What I Learned at Mount Hermon


Or, an attempt to encapsulate infinite amounts of wisdom in less than 800 words.

My Accommodations
My Accommodations

Mc Nair Wilson, our keynote speaker, inspired us as creative people to:

  • Be yourself. What do you do best? Who are you, really?
  • Take risks. Just start something. Everyone fails. You have before, you will again. Don’t fear it.
  • Challenge assumptions. God expects us to live in more abundance.
  • Stay Curious. Do what people think can’t be done. God’s name is I AM and He is holding you.
  • See differently. Write a story no one has written before. Do. You.
  • Be confident. God’s on your side.
  • Tell the why. Pay more attention to life.
  • Remember that Jesus showed us humor, humility and humanity.

About editors and agents.

Practice talking about your manuscript. Agents and editors expect you to be nervous so don’t fear them. Know your story well. Be prepared to answer their inquiries and be willing to ask them questions too. If an agent or editor has to tell you no, it isn’t personal, it’s about the right editor at the right publishing house at the right time. Don’t give up!

About the craft of writing.

The Scenery
The Scenery

The four D’s:

  • Desire sets our protagonist on a particular path that pulls the reader through the book.
  • Distancing happens with each conflict that knocks her off the path.
  • Denial is the point when it seems that our character will never attain her desire.
  • Devastation goes beyond denial, pushing our character back to the beginning.

A boring or confusing story is actually a symptom of a writer not having a concrete desire with high stakes for each of his main characters. We can approach our story with this simple formula:

   Protagonist wants (action words – verb) so that (specific result or outcome).

For me, it’s actually much harder than it seems. Being specific propels the character through the story, but that same specificity feels elusive to pin down. I’m still working on it.

  • Use restraint and control with our words. (Rein ‘em in boys!)

Our sentence structure needs to keep the tension taut like a rubber band during our story. Too many words weigh our story down and alleviate the tension. We may lose our reader. Make it easy for our reader to remain engaged. Anything that stops the action (or forward momentum) is a reason for our reader to stop reading.

  • Use sentence rhythm.  (Who knew?)

Our sentence rhythm needs to match the beat of the action in the scene. The sentences should reflect what is going on in our character. High action or nervous tension?  Use short sentences. Complex sentences make the reader wait to get to the action. Don’t make your reader wait. There is a fine line between suspense that engages the reader and frustrating our reader by not giving enough detail. Each sentence should answer a question and raise another one.

  • Show, don’t tell. (We’ve heard this before, right?)

We want our reader to feel the scene not just read about it. Use all five senses and chose your words and their placement for the greatest impact. Split up descriptions and place them strategically to show without stopping the action. Add emotion by showing it in the dialogue and action of the characters without explaining or naming it.

And finally, about characters.

One of Many Bloomers
One of Many Bloomers

Point of View

Pretend there is a camera attached to the side of your POV character’s head. He can’t see himself (don’t cheat with a mirror), only what he would be looking at or thinking. Limit your point of view changes to new scenes. You personalize your characters by the way they perceive a setting or scene.

Dialogue

Knowing your characters intimately will help you create real dialogue that shows who they are without tags. Try taking out all the speaker attributes and see if you can tell who is speaking. Use action wherever possible and only add in “he/she said” when necessary to avoid confusion. Long, uninterrupted speeches aren’t natural. (Okay, maybe only for me …just ask my husband). Keep it short.

One parting note…

My mentoring group teacher, Brandilyn Collins pointed out to us that when we evaluate our own writing, we judge it based upon the same level of craftsmanship with which we wrote it. Therefore, find a more experienced critique partner (or professional editor) to help you discover the deeper issues you may be missing in your writing.

Phew. I made it. Only 760 words.  And that was only the first day. (Just kidding)DSC_0052

Any tips you’d like to share with the group?

How to Deal with Discouragement


I didn’t win the writing contest. 

Is it Time to Get Off the Highway?
Is it Time to Get Off the Highway?

Not that I expected to win. Truly! I entered more for the experience and the input from the judges. My desire to become a better writer motivated me to take the plunge and humbly accept any criticism offered. I am thankful for the three judges who read and critiqued my work, offering their opinion and writing expertise.

Here’s the dilemma.

I read the first evaluation of my work and while it wasn’t off the charts promoting me as a wonderful writer, it offered some hope that all the writing, classes, critiquing, etc. had been worth it; I actually was learning something and it showed in my above average skills. Yay! The second set of comments stunned me. This particular judge scored me as a below average writer with major problems. The evaluator recommended I get help for the many elements needing work. OUCH! I gulped and read the final critique. The comments fell mostly in various places between the first two.

Writing is so subjective.

The reality of this doesn’t make it any easier to welcome criticism, but I want to grow and learn from my mistakes so I took to heart every score and comment. However, I looked for common areas needing work, and couldn’t find any. Not one of the three judges scored the same in any area! As a matter of fact, in a few areas, I received both my lowest and highest scores! I’m not sure how to interpret that. Which judge’s opinion do I go by?

Discouragement set in.

I confess that all week, since reading those reports, I’ve had the worst time sitting down to write. (In all honesty, the craziness of Christmas isn’t helping that either!) The old lies keep pounding at my door.

“You are no good as a writer and you’ll never be. No matter how hard you try. You can’t write well. Period. Give it up.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the same voices?

I finally forced myself to write for an hour. Just one. It was torture. I struggled to put a few words down and berated myself out of every one of them. But about halfway through my timer’s ticking, the words began to flow again. When the chimes sounded, ending my time, disappointment flooded me. It had been fun. I wanted more.

I guess a writer is a writer no matter how well or how poorly she writes. The discouragement still feels a bit heavy on my shoulders, but I love to write. I can’t help it. So, here’s a blog post. Thanks for reading.

What makes you discouraged about writing? How do you handle criticism or rejection?

What Does a Real Writer Write?


It finally happened.

I have nothing to write about. Oh, I’m working on three different projects with another fifteen lined up on a waiting list, but for my blog? Zilch. Writing something simply to create a post seems so, so…lame. I long to be helpful, encouraging, informational to others, not a wielder of words for the sake of a post quota.

Usually, creative ideas waterfall from me, and I lament the lack of time and finger strength to keep up, but not today. And that leads me to a confession. For all of you who have wondered what to write, wrestled over words and attempted to extricate some meaningful post out of air while I judged you as curious subjects who didn’t seem to have a clue: I’m sorry. I apologize. I have no excuse for looking down on your writing woes. Perhaps, and I offer this only as a meager explanation, I was blinded by my novice stature and ignorance of true grit in the writing world.

Please forgive me. 

Consider this appallingly brief post as a mere token of my apologies and admiration for all you true authors who have experienced writer’s block or a blank mental screen and lived to tell the tale and write another day. (Isn’t it apropos to end with trite clichés?)

 
Ever experienced writer’s block or blank? How do you get back on track?

Writing in My Sleep


Last night dreams swirled through my head and I found myself waking up a few times momentarily convinced that I was living the story in my book. Since the book I’m writing is based on my personal experience, I have already lived it, but it felt strange to be in the middle of it again–if only in my dreams.

I suppose my over active mental activity during sleep (I use that term loosely) could be attributed to the nearly 5,000 words I wrote yesterday. The lines between current reality and re-living the words I was writing began blurring the longer I typed. It became nearly impossible to pull myself away for the night; hence the dreams that plagued my sleep.

Sometimes I wonder how authors manage to pour so many words out and remain sane. It seems to me that books practically write themselves, taking on a life of their own and carrying the one writing away as in a flood. I imagine it could be that way with a novel; my one beginning, still-in-progress attempt at fiction has affected me as such. But surprisingly enough, my own story has evoked the same effect. The other day I found myself thinking “what a great story this would be if it were real…oh, wait, it IS real!” Silly me. Hope it has the same impact on other readers!

This adventure of writing thrills me. Each day I wake up excited to start again. Even stuck places with their frustrations of where-do-I-go-next feel more like a challenging puzzle than something to dread. I may not always feel this way. Some authors crank out numerous books a year, and quite honestly, I don’t see how they do it. Maybe some day I’ll be that good. In the meantime, I hope to sleep tonight, but wish I could write in my sleep.

So many words. So little sleep.

Words


The book I’m writing fills my mind. I feel the end coming like a train rushing at me. I couldn’t stop it if I wanted to. And I hate having to stop (like for food or sleep or children) because I see the finish line in the distance. The words pour over and through and around me.  I snatch a few here and there–keep, discard, add some in here–but the stream of words has now become a waterfall rushing over and past me almost drowning me with its crazy, powerful momentum. These words seem to have a life of their own now, and I am just along for the ride.