Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Writer's Alley Weekend Round Up

Photo by Greyerbaby @ pixabay.com
Are you ready for some football???? So you are either in two camps today, the day before the Super Bowl. You are either shopping for your Super Bowl Party food or you are browsing your stack of unread books and un-watched DVD's. I tend to be the latter, but I'm married to someone who is either having a party or dragging me to one. I usually visit with the ladies, then stop to watch some commercials. I do know I will be glad when it is over. ;)

We have a great line up for you this week, so be sure to stop by for some fabulous Alley wisdom.

The Alley Weekly Line Up

Monday - We have Alley Pay, Andrew Swearingen, sharing a post entitled, "Four Things Football Taught Me About Pitching A Novel". I'd say that is quite appropriate after the big Super Bowl game, wouldn't you say?

Tuesday - Laurie is hosting author Carla Laureano today.

Wednesday - Mary is bringing her Character Personality Class #3 today: Composed and Sensitive. You don't want to miss this class. Mary is a superb teacher!

Thursday - With the whole 50 Shades of Grey movie coming out, Krista is taking on boundaries...or lack thereof...in your writing. How far is too far when it comes writing in CBA or ABA? Knowing Krista, she will have you glued to the screen with her scintillating post.

Friday - Paula Moldenhaur is our guest today. She is an author and speaker and you will be encouraged by what she has to share.

Alley Cat News

Laurie Tomlinson will be a guest at Seekerville on Tuesday, February 3. Stop by and give her a shout out.

The Awesome Link Round Up

7 Tools to Help You Write a Novel (- Free eBook) (The Write Practice)

Corrections Are Good: How to Take Critique Like a Dancer (Writer unBoxed)

How to Write Faster: The Brainwave Blueprint (Write to Done)

Indie Authors Quitting Their Day Jobs-2015 (The Passive Voice)

The Perils of Purple Prove (Live Write Thrive)

Top 50 Writing Blogs for 2015 (Positive Writer)

Friday, January 30, 2015

This Time Around: Breathing New Life into Old Bones


It has been said, often and by many sources, that an author's first book (or books) will likely never see print. This is a polite way of saying you had no idea what you were doing and that story, while probably quite special to you, really isn’t special at all. In fact, it could be a study in rookie mistakes. Probably is, and you’d see that if you had the guts to go back and stomach all the passive language, all the cliché smiles and overloaded adjectives, and all the holes in your rather predicable plot.

Crafting a story is hard work. Brainstorming, plotting, drafting, editing. More editing. Reading. Editing some more. Getting critiqued. Editing ’til your eyes cross. Like most things, we learn best by doing. Classes are great! Critiquing someone else’s work is surprisingly insightful. Reading craft books or other works of fiction are wonderful tools for learning as well. But I truly believe that good old fashioned blood, sweat, and tears on the page will work your writing muscles in a way nothing else can.

In my own writing career (ambitious wording there, but I’m always optimistic) I have seen whatever natural talent I possessed when I first so enthusiastically started vomiting garbage on paper grow and hone and sharpen with each story I have written. Simply put, every story I write is better than the last. Why? Because I am learning from my mistakes. I am finding my voice and embracing my style. Oh, I haven’t arrived. And I doubt I will ever learn all there is to know. But I have found my groove.

I’m not Stella and I didn’t exactly get my groove back, but I did take my groove back to the beginning. Back to those first bumbling, adolescent attempts at story. And let me just tell you, collecting dust can be one of the best things you can do to revive those decaying words. Time and experience can grant a perspective not even the most relentless editing can expose.

So here’s what I’ve learned this time around…

Unearth those lost stories and give them a read, start to finish no matter how much it pains you.

Take notes on the things that make you cringe so you can focus your attack instead of just adding words—which you will be tempted to do more than is wise. After all, you don’t want to bloat your manuscript, you want to give it a good balance of eloquence and movement.

Get to work. Be relentless and meticulous. Your words make your story. What you say and how you say is crucial. Don’t be satisfied with a sentence just because it’s already written. Take it to trial and try to make it better. Be choosy. Trim the fat but enhance the flavor. The time spent will pay off.

And then finally, read like a reader. Just read. Put your editing eyes away and enjoy the story. It still may never be published, but stories aren’t meant to be exiled. Share them. Post them up. Give them away. Most importantly, don’t give up on them.

Talk to me Alley Pals Have you ever read back and caught a rookie mistake? I was (still am) an overwriter but back when I was a newbie my adjective use was atrocious! What was your biggie? Be brave and share. Good reminders for all of us in the thick of editing. Happy Friday!
 
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Amy Leigh Simpson is the completely exhausted stay-at-home mama to the two wild-child, tow-headed toddler boys, one pretty little princess baby, and the incredibly blessed wife of her hunky hubby.
She writes Romantic Suspense chalked full of grace that is equally inspiring, nail-biting, and hilarious. And a little saucy! Okay fine, a lot saucy. :) She is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers, and now uses her Sports Medicine degree to patch up daily boo-boos. Her greatest ambitions are to create stories that inspire hope, raise up her children to be mighty warriors for Christ, invent an all-dessert diet that works, and make up for years of sleep deprivation. 

She is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, Inc. 
 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Being Nice: An Etiquette Guide for Published and Agented Writers


Have you heard about the girl who's caused a huge stir about her decision to stop wearing leggings in public with concern it may make men lust after her?

This post has nothing to do with that. :)

But it is about a similar question: what is the line between being considerate of others' struggles and unnecessarily catering to/coddling them?

Now, please know this post is meant as a fun, lighthearted look at a serious situation. I don't mean to point fingers or offend. I have been on both sides of the map as a writer with a fabulous agent and two published short stories, who is still desperately craving to see her novels in print. Therefore, with one foot in each "camp," so to speak, I feel qualified to look the issue from, well, both sides.

I've noticed that within the past few years, social media has taken a turn towards (sometimes heavy) self-promotion. I get it. Every published author needs to sell books, and aren't we all a little scared of not selling enough? But at the risk of giving advice completely counter to what your publishing house may have told you, sometimes self-promotion makes you sound like that friend who only calls to invite you to Mary Kay parties. There's a difference between building genuine relationships with readers and author friends via social media and using people for sales.

So I thought today I'd write a post that's a little different... some things to consider if you're a published writer as you engage in social media with so many hopeful-heart storytellers still waiting.

Do you remember when you were a little girl and you wore your mother's shoes around the house, wishing they would fit your tiny feet? I can remember this specific towel rack in my parents' old bathroom that I used to look at and think, "When I'm as tall as that, I'll be so grown." Blame Cinderella, but I used to dream about being old enough to go dancing-- really dancing, like learning to waltz and swing. Can you remember things you so badly wanted to do as a little kid?

Now that I'm an adult, it's easy to forget how deeply my childhood heart yearned for these things. In the same way, I think anyone who has been on the writing journey long enough may begin to forget the excitement and longing of those initial stages of writing... as well as the deep discouragement it can bring.

Photo by  khunaspix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I've heard so many published authors say, "Just wait and see! Things get so much harder after publication!" Please, do not say this to writers who are still waiting. It's like looking at that little girl in those big 'ol shoes and saying, "Just you want until you're grown-- then you'll see it's bills and sleep deprivation and never enough coffee, and really not all it's cracked up to be." But what about all the good things? What about all the travels and the grown-up beauty and the dreams?

I think published and unpublished writers have so much to offer one another, but I've noticed that sometimes unpublished writers get a little gun-shy approaching "success stories." You may not realize it, but if you're published, you're kind of a rock star. Like, really. You are in a HUGE minority. You have written words that are actually printed and in front of other human beings--whether that's a book, a novella, or a magazine. Many... even most... writers never make it to the point of having actual readers! If you do have readers, what an influence you have, what a ministry! Please don't take that for granted.

I write all this not as a critique of published writers, but as encouragement to reframe your perspective. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your deadline, or discouraged by a bad review, take time to remember the big picture. You have the dream in your hands. It may not look the way you thought it would, and it may not be easy. At all. But again, you have readers, and that is nothing short of a crazy, miraculous thing. These stories started in your imagination, and God is using them to touch someone out there in the world--someone you may never meet. Someone who may even be reading your story as you read this post. How cool is that!

I also want to encourage you to be sensitive to your unpublished writer friends and remember what it was like when you were on the waiting side of your contract. Don't forget the doubt, and the tears, and the desperate prayers to God as you wondered if this thing was ever going to happen or if it's a huge failure of a dream. Don't forget that while people celebrate with you because you had lunch with your dream editor or you made it big in a writing contest, with too much detail, these successes will inevitably remind others of what they have not yet achieved... and sometimes that stings. Don't cater to every overly-sensitive individual who needs to get a thicker writer's skin, but do remember that doubt hits every one of us, as well as feelings of insecurity. Do everything you can to encourage the writers around you in their callings and dreams, because you are a success story.

And let's face it. The world needs to hear more of those.


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Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What's Your Kryptowrite?


http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/File:Kryptonite-thanks.jpg 
We all want to be SUPER writers.

Or we want to read SUPER books, right?

But no book is perfect, though there are a few I’d place pretty close to out-of-this-world.
We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people - so we all struggle with some sort of weaknesses....even writers :-)

A recurrent area in which we much strive to improve.

So what's your weakness or Kryptowrite, so to speak - and how have you fought against it to make your writing stronger?

There are more than this, of course, but I’ve picked the most common 10.

1.       Telling? – Telling is necessary sometimes, but if most of your writing is ‘told’ then it’s harder for the reader to get that close connection with your characters. An example:

T: The darkness in the room made her afraid.

S: Fingertips of fear tripped down her spine sending a shudder over her skin.

2.       Grammar? – I’m bad with this one. L However with spellcheck and the right crit partners, it can really help tighten your writing. Your vs you’re? women’s vs. womens’? it’s vs its’ J The list is endless.

3.       The POV shuffle? – Head swapping is painful J But in fiction it can lead to confusion or a disconnect from the story. Most novels keep to one POV and have clear cuts (usually breaks in the paragraphs/or asterisks) if there is a POV change. Of course there are some literary words that challenge this, but those are the exception, not the rule.

4.       Character Dimensions? This does not mean Tattoine vs Middle Earth. How well do you know your characters? How 3-dimensional are they on the page? Sometimes I’ll have a really clear understanding of my heroine but have a foggier perspective for my hero (or visa versa). The best way to woo with words is to write from a clear knowledge of who your characters are – which will then transfer over into believability.

5.       Dumping (info dumps, backstory dumps) this one used to be one of my worst kryptowrites. I thought everyone needed to know all the backstory in the first chapter. NOT! Now I’ve learned how to weave it throughout the story in a more organic way (mostly…I still have dumping-tendencies) J

6.       Inconceivable? How believable is your story? Do you have a tendency to write stories that step over the line of believable? This does not mean real-life. This means, ‘could it happen’. Readers don’t have to believe in elves and dwarves to enjoy reading Lord of the Rings, but they do have to believe in the journey. Are your characters acting in ways that are conceivable? Is your storyworld realistic (for whatever genre)?

7.       Flabby Middle  - Ugh. The dreaded saggy middle! (this hits way too close to my beltline J) Keeping a ‘tight’ story helps battle the flabby middle, when the storyline has the tendency to sag. This is where secondary storylines come in handy, as well as secondary characters.

8.       Overwriting – DEFINITELY my kryptowrite!!!! I’m trying to keep my blog posts under 800 words for this reason. It’s not only in my writing – it’s a personality trait. TOO MUCH! Instead of just simply stating something, I’ll give it legs, arms, eyes, hair, and a vacation home! J
http://www.characters.nl/fonts/kryptonite/characteristix-kryptonite

So, for example (taking from the above example)

Icy fingertips tripped a chill down her spine sending a nervous shudder across her skin until her breaths lodged to a solid lump in her throat.

Yes, sometimes less IS more! I write WAY too many sentences like this! Argh. nervous and shudder are redundant. So are ‘solid lump’. And as an aside, making the sentences shorter in an intense scene increases the intensity, usually.

Another example would be overwriting emotions. TOO much! (unless it fits the character)

9.       Black and White Writing? Yeah, writing is usually in black and white when it’s on a screen, but you don’t want your message to stay bland. How do you use your words? Do you color them up? Are your descriptives fresh? Do you stick with cliché’s and similar vocabulary, or do you freshen up the characters and pages with new ones. Variety is certainly a spice of life J

10.   Conflict – building?  If there is no conflict, there probably isn’t much of a story. The greater, more invested, the conflict, usually the better the pace of the story. Some people are naturally good at doing this. They seem to innately understand the concept of storytelling so the conflict is set, a gradual build happens, and then the ‘explosion’. Peppering your story with meaningful conflict is a great way to keep the reader, not only participating, but falling in love with your story.


So…. What is your kryptowrite? How do you fight against the weaknesses? Share your battle strategies so those of us who suffer from such weaknesses can glean from your SUPER knowledge J

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

When Your Well is Dry...Building Your Creativity Muscles from the Source

Bezalel. He makes an appearance in Exodus 31. I might be tempted to skip over a minor character in my Bible reading. The middle section of Exodus is chock full of genealogies and detailed instructions for the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant.

Of course, we know there are no minor characters in the Bible as every jot and tittle has much to teach us about how to live our life. And of course about the main character, Jesus who breathes out of every verse.

Twice I've read Exodus 31 and ended up journaling about Bezalel, a character who I may have skimmed over once or twice in my reading before. I discovered he had something to say to me about living the life of creativity.

The first time I thought it was a lesson just for me, the second time I decided to share. Because of the commonality of the human experience, you may have the same struggles in your creative life as I do. Or maybe you have different ones, but God may use His words to speak truth into your life.

Exodus 31:1-6 The LORD said to Moses, "See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you:...

31:11b According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.

What can this passage teach us about the creative life and our calling as writers? How can what we learn from Bezalel help us when our well of ideas seems to run dry?

1) See I have called by name Bezalel...

God has given us callings for our lives. Roles designed JUST for us. Nobody else can fulfill this unique calling.

Let's not waste our time trying to reach someone else's goal. Just because the market is looking for more Amish fiction authors, doesn't mean that's what YOU should do.

DON'T LET A MARKET DEFINE YOUR CALLING.


DON'T LET MAN'S APPROVAL DICTATE YOUR CALLING.


Instead grow in your understanding of who God called you to be as a writer and as a person.

Be yourself, the unique writer God made to reflect His image to a hurting, vulnerable world.

2) I have filled him with the Spirit of God...

Are you feeling empty, with no creative energy to spare. You may be empty of human strength, but like Bezalel God has filled you up with His Spirit.


My study Bible (Lutheran Study Bible, ESV version) says: "In addition to their God-given talents as created beings, these men received supernatural abilities from the Holy Spirit."


Don't worry that your creativity isn't enough. He is filling you and He is enough.


We often talk about God giving us gifts as writers, but even more powerful are these supernatural abilities.


God's ability goes far beyond ours and is sufficient to equip us for this calling of writing.

3) ...with ability and intelligence...

I notice that AFTER mentioning Bezalel is filled with the Spirit of God, then God mentions he has gifted him with ability and intelligence.


The Spirit of God is first and more powerful, but then he also gifts with ability and intelligence. The strengths you have as a writer are those he needs you to share.


BUT God also gifted Bezalel with intelligence. To grow into our craftsmanship, we need to be intentional. We need to seek out those mentors and instructors who can help us grow. The old saying is so true, more is caught than taught. God intends us to have humility in seeking out other's help in areas in our writing where we struggle.

4)...with knowledge and craftsmanship...

God gives us many opportunities to grow these original gifts, although they are all GIVEN by Him.


Don't despise the growing process. It may take more time for some to grow into their craft than it does for others. The season of life may also influence the growing process.

But whether you are a seed, a sapling, or a "teenage" tree God wants you to keep investing in the things that will help you grow strong. Seeking out the help of others. Reading great books on craft. Attending conferences. Entering contests and paying attention to the responses of our critics even when it stings.

5)...to devise artistic designs...

God crafted you to be an artisan. From the very beginning he knew you would delight in light and color on the page, making a symphony for His glory. He created you for this purpose and then watches as you grow into it.


The creator of purple crested mountaintops and wave-shimmered beaches knew you would have a love for beauty. He wanted you to share this love with others to reflect His glory. None of this was an accident.


So can't the God who created all this help you to find the right word to describe your setting or know the best path your plot should take? Do we see Him as the God of the big picture when it comes to our writing or do we notice that He is the crafter of every detail.


6)...and behold I have appointed with him, Oholiab...

Just as he created us to be in community, he created us to be united with other writers. Don't forget that God has gifted others in areas we struggle with in our writing. He designed us to learn from each other in all areas of our lives. Learning from other writers often means admitting just how much growth we need.


Because he has appointed many other writers, we need to embrace their journeys. He has created us to cheer for each other when our contest scores are dismal. Sometimes we see other writers who are receiving the call to publication and think why them and not me? We spend time judging other writer's abilities. It is not our place to question the calling of those God places in our lives to support.

Part of our calling is to help others grow into their calling.


7) ...that they might make all that I have commanded you...

One most important part of our calling is to be obedient. What does that mean?


It might mean putting away our writing for a season to raise children or when the financial need of our family means working more hours.


Perhaps he calls you to write in a different genre than you expect. I've been spending the bulk of my time on nonfiction writing.


Maybe there is something specific he wants you to share based on your unique experience.


Whatever it means, let's get down on our knees often and ask him about our writing lives. And take the time to listen to what he might have to share with us.




When God calls my attention to a specific character in scripture more than once I know I need to pay attention. I was surprised by how much a little known character in Exodus can teach us about how to live the creative life.






Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She writes and reviews for Library Journal and the website Wonderfully Woven.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Contest Entries: Cleaning Those Babies Up

Hi there! The weekend was filled with swim meets, fundraisers, writing and family, so I thought I would dig up an archived post to resonate with all the contest talk going on right now! 
Happy Monday!
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It's about that time. For a few GREAT contest opportunities out there...Namely, ACFW's Genesis Contest and the MBT Frasier.

Many of you might be tidying up those babies for contests as you read this. I know I am! And many of you might be reluctantly looking at last year's feedback, planning to tweak your entry based on “some” of that feedback.

Are you just “tweaking”?

lots of messiness in my house!
Do you go in with the mindset of taking the grammatical suggestions, the edits here and there...Maybe a misplaced comma or changing a word that's been used in the sentence above? Kinda like dabbing at a baby's food-caked face, but not really scrubbing away the mess?
Or....
Are you willing to make that BIG change...possibly rearranging entire scenes, OR, Heaven forbid, DELETING a scene altogether? Getting that big super-duty washcloth and start scrubbing? Maybe, your last feedback is a sign that the scene you love and hoped would attract the judges' favor, is not the scene for that moment in the manuscript...is not what hooks the reader after all.

freedigitalphotos.net by pod pad
Now don't get me wrong, I have certainly had some bogus feedback over the years. Don't go slashing away at your entry according to everything a judge says. You may have scrubbed that baby's face clean, and that scrutinizing mother-in-law type will still criticize (and to be clear, I have two of the best mother-in-laws, so this is pure third-party metaphor ;) ) No need to listen to that type of feedback...unless, of course, it rings true to you (insert cring and gnashing of teeth here).

BUT...

Do consider BIG changes, and DO brainstorm different starts of your chapter. This last entry I “tweaked” had me delete the first TWO scenes of my manuscript and start with a different character's POV. UGH!!!!! It was hard to do, but deep down, after receiving critiques and contest feedback over the past year, it had to be done. AND, I love it now! And I thought I LOVED it then, but just because it came out that way the first time I wrote it doesn't mean it has to stay that way.
It is art, after all.
freedigitalphotos.net by jomphong
We can start to mold the story and keep it in the perfectly simple shape that our hands first squeezed it into...OR, after smoothing it down, sloughing away the excess, we can create something more... evolve our creation to an even more beautiful work of art.

In other words...
Let's not coddle our baby so much that it never gets the chance to succeed to its fullest potential!

Let that baby GROW!!

Comment below and tell us the latest BIG changes you made to an entry or your manuscript. Have you reaped a contest win by using feedback from a previous year? Please share!
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Angie Dicken is a full-time mom and lives in the Midwest with her Texas Aggie sweetheart. An ACFW member since 2010, she has written five Historical Romance novels, has a Historical underway, and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Angie also spends her time designing one-sheets, selling Jamberry Nail Wraps, and drinking good coffee with great friends. Check out her author page at www.facebook.com/dicken.angie and her personal blog at angiedicken.blogspot.com 



Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Writer's Alley Weekend Round Up

Photo by Andi_Graf at pixabay.com
Ahhh...the nice brisk feeling of winter. Can you believe January is coming to a close? The good thing about that is February is right around the corner, and you know what that means?!?!

It's time for some ROMANCE! February, the month of love. The month of heart palpitations. The month of kisses. The month of dreaming of your future beau. The hopeful anticipation....sigh. It is going to be a great month here at The Writer's Alley.

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Make sure to stop by this week for some incredible posts from our Alley Cats. They are working to bring you great advice and lessons that will help you along your writing path.

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The Awesome Link Round Up
.
Get Rid of On-the-Nose Dialogue Once And For All (Helping Writers Become Authors)

The 100 Best Website for Writers in 2015 (The Write Life)

How to Give Constructive Writing Criticism (That Actually Helps)  - (Positive Writer)

How Susan Orlean Writes With Evernote (Evernote)

15 Reasons Not to Become a Writer (Helping Writers Become Authors)

10 Steps to Express Yourself Better in Writing (The Write Practice)

10 Key Factors That Will Determine the Future of Google+ (Copyblogger

Repetition, Redundancy, and Overused Punctuation - Oh My! (Live Write Thrive)