Friday, December 19, 2008

Merry Christmas!

To all our friends along the writing road, Scoti, Roxanne and I wish you a most joy-filled Christmas!!
We're taking a break while we enjoy the holidays with family and friends. We hope to see you in the New Year as we all continue pursuing our writing dreams.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Turn Disaster to Writing Opportunities

"It is in periods of apparent disaster, during the sufferings of whole generations, that the greatest improvement in human character has been effected."—Sir Archibald Alison

By Scoti Springfield Domeij

Is this economic downturn motivating or demotivating your desire to write for publication? Although it seems as if financial and publishing doors are slamming shut, it's during hard times that people are most open to hearing about compassion, hope and God's promise to care for us—no matter our situation. I don't know about you, but it's depressing to hear via all forms of media how bad things are—over and over and over and over—with absolutely nothing optimistic sprinkled in between the dreadful news.

Enough Already! I Get It.

I'm pulling in my belt, hunkering down and looking for ways to save. However, this is not all bad. It just makes me be more accountable with what I have. My 89-year-old best friend, who died last year, gave me his tiny blue Ford Festiva. I preferred cruising around in my GMC Jimmy, which is big, comfortable, quiet, and a terrible gas guzzler. Little Blue Bomb is missing its entire muffler system, making it sound more like a monster dragster. The muffler quote I obtained to see how much it would cost to eliminate the embarrassing noise cost more than the car's blue book value. While gas prices were high, I switched to Little Blue Bomb and enjoyed the gas savings. I also stopped talking on my cell phone while driving. Why? Because of safety? Nope. Without the muffler system to quiet the roar, I cannot hear.

Perceptions or Perspective: Can You Hear Me Now?

The clamor of the bad news media also drowns out faith and hearing God's small quiet voice. When life looks the most pessimistic, that's precisely when writers need to tell stories filled with optimism, hope and that God will provide. A boss at a ministry often told me, "Perception is reality." His response always angered me. What he communicated to me was—truth isn't relevant. It's not important. I wondered why he preferred to believe innuendo, second-hand information and gossip. Following the company infraculture, he trusted accusations, intimidated the politically naive and questioned provable facts. His "perception mentality" didn't inspire confidence, respect, faith, or God's perspective.

What You See Depends on What You Look For

The bad news writers and thinkers want us to believe that perception is reality. Financial, economic, physical, political, or relational defeat in this life is often victory in disguise. Fear creates opportunities to reflect on priorities. The perception that times are hard is a faith test. Circumstances remind us that we are not in control—God is. Has this economic downturn made you question your calling to write? Keep pursing the passion God implanted in your spiritual DNA. Write. God—not editors, publishing houses, a lucrative writing platform, who you know, or the economy—is in charge of when and where we're published.

Cleanse seemingly closed doors and glass ceilings smeared with perception—bad economy, less opportunities, blah, blah, blah. Use your God-given abilities and passion to transform perceptions into perspective. Writers can give new meaning to hard times. Remind people of the veracity of truth. Point them to the source—the perspective balancer—God's Word. God is our protector and provider. His strength outlasts tough times.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Of Editing and Dentists

"Editing is like going to the dentist. It can be painful. Sometimes you just want to avoid it. But, in the end, you're glad you got the work done."

I have spent too many hours of my life in a dentist's chair. I often say my husband's marriage vows should have been altered to read, "To love, honor, cherish, and pay my dental bills ..."

I am a dental disaster waiting to happen. A casual trip to my dentist, Dr. C., usually involves an "Uh-oh, this doesn't look good" comment. I know it's time for me to open wide for a really long time so he can go to work.

As much as I trust Dr. C., I hate dental procedures. I don't like cleanings. I don't like fillings. I don't like x-rays. I don't like root canals (too many to count.) And I do not like the uncomfortableness of reclining in the chair, mouth open wide, trying not to drool on myself or Dr. C.

A lot of writers feel the same way about editing: They don't like it. It's painful. It's something to be avoided. Who knows? There may be some of you out there who'd rather go to the dentist than edit your article or WIP.

But, remember what I wrote at the beginning of this blog post: " ... in the end, you're glad you got the work done."

You'll be glad you persevered and wrote and rewrote your article. You'll be thankful you found the passive verbs and the misspellings and the incomplete sentences and the rabbit trails. If you don't someone else will. If that someone else is an editor considering your article or book for publication, lousy writing could mean no sale.

If I avoid the dentist, am I avoiding my dental problems? Nope. They're still there. And they bother me.

If you avoid editing, you're not avoiding your writing weaknesses. They're still there--for everyone else to see.

Is that what you want?

You tell me.

Now, excuse me while I go make an appointment with Dr. C. I'm way-past due.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Recipe for Entertaining a Group of Writers

1) Group of writers, genres may vary
2) paper, pens or pencils
3) timer
4) gift bags or wrapped presents, (each writer supplies one) containing a character, setting, and one object. (Hint: easy to remember as a person, place, and thing.) These can be pictures of people cut from magazines, old photographs, maps, ticket stubs, letters, toys, brochures, keys, silk flowers, miniatures, or practically anything.

1) Each writer selects a gift (other than his/her own) from the pile.
2) Take paper and pen and spread out writers to various locations--corners of rooms, separate rooms, etc.
3) Each writer opens gift bag, examines items.
4) Give a minute or two for writer to get situated.
5) Set timer for 15 minutes.
6) Writers create a scene inspired by the character, setting and object. Write as many words as possible in fifteen minutes. Try to include something about Christmas or other holiday if used at a themed party.
7) Give a five-minute and one-minute warning.
8) When time is up, reveal who brought each present and read your stories aloud to one another.

1) Each writer brings one object. Put them on the table and each writer creates a scene using as many objects as possible.

NOTE: Spelling and grammar do not count as no one else reads your work.

It's fun to hear the stories that other writers have created from the objects you brought. They often go off in directions that you never imagined. Our group writes across the board--romance, suspense, historical, and cozies. It was interesting to see how closely we stayed in our genre.

Try this writing exercise the next time you're with a group of writers. You'll be amazed at how much you can write in fifteen minutes. Who knows? This just might be the recipe to begin your next project.

Roxanne Sherwood

Monday, December 8, 2008

Eerie Writing Experience

"The bees pillage the flowers here and there but they make honey of them which is all their own; it is no longer thyme or marjolaine: so the pieces borrowed from others he will transform and mix up into a work all his own."—Michael Eyquen de Montaigne

Busy writer bees Google key words to find "original" writing ideas. I researched holiday blues and depression so I could write an article for my solo parenting blog, www.courageoussingleparenting.blogspot.com. Then today I picked up a magazine and read an article about holiday depression. The words sounded eerily familiar. From the three triggers that cause holiday depression to other points, the article sounded just like my research. I could even underline familiar lines that I recall reading. So much for a photographic memory. It was a strange feeling to think that the writer may have researched the topic on Google and then cut and pasted together a "new" article.

Beyond Google

I use Google to jumpstart my creative process, read what's already been written and learn from experts. However, this article sounded neither new nor fresh. If you rely on Google searches for research, here are a few tips to avoid plagiarism.

  1. Write using your own voice and your experiences. Do not cut and paste other people's voices and stories.
  2. Quote others. Link to their article. But please avoid regurgitating other's viewpoints or phrases. What do you think or believe about the topic? Share it.
  3. Do not copy and paste a quote and then substitute words using your Thesaurus. Read the information, and then say it aloud in your own words. Now write it.
  4. Give credit where credit is due.
  5. When you paraphrase keep the facts and content in context.
  6. Run your copy through http://www.plagiarismchecker.com. It will identify whether you've accidentally copied from the Internet. Plagiarism Checker can also help you find out whether someone has plagiarized your work and posted it to the Internet.

Friday, December 5, 2008

What's It All Mean?

It's not pretty in the publishing world right now. Economic woes have wreaked havoc on a number of publishing houses. Recent announcements included:

Simon and Schuster cut 35 employees
Thomas Nelson cut 54 employees
Random House cut some of its top people and also announced it was restructuring
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt let its publisher go--and and other changes have been reported.
Border's stock price fell under $1.

You can't help but feel badly for those folks who have lost jobs. But I think most professional writers also wonder: What does this mean for me? If publishing houses are letting employees go, they are probably tightening there belts other ways too. (Pardon the cliche.)

One writer I know had a contract, signed, sealed and delivered. Recently, his publisher decided to cut expenses by limiting the number of books they planned to publish. So, they eliminated 200 authors. He was one of them. A contract doesn't always equal a finished product. Not ever--and certainly not in this sagging economy.

So, what's a writer to do? Quit? Wait until the economy is booming again?

I think lean times like these will weed the "players" from the professionals. The "one day I'd like to write a book" folks from the day-in-day-out, gonna make it happen in spite of the odds writers.

That doesn't mean that real writers won't face some harsh realities, like my writing buddy did when he lost his contract. But that won't stop him from writing and submitting and staying with his craft.

In times like these, publishers aren't going to risk their limited bugets. We'll have to work harder--write more, write well--and give editors and publishers our absolute best. And if it comes with an established author platform, all the better.

But more on the next week.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Is Contest Feedback Worth it?

In 2008, I won the Touched by Love contest, finaled in the Golden Gateway and the Summer Sizzle contests, and judged contests as well.

But when contest score sheets arrive in the mail, my stomach flips more times than a world-class gymnast performing a floor routine. I’ve received wonderful feedback that praised my work or told me how I could improve. Every compliment is read over and over, savored like melt-in-your-mouth chocolate.

Then, there are those other comments. Negative feedback hurts; and sometimes, I’ve had to put it aside until my skin feels thick enough to withstand the pain. But I’ve found that the critical comments were the most useful ones. Those I can learn from. After all, if I wanted only positive feedback, I’d give my manuscript to my mother and save the money spent on entry fees.

When I can be objective—usually after a long, bubble bath and ice cream straight from the carton—I study my manuscript. Was the judge right? Is my heroine shallow? Have I failed to show instead of tell? Does my chapter lack description? (Probably yes to the last one, though I’ve really tried to work on that.)

I imagine each judge as a potential reader—she is, isn’t she? If she loves my submission, wonderful! I have a new fan. But if she doesn’t, is there something I can change—while staying true to my story and my voice—yet win her over? Then, I'll have more satisfied readers.

Some comments are best ignored. But first, really try to see if the criticism has merit. In one contest, the judge scored me low score for conflict, then wrote: “Most of the conflict is because of the heroine’s poor choices.” Hello? Hasn’t she heard of Moby Dick? I know my story is rife with conflict. What about the other judge who thought my heroine was unsympathetic? Ouch. My character has abandoned her children. If I haven’t provided proper motivation for this heinous act, then I needed to heed this judge’s criticism and create a more sympathetic heroine. I was glad for the opportunity to rewrite the story now, before submitting it to an editor.

The best way to look at contest feedback is the way a writing partner offers her critique: “Use what you can, and lose the rest.”