Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Getting Started

I spoke to a group of high school students about writing a while back. They were very polite and listened, but I'm sure what I told them was overwhelming. It usually is when you first start thinking about writing for publication. So much to learn. So much information. Sometimes you have to hear the same things several times before it becomes a part of you.

I wish that every writer who wanted to be published could be published. That is not reality. Every person who wishes to be a writer, however, can be a writer. And you can find readers. You start with an idea--maybe something from your past, maybe something that happened, or maybe just something that intrigues you. Sometimes it takes years for a story to get published, but one thing is certain--you have to serve an apprenticeship and learn and you. must. write. And whether you are someone who has 75 books published, or are just publishing your first book, or are still trying to find that place where readers will read your words--all writers have to learn and start somewhere and must continue to learn.

The students asked some great questions. In doing so, I hope that they learned a little about themselves. The first question was "How did you get started?" Ask this question of authors and writers, and some answers will be the same, and some different.

I like to say that I started off my writing journey in my freshman year of high school. I published a poem that year and seeing my own byline was a rush. I wrote volumes in journals over the course of my high school years. Then, I got on the newspaper staff as sports editor and art editor in my senior year and really dug in. Those articles were sent in to Ball State University and I won a journalism scholarship.

"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere," so says Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. She describes what her father tells her brother who has a rough start when trying to get going on a school project about birds. "Just take it bird by bird," her father, also a writer, told him. "Do one bird, then do the next." Writing is like that.

I stuttered along in the years following college doing newsletters for service organizations, curriculum material in my teaching and taking a course here and there in writing while raising my four boys. Then, when I was 40 years old, I took a professional writing class at Taylor University in Ft.Wayne, Indiana. That is really where I got my start. Dr. Dennis E. Hensley pushed us to publish. Early on in the class, when I barely knew him, we were on a break in the hall and he walked right into my "personal" space to speak with me.

"I hate you," he said. I think he scowled.

"Really?" I didn't know what to make of this, but I'd heard he was a Vietnam War vet and it crossed my mind that this could get ugly, but as a competition trapshooter and one who had faced off with many a nemesis, I knew I could hold my own.

"Why," and I laughed for punctuation, "do you hate me, Dr. Hensley?" I made a point to not move away from him.

And then he passionately proceeded to tell me what I had done to him, the reader of my story, to evoke such an extreme distaste for what I'd written. In that moment I knew he cared about what I had written and wanted it to be better. It was personal. It was personal to him, the reader. It was personal to me, the writer. And between us we needed to come to an understanding. That is what writing is--a communication between the author and the reader. It is just the two of you in that space--that very personal space.

Someone on a writers' list said she had written eight manuscripts but had never sent one out. If you write, it demands to be read. And yes, it can be painful to hear what a reader has to say. It can be tough to understand what you should write and what you should leave out.But if you are a writer, you must start and you persist.

My favorite quote on this:
"You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success - but only if you persist."

- Isaac Asimov

If you write, tell me how you got started. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bring Your Emotions to Your Reading and Writing

What kind of emotion does this cover show? 
Stars in the Night by Cara C. Putman

Let's do a little exercise. I like making lists. List your favorite fiction stories. For our purposes here try listing the top 3 books you've read so far this year. Next to the title, write down the genre. Then, brainstorm about it. What did you like about the book? The main character? The theme?Write down the emotions you felt as you read the book? Happy? Sadness? Anger? Fear? Think about the overall mood of the book.

Now let's move just a little further to bring this all to your own writing. Make two columns--Negative and Positive. On each side list people who fit into each category from your own life--find relatives, nemesis or friend, teachers, a boss, co-worker, classmate, someone in the service industry or restaurants/stores, judge in a writing contest--anyone that once evoked a strong reaction in you. Why did you feel that way about that person? What made the experience negative? What made it positive? Here's the tricky part--even if you felt sad/angry/upset about that person--was it really a negative experience, or did it turn positive once you unpacked it?

A friend of mine says she keeps a writer's journal. It's totally private and she uses it to get herself to think about what she really wants to write about. You could even do a password-protected journal on your computer. Anyone else out there who does this?

Give us the name of one book you've read this year (nonfiction or fiction) which really caused you to react. What was so powerful about it and what emotions did you feel while reading it?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Finding Purpose

Changes, we've got changes.

And change is sometimes hard, but I'm listening.

I have not streamlined enough, but I'm getting there. And I'm refocusing THIS blog. Tell me what you think! This blog will be all about Christian books, Christian writing, what I've learned as I evaluated authors,  about other authors, agents and editors, publishing companies and YOU.

I've moved "me" to this site. 

I'm still working on that site.

More to come.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why Should I Blog?

 I started this blog because Terry Whalin suggested I should have one. The only thing I really knew about was the publishing industry at that time, parenting, teaching, and growing up. It wasn't a focus and I just wrote about it all (except parenting.)  I sort of came by the back door and like a Ninja.

Lee Warren then gave me advice about blogging. I'm a writer first and blogging really is for those with a writer's heart. I was doing When I Was Just a Kid interviews (the first one was Mary Connealy!) Those went to a blog specifically focused on those interviews.

I had such good comments from readers yesterday that I'm going to take each one and organize a little better according to those comments.

Last night I had a dream that was writing related. (DiAnn Mills was in it. LOL.) What happened in the dream makes me realize I feel I need to be better "dressed" for the public.

Thank you so much for all your suggestions and I'll be trying out some things in the coming weeks. Come by and I'd love to feature each of you, too. One of the things I'd like to do is show writers on their writing journey.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Need a Makeover? Me, Too

I have been featured for a blog makeover over at the Blogging Bistro by Laura Christianson. If you are a blogger, I suggest reading this blog for her great tips on many topics on internet presence.You can even submit your blog for a free makeover, or hire her for in-depth consultation.

She had fabulous tips for me and I will be implementing them. In the mean time I could use a little help from my current readers. Why do you come here? What's in it for you? What would like reading here? What do you need from me?

If you have comments or suggestions, do feel free to comment either here or on Laura's blog. If you are chosen for one of Laura's great evaluations, then let me know and I'll come look, too.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Write with a Grateful Heart

Lately I've heard a lot of gnashing of teeth (that sound is grating!)--Genesis scores came back. The whining begins as scores scald those who didn't final. Surely the judges made mistakes and have no idea what they were doing! (Eliminate exclamation marks--minus 3 points.) Well, yeah, those judges are human, imagine that. You could be right, or not. Even editors at big houses make mistakes. How could God allow such a trial in YOUR LIFE? 

Published authors get rejected every day. Just because they published one book doesn't mean that an editor will take on the next book. Some of the most famous authors got rejections early and maybe even later. So, since you are ready to give up writing (really?) and you're deeming your judges unfit for humanity (yeah, I've heard some of the talk,) I thought I'd share with you a few rejections.

Tom Clancy wrote these highly technical military novels. Who wants to read that? Evidently, no one, according to most publishers. He finally got published with a small military press. It had a dismal run.No one had ever heard of The Hunt for Red October. He probably didn't even get a book signing on a nuclear submarine.

Then, our president, Ronald Reagan, was shot and landed in the hospital with a serious, life-threatening injury. To assure the people, Reagan would walk out on a balcony each day and talk with the press. One day he stuck his thumb in a book he was reading and walked out. Of course, the press wanted to know what that book was. Yes, it was Tom Clancy's book and Reagan gave it a thumbs-up (he may have lost his place) and the rest, as we like to say, is history. Soon, not only were his books picked up by a large publisher, a bestseller, and we didn't even have to read the book--it was a movie.

Judy Blume tried repeatedly to get a piece published in Highlights for Children magazine before her bestselling YA books were published. The award-winning and bestselling author of numerous novels became quite discouraged. For two years she got nothing but rejections. Judy has reportedly said that she still can't look at Highlights for Children magazine without "wincing." (So, yes, it still stings, years and bestsellers later.)

e.e. cummings, the famous poet, borrowed money from his mother to publish his own book of poetry. On the dedication page he had a poem he called "No Thanks" shaped like a funeral urn. It listed almost every publisher who turned him down. I'm not sure I'd advocate self-publishing, but today we have some good options to consider and self-publishing isn't the stigma as in the past. e.e. cummings had good stuff. Make sure yours is well done before going that route (and hire a good editor because a good editor can make a story shine.)

Jo Rowling (or otherwise known as J.K. Rowling) was rejected by everyone before a small press called Bloomsbury took on her, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone book. They only accepted it because the publisher's 8-year-old daughter read it (she would be the acquisitions reader--be careful whom you trash) and thought it was great.

Steve Laube once told a story about picking up a small book on a bookstore sales table, giving it the once over, and putting it back with the words, "It'll never sell." It was by Bruce Wilkinson and called, The Prayer of Jabez, not much later #1 on the NY Times Bestseller list. As Steve said, "Who knew?"

Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness wasn't a bestseller until Amy Grant mentioned it in one of her performances.Years later people are still talking about that book and it continues to sell.

What's your story you're going to tell when you publish your first book? What story do you have to tell right now if you did publish? Very few have a cakewalk into publishing their first book. Most have battle scars and rejections and some even didn't make it to the final round in the Genesis.

So, what do you do? Ye, who are brokenhearted?

Continue to write. If God put it into your heart to write, write. Obedience even in the face of rejections and poor critique comments means that He's not finished with shaping you, or your audience isn't ready yet. Learn what you're doing wrong, and find what you do right, and just write.

Find encouragers because we all face discouragement. I like to read 1 Kings 18-19 about Elijah when I'm discouraged. A little Brook of Cherith time and asking God to show me in His "gentle whisper" that He's still there helps me to pull up my bootstraps and get tough. You can ask each one of our published authors here in Indiana ACFW for their story, too. Sometimes it helps to know others are out there and will cheer when you do publish.

Ask God to direct your path. Proverbs 3: 4,5 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." 'Nuff said.

Now, go out there and write your thank you notes, if you haven't done so yet (,be nice!) to those Genesis judges (or the coordinators or whomever gave you feedback.) Who knows? Judges have long memories (they're only human) and could be your biggest cheerleader some day.If you are humble and have a thankful heart, God recognizes this. It's tough to be a writer. Everyone watches how you take criticism. (Including God and oh, yeah, agents and editors and first round judges.)

When an editor or agent asks one of those first round judges how you took criticism, what will he say about you?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

When I Was Just a Kid: DiAnn Mills

What was DiAnn Mills like when she was just a kid? Go over to When I Was Just a Kid and read the new Kid Interview on DiAnn there!

Also, be sure to check out this award-winning and 2010 Christy nominee's latest books.

Breach of Trust

A Woman Called Sage