Sometimes, #Writing is Hard

Award-winning
author Catherine West writes stories of hope and healing from her island home
in Bermuda. When
she’s not at the computer working on her next story, you can find her taking
her Border Collie for long walks or reading books by her favorite authors. She
and her husband have two grown children. Catherine’s novel, Bridge
of Faith
, won the 2015 Grace
Award. Her new novel, The Things We Knew, releases July 12th,
2016, through Harper Collins Christian Publishing. You can find Cathy on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads,
Pinterest, Google+, and
her AmazonAuthor page.
This one always makes me laugh.
Because sometimes? Writing is hard. And sometimes
being a writer is harder.
Today, I hope to encourage you. You know who you are.
You’re sitting with your plane ticket or staring at a map wondering what in the
world you’re thinking . . . you’re heading into Writer Land, ACFW in
Nashville!!
And you’re just a little terrified.
Yes, it’s a big writers conference. If you’re used to
hanging out with your dog and maybe your spouse on occasion, you’re going out
of your comfort zone. A little. But . . . ACFW is a blast. It really is. Writers, editors,
agents, publicists¾four days
of hanging out with people just as nuts as you. (About writing).
But it can also be a scary time. Especially if you’re new
to this business, and you’re still a little starry-eyed over the whole thing.
You’ll get over it. And if you want to get over it quick, find the group of
haggard-looking, glassy-eyed, worn out veteran writers and come talk to us.
(We’ll be in the bar).
Because writing is hard. 
I know. You want me to tell you all the tricks. How to not
be nervous. How to blow an editor back from the table with the best pitch
they’ve ever heard in all their two years of coming to conference. (Yes, most
of them really do look like they just graduated college). You want to know how
to find your way through a crowded (think salmon season and you’re swimming in
the wrong direction) dining room and land a spot seated right next to your
dream agent or that one editor you’ve never been able to talk to without
crying. You want me to tell you there’s no reason to panic, no reason to be
nervous or fret or throw-up a couple times before your appointments.
And I wish I could. But I don’t have the tricks. I don’t
have a magic bean and I sure don’t have the confidence I certainly should after
years in the field. The whole extravaganza still scares the bejeebers out of
me. I feel your pain. And I still get nervous too. I’d prefer to just hang out
with my friends, and then hole up in my room and read and rest and rewind a
little. But that defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
We need to get out there and find the ones just like us,
shaking in their boots and wondering what they were thinking coming here.
They’re easy to spot. Slammed against a back wall, looking a little green.
We need to find them and tell them, hey, you know what, you’re here,
that’s amazing. You’re amazing! And you can do this. And they might
not believe you, but you just keep saying it until they do.
Because writing is hard.
And we need our friends. Sometimes they’ll drag us across
a room if they have to, because honestly, what fun is it really,
plastered against a wall looking like you’re facing down a firing squad?
And maybe you don’t even know for sure that this is your calling, that this is
where you’re meant to be. Well, that’s okay too. But you’re not going to find
out if you don’t get out there and start asking. Seeking. Listening.
And then when it’s all said and done and you’ve done your
best, you’ve put yourself out there, you’ve prayed and maybe cried a little,
and hopefully laughed a lot, you wait.
This is the hardest part. Ask me how I know. 
But . . . trust. Believe. Do the work and don’t give up. Find
a little extra faith for each day that comes. And then, one day, you’ll know.
One day you’ll find yourself standing in the midst of a
dream come true.
And it will be good.
Until then, grab on to your seat, buckle up and hold on,
because it’s a heck of a ride. But if you let in a little light, love and
laughter along the way, it’s a really fun one.
Go in peace, friends. Face down your fears and just do the
thing.
Because you’re awesome.
Are you headed to conference? Tell us how you’re feeling!
The Things We Knew
When their
tragic past begins to resurface, can he help her remember the things she can’t?
After her
mother’s death twelve years ago, Lynette Carlisle watched her close-knit family
unravel. One by one, her four older siblings left their Nantucket home and
never returned. All seem to blame their father for their mother’s death, but
nobody will talk about that tragic day. And Lynette’s memory only speaks
through nightmares.
Then
Nicholas Cooper returns to Nantucket, bringing the past with him. Once
Lynette’s adolescent crush, Nick knows more about her mother’s death than he
lets on. The truth could tear apart his own family—and destroy his fragile
friendship with Lynette, the woman he no longer thinks of as a kid sister.
As their
father’s failing health and financial concerns bring the Carlisle siblings
home, secrets surface that will either restore their shattered relationships or
separate the siblings forever. But pulling up anchor on the past propels them
into the perfect storm, powerful enough to make them question their faith,
their willingness to forgive, and the very truth of all the things they thought
they knew.

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Never Give Up – The World Needs Our Stories – Kelli Stuart

Like A River Cover - 200X300The World Needs Our Stories

by Kelli Stuart

It took me a decade to write my first novel. Really, it took longer than that, but “a decade” is such a neat and tidy way of saying it took an extremely long time. From the day I typed the very first word of my first draft, to the day the book finally landed on bookshelves, was seventeen years. More than a decade for those who are good at math. I’m equal parts proud of how long it took me to write this book, and a little embarrassed. Really, when you think of some of the most prolific writers, and their abilities to pump out great books every few years, one novel in seventeen years isn’t something to brag about. I try not to dwell on that, though, because what good is comparing my journey to anyone else’s, right? 

This book took time because I refused to rush the story. It is historical fiction, set in World War II Soviet Ukraine, which meant sifting through mountains of propaganda in order to find out the truth of those days. It required me speaking with over 100 former Soviet veterans, listening to their stories and feeling the emotion of what they experienced. I needed to get this story right, not only because I wanted to present the reader with a factually accurate historical fiction novel, but also because I wanted to honor the people of Ukraine, who’s country was the central focus of the novel. I also got married, moved across country a few times, had four children, and worked as an editor/ghostwriter/blogger in those years. There weren’t copious amounts of spare time from which to draw. In the end, however, it didn’t matter because when I finally finished the book I knew it was right. I had taken my time, and I’d written a book I could be proud of. 

Had I pushed it through ten years ago, it wouldn’t have been the right story. I needed to live a little, to experience life and the world in order to really tell the story as it needed to be told. There is a feeling of urgency in the writing world. We all know that there’s nothing new under the sun, and that we’re simply looking for new and fresh ways to tell the same old story, but still…we don’t want to be left behind. It’s true that some writers are prolific. Some people have a lot of words, and somehow they manage to organize all those words into book after book, story after story, and I applaud them for it! Others have, perhaps, an equal amount of words, but putting those thoughts together cohesively takes a little more time. One isn’t better than the other as long as neither gives up. I wanted to give up on my book multiple times over the years. I was certain I wasn’t cut out for this fiction writing thing. I tried over and over to convince myself to just walk away. Be a mom. Be a wife. Be a blogger. All those things were fine. Yes, those things are fine – they’re wonderful, in fact – but I had a story, and I needed to tell it. For this reason alone, I couldn’t begin another book project in all those years. I tried to put the novel aside and work on different ideas, but it was as though that one book had occupied all the brain space available, and there was no freeing up space unless I finished. 

Finishing was only half the battle, though, because after typing The End, I needed to find someone who would read it. And so began the arduous process of finding an agent, and then a publisher, and once again fighting the urge to just walk away. “Fiction is a tough sell.” I heard this line over and over as I pitched my book. Apparently in my “decade” of research and writing, fiction faded into the shadow of non-fiction. According to my pile of rejection letter, the masses had spoken, and fiction was the red-headed stepchild of the literary world. Still there, but treated mostly as an annoyance. Now, had I been willing to turn Hitler into a vampire, and throw in a few zombies, I might have gotten this show on the road a little sooner (and don’t think I didn’t consider it). But again, the integrity of the story forced me to wait, to be patient, and to refuse to give up. Fiction may be a tough sell, but the power of story is never going away. Story is the vehicle from which all of life can be revealed. From the very beginning of time, story has been the way that we’ve communicated. There is great power behind story, and so we the storytellers can’t give up, no matter what the popular market tells us. Putting in the time and effort to tell the right story in the right way is a daunting process. Of course we’ll want to give up at times, because writing is hard. But we cannot quit telling stories. So I’ll keep on writing and you will, too! Whether the book takes six months or a decade-ish, let’s agree not to give up on story, okay?

Because the world needs our stories, and we need to believe that.

 Kelli Stuart is a storyteller at heart with an affinity for languages, travel, and history. She is fluent in the Russian language, and spent over a decade researching the effects of World War II on the former Soviet Union. Kelli’s first novel, Like a River From its Course, is an epic story of war, love, grief, and redemption set in World War II Soviet Ukraine. It released in June 2016. Kelli lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband and four children.
Purchase Like a River From Its Course today!

I Wrote Like Snoopy

I cut my authorial teeth on
dialogue as a playwright. I was the creative arts director for 11 years at my
church. We did everything from the 30-second sermon starter to full-length
musicals. When I first wrote my first few scripts, my actors often used
different words that I’d written, or they changed the sentences around, and
even…gasp…dropped words.
But I liked what I heard, so I
dissected the changes and found the common ground. I wrote like Snoopy, trying
to be literary. Gag. The lines were too perfect and not realistic.
Have you read a book where the
dialogue actually pulls you out of the story because it’s so stiff and
unbelievable? Or worse, it sounds like an info dump, as if the writer’s saying,
“You won’t understand this unless I explain it to you.”
Well, thank you Billy Sunday.
That’ll make me throw a book across the room faster than a politician can empty
your wallet. Unless it’s on my e-reader; then I’d delete it before it
contaminated the other e-books.
So what does make good dialogue
in a book?
It has to be realistic for
starters. And it has to be organic to your character. If you’re an Oregonian
and writing about a Southern Belle, you’d better have a Cousin Sue Ellen read
your manuscript, or it may well be stereotyped. The same goes for Sue Ellen
writing about a Yankee.
What if you’re writing a young
adult book and don’t have any teens or twenty-somethings living at home, and
you aren’t sure how the characters would really talk? Go to a local mall and
hang out in the food court and eavesdrop. Listen to the half sentences,
colloquialisms, and especially to the way people answer questions.
One mistake new writers often
make is found in the way characters answer questions.
“Good morning, Bob. Where
are you headed this fine morning?”
“Good morning, John. I’m
going to the hardware store to get a new float for the toilet.”
First of all, we don’t really
care about Bob’s toilet, unless his four-year-old flushed the latest Wiki-leaks
state secrets. A bit more realistic might sound like this:
“Morning, Bob. Where you
off to?”
“Hardware store.”
“Anything I can help
with?”
“I got it.”
“Okay, holler if you need
me.”
That’s how two neighboring men
would have this conversation. If it were women, it still wouldn’t be complete
sentences, but it might go something like this:
“Morning, Sally. Going
shopping?”
“Macy’s is having a huge
sale, and you know those new slip covers I got for the den sofa? John ruined it
with cranberry juice.”
“I hear you. Bob got
mustard on my bedspread. Why can’t they be more careful?”
“I think it’s in their
genes.”
“Yeah, he got mustard on
those, too.”
Anyway, you can see how their
conversation veered off the main track. We women do that. Men, not so much.
In romance, Jenny B, Jones is a
master at building conflict into dialogue. A few lines from Save the Date illustrate this point
well:
“Do you know anything about
football?”
“You toss around a ball and
throw people to the ground. What else is there to know?”
“Okay then, what’s a
birdcage?”
“The name of the bar where
you met your last girlfriend?”
“A cut?”
“A fantasy I have involving
your throat.”
She never answered his questions
seriously and he kept asking instead of commenting on what she said. It was
brilliant dialogue for building character and a great example of verbal
ping-pong.
For realistic dialogue, remember
to:
Study they way dialogue is
written in books you love
Listen to people engage in
conversation and study their responses

Do you have any great examples
of dialogue to share with us?

Does this word count make my book look big?

By Michael Ehret

(This post first appeared in 2012. It has been edited for wordiness. But even more could be slashed, I suspect.)

 Your manuscript is big-boned. Over the years, it has picked up a few extra words here and there. But that shouldn’t be a problem. Publishers should just accept your manuscript as it is, right? All of those skinny manuscripts are airbrushed anyway. No more manuscript-shaming!

Time to get serious, for the health of your book and your career.

Your book is likely overweight and if it doesn’t lower its word count it won’t be able to compete. Sign up for Word Watchers and get trim. Because, like Weight Watchers, Word Watchers works!

Word Watchers has developed four key principles that can help you self-edit that extra verbiage. These are borrowed from Weight Watchers directly, but adapted for writers.

Principle 1: Healthy word loss

Q. What’s healthy when it comes to word loss?

A. As trim as possible without sacrificing artistry or voice.

I think of it this way: If a word can be deleted, it gets deleted. Scour your writing for:

  • Redundancies:
    1. “Josh estimated that they’d arrive in Minneapolis by roughly 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon.” (14 words)
    2. “Josh estimated they’d arrive in Minneapolis by 4:00 p.m.” (9 words)
  • Wordiness:
    1. “Sarah knew that at her place of employment Jason was knee-deep in advance planning for the next year’s fundraising campaign.” (20 words)
    2. “Sarah knew her co-worker Jason was knee-deep in planning next year’s fundraiser.” (12 words)

Principle 2: Fits into your life

Any Word Watchers approach must be realistic, practical, and livable. You are not likely to become Ernest Hemingway straight out of the gate.

But set goals that will help. Here are two simple tricks:

  • That/Very: In almost every case, these words can be eliminated.
  • Adverbs: Scorn them. “Adverbs are the tool of the lazy writer.” — Mark Twain For more on this.

Principle 3: Informed choices

At Word Watchers, writers learn not only what to do, but why. If you know why, you gain the confidence to make the right choices for your writing. Here are two websites I often visit for input:

  1. Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips
  2. Purdue University Online Writing Lab

I highly recommend American Christian Fiction Writers as a place to get grounded not only in the craft of writing, but in the career of writing as well.

Principle 4: Take a holistic view

Finally, the Word Watchers approach must be comprehensive. One of the best ways to practice tight writing is in a writer’s critique group that will, kindly and in love, kick your writing butt until you’re in shape. They’ll remind you of what you’ve learned (and of how often you’ve had to learn it). They will hold you down and sit on you until you’ve eliminated every extra word—and will expect you to do the same to them. With chocolate. 

Respond:

What’s your favorite trick for trimming a bloated manuscript?

____________________________________

Michael Ehret has accepted God’s invitation and is a freelance editor at WritingOnTheFineLine.com. In addition, he’s worked as editor-in-chief of the ACFW Journal at American Christian
Fiction Writers. He pays the bills as a
marketing communications writer and sharpened his writing and editing skills as a reporter for
The Indianapolis
News and The Indianapolis Star.