What’s An Author to Do?


I confess I don’t have time to write a blog post today.

The truth is I am in the final pages of my first novel and all the good stuff is happening. Since I never know what my characters may do, especially in the heat of crisis, I’m afraid to leave them alone too long. I already took too long over dinner. (My son needed really needed me.)

So now, I beg your leave with apologies. I will come back next week and attempt to offer something helpful, challenging (thinking of last week…) or encouraging. May God bless you.

Until then, I hear my protagonist calling. She’s in a real dilemma and doesn’t know what to do…DSC_0002

 

Oh, and FYI my first book, The Miracle of Us: Confessions of an Online Dater, is on sale on Amazon in paperback or kindle, or you can order a slightly imperfect copy for a great deal (thanks to a printing error) on my website.

 
What do you do when your characters start doing things you didn’t plan?

Confessions from an Author


Yesterday, Brendan tiptoed into our bedroom(home of my office) with the grin of a Cheshire cat.

“Darling, guess what?”

He held a small package in his hand.

DSC_0002
Me holding my book

“It’s here?”

He nodded and held it out as if on a silver platter for me to open. My book proof had come. I pulled the tab and slid it out. My book. The culmination of a thousand starts and stops, tears, rewrites and re directions sat in my hands, my name on the cover. I like the cover.

I confess, I don’t know how other authors feel when they see their books in print for the first time. I’ve never thought to ask. There is something surreal about it, and I don’t think it’s fully sunk in. Writing is hard work. It takes practice and patience and gumption. It requires determination and fortitude. All of these thoughts have rattled around in my head since yesterday. And the work isn’t done. The final proofing will now begin.

But, the contemplation of process and pain, and questions of “am I good enough?” drift away as on a gentle breeze. None of those seem to matter now.

I mean, I absolutely hope my book will encourage someone, or bless them, make them laugh or sigh with hopeful longing. But the project has added so much to my life as a writer and as a person that I am content, I think. Whether anyone reads it, or likes it is now simply icing on the cake.

I’ve written a book. I’ve held it in my hands. That is no small thing, and I feel…satisfied.

For you authors, how did you feel when you first held (or saw the Kindle) of your first book? For those of you still in process, can you speculate?
 

For anyone interested, there are still a few FREE copies to be had. AND there is still a week left to pre-order for 20% off the retail price. Click here to fill out the form requesting either or to volunteer to review it on your blog.

 

Finding an Agent


After a few trusted author sources recommended I find an agent, I began the search last month.

I printed a list of recommended literary agencies DSC_0001off Michael Hyatt’s website, and proceeded to examine each agency website. Thoroughly. Even though I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for. I pray as I search, so I guess I’m waiting for a sense of “rightness” that settles with me.  Something that makes me feel I’d like to work with these people, and hopefully, perhaps they’d feel the same about me.

I already “found” one such agency and sent a proposal according to their guidelines. Side note here: according to numerous sources, it appears that people actually disregard agent/publisher guidelines. Seriously? That seems to me to be the quickest way to rejection. Why go to so much work and then blow off the submission guidelines? I don’t get it. Ok, off my box.

So I submitted my query/proposal, but realistically the chance that said agency will want me seems pretty slim. Probability-wise. It could happen (oh God let it be so!), but I’m not holding my breath. Therefore, I’m on the hunt for back-ups. Following that advice from other professionals seemed like a good plan.

Unfortunately, I had never heard of most of the authors represented on every single site. 

At first that made me feel like some illiterate, ignorant dolt. Are you kidding me? I write (as an amateur yes, but still…), and I read extensively, so how is it I don’t have any idea who most of America’s current authors are? But then I found it strangely encouraging realizing how many published authors are out there. So many, in fact, that I, in no way, can keep up. Good for me in the sense that it’s okay if not everyone knows who I am or follows me on Twitter.

Some agencies represent vast numbers of authors, many whom I did recognize and have read. Famous people that I think everyone must have heard of. Authors whose books have consistently made bestseller lists. Other agencies have lists of authors who aren’t published yet, don’t have websites or seem (at least to me) to still be in the amateur writer category, if you get what I mean.

At the end of the day, my confusion (and confession) was this:

Do I want an agency like the first one I mentioned? Or a better question is would they want me? If they’ve managed to get all these great authors published, I want them on my side, right? But they’re a little intimidating with their bestseller author lists. Would I even stand a chance?

Or, do I want an agency like the second one described? If many of their authors are yet unpublished (exactly where I am) or mediocre writers (I hope I’m not), can I rely on them to represent me? Or am I simply delighted that there’s a chance for us amateur writers to find an agent?

There you have it.

Dilemma of the day. Anyone have any thoughts?

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?

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?

How to Make Your Writing Goals SMART


Last year one of my goals was to open a Twitter account.  IMG_4050

On December 31, 2011 I posted my first tweet. I don’t think I would have done that if I had only thought or even said to myself that I should start tweeting. I knew it was something that would help my writing career; social networking builds platform, right? But without a clear, specific, measurable goal, I would have gone on thinking about something I should do, but probably wouldn’t have done it or at least not for a long time.

This week I met another goal!

I submitted my first proposal to an agency. Again, while I knew it was the next step, and headed in that direction, it took a specific, measurable goal to accomplish it. My writer friend encouraged me to submit it within a few days of us talking or wait until after the holidays. That specific deadline challenged me in the best way to take care of something on my writing list in a timely matter. Without a measurable goal, you know the story…I’d probably be sitting here working in short bursts of “shoulds”. Instead, I have a proposal sitting in an agent’s office. (Thank you Sherry!)

But how do I make my goals S.M.A.R.T?

Most of us self-motivators have heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals, introduced by Paul J. Meyer in Attitude is Everything.  These goals are: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.  Let’s see how we can convert some “shoulds” into SMART goals.

Instead try: By the end of this year, I will open a Twitter account and post my first tweet.

This is a specific, measurable and time-bound goal because I listed a particular action to be accomplished within a set time period.  At first, a Twitter account didn’t seem attainable because I’m not very accomplished with technology, but as it didn’t require a degree or special class, I could attain it by simply checking into it. The goal became more relevant as I blogged and wrote more to build a platform.

  • I should learn my craft.

Instead try: I will attend at least one writing conference this year and practice writing by turning out 1,000 words per day. Or I will subscribe to Writer’s Digest and read each issue to learn my craft; and I will practice by writing 500 words per day.

You can see that naming an action like attending a course or subscribing to and reading a magazine and actually writing a specified number of words each day is specific, measurable, relevant and time-bound. Attainable may depend on your finances or time so adjust as your resources allow. If you need to work an extra three hours per month to save money for a conference, that can be an additional goal.

  • I should work on my novel.

Instead try: On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I will spend two hours writing my novel. Or, I will edit my novel from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. every morning until its finished.

  • I should look for an agent.

Instead try: By (fill in date), I will choose five agents from the list on Michael Hyatt’s website.

  • I should submit a proposal to said agent.

Instead try: By Friday of this week I will submit my proposal to the first agent of five on my list. After three weeks, if I have not heard anything, I will submit to the next agent. (Make sure these agents accept simultaneous submissions.)

 

I think you get the idea. Make it specific, doable and with a deadline.

Happy writing!

What ways have you made goal setting work for you? Has this post been helpful? I’d love to hear from you!

How to Become a Professional Writer


“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

Richard Bach

This quote caught my attention earlier this week.

My apologies to you whose blog I “stole” it from because I didn’t make a note of where I saw it when I copied it down and now, can I remember where it was?? Of course not! This is the life of reading so many words from too many places; and getting old. There’s a lesson here about citing sources, I’m sure. Thank you unnamed author. May you be justly rewarded in some fantastic way! (If you are that blogger, and read my blog as well, would you be so kind as to let me know so we can settle up?)

My response to the quote above was, “Wow! Really? Then there is hope for this amateur writer because I will not quit!”

Seriously, the quote may seem facetious, but it holds a simplistic truth. Sometimes, all it takes to succeed is us not giving up. I think of my daughter, Ashley, who recently ran a half marathon in Vancouver, Canada. It was her first, and she didn’t quit. She crossed the finish line (in a relatively decent time even) and became a marathon runner. Still, she had put in training time.

While the simple theory of the quote encouraged me, I also considered all I’ve been doing to become a professional writer. Nearly a year and a half ago, I finally decided to take writing seriously and began doing everything I was told.

Here’s my list:

  1. Take writing seriously. I know I already wrote that, but that is how important the step was for me. I had to choose to write for real. Not just say it, or dabble in it, or read a lot and dream about it.
  1. Learn to write well. In high school and college I was told I had a gift for writing. For some crazy reason, I believed that meant everything I wrote and sent out for publication would be snapped up with a grateful “Thank you for gracing us with your wonderful work.” After a dozen rejection letters, I felt crushed and indignant. Then I decided I must not be any good after all. When I humbly accepted that I had things to learn about writing, my writing improved. Imagine that! I’m still learning. We can always learn something new or perfect what we already know. Mt Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference has been invaluable.
  1. Write. Seems like a no brainer, but honestly I can spend a lot of time doing “writing” tasks without typing a word. 10,000 words or hours or something… Bottom line: we need to put in a lot of hours actually writing.
  1. Build a platform. What’s a platform?? Honestly, this has been the hardest part for me. First to understand the need, then to be genuine about it and finally to simply put in the time to learn the technology and make connections. I’m currently reading Michael Hyatt’s book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World. I’ve already learned so much in just a few chapters! (Like now I know that I’m supposed to write a disclaimer–according to FTC rules–saying I’m not being compensated for mentioning Michael’s book or Mt. Hermon. I list them simply because I think they’re so helpful.)
  1. Learn to write fabulous book proposals. So my book is done and in the final stages of editing, but how’s someone going to hear about it unless I can pitch it well to an agent or publisher? Guess what? I’m reading a book about that too.

It seems like a lot of work because it is.

I’m fortunate to be able to work full time (ha! I use that term loosely) on my writing, but it’s still a challenge to spend so many hours doing something without being paid and think of it as a “job.” Explaining to people what I do for a “living,” that I write…for nothing, presents a challenge in my mind. But I’m trying to see it as an investment. As in a startup company. Like a professional. One day it will all pay off.

What’s your list? How have you turned pro by not giving up?
 

Feeling Small


Sometimes as a writer in the vast world of professional bloggers, published authors, agents and publishing companies I feel very small.

One of my favorite authors, Mary DeMuth, wrote a moving and challenging article in her e-zine this week addressing this apparently common issue. Her words encouraged me tremendously, especially since Mary writes amazing stories that change lives. Twelve of her books have already been published.  I’ve read almost all of them. Even great authors can feel small??

It surprised me to find that someone as influential and successful as Mary would feel small. But it occurred to me that we all experience feelings of melting into nothing at times. For me, this feeling of smallness comes when I’m the most focused and productive. Interesting, isn’t it?

Something whispers to me that all my hard work means nothing; that no one will ever notice or care; that I’m so far off base in relation to the rest of the writing and publishing world I might as well give up.

I believe I’m intended to write. I think God will use me someday to encourage others through my writing and my life experiences. Every day I look at my list of writing activities or my current work in progress and decide I will do something. No matter how small. Each small step builds momentum that will carry me somewhere good.

Keep writing. Every day. Keep learning how to write well. Learn how to do one small thing in social networking or marketing. And share with others when you feel small and what encourages you.

What is your small place?