What Not to Do as a Newbie Writer

What not to do as a beginning writer.

by Angela Ruth Strong @AngelaRStrong

Every writer has to
start somewhere, though some seem to have their careers take off a lot sooner
than others. I’d be in the “others” category as I attended my first writing
conference in 2006 and you probably still haven’t heard of me. (I’ve been
called Ruth by editors and occasionally get an, “Oh, you’re that Angela.”) So,
in the name of humility, I thought I’d share some mistakes I’ve made along the
way to help you achieve success in a more timely manner.

1. Don’t think you are going to
write every genre you enjoy reading
. If you want to write, you probably enjoy reading, and you
probably read a lot of genres. But there are reasons you should not try to
write it all.
First, if you want to be a really good writer in any genre,
it will take more time to study and perfect your craft. If you are jumping
around from genre to genre, you will never have the time needed to reach your
full potential.
Second, it will be frustrating to try to figure out the guidelines
for each genre. For example, once I tried to help Jill Williamson world build
for her fantasy novels once. She would nod and say encouraging things like,
“I’ve…uh…never thought if it that way before.” She kindly didn’t tell me my
ideas would never work as I didn’t know what the heck I was talking about.
Third, readers want to know what to expect from you. Your
name becomes your promise. If you like Amish stories, and you pick up a Beverly
Lewis book, you’re going to be a little disappointed if it’s all about zombies.
Me and my middle grade novels, women’s fiction, romance, and suspense stories
are learning this the hard way.
2. Don’t defend your writing when
critiques come in.
very first novel had a revision request from my first conference in 2006. I
didn’t make the changes my agent suggested. The editor did not buy that
manuscript. Then I found this handy little four-step plan that was designed for
victims, which I’ve shamelessly adapted to use when I feel like the victim of
reviews I didn’t want.
  • Step one: Accept it. Maybe the reader didn’t get it. Or
    maybe they didn’t like it. Or they thought your whole ending needed to change.
    It is what it is.
  • Step two: Own it. Whatever the reader “misunderstood,”
    you’re the only one who can make them understand. It’s your story.
  • Step three: Make a plan. Sometimes a small tweak makes a
    huge difference, so don’t let this step overwhelm you. Figure out what you can
    do to make your story better. Because it can always be better.
  • Step four: Move on. Do what needs to be done, then move on
    to your next manuscript. Maybe your first story will be good enough to get
    picked up for a Hallmark movie, or maybe it will be years later when you
    realize what you were doing wrong in the first place. The point is, you didn’t
    let a little negative feedback keep you from growing as an author.

Don’t prioritize writing over relationships.
3. Don’t prioritize writing over
going to my first conference a decade ago, I went through the conference packet
and decided which agent and editor to pitch. It was my whole plan.  Those pitches didn’t go as I’d hoped, and I
felt like a failure.
But then something wonderful happened. I made friends. One
of those friends became my editor. Another friend lent me her vacation home in
Park City, Utah earlier this year so I could stay there and research for an
upcoming novel. Another friend and I just swapped manuscripts for critique
because we write for the same publishing house.
I got so much out of these friendships that I came home to
Idaho and started my own writing group. We were all nobodies at the time (even
nobodier than I am now), but since then we’ve gotten contracts and won awards
and published novella collections together.
Writing wouldn’t be the same without my writing friends. I wouldn’t be the same without my writing
friends. And no matter how successful my writing may or may not become, I’m
thankful for these experiences that have become lessons in my own life story.
Bright Star Ranch led him to her–but will he
Josh Lake is forced to head home for the holidays after he’s
suspended from his job in the city, but running into Paisley Sheridan could be
exactly what he needed. Not only does she board him at her ranch in exchange
for his advertising expertise, but spending the Christmas season with her in
Big Sky, Montana, brings more joy than he’s felt in a long while. Is he willing
to give up the lavish lifestyle he’s worked for in exchange for the gift of
The last thing Paisley wants for Christmas is to spend time
with Josh Lake—the guy who broke her heart in high school—but until her bank
loan goes through, she has to take all the free help she can get.
Unfortunately, Josh seems to want back in her life again, and the town’s quirky
coffee shop owners don’t help by hanging mistletoe at every opportunity. Will
Paisley succeed in driving him away, or will she find the healing needed to
have hope for a future together?
Angela Ruth Strong studied journalism at the University of Oregon and published her first novel, Love Finds You in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 2010. With movie producers interested in her book, she’s decided to rerelease it and write sequels as a new series titled Resort to Love. This Idaho Top Author and Cascade Award winner also started IDAhope Writers to encourage other aspiring authors, and she’s excited to announce the sale of her first romantic suspense novel to Love Inspired Suspense. For the latest news or to contact Angela, visit www.angelaruthstrong.com or connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads

It’s Just Straw Paper

by Yvonne Lehman @YvonneLehman

Several of us go
out to eat after church on Sunday. Our number of available women varies.
Several who are accustomed to me, hand me the papers from their straws, and the
rectangles from around the napkins that holds their utensils. I make bows from
those papers and give them to the eaters or line them at the end of the table
for the waitress.

Some seem to
think I’m creative, but I think I’m just… let’s not say, “Bored,” but antsy,
need to do more than just sit and listen or talk. Also, I write with the TV on.
I need noise in the background. Makes my subconscious get into gear. And, my
fingers need to be moving.
Sunday, there
were only three of us. One was new to us, and did most of the talking. While she
talked, I flattened the paper, folded each side toward the middle making a loop
on each side, leaving two edges hanging down. I placed my index finger inside
each loop to fluff it out. Using condensation from my water glass, I wet my
finger and thumb, then pressed the middle to secure the bow.
Sometimes when I
do this, the sides aren’t even and I start over. Many times my first effort
with the water isn’t wet enough to secure the bow and the middle pops up.
Sometimes the bow is lovely upon first try. Not often, however. Generally,
putting that finishing touch with the water takes several attempts. But when
today’s bow was finished, I gently placed it toward the center of the booth
away from me, so I could satisfactorily observe my creation.
The other two
women didn’t notice or comment. To the constant woman, this was commonplace.
The new one was intent upon telling her story. I thought about what they did
with their papers.
The new woman
removed her straw, crumpled the paper and tossed it toward the center of the
table away from her. It lay sprawled in an ungraceful manner. The constant
woman rolled her paper around in the palm of her hand until it became a wadded ball.
Then she carelessly laid it aside, without any thought to it’s potential or my
needy hands. (I could excuse that since the new woman’s conversation was…revealing
– or, one might say, a story idea.)
So, while
waiting for my fried salt & peppered catfish and non-salt & peppered
non-crispy fried oysters, I looked at my bow that went unnoticed by my companions
or the waitress.
Those other straw
papers, having been abused or pampered, reminded me of the writing process.
If we don’t give our story ideas serious thought, it’s
like crumpling them and tossing them away.
We can have a
story idea in our hands, or heads, so to speak. It’s a good idea, but if not
given serious thought, it’s crumpled and tossed away.
We can have an
idea, hold it for awhile wondering if it’s of any value after all, roll it
around in our heads, but become distracted by something of interest at the time
and then carelessly lay it aside to be treated like trash.
The serious
writer, however, knows that nothing is just a paper idea. Something good can
come from this. I must fold, and smooth, and when it threatens to come apart, it’s
as if cold ice water is applied but eventually it warms and adheres and settles
into being a lovely little symbol of an idea worked into something that’s
symbolic of beauty and a piece of art.
Just straw paper?
No! A lesson
about life and how we handle situations, even writing a book, article, or
We might think
our story idea is like a flat piece of paper to be crumpled and tossed aside.
Or we can take that idea, work with it until it becomes something creative.
Sometimes, no one will notice. But there’s satisfaction in creating something
from what may seem insignificant. Sometimes, others will notice, laugh,
comment, and enjoy the moment.

What are you going to do with your… straw paper?

Yvonne Lehman is an
award-winning, best-selling author of more than 3,000,000 books in print, who
founded and directed the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference for
25 years, is now director of the Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist
Retreat. She mentors for the Christian Writers Guild. She earned a Master’s
Degree in English from Western Carolina University and has taught English and
Creative Writing on the college level. Her latest releases include eight ebooks
for Barbour’s Truly Yours line and a Harlequin/Heartsong
series set in Savannah GA: The Caretaker’s Son, Lessons in Love,
Seeking Mr. Perfect, (released in March, August, & November 2013).
Her 50th novel is Hearts that Survive – A Novel of the

Reasons Why Writers Should Love E-Books

Photo: Research with highlighter

by Alton Gansky

Easily accessible E-books have been around for a decade and a half. The process and invention go back a little more than that, but the real surge came in the early 2000s. Since then, digital publishing has become a mainstay for publishers, indies, and writers. Several times a year, someone writes an article about how 1) e-books are crushing print books, or 2) how print books are crushing e-books. At the end of the discussion, however, both sides still agree that there are a lot of e-books being published.

Writers should love e-books. In fact, (don’t throw stones until you’ve finished this paragraph), for writers e-books are superior to print books. I’m not talking about publishing e-books. That’s a topic for another time and probably one best handled by a different writer. I’m talking about e-books used to help your work-in-progress.

Yes, I know that there remains a debate about the superiority of physical books. The pleasure, the feel, even the smell satisfies the avid reader more than digital ink. The debate seems silly to me and reminds me of the couple who argue over which is better, salt or pepper. I leave such jawing to others. I want to present my belief that e-books are to be valued by any writer that has to do research to make his/her work-in-progress the best it can be. Here’s what I mean:

  1. Never be without material to read. This is me stating the obvious first. One great advantage to e-books is that the writer can carry around a library in a single device. This means that those books you use for research or inspiration are always within reach. I have apps on my iPhone, iPad (several iPads actually—don’t judge me). Those apps include Kindle, Nook, and iBooks. If I’m waiting at the dentist or the auto shop (don’t ask, it’s too sad for words) I can continue my research. I have scores of physical books on various topics. I can’t imagine carrying them with me when I go somewhere. With digital books, I can do just that.
  2. Cheaper research. E-books are more often than not cheaper to purchase than their physical counterparts. If you’re having to do a lot of research on say, WWII American submarines, then you can drop several pretty pennies on some of the books you’ll need. The price of one hardbound book can be used to buy several e-books (not always, but frequently).
  3. Makes you a better interviewee. Like you, I’ve spent a great deal of time doing radio interviews. This was especially true for my books 60 People Who Shaped the Church and 30 Events That Shaped the Church. I’ve also done a large number of interviews for my novels. Since I ain’t all that smart, I like to have notes in front of me. I have found having an e-book version before me lets me run down the info I need.
  4. More efficient reading. 
    • Highlighting. I love the highlighting function of e-books. Sure, you can highlight a physical book. I’ve marked up a great many of those. The point is: An e-book allows the writer to highlight some important bit of info needed in her work-in-progress. Especially when one considers the next item:
    • Highlight summary. Most e-readers not only allow digital highlighting but will display every highlight as a list, making it remarkably easy to find what you’re looking for.
    • Search function. This is a real time saver. Ever wonder why e-books don’t have indexes? They don’t need them. No index is easier to use than a Find function in an e-book. Recall a word or two of a line you read? Search for it and the reader will find all words that match your search and say, “Here ya go, would you like some cookies too?” Okay, maybe the cookie thing is a fantasy, but the rest of my statement is true.

Well, that’s a start. Can you think of other ways e-books can help you with your current project?

Alton Gansky is the author of 50 books, fiction and nonfiction. He is also the co-host of Firsts in Fiction podcast.

Alton Gansky

10 Steps to Nail Your Story

By DiAnnMills @DiAnnMills

Tweet this:  10 Steps to Nail Your Novel

I’m all about ways to ensure stories delight our readers. That’s why we write. The process of shifting through blogs, how-to books, and conference speakers for the most effective way to create reader appeal is an ongoing process.

Someone is always trying to hammer a new method into our brains.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen writers get so caught up with all the dos and don’ts that their creativity becomes paralyzed. They become stuck and spend their time constantly revising their stories without making them better. Some writers spend years perfecting a manuscript and never submitting. Instead of overthinking story, the writer could have written more books to improve their craft while entertaining readers.

The following 10 guidelines will help the writer find clarity by beginning strong and carrying the novel all the way through to “The End” in a timely and efficient manner
1. Why do you want to write this story? What do you want to show? Have you developed a premise that adds passion to every keystroke? If not, do so now. The why of characters is rooted in the story premise. A motivated writer is a determined writer.

2. Have you considered the hours involved? Do you have an inner drive for what is ahead of you—learning the craft, sharpening your tools, developing a brand, and diving into social media? Are you prepared to invest your time, effort, and money into a dream? Write down your thoughts and read them often. Use a calendar to set realistic goals.

3. Before beginning a story, complete the pre-writing. This includes genre, characterization, backstory, layering the plot, planning the setting, necessary research, and a synopsis of what your story is about. I hear the moans! No matter if you’re a careful outliner or organic, preliminaries have to be established before the first sentence. Planning saves the writer headaches and rewrites.

4. Organize and record the pre-writing into a program such as Scrivener or in a file folder that will contain subfiles for your story. I recommend a subfile for each: 

Are you organized?

A. Characterization – Include pics and backstory. Go deep for a three- dimensional character. Give your characters strengths and challenges sure to win a reader’s heart. A writer always learns more about the characters during the pre-write.
B. Plot – Plot results from a character struggling to achieve a goal or solve a problem. It’s rooted in the character’s wants, needs, strengths, and flaws. How will your character move ahead according to his/her temperament? What do you know about the characters’ problems? Can you lay out the journey?
C. Setting – How can you make the setting an antagonist, an unexpected foe disguised as innocuous.
D. Dialogue – Are the spoken words true to character, plot, and genre? How is body language unique?
E. Research – This adds credibility to story. I encourage you not to sidestep this stage and journal your findings.
F. Synopsis – How much do you know about the story? Have you established a midpoint that shakes up the characters? What about the climax? Resolution? Record as much as you know.
G. Questions – Use this folder for story questions that must be answered upon completion.
H. Outtakes- These are scenes I may or may not use in the story. But nothing is ever wasted.
I. Blog topic – Every scene holds the potential to be a blog about your book.

5. Establish when the story will be finished and a doable word count per writing day. Use a calendar to set reasonable goals.

6. Craft a one sentence hook for the story as it pertains now. This may change, and that’s okay. Ensure it has “wow” value.

7. Write your story. You may choose to keep the entire manuscript in one document or break it down into scenes or chapters. I prefer a subfile for each scene in which I record the POV character. This is incredibly valuable.

8. When a scene is completed, make a note of unanswered plot questions and place in the “Questions” file.

9. When a scene is completed, make a note of any blog topics that can be written and used in the marketing and promotion phase. Place these in the “Blog Topics” file.

10. Self-editing is an opportunity to make your best writing even better. Your personal process determines whether you write the entire story before rereading any chapters or reading sections sooner. If you have a critique partner or Beta reader, now’s the time for feedback.
Ten steps to ensure your story’s written professionally. Simple and easy to follow. Are you ready to begin?

Tweet this:  10 Steps to Nail Your Novel

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and The Author Roadmap with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.

DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at www.diannmills.com.