Thursday, October 30, 2014

I Gave Myself a Deadline --- NOW what?


I have a love/hate relationship with them.

Having gone through the process of having deadlines with my first traditionally published book, Sandwich, with a Side of Romance, I know their value and their horror.

There is something GRAND about having someone else tell you, "I need by ." I know, it doesn't SOUND grand. But to have a concrete date to work by and plan by is kinda nice sometimes. It helps prioritizing be made easier. It gives a really good excuse to bow out of things, "Sorry, I can't. I'm on deadline."

But there is also a lot of STRESS in that word too. What if I can't do it? What if I don't have it done by then? Will they cancel my contract? Will they think I'm a difficult author if I don't meet it and refuse to contract me again??? It's like watching a bomb with seconds tick down on it while you're trying to defuse it and save your entire city from distruction... Okay, maybe not exactly like that, but you can see the parallels, right?!?

I'm now on a different time table though.

I'm indie-publishing at the moment (while working on that next contract though...) so my deadlines are all self-given.


Here's the thing about self-given deadlines.

You still have the stress.

But none of the grandure. You have a date but there is now power behind it. It's a concrete date, but our brains (or, at least MY brain) views that word "concrete" more like "sandy" giving it more flexibility than it needs.

So how do we make ourselves, as indie published authors OR unpublished authors trying to stay on top of things, keep our internal deadlines?

Here are a few tips from an author who has self-admittedly not figured it all out yet... but is trying!

- BE SPECIFIC. Don't say, "I want to have my first draft done by fall." or even "I want to have it done by November." No, Make that November 14th at 11:59pm, thank you very much. It makes that "sandy" deadline a little more firm.

- PLAN SOCIAL MEDIA around your deadline. I have a deadline of having my first draft of my next book COMPLETED by Tuesday at 11:59 p.m.So, I announced that I'd be taking the week prior to that off of blogging. I knew doing both would divide my attention and I needed to focus as much as possible on meeting my deadline. I'm limiting Facebook time (I really SHOULD limit it more) and bowed out of a few other personal things because I knew I needed to prioritize my writing. Social media should SUPPORT your writing, not distract from it.

- BE REALISTIC. "I'm going to finish my 80k word romance in two weeks! YES I CAN DO IT!" No--- you probably can't. I mean, maybe, but probably not. Make a goal that is realistic for you to hit, otherwise you're setting yourself of for failure.

- DO THE MATH. How many words do you write a day? Let's say 1,000. Divide that by 80k... that's 80 days. Let's say you write 5 days a week (everyone needs a break) so that's 16 weeks or about 4 months to get a first draft done. Set your date accordingly, and also factor in great things like holidays and vacations and busy times of the year, and add time accordingly. Do your OWN math with your OWN numbers, and set that deadline.

What about you? What things do you do to help hit your internal deadlines? Or do you just not MAKE deadlines? I'd love to know your thoughts either way!

Krista is a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, and author of Sandwich, With a Side of Romance and A Side of Faith. She blogs about finding JOY in the journey of LIFE at She is represented by Sarah Freese of Wordserve Literary.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Purposeful Writing-Clarity vs the Obvious

Photo Courtesy

Have you read a portion of a book and felt lost? Not lost in a good way-like captivated in the adventure and unable to hear even the phone ring--but floundering around the words, wondering where the story was going.

As writers we often get caught up in our stories. We envelop ourselves with our character's world knowing what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. Our fingers tap the keys faster than Superman can fly spilling events, settings, heartaches, and triumphs on the page. 

This is good, but can be a problem for our readers. How?

1. A detail is skipped. While writing, our minds visualize the scene. We know what it looks like and forget the reader is not with us until we take them there. It's like the time I sat in the passenger seat, responsible for directing the driver to where we were going. Caught up in conversation, I forget to tell him to turn. The first thought was: he didn't turn. Second thought: oh yeah, I forgot to tell him.

Who can save us? Crit partners. The crit partner's fresh eyes catches these mistakes in lightening speed. I must admit, when someone points out a skipped detail in my work I first think- Nah. It's there. They just didn't see it. Then I humble myself, reread the section and realize I need to thank my crit partner. Here is a post to help if you need a crit partner: Ten Ways to Find/Be a Crit Partner

2. Black and white words. Dragnet style writing--like a case study. We as writers plan what is included in a scene and start to write. We have the details-get the MC on the train and to grandmother's house before the wolf arrives. Train rides can be boring, right? Nothing but scenery, kids screaming, people talking, and hot coffee being spilled. The walk to grandmother's house isn't that interesting either. Walking through woods can be boring, right? Nothing but twigs snapping, leaves blowing in the wind, animals howling. The goal is to get to grandmother's house. 

But had the MC been allowed to share her feelings on the page, the reader would have known someone with bad breath-like they ate pork, sat behind her on the train. The person must have had a cold for all the huffing they did. And when the MC walked through the woods, an animal, slightly bigger than a dog, kept pace with her but at a distance as if insuring she went the correct way. The suspense builds in the train and the woods leaving the reader ripe for what terrible event may happen at grandmother's house.

When you finish a scene, go back and look for places that may have been rushed. Here is a post by Alley Cat Casey Herringshaw to help: Show Me-Don't Tell Me

3. Dramatic effect. Every story, no matter what the genre, has scenes where emotion can be hyped. Overdone emotion, even suspense, loses the intended result. The reader feels insulted because the obvious was slapped in their face. 

Signs of unnecessary dramatic effect in our writing are:

* The "!"   A well written scene about a lion attacking the MC will show the pounding paws, the huge teeth, the piercing claws, the booming roar, the excruciating pain, etc. No "!" needed. A well written scene about a soldier returning from war to surprise his wife will show her heart pulsing, his gorgeous face, the scent she's missed, the comfort of his embrace, his warm lips touching hers, and the passion overwhelming every thought. No "!" needed.

*Repeated words   Rarely is a repeated word necessary-even for dramatic effect. This includes synonyms and rephrasing of the same word or phrase. Like a good medicine, this technique only works when used sparingly--maybe once in a manuscript.  

However, repeated words can work well in humor. In the movie Second Hand Lions, the mother looks at her boyfriend laying on the ground, "He's dead, dead, dead." In the movie, Clue, Tim Curry repeats the events leading to each death before adding the new detail. 

4. Writing the Obvious  Writers caught up in their story world sometimes include the obvious when their excellent words before and after expressed the meaning perfectly. Cut these words from your scene. Here are some examples:

She picked up her favorite ball point pen and scrawled her killer's name on the last piece of stationery from her desk, then collapsed.  Unless this pen or the stationery is important evidence, even as a red herring, delete them.  She scrawled her killer's name then collapsed. While this may sound too short, other essential words can heighten the suspense.

She wiped a tear with a tissue from the box on the end table. OR She wiped a tear using her index finger. The only needed words are: She wiped a tear. The rest is obvious in a well written scene.

He brought the hammer down, determined to force the nail into the stud. "Daddy?" called his daughter. Her sweet voice distracted him the second his hammer made contact. "Ow!" The impact jarred him senseless. He jerked his thumb away thinking the four letter words he couldn't say. You probably guessed already. The obvious word here is "Ow!" Delete it.

Fixing clarity and obvious issues doesn't mean we should write more words or less. It means write what best paints the picture.

I chose this topic because this is my quirk. My crit partner, bless her heart, fills the right column of my submissions with comments about adding clarity and weeding out the obvious. I'm learning. 

Reader-Since I am learning this topic along with you, help me by suggesting other ways we make mistakes with clarity and writing the obvious. Do you have another example for any of the points above? 


If you found any typos in today's post...Mary Vee, (that's me sheepishly grinning), is waving her hand as the guilty party. 

If you have questions or would like this topic discussed in greater detail, let me know in the comment section. I'll gladly do the research and write a post...just for you :)

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes young adult adventure Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Creating Conflict in Romance

A novelist's body of work is an evolution. I've never heard of anyone who's gotten it perfect the first time, but you can correct me if I'm wrong in the comments.

The only two novels I've written so far were a hot. mess. in their first draft forms, probably aided by the fact that I wrote extremely out of order and then had to backtrack when I learned important things 75% of the way through. :) 

But 100% of the time, these major changes were due to conflict issues. I've learned that much. As I'm getting into my third manuscript, I've been doing a little research up front to see if the process will be different for me this time. Maybe a little, um, faster. 

A really sweet writer friend whose work I adore sent me the book On Writing Romance by Leigh Michaels (Writer's Digest Books). Here's what I've learned---because friends don't let friends' romance novels suffer where conflict is concerned.

Let's start from the very basics. There are two kinds of conflict: long-term + short-term

  • The short-term conflict (external conflict) usually occurs at the beginning of the story. It's the initial disagreement or problem between the hero and the heroine. This can be shared between the characters or two separate problems that are somehow related. 
  • The long-term conflict (internal conflict) relates to issues in the hero/heroine's personality or past that make it seem like they could never end up together at the end of the story. It's best to have specific, concrete reasons these internal issues exist. (The bigger the irony, the more delicious the clash!)

So how can you create conflict that doesn't feel weak or contrived? 

  • According to Leigh Michaels' list, legitimate conflict ISN'T solely about fighting, a delay in progress toward the characters' goal, a simple communication fail that could be solved with a decent conversation, interference by someone else, or unwillingness to admit attraction. 
  • The short-term conflict should highlight or exacerbate the long-term conflict, contribute to character complexity, and entangle the hero and heroine together while showing why they don't belong together. It's not a series of separate calamities or problematic events. What happens to the characters should always have some significance in revealing something about them and advancing the plot. 
  • In reality, when there's strong conflict between two individuals, more than likely they will avoid each other at all costs. So there must be legitimate reasons the hero and heroine have to interact in proximity with one another; the strength of their reason to stick together must correspond to the strength of the conflict.
  • It's important for the conflict to be strong enough to persist throughout the duration of the story, but to still be salvageable in time for a believable conclusion. If one character's long-term problem is really difficult, the other's may need to be more easily resolved. 
As I sat down to learn more about conflict, I realized there's no way to cover every base and include examples in a succinct blog post. It's kind of a complex subject, ironically. So this is just a basic introduction to conflict with more posts likely to follow as I explore. But I'll leave you with one practical recommendation, the first place I started when evaluating how to amp up the conflict between my hero and heroine: 

What are your best tips for brainstorming compelling conflict? What are some examples of long-term vs. short-term conflict you've found in your favorite novels? If you're having an issue developing conflict in your current WIP, let's brainstorm in the comments.

PS: If you haven't entered the giveaway on my website yet, I'm giving away a $25 gift card + a copy of Katherine Reay's award-winning Dear Mr. Knightley, its anticipated follow-up, Lizzy & Jane, and other goodies! You can enter here, too! And when you're finished with the books, we can talk about their conflict 'til we're blue in the face :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who enjoys stories of grace in the beautiful mess. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and received the Genesis Award in 2013 (Contemporary) and 2014 (Romance). Her work is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.

You can connect with Laurie here:

Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pinterest Tips for Authors, Part 1

So excited to have former Alleycat, Sarah Forgrave with us today talking about PINTEREST!!
Welcome SARAH!
I've recently jumped headfirst into the world of Pinterest and love it so much that Pepper invited me to share my enthusiasm here on the Alley. To which I said, “Of course!” J

Pinterest can be a fantastic tool for authors to create a human connection to their friends, readers, and fellow writers.

As I started mining this topic, I had so much to share, I’ve decided to split it into two parts. This post will focus on ideas of what authors can pin to enhance their presence and brand. Next week, I’ll talk about specific ways you can connect with the people you hope to find on Pinterest.

So let’s dive in with What to Pin:

1)      Research – Many authors create boards for a specific topic they’re researching for their books, such as historical events or setting details. Pinterest can be a great way to store all those resources in one place.


2)      Storyboards – I’ve done this for my Guideposts story that just released and also for a full-length book I’ve recently finished. These boards can include character photos, setting photos, sayings that relate to the book, or any other items that give your readers an overall sense of the story and ignite their interest.


One example of how this can increase reader engagement: When I was reading my friend Jody Hedlund’s book, Unending Devotion, I wanted to really picture what the hero looked like. So I looked up her Pinterest board and found the photo she’d posted of an actor who resembled her hero. The detailed visual made me dive in and love the book all the more!


3)      Any topics related to your books and/or writing themes – For me, this might be organ donation, since the heroine of my latest book is a heart transplant recipient. Or I also pin a lot of health and fitness information and motivators. Both of these topics are found in my books and are also things I’m deeply invested in in real life. Historical writers might post beautiful flowing dresses that relate to the time period they write. (Laura Frantz is famous for this.)


4)      Anything else that interests you – Even if it doesn’t relate specifically to your book, enjoy all the fun that Pinterest has to offer. By pinning the things that interest you personally, it will make you more human to your readers. For instance, I love to pin recipes, inspirational quotes, travel photos, reading and writing quotes, mom tips and encouragement, and more. Any time we connect with others on an organic level, the stronger that connection will be.


5)      Secret Boards – These are found at the bottom of your profile page and are only visible to you, meaning they don’t show up in anyone’s Pinterest feed and no one can see them when they view your profile. They can be a great tool for writers. For instance, I like to find intriguing photos of people that would make great future characters. I’ve created secret boards for future heroes/heroines where I store all these photos for possible use later, when I would then pin them to their official storyboard. Some authors choose to create future hero/heroine boards and make them public. Neither way is right or wrong. It’s just up to you to decide if you want all your writer friends to steal that one amazing character from under your nose. J

Of course, these are all suggestions to spark ideas, not black-and-white do’s and don’ts. Take what resonates with you and feel free to skip the rest. The most important thing is to have fun and post what interests you.

Have you joined the wonderful world of Pinterest yet? Why or why not? What are your favorite things to pin?


Sarah Forgrave is a work-at-home mom who feels blessed to do what she loves – raise her two children while writing stories that inspire. Her work has been featured in Guideposts’ A Cup of Christmas Cheer, as well as the webzine Ungrind and the Pearl Girls™ book, Mother of Pearl: Luminous Lessons and Iridescent Faith. When she’s not writing, she enjoys teaching fitness classes, shopping the produce section of her local grocery store, and hanging out with her family in their Midwest home. To connect with Sarah, you can find her online at her website, her Facebook page, and, of course, Pinterest.


Research photo by audfriday13/

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Writer's Alley Weekend Round-Up

Photo by imagerymajestic

Oh my, life gets crazy, doesn't it? I cannot believe that November is just around the corner, with December not far behind! Does that frighten your socks off? Don't fret, my friends, we have a great week lined up for you and some exciting news from one of our very own Alley Cats!

The Writer's Alley Weekly Round-Up

Monday - Pepper is hosting guest, Sarah Forgrave, who will be sharing how to use Pinterest in story crafting (Part 1).

Tuesday - Laurie is talking about writing conflict and tension into your story...and hopefully keeping you from having too many "rewrites".

Wednesday - Mary's got a great post lined up for you: Purposeful Writing - Clarity vs. The Obvious

Thursday - Krista has been battling deadlines, and has some great things to share in her post entitled, I Gave Myself A Deadline - Now What?

Friday - Casey will be sharing  How To Avoid White Noise Marketing. Fascinating!

The Alley Cat Shout Out

Alley Cat Karen Shravemade's debut book just came out this week and we are so very proud of her! The title is "Your Beautiful Life - Living your most creative life at home with kids." It's written for stay-home moms and homemakers who desire to live their best life where they are, in the season they're in. You can find out more and grab a free copy HERE. Yes, you heard me right! Her book is FREE! Go and get your copy today! 

The Awesome Link Round-Up

Author Beth Wiseman Talks About 3-D Characters (The Borrowed Book)

Does My Book Need A Prologue? (Go Teen Writer)

Everything I Need To Know About Plot, I Learned From Buffy (Writer Unboxed)

How To Supercharge Your Writing: Use This Cinematic Technique (Write To Done)

Deconstructing Micro-Tension (Writer Unboxed)

Have a great and awesome week!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Kiss a little longer...

Very often we write what we know. Little slivers of ourselves wedge into those characters we create. They like the things we enjoy. Say things we typically use in conversation. Work in a field we at least know something about.

At the same time, when we craft a story we step into someone else’s shoes and live outside our box. Which means RESEARCH. After all, crime writers aren’t always in law enforcement. Time travel is out so historical authors can only research a time long past. Fantasy writers venture out into a completely different realm of imagination.

But that’s the thing I love about writing romance. Your real life experience AND your research are right at your fingertips and, well… fun! Granted, there are usually other aspects of the story that also involve research and experience but for the purposes of this post we’re staying on the love train.

A few months back I read this article called The "15-Second Kiss" Experiment. The basic premise of the article states that couples should commit to a “15 second kiss” each day to stay connected. Fifteen seconds doesn’t seem like very long, but honestly, if you are timing it, it’s a decent chunk of time. Enough time for a kiss to shift from chaste-mindless peck to something more intimate. You might get so caught up in your busyness and your routine that something as simple and as lovely as a real kiss becomes something you begin to neglect.

To be honest, I tried the experiment, and sadly, after a few days the mandatory fifteen second smooch got lost in the shuffle again. But the thing is, I still think about it. No, I don’t log my kiss on the calendar with a tidy little check mark, but when I’m snuggled next to my hubby at the end of the day I ask myself if we had a moment of intimacy or if the romance got trampled under the dirty diapers and the pile of Lego's. And then I think, wouldn’t that starry-eyed 13-year old Amy be sad to know that once she did snag her handsome prince and got to making babies that all those kisses she’d dreamed up got taken for granted? That it all just became mundane and routine? Is that the love story we would write for ourselves? Not this girl!

Since I’m such a hopeless romantic at heart, and since I tend to love reading and write all things schmaltzy, and spicey, and romancey, I realized that my interactions with my husband aren’t just personal experience I draw from for inspiration but also research. Really, really fun research!

It boils down to this... (you may want to jot this down.)
If you want to write great romance BE ROMANTIC!

Take note of the things you do that ignite that certain spark from your main squeeze. Try new things. Jump on that man when he walks through the door and plant one on him. Hold hands. Give a massage. Write a love note. Concentrate on the sensations that might have become commonplace after years of hitting that comfortable stride. Tastes, scents, textures that might have become so second nature they’re almost invisible are all still there if you bother looking for them…. And they all become a beautiful palate of flavors for writing a romance novel.

So go ahead, in the name of research, kiss a little longer. Why the heck not, right?

Curious minds want to know… do you kiss your sweetie every day? Even if you don’t, do you still take the time to really kiss? If not this is your wake up call. Side effects of kissing can include an endorphin rush, feelings of connection and desirability, foot popping, smiling, and general happiness. Warning: Kissing may lead to other fun frisky behavior guaranteed to improve your day. Get to smoochin’ people!
Amy Leigh Simpson is a writer, singer, runner, foodie, coffee-lovin’-chocoholic. When she’s not dreaming up saucy love stories sprinkled with suspense and mystery, she’s chasing around her two adorable tow-headed toddler miscreants (Ahem)—boys, playing dress up with her miracle princess baby, and being the very blessed wife to the coolest, most hunky hero on the planet (sorry, ladies—taken). Though Amy doesn’t use her Sports Medicine degree for anything but patching up daily boo boo’s, she enjoys weaving medical aspects into her writing. Represented by the oh-so-wise and dashing Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary Inc.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Finding the Courage to Hit Send!

You've spent months, maybe even years, working on your story. You've read, and reread, and reread its pages so many times that the characters seem real and the lines feel like they've actually been spoken. You love this story, and maybe you hate it a little too. I think all writers have this dream of seeing their book on the shelf every time they walk in Barnes and Noble... I know I do.

Maybe it goes further than that. Maybe you have an agent helping you along the journey, or you went to a conference like ACFW and bravely pitched this manuscript. Maybe you even received some requests for the proposal or the book! If that's you, then first of all, congratulations! And second of all, buckle up.

Image from
The world if submissions can be daunting. And to be honest, the longer I write, the more daunting it becomes. I started my fiction journey as an academic writer with an MA in English. I was well used to receiving criticism and rejection. So while those first fiction rejections stung, I already had the life experience to pick myself up, dust myself off, and determine to learn more about the craft before the next story. I've now been writing fiction for about five years, and I can tell you, I've discovered that really good fiction is almost always autobiographical. No, I don't mean your real great aunt is the great aunt in the story, or that your character has to have an awful experience with braces like you did in high school. What I mean is that the way you see flowers alongside the road, the first time you had your heartbroken, and the way you felt the first time you set foot on the crowded streets of a big city are inevitably going to color and influence not only your writing voice, but also the characters' selves. A character may be your total opposite, but he or she will still inevitably carry the color of you in the story, because you are author, and you simply can't escape that in honest, heartfelt fiction.

In my opinion, this very concept is the reason why rejection can be so hard to swallow. As artists, we have to believe that the art we create and the heart it came from are two very separate things. This helps us to process rejection from editors, agents, and reviewers. But is it really true? Do any of us really believe that? Because, at the end of the day, if you're writing your heart story-- especially if you feel like God has giving you a calling to write it-- then that story is inherently bound to you in some way. To write a story out of your heart is to first write from your heart.

And so it only follows that sometimes we get scared. We want to avoid rejection, and so, we essentially freeze. Or maybe we drag our feet. We get so excited when we receive a proposal request at a conference, but four weeks later, when we're polishing the last few elements of our manuscript in the middle of the night wearing sweatpants and fuzzy socks, something happens. Fear begins to creep in.

Romans 8:15 is the key verse for my current book. It says, "The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.'"

We do not have to keep company with a spirit of fear of apprehension. Fear says you are unworthy. Sonship and daughtership say you are your life is valuable, purposeful, and loved.

See, we don't have to look to acceptance or rejection for a sense of validation. It's hard-- don't I know it's hard!!-- not to perceive an editor or agent's comments as validation or refutation of your calling as a writer. But if God called you to write, keep your eyes focused on Him. Whether you receive a three book deal from your dream publisher, or you get another "not yet," at the end of the day, He is our anchor and our all-in-all. To become fearful and fretful and to entertain all the "what if's" is to take our eyes off of Him.

So, certainly take time to polish, polish, polish that manuscript. Put it away for a little while and then come back and polish more. Don't underestimate the power and importance of the editing process. Remember that once you submit a story, it's out there. There's no going back to make a few more changes to a character or subplot. Don't rush yourself or the manuscript.

But once you have put in the time and energy to make your manuscript the best it can be, be brave. Send it into the world. Yes, maybe it will get shot down. But on the other hand, maybe it will fly. And wouldn't you hate to miss that sight because your fears held you back?

Let's end this post with a prayer. I hope it encourages you to be brave, bold, and courageous, and send those stories out into the world for valuable feedback and perhaps even the chance to get into readers' hands.

Lord, thank You for this unique and beautiful calling to write. Thank You for the writing communities you've sown me into and those who have come alongside me in this journey so far. Would you send all the friends, mentors, agents, editors, and readers who will be part of my journey into my life, and help me be on the lookout for those divine appointments? Give me the discernment to know when a story is ready or is not ready, and the courage to hit "Send" when it's time. And most of all, fix my eyes on You throughout this process, as writing becomes a form of worship more than a popularity contest. We love you and thank You for all You're up to. Help us stay aware of your ways. Amen.


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.