"God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform..." William Cowper

Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer Session #2: Being Considerate

Dear Tootles (I’m not writing to you, Mom and Dad, because I’m mad you didn’t come pick me up),

I’ve made a couple of friends this week and it turns out we’re all in the same place: we have a lot to learn about writing. Knowing that made me feel a little better.

I hope you are still enjoying your bone, Tootles. That reminds me of our lesson this week about being considerate. Who would have thought that was a requirement of being a writer? Well, I guess I have it in me because I considered you before I left for camp by giving you a bone. I wanted you to have fun even though I was gone. Coach Sol says writers need to think about our reader if we want them to enjoy our story. Just like you’re enjoying your bone, I guess.

I suppose I do want my reader to enjoy what I write. I mean, even if it is MY story, I don’t want to write it for just me. I want others to like it long after it’s out of my hands.

Coach Sol says it’s a writer’s job to give the reader an emotional experience. He said it’s not my fault I don’t already know how to do that (phew!) but that we are all raised with a traditional nonfiction mind-set. That means that when I have to write essays for school, or even letters like this one, I am writing to convey information, not to give the reader an emotional experience. I need to train my brain otherwise.

Coach Sol quoted E. L. Doctorow, who said that “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader, not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”

I like that idea of feeling rained upon just by reading words on a page. Maybe I’ll stay at camp a couple more weeks and see what else Coach Sol has to say….

Love You Tootles (and you, Mom and Dad),

Your Trying-To-Be-Considerate-Camper   


Do you ever have trouble considering your reader? How do you remind yourself to do this? One great way to “make your reader feel rained upon” is to use the five senses. Do you have a favorite sense to use?

photo credit: stock.xchng

Monday, June 18, 2012

Summer Session #1: Welcome To Writing Camp!

I saw this book on a recent morning talk show and it made me think a bit on kids and summer camp. As I begin creating my third manuscript, I thought it might be fun to do a little "writing camp" this summer to freshen up. The following letters are from a young writer getting a dose of summer writing camp for the first time. For the sake of simplicity, I’m using one book, Stein on Writing, for the advice of “Coach Sol.”

Dear Mom and Dad and Tootles,

I know I said I wanted to go to writing camp this summer, but that was when I thought I was a pretty good writer. Turns out I was wrong. Our assignment this week was to write a short story. We received comments back today. Coach Sol said he was EXTREMELY glad I was here. Apparently I need major help. Coach said he liked my punctuation skills (big whoop) but that I needed help in other areas. Things like point-of-view, creating likeable characters, and showing instead of telling. What in the world does show instead of tell mean anyway? Then Coach said I needed to think of my reader. Do I really need to do that? I’m the one writing the story after all. It’s MY story, not theirs. I can write it how I want to.

Anyway, I am NOT having fun. I miss you and I miss Tootles. Please come pick me up soon. This camp was a bad idea. I don’t think Coach knows what he’s talking about.

          Your Unhappy Camper

P.S. I hope Tootles likes the bone I gave him before I left.

Bad contest scores. An agent or editor rejection. All writers know these disappointments, but I don’t think any sting as much as that first time. My first was six years ago after receiving some not-so-flattering contest scores. My defenses immediately went up. Do you remember your first writing disappointment?

Monday, June 11, 2012


I had my first golfing experience a couple weeks ago. Born of a desire to find a hobby that hubby and I could share (all my recent efforts to convert him into a runner, reader, writer, and quilter had failed miserably) I decided to try my hand at a game of golf, supportive husband at my side.

And of course, you probably know where this is going. While I’m far from a golfing expert, I think I learned enough to compare golfing to writing. Here it goes:

The Drive ~ This is it. Your one shot that will push you ahead. Maybe make that par 4 attainable. You place your tee in the ground, put your ball on top, take your stance, aim, swing, and…find your hot pink golf ball off the fairway in the middle of some trees, interrupting another golf group’s serious game.

I’ll compare this to that all-important first draft. You prepare. Maybe do some research and outlining or some character interviews. Then, you dive in. Your swing feels good, the words are coming, you make contact, and even follow through nicely. But more than likely something’s wrong. Your characters aren’t likeable. There’s plot holes scattered throughout. You might feel like you’re wasting your critique group’s time.

The Correction ~ Trying to retain your dignity and keep tears at bay, you choose your weapon. A fairway wood, maybe. Chin held high, you walk off the fairway, through the line of trees, and find your hot pink ball that is causing you all this pain. Determined, you take another shot, rejoicing when it makes its way onto the fairway, albeit still quite a ways from that yellow flag waving in the breeze.

Here’s those major edits. Big plot problems? Fix them here. Characters aren’t leaping off the pages? Make them. Need more surprises and twists? Get on track now. Get onto the fairway!

Chipping On ~ Now it’s a matter of chipping toward that hole. Don’t swing too hard, you’ll be in those trees again. But you better make it a straight shot or you’ll be taking another hike to find your pink ball in a sand bunker. And watch out for those water hazards! You continue this pattern again and again. All hope of a par four has been left at the teeing ground. But wait, there’s hope. The putting green is within reach!

Now’s the time where you find out what you’re made of. Are you willing to persevere or are you going to throw that manuscript out the window along with your irons? Your manuscript is improving. Your critique group encourages. The end is in sight. There’s hope—maybe your dreams will become reality!

The Put (Better make that plural in my case) ~ Sounds quaint, doesn’t it? Putting. Almost like an easy game of mini-golf with the kids. But the reality is altogether different. This putting green is wide open space and that little golf hole is only a small fraction of it. Time to narrow your direction, shorten your swing.

The victory of finishing your manuscript (making it to the green) is getting old. You want your book to go somewhere. You want an agent, an editor, a book contract. But there’s so many different possible roads. Which to choose?

The Victory ~ You make your move, or rather, your puts. Many of them even. Sometimes you go past the hole, sometimes you skim it. But then…it happens. All that hard work and finally, your hot pink ball whirls satisfyingly into victory.

Maybe you final in a contest. Maybe an agent or editor expresses interest in your work. Maybe you sign that book contract. Maybe you hold your book in your hands for the first time. Any way, it’s victory all the same. Hey, you might not have taken the most direct route. Maybe your par four goal ended up a par eleven. But you persevered. You made it. And the victory is just as sweet. Maybe next time your average will be better than eleven.

Have you ever given golf a try? Are there any sports that are out of your comfort zone? How would you compare them to writing?

photo credit: flickr

Friday, June 8, 2012

Short and Sweet Friday: Bittersweet Summer

I've just come in from putting the kids on the school bus for their last Friday of kindergarten and first grade. The house is SILENT. There's many things I won't miss about school days--the morning rush, the homework prodding, the anxiety at seeing my boys off each morning for an entire day without me. 

But I will miss this. That first glimpse of morning silence. Peace. Long uninterrupted time to write and spend time with God. Oh, it will still happen, just not so frequently and not without a bit of effort. (That is, getting up before the sun rises!)

Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to more time with my boys. The lazy days. The vacation days. The beach days. The-lay-under-a-tree-with-a-child-on-each-side-of-me-and-read-all-afternoon days.

What will you miss when summer's here? What do you look forward to?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Contests, Contests, Contests!

Up until recently, I thought I’d long ago accepted that contests are to be a part of my writing life. Then, last week happened.

I chose three contests to enter this year: ACFW’s Genesis Contest, My Book Therapy’s The Frasier Contest, and the contest that Re:Write is offering in collaboration with Tyndale.

In April I found out that the manuscript I’m currently pitching to agents was a semi-finalist in the Genesis contest. I had high hopes for a final that might boost my manuscript out of the dreaded slushpile. But a final was not to be, as I found out last Thursday.

I immediately sank into the doldrums. I had worked so hard. This was the fifth year I’d entered the Genesis. I didn’t have a clue how to make my story any stronger. Did God want me to write for Him or didn’t He?

I woke up from a restless sleep on Friday morning and hit the pavement for a run and for some time with God.

Jesus, I know I wouldn’t be so dejected if I only looked to you for what I need. Forgive me. I’ve made an idol out of writing. Help me to want you more than anything or anyone else. May I look to you for true satisfaction.

I didn’t feel peace right away. My idol was still there, teasing me, taunting me. But I’d recognized it for what it was and in that, I felt victory. And acceptance. Acceptance that God knows what is best for me and I do have all I need in Him—even if I often act like I don’t. I preached truth to myself.

Later that afternoon I received a call from Susan May Warren informing me of my final in The Frasier Contest. I cried happy tears.

The emotional rollercoaster this past week was enough to make me swear off contests forever. But giving up contests won’t solve the problem. If I’m to pursue a career in publishing, both the disappointments and the victories will always be there—they are not limited to contests.

A disappointment in a critique partner’s criticism, a victory in their praise.

A disappointment in an agent’s rejection, a victory in their request to see a full manuscript.

And those experiences I have yet to know…a disappointment in a bad review, a victory in a three-book contract.

A disappointment in low book sales, a victory in a reader’s kind note.

I cannot let the ups and downs of this amazing journey rule my life. I refuse to let them. I cannot make an idol of writing. I can only put first things first—Jesus—and the rest will follow.

Do you have any contest wisdom (or any wisdom!) you wish to share?

photo credit: flickr

Friday, June 1, 2012

Short and Sweet Friday: Summer Reading

Summer is almost here and I feel the excitement of a good read all around me. While it's a cozy picture to think of oneself curled up by the warmth of a winter fire with snow gently falling outside the window, I think more reading is actually done in the summer. The days are longer, more people go on vacation and have time to read,  and we all want to be outside relaxing. What better way to get a little R&R?

A few days ago I heard two women talking about what they liked and disliked about a particular book. One thing they both agreed on being unhappy with was the lengthy setting descriptions. Now as a writer, I know this is a no-no, but it was nice to hear real readers state it. This was one thing these two women were not willing to spend their summer on.

Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to a good read? What would ruin an otherwise good book for you?