Saturday, July 31, 2010

Weekend Worship - I Wouldn't Choose It, But I Wouldn't Change It

And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:27 (NIV)

A lot of writing is like cross carrying. We tend to write about things that matter to us. Things matter to us because of our life experiences. When difficult things arise we all tend to ask why. I've found a more productive way to look at those traumas that shape us.

I think we all have regrets in our life, no matter how old we are. I have things I regret doing and not doing. I also have things I regret going through. I used to spend a lot of time in prayer asking God why and I got frustrated because God often didn’t seem to answer. Then one day, while reading my Bible, I came across this verse. Now I’ve read this verse many times before, but this time God’s Spirit spoke to me. He showed me that God doesn’t like the pain I’ve been through, but He’s used it in a powerful way in my life. He showed me that I wouldn’t be the person I am, without those times I regret. They are, in effect, my cross. They are things I have had to carry to become more Christ-like.

So for me, the question has become, “Do I want to be more like Jesus?” Absolutely! Then, I’ve had to look back and come to the painful knowledge that those times of regret have done that. They’ve made me into the person I am today. I’m now able to say, “I wouldn’t choose it, but I wouldn’t change it.” Is that easy? No way. Sometimes it takes years after a painful event or circumstance, but I can unequivocally say it’s worth the battle.

What are your regrets? Look back and let God show you the great things He’s done through them. I'd love to hear about some of the things you've learned.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thursday Review, The Writer's Digest Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy

I’m a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy. I cut my teeth on Star Trek—literally. One of my earliest memories involves sitting in my daddy’s lap watch the original TV series. I also love the classics—all the Narnia books and Lord of the Rings.

So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that when I picked up my pen to write a novel I chose science fiction as my genre of choice. The book isn’t published, but the manuscript did win an award this year in the My Book Therapy Frasier Contest. One of the books that I really enjoyed as a resource was The Writer’s Digest Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy.

This book has gotten mixed reviews, but I found it to be a good investment. One of the complaints is that it’s just a reprint of previous books by the same authors. In some cases that is true, but all that means is instead of consulting several books, I just have to look at one to find what I need.

It has extensive chapters on world building and how to make a world scientifically viable. It also has great chapters for those writing fantasy. It discusses ancient cultures and how they can be incorporated into the world you’re developing. It even has a blueprint of an ancient castle.

One thing missing from this book is any mention of J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. That oversight has been attributed to many things and really the reason doesn’t matter. I wish it had been discussed, if only peripherally. Other than that one missing component, I was very pleased with my investment and don’t hesitate to recommend it if you’re considering writing in one of these genres.

Let me know what you think.
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Monday, July 26, 2010

Write For FREE - Who Me?!?

You better believe it! Some of my most lucrative jobs have come as a direct result of work I did for free or little pay.

There are definitely two camps when it comes to opinions about writers working for free. The hard line, I never work without compensation crowd, are often adamant about their viewpoint and claim that those of us who do gratis work are making a bad name for the rest. The softer, I hate to admit it—but I do it crowd, try to keep from answering direct questions.

I’ve found wisdom on both sides, depending on the situations. In my opinion, there are times when holding the line on compensation makes good business sense and there are others when it amounts to nothing more than shooting yourself in the foot. Below are some instances when I’ve worked for free.

  • As a beginner – I don’t care what you hear to the contrary, most professionals have had to put in time working for free to learn their business. Teachers student teach, business people take advantage of internships with no pay, and nurses work in hospitals as student nurses. Writing is no different. A friend and fellow writer, Vonda Skelton, worked for years as a nurse and is always quick to point out the months she spent working for free as part of learning how to be a good nurse. So if you’re just starting out, don’t hesitate to work for free. You’ll accumulate clips, as well as experience, and they’ll both further your career.
  • When starting out in a new genre – writing devotions takes a different skill set from writing content for business websites. When you cross over into a new genre, you may find it’s necessary to go back to writing for free to bring your writing resume back up to professional strength. If you have years of writing experience, you may only need to reduce your rates, it just depends on the situation.
  • To develop a new business relationship – I have offered clients reduced rates as an introduction to what I can do. Just the fact that I would allow them to see what I could do without paying up front often cemented a long term working relationship,
  • For ministry – at times I’ve done work for things or people I’ve believed in for free. A surprising amount of the time this has also led to a lucrative job down the road. In this competitive marketplace you'll stand out if you're willing to go the extra mile.
  • As an opportunity to pay it forward – there are numerous people who have gladly and generously given me their time and experience to further my career. I try to remember that when I meet someone who is just starting out.
Obviously it wouldn’t be a business if we gave everything away for free. But I think we’ve taken the old saying, generous to a fault, way out of context. My advice—don’t be afraid to take the time to develop your expertise—which includes taking jobs that pay little or nothing. I can assure you, from personal experience, that it’s just good business.

I’d love to hear your experiences and opinions about writing for free.
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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Weekend Worship, Who Are You Following?

Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him and He will do this. Psalm 37:5, NIV

Last summer a group of us drove to the beach. We took several cars and, although I’d never been to that particular beach, I took my car. Things were a little crazy when we left and after we got on the road I realized I hadn’t gotten written directions. I knew the friend I followed could get us there, no problem, but it still made me a little nervous. I was careful to keep her car constantly in sight and stay alert to any signs that she planned to change direction. I’m a bit of a control freak and this was hard for me. I had to rely on her to get me safely to the place we’d stay.

While I groused about not knowing where I was going, it hit me that my life with God is like that. As believers, we know our ultimate destination is heaven. But just like my trip to the beach, I must follow God closely to stay on the right path. I have to stay alert, follow closely and not get separated.

This is hard for me in a lot of ways, but especially when it comes to my writing career. When I started this path, I had a very clear picture of what my life as a writer would look like. I knew the things I’d be doing, the things I’d concentrate on and how it would lead me to my version of success. Very little of that has happened. I have become a full time writer, but my path has been very different from what I’d imagined and infinitely better!

As I’ve learned to relinquish control to God, He’s taken me down paths I hadn’t dared dream about. I’m here to say I’m not the one in control, God is, and I’ve learned to trust that He knows the best way to get where we’re going.

It does us no good to get ahead of God, only He knows the correct path for each of us.
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thursday Review, Writers Workshop with Cec Murphey

Today, I'm excited to introduce you to fellow writer, Lynn Blackburn. She's a writing buddy of mine and will be a regular contributor to the Thursday Review section of this blog. She has a wonderful, fresh voice and if you haven't yet, be sure to visit her blog, Out of the Boat.

Cecil Murphey, photo taken by Edie Melson
I have a confession to make. Before attending the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, I had never heard of Cecil Murphey. Don’t get me wrong, I knew his books — you’d have to have been living under a rock beside a hut on a deserted island to have missed 90 Minutes in Heaven. I just didn’t place his name with his books. (This should be a lesson to anyone who thinks writing books is a path to fame).

But I kept hearing people talk about Cec Murphey. How he’s a wonderful writer himself and a generous friend to writers of all levels of accomplishment. So when The Christian Writer’s Den and Write4Him announced that they were bringing Cecil Murphey to the Upstate of South Carolina for a writer’s workshop and book signing, I knew I had to be there. If for no other reason than to figure out what the big deal is about Cecil Murphey.

Believe me — I get it now!

I arrived at CrossWay Christian Supply in Greenville thinking we might hear a nice talk about his career and success, maybe a few nice anecdotes about publishing and some insight into the current market.

What I got was an advanced level dialogue course. Cec (if I may be so bold as to refer to him that way), provided several pages of notes with dialogue tips and techniques, but spent the majority of his time walking us through two separate dialogue critiques.

Few things are as helpful to a writer as watching a master deconstruct a scene, point out the flaws and then put it back together. And to top it off, he has a great sense of humor and a charming style. I brought a non-writer friend with me and she enjoyed the workshop as much as I did. We both found him funny, insightful and humble.

So thank you to the Christian Writer’s Den and Write4Him for bringing us this wonderful opportunity. If Cecil Murphey is speaking anywhere near you, be there! You won’t be sorry.

If you attended his workshop, let us know what you thought.
Don’t forget to join the conversation!
Lynn Blackburn
Guest Blogger

Monday, July 19, 2010

Critiques - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Critique—just mention of the word can make me break out in hives. Don’t get me wrong, I really like to get feedback on my writing, as long as it’s positive. But there’s the rub, a steady diet of positive critiques alone doesn’t help me grow as a writer. Now, I’m not one of those who believe positive feedback is worthless. I like to know what I’m doing well, so I can do more of it. But, I also want to know where I need improvement.

You might say I’m a glutton for punishment. I regularly enter pieces in contests. I’m a member of a monthly critique group and a member of an intensive, weekly critique group. And that doesn’t count all the rejection letters I have in my files from articles and manuscripts that haven’t made the grade. I’ve definitely had my fair share of painful critiques. But this post isn’t an invitation to a pity party. I just want to share some of my coping techniques when it seems like no one can say anything good about what I’ve written.

  • Take it in, then let it sit – I have to have time to process negative comments. (I don’t seem to need the same time to process the positive ones—go figure). I usually go back and reread the negative comments 48 hours later and that gives me the perspective to know what I need to do to improve.
  • Realize you’re in control – ultimately it’s your story and you can decide what works and what doesn’t. Just because a critique partner says it doesn’t work, doesn’t mean she’s right. You get to make the call.
  • Seek out a second opinion – sometimes I don’t know if a comment is truly valid or not. When that happens, I ask several people I respect for their opinion. If one person stumbles over a sentence, it’s not a big deal. But if half the people you show it to stumble, you probably need to do something.
  • Be polite – generally, someone who takes the time to critique your work wants you to succeed. It helps make the negative comments easier to take if you remind yourself of that. Occasionally you’ll run across someone who rips your manuscript to shreds just to prove how smart they are. It happens to all of us and we just have to consider the source of the critique and move on.

So don’t be afraid to show others your work. Ultimately, no matter how painful, it will improve your writing. I’ve had over 700 articles published this year and I can assure you that all those painful critiques are a large part of my success.

Now it’s your turn. What tips do you have for processing a negative critique?
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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Only Still Water Reflects

The heat index was over 100, but lounging in my beach chair—feet in the sand, I couldn’t have been happier. The blue sky mirrored the dusky blue of the ocean. The tide had turned and more often than not, my feet were washed clean by the encroaching waves. As each wave receded, in its wake was a pool of water so calm I could see my face. This image was replaced over and over as rushing waves crashed upon the shore.

Like an oft repeated saying, the truth of this moment began to penetrate. When I get busy, rushing from thing to thing, it becomes harder and harder for my life to clearly reflect Christ. But if I slow down, living by His rhythm, His image is visible in all aspects of my life.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Narrowing Down Your Options

A lot of newer writers I meet find themselves overwhelmed with the myriad of options in the field of writing. They struggle, trying to decide between writing articles, devotions, fiction, non-fiction, etc. Writing is a big field, and if you didn’t study some aspect of it in college, the choices can be daunting.

My suggestion—take a deep breath—you don’t have to start out with a specialty. As a matter of fact, until you’ve tried several different genres, you probably shouldn’t limit yourself too much. Even those of us with formal training find ourselves morphing into a different kind of writer than we envisioned at the start of our career.

Give yourself time to flex your wings. Try out different things. Write for the web, for print—even try your hand at a short story or flash fiction. Not only will variety help you determine the kind of writing you love, it will improve your ability overall. Here are some other tips to help you get started.
  • Look for a writers group in your area. There may or may not be one, but if there is, it will help immensely. It gives you perspective when you see what others are doing and you’re able to ask questions.
  • Take a look at what you like to read. What touches you? What do you find yourself saying, “If I could write anything, I’d write this?” The answer may surprise you and lead you down a different writing path.
  • Determine what you want to accomplish with your writing. Is it to touch people, glorify God, earn a little extra money? The answer may not be all one thing, but you should have one that stands out from the others.
These tips will help make your choices easier. They will also help you determine where to go for further training. For example, I might recommend one book for a writer who wants to write devotions and a completely different one for someone who is interested in freelancing as a career.

So, bottom line, don’t be afraid of all the choices—embrace them! And don't be afraid to try more than one project at a time. Trust me, it can be done.

I’d love to hear from you. What kind of writing do you like to do? How did you discover it?
Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Weekend Worship - Once Upon a Time . . .

Once Upon a Time
by Edie Melson

Dust & ashes
Filthy rags
Hateful masters
Ugly hags

Aching heart
Wishes made
Things changed
Rules obeyed

Pretty clothes
Delightful gathering
Striking clock
Hope unraveling

Life abandoned
Party fled
Dream denied
Future dead

Broken heart
Determined prince
Kingdom searched
Message sent

Trail followed
Captive sought
Desolate found
Freedom bought

Lifted up
Life redeemed
Carried away
Fulfilled dream

Fairy tale
Cosmic joke
Cruel lie
No hope

Jesus Christ
Heard my call
Paid the price
Prince of all

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thursday Review, Getting Into Character

Getting Into Character
by Brandilyn Collins

A lot of the manuscripts I come across as a freelance editor have similar problems—and similar characters. It takes work to write characters that come across as real and believable. One of the best resources for writers struggling with this is the book, Getting into Character, by Brandilyn Collins.

Her book offers a unique viewpoint—that of a method actor. She offers seven secrets she uses to bring her own fiction to life. Each section has an actor’s technique and novelists adaption. She breaks down the techniques needed to write believable characters, even when the writer is exploring situations outside their own personal experiences.

This book will benefit the novice writer, as well as the more experienced writer. My copy sits on the shelf above my desk, well-worn from repeated use. What have you found to help you build better characters? Leave a comment and let us know.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!