Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Talking Fiction

I'm just back from the 2009 Writing for the Soul conference. Even as I pitched a non-fiction book, How to Help Your Son Choose Purity Instead of Pornography, I sat in on a fiction track taught by author DiAnn Mills. She taught a continuing workshop on "Writing Romance that Sells."

My hope was that DiAnn might share some insights that would help me move my fiction WIP along. Two suggestions stuck with me:

1. Plot your story so your hero and heroine get together. This is a given in a romance--the "happily ever after." Now, plot your story so your hero and heroine don't get together. Doing so will show you where you can insert conflict into your story.

2. Once your manuscript is completed, hold it in your hands--and toss it on the floor. Sounds crazy, I know, but DiAnn had a point. Now, pick up a random page and read it to see if there is any conflict on that page. If there isn't, delete the page or add some sort of conflict. Conflict can be between characters or it can be internal. DiAnn's point is that conflict must be a continuous thread throughout your story.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Google Books and Magazines

"When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened." —John M. Richardson, Jr.

By Scoti Springfield Domeij

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    I talked with an editor at the Writing for the Soul writer's conference this weekend regarding Google Books' impact upon publishing. And Google Books and publishing have come to terms to resolve the lawsuit writing organizations filed against Google Books.

    Of course, publishers worry that publishing the content of books online could hurt sales. Authors worry their content published online will be stolen. I regularly research topics I'm writing. In fact, I conduct research every day. A Google web search includes searching the Google book index. Reading a few snippets of a book influences whether I buy the book or not. In fact, I've purchased books online I never planned to buy, because the content I read from scanned book intrigued me.

    The editor said his publisher was talking with Google Books. In the future, people will be able to buy two chapters from one book and a couple of chapters from another book rather than purchasing the entire book. E-readers—Kindle™, Sony Reader and Plastic Logic (see pictures)— plus online Google books, iPhones and Blackberries will change the way we'll buy, store and read books. To visually look great on electronic devices, it will also affect how writers structure what's written on the page or how a chapter is written. For example, hard copies place endnotes at the end of the chapter. Online content links to the source. With the different reading platforms, page content needs to be an easy read.

    For those who love to read and write, the future presents exciting challenges and opportunities. I love Abraham Lincoln's quote, "The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time." Google Books scans older issues of some magazines that can now be read for free online. No more using gas to drive to the library. Those magazines are:

    American Cowboy
    Baseball Digest
    Best Life
    Better Nutrition
    Cruise Travel
    Log Home Living
    Mac Life
    Maximum PC
    Men's Health
    Mountain Biker
    New York
    Organic Gardening
    Popular Mechanics
    Runners World
    Running Times
    Vegetarian Times
    Women's Health
    Yoga Journal

    Friday, February 20, 2009

    Why I Love to Write YA

    Guest Blogger: Sarah Anne Sumpolec

    My first book idea grew out of my work with our church's youth group. I tried going to Women's Bible Studies and do all the grown up things, but I always felt called to care for the youth. So writing for them simply became a natural extension of what I already loved to do.

    Even now, I spend more than twelve hours a week hanging out with eighty kids and teens at our local Christian Youth Theater. I like being around them. I love to encourage them. And I want to do all I can to help them as they grow in Christ. My own teen years were tough (whose weren't?) and I didn't have anyone to talk to or turn to. I simply want to be available to these teens. You just never know when you might get the chance to offer a few life-giving words from God.

    So who I am as a person, and who I am as a writer are hopelessly intertwined. I've written five novels for teens and over and over, God has shown me how a simple story can affect the lives of teenagers. But they need more. I've lost track of how many letters I've gotten where a teen wrote, "I read all five of your books last week." Teens are hungry for truth and stories that they can relate to. They need more great stuff to read that is written for them, by people who care about them.

    The YA market can be tough. But we can't write because a certain market is booming. We must write out of our God-given passions and that's what YA is for me — a passion. So yes, I realize that Amish books sell really well, but I'm staying in high school. It's where I belong.

    Thursday, February 19, 2009

    Why I Love To Write

    Guest Blogger: Rachel Hauck

    A year or so ago my husband and I were walking our dogs around the neighborhood, chatting occasionally, being in that place of comfort and understanding with each other in silence. I felt so at peace and at home with myself. Not only had God worked His love into my heart over the past years, but I loved my husband and our life together.

    And I loved my job. Writing books.

    "Writing is so deeply satisfying to me," I said to my husband, pressing my hand over my middle. "Like, I'm perfectly content."

    Right after graduating college, I went with a friend to a beach house on the Gulf in north Florida. The day we drove in was beautiful, warm clear, full of emotion.

    A swell of desire and longing filled me. I wanted to capture the moment, some way, but I didn't know how. Write? Sing? Dance?

    I had similar emotions often in those days. After seeing the coming of age college movie "St. Elmo's Fire" I remember looking at my good friends thinking, "I want to write about us like that some day." We were in college, the same sorority, living a life of friendship similar to what I'd seen on the big screen. (Though not quite so. um. wild shall I say?)

    But I wanted to capture our college emotions and friendship.

    When I started writing, the restless longings ended. By the grace of God, I'd met the desire of my heart He put there.

    I love to work with words like an artist might like to work with clay or paint. I love to create a story and work with elements like conflict, goals and motivation. I love to create and solve problems. It's fun to mimic life. It's awesome to present a piece of God in my stories and characters.

    Writing is something that is just in me. I've had a lot of jobs I've loved and enjoyed, but nothing sits home with me like writing a book.

    I don't want fame or riches. I don't envy celebrities or politicians, or winners of reality shows. Why? Because I'm doing what I was designed and called to do. I think I used to envy them because they were living their dream and I wasn't.

    For me, the dream was simple and clear cut.


    Others have a plurality of dreams. They love painting or nursing, or home schooling their children or coaching football. Writing an one aspect of their lives. They are living their dreams too.

    If you love to write, it doesn't have to be your only dream like mine, but a part of who you are. Either way, take time for your writing, your dreams.

    Set goals.

    I love to write because when I do, I feel His pleasure in me.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009

    Why I Love Being a Book Therapist

    Guest Blogger: Sarah Anne Sumpolec

    I love the whole concept of Book Therapy. Imagine! A place where you can get useful feedback? It could save people years of submitting. So often writers just get a "No, thank you" when they submit to publishers or agents. But that doesn't help them improve or grow or discover what they can do to make their work better.

    When I first started writing, I had some precious people who offered me advice and help. They let me ask every silly question and answered each one with patience and love. So just as people gave to me so generously, I want to turn around and give back to others.

    My Book Therapy gives me a chance to do that. I think I was built by God to want to teach and encourage. I love looking for ways to strengthen a story or make the characters come alive on the pages. I love taking a good story to a great story by infusing it with layers and subplots and themes that will resonate with readers. I love seeing where a story can go when you give it wings.

    I'm so glad I get to be a part of My Book Therapy, especially as a YA Specialist. Writing for Young Adults is something I am passionate about, so I have a vested interest in helping see that teens have great reading material in the years to come.

    A Therapist's Thought

    I spend most of my weekends working as a director with a Christian Youth Theater. A typical show will have eighty kids that range in age from eight to 18. As a director, I get to look at the big picture of what we want to accomplish and then help each kid do their best work to make that big picture happen. But these aren't puppets, these are kids. So directing them must be about bringing the best out of each one of them individually. And at the end of it all, I am dressed in black, hiding in the wings, watching them shine on stage. I get so much joy out of it. I know I played a vital role, but I don't need the applause - all I want is to see them bring joy to that audience.

    Directing is a lot like Book Therapy. You've got this story to tell and you want to tell it in a way that's going to have the greatest effect on your audience. A therapist can come in and help you find ways to make the story stronger, ways to make the characters more real, and ways to explore all the possibilities. Just like an actor can't always see what the audience sees, a writer can't always tell what effect their story is having until a skilled writer comes along and asks the hard questions.

    And really, it can be hard. It's natural for us to just want praise. It's harder when someone comes along and says, "We've got some work to do here." But it's worth it. It's worth it when you take a story to the next level and realize that you can impact your readers in new and amazing ways. It's worth it when you discover tools that can help you grow. And it's worth it when you finally get to share that story with the world. And at the end of it all, it's still your story, your moment on stage to shine. But I'll be the one in the wings cheering you on.

    Tuesday, February 17, 2009

    Why I Like to Help Writers

    Guest Blogger: Rachel Hauck

    When I was going to Ohio State, I called my dad. "What should I major in?"

    "Journalism," he said, "you're a writer. Write."

    "But I like teaching too."


    As much as I love writing and as deeply satisfying as it is, there's teacher buried inside, somewhere. I love to help, bring understanding, present ideas and lessons.

    I'm not driven to do it, but given the opportunity, I'll take it.

    When Susie Warren asked me to join her at MyBookTherapy, I jumped at the chance. Combining teaching and writing . . . how could I not?

    Until then, I really didn't feel like I knew enough to teach others how to write. I was so new myself. I'd only published eight or so books, what did I know?

    But helping others helps me. Working to find the best in other's work, helping them discover the heart of their story, working through conflict and problems makes me a better writer.

    MyBookTherapy clients are a blessing to me. More than they know. Teaching is like that, though. It feeds back.

    But I also love to see people going for their dreams. So many of us do not reach for our goals and desires. Life, laziness, excuses, whatever, keeps us from trying to do the thing swirling in our heart.

    We are never too old to try our dreams. Want to learn the piano? Learn. Maybe it's a bit late to be a concert pianist, but you can play at church, at nursing homes, for friends and family. For Jesus.

    Helping people with something so personal and cherished as writing a book is a great honor. I'm proud of anyone who attempts a book, busting my buttons for those who complete a manuscript.

    My goal is to come along side a client and encourage them, guide them while understanding their writing goals, and help them discover the story inside.

    As a new author, one thing that frustrated me was not really hearing the truth about my weaknesses. Either everyone loved my work and offered minimal suggestions, or they offered critique without explanation. My heart as an instructor and therapist is to offer insight into what the writer does well, but what they need to work on with the whys and hows.

    One of my best publishing days was when a writer friend I'd invited into a novella collection received her first contract. I was more excited for her than me!

    I love to help writers because it's in community that we discover more of ourselves and each other.

    Sunday, February 15, 2009

    A Therapist Thought: Writing in the Midst of a Busy Life

    Guest blogger: Rachel Hauck

    Early on in my writing life, I had to give up the notion that writing time would come easy, be ideal and full of inspiration.

    When I signed my first book contract, I was working full time for a software company as a department manager. I'd recently become a worship leader at my church, adding that to my job as youth pastor's wife. My husband and I also gathered with other area pastors to start a weekly multi-church prayer meeting and I'd become the Vice President of a national writers organization and was coordinating our second annual conference.

    Writing? Yeah, like when? Where? And I didn't even have children to raise. I felt pushed, pulled, torn, frazzled and on the edge. I'd never written a book to be published before. I'd not coordinated a conference and my committee was "out there" across America. If I failed, I'd let so many people down, including myself.

    I lay in bed one night praying, trying to decide if I should just work up my courage and resign as Vice President and admit I couldn't do it all. I didn't need to be that kind of person. But as my final grasp for God's grace, I whispered in the darkness, "Lord, you have a conference to coordinate, let me know what you need me to do."

    Peace washed over me. I didn't resign. The Lord sent me a co-coordinator. The conference was a success.

    And, I wrote my first book by June of that year and met my deadline. A busy life seems impossible to avoid these days. We have so many options and opportunities available to us. Here are a few things I've learned along the way.

    1. Make sure the jobs or opportunities you embrace are really from the Lord. Don't say yes out of guilt or even selfish ambition. Know that you know all you're doing is right and good. Sure I had a full plate that one year, but I knew God had loaded me up for a reason.
    2. Give it all back to Him. Ask for wisdom and grace, insight and help.
    3. Let go of any and all concept that you have to be perfect. You'll fail and it's okay to fail. There were quite a few bloopers at that second annual conference, but we got past them. God's grace was greater.
    4. Get organized. Since I knew my book deadline, I wrote out my writing schedule on a calendar. I had a few extra vacation days so I scheduled them as mega-writing sessions. It's not unholy, or ungodly to plan. Most of us fail in our sincerest desires because we live by the tyranny of the urgent. We don't plan so our lives are governed by the moment. If we do plan, we allow ourselves to be knocked off course. Schedule writing time and STICK to it. If it's one hour a week, then guard it with all your might.
    5. Be confident before God. Know that He has good works planned for you to walk in. He loves you. He wants you to succeed.

    In the midst of juggling my schedule, I worked hard to maintain my own intimate relationship with Jesus. It wasn't always easy and I failed to reach my ultimate goal, but by having a goal, I found success. Otherwise, I might have drifted way away from the heart-to-heart relationship I wanted with Him.

    There were a few tools I used to help me stay on track with my relationship.

    1. I attended corporate prayer meetings.
    2. I was faithful to all worship services.
    3. I went early to youth church or main church to have prayer times.

    Look for ways to fortify your spiritual as well as natural life.

    1. Find a buddy to pray with or write with.
    2. Ask your family to "do it with you." As parents we spend time driving our children to school, music or dance, sports events. Wouldn't they love to help mom or dad meet their writing goal? Bring them into the adventure with you.
    3. Pray. Ask Jesus for grace. For help. If all else fails, use my prayer. "Lord, you have a book to write, let me know what I need to do. If you find you just can't manage it all, set is aside and wait. Maybe your season of writing is not yet. But keep taking notes, keep praying, keep learning.

    God is faithful to keep us in His will. Even when we fail, He will not.

    So exhale. Relax. Have fun.

    Friday, February 13, 2009

    LOVE TO WRITE Tour: Blog-a-Book and Contest

    Write a book with My Book Therapy Voices in 2009!

    I've been a behind-the-scenes--a.k.a. lurking--participant of an innovative online writing project. Authors Susan May Warren, Rachel Hauck and Sarah Sumpolec are the masterminds--and "book therapists"--behind the Blog-a-Book idea. Here's what's you can get involved with:

    Remember those games you used to play where your friend started the story, and you finished it? Or the “Choose your own ending” books? Ever wanted to be a part of the story process, giving input on the character’s decisions, learning how to write a book as you go? Me too!

    Here at My Book Therapy, we love to write, and we love to teach writers how to find their voice. So, in 2009 we’ll be writing a book together! Starting in January, we’ll create characters, a plot, develop conflict, the black moment, the epiphany and finally…the happy ending. Then, week by week, you’ll be a part of the creation process, voting on the next step of our hero’s journey, watching the book take life, and learning the nuances of crafting a story. You’ll Blog-A-Book with the My Book Therapy authors and get tools to help you how to write your own novel.

    And, at the end of the year, we’ll have a book we’ve all created, something that we’ll publish! And, best of all, the proceeds will go to support IJM, an organization that fights human trafficking around the world.

    I’m really excited about our new project, and can’t wait to see what the collective mind put together.

    So, Come and Blog-A-Book. Learn. Fellowship. Bless.

    My Book Therapy…Discover the writer in you.

    Check out their book from the Inside...Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you! From The Inside...Out will teach you how a story is structured then take you through the process of creating and marketing your novel. Topics include: Character-driven plotting, How to HOOK your reader, The elements and flow of SCENES, How to build STORYWORLD, Secrets to Sizzling Dialogue, Proven Self-Editing techniques, Synopsis and Query letter writing, How to manage your writing career ...and everything in between!

    Now, about the contest:
    Enter the contests for the LOVE TO WRITE blog tour! You have two chances to win!

    Want to win a copy of From the Inside…Out: Discover, Create and Publish the Novel in You for your very own? Leave a comment here and tell us what kind of novel you have in YOU.


    Do you already have your novel down on the page? Does it need a little THERAPY? Enter to win 10% off a Book Therapy Session (that’s a savings of $30+) by leaving a comment here and telling us a brief synopsis of your story!

    All winners will be chosen at random. Contest ends 2/28 and the winners will be announced on March 2nd!

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009

    Plagiarism: How Did Writers Ever Write Before Copy and Paste?

    "They had their lean books with the fat of others' works."—Robert Burton

    Truth is Stranger Than Fiction—Ya Think?

    By Scoti Springfield Domeij

    I love to laugh. The irony of this report from The Chronicle of Higher Education made me snort. They reported that Southern Illinois University's (SIUC) 2007 draft of a new anti-plagiarism policy appeared to plagiarize Indiana University's 2005 139-word definition of plagiarism. The SIUC anti-plagiarism committee was attempting to combat scrutiny and reduce the Plagiarazzi among their midst.

    SUIC has had a number of high profile plagiarism controversies, including their president, Glenn Poshard—who was found guilty of an innocent mistake. He 'inadvertently plagiarized' his dissertation. Perhaps President Poshard motto was, "Copy from one, it's plagiarism: copy from two, it's research,"—John Milton.

    According to SIUC's Anti-Plagiarism Committee's Findings…

    To most academics and writers, plagiarism is a serious violation of professional ethics. Individuals in charge of writing SIUC's plagiarism policy responded to these allegations of double-dose plagiarism.

    • "Why reinvent the wheel," SIUC speech communications professor Lenore Langsdorf.
    • "We think this is a non-story," said David West, director of government and media relations for the school.
    • "It could be a coincidence. Any definition by nature is going to be close to another definition," Arthur M. "Lain" Adkins, the plagiarism committee chairperson who also serves as director of the university.
    • "If it needs to be footnoted, then that will be done," John Haller, retired vice president of academic affairs at SIUC.

    Avoid the plague of plagiarism or innocent mistakes. After cutting and pasting someone else's work, make it your own by clicking on your thesaurus.

    Like not paying taxes, plagiarize. If caught, then you can correct it.

    Whether you are a fiction or nonfiction writer, please enjoy this humorous two-minute video "Writing Fiction Lesson 101: Basic Operating Procedure."

    Monday, February 9, 2009

    Advice from Writers about Writer’s Block

    "I think writer's block is simply the dread that you are going to write something horrible. But as a writer, I believe that if you sit down at the keys long enough, sooner or later something will come out."—Roy Blount, Jr.

    By Scoti Springfield Domeij

    Feeling Unmotivated, Uninspired or Frozen by a Looming Deadline?

    What was the most terrifying thing Ernest Hemingway encountered?

    "A blank sheet of paper."

    Stephen King, Mr. Fear Monger himself, confessed, "the scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better." Here are some insights from writers regarding writer's block.

    William Goldman: "The easiest thing to do on earth is not write."

    E. L. Doctorow: "Planning to write is not writing. Outlining—researching—talking to people about what you're doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing."

    Paul Rudnick: "Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It's a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write."

    Robert Parker: "If you want to write, write it. That's the first rule."

    Henriette Anne Klauser: "The best antidote to writer's block is ... to write."

    Mary Heaton Vorse: "The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair."

    Anna Quindlen: "People have writer's block not because they can't write, but because they despair of writing eloquently."

    James Thurber: "Don't get it right, just get it written."

    Mary Garden: "My block was due to two overlapping factors: laziness and lack of discipline. If you really want to write, then shut yourself in a room, close the door, and WRITE. If you don't want to write, do something else. It's as simple as that."

    Barbara Kingsolver: "Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer."

    J. B. Priestly: "If you are a genius, you'll make your own rules, but if not—and the odds are against it—go to your desk, no matter what your mood, face the icy challenge of the paper—write."

    Gertrude Stein: "To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write."

    How Do You Alleviate Writer's Block?

    Bob Moresco, an Oscar-winning writer, reveals how to cure writer's block in this minute and a half video.

    Friday, February 6, 2009

    A Bit of Friday Fun: If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words ...

    It's been quite a while since we played the "If a Picture's Worth a Thousand Words" game. Time to dust it off and have another go at it!

    Here are the rules:

    1. Take a look at the photo.

    2. Write something about it--50 words or less. Post your writing in the comment section.

    3. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry ... have fun with it!!

    4. Have fun! Oh, I repeated myself. But, that's the main point of this exercise: to have some writing fun!

    5. Invite your writing buddies to join us!

    Who knows? If this little writing exercise attracts a following, I may start offering prizes ...

    Wednesday, February 4, 2009

    Which Way?

    For years I lived life as a non-fiction writer. I blissfully ignored all the ins and outs of writing fiction--they didn't apply to me. When friends discussed their characters as if they were real people, I smirked. Puh-leeze! None of this "hearing voices" for me!

    And then ... I wandered over to the "dark side" and tried my hand at writing fiction. Why? Because I was burned out with magazine and book deadlines. I swore I wasn't going to write another word ever, ever again.

    Within days of my pronouncement, I found myself unearthing the snippet of a book idea and playing with it. No pressure. Just fooling around. Now I am meeting with a weekly critique group, producing a chapter a week. Sometimes I'm begging the voices to say something--anything--to give me a clue as to where the plot of my WIP is going!

    And, yes, I'm learning the rules of writing fiction. I know I need a plot. I know I need to develop my characters. I know there needs to be conflict. Point of View. Dialogue. Character arc.

    I also know there are lots of different tools out there to help me develop my book idea. I stumbled across a new one recently. The January issue of Writers Digest includes an article by Karen S. Wiesner, author of From First Draft to Finished Novel. In her article, Your Novel Blueprint., Wiesner recommends a Story Plan Checklist that helps a writer pinpoint key elements like:

    *character descriptions
    *plot conflicts
    *evolving goals and motivations

    To download sample worksheets or checklists to help you craft your novel, go here.

    Tuesday, February 3, 2009

    Awards, Rewards and Writing

    "In the name of the hungry, of the naked, of the crippled, of the homeless, of the blind, in their name, I accept the award." —Mother Teresa of Calcutta

    By Scoti Springfield Domeij

    What writer wouldn't want to receive a major writing award? It adds an impressive sparkly star to the resume or website. It affirms your credibility and positions you in the league of the prestigious. Writers are encouraged to build their platform, their brand, their tagline, their expertise, and their voice. While working on all these planks to sell yourself and your manuscript to a publisher, I rarely hear something I believe to be true: God is in control of our writing careers. He lifts to a seat of honor those who pour their God-given passions out on paper. He equips us to remain faithful to our unique purpose and calling.

    Mother Teresa's words tug at my writer's heart. Is my writing passion about offering hope, encouraging others, making a difference in someone's life, or seeking attention? Which begs the question: Why do I write? God imbedded a distinct DNA code in my heart with instructions: Write.

    What's the deeply satisfying reward of writing?




    To me, my reward is doing what God designed me to do—to express the dialogue of my soul.

    Why Do You Write?

    Join me in congratulating the writers of the 2009 Christianity Today book awards whose works honor God and teach and inspire others. The judging process began with 436 titles submitted by 67 publishers. CT editors selected finalists in ten categories. Then their panels of expert judges — one panel per category — sorted out the cream of the crop from 2008. Click here to learn the 10 winners and 11 notables that best shed light on the people, events, and ideas that shape evangelical life, thought, and mission.