Category Archives: community
It’s barely into December and I’ve already begun to plan for the 2011 CWG Writers’ conference. Honestly, I started saving and planning last February, the day I left last year’s conference. I’ve come to realize I’m a conference junkie. Although I’d love to go to every conference available, there are two I’m particularly fond of: The CWG Writing for the Soul (in Denver, Feb, 2011) and the ACFW conference. And it’s not just because of the excellent teaching, although that’s great, too.
For me, it’s like reuniting with family, spending time people who get me. If you’re a writer, you know exactly what I mean. Sitting in a room with other writers, it’s so refreshing to know I’m not the only one who spends hours talking to imaginary people, living in imaginary worlds, and pacing my office as I act out potential scenes. (If you catch me arguing with myself, just nod and smile, and perhaps say a prayer that it won’t turn too violent.) Yes, other people stalk their neighbors, mailman, grocery clerk, in-laws, and spend hours on the internet researching everything from painless, odorless poisons to the popular names in the 1860’s.
It’s also a time to be encouraged and refreshed. Sitting alone in my office day after day, sifting through heavy-handed critiques and fatal plot holes, it’s easy to get discouraged. There’s nothing like spending time with others who’ve “been there, done that” to help get me back on track.
Most of all, it’s a spiritual retreat where I get to connect with, laugh with, pray with others who have given their lives to write for Christ. That’s my favorite part of all. Last year as I listened to Brandylin Collins share a message on how God would perfect the plans He has for me, or when I soaked up Liz Curtis Higgs’ message on digging deep to find *my* story, and as I looked around at all the other hope-filled faces, it struck me. I was sitting in a room full of people who longed more than anything to worship Christ with everything they had. And it was beautiful. A room full of hearts surrendered to God, ready to do His will, whether that meant writing a devotional, an article, a novel, or a nonfiction.
This year I’m looking forward to another chance to learn, grow, and connect. And of course, I’ll come prepared to pitch a novel or two. How about you?
Wanna join me? Come with me to the CWG blog as I share some tips on ways to increase your chance of success as you *gulp* pitch your novel.
Today’s post comes from Jim Magruder, blogger of “the Writer’s Refuge“. Jim is an award-winning advertising copywriter and executive speechwriter. He is also a novelist and blogger and has had non-fiction magazine articles published in Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Journal, Marriage Partnership, Home Life, Christian Communicator, Today’s Freelance Writer, and The Art of Self Promotion.
He and his wife, Karen, have served for over a decade helping young couples build vibrant marriages. Today he shares tips on adding depth and life to your writing.
Three Things I Learned From Nicholas Sparks by Jim Magruder
We all have writers we admire. But how many actually inspire you? How many do you want to emulate? How many entice you to read every book they write and leave you wishing you wrote them?
For me, there are only two. One is a non-fiction writer, the other, fiction. I will limit my remarks to the novelist here. Nicholas Sparks is my favorite contemporary fiction author for several reasons. He writes in the genre I desire to write. I’m intrigued by the way he develops his plot, weaves in six subplots, climbs into the head of his characters, layers in meaning that helps the reader better understand life and relationships, and how he can catch you looking with his curve ball endings.
While some critics call his tales “sappy,” his throngs consider him a master storyteller of poignant love stories with unpredictable bittersweet endings.
If you’re not familiar with him, you are with his work. His breakthrough novel was The Notebook. It debuted in 1996 and earned him a $1 million advance. He was 29. He followed up with 16 novels and a memoir, most became bestsellers. He has over 50 million copies of his books in print. Six novels have been adapted to the big screen—so far.
His website offers encouragement and advice to writers, his novels are taught in schools, and he continually gives back to his community. Nice guy. By reading him and studying his work, I have learned a few things about this craft we call writing. Here are just three.
1) Parlay your pain into inspiration. Sparks’ career could have been derailed by family tragedy. His mother died in a horseback riding accident at 47. His father died in a car accident at 54 and his sister died at 33 of cancer. Yet, after the grieving process, when he had enough emotional distance, he parlayed his pain into inspiration. His novel, A Walk to Remember, in part, grew out of his sister’s experience. He is a testimony to the fact that life’s most painful experiences are sometimes best understood by courageously writing through them.
2) A bittersweet ending is better than a happy ending. If you have read Message in a Bottle, Dear John or Safe Haven, you’ll see that a complex, bittersweet ending with the inevitable Sparks’ twist is more rewarding than a happy ending—and much more compelling. Truth is stranger than fiction, except with Sparks. He skillfully puts truth and fiction on a level playing field so you can say goodbye to the predictable ending. Who says you have to feel better at the end?
3) Stretch yourself. Don’t be afraid to take risks with your writing or your audience. Nicholas Sparks seems to own the love story today—at least the “let’s-make-it-into-a-movie-tearjerker.” It would be so easy for him to get comfortable. Yet, in Safe Haven, a story about a woman in peril and on the run from an overbearing alcoholic husband, Sparks takes some risks. He tackles the complexity of domestic violence (a subject his readers may not be comfortable with) while weaving in a budding love story amid the lurking threat of danger. This novel, like The Guardian before it, was a departure for him. Yet, it’s a story he wanted to tell and he told it brilliantly. Another bestseller? Of course.
The next time you read a Sparks’ novel, or any novel, analyze it. Read with a critical eye. Try to identify at least one thing you learned from the author or the work that will make you a better writer.
Jim and his wife, Karen, have served for over a decade helping young couples build vibrant marriages. His writing typically centers around three things; the writing life, “matters of the heart” (building strong relationships) and meaningful love stories with memorable themes.
Visit his blog to be encouraged in your writing journey and reach out to him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to be a successful writer, knowing the why behind your words is as important, perhaps even more important, than the what. Without a clearly defined goal, your writing will lose focus, and will thus lose your reader. I’ve heard it said every business and ministry needs a mission statement, otherwise they risk becoming too broad and thus, ineffective. I believe the same is true of writing. The why hones your message, spurs your commitment, and helps prevent wasting hours on indecision.
Today, Mary Hamilton shares how her “why” impacts her “what.” Come back Friday as she answers the next logical question: Why she continues to write despite obstacles, time constraints, and frustration. On Saturday, we’ll wrap up with an article I posted on FaithWriters some time back that poses a thought-provoking question–are you stuck in Haran? Although you’ll need to read the post to understand, but I use Haran as an analogy of stopping at the halfway point. You left your homeland (comfort zone) to follow your dreams, but then things got rough….
In a keynote address at the ACFW convention in September, author Tracie Peterson challenged us to define why we write. Is it only to be published? For personal recognition? For money? She asked, If you knew you would never, ever have anything published, would you still write?
I confess that I do write for publication. I look forward to the emotional high of seeing my name in a printed byline. And yes, I write for personal recognition, too. Does anyone not feel a jump in their self-esteem when a reader recognizes their name from an article or a book? Do I write for money? Not so much, although it does symbolize a validation of my writing ability.
But if I knew I’d never, ever be published, would I continue to write? The question brought to mind my son’s struggle with playing basketball for a team destined to lose every game. He wanted to quit the team before playing a single game, but we challenged him with the example of his hero, Michael Jordan. A quote from one of Michael’s books provided the inspiration, and motivation, for my son to stay on the team. In effect, Tracie asked us the same question that Michael Jordan asked: Do you love winning? Or do you love the game?
Do I love being published? Or do I simply love writing? Because if I simply love writing, I’ll do it no matter what agents or editors think. I’ll write whether I get a sizable advance or I get paid nothing. Writing simply for the love of writing frees us from so many pressures that we put on ourselves. It frees us to write what God lays on our hearts, not what we think will sell. It frees us to be obedient to the One who calls us to write, the giver of the gift.
Why do I write? Because I think better when I write. I speak better on paper than out loud. I write because I get a kick out of seeing characters come to life on the page, like having a whole community of invisible friends. And I love those moments when something I added to the text earlier suddenly appears later with a meaning that I never planned and never saw coming. I write because it seems God has put it in my heart to write certain stories. Even if they never get published. Even if they never earn a penny.
I write because, like Michael, I love the game.
A homemaker for almost 30 years, Mary L. Hamilton has been publishes in several Christian periodicals. She also wrote “Homespun Angel,” a Christmas play, and is currently working on a middle grade contemporary novel. In her spare time, she enjoys knitting, reading, and exercising. (Well, maybe not exercising.)
Mary lives in the Houston, TX area with her husband, three nearly-grown kids, and a dog. You can find her on:
Drop by and say hello!
Today’s post comes from Fay Lamb, a freelance editor and author of Christian romance and romantic suspense. Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Her debut romantic suspense novel, Because of Me, is soon to be released by Treble Heart Books.
Fay has a passion for working with and encouraging fellow writers. As a member of ACFW, she co-moderates the large Scribes’ Critique Group and manages the smaller Scribes’ critique groups. She also offers advice for self-editors as the Tactical Editor, www.facebook.com/TacticalEd. To find out more about Fay and her writing, visit her website at www.faylamb.com and enjoy her blog On the Ledge, a humorous take on the writing side of life.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
I learned a life lesson that applies to writing from my son’s violin tutor. My son is an accomplished violinist, but when he was just starting out, his tutor, a first string with the local symphony, struggled with keeping him on task. One day my son Corey walked in and he said, “Igor, I don’t want to play violin. I want to learn to fiddle.”
Well, Igor stood back in his old clog shoes, and he wiped a hand through his hair, which was always oily, and a big smile crossed his face. He’d just caught on to a way to get Corey to take his violin seriously. “Corey, you have to learn from the masters. You have to know the scales. You have to play these hard pieces that I’m teaching you and giving you to practice every day. And then when you have mastered the violin, you will be able to play it like a fiddle.”
That’s how it is with rules. I run across so many writers who don’t know where to put a comma. They play the comma by ear. If it sounds like a pause then that’s the place for the comma. Problem is, sometimes that pause is at the end of a complete sentence. When do you use an em dash or an ellipse? Why aren’t we supposed to start a sentence with a conjunction? The semicolon—don’t get me started on the semicolon. Ninety percent of us use it incorrectly. Exclamation points! For goodness sakes, are your characters screaming at everyone? Why is a sentence that starts with an “ing” word inappropriate, and what makes an “ly” telling? Do you realize that not every “ing” constructed sentence or every “ly” word is bad?
In order to have technique, I contend that you need to know the rules. And when you break the rules, you don’t break them consistently. As Noah Lukeman so aptly teaches in his book, A Dash of Style, you use them to your advantage. Too much of anything gets rather tiring, but put in an appropriate semicolon (and yes they are allowed in fiction—maybe not in dialogue for some publishers) or an em dash or ellipses for emphasis, and even misplacing a comma for a dramatic pause—these things adds zing to your writing.
You can’t write a masterpiece until you know how it is formed in just the same way that my son couldn’t learn to “fiddle” before he learned to master his violin. Practice makes perfect in music and in writing.
Some people thrive in group settings. They love working on a team and standing in front of an audience. Others (like me and perhaps 85% of writers) prefer to hide in their office behind a keyboard screen. We’re used to going it alone and doing things how we want when we want…until a joint assignment comes our way. Team projects are hard in any endeavor, but merging two or more creative minds often creates migraines. By choosing your partners carefully, setting clear boundaries and guidelines, and focusing on the project more than the personality, authors can turn collaboration nightmares into successful projects. (Read the rest here.)
Suzanne Hartmann is the author of the e-book, Write This Way: Take Your Writing to a New Level . She is also the author of The Race that Lies Before Us , a Christian suspense novel available next year through Oak Tara. On the editorial side, Suzanne is a contributing editor at Port Yonder Press and operates the Write This Way Critique Service.
Suzanne, how long have you been writing?
I graduated from Western Illinois University with a degree in Composition and Linguistics in 1985. Other than a few short stories I sold for a reading workbook, all of my writing was non-fiction until 2006, when I started writing my first novel.
Tell us a little about your book, Write this Way.
Write This Way is a blueprint for writing a novel. It leads authors through necessary ingredients for their first draft and the steps for the revision process. It is written in the easy-to-understand, just-the-facts-ma’am style I have become known for on my blog. Because it is full of easy-to-find information about grammatical and stylistic rules/guidelines, it is also perfect for both veterans and new authors to keep on hand while crafting their next novel.
What motivated you to write it?
As I critiqued other people’s writing, I noticed that certain issues repeatedly came up. I wanted to let others know that these mistakes were easily fixable, so I wrote a series about them on my blog called Top 10 Mistakes New Fiction Writers Make. The more I critiqued and edited, the more I saw certain issues come up. So I wrote more series of articles. Eventually, I had so many articles that it was difficult to find a particular one, so I decided to consolidate them into an e-book which would allow authors to have all the information at their fingertips as they write and revise.
Your book starts with the basics–grammar, outlines, etc. Why?
When I first joined a critique group, I was shocked to discover that one of the other members had no idea how to punctuate dialogue. Since then, I have realized that we all struggle with our own bugaboo problems—many of them basic issues. So when I started writing Write This Way, I decided to start with a quick review.
What are three things a writer can do to drastically improve their writing?
1) non-fiction and fiction: Make your writing more active by getting rid of passive voice, and related to that, using “was/is” as little as possible.
Excellent reminder! I’m going to piggy-back on this by providing an example. Often helping verbs can be strengthened by using the past-tense verb alone. “We were going to the store,” becomes, “We went to the store.” And most often, was, is, were, can be replaced by stronger, more descriptive or emotive verbs. Ex: She was hungry can become, “Hunger consumed/taunted/mocked/gripped her.” Often to avoid those “was/is/were” weasels, you’ll need to brainstorm possible ways to reword the sentence, but once you do, it becomes much stronger!
2) fiction: Show a scene instead of telling about it. This sounds easy, but just including action won’t do the trick. You need to make readers feel like they’re right in the middle of the scene with the characters. It’s like the difference between watching a movie and a friend telling you about a movie.
Another great tip! I had a crash course in this when I first started writing radio dramas for Christ to the World. When you write dramas, you can’t use introspection. Everything MUST come out in action. It forces you to write strong dialogue. Descriptive and intentional details can also eliminate a lot of telling. I wrote an article about this called “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya’.” You can read it here.
3) fiction: Use motivation/reaction units (MRUs). This simple technique all by itself will take a person’s writing to the next level. In a nutshell, MRUs are a string of actions, one leading to the next. The first action is the motivation for the next action, which then motivates the following action, etc. Try it. You’ll be amazed at the transformation of your writing.
You have a chapter on critique groups. I’m a critique group/partner addict! Later this month, I’ll link you all to an article I wrote about this very thing. Suzanne, what can writers gain from critique groups?
I can’t stress enough the importance of having other writers look over your work. In my opinion, it can be the difference between creating a very good story and an excellent story. Self-editing is important, but we each have our own weaknesses and we’re too close to the story, so there are just some mistakes we won’t find in our own writing.
Do you offer advice on how to find a good critique group or partner? If so, can you share it here?
Although it’s not a necessity, it is helpful to be with others who write in your own genre—at the least with people who enjoy reading the genre you write. It’s also a good idea to have a group made up of people at different writing levels. But don’t get bogged down in trying to find the perfect one. Critique groups ebb and flow as members finish a novel and new members join. The important thing is to get involved in one (or more).
I’d also add, it’s important to find one with similar work ethics and time commitments. If you’re a keyboard blazer, you won’t want to hook up with a tortoise, and vice versa. Suzanne, I know you do a lot of critiques. From your experience, what are the most common mistakes you see writers make?
Grammatical mistakes: using passive voice, overuse of participial phrases, incorrect dialogue structure.
Stylistic mistakes: not hooking the reader soon enough, telling instead of showing, including extraneous information (information dumps and episodic scenes)
Hooking the reader applies to non-fiction and fiction, and normally takes a number of intentional rewrites. For fiction, purposefully leaving a few questions un-answered works well. For non-fiction, zero in on audience need and speak to that. Make your book necessary, not merely entertaining.
In regard to writing, if you were able to go back and do things differently, what would you change?
I would push myself to write on a regular schedule whether I felt like it or not. This is something I still struggle with and know I need to conquer to keep writing when my to-do list threatens to overtake my writing time.
Excellent advice! I’m going to throw another one out there—add freelancing to your portfolio. Learning to write on assignment, on a schedule, helps strengthen your ability to press through writer’s block. Although it takes time, ultimately it saves time because it makes you a more productive writer.
Speaking of time, how much time should a writer spend learning via craft related books?
There’s so much to learn, and things change over time, so a writer must continually learn about the craft and the industry, whether it be through craft related books, magazines, seminars/conferences, or participation in writing groups.
As I mentioned a while back, writing conferences are great ways to learn and network. This weekend is the Christian Authors Guild conference and at the end of the month, ACFW hosts their amazing conference in St. Louis, MO. I’m already preparing for the Christian Writers Guild, Writing for the Soul Conference in Denver. (I’d love to see you all there!)
Suzanne, thank you for chatting with us today. Excellent tips from an excellent book!
Today I mentioned the benefits of freelance writing. To help you understand how to use diverse writing opportunities to strengthen your career, I’m offering a free one-hour phone consultation to a lucky reader. (Although I don’t believe in luck. Luck=hard work + perseverance + Divine intervention.) To be entered into the drawing, leave a comment, fb or tweet this post, or become a new subscriber. Remember to shoot me an email at email@example.com if you share or tweet the link so I’ll know.
What the phone consult will include:
1) Why writer diversification is important
2) The difference between fiction and non (to help you write effective articles)
3) How to establish and increase an online presence
4) Ways to generate article ideas
5) How to find leads
6) How to build up writing credentials (In this industry, you can’t go from zero, no creds, to 80, writing for CT, overnight. You gotta do the grunt work, build your skills and your portfolio.)
First of all, run now, while you still have a chance. Just kidding. But seriously, writing is not for the thin-skinned. And it isn’t nearly as glamorous as it might seem. In fact, most days you’ll be glued to your computer, still in PJ’s at two in the afternoon, ball cap by your side in case one of your normal, presentable neighbors happen by. Although truth be told, you probably won’t answer the door anyway. Or the phone. Until the tips of your fingers throb from… (Read more)