About Michelle Griep

I hear voices. Loud. Incessant. And very real. Which basically gives me two options: choke back massive amounts of Prozac or write fiction. I chose the latter. Way cheaper. I've been writing since I discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. I seek to glorify God in all that I write...except for that graffiti phase I went through as a teenager. Oops. Did I say that out loud?

January Kick in the Writerly Pants

martial-arts-225397_640It’s that slumpy time of year. The holidays are over. Resolutions have hit the wall like a crash-test dummy on steroids. It’s Mars-cold outside and really…who’s got time to write when you’re working every conceivable hour to pay off the mongo credit card bill that’ll hit your mailbox at the end of the month?

Now that we’ve got all the whining out of the way, it’s time to buck up, little writing mongrels. Park your rear in a chair, stick your shnoz on the writerly grindstone, and get down to business by using a few of the following tips.

5 AWESOME WAYS TO CRANK OUT MORE WORDS PER DAY

#1. Kick your internal editor to the curb.

Newsflash: in order to up your daily word count, you have to actually write the words. If you muss and fuss over each one, you’ll end up with a total of about twenty-five words by the time the sun sets. At that rate, it will take you a bajillion years to finish your manuscript. So whip out some duct tape, slap it on your internal editor’s mouth, and pound away at the keyboard until your fingers are stubby little nubs. You can—and will—edit those words later.

#2. Pull up your pants.

At heart, I am a seat-of-the-pants writer. I don’t like to know what’s coming because hey, writing should be as much fun as reading, right? Nope. Not if you want to succeed at finishing a novel in a timely manner. If you come to your WIP without a clue of what you’re going to write, you will spend time thinking of what to write. Savvy? Map out your story. Write a general outline. And always make sure to end your writing time with a sentence or two of how you will pick up the plot when you return to it the next day.

#3. Put first things first.

Write in the morning, whether you’re a night owl or not. Psychologically, it’s a mental game of beat the clock. In the morning, you’ve got hours and hours ahead of you. If you wait until late at night, you’re more likely to nod off and give in to the siren call of Pillowland. Starting out your day by writing means you get to pass Go and collect $200.

#4. Write all day.

Before you start the tomato throwing and Hey-Princess-I-Have-A-Real-Job snarkiness, hear me. I understand. Life is all up in my business as well. But that doesn’t mean you can’t snatch and grab snippets of time throughout the day. Pound out a few words during your lunch break. Traffic jams sucking up minutes? Voice note a plot idea on your phone. Waiting for an appointment? Jot down a character trait you’ve been meaning to add in.

#5. Be a track star.

Mapping out a schedule sounds like a whopping nerd of a plan, but dude, it works, kind of like a food journal keeps you on track for a diet. Shoehorn in writing time on every day of your calendar for the next month and you’ll feel like a legit writer. Setting a goal on paper (or cyberly via keyboard) will keep you accountable.

There you have it. Tools for your writerly workbox. Which one will you put into practice today?

You Still Haven’t Fill-in-the-Blank?

1327383_64930133In case you haven’t noticed, it’s that holiday time of year. You know the routine. Parties and calories galore. Crowds and credit cards smoking from overuse. Getting together with relatives you haven’t seen for an entire year.

And—worst of all—having to answer the inevitable, “How’s your writing going?”

Oh, on the surface, it’s a harmless enough question. Much less in-your-face than a glitzy-gaudy Christmas sweater gone wrong. Don’t misunderstand, either. I’m not dissing the genuine interest that others hold in regards to the writing journey. In fact, the question shows care and concern from loved ones.

Still, why in the world do those four simple words, “How’s your writing going?” always drop me to my knees?

Because this question is like a bag of potato chips. You can’t have just one, folks. It’s the follow-up questions that sucker punch a writer into a drooling idiot . . .

“You still haven’t finished that book?”

“You still haven’t been published?”

“You still haven’t gotten an agent?”

“You still haven’t heard from Publisher X?”

“You still haven’t made it to the NY Times Bestseller list?”

The definition of insanity, according to Albert Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results. This year, stop the madness. You know those questions are coming, so writers, let’s be proactive. How? Plan ahead.

Share an interesting bit of research you’ve uncovered.

An engaging tidbit of information oftentimes turns the conversation in a whole new direction. And who knows…you just may have found someone who can add to your knowledge base on a particular subject.

Prepare a fun and snappy comeback.

You don’t have to feel defeated because you “still haven’t.” Lighten up the situation with a quippy reply. Don’t just grin and bear it. Really yuk it up.

Flip it.

No, not your finger. Flip the question back to the questioner. Be honest and admit you haven’t whatever-they-asked, then ask them if they’ve accomplished one of their goals yet. Only use this tactic, however, if you really care. Otherwise, you’re going to come off as a sour grapes connoisseur.

Remember, ‘tis the season to be jolly, not crabby. Instead of cringing in the corner at the next holiday gathering, go out there and have fun!

Puppies, Unicorns and Dolphin-Shaped Balloons

notes-md

Have you heard of the term bait-and-switch? Yep. This is one of them, and for good cause. If the title had read “3 Reasons to Outline,” would you seriously have stayed tuned? Not only is the topic of outlining boring, it often causes big hivey welts to break out on some people. So if you need to slug back a few gulps of Benadryl, go for it, and let’s move forward with…

3 REASONS TO OUTLINE

1. To keep from crashing head first into the lack of confidence wall.

Yes, you can write an entire novel without drafting an outline, but the chances of losing steam and curling into the fetal position about midway through are pretty high. What you thought was a plot screeches to a halt. Characters wander around like zombies on steroids. Your narrative is a flaming train wreck of twisted words. Reaching this state of mind has a way of sucking all the confidence marrow from your bones. This is where an outline comes in handy. Think of it as a safety net and/or anti-zombie mega-gun. When you hit midway in your story, you can reach out and grab the outline rope to pull yourself up to the grand summit of a finale.

2. So you know where you’re going.

I’m not a huge map fan. I can’t fold the dang things. I know. I know. There’s this great new invention called MapQuest. Yeah. That’d be great if I had a smart phone—which I don’t. Even so, there have been a few family vacations where I’ve been awfully thankful for a map. That’s what your outline is. Writing a story is a lot like going on a road trip. Sure you can throw your bags in the car and hope for the best, but what happens when you hit construction? Or worse…road closed? That’s when a map is your best friend. Same thing with a meandering story. An outline will keep you on track to end up where you wanted to go.

3. It works out the kinks.

Don’t get me wrong. Writing an outline is not a magic pill that takes you to happy writer land (but if you could market that, you’d make scads of money.) Planning out the major scenes ahead of time, thinking through all the what-if-that-happens scenarios, straightens out your plot so you’ll be less likely to have to rewrite unnecessary chapters.

Convinced yet that outlining is the greatest thing ever? I wouldn’t be, either. Outlining sounds about as much fun as scrubbing the toilet—outlining as in Roman Numerals and sub-points and all that analytical falderal. I say it’s time to start thinking outside that no-fun box and reinvent the outline.

Newsflash: there’s no law that says you have to write a text-on-screen outline.

Maybe you’re a Pinterest type of person who creates story boards. That counts. Perhaps you love the smell of dry erase markers and get off on mind mapping a tale on a large whiteboard. Shoot, I even know some writers who adore 3M sticky notes and plan out a novel by decorating a wall with their scenes. Go ahead and get creative. That’s what fiction is about, folks.

One parting thought to shoot down the scare factor of outlining. You have my permission to outline only chunks at a time. If scribbling down the entire story totally freaks you out, just do the first third, then take a break and write the first chapter. Before you end the first third, however, you should plan the next third. Savvy?

Outlining does not have to steal the joy from your writing. Turn it around to enhance the joy of your writing…and keep from having a nervous breakdown halfway through.

What about you? Are you fans of the outline or more pantsers types?

Is One Really a Lonely Number?

solitaryRecently I Netflixed a National Geographic documentary called Solitary Confinement. Don’t judge. It’s cheaper than scrapbooking and far less carcinogenic than sun bathing. Bonus: it made me think…

Is writing really a solitary career?

There are a lot of myths surrounding the mysterious lifestyle of a writer, numero uno being that it’s a lonely existence. There sits Mr. Scrawny Writer, all jittery on java, banging away at a keyboard in a room devoid of humans, an alien probe his only hope of contact. Ever. Poor, lonely author.

What a fat lot of bunk. Writing involves a whole village of people right from the get go. Let’s take a peek at who lives in the grassy huts surrounding Mr. Writer.

Critique Partners

Think partners in crime. Usually a crit buddy is another writer who can point out your foibles…like using too many big words like foibles.

Agents

I like to think of my agent as a cheerleader. She looks great in a mini-skirt and whoa baby, can she belt out a cheer when I need to hear one.

Editors

Whether they’re wearing a macro, proofreader, or acquisitions hat, these people are a writer’s best buddies. Fact: a writer cannot see the forest for the trees—or is it trees for the forest—or…wait a minute. Is there an editor in the house?

Marketers

Steel-toed boots are nice and all, but how many doors of opportunity can an author realistically stick his foot in? These villagers are worth their weight in gold.

Reviewers

Seriously, who believes an author’s 5 star review of their own book? It’s a staggering number: zero times zero. Networking with reviewers is vital to credibility, plus they’ll sometimes take you out for lunch.

Bookstore Owners

Most writers already have a relationship with the nearest bookstore owner because guess what—writers read.

Librarians

While some authors shun cozying up to a knock-kneed four-eyed librarian because, hey, they’re lending books that could be earning a royalty, I say a librarian is beneficial to embrace. These are the frontline soldiers, able to shoot your book to the forefront of the public spotlight. If you’re a writer, feed, nurture, and love a librarian today.

Readers

Call ‘em your tribe. Think of ‘em as your audience. Your peeps. Homeboys, if you will. Yes, an author may be squirreled away for the better part of a year, diligently writing a story, but then for the rest of eternity (or as long as your contract allows, whichever comes first) these are the people who will become your lifelong fans…or enemies, depending. Still, readers let a writer know what they think.

And these are just a few off the top of my head. Writers develop all kinds of crazy relationships with their cover designers, conference speakers, the UPS driver, yada, yada. Now that you’ve been educated, next time you hear someone say writing is a solitary vocation, you can confidently shake your head and say “Unh-unh.”

Beyond Boring Bookmarks

bookmarksThere’s no way around it anymore. A writer has to market. You can flail your arms and scream like a little girl all you want, but other than scoring yourself some raised eyebrows or possibly a straitjacket, you will need to market your writing. Allow me to teach you the three most important words I taught my children. No, it’s not “please” and “thank you”…it’s “Get over it!”

Now that we’re past the lecture, let’s move on with some ideas to get your book out there that don’t involve the standard lukewarm fare of Twitter and Facebook. Not that I have anything against social media, mind you. It’s just that all the authorly Who’s from Whoville are already there, shouting their little lungs out.

Create a “Night Out” Event

This is a great way to cross-promote local businesses and your book. Look for small restaurants, clothing stores, kitchen gadget shops, whatever you can possibly tie into your book. Approach them with an idea to have a Women’s Night Out or Man Cave Night wherein you’ll offer to do a reading, or demonstration, or if you’re really confident, to be the chump in a rousing round of Stump the Chump for cheap little prizes.

Meet-Up Groups

Locate some meet-up groups in your area that might be interested in your book. Does your story have a sweet little dog as a character? Find a dog walking group. In my recent release, A HEART DECEIVED, I talk about the cook’s fantastic marmalade, so I’d go for a cooking group. Offer to speak to those groups for free (with a handy dandy book table at the back for afterwards). Need help finding a group? Meetup is the place for you.

Direct Marketing

Unless you live in Podunksville, USA, you’ve probably got a local company that ships products directly to customers. Ask if you can place postcards advertising your book in with their shipments. Obviously, if your novel is a romance, you probably don’t want a card going out with an order of hedgehog vitamins (not even kidding…check this out). Make it related in some way.

Sales Parties

Yes, Tupperware ladies are still around, but they’re not the only ones who do in-home parties. Pitch an offer to some reps to come along to one of their shows and do a short reading as an icebreaker. Sales people frequently love opening a conversation with potential buyers by talking about a novel instead of trying to do an immediate hard sell. It gets your name out there, and more importantly, gets people talking about your book.

BOGOMy latest scheme involves offering a BOGO (Buy One Get One) for my recent release. Since my book is set in England, I used the Keep Calm-o-Matic site to create my own poster. For one weekend, July 12-14, I’m offering to mail a signed copy to anyone who can show me a receipt for a book they’ve purchased. Details here.

Remember: the goal of promoting your work is to entice people to buy. Whapping them upside the head with BUY ME, BUY ME not only isn’t going to work, it’s going to annoy potential buyers to swerve way around your train wreck of a marketing ploy.

After all, one can own only so many bookmarks before the recycle bin is filled to the brim.

It’s All in the Details

scotland-13584Creativity isn’t just a good idea but mandatory if you want to be a writer worth your gold (way more valuable than salt nowadays). The thing about creativity, though, is that you must be careful with the details. Why?

Because there’s a fine line between creativity and believability.

Recently I received an email from a cyber buddy that read:

“I’m writing this with great grievance. I’m presently in Scotland, United Kingdom, with my family for a short vacation and we’re stuck. And really it was unannounced. We were attacked by four armed robbers on our way back to the hotel where we lodged. Not only were we robbed, but are completely embarrassed.

All our cash, credit cards, and cellphones were stolen. We’ve reported the incident to the embassy and the police, but to my dismay, they seem not bothered…their response was just too casual. Our flight leaves in a few hours but we’ve got to settle our bills before we’re allowed to leave. Now I’m freaked out.

Please, I need you to loan me some money. I promise to refund you as soon as I’m back home. All I need is $1,650. Please let me know what you can do. Write me back so I can tell you how to get it to me.”

Now then, as you’ve likely figured out, this is indeed a scam—but a scam that might’ve worked a whole lot better had they paid attention to minor details. Let’s pick it apart, shall we?

From a creative standpoint, I’ll give this a 3 out of 5 stars, mostly because whoever wrote it upped the ante by adding in the ‘armed’ in front of robbers. Nice touch. I also like how the author included a ‘ticking time bomb.’ The plane leaves in a few hours and their bills must be paid or else. Will they make it out of the country? Cue dramatic background music.

So those details totally work. What threw the story off was a single believability factor toward the beginning that instantly set off the needle on my are-you-kidding-me radar.  She’s presently in Scotland? Sheesh! Scotland implies rolling hills and kilts, not roaming bands of AK47 toting thugs. Maybe if the author had said they’d been threatened with bagpipes I’d have bought it. Nah. Even that wouldn’t have worked.

The creativity was there, but the details didn’t match. Why? Because Scotland doesn’t fit the connotation of a lawless land where desperadoes rob innocent tourists.

Next time you’re in creative mode, crafting an intense scene, make sure your details enhance the story instead of pull your reader out of the action. Losing a wallet is one thing…you can always earn more money. Regaining a disappointed reader is harder than learning the bagpipes.

Mandatory Reading

readingI’m often surprised when I hear a writer say they’re too busy to read. Really?

Is a doctor too busy to bone up on emerging diseases?

A network administrator too over-scheduled to learn the latest technology?

The teenager down the street too booked to check out a new video game?

Face it. We all wish there were 32 hours in a day to accomplish everything. Newsflash: that’s not happening. Those who are too busy writing to read just might regret it one day. It’s kind of like living on a diet of junk food. Works for now. Tastes great. But eventually your body is going to crash…and so will your writing.

There’s a bajillion reasons why reading sharpens writing, but here are the top 3:

#1. Reading hones your craft.

Seeing how others structure their sentences, weave their plot lines, or develop characters presents a model (an obviously winning one since you’re reading a published book). Read and study the big name authors who’ve mastered the craft of ordering words, then follow their example.

#2. Reading outside your chosen genre stretches your writing capabilities.

I don’t write young adult, but I read it because of its snappy dialogue. I don’t write horror, but sometimes I pick up a tastefully done creeper because of its shock-and-awe factor. I don’t write epic sagas, but sometimes I’ll page through one to fill up my beautiful prose tank. Then I can use all those elements in my historical fiction to make it a more full-bodied manuscript.

#3. Reading puts your mindset into a different world, allowing you to see your created writerly world with fresh eyes when you come back to it.

Sometimes when you’re stuck on a particular scene, it helps to walk away from it for a time and focus on something else—something like another well crafted story.

Now that you’re hopefully feeling the need to race over to your local library, what books should you invest your time into?

Big Sellers

This one is a no brainer. There’s a reason these books fly off the shelves. Pick one up and figure out why.

Classic Tales

Granted, the language in many of these can be archaic, but they’re still worth the effort. If you can dissect a classic to understand what makes the connection to a reader’s heart, then you can mimick that in your own work.

Bargain Bin Books

These are the novels nobody buys. The characters are milquetoast. The plot is flatter than the tire on my ’91 Honda. And the writing, well…let’s just say it’s marginal. So why in the world would I recommend you read one of these losers? Because even bad writing can teach you good technique simply by presenting the inverse. Besides which, it will spur on your I-can-do-better-than-that attitude.

Outside Your Box Novels

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dissing the concept of keeping yourself well read in your chosen genre. In fact, you should be. However, you will grow as a writer if you subject yourself to other styles and more variety.

Barring the occasional looming deadline or real life catastrophe, writers should be readers. But don’t just take my word for it…

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”

~ Confucius 

So…what book are you currently reading?

Amish Aliens Stole My Baby

Not really, but sure grabbed your attention, eh? And that’s the point of this post.

Calm down. I hear you. You’re a novel writer, not a journalist. Why should you care about catchy headlines? Isn’t that a lame gimmick better left to the National Enquirer?

Actually, no.

Mastering the art of grabbing the reader’s attention is a valuable skill every writer should hone.

In case you haven’t noticed, the written word is exploding from one end of the spectrum to another, from e-books to self-published hard copies to blogs. Getting your work to stand out from the crowd is more important than ever.

Which begs the question: How does one grab a reader by the throat? There are many ways, but here are a few to toss into your writerly toolbox:

Shock and Awe

This is one of the tactics I employed with my blog post title. Think controversial. Think stunning. Think outside the box. This method is most often used by rabble-rousers who get a secret thrill out of rattling cages.

Warm Fuzzies

If you start off with something everyone can relate to on an emotional level, you’ll draw in the human side of the reader. It’s a pull that’s hard to resist. In my example, I tossed in the word baby. Emotions are what set us apart from the rest of the mammals. Well, that and opposable thumbs.

Trendy Tidbit

The ol’ People magazine approach, naming what’s hip or what’s not. Naturally this works better for contemporaries than historicals…but not always. Amish is a buzzword right now, which is why I chose it for my post title.

Opposites Attract

Jumbo shrimp. Government intelligence. Amish aliens. Put two incongruous words together, and if they’re not cliché, people will sit up and take notice.

Now then, where to employ these attention grabbing strategies? Obviously your entire manuscript can’t be outrageously intense. You’d burn out your brain and your reader would gasp for air. Nevertheless, there are key areas that require some eye-popping fancy footwork. These are:

- The first sentence of a book…better yet, make that the first sentence of every chapter.

- The last sentence of each chapter. Force your reader to turn the page.

- Back cover copy. Often this is where you reel ‘em in or break the deal.

- The one-liner that sums up your entire novel.

So go ahead. Give this a whirl. Don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd, especially when it comes to your writing. Hopefully you’ll attract the attention of an editor, not an Amish Alien.

And if you’re brave enough, share with us your re-written stunning first line of your current project (fiction or non-fiction).

Author FAQs

It doesn’t matter where I am. A party. The vet. Getting my teeth cleaned. Whenever people find out for the first time I’m an author, one of three questions pops out their mouth…

How are your sales? How much money do you make?

Really? Are plumbers asked this? Does anyone ever ask the Walmart greeter what he or she nets for pay? I’m guessing not, so why?

Why do people feel comfortable asking writers how much money they make? 

Because, doggone it, everyone has a book in them, and they’re curious how much money they can make. It’s really not about the author, to shame them or to pry. This question simply flies past the curious lips of people who have a secret hope they can pound out their story and become a millionaire.

Compassion is needed to answer this one. Sure, the Rowlings and Kings of the world do make big bucks, but most authors don’t. It’s a dream-crushing bit of information, so remember that sometimes truth stings. Be gentle.

How many chapters is your book?

This one always stumps me. Not because I’m on mind-altering drugs and don’t know how many chapters I’ve written in any given book, but mostly because chapters are subjective. Haven’t readers figured that out by now?

Apparently not. Apparently garden-variety readers award badges of honor to books with lots of chapters.

So I put on my teacher’s hat and explain in one-syllable words that publishers don’t require mandatory chapters; they look at total word count. At that point, I whip out my sunglasses because a brilliant light bulb flashes on.

I wrote a book, too. Can you help me get it published?

This is a tricky one. I love to help others. Who doesn’t? But the brutal truth is, I am a lowly writer, not an acquisitions editor.

Much care is needed in the answering of this question. The danger is you’ll get cornered for at least an hour listening to the synopsis of an entire epic saga. I’ve found the best way to handle this situation is to offer sources other than yourself. I frequently recommend joining ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) for networking purposes. I also advise author-wannabees where they can attend local writer meetings or possible critique groups they can check out.

Those are the top three questions I get asked. How about you? What’s your FAQ?

Sense Is Worth More Than You Think

Imagine a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies just pulled from the oven. Is it the sight that makes you drool, the buttery sweet smell, or the anticipation of the warm chocolate gooiness spreading over your tongue with the first bite? The correct answer is all of the above.

God gave us five senses (doesn’t that spa look like an awesome get away after a day of writing?) that work in harmony. If you really want to connect with your reader, you’ll do the same. In each scene, your goal should be to incorporate as many senses as possible.

Let’s say you’ve got your character sitting out in a field. What might you describe?

Smell

Basswood blooms wafting on the breeze are a sweet fragrance. In fact, there are a lot of great aromas floating about in a field. But if you really want to poke your reader and leave a mark, don’t forget unexpected odors. Descriptions that twang a reader’s senses are what they’ll remember. In the case of smell, what about a surprising gust of vinegary sauerkraut? Who’d expect that? It could even play into your plot, throwing in a sideways twist.

Hearing

Birdsong. Bugs buzzing. A breeze shushing through the leaves. Those are all common sounds, but there are other, more obnoxious noises that are every bit as common. What about airplanes drowning out a conversation or construction workers banging away in the background? Even idyllic places have jarring sounds, and these make your story more realistic.

Sight

This is the number one sense that most writers nail without effort. The trick here is to weave in a little genuine humanity. In the case of the field, you can certainly wax verbose about wildflowers and rolling hills, but to really make it memorable what about the discarded water bottle out in the middle of nowhere? We’ve all seen it. Or maybe a WalMart bag peeking out from the bottom of a shrub. Not pretty, but definitely real.

Feeling

The sun heats your skin, and a gentle breeze tempers that warmth, but don’t forget about the prickly thistles that stick to your pant legs, then latch onto your fingers like unrelenting Velcro when you try to pick them off. Touch isn’t just about pleasant feelings. Remember to connect with the uncomfortable aspects of life.

Taste

This is most often seen as, “She ate a strawberry” or “He slugged back his coffee.” Nice action, but that doesn’t tell the reader a thing about how those items taste. Describe the flavor. Is it so sweet her teeth hurt? Sour enough that he wants to rip out his tongue and wipe it on his sweater? Taste can also be compared to a happy or sad memory. Puckerlicious lemonade always makes me think of my grandma’s front porch. Or have your character absolutely hate a food that most people love, making them more notable. After all, doesn’t every writer want their characters to remain in a reader’s mind long after they’ve closed the book?

This week challenge yourself to incorporate all five senses into your writing. It’s an easy investment that will pay off by connecting with your readers at an intimate level.