Monday, June 28, 2010

When the Well Runs Dry

I just spent the last two weeks at beach camp—with no Internet access. Trust me, it was a blessing and a curse. I did actually spend a good portion of the time working. I was there to teach a class on self-esteem and to help chaperone. The first week my group consisted of middle school girls and the second week it was high school girls. It was a great two weeks, but I’ve had to work much harder to be productive today. And that fact leads me to today’s topic. How to write when you’re not in the mood.

It happens to us all, but that very issue is what separates the amateurs from the professionals. I don’t believe whether or not you get paid for something you write is more defining than the fact that you’re willing to sit down and produce even if you’re not in the mood. If you have the discipline and drive to write through the mood swings I’m certain the income will follow.

At this point in my career I don’t have a choice, I have deadlines and commitments (twelve deliverables by Friday). I have to be productive today, even if it takes eleven hours instead of my usual seven. But what about those of you who don’t have an outside push to keep you on track? Are there things you can do to help fight off the lack of motivation? Absolutely. All professional writers have things they do to help when inspiration runs dry. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Set deadlines. Even if you don’t have a client waiting for an article, give yourself a deadline. Then, write it down. It’s easy to fudge a deadline when it’s just in your head.
  • Set a weekly writing goal. If you write fiction, it may be a word goal. If you write articles or devotions, it may be a finished product goal. (like, I’ll have 2 finished devotions every week)
  • Find a critique group or partner. If you’re meeting regularly with someone, you’re more apt to be producing regularly. What if you don’t know any writers nearby to meet with? Look for an online group.
These three things will keep you on track when the writing muse is absent. What are some things you’ve found to help when you run low?

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Open with a Bang

Once upon a time, stories opened with a section of what I’ll call setup. In the first few pages, or at least few paragraphs, the author introduced the reader to the main character and the storyworld. Then, the real story would begin.

This formula has gone the way of fairy tales. The society we live in today is one of instant gratification. Almost unanimously, readers expect to be hurled into the action of the story. Action is king when it comes to starting a story that grabs the reader’s attention.

Even more than just action, the opening of a story must deliver something unique or at least a different spin. It was a dark and stormy night, will get you nowhere with today’s reader.

So how do we deliver an effective opening without leaving the reader with nagging questions? These guidelines will help you craft a compelling first page and propel your reader into the midst of the action.

  • Give the reader enough of the setting to anchor the storyworld.
  • Introduce the main character through the action, dialogue and internal thoughts. This is critical because it’s when the reader begins to sympathize with the character.
  • Hint at what is at stake in the story to come.

When deciding how to open your story, be sure take genre into account. A Suspense book will generally start on the run, while a Romance needs to have a meeting between the hero and heroine. In a Mystery, the opening is . . . well, mysterious and in Fantasy/Science Fiction, more time is spent on the storyworld. The best way to determine the norm for a genre is to study books currently on the market. Here are some I like.

The way I see it, life is a jelly donut. You don’t really know what it’s about until you bite into it. And then, just when you decide it’s good, you drop a big glob of jelly on your best T-shirt.
Ten Big Ones
By Janet Evanovich

I’d been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.
Dead Until Dark
By Charlaine Harris

Keryn Wills was in the shower when she figured out how to kill Josh Trenton.
Double Vision
By Randall Ingermanson

I’ve given you three of my favorite openings. Now it’s your time to share. What are some openings that have reached out and grabbed you?

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thursday Reviews - Get the Write Style!

There is one type of book every writer needs on his shelf - a style guide. These are reference books that tell you how to format certain aspects of what you write. There are different style guides for different types of writing, but the main two are The Chicago Manual of Style and The AP Stylebook.

The Chicago Manual of Style is the style guide you need if you're writing books. The AP Stylebook is the one you need if you're writing for any kind of periodical, including the Internet. These two books are not the last word on style, a lot of publishers (books and periodicals) will develop their own internal style guides, but they are usually based on one of these two books.

These style guides are updated periodically, as our language changes. Both The Chicago Manual of Style and The AP Stylebook are offered as online subscriptions. I highly recommend this option because they are updated so frequently.

There are other style guides out there, but these two are considered the best. Because I write books and articles, I own both (and have a subscription to both).

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Monday, June 7, 2010

The Life of a Wordsmith

The Craft and Art of Being a Writer
So many of us agonize over the fact that our words aren't beautiful when we first put them on paper. Some even go so far as to interpret that lack as a a sign from God.. They sigh and mope and finally shrug their shoulders. "Perhaps I was never supposed to be a writer." To which I say, "Poppycock!"

Books aren't written - they're rewritten. Michael Crichton

Writing is more than just stringing words together in an attempt to convey an idea. It’s a craft learned and practiced. Some (I’d count myself among them) would say that the true artists of wordsmithing write so well that the end result looks effortless. This ease and natural style of writing doesn’t come from something they’re born with. It comes from years of hard work and dedication. There are no short cuts in the world of writing.

A professional writer is an amatuer who didn't quit. Richard Bach

There are two parts to writing, the craft and the artistry. It's up to us as the author to intertwine the craft with the creative and find the balance that touches the souls of others. Do this and you will discover your voice and your connection to the stories hidden within yourself.

Easy reading is damn hard writing. Nathaniel Hawthorne

What are some of your favorite quotes? Share them with us and . . .
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Saturday, June 5, 2010

God's Marathon

I shall run the way of Thy commandments, For Thou wilt enlarge my heart. Ps 119:32 (NASB)

The crowd began to roar as the runners came into view, arms pumping and feet pounding. All of their training and discipline came into play during that last mile. Their faces reflected the struggle to continue—to finish the race. If you’ve ever witnessed a marathon, you know what I’m talking about. These athletes train for months to be able to finish that grueling 26 mile race.

So how do they manage this amazing physical feat? They’re not born with the ability to run these distances, no one is. It takes training—months and years of discipline and sacrifice—and a larger heart. That’s right; doctors have found that long distance runners have significantly larger hearts than the average person. This is a result of their intensive training. They need this larger muscle to pump additional oxygen through their blood to compete at this level.

As believers, we also have a race to run. God has a purpose for each of us; at times it’s a grueling marathon of faithfulness and work. But God also provides the strength, the larger heart, to accomplish His purpose through us. As we practice daily obedience and discipline, our capacity for the lifeblood of the Holy Spirit increases. Our hearts enable us to be used by God in His work. We too can become elite spiritual athletes, an example of what God wants for all His people.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thursday Review - Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference

I've been attending the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference for 9 years now. This year, May 16-19, I got to meet many of you in my classes or through 15 minute appointments. Although Blue Ridge isn't the first writers conference I've attended, it's definitely one of my favorites. Today I'll share why.

Warning, Grammar Note: Many of you have asked me why there isn't an apostrophe in "Writers" in the above conference title. It's because the writers attending don't possess the conference - they don't own it. The word is plural, not possessive.

Blue Ridge is one of the bigger Christian writers conferences so it has plenty to offer, no matter what level you're at in your career. The director, Alton Gansky, goes to great lengths to insure there are classes on everything from memoirs to marketing, all sprinkled with truths from God's Word. This year there were approx 40 faculty members and almost 370 attendees. It made for some heady worship times in the general sessions and lots of smaller God moments.

If you're anywhere on the eastern side of the continent, then attending Blue Ridge is almost a no brainer. This year there were several agents and book editors taking appointments. There were also several magazines and devotion markets represented. All of these are opportunities for the attendees to get their work seen and in some cases, contracted.

For those who find themselves on the western side of the continent, Al has a new conference this year - Southwest Christian Writers Studio - October 19-22, 2010. This is a more exclusive conference, taking only the first 100 who register. Knowing what Al has done with Blue Ridge, I don't hesitate to also recommend this conference.

Stop by and tell me what you thought of Blue Ridge this year, whether you were a new attendee or one who's been going for years.
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