean to or want to) He's the ultimate patient Father, waiting for us to finally tell Him what's on our hearts.

What's on your heart today? What do you need to tell your Father? Have you said "I love you" lately? Or have you been too busy asking for book contracts or agent contracts or a contest win or...?

It's good to be honest with God. He knows us anyway. So it's good to ask for things we desire or need. But not at the expense of keeping silent on the things that matter most. Ultimately, we are to seek the Giver, not the Gift. Just like Little Miss comes to me for her needs and wants, she also comes to me with unconditonal love that only a child can show. And that's what blesses me the most. That's what blesses God the most.

Let's show that love to our Father today. And I bet the blessings will flow.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Plugging Along

Maybe this has happened to you:

You're writing a story. You've just started and it seems like the floodgates are just opening wide in your brain - the words are flowing, the inspiration is kicking, the characters are behaving. And then suddenly, without warning...


All of it just comes to a screeching halt. The characters start acting weird. The dialogue starts feeling clipped. The settings don't seem as charming. And that inspiration that was flowing like the proverbial "milk and honey"?

It's like Winnie the Pooh's evil twin came along and ate it all up.

Leaving you with nothing except a half-baked, half-finished story.

So what do you do? Close the file and move on to the next story? Hope it doesn't happen again?

If you're on a deadline, you know the answer to this: You keep plugging along. You go back to where you lost the inspiration, delete the parts that seemed to go downhill and you start over from there. If you're on a deadline, you don't have the luxury of quitting.

I finished two novels before Miss Match was signed. And while neither of those novels will EVER see the light of day, they were invaluable to me! They taught me that I can finish a novel. I can get to the ending and I can write more words than I ever imagined I could.

Not a deadline? Pretend that you are. Pick a date about four to six months away and go for it. If you get stuck, stop where you are and retrace your steps until you recapture the "feeling" you were going for in your story. Your first finished novel might be like mine and never see a publication date, but YOU finished a NOVEL.

How many people can say that? And if you did it once, what's to stop you from doing it again? :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lessons from the Beach

Last week, my husband and I took our almost 3 year old Little Miss to the beach in Gulf Shores, along with two of our good friends. Little Miss had been to the same beach back in September, and wouldn't so much as set her big toe in the ocean. We assumed nothing had changed.

Well, you know what happens when you assume ;)

We took her down to the ocean the first evening when we got there, all decked out in her Little Mermaid swimsuit, sand buckets and shovel in hand, thinking we would have to coax her close to the water just to get a pic. Well, she showed us - she took off straight toward the waves. HAHA! We had to scramble to catch her. She darted in and out of the waves, back and forth, shouting "Great Scott! I'm in the water!" like she heard on her favorite Oswald & Weenie cartoon (Henry the Penguin says this, because he doesn't like to get his feathers wet...)

She was absolutely giddy and hysterical, and had a blast. We had a blast too, though we had to watch her a lot more carefully than I anticipated. We ended up digging her a hole in the wet sand right at the water's edge, where she could sit and occasionally get a little wet and scoop water into her buckets and be content.

It made me think about how far we can come in such a short time. In less than a year, my baby girl went from being terrified of the ocean to incredibly brave - maybe even too much. ha! Where have you come in your writing in the past year? What doors have been opened, what nudges have been given to you that pushed you out of your comfort zone? For me, it's been speaking. I used to freeze up at the sight of a microphone, much less talk into one in front of people, all waiting for me to wow them. But now, while I still get a few nerves in my tummy, I actually look forward to and enjoy teaching and speaking on writing and on the Lord. I went from camping out waaaaaay up on the shore to diving straight into the breakers. (figuratively, because I refuse to go into the ocean past my waist ::wink::)

Do you need to test the waters today? Are you holding back from fear, insecurity, lack of trust? Or are you ready to dive in, splash around, and have some fun with Little Miss? :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

If writing didn't exist...

EEK! I know, right? Scary topic. But I'm just branching out here and getting creative. Let's put down our author hats or kick off our author shoes (and flex our author-itis fingers!) and dream outside of the box.

If writing didn't exist (stop shuddering, this is just pretend! Though yeah, it was sort of hard to even write that line, because...yikes!) what would you do? What hobby would you pursue? What dream would you embrace?

I'm not asking to sway you from writing (God forbid!) I'm just curious as to the other parts of your personality. Would you garden? Knit? Cook? Get into photography or bird watching or babysitting or ministry at church?

I think for me, I'd pursue scrapbooking. I love scrapbooking and used to do it in high school before I realized how time consuming it was. I couldn't do that and write and go to school and work - nor could I do it later when I worked and had a husband and a home and later a baby...we have to pick and choose, and for me, it was easy. Hands down. Writing won! It's my calling, my ministry, my desire, my passion.

Lucky for me. My scrapbooking talent existed more in my head than on the pages! haha. Artistic I am not...

So come on, confess. What's your secret hobby? Your hidden talent (or hidden enjoyment, even if you're not good at it!) Let's share :)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Babyproofing your story

Not to say that you shouldn't write children's books! Ha! :)

Before I had Nathan, I was always a little envious of stay-at-home moms. They got to stay home and just wear sweatpants all day and their biggest task had to be just making dinner. I didn't see what the big deal was.

Then I had Nathan. And now...


I consider it a great day when I get a shower sometimes. And I only have one kid!

I was sitting here, looking at the plug covers on my outlets and started thinking. What plugs are there in your story that need to be covered?

Are there any holes in your plot? Any instances where you said, "eh, no one will catch that leap right there from A to B"? (Note: An editor will catch it. So, if you want to avoid MASSIVE rewrites later, I'd recommend fixing it now!)

How about characters that more resemble Swiss cheese than real people? Real people do weird things and for weird reasons that a lot of the time, only make sense to that one person. They have faults and doubts and days where they are PMS-ing and even the word "dinner" turns them into a teary mess. Have a friend read over your story and look just at your characters. Do they seem like real people?

Once you can cover those plugs, your story will have not only seem more realistic, but it will make your reader more satisfied as well.

So, 'fess up. What holes are hiding in your story?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Another spin on creativity...

Hey guys!

I've seen several comments lately on our posts, asking what to do when you can't think of ideas, or asking us how we brainstorm our ideas, etc. Comb through the comments to see our responses, but I had a new idea that hit me today that might help some of you.

You've probably heard before, the best way to get past writer's block is to sit your booty in the chair and write, something, anything, even if its totally awful and will never see the light of day. I think the same is true for getting past "idea block" or "creativity block" or whatever you want to call it. What if instead of forcing yourself to think only about fiction ideas, you wrote a magazine article instead? Or a poem?

Think outside the box and don't be afraid to venture a little. Especially if it's for your eyes only! But taking a few minutes to embrace or research a new angle of writing outside of fiction could really help break up the dam and get ideas flowing. Take a few minutes and find a current event and write about it. Pretend it will be published in the New York Times! Compose a "letter to the editor" about an issue you saw in a recent magazine article. Write a poem. Flesh out a nonfiction book proposal (loosely, don't spend hours on something you aren't passionate about that you know won't go anywhere! lol) Write a new blog entry. Try your hand at a comic.

You get the idea! Why not just see if it helps? And maybe in that poem or in that letter or magazine article you're writing or in the newspaper you're researching, an idea will spark for your next novel.

For me, taking a job as a freelance writer for a local newspaper really helped my fiction writing. It was fun to do something outside of the fiction box and in such a different style with different editing rules and what not. Granted, I get paid to do it, so I don't use this technique for brainstorming personally, but I can see how it could work.

Remember, there really isn't any form of writing that is wasted! All of it can help us grow in our craft and learn and develop and brainstorm. :)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Greatest Gift You Can Give

I wandered through Wal-Mart today (which I recently heard referred to accurately as He@^ Mart), feeling dazed and confused in the chaos.

Suddenly there was a familiar face.

"I just heard the good news." The semi-stranger from church hugged me. "We're so excited for you!"

 I wanna say right now -- I couldn't explain the reaction that came over me. Tears welled up in my eyes as I choked out the words, "Thank you".

Don't knock it. I'm pregnant. Emotions come unexpectedly.

But it meant a lot to me to see the genuine joy in this woman's eyes, celebrating with us. We've lived here for three years, but we still feel the ache of the miles between us and our families.

Here was someone today... rejoicing with us. The greatest baby-gift I've received.

And it made me wonder... who's waiting for that gift?

Who can I encourage with my words?

As writers, I think it's a special gift God has given us... the gift of encouragement.

Who will you speak that to today?

B.J. Hamrick writes for you and for teens at

Monday, June 6, 2011


There's a few things I didn't anticipate when I decided that I wanted to pursue writing as a career:

The amount of coffee that it would take it finish a book, the way my couch now has a permanent indention in it that matches my butt, how I've memorized the view from my couch out my window thanks to too much time staring out there when I should be writing.

Mostly, though, I never anticipated becoming a stalker.

And I've seen you guys out there doing this too, so I know I'm not the only one. Sitting there in a coffee shop. Notebook in hand. Casually listening to other people's conversations.

I once followed my friend who was a barista around for an entire afternoon at her work, writing page after page of what she did, what machines she used, what coffees she created and what customers came in.

So, to all you coffeehouse customers out there, thank you for inspiring Cool Beans. :)

Page after page after page. All of it filled with technical stuff like how espresso machines worked and conversational stuff like how the same man came in every single Friday with the same coat and tie and ordered the same drink and sat in the same chair.

It really was very inspiring.

Have you ever tried this? Go to a busy coffee shop today (actually, my favorite are the Starbucks or Seattle's Best inside Barnes and Nobles and Borders). Sit in one of the empty tables with your laptop and just be quiet and listen to what goes on around you. What are the two women talking about at the table next to you? What are the baristas laughing over in the back? What is the store employee humming while he stacks the books?

DISCLAIMER: I am not encouraging you guys to go stalk these people in the creepy, Johnny Depp kind of a way!!

What's the point of this?

The more you know about people - how they think, how they act, why they do what they do - the more real your stories become. What makes people laugh? What makes people cry? What makes people gossip? What makes people taken aback? Learn these things and use them to your advantage.

I've heard it said that the best writers are the best observers.

So. Go. Get your laptop and drive to Starbucks. Order a drink and sit and just observe.

And as a side note, I would recommend getting the new Mocha Coconut Frappucino. It is deliciousness in a plastic cup. :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The reasons for the Big R

I came across a writer's statement on a blog recently that said the main reason stories get rejected is because of the presentation, the little things - typos and grammatical errors, etc.

Can I just say that I strongly disagree?

Don't get me wrong. YES, our stories should be well put together and YES our stories should be as clean and perfect as they can be in regards to appearance and presentation. If you see a typo, fix it. Before you submit a proposal to an agent or editor, get a fresh pair of eyes to read over it and help find those little mistakes you glazed over. By all means, DO THIS. Do it well.

But that's NOT why stories get rejected.

I honestly believe from my own experiences and what I've heard in the industry (along with a healthy dose of common sense and been-there, done-that) that this is simply not the case.

Maybe this writer who claimed this is honestly mistaken, or maybe he was just trying to put an emphasis (which is indeed needed) on the importance of presentation in the industry...or maybe he was just in denial. Regardless, he's entitled to his opinion. But I think a little differently.

Stories get rejected for multiple reasons, that are quite varied, and some of which we might never even get to know. It all depends on the editor and the publisher and the agent and a hundred other factors. But the main reasons I hear, see, have experienced, or heard from close friends, all comes back to two main points: Story, and Timing.

Story - this is the reason that hurts the most. Being rejected for using a comma instead of a semi colon would be cause for outrage and a lot of ice cream, to be sure. But getting rejected because our story simply didn't resonate with the editor or wasn't in their opinion "good enough" for their house, hurts like all get out! We've probably all been there at some point or will (sorry, but it's true. We learn and grow, write again, learn and grow, write again...) Story is the main essence of our novels (don't say duh, hear me out ::wink::) Story is what makes the readers turn pages, what brings the characters to life and makes the reader CARE and get involved and possibly even have their view of life altered by the end. To put it simply - Story is what makes readers read. If the story is not up to par, this won't happen. Not for the agent, not for the editor, not for the commitee team, and not for the reader a year later.

I can't sit here and say "follow this formula and do this and this and then that, and you'll have a winning, fail-proof super story" because it's not that simple. Stories can fail for numerous reasonns, and trying to list them here would take me until Thanksgiving. Story must be composed with heart and instinct and experience, and to be honest, if you want it to change lives - prayer.

Do you pray over your novels? Just a side thought there...

Timing - This is perhaps the most frustrating of rejections, and I've been here numerous times. Rejections based on timing means getting feedback from the editor that goes something like "I loved your story, and I'm sending it to acquisitions" and you getting all geared up, then hearing a month later "sorry, I still love your story, and the committee did too but its not what we need for our line up right now."

Ouch. And grrr.

This is where as Christian authors, we have to trust God's timing and trust that He is at work in these publishing houses and knows the best placement of our stories. He knows who needs to read your book and He knows when they need to read it - and if that doesn't match up with this house's commitee meeting, it's not going to happen, and frankly, we shouldn't want it to. As Christian writers we should want God's ultimate best for us. And yes, that's easier said than done, but something to certainly put into practice as often as we can. :)

So back to my original point - rejections happen, to everyone, and they happen a lot, and they happen for various reasons. But seriously, have you ever received feedback from a submission that basically said "We loved your story and wish we could publish it, but sorry, you had a typo on page 4, a spelling error on page 32, and an ink smudge on page 45."??? NO. You haven't. That is why copy editors exist ;)

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?