What I’m Learning From My Illness


I began getting sick more easily last November.

And it seemed to take longer than usual to shake it off. By January, I had been sick two more times and still felt under the weather. An unexplained rash began taking over my body with painful itching. At first, I didn’t make any connections. Stress governed my life due to family pressures, a beloved friend losing her baby, my grandmother passing and my push to sell myself to an agent. I assumed sleep would take care of my health issues. That is, if I could get any.

During the Mt Hermon Writers Conference, I silently itched and couldn’t sleep for the pain. But, after meeting with an agent who had some great ideas for me, I put my goals in place and plowed into my writing and marketing plans. Within a couple of weeks, the rash on my fingers had turned into painful, oozing blisters. My hand was so swollen I couldn’t type. Complete exhaustion prevented me from speaking a cohesive sentence let alone putting one in a book.

It was difficult to drag myself out of bed at all.

After numerous tests, the bottom line is a depressed immune and adrenal system – the result of a variety of issues. One of which is the driven, non-resting me that ties my worth to my productivity as a person, wife, mother, educator and writer. In the furthest recesses of my heart, what I do and how I perform dictate my value. Oh, my head knows this isn’t true. Jesus loves me based on who I am, not what I do or don’t do.  A recent read of Embracing Grace by Daniel Brown, PhD,  reminded me that God’s love is unconditional and complete. But sometimes my broken places scream otherwise. Especially when my defenses are down because of external or physical stress.

Here are a few things God’s been showing me:

  1. As I admired the amazing diversity of God’s creation on a recent trip to Florida, I was struck by a whisper of God to my heart.  “Just as my creation praises me by being what I created it to be, so are you my creation and praise me by your existence. I delight in you simply because you are.” Wow! DSC_0018Really? Still wrapping my mind around that one.
  2. Rest is more spiritual than physical. Yes, I need to get enough sleep. But on my vacation, during which I basically slept or lounged all day, every day, the Lord showed me that my soul wasn’t at rest which was just as exhausting as not sleeping enough. I’m trying to grasp that I can be still because God is God and has everything under control. He says “I have everything you need. Relax. I’ve got your back.” I am finding peace by spending time each day in his presence—simply sitting and listening for his voice. I’ve read Psalm 23 about 100 times. Really.
  3. I need to listen to what God says. Not agents or bloggers or other authors (no offense to all you wonderful, wise writers out there). I was crazily trying to learn everything and do it all even as it shifted from week to week. Knowledge is helpful. God tells us to “get knowledge.” But God will lead my steps. His direction may or may not fit with the “101 Steps to Getting Published.” Therefore, I need to be selective with what I read (I do not have time or energy for all of it, even if it’s good advice), and I need to submit it to God to see if it fits with his plans for me. He’s the one who can make his good plans for me happen. I got off track. It’s easy to do.
  4. Reacting to others or circumstances rather than seeking God first sends me into emotional overload and gives the enemy a place to attack. Instead, whenever I start freaking out inside, I’ve been trying to ask God, “What do you say about that?” Sometimes it takes some sorting out the truth from the lies that swirl through my mind. Today my husband reminded me that whenever the thought I hear accuses or belittles me, it isn’t my thoughts or God’s about me. Satan hates me and wants me to hate myself. He is the one who tells me lies.

I’ve been learning  so many great things. And while I’d rather have God heal me miraculously, I believe this has been the better way. Of course, God knew that.

And now I need to get to bed 🙂

Perhaps you can relate to feeling overwhelmed or exhausted because of an urgent driven place inside. Would you be willing to share your experiences?

 

Ready for an Enjoyable Read?


Newest Release

Author, Sherry Kyle, has written a delightful novel that weaves a thread of forgiveness and redemption throughout the lives of four very real and loveable characters.

“When the alcoholic father of Jessica MacAllister’s son reappers in their lives, Jessica and her son go to her Uncle George for advice and refuge.

Following a year of grief, Evelyn Sweeney is finally ready to move on. Pondering her new path in life, her mind drifts to her first love, George MacAllister.

When the lives of these two women cross, they discover that one heart-shaped ring binds their stories together. But will the results be a rekindled faith and new hope, or will it lead them both back into the darkness they’ve fought for so long?”

The Heart Stone was hard to put down.

The romantic possibility and tension as well as intriguing suspense kept me engaged and guessing. Jacob, the 6 year old son, had me smiling and even brought an outright laugh. By the end, I felt as if these characters were my friends who had overcome obstacles and grown emotionally and spiritually. I wished the book didn’t have to end.

Sherry Kyle’s gift as a connector of people shines in her novels which rekindle and reconcile relationships. I believe Sherry’s ability as a writer grows with each new release. I can’t wait for the next one.

Well done, Sherry.

The Heart Stone, Published by Abingdon Press released on April 1, 2013 and is available from these retailers:

Cokesbury

Christian Book Distributors

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

What are books you’ve enjoyed reading lately?

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?

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.

DSC_0200

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?

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?

Writing a Novel


I wrote my first novel in high school.

DSC_0026

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?

 

Throwing Out a Lifeline


There is so much great information out there!

Sometimes abundant good advice can be hard to sort through. I don’t know about you, but my mailbox is loaded with tips on writing, grammar, blogging and marketing. It’s easy to feel saturated and a bit bloated by it all–a little like you may have felt yesterday after Thanksgiving dinner!We love it all, but can’t eat like that every day.

That’s why I try to pass along the advice that I find particularly helpful at various points in my writing journey. I’ve told you about some wonderful books, Everything by Mary DeMuth and Wonderstruck by Margret Feinberg, for example. And Michael Hyatt’s book Platform has been encouraging and helpful in building mine!

But today I wanted to pass on to all my writer friends one of the blogs that has been especially helpful in the area of writing fiction. I’ve not only read it, but actually put it into practice! The tools are easy to understand and broken down into simple instructions. I hope you will find it as helpful as I have. You can find The Fiction Writer’s Guide to Writing Fiction on Nick Thacker’s site: http://www.livehacked.com/books-products/

Happy Writing!