Are You Ready?


It’s almost here.

The best of the best Christian writing conferences will educate and encourage writers in only two weeks; and it’s practically in my backyard!

There’s still time to register for Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference, but you have to act now.

Watch the video and you’ll see what writers are saying about this amazing conference. (And you can see two seconds – 1:13-1:14 of me attentively listening to a panel of agents.)

I can’t say enough about the wonderful people I’ve met at the conference. I’ve made friends and acquaintances and received some of the best writing advice in the industry.  Authors such as Sherry Kyle, Cheryl Ricker, Karen O’Connor, Kay Strom, Mary DeMuth, Lauraine Snelling, Karen Ball, James Scott Bell, just to name a few! (You don’t mind if I drop a few names…)

New writers, such as my friend and roommate from last year, Miriam Sarzotti, as well a seasoned authors, like Brandilyn Collins, who will be my writing mentor this year, mingle together in class, in worship and over delicious meals.

One of the best values of the conference is the opportunity to submit TWO manuscripts for critique or editor/agent review without additional cost. I’ve gained such valuable input from having my writing critiqued by well-known authors. And even if you don’t get your manuscript in before the conference (which I highly recommend), there are authors/editors available for critiques and questions during the afternoons.

In the evenings, a key-note speaker (this year: McNair Wilson) delivers an inspirational message that encourages you not only in your writing, but also in your every-day life. It amazes me each year how God speaks to every area of my life and ties it all together.

Everyone at the conference believes in you and considers it their privilege to encourage and uplift you. They will tell you the truth about your ability and help you find the right avenue for your particular writing goals.

Whether you consider yourself an amateur writer or a professional, there’s a place for you at Mt. Hermon. I’m thrilled to be able to attend again this year. I hope to see you there!

What’s your experience? Have you attended Mt. Hermon or any other conferences you’ve found particularly helpful?

What Would My Characters Do?


My “practice” novel is almost to the midway point.

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I’ve been slogging through the past few chapters of A Voice from the Past as my characters face some emotional changes. They seem true to life in their expressions and quandaries, but somehow, at least to me, I want more from them. More action, more depth, more life. And direction. Maybe they want to call the shots, and I am battling them for control. I don’t know. I’m new to this. Remember? An amateur.

Yesterday, I found myself staring down one of my characters.

I wondered what to have them say next. In that moment, I realized once again how helpful the advice gleaned from the wonderful teachers at Mt. Hermon’s Christian Writers Conference was to me. The reason I could look my character in the eyes is because James Scott Bell taught us to develop characters by finding actual pictures of them from stock photos on the internet and answering questions about all the details of their lives.

Karen Ball, an avid coffee lover, explained that she creates characters by assigning how they like their coffee! She described making coffee for them and sitting in her writing studio drinking coffee with her characters. They come alive for her that way. Real coffee, real characters. Very cool!

So, I have a notebook with all my characters pictures and bio’s in it.

Whenever I need more from my characters, I go to the notebook and flip to that character’s page. Then I ask,

if you were real, what would you do or say right now?

It sounds a bit crazy. Maybe people would say eccentric. Okay, perhaps even neurotic. I say helpful. Necessary. Enlightening.

Now, if only they’d talk back…

How do you make your characters come alive for you?

Encouragement for Writers


On Christmas Eve I received a great gift.

Christmas at the Bennet house
Christmas at the Bennet house

The three critiques for the second novel I entered in the ACFW First Impressions contest arrived in my inbox. As my wonderful husband predicted, they were far more positive than my first novel’s scores. I didn’t expect that—I mean, I’m the same writer, right? How could two entries be judged so differently? Subject matter, I believe. But regardless of the reason, I felt much more encouraged that I may have the makings of a true author yet.

The encouragement of others makes a world of difference!

Those of you who commented and wrote encouraging emails in response to my post last week really turned my heart around. Thank you for your vote even if you weren’t a contest judge! Another positive was the advice from the sender of the email containing my critiques. Her gracious and wise comments offered a perspective that was very liberating. I also read some great blog posts regarding how writers can respond to reviews and critiques. Here’s the compiled (some repeated by many) advice I found most encouraging:

  • Put away the critiques after reading them once and read them later with a freshly open mind.
  • Writing is subjective and you have no idea what the judge has been through personally before commenting on your writing. Remember this is their opinion. Take it with much salt. (Charles Dickens, one of my fave authors, would never stand a chance in today’s market!)
  • Throw out anything you don’t agree with. (Really?? Wow! Cool. Still want to keep an open mind though.)
  • Pay attention to any area commented on by more than one judge.
  • Any criticism is meant to help you launch into better writing.

After Christmas I took out all six critiques again.

I laid them side by side from the lowest score to the highest. From the first point to the last on each I looked for the highest scored areas and the lowest.  Then I looked for any common areas that I seemed to do well in as well as any I need to improve. This time reading through them, I attempted to be more objective and analytical in order to find ways to grow in my writing.

Plot and structure appear to be my weak spot.

That’s probably why I feel like I’m in the deep end treading water now that I’ve hit almost the middle of my first novel! So I ordered a couple of recommended books by James Scott Bell to help me swim. (Or write, as it were.)

In the end, I’m so glad I entered the contest. I’m grateful to the judges for their input and advice, and for all the encouragement from readers and other writers! I hope to emerge a better writer as a result of this. Someday, maybe I’ll even become a professional!

What has been encouraging to you as you write? What are your weak areas? What advice or encouragement do you have for other writers?

Writing a Novel


I wrote my first novel in high school.

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Well, okay, so I didn’t exactly write an entire novel; it was more like twenty pages and a little character development. The idea, birthed from my addiction to romantic fiction, sprang from my pencil (yes, pencil) onto the lined pages of my spiral bound notebook (my writing tool of choice). Give me a break. That was in 1975! Who knew one day we’d have laptops and iPads??

I didn’t know anything about writing a novel except from what I’d read. I knew I longed to grace a page with words that would thrill, inspire and change lives. But what began with lofty dreams ended the moment I became stuck with technicalities. How could I create a scene to scene plot that made sense and moved the reader into the story and through an adventure? Even as I learned about rising action, climax and resolution, I had no clue how to make it work in the context of an actual manuscript. My creative beginnings ended as abruptly as they commenced.

Sometimes I feel as lost now as I did then.

I’ve attended novel writing classes at Mt. Hermon (thank you James Scott Bell!) and studied my notes from numerous workshops. CD’s have poured forth wise words of writing technique while I’ve driven to various meetings with fellow writers. My eyes and ears remain open and attentive as I listen to authors share their secrets of hard work (thank you Sherry Kyle, Karen O’Connor and Susanne Larkin). I peruse author sites and read the Writer’s Guide. But sometimes, I feel like such an amateur still. I guess I still am.

I want to write a really good novel.

I always said I’d never write a novel until I could write as well as my favorite author, Francine Rivers. Her books change your life. I’ve never read one that didn’t bring me to tears of revelation, healing and joy. In a novel! To write like that takes dedication, hard work and the hand of God. But I guess every author has to start somewhere.

So I’m writing a practice novel.

Since the only way to learn to write is to actually put the words out there, I decided to try. The plot overall is easy enough to create, but I get hung up with the scenes. I tend to tell too much, I think, instead of letting time pass and jumping into the story like one might have leapt onto a slow moving train in days past. Sometimes the characters run away with the story and do things I’m not ready for which leaves me questioning whether I know what I’m doing at all.

I guess the point is that being a writer means writing. Yes, learning all I can is helpful, but unless I put into practice that which I’ve learned the learning will be pointless. I love to hear the stories of other writers’ struggles. It makes me feel less an amateur. Care to share?

What are your novel writing experiences? What inspires you or discourages you?