Monday, October 31, 2011

Writer's Quench

Photo by Kejadlen (
There are days and seasons when your creative juices are sucked dry. When you move a family of six to a new city and have to unpack gazillions of boxes, tend to a 7 month old, deal with school transitions, and try to fall in love with a house that might not be your dream home (okay, I am referring to myself at this moment in time). Or there are other times that aren't so drastic-- a bad night's sleep, a visit from the in-laws, a season where you just feel...parched. You might sit and look at the screen, fingers in the a-s-d-f and j-k-l-; position, and read your last sentence twenty times. You attempt to write a new one. It sounds thin and boring and elementary...and you thirst for those creative juices to pour from your finger tips...and they don't.

What do you do with thirsty sentences, writing?

Sometimes, you just shake your head, pound the backspace key, and slam your laptop as hard as you can without doing any damage. And then spiral downward in thoughts of, “I can't do this”, “I am no shouldn't be this hard”, “maybe I will just throw in the towel.” This is when you need to hit your knees, pray for guidance. Get connected with your writing friends, seek encouragement. Don't give up, just press hold until your emotions have settled and you can think straight. (A good night's sleep is always helpful)!

Other times, you sigh and decide it's that time in your life that you are suppose to be taking in the words of others. Read, read, read. I have four-ish novels that I have started reading, and I pick them up whenever I have the has slowly quenched my writing thirst...given me inspiration to tackle writing again.
Photo by Christopher Craig (

But the most rewarding of times, is when you fight through the thirst, type on, dig deeper, dig, dig, dig. Ignore the distress of those sentences you are struggling to form. Leave them in their moisture-deprived dust! Let them be, for the moment, and keep on!
Suddenly you feel that rush, that beautiful bubbling of creativity springing into your writing. You can always go back and “water” those thirsty sentences with your revived artistry. When you can stick it out and allow bad writing to sit there and move the story forward, you will discover a spring of eloquence in your waiting.

Don't get discouraged...JUST KEEP WRITING!

Do you have any tips you'd like to share to persevere through less-desirable writing times?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What Up the Street For Next Week?

Have you found your favorite costume yet?
If you're dressing up (or if you could dress up as anything) what are you going to be?
It's so much fun to put on a mask and change your personality into someone (or something) you can only be in make believe.
Don't we do that a little bit with our characters? Put on their personalties for a little while as we write them?
Are there any characters you're writing who are difficult masks for you to wear? Difficult to get into their skin?

Some books about writing characters:
Characters, Emotions, & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress
Plot Versus Character- A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction by Jeff Gerke
Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors by Brandilyn Collins
Believable Characters: Creating With Enneagrams by Laurie Shnebly

What's Happening This Week?

Monday - Angie brings The Writers Quench to you today - what do you do with thirsty sentences?

Tuesday - Julia challenges Pepper's last week post about Plotting from a Panster, with her own spin about Pantsing from a Plotter :-)

Wednesday - Sarah comes to help set you straight on setting goals with Goals-Schmoals: Here's What You Really Need

Thursday - More from Wendy from the fantastic book by Swain called Techniques of a Selling Writer

Friday - Cindy continues her series What's Missing From Your Novel? with Deep POV.


It pays to be a frequent guest at The Alley - winner of Diann Mill's novel Attracted to Fire is Joanne Sher.

Here's some helpful (and fun) tips for Character Development:

What's your movie personality?

Classic Movie Personality Test -

Friday, October 28, 2011

Castle Lessons: Irresistible

Sherrinda and I were watching Castle together on Monday night. Me in Tennessee, she in Texas. The together part was via Twitter.

There is just something about a show about a writer doing his research on a level the rest of us writers could only dream of, coupled with mystery and a bit of romance, that makes it irresistable.

And that's the key, isn't it. A show, or for us novelists, our books, should be irresistable. SO much so that people want to tweet it, talk about it, come back next time (next chapter or next book) for more.

But what is irresistible to one reader could be drab and boring to others. I'm sure there are many that roll their eyes at Castle and turn the channel. (crazy people...)

At least to Sherrinda and I, some of their prime audience members, they have succeeded.

So who do WE write irresistable fiction?

Here's the thing: There is no magic formula!

No one can really predict for sure how well a book will do. That's why you hear stories of famous authors getting a billion and one rejections before some obscure agent takes them on and they go on to make millions when the book goes viral.

Even though no abracadabra exists, here are some elements (Castle-Style) that can help in your quest to put pizazz in your work in progress that will help keep readers glued to your book and giddy at the thought of your next new release.

Tight Tension - Tension is what keeps readers/watchers biting their nails and holding their breath. It's when Castle watches Kate's current boyfriend kiss her, or when a case seems to be spiraling out of control and every lead ends up in a dead end, and time is ticking before the killer strikes again. Gotta have some good tension!

Colossal Conflict - Regardless of you genre, you need a killer main conflict. A mamsy-pansy one will NOT do. I write contemporary romance... which many thing of as having tamer plots, but I still try to up the ante and put a little kick in my main conflict.

Subtle Subplots - Subplots swirl with their own sets of conflict that feed into the main conflict. Done right, they don't create unneeded rabbit trails but actually up the irresistible-factor and create depth. A good example is Castle's mother and daughter issues that are constantly going on. While they aren't vital to the main crime, make Castle realistic and ground him in reality. They help us know his background, his backstory, and make him a deeper character with roots.

Rugged Romance  - Some may disagree with me on this point. And really, it IS a bit of a preference (and in my genre, an obviously requirement.) But I have this saying that goes, "Romance makes every book a little bit better." While romance is a genre in itself, it is also able to be incorporated in all genres, even if it is just a hint. This doesn't have to be a main plot, but a little romantic tension is never a bad thing in a novel!

Murderous Mystery - Another genre of its own, I know. And Castle himself is a mystery writer, and crime shows and novels have an required mystery element. But all books can be enhanced by an element of keeping-your-reader/watcher-guessing. It's a comment complaint I hear among readers, is that they finish the first chapter and know exactly what's going to happen in the book. Keep a few cards in your back-pocket for later.

Discussion: Name an author (or more!) that you think writes irresistable fiction... and why!

I'll start:

The below is a list of my fav authors that I keep an eye out on their next new releases with eager anticipation. (this is not all inclusive... but just a few examples, as I have a LOT of favorite authors!)
  • Tamera Leigh (I've teased her that I MIGHT camp out at the bookstore the night before her release day wearing my TAMERA LEIGH FAN CLUB T-shirt--I don't really have one of those but wish I did!)
  • Deeanne Gist (Love on the Line is on my short-list to get next!) 
  • Jody Hedlund (WRITE FASTER, Jody... this once a year thing is killing me... although you homeschool 5 kids, so I understand...)
  • Jenny B Jones (Save the Date was one of my FAVORITE contemp romances of all time!) 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

2011 ACFW Genesis Romantic Suspense Winner Renee Ann Smith!!

Casey and Renee Ann Smith after her win
of the 2011 ACFW Genesis Award!
Journey of a Genesis Winner (or from romantic suspense enthusiast to romantic suspense writer in thirty short years!)

During my teen years, I fell in love with romantic suspense. Immersed in the pages of my suspense novels, I imagined myself in all kinds of exciting adventures. I read every suspense book I could get my hands on, but my favorite author was Mary Stewart, a British professor of English, who became a best-selling novelist. (I love that whole English-teacher-turned-author thing!)

When I began my writing journey three years ago, I had no clue what kind of manuscript to write. All those Mary Stewart books came to mind, and, no surprise, I chose romantic suspense. I set to work and fleshed out my hero, my heroine, and my villain. Though my villain doesn’t show up in every scene, he plays a vital role. Defeating him gives my hero and heroine a “noble quest.” Therefore, I planned my villain’s strengths, motivations, and goals carefully. Then I let him loose to wreak havoc in my small town setting. Amazingly, everything he did seemed to shake my hero and heroine’s core values. That helped me weave the spiritual thread throughout the novel.

As I crafted my story, I remembered that Mary Stewart (who is considered one of the founders of the romantic suspense genre) wrote her books in such a way that “the solving of the mystery helps to illuminate the hero’s personality,” so that the heroine—and all of us readers—would quickly fall in love with him. I endeavored to create scenes and conversations that highlighted the inner journey and qualities of my hero. The heroine gets to watch the hero save lives, rise to leadership, keep his cool under stressful circumstances, show mercy to some bad folks—plus the guy adores his dog. Add in the urgency of danger lurking around every corner. No matter how short a time it had been, wouldn’t you fall in love with him? 

My heroine began her journey from a place of fear, which can be a problem for a character who’s supposed to assume a starring role in a suspense story. I realized she needed a solid motivation for stepping out of her comfort zone and spending so much time with this man (the hero) she barely knew. So I threw into the mix a vulnerable character my heroine would be determined to protect at all costs—even if it meant risking her own life and butting heads with the stubborn, why does he always think he’s right, can’t stand him except for those amazing blue eyes hero. Fortunately for me, this vulnerable character immediately got mixed up with the villain and kept it a secret and then tried to do some detecting on her own. She helped me avoid a sagging middle in my story and changed my heroine’s life. Score!

I finished my story and began revising early in 2011. What to do next? When March rolled around, I entered the Daphne du Maurier Contest. And on deadline day, I entered the ACFW Genesis Contest. God blessed me with wins in both!

Bio: Renee Ann Smith teaches English in a Christian high school by day and writes inspirational fiction by night. In 2011, she won the Genesis Award and the Daphne du Maurier Award for unpublished writers. You can connect with her at her blog Doorkeeper and on Facebook

Casey here again:
Renee Ann, thanks for being here on the Alley with us today! It was GREAT to finally meet you in person this year. :D

And hey readers! I've got a special giveaway today in honor of Renee's guest post and her WIN of the Genesis award. Leave a comment for a chance to win DiAnn Mill's latest romantic suspense Attracted to Fire (arc)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On Being Mentored-Our Responsibilities

As a young married person (several years ago), I decided to cook a fabulous dessert for my husband from scratch. I flipped open a cookbook and turned to a recipe which called for ingredients I already had in my kitchen. I chose banana bread. Yum

Ignorant and green as can be in the kitchen I followed every detail, assumming the outcome would be good, (c'mon the recipe was in a BIG cookbook!).

The sweet aroma filled our tiny apartment and made our stomachs growl. Yes! I AM CHEF.  After my creation cooled, I proudly presented my prize winning, delectible dessert.

My husband and I took one bite--wrinkled our noses, choked down the bite,and threw the rest away.  I think the powdered orange Kool-aid ingredient might have been the problem.

Duh, you say? Well, yeah, I know that now. But I didn't then. I assumed the expert who compiled the cookbook gave perfect advice. 

Lesson learned: Regarding advice, I must reseach, think, practice, not assume--the list trails for miles.

Have you ever had a well meaning friend, family member, or crit partner give you advice for your WIP? I have.

I have a world of mentors. Each, bless their hearts, has taken time to correct my novice mistakes and direct me back to the road of publication. I so appreciate them.  Unfortunately, not all advice is good. Let me repeate that--not all advice is good. (think orange Kool-aid in banana bread from a BIG cookbook)

This last month I talked with published writers, unpublished crit partners, family, co-workers, friends, online sites, anyone who would listen to my plethorea of questions regarding my WIP.  I felt like a little puppy excited to please each helper by implementing their advice into my work. Puppies can do crazy things when they want to please.

My mistake: choosing to please rather than do what is right. (sometimes right means to follow advice given even when you don't want to, FYI)

At the 2011 October ACFW Montana chapter meeting, Sharon Dunn, author of Night Prey (Love Inspired Suspense) and 2011 Carol winner, chatted with me about this topic. She said, "It's important to know the perspective each crit person brings to their comments. Perhaps one crit person's passion is description, another plot, yet another grammar. These same crit persons often add additional suggestions that may seem inappropriate. Thats when caution is wise."

Lesson learned: don't disregard a crit when incorrect advice is detected (add grammatically incorrect words, backstory components, and etc.) Instead, search each comment for possible golden nuggets which might enhance the product. One golden nugget could make a difference between publication and dust.

Contrary to my banana bread flop, let me share a FAB advice session:

At the 2011 ACFW conference my registration slip indicated my time slots for three mentor appointments would be Friday morning. I chose to start my morning at Jeff Gehrke's class "Plot vs Characters rather than figit in the waiting area.  
Thirty minutes into the class I left for my first mentor appointment. Gayle Roper, kind and gracious as can be, listened to my pitch, asked a few questions then tipped her head  and said, "Well, Mary, did you consider..." She found a hole in my story! I thanked her and went back to class.

Oddly enough, the next point Jeff discussed addressed the issue Gayle mentioned. He spent the next 30 minutes teaching the class how to solve the problem! I modified my pitch in time for my next mentor appointment.

A half hour later I met with Tracie Peterson, intuitive and compassionate as can be. Aha, I thought. I'm ready. The hole Gayle found has been filled. Tracie listened to my pitch, asked a few questions then folded her hands together and said, "Well, Mary, did you consider..." Really? Another issue?  I thanked her and returned to Jeff's class.

I kid you not, Jeff's next point addressed the problem Tracie mentioned. He spent the next 30 minutes teaching the class how to solve the problem. Once again, I modified my pitch in time for my last mentor appointment.

Moments before Jeff's class ended, I went to my third appointment. Camy Tang, delightful encourager and passionate author listened to my modified pitch. Her eyes went wide and she laughed. "Mary, this is a great story."  She liked my one sheet, and couldn't stump me with any question. The conversation ended after five minutes. Well, I wanted to use up my whole fifteen minutes so I asked for suggestions. She taught me a new idea then we chatted.

Advice from mentors educated, experienced, enthusiastic,and enlightened in the writing craft coupled with a technique class sped me back to the road of publication--unlike orange koolaid advice.
Lesson learned: I am responsible to glean wise advice from those God sends my way.
So-how about you--share wise advice you've received--don't be shy, I don't want to learn it on my own:)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why I Write

Did anyone know that October 20 is the National Day on Writing? I found out about it on October 21. I totally missed it, did you?

According to The National Council of Teachers of English's website, this is why the National Day on Writing was started.

In light of the significance of writing in our national life, to draw attention to the remarkable variety of writing we engage in, and to help writers from all walks of life recognize how important writing is to their lives, NCTE established October 20 as The National Day on Writing.  The National Day on Writing
  • points to the importance of writing instruction and practice at every grade level, for every student and in every subject area from preschool through university (see The Genteel Unteaching of America’s Poor), 
  • emphasizes the lifelong process of learning to write and composing for different audiences, purposes, and occasions, and 
  • encourages Americans to write and enjoy and learn from the writing of others.

This is the age of variety. We write when we text, tweet, blog, Facebook, and spin our tales. There are so many different ways of using the written word to communicate and entertain. I think it's pretty brilliant that an act of Congress has made October 20 the National Day on Writing.

The theme for this year was Why I Write. You can search Twitter with the hashtag #whyiwrite and find some great tweets like these:
 Elizabeth Thompson I write because I'd burst if I didn't.  
 Julie BenjaminGrandCentralPub Writing to me is breathing to everyone else. 
 Melissa Hurst Because it makes me happy. 
 Nathan Bransford Everyone who writes does so because they want to nudge the world in a different direction. 
 Beth Cato Because I see a world of constant what-ifs and I-wonders. 
 So why do I write? My answer has everything to do with why I love to read. I read to escape in a different world, a romantic world, a world that ends happily with forever love. And that is why I write. I want to give someone an escape. I want to entertain. I want to lighten a heart. And if I can point someone to God's love and goodness, well, that would be the coolest thing ever.

So tell me....why do you write?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Plot Points from a Pantster

Hi everyone!
Pepper here and I discovered about four months ago that I've been wrong about I'm not a pure pantster. Now, there's a lot I still leave up to the 'ride' in writing, but I do have an outline - one I discovered about a year ago and have been using it ever since.

I've blogged about Michael Hauge's The Hero's Journey before, but I wanted to kind of share how that information plays out in my writing life.

Just yesterday a story idea winkled its way into my thoughts. That's how they start. An idea. Yesterday, while I was working on my historical WWI romance, I ran across some cool information. There were three German prisoners on board the ill-fated Lusitania when it left New York Harbor. Now, most people assume they went down with the ship when it sank in less than 20 minutes...but...

what if.....

And, what if a sister of one of the prisoner's was forced to go undercover to try to save her brother...

what if....

I think whether we're pantsters, plotters, or planners - the genesis of a story begins with the 'what if'.

But what happens next?

I usually get a pretty solid beginning and ending in my head, but I don't start writing until I get to know my characters a little. I play scenes in my head, 'chat' with them, add more 'what ifs', long before I start chapter one. I guess I just daydream about them for a little while.

Then.... I take The Hero's Journey.
I try to plot my story out along those lines. Recently I've started typing out internal and external motivation too - so I'll keep it fresh in mind.

So - what does the Hero's Journey look like?
It's a loose outline, which suits my pantster tendencies well, but it gives my ADD brain some nice focus too.

Well, I WAS going to plot out my WIP using the Hero's Journey - but that probably wouldn't be very interesting for you guys - and it would be SUPER long.
So I've just put the outline.
What you do is fill in the outline for your novel and it gives you a basic direction of your plot structure:

Internal Motivation
External Motivation
Moral Premise (if you have one)

Set Up Plot - the regular life of the hero/heroine

Make the Hero's Motivation Clear - what does the hero want? How do you set up from those first few pages to make us 'care' about the hero?

Begin the Hero's Quest - short transition here. Recognition of a change
Change the Hero's Direction (door #1) - The actual change - a decision. Frodo decides to take the ring. Peter, Susan, and Lucy decide to rescue Edmund from the White Witch, Annie Reed decides to research the lonely widower known as Sleepless in Seattle/

Challenge the Hero with Problems - first batch of trouble, gradually becoming more and more difficult to challenge the hero's new choice/direction

Change the Hero's Status (midpoint) - big decision time. Once he/she makes this decision they can never go back to life the way it used to be.

Give the Hero Tougher Problems - more trouble. Bigger troubles.

Let the Hero Suffer Maximum Angst - the BIGGEST trouble. no hope. all is lost. Superman beaten up and weakened by the kryptonite while Lois Lane is dying in an earthquake.

Off the Hero a Transition -  choices become available

Change the Hero's Direction (door #2) Hero makes his/her choice. In the Titanic, Rose must choose whether to live or die with Jack.

Give the Hero New Hope (these next two usually happen pretty close together if not at the same time)
Achieve a Win/Lose Conclusion The choice ends a happy or sad ending. The hero either obtains what htey wanted or don't. In the Titanic, Rose loses Jack but gains her freedom.

Tie Up the Loose Ends - What does the hero's life look like now? How has he/she changed for (we hope) the better?

If you're like me, then I hope this glimpse of the Hero's Journey will give you another guideline to use in your writing plan.
I take this general outline and build from there - usually I let the story take me.

Are you a pantster, plotter, or planner?
Do you have a system/process you use to brainstorm your plot?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What's Up the Street For Next Week?

Pepper here, and I’ve brought you some glimpses of Autumn in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I hope you enjoy these pictures I took while hiking with my family this weekend, and may you enjoy the beautiful artwork God uses to usher in Autumn.

So, let’s talk about setting.

What setting are you using in your WIP? Why did you choose that setting? How have you made the setting its own character?

What do we have for you this week?

Monday – Plotting With a Pantster ;-) Taking the Hero’s Journey on Pepper’s new WIP.

Tuesday – October 20th was the National Day on Writing and Sherrinda’s here to share a post entitled “Why I Write” (maybe she’ll share some tasty excerpts from her medieval…hint, hint)

Wednesday – Mary Vee adds another thoughtful post from her mentoring series. On Begin Mentored: Our Responsibilities

Thursday – Romantic Suspense 2011 Genesis winner Renee Ann Smith is Casey’s guest today.

Friday – Krista’s back to surprise us with another fun-filled post as only she can write.


Mary Vee helps celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness month as a guest blogger on Debra Ann Elliott's blog: . Stop by and be inspired as Mary shares about God’s blessing in the battle.

If you missed ACFW or want to catch up on the workshops you didn’t get a chance to attend, check out Afictionado’s quick glimpse into each workshop or continuing session. It is ACFW’s ezine. Learn more about it at

Sarah’s ACFW recap is up on her blog (along with her new bio pic which is FANTASTIC). Check it out at

Something New:

from Thomas Nelson

Love By the Book by Cara Lynn James

A Vision of Lucy by Margaret Brownley

A Reluctant Queen by Joan Wolf

From Revell

A Necessary Deception by Laurie Alice Eakes

Hello Hollywood by Janice Hanna Thompson

Deeply Devoted by Maggie Brendan

A Heart Revealed by Julie Lessman (featuring The Writers Alley’s own Casey Miranda Herringshaw) 

From Bethany House

Love on the Line by Deeanne Gist

House of Secrets by Tracie Peterson
Reclaiming Lily by Patti Lacy

Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin

From Zondervan

Belonging by Robin Lee Hatcher

Naomi’s Gift by Amy Clipston

Shadow in Serenity by Terri Blackstock

Friday, October 21, 2011

What is Your Novel Missing? Senses

It's my goal with every new story I write to make it better than the last. Sure, I try to hit all the big topics--a great hook, no plot holes, deeper characters, etc. but with my new manuscript, I also have a goal to specifically address all those small things my novels are often missing - at least during the first draft.

So today I wanted to start with one of the simplest things I tend to miss in my manuscript. Senses. Yep, something so basic yet something I know I tend to skimp on when writing a story.

Using each of the senses throughout the story is a great and simple way to bring your story to life.


Uses/Examples - Colors, textures, patterns, movements, placement of objects or people in a room.

Application - Imagine your character walking into the setting (a home, somewhere outside or in public, etc.). Try to pick out the objects they (looking through the eyes of your character) would gravitate toward first. A picture on the wall, a polka-dot pillow, a fish jumping in the stream. It will probably be different depending on your character's gender or their characteristics (like whether they're more creative or analytical).


Uses/Examples - Backgroung noise/white noise (a fan humming, dishwasher churning), the noise a character is making (tapping nails on a tabletop, the stomp of feet while walking). Also, the common sounds of nature, traffic, animals, other people.

Application - Close your eyes, hear all the noises around you, commonplace noises and distinct ones. Now picture your character doing the same and apply what they would hear to the scene.


Uses/Examples - Flowers, foods, anything else in nature, cleaning products, etc. Not just good smells but negative smells, too.

Application - Ask yourself what the character would tend to notice. Flowery smells, pungent smells, perfumes, etc. and use them to not only enhance the scene but teach more about the character by showing how the smell affects them.


Uses/Examples - Textures, temperatures, potency, blandness.

Application - Use your own experiences about specific tastes and try to use strong descriptive words to capture those in your scene.


Uses/Examples - Textures, temperatures, pressure (hard, soft, light, rough).

Application - Again, be character sensitive and use descriptions of how the touch of something feels to the character and how it makes them feel inside as well.

So when you're applying these to your story, sight will obviously be there most frequently. Try to be unique and use strong adjectives. Not, the air was cold, but the air had bite or instead of a cool breeze, maybe a frigid wind. As far as frequency, I have heard of putting each of the senses on each page but on such senses as taste, that seems excessive. Try using the most common (sight) on every page and one or two additional senses on each page as well. Balance it per scene so you can incorporate at least one of the four less used senses per scene, and then decide whether or not you need more (if you have longer scenes).

For me, smell is the sense I'm always challenged with remembering to incorporate. What about you? What sense is the most challenging for you to remember, and what tricks do you use to incorporate the senses into your manuscript?

Also, next post I'll be continuing the What Is You Novel Missing? series with something a bit more complicated - deep POV.

*photos from flickr

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Write Well, Sell Well, & A Swell Book to Help You Do Both

Here’s a hard question: If you end up getting your book published, do you want it to sell well?

Hard, right? ;)

I’ll stop playing and slap my serious face on now.

I’ve been reading and rereading (it’s that good) through Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain (thanks Katie Ganshert for the great recommendation) and I’m gleaning so many gold nuggets you can just call me King Tutankhamen (okay, serious face went away for only a second).

Here are some of my favorite takeaways (and my reactions) so far:

Swain: “Because feeling is the place every story starts…As a writer, your task is to bring this heart-bound feeling to the surface in your reader: to make it well and swell and surge and churn.”

My reaction: Every single book I’ve written has started with a feeling seed—some trigger emotion that prompted me to explore a character or storyline in greater detail. I’m enamored with Swain’s declaration above.

Swain: “To be a writer, a creative person, you must retain your ability to react uniquely. Your feelings must remain your own.”

My reaction: Huge one in this industry…in this “build your platform or die trying” market. Ultimately the best way to stand out is to walk in confidence, exuding exactly who God’s created you to be.

Swain: “But as Mark Twain once observed, the difference between the right word and the almost right word is as the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

My reaction: Have you read Sarah Forgrave’s post from yesterday yet?

Swain: “So how do you make {the reader} care? You give them stake in what happens. You put them in a position where they stand to win or lose emotionally.”

My reaction: This can be challenging, but when done correctly, it’s the difference between a book tossed in a bin bound for Goodwill or a book positioned high on the shelf that you can’t help but reach for from time to time, winking at it, saluting it, or doing whatever it is you so creatively do to celebrate the way it climbed inside your heart.

And I haven’t even reached page 50. It’s tempting for me to continue sparking ongoing dialogue about this book. I’d love your thoughts on any of the above or what you think of me posting in two weeks with some more powerful messages from Techniques of the Selling Writer.

*photo from Flickr

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Self-Editing Checklist: Word Choices

Would you believe this is the final installment of our self-editing checklist series?! Whew, we've crammed a lot into our brains, but hopefully our manuscripts are sparkling clean as a result.

Today we're getting down to the nitty gritty details--our word choices. This is the very last step in self-editing, after we've taken care of the big-picture items like plot and structure and medium-picture items like setting details and dialogue.

Specifically, we want to analyze our word choices in the following ways.

1) Do we use words that are understandable? Would the average reader understand them, or would they have to keep a dictionary handy? For more on this topic, including some exercises to strengthen your word choices, check out this post.

2) Do we use words that are vibrant? Do our word choices sparkle with our unique voice and create clear images in the reader's mind? Have we used strong verbs and nouns rather than relying on excessive adjectives and adverbs? For more exercises and tips, visit this post.

3) Have we avoided cliche phrases and descriptions? Hopefully we've eliminated cliche characters and plot lines, but now we want to look at each sentence and eliminate anything that even hints at a cliche, putting our own unique twist on it.

4) Have we eliminated unnecessary words? Rachelle Gardner wrote a blog post a few years ago where she listed actual words to search for and eliminate. Here's the link.

5) Have we read our scenes aloud? Doing this enables us to catch awkward phrasing and word choices, and it helps us create a beautiful flow of words.

Your homework, should you choose to accept it: Analyze each sentence and word choice, weighing their value. Check out Rachelle's blog post, and do a search in your document for certain words that can be eliminated. And finally, read it aloud and listen for those breaks in flow.

So that's it! You've survived the self-editing checklist. Congratulations! :) If you need to go back and revisit certain points, you can find them all together here.

Do you ever read your scenes aloud? What word choices do you tend to get stuck on? Have I missed any important points in my self-editing checklist that you'd like to add?

*Book photo by vichie81 /
**Reading photo by Graur Codrin /

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ten-Hut! Forward march!!

OK, so I'm going to get gut-level honest here.

Some of us need a good kick in the pants when it comes to our writing life. Yours truly is one of them.

I regularly struggle with the "mommy martyr" syndrome. Oh, some of you know this all too well. My life revolved around homeschooling. I convinced myself that my writing was a selfish outlet.

Only God had shown me all along the way that for whatever purpose he wanted me to write. I was ignoring part of my calling. Because no one sees my writing except my critique partners I convinced myself that it wasn't ministry. Not like teaching Sunday school...or homeschooling...or serving in my local homeschool group.

I forgot something important. God had been changing my own life through writing. Writing keeps me in check and keeps me real. Writing is therapeutic, touching my life in new ways. Showing me things about myself as I glimpse myself in the weaknesses of my characters.

As I researched and wrote a little bit, God began to bring members of a certain religious group into my life in some strange and interesting ways. I had an opportunity to share my research unexpectedly. Not only is this exciting, but it let me know even if my story is never published...God has a purpose for it.

As I listened to the ACFW convention banquet I must admit I was struggling with the green-eyed monster Pepper talked about yesterday. It was exciting to receive phone messages from the gals at Writer's Alley and really neat to be able to talk to fellow Alley Cat Sherrinda from our homes during the banquet! But I was still struggling.

My world's best supporter, AKA my husband Chris, gave me a big hug. Then he told me he was going to buy me the CDs, but he was making a bargain with me. "I want you to go after this wholeheartedly." He made me promise to write for an hour at least three times a week.

Then one of the Alley Cats upped the ante for me in a phone call. She challenged me to a 1K duel. She offered to join me and help me reach my goal!! What a gift!!

Are you failing to reach for all God is calling you to as a writer?

If you don't schedule it, it won't happen. This sounds elementary, only it wasn't to me. I somehow convinced myself that the writing time would ooze out of my busy mom schedule. Are you convincing yourself that your writing time will come like magic?

Get accountability. This is where my fellow Alley Cat has helped out. Find someone who will hold your feet to the fire. Your spouse might be a perfect choice if he is supportive of your writing time. Also having your spouse on your side sure helps make it happen if you have kids. My husband was willing to take up the slack so that I can write for a set amount of time on certain days.

Play the numbers game. Know what's realistic for you. I used to think it was great to reach 800 words in an hour, now I've discovered its not that difficult to hit 12K or 13K if I'm on a roll. The times I am writing more regularly my numbers go higher. Now, I'm not saying you have to become obsessed with the numbers...but its important to set a goal.

Small rewards. I love to light a nice smelling candle while I write, this may be TMI but since my cat's litter box is hidden in the corner of the room where I write, it can also prevent unpleasant odious distractions. I also love to have a cup of hot tea or cider and a fire going on these Fall days in the snowbelt.

Write your goals on the calendar. I can almost smell victory as I look at the numbers on the calendar. It's very encouraging.

Do you have any tips that have helped you to get motivated and finish that story? I would love to hear them.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Green-Eyed Monster

I’m sure we’ve all been there.

It usually happens right after we’ve heard some awesome news about another writer who hasn’t been working as long as us…

Or maybe another writer who has  time to belt out 2000 words or more a day

Or someone who has just obtained the agent of OUR dreams

Or won OUR award

And then, jealousy or envy grabs at our otherwise benevolent natures…right?

Well, with every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

We either:

Get angry (how dare that person get ……)

Get sad (I’ll never be published; win that award; find an agent… I'm just not good enough)

Get even (spread slander, think bad thoughts about the person, even hold back your encouragement to them)

But – those responses will not get us anywhere.

We’re human. We respond. But because we have the uniqueness of God’s Spirit living in us, we do not have to ‘live’ in that initial response. God can change our responses. He’s given us NEW hearts.

How can we battle the green-eyed monster?

1. Count Our Blessings – what DO we have? What HAVE we done? Even if you’ve only been writing for 1 week – think about what you’ve accomplished in that time.

2. Remember that you were knitted by God for a specific purposeCelebrate YOU
You are not an accident. God designed you for His glory in His moment. Only YOU can write the story He’s called you to write. He braided that store into the fiber of our souls when he formed us in our mother’s wombs. Yep, it was THAT special to Him. YOU are that special to Him – and He has a plan for YOU and your stories.

3. Cultivate a heart of contentment – Keep your eyes on the prize, instead of on other people’s prizes. Most importantly, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus – who loves us with an everlasting love. Understanding God holds us helps us become patient (or more patient). Focusing on what ‘might have been’ only makes us miss out on the ‘now’.

4. Hindsight with a purpose – take a look at how far you’ve come and how far God’s brought you. Our eyes should only focus on other people to 'serve' them and learn from them, not to compare ourselves to them. When we see our own writing path through the months or years, we can see our growth. If you don't believe me - go read your very first manuscript ;-)

5. Remember that there is a PERFECT moment – As you are writing your novels, don’t forget that God is writing your story. In fact, it’s already written – and He’s designed the perfect moment to bring out the dreams HE dreams for you. Resting in His love is hard, especially when we want to help along the process, but “He who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it…”

If you need more encouragement against jealousy, check out this great post at Seekerville -

Psalm 139: 13-16

13- For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14- I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

15- My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16-Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Jeremiah 29:11

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Photos courtesy of:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Special Sunday Edition with Jennifer Slattery

Pepper here and I love surprises - the good kind anyway. Today we're having a special Sunday edition with guest, Jennifer Slattery. Best known for her involvement in Clash of the Titles, Jennifer also stays busy as a writer and much more.
With ACFW being almost a month ago, I asked Jennifer to share some insights for what to do AFTER a conference.
Please welcome her to The Writers Alley!!!

After perhaps a month, maybe more, of preparation, a rapid-fire weekend of exponential learning, networking, and pitching, conference is over. You slump in your office chair, eyes blurring. Before you start a complete rewrite, shred your novel, or email it to the friendly editor you met during dinner, take time to process, develop a plan, and review what you’ve learned. You’ve already plunked down the money on conference and travel fees. You may as well squeeze the experience for all it’s worth, refusing to let discouragement or lack of focus hinder your success.

Editor X told you your novel sounded cliché, agent Y turned glossy-eyed halfway through your pitch, and you came home ready to throw your manuscript, perhaps even your entire career, in the trash. Before you stomp your computer to miniscule fragments, take a moment to process what you heard. We’re an insecure bunch, and often our first response is to assume a position of failure. Yet when we take time to process the advice received, sifting through our manuscript once again when our emotions are less charged, we’ll find logical solutions to plot holes, cliché characters, and sagging middles. Each critique, if handled correctly, is an opportunity for strength.

Resist the all-or-nothing approach and focus on one change at a time. Move through your novel piece-by-piece, until you’re satisfied. It might require a complete rewrite, seven times over, but try to think in terms of small, manageable steps. Many of us get discouraged by such a monumental, yet achievable, task. By dividing our big-picture solution into bite-sized chunks, we can often prevent feelings of paralyses.

Forget perfection—unobtainable—and focus on excellence, a perfect blend of quality and efficiency. The agent or editor expects a slight time lapse between conference and final submission, but if you wait too long, they’ll forget your conversation entirely. Remember that piece-by-piece game plan I suggested in the previous paragraph? Assign completion dates to each task ,then meet those goals with unwavering commitment. By assigning time-frames while conference enthusiasm lingers, you can avoid time-sapping procrastination and resultant apathy.

Amidst your defrag time, make time to connect with all those lovely authors, agents, and editors you met during conference. Never under-estimate a conference connection. Be open for ways to extend and grow formed relationships into blogging and critiquing partnerships. Last winter after attending the Christian Writers Guild’s Writing for the Soul Conference, I returned with countless new friends, blog-post-swapping partners, and critique partners.

Take time to review what you’ve learned. In fact, consider purchasing a CD. According to studies, most humans retain 20-40% of what they learn, in the best circumstances. Because stress impairs learning and retention, when you add the stress of conference, those percentages drop, making review imperative. Begin with a big-picture review, taking time to listen to your CD’s and review your notes, then go back to your piece-by-piece plan. Choose one area—yes, one—to improve using what you’ve learned. Create a schedule and completion goals to work on the other areas.

Finally, take a moment to evaluate your entire experience. How did your appointments go? What could you have done differently? Were you often over-tired or overwhelmed? If so, what steps can you take next year to prevent those feelings? Did you stumble over your pitch? If so, why? Write these things down and tuck them away to be reviewed before you attend your next conference. Most importantly, always remember, writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Your goal isn’t to blaze through the finish line (unless you’ve already put in the miles) but instead, to jog around that next bend. If you do that, you’ll eventually reach your goals.

Thanks so much for being here,  Jennifer and sharing these great tips. You can learn more about Jennifer at or visit Writing Career Coach.

Jennifer Slattery is a freelance writer living in the Midwest with her husband of sixteen years and their fourteen year old daughter. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, the Christian Pulse, Samie Sisters, and is the marketing manager for the literary website, Clash of the Titles. She also co-hosts (with five other ladies) a Facebook faith community called Living by Grace and works for Tiffany Colter, the Writing Career Coach, as an assistant publicist and professional manuscript evaluator. Visit her devotional blog at to find out more about her and her writing and visit her writing blog at to find out more about her publicity and manuscript critique services.