Friday, April 18, 2014

How Well Do You Accept Criticism?

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Criticism is, unfortunately, part of the game when you put your words on a page and then submit them to a critique partner or a contest or a first reader or your mother (well, maybe not your mother… ;-)). It seems to be a dangerous business, writing. I don’t know why it has to be such a land-mine pursuit, but it seems the more we put ourselves out there and write more from our heart and fall harder for our stories, the more criticism we can get. And the harder it gets.

Being told you stink at something is never easy, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a huge fan of it myself. ;-) When you look at how hard you work and how many hours you spend alone pounding the keyboard, only to be told by a judge that your POV is a mess and your characters are flat and unlikeable, it’s enough to plant one’s head squarely in the middle of the keyboard/screen/desk/wall, etc, etc.

But criticism does not have to be all bad. Yes, I know. You’re scowling at me fiercely right now because I’m telling you to actually like being corrected. Well…maybe not like, because who likes that?? But there is much more to be learned from criticism than there is to be learned from praise. While all correction should be taken with a grain of salt, it might be an opportunity to see the big picture flaws we miss when we’re zoomed in too close in our stories.

What is the universal appeal of your hero and heroine? Did the judges or first readers find them fun and entertaining or flat and apathetic?

Look at what you’re aiming for and then see if what and where the criticism is coming from matches up or is moving in the same direction. If you’re aiming for a funny and light-hearted heroine, but you’re being told she’s moody and discouraging, maybe it’s time for an edit—or maybe a change of genre. ;-)
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Is the topic of your “voice” coming up in more discussions or disturbingly absent? Read the comments as one would who has no emotional attachment to your story. If this was your friend’s story or a random book off the shelf would you agree or disagree with the comments?

It’s easy to immediately disagree with everything the critique had to say, but stop for just a minute. Separate yourself from the heart-wounded part and pull up those muck boots to go in for another stomp around and discovery.

While it’s never easy to volunteer for criticism or correction for anyone even when the criticisms are so far out in left field that’s it’s not even worth putting the time into reading! Novel crafting is one of the most subjective businesses out there—it’s not even funny how subjective it is. And yes, it’s a near constant lesson in the art of accepting criticism gracefully.


But it gets a little bit easier if you think in these terms: we’re in the place we love. God put us here. This is part of His hands forming our clay. Put’s a little bit different perspective on it, doesn’t it? J  

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Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more densely populated with cows than people. 

   

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Whose agenda are you writing anyway??

What our fiction shouldn't do....
Pick a "big" social item that has varying opinions...



Abortion...
Drugs...
Pre-marital Sex...
Gun Control...
Same-Sex Marriage...
Global Warming (or newly called, climate change)...
etc.



The list is a long one.



And occasionally, there is a particular issue you feel passionate about and want to incorporate into your fiction to spread your heart-felt opinion.



But how do you do it? And SHOULD you do it?



There is no right or wrong answer. In fact, the idea of "agenda" driven fiction is another one of those items that have various opinions. Strong opponents say you annoy readers by writing only with your own agenda in mind. Strong proponents say that important issues shouldn't be ignored in fiction.



So what do you do?



The below is MY opinion, so you can officially call this an "agenda" driven blog today, I guess.



The purpose of an "agenda" is to sway people to your opinion.



The purpose of "fiction" is to tell a story.



So the definition of "agenda fiction" is to tell a story with the goal of swaying people's opinion.



The problem with this is chances are, the majority if not all of your readers will end up being people who agree with you. And the people who don't are likely strong in their belief in the opposite, which won't encourage them to read more of your books or tell others to read them.



And still others will be annoyed that you've used your story to beat them over the head with your agenda.



So you've written a book few will read, many will hate and your goal will remain unaccomplished.



Not really productive, if you ask me.



So what's the answer?

What our stories should do.... well... kinda
F
or me, as a follower of Christ, I've chosen to write what I call "Missional" fiction. No clue if this is a true definition, because I just made it up and liked it. :-)



The definition of "mission" is a task or job you've been given. For me, I take my direction from Jesus Christ.


So my missional fiction is accomplishing the job or task God has given me through story.



This is broad. And I like that.



Basically, I want to spread GOD'S agenda, not mine. And I want to do it in a way that's natural.



When a missionary goes to a foreign country, they don't go and stand on a soap box and yell their message to the locals. No, they get their hands dirty. They provide food and water and supplies. They build schools, orphanages, churches. They learn the language and live life with those they are trying to show God's love to.



Our stories should show God's agenda in a similar way.



As authors we use our characters to invite our readers into their life. Through fiction, they live life together. Experience highs and lows, fears and failures, successes and triumphs. They struggle with sins together, with forgiveness, with grace.



Jesus used the power of story heavily in his ministry.



I think we absolutely can follow in His footsteps... if we do it in a way that is wise and helpful, not reckless and arrogant.



Discussion: How do you weave a spiritual theme in your books? Do you struggle with wanting to put an "agenda" in them or do you avoid at all costs? 

(pictures courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)


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Krista is a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, and author of Sandwich, With a Side of Romance . She blogs about finding JOY in the journey of LIFE at http://www.kristaphillips.com. She is represented by Rachelle Gardner.
 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

He Asked-Tips to Restore the Thrill of Writing



Your first date.

Do you remember what it was like? Take a step back in time...

Photo Courtesy
Your bed is layered with twenty outfits tried on and rejected. The one you're wearing barely meets your approval. You've borrowed your older sister's necklace, restyled your hair at least five times, and settled for the lipstick in your left hand.

The doorbell rings. Your heart flutters faster than you can handle and you smear the makeup.

Of course, siblings offer their support with teasing, sing-songy calls--"He's here. Better hurry up."

The left black shoe is missing. You've checked under the bed and behind the laundry hamper twice before remembering seeing your little sister walk off with it yesterday. The sandals will have to suffice.

One last look in the mirror warrants a sigh. He'll have to settle for this. 

His voice echoes up the staircase to your room. That tenor, sweet sound.

You run to the landing and stop. He turns and looks up at you. A smile spreads across his handsome face you adore. He doesn't speak, but his eyes sparkle.

You walk with grace down the stairs despite the urge to tromps as usual. He blushes ever so slightly and reaches a hand to you. "You’re beautiful. Are you ready to go?"

~

This is the thrill.

Anticipation stimulates an electrifying rouse. 

Think of a child’s excitement Christmas morning or on his birthday. The energy surges exponentially—no chocolate needed!

Photo Courtesy
Now think about your work in progress. Is this not the preparation for the writer’s dream date—publication?

Do you wake each morning excited to:

*  try on a new scene?
*  borrow an idea from a crit partner to improve the plot?
*  slip into your character’s POV?
*  look into the mirror (edit) and search for flaws?
*  check the clock and appropriately panic about progress
*  switch ideas when the original doesn’t pan out (like the missing left shoe)
*  are you determined to make the final product the very best it can be?
*  do your thoughts revolved around what you’ll write/edit next?
*  do you match your genre and story theme to your dream publisher?
*  are you bursting to tell all your friends? (marketing foundations)
*  have you journaled your thoughts, concerns, and expectations?

The books we write are destined to fulfill a need, if for no one else, at least for ourselves. God has asked us to do much more than fill pages with words. He wants us to touch lives and meet needs.

As you go about your day today, consider your WIP the magical date you’ve longed for. Talk to God about it. You would talk to God about your date wouldn’t you?

*Make your WIP real. Print out something from your WIP, a favorite scene, a photo of your hero, and/or a color photo of the setting. This will give you something tangible to touch, post in your workspace, and show others.

*Spend lunch or take a coffee break with your characters. Start the conversation by sharing their issues. Listen to their input.

*Go shopping for the appropriate clothing. My heroine is from Chicago. While on a vacation trip to the Rockies she stops in a western outfitter store with a friend and finds a beautiful necklace. She buys it as a souvenir of her trip. I had a great time shopping online for the perfect piece, one that suite her hair color, blouse, and complexion.

Writing a book is no more a chore than going on a date. It’s all in the point of view. And since God asked you to do this task, shouldn't there be a joy/love for the project? 

Consider the best books you've ever read. Someone who simply loved to write wrote those books. Your book could be on someone's list of best loved books one day.



Share how you’ve enjoyed preparing your WIP for the big dream date.


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This blog post is by Mary Vee

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes contemporary and romance Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Artisan Soul

I have to say that The Artisan Soul by Erwin Raphael McManus is one of the best books I've read in a long time....and I'm not even halfway through the book! From the very first chapter, the words I read made my soul burn with yearning, agreement, and connection. I've highlighted most of the book so far, wanting the words to be imprinted on my heart, for they encourage and motivate me to be creative, to be brave, to risk, and to truly be an artist.

McManus is not just an artist. He is a creative who uses his gifts to further the work of God. He started a church in LA, CA called Mosaic where the people of his congregation use their creative talents for the Kingdom. And what he calls us to in The Artisan Soul is a life of creativity...every day...no matter the medium or vehicle through which we create. What he teaches is that every soul is a creative soul, whether they think so or not.

"...the great divide is not between those who are artists and those who are not, but between those who understand that they are creative and those who have become convinced that they are not."

We are all creative. We are created by a creative God who made us into His image.

"Yet what humanity needs most is for us  to set creativity free from this singular category of the extraordinary and release it into the hands of the ordinary. Creativity should be an everyday experience. Creativity should be as common as breathing. We breathe, therefore we create."

A person might say that not all people are creative and that saying everyone is just sets a person up for failure. But as people who have the Spirit of God living within them, we are creative beings. We want to create whether it is through decorating a room, cooking a fabulous dish, writing a short story, blogging, painting, making a yard look good, or crocheting a blanket.

Being creative doesn't mean there won't be failure. There will be.

"...we live in the fear that if we aspire to be more we will discover ourselves to be less. We live in fear of failure, convinced that failure will prove us to be frauds. We have bought into the lie that creative people never fail and hence failure is proof that we are not creative."

"Fear is the shadow of creativity....The creative act is inherently an act of courage....To make our lives a creative act is to marry ourselves to risk and failure...creativity is born of risk and refined from failure. If we are at the core both spiritual beings and creative beings, then the artisan soul is where we live when we have the courage to be our truest selves."

It's so hard to step out and risk it all to share our creative selves. When we hit send on the manuscript we have written, we feel we are sending a part of very essence out for the world to judge. We fear we will judged as inferior, which reflects on who we are at our core. But those rejections are the building stones of creativity. They are what grounds us and molds us. We are indeed "refined by failure".

I just can say enough about this book, The Artisan Soul. I am reading it slowly to imprint the words on my heart, and I hope to share more of it with you as I glean from it's wisdom.

Do you consider yourself creative? Do you embrace your artistic soul? Or is it hard for you to say you are an artistic person...whether it is with word, paint, landscape, or food? 

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This post is brought to you by
 Sherrinda Ketchersid

Sherrinda is a minister's wife and mother to three giant sons and one gorgeous daughter. A born and bred Texan, she writes historical romance filled with fun, faith, and forever love.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Melody Plotting Along with Disney - The Song of Hope

Welcome to the second part of my series, Melody Plotting along with Disney, where I’m taking the general ‘songs’ in Disney movies and applying them to novel writing.

As I said before, Disney is brilliant at using songs to portray the emotions and forward motion of its stories. The first post discussed the Song of Longing. You can read about it here:

The three song-types I'm discussing are:

Song of Longing
Song of Hope
Song of the Antagonist/Villain

And I might end the series with a Happily-ever-after post, but for now, we’re going to talk about the second ‘song’ we can learn from as authors. 

The Song of Hope.

In almost every Disney movie (especially the ‘princess’ ones) there is a Song of Hope. This song is the moment when the ‘longing’ (from the first post) seems like a real possibility for the protagonist or it shows a ‘change’ in the protagonists previously ‘hopeless’ circumstances. Lots of times, it involves a love song of some sort. It’s the ALMOST-but-not-yet.

http://www.zastavki.com/eng/Cartoons/wallpaper-27238.htm 
A few examples?

A Whole New World from Aladdin – Aladdin’s song of longing to be seen as more than a street rat is realized in the carpet ride with Jasmine. (the fun doesn't last long as Jafar has him kidnapped right after he lands Jasmine on the balcony)

At Last I See the Light from Tangled  displays Rapunzel’s deepest dream of her heart, she finds hope in being with Flynn. (Yet again, it doesn't last long before Mother Gothel and the gruesome dudes mess things up.)

Belle and the Beast have a clear ‘change’ in their relationship when they sing Something There that Wasn't There Before, followed pretty quickly by the title song, Beauty and the Beast. The adventure and romance Belle had been searching for became a possibility. (But when she leaves to rescue her father, the tables turn and the beast’s life is in danger)

Kiss the Girl clearly displays the hope Ariel has to be ‘kissed’ by Eric and gain her voice back, as well as her future. Her dream is literally a pucker away, but due to the magnificently maniacal Ursula, a hurricane of trouble is soon to follow.

Frozen succeeds in flipping this idea on its head by giving Ana false-hope through the song, Love is an Open Door, while Elsa’s song of hope is the extremely popular, Let it Go. Ana believes her longing from For the First Time in Forever has been revealed in Hans (boy, is she wrong) and Elsa’s biggest fears represented in the same song are replaced by her new-found freedom from her ‘concealment’ of her magic.

If we want to switch gears and look at popular movies?

The Song of Hope in a movie like Titanic is the night Rose and Jack spend together dancing, painting…and other things. There is hope that Rose will no longer be confined by the expectations
placed upon her – it’s a taste of her dream-come-true. But only a taste. We’ll discover near the end of the movie, she has to make that final choice to bring her dream to reality.

The Song of Hope in The Princess’ Bride is when Wesley and Buttercup are reunited before going into the Fire Swamp. Sure they’re almost killed by lightning sand and R.O.U.Ses, but they’re together. (but the sweet happily-ever-after moment ends as soon as they get through the swamp and come face-to-face with Humperdink)

In my historical romance, it happens after a horse-riding incident that ends in a kiss. In one of my contemporary romances, it happens in a tower that ends in a kiss.

Do you know what the Song of Hope is for your story? Is there a part of your novel where the protagonist realizes his/her dream is possible, almost palpable? The Almost-but-not-yet part of your book?

Would you like to share?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

What's Up the Street for Next Week?

Great books edition!

I don't know about you, but I'm desperate for a really great book to read. I just finished Katie Ganshert's latest A Broken Kind of Beautiful and the story definitely fits the title so well. 

What other great novel recommendations would you give? Share in the comment section below!

What's up on the Alley next week?

Pepper continues her Disney series with Melody Plotting with Disney on Monday.

Tuesday, Sherrinda shares about a must-read book she just finished by Erwin McManus, The Artisan Soul.

Do you feel stuck and unable to push through with your writing? Have you asked God about this struggle? Mary shares on this topic on Wednesday.

Krista is agenda driven on Thursday. Is there a better way to get your point across in your novels?

How well do you handle criticism? Casey delves into the hard hitting facts on Friday.

Have a wonderful, sunny weekend!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Pregnant Pause...



For those of you following on Facebook, no, in fact, I am no longer pregnant. Yippee! Pregnancy for some is a time of great anticipation and preparation. And while I can admit to feeling those things during those long nine months, most of my pregnancy days are more misery than anything else.

Last week of misery!
If you have children you know that life doesn’t exactly slow down when the pregnancy ends. Once that baby arrives life is more of a tailspin than ever. Well meaning individuals advise pregnant mothers to “sleep now” while you still can. And to “take time for yourself” because motherhood changes everything, including how much “you-time” you’ll have until your nest once again becomes empty.

But here’s the thing… Life doesn’t slow down or stop for anybody. There are seasons of sowing. Busy times of planning and plotting. There are seasons of growth, where the fruits of your labor need lots of nurturing—and energy you don’t always possess. And then, birth… and with it the beautiful product of your labor. Your baby. We are always moving forward, even in seasons of barrenness. But sometimes we need that time. That frustratingly unproductive pause in between, to breathe. To cultivate new ideas. New passions. New dreams. And new stories.

I have been in one of these seasons I like to think of as a sort of pregnant pause. I am anything but still. No less productive, though my productivity looks vastly different these days. My writing time is limited. My physical and emotional resources are tapped. And yet… I am gearing up, yearning to get back on the horse to embrace another season of writing and new stories to be told.

But while I wait here in this fissure between stories already woven and stories I’m desperate to unearth from my heart, I am finding something rejuvenating in the in-between. No, I wouldn’t call this time rest. And I’m certainly not “blocked” or uninspired.

I’m pregnant with anticipation, and filling up on dreams for the journey ahead. 

Alley Kitten - Eisley Violet Simpson born March 14, 2014

 
 
And I can’t wait to tell you about the stories God is preparing to birth in me! What about you? Tell me about YOUR baby! I’ve been out of touch for so long I’d love to hear about that little bun in your oven. And well, we’ve got to get those elevator pitches started for conference season. Hard labor, I know, but let’s hear some teasers about the next round of up-and-coming best-sellers. :)

Love and thanks for all the prayers and support!
-Amy & Eisley


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Amy Leigh Simpson writes Romantic Suspense that is heavy on the romance, unapologetically honest, laced with sass and humor, and full of the unfathomable Grace of God. She is the completely sleep deprived mama to two little tow-headed mischief makers and wife to her very own swoon-worthy hero. Represented by the oh-so-wise and dashing Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary Inc.