Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

It’s Good Friday and I can’t help but think about Jesus’ death on this day two-thousand years ago, the Black Moment in the story of Redemption. The moment Satan thought he’d won, when it seemed all hope truly was lost for all time.

Then it was Sunday and Jesus rose from the dead—came back to life! Death was defeated and God was victorious. Try as I might, words are inadequate to capture the gloriousness, the indescribable triumph of that Resurrection, that key point in the story.

God is a master story teller. The events that happened Easter week all those years ago are the heart of redemption, but look at the rest of Scripture. Think back on any Bible stories you know. All of them, every single one, weave threads of the story of salvation the need for and hope of redemption, building up to the New Testament and the account of how Jesus’ shed blood provided payment for our sin.

What do you want to say through your writing? What is the message you’ve been given to share with the world and how can you weave threads of it into your story?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter! He is RISEN! He is risen indeed! YAY! :)

I'm starting a new job this week and my Little Miss is on spring break, and my birthday is Saturday, so WHEW!- no post for me this time, but I hope everyone has a wonderful Easter experience.  :)

He is worthy to be praised!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How's Your Story Going?

Because every mom needs another baby to pick up after...

...especially when work is crazy and her first book is about to release.

We added a new family-member yesterday. Bringing him home was almost like our first night back from the hospital with The Tiny Human, only this baby weighs 60 lbs.

We thought we wouldn't get much sleep, but thankfully, he lets us do our thing and hangs out politely.

And there's a reason I feel like God is a God of mercy... even when I don't deserve it.

How are you sensing His mercy in the story of your life today?

Monday, March 25, 2013

A story of a girl

A long time ago, a girl had a list of vocabulary words to use in a sentence and instead decided to string all the sentences together to make a story. The story was about a little girl who met a talking garden gnome.

“Gnome” being one of the spelling words.

She showed it to her parents later that night and her dad read it, smiled and said, “You are going to become a writer.”

Years passed. The girl kept writing. She filled notebook after notebook with her stories and character sketches. She read hundreds of books – dissecting everything to see how the author made the reader feel the way they did.

Junior year of high school came. So did the stress of figuring out what to do with her life. The girl was confused every way she looked. Friends had high aspirations – law enforcement, veterinarians, dentists, lawyers. She made lists of potential career choices and writing was never on the list.

Finally, her parents came to her and took her out to breakfast. “Why are you not thinking about writing?” they asked her.

The girl had a million reasons not to pursue writing. The slim margin of success. The truth about the “starving writer”.  The countless hours bleeding onto a computer and hoping to have a manuscript that people actually liked. No, it was best to keep writing as a hobby and pursue something else as a career.

Her mother looked at her and asked if she would give it a year. One year, her senior year, to see if she genuinely enjoyed it. If she didn’t, there was no pressure. She could pick something else from her list.

That sounded reasonable. So the girl agreed. And signed up for classes in creative writing.

And she discovered her passion.

Her mom traveled with her to writing conferences – renting cars and purchasing airline tickets and sitting through sessions that she cared nothing about purely so she could take notes so her daughter could read them later. The mother talked to editors, met publishers, became friends with the people running the conferences and paved the way for her daughter to meet these people as well. The mom laid in bed at night until far past midnight in a hotel room, listening to her daughter’s endless talking about things she learned, people she’d met, places she wanted to go.

The girl was inspired.

The mom and dad had everything to do with it.

In case you can’t guess, the girl in the story…she is me.

Friends, I don’t think my parents could have ever guessed the crazy adventure God had planned for me when they first started encouraging me to pursue this. Every memory I have of my start in writing is tied directly to them. How my mom would give me hugs when I would be shaking with nerves before meeting with editors. How my dad told me “they put their pants on one leg at a time same as you” when I would be gushing over famous authors and how I could never hope to become one. How Mom and I danced in the driveway as the UPS truck that had just delivered boxes of Miss Match drove away and we saw my very first novel in print.

I am so blessed, friends. So very, very blessed.

But maybe you aren’t so blessed. Maybe your support team when it comes to your writing is nonexistent. Maybe instead of someone holding your hands and encouraging you to put yourself out there, you have people ridiculing you and reminding you of how few people actually “make it”.

Oh, how they are wrong, friend.

Because to be a writer is to merely be a tool in the hand of Jesus – penning the words, sweating the nerves, praying through the word counts that His grace will be the thread that weaves through the entire story.

Maybe your audience will be huge, spanning the globe, changing millions of lives. But maybe your audience will be small. Maybe you will write one thing – one tiny little seemingly insignificant thing – and it will change one person’s life.

And that makes it significant.

So listen to the encouragement. Ignore the critics. If you need to be bolstered up, come here. You are in the midst of friends.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Which Comes First...

The chicken or the egg?

No, I'm totally kidding. That's not writing related at all. =)

Which comes first...the plot of your story or your characters? I think that's something probably all of us have wondered about our favorite authors, and it's something we have to figure out in our own writing as well. It's different for everyone, and I think for some people (me included) it's different for every story.

Which is it for you? Do you come up with an amazing, detailed character and then craft a story around her (or him? or them?)? Or do you think up a basic concept for a story first?

Not sure which one you do? Think about You've Got Mail. And if you haven't seen that movie, I demand that you go watch it. Like, right now. =) Most likely you've seen it, so just work with me here.

If the characters came first in that movie (or well, technically the movie Shop Around the Corner, which this one's based on), then one day someone was sitting around and thought up Kathleen Kelly's character. "What if I wrote a story about a sweet woman who doesn't like conflict and loves books?" From there, whoever created the story would have had to think of a plot (because following around a woman who is sweet and likes books but who has no goal or purpose doesn't make for such a great movie...) and would have to build the plot based on the character they created.

If plot came first in this case, then someone sat around one day and said "Hey! What if I wrote a story about business rivals who accidentally fell in love online because they didn't know each other's true identities?" Then from there, they developed the characters and the other details of the plot.

How does it usually happen for you?

Most of the time, I'm character driven. A character will invade my head and as I think about them and get to know them, their story comes out and I piece together a plot that reflects their story. But every once in a while I'll get a vague concept for a story plot "hey--what if THIS happened?" and then I have to let that idea roll around in my head until my brain makes up characters that fit with it. (Yeah, I know how weird all of that sounds...) This is the first step for me in writing a new story.

So what about you? Character? Plot? Both?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hiding behind your characters...

So, time to 'fess up - have you ever hidden behind your characters?

You know what I mean...given them a quirk or a hobby or an obsession that you secretly have too? Maybe you gave your characters a dream or goal or desire that YOU actually have, but are scared to embrace, so just you passed it over to them instead...

We're all guilty of it :)

If you're brave, go ahead and share an example in the comments!

I'll go first - I've definitely done this before! Guilty as charged. On the serious side, I'm guilty of doing this with secret fears of my Love Inspired novel FIREMAN DAD. And on the lighter side, I totally did this in ADDISON BLAKELY, CONFESSIONS OF A PK, where I gave Addison a lot of my own quirks and preferences, regarding mochas and sprinkles and such ;)

I think it can be healthy to do that, as a writer, to put ourselves and what we know and relate to in our characters, becaues that's what makes them live and breathe on the page. Definitely! But I think it can also be a crutch if we're not careful, because we'll allow ourselves to live vicariously instead of actually taking a chance or a leap of faith that God has called us to. There's a fine line there.

What do you think?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Stuck in the Middle

So after Erynn and Betsy's fabulous posts on the beginning and end of your novel, I just couldn't resist some thoughts on the middle. =)

Warning. Not everyone should try this at home. I realize I'm probably kind of weird for this. secret for writing the middle?

Is that I save it for the end.

Okay, seriously. For me, the beginning of the novel is exciting. I'm setting up an imaginary world filled with cool characters that I'm excited to get to know. The story is building, the conflict is growing, people are falling in love and being murdered...(okay, not the same people!) It's a fun part of the story to me. There's so much possibility in a blank page or a blank screen and the momentum of starting a story carries me pretty far in.

At about 1/4 of the way through, I tend to slow down. I start noticing that I'm getting bored writing scenes and I realize that if I'M bored, when I love the story and the characters and have so much invested in it, everyone else is going to be even more bored.

That's when I go to the end. And even though I consider myself to be at least partially a seat-of-the-pants writer, this works because I have a loose outline when I start. I know the basic gist of where my story is going, at least the main story line. Usually I'll decide on a number of chapters I'm going to shoot for and then write a one sentence (or one phrase) description of what happens. For example, one of the phrases in my WIP that tells me what will be in that chapter is 'plane crash'. I don't know the details of it or the conversations that will happen there, or exactly what is going to happen to advance plot and character development, but it helps me have an idea. Make sense?

Back to the middle. So when I finally run out of momentum, I go to the end. Sometimes I start from the very last chapter and work backwards. This doesn't only help me with stuck-in-the-middle blues, it also helps me with pacing because I know I'm not going to be rushing through the end later when I realize I'm out of word count. (This can be tricky if you're using Word to write, because you have to figure out how to save/store this part of your story. I'd recommend saving chapters as their own documents--that's the best way I figured out. Right now I'm using a writer program called Scrivener that makes jumping around like this super easy. I'm totally in love.)

Once I've been working on the ending for a while, I find myself able to focus on the middle. I have a clear picture of how the story starts, so that's good. Since I jumped ahead and wrote the end, if my seat-of-the-pants side added anything in, I now know I have to work that into the middle. Somehow seeing it all resolve gives me the jump start I need that if I write just about the last 1/4 of the story, I can go back and write the bulk of it, which takes place in the middle, without much difficulty.

Questions to ask yourself in the middle (that scary part of the story most of us fear...):

1. What conflicts do I have and how can I keep building those?
2. If it's a romance, how are you keeping your characters apart? Now that you're past the beginning, do they still have enough obstacles? If no, invent some more. Learn to love tormenting your characters. ;)
3. Is this scene interesting to me? ("Fluff" that no one enjoys, even you, is often hiding in the middle...)
4. How are my characters growing? Is what I'm writing now helping them change from who they were at the beginning to who I've said they're going to be at the end?
5. Are there any new threads I need to add to keep things interesting and make sure there's enough conflict?

Obviously the questions aren't an exhaustive list, but they're along the lines of what I've been asking myself lately to help write 'the middle'.

What are you other troubling 'middle' problems? Anyone out there LOVE writing the middle the best? And if so....wanna come write mine? ;) I'm kidding. I think.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Secrets to a great "The End"

Last Monday, Erynn so fabulously posted about starting your novel. Today I'd like to post on finishing it! Both steps are equally exciting, though one perhaps is significantly more relieving! ;)

When it comes to leaving a great "The End" in your red-eyed, chocolate crumbed, post-novel wake, think Silas Marner.

Yeah, if you read that book in high school English too, then I'm sorry for the shock and horror that just raced through your body in memory. But if you haven't, then Silas Marner is this (terrible) classic novel about an older man who is considered crazy by the villagers because he lives/hides in the woods and has all kinds of family drama. My point, however, is that he is a weaver. He weaves on a loom (and yes, my also-considered-crazy english teacher made us as 10th graders BUILD A LOOM and WEAVE IN SCHOOL during class for a WEEK. No, I'm not still bitter. Okay, maybe a little)

You have to weave to have a good ending in your novel.

To avoid a cliche, forced, contrived or cheesy ending, think about the threads you wove throughout or if you must, go back at the end and weave one that you suddenly recognized would be amazing. It's never too late ;) 

Weaving means playing on key words you used throughout, key themes, key elements, even a subplot or something as simple as an inside joke between the characters that was mentioned just enough times to be recognized by the reader and give them that warm reaction when you they catch it. Another great way to weave and bring the story full circle at the end is to incorporate the title into the character's dialogue or internal thoughts at that last paragraph.

It's also important to avoid a rushed ending. You don't want things wrapping up so quickly the reader rolls their eyes and mutters "apparently they realized on page 201 that the book had to end on page 205".

But it's just as important not to drag out an ending. You don't want the reader feeling as if the story actually ended on page 215 and yet somehow, there's another 10-20 pages to muddle through. You've been there on both sides as readers, I'm sure, so you understand those feelings and how you want to avoid that :)

Any questions on endings? :)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Now, isn't that a wonderful beginning?

50 bonus points to whoever can name that movie. ;)

First, big thanks to Sarah for posting the question looking for inspiration for what we should chat about on here. And a big thanks to you guys for responding! We love hearing ideas of what y'all would like to know.

I had to take Ashley's question, though, because oh friend, you are speaking my story.

Ashley wrote: "I don't know if this has been covered yet, but I'd like to see a post on beginnings. That's usually where my writing gets derailed. I look over the first paragraph and think, "Yeah... I wouldn't keep reading this." What are the building blocks of a captivating first scene?"

GREAT question!

I used to do this ALL. THE. TIME. I'd come up with the most brilliant idea for a story ever. I'd run to my computer, sit down, start writing, spend three days writing nonstop on the story and then read back through it and it would be awful. Just terrible. So then I would trash it and do the same thing all over again.

There are a couple of things that helped me conquer the opening chapter challenges:

1. Write a quick mini-synopsis of the ENTIRE novel before you start.

I am not a planner but any means. I don't outline, I don't chart or graph or really know anything usually except that my main character will likely be female.

But, once I started writing professionally, I started creating proposals for my stories before I actually wrote them. And noticed that it helped. A LOT.

Instead of starting the opening chapter and getting lost in the details, I had a basic idea of what was going to happen and when. It gave me something to fall back on when I started thinking this story was a piece of crap.

2. Start in the middle-ish.

Everyone everywhere will tell you this. "Start your book in the middle of the action!"

Yes, I agree. Except when I don't. ;)

Some books should be started in the middle. Some books need to have that little extra mash-down-on-the-pedal right from the beginning. Other books, though, can have a "slower" start without feeling slow. My typical rule of thumb is if you are writing a novel in a third-person POV (example: Nathan looked over at his mother furiously typing on the computer while consuming an entire chocolate bar), start in the middle of the action. If you are writing in a first-person POV (example: I sometimes eat and type at the same time), you can start in a slower way without the story feeling bogged down.

One of the best ways, though, to avoid the second-paragraph trashing of your WIP is to start with some action. What does your character WANT? Start there and you'll have the plot line for your entire novel before your second sentence.

3. Don't reread your opening a million times.

Anything sounds terrible when it's read a hundred times in a row. (I am the mother of a two year old. I know this. I REALLY know this. Go, Dog, Go, I'm looking at you.) I know we say this all the time, but when you are writing in your novel, try your hardest not to be too hard on yourself. Maybe it doesn't sound like Francine Rivers or Karen Kingsbury or Insert Bestselling Author's Name Here. And you know what? That's GREAT news! Because that means that it sounds like YOU. You will have your own voice, your own way of telling the story. Embrace it. Yes, make it the best it can be, but once it gets there, stop editing yourself!

4. Don't be afraid to delete parts of your novel without trashing the whole thing.

There really is a time to delete. Sometimes I will be writing and get completely stuck. Completely. As in, it's not going to get better. The best thing you can do then is to back up to the point where it started going south. Did you introduce a new character who isn't working out? Add in a new plot line that just isn't so good? At least once a novel (and usually more often than that), I end up deleting pages and pages and pages from the book, which is possibly the most painful part of being a writer.

5. Take a break.

Step away from your writing for a little bit. Take a walk and try to really think through your novel. What is your book about? What does your main character need or want? What do you think would make your novel different than the others already out there? What is the takeaway value for your novel?

Once you have these things under your belt, it can also be easier to start back up again with fresh eyes for your book.

When all else fails, just remember to FOCUS...

F - Figure out your main character's biggest WANT (anything is possible here!).
O - Opposition needs to happen for there to be a story. Who or what is keeping your character from what they want?
C - Cue the conflict. No conflict = no story. How does your character react to the opposition?
U - Use drama without being dramatic. This is where showing without telling comes into play. Why is your character mad/sad/glad/bad? (Thanks Dr. Seuss!)
S - Stay strong. Writing takes perseverance. Don't force something that isn't good, but don't give up too quickly. Some of my favorite novels have come from beginnings that nearly landed them in my little electronic trashcan.

I hope this helps!! Now it's your turn - what is your best advice on how to stick with a story until the end??

Friday, March 8, 2013

Telling Your Inner Editor to "Shhhhh".

I'm not sure who I'm writing this post for--you or me. =)

Sometimes what you write isn't going to be as good as you wish it was. You're doing the best you can to set aside time to write, to have something already planned so that when you get the opportunity you can crank out the words, and the thing that comes up on the screen isn't what you'd consider your best work ever.

This is something that feels very familiar to me right now. I've been working on a scene for the last couple weeks and I just could. not. get. it. right. Nothing I wrote sounded good. It just sounded cheesy and choppy.

Finally today I gave up, wrote what I could, and made a note in the handy little note section of Scrivener (a writing program I just started using and am utterly in love with) that I felt like the whole scene was awkwardly written and I needed to go back and fix it once I have a little break from it and can look at it with fresh eyes.

Are you one of those people who struggles to turn off your inner editor? It can be done, really! Some people have a harder time doing this than others do, but it's something that helps a lot. Just talk yourself into it sometime and try. Don't go back and re-read what you've written right away (trust me--I'm not re-reading the scene I wrote this afternoon anytime soon). Just push through your lack of perfect wording and get something there. You can edit not-great writing. You can't edit a blank page. =) I think someone smart (haha, not me) said that once, but I don't remember where I heard it. I totally wish I'd made it up though, because it's so true.

On another note--I'm looking for inspiration. What hasn't been covered here yet or what do you wish someone would cover again?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Wanted: Birth Advice

Ya know how when you're giving birth for the first time you're filled with a sense of terror at the unknown?

Would you be my epidural?

My first book, The Bare Naked Truth: Dating, Waiting & God's Purity Plan, releases April 23. (My proceeds beyond marketing costs go to help the sexually abused/trafficked get healing.)

So I'm seeking advice. Beyond the regular blog tours, interviews, and standard "get the word out" ideas--what have you seen authors do, or what would YOU do if your first book was releasing?

(If you've already published, what DID you do to help spread the word?)

Please... epidural... now...

The nitty on story boards

Is nitty a word?


I taught at that conference last weekend that I mentioned, and thanks for any prayers! It went really well and I had a great time in my workshop on taming the dreaded synopsis :)  There was a workshop offered that I didn't get to take that was on Storyboarding. And I thought "hey, that might be a topic we haven't actually covered on Scribble Chicks yet!" ha. (have we? if so I'm turning red now)

I actually DON'T storyboard but that's basically just because I'm not as creative in that sense. If you're a writer, though, who is also a little crafty, or really great at visuals, this could open up new doors for you in your writing!

Storyboarding is putting a visual element to your novel in progress. This could be like a scrapbook, or it could be like a bulletin board you hang photos and notes on to view as you go. Some authors storyboard strictly by pictures, to create a setting for their novel and be able to view their characters at a glance (to avoid the question mid-sentence "hey, does my hero have blue eyes or brown?")

Others storyboard by sticky notes, which is less visual but still gives them something tangible to touch and move around and organize. I know a girl who storyboards this way by index cards. She writes scenes on the cards and then arranges the scenes in the order she wants. Pretty cool! I sort of wish my head worked that way :)

(This is slightly off subject but still cool) Other authors edit by color. They go through and print their manuscript after their first draft, and highlight each element of their novel in different colors. Say, pink for romance thread. Blue for setting. Green for conflict. Yellow for secondary threads (like suspense, or whatever) This way they can see if they've gone under or over in these areas throughout the novel. You could even do it where you highlight only dialogue and see how balanced it is throughout.

Pretty cool ideas huh? I really should use some of these for next contract!

Does anyone here like to storyboard?

(sorry, just realized today is Tuesday not Wednesday! This post still counts for tomorrow!)

Monday, March 4, 2013

Forced inspiration

I had a friend ask me this week how I was able to write every day during my son's nap time. "Don't you need inspiration? Don't you have to wait until the mood hits?" she asked.

Before I had Nathan, I was able to do that. I woke up late, ate breakfast and started writing in my jammies. I would write until I ran out of ideas (or coffee) and then go work out, take a shower, meet a friend for lunch, etc. Then I'd come home and spend the rest of the day writing.

Now, things look a little different. My only writing time is for the 2 hours Nathan naps and very rarely when he's busy playing and I can sneak a few words in.

So...all inspiration is forced inspiration.

It doesn't come naturally to me. It may not to you either. But here's how to make the most of your writing time, whether that's 15 minutes before the kids get up or the entire day:

1. Plan ahead.

I do a lot better when I plan my day to include writing time. That means that dinner prep is done, laundry is done or I can at least take a break from it, and the house is relatively picked up by the time I lay Nathan down because I have absolutely NO motivation to write in a messy house or when there are other things to do.

2. Be consistent.

I have a much harder time being inspired to write when I skip days. So, if I'm going to make it work on a deadline, I have to commit to writing Monday through Friday and I only allow myself the time off if I'm not feeling well or if I have "business" stuff like phone calls with editors or emails to respond to.

3. Prioritize.

It is way easy for me to get stuck on Pinterest or Facebook or even writing emails. So, I try my best to use those as "rewards" for reaching word counts. If I get to one thousand words written, I spend a few minutes on a break playing around the internet. Or I get up, make some tea or coffee or get a snack. Then I get back to work until Nathan wakes up.

4. Turn off the TV.

Sometimes I do better with background noise but not TV background noise. I get too distracted by the show. If you need noise, try listening to Pandora or sitting outside with your laptop for a few minutes.

5. Write.

Really, that's the key right there. You can have everything exactly situated for perfect inspirational writing and if you don't open the document and actually work, it's not going to happen. It took me a long time to see my writing for what it is - a job. Once I started looking at it like that, it made my "work hours" of 1:30PM to 3:45PM less about inspiration and more about actually typing.

How do you force inspiration?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Designing for Writing

So this morning I was at a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) meeting and we had a speaker sharing with us about home decorating and design. One of her main premises was that our surroundings do affects us and we should take that into consideration.

And as I thought about this all day (and rearranged my living room to make it look better…) I thought about the spaces where we write.

I’m not suggesting you invest $20,000 into building your own office, and furnishing it with comfy furniture and an espresso machine. Although that would be awesome, wouldn’t it? But think about where you write. Can you be creative there? Or would you be more creative somewhere else?

Some people write best as desks. Some people write best sitting in a chair with a laptop.

Some days there’s nothing like being outside to get my creativity flowing. Some days I work at my desk. I’ve done the best I can to make my desk a happy place filled with things I love that inspire me. Although this week it’s gotten really cluttered and my writing word count has slowed. Hm. Maybe there’s something to that.

What about you? How can you change your surroundings, decorate differently, or make another change to encourage you in your writing?