Saturday, January 29, 2011

Becoming a Writer Part 2

So you want to be a writer? Fantastic. It's a wonderful, great, hard life. I mean, things I couldn't even imagine being an issue or concern before I started writing, are now an issue and concern.

I'm like, "Who knew?" For example? Like, how to "brand" myself. I thought only corporations used brands. Blogging with purpose instead of eclectic. Social media. How to work in partnership with publishers while remaining responsible for your own career.

Or things like staying with changes in publishing, the nuances of the Christian fiction market. You know what was selling well, what the readers demanded, five, ten years ago is very different from what's selling like hot cakes now.

I wonder if some Christian readers who used to read secular books are migrating to the CBA world and picking up books they never knew existed. As a result, a lot of these readers are romance readers, it changes the balance of the market.

Just a guess. But come on romance readers, we welcome you!

So, what do you need to know as you start out?

1. Read a lot. Read widely. Read to study the craft. How did the author put this story together? When I wanted to write chick lit, I read a lot of chick lit to figure out how the author told the story.

2. Study the craft. We have some great tools and work books over at My Book Therapy. Make sure you understand point of view, how to use conflict and tension, the purpose of back story, all the basics of good writing.

3. Write your book all the way through to the end. Don't stop and start over more than once or twice. My first book took 2 years to write because I kept starting over. Keep going. There is always something that happens in the middle or the end that reveals something you can layer back into the beginning.

4. Rewrite your book. Get it critiqued. Rewrite it again. Dig deep to get those character layers. Delete stuff! Rewrite. Your genius will reinvent itself. Trust me. :)

5. Get involved with writers organizations. Join ACFW, ACW, My Book Therapy, RWA, local writers guilds or groups. Take or audit a creative writing class at the local college. Get into the writing community.

6. Attend conferences to learn and to network. Get to know people. Join Twitter and Facebook. Follow authors, editors and agents.

7. Listen more than you speak. Give more than you take. Be teachable.

8. Be ready for the long haul. No shortcuts.

9. Once you've finished your manuscript and attended a conference or two, and you feel you're ready to query agents or editors, research the ones you're interested in. Read their guidelines. Read their blogs. Be informed. Send them the RIGHT stuff. If an agent does take children's manuscripts, don't send yours! I tell you, writers can be so obtuse sometimes.

10. Realize your manuscript is not God's gift to literature. You've not written something that defies all the rules and even a publisher who doesn't published Amish Sci Fi Steampunk still won't want your masterpiece. Don't shoot yourself in the foot.

11. Once you find an agent interested, do what they ask as soon as you can. Send the synopsis and first three chapters if that's all they want. Don't send them the whole manuscript. Follow directions. Same with any editor you might be dealing directly with.

12. Behave like they taught you in kindergarten. Please and thank you. Honor. Do what you're told or asked. ;)

13. Blog with a view to hone your prose and to observe life. Observing life, catching the hyperbole is so much a part of great fiction. I am a big fan of blogging as a way to train yourself as a fiction author.

Can I end on the lucky number thirteen? I think I will. I'm not afraid. Next, I'll blog on what I think it takes to make an average author extraordinary. :)

(... to be continued. Part 3)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Becoming a Writer Part 1

Lately, I've had a some folks ask me about becoming a writer. They, or someone they know has written or wants to write a novel. I get asked a lot about how to get published and the steps involved. So, I thought I'd discuss it here. Create a reference. Make a few people laugh. Make a few people cry.

One. Writing a novel is hard work

It's more than an idea, a flash of inspiration. It's more than a driving passion. More than the wrongs you want to right about your life or the life of others. Its not, please, please, please, a sermon or church lesson. It's not theology or doctrine. It's not a tract or propaganda. It's not a way to sugar coat your driving message.

It's story. It's a slice of life. A novel is taking the ordinary and making it, in some way, extraordinary. The storyteller in you has to see the hyperbole in life and assign it to your characters.

To write a novel you need quiet alone time. Not always, but some where along the way you need to dig deep and get the core layers of the story on paper.

You need "butt in chair."

You need the ability to stare at a blank page for more than a minute without quitting, going to You Tube or surfing the web. You need to write what's on your heart, letting the words flow, then have the courage to go back and change or delete half if not all of them.

You need to be teachable, to learn the craft. Let other writers read and give input on your work.

Your mother/father/sister/brother/husband/wife/children/employee/dog/cat/best friend do not count as accurate readers. Why? They know you. They hear your voice in the story. They will love it because they love you.

Outside input is a great test to your voice as a story teller. You either have it or you don't. You can learn craft. You can't learn that inner "story teller" that makes pretend people come to life.

I knew I might, just might, be able to make it as a writer when I was in Venezuela way back in '89, training typesetters at a newspaper how to use my company's computers to do their job. While they practiced one afternoon, I started writing a story. As new writers often do, I worked with a burst of inspiration which soon faded because all I had was a "what if" idea. No real story. But, it started out well and I pasted it to a display ad page (this was before PCs!) and typeset it.

I had to go back to teaching, so I left my page for later. When I went to pick it up from the typesetter, four men hovered over my story, reading it. Now remember, I'm in Venezuela. They speak Spanish. My story was in English. They smiled, told me they like my story, blah, blah. They were flirting. The probably understood some of the words but not the concept.

Two months later, I go back to the paper to work on another project. One of the typesetters stopped me in the hall and asked in his broken English. "What happened to the girl?"

"What girl?"

"In the story?"

"What story?" Ohhh... I laughed. "I don't know. I never finished it."

He frowned. "We want to know. What happens?"

So four men who didn't read or speak English well carried that 500 word piece in their hearts for ... two months? I tucked that moment away. Maybe, maybe, I could become a writer. Some day.

That's a piece of my story. What's yours? What's the reaction to things you've written? Take those tidbits of encouragement and use them as inspiration.

(... to be continued)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

Wasting time

I stopped watching Oprah a few years ago. One, we got rid of TV. All we have now is Blueray. But even before we cut the mind sucking entertainment tentacles from our souls, I stopped watching Oprah.

One, she was preaching a different gospel. Why would I spend an hour of my day with someone leading millions astray from the truth claiming Jesus the Christ wasn't the only way.

I wouldn't spend one second let alone a full hour listening to any other false teacher so why would I listen to and follow Oprah?

Listen, if Jesus is not the Christ, He's a crazy man. No other so-called gods or spiritual leaders died brutal deaths on a cross claiming to redeem humanity. What a nut job Jesus must have been if he was not the Son of God.

Two, Oprah talked a lot about her dreams and becoming someone when she thought she was no one. So why was I giving her an hour of my time and thought and heart instead of giving it to my dreams, my goals, my friends and family?

Granted, I can find all kinds of ways to waste my time. Even tell myself it's needed for my career, social media and all that, but really, how much does it gain me?

I went to a young man's funeral yesterday. He died too young, but in many ways, it was God's mercy. Staying off drugs and out of trouble was not easy for him. But he righted his life and died in the arms of Jesus.

The church was packed with friends and family. As people spoke of this young man, I was so surprised to hear he had several "moms," and lots of friends. I took for granted a kid struggling to stay straight was a loner, having alienated all his friends and family.

While his life was over, I felt for the young ones mourning him. "Don't let your life be wasted. Make it count." Change what has to be changed.

But change isn't easy is it? We often can't see our failures and weaknesses, or pull ourselves out of the hole we stand in. I've got plenty of blind spots.

But what we do with our time does count. We can "take it with us." We will give an account to the Lord for our time. Take stock, what are you spending your time on? I was thinking last night I had nothing to do so I goofed around on my iPad a bit, looking up apps. But you know, I couldn't spent an extra hour in prayer. Not that iPad play is wrong, but I could've done both.

I've not nailed all of my disciplines. I struggle, but I want to do the best I can with the time I have on this life, in this internship God has granted me before I pass into eternity.

I don't want to be like Jacob in Genesis 28:16, "Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it." Next Jacob was afraid and "How awesome is this place!"

I want to be expectant of the Lord. To be awake. To be aware. To keep my heart in a place of humility. "Down heart, down." To say, "I see the Lord is in this place."

Are you asleep? Will you awake to realize God was there and you missed it? What things can you cut out of your life that are keeping you from your dreams and goals, from the very things God has called you to do and be?

Also, is there someone in your life struggling? How can you help them? Are you "mom" to a teen losing his way. Do something about it. Speak up. It may change the course of his destiny.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Yowza, y'all

I can't believe it's been a whole weeks since I blogged. Tis the way of deadline. A friend said to me at church today, "You're always on deadline."

Um, yeah, pretty much and happily so.

Here's how I define deadline. Three months before the book is due to my editor. Before that three month marker, I say, "I have a book due." Or, "I'm working on my next book."

But at the three month mark, I have to buckle down and get 'er done. By then, I should have most if not all of a first draft done. First draft meaning I have an idea where I'm going but half if not more could change or be severely tweaked.

Two months out, I start rewriting. I need at least two weeks before the deadline for someone, anyone, hello? to read the manuscript for sanity. Did I miss closing a plot thread? Does my story logic and sequence make sense? Are the typos too funny for words. Do my characters ring true.

Then, I need a few days to go over it and send it in.

The last month, which is about where I am now, I call it Deep Dark Mode. That means "Girl, put your head down and get this book done, don't you dare look up for the light of day until the final, this is it The End."

Speaking of Deep Dark Mode...

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Went to church, got "wooshed" with a flag!

I'm a worship leader at a non denomination church with... shall we say... charismatic leanings. We're not weird. Nor "holy rollers."

But we do believe in living a Spirit filled, Spirit led life by prayer and the Word. We ascribe to the things Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14.

In the past, we've encouraged people to worship the Lord in Spirit and in Truth, urging them to express their hearts to the Lord as we sing.

Dancing and flag waving has become a part of that expression for some. And distraction to others. Some want the leadership to let the people worship freely. Dance is found as a form of worship in the Bible.

Other in the congregation want it restricted. They feel they cannot invite outsiders because the guest won't understand the flag waving and dancing. It's too unusual. Different.

We've noticed guests arriving and leaving early. If they stay, many don't return.

So the leadership has been debating this topic for months now, even talking with the pastor of another church who has a large dance ministry. He has the same struggle.

Now I grew up with this stuff. The pastor's wife at our church in Tallahassee was a dance major at Florida State. She was a beautiful dancer and trained those in the congregation how to dance before the Lord. There was structure and order to the dancing.

Flag waving? Not a big deal. We do it a ball games, right? Scripture is full of the singers going out behind the banners. AKA, flags.

When the Lord sent me to Israel in '93, I was on a dance and intercession team. And I'm not a dancer...

Yet I can see how it's a distraction. Our sanctuary is boxy, and not built for a lot of movement.

Maybe to the outside eye, flag waving and dancing seems like an awkward expression. In my church now, we don't have a dance ministry leader, so there's less organization and structure.

All in all, those who express themselves in dance and flag waving do it well.

Recently the leadership talked to the dancers and flag wavers about moving to the back of the sanctuary during worship.

Being in the back means more people feel liberty to move about... And some are not always aware of their movements.

Sunday we had a couple of visitors. Like most first timers, they sat in the back. When worship started, the flags started. In the back.

And somewhere along the line, those visitors got "wooshed" with a flag. Not once, but twice. It's unclear if they were hit with the flag stick, or if just the flag itself wafted over their heads, but either way, they were gone. Skedaddle. Out of there.

One of the pastors tried to catch them, but they were too quick. The whole incident seems to have been a combination of things.

The flag waver not being aware. The observers not moving quick enough to remind the flag waver to pay attention.

The guest probably felt uncomfortable and not bold enough to tell the flag waver to be careful. I mean, would you? If you were in a new church?

I've been in some kind of ministry for 22 years. Before that, I watched ministry from my parents point-of-view.

It is never, ever easy to be in ministry. Some people want more liberty and more room for the Holy Spirit to move. Others want more structure, more organization.

I've heard debates over polar opposite issues like pre trib and post. Healing is deliverance from sickness to going home to heaven being the ultimate healing. Do we have to tithe ten percent? Wasn't that the Old Testament?

Leading a church is not easy. I don't envy our pastors. Because every one in the congregation comes to the house with their own paradigm, their own experience, and even yes, their own fears and wounds.

Pray for your pastors. Ask the Holy Spirit to teach and enlighten them. Don't pray what you want, or what some other guy wants, pray what Jesus wants. He is the perfect leader.

To the couple who got "wooshed," I pray you find the right church home where you can grow in the love and knowledge of God. Grace and peace. I'm sorry you got "wooshed" today but we are imperfect and still working it out.

What about you? Are their church traditions or expression that you like? That make you uncomfortable? Is it valid? Is it culture?