About Jan Drexler

Delighted wife, mom to homeschool graduates, author - when I'm not out hiking in the hills.

Stitching Your Story

We were almost ready to begin our ladies’ Bible study the other night when Sandi asked about my writing. I told her about the revisions I’m working on, and how they’ll make my story better.

Then she leaned back in her chair, shook her head, and said, “I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know how you write books like you do!”

I knew I had the perfect analogy for her. Sandi is a quilter, and she’d understand: Writing a book is like making a quilt. 

First you select a design, the “big picture” of your finished quilt.

For a book, the “big picture” is the genre and basic plot.

As you make the design of your quilt your own, you choose colors and patterns. You spend hours selecting just the right fabrics to fit your design.

As you plot your book, you develop characters with goals, motivations, and conflicts. You choose a setting that will complement the plot. And you work on your story structure, plotting or outlining the way it works best for you.

Elliza Mummert Sherck's quilt

When you start constructing your quilt, you work on one block at a time, stitching each piece into place.

When you start writing your novel, you work on one scene at a time – beginning, middle and end – stitching with words rather than thread.

Finally, you lay all your quilt blocks out on the floor to see how the finished project will look – and then you revise the design by moving blocks around and creating different color combinations.

And your novel? Revisions are part of the process! Switch that scene to a different character’s point of view. Rearrange the chapters to bring your antagonist into the picture earlier. Ramp up that happily-ever-after ending!

And last of all, when everything else is done, you finish your quilt by stitching the layers together and binding the edges, sealing the work you’ve done.

With your novel, it’s the work of editing and polishing that puts the final stamp on the story.

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But the thing quilting and writing have most in common? The finished product is a work of your heart that you share with others.

 Mark and Karen's Quilt

Your First Writers Conference? Things to Know Before You Go!

This is conference season for writers! Not just the national conferences like RWA and ACFW, but smaller, regional conferences. There’s probably a writing conference or retreat somewhere in your area this summer or fall.

Speaker at Business Conference and Presentation.I’m planning to attend the ACFW conference in St. Louis in September, and it will be my second. As I’ve been signing up for classes and preparing my wardrobe (comfortable shoes are a must!), I’ve been thinking back to my first ACFW conference two years ago. I hope what I learned will benefit you.

  • Don’t be afraid to go. You won’t be the only newbie. Not only will you find other first-timers (at ACFW you learn to look for the tell-tale ribbon on other attendees’ name badges), but the veterans will welcome you as a new member of the family.
  • Don’t retreat to your room. Writers are prone to enjoy our solitary existence. We like to be alone. But conference isn’t the place for it. You paid a lot of money to meet other people who speak your language, so make sure you meet them. Introduce yourself. Sit next to strangers. Join someone who is standing alone. Strike up a conversation. You never know who you might meet. Two years ago, I ended up eating lunch with the most charming veteran author who writes in the same genre I do. What a treat to talk with her in that non-threatening environment!
  • Don’t sweat it if you can’t attend all of the classes and workshops you signed up for. Buy the sessions on the MP3 download or CDs and listen to them when your mind isn’t filled with the busyness of conference.
  • On the other hand, try not to skip the sessions you signed up for. There’s nothing like the immediate, in-person teaching by an industry professional to spark your enthusiasm.
  • Enjoy your appointments with editors and agents. Be confident, relaxed, and friendly. And if they ask you to submit something, do it. Since they really want to see it, email it to them as soon after conference as possible.
  • Exchange business cards with the new friends you meet. It’s helpful to have your picture on your card, if at all possible. You’ll be meeting so many people, it will be hard to connect names with faces a week later.
  • Most of all, have fun! Enjoy the meetings, the down times, the after-hours sessions with your new friends. Meet new people, become inspired, and get fired up!

Are you planning to attend a conference soon? Will you be in St. Louis in September for ACFW? If so, be sure to look me up!

Fuel Up Your Creativity!

My family is blessed to024 live in a beautiful part of the world – the Black Hills of South Dakota. Even three years after moving here, we’re still not immune to stunning vistas and fabulous sunsets.

This time of year, my husband and I try to get up into the Hills at least once a week. Whether we’re setting out on an evening drive to seek out the Custer State Park bison herd or lacing up our hiking boots to explore a new trail, we’re eager to hit the road.

But before we head up into the wilderness, my husband always stops at the neighborhood gas station to fill up the car’s gas tank.

We wouldn’t want to get half-way out to the back of nowhere and run out of gas, would we?

Writing needs fuel, too.

Every morning, I turn on my computer and head into the wilderness of my imagination. Characters talk to each other, situations develop, conflicts explode – or simmer – and it all gets typed into the file of my current work in progress.

At the same time, another story – or two – or three – simmer on the back burner of my mind. Characters lurk back there, taking on lives of their own.

Meanwhi9780373282777_p0_v1_s260x420le, there’s a book release coming up next month. So marketing plans are being developed in another part of my brain.

With all that energy being expended, I have to make sure I fill up my brain’s gas tank on a regular basis.

But how?

 Rest. A Sabbath rest.

Resting doesn’t mean to unplug, unwind, turn off and disconnect. Doing those things may give us a break from our normal routine, but they don’t refuel. Our minds, bodies, and spirits need re-fueling and re-creation.

We need to rest in God.

 

God gave us the Sabbath. One day that is His out of our week.

One day to worship, study, connect with His Church, fellowship with other believers, make family memories….

One day to re-fuel our energy and our connection to Him – the source of our creative gift.

It isn’t an easy thing to do. It’s a challenge every week to clear my plate before Sunday morning. It takes planning to be able to put away the normal daily routines and take up the gift of the Sabbath rest.

But when Monday morning rolls around again, I’m so glad I made the effort!

What will you do today to re-fuel your life?

Training Your Writing Life

056A new puppy joined our family a year ago.

Yes, he was that cute. All puppy smells and fuzzy bums and soft little pads on his feet.

Such a baby! He could hardly run in a straight line back then. He kind of hopped and flailed with his feet, and somehow he made progress.

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There were a lot of other things he had to learn.

Like going outside to do his business.

And how to get along with the big dog.

And how to play with the cat.

 

026But he learned all of those things (although he still makes mistakes).

As he reached the ripe old age of ten months, things got interesting. That’s the adolescent age for dogs. He lost all brain power and forgot everything he had ever learned.

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The rest of the family was ready to give up on him.

But patience and consistency are the keys.

My writing life is much like training a new puppy. Is yours?

Do you sometimes feel like you can’t do the basic things like write a sentence, or come up with a verb other than “was”?

And then there are the “big dogs.” Those multi-published authors can be pretty intimidating sometimes, no matter how nice they are. And whose heart doesn’t start beating faster when you see your agent’s name in your email inbox? Or when the phone rings and you don’t recognize the number?

Have you learned to play with the “cats” in your writing life? You know – your peers who are traveling this same trail with you. Have you made friends, or are you friendly rivals? We’re all in this together, and it’s good when a friend has your back.

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Or have you passed that beginning learning stage, and are now in the throes of your writing adolescence? Sometimes I feel like my brain has forgotten how to write.

But I keep telling myself, just like with the dogs, and with my children as they were growing, my writing life is growing, too. It needs patient training and consistent discipline.

Without it, I’ll never get past the flailing puppy legs stage!

Here are the steps I’m taking:

1) A dedicated writing time every day. It’s like punching a time clock. I write from 10:00 to noon, and then from 12:30 to 3:00.

2)  A dedicated writing place. My desk is in a corner of the family room, with a view of the creek that runs behind our house. This time of year, birdsong accompanies my writing music.

3) I stay in contact with friends who are ahead of me on the trail, and can encourage me along the way. I also stay in contact with friends who are just starting out on their own writing journey, encouraging them and sharing with them what I’ve learned.

4) I take chances. I try to market myself, even though I dread talking to strangers. I try to write stories that stretch me as a writer and as a person.

 What steps are you taking to help yourself grow beyond the puppy stage of your writing?

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The Mountain Crumbling Power of Persistence

There isn’t anything much more intimidating to a writer than a blank page.

An empty file.Untitled

A blinking cursor.

And a deadline.

Somehow, in the next three or six months you have to pull eighty to ninety thousand words out of your head and throw them into some semblance of order.

And do it well.

 What is the one key thing that will get you to that goal?

Some people depend on speed to get them through to the finish line. They can pour words on the page in writing spurts that make my head spin. They can write an entire novella in a week. Or a novel in a month.

Other people depend on their muse – writing only when it strikes. They may write for four hours one day, and not again until three days later when they find the idea for the next scene.

Some people depend on catching what little time they can out of their busy schedule. Five minutes here, twenty minutes there….

Whatever your writing style, there is one key ingredient you need to have:

Persistence

Persistence is that drip, drip, drip of water

          seeping into solid granite.

                      One by one the words come.

                                    Relentlessly.

Persistence doesn’t let life interrupt the commitment.

If you have a life that likes to intrude on your writing (and who doesn’t?), make time when the little ones are asleep, or when everyone is out of the house, or when someone else can care for things at home for an hour while you grab solitude at the coffee shop.

Before my children graduated from our homeschool, I rose an hour earlier than they did and wrote. I would write seven hundred fifty to one thousand words a day while they slept.

Persistence protects the writing time.

Turn off the text and tweet messages. Don’t answer your phone. Close the internet browser. Don’t answer the door. Set a timer, and don’t do anything but write until that timer goes off.

I set my timer for twenty-five minutes. When it goes off, I change the laundry, or let the dog out, or check my email, and after five minutes, I set the timer again.

Persistence forms a habit.

If possible, write in the same place at the same time each day. Write for the same amount of time each day. Aim for the same word count each day. Day by day, day after day, builds habit.

Have you discovered the joy of habit? One thousand words a day, five days a week, will give you 250,000 words in a year.

Two hundred fifty thousand words in one year.

How many books is that? In my world of writing for Love Inspired Historical, that’s three books, and a bit more.

That’s the kind of output agents and editors love.

 Will you make persistence a key weapon in your writing arsenal?

39 Cathedral Spires

 It is the relentless power that can split boulders and crumble mountains.

Jumping in the Deep End With Your Characters

Fiction writers write stories, and the best stories are the ones that bring the reader into the characters’ lives. As writers, we want our characters to take on lives of their own, to seem real, to bring the reader along on the journey.

The best way to do that is to give our characters identifiable goals that move them from one end of the book to the other, propelling them forward until they reach their dream.

Sounds simple, right? Well, it isn’t quite that simple.

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Our hero doesn’t just need a goal – the “what” of what he wants. We need to dig a little deeper. For example, your hero wants to become a doctor. That’s a worthy goal. But what makes it an important goal, one that the readers care about, is that he wants to become a doctor because his younger brother died of a mysterious disease. He wants to identify the disease and find a cure for it. That’s his motivation, the thing that keeps him moving toward his goal.

What keeps the reader turning the page, though, is that there is something or someone in conflict with the hero, trying to keep him from attaining his goal. Perhaps it’s a lack of money that keeps him from going to school. Perhaps it’s another medical student who competes with him at every turn – cheating whenever he can. Perhaps your hero has the same disease that killed his brother, and he knows he has a limited time to find the cure. Or maybe it’s the hero’s daughter who has the disease…that ramps up the tension a bit, doesn’t it?

This concept is covered well in one of my favorite writing books, Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon. I try to read it at least once a year, and I learn a bit more about ImageGMC every time I read it.

But I recently found something else to use to bring my readers deeper into my characters’ lives. As we write, we often ask ourselves, “What would my hero do in this situation?” To go deeper, you need to know not only what your character would do, but what your character would never do.

Let’s look at our hero who wants to be the doctor. He’s smart, good-looking, dedicated, compassionate, honest. We know what he would do in most situations. We also know he would never murder anyone. How could he? He’s dedicated his life to helping people.

But think how the tension would crackle if you put your doctor-to-be in a situation where he has to make a choice between the life of a stranger and the life of his daughter. What would he do? Could he do the unthinkable?

Taking your readers through your hero’s thoughts and emotions as he wrestles with that decision brings them deeper into his character than anything else you can do. They sweat with him as he realizes he’s in a no-win situation. They feel the dread of making a decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life. And they celebrate with him when he comes upon the only solution – the perfect solution that preserves both lives.

So think about the hero or heroine in your work in progress. What is the one thing he or she would never do?

And what situation will guarantee they’ll have to contemplate taking that step?

Jan Drexler lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband of thirty years, their four adult children, two rowdy dogs, and Maggie, the cat who thinks she’s a dog. If she isn’t sitting at her computer living the lives of her characters, she’s probably hiking in the Hills or the Badlands, enjoying the spectacular scenery.

Jan’s debut novel, The Prodigal Son Returns, was published by Love Inspired in May 2013.