Novel Rocket

Thursday, August 28, 2014

7 Highly Effective Ways to Be Your Own Worst Enemy

Thomas Smith is an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, TV news producer, playwright and essayist. His supernatural suspense novel, Something Stirs, is available at a bookstore near you. In addition to writing he enjoys teaching classes for beginning writers at conferences and local writers’ groups. He has been a joke writer for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show. Currently in his fifth decade of service, he is considerably younger than most people his age. Find Thomas on Twitter and Facebook.

Writing is part craft and part business. To become a professional writer, whether you’re writing ad copy or the next great American novel, the process is the same. Study the market, produce the work, edit the work, send it off. Repeat the process. And while it sounds simple on the surface, we often find multiple ways to throw the proverbial monkey wrench into the system.


Here are 7 excellent ways to derail a writing career.

1. Be overly concerned about being creative. One of the biggest problems with being “creative” is the danger that you use it as a license to do things your way instead of the way they should be done. We are all creative. We create things all the time; grocery lists, notes to friends, e-mails, reports for work. Many times, however, creativity is simply Latin for EGO. “Creative” people often think that rules for other writers do not apply to creative writers. The standards for writing (format, word count, etc.) are there for a reason. The person who invented the flush toilet was being creative, but he didn’t try to make it a piece of living room furniture.

2. Spend as much time as possible waiting for inspiration. Sometimes you will write in a flash of white-hot inspiration, but that is often the exception and not the rule. Deadlines do not care how inspired you are. The professional writer sometimes drags himself/herself kicking and screaming to the blank screen and typing every word is an act of sheer willpower. The fact is, on most days writing is simply what you do because you are a writer. As Stephen King says in his book, On Writing, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

There is no muse that whispers sweet nothings in your ear. There is only the desire to do the thing you claim to love doing. The truth is, inspiration tends to visit those who are busy writing.

3. Develop the I am so much more talented than those other writers attitude. Some writers feel they have arrived, and cannot for the life of themselves figure out why other folks are selling and they aren’t. To compensate, they sometimes see their work as better than it is (sometimes on purpose). Often a writer who insists on doing things their way instead of abiding by the rules, paying their dues, etc. climb up on their pedestals and proclaim to anyone who will listen, “They are all hacks but me.” But be careful. Publishing is a small universe. And like Santa, editors keep track of who is naughty and who is nice.

4. Learn the I just don't have any ideas mantra. Let’s be brutally honest here: Ideas are easy to come up with unless your head fell off.  You have ideas every day. It's just that a lot of story/article/book/play ideas seem average or even awful at first because they require a little work to make them "sing" and we want them to come into the world fully formed. However, it is in the process of writing and rewriting that the little gem shines through. Not having any ideas usually means the ideas you have just haven’t set off all the bells and whistles in your head yet.

Often when we say "I don't have any ideas" it means we haven't allowed our minds to wander or we have tried to force an idea to happen in the midst of committee meetings, taking the kids to soccer practice, and organizing the PTA meeting. We forget to play the what if game. For example: What if I found a human head in the dryer at the laundromat? What if I found an elf sitting on the rim of the sugar bowl? What if I picked up an instrument in a music shop and was suddenly able to play like a prodigy?

5. Remind yourself and others you don’t have enough time to write. This one should actually be at the top of the list, but no matter where it falls, it is probably not true. You may not have enough desire to write (and that’s OK), but when you look at your daily routine, how much of your time is spent doing other things? Things like watching TV, going home for lunch, texting, lurking on Facebook, Tweeting what you had for breakfast, vacuuming because it’s Thursday and not because the carpet needs it? Try getting up 15-30 minutes earlier or going to bed 15-30 minutes later. Don’t use “I don’t have long stretches of time to work” as an excuse. Writing 15 minutes a day is writing. You can knock out an essay in a week at that rate. Mystery and Appalachian story writer, Sharyn McCrumb is a case in point:

“Until 1988, I had little children in diapers, I had fifteen hours of graduate work every quarter and term papers on Chaucer, and I had a full-time job. Besides that, I was writing a book a year.”

Granted, there are those who really don’t enough time in the day to write. Some people care for elderly parents, special needs children, or work three jobs to make ends meet. THEY have an excuse. But most of us don’t fall in that category.

6. Don’t learn to accept constructive criticism. Sometimes what we write is pretty good. Other times it’s not. And it is easy to be so invested in what you want to say that you miss what you’ve actually said. Chances are your mama, daddy, brother, sister, husband, wife, children, pastor, and best friend will all tell you what a good job you have done on your story, Stumpy the Tree Lizard and the Lost Treasure of Swampy Bottom (whether they actually read it all or not). And once you’ve had your ego stroked, it’s time for a real critique. Join a critique group (one that will tell you the truth), find a writing partner, or hire an English teacher at the local high school, college, or community college to read Stumpy’s adventure. Then take an honest look at their comments and do what needs to be done. (Remember…even Dean Koontz, Frank Peretti, Jonathan Maberry, and James Patterson have editors).

7. Develop the Nobody will publish my writing attitude. If you know that for a fact, then don’t do it. BUT (and that’s a Kardashian-sized but), you have to consider there are tens of thousands of magazines and thousands of publishers out there, and the writer who comes across as a professional and has the perseverance to keep trying has an automatic advantage over the competition. Just because you haven’t sold (or sold enough) YET, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Most writers have had the thought that no one will publish their work. The successful ones ignored the thought and got back to work.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Debut Author, Sarah Loudin Thomas Shows a Veteran that She Knows How to Launch a Book!

Yvonne Lehman
Yvonne Lehman is an award-winning, best-selling author of more than 3,000,000 books in print, who founded and directed the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference for 25 years, is now director of the Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat. She mentors for the Christian Writers Guild. She earned a Master’s Degree in English from Western Carolina University and has taught English and Creative Writing on the college level. Her latest releases include eight ebooks for Barbour’s Truly Yours line and a Harlequin/Heartsong series set in Savannah GA: The Caretaker’s Son, Lessons in Love, Seeking Mr. Perfect, (released in March, August, & November 2013). Her 50th novel is Hearts that Survive – A Novel of the TITANIC

Well, since I know what it’s like to think a first book leads to fame and fortune (and later face reality) and this newly published writer lives locally, I figured she might need me to be supportive. After all I’ve sat in bookstores pretending to be a manikin because customers won’t even come near me.

Sarah Loudin Thomas
Sarah Loudin Thomas’s book is titled, Miracle in a Dry Season, and I had my suspicions which one might describe that Sunday afternoon book launching.

So…after driving forever I came upon this neat little white church on a hill with blue grass hillbilly music coming out of it. What kind of church is that? Certainly not my Baptist one! But I covered my head in case a Baptist was watching and went in where a crowd, a whole crowd... and I thought, this can't be for a book signing or else these people are getting free books because most anybody knows you can go on Kindle and get a book for 99c. There were birds (sea gulls) hanging from the ceiling so I thought they might think books will be launched toward the birds and they fly them out into space or something.

Anyway, I soon saw that smiling face of Sarah's like she thought all was okay. I asked a stranger (they were all strangers) what kind of church and she told me. I said you don't have Sunday evening services, and she said no, happily.

Sarah went up to the microphone and welcomed us and invited us into the sanctuary. I asked a woman how many attend church there and she said about 40. I counted about 55 people there. Sarah's darlin' husband introduced her, said this is the most excited he's been since their wedding day... or maybe he said "proudest"??? Anyway, Sarah got teary. Was so loving and sweet.

Sara told about getting into writing, the idea for her book and gave away an apron and ladle - those were won by a man! She read excerpts from her book. It was sweet and professional and interesting.

Then... we couldn't get to the kitchen without going through the library (great planning!) - a table was laid out with her books and two women there to sell them—$14.99 book for $10.00 (perfect!)—then pretty Sarah sat like a pro at a round table smiling up a storm and signing for everybody. Some even loaded up their arms with two or more books!

We ate the best beans ever, several kinds of cornbread, peach cobbler, and ice cream. We also drank tea, lemonade and coffee while the hillbilly band played on.

Then... the band guy said get up and square dance. Sarah came over and made her husband get up. Another couple joined them. Then four more. Then a man held out his hand to me and I said, “Why not?” and acted like I knew what I was doing. Fun, fun, fun!

Oh my goodness gracious, I thought, in between doh-se-dohing, sashaying, twirling, yellowrocking, allemanding, stomping, that girl knows how to have a Book Launch Party!!

During a break, the band got religious, and sang. I remember most the loooooong one about the wine... the wine... the water into wine....Jesus turned the water into into wine... Jesus turned the water into wine…

hen there was one about being the black sheep of the family. (Too much wine, you reckon?)

But the point is... Sarah knows how to celebrate… and sell her book! I think she’s our area’s new rising star debut author! I read her book and the story is gooooooood, too!

Her publisher has contracted her for two other novels in the Appalachian Blessings series. She even got a comment by New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber who called this first novel, “Wonderful, simply wonderful…sure to grip the heart of every reader.”

Ann Tatlock, Christy-award winning author of Promises to Keep, said, “It’s charming, whimsical, and intelligently written.”

Miracle in a Dry Season
Miracle in a Dry Season
It’s 1954 and Perla Long’s arrival in the sleepy town of Wise, West Virginia, was supposed to go unnoticed. She just wants a quiet, safe place for her and her daughter, Sadie, where the mistakes of her past can stay hidden. But then drought comes to Wise, and Perla is pulled into the turmoil of a town desperately in need of a miracle.

Casewell Phillips has resigned himself to life as a bachelor…until he meets Perla. She’s everything he’s sought in a woman, but he can’t get past the sense that she’s hiding something. As the drought worsens, Perla’s unique gift divides the town in two, bringing both gratitude and condemnation, and placing the pair in the middle of a storm of anger and forgiveness, fear and faith.

And here’s what Library Journal’s starred review had to say: “Once in a while a new author comes along with a work that makes you sit up and take notice. Thomas has crafted a tale of this proportion.”

It’s my delightful privilege to know her. You too, will be delighted to get to know Sarah. 

Sarah Loudin Thomas grew up on a 100-acre farm in French Creek, WV, the seventh generation to live there. Her Christian fiction is set in West Virginia and celebrates the people, the land, and the heritage of Appalachia. Her first novel, Miracle in a Dry Season, releases August 2014 through Bethany House. Sarah is represented by Wendy Lawton of Books & Such Literary Agency. Connect with Sarah on her blog, through Facebook and on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Must Everything I Write be Baptized?

by Alton Gansky

To date, all my publications have been in the CBA or in Christian magazines. Well, all but one. I was asked to be the feature author for Splickety Magazine, a publication of flash fiction. I was to write a 1000-word story. That’s akin to asking a Baptist preacher (like I used to be) to deliver a three minute sermon. It takes me that long to clear my throat. Asking a novelist to write a 1000-word story is a display of high-order optimism.

I said yes.

After all, I’ve had this idea rattling inside my head for a long time. It was a bit of sci-fi that I figured would never see the light of day. Still, it had moved into my head, rearranged the furniture, and taken up residence. I wanted to write that story if for no other reason than to get it out of my head.

I hesitated to start. Why? The story has no socially redeeming value. Oh sure, it has a bit of morality to it, but mostly it was an old style pulp sci-fi piece. It was foam on the ocean, a bit of driftwood washing ashore. There was going to be no, “That changed my life.” The best I could hope for was, “That was fun.”

So I hesitated.  After writing and publishing nearly a half-million words, all Christian themed, it was difficult to imagine writing a secular story. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t think it’s wrong for Christians to work in the general market. In fact, I think it’s a good idea. Salt has no value if confined to the shaker. It was just that I hadn’t done it before.

Okay, that’s not quite accurate. I did write a novel for the general market but a Christian publisher bought it and asked me to baptize it for the CBA, which I did (The Incumbent, Zondervan, 2004). I did three books in that series. Go figure.

One of my neuroses is this nagging feeling that everything I do must have some lasting value. I want my tombstone to read, “He wrote things that made a difference,” but I fear it will read, “He wrote piles of claptrap.”

My short story forced me to ask, “Must everything I write be baptized?” My answer is, “Nope.” There can be value in almost anything we do. Sometimes readers need something to entertain and nothing more. Or they need to experience something new and strange. Chow was and is an exercise in fiction. Since I mostly do book length work (fiction and nonfiction) writing a short-short story was good exercise. My first draft was about 3000 words, a mere three times as many as I was allowed. It took six passes to get to the goal length, and Splickety was kind enough (or felt obligated) to publish it. In other words, I got a writing workout, I learned new things, found new weaknesses to address, and had me some fun.

Must everything we write be baptized? I don’t think so. I do believe that the bulk of our writing should have some lasting value, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over a writing lark.

You can read the long version of Chow at my website

Alton Gansky is the author of 43 books and one odd short story. He is also the director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, and host of Writer’s Talk. His latest book is 60 People Who Shaped the Church, Baker books, 2014.