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Friday, January 20, 2017

Blinded by the White - Three Ways to Deal With Writers Block

by Jennifer Slattery

The white screen of death—it’s inevitable.

Even the most brilliant writers experience writer’s block on occasion, and often at the most inopportune times. This time period can be shortened, and perhaps even prevented, however, when a writer takes time to refuel, trusts God’s sovereignty, and maintains a posture of surrender.
Take time to refuel
I think it’s fair to say, most writers are idea people. We’re great at hatching—then chasing after—countless dreams. Until our schedule gets out of hand and we begin to feel depleted. Add to this all the other demands writers face each day, from marketing to editing to blogging, and it’s no wonder our brains check out from time to time.
When we’re fighting for words that refuse to come, often the best thing we can do is step away. Rest and take time to refuel—however is most effective for you. Regardless if you feel you have time to do so. In fact, it’s when we feel we’re most feeling squeezed that we need to step away. Even if that means leaving something undone.
I have a group of women I love hanging out with for the simple fact that they make me laugh. When I’m feeling drained or squeezed, I close my computer and give them a call. Laughter is healing and has the capacity to draw out the most stubborn muse. Plus, it relieves stress, and stress is a major creativity killer.
Trust God’s Sovereignty
Last week, staring at the bones of a new story and a calendar full of articles, keynotes, and guest blogs, I felt as if everything writerly in me had completely dried up. And I began to grow anxious, because really, a writer is only as good as their next idea, right? It stands to reason, when one’s creativity dies, their career dies with it.
Right?
Except, God is still in control even when our creativity stalls. Ephesians 2:10 tells me He has a plan for me. A plan He is working out, at this moment. A plan He is lovingly crafting and equipping me to fulfill. Knowing this allows me to rest in Him. As I do, something beautiful happens—I begin to die to myself, to my limited, anxious ways, and His Spirit is given free reign.
If we want to create lasting, intriguing, heart-stirring, beautiful work, we need to connect, deeply, with the Creator. With the God who formed galaxies out of nothing and who created the most colorful, diverse, and unexpected creatures. Because here’s the deal—our gift of creativity (and it is a gift) comes not from within ourselves but from God, the giver of every good and perfect gift. Our ability to create comes directly from Christ.
Creativity is Fed by Surrender
I know this. I know my greatest work, my greatest accomplishments, come from God’s Spirit working in and through me. I know only He can fulfill me, refuel me, and set my heart and mind on fire. And yet, so often, He is the very One I crowd out. I allow all my “have tos” to overshadow what I need most.
But when I pause and put God first, I find He has a way of working everything else out. Although that might result in a bit of redirecting, and yet, because God is a God of perfect wisdom and unfailing love, when He does nudge me right, left, or on a round-about, the result is always good. Better than good. Because He is good.
Writers block, unchecked, can literally lead to the death of a writer. But if God opened a door for us, be it through a contract or assignment, then we can rest assured He will enable us to walk through it. We can help on our end by taking time to refuel, trusting in His sovereignty, and maintaining a posture of surrender. By doing so, we place ourselves in the perfect position to be infused with and empowered by His unfathomably creative Holy Spirit.  
Novelist and speaker Jennifer Slattery has a passion for helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, (http://whollyloved.com) she and her team put on events at partnering churches designed to help women rest in their true worth and live with maximum impact. She writes devotions for Internet Café Devotions, Christian living articles for Crosswalk.com, and edits for Firefy, a Southern fiction imprint with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. When not writing, reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband.
Visit with Jennifer online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com and connect with her on Facebook



Mitch, a contractor and house-flipper, is restoring a beautiful old house in an idyllic Midwestern neighborhood. Angela, a woman filled with regrets and recently transplanted to his area, is anything but idyllic. She's almost his worst nightmare, and she s also working on restoring something herself. As he struggles to keep his business afloat and she works to overcome mistakes of her past, these two unlikely friends soon discover they have something unexpected in common, a young mom who is fighting to give her children a better life after her husband's incarceration. While both Mitch and Angela are drawn to help this young mother survive, they also find themselves drawn to each other. Will a lifetime of regrets hold them back or unite them and bring redemption along with true love?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

More Layers to This Cake, Part III ~ Adding Subtext

by Ane Mulligan @AneMulligan

Subtext is more than just a layer. It's more like the filling between the layers. And it's not the easiest of concepts to understand. By definition, it's an underlying and often distinct theme in a piece of writing. It can be woven throughout the story, or the theme can merely decorate the work. I'd rather have it woven through, but how the heck do you do that without beating the reader over the head?

I searched some more, because, frankly, I didn't know. Here's what I've found.

Subtext or undertone is any content of a creative work that isn't announced explicitly by the characters or the author, but becomes something understood by the reader as the story unfolds. 


Well, what do you know. I did that in Chapel Springs Revival. Claire is a fairly new Christian. I don't say that directly but her knowledge and understanding show it. They're in the subtext, shown through action instead of dialogue.

Any unspoken thoughts, motives, and emotions of characters—what they really think and believe—can play out in action or reaction to something and be subtext.

Subtext can also be used to imply controversial subjects without alienating the reader, often through use of metaphor or humor.

Subtext serves to add complexity to a premise that on the surface may appeal to younger viewers, but also attract older fans, as is often the case with cartoons, science fiction and fantasy. It can serve to aid in suspension of disbelief.

In historical novels, authors often use social customs, details, and/or dialogue as subtext to impart information about the period and culture.

So there you have it. A quick definition of subtext, in which I don't think I used any. Now that you know the definition, have you used subtext in your work? Purposely or by accident? I know any I used was there because I like to show instead of tell. But if you had me sit down to an exercise of writing subtext, I'd sit there scratching my head. For me, it's only when I'm deep into my story world those things seem to happen. Go figure.

So share with me examples of subtext you've either used or read. And if it's used, did you discover it later or purposely insert it? I need to learn this stuff.


TWEETABLES

More Layers to This Cake, Part III ~ Adding Subtext by Ane Mulligan (Click to Tweet)

The filling between the layers.~ Ane Mulligan (Click to Tweet)

Something understood by the reader as the story unfolds.~ Ane Mulligan (Click to Tweet)



Ane Mulligan writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet iced tea. She's a novelist, a humor columnist, and playwright. She believes chocolate and coffee are two of the four major food groups and resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a dog of Biblical proportion. You can find Ane at anemulligan.com or her Amazon author page.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Backstory vs. Character History

By Rachel Hauck

“Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the first ever bout between Backstory and Character History.I’m Bill Masters and this is Sam Malone. Tonight’s bout promises to be a classic.”

“That’s right Bill. We have the champion of all novel prose, Backstory, facing off against the up-and-coming challenger, Character History.”

“It promises to be an interesting bout, Sam. Looks like it’s about to start.”

Ding, ding!

“Character History leaps into the fray, Sam. He’s bouncing, dancing, full of pip.”

“Meanwhile, Bill, Backstory lumbers to the center of the ring.Man is he huge. One blow from the champ and Character History will be down and out.”

“I’ll say he does. Looks like he’s smirking to me.”

“Well, he won’t give up his championship belt without a fight, Bill.”

“Character History bobs and weaves. He’s actually taunting Backstory.”

“That’s never smart. And, Oh! Sure enough, Character History takes one on the chin. His head snaps back and he’s wobbling. He’s against the ropes. This could be it, folks. Backstorycould take it all with a solid one-two punch.”

“But Character History’s not down yet, Sam! He ducks a slamming swing from Backstory, cuts low and lands a hard shot to big man’s ribs. Now it’s Backstory who’s stumbling—his breathing heavy.”

“Character History presses. He jabs, sends a cross—oh, and an uppercut, Bill. Backstory’sagainst the ropes. It’s not looking good. He’s going down—and out.”

***

Backstory is old-fashioned writing. It’s large and cumbersome. It’s slow, slow, slow—and most of the time, unnecessary.

But writers use it and readers endure it because it gives us a glimpse into the heart and soul of a character.

Character History is hot, lean, and sleek. It’s fast—in and out—not weighing down the story.But what if an author needs the reader to know something critical about the character for the opening scenes to make sense?

The strength of character history

For example, say in your novel’s first scene your character Billy Bob is about to go on his first police call since returning to the force after being shot while responding to a bank robbery. He’s nervous. When he gets in the bank, he draws his gun too early and almost shoots his partner.

What the reader needs is a bit of history. A line or two of prose—or even better, dialogue.

If we stick to the “no backstory rule” we miss the importance of this moment. What the reader needs is a bit of history. A line or two of prose—or even better, dialogue—that gives the reader a hint of Billy Bob’s emotional state.

The scar on his shoulder from the bullet wound burned and twisted as Billy Bob entered the bank. It’d only been four weeks. Why had he returned to the job again?

By using character history, the reader learns there’s more to the story. It ups the reader’s attachment to Billy Bob and adds tension. What bullet in the shoulder? When? Who shot him? Why?

All of those questions can be left hanging for now and answered later. If the writer wanted, she could add dialogue with his partner.

“You okay?”

“I’m here aren’t I?”

“Just wondering.”

“You do your job, I’ll do mine.”

Why did his partner ask Billy Bob if he was okay? The reader wants to find out more so he turns the page.

The weaknesses of backstory
Backstory stops the forward action and talks about things unrelated to the current scene. Sure, it’s about Billy Bob. Yes, it’s all true. But the reader doesn’t need to know about it while Billy Bob’s tracking a burglar.

Here’s a backstory blob:

“Since taking a bullet in the shoulder, Billy Bob wondered if he could still be a cop on the beat. But his dad had been a cop and his father before him. Every Martin man wore the badge. Billy Bob remembered the first time he held his father’s badge, feeling the cool metal in his palm, stroking his finger over the shiny brass. He knew then, at that moment, that he’d be a cop too, like his old man. Mother didn’t want him to be. She’d worried about Dad. But when a man puts on a blue and a gold badge, he’s invincible.”

Wow! All that while checking on a robbery call? By now, the reader’s forgotten what was going on, the burglar’s escaped, and Billy Bob’s probably shot his partner.

Readers don’t need that much information—especially in the midst of a tense scene. Save it for later.

Watch out for phrases like: “A sound brought her back into the present.” We all love to sit and reminisce, but a novel is about tension, conflict, and moving forward. Most of us don’t stop to reflect while arguing with a friend, right?

So, there you have it. The bout between Backstory and Character History. Go out writing and have a clean fight.

Ding, ding!

<sidebar>What is Character History?

1. Applicable to the current action. If your heroine can’t stand the hero, don’t let her behave irrationally rude. Drop a line of history. “Ever since seventh grade when he stole her PE clothes from her locker and she got detention, Jen couldn’t stand Colby Witherspoon.”

2. Drop in history and exit quickly. Leave the reader curious. In writing Love Starts With Elle, I had a paragraph or so of history about Elle from Sweet Caroline so the reader could understand what was about to take place. Her plan from that book didn’t work. When she let go, then she met Jeremiah Franklin.

3. Set up tension.Early in the first Indiana Jones movie, we learn that Indiana is afraid of snakes. We don’t get a bunch of lines about why and how he’s afraid of snakes, we just see his reaction to one. Then later in the movie, he gets dumped into a pit of them and our skin tingles. Who cares why he hates snakes? We just know he does—and it works.

4. Part of painting with prose. If your character is passionate about ending injustice of some kind, show us that on the page, then through dialogue or a fast line of prose, hint at why. But don’t give the reader a montage that begins when your heroine is 10 and ends when she’s 16—and then brings us back to the present.

5. Illuminates motivations. Let the history pertain to what’s happening in the current scene. If your character is dealing with an errant child, don’t stop and give a dissertation on the protagonist’s childhood and upbringing. Boring. But, do tell us her mother was kind and patient and that it frustrates her that she’s not. That’s all the reader needs to get it.

TWEETABLES



New York Times, USA Today ​and Wall Street Journal best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a past ACFW mentor of the year. A worship leader and Buckeye football fan, Rachel lives in Florida with her husband and ornery cat, Hepzibah. Read more about Rachel atwww.rachelhauck.com.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

When They Don't Understand Your Stories

by James L. Rubart

This past December, just before dinner, Darci went outside, broke off a couple of icicles hanging from our roof and popped them in our water glasses.



“You are brilliant,” I told her.

I thought it was so creative I posted a photo on Facebook.

After posting, I mentioned to Darci, “There will be a lot of people who think you are creativity personified, but at least a few who think you just did something shockingly unsanitary.”  

I was right. Ninety-nine percent of the comments raved about how fun the icicles as ice cubes were, but there were a few comments about how disgusting the idea was because all the germs and bacteria on our roof were now in our water glasses.

The Reality

From a factual, scientific perspective, those people’s (and yours and my) kitchen sink and sponge next to that kitchen are filled with far more grotesque and deadly bacteria than would ever come off a roof.  

But that fact doesn’t matter. What matters is how those people see the idea of icicles in water glasses. They just don’t get it.

And That’s Okay!

Really, it’s okay that they don’t get it. Their opinion is valid. It’s how they feel. 

Not a bad thing in any way.

Not everyone is going to like same movies, books, plays, food, TV shows as you do. Have you ever told a friend about a movie and had them say, “Uh, I didn’t get it.”

“What! How could you not love that movie!”

The problem isn’t that people don’t always get the same things we do, the problem comes when we start changing our behavior, based on those who see things differently than us.

The problem comes when someone doesn’t get your story (agent, editor, friend, spouse, reader) so you change your story. Soften in a few areas. Beef it up in others. Snip and nip and tuck till you think it will please everyone. 

But of course it pleases no one.

Decision By Committee

My friend—and Novel Marketing podcast partner--Thomas Umstattd says, “Decision by committee is the no-fail way to obliterate a creative idea.” (Here's the episode if you'd like to know more about how making marketing choices via committee hurts you.)

I’m not saying not to get input from a FEW trusted advisers. I am not saying you don’t need editing from a macro and micro level. But I am telling you stay with your vision. 

Stay with the story that is a little bit out there, different, hasn’t been done before. 

Stay with your dream of writing that story the naysayers tell you can’t get published. (Exactly what I was told about my first novel Rooms.)

The hard reality is stories aren’t rejected most of the time because they’re different, they’re rejected because the writing isn’t strong enough. We have seen new genre after new genre created because a writer wouldn’t give up their vision.

So dream your dream. Follow your vision. Smile at those who don’t get it and keep writing.



James L. Rubart is 28 years old, but lives trapped inside an older man's body. He thinks he's still young enough to water ski like a madman and dirt bike with his two grown sons, and loves to send readers on journeys they'll remember months after they finish one of his stories. He's the best-selling, Christy BOOK of the YEAR, INSPY, and RT Book Reviews award winning author of eight novels as well as a professional speaker. During the day he runs his branding and marketing company which helps businesses, authors, and publishers make more coin of the realm. He lives with his amazing wife on a small lake in eastern Washington. More at www.jameslrubart.com

Monday, January 16, 2017

Writing Your Novel From the Middle -- A New Way of Plotting & a Giveaway!

by Pamela S. Meyers

We authors are familiar with the catchphrase, “the sagging middle,” referring to the middle of a novel where the opening chapters have done their job to get the characters engaged in the storyline and you arrive at middle of the book and things slow down. But have you heard of writing your story from the middle?

I recently happened on this concept when an ad appeared on my Facebook feed for a book titled something like “How to Write from the Middle.” Intrigued, I clicked on the link. I didn’t get further than the next screen because I was asked for my email address and a couple other personal bits of information. Instead, I went to Amazon and typed in the search bar, “writing from the middle.”

Immediately, a title by one of my favorite authors and frequent guest blogger at Novel Rocket, James Scott Bell, popped up. I clicked on the link, and it didn’t take long to realize this was a technique I wanted to learn more about. What’s more, I’d already purchased the Kindle version of Bell’s book, WriteYour Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyonein Between.

I pulled up the book on my iPad and about two paragraphs in, I wanted to highlight and underline most everything. To me trying to highlight on my Kindle app is like trying to grab a pesky fruit fly. I can never seem to grab the line I want highlighted so it stays that way. I pulled out my laptop and began typing notes as I read, and a euphoric feeling came over me. This was exactly what I needed as I developed a plot for a sequel to my current release. (More on that release later!) Within an hour I had already worked through the book, stopping where Bell gives plotters a roadmap on how to apply the method to their style of writing. I closed down for the night and went to bed with visions of my storyline dancing in my head.

The concept is not one hundred percent new, but a unique way of writing a novel using much of the methodology writers already employ. That’s about all I’m going to tell you. But, I hope I’ve made you curious enough to click on the link and investigate the book for yourself. It comes in both a Kindle version and print. No. James Scott Bell didn't pay me to write this post!


As for my new release, Second Chance Love, a contemporary romance set at a rodeo in southern Illinois, it's releasing January 24, 2017! To celebrate the release, I’m giving away a copy of the book. Leave a comment and tell me about a writing method that has worked for you (if you are a writer). For those who aren’t writers, tell me about a book you read recently that resonated with you. I’ll draw the name of the winner on January 24th, my release day!

TWEETABLES





A native of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, author Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago with her two rescue cats. Her novels include Thyme for Love, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and her novella, What Lies Ahead, in the collection, The Bucket List Dare. Her latest novel, Second Chance Love from Bling/Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, releases January 24, 2017. When she isn’t at her laptop writing her latest novel, Pam can often be found nosing around Wisconsin and other Midwestern spots for new story ideas.






Sunday, January 15, 2017

My Day of Epiphany

by Marcia Lee Laycock

I was in tears. No, not tears of sorrow but the kind that spring from being touched deeply and profoundly. Interesting that it happened to be January 6, traditionally known as the day of Epiphany.

It happened as I began a writing course called The Creative Way by Ted Dekker. A few months ago I almost emptied my writing bank account to buy this course. I’d seen it advertised a few times and kept thinking about it, looking at it, trying to gauge whether or not it was worth the money. I kept thinking about the exchange rate and how that bumped the product up to a cost I would not normally entertain. But I kept going back to it again and again. I felt there was something there that God wanted me to investigate. So I took the plunge.

The first module stirred me deeply, not because it was anything I hadn’t heard before but because it was all about something my heart reaches for – abiding in Christ. Mr. Dekker tells his own story and then gets to the bottom line – our identity does not lie in who we are as mothers or fathers or plumbers or dentists or yes, even as novelists. Our true identity lies in the fact that we are children of God. Our freedom and release spiritually and creatively lies in believing how deeply He loves us. The premise is that “transformative fiction” comes from a heart that is resting in that place because that heart is first and foremost seeking to go deeper into that identity. The process teaches us to love God, love ourselves and others as ourselves and our work becomes part of that process.

I knew that. I believed that. But until yesterday I was not whole-heartedly pursuing that path.

I remember chatting with a writer friend some time ago about the fact that I’m a two time cancer survivor. I mentioned that I did not once ask God, “why me?” My only question as I walked down that path, was, “Who are you, God? Who are you really?”

My friend smiled. “You’re ready,” she said.

I didn’t understand what she meant then, but I do now. I’m ready to let go of me - as a mother, pastor’s wife, church leader and yes, even as a writer. I’m ready to get to know who I really am. I have a feeling this course is going to do what Ted promised in his introduction. It is going to change my life and my work.

I’ll be blogging about it here as I go, and no doubt what I learn will spill over into this blog as well. I welcome any comments along the way.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 


TWEETABLES

My Day of Epiphany by Marcia Lee Laycock (Click to Tweet)

Our true identity lies in the fact that we are children of God~ Marcia Lee Laycock (Click to Tweet)

It is going to change my life and my work.~ Marcia Lee Laycock (Click to Tweet) 


Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor's wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. The sequel, A Tumbled Stone was also short listed for a Word Award. Marcia has three novels for middle grade readers and four devotional books in print and has contributed to several anthologies. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. Visit Marcia’s Website



Abundant Rain, an ebook devotional for writers can be downloaded on Smashwords or on Amazon. It is also now available in Journal format on Amazon. 







Her most recent release is Celebrate This Day, a devotional book for special occasions like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving. 







Sign up to receive her devotional column, The Spur




Saturday, January 14, 2017

3 Ways to Find Balance in The Writer's Life

by Patty Smith Hall

I have a confession to make. I am a yes-a-holic. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to spit out that mean old word, no. I don’t know why. I see something that seems like a great idea, and the next thing I know, I’m signed up for it (most times, I’m even in charge!)

But that’s got to change, and what convinced me was one of those silly test on Facebook. A few weeks ago, I signed into to do one that composed a video of my life over the past year. I thought it would be fun as we’ve had an interesting twelve months with our oldest daughter getting married and the upcoming birth of our first grandchild. While watching it was nice, I was surprised that most of the frames featured one project after another rather than a healthy mixture of personal life and work.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m tremendously blessed to be doing a ministry I love and so very thankful that this last year has been productive. I signed three contracts, wrote six-novellas, signed with a new agent and began writing devotions for Journey magazine.

Each of these opportunities have been a gift and I’ve had the chance to work with some amazing people who have taught me so much about the craft of writing. But with the first grandchild due this month, I needed to make some changes. I began praying over what those changes should be and a word that would help me focus on achieving my goal. Finally, as the old year was winding down, the word came to me.

Balance.

How does that work with a busy writing career and an active family life? How does the girl who can’t say no find balance in her life? Here are a few ways I came up with:

1) Say yes to the best.

A few years ago, I talked to a pastor friend of ours about my problem with saying no, and he gave me this piece of advice. Only say yes to God’s best. He explained that there are a lot of good things out in the world—making waterproof mats for the homeless, working at the food bank, just tons of things. What you have to do if figure out what’s best for you? That’s not easy to figure out but if you put a little thought into it, you’ll come up with a short list of things that satisfy your soul. This is your ‘best’ list that should get the majority of your attention. And remember—what may be good to you is someone else's ‘best.’

2) Make a game plan.

I’ve become a planner over the years, probably from being married to an engineer. For me, making a game plan of the year, month, week and day prepares me—I know what to expect and each day as a familiar rhythm to it. As I tick off each item, I have a sense of accomplishment of a job well done. But how does one put balance into their plans? By following a schedule. Give yourself time limits. For example, I know that from nine to two Tuesday through Saturday, I spend fifteen minutes on emails and marketing then jump into my writing for the day. I shoot for at least a thousand words a day but I always write until two o’clock so if I go over, that’s great. At two, I check emails again then do something around my house or go work out or run errands. When my husband is home in the evenings and on Sunday, I don’t write unless I’m on a very tight deadline.

3) Forgive yourself

You’re heard that old saying—Man plans and God laughs. Yeah, stuff happens and schedules get thrown out the window. At moments like that, you have to cut yourself some slack. Life happens, and sometimes, despite our best efforts, we just can’t get things done. Don’t beat yourself up over it. I’ve found, at least with me, that I’m harder on myself than anyone else would ever think to be. So be kind to yourself. As Scarlett O’Hara said, ‘Tomorrow is another day!’

TWEETABLES

3 Ways to Find Balance in The Writer's Life by Patty Smith Hall (Click to Tweet)

I have a confession to make. I am a yes-a-holic.~ Patty Smith Hall (Click to Tweet)

Just can’t seem to spit out that mean old word, no.~ Patty Smith Hall (Click to Tweet)


Patty Smith-Hall is a multi-published, award-winning author with Love Inspired Historical/Heartsong and currently serves as president of the ACFW-Atlanta chapter. She currently lives in North Georgia with her husband of 30+ years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters and a future son-in-love. Her next release, New Hope Sweethearts will be available in July on Amazon.