3 Steps Toward Writing Fearlessly

By Michelle Griep, @MichelleGriep

It’s okay to mess up. No, really. Not only am I giving you permission to crash and burn in spectacular glory, but you need to give yourself permission as well. Why? Because studies show that when you feel you are allowed to make mistakes, you are less likely to make any.

Sure, that’s easy to say, but how does it play out in the real world of writing? What exactly does it look like to write in a manner that is free from the fear of failure?

3 Steps Toward Writing Fearlessly

1 – Give yourself some time. 

When you start a new writing project, don’t expect to whiz-bang it out in a manner of weeks, especially if you’re taking some new risks in your writing (and you should always be taking some kind of risk). Don’t constrain yourself by expecting to create within a certain timeframe. This gets a bit more tricky if you’ve got an actual deadline, but even so, build some wiggle time into that looming date. That gives you space to correct mistakes that you will undoubtedly make. 

Example: I need to turn my next manuscript in by Feb. 1st. But I made myself a personal deadline of Nov. 30th. That way I can go back in and fix up the bugaboos without shifting into panic gear.

2 – Ask for help.

Nobody likes to admit they need help. It’s humbling . . . especially if you’ve made a mess of something. But don’t hide your mistakes. Share them with others who can help. Sometimes it really does take a village.

Example: The novel I’m working on is set in Upstate New York during the Colonial period. What the heck do I know about Colonial America? Sure, I’ve researched, but I’ve also got a few historical fiction buddies who are experts in this area. I’m not only asking them for help, I’m batting my eyelashes and adding a “pretty please with sugar on top.”

3 – Quit the comparison game. 

There are always going to be faster writers out there than you. But if you compare yourself to them, you’ll get all snarled up in feeling worthless. If comparison is a horrible habit you just can’t break, then compare yourself to yourself. Look at your performance this year and compare it to where you were at five years ago, or even a year ago. You might still be making mistakes, but are you making less? Are you improving?  

Example: I used to beat myself up for not being able to write more than a page a day. That count is in the rear view mirror. Now I can easily do 1500 in a day. That number still doesn’t compare to some of the rockstar authors I know, but I see growth and that frees me up to quit worrying about it.

Don’t stagnate in playing it safe to avoid making mistakes. Successful people take risks, even if it means they fail.


12 Days at Bleakly Manor

Imprisoned unjustly, BENJAMIN LANE wants nothing more than freedom and a second chance to claim the woman he loves—but how can CLARA CHAPMAN possibly believe in the man who stole her family’s fortune and abandoned her at the altar? Brought together under mysterious circumstances for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Clara and Ben discover that what they’ve been striving for isn’t what ultimately matters . . . and what matters most is love.

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. She is the author of historical romances: The Innkeeper’s Daughter, 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, The Captive Heart, Brentwood’s Ward, A Heart Deceived, Undercurrent andGallimore, but also leaped the historical fence into the realm of contemporary with the zany romantic mystery Out of the Frying Pan. If you’d like to keep up with her escapades, find her at www.michellegriep.com or stalk her on FacebookTwitter, or Pinterest.the next level.

Limbo: The Mood Killer

by Cindy Woodsmall, @cindywoodsmall

To clarify “limbo” for the purpose of this article, I went to Dictionary.com. What I found there seemed quite befitting.

The first definition is: “a region on the border of hell or heaven.”

The fourth definition is: “a place or state of imprisonment or confinement.”

When reading an opening of a chapter, any chapter, I’m definitely in a vexed state of imprisonment if the author has me in limbo concerning the setting the character is in. Readers need to know what the character can see, hear, touch, smell, or taste. If that’s missing, the reader is in limbo.

Most writers incorporate some of that in their stories, especially in the beginning. But beyond the first few chapters, many new writers tend to drop the visual aspect, not realizing that one element causes the book to go from engaging to frustrating.

Because writers see the character and the setting in their imagination, they can forget to write the details into each new scene. When I point out the missing information, new writers often say, “It’s there.”

My response is, “It’s there for you because you’re seeing it in your mind. It’s not there for the readers.” If they still seem adamant, I’ll ask them to find and highlight the words that give readers a visual picture of where the character is. That task is eye opening to them.

Sometimes writers will wait several paragraphs before sharing the setting of a scene. With rare exceptions, that is too late to give the reader a visual.

Books should play out in a person’s head much like a movie plays out on a screen. Almost every new scene in all movies start by showing things we need to know to fully immerge into that world. Anything less puts readers in state of limbo.

A character may be confused and unsure as to where she is. But she is somewhere, taking in information through at least a few of the five main senses—seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting.

Once past the first few chapters, writers are often tempted to open a scene by rushing into some type of emotional or action payoff. And while immediate intrigue is important, readers still need a visual of where the character is.

Our writing goal shouldn’t be to mimic a movie. However, research has shown that over 90 percent of the USpopulation are movie watchers—whether at home or in a theater. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 million people, ranging from young children to seniors. That statistic tells us that a story playing out through visualization is satisfying. As writers, we have the power to give that kind of satisfaction to our readers.

Around 63 percent of all movie watchers also enjoy reading fiction, and avid movie buffs are more likely to be readers than non-moviegoers.

Starting a scene with several lines or paragraphs that leave readers in a state of limbo as to the location is like a movie screen going black for several minutes, and we can only hear voices. We’re in limbo until the visuals return.

Pause for a moment and think about where you are physically right now. What can you see? feel? smell? hear? taste?

What would it do to your mind and emotions if you could not decipher where youare—even if for less than five minutes? That’s what happens to readers when we don’t give them enough information to immediately see the character and his or her surroundings. They become confused and bewildered.

Go to the start of each new scene in your current manuscript and read the first paragraph. Can the reader see where your character is? Do you share two or more details of what the character can see, feel, taste, hear, and smell? Do you give at least a hint of the time of day and the season? Have you given an approximation of how much time has passed since the last scene (e.g., “mere hours ago” or “it’d been three weeks since” or “Thanksgiving was right around the corner”)?

Help your readers visualize the events as if they were playing on the screen of their minds. Then readers won’t enter into the mood killer of limbo.

When I’m mulling overaspects of writing, I always appreciate an example, so I grabbed the opening lines of three random books and chapters.

Morning light filtered through the bedroom windows as Hannah made her and Sarah’s bed. Careful not to wake her two youngest sisters, Hannah slipped into her day clothes. — When the Heart Cries,first lines of chapter ten

The aroma of fresh-baked bread, shepherd’s pie, and steamed vegetables filled Lizzy’s house, mingling with the sweet smell of baked desserts. In the hearth a bank of embers kept a small fire burning, removing the nip that clung to the early-April air. —The Sound of Sleigh Bells,first lines of chapter one

Music vibrated the crisp fall air as Ariana sat on the grassy seats of the amphitheater and watched the stage. Nicholas’s hands moved effortlessly across the piano keys as he accompanied a singer. —Fraying at the Edge, first lines of chapter nineteen


Gathering the Threads

Finally back in the Old Order Amish world she loves, will Ariana’s new perspectives draw her family closer together—or completely rip them apart?
After months away in the Englisch world, Ariana Brenneman is overjoyed to be in the Old Order Amish home where she was raised. Yet her excitement is mixed with an unexpected apprehension as she reconciles all she’s learned from her biological parents with the uncompromising teachings of her Plain community. Although her childhood friend, ex-Amish Quill Schlabach, hopes to help her navigate her new role amongst her people, Ariana’s Daed doesn’t understand why his sweet daughter is suddenly questioning his authority. What will happen if she sows seeds of unrest and rebellion in the entire family?
Meanwhile, Skylar Nash has finally found her place among the large Brenneman family, but Ariana’s arrival threatens to unravel Skylar’s new identity—and her sobriety. Both Ariana and Skylar must discover the true cords that bind a family and community together and grasp tight the One who holds their authentic identities close to His heart.

Cindy Woodsmall is an award-winning New York Times and CBA best-selling author who has written 20 works of fiction, including her most recent series, Amish of Summer Grove. Her connection with the Amish community has been widely featured in national media outlets, including ABC’s Nightline. The Wall Street Journal listed Woodsmall as one of the top three most popular authors of Amish fiction. RT Book Reviews recently presented her with a Career Achievement Award and gave her latest release, Gathering the Threads,a Top Pick review. Woodsmall and her husband reside near the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains. Learn more about Woodsmall and her books at www.cindywoodsmall.com. She is also active on Facebook (@authorcindywoodsmall).

5 Steps to Using A Q Factor

by Ane Mulligan, @AneMulligan, +AneMulligan

I learned about the Q Factor from James Scott Bell years ago at the BRMCWC. He’s given me permission to share it here.

So what is the Q Factor?

It’s a great tool that comes from Dr. Q, in the James Bond movies. He’s the one who gives Bond his gadgets, so during the crucial scene where Bond is dangling by his ankles over a school of piranha, he manages to get his thumb on a cuff-link. That cuff-link turns into a small, rotating saw, which he uses to cut through the restraints on his hands and legs.He then reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a fountain pen. The pen holds a compressed nitrogen charge and shoots a small grappling hook and line across the piranha pond, enabling Bond to swing to safety on the other side of the pool.

Now, if we had been reading along in the story and come to this point, and Bond simply produced those items for the first time, we’d all be groaning. How convenient! What a cheat! And we’d never trust the author again.

But Dr. Q did the set-up, and because we saw these items before, we accept them when they’re used.

The Q factor in a novel

In fiction, the Protagonist should reach a point near the end when everything looks lost. In figurative terms, she is dangling over a pool of piranha. She needs courage for the final battle, to face the ultimate test.

This is where the Q Factor can help. It is something set up early in the story that will provide the necessary inspiration or instruction for the character when she needs it most.

In Chapel Springs Revival, my Q Factor is Claire’s late Great-aunt Lola. The first time her husband went to work without kissing her goodbye, she left, went to Hollywood and became a big star in silent films. Claire remembers that when her hubby leaves for work without kissing her goodbye. This sets up the story question: will Claire leave her husband?

In the middle the story, Claire thinks about what Aunt Lola would have done. Now we cut to the black moment, when Claire’s husband walks out of the house in anger, after he learns something she did. At the appropriate time, Claire goes to the attic and reads Aunt Lola’s journals. In them, what she learns helps her make a decision.

Another way to look at it is this: so many stories are about overcoming fear. The fear manifests itself most when all the forces are marshaled against the Protagonist. Fear and common sense tell her to give up, run away.She knows she can’t. So give her a Q Factor, an emotional element that comes in when she needs it.

To do that:

  1. Select the element (item, mentor, moral sentiment, negative character, etc.)
  2. Write a scene early in the story that ties this element emotionally to the Protagonist.
  3. Refer to the Q Factor subtly in the middle section, as a reminder.
  4. Find a trigger point in yourProtagonist’sblack moment where the Q Factor can be reintroduced.
  5. Show your Protagonist taking new action based on the Q Factor. If you’ve embedded the Q well enough up front, the readers will pick up what’s happening without you having to explain it to them. Just let it happen naturally.

The Q Factor is just another tool to add to your technique box. I like collecting these and finding new ways to incorporate them.

Now, it’s your turn. Share a favorite writing tool from your technique box.


Life in Chapel Springs

Life in Chapel Springs has turned upside down and inside out.

Is it a midlife pregnancy or … cancer? Claire will keep her secret until she’s sure—but it isn’t easy. Between her twins’ double wedding, a nationwide art tour and her health, life is upside down. Shy Lacey Dawson was happily writing murder mysteries for the community theater, but a freak accident results in traumatic injuries. When the bandages come off, Lacey’s world is tuned inside out. Gold has been discovered in Chapel Springs and the ensuing fever is rising.

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction websiteGoogle+AmazonGoodreadsTwitter, and Pinterest.

 

The Physical and Psychological Story Journey

by Rachel Hauck, @RachelHauck 

One of the ways you an improve the appeal and power of your characters for the reader is to create a realistic psychological journey that is mirrored some how in the physical journey of the protagonist.

Is your heroine learning to trust? Then show how her external world challenges her trust issues. Maybe she has a job where her colleagues constantly let her down. Perhaps her family says one thing but does another.

Every reader will be able to identify with not being able to trust someone.

What if your hero is dealing with identity issues. He’s a failure. He believes he can’t succeed at anything. Develop a world around him that proves, at least for a little while, what he believes is right.

In the movie Die Hard, John McCain is a tough NY cop who wants to do what’s right. He’ll fight for justice. When he decides to fight for his marriage – a bit of justice going on there – he finds himself defending a hostage company against terrorists.

John McCain’s psychological journey is mirrored in his physical journey. At first, it’s easy for him to play the hero, fight for his wife, until the battle intensifies and ultimately he has to make a decision to save himself or save his wife.

We see and feel his psychological, or inner journey, come to life when he’s willing to give everything for love. The external journey pushed him to make that choice. And we cheered him for it.

In The Proposal, Margret Tate’s psychological journey to love and trust is mirrored in the physical, external journey, when she convinces her assistant editor to marry her in order to keep her in the country.

She doesn’t realize it but she’s leaping before she thinks. Her heart is leading her mind and body in to a place she’s not quite prepared to endure.

But as she physically acts out the plan, she psychologically – emotionally – changes. She cannot lie to the people she loves. She cannot trap a good man like Andrew Paxton in to marrying her for her own gain.

We love her for this. She’s chosen the right thing to do.

In my book The Wedding Dress, the 1912 heroine, Emily, is marrying the man she thinks she’s supposed to marry. This external journey reflects her internal belief that she must marry well, take her place in society and honor her family.

But, she knows deep down her fiance is not the right man for her. This psychological element is reflected in the physical element as Emily fights to get the wedding dress of her choice. In doing so, she crosses the very social and cultural boundaries she claims to be abiding by in her marriage choice.

We cheer her for this. We love that she wants to make her own choices no matter what society says.

Take a look at your characters. Are you mirroring their physical and psychological journey? This is one of the major issues I see when working with new writers.

Many times my main input from a therapy session is to work on the “story spine.” In other words, line up the physical and psychological journeys.

How do you do this?

  1. Spend some time thinking about your character. What do you want him or her to accomplish in this story? How is it best reflected externally?
  2. How is your story goal best reflected internally? What internal conflicts will the protagonist bear?
  3. Sit down with your favorite books and movies and write down how the psychological journey was reflected in the physical. Start looking for these things as your read and watch.
  4. If your protagonist is bad at love, create a world that reflects her weakness. Look at Bridgett Jones in Bridgett Jones Diary. She was bad at love, bad at her weight and eating goals, bad at her job, but she stayed with it.
  5. Create a “story spine” where you create a high level outline of what you want to happen in this story. This is the physical journey. Then create a corresponding psychological journey and attach it to your story spine.
  6. Keep it simple. Write a log line. Write the positive and negative virtues of your character. “Leslie was bad at love but she never turned her back on a friend.”
  7. Take your time to develop this. Improve it as you work on other parts of your story. These interlocking elements will make your story shine.

THE WRITING DESK

Tenley Roth’s first book was a runaway bestseller. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who has run out of inspiration?With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.

A century earlier, another woman wrote at the same desk with hopes and fears of her own. Born during the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of the old money Knickerbockers. Under the strict control of her mother, her every move is decided ahead of time, even whom she’ll marry. But Birdie has dreams she doesn’t know how to realize. She wants to tell stories, write novels, make an impact on the world. When she discovers her mother has taken extreme measures to manipulate her future, she must choose between submission and security or forging a brand new way all on her own.Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds, but fate has bound them together in a way time cannot erase.

New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a past ACFW mentor of the year. A worship leader and Buckeye football fan, Rachel lives in Florida with her husband and ornery cat, Hepzibah. Read more about Rachel at www.rachelhauck.com.