Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Writer's Alley Weekend Round-Up

Me....after my Thanksgiving meal.
Yes, it's over. Thanksgiving has come and gone, leaving a few pounds on my hips and my pants a bit tighter. But oh, what a wonderful day with family and friends. Laughter, food, games, and football...there's nothing like Thanksgiving, is there? I know the Alley Cats ate their fill and are now rested and ready to bring a grand week of posts for you! Let's check it out....

The Weekly Line-Up

Monday - Angie is starting of our week with a wonderful post that is sure to inspire.

Tuesday - Julia is going to share How 2015 Trends Will Affect Us As Writers. Intriguing, no?

Wednesday - Karen is bringing us the next installment in How to Grow Your Blog Platform series.

Thursday - Ashley has something fantastic up her sleeves which will whet your appetite for more.

Friday - Amy, as always, will have something fun and spicy!

The Awesome Link Round-Up

Crossing Over/Christian Fiction Genre Spotlight (Julia Reffner's article in the Library Journal)

3 Tips For Writers Who Are Not Their Own Worst Critic (The Write Practice)

Fne-Tuning Your Writing Style To Be Concise and Specific (Live Write Thrive)

7 Distractions Stopping You From Writing (and how to BEAT them!) (Positive Writer)

7 Tips to Help Writers Gain Attention in the World of Fiction (Live Write Thrive)

20 Inspiring Quotes to Boost Your Confidence as a Writer (Write to Done)

Have a fabulous week!


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.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Reasons Why The Road Might Be Long

Casey here: one of the writers and authors I have loved getting to know since I moved out to Colorado is debut novelist, Brandy Vallance. I am thrilled to have her here at The Writer's Alley today, talking about her journey and how far God has brought her from beginning writer, to winner of the Jerry B. Jenkins Operation First Novel contest and now a published author with Worthy Publishing! Welcome, Brandy!

Every writer deals with discouragement. Often, the time it takes to get published plays into feelings that we’re not good enough, we’ll never make it, insert personal doubt here. My journey to seeing The Covered Deep published took fourteen long years. There were plenty of moments during that time when I doubted. However, now as I look back, the waiting was valuable. Here’s some things I learned along the way:

1.     You make friends for life.

No one understands writers like writers. It is vital that you find a support group of people who get you. You might find these writers in a critique group, at a conference, or at a local writers meeting. No matter where you find these friends, find them as fast as you can. You will not survive on your own. Every writer has moments of thinking they can’t go on. You will need other writers to talk you off the ledge when those moments come.

2.     It takes time to develop a thick skin.

I have long suspected that all writers feel deeply. We are the thinkers, the ones who explore what it means to be human. Are you writing scenes that make you feel? If your writing makes you feel it will do the same for others. However, if you’re going to write this true and deep, you’re going to need a thick skin. This doesn’t happen overnight.

My friend Sarah and I at Brandy's
book launch party!
I once received a critique on my writing that shattered me. It was early in my writing journey. After I read that critique, I didn’t write for six months. But I’d be lying if I told you that experience didn’t make me stronger. After six months and one day I had to reach deep down and affirm that I was a writer. I believed in my story and I was going to push on. After experiences like this you start to know yourself. You know who you want to be as a writer and then when criticism comes you’re able to shake it off.

It takes a while to get over the fear of other peoples’ opinions. But after some time is behind you, opinions don’t matter so much anymore. All those magic hours that you have spent with your manuscript start to tip the scale. Your story is no longer just words on your computer, it is alive for you. Your characters breathe and speak—so real, almost as if they could walk through your front door. And no one can take that away from you. This is one of the best gifts.

God is doing a work in you.

Some of my writer friends and I have a running conversation. We have come to the conclusion that God works parallels in our lives that show up in our stories. Sometimes we can’t write a book until we’re strong enough, until we’ve gone through something hard. Unfortunately, this is painful and it takes time. But the more wisdom you gain, the smarter your stories will be. So live life beautifully and well. Stay in the fight.

4.     It won’t be so hard the second time around.

When I started my second novel, I was worried that I’d have to go through what I did with my first. But something amazing happened, I knew things by heart. It was like muscle memory. With the eleven drafts of The Covered Deep, I had learned a lot. Every experience as a writer is a building block. Every class you attend, article you write, or time spent researching is a stepping stone.

5.     It takes a lot of weaving before you have a tapestry.
Purchase your copy here!

I think of every draft of a novel as weaving a tapestry. It takes a lot of passes before the picture is just right. When you finally weave those last threads, your story becomes a magnificent thing. I’m not saying you have to do eleven drafts, I’m just saying that the only way you can tell if your story is finished is if you feel it in your bones.

During your road to publication, have faith that God is the best storyteller, and that He is telling yours. He is intimately acquainted with all your details, including the details in your novel. It was no accident that I decided to make my heroine’s dreams come true by means of a contest, and then God made my publishing dreams come true by means of a contest as well (Operation First Novel). God is always paying attention. You are not forgotten. When your publishing contract finally does come, I hope you’ll be able to look back and hold your valuable journey close.

How has your writing journey been? What have you learned? What are you learning now? 


Brandy is a member of the Christian Writers Guild, American Christian Fiction Writers, and Pikes Peak Writers. She is the 2013 winner of the Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel Contest which included a publishing contract for The Covered Deep by Worthy Publishing. In 2012, she won the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Contest for historical romance. In 2011, Brandy was a semi-finalist in the Genesis Contest. In 2009, Brandy won honorable mention at the Pikes Peak Writers American Icon contest.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A "Writer's" Thanksgiving Poem

Pens and pencils,
Nooks and Kindles.

Desktops and Laptops,
Computer repair shops.

Agents and Editors,
Closed and open doors.

Characters who speak to us,
Settings that consume us.

Writer friends who love us,
Family who bear with us.

Hot chocolate and coffee,
And maybe some hot tea.

Life full of story inspiration,
Brief moments of relaxation.

So much to be thankful for,
Really, how could we ask for more?

Happy Thanksgiving, all you wonderful writers out there.

Praying God's blessings on you today, and that you'd know how thankful WE here at the Alley are thankful for YOU!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Essentials For the Writer's Skill-Toolbox

Photo Courtesy

My husband has two toolboxes. One he made basically for me to use in the house and one he keeps in his work area out in the shed.  The box for me has the girl hammer, thin nails (so I don't ruin the drywall when I want to hang a picture), a screwdriver that fits my hand, and other tools best suited for my needs. The toolbox he made for me is small and easy for me to carry to my project area.

His toolbox, on the other hand, is ginormous. My son, when he was three years old could fit inside of it. Hubby keeps a hoard of tools from tiny to large in that box. Each one goes to his projects. Always prepared. He also made a thick strap to hang over his shoulder to help support the weight when carrying it.

Is one toolbox better than the other? No. Mine suits my needs. His suits his. We work on different projects.

Writers also need a toolbox, one tailored to the individual's need. It should be one that can be updated as the writer gains skills, changes directions, and starts new projects.

Here are some tool ideas to put in your Writer's Skill-Toolbox. Some of these may need to stay in your box throughout your career:

1. The Writing Personality Tool. Remember, our writing personalities are often different from our actual personality. Suspense writers would not take true pleasure in committing the same acts their characters do. After reading the blurb of your book, a reader should know this is your work, regardless of the title or book cover. I know Steven King's, Tom Clancy's, Agatha Christy's, Lynn Austin's, etc. style of writings with only a taste of the story. 

This is not a skill of branding because some writers, like our Pepper Basham, successfully write more than one genre. It's the little things that let us know. Mary Conneally opens her books with humor. I love it and am curious to see what she will create next to open a book. 

Like a chef who has a signature way of cooking, an instrumentalist/vocalists who has a style of performing, a marketing agent who has a distinct creative flair, writers need to keep their writing personality tool on hand at all times--every page--every word.

2. The Big-moment, Powerful Climax Tool. Every story needs a memorable climax, often times these big-moments are wimpy or sappy. A writer must create a big moment somewhere and hit it big. With the large pool of writers, it is easy for a reader to forget the writer of a blasé book. Give the reader the desire to commit your name to memory and want to seek out more of your dynamic books with the Big-moment, Powerful Climax Tool.  

3. The Fifty Piece Cannon-Fully Loaded Tool. Let the readers hear you roar! The best way to get the first book and successive books published is to bring a story that has a fifty piece cannon, fully loaded, and ready to ignite. So many stories have the same thing we've all read a zillion times. Same story, different characters and setting. But the book that has something totally new, a unique twist, a heart wrencher, something so unforgettably powerful, those will be the stories that not only pique the interest of an editor/publisher but also the readers and are powered by the Fifty Piece Cannon-Fully Loaded Tool.

4.The Echo Tool. Incorporate the readers into building the energy of the story. Cause a response to be squeezed out of the reader as they turn the pages. Make the story so compelling the reader is forced to laugh, grab a tissue, gasp, yell at the character. Tug the reader into your story with the Echo Tool.

5. The Souped-Up Tool. If the story is coasting, it is backsliding. Have you seen a souped up car? Better yet, have you heard one roaring down the street? Can't miss it. Soup of your story. Give people something to talk about in every chapter. 

"Yeah, Jen, I finished the first chapter of the book I'm reading and I just gotta tell you...."

 Always take a step forward with the Souped-Up Tool.

6. Clipper Tool. Too many ____ will ruin a story. Too many car chases, killings, weepy scenes, surprises, clues without analysis, analysis without clues, jokes, etc. It's like hearing a cymbal crash on every page. Too much noise! Not only is variety necessary, but also prudent pruning to keep a story blossoming can be done with the Clipper Tool.

7. Heart Tool. How much am I seeing training in my manuscript vs I'm having the time of my life? Don't walk around delicately carrying eggs in an effort to follow every writing rule. This tool is frequently used with the Writing Personality Tool (discussed in #1). A robotic style of writing maybe perfectly correct- no passive verbs, few adverbs, every writing rule mechanically checked off....BUT

Every reader IS asleep.

I used to love listening to my grandfather and grandmother tell stories. Maybe you've seen a movie with a grandparent relating a story. These men and women rarely tell their yarn by the writer's book, but they sure have our interest. The Heart Tool will help you know when to let go of the rules and let the story sparkle.

Is your toolbox filled? 
Are you missing a tool?
Which tool helps you the most in your writing?


If you found any typos in today's post...Mary Vee, (that's me sheepishly grinning), is waving her hand as the guilty party. 

If you have questions or would like this topic discussed in greater detail, let me know in the comment section. I'll gladly do the research and write a post...just for you :)

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 young adult mystery/adventure 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, November 25, 2014

When Your To-Do List Feels Like an Endless Chase

I’m going to give you a behind-the-scenes tidbit about The Writer’s Alley. At the end of every week, Weekend Cat Sherrinda sends us an email asking for the next week’s topics to include in the Weekend Edition. When she sent it last week, my mind immediately snapped to something I’ve been mulling over: how to conquer a to-do list. Because in the middle of adding to my workload, potty training a toddler, and getting ready for Thanksgiving, I hoped to master it in the 3-4 days’ time before my post was due.

After 3-4 days, it’s official: I don’t think I’ll ever feel qualified to tell you how to master your to-do list.

But I think a lot of you are like me, balancing your passions and dreams with other responsibilities that can’t be neglected in the meantime. I mean, all that caffeinated, chocolatey writing fuel doesn’t pay for itself, does it? :)

Perhaps you’re working a 9-5 that really feels like a 24/7 or caring for an aging parent or taking night classes or chasing babies all day. You compartmentalize the different roles you play. Spouse. Parent. Sibling. Small Business Owner. Volunteer. Student. Friend. The list of responsibilities can seem endless. By the time you’ve managed to put out all of the fires in one area -- or at least reach a point where they’re manageable -- the flames of another aspect of life are already licking at your heels.

To be honest, sometimes it feels a lot like this:

But maybe, just maybe, these tips and reminders I’m learning will help if you’re like me and juggling a few other hats besides your writer hat.

Plan your work and work your plan. My dad has been drilling this quote into my mind since I was a kid, as his dad did before him :) It’s good to sit down at the beginning of each week and map out any scheduled events, assignments, deadlines, and other non-negotiable responsibilities. Then make a list of goals for the week that are important to you -- for me, this includes bigger household tasks that I should probably get around to doing, meals to make, how many times I want to exercise to reach my health/fitness goals, and of course, my writing plan.

So I have a map of each week that tells me which days will be more saturated with the non-negotiables + lighter days I could perhaps utilize to get more writing accomplished. I try to budget my time realistically, not piling too much on my plate on any given day if I can help it (sometimes I can't), looking at the map of my week to forecast any potential interruptions so that, if I do happen upon a roadblock, I'm more prepared for it and it can’t derail me as easily -- OR give me an excuse to put my writing on hold.

Stop procrastinating. I’m looking at you, Netflix Gilmore Girls binge. Instead of mindless and idle entertainment, be intentional about rewarding yourself with set times for things that will give you a break and re-energize you. Pick an episode of a favorite show to watch after you’ve accomplished your goals for the day. Give yourself a pretty manicure. Take a walk to brainstorm or a power nap to rest your mind. And so you can enjoy these moments fully, set timers during designated work times, turn on Do Not Disturb Mode on your phone and social media, go into full-screen mode on your Word Processor. There are even programs that block internet surfing for you!

I’m a big fan of the 15-minute timer. You can do ANYTHING for 15 minutes. And almost always you can spare it, even during your work day. Focused 15-minute writing sprints? Yes. Turning on the oven timer and cleaning the kitchen? Done. 15-minute power nap? My very favorite.

One thing I’m learning is that a single 15-minute writing sprint a day equals 200-250 words I wouldn’t have if I continued buying into the lie that I have no time to write during the week. And that adds up!

If you do fail, recover well. You know what? Even if you've planned for roadblocks and allowed yourself wiggle room, things happen. Stuff falls through the cracks sometimes. There are weeks when to-do list items are constantly shuffled or not crossed off at all. But you can recover gracefully, own up if it affects anyone else, and improve your habits or adjust your schedule so history doesn't repeat itself. Most of the time, one failure doesn't have to be the end-all, be-all. Remember that, fellow perfectionists, and give yourself grace.

Make sure you’re maintaining balance and healthy priorities. On that note, it’s easy to get so caught up in squeezing our dreams into the cracks of every free minute that we become too focused on one thing. But is it really worth it if important areas of our lives -- along with the people we love -- might suffer for it? I think you know the answer.

Remember that God made you a writer, but you have to make sure you’re doing it to honor Him. If you’re honoring Him in what you do, then on one hand, your well-being won’t suffer for it. The people you love won’t either.

And on the other hand, when you’re honoring God, you’ll find that time becomes a miraculous currency. Somehow everything gets finished -- and with a little intentional planning, everything can get finished well.

What are some things you can be more intentional about in your life? Do you have any tips to add to this list?


Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who enjoys stories of grace in the beautiful mess. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and received the Genesis Award in 2013 (Contemporary) and 2014 (Romance). Her work is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.

You can connect with Laurie here:

Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson

Monday, November 24, 2014

Waiting, Detours, Surprises...and Keeping in Step with the Dance

Life is one long dance…and I’m not a dancer, so often times I stumble along the way. It’s filled with unexpected changes, excitement, joys, and struggles – and lots of change. I don’t know about you, but I can get into a nice, predictable life, where things are comfortable – and the only changes are small changes. But God doesn’t always keep up in that nice comfortable place.

In an endless example of God’s big humor, my ‘one word’ for 2014 was CHANGE.  Yep – funny, huh? And by the end of June 2014, my family had made a LOT of changes. (Maybe 2015 will be something like ‘peace’ or ‘calm’ J)

Last year our family struggled through a time where my husband lost his job of seven years. After an almost year-long search, (WAITING) he found a wonderful new position – but it meant our family would have to move. So…move, we did! We arrived in the beautiful city of Asheville, NC in late June – and life has been a series of detours, surprises, and….sweet touches of God. The dance went from a nice little foxtrot to a samba…and if you recall, I Can’t Dance!

This was a Detour in ‘our’ plans, but right on schedule for God. There are times I didn’t see God’s hand and still struggle with trusting He’s working in the middle of the madness, but isn’t that exactly where he gets our attention best? J Or maybe that’s just me.

My new job in Asheville has been a more difficult adjustment than I’d planned, so in July I started discussing (and praying about) the option of taking an extended break from writing. After all, I’ve been pursuing publication for over ten years and nothing was happening, so maybe it was time to step off the writing stage for a while. (WAITING) I’d taken a two year sabbatical from writing when my three youngest children were 4, 2, and newborn – and was working as a school Speech-Language Path in Charlotte, NC. My priorities had to adjust to the needs of my family, of course, so I focused my time on them.

But God brought some Surprises. Just before the move, I signed a contract with my new and WONDERFUL agent, Julie Gwinn. Now that I look back on it, God had been working on this relationship for over a year and I’m sure Julie would say the same thing. We have a great rapport, friendship, and understanding. She loves my writing, and I love her passion and commitment. It’s a fantastic combination.

In September, just before conference, I was offered my first book contract. It is for one of my Contemporary Romance novels (A Twist of Faith) and is slated to come out in late Spring 2015 with Lighthouse of the Carolinas. The best part? I got to share the contract-signing with some of my favorite people at ACFW! The Alleycats!

A week ago I signed another contract for a book. A VERY different type book, and one I would have never thought to pursue. I’m writing a companion novel to a new video game coming out in 2015. The novel is the first in a (hopeful) series to compliment the game. It was a very unexpected opportunity and one I’m excited to undertake.

Now, this news didn’t change my circumstances, but it did remind me that God has a plan for my writing, just as he has a purpose in all the other callings he has on my life. It’s HIS timetable in HIS plan…not mine. He creates the music, stage, and steps – all he wants me to do is join the dance with a heart ready to learn and praise….even when I stumble.

It’s a process and a prayer.

Waiting is part of the grand dance. If it’s waiting for the music, your partner, or the next step, our lives involve a series of waiting. Detours and surprises come along with the dance too, but we know the master musician has the choreography in place, the steps numbered, and the talent ready to give at the just the right moment.
Pepper Basham writes romance peppered with grace and humor. She’s a native of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a mom of five, a speech-language pathologist, and a lover of chocolate. She writes a variety of genres, but enjoys sprinkling her native culture of Appalachia in them all.  She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she works with kids with special needs, searches for unique hats, and plots new ways to annoy her wonderful friends at her writing blog, The Writer’s Alley. She is represented by Julie Gwinn and is debuting her first novel in Spring 2015.



Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Writers Alley Weekend Round-Up

PublicDomanPictures @
Thanksgiving is this week and there is so much to be thankful for. We at The Writer's Alley pray that your holiday will be a blessed one, full of love, joy, and thanksgiving to the One who gives His love so freely. May you be blessed by the Maker of heaven and earth and live in the light of His love.

The Weekly Line Up

Monday - You won't want to miss Pepper's post entitled Detours, Surprises, and Keeping in Step With the Dance. She has some BIG news to share!

Tuesday - Laurie's post is timely with the holiday season upon us. She will be sharing When Your To-Do List Feels Like A Never-Ending Chase.

Wednesday - Mary's post today is entitled Requirements for the Writer's Skill Toolbox. I'm sure I'm missing tools. I wonder which ones?

Thursday - On this day of Thanksgiving, Krista has broken out and written a poem just for you. I can't wait to read it. I'm sure it will be super.

Friday -  Casey has Brandy Vallance lined up to share about The Writing Road.

The Alley News Round Up

Alley Cat Krista Phillips was interviewed this past week and there is a chance to win her book. Check out her interviews at:


Also at The Alley, Amy Simpson has chosen a winner for Friday's post with Amy Matayo. The winner of Amy Matayo's book, SWAY, is.....


Congratulations, Jessica. Amy Simpson will contact you with details.

The Awesome Link Round Up

The #1 Habit Killing Your Writing (Helping Writers Become Authors)

One Word to Transform Your Writing (The Write Practice)

The Audacity To Be A Writer (Positive Writer)

Foolproof Strategies For Staying Creative During A Writing Slump (Writer unBoxed)

Have You Made This Huge Mistake Online? (Write to Done)

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Writer's "Brand" (or lack thereof) with Guest AMY MATAYO

In the past six years I’ve written eight books, and I’m currently working on the ninth. That number
doesn’t include the four books I’ve stopped and abandoned for one reason or another, the main reason
being my extremely short attention span. For the finished books, their titles and genres are as follows, in the order they were written:

Walking in Circles (YA)
The History of Me (YA)
Don’t Ask Why (YA)
The Wedding Game (Contemp Romance)
Love Gone Wild (Contemp Romance)
Sway (NA)
In Tune with Love (Contemp Romance)
The End of the World (NA)
Title not yet public (NA)

So far only three books have been published. Next year, four more will follow—two of which are
complete and two others in varying stages of nowhere near complete. But this is what I do.

So why am I telling you this?

Because I love to write. And because I hate to write. Because I need to write. And because I often wish I didn’t need to write. And this is how the cycle goes for me. Every single time. Each time I open up a blank document to start a new manuscript. Every time I begin a new chapter or sit in wide-eyed panic as I face the dreaded kissing scene/fight scene/turning point/end of the book.

I love it.

I hate it.

And as you can tell by my very inconsistent genres, my moods often flip back and forth.
Just like my real-life moods. Sometimes I’m happy and feeling a bit on the snarky side (The Wedding Game, Love Gone Wild, In Tune with Love, Title not yet public).

Sometimes I’m feeling a bit reflective (Walking in Circles, The History of Me). Sometimes I read a local newspaper headline and write a story about it (Don’t Ask Why). Sometimes I’m wondering what the world would be like if we could all just get along a little better (Sway). Sometimes I’m feeling a bit sad and trying to find the hope in life (The End of the World). And sometimes (always) I’m feeling a little scatterbrained (all the books I haven’t completed).

Again, why am I telling you this? Because in the writing world, there’s a little term often thrown around calling “branding.” Authors are often encouraged to find their brand (funny, serious, reflective, etc.) and stick to it. And that’s a good thing. A great thing actually, because it makes you very dependable to a reader who wants to know that if they spend hard-earned money on your book, they’ll enjoy it. I’m just not very good at branding.

Kind of like a songwriter who has a plethora of subject matters on a single album, my books sort of
follow the same format. I’m never sure what I’m going to write about next—whether it will be happy or sad or somewhere in between—but my hope is that whatever I write, I do it well. At least marginally so. My next book, The End of the Word, (out Feb. 10) is a bit different than my other books. But I hope that’s okay, because sometimes I need different. A different place, a different mood, a different kind of story that will pull me in and show me something new. And that’s my hope for The End of the World. That you will be pulled in, and that no matter what mood you’re in when you read it, it will be a halfway pleasant way to escape for a few hours.

But in the meantime, I hope you’ll read Sway. Because that would make me really, really happy.

Amy Matayo

Amy here (the other one!): I for one, LOVED Sway. Anyone else read it? Having read Amy's other books I suppose I went into this with some expectations, but Sway threw me, and that is precisely why it was so spectacular. The story was layered just right, the dialogue witty and perfectly tuned, the story poignant and complex and again, just so unexpected I was riveted. I loved how the precisely frayed edges in this story were woven back together with a message of grace. This story will challenge you like only the best stories do. You will not walk away unmoved. Thank you, Amy (Matayo---sheesh! That's confusing, right?) for this refreshing change of pace. Can't wait to see what you come up with next!

So tell me, Alley Pals... Do you have a brand? Do you write one specific genre or do you change with your mood? Leave a comment... tell us a little bit about what you are writing now and I'll giveaway a kindle copy of Sway! Happy Friday! Now go write something fabulous!

Amy Matayo has a degree in Journalism from John Brown University. She worked for seven years as Senior Writer and Editor at DaySpring Cards until the birth of her first child. Amy was a freelance writer for David C. Cook before pursuing novel writing full time and focuses on edgy, contemporary books for women of all ages. She is the author of The Wedding Game, Love Gone Wild, and Sway. She lives with her husband and four children in Arkansas. Please visit her online at or @amymatayo

Click here to check out Sway

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Out of the Heart - Guarding Your Heart and Writing the Bigger Story

"But the words you speak come from the heart..." - Matthew 15:18 (NLT)

Lately, I've been feeling a bit weary when it comes to writing. I'll be honest. I still love it. It still fills me with hope and excitement and anticipation. But it feels me with other things do. Fear. Worry. Anxiety. My proposal is out there in the world right now, and while that should make my heart flitter with opportunity, it also scares me in a way I don't know that it's ever scared me before. After five years of writing and my fair share of "no's," I find myself braced for other sorts of possibilities... rejection. Even the feeling of failure. Not pretty things to talk about, but things all writers eventually deal with.

In addition to the fear that so often creeps into the writing life, our world is full of negative stories. All it takes is one glance at what's trending on your Facebook account or a few seconds of the news to hear all sorts of maddening things. Ebola. Terrorism. Kidnapping. All sorts of should-I-or-shouldn't-I scenarios begin to arise as we try to make decisions about what is safe and what is not, what is being overly cautious and what is necessary.

Too much time spent on social media can certainly exasperate this problem, can it not? I am a firm believer in standing in the gap for our friends and praying for one another's needs, let me be clear. But on the flip side, some people seem to use Facebook to exclusively share horrible news stories. After just a few minutes on Facebook, sometimes I find myself feeling burdened, depressed, or even a little panicky.

Why does this seem to happen to us so easily? And what is the answer? To go even further, how can this tendency affect our writing?

Photo by winnond, at
I believe that, as all youth pastors have at one point or another said, what goes in comes out. Put very simply, we feed our minds, hearts, and spirits every day. Some days-- perhaps most days-- we are not conscious about what we are feeding ourselves. But when we get that I-ate-too-much-ice-cream feeling after reading some shocking news story or imagining the worst possible scenario happening to our books, there is a reason for the feeling. We have fed ourselves the wrong things.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting we stick our heads in the sand and pretend the world is perfect. The world is far from perfect. We are far from perfect. People get sick and need healing. Jobs are lost sometimes. Evil people can seem to be so loud. And at times, the unexpected happens. We must be diligent and disciplined, compassionate and actively interceding for those around us.

But we were never called to fix the world. We were never called to be God. We were called to release our trust to Him.

How can we manage to do that when the world seems so very chaotic and maddening?

It's vital that we set boundaries in our lives and remain intentional about what we "feed" ourselves. Our thought lives, our imagination, and our hearts so readily stray from the goodness of God that we must pull ourselves back to Him, as a watering pail pulled from the bottom of the well. He is our living water. He is the answer, not only for our needs, but also for the needs of those in our world. But if we run 'round and 'round the well frantically with our hands atop our heads, we will never help anyone, including ourselves.

In practical terms, this may mean limiting Facebook time so you can spend more time reading the Bible, or watching only a few minutes of news per day. If you're a particularly creative person whose mind goes wild when you hear about health epidemics or terrorism, you may need to become especially diligent about cutting off your imagination before it breeds fear and panic.

Above all else, guard your heart. As Proverbs tell us, it is the wellspring of life.

The really cool part is, the mouth (or in our case, keyboard) speaks from what is in the heart. So if you're feeding your heart a bunch of awful stuff, it only makes sense you may find yourself struggling with your writing. But on the other hand, if you are filling your heart with living water, it's going to flow into your stories in a way only God can orchestrate.

If you want to write the kind of story that changes lives, first let God change your own. If you want your writing to be a ministry, recognize that means praying over your stories and future readers, and guarding your own heart. What is inside you will naturally flow out. And that's one of the coolest, highest callings of the writing life.

It is oh-so-easy to sit down at the computer drained, neglecting devotions and our prayer lives. But God has called us to so much more-- to create with Him from a pure heart.

I challenge you today to do something bold. Consider yourself a minister to your readers, even if you don't have any yet. Imagine what they'd look like if they were standing in your living room, in need of advice, encouragement, and maybe even a laugh. Would you offer them more than what you're doing now? Would it be worth protecting your heart for them?


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How to Grow your Blog Platform: Guerrilla Facebook marketing

I kicked off this series by sharing the story of how I started my personal blog from scratch one year ago and have since grown it to 150,000 page views a month. In my previous post, I shared some key fundamentals that you will need to put in place FIRST, before you do anything else:
  • Identify your readership
  • Invest time to study blogging
  • Create shareable content
Those things are huge and can't be overstated. Why? Because:
  • Until you know who you are writing for, your efforts will lack focus and clarity. 
  • Until you're willing to invest time into studying a new area, you can't expect the same results as people who've put in the hard yards. It takes four years of study to get a university degree, and years of practice to master an instrument, but most people seem to think they can succeed at blogging without any applied learning whatsoever. The truth is, you can't expect a return in any area of life without an investment. And believe me - there is a LOT to learn. 
  • Until you are consistently creating WOW content with a clear takeaway for the reader, your marketing efforts will fall flat. I've heard it said that good marketing only makes a bad product fail faster. Quality content is the cornerstone of everything else you do.
Need to get caught up on those points? You can read the first post here.

For the rest of this blogging series, I'll be focussing on the fourth point: 

Become your own best marketer.

You'll need to start by setting up social media accounts and linking them to your blog. If you're not promoting your blog for free on social media, you need to be. You should have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Pinterest account, and a Google+ account. There are others, but these are the ones I consider essential to your success.

Each of these areas is a whole study in itself, so I'm going to break it down for you step by step.

Keep this in mind: in the early days, you're going to have to hustle. You'll spend a lot of time working strategically to grow your following and promote your posts to that following. This is what I think of as Phase One of blogging: the guerrilla tactics that anyone can use, if you have the patience and determination to apply them. It's a hard slog, and there are no quick pay-offs here. You have to do your time to see the results. 

Let's start by talking about Facebook.

So you have a brand new page to promote your blog. How do you get people to "like" it so they see what you post?

1. Put out the welcome mat.
Create an inviting cover banner that echoes the theme of your blog, and a bio that clearly states what the page is about. Get a couple of quality posts up there so people know what to expect from your page.

2. Invite your friends. Sounds obvious, but some people skip this step because they're too shy to ask. People get a LOT of requests to "like" a new page now, so also consider sending a personal message to all your friends explaining what you're doing and asking for their support.

3. Have a Facebook posting schedule, and stick to it. You need to consistently share quality content to grow your following - the sort of content that people "like", comment on, and share.

4. Join groups. 
To find groups in your interest area, type a descriptor into the search bar at the top of your personal Facebook profile. In the example below, I typed "Writers". A list will pop up. Click down the bottom where it says "See more results for 'Writers'".

When the next page pops up, select "Groups". From here, you can scroll through to find any groups marked as "Public", and if they seem relevant, you can join them. Ensure you read the guidelines carefully and adhere to them. If it's okay to share your blog posts, make sure you also take the time to "Like" and comment on others' posts as well. 

Some groups are also okay with you pasting your page URL into a status update, which will cause a "Like box" to pop up in the stream. If the group is relevant to what you're posting about, this is a great way to get some more likes for your page. 

5. Link prominently to your Facebook page from your blog. Display your social media icons at the top of your sidebar and at the bottom of every post. Install a Facebook "like" box widget in your sidebar so a casual visitor can easily like your page without leaving your site. Consider installing a Facebook like box pop-up to maximise conversions.

Increase your reach

Facebook has a complex algorithm that it uses to filter the content in your news feed. With all the friends you have and all the hundreds of pages you've liked, statistics indicate there are about 1500 status updates vying for a place in your news feed at any one time. No one has time to read that far, so in the interests of supplying the content users are most interested in, Facebook gives greater reach to pages that you have previously liked or commented on, and restricts the reach of those you don't interact with - because they are considered less relevant to you.

What does this mean for you? You could get frustrated that Facebook is cramping your reach so significantly. (Believe me, I have been there!) Or, you can work smarter to conquer that algorithm.

Some steps:

1.  Encourage interaction. 
Likes and comments on your post will significantly increase your reach. Ask questions and make sure you respond to anyone who comments. Let your friends know how helpful it is when they comment on your post - many times, they just don't know. Often the most basic rule of marketing is to simply ask for the result you want.

2. Tag your friends in your post. This massively increases your post's visibility, as it will then show up in your friends' feed as well. Of course, don't be obnoxious about it - only tag people if they've previously indicated an interest in a particular subject, or it's something you're genuinely excited to share with certain friends, or if you've asked their permission in advance. Many of the biggest Facebook pages such as Ann Voskamp (author of "One thousand gifts"; 215,000+ page likes) have a circle of friends who she tags by turn in almost all her posts. She most likely asked those friends if they'd be willing to help her out in this manner.

It's not as simple tagging people from a Facebook page as it is on your personal profile, so if you're not sure how to do it, here's the steps:

Go to Settings -> Post attribution. Here, select "Post as yourself" instead of your page name. You're now in your personal profile mode and so have access to your friends' list. Go to the post -> Click on the image you shared to enlarge it -> Select "Tag Photo" -> Click on the image and type a friend's name to tag them.

3. Pay for Facebook ads
I won't go into this in detail, because it's not something I've personally used yet. My preference so far has been to grow my page organically, but I do plan to experiment with paid ads at some point. The biggest benefit of ads is that you can hone your target audience very accurately, in order to reach your ideal demographic. For instance, you can choose to target your ads toward people who've already liked a page similar to yours.

If you want in-depth training on this method, I'd recommend Amy Porterfield. I've done a couple of her webinars and found them detailed and helpful.

4. Network in blogging communities
As you get to know other bloggers and really work to develop relationships with them, chances are more opportunities to network will present themselves. You'll find all sorts of helpful blogging groups on Facebook - re-pinning groups, post sharing groups, round-up groups and more, all designed for bloggers to help each other grow. Many are private and you will only be able to find out about them if someone invites you. The more you put yourself out there and focus on developing relationships, the more opportunities will come your way.

If an opportunity doesn't present itself, why not start your own Facebook group? Gather a bunch of like-minded bloggers and start a daily thread where you all share a recent post. Then you can each comment on each others' posts and share them on social media.

That's it for today for your Guerrilla Facebook marketing tactics. 

I hope you've learned something new and helpful. Stay tuned - I have heaps more actionable tips to come in the weeks ahead.

Find the rest of the series here:
How to Grow your Blog Platform
Essentials for your Success
Supercharge your Stats

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia, where she mothers by day and transforms into a fearless blogger by night. Her popular creative home-making blog, A house full of sunshine, reaches over 150,000 readers a month. She's a Genesis finalist for women's fiction and is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such. Find her on TwitterGoogle+Facebook and Pinterest.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When God Hits Pause: L.O.O.K. U.P.

"But this is what I’m finding, in glimpses and flashes: this is it. This is it, in the best possible way. That thing I’m waiting for, that adventure, that move-score-worthy experience unfolding gracefully. This is it.” -Shauna Niequeist, from Cold Tangerines

Chances are you're waiting on something in your life at this very moment.

Waiting for your Prince Handsome to come sweep you away to your "diamond sunbursts and marble halls" as my favorite Ann-with-an-ew would say.

Pinching pennies to buy your picket-fence house in the perfect cul-de-sac neighborhood that will fit the perfect quiver of a family you have planned.

Perhaps its that job promotion that was promised, the paycheck that never came, the change in title, position, some other change.

Then there's the writing life. A pleasant diversion when the rest of your world feels dumped upside down and sideways all at once. At least that's what it was...until...

It became another waiting game...

Waiting for the perfect agent for you....the house that is right for you...waiting for that contract that would enable you to quit your 9-to-5 drudgery...

Longing to hear back from the editor who has been holding your proposal since get those contest results back...

Some waits are for a season...and sometimes that season is indefinite. Maybe you are called to take a break from writing altogether as several of us here have done in the past or are doing now.

“Wait on the Lord" is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.”  -J.I. Packer from Knowing God

Continue to wait on God...when action is needed, light will come....

How can you continue to wait on God? Here are some things that have helped me in my waiting times:

Waiting leaves us in a good place, with nothing to do but to seek God's face with desperate accord until he wants us to move. Sometimes when we are most "abuzz" with plans and excitement we take far less time to sit at his feet. 

When we're waiting, let's make a point to L.O.O.K. U.P.:

1)Let God search your heart.

What is the specific sin struggle in your heart with regards to waiting? And what might God want to do in you...perhaps it is something you are resisting and he is using a pause to get your attention.

Is it a lack of perseverance? Are you ready to give up because the wait seems too hard?

Is it a lack of trust in God's way? God's timing?

Perhaps you're trusting too much in other people: an agent, an editor, someone to give you positive feedback?

Is it pride, perhaps thinking that your work is better than others you see that are published? Thinking that your own writing will further his kingdom?

Confess all these things before your heavenly Father. He knows your heart.

2) Own your struggle.

We don't need to pretend with God, He knows all. No matter what our "wait" struggle is, come to Him daily asking for His help. You can't do it on your own. If this wait can produce in us further dependence on God then it is a small price to pay. 

3) Order your days.

Sometimes we spend too much time thinking about waiting and it can cause a bit of chaos in our days. Plan for the times when you struggle most with anxiety or overthinking about the waiting. For instance, a time I struggle with worry is bedtime. So I am now trying to play Christian sermons when I can't sleep to feast on the word and fill my mind with these things leaving little room for the anxieties of waiting.

What calms you and can keep your mind orderly during a time of struggle. Playing soft hymns helps me to get my focus on God. Also reciting favorite scripture verses. If you plan something to occupy your time with during the time those worries or bothersome thoughts crop up, you will feel better prepared.

4) Keep accountable.

Let a friend or spouse know that you are struggling to keep faith during the wait. Ask them to pray for and with you. During hard or long waits you may need to lean on them. Though facebook and online are great, I think it is best to have a friend you plan to meet for coffee or a lady you pray with at church. Waiting is a common human experience and maybe you'll find you can also pray for your friend who might be struggling with a wait in another area of her life.

5) Understand that he may be preparing you for another wait.

And no, I'm not telling you you will be published or you will find your dream agent...or be able to quit your job.

I'm talking about a different perspective. The one that truly matters and putting our life in line for that. Because even what's happening in our writing life is something God is using on a spiritual level.

I really think he uses what can be smaller waits to help us with larger waits. Waiting for a terminally ill spouse or parent to die. Waiting to deliver a stillborn months after her death. Waiting for the CAT scan on the brain to show all clear. God wants to teach us to wait in these moments, preparing us for the waits that will be present for our whole lives.

In the same way as Christians we are waiting and panting with longing like the deer for our eternal life:

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.-Romans 8:25

Let God use these times to stir up longing for our heavenly homes.

6)  Prepare and persevere.

What are your struggle points? Look for scriptures that will speak to those and print up the verses. Carry them with you in your purse. Post them next to your writing desk. Post them on your refrigerator. Ruth Graham placed Bibles all around her house so that she could read a verse here, a verse there as a busy mom.

Let God use your wait as a time of preparation for your own heart. Sometimes when we are in the throes of the good life we spend less time sitting at his feet. The perfect balm for your troubled heart is at his feet.

Bible Hub, and Blue Letter Bible are great online sites for finding verses to speak to your need and digging into all sorts of study resources for free. If God has called you to take a break from writing or seeking publication why not use that extra time to dig into his word even more than usual. 

Don't take your eyes off your source of hope. If you get a "no" don't let that discourage you from God's calling. God didn't call you to be published right now perhaps, but He did call you to write. Be obedient in that calling even if your feelings make you want to stop.

Maybe take a break and write something different, but write. Persevere in your calling.

Life and writing contain all sorts of waits. Let's use them as a reminder to L.O.O.K. U.P. and remember our Father is there with us through whatever we are facing today.

Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys writing for Library Journal magazine and the blog Wonderfully Woven.