Thursday, July 18, 2019

Ten Ways Writers Can Utilize Their Time

Time for a writer is elusive. As I was thinking about a post for today, I remembered a post I did a couple of years ago. It was such a good reminder for me, I thought I'd share some of it again.

From July 2017:

Putting your behind in the chair and doing the work of writing is difficult. Whether you are putting new words on the page, editing a rough draft, or learning more about the craft, it takes time. It takes sacrifice. It takes discipline.

Life gets in the way. Your car breaks down. There's a funeral, a lunch date, FAFSA to fill out (can I just say UGH?), hair cuts, and...dare I say it?...toilets to clean.

So what do you do to make the most of your time, and feed your writerly self? Everyone has to decide for themselves. No one can do it for you, because only YOU knows what will work for YOU.

We all have to find the "thing" that helps us - that motivates us - into writing when it's hard.

Here is what I came up with - in no particular order.

Top 10 Ways to Utilize Your Time

1. Use a diction app and dictate a scene on your way to work, or while doing dishes, ironing, etc.

2. Listen to a craft book or podcast in the car while going to work or hauling kids to school.

3. Carry a Moleskin notebook in your purse to write down ideas for your story, prompts for short stories, or blog post ideas.

4. If you get stuck in your story, move on to another project. (I stole this from Tina because it is so helpful.)

5. Stay up 30 minutes later to write. (I get up at 5 am already....can't go earlier!)

6. Read a chapter of a craft book at lunch.

7. Email a chapter to your Kindle so that it is there when you are in a waiting room, carpool line, etc. Highlight things that you need to change.

8. Alternate cooking nights with your husband so you have more time to write.

9. Make a date with yourself once a week and go to the library, coffee shop, or park to write free from responsibilities at home.

10. Purchase a cute timer or use the one on your phone to write in 30 - 60 minute increments. Then set the timer for 15 minutes and clean a toilet or make the bed or do a load of laundry. Then get back to writing.

Nothing on my list is new. Many have already figured out the best way to get the most out of their day. But some of us need reminders that we can carve out extra time, and every minute we garner gets more words on the page.

What things have you found to help you carve out time and up your word count? 

Sherrinda Ketchersid is a born and bred Texan, preacher’s wife, mother of 4 children, and works part-time as a bookseller at Amazon. With the children grown and out of the house, she weaves tales of fierce knights and their ladies in a time where men were warriors and women had to be strong enough to keep them in check.

After taking time off from writing, she has returned with a new motto in place to spur her on. “Writers write. Everyone else makes excuses.” ~Jack Bickham.  No excuses this time. She is weaving her love of romance with history to bring joy and the hope of love to those who may one day read her stories. Her first book, Lord of Her Heart, released in May 2019.

You can connect with her through:
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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Five Lies Writers Believe

The past few weeks, I've had several discussions with writer friends that seem to come back to the same thing-- feelings we all share but think we experience in isolation. Today I want to talk about some lies we often believe about ourselves as writers as well as the writing life. I hope it encourages you to realize your story and your purpose are far greater than the discouragement whispering in your ear. Write on, friends.

  • I don't have time for writing. If God has given you a passion for stories, you can't afford not to write. He has designed writing as a means of communion and worship with him. After all, God is the ultimate creator! Be open to the fact that writing may look untraditional in certain seasons. For example, Pepper often dictates scenes to her phone whenever she doesn't have the time to write at her computer. You may even find these different methods free up some creativity!
  • This next manuscript is going to be "the one." I literally said this to my husband tonight at dinner. But you know what? There is no such thing as the one. There. I said it. Even after the contract, you'll want the one that hits a bestseller list. The one that wins awards. And so on and so on. There is no magical finish line, folks, and thank God for that-- can you imagine how disappointed we'd feel otherwise? Find contentment in what you have right where you are.
  • No one else understands the despair of rejection because I'm so sensitive, I feel it more deeply. Um, no. Just no. Rejection, isolation, and self-doubt are the rule rather than the exception. Even--dare I say especially--authors who we'd consider wildly successful feel these same emotions regularly. It's all part of being a writer.
  • God must not want me to write anymore because I asked him for a sign, and I haven't seen a baby alpaca commercial while lightning strikes and rainbows fill the skies. Sometimes, we get so excited about that-gave-me-chills moments of storytelling that we forget the vast majority of it is walking in faithful obedience to the calling we have received. Feel like God isn't speaking to you anymore? What is the last thing you're sure he told you to write/say/do? Have you moved on from that prematurely? Or, conversely, is it possible you have a seed for a new story idea that you haven't yet acknowledged? Do not despise the day of small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10).
  • I need to change __________ and write something different, because what I'm doing is not selling. Friends, I've been writing for a long time, and I have personally seen trends come and go again and again and again. It's amazing how industry professionals absolutely insist a trend is dead one year, only to find in another year or two that those books are suddenly on trend once more. If you write to the trends, you will never hit your creative potential. Write to your story, not to the market, and avoid the temptation to people-please what you imagine an editor wants to see.

Have you ever found yourself caught in one of these traps? What lies do you have to add to the list?


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 also an active member of ACFW. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her website - and while you're there, be sure to sign up for her newsletter!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

#TipfulTuesday The Heart or Business of Writing

Several of us gathered on the Alley and had a chat about the heart or business of writing. Oddly, I happened to listen to a conference recording about the same basic topic this week. Many great points were raised that I thought might interest you.

No matter the writer, there seems to be a crossroad that causes us to wonder. We have a story that is very dear to us. The story is pitched to editors and/or agents. We might receive no response or a rejection. Naturally, whether we admit it or not, we feel wounded. This story came from our heart and could help so many readers.

The editors/agents see our story and seem to know within seconds that this particular story would not fit the current need. Perhaps they signed a similar novel an hour before. Perhaps the quota for year had been met. There are many reasons that we don't always know.

From the business side, writers can attend conferences to learn what publishers need or are looking for. Writers could write stories for these needs and have a better chance to get published. But it isn’t the heart story.

The conclusion in this discussion so far has been: write the story on your heart, AND write stories to establish/grow a writing business, AND do both.

We are writers. We can choose to delve into that heart story OR write stories as a business. We could alternate. I know a few writers who do precisely this. There is no shame in either because God gave you the gift of writing.

So, feel the freedom to follow your calling.

write. Write. WRite. WRIte. WRITe. WRITE.

What are your thoughts? We’d love to have you join us in this discussion.

#TipfulTuesdasy #TheWritersAlleyBlog #Writing #writingbusiness #writingfromtheheart @MaryVeeWriter

~Mary Vee
Photo credit:

In my newsletter, readers take a virtual trip to various places. No bug spray. No packing. No passport. Explore something new in each letter! Sign up today at

Link to Mary's books:

Mary Vee -Rock climbing, white-water rafting, and hiking top Mary’s list of ways to enjoy a day. She was homeless for a time, was a teacher, a missionary, and married an Air Force vet. Mary has been a finalist in several writing contests and writes for her King.
Visit Mary at her WebsiteBlog, and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

One Easy Step to Improve Your Writing This Summer

With summer in full swing, the Independence Day celebration days away, there is a way to keep your writing skills sharp while having a BLAST.

Family gatherings. Beach trips. Fireworks. Laughing. Sand in toes. Barbecue. Great food. Sticky fingers. Messy little faces. Giggles. Sandcastles. Bike rides. AND MORE.

THIS is a moment to savor. Remember last years?

If you can spare five minutes you can follow this easy step to improve your writing.

Some time during the day, even if it is at night before you sleep, or morning with coffee, turn to the next blank sheet of paper or blank screen. In the spirit of summer, treat this moment as fun. No editing. All fun. No due date. Think about one isolated moment from the day. Something that brought a smile inside. Something that made you giggle. Something that touched your heart. Brought a tear. Write down what happened. Five minutes.

If nothing from the day stands out, dig back to your youth. Here is mine:

My parents took my sisters and I to the county fair. I was eight years old. One booth had balloons attached to a wall. The man shouted out to the crowds, "Break four in a row and win a prize!" Stuffed animals of all sizes sat on a high shelf above the balloons. I begged my mom to let me try to win a prize. Dad handed money to the man.

The man set four darts on the counter in front of me then called out to others passing by. "Come everyone. Break four in a row and win a prize." 

I picked up one dart. Behind me, music played from the carousel. I eyed the bear on the top shelf then the red balloon wagging in the breeze with fifty others and threw the dart. POP.

"The little lady broke a balloon. Come see. Come win a prize." The man shouted to the crowd.

I picked up the second dart, aimed at the blue balloon, and threw. POP.

"The little lady broke a second balloon. She can't possibly break a third. Step right up. Get four darts and try your luck. Win a prize!"

My mom leaned close. "See that pink duck?" She pointed. You could win that. Wouldn't that be nice?"

The pink duck was for babies. I wanted the bear. I picked up the third dart, aimed at the yellow balloon, and threw. POP.

"Honey, the pink duck is almost yours." 

"She broke a third balloon! She's broken three. Don't worry, little lady, you'll win a small prize even if you don't break the fourth. Step right up, Ladies and Gentlemen, and get your darts. Try to win a prize."

"The pink duck would be nice, honey."

"She won't break the fourth balloon." The man said to my mom.

I rarely ever caught a ball. I rarely ever tossed anything where it belonged. My eyes couldn't see like most people's eyes. An eye surgery at age five didn't fix the problem. If that fourth balloon broke, well, it wouldn't be because of my aim.

I looked up at that bear then picked up the fourth dart.

"She's broken three balloons. Can she break the fourth? I don't think so. Step right up. Come see the little lady try to break the fourth balloon. Get your darts and try to win a prize."

The green balloon wobbled in the breeze. I drew my arm back. The carousel's music blared behind me. Kids laughed. 

"Hurry. Hurry. Get your ice cream. Get your ice cold ice cream."

The dart flew away from my hand. The green balloon shifted to the left.

"Get your four darts. Win a prize."


My five minutes ended.

While cleaning the house for family visitors yesterday, I listened to recordings of this year's Blue Ridge Writer's Conference. The tip I shared today is from the session taught by Bob Hostetler's class on writing well.

It's your turn. Take five minutes.

Perhaps you are asking why? What are the benefits to these five minutes.

These five minutes are a source of great ideas. Thoughts. Expressions. Descriptions. Feelings. True senses from every aspect. Invaluable tools for your future stories and WIP.

Would you like to know what happened next at the balloon stand? Okay. Here it is.

"You won the pink duck, honey!" said my mom.

The man left his perch and walked to me. "The little lady won a prize!" He leaned closer. "What would you like?"

Mom put her arm around me and pointed to the pink duck. "Tell him you want that one."

The man didn't look at my mom. "You can pick the prize you want, little lady. What will it be?"

"I....want....the bear."

That bear visited school for show and tell the next day. Sat in my bedroom for years. Moved to my new home when I married. And became the favorite stuffed animal for my children. 

Yup. This was a true story.

~Mary Vee
Photo taken in Venice, by Mary Vee

In my newsletter, readers take a virtual trip to various places. No bug spray. No packing. No passport. Explore something new in each letter! Sign up today at

Link to Mary's books:

Mary Vee -Rock climbing, white-water rafting, and hiking top Mary’s list of ways to enjoy a day. She was homeless for a time, was a teacher, a missionary, and married an Air Force vet. Mary has been a finalist in several writing contests and writes for her King.
Visit Mary at her WebsiteBlog, and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Using Side Characters to Support a Story

Hello, Alley Pals! Laurie here, and I'm fresh off of my first significant vacation from work in a long time. What do you do when you have a three-week window until summer school? You read ALL. THE. THINGS. But alas, even during an intentional brain break, the writerly way of thinking never shuts off. So here is some fresh perspective from a (somewhat) rested, book-binged brain.

If you're like me and have fleshed out all your plot points, hit all the right arcs, and still find your story missing a little somethin-somethin, I encourage you to ask yourself this question:

How can the side characters make this story better?

Enough said.
It was the "supporting cast" that amped up the books I read during my hiatus. Like buying a gray Explorer and suddenly seeing that 60% of all the people on your side of town drive gray Explorers. Once I realized how much the side characters in a series I loved MADE the series, I couldn't unsee it in the next books I read. And here's my theory why they're important:
  • The qualities of side characters bring out the good or bad qualities of the protagonist, either by comparison or because their opposite traits make it more obvious (like a literary foil you learned about in senior English class).
  • The way a protagonist interacts with side characters shows his/her true colors. That jaded brute's soft side can come out in the care with which he treats his grandmother. The mean girl everyone believes is super sweet's true colors show when her private snippy conversation with her best friend is accidentally overheard. 
  • The side characters can also amplify a story's setting. Two words: Stars Hollow. The Gilmore Girls series and any other set in a small town (Hello, Melissa Tagg's Maple Valley) wouldn't be the same without the token town grump or that eccentric busybody. 
  • In addition to bringing dimension and entertainment to a plot, supporting characters often deliver important truth to help a protagonist grow and move the story along.  

Some questions to ask when plumping up your supporting cast: 
  • What are my characters' history together and is their dialogue informed by that? Do they have inside jokes or fight like brothers or finish each other's sentences?
  • What traits/flaws/weaknesses/strengths in the protagonist can the side characters amplify to strengthen the plot? Does this conflict foreshadow future changes or events? Do their interactions build reader sympathy for the protagonist and/or her mission in this story?
  • Have I built the camaraderie between these characters enough throughout the story to support this important heart-to-heart conversation?
  • Are my side characters organically developed or have I essentially info dumped about their backstory to the point that it bogs down this scene? Related: do I *show* through dialogue and intentional beats not *tell* through superfluous exposition? 
Who are your favorite ensemble casts or supporting characters? What do you enjoy about their interactions?


Laurie Tomlinson is the award-winning contemporary romance author of That’s When I KnewWith No Reservations, and The Long Game, currently featured in the Once Upon a Laugh novella collection. She believes that God’s love is unfailing, anything can be accomplished with a good to-do list, and that life should be celebrated with cupcakes and extra sprinkles.
You can connect with her on her WebsiteFacebook, and Instagram.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

#TipfulTuesday Scenes That Propel Story

#TipfulTuesday Scene Setting Tips
(The bridge in the photo is significant for this to the end to see why)

When the story scene moves to a new location, the writer provides a brief description, transporting the reader there.

The point of today's post is to show the flaw in that statement.

Yes, each new scene should have a description. 

Brief at first. More revealing as action and dialogue quickly take over. Readers want to know if they are underwater, on a mountaintop, in an office room, a small town, etc. This is essential for storycraft.

So, what is the error in the introductory sentence to this post?

"The writer provides."

Setting the scene will look very different depending on the POV character, and as a result, sets the tone and so much more. It's true!

Say, for example, the scene is in a living room. This is the first time this living room has been in the story.

The POV character is a female detective. Her boyfriend left for Italy with another woman on a business trip this morning. He didn't say goodbye. A body is on the floor. When the detective walks into the room does she first see the body or the Italian deco? Well, that would depend on where her mind is at that moment. Is she in the job? Then the body. If she struggles with her relationship, then the deco. 

Both will be described in this scene because both are essential. The Italian deco lets readers see more than just a body and carpet. Naturally, hidden clues can only be seen if the description takes readers beyond the body. Still, readers want to know more about the crime. Who died? A child, a woman, a man with a mask and a gun in his hand, etc.?

The first descriptive sentences of a scene propel the story forward, indicating exactly where the POV character's focus is. The first also tends to go deeper for that very reason.

Therefore both answers can be correct. It simply depends on the forward momentum of this story at this time. 

 A great resource for more information is, Kathy Tyers Writing Deep Viewpoint.

Do you have questions?

Oh, and the Venetian bridge in the photo served as the last view a prisoner received of the world before guards took him or her to prison. Can you image their POV when looking out this window? Changes the way you first looked at this photo. Right?

~Mary Vee
Photo taken in Venice, by Mary Vee

Would you like to visit Montana? I am taking a group on a virtual trip in my June 15th newsletter. No packing needed. No bug spray required. Explore something new in each letter! Sign up today at

Link to Mary's books:

Mary Vee -Rock climbing, white-water rafting, and hiking top Mary’s list of ways to enjoy a day. She was homeless for a time, was a teacher, a missionary, and married an Air Force vet. Mary has been a finalist in several writing contests and writes for her King.
Visit Mary at her WebsiteBlog, and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Illusive Writer's Voice

Among the numerous benefits of attending a writing conference is the opportunity to learn something new. Or better yet, finally untangling that crazy misconception of a specific topic.

I admit it, sharpening the focus on "voice" in terms of writing, has been as difficult for me as learning how to crochet. I still don't know how to crochet. 


Thanks to author Lisa Carter, an instructor at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer's Conference, I FINALLY UNDERSTAND completely, exactly, totally what an agent means when he or she says, I want to see your voice in your story. 

I can't help but tell the world of writers and spare the masses from the same puzzled look I've had.

When an agent or editor says he wants to see your voice in the manuscript, he or she expects to begin reading your story on page one, and due to the engaging writing and deep story, he feels more than compelled to read on...and dreads the bell ending the appointment time. Your twist on the plot. Your presentation of the characters. Your edited writing has sucked the reader into the story.

Any writer can write a given story. The resulting manuscripts of five authors given the same topic will be completely different because we include what we know, what we have experienced, our tastes, perceptions, feelings, hopes, anticipations, dreams, and etc. No two people, even twins, have walked the same exact road and therefore no two stories will be written the same exact way.

These are some ways to ensure our voice is present on the page:
1. Don't allow fear to stop you from confronting your fears and utter joys when keying words onto the page. Not fake, superficial emotions. Touch the heart.

2. Explore your passions. Although we are told to write what we know, we should write what we love. Then and only then will your voice enrich the story.

3. Keep a journal of your experiences. Record clear descriptions that tend to fade with time. Pour your emotions on the page so you can remember the feelings, then give those feelings to your characters.

4. Also, record daily details. What you see and think. Today you saw two people walking across the street. Yesterday you saw two different people walking across the street. How were they different. Dress. Body Language. Voice. These notes will enhance your writing. Most likely if I had seen the same two people, my observation list would look different. These differences are what flavor our voice when writing. If we both wrote a story about the two individuals, do you think the story would be different? Absolutely. 

Lisa gave several more points. Hopefully, the few I've highlights helped you to understand the concept.

One day at the conference, I saw an agent see my voice in my manuscript. This was the first time for me! The agent glanced at my one sheet, slightly grinned and tipped his head to the right then to the left. He asked for my first three chapters and began reading. He shielded his eyes with his hands blocking out other appointment distractions and read on. His eyes slid left to right and down the page. He whipped the first page aside and read on through the second page then looked at the time. 

His smile said he saw my voice in the story. 

I may not be able to crochet, but I finally, after so many years of learning how to write, have discovered how to write my voice into story.

Do you have questions?

~Mary Vee
Photo by Mary Vee

Link to Mary's books:

Mary Vee -Rock climbing, white-water rafting, and hiking top Mary’s list of ways to enjoy a day. She was homeless for a time, was a teacher, a missionary, and married an Air Force vet. Mary has been a finalist in several writing contests and writes for her King.
Visit Mary at her WebsiteBlog, and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter