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Write from the Heart, Write on the Heart

reading bible

A friend asked a few days ago what drives me to write Christian young adult fiction and not mainstream. Though I’ve touched on this topic in another post, one thing I didn’t mention is my deep concern that many people claiming to be Christians are not reading their Bibles anymore. They’ll say, “Oh, I saw that in a blog post,” or “I read about it in a book.”

For me, there’s only one Book, THE Book, that serves as the source of my faith. Blog posts and commentary are only manmade opinions, just as this one is. And if I’m to have a platform, that’s it. Read your Bible. More than that, write its words on your heart–Memorize Scripture. Anything I write now, or in the future, will have that message somewhere within its pages.

I drew inspiration for my work-in-progress, Cavernous, from several different sources. One was Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which to me, is one of the scariest concepts–the banning of books.

In Cavernous, several US states have seceded to form their own country, the Alliance of American States. Adrian Lamb, the leader of this new nation, has printed his own Bibles, keeping only the Scripture that suits him. And sadly, many of the so-called Christians in the Alliance have not read the Bible enough to even detect that parts are missing.

Just like firefighter Montag in Fahrenheit 451, who becomes the “back-up copy” of the book of Ecclesiastes, my protagonist, Callie, carries Scripture in her heart. Thus, she’s able to resist Alliance brainwashing, since she knows what pieces are left out.

This morning, I read from Deuteronomy 11.

13 ‘And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. 15 And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled.’ 16 “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, 17 lest the Lord’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you.

18 “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.19 You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 20 And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth.–Quote from NKJV, accessed from BibleGateway.com

 

Verses 18 and 19 could well be my mission statement. Lay up God’s words in your heart and soul, keep them in front of your eyes, teach them to your children, speaking of them continually, write them where people can see them.

Through the Lads to Leaders/Leaderettes program, my husband, children, and I have participated in an event called “Centurion of Scripture.” The goal is to memorize 100 Bible verses in a year. It seems a daunting task until you push up your sleeves and start learning verses, but after that, it’s actually pretty easy. Think about what a better life we’d all have if everyone wrote the words of God on their heart.

Don’t Your Characters Ever Get Tired?

I was critiquing a writing piece a few weeks ago and the person had an action-packed chase sequence. It wasn’t terrible, but the sequence happened over a three day span and the characters didn’t make any stops to eat or sleep.

Which was… UNBELIEVABLE. Let me tell you, if someone was after me and I had to run, my almost forty-year-old body is in trouble. I can make it about a quarter of a mile before I’m panting like a dog on a hot summer day. I’mresourceful–I might be able to trip my stalker and knock them into a mailbox or something, or grab a large brick from someone’s flowerbed and aim where the sun don’t shine. No way a story written about me could justify a character going through a three day chase scene like that.

The point is, it’s important to think about the reality of a character physically being able to handle the challenges we put them in.

I remember reading about the jump Tris made in Veronica Roth’s Divergent (which I loved), and being a little disappointed in the impact description.

Roth writes:

I hit something hard. It gives way beneath me and cradles my body. The impact knocks the wind out of me, and I wheeze, struggling to breath again. My arms and legs sting.

The physics teacher in me felt like there might be some rope burn from the net, maybe a few bloody scrapes.  Maybe she’d wobble her first few steps or something? I mean,  I know that “hottie” Four frees her from the net, but then she goes on the tour, and there’s no physical remnants of her dauntless acts.

So, the other day I had a conversation with my sis-in-law about an upcoming trip we’d like to take with the kids–an eight mile hike. She advised me to prep for the trip, cautioning that it would be difficult for an average person to just jump in on a hike like that without any training.

Makes me think about the characters in my story–a teenage girl, on the run, hiking four or five miles off-trail. I’ve added all these setting details, but I’ve basically just taken them from point A to point B. They rest, they sleep, but I’ve forgotten to add those touches of realism–aching feet, blisters, sheer exhaustion–that would keep my character from seeming larger than life.

So many tiny little details to think about when writing a story.

Going back now to reread the whole thing and look for places to add sore elbows and feet 🙂

 

Attend Without Distraction

Summertime is in full swing, and I’ve been working hard to find activities for the kids that don’t include letting them be completely distracted all day every day by electronics. It’s so disturbing to catch them watching television and ask them a question, and have them completely ignore me like I’m not in the room. How is it that we can place such a deep focus on an entertainment and have such a hard time keeping our focus on Scripture?

Like last year, I’ve reinstated the Helper Buck system to give them a little more incentive. For a small chore, like helping sweep the floor after church camp or helping stack chairs, they can earn either $5.00, $10.00, or $25.00 in helper bucks. And it’s been great. The kids are learning how to do a lot of different kinds of chores–all their volunteer work and completely their idea.

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Once they’ve accumulated the bucks, the kids spend them on either a toy they want (Ten helper bucks = $1.00 of real cash), television or computer time, or a trip to the frozen yogurt place up the street. What I’ve noticed is that the kids are doing a great job keeping up with their electronics usage, limiting themselves to exactly the amount “purchased,” but I have to stop them and pull them out of the trance to tell them that time is up.
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Which makes me think about my time spent in writer’s block last night. Edited a paragraph or two, noticed a Facebook notification pop up, checked it, decided to check email, too, while I was at it. saw the Goodreads tab I’d left open, and worked a bit on a review I’d promised a friend. Even though I’d just logged in, I refreshed the page on one of my writing forums, again seeing if I’d had any notificaitons. As my mind hopped about and my fingers mindlessly scrolled, the minutes ticked on. And before I knew it, it was 1 am and I’d accomplished very little toward my goals. And even worse, I dozed off in my evening prayer and stumbled through my Bible reading this morning.

Just like the kids, I find it so easy to be distracted by the Internet and electronics. I justify–I NEED my phone to check the weather. I NEED to check my work email and take care of this as soon as I see it so I don’t forget. I NEED to post pictures and such so distant family members can keep up with the kids.  And I find myself envious of the women from Bible times–after all, they didn’t have to fight all these digital distractions. And they didn’t have to go to soccer practices and long, boring meetings. In fact, they probably sat around their tables and focused on their nightly Bible reading without ever wandering a thought. Right? Right? Okay, probably not. In fact, I’m sure Satan threw distractions their way, too.

During the peak of my writer’s block last night, I stumbled on I Corinthians 7:35

And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.

Wow. Did I ever need to hear that! There’s actually a verse in the Bible mentioning distraction specifically. So, I went back this afternoon and reread the whole passage of I Corinthians 7 to get the context. Though the passage is about being married or unmarried, one theme resonates, which is about abiding in the calling for which you are called, and placing yourself under the best circumstances that will keep you unspotted from the world. A distracted Christian cannot effectively evangelize. A distracted writer cannot finish the story. A distracted mother cannot manage her household and raise Christian kids.

I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to not be distracted. It’s not intentional for our minds to wander. And the temptation to be pulled from our focus is ever-increasing. He’s not going to take away our temptations–we must overcome them instead.

So, kissing the kids and sending them to bed, closing out of WordPress, Logging off Facebook, turning off those little notifications on my phone. And then, one hour of clear-purposed, focused writing, and perhaps I could give myself some helper bucks when I’m done.

Deepening POV

I started reading a book a few weeks ago, from the recommendation of an online friend. It’s called Rivet Your Readers with Deep POV by Jill Elizabeth Nelson. I highly recommend it.

Short, sweet, and to the point, Nelson highlighted several of my common mistakes and gave me insight on how to not only fix them, but to avoid them altogether.

In the first chapter, Nelson describes the different kinds of POV and gives clear examples about what they are and what they aren’t. But chapter two gets to the meat of the book–explaining how deepening POV eliminates narrative distance. It made perfect sense. I have to cut myself out of the book so my characters quit tripping over me. Really hard, since I’m writing a first person novel, but it’s basically stuff like instead of saying a character watched something, just say the something happened.

Deepening POV, according to Nelson, will solve two of my biggest issues–what to do about those pesky italic thoughts  (no italics for deep POV. Simple answer), and how to get a reader to completely absorb themselves into my character instead of being detached.

Chapter three advises against the use of phrases like I wondered, he thought, she thought, etc.  In chapter four, she recommends not giving the name to a feeling. For example, instead of saying I’m angry, I stomp my feet and slam my glass on the table. Let feelings be given through action. Great advice.

Chapter five hits home, recommending to “ditch prepositional tells.” I love prepositional tells. My writing is peppered with them, and I have to keep forcing myself to cut them.  I love her idea to give dialogue in context, so the prepositions aren’t needed. This is one place I really need to grow–establishing characters in a setting/scenario/context before having them in an emotional scene.

Chapter six delves into another of my personal habits–filtering through he saw/she saw. I can always stand to write more direct.

In chapter seven, she gives advice on how to write linearly, step-by-step. This practice has really helped me muddle my way through that dreaded middle portion.

I spent the most time in the last chapter where the author makes some remarks about deepening POV specifically in first person. Her overview makes all the tiny errors that hold my writing back from where it needs to be glare out like a beacon.

What I love most about this book are the little exercises, and that it’s short and focused on this one particular  practice of writing.

Great little writing help book! http://www.amazon.com/Rivet-Your-Readers-Deep-Point-ebook/dp/B007PUMQ1O/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1396837713&sr=1-3

That’s a great first line!

So… a few weeks ago, I was named Area Coordinator for the Eastern Kentucky branch of ACFW. Whoo hoo! Other than the only other Christian writer I know of in the area  is the girl who teaches across the hall from me. Lots of work to do!

Today was an amazing day. A friend and I joined three writers at a quaint little bookstore/bakery to find out a little more about what needs to happen in an ACFW chapter. I can’t stress enough what a difference this organization has made in my life. The free classes, the contests, the encouragement–like anything else, you get what you give, but I’ve received some fantastic feedback and feel closer than ever to my goal of someday publishing.

One thing that stands out to me from the day–

As we got to know each other, we laughed and told stories. One of the ladies kept exclaiming, “That sounds like a great first line!”

I think about first lines all the time, stress over them, in fact. But this woman, within a span of about 30 minutes, had already turned our simple conversation into several great ideas.  So, a new challenge for myself and anyone who reads this. Every day for the next week, just listen to everyone around you. Pay attention to their quips and greetings, and find as many great first lines as you can.

Resist the Urge to Explain

I learned a new phrase this week, from a wonderful lady who has agreed to become my writing coach and editor. As a bonus, she’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, so it’s nice to have someone who can work with me in that capacity, rather than someone from the secular world who would question some of my plot decisions because they don’t know how people act in church.

In just a couple conversations, she has helped me identify what holds my writing back from a professional level. One particular thing stands out–to resist the urge to explain.

I never realized until this week how much of a problem this is in my writing. Here I thought I’d been avoiding the dreadful info dump, and since then I’ve seen cases of it in every chapter of my WIP. I’ve been working hard on trying to master showing, not telling, and now I feel silly for not noticing how easy it is to eliminate with this simple advice.

For many new writers, explaining appears in the form of was/were:

Sarah yawned. She was tired.

Readers will understand she was tired from the yawn, so no need to explain. But I was doing this much more subtly (at least it was subtle to me–probably stuck out like a sore thumb to everyone else). Oh, wait! I just did it again!

I’ve since been researching this idea and found several good blogs on the subject.

From The Blood Red Pencil: http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com/2011/05/resist-urge-to-explain.html

From The Book Doctor: http://thebookdoctorbd.blogspot.com/2010/11/rue-resist-urge-to-explain-how-much-is.html

http://learnedaboutwriting.blogspot.com/2008/05/ten-point-revision-strategy-rue.html

And just Google it. There are many others.

Now I just wish I had time to sit down and edit every chapter. I can’t wait to eliminate my RUEs!

Don’t Build Me Up, Buttercup–Give Me the Shred

Just for Funzies…My first contest entry, on LegendFire.com. The prompt was “key” and it was the fantasy genre. I was so proud…

Micah gently untangled the necklace from his sister’s gaunt fingers. Forgive me, he pleaded silently, scanning her torpid body for signs of life.

Creeping into the shadows, he clutched the gold chain so tightly that the tiny charm dug into his malnourished hands. He stumbled through the cemetery, pausing before an onyx headstone. Half-kneeling, half-collapsing, he fell to the stone and kissed the bronze plaque.

“I…I…miss you…father,” he whispered, panting. He lifted the plaque and set it aside, revealing a tiny keyhole.

Even in dim moonlight, the necklace sparkled, momentarily distracting from the task at hand. Micah forced himself to concentrate; pressing the charm firmly into the hole, twisting until it clicked. The rusty door creaked open, exposing a small vial and a worn page. Shuddering at the sound, he quickly grabbed them and replaced the plaque.

Heart pounding, he drank the contents of the vial he had found within. The restorative power pulsed in his veins, making him feel alive again. The brittle page—the recipe—he folded carefully and tucked it away in his pocket. He slipped the gold chain around his neck, and kissed the headstone once more before disappearing into the night.

And then I read all this:

“The setting is skipped over, so it’s hard to tell what time period this is supposed to be.”

“I wonder about torpid. It seems another word would be better.”

“Sorry to say, but there is just too much mystery and nearly no character here.”

“I don’t feel very compelled to read on.”

“Had this been a book, I probably wouldn’t have gotten this far.”

“Some of the sentences are pretty clunky.”

“Your main character doesn’t seem very memorable.”

“I think it would be stronger after a few rounds of editing and rewriting.”

“Cryptic for the sake of being cryptic annoys the reader. Hurry up and let me in on the secret, or I’ll pass on this one.”

Ouch, right? Once the voting started, I was mortified. Comments like this hurt, for one, and two, everyone was going to know this was my piece. They’d all know I was a terrible writer! What to do? What to do?

Every time I enter a contest with public voting like this, some of the entrants withdraw. Others get mad and start lashing out in their votes for others. But after I got over my pride, I learned a few valuable lessons from this contest, once I answered a few questions.

1. Was I posting/entering for the wrong reasons?  After a while, I realized I wasn’t in this to learn, as I’d claimed–I was in it to be read and appreciated. Look at me! Look at me! I’ve written this fabulous entry and you should all bow down and give me a high score. Seriously? I mean, the contest was even CALLED the shredder contest. So, I changed my attitude and started sifting through the feedback to find something to add to my writer’s toolbox.

2. Could I use this (embarrassing) critique to find my bad habits?  There were a few comments that highlighted the same mistakes. No setting or character development. Poor word choice. Sentences that have too many things going on. Some voters marked things inline and gave me a bit of explanation as to why a particular phrase didn’t work. After the contest, I researched each of them and my writing vastly improved.

3. Did all this mean I was a bad writer? Should I stop trying? It was hard to see them at the time, but buried under all this criticism were quite a few lovely comments.  So no. I wasn’t a bad writer. Just a good writer making a lot of mistakes. I kept going, and eventually started placing in contests. Haven’t won yet, but I’m hoping that’s just around the corner.

So, here’s the deal. No sugar coating…

If you are in this to get a pat on the back or become famous, GET ANOTHER HOBBY!

Don’t go out there and write dribble, then self-publish it and wait for the readers to pour in. As I’ve said before, your first writing samples will be terrible. You’ll revise them, and they’ll still be terrible. You’ll revise them again, and guess what?…still terrible. The only way to learn is to accept the shreds.

These days, I’m hungry for the shred. I want critiquers to rip my work to pieces, point out every minute error, and be brutally honest. Cut me no slack. Help me learn. The traditional publishing world is brutal and only the best survive. I want to get there. One day, I will 🙂

Writing as Art: Is it really my prerogative to write however I want?

Final post  the discussion from Richard Bausch’s “Letter to a Young Writer.”

I could sing the praises of forums all day long. In fact, I’ve had a free education from them and owe them many dues. Still, I hold this one offense against them.  They are full of people who refuse to listen to helpful advice and keep on writing bad stories.

An argument that’s often made is that the author has the liberty to create whatever they wish. If they want to self-publish their dribble, they’re the ones out the money and it doesn’t hurt anyone except for them and the ten people that purchase their books. Maybe so.

It’s always hard to listen to criticism, even when it’s given in the kindest spirit. Still, it’s 100% essential.

At the same time, sometimes it’s just as important to not listen. Not everyone who gives you writing advice will give GOOD advice. Also, it’s important to find your own voice and style.

Bausch’s final piece of advice is “Be wary of all general advice.”  He says:

Destroy everything that precedes this commandment if, for you, it gets in the way of writing good stories. Because for every last assertion in this letter, there are several notable exceptions. Finally, try to remember that what you are aiming to do is a beautiful, even a noble, thing _ trying to write or make the trust as straightly and honestly and artfully as you can.

Once, I had an art professor lean a broom up against a crate and challenge the class, asking us if it was art.  After much spirited debate, we decided that it depends on who you ask. I think a story is the same way, even a poorly written one.

After all, at the end of the day, why do we do it? We all have a story burning inside us that we want to get out. And audience or no audience, fame or no fame, there’s a lot of merit in just getting the words down on paper. True writers, I believe, write for themselves with the tiny sliver of hope that someone else might someday read and enjoy it.

Bausch says this much more eloquently than I can, so we’ll finish this post up with his words.

It is also always an inherently optimistic act because it stems from the belief that there will be civilized others whose sensibilities you may affect if you are lucky and good enough and faithful to the task at hand. No matter how tragic the vision is, it is always a hopeful occupation. And, therefore, you have to cultivate your ability to balance things, to entertain high hopes without letting those hopes to become expectations. To do your work without worrying too much about what the world will have to say about it or do to it. Mostly, of course, the world will ignore it. And so, you will have that in common with many very great writers, good men and women who came before you.

Comparisonitis

Post nine in the discussion from Richard Bausch’s “Letter to a Young Writer.”

I’ve spent so many posts on this one essay–I hope it’s clear what an inspiration it has been to me throughout my journey. I’ve probably read it a thousand times, and still gain something new from it every time.

For this thought, before turning to the essay, I’d like to attack this point from the Christian angle. After all, I’m supposed to be a writer of Christian fiction, and all Christian authors are perfect, right? Ha. I wish. (Look at all the grammatical errors in my last post if you’re doubting. I’ve got to quit posting at 5 am).

No, on the contrary, I sometimes wonder if I’m not drawn to be a writer because of my imperfections–I can maybe write those things away in a way that I can’t attempt in a real-life setting.

And while we’re on the topic of those imperfections, the sin of comparisonitis is probably the one I’m most guilty of. 

I try really hard to follow Romans 12:3 

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

 

Yeah, that’s doable. But it’s the self-doubt that becomes a problem. Straight from the Devil, those nagging thoughts that tell us we can’t do the work God has put us on this Earth to do. My writing can be a ministry, and I sometimes back away from it because I’m scared.

Scared of what? Scared that people won’t like it. Scared that I’ll inadvertently say something that one of my brothers or sisters in Christ might find offensive. Scared that people will point their fingers at me and say I’m not a good enough Christian role model to be a public voice. Scared that I might actually sell a few books and the fame would go to my head or destroy my family (Okay, that’s a stretch, but these are the thoughts that sometimes keep me up at night).

Bausch advises 

Don’t compare yourself to anyone and learn to keep from building expectations.

 

He cautions against envy and suggests that a writer’s only worry should be whether or not they’ve worked that particular day. 

It’s easy to be discouraged and think, “I’ll never be as good as ___________.”

It’s also easy to get a good review and think, “I rock. I’m going to be the next _____. I should call my agent tomorrow…oh, wait. I don’t have one.”

Bausch ends this point with the following:

…the artist who expects great rewards and complete understanding is a fool. 

 

At the end of the day, you should be writing because you enjoy it. Period. And maybe someday, if you approach it with the dedication that one devotes to something they love, you might just find your writing exactly where God wants it to be.

 

Putting Dreams to Paper

Post eight in the discussion from Richard Bausch’s “Letter to a Young Writer.”

My favorite quote in Bausch’s entire essay:

You are trying to tap a part of yourself that is closest to the dreaming side, the side that is most active when you sleep.

A few years ago when I read the first Twilight book, I remember being insanely jealous that Stephenie Meyer could just have a dream and jot down a story that sold like wildfire. After all, I’ve had dreams that would make a great story. can do that. I realize now that she must have put in a lot more effort than just penning a dream, but she made it seem so easy.

For several years, writing was on my mind, but I credit this moment for being the turning point that made me decide to be a serious writer. First, I got a notebook and started writing down every dream I had. I churned out some crazy, bizarre stories that would make me blush if anyone ever seen them. And then I shared them with a few people who most likely had inward groans going on behind those polite smiles.

I used to get frustrated when I’d go to sleep and wake up dreamless. I’d even take naps just on the off chance that I’d dream something. To me, dreamless meant idea-less, and I’d turn to writing these stiff responses to challenge prompts.

Then, one day I realized that writing IS dreaming–dreaming while you are awake.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve strayed from my outline because I’ve gotten “lost” in the story. The characters have taken me places I didn’t mean to go. The setting has turned into something completely different from what I’ve envisioned. And it’s been a great thing.

Bausch advises:

Dream the story up. Make it up. Be fanciful. Follow what comes to you to say and try not to worry about whether or not it’s smart or shows your sensitive nature in the best light or delivers the matters of living that you think you have learned. Just dream it up and let the thing play itself out as it seems to want to. And write it again, and still again, dreaming it though.

I’ve had similar advice from people on the forums–get the story down and then you can rewrite it to get it where you want it to be.

Bausch continues:

And then, as you educate yourself each time through more as to what it is, try to be terribly smart about that. Read it with the cold detachment of a doctor looking at an x-ray for a lump. Which is to say, you must learn to re-read your own sentences as a stranger might. And say everything out loud. Listen to how it sounds.

Great advice, but I think sometimes it means you have to put the work aside and let it simmer a while before that detachment can be achieved.