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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday, My Day? by DiAnn Mills

Saturday, My Day
By DiAnn Mills

Saturday is my favorite day of the week. I can sleep in, although my internal clock still wakes me, but I can free my mind from the world of writing. Well, sorta. I don’t think we can ever push communicating through the written word from our minds, but we owe it to ourselves to give ourselves a break.

On Saturday mornings, husband and I can have a leisurely breakfast and have a real conversation. Sometimes we have the grandkids, and that means playtime, and other Saturdays we might spend the day away from home.

Carpe Diem
Actually, the freedom to plan fun activities one day a week helps me to be a better writer. Here’s my theory on using Saturday as your day to kick back and give yourself the luxury to rest and laugh.

S = Satisfaction. By Friday evening, my brain feels bruised, and my body protests from the mental exhaustion. I find tremendous satisfaction in allowing myself the opportunity to repair what I damaged in my brain during the week.

A = Attitude. We hear a lot about this word. Good attitudes. Bad attitudes. Cynicism jumps in there too. But the important part of using Saturday as a rest-from-writing day is it adds points on the good attitude side. The kind of positive mindset that lasts all week long.

T = Tackle. What have we been meaning to do but put off because of word count or editing? Another type of craft or a hobby? Maybe a community project or working in the yard?

U = Unique. I find when Saturdays have varying events, I look forward to them even more. Planning a day of rest can be exhilarating—from spending time with friends to running a 5K.

R = Relax. For the sport enthusiast, watch a special team on TV. Better yet, pick up tickets and treat yourself. If sports is not a good time, consider a movie marathon or attend a cinema. And we can always nap.

D = Date. Yes, a date! I like to hook arms with my hubby and plan some fun. Be sure to have a meal out! Besides, I can listen to the conversations around me and deepen my dialogue skills.

A = Abandon. Toss aside the idea that we can slip in a few hours of writing or editing. Unless a deadline looms over me, I don’t. I’ve found that working every day, even on Sunday afternoon, decreases my ability to write clearly.

Y = You. When we take care of the feeding and nurturing of ourselves, we find Sundays worship fills us with joy because we’re rested. We’ll also discover writing Monday through Friday is not a burden, and our creativity will soar.

When we use Saturday to refuel, refresh, and relax, watch what happens on Monday.

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers; the 2015 president of the Romance Writers of America’s Faith, Hope, & Love chapter; a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and International Thriller Writers. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at

Friday, February 27, 2015

Writing Through the Chaos

Edie Melson is the author of numerous books, as well as a freelance writer and editor. Her blog, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains ChristianWriters Conference and the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy. She’s also the Military Family Blogger at Guideposts. Com, Social Media Director for SouthernWriters Magazine and the Senior Editor for Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook. Don't miss her new book from Worthy Inspired, coming in May WHILE MY SOLDIER SERVES.
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Tips to Keep Moving Forward When Life Happens

Life happens to all of us, and with it comes times of chaos and catastrophe. It’s easy to get derailed and let our writing life come to a screeching halt. That’s never a good thing, no matter what crisis we’re dealing with—from the death of a loved one, to an unexpected winter storm. Because as writers, we process life by putting words on paper (or screen). Suddenly finding ourselves with no time or energy to write can be as traumatic as the original event.

We need that exercise to keep us sane. The things we write may change, depending on the circumstance where we find ourselves, but I propose that we will cope better by setting aside time. Today I want to share some tips to keep moving forward when life happens.

In case you think I’m dealing with concepts instead of reality you should know that I’ve lived through chaos. Last year, in a short two-week time frame, my father suffered a stroke while I was out of town teaching at a conference (he’s continuing to improve), I found myself bedridden with a nasty sinus/ear infection, and our daughter-in-law lost her father. On top of that, my Guideposts military blog, While They Serve, launched right smack dab in the middle of all that.

Trust me, I know what I’m talking about here. This is how I’ve survived many upheavals in my life.

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize: During times like these, a calendar is your best friend. Sit down and look at all you have on your writing plate.
  • Start with the things you’re getting paid for and/or you consider legitimate work. Those need to have top priority.
  • Next look at things you’ve made a commitment to do. These could be anything from blogging on your own site to blogging on other sites or other types of writing. The thing you want to do with this group is look and see what you can reschedule, back out of, postpone, or ask someone else to do.
  • Finally look at the things you wanted to accomplish. This might include things like get a piece ready for a contest or submission or just making forward progress on your current WIP (Work In Progress).

Now, before you set down the calendar, look at the commitments generated by the chaos. These could include doctor visits, time at the hospital, time without electricity, anything out of the ordinary.

Begin fitting projects into the spaces around your commitments. I know this doesn’t always seem possible, but you can get significant progress in 20 – 30 bites of time. Here are some tips to write in the bits and pieces of time you've got. 

For example, one thing I must do is schedule social media every morning. It’s part of my job at My Book Therapy. I would get to the hospital in the morning. Spend some time visiting with my mom and dad, then announce I had 30 minutes of work to do. Assuming a doctor didn’t come in, I kept my head down and worked for that space of time. Afterwards, I closed my laptop and again was available to visit, help, etc. I also took several breaks during the day to answer comments on my new Guideposts blog, as well as my own.

We all know this isn’t the ideal to write, but you have to use the time you can carve out.

Additional Tips
  • Contact those places where you have commitments. People will forgive a lot if they know what’s going on. This is the time to be an EXCELLENT communicator.
  • Call in favors, and enlist guest bloggers where you can for your own site.
  • Don’t forget you can recycle old posts to save creative energy for paid writing assignments.
  • Cut back on the number of social media updates you put out daily and/or eliminate them altogether. But don’t be afraid to use social media to ask for prayer support. Your readers and audience will feel more connected to you by sharing this part of your life.
  • Try to carve out time to work on something you want to do. It may be a blog post, a WIP, a devotion or even a poem. But if you feel that creative hunger, feed it. You’ll be calmer and more able to cope if you do.
  • Don’t waste what’s happening, instead incorporate it into your writing. If you have a blog, do what I’m doing and share your process in a post. At the very least, find a place to write out your feelings and journal what’s happening. If you can’t use it immediately, I guarantee it will come back when you need it. Just don’t lose it by not recording it.
  • Try your hand a writing a devotion. If life is in chaos, I guarantee you’re learning some tough lessons. You may not end up with a finished product, but jot down the details of what you’re learning.
  • Write a poem. Yes, you read that right. It doesn’t have to rhyme, but it can. And it doesn’t even have to be good. But searching for the words to describe intense feelings is a good way to process and come to grips with a life that seems out of control. If a full poem seems too intimidating, consider a haiku. Here’s a link to help you Write a Haiku

Most of all, use this time to accomplish small tasks. Here are just a few to get you started:
1   Write a character sketch.
2   Research a setting or job description
3   Check your timeline.
4   Edit a chapter.
5   Make a list of possible blog posts.
6   Pick an emotion and brainstorm ways to show it rather than name it.

We all have times that could potentially stop all forward momentum in our writing lives. But it doesn’t have to. And when you’ve weathered the storm, you’ll be glad you kept moving.

I’d love to know what you do to stay on track with writing when chaos happens. Be sure to share your thoughts below.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Few Thoughts About Writing

Verily brothers and sisters it is that time of year once again. The time when our thoughts turn to warm weather, the beach (when you read this I'll be in the Caribbean), and wondering if we'll fit in last year's bathing suit.

That, and what ideas to pitch to magazine editors for their late summer/early fall issues.

So, with all that in mind, I want to take a look at some ideas that don't fit a specific category but are important if you want to be a professional writer. Then I want to blend them together. Sort of like making soup.

And like good soup, hopefully it will be filling and give you something to fortify you for the days ahead

Or at least unlike bad soup, maybe it won’t give you any sort of gastric distress.

So, that being said, on with the show.

First, of all Don’t Be “Precious”

I subscribe to a number of writing-related email loops and online groups. And for reasons which will become obvious, I have a separate email address that all of the related communication goes to. The main reason is that I want to keep my business, email loops, and daily "stuff" email separate. I don’t want to have to sort through Praise Team rehearsal email, notes from my family, estimates from the contractor, jokes from my brother-in-law, and “catching up” emails from two particularly good friends when I am looking for a note from my agent or an editor.

The second (and in some ways more pressing) reason is what I call The Precious People. And I don’t mean precious in the sense of, “Oh look at that puppy. Isn’t he precious?” I mean it in the eye rolling, obnoxious relative who came to stay for a week, do we really have to listen to this, don’t make me puke sense.

These are the people addicted to the acronym WIP (for the uninitiated, that means Work in Progress). These are the people who work “my WIP” into every email, Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/Goodreads post. The ones who will say, “I am currently working on my WIP” at the drop of a hat. These are also the people who get on the email loops and other online venues and ask inane questions (about my WIP) that they could just as easily answer through a quick Google/Ask/Bing search, or by opening a dictionary or Thesaurus.

The problem is, they want us to know they are working on a book. They want to seem like professionals. They want to be accepted by their peers. They want the reader to say, “Wow! He/she is a real writer.”

Now to be fair, we’ve all been there to a certain extent. Every beginning writer has those moments. But it seems to me that in the days before instant communication, we did things differently. In the days before the Internet people looked up answers. They did the real research. And they used the few (or many) writing friends/acquaintances they had for the important questions.
In short, they “grew up” a little faster.

And while we all want to be accepted, shouldn’t we want to be accepted for the right reasons? For our work and our work ethic? For the quality of our writing, and not the fact that we have a WIP?
Remember, editors and agents read these same loops, and we are all making an impression on them. One way or the other.

It’s About the Work
Charlie Grant
That leads me to the next thing. The only way to be published is to do the work. As Kathryn Ptacek (award winning editor/author and all-around nice lady) told me when I first started writing, “A writer writes.” Craig Shaw Gardner (he wrote Batman, Batman Returns, Revenge of the Fluffy Bunnies, and other neat books) gave me some advice that had a familiar ring: “Tom, a writer writes.” And the late Charles L. Grant said something very similar to me on more than one occasion. “Make it quick, I’m on deadline." (Translation: A writer writes).
 bunniesMany people talk about writing. Or they talk constantly about their current project. Or the projects they have started.
But a writer writes.

That’s the key to success.

Bad writing can be fixed. And like playing an instrument or a sport, constant practice develops the appropriate muscles for the activity in which you want to excel. Including writing. As we write we develop a feel for the language. We discover an innate sense for how the words should fit together. We learn to listen for the internal cadence of a sentence.

In short, practice makes us better.

And through writing we develop the habits that will make us successful.

Good Habits are Not an Option

Should you write every day? I think so. Even if it is only fifteen minutes a day. There are some successful writers who agree with me and some who disagree. Some only write when they have a project. Some write before, during, and after projects.

But even those who take time off between projects or only write when they have a contract in hand still have good writing habits, and the discipline to sit down and do the work. When they are supposed to be writing, they write. They have put in the hours of writing time that have helped them develop into the writers they are.

So, even if you don’t write every day, write on a specific schedule. If you can only write from 3:00 p.m. - 3:18 p.m. every third Thursday of the month, then every third Thursday at promptly 3:00 p.m. you need to be about the business of writing. And yes, the example is a bit extreme, but it is nonetheless valid. Write every day. Write every other day. Write one day a week. That’s up to you. But whatever schedule works for you, find it and stick to it. Write in a coffee shop, the basement, under a tree, in Elvis’ private bathroom at Graceland. The where isn’t as important as the actual doing.

And read. Read a lot. As Stephen King says, “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

The Final Word

At first glance, there are a lot of words but only a few ideas here. But the few ideas are important. If you want to be a writer, write. Ultimately it is all about doing the work. It’s about sitting down at the keyboard with a plan, with the desire to write, and with no illusions about what it takes to be a writer. Because writing is not about waiting for some flash of insight or waiting to hear the whisper of your muse. That’s reserved for amateurs, hobbyists, and folks who write literary fiction.

Writing, if you want to be a professional writer, is about doing the work in a professional manner. Doing the market research, the marketing, and the work. It’s ultimately not about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other social media outlet. It’s not about chat rooms, blogs, and impressing online communities. Those are only a part of the equation (when utilized properly).

No, writing is about writing. Period.

Let's say that together class: Writing is about writing. Period.

So, don’t talk about doing it. Just do it. On a regular basis. Keep at it until you are successful.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tess Gerritsen on The Writer's Life

As appeared on Novel Rocket in 2012 Our regular columnist for today is teaching at a writers conference. 
Tess Gerritsen left a successful practice as an internist to raise her children and concentrate on her writing. She gained nationwide acclaim for her first novel of medical suspense, the New York Times bestseller Harvest. She is also the author of the bestsellers Life Support, Bloodstream, Gravity, and The Surgeon. Tess lives with her family in Maine. (PHOTO CREDIT: Paul D'Innocenzo)

The amazingly multi-talented Steve Martin (actor/writer/comedian/musician) doesn't need me to leap to his defense. But that's what I felt like doing, claws bared, when I read this article in the New York Times. 

In the history of intellectual chatter, the events of Nov. 29, 2010, at the 92nd Street Y will be archived under disaster. Or comedy.

That night, a conversation between Steve Martin, the writer and actor, and Deborah Solomon, who writes a weekly interview column for The New York Times Magazine, resulted in the Y’s sending out a next-day apology, along with a promise of a refund.

Mr. Martin, in Miami for a book event, said in an e-mail on Wednesday that Ms. Solomon “is an outstanding interviewer,” adding that “we have appeared together before in Washington, D.C., in a similar circumstance to great success.”

But Sol Adler, the Y’s executive director, saw it differently. “We acknowledge that last night’s event with Steve Martin did not meet the standard of excellence that you have come to expect from 92nd St. Y,” he wrote in an e-mail to ticket holders. “We planned for a more comprehensive discussion and we, too, were disappointed with the evening. We will be mailing you a $50 certificate for each ticket you purchased to last night’s event. The gift certificate can be used toward future 92Y events, pending availability.”

What was Steve's big mistake that night? What terrible misbehavior did he engage in to so enrage his fans? Simply this: he had the audacity to be himself and talk about his latest book -- which is about art. The audience came expecting to hear the wild and crazy guy they knew from his film and TV career. They wanted to hear tales of glitz and glamor and movie stars. They wanted their trained monkey. They didn't want the Steve Martin who talks about art, which is what he is clearly passionate about, and what his book is about.

When he didn't deliver exactly what they expected, this audience was so disappointed, so incensed, that they pitched a tantrum worthy of spoiled brats and demanded their money back.

Now, if this were an audience who paid big bucks to hear Lady Gaga sing in concert, and instead had to watch her read the Manhattan phone book in a monotone, I could understand their disappointment. When you pay for music, you expect music. When you pay for dinner, you expect food.

This audience came to hear an interview with Steve Martin, and they got an interview. But the man is known to have many facets; he is not just a wild and crazy guy, but an author who wanted to talk about his latest book. A book about a serious topic. Over the years, through his comedic movies, Steve Martin has been branded as a funny guy. But that branding has locked him into such a tight cage that if he dares step one foot out of that cage, the public cracks their bullwhip to drive the prisoner back to where he belongs. In the cage for wild and crazy movie stars.

This, fellow authors, is the downside of branding. Every time you write a book that reinforces your brand, you have welded in another bar of your cage. Once that cage is locked and sealed, you're going to have a hard time getting out of the thing again.

Only a few authors have been able to do it successfully. John Grisham has managed the feat, occasionally releasing a sentimental novel between his usual legal thrillers. Stephen King has escaped branding, too, partly because he has regularly produced non-horror, literary fiction throughout his career.

For most of us, though -- writers who aren't as prolific as King, or who don't wield the clout of Grisham -- a large part of our success is tied up in branding ourselves. We start off wanting readers to think of us as the crime thriller or romance go-to gal. It's only later, when we get a hankering to try something else, or when our chosen genre starts to lose its audience, that we realize that being branded isn't always such a good thing.

My own brand has skittered around through my career. First I wrote romantic thrillers, then medical thrillers, then science thrillers, then crime thrillers. With an historical thriller thrown in. The one part of the brand that's stayed constant is the "thriller" part, and that's allowed me a bit of leeway. Readers will forgive you for moving between sub-genres. But try making a really big leap -- say, from serial killer novel to sweet sentimental novel -- and your audience is going to howl. The way they howled at Steve Martin.

If you truly want to slip out of that cage, you may have to do it in disguise with a pseudonym. Which means starting over again as a newbie writer trying to find your first audience. Or you'll have to find an understanding publisher. Or you'll have to publish it yourself as an E-book, an option that more and more authors seem to be leaning toward.

Good luck to you. May you escape the wrath of fans who'll never forgive you for craving a little variety in your art.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How a Writer Weighs an Idea. Six Questions.

by Alton Ganksy @AltonGansky 

How a Writer Weighs an Idea
Benjamin Franklin used a simple technique to judge the value of an idea. When considering a decision, the founding father would draw a single line down the middle of a piece of paper. On the left side he’d mark a +; on the right side he put a - (minus sign). He would then make a list of the good points, and one for the negatives.

If the pluses outweighed the negatives, then he felt the idea was a good one. Too many negatives and he moved on to another idea.
I’ve always thought it was a great technique but it failed to weigh the pluses and minuses. For example a minus might be minor taking three or four to have more value than a single plus. Of course the same can be said in reverse. So my Ben Franklin lists included a value with each plus or minus. Maybe I really love the idea. I’m enthusiastic and have been for some time. That plus will out weigh several minuses.

Over the years I developed a different approach to evaluate an idea: a series of 6 questions. Not every idea that comes to mind is worthy of our time, efforts, and money. Some concepts arrive dressed in fancy clothes and blowing party whistles. We court them, chat them up, and then, over time, notice that the idea is hollow and only pretended to have value. I needed a way to apply a little logic to what is often an emotional process.

These six questions help me think about the concepts rolling around in my head and to gauge what I really think of it. This approach can be used in any form of decision making.

There are two steps.
First, I ask the following questions:

1. Is it satisfying?
Am I going to enjoy this? Staying focused and diligent requires either fear or enthusiasm.) 

2. Does it make a difference?
I’m one of those people things my work should leave a positive impact on my readers. If I didn’t believe that, I’d be churning out work that entertains for a few hours then evaporates.

3. Is it meaningful?
Related to #2 is meaningfulness. Meaningful means—wait for it—full of meaning. I don’t like to work on junk, fluff, or nonsense. My writing goal has always been to make the reader think. 

4. Is it profitable to others?
Am I chasing this idea because I think I might enjoy it? Nothing wrong with that but for me it needs a little more reason to exist. For many of us, writing is more than a hobby or art, it is a way to make a difference. A big difference? Sometimes. A small difference? Often. Still, making any kind of positive impact on the world is a good thing. The world needs it.

5. Is it doable?
Am I the one to do this job? I have many ideas that I have no training for. While I believe I can learn to do almost anything, I have to ask if the project is worth the time and effort.

6. Does it provide income?
We all have to eat and, as the Bible tells us, a workman is worthy of his hire (to be paid).

The next step is application.
So what does this look like in real life? On my desktop I have a series of digital sticky notes of things I want to do. The ones that I find myself looking at the most I run through the six questions. Here’s one I did for my Writer’s Talk podcast: 

    Is it satisfying? [3]
    Does it make a difference? [2]
    Is it meaningful? [2]
    Is it profitable? [3]
    Is it doable? [3]
    Provide income? [1]
Total = 14/18

As you can see, I applied a numerical value to each question rating my confidence in  its possibility of success. So a question gets a 3 for “yes, I believe that strongly,” a 2 for “yep, I feel pretty confident in this element working out,” or a 1 for “I have reservations.”

In this example, I gave the first question a 3 because I enjoy doing the program. I love to talk to writers and learn about how they work. The second questions I assigned a 2 because the program helps some writers but not everyone. Is Writer’s Talk meaningful? I think so and gave it a 2. (There are many days when I would give it a 3.)

Is it profitable. I believe it can be of great use to writers and others in the publishing universe as well has help writers promote their work. 

Is it doable? Turns out it is. I’ve done 70 programs and will be doing more this year.

Does it provide income? No, not yet, and it may never do so. But if the program get’s a foothold, I believe people will support it.

Decision making can be confusing. Too many thoughts, ideas, and concepts make feel like we’re riding a runaway train. The key is to get our thoughts in order, taking one idea at a time, evaluate it, then move on.

How do you weigh your decisions?

Alton Gansky writes novels and nonfiction. He is the host of Writer's Talk and the director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. When not writing, editing, blogging, podcasting, and the such things he likes to eat and sleep. To get the real down-low on Al visit