7 Tips for Writing With Young Kids at Home

by Lindsay Harrel, @LindsayHarrel

I have basically wanted to be an author my whole life. There were several years when I thought it would be too hard, that I couldn’t handle the competition, yadayadayada. But finally in 2011, I decided to pursue publication. I had been married for five years, had just finished my master’s degree, and worked full time.

I spent the next three years writing and honing my craft. I attended several My Book Therapy retreats, read countless craft books, and headed off to a number of writing conferences. Because my husband and I both worked, I had a bit of extra money to do all of these things. I saved my vacation time for these events. I was able to devote a decent chunk of time each week to writing.

And then…I had kids.

My first son was born in December 2014, and we added a second in April of this year. I worked part time with my first until he was 10 months old and then decided to become a stay-at-home mom. In addition to being all the things that come with motherhood (doctor, chauffeur, personal chef, etc.), I have to find time to write. Because while being a mom was a dream of mine, being a published author was also a dream.

I remember being pregnant with my first son and worrying that I’d have to give up writing—something I’d just spent three years devoted to learning more about! A friend of mine told me something I will never forget: we find time for the things we are passionate about.

Yes, there are some people who do all they can and hear God telling them to put aside writing for a season while they raise their children. If that is you, that is okay.

But if that is NOT you—and it hasn’t been me—then you must find time to fit writing into a life full of Cheerios, dirty diapers, whining, discipline, and Daniel Tiger. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way:

  1. Carve out time. If I do not put writing time on my calendar, it will not happen. Period. I have started devoting nap time every day to my writing (and on that note, get your kids all napping or doing quiet time at the same time for at least an hour!). Whenever you write—early morning, evenings, one evening a week at Starbucks—use the time available to you. Make an appointment with your computer and keep it just like you do all the other appointments throughout the week!
  2. Say no to other commitments. We all have limited time. If you’re saying yes to one thing, you’re automatically saying no to another. There are a lot of great things we can say yes to, but not all of them are the best yes (go read Lysa TerKeurst’s The Best Yes for more on this concept!). You might have to skip out on a few play dates or learn to say no to volunteer opportunities you feel pressured to do. Consider how much time you really have and use it wisely.
  3. Cut out the non-essentials.When I looked at my schedule after having children, I realized I was watching five hours of television a week. That was five hours I could be writing! Also, I realized a long time ago that pursuing a dream like writing meant my house was not going to perfect. It isn’t apig sty, but it will never win an award for cleanest house on the block. And I’m okay with that.
  4. Set weekly goals. It’s really easy for us to say we want to write 2,000 words a day—but what happens when the baby wakes early from a nap or the toddler melts down when he should be playing independently in his room? I like to set weekly goals instead of daily ones because it gives me some flexibility. For example, right now I am drafting my next book and I have set the goal to write five scenes a week. Ideally, I’d like to write one scene a day during the week and have the weekends off (Saturday to clean, Sunday to rest), but I know that I have a little wiggle room if something doesn’t go as planned on one of those weekdays.
  5. Get creative. Thanks to technology, writing doesn’t have to mean sitting down at our computer and plunking away at the keys. I know many authors who use tools like Evernote to dictate their stories. Also, writing with young kids means lots of interruptions, so it might not be feasible for you to write in one- or two-hour chunks of time. Instead, maybe you need to write in fifteen-minute increments. Get creative and you might get more writing done than you think you will!
  6. Fling that guilt far, far away. I know what you’re thinking—I should be doing x, y, and z instead of pursuing this dream of mine. STOP LISTENING TO THAT LIE RIGHT NOW! Personally, I’m a much better mom because I write. I have something that is mine (and God’s) and a place to pour my energies that has nothing to do with keeping someone else alive—and everything to do with keeping my spirit alive. Self-care is important and it is NOT a selfish thing to take time to pursue your dream. When you are refreshed, you have more energy to pour into other people, especially your family.
  7. Keep your priorities straight. That being said, while writing IS important, it is not the MOST important. I find that I’m a much happier mommy when I spend time with God every morning. Not only does that help me have a better attitude during the moments I want to scream, but it provides inspiration for my writing. My family is my next priority. While there are seasons (like when I’m on deadline) when dinner will consist of frozen pizzas and other easy things my husband can cook, it’s not okay for me to totally neglect all of my duties all the time in order to write. There’s a healthy balance and it’s up to you to decide what that looks like for your family.

Don’t let being a parent of young kids stop you from pursuing your dreams. You CAN do this. Write that book one word at a time.


The Heart Between Us

(Releases March 13, 2018) Megan Jacobs always wished for a different heart. Her entire childhood was spent in and out of hospitals, sitting on the sidelines while her twin sister Crystal played all the sports, got all the guys, and had all the fun. But even a heart transplant three years ago wasn’t enough to propel Megan’s life forward. She’s still working as a library aide in her small Minnesota hometown and living with her parents, dreaming of the adventure she plans to take “once she’s well enough.” Meanwhile, her sister is a successful architect with a handsome husband and the perfect life—or so Megan thinks.

When her heart donor’s parents give Megan their teenage daughter’s journal—complete with an unfulfilled bucket list—Megan connects with the girl she meets between the pages and is inspired to venture out and check off each item. Caleb—a friend from her years in and out of the hospital—reenters her life and pushes her to find the courage to take the leap and begin her journey. She’s thrown for a loop when Crystal offers to join her for reasons of her own, but she welcomes the company and the opportunity to mend their tenuous relationship.

As Megan and Crystal check items off the bucket list, Megan fights the fears that have been instilled in her after a lifetime of illness. She must choose between safety and adventure and learn to embrace the heart she’s been given so that she can finally share it with the people she loves most.

Lindsay Harrel is a lifelong book nerd who lives in Arizona with her young family and two golden retrievers in serious need of training. She’s held a variety of writing and editing jobs over the years, and now juggles stay-at-home mommyhood with writing novels. Her debut novel, One More Song to Sing, released in December 2016 and was a finalist in the 2017 ACFW Carol Awards. Her second book, The Heart Between Us, releases from Thomas Nelson in March 2018. When she’s not writing or chasing after her children, Lindsay enjoys making a fool of herself at Zumba, curling up with anything by Jane Austen, and savoring sour candy one piece at a time.  Connect with her at www.LindsayHarrel.com or onFacebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Tracking Story Characters

by DiAnn Mills, @diannmills

Have you ever been working on a novel and realized your method of tracking character relationships looked like a toddler’s art work? My character’s connections to each other and my plot bewildered me. Unless I solved the problem, my readers wouldn’t be able to follow the story.

I needed a character GPS or a book character relationship chart.

The many book character charts offered to writers were . . . massive, confusing, and overwhelming. Arrows, circles, diagrams, boxes, and icons were supposed to solve my crisis. While these methods obviously contained value for some writers, nothing fit the way my brain operated.

In the past when I needed a solution to organize an aspect of my writing, marketing, or promotion, I developed a chart or spreadsheet. My first attempt was hopeless. My techy husband looked at it and offered a better idea: a type of relationship matrix. He researched a simple way for me (and my hero and heroine) to connect my characters by their relationships to each other.

Plotting and initiating twists and turns in my story are now so much easier. I have a visual of my characters’ names, listed both horizontally and vertically, to determine who has a relationship with another. By using a color-coded text, I know who is family, business, personal, stranger, or unknown.

The system has worked so well for me that I wanted to share it with you: https://diannmills.com/temp/RelationshipMatrixTemplate-DiAnnMills.xlsx

Take a look. Let me encourage you to make the chart your own by personalizing it to your mode of working. This is the beauty of creating what we writers need to ensure our books are exciting and professionally written.

What have you designed to make your writing process easier?


High Treason

When Saudi Prince Omar bin Talal visits Houston to seek cancer treatment for his mother, an attempt on his life puts all agencies on high alert. FBI Special Agent Kord Davidson is the lead on the prince’s protective detail because of their long-standing friendship, but he’s surprised – and none too happy – when the CIA brings one of their operatives, Monica Alden, in on the task force after the assassination attempt. Kord and Monica must quickly put aside inter-agency squabbles, however, when they learn the prince has additional motives for his visit – plans to promote stronger ties with the US and encourage economic growth and westernization in his own country. Plans that could easily incite a number of suspects both in the US and in countries hostile to Saudi Arabia. Worse yet, the would-be assassin always seems to be one step ahead of them, implicating someone close to the prince – or the investigation. But who would be willing to commit high treason, and can Kord and Monica stop them in time?

DiAnn Mills is an award winning writer who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She currently has more than fifty-five books published. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and have won placements through the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Carol Awards and Inspirational Reader’s Choice awards. DiAnn won the Christy Award in 2010 and 2011. DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Romance Writers of America, and Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also a Craftsman mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas. Find her on the web at www.diannmills.com.

 

6 Tips for Writing More Efficiently

by Lisa Jordan, @lisajordan

I shop for groceries at a grocery store that offers discount prices. Most of the food items aren’t brand name. Patrons bring their own bags or buy them at checkout. In order to use a shopping cart, you need to pay a quarter, but you receive your quarter back once you return the cart.

The cashiers are efficient in scanning groceries because they are timed per transaction. This lessens gossiping with customers and co-workers that slow down lines.

As I was packing my own groceries into my cloth bags, I thought about the efficiency of the store that allows me to get in and out with a month’s worth of groceries (yes, a month) in less than an hour.

Carts aren’t left in the parking lot. Shelves are stocked daily by the cashiers before the store opens. Selection is limited, so customers aren’t overwhelmed by choices. Checking out is streamlined.

So what does that have to do with writing?

One of the challenges of finding a balance in writing and life is using your writing time more efficiently so you’re more productive with your words.

Here are a few tips to help you write more efficiently:

  • I.C.: The best way to write efficiently is BIC—butt in chair. It’s tough to write if you’re doing laundry, cleaning the kitchen or watching the latest episode of The Voice. View your daily schedule, then make an appointment to spend a certain amount of time and use it to write. Use that appointed time and add word counts to your current works-in-progress.
  • Limit distractions: Maybe you can write with background noise or music, but it’s pretty tough to write while surfing Facebook, replying to emails or sending Tweets on Twitter. When it’s time to focus on your novel, close those windows so they don’t distract you from your current task. Consider turning off your wifi so those pings don’t pull you from your story. Turn off your phone and keep your focus on your story.
  • Zero In: Instead of focusing on the overall story and the overwhelming number of words that need to be written, keep your focus on the specific scenes you plan to write that day. Zero in on the details that bring those scenes to life. Focus on today’s goal and word count.
  • Add the Asterisk: During the first Storycrafters Retreat, Susie May Warren taught us if we’re stuck on a name or a specific element in our scene, then we should add an asterisk or two. That way you can continue forward without wasting precious writing time trying to figure out exactly what you need. Once you’ve completed that scene or chapter or even the entire novel, you can use the search feature to find those asterisks and replace them with the necessary information.
  • Plan ahead: When you’re done for the day, review your scenes, thenthink ahead to your next scene. As you’re going about your daily activities, ponder your upcoming scene so when you sit at the computer, you’re not staring at the blinking cursor.
  • Recharge: When writing time is limited or you’re facing deadline, it’s still important to take necessary downtime to keep your creativity full charged. Even if the clock is ticking, it’s essential to walk away from your computer in order to be able to dive back into your story with a fresh mind.

Every writer’s time and responsibilities are different. We go through different seasons of life that require our attention elsewhere, but we can use the time away from our computers to ponder new scenes, plot points, character motivations, and marketing ideas. However, once you do get in the habit of using your designated writing time more efficiently, you’ll be that much closer to completing your novel.


Lakeside Romance

A Recipe for Romance

Sarah Sullivan will do whatever it takes to make her summer youth program permanent. But when she’s tasked to teach the teens basic kitchen skills, her hope goes up in flames. Not knowing the first thing about cooking, Sarah needs help. Smelling the delicious aromas coming from her neighbor’s apartment one night, she thinks she’s found her answer. Alec Seaver might know his way around pots and pans, but the lone-wolf widower doesn’t want anything to do with the free-spirited beauty next door. But after he becomes Sarah’s reluctant partner, Alec realizes that she might just be the key ingredient missing from his life.

Heart, home, and faith have always been important to Lisa Jordan, so writing stories with those elements come naturally. Represented by Rachelle Gardner, Lisa is an award-winning author for Love Inspired, writing contemporary Christian romances that promise hope and happily ever after. She is the Operations Manager for Novel.Academy, powered by My Book Therapy. Happily married to her own real-life hero for almost thirty years, Lisa and her husband have two grown sons. When she isn’t writing, Lisa enjoys family time, kayaking, good books, and playing in her craft room with friends. Visit her at lisajordanbooks.com.

 

It’s All About Character

by Katherine Reay, @Katherine_Reay

Our ability to engage our readers, surprise, delight, antagonize, or even offend them when we want, all comes down to our characters. Compelling characters make a compelling story — and keep readers wanting more. Even if you write fast-paced, plot-driven fiction, no one wants to head down that road unless the character is worthy of the chase.

So what do we do to create such characters? Ones who “jump off the page” and keep the reader glued to their ups and downs late into the night?

I offer these suggestions:

  1. We feel multiple emotions simultaneously – so they must too! When writing Lizzy & Jane, I realized you could look at your sister and feel (off the top of my head) five emotions instantly: fierce love, equally fierce dislike, jealousy, loyalty and adoration – especially if you’re the younger sister. Use that! Layer the emotions for your character just as you feel them layered within yourself. And the more those emotions conflict, the better! They’ll bring depth to the reader’s experience and the character’s substance.
  2. Look at all those emotions (even list them) then choose any but the most obvious. The reader will feel that one instinctively. Again, in Lizzy & Jane, Lizzy was angry with her sister. She felt betrayed. And, while those two emotions came through often, it was more interesting and in many ways more realistic when I explored Lizzy’s adoration, hero-worship, and yearning for Jane’s acceptance and love. Anger was the lens through which the reader found those softer and more vulnerable feelings. By bringing those emotions out, through and beneath the anger, I also increased the micro-tension between the sisters – that’s the push and pull beneath what’s written on the page.
  3. Make sure what your characters do is an extension of who they are. I use profession, dress, reading preferences, food tastes, decorating, season, quirks, hobbies, and more… Everything is planned to express an aspect of character, either to the positive, the negative or the unexpected. When writing, you have tons of descriptive detail to lay out, don’t let a single size, color, shape or nuance go to waste.
  4. Take a blank page occasionally and “talk” to your character. You don’t need to make it formal, but do write it down. As a writer, that’s how you think and how you communicate – so make sure you don’t just chat, make sure you write down that chat. By doing this, you’ll learn more about your character’s cadence of speech, inner thoughts, and expressions. It’s an interesting exercise and can reveal things that surprise you… Only by doing this, late in the manuscript process, did I learn how truly angry Sam Moore (Dear Mr. Knightly) was by all that happened in her childhood. This changed later scenes and made the story more authentic to her voice.
  5. Have fun! I end every post with this because it’s so important. Enjoy your characters – even the “bad” ones. The more you enjoy them and explore them, the more real and expressive – and unexpected – they become. And that’s more fun for you and for the reader.

Thanks for spending time here with me today. Please find me and connect on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or my website at www.katherinereay.com. I’m always out and about…

Katherine


The Austen Escape

Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues – particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.
But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.
Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.

Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy& Jane and The Bronte Plot, an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist. Her latest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, released in November 2016 and received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK!All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. Sheholds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and isa wife, mother, rehabbing runner, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.