Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Train Your Mind for Writing with Great Books

Julia: Some personal family health issues, so I'm sharing a post from the vault.

When's the last time you read a classic?

Summer is beach, pool, park and bleacher time. The perfect time for sunning yourself, enjoying a glass of iced tea and a good book.

Instead of a beach read why not refuel your mind with a time-tested read?

I hear you. Some of those novels break the writing rules we are often taught. They contain long paragraphs, more than the occasional run-on sentence. The plot twists and turns aren't always enough to keep you turning the pages. In fact, some of the conflict seems downright boring.

In our fast-paced society, do classics have a place and do they have anything to teach the modern writer?

1) Classics teach you to read S-L-O-W to absorb the layers.

As a fast food society, we want to be spoonfed. Studies have shown that on a screen our reading can be haphazard, missing key details. Our words per minute rate on our devices is higher, and that's not always a good thing. If you have a minute, here is a fascinating NY Times article on your brain's reaction to ebooks. According to one professor at the University of California, digital media doesn't balance attention well.

I have been swinging back from my kindle to paper books as over time I noticed my enjoyment of reading was less. I read through books quicker and I found with my favorite authors, I wanted to savor their words and it was easier to do with a library copy. However, when I"m reading a mystery, I actually prefer the ereader format. Just my personal opinion though.

Don't we want to write novels that readers can read over and over?  Books with depth that yield something new with each reading. C.S. Lewis believed the best books grow with us. Who better to learn from than celebrated greats of the writing world.

2) Reading great old books increases your vocabulary, which spills over into your writing.

Its no secret that the average reading level of an adult book is fifth grade. Borrow your grandparents McGuffey readers and you'll see that wasn't always the case. A few words may be obsolete, but it's still fun finding their origins. The average read doesn't send me to a dictionary, but Charles Dickens almost always does. The more words we know, the more shades of dimension we can offer to our descriptions and settings.

3) Your voice will grow and deepen as you observe other writers.

One of the most helpful exercises we were given in college was to try to imitate various authors. It was challenging. We were taught we needed to learn the fundamentals of style while developing our own.

So try it. What was your favorite book from your college years? Give it a slow reread and try to write in the author's style. Not only is imitation a form of flattery, it also leads to growth.

4) The best books challenge us to think and that reflects in our written work.

Classics include strong themes and such elements as foreshadowing. How can you strengthen the theme of your own story?

My husband and I had a recent discussion on Ayn Rand and the relevance of her novels for today. I've struggled to make it through Atlas Shrugged several times and lamented to him about the snail-like pace of the plot, sharing that I prefer modern authors. He argued that it was a hard book but I ought to stick it out because it has a lot to teach about the human condition. I have a feeling Rand belongs back on my summer reading list.

Les Miserables
So, how about it? I challenge you to read ONE classic this summer. 

---But where do I start?

Modern Library has a list of 100 best novels that might provide a good starting place. 

The Great Books List is divided by eras and provides plenty of choices.

The American Library Association's publication Booklist provides a database of award-winners.

What's your favorite classic and why? What did it teach you about writing craft?

 Julia Reffner is a writer and reviewer for Library Journal and a blogger for Wonderfully Woven. She lives in central Virginia with her husband, two children, and three ragdolls cats

Monday, July 25, 2016

Building Community As a Writer

This is a repost, but I thought it was good for those going to ACFW this year...a GREAT chance to build community! --Angie

If I never get published or win a contest, I have not traveled this writing road in vain. The friendships and people I've found along the way have blessed me more than a contract could, I am sure (although it'd be super nice to have one.;) ) Honestly, and I am a pretty transparent gal, the friendships I've found as I build my career, are priceless.

That being said, I have also discovered how community makes me a better writer. Community is of utmost importance in this writing venture, and looking at what has come from the nerve to call myself a writer, and to build a business without a "boss" (except the big One above), I can see how important relationships are as I build my career. I'll try and share some things I've discovered that have me look back and realize how my interactions with others equip me, and them, for the rest of the journey:

RELATIONSHIPS OFFER DIRECTION: First, you've got to get the word out there that you are even writing. I was shy to mention the thing I blew off as a "pipe-dream" when I first started, but if you've written words and you've cast a vision, then there is no reason to hide this calling. The thing is, I can hardly think of a time when I've taken that leap and declared myself as "a writer"that some kind of direction, for me or someone else, hasn't come from it. Whether it be a comparable book suggestion to what I'm writing or a connection to the local author I had no idea about, community is an important  setting for this journey.

For instance, I sat in a Bible study the other day, with women I didn't know, and thought to myself, "I have nothing in common with these people...what am I doing?" And then, I mentioned my writing, and a gal spoke up saying her husband was hiding away his talent and didn't know where to connect. Of course, I was a fountain of words at that point--gushing about ACFW and the Genesis contest. If I hadn't been open about my calling, and if that gal didn't have the courage to speak on behalf of her husband, we wouldn't have seen the amazing serendipity of sitting together and watching plans unfold. Her husband entered the contest...and is planning on going to conference this year! And, I have a new friend who supports me in my own journey since she understands the calling to write.

RELATIONSHIPS OFFER TOOLS: This extends from my last scenario. Wowsers. Relationships with writers and non-writers are huge in discovering the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, of the many tools that can be used for building your career. Yesterday, I learned the big scary (now, not-so-scary) world of website building--thanks to a casual conversation with a friend, but also the relationships I've made in networking, at conference, and my good ol' Facebook friends who are always willing to share if I ask.

When I first stepped into the world of writing, I found the best tools were critique groups through ACFW, a critique partner, and contest feedback. All the while, I was building relationships with others and discovering some best friends along the way. But if I was alone in this, and didn't have that support, I doubt I'd have a career needing tools at all.

RELATIONSHIPS OFFER MOTIVATION: This past weekend. I sat with two new-ish friends who are quickly becoming near and dear to me. And while we are each on different ventures toward a certain success (one friend is a health coach, and one is a direct-sales consultant), the encouragement, knowledge, and wisdom I received from opening up about my own dreams, revived my motivation for this not-for-the-faint-of-heart journey.

This is also how I feel after spending time with my AlleyCats who lift me up out of the deepest pits. And, it's also what I find after the end of another ACFW conference where I've surrounded myself with growing relationships and amazing people.

Please don't misunderstand me, I don't start relationships with the intent of finding what's in it for me. But because of the initial step toward community and friendship, I see the surprising fruit and harvest that comes from linking arms with like-minded people, both for me, and hopefully for them!

Do you have an example of a time when you "clicked" with someone and discovered help along the way of this writing journey?

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 six historical novels and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Angie also spends her time designing one-sheets and drinking good coffee with great friends. Check her personal blog at angiedicken.blogspot.com and connect at:
Twitter: @angiedicken

Friday, July 22, 2016

Does Your Writing Have Rhythm?

If you think in the economy of words, you'd probably use as few as possible, right? But how often do we actually think about how short we should write instead of how many words we need to make a novel?

Less is more

One hour was simply not enough to soak up all that Brandilyn Collins had to teach in this too-short class I sat through at ACFW national conference several years ago. I could easily sit through an entire early bird on what she had to tell. 

Words fascinate me. More than just stringing them together to tell a story, but words that evoke emotions. Develop a setting. Show the reader what is happening upon the screen we call a page. 

And I use too many of them. 
Click on the photo to see the changes Brandilyn made to a certain section of my manuscript.

One hour was enough to show me that so much more can be said in a stronger way if we use less words and more powerful words.

The key to this is the power behind the words. For example, take the before and after of these sentences I rewrote after Brandilyn's class:


A warm hand cupped Ellie’s elbow and guided her back to the spot where the brown-tinged grass caved under the press of her black shoes.


A warm hand cupped Ellie’s elbow, guiding her back to where the brown-tinged grass caved under her black shoes. 

How about another one? One that is a little more dramatic in the changes.

She wanted to stop them. Grab their perfect black scarves, coats, gloves. Make them realize this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. She was supposed to be able to learn how to be a good wife instead of a good widow. She would have planned better, tried harder had she known…

Ellie wanted to stop them. Grab their perfect scarves and coats. Make them see this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. She was supposed to have the chance to learn how to be a good wife. Not a widow. 

Do you see that not only did I use less words, but I also used more powerful words? The second one packed more of a punch right? And because I actually used less words your brain didn't have to dig through all the extraneous stuff just to find the meaning to the sentence and the paragraph.

Sentence length also dramatically affects the rhythm and communicates without words to the reader their emotions. If your sentences are filled with descriptions and are long languid run-on sentences, and your scene is a fight, what emotion are you going to evoke in your reader? Not fear. In fact (and this happens to me too often), I'll be reading (or rather skimming) something and realize two paragraphs in that this was a fight/kidnapping/disagreement/argument and I had NO idea because the descriptions, word choice and sentence length did not cue me into the fact that there was something happening!

Word selection in and of itself is not enough. Once I started thinking about the length of my physical sentences, the sound of my writing started to change. You want the overall flow to match the mood of the scene, so keep this in the forefront of your mind as you are editing and changing. So often I didn't so much rewrite what I had written, but cut the extra words that were only drowning the important pieces of information. Once I started looking at my story in this way, I found plenty of places to cut the extra verbiage! 

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in colorful Colorado where she gets to live her dream stalking--er--visiting with her favorite CO authors. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Birth of a Dream

I stopped by a garage sale in my neighborhood a while back.

In the driveway was a box of a few books. As I was looking through them, the lady managing the sale told me, "There are a bunch of other books over here too if you're interested."

I walked over, and yeah, I barely could control my grin.


I bought 15 books from that garage sale at .25 cents each. Most all in like-new condition. (most of these weren't ones I would have purchased new anyway, but for a quarter I'd give them a try, so no writer's guilt...)

The writer I am had to ask who the reader of the house was. Come to find out, it was an elderly woman who was "downsizing" and moving into an apartment/assisted living.

Instantly my mind went to my own grandma. Memories of going to her house and searching her bookshelf flooded my heart. My grandma's bookshelf held my first taste of Christian Fiction, Janette Oke, Lori Wick, and Grace Livingston Hill, to be exact.

A few years ago, my grandparents moved into a nursing home/assisted living facility, and my mother salvaged a few of the books for me from the similar garage sale.  There are no words to tell you how special those books are to me. They are how I fell in love with books, they are what birthed the dream of being a writer someday.

Sometimes, in all the craziness of everything, I like to pick one of them up, snuggle up with a blanket, and read one of those "old" books of grandma's. They make me smile, they made me remember, and they make me appreciate the journey.

Because this writing life IS a journey, a crazy, fun, scary, wild, sweet, wonderful journey.

It also makes me appreciate anew the simple act and pleasure of reading a book.

Those "non"-bookies don't always understand this emotional connection we have to a book. It doesn't really make a lot of sense. But it's special. I can't aptly put it into words (oddly enough!) but it just plain is!

Discussion: What was your first "memorable" book you read? Who inspired YOUR writing journey at it's infant stage?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How to Intrigue, Compel, Inspire, & Embolden Reader AND Writer...I Love This Story!

The photo above stirs an interesting topic.

Deep down, the reader is not the only one who needs to be intrigued, compelled, inspired, and emboldened on a character's journey.

A great writer can not only craft words to help the reader desire to take this journey, but also help himself to reveal this character's journey then next and the next.

Unless the writer is totally, completely, 100% captured by the story--ready to grab a tissue and bawl, laugh out loud, scream at the jerk, require medical treatment because the pain felt by the character seems so real--the reader won't be. And the reader wants to!

I sat down at my computer three days ago and opened a completed manuscript. The first layers of dust had accumulated, which made it ripe for a new reading.

The story is in the hands of an editor, but I--I thought about the MC, and although I knew her story, I just wanted to read it again. 

Not for editing.

But just because the characters and their journey gave me pleasure. 

I wondered if I would feel the same after I brushed away the dust. Would I still, dare I say, love this story after giving my heart to a new WIP?

I opened the document and began to read aloud to myself. Hmmm. Yes, I thought, the beginning is good.

The writer in me popped out, tweaking a word or two as I laughed at the jokes and became anxious with MC. Her journey was so very difficult. A paragraph didn't feel exactly right so I rewrote it. Yes, I thought. This is what would have happened. This is more what MC thought and said.

I pictured the scenes and lamented with MC during the harsh and difficult times. The sting of  MC's pain pricked me. Her disappointments saddened me. And because the reading out loud sucked me into the setting, I wondered again, would she survive? 

The cohesiveness of the story meshed together like a finely woven tapestry. If any story ever had a chance to impact readers as it did MC, this was the one.

I found myself unwilling to tear my eyes away from the page. Could the laundry wait five more minutes? MC is hurting. I need to walk with her. I didn't even dare to refill my coffee cup.

MC's story, yes, this very journey had become one she could share with others who have had similar experiences. And now, since she has survived to the last page of the book, she can comfort readers with a sincere empathy.

I love this story.

It is more than ink on a page. More than writing rules obeyed. More than writing mechanics. 

This is MC's story. A story to be shared. A story to be reread and loved. A story to be experienced by not only readers, but also me--the writer.

And so I challenge you--

Open up a completed manuscript. The work can be published or not. It can be your first completed work or last. 

Close your eyes. Think of your stories. Which is the first to bring a smile to your face, (of course all your stories are pleasing, but we are picking one. Only one. ONLY ONE).

What is the title of the story?

Who is MC?

Now, grab these important items:
1. Your favorite beverage
2. Your favorite memory object in your home, can be a pet, knickknack, stuffed animal, photo, etc.
3. Put on comfy clothes
4. Sit in a comfy chair
5. Choose background music that matches the setting or plot of your book...cannot be one with words.
6. You favorite snack: chocolate?
7. Turn off FB, email, any other distractors.
8. Try to be by yourself
9. Tissues

The goal: in less than one week, read MC's story out loud to yourself, this is important because it will keep you from scan reading. Include animations.

Slip into the story. Wholly. Feel MC's emotions. Go to MC's home. Eat with MC. Feel warm, cold, wet from rain, filled with the scents of the meadow, forrest, or ocean in MC's setting. 

So in love with this story.

It's swirling in your mind.

How did it happen? This beautiful story?

Don't you feel like writing another one? Has a new story idea popped in your head? Are you excited to write more words for your WIP today? Good. Go. Do it.


Please write the name of your chosen story for this challenge and MC's name in the comment section. 

Then--when you finish reading your story, come back and tell us how it intrigued,compelled, inspired, and emboldened you, the writer to create another story for readers.

I will start. The story is called: Mist. MC's name is: Liz. My heart is still beating wildly from reading the conclusion. 

Your's will, too when you finish yours.

I can't wait to read your comment(s)!

Help others--tweet or FB share this post


Rock climbing, white-water rafting, zip lining, and hiking top Mary's list of great ways to enjoy a day. Such adventures can be found in her stories as well.

Mary writes young adult mystery/suspense, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and tell Bible event stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids. She has finaled in several writing contests.

Visit Mary at her websiteblog, and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

All subscribers to Mary's newsletter will receive her new short story an intriguing suspense/mystery. Come, read a good story. To get your free gift, sign up for the newsletter at Mary's website or:  Join the adventure!


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

How to Promote Your Work Without Being Pushy

Hi, friends! Laurie here. With conference season upon us, it's time to start thinking about pitching, so I thought this older post would be rather appropriate right now! <3

For many, the primary goal at a writer's conference is to get their work in front of agents and editors. There are usually first-come-first-serve appointment slots available, and there are also more organic opportunities to meet these professionals, as well. Ashley wrote a fantastic post about pitching, and I wanted to expand on that fine line between promoting yourself and being pushy.

Let me put it out there that I know all of our Alley readers are decent human beings with the best intentions. But sometimes nervousness and introvert overcompensation can cloud our judgment, and my hope is that we can find a healthy balance between the natural tendency to undersell ourselves and giving our work the visibility it deserves.

Allow me to demonstrate (pretty please).

At my first conference, before any of us were agented, some friends of mine and I approached an agent to thank him after a really informative panel. None of us even had the intention of pitching to him at that conference, but he ended up talking with us for at least thirty minutes at the bottom of an escalator about several different things, including what we write. It was such an excellent conversation!

And then this woman we didn't know approached, eyes zoned in on the agent, hovering uncomfortably close to us for a few minutes until he finally--reluctantly--made eye contact and she felt it okay to interrupt. This is not the way to get someone's attention. In fact, this is pretty much a surefire way to get an agent to tell you to email an assistant at best and flat-out reject you on the spot at worst.

In my experience at conferences, working commission retail, pitching authors to media outlets, and even what I learned mattress shopping tonight, there are better ways to promote your work than being pushy. Because I want you to be bold and own your talent without banishing yourself to no-man's land.

1) Form some kind of relationship before you begin to sell. Whether you get seated next to an agent at a conference meal or you're meeting the professional for the first time at your 15-minute appointment slot, briefly talk about something else to break the ice. A favorite book they edited, a client they represent, something he or she said in a class or panel. Anything to ease into the conversation and calm your nerves. Don't wax poetic and waste half of your allotted time, but don't immediately launch into your pitch without silently establishing that you respect this person as a human being and not just a means to accomplish your goals. Rule of thumb: remember to consider it a conversation.

2) If you have to be negative about something else to sell yourself, you're doing it wrong. Remember that authors, agents, and editors are often friends with each other even if they've never worked together. It's a very small world in publishing, so make sure your focus is on the positive aspects of your work and what you have to offer them. Make sure you're not stepping on someone else's face to get a leg up. Or else you're no better than the political candidates spamming your mailbox with hate mail every election season.

3) Use discernment. Pay close attention to nonverbal cues, tone of voice, posture. I'd venture to say that generally you shouldn't pitch to someone unless it's invited. Though chance pitches are successful occasionally -- my critique partner got a full manuscript request from her agent at the hotel bar -- it's best not to catch a professional off guard, engrossed in something else, or when he/she is clearly clocked out for the day.

4) Remember that your pitch sets the tone of what kind of person you'll be to work with. You can show them you're serious about publication and confident in your work without being arrogant. Take advantage of this opportunity to highlight the key, sellable aspects of your book with boldness. And make sure to keep it real. Agents and editors have heard about many life-changing, ground-breaking, sure-to-be bestsellers, so that aspect alone will not sell your book :)

A gracious, confident conversation will, on the other hand, give you the best chance for success!

Have you had successes or failures pitching to an agent or editor at a writing conference? Will this be your first time? Let us know in the comments!


Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who is passionate about intentional living, all things color-coded, and stories of grace in the beautiful mess. Previously a full-time book publicist, she owns a freelance copywriting, editing, and PR consulting business called 1624 Communications

She's a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a two-time Genesis Award winner, and the runner-up in the 2015 Lone Star Contest's Inspirational category. 
Her debut contemporary romance novel will release in 2017 from Harlequin Heartwarming.

You can connect with Laurie here:
Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson

Monday, July 18, 2016

AlleyCat Chat: Let's Hear From YOU!

The Writer’s Alley popped into cyberspace over five years ago and one of our main purposes has been to encourage new (and even experienced) authors along the writing journey. Our tagline truly speaks our heart here at The Alley: Where Friends and Stories Meet. We LOVE talking about stories and making new friends.

We also love to HEAR from our readers.

As the Alleycats plan for a new year, we want to hear from you. Please share a few things for us by answering these questions.

1.       What are some of the posts/information you’ve appreciated most from The Writer’s Alley?


What topics have we shared that you’d like to see covered in more detail?

3.       What topics have we not discussed that you’d like to read about?

4.       If you have a few top posts from TWA, would you share them in the comments below?

5.       Of the following topics, which two do you prefer in our blog posts:
a.       Marketing strategies
b.      Devotionals
c.       Personal writing stories
d.      Character development/writing posts
e.      Story creation/crafting posts
f.        Interviews/Guest posts
g.       Character interviews
h.      Publishing techniques/information (e-books vs print, different houses)
i.         Conference-ready posts (pitching, one-sheets, blurbs, etc)
j.        Other (please specify in the comments)

We blog for YOU so we want to hear from YOU!! As we move ahead to make TWA a helpful, encouraging, and functional site, the best way to make plans is to get the audience involved in the process. How can TWA serve you better?

And be on the watch from some exciting news in the upcoming weeks about changes happening here at The Alley!

Where Friends and Stories Meet.