Writing Haven

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Ahhhh, there you are. It’s first thing in the morning. The house is quiet and you’re awake before everybody else. You get out of bed, make yourself a steaming cup of coffee, and head out onto the back deck where you sit in your favorite spot. From there, you can look across the lake behind your house, and watch the sunrise on the horizon. God’s painted a masterpiece across the sky in an array of red, yellow, and orange colors. The only thing breaking the silence is the sound of birds chirping in the nearby trees. One thought enters your mind.

What better place is there to write?

Each one of us has a special spot where we can secluded ourselves and be alone to pen our stories.

For some–maybe even for manyit’s in nature. A cabin in the woods, a cottage near the water, or even a farmhouse. Those people like the quiet. Those places fuel their inspiration. Nature in itself is inspirational.

For others, watching people going about their daily routine keep them energized. It may be in a busy coffee shop, the food court in a shopping center, or even in a library. Some prefer, or even need, a noisy environment.

Yet for others still, it may be the comfort of home. With or without music in the background, the introvert likes to be home. He or she wants to stay there. It maybe in a room sitting at a desk, on the sofa in front of the TV, or at the kitchen table.

No matter where you like to write, it’s important to make your haven clutter free of distractions. By that I don’t mean turn off email and Facebook notifications (although that’s a great idea). Make sure your desk is clean, and tidy. Papers, advertising flyers, and such can be a major distraction while we try to pen our stories. Otherwise, the mind focuses on one thing only. Cleaning the mess in front of you.

Personally, I don’t know how anyone can write in a busy coffee shop, except perhaps, to get ideas for a busy scene. Nor can I understand how others can concentrate with the music on. All that does to me, is make me sing along and forget what I was doing in the first place.

I need total peace and quiet. That’s when I can work the best.

I have what I call my office / craft room combo. It’s where I do most of my writing. However, there are two other locations where, to break the monotony, I choose to write. Sometimes, I’ll sit in my recliner in the front room, near the fireplace. The comfort of sitting in Mom’s chair and the memory it holds is plenty to spark ideas.

Other times, specially when I know there’ll be traffic going back and forth to the kitchen, I prefer to seclude myself in my bedroom, with my back pillow, my tray and laptop.

What’s your favorite haven? What makes it so special? Leave a comment below.

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Writing Sprint!

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The power just went out for no apparent reason, and my battery is at 43%. I have little time to write a 500-word post. How about doing a sprint, and come up with as many words as I can in a limited amount of time? It’s a good way for me—and you­­—to practice writing on the spot.

How do I start, though? I previously mentioned a great book, called The Writer’s 1001 Book of Matches, which is filled with prompts. It’s a great way to get the ideas flowing. Even if the words sound ridiculous at the time you pen them, the exercise is not aimed at having you write something sensible, but at making you think fast, and write what you see in your mind’s eye.

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Let’s try a random one: page 106 says:

A woman digging in her garden uncovers a sealed, ancient box. Slowly, she lifts it up. Surprised by its lightness, she sets it on the ground beside her, removes her gloves, and for a moment, stares at the lock. It’s old and rusty. She brushes the dirt off the top of the box, revealing some kind of patterned design, unfamiliar to her. Foreign writing, perhaps? A dent shows where her spade made contact with the delicate wood, and marred it.

The sun breaks through the clouds. What looks like flakes peels from the lock, and falls in the grass, still damp with the morning dew. The latch pops open.

She dusts the cover once more before opening it. Several small mesh bags of seeds sit inside, a red ribbon tied into a bow, near the top of each one. Taped inside the cover is an envelope. Unmarked. She wipes her hands on her pants before pulling it off. A sweet fragrance fills her nostrils. She breathes in deeply. What is it? Lavender? Honeysuckle? She opens the envelope and pulls out a threefold pink sheet of paper. She reads the two lines, and bursts into a fit of laughter. “The power is back on. You can now resume your blogging duties.”

Okay so that’s a silly ending to the story but the power came back minutes ago and that’s what popped in my head. I didn’t want to stop, and try to come up with a different idea.

Thhe whole point of a sprint is writing what comes to mind, when it does.

What did you imagine when you first read the prompt? Is she an older woman? Young? Mine is about 20, with long blonde hair. She’s sitting on her knees on the ground.

What did you see in the box? Precious jewels? Was it empty? I saw a red velvety lining. Not sure why I didn’t write it down.

Now it’s your turn. Set a timer to 15 minutes. See how many words you can pen in that short amount of time. Don’t stop. Don’t edit as you go.

JUST WRITE!

Randomly opening the book to…… page 186:

After a violent thunderstorm, a man finds a rain-soaked diary among the debris in his backyard.

Ready? Set?

GO!

Thursday’s Quote

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To produce a mighty book, you must produce a mighty theme.
~ Herman Melville

This quote brought to mind something that happened about four years ago. I was at Mount Herman Christian Writers Conference in California. My second time in attendance and I loved the classes. At one point, we sat in a circle, with two instructors leading a discussion. They asked that we share our ideas for our current story, and then gave us feedback. When my turn came, I told them what the story was about. One of the instructors looked at me, serious as can be, and said:

What makes your story unique?”

Huh? I elaborated on the key points, not sure what else to say, feeling like she’d put me on the spot, though I know it wasn’t her intention.

When I didn’t say more, feeling at the centre of attention, with all eyes on me, and probably turning several shades of red, I stared at her for a moment, and then at what I thought was my well-prepared synopsis. She repeated the question, this time stressing each word.

I’ve read stories that deal with that. What separates yours from the others?
What makes it unique?”

Angela’s  words stayed with me. I’m thankful she asked that question. She had me thinking outside the box, looking for a different approach. Something unique as she said so well. After the class, I went to thank her.

Later, while writing my story, I had to keep asking myself what made it stand out. How was it different from the others?

Take a romance novel. I love a love story! From the start, you know the hero and heroine will end up together at the end of the book. The question is HOW. What struggles will they overcome from start to finish? Of course, each story is different.

In suspense stories, you never know what will happen next. At least that’s the main focus in writing suspense, keeping your readers guessing, and turning the pages.

So how do you write a unique story that sets it apart from all others?

  1. Do your research.
  2. READ. Read books in the genre you write. Read books in different genres as well.

In my opinion, those are the best ways to see what’s out there. Then, you’ll know how to make it different.

Emma’s Prayer is about a teen mom. There are plenty of stories out there about teen moms. After she puts her son up for adoption, she changes her mind and wants him back. Yup, there are stories about that too. Mine has a deaf character in the story, but it’s not the only one that deals with the deaf people.

So, what made it unique?

I’m not going to give you any spoilers but I will say this: she had to do something unexpected.  Am I saying mine’s the only story with that twist? Certainly not. But I do hope I had my readers guessing and turning the pages.

Are you writing predictable novels? What makes your story different from others in that genre?

Creating your Settings…real or fictitious?

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How do you choose the setting to start your stories? Do you pick an urban or rural location? A restaurant, a park bench in an isolated area? Or perhaps a cabin on the lake?

Do you use real cities and provinces/states, or do you know from the start you’re going to make them up as you go? Do you create an oasis for your readers to get lost into, to the point they so desperately want to visit the place, and actually Google it, only to find out it doesn’t really exist (you’ve done that too, haven’t you)?

You’ve dreamed of places you’ve never been to, so you try to describe them to your readers — and yourself— as best as you can, weaving them into your novel.

A couple of days ago, I noticed something in an author’s signature that piqued my curiosity. It said Word Traveler above her name. I found this interesting and emailed her to ask what she meant by that, thinking perhaps she was a freelance travel writer. She told me:

Word Traveler refers to my love of words, both reading and writing them. They take me places I’ve never been. ~ Cindy Huff

Oh wow… I absolutely love it. I never thought of it this way but it is so true.

Isn’t that what we do when we write? We create places we’ve never been to. We want  our readers to get lost in them. It is an escape from the every day world. Some writers use real places, such as certain cities they’re familiar with, the names of streets where they’ve lived, and even a well-known restaurant or landmark that bring warm memories to mind.

People and events are not the only thing that leave an impression so strong we want to write about them. For me, places do too. I used fictitious cities and locations in my first novel. In Emma’s Prayer, however, I mentioned my favourite restaurant. It is located in a small town called Shediac (I refer to it as well), about 30 minutes outside of Moncton, New Brunswick. Known as the Lobster Capital of the World, you’ll find a massive 90-tonne sculpture near the edge of town. Gabriele’s Inn, just down the road, is a famous spot for seafood lovers who come to the area. I still remember the first time I set foot in that restaurant. Cozy, warm, friendly atmosphere. I asked permission to mention it in my novels.

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Many places I’ve been to have left their mark on my heart, and I love to tell the world about them even though I write fiction. The ranch I refer to in my WIP bears a fictitious name, but when I developed that scene, I saw myself at Broadleaf Guest Ranch, where my husband and I went horseback riding earlier this year. The lake in my last novel brought me back to my childhood, where my parents owned a cottage for many years. I miss that place.

Warm memories are great to create settings. How do you create yours?

Quality vs Quantity

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I touched on this subject a while back but this time I want to take a different approach.

A former co-worker and avid reader once described a book she’d read this way: a whole lot of fluff. The author wrote a bunch of nothing to fill the pages with words that don’t say anything! Regardless of the genre you write, filling pages to meet a novel’s standard word count of about 60,000 to 80,000 is not quality.

Ever hear the expression “less is more?” I say that’s true for your writing too.

When I write, I want to take the time to produce good quality novels. No matter how fast I pen the first draft, I take my time to edit it. When that’s done, I work with my editor on rewrites. If, instead, I am too busy hurrying to write my next stories, to the point that I sacrifice and substitute quality for quantity, how can I expect my readers to enjoy it and give it me a good review?

In part, I could say I’ve been there and done that. It’s what I did with my first novel. Not knowing any better, I didn’t ask proofreaders to go over it after me. I was so excited and yes, too much in a rush to see it in print. In reality, it wasn’t ready to be published. I later pulled it because when I worked with my editor on the next novel and compared it with the first, I realized it wasn’t fit to publish. My readers had told me they loved the story, but it was so poorly written.

Show, don’t tell has become my favourite way to add good quality words without all the fluff that doesn’t say anything. Especially when I decided to use all five senses.

What else can you do to produce good quality writing? Ask people to proofread your work. Someone who’s not afraid to give you a good critique. A new “set of eyes” is key to pick up what you’ve missed.

Listen to your critique’s suggestions, correct the typos and errors, and rewrite whatever needs your attention. Easy peasy, right? But it doesn’t end there.

When you’re done, ask them to proofread it again. Want a better suggestion? Ask someone who’s not familiar with the story. I had four proofreaders. For the most part, they all caught the same mistakes. One of them, however (I’ve always said she should have been a biologist) loved to dissect my stories. She found things the others had missed.

Proofreaders don’t have to be professionals. They don’t even have to be writers. As long as they are honest, good readers. You have to be a good listener.

Lastly, hire an editor. Hey, think about it, if established writers have editors, who says we can do this on your own?

Good quality books will make a lasting impression on those who read them. Isn’t it why we write? To reach and touch the heart, soul, and mind of people?

Don’t substitute quality over quantity. It’s not worth it.

What to bring at a writers conference.

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Congratulations. You’ve decided to attend your first ever Christian Writers Conference. This might be the best experience of your writing career. I’ve put together some dos and don’t, along with a handy list of things to bring. 

  1. The first thing I recommend is to check their website thoroughly. Make sure you choose the conference that’s right for you. Look at the classes and workshops they offer to make sure you’ll benefit from them. 
  2. Conference costs vary so find one within your budget. 
  3. When packing, remember the weather can change drastically in different parts of the country. Don’t forget to check the forecast for that area, and dress accordingly. 
  4. See if they offer an early bird discount. Most conferences do. It pays to sign-up early.
  5. Are you planning to pitch to an editor or agent? You’re not sure what to bring? Read their submission guidelines. Are they accepting the genre you’ve written? It’s important you know the answer to those questions before you leave home. Research is key.
  6. Business cards. You’ll be coming home with many from other writers’ cards.  Don’t leave home without a lot of them. 
  7. Pens. I bring a bunch, and at least one pencil and an eraser.
  8. Unless you bring your laptop or tablet, you’ll want to bring a thick notebook to your classes and workshops. 
  9. One-sheet
  10. Elevator pitch (well rehearsed!). No more than 30 seconds long. 
  11. Depending which conference you attend, and their guidelines, you may need to bring one or all of the following: a printed copy of your synopsis, your first chapter, and your book proposal. Attach to that a short bio.  
  12. Sign up for a critique session. It’s a wonderful opportunity to have professionals look at your work and give you feedback. Their website should tell you how and when to submit it.
  13. A sturdy backpack is a must. Chances are you’ll bring back home more books, papers, and handouts than what you had when you left. Travel light so you have room to pack them, or bring an extra bag.
  14. Save ALL your receipts. You can claim most of your expenses when it’s time to file your income tax. From conference fee, and the cost of your flight, hotel, food, mileage, parking, and many other expenses.
  15. Personal items you may want to take with you.
  • Most hotels have hair driers, but I bring one anyway. Theirs don’t always work the best. 
  • Tissues
  • Some adhesive bandages
  • Snack/protein bars (Airport food is expensive. Sometimes there’s not enough time between flights to grab a bite.
  • Clothes
  • Toiletries
  • Adapters for your laptop/tablet/cell phone. It’s so easy to forget them. 
  • Battery pack if you have them. I found one at the dollar store for $3. It comes in handy when your battery is low but you can’t connect your charger anywhere  
  • Stainless steel/refillable mug. I take mine everywhere. It saves me from buying water bottles, and I can use it for hot or cold. 

Wherever you decide to go, safe travel, and have an amazing stay. Don’t forget to come back and share. 

Because #BeccaToldMeTo

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Today’s post is going to take a slight twist. While it is still about writing and books, the focus is on a 17-year old girl. 

Imagine this: You’ve been very sick with what you think is a bad case of the flu. You go to the emergency room at the hospital. The doctors find a brain tumour, and give you 3 to 12 months to live. Wow…..

That’s what happened to an amazing young woman, Rebecca Schofield. What she did next is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.

First, she didn’t sit around for months, moping and crying “Alas woe is me.” No. She decided to write a bucket list, and try to do as many things from it as she could. Best of all, she was determined to live those last few months, however many there would be, as happy as can be. What she didn’t want, was for the focus to be on her

Second, while those around her wanted to help in any way, shape, or form, again Becca took the focus away from herself, wanting to create a mass of acts of kindness. She asked everyone, young or old, rich or poor, no matter where they lived, to do something nice for others, using the hashtag #BeccaToldMeTo. It doesn’t have to be anything big, she said.

Little did she know the footprint this request would leave on people’s heart, not only  in the Riverview community where she lives, but all over the world.

Soon, her Facebook page, Becca’s Battle with Butterscotch began to fill with posts from thousands everywhere telling her they’d done what she’d asked, using the hashtag. One bought coffee for someone in the lineup behind them, another shovelled the neighbour’s driveway, while still another donated time at a local shelter. The word spread like wild fire. Her wish for kindness reached people from all over the world, including the US, UK, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Iraq, Dubai, and Kuwait.

Becca’s request was changing lives.

A year ago, Jason Tremere blogged about Becca and her story. He later offered to create a book as part of a fundraiser for her family. He sifted through over a thousand acts of kindness on her Facebook page, and put together the book, #BeccaToldMeTo: Spreading Kindness One Hashtag at a time. It recently released. Today, in Riverview, Jason held a book signing at Cover to Cover Books. I went early expecting a line up. There was one.

For the sake of a dying young girl determined to cross off an item from her bucket list, for people to spread kindness all over the world. One Hashtag at a time. 

Thank you, Becca. You did it, girl. 

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Thank you Jason, for writing about it. 

The book was created with full participation of the family, and net proceeds are being returned to them. If you’d like to purchase a copy, follow this LINK

Be sure to have tissues on hand. Each act is as heart-warming as this amazing young woman.

(With Jason’s permission, some of the information herein is from his blog).

Spelling! How important it truly is…

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As I sat here pondering a topic for my next post — this is getting harder every day — I received a Facebook message from a writer friend. I told her I was looking for something to write about. She sent me a few ideas (thanks, Sarah). I’d already touch on a few of them but one in particular really got my attention. She said: How important spelling is. That’s one I haven’t tackled yet but I’m glad to do that. 

Finding typos in our stories isn’t always easy. First of all after you’ve read and re-read the story so many times, it’s embedded in your brain. You know the manuscript so well, you can probably recite it with your eyes closed. As you read, you see what it’s supposed to say, not what’s necessarily spelled out. It’s easy to miss two reversed letters, or even a missing one.

That’s why I ask at least four people to read my manuscript before I publish it. Yes I have an editor, and she and I go over it with a fine-toothed comb. That doesn’t mean we’re going to catch them all. Before I published my last book, I ordered four copies for people to proofread. Each one either circled or highlighted the typos or grammatical errors to make it easier for me to find them and make corrections. One proofreader actually wrote them down on a sheet of lined paper. Were there that many? No, but what I found amazing was that each reader found similar mistakes, but one of them found something the others had missed. 

That said, don’t beat yourself over the head if, after you’ve pressed the PUBLISH button, you start receiving email from readers who point the typos in your book. It’s not unheard. It’s very easy to miss one here and there. If it’ll make you feel any better, my former co-worker used to analyze books to death (I always wondered if she actually enjoyed them). While she nitpicked at every detail, she pointed out several typos in a novel written by a famous bestselling author.

How do you avoid missing typos and grammatical errors?

  • I like to listen to my story, using Microsoft Word’s text-to-speech feature. I’ll be the first to admit it’s very robotic, but you can hear the mistakes because the computer reads what’s there. If you reverse two letters in a word, for example, or when changing a sentence around, you forgot to delete a word, you’ll hear it.
  • Then, I go over it with my editor before I ask others to proofread my story.
  • Once I’ve heard the whole thing, I hire an editor and we go over it together. At the end of the edits, I pass it on to at least four people.
  • Something else I’ve heard of, was that some writers read each line backwards, from right to left. I can’t imagine doing it that way, specially with a 200+ page books.  

How do you search for typos and grammatical errors? Do you use an editing a software? Leave a comment below.

 

 

Emotions and how to show them

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“Show, don’t tell” is a literary expression used by writers. It means add description to your story, characters, and setting. Your readers want to be able to crawl into the pages of your book and stand next to your characters, to experience their thoughts and feelings.

Anton Chekov once said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.  

If you struggle with Show don’t tell, you need to get your hands on a book called The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. 

Many aspired or new authors have a hard time with that method. This book describes feelings in details, from the physical signals and internal sensation, to the mental responses, and cues of acute or long-term effects. One important thing to remember is that you know your story, and your characters’ feelings. Your readers don’t. That’s why you have to show them.

I asked someone to proofread one of my first drafts. In one scene, a cop comes to the door, holding a child’s hat in an evidence bag. He asks the mother whose child had disappeared if it was her daughter’s. Her mouth fell open, and her knees buckled. She had to brace herself against the wall for support, asking him “Where did you find it?” I saw everything through my mind’s eyes, but didn’t write it like that. My proofreader didn’t see the character’s reaction, and didn’t feel the agony. The way I wrote it made it sound like my character didn’t care. Why? I didn’t know how to show her emotions.  

Some add four or five senses to give more description. I love this great example I found on a blog that talked about Show, don’t tell. I don’t recall what site, nor can I find it, so I can’t give credit to them. Know those are not my words except the ones in red.

Tom crawled through the tunnel on his hands and knees. He winced [feel] as a sharp edge sliced through his fingers. He had to keep his head low to keep from scraping against the low ceiling. The slippery sharp rocks were beautiful [sight] but deadly. One false move and he could be cut to ribbons. He took a deep breath, the pungent smell of flowers [smell] letting him know he neared his destination. A dim light shone in the distance, so he knew he was almost to the end. The light shined on the rocks, making them resemble precious jewels.

 

I believe there was a line in another version that said something about the taste of blood when he instinctively brought his finger to his mouth. I bought The Emotion Thesaurus as soon as it came out, and couldn’t devour it fast enough. I learned to show emotions with clarity, something I couldn’t do before. It’s one book you won’t want to do without. 

Do you struggle with Show, don’t tell? How do you deal with it? Leave a comment below. 

 

 

Thursday’s Quote

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I skimmed through many quotes before I found the following. Wow, if that doesn’t describe a writer’s work in progress, I don’t know what does? I could be way out to left field in my interpretation, but I thought it would be fun to break it down, and tell you what I picture when reading it. Keep in mind this is just my opinion.

All our progress is an unfolding, like a vegetable bud. You have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge as the plant has root, bud, and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I read it again, I thought how amazing it would be to have an artist either draw or paint the pages of a book instead of a vegetable coming up from the ground. Wouldn’t it be amazing?  Can you picture it?

Emerson starts with:

All our progress is an unfolding, like a vegetable bud. That could be your story, as it takes shape, starting to develop as you write it out. 

You have first an instinct–that could be your idea, what you want to write about, the plot dancing in your head, just dying to come out, and be set free.

Then you have an opinion–perhaps that’s the research you’ve done to get better acquainted with the subject (part of Disraeli’s quote from last week) before you put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard.

And then a knowledge as the plant has root, bud, and fruit. I see that as your novel slowly moving forward with a firm foundation, its bud’s are coming out (those are your scenes). Soon ripe fruit burst forth (your chapters).

Trust the instinct to the end. I would call that the impulse propelling your forward. You’ve done great so far, you can’t stop now. You have to run with it, keep going… yes until the end.  

Though you can render no reason. Of course not. After all that hard work, why would you stop now? 

Sometimes, though, your progress may be slow. Try as you may, words won’t come. Other times, it’s like it has stopped completely. You’re unable to move forward. You’re stuck. It happens to most everyone. I’d be surprised if any writer said “I never had writer’s block.”

It’s okay. Think about it…isn’t it the same with your garden? You don’t expect to sow the seeds and reap the harvest the next day, do you? Isn’t writing a novel the same thing? It takes time. You need to feed and water it. You have to make sure it gets the heat and light it needs. When the stem starts to lean, you need to give it support. 

Isn’t that how it is with your stories? You feed it by writing all those ideas. Sometimes, it may not make a whole lot of sense, but that’s all right, it’s your first draft. There’ll be plenty of time to pull the weeds out later. Just write!