Dangerous Curves Ahead

You hear a lot in writing circles in regards to the pursuit of publication—just persevere. Keep at it. You’ll get there.

DangerousCurvesI heard this a lot when I was going for my ultimate job in nursing. I really wanted to be a flight nurse. After I got the required experience, I began the application process—something like seven interviews later I still didn’t have a flight nursing position.

I’ve spent lots of time theorizing why and I still would love to do this job, but in my heart I think it’s not going to happen. It’s just not God’s will for my life no matter how much I desire it.

It may not be popular to talk about quitting the pursuit of publicaton on a writing blog. But then ER nurses rarely do what’s popular—we do what’s necessary. I was pursuing flight nursing when I was supposed to be serving God writing. Maybe you’re pursuing publication when God has another dream for your life that will impact people more than what you’re pursuing right now.

But just how do you know? I’ve been obsessed with learning God’s will. I often say I wish I’d wake up with a gold note card on my pillow with the answer, but it is never that easy.

TheDipAll truth is God’s truth no matter who writes it. Isn’t that an amazing statement? I think I found some of God’s truth in a little (literally—it’s seventy-six half-size pages) book called The Dip by Seth Godin.

In the beginning, he makes some pretty profound statements. The phrase all of us learned, “Quitters never win and winners never quit,” is profoundly wrong. Godin says winners quit all the time.

“They just quit the right stuff at the right time.”

The trouble is telling the difference. The dip refers to the process of learning when you’re taking on a new project you’re excited about—like novel writing. The dip is that moment you wonder why you started to write the book. You don’t think you can pull it off. You’ll never finish it.

If you can push through these moments of the learning process, then extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny minority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most.

But, Godin states, the opposite is also true. Extraordinary benefits also accrue to the tiny minority with the guts to quit early and focus their efforts on something new.

Again—it’s telling the difference.

To help, Godin discusses three curves.

1. The Dip: The valley of learning. Successful people don’t just ride out the dip. They lean into it. Push harder—changing the rules as they go. Part of knowing you’re on the right path is that you do get small amounts of positive reinforcement along the way. You final in a contest but maybe don’t win it all. You get positive comments from an agent and/or editor.

2. The Cul-de-Sac: This is where you work and work and nothing much changes. For me in my nursing career—I have never gotten any promotion I ever applied for—in twenty years! Honestly, you would think I was the worst nurse ever. I’m actually a very strong nurse but something has kept me stuck. If that hadn’t happened I would have never pursued publication where the doors opened much easier for me. But perhaps this is the pursuit of publication for you. You’re in the cul-de-sac.

3. The Cliff: It’s a situation you can’t quit until you fall off and the whole thing falls apart. The example Seth gives here is cigarette smoking. Cigarettes are highly addicting, but you do get a good feeling even though it’s detrimental to you—which, in the case of smoking, could be lung cancer and then death.

Godin hypothesizes that The Cliff and The Cul-de-Sac both lead to failure and it’s best to quit these pursuits early and move on to the thing you’d be successful at. That thing for which going through the dip would be worth it.

I would never tell anyone to stop writing—ever. Writing is a creative outlet that soothes the soul and spirit. It can ease tension, stress and frustration because spilled words on the page is cathartic. But—the pursuit of publication is a whole other animal. It takes time, money, resources, and sleep.

And perhaps God is calling you to do something else.

What dream have you had where you’ve persevered through the dip and had great success? On the flip side—is there something you’re pursuing that perhaps you are considering quitting and why? Good things to think through.

All italics are quotes from Seth’s book. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.
This blog first appeared at Seekerville. I hope you’ll check it out!

Planning a Book Release Party

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, an author does much more than just write. In fact understanding this was my biggest learning curve once I penned my John Hancock on my first contract. You are a writer, editor, marketer, publicist, your own biggest cheerleader, and your own worst critic. Not to mention the fact that you have multiple voices talking to you at one time as you write. Don’t worry…that’s normal. Kind of.

Book Release Party - Shadowed Kariss Lynch
This year, I added “party planner” to my growing writing resume as I prepared for the release of Shadowed just two short months ago. When Shaken released in 2014, my friends planned a sweet party to celebrate. This year, it was my turn to grab the wheel. Only I had no idea where to begin! But like all things in this writing journey, the learning curve is steep, the lessons memorable, and the end result rewarding.

The release party doesn’t have to be stressful! Here are some tips I picked up along the way.

1. Choose a theme.

I planned two different parties with the help of loved ones. I wanted to theme the parties, so I selected decorations and small touches according to the audience. Since some of the major moments in Shadowed are centered around sunsets and the ocean and an opening scene with fireworks, I found decorations that flowed like water and paper décor that resembled the pop of color bursting in a dark sky. It was a fun way to set the stage. For the second party, we decided to go with simple and elegant to fit the audience coming. We chose a room lined with windows overlooking downtown, decorated a center table with roses, set up a sidebar with refreshments, and left an open space for mingling and signing books.

2. Delegate the details.

I still didn’t pull this off on my own. In fact, I had a moment where I almost threw in the towel. But friends and family came to the rescue. Friends volunteered to bring refreshments and plastic ware that fit the beach theme. Others donated door prizes like Fossil watches and a hand-lettered quote from Shadowed framed beautifully. Another friend set up a photo booth complete with reading glasses and chalkboards that represented different plot twists. Party-goers could grab their favorite pair of reading glasses, a chalkboard with their favorite plot twist, and enact the scene on camera.

3. Send the invite.

Gather those around you who weathered the journey with you. Those who sat through the tears and endless plot conversations, the ones who left meals on your doorstep, or talked you off the ledge when you wanted to quit. Let them celebrate this win with you! As excited as your readers will be, these people will be even more excited for you, and let’s be honest, you couldn’t have reached this accomplishment without them. Then, encourage them to bring their friends, friends who may just be curious about you as an author, who may just want to come for the party, and who may just walk away as fans of your work. Use Facebook or Evite to send a mass message so that folks can easily respond

4. Remember the journey.

Don’t forget to hit pause in the craziness and excitement Shadowed Kariss Lynchand remember. Remember from whence you’ve come. Remember the winding road that led you to this point, the road that seemed to never end and had too many bumps to identify. Remember that writing is your calling. Remember the One who gave you the story in the first place.

5. Celebrate!

Bask in the joy of completion, of your baby entering the wide, wide world. Ask a couple of your confidants to keep an eye on the refreshments and remind people to turn in their tickets for door prizes, then cut loose and celebrate. Share your heart, speak of the journey, talk about the story, smile, laugh, sell books, giveaway a few, and praise God for the gift of completion, of release day, and all He taught you along the way.

When all is said and done, clean up, sleep up, then hit the desk. You’ve got another manuscript to finish.

Struggling with Your Book Manuscript? Just Write!

Photo/TaraRossHow’s that book you’re NOT writing coming along?

I must admit, writing a book is not at all what I expected, even though it’s been my dream for a long time.

I did refer to it as a goal at one point, but someone corrected me by informing me that “goals have deadlines.” So, I suppose it’s just been a distant dream for me—until now.

Now, I DO have a deadline. So, I guess my dream graduated to become a goal. Yay!

Hold on! Why am I so happy? Did I say deadline? Yikes!

In his blog post, “The Totally Boring Process of Writing a Book,” Jeff Goins wrote about his struggle with writing a book.

I think Goins wrote this article just for me.

Wait … did he say “boring”? Why, yes—I think he did! So, what do you think?

Observer. I know some students who NEVER finished writing their master’s theses or doctoral dissertations! They completed the course work for their degrees, compiled volumes of research, but they never turned in their final papers, failing to complete their degree requirements.

I’ve also known a few professors and ministers who used their entire sabbaticals to do research, but they never finished their books. Such wisdom—still packed away and waiting in an obscure files somewhere.

Recently, I listened to several historical fiction writers confess their ongoing struggle, of not beinging able to moving from the research phase of their writing to actually finishing their books.

One writer friend completed a book that she’s been working on for 25 years. TWENTY-FIVE YEARS! Oh, she’s written other books. But this prize was tucked away for safe-keeping until her other projects were finished.

Is this a common problem for writers? I think so.

But who am I to judge other writers? I’ve been collecting research on my book for a decade. That’s why I’ve been so stalled in this phase of the writing process, gathering 10 years worth of research from every nook and cranny of my home and computer files.

Question. So, how do you break away from your research and graduate to writing?

My writing friend, Kathy, shared some wise advice she gleaned from a writers conference: “Put your bottom in the chair, and stay there until you meet your goal for the day.”

So, I wish I had the answer. Perhaps it’s simply these two words—JUST WRITE!

How do you transition from research to writing?

13 “Tells” of a Novice Writer

In the poker-playing world, professional card sharks have a term for a novice player who inadvertently gives away the cards he’s holding through some sort of gesture or tick of which he is unaware. The pros call it a “tell.”

pokerIn the publishing world, professional editors and agents look for the “tells” of a novice writer whenever they scan a manuscript. With practice, we can almost always pick out the amateur from the pro from reading just a page or two. Here’s a list of 13 Common “Tells” of an Amateur Writer that may give you an inside advantage at the publishing table.

  1. Too many clichés. If you find yourself using a common cliché–try changing it up for humor or effect. Instead of saying, “He marches to a different drum,” you might say, “She rhumbas to a different drum-ba.” You want to avoid cliches but they can also be springboards to creative alternatives.
  1. Too much telling, not enough showing. Use scene-setting, dialogue, metaphors and gestures to show your reader an emotion. Instead of, “She felt deep sorrow,” try instead, “She sat down, sighed heavily, staring out the window at nothing at all.  A slow trickle of tears turned to a river as her dam of resolve gave way to reality.”
  1. Too much preaching/didactic tone. Go through any non-fiction manuscript and take out words like “must” and “should” and any other words that feel like a finger-wagging nursery teacher who is scolding the reader.
  1. Sentences don’t vary in length and style.
  1. Manuscript is is too text dense.  Just looking at the page exhausts the eye because there are too many sentences crammed into one long paragraph, followed by another just as long.
  1. Page looks boring. There are not enough “reader treats” to keep today’s reader alert.   Especially in our current hyper-speed world, you want to make liberal use of shorter paragraphs and anything that breaks up and adds interest to the page.  Pull quotes, dialogue, lists, bullet points and stand-alone sentences here and there are some ways to keep the reader engaged.
  1. Dialogue is stiff and unnatural. The writer has not learned the art of professionally written dialogue. One sign of a pro is that they know to use a gesture to indicate the next speaker rather than over-using “he said” or “she said.” For example, rather than writing, “Joy said, ‘I love that crazy squirrel,’” a pro might write, “Joy laughed as she leaned toward the screen door. ‘I love that crazy squirrel.’”
  1. Main character is too unlikable or too perfect. Readers want to root for the protagonist so be careful not to make him appear either beyond redemption or too saintly. Make them flawed, human, and lovable.
  1. Too “Christianeze.” Christians are often blind to the phrases they’ve grown up using in church. Try sharing old religious phrases in fresh ways.  Instead of, “I’ve been redeemed,”  you might say, “I knew that God had taken the mess of my life and given me, in exchange, His love.”
  1. No transitions or weak transitions. This may be the #1 “tell” of a novice. You know what you are saying and where you are going, but your reader needs a very clear bridge from your former thought to the next or they will be confused and frustrated.
  1. Old-fashioned style. We see this in some classically trained, older writers who have not stayed current on how to grab the attention of today’s internet-savvy, fast-paced reader. Read popular blogs and note the style of writing that is reaching today’s generation of readers.
  1. Doesn’t use the art of “hooking the reader.” You don’t have long to grab the reader’s attention, so you want your first two sentences to be irresistibly compelling.
  1. Doesn’t end well. Pay attention to writers who end chapters or articles especially well. There is an art to tying up a chapter or a book. In fiction and non-fiction books alike, write a sentence at the end of the chapter that propels the reader forward, making it hard for them to put your book down. I often refer to the first paragraph when summarizing an article. (See example below where I will refer back to the “poker analogy” that started this post.)

By avoiding these common novice “tells” you will soon come across as a seasoned pro, and your chances in the game of publishing will improve considerably.

What other “tells” have you noticed that indicate an inexperienced writer?

How a Non-Writer Like Me Got Published (Part III)

(Continued from Part I and Part II)

What made me think I could write a book? I mean, really. Book writing is for experts… for people who know things. Important things. My friend’s critical feedback on the early chapters of my manuscript only served to confirm what I already believed to be true: Who would care what I had to say, or if I even had the right to say it?

The wind had been knocked from my sails and I saw no point in continuing my brief writing career.

Yet in the midst of the doldrums, I couldn’t shake the memory of that moment with God many months before. “Write a book about the gifts you were given,” I heard him say in my office. If that was really God, maybe He knew something about me that I didn’t. Maybe He had a reason… a plan.

It was just about this same time another friend of mine traveled to Israel on vacation. She invited me to write a prayer on a slip of paper for her to place between the ancient stones in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. I’ve always wanted to do this myself, but sending my prayer with her… a praise, really… was the next best thing to being there. In my note, I thanked God for the time he met me in my garage, and ultimately delivered my daughter, Annie, from the bondage of meth addiction. He had restored our family, and I still could scarcely wrap my mind around it.

Image, Jordan RiverMy friend also asked if there was a souvenir I might like from the Holy Land.

“So, um… yeah,” I replied. “Could you please bring me some of the Jordan River? Just a cup or so will do.”

Within a month, precious holy water and a few tiny river rocks had a new home on my
desk, right next to the computer screen. I transferred the water into a small Manzanita olive jar and labeled it “Jordan River” in black felt tip marker.

It was as if God’s presence had returned to my office, and I again found myself back in the business of writing. I needed feedback though. Professional feedback this time. I knew no writing professionals per se, and no one in publishing, yet my new neighbor, John Vawter, had self-published a book… about addiction no less. His book, Hit By a Ton of Bricks, had been in my reading arsenal when Annie was on the streets! John had a friend-of-a-friend with an editing business here in Bend, a fellow by the name of James Lund. He’d once worked for Multnomah Publishing in Sisters, Oregon, and became a freelancer when Random House acquired the company and moved it to New York City.

“Am I delusional to think I can do this?” I asked James Lund when we first spoke early that March. “I mean, is what I’ve written any good, or am I completely wasting my time?”

Jim was working on a project with a tight deadline but said he could give me a couple of hours in about two months.

Two hours in two months? He already sounded too important for a novice like me.

But I did hear from Jim two months later, at which time I sent him my story’s table of contents, two chapters, and a check for his time. A week later, his feedback stunned me. “You’re not wasting your time… keep writing. And I don’t think you’re going to need much help from me.”

Initially, my inner Woody Allen lamented that this James Lund person must not be very good at what he does. However, I secretly delighted in the apparent vindication from my friend’s critical review. I confess to skipping through the house chanting, “neener, neener, neener.”

Jim and I agreed to reconnect in five months, at which time I was to have an entire first Image, self editing bookdraft ready for his review. Jim also had a few tips for me. He suggested I read Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

It will help equip you with some fundamentals that will improve your writing,” he said. “Try inserting ‘beats’ in your dialogue to make it more interesting. You also want break up some of the narrative by creating ‘scenes.’ Have you ever heard the term ‘show don’t tell’?”

“Jim… what’s a ‘scene’?”

(Please stay tuned for the conclusion in Part IV, when I go from clueless to published.)

Don’t Take My Advice

IMG_2494

It’s awkward offering advice in a blog post when your advice is to ignore the advice in blog posts.

But that’s exactly what I’m proposing for fellow writers — at least sometimes.

The problem isn’t that there’s a lack of good advice in such posts. I love nothing better than reading some “Ten-Ways-to-blah-blah” post and finding the suggestions so helpful that I immediately implement half of them.

The problem is that, in this age of easy information, we don’t think enough for ourselves. That we see ourselves as consumers of others’ creativity and not inventors of our own. That we leave too much of the imagination to someone else.

Long ago, I had the privilege of writing a piece for Sports Illustrated on Dick Fosbury, the 1968 Olympic high-jump gold medalist. “Foz,” as we Oregonians dubbed him, was a gangly, uncoordinated high school kid and self-admitted high-jumping failure.

Then he got the audacious idea to scrap the traditional “Western Roll” style of jumping. Instead, he did something nobody had done before: he soared over the bar backward, face to the sky, legs bent as if dangling over an exam table.

The short-term results? Laughter from his teammates. The long-term results? He became the greatest high-jumper in the world.

By literally turning his back on the establishment, Fosbury revolutionized high-jumping; since 1968, virtually all jumpers have adopted his style.

That never would have happened had Fosbury not dared to be audacious and think for himself instead of simply settling for “the way everybody else does it.”

But isn’t that how most of us write, edit, and market — based on others’ advice?

It is for me. Then, every now and then, desperation—the same thing that fueled Fosbury’s “about face”—triggers my own creativity.

The rough draft of my nonfiction book about the first World War II nurse to die after the landings at Normandy had become so unwieldy I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

I’d written the 70,000-word book on an 11-inch laptop and I realized I had little idea of what it was long on and short on.

Conventional wisdom whispered: Let a handful of perceptive editors weigh in—and, ultimately, I would do that, of course. But I wasn’t ready for that step just yet. I needed some way to see into my story. To be in my story. And then the idea struck.

I printed out the book, double-spaced. I used colored felt pens to mark nuances I wanted to make sure were spread consistently throughout the book: dialogue, foreshadowing, action, what war smelled like and sounded like, in addition to the standard “what it looked like” perspective. And more.

A newspaper columnist at the time, I then slapped all 250 pages on three walls of our office’s photo studio—picture a dark-walled racquetball court—and, bingo, I was, indeed, inside my story. Literally.

With this perspective, I could see I had Mojave Deserts of dialogue dearth. I went chapters without letting readers hear the sounds of war. I had some chapters far too long, some far too short. I found all sorts of adjustments that needed to be made.

Never mind that nobody else but me could decipher my felt-penned hieroglyphics. In half a day—and despite a few smirks from newspaper colleagues—my mind’s focus went from fuzzy to sharp on what my book needed.

The experience opened me to other self-invented ideas to help my writing, from walking around the block while doing long edits (exercise, baby!) to discovering the gold mine of information that used bookstores offer and the Internet never will.

Among the best lessons I learned while doing the 452-mile Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (Cascade Summer) was this: hike your own hike.

And so it should be with writing. Seek wisdom from others, sure. But don’t be afraid to seek it from yourself. Like Fosbury, don’t be afraid to be a tad audacious and turn your back on the establishment.

There. Now, feel free to ignore all the aforementioned advice and come up with something better yourself.

The Anatomy of a Scene

Learning to craft good scenes for your novel is a foundational tool in your writing tool kit. Think of the scenes as the building blocks you use to construct your masterpiece. If they’re faulty or incomplete, what will the building look like?

SceneBut there are as many blog posts about writing a scene for your novel as there are varieties of ice cream sundaes at your favorite summer hang out.

So why am I writing one more?

Because when it comes right down to it, writing a scene isn’t as hard as it seems. You only need to break it down into four major parts:

Beginning: When the scene begins, does the reader know when and where this is taking place, and whose point of view it’s in? If not, you’re in danger of leaving your reader stranded in the land of floating heads. YOU may know exactly what your characters are seeing, feeling, etc., but does your reader?

Middle: The midsection of the scene should take up the most time. A sentence or two into the scene, after you’ve given your reader the information they need, start increasing the tension and continue to the turning point.

The turning point is the main purpose for the scene. It’s where the reader learns something new about the character, or the character learns something new about himself or someone else, or a decision is made.

There are a lot of different ways this can be played out, but the main thing is to make sure the scene contributes to the flow of the story and moves things forward.

End: Does the scene resolve itself? The character(s) involved should make a decision or take an action as a result of the turning point.

And finally: Is there a hook at the end of the scene that will make the reader continue on to the next scene? Without a hook leading your reader further into the story, there is no reason for them to turn the page.

And here’s a homework assignment: Look at a scene in your favorite book. Does it have all four of these elements in it? What exceptions did the author make, if any? Now do the same with one of your own scenes.

What did you learn?