Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Giving Thanks #IWSG



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Can you believe it's November already? Sheesh! Good luck to all of you participating in NaNoWriMo. This will be the first November in many years that I'm not writing a brand new manuscript. Instead, I'll be working on final edits of another.

2015 has been a year full of unique challenges for me. But through these challenges, one thing remains the same: a thankful heart brings personal happiness. If you're a Bible reader, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 instructs us to "give thanks in all circumstances."

When we're able to follow that one piece of advice, it's amazing how life has a way of straightening out. Give thanks, even when things aren't perfect. Give thanks, even when you wish your situation was different. Give thanks, even if you have a long way to go.

As we head toward the holidays and the closing of 2015, my wish for you is that you'll find something to be grateful for every single day.

What are you thankful for today? Are you participating in NaNo? If so, what's your book about? Please share!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What Dude Perfect Can Teach Writers


Have you ever heard of the Internet sensation, Dude Perfect? They're five dudes who perform crazy awesome trick shots. You can check out their YouTube channel here. With three teen dudes of my own, I've watched a heck of a lot of Dude Perfect stunts.

In this interview with ABC's Nightline, we get to know the guys behind Dude Perfect a little more. As I watched it, I realized they could teach writers a whole lot of good stuff:

Do not give up

For Dude Perfect, failure is not an option. Their shots seem impossible, and it's only through try after try after try that they finally make it happen.

For some writers, finishing a manuscript seems impossible. For others, signing with an agent or securing a publishing contract seems impossible. Mega sales seems impossible. Let's adopt Dude Perfect's work ethic of try, try, try, and try again.

Celebrate victory

One of my favorite things about Dude Perfect's videos is their victory celebrations. After several failed attempts at a trick, when they finally make the shot, their joy is contagious.

Writers should be careful not to be down on themselves if they aren't where they think they should be in their writing careers. Instead, writers should celebrate each victory, no matter how small.

Include others in the fun

Dude Perfect has a legion of famous fans, like mega sports stars, big-time coaches, and celebrities. They've included these famous people in their fun, having them perform their own trick shots.

We can also include others in the fun. For me, it's fun to include my family in the cover design process. Perhaps you could name a character after one of your kids. We can even seek plot ideas from the people in our lives. It's fun for others to be involved in the sometimes wacky world of a writer.

Stay true to who you are

Dude Perfect has said no to lucrative alcohol endorsements because of their deeply held Christian beliefs. I totally respect that. Their videos are good, clean fun that the whole family can enjoy together. They don't hide their faith, they want to share it with others (check out their "why" section of their web site). They don't follow the money, they follow their hearts.

I'll probably never write fantasy or sci fi, simply because that's not my area of interest (even thought here's plenty of money to be made in those genres). If we stay true to ourselves and write for the right reasons, we'll stay on the path that's intended for us.

Love what you're doing

The dudes of Dude Perfect love what they're doing. Their joy is infectious. They're like five Peter Pans who I hope will never grow up. Even with all their success, they've kept their sense of humor and don't take themselves too seriously.

We can learn a lot from these guys. If we don't love what we're doing, why do it? If you're down in the dumps about a rejection or low sales, remember this: you're a writer, you love writing, and you'll likely continue writing even if no one else reads your words. Love it anyway.

Dude Perfect has fun. They know their audience. They've found their niche. We could all learn a lot from these dudes who make awesome trick shots. What say you, writer friends? Have you ever heard of Dude Perfect? Do you love what you're doing? Ever make an awesome trick shot?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Use It or Lose It #IWSG



Welcome, Insecure Writers! If you aren't a member yet, please do yourself a favor and sign up here.

After a summer of not writing, I was so glad to get back in the saddle again. I've sent my revision off to my editor, and I await her final notes.

All summer I kept reminding myself of the "use it or lose it" principle--that writing is like a muscle that can atrophy if not used. And even though I feared jumping back in, I survived the leap. No injuries occurred. *checks mirror for bruises*

While life swirls around me at a dizzying, uncontrollable pace, I continue to put one word after the next, creating something only I can create.

I hope you're doing the same...


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Power of Giving Back



Friends, today we have a special guest--Randi Lee, author of Affected. Randi's here to share what she's learned about the power of authors giving back.

Take it away, Randi!

Writers, there are a lot of us. Strength in numbers is great! Don’t get me wrong. I love all of my writer friends and wouldn’t trade them for the world. However, with so many writers publishing so many books these days, it can be difficult to get noticed—especially by the media. 

I should know. I spent ages contacting media affiliates in an effort to have them promote my book. Newspapers, trade journals, television and radio stations: I tried them all. Through emails, letters, telephone calls and physical visits, I did everything I could to push my book on these agents of the media, to no avail. I even switched my message. When one pitch letter didn’t work, I tried another. If no one responded to my book’s synopsis, I re-wrote the synopsis and sent that out. No one bit. Nothing worked. Colorful language filled the halls of my home as I ranted and raved to friends and family about how amazing my book was and questioned why no one wanted to promote it.

What came to me later, something I should have realized when I first began contacting the media, is that lots of writers contact the media. Lots of writers want the media to promote their amazing book. Lots of writers try through emails, letters, telephone calls and physical visits to get the media to do something for them.

However, in return, what are those writers doing for the media?

Sure, the description of a great book written by a local author might entice a few additional viewers to tune in to the 5:00 news. However, unless that local author is Stephen King or Ann Rice, I doubt the boost in ratings would be all that significant. I was no different. Yes, my friends and family would watch, but who else? I knew I needed to add something to my pitch to the media—something more newsworthy than just an interesting read. I needed to provide them with a story that would benefit their viewers and ensure ratings succeeded. I needed to give something back.

My pitch changed completely. Instead of sending emails to newscasters about my “amazing new book!” I wrote to them about a successful self-marketing campaign I was running at the time and how learning about it could benefit their viewers. “Sales for my book skyrocketed in less than two weeks thanks to this marketing campaign and I did it all on my own,” I wrote. “I would like to tell you, and your viewers, how I did it.”

Suddenly, things changed. My inbox was flooded with responses from local and international news affiliates asking me if I would like to appear on their program or in their newspaper. Last week, I successfully concluded the first of three television news interviews I have lined up. Next week, I’ll be featured in an hour-long interview on the radio, with another radio interview following the week after that. Three local papers have agreed to run articles about my marketing campaign (and, more importantly, my book,) and potential opportunities are still continuing to arise.

Yes, writer friend, your book is amazing, and people should want to read it! However, there are a lot of amazing books out there. Getting yours noticed is going to involve giving, as well as taking. Think about your story. Think about the successes and failures you’ve had and what the media and its readers/viewers can take away from them. Did the inspirational theme of your book motivate someone to donate to charity? Tell them that. Did your book make the Amazon Top 100 in less than a day? Tell them how you made it happen. Empower yourself through your unique experiences as a writer and lend those experiences to the public in a new and thoughtful way. Once you learn to give back, the media will be much more obliged to listen.

Thank you so much, Julie, for hosting me on your blog today. I hope this information proves useful to you, Julie’s readers, and I hope you all continue to pursue your goals in new and inventive ways! 

Randi Lee is an author and blogger, as well as a freelance writer, editor and designer living in New England with her family and two much-loved dogs. She recently released her debut novel, Affected, and is currently working on its sequel, Ascendance. Randi loves sharing tips and supporting fellow authors. She often posts helpful advice and author spotlights on her website: www.randileewrites.comAffected, her action-packed dystopian thriller, is available at all store fronts, including: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and iTunes. 

Awesome, right? I love it when fellow authors succeed in the world of marketing their books. Giving back is always a positive way to go. 

Thanks, Randi!

Friends, what's your experience with book promotion and media? Any tips you'd like to share?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Writing: It's Like Tennis



As I mentioned in my post about Hope, Pride, and Midway Blues, I've taken up tennis. As C. S. Lewis once said, "You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream." So there you go.

Of course, as I dug into tennis this summer, my writer brain ran parallels between writing and tennis. My thoughts?

  • Jump in at your skill level. I didn't enter the sport with the notion that I'd be a skilled player after a couple of lessons. I was starting out on the bottom rung, with absolutely no idea how to even keep score. (Tennis score is really weird, though, but I digress) Same with writing. We don't enter the writing life as experts. We enter at our own skill level and go from there. No pressure to be like the aforementioned C. S. Lewis--now or ever.
  • Soak up advice from those ahead of you. In every area of our lives, there are people who know more than we do. Many of those people want to see others rise higher and improve their skills. Tennis and writing are no different. If someone offers tips, don't get offended and shut them out. Instead, soak up their wisdom and thank them for caring enough to help.
  • There is always something to learn. Even the best tennis players practice constantly and continue to improve. Experienced writers agree that they do not know it all and that they must continue to work on their craft. We will never, ever, know it all. Thank goodness! The journey would be boring without growth.
  • Don't let setbacks stop you. Sometimes I feel as if I haven't learned a thing with tennis, and that I'm moving backwards instead of forward. It may be frustrating, but that's just part of the process. As writers, we understand that there will be good days and bad days, momentum and failure. Heck, even Serena Williams has setbacks. We learn from them and move on.
  • Stay after class. My serve needs...ahem...some work. At this point, I'm happy if it just makes it into the service box. After my practice with other players ends, I stay alone and work on my serve. If we recognize a writing weakness--character, plot, world--it's helpful to dig in and do extra work in that area. It may take time and effort, but the improvement is worth it.
  • Keep those muscles working. Whether it's the mental muscles of writing, or the leg, arm, and shoulder muscles for tennis, it's helpful to keep them moving. I didn't write much over the summer, and when I came back to my manuscript, it took me a while to warm up.
  • Fatigue happens. Sometimes I try so hard to improve my tennis shots, I become too fatigued. And when I'm too fatigued, it's a downward spiral. It's time to take a break. We've all been there before with our writing, yes? When our brains are fried and we read the same sentence over and over again and have no revelation about what to do next. Stop. Rest. Return.
  • Get out there and try. I played in my first league match last weekend. I went in with the attitude, I'm new, but I've got the guts to try. With the afterthought, I hope these ladies have a sense of humor. I have a long way to go, but boy, was it fun. I love the Wayne Gretzky quote, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." I say that to my sons all the time. And why should I be any different? Why not take a shot? What's the worst that can happen? My manuscript is a flop? I'm a goofy tennis player? So what?
With anything in life, I think the most important thing we can do is live in the moment and enjoy the journey. Otherwise, what's the point?

Writing friends, what's your take on these comparisons? If you've played tennis, how's your serve? Can you reliably get that little green ball into the service box? Help!!


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Summer of Not Writing #IWSG


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Last summer I was busy with the release of my novel "The Summer of Crossing Lines." This summer, in keeping with "The Summer of..." theme, it's been "The Summer of Not Writing."

But now that my oldest son is settled in safety at college (boo hoo), and my other two sons are about to start their sophomore year in high school, I'm prepping to dive back in.

Life has a way of getting in the way, and I'm not stressed at all about not writing. There's a time and a season for everything. This summer may have been a The Summer of Not Writing, but autumn can be The Fall of Falling Back Into Work.

How about you? Did you get much writing done this summer? If you have kids, are they back in school? Are you back in the routine?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Finding God at the Kitchen Sink--a book review



Life has thrown me some curve balls lately, and more than ever I find myself gravitating toward faith-based reads. I hope you don't mind if I speak a bit about one of my new favorites, Finding God at the Kitchen Sink by Maggie Paulus. The back cover note from the author says this:

"I want you to know--
you with your brokenness, your chaotic days, and your one, fleeting life--
I want you to know there is a Maker who isn't far from each one of us.
He very much wants to be found.

So I scribble down my stories for you. 
And I testify to this--that I have seen God-glory.
And now I can't help but live in awe of the Eternal One who has woven
His narrative into my days.

I hope you see Him too.

Isn't that beautiful?

Have you ever had a troubling situation? A rough day when you sometimes feel overwhelmed by it all? Me, too. And I tell ya, this book is like a big warm hug on days like that. My copy is now dog-eared, with little hearts next to my favorite passages. I've read the words of hope and encouragement over and over again.

I usually blog about writing lessons learned, but in this case my main writing lesson is to write from deep within your heart about what moves you.

This book is beautifully written by an author with an open heart and an imperfect life. I'd highly recommend it not only for you, but as a gift for someone you love--especially moms.

Have you ever gone through seasons when you gravitate toward the spiritual? Do you have a favorite book that calms your soul? Please share!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Goodbye, Guilt! #IWSG


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Do you ever feel guilty when you haven't been diligently writing? Me, too.

Besides the mass editing I accomplished during my mini writing retreat, I've barely gotten anything done this summer. I have a bucket full of excuses. I have a lot going on in my life right now, including the fact that my oldest is heading off to college soon.

At first I felt guilty about the lack of writing I've accomplished. But I said goodbye to guilt a while ago.

Writing is no longer the be-all, end-all, write-or-die obsession that it used to be. It's simply another piece of my life. An important one, don't get me wrong, but if it's a choice between writing or spending time with my sons during summer break, my sons will win every time.

School will begin soon, and my writing life will get back on track. Perhaps it'll even help divert my attention as my birdie leaves the nest :(

How about you, fellow writers? Have you been writing this summer? If not, do you feel guilty about it?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hope, Pride, and Midway Blues

(yours truly)

Last week, my 15-year-old sons and I took beginner tennis lessons. It was a fun but challenging week. We learned new skills such as forehand, backhand, volley, and serve. We felt muscles we didn't know existed.

As we progressed through the week, I experienced the same emotions I experience with each new writing endeavor:

Hope

On the morning of our first lesson, as we learned simple things, I was hopeful for what the week would bring. I imagined my skills growing each day, and how much fun my sons and I would have when we conquered the tennis court. Heck, with a cute tennis skirt and a visor, what could go wrong? I was an eager student.

When I first began writing seriously, I was also hopeful. I marinated in each new writing skill, knowing I was working my way toward something important. With each writing project, I open a fresh document with high hopes and great expectancy.

Midway Blues

By the middle of our tennis lessons, I became discouraged. As the coach increased the level of difficulty, I experienced the whole "one step forward, two steps back" thing. As each new skill was taught, I struggled to remember the skills from previous lessons. I wondered why in the heck I fooled myself into thinking I could learn a new sport. I envied my sons, who are super athletic and learn such things easily.

Same with each writing project, and with my writing journey as a whole. With each new project, I reach a point when I feel discouraged and wonder how I'd ever had that initial jolt of courage. I struggle to remember each lesson I've learned, trying to perfect this skill and that technique. How did I ever think I could conquer such tasks as writing a full-length novel?

Suck it Up and Move On

During tennis, right after a brief pity party, I had to suck it up and move on. I realized I was not going to become a Williams sister in the course of one week. I learned what I could, knowing it would take practice, practice, practice. I could either focus on all I was doing wrong, or on all I'd learned in a short period of time.

Same with writing. When we hit a wall, sometimes we just have to suck it up and move on. We can't stifle our creative momentum by sulking about all we're doing wrong. We can rejoice in what we've done right, knowing we still need to practice, practice, practice.

Pride

At the end of our tennis camp, I was proud of all we'd accomplished. As our coach pointed out, we had a basic knowledge of how the sport worked. Now we could bang a few balls around the court. We had a foundation to work with. Were we skilled in the sport? Well, more than we'd been at the beginning of the week. We'd taken on the challenge of learning something new. We'd put our hearts into the lessons, and shared a lot of laughs.

With each writing project, I feel pride at several stages. Proud of the original idea. Proud of the perseverance through doubts and insecurities. Proud of the finished product. We writers should feel proud of what we accomplish, while acknowledging there's still so much to learn.

Do you experience these same emotions when writing? Have you learned a new sport or skill lately? Ever played tennis?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Law of Happiness--A Book Review


Instead of my normal "writing lessons learned" post, today I'll share a book with you that teaches life lessons. It's called The Law of Happiness by Dr. Henry Cloud.

I've been reading a lot of nonfiction lately, and this book fascinated me. Why? It's a book where the Bible and science collide. I'm not a scientific person--I'd say I'm more spiritual--but that doesn't mean I don't have questions about how the two coexist.

What I loved most about this book was how it gave scientific proof for how the truths found in the Bible make people happy. It showed how if we followed the advice given in those ancient pages, we are following a path that's paved with happiness. Life will always have troubles, to be sure, but it's nice to know there's a proven guide for how to keep joy in our lives.

Without giving too much away, let me list three laws of happiness. And since this is a writing blog, I'll even point out how these laws apply to writers!
  • Happy people are givers. It's true that giving brings much more joy than receiving. This truth applies when giving tithes at church, or giving clothes to the local homeless shelter. But it's also true when writers give their time to help other writers, or give a kind word to someone who's ready to give up. Giving doesn't have to be expensive. Encouragement is free.
  • Happy people connect. It's great when we connect with others in the physical world, and also when we connect with each other virtually. If we're ever feeling alone out here in our little corner of the world, all we have to do is reach out to a fellow writer. They'll know exactly how we're feeling. When we're tempted to isolate ourselves, reaching out is a great way to add joy to our lives.
  • Happy people don't compare themselves. This is a biggie for writers, yes? Sometimes it's difficult to not compare ourselves. But...you see that writer over there? The one with the accolades and the book deals and the mega sales? He's on his path and you're on yours. We were each given special gifts that make our stories and writing styles our own. My sentences and word choices will be different than yours. My publishing path will be like no other. Same with you. We each bring something unique to the literary world--let's not compare ourselves to others.
These three laws are just a sampling of the wonderful laws of happiness outlined in this book. I highly recommend it. Not only as a writer, but as a flawed person who's figuring out this thing called Life. The beauty of The Law of Happiness is that it's not all about religion. Sure, it's about laws written in the Bible, but it's also about how science backs up those same theories. If you're looking for a lamp to guide your path, this book is a great place to start.

If smiles were like star ratings, I'd give it five smiles :) :) :) :) :)

Have you read The Law of Happiness? Are you curious about how science and the Bible collide? Do you feel happiness when you give, connect with others, and toss aside comparisons? What else makes you happy?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Mini Writing Retreat #IWSG



Welcome, Insecure Writers! Not a member of this group yet? Remedy that STAT!

I'm currently on a mini writing retreat with two of my closest writing buddies. How is it going? I'll report back later! But I did want to chat abut a couple of things. Writing retreats can be expensive and inconvenient--especially if you're on a tight budget and have little kids at home. I'm not one to dump a lot of money into the writing process. It's just not my style. But when my friends approached me with the mini retreat idea, I jumped on board. Why?

  1. Lower cost. We're not paying for expensive workshops or roundtable critiques. We're simply getting away with our laptops to write. Most of the stuff covered in workshops or retreats can be found online for free.
  2. Zero pressure. I don't feel the pressure of passing my manuscript around to strangers. I don't feel pressure to come back to the hotel room between sessions in order to slash and burn my manuscript. It's simply a quiet time to work with friends who are doing the same thing.
  3. Friendly motivation. Part of the benefits of a retreat is the camaraderie between writers, and the knowledge gained from pros in the field. We can get enough info from pros in the field without spending the equivalent of a family vacation budget. And by meeting with like-minded friends, we can motivate each other to stay on task.
Retreats and conferences have never been my cup of tea, but this mini retreat idea might be something I can warm up to.

Have you ever attended a writing retreat? A big writing conference? What was your impression? Would you prefer a mini writing retreat? Please share!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Excuses and Motivation



Confession time! Besides blog posts and journal entries, I haven't written anything in over a month. A month! My editor returned her notes to me right after Memorial Day weekend, and I haven't even opened the document. I feel as if spider webs are growing on my laptop.

*sigh*

At first I came up with loads of excuses...my son's graduation, end of school year banquets, hosting a swim party with 35 freshmen. My list of excuses was looooong. But really, there are no excuses. I just haven't been motivated.

But! I'm going on a mini writing retreat with a couple of friends soon, and I'm looking forward to quiet time to open up that document and get back to work. I'm motivated to be motivated :)

In honor of my long list of excuses, and my desire to motivate myself to be motivated, I'll share some quotes with you:

Excuses

"Excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure." -- Don Wilder and Bill Rechin (ouch!)

"There is always a perfectly good excuse, always a reason not to. The hardest freedom to win is the freedom from one's excuses." -- Robert Brault

"You can make excuses or you can get the job done, but you can't do both." -- Hap Holmstead, The Biggest Loser

Motivation

"Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it." -- Lou Holtz

"Motivation will almost always beat mere talent." -- Norman Ralph Augustine

"People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing--that's why we recommend it daily." -- Zig Ziglar

Have you been consistently writing? Or are you like me, and haven't opened a document in a while? Do you have a long list of excuses? Are you sufficiently motivated? Please share!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Opposite of Envy



I was listening to a podcast interview with Dr. Henry Cloud, author of The Law of Happiness. I'm reading this book now. I'll report back later.

Anyway, in the interview Dr. Cloud spoke about how gratitude is the opposite of envy. Sounds weird, but I've never thought of it that way. But it makes sense. With envy, we're upset about what we don't have. With gratitude, we're thankful for what we do have.

A fun illustration of this is a tweet that was sent out by my son, who graduated from high school last night. He was bidding a fond farewell to his school. "No more FIFA tournaments, no more cafeteria food, no more expired ASB snacks, no more dirt-covered trailers. I'm going to miss everything."

You see, his high school is a small cluster of trailers surrounded by dirt countryside. A new high school is under construction, but that didn't matter to my son. In a quote he gave at a scholarship luncheon, "The guts are good, even if it isn't pretty on the outside." He isn't envious of kids who go to fancy schools. He excelled and had a blast in dusty trailers, knowing he was blessed with education and a small town atmosphere. In my opinion, that's a heart of gratitude.

The topic of envy reminded me how we writers can be afflicted by the Green Eyed Monster just as much as, or maybe more than, the next guy. Book deals, large advances, bestseller status, signing with a top agency--these highlights sometimes seem to only happen to other writers.

Today I encourage all of us to practice the opposite of envy. Let's express gratitude for what we currently have in our writing lives:

The ability to read
The ability to spell
The ability to write
The ability to tell stories
The ability to write on a computer
The ability to cut and paste
The ability to send queries via email
The ability to download ebooks instantly
The ability to publish instantly

As my son closes the chapter on high school and begins the next chapter at a university, I'm thankful for his heart of gratitude. And when the Green Eyed Monster sneaks up on us, we can list the good things in our writing lives. The cure for envy is gratitude.

Anything else you'd like to add to the above list? Do you ever get bitten by the Green Eyed Monster? How do you handle it? And if you haven't yet seen it, check out my IWSG post about our Wall of Gratitude.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Criticism = Free Coaching


criticize |ˈkritəˌsīzverb [ with obj. ] indicate the faults of (someone or something) in a disapproving wayform and express a sophisticated judgment of (a literary or artistic work)

I was listening to a podcast by Joyce Meyer about criticism. Not literary criticism, but other criticisms we may receive in daily life.

Criticism is tough to take, especially if it isn't given nicely. But Joyce Meyer made a great point: criticism, if given in good faith and with kindness, is like free coaching.

That really resonated with me.

I thought of it this way: when my kids do something wrong and I gently correct them (not criticize them negatively), I'm coaching them on how to be decent human beings. Just like my mom used to coach my siblings and me on how to watch our language and do the right thing.

As writers, we're subject to literary criticism all the time. First with our early readers, then with agents and editors, and finally with readers.

Here are my thoughts on how literary criticism can be effective as free coaching:
  • Is the review/critique given with good intentions? Is the criticism just mean? Is there any meat behind it, or is it just harsh words slung out there to demoralize? If criticism is given with the intention to help the writer, it can be received as free coaching.
  • Is the review/critique given with respect? Is the critic using respectful words? Tone?
  • Does the critic understand the difficulty of having their work criticized? Writers know how difficult it is to have our work filleted and gutted by others. The writers who've criticized my work (at my request!) have all understood how it felt to have their work critiqued. Their ideas were given with respect.
  • Can the critic offer a better way to approach the problem? One of my favorite things about having my work critiqued is the back and forth that takes place with my beta readers. One might highlight a section because it bothered her. She'll explain why it stood out to her, but she won't stop there. She'll offer ideas on how to fix the problem. How I handle it is up to me, but I truly appreciate the brainstorming.
  • Is the writer coachable? If we feel as if we know it all, forget about it--we won't learn a thing. If we feel as if our writing is above criticism, forget about it--we'll struggle to grow. In real life, and in the writing life, it's important to remain coachable. There's always something new to learn.
Sometimes our greatest growth takes place when we offer ourselves up for criticism. For this "free coaching" to really be effective, it's important that we're open to alternative opinions and new ideas. And we must remember that it's our work being critiqued and reviewed, not us as writers. Those lines become blurry at times, yes?

How do you handle criticism, in daily life and in your writing life? Can you list any other ways that criticism can be viewed as free coaching? Any tips you can offer on how to remain coachable?



Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Wall of Gratitude #IWSG



Welcome, Insecure Writers! If you haven't yet joined this amazing group, head on over to the site and sign up. You'll be thankful you did.

On the subject of being thankful, we have a new addition in our home. No, it's not a new baby, or another rescued pet. We have a wall of gratitude.

I can't take credit for the idea, though. Our pastor spoke about how gratitude is on the path to joy, and if we put up visual reminders of what we're thankful for, it'll remind us of the blessings in our lives. So we created a wall of gratitude on our fridge.

(cute, yes?)

Our boys have the freedom to write whatever it is they're thankful for. They're teens, so of course they've written things like steak, vanilla shakes, and pizza. But they've also written family, our military, and an education. I've written God, good health, and love.

But of course the writer in me is evident on that wall. I've added books, words, the skills and desire to write, perseverance, and positive attitude.

Whenever I'm feeling low, I stroll over to that wall and read all that we're thankful for. And I won't leave without adding something new. That simple task makes me feel lighter. Our pastor is right...gratitude is definitely a big part of the path to joy.

Do you have a wall of gratitude? Or a gratitude journal? If you're ever feeling low, do you focus on what's wrong, or do you focus on what's right? What are you thankful for today?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

When Words Aren't Enough



Sometimes words aren't enough. Even for a writer.

My family spent the past weekend at a sports camp for burn survivors and their families. You see, my fifteen year old son is a burn survivor himself. Once you're treated at the Grossman Burn Center, you're a part of their family.

In the early days after my son's burn, I used to hide our invitation to burn camp. My reasons were entirely selfish. I didn't want to spend time with other burn survivors and their families--my son's physical wounds, and my mommy guilt wounds--were way too fresh.

Once my sons were older, I finally shared the invitation with them. Of course they were all over it, and now look forward to burn camp each year.

Funny thing is? I also look forward to it now. Spending time with other burn survivors and their families is the real joy of burn camp.

While at camp, I experienced such gratitude. I'm thankful for the other survivors and their families, who share the unique issues that burn survivors go through. I appreciate that kids and adults alike can walk around with their scars fully exposed, and know that they'll be accepted. I appreciate the open mic sessions after meals, where folks stand up and share how they were burned, and how burn camp has helped them heal.

During the weekend, I often thought about how I could write what camp meant to me, and what the fellowship with other families meant to our family. But the harder I tried to put it into words, the more frustrated I became. Because really, sometimes words aren't enough.

Instead, I set aside my writer brain and simply basked in the emotional journey of burn camp. I stopped trying to find the right words to express what it meant to me, and simply soaked it all in--the healing, the safety, the scars that no one paid attention to.

Here's what I'm learning: sometimes it's therapeutic to write about whatever junk we're going through. I even wrote a post about Writing Through Painful Memories. But sometimes it's ok to just revel in the moment and not be a writer.

What say you, writer friends? Do you ever have moments you've tried to put into words and can't? Do you ever set the writer brain aside and just live in the moment? What moments had such an impact on you? Please share!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

You're the Star of Your Publishing Movie


Quick note! I guest posted over at Adventures in YA Publishing about Creative Stage vs. Analytical Stage. Come check it out and say Hi!

Now on with the regular post...

Imagine this: You're watching a movie. You yawn because everything is going the main character's way. She never experiences conflict. She doesn't encounter a villain or a personal obstacle. She never makes mistakes, and the ending is predictably happy.

Boring!

Now, imagine this: You're watching a fabulous movie, gasping at the twists, biting your nails when the main character is in a pickle, laughing at the goofy choices she makes, and clapping as the final credits roll.

Better, right? Except when that movie is about our own publishing journey. We'd like to do without the twists, pickles, and goofy choices, thank you very much.

But what if you knew the ending to your publishing movie? What if you knew that the main character--YOU--would victoriously conquer the story goals? Would you have less anxiety? Would you worry less? Would you calmly move from one scene to the next, knowing it would be okay?

I'm here to tell you it'll be okay. How do I know? Because your story isn't over yet. When you encounter frustration in your own publishing movie, try this:

Embrace the Ups and Downs

Each rejection may seem like an obstacle, but it's really a stepping stone. Each request for a partial or full, or each yes from an editor or agent, is a stepping stone as well. Embrace them. They're all part of the journey.

Do What Your Character Would Do

Do you want your main character to snivel? Hide? Back down against the slightest push back? No! you want her to figure out a solution. You want her to fight back. You want her to conquer fears. You want her to learn from her mistakes and then get out there and make fresh mistakes.

Be a comeback kid

In movies, and in books, there's usually an "all is lost" moment. Perhaps you've had one or more of those moments in your own publishing journey. But remember this: usually that "all is lost" moment is right before the character triumphs. Get back up again. Come back strong. All is NOT lost. Your story is not yet over.

Movies with zero conflict are boring. Your publishing movie is not boring at all. When you reach the conclusion, you'll be satisfied because it didn't come easily. You fought against obstacles and internal villains, and wrote your own happy ending.

Have you ever considered your publishing journey as your own personal movie, with you as the main character? Are you the kick-bootie lead? Are you glad your movie is full of twists and turns, or do you wish your path was a little straighter?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Changing Face of YA Literature



Last weekend I was so excited to see my good writer buddy, Lisa Gail Green--author of Soul Crossed, participate in an author panel at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena. That bookstore is such a blast! I could've spent the whole day in there.

Anyway, the topic of Lisa's panel was "The Changing Face of YA Literature." Other authors on the panel were Francesca Lia Block, Lissa Price, and Nicole Maggi. It was moderated by Erika Jelinek.

I took a few notes during the discussion. The authors gave really good answers to timely topics. Here's a short summary:

Research shows that about 50% of YA books are read by adults. The authors were asked, "Does this change the way you write?"

Lisa Gail Green--No, it doesn't change the way she writes (thank goodness!). She tells the story that needs to be told. YA writers can be fearless with their choices of topics.

The authors were asked why they think older readers like to read YA books?

Nicole Maggi--Voice. YA books are often about misunderstood teens. These stories take adult readers back to that tumultuous time. It reminds us of what it was like escape into our favorite books.

How do these authors tap in to an authentic teen voice?

Lisa Gail Green--she uses her acting background to insert herself into the role of her characters. She tackles the types of problems real teens face--problems that seem bigger than life, with high drama and strong emotions.

What makes YA books so appealing?

Nicole Maggi--many teens want to be normal, but wouldn't it be cool if they were called to be a super hero? Most people wish they were extraordinary in real life. But if we were called to do that, would we? YA books explore the possibilities.

Diversity in YA books...

Lissa Price--she pointed out that it would be great if the characters' faces in YA books better reflected the faces in the classroom.

(Leslie Rose, Lisa Gail Green, and yours truly)

There was so much great information packed in the short amount of time, and I only scratched the surface. Be sure to click on the author links above. They had some amazing books on display.

What do you think of this topic? What's your opinion on the changing face of YA literature? Or literature and publishing in general?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Invest in What Really Matters #IWSG


Welcome, Insecure Writers! If you haven't yet joined this group, do it here. This group, created by Alex J. Cavanaugh, is such a valuable community.

As a mom of three teen sons--one a high school senior who's heading off to college this August *wipes tears*--I have a wistful perspective on family, writing, and publishing.

Invest in what really matters.

Yes, the written word matters. Yes, pursuing our publishing dream matters. But nothing, nothing, should take the place of time spent the people who matter most.

I used to pursue writing skills and the publishing path with a vigor and passion that sometimes bordered on unhealthy. I soon realized that writing, or publishing, or sales numbers don't matter much if my family isn't at the top of my priority list. I vowed to write and work on the business side of publishing only while my kids are at school or otherwise occupied. Manuscripts can wait...family shouldn't have to.

As my son prepares to graduate from high school, I'm especially nostalgic. One thing I know for sure: I won't have regrets about the amount of time I've spent with him.

Let's write, let's publish, and let's invest in what really matters: the people we love.

Have your priorities ever gone off kilter? If you have kids, how do you prioritize them while also scheduling writing time? If you've had teens leave for college, any advice you can offer this soon-to-be-crazy-sad mom?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How Penniless Writers Can Indie Publish


Indie publishing has become a lucrative business for many authors, and those authors mostly say the same thing--we must invest in our books in order to put the best product on the market. That initial investment can gobble up hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.

What's a broke writer to do?

I have a few ideas. Before I get started, let's keep in mind that writers can throw unlimited dollars at marketing (swag, blog tours, ads, etc.), but I'm going to focus on the two areas where I think the initial investment is crucial: editing and cover design.

I also want to point out that publishing on all the ebook retailers is FREE. There is no cost at all to upload our manuscripts to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Apple iTunes, and CreateSpace. Zilch. The main costs involved with indie publishing are related to getting your manuscript worthy of publication, in order to put your best foot forward in a crowded market. Let's focus on a polished manuscript with a striking cover.

Now that we've established all of that, here are some ideas for penniless writers who wish to indie publish:

Trade Manuscripts With Writers in the Same Position

We hear this all the time, right? That's because it's the best (and cheapest) way to improve your work. There is no sense in paying for a freelance editor before your manuscript has been vetted by other authors. You'd just be paying for work that should've been done before the professional editor put eyes to paper. So why not use multiple rounds of beta readers?

You may be thinking, "How can I beta read or edit when I need so much help myself?" or, "All the other authors out there are higher in their skill level than me." First of all, that's not true. And even if it were true, so what? You're a reader, aren't you? That means you know what to expect in a story. You know what does and doesn't look right when it comes to grammar.

Join a writer's group on Facebook, or join a forum, and inquire about exchanging beta reads. Read the other writer's work as if you've borrowed that book from a library. Make note of anything that stands out to you.

Offer Your Services to Freelance Editors or Cover Designers

We all have unique skills. Are you great at math? Does an editor's son or daughter need tutoring? Trade services. Are you a plumber, and a cover designer needs a new faucet installed? Trade services. Is there a local editor or cover designer who has small children and would do anything for a date night? Offer to babysit for a few nights. You do have something to offer. Think about how you can help someone else.

Contact Local High Schools and Colleges

Are there students who are looking to practice their intended vocation or expand on a hobby? Beauty schools and massage schools do this sort of thing...they practice their craft on people who are willing to give them a chance. Is there an English major who'd be willing to edit your manuscript? Or a would-be graphics designer who'd like to dabble in cover design, and needs a launch project?

Free Software

Canva.com is an excellent tool for free cover designs. There's also free manuscript editing software, such as AutoCrit.com. I haven't used AutoCrit yet, but I plan on playing with it before sending my next manuscript off to the freelance editor.

If your low bank balance is what's keeping you from indie publishing, think creatively about how you can use your own time and skills to take that leap.

The help is out there...for free. The resources are out there...for free. Know what else is free? Determination. If you have the will, there's a way--even if you're broke.

Do you have other ideas for how penniless writers can move forward in their writing journeys? Please share!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Imperfect Action Trumps Perfect Inaction


Many of you have probably heard the Harry Truman quote, "Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction." I love this quote because it reminds us to do.

Sometimes we writers spend too much time on the sidelines, gathering information. That's great for building a strong background in writing and honing our skills, but at some point we need to stop thinking about what we should do and actually do it.

Does this sound familiar to you?

  • I'll read one more craft book before I actually start writing my book.
  • I can't move on to the next chapter of draft one until the opening fifty pages are perfect.
  • I must attend one more conference/workshop/schmooze before I'll submit my manuscript.
  • My manuscript is ready to go, but I'm waiting for the perfect time before I query.
  • I've queried 20 agents without an offer of representation, so I'm tabling this manuscript.
  • I'd like to indie publish, but I must sign up X number of people to my newsletter and X number of people to my Facebook page before I take that leap.
  • I can't write the next story until this manuscript is sold.
Sometimes we wait on the sidelines because of fear. Believe me, I get it. I'm fearful as heck. But if we wait around for the publishing/agent search/indie climate to be perfect, we'll be frozen with inaction. It's better to get out there, make mistakes, fall on our faces, and get back up. At least then we're doing something.

Let's not wait for perfect inaction. Let's take imperfect action.

Do you wait for the perfect climate before taking action? Are you sometimes frozen with fear? How do you press forward?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Series? Stand Alone Books? What Should You Write? Guest Post by Alex J. Cavanaugh


Guys! Today we have a super star in our midst! Alex J. Cavanaugh, the Ninja Captain himself, is here to help us understand the differences between a series and standalone books. Don't forget to check out his latest release, Dragon of the Stars.

Take it away, Alex!

The Differences Between a Series and a Stand Alone Book

Thank you for having me today, Julie!

What is the difference between a series and a standalone book? Which is better? Now that I have written both, I can offer some tips. (Although technically, I have written two standalone books, as I never intended to write a sequel to my first book.) There is a distinct difference and advantages to both.

Let me show you advantages and disadvantages:

Series –

Disadvantages:

Making the following stories fresh and new
Keeping the timeline and details straight
Maintaining excitement throughout the series

Advantages:

Characters and world are familiar
Built in fan base
Can expand on the world and characters
Less research

Standalone –

Disadvantages:

Starting from scratch with world building
New characters to develop
More difficult to pitch, including to fans

Advantages:

Fresh start and no boundaries
Story wraps up with one book – no cliffhangers
Can pour everything into just one book

As you can see, they both have their good and bad points. Which one we write depends on what we are trying to accomplish. Do we want an expanding universe? Do we want the freedom of exploring new ideas? It’s all up to the writer.

It’s the difference between a movie versus a television show. A movie is (usually) self-contained. The storyline wraps up at the end and the character arc is complete. With a television series, the overall story is never-ending. The writers can continue for as long as fresh ideas come to them.

With my Cassa series, while I didn’t originally intend to continue past the first book, I was able to come up with fresh new stories that would stretch the main character, Byron. Each book concludes a character arc, but I was able to throw things at Byron that continued to force growth.

Dragon of the Stars was written as one contained story. The changes in the main character, Aden, are so profound that any further growth would be subtle. I could send him on more adventures, but the key moments in his life are held within this one story. Thus, it needs to stand on its own.

Which one is best for you? Well, how far do you want to take the story?

By Alex J. Cavanaugh
Science Fiction – Space Opera/Adventure/Military
Print ISBN 9781939844064 EBook ISBN 9781939844057
What Are the Kargrandes? http://whatarethekargrandes.com/

The ship of legends…

The future is set for Lt. Commander Aden Pendar, son of a Hyrathian Duke. Poised to secure his own command and marriage to the queen’s daughter, he’ll stop at nothing to achieve his goals.

But when the Alliance denies Hyrath’s claim on the planet of Kavil and declares war on their world, Aden finds his plans in disarray. Entrenched in battle and told he won’t make captain, Aden’s world begins to collapse. How will he salvage his career and future during Hyrath’s darkest hour?

One chance remains–the Dragon. Lost many years prior, the legendary ship’s unique weapon is Hyrath’s only hope. Can Aden find the Dragon, save his people, and prove he’s capable of commanding his own ship?


Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design, graphics, and technical editing. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. He’s the author of Amazon Best-Sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, and CassaStorm. Blog * Twitter * Insecure Writers Support Group 

Awesome, right? Thanks so much, Alex! Friends, have you written a series? A stand alone book? Which do you prefer?


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What do YOU want? #IWSG


Welcome, Insecure Writers! If you haven't yet joined this amazing group, clicky clicky here. You'll be glad you did.

There comes a time in our writing journeys when we must ask this question: What do I want?

Do I want to become a bestseller?

Do I want awards?

Do I want a devoted fan base?

Do I simply want to be read?

Do I want to write in solitude and relinquish publishing?

Once we've answered the "What do I want?" question, we can then ask: How do I get there?

Do I go the traditional path?

Do I sign with an agent?

Do I sign with a small publisher?

Do I go indie?

Do I write, but keep the words to myself?

Sometimes knowing what you want, and knowing how to get there, are half the battle. I struggled with the What do I want? question for a long time before leaping into indie publishing.

Our paths are twisted, bumpy, and sometimes hazardous, but they're our own.
Do you know what you want? Have you decided how you'll get there? Please share!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Our Number One Fear in Life



I read an interesting article in Oprah Magazine. Dr. Phil wrote a piece on how we humans share one of the biggest fears in life: the fear of rejection.

He wrote that we all long to be accepted, and "We are at the pinnacle of life when we feel involved in the world, whether that means being part of a couple, a family, or a group of friends or colleagues. We want to belong."

Before I took writing seriously, I never really thought about the fear of rejection. But it was there. Fear of going on that job interview, knowing there was a possibility they'd choose someone else. Fear of submitting that offer on a piece of property, knowing the seller might laugh at our numbers. Even way back in high school, I remember that fear of walking up to a group, hoping they'd include me. (Heck, I still feel that fear in social situations)

But now? As a writer? Fear of rejection is ingrained into my daily life. It would be so nice if everything we wrote was loved by everyone. But no matter where we are in our publishing journeys, we'll always feel the fear of rejection.
  • The new author fears she doesn't have what it takes. She fears her skills will never be good enough.
  • The agented author fears her agent will not be able to sell her work. She fears that all the hard work to snag the agent was for naught.
  • The indie author fears her work will disappear among the digital shelves. She fears the gatekeepers were right.
  • The debut author fears her sparkling new book will fall flat. She fears low sales will stall a budding career.
  • The experienced, bestselling author fears she was a one hit or two hit wonder. She fears she'll never unearth that magic again.
Dr. Phil pointed out that successful people around the globe still fear rejection, but they don't let it hold them back. They take baby steps forward or leap with their eyes closed, despite that fear of rejection.

That's what I struggle with every single day. Feeling that fear of rejection, yet taking that leap anyway.

How about you, writers? Do you let the fear of rejection hold you back? Or do you take giant leaps anyway? Please share!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lacking Confidence?


I'm in the final stages of prepping my manuscript to be beta read by my trusted writing buddies. My friends know the basic premise of the story, because they've helped me with the query. But the actual manuscript has not been seen by anyone but me.

Guess what I'm lacking? Confidence.

You know that feeling, right? That feeling of fear just before you send that newborn story to have it critiqued. It's a scary step in the publishing process--but absolutely necessary.

*Deep breaths*

When I'm feeling insecure, I like to search for inspiration. Here are some share-worthy quotes about confidence:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. --Eleanor Roosevelt

It's not who you are that holds you back, it's who you think you're not. --Attributed to Hanoch McCarty

We have to learn to be our own best friends, because we fall too easily into the trap of being our own worst enemies. --Roderick Thorp, Rainbow Drive

It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to. --W.C. Fields

Whether you think you can or think you can't, you are right. --Henry Ford

I quit being afraid when my first venture failed and the sky didn't fall down. --Allen H. Neuharth

If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint," then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. --Vincent Van Gogh

Don't live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable. --Wendy Wasserstein

A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage. Every day sends to their graves obscure men whose timidity prevented them from making a first effort. --Sydney Smith

Friends, do you suffer from lack of confidence when someone else reads your work? Does fear prevent you from sending it out? Did these quotes give you the confidence to send it out anyway? Please share!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Crutch Words that Weaken Our Prose




Are there certain words that you use too much? When you Wordle, does suddenly suddenly appear huge and dead center?

We all have our crutch words. The dictionary describes a crutch as "a thing used for support or reassurance." For me, crutch words are the easiest to find in my vocabulary when I'm writing a first draft. Nothing wrong with that.

But as we progress through drafts, we should trim as many crutch words as possible. I have a running list of words that weaken my writing. It's not that these words are never okay, it's just that they sometimes add unnecessary fat, and can usually be replaced with stronger words. When I run a search for these words, I spot areas in the manuscript that need tightening or clarification.

Here's a list that I've compiled, using multiple sources:

about
actually
almost
approximately
barely
basically
beginning
believe/believed
completely
down
eventually
feel/feeling/felt
however
imagine/imagined
just
kind of
knew/know
little
look/looked
mostly
much
nearly
only
practically
pretty
rather
realize/realized
really
remember/remembered
saw/see
seem/seemed
slightly
somewhat
sort of
stuff
suddenly
thing
think/thought
tried
understand

I usually weed out crutch words after beta reads, but before the professional edit. This time around, I'm doing it before the beta reads. That way my trusted readers don't have to suffer through reading "look" three times in the same paragraph.

Tell me, writers, what are your crutch words? Any I need to add to my list? At what point in the process do you search for weak words? Please share!


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Chasing Perfection #IWSG



Welcome, Insecure Writers! If you haven't yet joined this amazing group, what are you waiting for? Click here to sign up.

I recently heard a message about expecting perfection. Perhaps we strive for the perfect Christmas, with flawless family photos and a Martha-Stewart-worthy table setting. Or maybe it's the perfect garden (*sigh*-- hubby and I are unintentional tree killers), or even the perfect hair day (*snort* -- don't get me started).

As writers, we're often searching for the perfect word. And when we find it? Euphoria. It's so worth the effort.

I think chasing perfection is a good thing, as long as it doesn't stop forward movement. Searching for the perfect word is great, as long as it doesn't prevent us from writing the next word, and then the next paragraph. And when editing an entire manuscript, I think chasing perfection works in our favor, as long as the fear of imperfection doesn't paralyze us.

I recently read a brand new book. It was traditionally published by a big house, and hot off the presses. Guess what? I found two typos. No matter how many eyes scanned that book, and no matter how skilled the editors were, the book was not perfect. No book ever will be.

So here's my attitude: chase perfection, but don't be stymied by it. Realize that no matter what, it will never, ever, EVER be perfect. We can't catch something that doesn't exist.

What's your view on chasing perfection? Are you sometimes paralyzed by fear of imperfection? How do you handle it?