About Jan Drexler

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

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.

Image

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.

Are You In the Mood?

When you’re writing a book, you have a purpose. You want to speak to your readers’ emotions, bring them into your story world, and show them ideas that may change their lives.

There are many ways to do that, and one is to be purposeful in expressing the mood of your story.

The mood is different from your setting, theme, plot, or other elements of a story. The mood is the overall feeling your reader gets from your story. It can be happy, tragic, hopeful, desperate, fearful, serene…and everything in between. Your book will have a general mood that permeates your entire story, but each scene may have its own mood, also.

How does a writer convey mood?

There are a couple of very good ways.

First is your choice of words. Consider this excerpt from “The Prodigal Son Returns”:

ImageFrom the simple white house nestled behind a riotous hedge of lilacs to the looming white barn, the Stoltzfus farm was the image of his Grossdatti’s home, a place he thought he had forgotten since the old man’s death when he was a young boy. A whisper of memory rattled the long-closed door in his mind, willing it to open, but Bram waved it off. Memories were deceptive, even ones more than twenty years old. They covered the truth, and this truth was that he had a job to do. Grossdatti and his young grandson remained behind their door.

I tried to convey the feeling of nostalgia in this paragraph, so I chose soft words like “nestled,” “farm,” “home,” “whisper,” and “memory.” As the paragraph reached its end, I wanted Bram to shake himself back to reality – at least his version of it. So I used harsher words like “rattled” and “truth.”

Read your paragraphs aloud, listening to how the words sound. What feeling do they convey? It isn’t only the meaning of words that speak to your readers – the sound does, too.

A second way to convey mood is in the construction of your sentences. Longer sentences set a softer, quieter tone, and shorter, choppy sentences convey a sense of urgency or danger.

Here’s an excerpt where I was trying to show a peaceful summer afternoon:

Once the family buggy was gone, the farm settled into a quiet that Ellie seldom heard. The early summer sun was hot, and the cows had all sought the shade of the pasture. One pig’s grunting echoed through the empty barn, keeping rhythm with the thump and clatter as he rubbed against the wooden planks of the sty.

Ellie wandered to the lilac bushes that surrounded the front porch of the big house, and she buried her face in the blossoms. They were nearly spent, but the scent still lingered. On either side of the front walk Mam’s peony bushes held round pink and green buds. Another day or two, and they would burst into bloom.

The sentences in these paragraphs are complex, with dependent and independent clauses. They are designed to slow down the reader’s pace and feel the mood of Ellie’s afternoon – hot, languorous, and even lazy.

Contrast that with this excerpt:

Kavanaugh’s lip curled in the sneer that was his trademark. “No cop is going to take me.”

The snub nose of Kavanaugh’s gun steadied as the gangster’s finger tightened on the trigger. Bram shot at the same time. His body jerked as Kavanaugh’s bullet hit his chest, and he fell into blackness.

The sentences here are shorter, choppier. Shorter sentences speed up the action and heighten the tension. The mood becomes urgent, dangerous and suspenseful. Interspersing longer sentences with shorter ones can draw out the tension even further.

So, have you thought about the mood of your book? It can be as elusive to pinpoint as your voice, but once you identify it, using these techniques can help you enhance it and will increase the depth of your readers’ experience.

Creating Characters that Count

Think back to the last good – really good – story you read. The one you couldn’t put down, the one that made you cry in the middle of the fifth chapter, the one you finished late at night because you couldn’t go to sleep until you found out how it ended. And then when you finished it, you closed the cover of the book and ran your hand over it with a sigh.

There’s a good possibility the biggest thing that drew you into that book and kept you there was a memorable character.

Oh yes, story is important, but unless your readers have someone to care about, even the best story will be flat.

Here are some ideas to make your readers care:

  1. Give them a likeable hero or heroine.  Make sure she’s someone you want to spend time with, and your reader will, too. Give her a sense of humor, deep feelings for her family and friends, and someone who likes her. Make her smile once in a while, even if she’s going through adversity. Make her strong enough to stand what you’re going to put her through in the next 250 pages.
  2. Give your hero/heroine a past. Everyone has a past that affects them. He’s trying to live down mistakes – or hope no one finds out about them. He’s lost loved ones, had a crush on the girl next door, still misses his favorite dog, or burned a bridge he wishes he hadn’t. People are affected by their past. Your hero’s past determines his actions today.
  3. Give your hero/heroine a future. Give her dreams. Dreams motivate us and make us do things – interesting things. Every decision your heroine makes today is weighed with the future in mind.
  4. Make your hero/heroine three dimensional. There’s nothing interesting about cardboard. You say he’s tall, dark and handsome? Don’t let him be caught in a stereotype. Make that tall, dark and handsome guy scared of heights, but he still rescues the heroine’s kitten from a tree. Make him brave in the face of gunfire, but a wuss when it comes to spiders. Know what makes him happy, what makes him angry, what delights him, what scares him. Make him real.
  5. Give your hero/heroine someone to love. When we identify with a character’s emotions, we’re drawn into her story. We want her to marry the guy, or reconcile with her sister, or forgive her mother. We want to feel her longings and heartaches on the way to her happy ending.

Characters are what make the story – make them count!

What are some of your favorite characters, and what makes them memorable?

Fear, Hit the Road!

Admit it. You’re scared.

No matter how many times you’ve been published, no matter how many awards you’ve won, no matter how many manuscripts you have finished and waiting in your files, no matter if you’ve never let any of your writing see the light of day…in the far reaches of your mind there’s a voice screaming, “What in the world do you think you’re doing?!?!?!?”

You know, if you let it, fear and panic will freeze you in your tracks.

What do you do with it? Ignore it? Hope it will go away? Tell yourself the next step on the road to publication will finally silence it?

What are we so afraid of, anyway?

We’re afraid someone is going to find out we’re a poser. The little dog is going to pull back the curtain and everyone will see who we really are…and that person is just me.

Not Agatha Christie, or Shakespeare, or Dickens. Not Beverly Lewis, or J.K. Rowling, or Gilbert Morris…

just me.

I’m not a writer. Who do I think I am?

Eventually, someone is going to expose me, and then where will I be?

On my way back to Kansas in an old balloon.

What do we do about it?

Some of us try to build up that flimsy curtain. We think if we write better, faster, switch genres, get the right agent, the right editor, the curtain will withstand prying eyes. We become desperate, frantic in our efforts to be good enough to withstand the pressure when we’re finally found out.

But what should we do?

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9 ESV

Joshua was in a pickle. He had enjoyed some success as the military leader of Israel, but Moses was always there to stand between him and God. Moses was the one who knew what he was doing, who talked to God face to face, who always knew the next step to take.

But now Moses was gone. You can imagine Joshua’s panic. He was supposed to lead these people now?

He had been given the mantle of responsibility, and he had no choice. Read the first nine verses of Joshua again.

What has God called us to be? Most of us reading this blog have felt that hand on our shoulder, that irresistible whisper, that compelling urge to express in words the truths God has laid on our hearts to convey.

We have no choice. We must write.

Three times in these nine verses, the Lord tells Joshua, “Be strong and courageous.” It isn’t an option, it’s a command.

“Have I not commanded you?”

It isn’t a choice.

We don’t have a choice, either. If God has commanded us to act, we must act.

Fear has no place here. It has no foothold.

And we won’t be alone.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed…”

Why?

“…for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Fear, hit the road. I’m no poser, I’m the writer God has called me to be.