Thursday, May 31, 2012

GMC for Humans

During my quiet time this morning, a lightbulb moment made me race to find a scrap piece of paper to scribble down my thoughts. What if I spent some time writing a GMC (goal / motivation / conflict) for me instead of a fictional character? 

So I did. Here it is:

Michelle wants to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant," on the day she stands face to face with Jesus because He is her only hope of salvation but she is selfish--horrendous trait for a servant.

What's your GMC? Take some time alone to figure what your single most important goal is (want), why you want that outcome (because), and what's hindering you from it (but). 

It's quite the spiritual kick start.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cheat Sheet

Photo from
I'm no athlete, but my fingers are gymnasts. They fly over the keyboard in all kinds of crazy contortions while trying to search and replace or reconfigure the format of a particular Word document.

On one such occasion, my husband leaned over and said, "You know there's a shortcut for that, right?"

Umm, no. Actually I didn't. Did you know there are shortcuts for pretty much anything you could possibly want to do on not just Word but other programs as well? Whoda thunk!

So if you use a Mac operating system and you're tired of taking the long road, check out CheatSheet.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In the Zone

Ever have this experience... You're driving down the road, la-de-dah-de-dah, when wham! A brilliant new plot twist pops into your mind in all it's Cinemagraphic glory. Is it too good to be true? You're not sure, so you think on it, detail by detail, heart racing because you suspect that yes, possibly, this could be the best-ever story that's been written in human history!

And then a voice from the back seat says, "Mom, where are we going?"

Face it. Sometimes, writers are freaks. We get in the zone and totally check out from reality...which has it's pros and cons.

- Fantasy is oh-so-much less stressful than the real world
- Staves off Alzheimer's by working your brain muscles
- It's this quirk, this ability to completely immerse yourself in story that gives you the tools to finish a manuscript

- You can end up in an entirely different state if this happens while driving
- Non-writers think you just might be psychotic
- Other tasks on your to-do list don't get checked off, and seriously, how many nights in a row can you get away with feeding your family frozen pizza?

What to do? If it's an inopportune time when your mind slips into creative mode, here are a few tricks out of the writerly bag:

  • Send yourself a voicemail with your idea
  • If your hands are busy, have someone else write down a few key words so you'll hopefully remember your fantastic idea later
  • Excuse yourself and write down a SHORT outline

Be thankful for your zone moments but be sure to keep them on a leash. You don't want to end up reading this blog from the psych ward.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Why Do Old Books Smell?

Ever noticed that pretty much every used bookstore in the world smells the same? I've been to a bazillion of them across the U.S and in England. And sure enough, sniff, sniff, ahhh. There's a certain lovable mustiness that tickles my nose. What's up with that?

I'm no science geek, but never fear. My hubby is. He sent me a link that does a great job of explaining why old books smell. Check out this handy dandy explanation by AbeBooks.

Friday, May 25, 2012

LARPING* Isn't For Sissies

What writers do when they get bored...

*LARP = Live Action Role Play

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Break From Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

A few things before you click on the following video...

- I dare you to watch this all the way through without smiling so big your jaw crackles.

- Yes, this is writing related. I can think of no better way to teach perseverance. Caine is a role model for every aspiring writer.

Now then, get out there and write!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wordsmiths & Typographers Unite!

When I was supposed to be working on my WIP last night, I came across a super fun freaky cool website that you've just got to check out. It's called Wordle
As their site says:
Wordle is a toy for generating "word clouds" 
from text that you provide.
The clouds give greater prominence 
to words that appear more frequently in the source text. 
You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. 
The images you create with Wordle 
are yours to use however you like. 
You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery 
to share with your friends."

I, however, will share mine with you right here, right now. Here's a Wordle of Writer Off the Leash:

Here's a Wordle of my current WIP, Brentwood's Ward...

And here's my permission for you to toodle over there and play around with words from your current WIP or blog.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Yes, I'm A Cheater

Do you ever skip to the last page of a book when you're only halfway through it?

I do. Frequently. Yes, I feel your anger. To some, skipping ahead is as horrifying as kicking a puppy. Before you give me the big smack down, however, here's why I do it...

I need to, and usually for one of two reasons. Either the book is so bad that I must peek at the ending to confirm it's a stinker all the way through. That way I won't waste my time reading every word. Or the story is so riveting, I'm so invested in the characters, that I can't stand it. I MUST find out whose names are on the last few pages so I don't have to worry about them making it.

Now then, it is a rare few books that create in me the desire to flip over to the finale. These are the stories that unearth in me passionate emotions of love or hate. Most often this happens with books I least expect it from.

Case In Point
Did you know I write for Novel Reviews? As a result, I've got a stack of ARC's (Advanced Reader Copies) to plow through. Many don't even have cover art on them yet, so there's no way I can even judge a book by its cover at this stage of the game.

The other day, I grabbed the next read that'd surfaced to the top of the pile and wham! Quite unexpectedly I was totally sucked in. I'm talking fan-freaking-tastic story. Around page 50, the urge arose to risk a paper cut and flick at breakneck speed through those pages to the end. And yes, thankfully, as I scanned for the names of the characters I cared about, whew. There they were in black and white.

And that, my friends, is exactly the goal you should have when writing your next Great American Novel. Make a reader care about your characters, so much that they can't help themselves from finding out if those characters are going to be okay or not.

Oh yeah, I suppose you're wondering what that fabulous book is. Check out Keowee Valley by Katherine Scott Crawford later this summer... September, to be exact. If you're curious, click here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Things You'll Never Hear A Writer Say...

Yippee! Another rejection! Think I'll pin this one.

Really? It's been only six months since I sent you that proposal? Gosh, I totally lost track of time.

No thanks, Thomas Nelson and Tyndale. Great offers, but really...I'd rather just put my stuff on Smashwords.

I earned another one-star on Amazon for my latest release? Yee-haw! Scathing reviews are my favorites!

Of course I'd like to cut my manuscript by 25k, throw in a new plot twist, add in a major character and get that back to you by the end of the week. Not a problem.

Sweet! I love being at the bottom of the slush pile. So much cozier.

Contracts make me nervous. I sure hope I never have to sign one or I'll be swigging back Benadryl to stave off the ol' hives. 

Whew. Glad I'm so good at telling instead of showing. Hmm. Maybe I could teach a workshop.

I didn't really want to win that award anyway.

How thoughtful of you to tell me why my characters are all one-dimensional and that you think my plot was written by a twelve-year-old. You rock!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Writing On The Fly

Writers don't always cozy up in a wingback chair with a dog at their feet. Sometimes they write in strange places.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rattling All Kinds of Cages

A writing buddy of mine, a buddy who's writing is stellar, got turned down by yet another publisher the other day...and not for the writing. Seems that said publisher is pursuing yet more bonnet books but not contemporary women's fiction.

Seriously? Is there not a glut of Amish fiction on the bookshelves already? I realize this topic has been flogged to death, but here I am, taking one more swipe at it.

Do readers create the drive for a particular genre...or is it the publishers who create the market by what they provide? I've heard arguments on both sides of this debate. Good arguments. Strong, even. Know what I think?


Okay, I hear ya. Lame answer. But the thing is, this is really a chicken and egg type of discussion. A Catch-22. We can go round and round trying to figure it out, but the bottom line is that currently sweet yesteryear feel-good stories are what the publishers are buying.

Does that mean you should slap a bonnet on your heroine to sell your current manuscript? Should a writer "write to the market"?

I don't think so.

And now I've just waded into a highly controversial swamp. Before you sink your teeth into me, let me explain. I take the stance of writing in the genre you love instead of the genre that's selling for 3 main reasons...

Genres Are Cyclical
The publishing market is like the weather. It always changes. What's not in vogue today will be selling like hotcakes tomorrow. Because my buddy's writing is stellar, she will sell her book eventually.

Your Heart Is On Your Sleeve
If every word you write is ground out through clenched teeth, that's going to be apparent to the reader. Conversely, writing what you really love is going to show up as well. You can't hide your inner feelings behind proper grammar technique. A generic plot dressed up in the trappings of whatever market it is you're targeting will be as appealing as day old toast. 

You Can't Write What You Don't Read
If you don't read vampire books because you don't like them, chances are you're not going to have a clue how to write one. Each genre has its own unique 'rules'. I'm not talking voice here. I'm talking if you write romance, the hero & heroine must ideally meet in chapter 1. If you don't read romances, you probably don't know that and might not have the H & H meet until halfway through the story. Savvy?

So what is the perfect win-win situation? Learn the craft and write what you love. If God wants your book out on the market, believe me, He'll put it there.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Six Degrees Of Unpredictability

"Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped."
~ Lillian Helman

I'm not sure who Lillian Helman is (no offense, Lil) but I'm going to take her quote and run with it because this totally happened to me yesterday.

There I was, sitting at Caribou, sipping my light roast with room for cream, computer open, WIP onscreen, about to type the stunning first sentence of a new chapter, when whammo. I suddenly had a new line for the last paragraph of the previous chapter. It was a stunning  revelation from my heroine that even I didn't know about. All that to say, the story I'm working on sure isn't going to turn out as I planned. Hopefully it will be better. 

But why? Why must a story not come out as you first hoped to have it be any good? I think it has to do with predictability. Yes, I'm still on that bandwagon. 

I read once that to really surprise a reader and yourself that you need to come up with 6 solutions to your main conflict in a story. The first few will be what everyone expects. The next are warming you up for something completely different. And the last 2 are the solutions you should choose from.

There's always risk involved in leaving the most commonly traveled trail, both in life and plot-wise. But honestly, where do you see the best scenery? Which route is more memorable?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why Write?

If money and a contract weren't the ultimate payoff, would you still write?

No, really. Don't zip past that like one more obnoxious billboard on the writing journey. Stop and think about that question, especially if you're new to the writing game.

I've been writing novels for about 12 years now. In that time, I've seen a lot of rising stars crash and burn in spectacular flares of light. Why? Because after pounding their heads against the doors of agents, editors and publishers, they didn't sell one little word of the manuscript over which they labored. They took their ball and went home, never to be seen or heard from again. Perhaps if they'd pondered the question I propose today, they would've saved a lot of time and heartache.

Not that snagging a contract and/or moolah isn't a worthy goal. I'm just saying that if you're a true writer at heart, it won't be your only goal.

So why do writers write? If it's not for the bajillion dollar paycheck and instant fame, what exactly are the benefits of writing?

- It's a way to make sense of your world. Fiction is a safe environment to build a world and play the what-if game.

- It's a satisfying addiction. Some people are hooked on playing Settlers of Catan, others on crack cocaine. It's a compulsion. The act of writing gives writers a huge warm fuzzy.

- It's a never-ending education. There's always something new to learn about the craft. Because writing is subjective, it's continually evolving. 

- It's an expression of self. To deny that self causes huge amounts of frustration and invalidation...which makes for a very cranky person.

If none of these reasons resonate with you, then disregard my first question and move on to the next square. Writing may not be the game for you.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Keep 'Em Guessing

I spent most of Mother's Day as a couch potato. We hauled my mom out to a movie, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. Don't bother. Seriously. Why? Too predictable.

Then we came home and sat around looking at each other. My kids aren't the stellar event planners I'd always hoped they'd be. So we just flipped through Netflix looking for something to watch. None of us had ever seen the hyped-up series Lost and thought we'd take a peek at it.

Don't bother. Seriously.

Put your pitchforks down, Lost fans, and hear me out. Here's the deal...did you not expect the monster thingee wouldn't pull out the pilot through the window? Come on! I totally called that. In fact, that was the deal breaker. By that point in the show, I'd already anticipated several other events and turns of dialogue. Which brings me to my point...

Predictability is death.

Readers (and TV viewers) don't want their guesses to come true (unless it's a romance, but even then, the route to get hero/heroine together has to be riddled with chance happenings). When putting together a story, you've got to keep the reader on their toes. When they expect tale to be going in one direction, change lanes, shoot them on a totally different course. Keep your plot fresh at all times.

" artist should paint from the heart, and not always what people expect. Predictability often leads to the dullest work, in my opinion, and we have been bored stiff long enough I think."
~ E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushtrokes of a Gadfly

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bad Hair Day

Shampoo and comb out the top 3 snarls in your writing.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Low Expectations Can Be Great

"Sneaking up on it sometimes helps: I've found I can be very productive for an hour before dinner, because there obviously isn't enough time to really do anything, so I can tell myself I'm just screwing around."
~ Michael Crichton

What's great about this quote, besides the fact that pretty much anything Michael Crichton says is fantabulous, is that it's so true. Sitting down to write doesn't have to be a big production, involving hours of uninterrupted time, silence, and the latest in laptop technology. Sometimes the best writing is accomplished by scribbling on the back of a church program you found crumpled on a floor mat as you sit in the car waiting for your teenager to extract her body from the mall.

There's something about 'screwing around' that relieves the pressure of having to perform. You write without the mindset of publication, allow words to flow just to see what direction they'll take, and doggone if that's not some of the best writing in the world.

Give it a whirl. Next time you've got a small chunk of time, play with the words of your story. Maybe write a poem or song lyrics for it. Try a note to your hero from your heroine or vice versa. Even if it never makes it into your final product, at the very least, you'll get to know your story and characters better.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Reason #73 Why It's Tough To Be A Writer

Scene: Sitting in my green, overstuffed chair, java at my side, MacBook in my lap, dogs at my feet, late into the morning, alone at last. Review my WIP, send my mind back to 1807, London, rainy, danger, and--cell phone rings. White-haired little old lady’s face pops up.

Sigh. I have to answer.

“Hi mom.”
“Just thought you should know I’m getting a new roof and windows for free.”
“Nothing's free mom, least of all a roof and windows.”
“But the man on the phone said so.”
“I told you not to answer the phone unless you know who’s calling. Why didn’t you check the caller ID before you answered?”
“I couldn’t see it.”
“Did you look?”
Bigger sigh. “Please tell me you didn’t give out your social security number this time.”
“No, you told me not to do that.”
“I also told you not to answer the phone without checking the ID first.”
“Oh yeah.”
“I’ll have to deal with it when I come over tomorrow.”
“Can’t you come over now?”
“I’m writing.”
“Do that later.”
“Mom, we’ve been over this before. My writing time is limited enough as it is and the next hour is all I’ve got for today.”
“Oh. Okay. I just thought you’d like to be here when the nice insurance lady comes over with my free toaster.”
“Yeah, she’ll be here in a half hour. Oh…didn’t I tell you that?”
Ginormous sigh. “Be right over.”
“See you then.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

When In Doubt...Make It Up!

Last night I went to a premiere reading of a screenplay. The screenwriter (waving at Larry Matthews) constructed his words in such a way so that it was like watching a movie in my head. Besides the memorable characters and intricate plot, want to know what stood out most to me?


Yes, I'm allowed to say that in public and yes, I do still kiss my mother with this mouth. Fricky is Larry Matthew's clever combination of frustrated and icky. One of his characters used it describe how they were feeling, and doggone if it isn't spot on to describe a frequent mood of one of my daughters.

Fricky is a super cool word, which got me to thinking about other cool words that have stuck with me. Ever heard of any of these:

Seems simple enough, like it's been around forever, but it was William Shakespeare who coined this everyday expression.

Charles Dickens used this made-up term for the den that Jarndyce liked to retreat to when feeling out of sorts.


It wasn't the sale of pocket protectors that introduced this word. It was Dr. Seuss.

Nope. Wasn't Al Gore that came up with this little gem. it was sci-fi author William Gibson.

Couldn't find the author of this fantabulous word, but I sure use it a lot.


This one came from a TV show. Ever watch the Simpsons?'s not so hard. Just chop off two words and mash them together. And that's my challenge for you today. Whatever piece you're currently working on, toss in a made-up word by little ol' you. Who knows? Perhaps one of your word creations will make it into Webster's 2050 edition. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Facebook Likefest: Fruitful or Frivolous?

I took part in a Likefest this weekend. No, it didn't involve running naked through the woods or toking the wacky weed at a Woodstock-esque rock-n-roll blowout. This Likefest was simply a concerted effort by a writer's group to drive up the the number of "Likes" on our Facebook pages.

Why would I do such a thing? Honest and shameful answer: pride. Who doesn't want to see a big "like" number, whether on Facebook or in any other venue? Yeah, I know the single most important like is to have God's stamp of approval through what Christ did on the cross, but doggone if my flesh doesn't do a Snoopy dance when someone likes me. 

Once the shallow zing wore off, though, I started to wonder if there were any other benefit to increasing a Facebook Like #. So I did a little research, and here are the results...

Is there any value to random Facebook page likes?

"There is some value from having a large volume of people liking a page for SEO, social proof, and the fact that all these people still see the updates to your wall in their news feed."
(taken from PRLOG)

"Likes" have grown to be a measurement tool used by distributors and stores when deciding on stocking their shelves with little known brands, by advertisers who have made note of Facebook "Likes" before placing their ads in hard copy publications, and by any kind of business associate who regards "Likes" as a point of reference as to where a brand stands among their competitors."
(taken from Creative Concepts)

"Big companies like McDonalds and Coca-Cola have been collecting Facebook fans (likes) for quite some time because they have already discovered that all of those fans helped increase their profits."

"The value in using social media is that every person, every Like, comes with their own network that can be activated in an instant, and at no additional cost, for the organization." 
(taken from Allison Fine)

I realize that the Likes on my page aren't all from ardent gotta-buy-your-next-book-or-die kind of fans, but you know what? I don't care. For now, I'll just bask in the pretend world of being well liked.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Getting Published Isn't A Destination...It's A Journey

It's the 1 year anniversary of UNDERCURRENT (a Viking tale of love, honor, and sacrifice). Here are a few things I've learned from the publishing experience...


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Scaring Away Blogging Fears

There's a lot of misconceptions about blogs out there in the general public. Some of the questions I'm frequently asked are, "How can you write a blog entry every day? Doesn't it take a lot of time? Where do you get your ideas?" So today on my blog, I'm going to talk about...wait for it...blogging!

Blogging isn't that tough. In fact, it's way easier than I thought it'd be. Sage advice: don't let the fear of starting a blog keep you from doing it. This applies to vlogs as well. Now then, let's take those questions and dissect them one at a time...

How can you write a blog entry every day?
A blog entry doesn't have to be a dissertation. In fact, it's better if it's not. Who has time to read a 10,000 word essay, let alone write one? My point is, keep your entries short and focused, and you won't have any problem writing an entry a day.

Doesn't it take a lot of time?
Blogging can be a great time drainer--but it doesn't have to be. It's a choice. Your choice. Honestly, I spend about 15-20 minutes per weekday to write an entry, 30 minutes if I'm really struggling for words. Think it, write it, hit publish, and move on with your day. Don't overthink your entry.

Where do you get your ideas?
Before you start a blog, deciding on a topic is key. Choose one that gives you some leeway. Example: I chose the broad topic of writing, which gives me about a gazillion different directions to go. I keep a page of ideas that I jot down when they enter my pretty little head, and when I get stuck on any given morning, I flip over to that page, pick one, and run with it. Places that give me fresh ideas are:
- quote pages
- statistic sites
- writing craft books
- daily conversations
- other blogs
And if you're really stuck, here are some fantastic links to jumpstart your brain:

I Help You Blog
Chris Brogan
Marluck Marketing

The thing is, once you start coming up with ideas, your brain kind of kicks in even when you're not intently thinking up blog starters. You'll find them in movies, at the grocery store, when you're arguing with your teenager, yada, yada.

Parting wisdom: whatever you do, be consistent. You don't have to write every weekday like I do. You can do just 1 day if you like and still have followers. The trick is to be consistent. Readers like to know when they can visit your site to get a blog fix from you. Don't let them down.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

So Many Books, So Little Time

Do you have a TBR pile? Yeah, I hear you. Stupid question. Who doesn't?

Currently on my heap, I've got a box-of-kleenex death-of-a-hero type of book; a futuristic who-dunnit story; a re-read of a historical romance just because I love it; a half-dozen craft books; and I think there's even a young adult and a speculative contemporary lurking in that pile. That's not even counting the shelf of Regency England research books I have yet to finish perusing.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not whining. There's way more titles I'd add to that stack if I had the money, but even if I did, where would I find the time to read them all? Surely with so many books and so little time, the topic of reading outside your comfort zone is a moot point, isn't it?

No. It's not. I'm a big advocate of reading outside your comfort zone even when--and especially when--your time is limited.

Why? Lot's of reasons...

1. Gets you out of a rut, opening your eyes to other storyworlds that just might spur you on to greater creativity.

2. It demolishes prejudice. How do you know you don't like a western if you've never read one? If story is king, the genre doesn't matter. I'm not saying you pick up some trashy paperbooks in an alley dumpster. That would be a waste of time...literally. When choosing to read outside your comfort zone, pick some titles that are classics or bestsellers (because there's usually a reason they're in that position).

3. If you want to be a well-rounded writer, you must be a well-rounded reader. Don't forget short storys, poems, and plays can teach and hone different skills than a novel.

4. You just might discover a new favorite author. It's happened to me. Because I write reviews, I don't always get to choose what books I have to read. I've come across some fantastic new authors this way.

5. There's always something to learn, from a new time period, to a people group you're not familiar with, or even scientific theories you've never heard of. Reading outside your comfort bubble is educational.

So go on...nudge, nudge...step out of your suffocating little box. Fling a completely out-of-your-zone book onto your TBR pile today. You can thank me for it later.

Preferably with chocolate.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Stomping the Goalie

I'm starting a new writing challenge for the month of May with a couple of writer buddies of mine. The newbie of the bunch is going with a conservative goal of 1,000 words. I'm the middle-of-the-roader with a respectable 10k in my crosshairs, and the professional superstar is hoping to crank out a whopping 40,000 new words. Our plan is to check in each weekend to see how we did, wherein we'll either dish out some palm-stinging high-fives or partake in some serious butt kicking.

But why do this? Why stress ourselves out? For the same reason I used to teach homeschool classes for other children in my living room. If I don't have someone holding me accountable, I'm going to be a slacker.

Note: I didn't say loser. When I'm not participating in a writing challenge, I still write, just not as much. Joining with others notches up the pressure to perform, which is a good thing, especially since my personal goal was to finish my current manuscript by the end of the summer.

But a writer's challenge group isn't the only way to meet your goals. Here are some other ideas to stomp all over the goalie when you're trying to finish a manuscript...

- Reward yourself. Think of this as the dangling carrot approach, but every now and then, the carrot actually lands in your mouth. For each mini-accomplishment you achieve, give yourself a treat. I'm not talking mink coat or trip for 2 to Mazatlan. It could be something as simple as dark chocolate or a bike ride around a lake.

-  On the flip side, there's punishment. If you're not the Pavlov's dog kind of person, you might need something more drastic. If you don't meet your goal, perhaps a deprivation is in order. Give yourself a writerly spanking. No movie on Friday night and nix the Ben & Jerry's until you reach a respectable word count. 

- Hire a hit man for the editor...inner-editor, that is. First drafts are for capturing story, not snipping off every dangling participle. Write now, edit later.

- Be consistent. Set a timer. Write every day, or at least every weekday. Think of writing as exercise and just do it. Don't go to bed at night unless you've met that time requirement.

- For the techies amongst you, open Excel and make yourself a spreadsheet. Sometimes seeing the numbers all laid out makes the task less daunting.

And those are just a few. What are some of your favorite ways to meet a goal?
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