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Friday, December 31, 2010

Guilt-Free Resolutions for Writers..... Follow With Caution

These you can keep. They probably won’t get you any closer to publication…but…

1. 2011 is the year you will not set a specific word count. Instead you will commit to hiney in chair staring at the dreaded white document page for 30 minutes each day. This can be broken into segments, if necessary.

2. Words are words. They all count. Subscribe to vocabulary email lists, and word-puzzle-of-the-day lists. If it has letters it counts. Spend a little of every day with words.

3. Visit bookstores weekly. Pick up covers that grab your attention and read the first paragraph

4. Declare yourself an author. Pick your favorite author or literary character and subtly model yourself after him/her. Wear the tweed jackets with elbow patches. Grow a goatee and wear black and a jaunty beret. Whatever makes you feel like a real writer counts. I would suggest avoiding hard sauce or substances. Addictions and insanity do make for interesting story fodder but tend to make for bad relationships.

5. Accept and embrace this fact, unless you have a signed contract in hand or floating in the world wide web, 2011 will not be the year you are published. Let that go, move forward and focus on 2012. The jury is still out on that year.

6. Don’t quit your day job.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

What's your favorite novel of 2010?

Admittedly, I haven't read a whole lot of new novels this year. I've had a lot on my plate. However, I did manage to sneak in Carla Stewart's debut, Chasing Lilacs and loved it.

What were some of your favorite novels of 2010?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Slash and Burn Your Way to a Compelling Read by guest blogger, Patti Lacy

Patti Lacy, Baylor graduate, taught community college humanities until God called her to span seas and secrets in her novels, An Irishwoman’s Tale and What the Bayou Saw. In January 2011, Kregel Publications will release Patti’s third novel, The Rhythm of Secrets. For YouTube musical links to Rhythm chapter headings, visit The Music

Slash and Burn Your Way to a Compelling Read

In forestry and agriculture, slash and burn hacks up and incinerates land as demands change. In writing, slash and burn cultivates readers in the publishing world as…demands change.

For writing to cut like a scythe, you gotta slash and burn.

Ready to get started?

Pick up your latest read…and a pen.

1. Circle the “d” words (descriptors), including phrases. Replace with compelling verbs. Stronger nouns. Be creative!

Jaundice had tinged his skin with a yellow tone.

Jaundice had yellowed his skin…or Jaundice had soured his skin.

She took hold of Joy’s hand.

She squeezed Joy’s hand.

2. Self-editing for Fiction Writers educates on dialogue tags. If you’re stubborn or haven’t dug into this must-read for ALL writers, do so now.

“I’m going home,” Francis said. “You can’t stop me.”

“I’m going home.” Francis squared her jaw. “You can’t stop me.”

By using gestures instead of “he said, she said,” characters jump off the page and grab the writer’s imagination.

3. Another distraction to great fiction is what I’ll dub “time tags.”
“I’m not doing it. Do you hear me?”

A long moment passed. Shawn leapt from the couch and beelined for the door.

By definition a moment is really not long. Better?

“I’m not doing it. Do you hear me?”

Seconds zipped.

Best? SHOW time passage through creative writing.

“I’m not doing it. Do you hear me?”

Air hung heavy, as if transfixed by the words. With a whirl, Shawn shattered silence, leapt from the couch, and beelined to the door.

Edit your work for then, after, awhile later, and other “when” adverbs. Slash and burn whenever possible.

4. Contractions as sentence openers. Poor “but,” “and,” and “or.” They’re often employed for nonunion contractual work! Use these words sparingly as joiners, even more sparingly as sentence openers. At risk of legal action, avoid pairing conjunctions in opening or joiner appearances!

“And I suppose that negligee fell off the rack and into your purse.”

“I suppose that negligee fell off the rack and into your purse.”

I intentionally chose a blasé example? Why. Misused conjunctions LITTER manuscripts. Slash and burn these words and you might save a tree per manuscript.

5. My brother Roy Qualls, Air Force Colonel and military writer, taught me the five-beat rule for dialogue. Labor to slash and burn every weed. Intensify to show characters’ unique voices. It’s a fun game…readers want to play! Add action tags to fill in gaps in the chitchat.

Kai leaned close. It’s now or never. “Would you consider seeing my sister if she comes here to Boston?”

“Of course I’d like to see her.” Dr. Duncan set down a folder. “Get her doctor in Texas to fax all of her records.”

Kai leaned close. “Would you see Joy?” She was already humming “Please come to Boston” for her sister.

“Do geese fly?” Dr. Duncan grinned. “Have those Texans fax everything from when she said ‘Mama’ to onset of puberty.”

Dr. Duncan’s second dialogue bite can be broken down into Have…everything; third bite from…Mama; fourth bite, to…puberty.

Should it be puberty onset or onset of puberty? See? It’s fun to slash and burn!!!!
Slash and burn energizes your writing. Cuts chaff to allow new growth. Pleasure reading morphs into teachable moments. Even bestselling writers miss a scraggly plant or two.

Oh, about these excerpts? Scythed from the pages of my fourth manuscript, Reclaiming Lily.

Sheila Franklin has masqueraded as the precocious daughter of avant-garde parents in colorful 1940s New Orleans, a teen desperate for love and acceptance, and an unwed mother sent North with her shame.

After marrying Edward, Sheila artfully masks her secrets, allowing Edward to gain prominence as a conservative pastor. When one phone call from a disillusioned Vietnam veteran destroys her cover, Sheila faces an impossible choice: save her son and his beloved…or imperil Edward’s ambitions.

Inspired by a true story, The Rhythm of Secrets intermingles jazz, classical, and sacred music in a symphony trumpeting God’s grace.

“A vibrant journey across time in search of the greatest truth of all: grace.”—Tosca Lee, author of Havah: The Story of Eve and Demon: A Memoir

“No longer a ‘well-kept secret,’ Patti Lacy is a master storyteller who speaks to the soul with a powerful and unique rhythm, weaving a tale so emotionally rich that story and reader become one.”—Julie Lessman, author of The Daughters of Boston series and A Hope Undaunted

Patti’s fourth baby, Reclaiming Lily, will release with Bethany House in fall of 2011.

Visit Patti's website and her Facebook daily Artbites. Patti has two grown children and a dog named Laura. She and her husband can be seen jog-walking the streets of Normal, an amazing place to live for a woman born in a car.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Silencing the Critics

One thing I didn't realize when I became published was that I wouldn't just have to deal with a few negative reviews but with what would seem some days like an onslaught of negativity. Reviewers are one thing, I'm one of 'em. Critics are another. They seem live to find what's wrong with the world, and more specifically your work.

One particularly bad review of a friend's novel prompted me to visit the scathing reviewer's home page where she did not camouflage her mission. Um... I thought this was just the stuff of paranoid writers. Guess not.
"I hate books that are selling well and getting lots of positive reviews so I look for what's wrong with them."

Wow, imagine going through life trying to see the bad instead of the good? How miserable an existence.

Now that I'm on the other side of the fence, I'm finding the need to distance myself from critics, not because what they say has no merit, sometimes they do. What I find happening though is as I'm trying to meet my deadline, I hear them in my head, "Implausible! Melodramatic! Depressing! Juvenile! Whatever."

This can be paralyzing. I never would have thought I would be so effected but I am.

So, how do I silence the critics in my head? The obvious answer is to not read the reviews, good or bad. This is sometimes easier said than done.

For me, another solution is to open the sunshine folder my agent, Chip, told me to start keeping years ago. I go back and read the letters from the folks who were touched by my words. I also pray about it. Not as much as I should, but more than I used to.

What about you other writers who have opened yourself up to the critics of the world by sending your heart and words into the world to be judged? How do you silence the critics in your head so you can write without that peanut gallery of negativity?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Jesus, the Writer

by Mike Duran

Jesus Christ was many things, but He wasn’t an author – at least not in the sense we define authors.

There is only one account in the Bible of Christ actually writing something. This seems to surprise a lot of people. After all, Scripture is about Him. So it often comes as a shock to learn that Jesus did not write parts of the Bible. In fact, He barely wrote anything.

In the Gospel of John chapter 8, the scribes and the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. "The Law commands she be stoned," they demanded. "What do you say we should we do?"

“This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’ And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.” (John 8:6-8 NKJV)

This is the only biblical account of Jesus ever writing anything. But it wasn't penned on parchment or chiseled in granite. It was scratched in dirt.

In the story, He almost appears to doodle, scrawling something in the sand "as though He did not hear." Like I child, whimsically preoccupied, Jesus tinkers in the dirt while a woman lays accused. Exactly what He writes is not specified -- a word, a phrase, or maybe a symbol. Either way, we can assume that His script was quickly removed by wind, rain or traffic.

Nowhere else in the Bible do we ever see Jesus writing anything. But why? Surely a signature as important as His needed saving, framing, posting, or poster-izing. We're talking the actual inscription of God here! Nevertheless, Jesus’ words were never published.

In today's Twitter-ized economy, one's words can be broadcast to thousands with a push of a button. But Jesus did not “Share” His writing. Instead, Christ entrusted His message to the type of life He lived, not the amount of words He wrote. In fact, He relegated the record of His life and His words to others. His was a true biography -- there was no auto about it.

No wonder Jesus wrote in the dirt -- His legacy was etched elsewhere.

How unlike us. As writers, we pine for publication. Forget writing in the dirt, we want hardcover with felt, linen, weave, laid, or vellum cover stock options. Why scribble in the sand when we can go straight to “Publish”? Yet no amount of Friends, Followers, or "copies in print" can ensure my breakout novel will withstand the wind, rain and traffic of time. Amazon rankings, like everything, yield to the elements.

The Son of God did not require a iPad or a Droid. Just dirt. Why? Because it was the disciples' hearts He really wrote on.

So maybe what I write is not as important as on whom I write it. “Saving it to Disk” is not nearly as abiding as “Taking it to Heart.” In the end, perhaps our legacy is not about how many best-sellers we write, but how many hearts we write them on.

Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Look for Mike's debut novel, "The Resurrection," in stores February 2011. You can visit his website at

His Love Endures Forever

When Anita Mellott isn’t homeschooling, she writes to encourage others at From the Mango Tree. She has more than ten years of experience as a writer/editor in the nonprofit world. Her book of devotionals for homeschooling parents will be released by Judson Press in summer 2011.

His Love Endures Forever
O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. Psalm 136:1

For what are you thankful? The thought resonated as I read Psalm 136 during my morning devotions.

I gazed at the green canopy of treetops through my bedroom window. Family, food, a roof over our heads, clothing, the privilege of being home with my kids, a book contract, finishing my book on time, knowing Jesus, health, a good church…

I looked at the Psalm again. Why did the Psalmist repeat “for his mercy endureth forever” 26 times over the 26 verses? The question lingered in my mind for several days, and the possible answers came in bits and pieces. Maybe because it’s important enough to bear repeating. But why? Maybe it’s because we’re prone to forget that God’s love endures forever. Because it’s what matters the most.

The latter reason hit hard. Most often, when I’m thankful, it concerns to material blessings. But as I studied the Psalm, I found that the Psalmist’s outpouring of thankfulness focused more on the intangible—the attributes of God and what He has done for His people--His goodness, His wonders, His creation, deliverance, protection (verses 1-22) rather than material provisions. (Only one verse—verse 25 spoke about Him giving food to every creature.)

Verses 23 and 24 grabbed my attention: “Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth forever: And hath redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy endureth for ever.” God remembered me when I was wallowing in the filth of sin, and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice so I might live (1 John 4:9).

All of a sudden the pieces came together in my mind. That’s why the Psalmist repeated “for His mercy endureth forever.” It’s because I’m to delight in God’s love. It’s because of His love that I live. It’s because of His grace that I am who I am. Nothing would be possible without His love!

The realization of the depth and magnitude of His love causes me to bow before Him saying, “Who am I, O LORD God, and what is mine house that thou hast brought me hitherto?” (1 Chronicles 17:16).

So as I reflect on 2010, gratitude to my Savior and Lord overwhelms me. As I end another Christmas celebration and enter a new year, I’m delighting in the gift of all time. The gift that never loses its glitter and joy, the gift that is for eternity—Jesus and His love that endures forever.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Last Minute Gifts Ideas From Starving Writers or For Your Favorite Writer

Last minute gift ideas for Writers:

You have a writer in your life? And you don’t know what to get him or her? This may help.

1.) Writing enhancement vice of your writer’s choice. From toad-licking to tea time there are lots of vices to choose from.

2.) Witty T-shirt implying that one of the "greats" is wearing it (or did). Or a T-shirt with misspellings, bad grammar or awkward wording and a red Sharpie.

3.) Time-waster of choice. Basketball hoop for the desk, a new computer game, ridiculous novels.

4.) A fuzzy bathrobe for the writer who is attempting to make a career of his/her words. Or better yet, fuzzy character slippers that can spark a smile when said writer is head-in-hands angsting.

5.) Gift certificate for an evaluation at a local psychologist’s office for the writer thinking about quitting the old day job.

Inexpensive gift ideas FROM starving wordists.

If your writing career is guaranteeing that you will not be buying gifts for anyone this year. But fear of ghosts from past, present and future are keeping you searching for that perfect are some almost free ideas.

1.) All those "darlings" you've murdered... but have cut and pasted into a document file for future use...print a few, glue them onto an object and give them to a lucky loved one.

2.) Glue and coffee ground or tea bag sculptures.

3.) Take a nice self-portrait, print it, autograph it and give it with a coupon for one free copy of your first (hopefully, some day, PLEASE) novel. (Don't forget to brush your hair.)

4.) Write a poem or short story using your loved one as a character. (Maybe, in the spirit of Christmas, you should avoid writing them as murder victims.

5.) Offer free critiques of future Christmas newsletters or a free negative letter to the politician or manufacturer of their choice.

Hope these ideas help, as in a laugh or smile, not taking them seriously. But, seriously, have a terrific Christmas and fabulous New Year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Goal Setting for the Organizationally-Challenged

C’mon in. It’s safe here. Sit anywhere.

Believe me, I understand how difficult it is to submit your free-wheeling creative side to the strictures of goal setting, accountability, and—shudder—planning. I fought that fight for years, and still strain against the leash.

You want to be successful and accomplish something meaningful, but setting goals is difficult and takes energy away from being creative. What to do?

Even the most unorganized creative has heard about the value of setting goals. Most people even understand that goals work best when they are S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely.
See more on this.)

On some level, we organizationally-challenged even understand that. But … but … oh crud, it’s drudgery.

So, how do we gain the benefits of goal setting while retaining the belief that we can sashay through life, taking it as it comes?

Broaden your horizons
Who says goals have to be set a year at a time? Just because January 1 is approaching doesn’t mean you have to kowtow to tradition and set your goals for the entire year now.

But if you do, stay away from grandiose resolutions such as bringing about world peace by December 31. I’d even suggest foregoing “Finally finishing this blasted novel after 22 years.”

Instead why not aim for something you know you can achieve? “I will eat chocolate at least once a day,” for instance. It is arguably writing related.

What’s wrong with bite-sized chunks?
Sometimes smaller is good. Is it better to proclaim your intention to finish your novel in 90 days or that you’re going to finish Chapter 13 (which is half done anyway) by the end of the month?

Is it better to vow to spend three hours a night, butt-in-chair every night for the first quarter of the year, or to choose Thursday nights (and sometimes Tuesdays if American Idol has
jumped the shark ) as your writing night?

Small successes build confidence.

And when you see that you can write more consistently by piecing together small chunks of time, maybe you’ll decide to write on Tuesdays also—after all, Wednesday is Idol results night. And results are what matter, not how you get there, right?

Interested in the 2011 goals of the staff of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild? Go here.

Michael Ehret is the Editor-in-Chief for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. He has written for newspapers and other print and online outlets. He edited several nonfiction books, was the senior editor for a faith-based financial services and insurance organization, and is the ezine editor for American Christian Fiction Writers.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beware of Faux Instructors

Once upon a time, best selling author Loree Lough (literally) sang for her supper, performing before packed audiences throughout the Midwest. Now and then, she blows the dust from her 6-string to croon a tune or two, but mostly, she just writes.

With more than 2,000,000 copies of her books in circulation, Loree has 78 books (fiction and non-fiction for kids and adults; one novel optioned for a TV movie; and more slated for release between now and 2011), 65 short stories, and over 2,500 articles in print.

Beware Faux Instructors

Sooner or later as I’m leading workshops or seminars, someone inevitably asks: “I’m thinking about registering for a writing class near my house, but the price is a little steep for my budget … and I’ve never heard of this teacher. Any recommendations?”

My answer, invariably, is pretty much the same:

First, high fives for wanting to improve your style, your voice, your understanding of The Craft. And the "I've never even heard of this teacher" comment tells me you're a smart shopper.

I’ve met far too many writers who’ve been led astray by faux instructors who misinterpret, then erroneously distribute, information gleaned from the pages of how-to-write books.

“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” might be true in other fields, but in publishing—an industry that requires writers to stay a step ahead of the latest trends—you can’t teach others how to do what you aren’t doing yourself.

In my decades in this business, I’ve learned a ton of stuff at The School of Hard Knocks, like “Never take anything for granted” and “Spend your money wisely.” That’s solid advice for members of any profession, but it’s particularly useful for writers. The money we’re paid in exchange for countless hours of research, interviews, writing, rewriting and editing is often less than half the minimum wage—especially early in our careers.

That’s why we owe it to ourselves to make wise choices about the types of classes—and instructors—we spend that money on! (Just between you and me? If I had a dollar for every student who has shared their stories about how writing instructors’ half-baked lessons have led them astray, I’d have a couple hundred bucks for sure. Worse … this mis-information has cost precious time, and in an industry where trends seem to change with the wind, that can be a career killer!)

There are literally thousands of writing classes, workshops, and seminars listed online, in community college pamphlets, on 3x5 cards tacked to local library bulletin boards. Some are affordable, others downright expensive. So before you scribble your name on a personal check or credit card receipt, do yourself a financial and professional favor … and check out the teacher!

While it’s been my experience that most writing instructors do have the credentials to teach, I can list far too many whose ‘padded CVs’ match nothing more than their bloated egos. And that certainly doesn’t qualify them to teach others to write!

When it comes to writing classes, workshops, and seminars, you owe it to yourself to find out:

1. ) Can the instructor’s “multi-published” claims be backed up with legitimate books, produced by legitimate presses?

2.) Have the instructor’s “awards won” been awarded by real and existing organizations and institutions, or are the kudos little more than fiction, written to pad the instructor’s CV?

3.) Are claims of “years of teaching experience” bona fide, or merely more fiction?

You wouldn’t let a street corner pediatrician inoculate your child, any more than you’d hire some stranger who claims he’s a roofing contractor to re-shingle your house … at least, not without checking them out first. So why allow a self-proclaimed writing instructor teach you to write without ensuring they are who they claim to be!

I’ve never known a caring, qualified doctor who had a problem hearing “I think I’d like a second opinion.” In fact, bona fide professionals of every ilk will not only suggest it, but provide you with a list of contacts! It’s only the quacks and charlatans who balk when hearing “I think I’d like to check you out ….”

I’m thinkin’ that might explain why ‘Let the buyer beware’ is such a popular adage!

Happy writing, all!

Boston-born nurse LEVEE O’REILLY and her doctor husband are headed to Mexico to open a medical clinic when their stagecoach is attacked. There on a barren stretch of Texas road, the infamous outlaw Frank Michaels kills Liam and leaves Levee for dead. All alone now, she makes her way to Eagle Pass, where she’s forced to trade her nurse’s cap for a teacher’s apron. In no time, she’s so completely devoted to her students that she has no time for romance.

Rancher DANIEL NEVILLE has battled doubts and distrust for most of his life. Wracked with guilt over the death of his twin sister, he believes the scars and limp sustained during a stampede are penance for the sins of his past. Dan dedicates himself to serving his family and working with the horses on the Lazy N. Marriage isn’t even on his to-do list, and he sees no reason to add it.

When a coincidental meeting brings Levee and Dan together, they’re awakened to a long-ignored desire for love and acceptance. Have they actually found it in one another’s arms? And can these two mavericks accept the plans God has for their lives?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wanna Be a Rock Star?

Meet Caleb Breakey whose goal is to refine teen writers into so-called rockstars. How does that work exactly? I wondered the same thing.

Caleb Breakey’s passion for storytelling reminds me of a comet: rarely seen, white-hot, and a bit dangerous. is a place where teens are finding the inspiration and tools they need to pursue their dreams and burn brightly just like Caleb.” —Kevin Kaiser, Writer, Producer, and Brand Strategist (for Ted Dekker)
By Teen Writer Lee Jarrell Rockstar,
with contributions from Teen Writer Hannah Marie Rockstar

Welcome to the beginning of something extraordinary, something blessed—something that’s shaping the wordsmiths ignored by this world: Teen Writers.

Yes, welcome to, where Caleb Jennings Breakey and the Breakia Community are fashioning a generation of Rockstars.

“A Rockstar is someone who never despises their youth. Someone who’s humble enough to learn, yet fearless enough to speak,” says Breakey, whose site accumulated 50,000 hits in three months. “Someone embracing their role a Difference-Maker.”
This rapidly-growing site welcomes all Teen Writers to join the Breakia Community, where it’s not about how well you write—but how much you invest in your peers.

The site doesn’t cost money. It costs time, heart, and humility.
The order in which Caleb critiques the work of Teen Writers is based upon how many “full sandwich comments” (praise, critique, more praise) teens post on the work of others. As Caleb loves to point out, it is the teens who make-up the encouraging, grace-filled community thriving at
Caleb’s three-day, personalized critiques are highly innovated. Instead of using red pens or Word’s Track Changes feature, he uses vlogs and audio edits.

On the first day of the critique, Caleb posts 300-word excerpts of a novel, essay, poem, article, short story or devotional, along with answers to interview questions. On the second day, he posts a video blog of his thoughts on the writing and strengths of the writer. Then, on the third day, he posts an audio edit in which he offers suggestions on how to improve the writing.

The exposure to other writing styles and genres featured on is just as valuable as having your own work critiqued. From experimenting with flashbacks to mastering the art of lyrical prose, the ambitious writers of push boundaries and inspire devotion.

In short, you’ll develop a new appreciation for the talent of our rising generation.

So please: Stop by and have a look around the site. Tell your son or daughter, niece or nephew, grandson or granddaughter.

Tell them Breakia says hi, and that it’s time to make a difference with the pen.

BIOGRAPHY: Caleb Jennings Breakey, 24, is journalist, speaker, and mentor to Teen Writers. He’s enrolled in the Christian Writers Guild’s Craftsman Course and will be teaching at the 2011 Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in North Carolina, and the 2011 CLASS Christian Writers Conference in New Mexico.

Still want to know more...

Q: Are there any fees?


Q: Is there any kind of writing you don’t accept?

There are very few pieces of writing Caleb would decline. These include erotica, anything with too much language, and anything that curses/blasphemes Caleb’s core beliefs in the faith, hope, truth, and love of Jesus Christ. If you’d like further clarification, please email him at

Q: What about copyright issues?

Below is an excerpt from the Christian Writers Guild website

Under U.S. law, as soon as you write something, all rights to it belong to you. (If you want to make sure others know that, you can include a line that says copyright 2009 by Writer Name. Nothing else is needed.) If you want to take further action, you can pay $35 or $45 to have your copyright registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. For answers to common questions about copyright, as well as abundant details on how to register a work, visit the Copyright Office website:

Also keep in mind that if someone wanted to steal your work, he or she wouldn’t get far with 300 words. Not far at all.

Q: Are you a replacement for an agent, publisher, or anything traditional?

No. Caleb is simply a writer who wants to help Teen Writers hone their craft.

Q: What if I’m a Teen Reader but not a Teen Writer? Am I still welcome here?

Of course! Caleb believes all readers who participate at www.CalebBreakey.comwill discover not only what they like to read, but WHY they like what they read. They will develop precise reasons for why they sing praises of particular books and writers. These readers will become powerful voices on review websites, such as and They will shape and direct the book-buying market.

Q: What is the “Page Critique Ladder”?

The system used to determine whose writing will be featured on The Teen Writer at the top of the Ladder is next in line.

Q: What is the “Breakian Ladder”?

The system for experienced Teen Writers of—those who have already reached the top of the Page Critique Ladder and been featured on the site. The Teen Writer at the top of the Breakian Ladder is next in line, and may post 500 words instead of 300 words.

Breakian writing is posted every third posting period. Example: New Teen Writer, New Teen Writer, Breakian Teen Writer, etc.

Q: Do Breakians have additional site privileges?

Yes. The Top 5on the Breakian Ladder may post on the Critique Forum (up to 750words). Also, the work of Breakians on the Critique Forum will be posted on the site every Wednesday for extra peer critique (this occurs on a first-come, first-served basis).

Breakians who post on the Critique Forum move back to the bottom of the Breakian Ladder.

Q: What are “Ladder Jumps”?

Each ladder jump moves you closer to the top of the Page Critique Ladder or the Breakian Ladder.

Q: What is a “Full Sandwich Comment”?

These are how Teen Writers at critique each other and earn Ladder Jumps, by offering: Encouragement (bread), followed by critique (meat), and followed by more encouragement (bread).

Q: How many jumps is a Full Sandwich Comment worth?

All Full Sandwich Comments on are eligible for up to 5 Ladder Jumps(comments on the forum, in general, do not count). You can also earn jumps by commenting on Vlogs and Audio Edits, or by joining a discussion related to writing, editing, books, etc.

Q: What are the criteria for judging Ladder Jumps?

Jumps are based first on attitude/spirit, second on insightful/informative/thought-provoking, and third on length. (Length doesn’t get you anything more than one jump if there’s little substance).

Q: Is my spot on a Ladder ever safe?

The Top 2 spots on the Page Critique Ladder—and the No. 1 spot on the Breakian Ladder—become ‘locked’ every Wednesday. Teen Writers who own these spots are guaranteed to be next in line.

Q: How often are the two Ladders updated?

Caleb updates the ladders about once a week, usually on Wednesdays and sometimes Saturdays. Due to technical problems/time restraints, the ladders may not always be updated on these days. Don’t worry, though. Even if the ladders are not changing, Caleb keeps tabs on where writers are on the ladders. He’ll make sure you get the ladder jumps you deserve.

Q: What are the contests like?

The contests are a fun way to get involved on the site. People who participate in contests are typically awarded ladder jumps, critique from Caleb, or extra words for their next submission. Sometimes the winner can choose his or her own prize. Check out the Forum to submit a contest idea or join the conversation about contests.

Q: Your blog categories on the left side of the screen—what do they link to, specifically?

■Teen Writers: Links to all things on the site, excluding Vlogs and Audio Edits.

■Teen Contests: Links to anything contest related.

■Teen Interviews: Links to intro posts of featured writers.

■Teen Vlogs: Links to Caleb’s Vlogs.

■Teen Audio: Links to Caleb’s Audio Edits.

■Teen Rockstars: Links to posts that include a strong dose of what makes special: Teen Writers who are humbly embracing their roles as Difference-Makers.

■Teen Readers: Links to anything regarding good reads for teens.

■Teen Critiques: Links to a combination of all intro posts and all audio edits.

■News about Caleb: Links to anything happening in the life of Caleb Jennings Breakey.

■Miscellany: Links to anything that doesn’t fit into the other categories.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

One Great Adventure

It's been seven years now since my family first heard whisperings of a potential Narnia movie. While we waited, we filmed our own version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe--twelve cousins working 18 months to produce a faithful, creative, hilarious family treasure that will ever tie us together ... and ever bore viewers whose surname isn't De Vries.

Now, Walden has completed their final Narnia film.* It certainly isn't a poorly-made adaption, but our post-theater spirits were rather low. The film fluctuates between didactic, in an ambiguously moral sort of way, and Typical Fantasy Movie. It is an okay production; but when a film is just okay, there's no need for Hollywood to dip their fingers into any more of the series.

The Dawn Treader is faithful to the structure of its source, and the human-Eustace scenes are very good, the glue that holds the film together. But Lewis' stories emanate a certain thrill that this movie lacks in all but a few moments. Notice I said Lewis' stories. It's not just an issue of book vs. movie. It's story vs. story.

I realize that certain elements are required when a story is transferred onto the big screen: a driving motivation, for one, and discernible growth among the cast. But when a character's flaws are reduced to one besetting sin, and a seat-of-the-pants adventure is structured to provide a seven-point goal, the film's story becomes commonplace. The audience knows what is going to happen next, not because they've read the book, but because they've seen this movie a dozen times.

I recently read something that got me thinking:

If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summon up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him." (Tim Keller)

There is an essential difference between moralistic and Christ-centered storytelling. Every Hollywood film, no matter its source, preaches some degree of morality. Sometimes it's obvious. Sometimes the filmmakers are more subtle, and create a desire within the viewers to emulate the hero. But either way, it's about us summoning up the faith and courage to fight the giants in our lives.

In this film's story, Eustace is pulled into Narnia so that he can overcome certain character defects, to help complete a mission and save hapless lives. Just like Frodo. Just like Harry. Just like Dorothy and Luke Skywalker. In the original story, however, Eustace is drawn into Narnia for one great adventure: Aslan saving him.

The men and women behind
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader focus on good deeds and green mist and summoning strength because that's the way storytelling works within their worldview.

But for a tale to be more than okay, you must replace the moralistic center. Heroic deeds flow naturally and painlessly, even poetically, from a cast that is anchored by the character of Aslan. Such a story is only possible when the artist's work is Christ-centered. That doesn't mean Christ dominates the story. On the contrary, such a center frees the story from being overwhelmed by its quest, balances the twin engines of plot and character. In the novel, Aslan only appears a few times. But his presence under-girds and motivates everything.

Thank God for the nonpareil awesomeness of Focus on the Family's Radio Theatre. If you haven't listened to one of their broadcasts lately, dust off
The Dawn Treader today. Right now. And enjoy.

*Seriously? You still think they're going to keep going?

Beginnings and Endings

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 and also has two devotional books in print. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. The sequel to One Smooth Stone will be released in 2011Visit her website at

I was shopping yesterday, picking up the last of the items on my list for Christmas. I told the woman at the counter I was finished. “That’s it,” I said. “I’m done.” Then my cell phone rang. It was my daughter, asking to be picked up from school. As I drove, I mentally went down the girls’ wish lists and I realized I’d forgotten something. Laura still had some shopping to do too, so we went back to the same store. (The 50% off sign is a big draw in our family!)

The clerk smiled pleasantly. “I thought you were done.” I grinned and nodded. “So did I.” It seems we’re never done. There’s always another gift to get, another item to buy for the Christmas dinner, another invitation to give out for that party before the 25th. Then, all of a sudden, it’s over. The day is past, the gifts are put away, the tree is tossed out or packed away. Then the plans begin for New Year’s – more invitations to give and receive, more food to buy. We’re never done.

I imagine Mary, like most women who give birth, breathed a deep sigh of relief when Jesus was born. After the long nine-month wait, at last it was finished. But the birth of Christ, as no other, was not an end but a beginning. It was a new beginning for us all, a new agreement between man and God. It took thirty-some years to bring the plan into fulfillment, but there was no doubt it would come to be. The end was in sight from the moment of Christ’s birth. He was the baby who came to die, and His death, like His birth, was like no other.

When Jesus said, “It is finished,” (John 19:30), He wasn’t referring to just the span of thirty years he spent on earth. He was referring to the plan set in motion from eternity past – the plan to bring all of mankind into right relationship with God. His part was done, once and for all, as He took the sin of mankind on Himself and removed the barrier between human beings and God. His part was done, but our part was just beginning.

The birth and death of Jesus gave us all the chance to say yes to Him, to discover and develop a relationship with Him, and to tell others about Him. His birth gave us all life, His death gave us all forgiveness, and His resurrection gave us all purpose. When we accept that, we will never be done, neither in growing like Him, nor in receiving and dispensing His love. The story is going to go on forever.

What great encouragement to those who write, to those who "proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion (and to the world), "Your God Reigns!" (Isaiah 52:7, parentheses mine). It’s a reason to celebrate. So let the carols ring and the feasting never end. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given...And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Author Janice Van Dyck ~ Interviewed

Janice M. Van Dyck is an award-winning novelist and freelance writer.

Her current release, Finding Frances, is based on her experience during her mother's decline and death in 2005. Her first novel, The O'Malley Trilogy, is about five generations of Irish-American mothers and daughters and the destructive beliefs passed down from generation to generation. She's at work on a third book about teenagers growing awry in the 1970's.

Van Dyck spent 25 years in business, specializing in strategic management, organizational development, human resources and corporate communications. Her passion was in the written word - telling the story of the business, its history, hopes and dreams in a way that inspired the loyalty and pride of its stakeholders.

Her strength is in her insight and ability to describe a situation clearly, gracefully and with compassion. It is the cornerstone of her writing style. Her understanding and experience with social systems and human behaviour have become the basis for her character development. Van Dyck tells stories that catch the reader's attention, give a new perspective, and motivate the reader to keep thinking about the topic long after they put the book down. A native of Philadelphia, she now resides on the west coast of Florida.

What two or three things would you do differently if you were starting your publishing career today?

I confess to having been snowed by one of the big self-publishers for my first novel. It was a disaster, but disasters can be great learning opportunities. I learned more about the publishing industry by doing it wrong on the fringes than I ever would have as a passive insider doing it right. At the School of Hard Knocks, this was a quick course with no credits. But it was a very good prerequisite.

What one issue makes you struggle the most as an author? How do you handle it?

Writing is easy. Marketing is hard. It’s a whole different skill set. I didn’t put myself out there to publicize my first book because I didn’t have the guts. I had no idea how much hard work was involved. With my second book, I’m in it up to my knocking knees! I’m working with a great sales team and publicity firm to lead me.

What is the best writing (or life) advice you have ever heard or wished you had followed? Why?

“Writers write.” It’s that simple, I think. I can wish I’d started writing books when I was younger, but in reality I wouldn’t change a thing. I am proud of what I’ve made of my life and my God-given talents. It doesn’t matter when I finally started living my dream. I’m living it now.

What one issue ignites your passion? Does your passion fuel your writing? What would you do with your life if you didn't write?

Passion does fuel my writing. I write on different topics, so I don’t think there’s any one issue that fires me up. But once I do get fired up, it’s easy to write about it.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

Finding Frances is based on the true story of my mother’s death and inspired by the Terri Schiavo tragedy. It’s about whether or not we have a right to die when we’re terminally ill—and how we define “terminally ill.” The protagonist is Frances, who is sick and will die without heroic medical procedures, but that’s okay--she’s ready to go to the Lord with open arms, unafraid. But the doctors and her family won’t let her. They insist that the medical system ought to make the decisions about her life and death. Frances asks her oldest son to help her negotiate the system so she can die peacefully. He keeps looking for signs that he’s doing the right thing, and all he gets are mysterious messages through his Christian radio station. He’s kind of a philosophical and theological person, so he studies dying from different religious perspectives, different cultural norms, and different time periods in our own history before he can accept that it’s okay for his mother to die naturally. It’s a topic that touches all of us, but we tend not to talk about it. That’s why I wrote it—to start the conversation.

We are all about journeys...unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book? Share some highlights or lowlights from your path to publication.

I spent over twenty years in business before ever committing to write a book. I’d always wanted to, but I was so tired at the end of the day! I was doing leadership development and coaching at the time, and one day one of my executives made a bargain with me: He would take the weekend off and rest if I would write the first chapter of my first novel. I agreed. It turned out that starting was the hardest part. A year later I self-published The O’Malley Trilogy, and that process had a lot of low points. But the high point moment was when I held the first book in my hand and paged through. I had done it all—written it, edited it, laid it out, designed the cover, selected the font—everything. It may have only sold a hundred copies, but it was mine!

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

I know I’m still improving as a writer, but wish I was more disciplined. If you open one of my kitchen drawers, you’ll see I’m really organized in my real life. But while I’m writing, my desk and my mind are like a ticker-tape parade--all kinds of noise and little slips of paper blowing in circles, up and down, all of them mixing and landing all over the place! Next thing I know, Mike’s found his way into chapter two and Maria turns out to be unable to do what I needed her to do in chapter five. After a while I just give up and let them have their way with me. It all works out in the end. I’m completing my third novel now, and I think the characters have written themselves!

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

I wish I had understood alternatives to traditional publishing earlier. Traditional publishing has its place at the top of the pecking order, but every book cannot fit the prescribed commercial mold. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good book. It just means the author needs to find a different way to get it to the target audience. With the advent of ebooks, micropresses and the internet, the possibilities are endless. Authors need to research and understand the options before deciding the proper course for their project. I spent two years petitioning agents before starting a publishing company for my second novel. I will try the traditional route again for my third, but if agents don’t think it’s commercially viable, I have other options. Knowing that is very empowering.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

Nothing beats real life. It’s all right there. I look for themes, trends and an unusual juxtapositioning of opportunity and character. I have the unfortunate quality of always having an opinion, so I can use my writing to opine on things I wouldn’t necessarily bring up in conversation.

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

I was raised a good, Catholic girl. I always conform!! Seriously, I think my third book might raise a few eyebrows. I’ve gone from a heaven-seeking protagonist in Finding Frances to a sociopath antagonist whose soul is totally corrupted when he literally gets away with murder—sort of a Crime and Punishment theme set in the 1970’s. My husband had no idea I was capable of writing anything so gruesome. I think he was a bit shocked. Even my friends are looking at me sideways when they see what my latest character has gotten away with.

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

Just do it. Start. And there are other ways to learn besides making mistakes. Messing up can be very instructional, but there are less painful ways to go about it. Attend more classes and learning events. Network with more people. I’m pretty introverted, so this was hard for me to learn and to trust.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

Anne Rice fascinates me. I’ve never read a modern writer who seems to understand human nature so compassionately, nor have I ever been transported to other worlds so completely as she has done. Whether she’s writing about Jesus, castrati, or the paranormal characters of her past storylines, she writes so gracefully about the human condition. Even her villains struggle with being so imperfect, so un-Godlike. Even though I can’t do it as well, I try to create real people as she does, flawed and aching to understand our purpose here. I also yearn to come close to making time and place come alive as a character the way she does. I doubt if I’ll ever come close to that.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why? (Doesn't have to be one of your books or even published.)

When my husband and I married, I wrote a poem to read at the ceremony. It was about our two different lives converging—Where The Sea Meets The Shore. I love the metaphor and imagery. Every anniversary I read it back and think, Who wrote that?
It’s so good!

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

I think many agents and publishers could afford to operate with a little more common courtesy. Some of them treat writers as if we’re beggars holding out the same cup every day they walk past. They don’t even notice that we have different faces and abilities and are being very nice to them. It’s hard work to prepare a query and submission package that meets their individual requirements for inclusions, font, spacing, page count, word count, size of envelope, etc. A number of agents couldn’t even find time to return my self-addressed, stamped envelope, and one publisher wouldn’t even answer me once I submitted the manuscript they requested. There’s no reason for that. We’ve all got a role in the system, and it would work better if we could respect each other.

Share a dream or something you'd love to accomplish through your writing career.

It would be nice to be well-known, but more than that I would love to believe that my books make a difference in readers’ lives. It’s one thing to entertain. It’s quite another to enhance a life. It is my dream that my writing to be socially relevant and meaningful. Whether it’s an insight, a comforting word, a validation or a spiritual challenge—there are so many ways to touch someone’s heart.

What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course )?

I love to hear from readers about what the book meant to them. I am overwhelmed with the reader response to Finding Frances. Even if no one else were to read it, I feel it’s been worthwhile because of the lives it’s already touched.

Describe your special or favorite writing spot or send a picture if you'd like.

These days I most enjoy a quiet house, a comfortable chair, an ergonomic keyboard and my two dogs alongside me. That’s when I get the most done.

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?

Staying in tense is, for some reason, difficult for me. I always want to switch to present tense, and unconsciously switch as I’m writing. I’ve learned to ignore it on the first draft and deal with it during my first round of edits. To stop and perfect each sentence would make me lose my flow. I can catch things like that in the proofing.

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

I think it all through in my mind—the characters, the plot, the conflict, the relationships. Once I’m sure that those people would do that, I start mapping it out. I love to make mindmaps with drawings and squiggly lines and idea balloons jutting out in all directions. At the beginning, that’s what my thoughts look like. It takes a long time for me to make them linear. Even after I get organized and make outlines, character sketches and timelines, I leave them open-ended.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?

I hate distractions. I have to be able to sit by myself and let inspiration flow, so I might not write for weeks at a time. My husband travels a lot for business, so sometimes I go with him and sit in a hotel room all day and write, write, write. I’ve mastered some of my critical plot moments in places like Paris, London, Mexico, Madrid and Long Beach, California. Normal people would be out at museums and cafes. Me, I order room service, curl up on the couch with my laptop and time travel into my book. When I finish for the day, I don’t go back and read it. I wait for the next time I sit down. Then, I read through and fix my last session, and once I’m back in the flow, start the next scene. By the time I’m done the first draft, then, it’s already been edited once.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

Combination. I always have a plan, but people never seem to do what I want them to do! I start the plot. My characters finish it.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

Actually, for me, the most difficult part is having enough detail. My base training is in business writing, which is like a chocolate chip cookie. It has to look good, have kernels of truth and be taken in two or three small bites. Fiction is a wedding cake with a unique theme, many layers, and a blend of flavors so captivating that once you read it, you can’t sort it all out right away. My first draft novels are short. When I shape them up, my goal is usually to pages.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response or peer honor? Please share.

I’ve received so many meaningful letters about Finding Frances that I’ve broken down and cried repeatedly. One letter was from a 94-year old woman in an assisted living facility that she shares with her 96-year-old husband. She said that all around her, children of her friends are making “Frances Decisions,” referring to the conflict of how and when to discontinue medical treatment and allow a natural death for their parents. She said that she put a copy of my book in the facility’s library and that there was a waiting list for it. There is no peer honor that could top the feeling of bringing peace and insight to people who need it.

Have you discovered any successful marketing/promo ideas that you'd share with us?

PR guru Marika Flatt recently blogged that “every book…has an audience who needs to know about it.” I totally agree with that perspective. We all don’t write for Oprah or the New York Times bestseller list. But we write for someone. The trick is to seek them out and try to deliver our message. I think any marketing or promotional plan that carefully selects its audience and has specific steps to reach out to them has the best chance of success. The internet makes that possible in ways that were never possible before.

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

You asked such good questions, and I had fun answering them. I sincerely thank you for the opportunity to tell about myself and my books. You have a great website and I am honored to be part of it!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

When to Break the Rules

Rules can be Good. Usually they are there to help us navigate dangerous, difficult or confusing situations. Unfortunately, sometimes the very rules which are supposed to help us can actually hold us back from achieving a novel’s full potential. There are many examples. For instance, consider the following three rules, which may be the most widely accepted of them all:

Write What You Know.

Successful authors break this rule all the time. Tomorrow I plan to finish a novel that takes place in Manhattan, the Catskills, Thailand, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Rome, Bucks County Pennsylvania, Mexico City, and several small towns in the Chihuahua desert. Since I’ve only been to half of those places, if I followed this rule my novel would have been impossible to write. I wrote it anyway, because there is another rule which supersedes “Write What You Know,” to wit:

If the plot absolutely demands it, break the rule.

There’s no denying “Write What You Know” is wise advice in most cases. For one thing, writing about the unfamiliar exposes us to ridicule by those who know the subject well. For another, writing about the unfamiliar increases the chance that we’ll write something existentially untrue, and that is one of a novelist’s worst sins.

But sometimes the story simply cannot be contained within the limits of our life experiences. In those situations, if the story is excellent enough to justify the risk, go ahead and write what you do not know. Just be sure to do as much research as possible, and use a vivid imagination, in tandem with a well-developed ability to empathize. It also doesn’t hurt to have an authority on the subject read the relevant scenes.

One area where this rule should not usually be broken however, is in the realm of character motivation. If you have never suffered, hated, dreamed, or been in love, do not try to write about such things. Too many of your readers have been there. They will see right through you. There are exceptions of course, but this is one reason why most of the best novelists are over forty. For most people, it takes a lot of living to write authentically about the interior human landscape.

Show, Don’t Tell.

This rule may cause more problems than it solves, beginning with the question, what’s the difference between “showing” and “telling”? After all, a novelist’s entire aim is to “tell” a story. We are not cinematographers; we deal only in words, and in one sense to talk or to write is always to tell. So on the surface of it, this writing rule is impossible.

Some interpret it to mean we must limit ourselves to descriptions of physical action or spoken dialogue. They believe any treatment of introspection or interior monologue does not move the story forward, and is therefore a waste of words. But that’s not good advice for a novelist; that’s how you write a screenplay.

Consider the scene in chapter 30 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn where Huck makes one of the most famous statements in American literature. (“All right then—I’ll GO to hell!”) If Twain had followed the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule slavishly he would have omitted the paragraph just prior to Huck’s exclamation, because it is a long passage of introspection which is “told” in the sense that no action is shown. Twain tells us how Huck “feels”. He tells us what Huck “knows”. He tells us what Huck “thinks”. None of that is shown through action, yet more than 120 years of constant publication proves Twain’s readers have no problem with him telling them the reason for Huck’s outburst.

Why did Twain choose to “tell” such an important part of his story this way? Most likely, because he realized very few readers would have understood Huck’s decision otherwise, which brings us to another rule on when to break the rules:

If clear communication absolutely demands it, break the rule.

It is usually better—more powerful—to demonstrate thoughts with actions if possible, but that technique is only possible if the reader already understands the kind of thoughts which might cause a character to behave as he does. If a character is in the midst of an experience completely alien to most readers (such as deciding to free a slave even though sincerely believing such an act is sinful) the novelist is wise to disregard the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule and let his character indulge in introspection.

Murder Your Darlings.

Of the three rules discussed here, this is the one we novelists should follow most. It means, of course, that authors should be willing to cut even their most beautiful words rather than delay action or divert attention from the story. And that is true . . . usually.

We writers love our words. Usually, we love them far too much. Usually during rewrites and revisions, when I’m struggling over the best way to word a sentence and nothing seems to work, the answer is to simply cut the sentence altogether. But here again, slavish devotion to a rule can lead to mediocre storytelling.

After all, if novelists are not cinematographers, it is also true we are not journalists. Our work is not judged by its brevity. We are more closely related to poets, whose words are judged not only for the ideas they express, but also for the beauty of the words themselves.

Sometimes a bit of flowery language adds a perfect flourish to the reader’s experience. Usually it doesn’t, but sometimes. So how is an author to know when it makes sense to let a darling live? Again, we need a rule for breaking rules:

If it improves the reading experience, break the rule.

Darlings must be murdered if they insist upon repeating themselves, as is so often the case. When one lovely sentence says the same thing as another lovely sentence, one of them must go. (Sigh.) Other darlings must be murdered if they demand we pay attention to the trivial, the unrelated, or irrelevant. But does a particularly poetic paragraph help us understand a character or setting? Leave it in. Does it create a necessary mood? Leave it in. Does it serve to shift our mental gears and set us up for what is coming next? Leave it in. Gorgeous words are not inherently offensive in a novel, but neither should their beauty grant them special privileges. Like all other words, they must earn their keep.

Of course there are many other rules in the fiction writing world. Most of them exist for good reasons, and should therefore be followed in most cases. But mention one good reason to obey a rule, and I will mention a good reason to ignore it. Therefore, when it comes to any particular writing rule, it is seldom wise to take an absolute stand, one way or the other. Still, there is one thing that can be said for certain on the subject:

No one ever wrote a great novel by following all of the rules.

Athol Dickson’s novels have been favorably compared to the work of Octavia Butler (Publisher’s Weekly) and Flannery O’Connor (The New York Times). One of his novels is an Audie Award winner. All five of his most recent novels have been finalists for the Christy Award and three have won, including his most recent novel, Lost Mission. He is days away from completing his next novel, The Opposite of Art, which should be on the shelves this summer. Athol lives with his wife in southern California.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When Should You Quit Writing? by guest blogger James Scott Bell

James Scott Bell is the author many thrillers and the #1 bestselling writing book of the decade, Plot & Structure. His other writing books are Revision & Self-Editing and The Art of War for Writers (from Writer's Digest Books). For more about him, visit his website.

When Should You Quit Writing?

At a writers conference recently, one of the attendees (who has been coming for years and still hasn't broken into publication) sat down with me and said, "I want you to tell me, straight up, if I'm just spinning my wheels here. I've been trying so long and never get anywhere. I want to know if I should just quit and forget the whole thing."

That's a good question and deserves an expanded answer. So . . . here's mine.

First, I know many immediately jump to the thought, "If you have to ask, then quit. Real writers never quit!" That's a little too flip. This can be an incredibly frustrating business at every level, from query rejection to book returns, from agent hunting to bad reviews. So genuine feelings of angst are real and I don't want to downplay them.

Still, there is a kernel of truth in the statement. To write well, you have to have an inner desire that can't be doused by setbacks. Yes, the flame may dim when you're hit hard, but in a real writer it keeps coming back, like one of those trick candles you put on a birthday cake.

You have to be like Rudy, from the movie of the same name. He knew his chances of ever getting into a real game were virtually nil. And every day at practice he'd get his head knocked off by the varsity players getting ready for the week's game.

Bam. Bam. Bam. That's what this writing thing feels like sometimes. But you get up and keep hitting back.

You have to know, going in, that you need to develop Rhino skin to survive. The good news is you can develop it. Every time you come back from a set-back and write some more, you create a little more of that protective coating, that inner strength.

So if you can look at the big picture, with all the odds stacked against you . . .if you can understand full well that you will be taking hit after hit . . .if you can understand all that and still have that inner ferret that says, "Write, dang you!" – then no, you should not quit.

Okay, I know some of you are saying, "That's the same old rah-rah stuff I hear at every writer's conference. Easy for him to say . . ."

Well, ladies and germs, we don't get very far without the rah-rah stuff. It's the stuff of Churchill on the BBC during the Blitz, or Henry V at Agincourt, or dare I say Aragorn at the big black gate: "This day we fight!"

So hear these words resounding in your head: It's always too soon to quit.

Yes, rejection hurts. So, let it. Let it hurt for about fifteen minutes. Then go to your keyboard and write, "I resolve . . ." and continue writing for fifteen minutes.

And, as long as you're not quitting, you can do things like this:

1. Get ideas.

2. Play the first line game (come up with a bunch of first lines, choose the best one, and write)

3. Write a short story.

4. Write your memoirs (hey, you've got a family, right?)

5. Write an essay.

6. Write blog post or a meaty comment for a blog.

7. Study the craft. Read a writing book with a highlighter in hand.

8. Finish that project you've been putting off.

9. Eat one cheeseburger, with everything on it, once a month.

10. Keep writing.

Remember, every moment you spend writing is a moment spent not fretting about your writing (h/t Dennis Palumbo).

So don't quit. 

Successfully starting and finishing a publishable novel is often like fighting a series of battles - against the page, against one's own self-doubt, against rebellious characters, etc. Featuring timeless, innovative, and concise writing strategies and focused exercises, this book is the ultimate battle plan and more - it's Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" for novelists. Tactics and exercises are provided on idea generation and development, character building, plotting, drafting, querying and submitting, dealing with rejection, coping with envy and unrealistic expectations, and much more.