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!

WordServe News: June 2015

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

New Releases

Bryan Bishop, researcher with Youth With a Mission, released Boundless with Baker 9780801017162_p0_v2_s260x420Publishing

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Arnie Cole and Pam Ovwigho released in partnership with GoTandem9781630583736_p0_v1_s260x420 Resources, Managing Your Family’s High-Tech Habits.

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Rebecca DeMarino released her second book in The Southold Chronicles with Revell, To 9780800722197_p0_v3_s260x420Capture Her Heart.

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Greg Johnson and Michael Ross released in partnership with GoTandem Resources, 10 Reasons to Stay Christian in High School9781630583750_p0_v1_s260x420 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jonathan McKee with Danette Matty released The Skinny on Volunteers with Group 9781470720858_p0_v2_s260x420Publishing.

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Bill Myers released his nonfiction title with Barbour Publishing, The Jesus Experience. 9781630589899_p0_v2_s260x420

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Michael Ross and Brian Doyle released in partnership with GoTandem 9781630583743_p0_v2_s260x420Resources, Words that Heal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Michael and Tiffany Ross in partnership with GoTandem Resources released 101 Ways 9781630583729_p0_v3_s260x420to Strengthen the Parent-Child Connection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New WordServe Clients

Matthew Mellema and Julie Parker signed with Wordserve Literary!

New Contracts

Larry Dugger signed with Charisma for his book, The Other Side of the Wilderness. Due out in Summer 2016

Karen Jordan signed with Leafwood Press for her debut nonfiction book, tentatively titled, Words that Change Everything. 

Jim Putman signed a three book contact with Baker Publishing, the first book releasing in the Fall of 2016.

Linda Znachko signed with Kregel publishers for her memoir, 13 Hours that Changed My Life. Due out in Fall of 2016.

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?

24 Ways to Develop Your Muse

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Dickens_dream

Charles Dickens’ Dream

The muse that lives deep in your subconscious is something of a sprite. You can write without her of course, if you don’t mind being methodical. But when the muse shows up, she takes your writing to a whole new level, offering plot surprises, adding in soulful wisdom you didn’t know you possessed, and giving your story a dreamlike quality.

The problem is that your muse is not easily tamed. She comes and goes at her own will. She is notoriously right-brained and knows nothing of schedules and deadlines. And yet, like the stray cat in your neighborhood, she can be lured in.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things that work with my muse. Your muse, I’m sure, has his own personality, so your mileage may vary.

  • Let your mind drift. When your guard is down, as you take a shower, walk the dog or do dishes, great ideas will surface.
  • Ask yourself tough plot questions before you go to sleep. Your mind will get to work on it without your conscious self even being aware.
  • Flirt with writing challenges that are too difficult for you. Your muse will take the dare, if you give her time.
  • Explore scene kernels. Take a snatch of dialogue or a small piece of action and set your mind to simmer for a few days before trying to expand it into a full-fledged scene.
  • Fire your internal editor. You can invite him back later once your muse has completed her work.
  • Release guilt, self-doubt and worries. The muse likes to play, so be a child at play.
  • Read poetry. It will enrich the word creator within you.
  • Write lists of random evocative words. (See above).
  • Take entire writing days. Send the kids to Grandma’s. Take a vacation from your day job. The longer you immerse yourself in the writing, the more your muse will surface.
  • Take breaks from the writing. Muses need their rest too.
  • Write dangerously. Forget the market. Forget your audience. Break a few conventions. You can always scale back later, but a few writing leaps will give your muse room to expand your story.
  • Do your research. Whether you’re writing about a Viking ship or a modern day heart surgeon, your muse can be more creative if she’s well-informed.
  • Say no. No to committee meetings. No to the internet and solitaire. Writing time is golden, and it has to be protected.
  • Follow rabbit trails. Leave the outline, and see where the what-if leads. Sometimes the muse just knows.
  • Sleep well. A rested muse is more creative.
  • Conversely, stay up late. If you’re on a roll, don’t let the muse leave.
  • Do something you haven’t done before. If you’re not a singer, sing out loud. Cook exotic meals. Dance. Hike. Learn origami. Trying something new, especially something physical, releases another part of you.
  • Let your muse free while you immerse yourself in a new book or movie. She’ll extract ideas that become totally original when they mix in with your story.
  • Put it in writing. Notes have a way of kick-starting your subconscious into action.
  • Twist the story without a clue of how it will resolve itself.
  • Go outside. Sunlight and wind and grass invigorate us, and thus our stories.
  • Live mindfully. Taste what you eat. Turn off the TV and listen to the sounds in your home. Feel the words on your tongue as you talk. Bring your senses alive and it will build new grooves into your story.
  • Be patient. If your story is in knots, work on some other aspect. Meanwhile, your muse will be untangling the story threads under the surface.
  • Most of all, don’t try too hard to design the first draft. Ride the story’s waves. Control has its place, but the stories with the biggest hearts come from a place of freedom.

There is more to the mind than we know. It has multiple levels and works in ways we don’t always understand. Give those deeper levels permission, and your muse will work hard for you.

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

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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.

WordServe News: May 2015

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

New Releases

Mary Davis released Winning Olivia’s Heart with Heartsong Presents, the third book in9780373487837_p0_v2_s260x420 her series with Heartsong.

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Robert Morris, with agency client Marcus Brotherton released Truly Free with Thomas 9780718011109_p0_v3_s260x420Nelson publishers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Joe L. Wheeler released My Favorite Miracle Stories with Pacific Press.download

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New WordServe Clients

Jared Boyd and Karon Phillips signed with Wordserve Literary!

What We’re Celebrating!!

Cheri Fuller was interviewed on the Focus on the Family Radio Broadcast. Listen here. 

Lauren Scruggs and Lisa Velthouse’s book Your Beautiful Heart came in at #1 on the NYT Bestseller list for Fashion, Manners, Customs. See the full list here!

Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers (The Writing Sisters) are a finalist in the 2015 Selah Awards for The Shepherd’s Song in Women’s Contemporary Fiction.

Margot Starbuck is a finalist in the 2015 Selah Awards for Not Who I Imagined in Nonfiction Christian Living.

Shellie Tomlinson is a finalist in the 2015 Selah Awards for Heart Wide Open in general nonfiction!