When Our Story Worlds Come Alive

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For writers, there’s nothing quite as thrilling as breathing life and love into our characters and stories.

Our hearts beat for those creative moments when fact meets fiction in bold new worlds. We’re eager to get words on the page and begin our journey.

From the moment I envisioned the sleepy little town of Ruby, Missouri, ideas flowed. The Ozarks and her people are my heritage. The way of life here, unique. Modeling my fictional town after the place I grew up and loved seemed only natural.

I know these hills and hollows. Where better to glean story fodder, witticisms, and character sketches?

Where better to unearth challenges met and hope restored?

My story worlds come alive when I consider not only the story, but also how the setting makes me feel. Fictional Ruby, Missouri, my down-to-earth little niche, embodies warmth, humor, and nostalgia.

My imaginary world also strikes a poignant chord regarding faults, foibles and second chances. Toss in a little grace and mercy extended, and my stories are the ideal heartfelt, homespun fiction blend.

While writers’ story worlds aren’t without blemish, that’s what endears them to us. Perfect is boring.

Readers want to immerse themselves in worlds that take them away.

We want to believe, too, there are fallible people just like us who strive toward a higher purpose—something beyond our present, imperfect state.

Two decades ago when Jan Karon burst on the scene with her beloved Mitford stories, the world was smitten. Everyone, everywhere, talked about Mitford. The tight-knit, small-town community appealed to those who longed for a simpler way of life, devoid of the worldly chaos so easily accessible elsewhere.

We immersed ourselves in the region, the people and their tales.

From the tiniest details to the more complex matters, Mitford entranced and beckoned. We wanted to visit the fictional village whose heartwarming charm tweaked our emotions and primed our thinking.

This was a world where we could lose ourselves. The world many of us wanted to believe truly existed beyond the spine of a book.

As a reader, Karon’s novels appealed for all these reasons. As a writer, I admired her sharp wit, her down-to-earth style and her clever turn of a phrase. The fact that her work continues to draw fans, both in the general and inspirational markets, communicates a strong message.

When story worlds come alive, all bets are off.

Readers are willing to cross preconceived barriers when stories and story worlds resonate. We’re also willing to search for those stories beyond the typical go-to confines. This is one reason Christian/inspirational fiction is evolving. Readers’ desires may wax and wane, but one thing’s clear.

Bookstores’ designated sections might influence where we initially peruse, but at the end of the day, we go to those books (wherever the physical location) that spark interest and meet a need.

Yes, concerning books, categories are needed and necessary.

And yet, some genres should consider casting a wider net to reach more readers, thereby meeting twenty-first century needs.

Does that mean compromising our brand’s integrity?

Does it mean devaluing all we hold dear?

Absolutely not.

I think, though, in today’s fiction we’re remiss if we don’t incorporate threads that reflect today’s issues, concerns, and dilemmas.

Don’t misunderstand.

That doesn’t mean we use language or situations that would deflect from our message.

It means we weave realistic choices and outcomes into our storylines that make our story worlds believable, endearing, and hopefully, enduring.

In my own heartfelt, homespun story worlds, I want folks to know everyone—with baggage or not—is welcome.

I want readers to have a seat, nibble some pie, and feel a little love as we fellowship together, despite being different.

Because the thing is…

Great stories unite humanity…

Regardless of the real world or the story worlds we create.

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Original Image Credit: CCO Creative Commons/Pixabay

Tell us about your story world. What do you find most challenging? Most rewarding?

What makes a story come alive for you?

Do you think a great story has to have a happy/hopeful ending?

 

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Cynthia writes Heartfelt, Homespun Fiction from the beautiful Ozark Mountains. A hopeless romantic at heart, she enjoys penning stories about ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. Her debut novel, the first in a three-book series, releases with Mountain Brook Ink July 2019.

“Cindy” has a degree in psychology and a background in social work. She is a member of ACFW, ACFW MozArks, and RWA.

Besides writing, Cindy enjoys spending time with family and friends. She has a fondness for gingerbread men, miniature teapots, and all things apple. She also adores a great cup of coffee and she never met a sticky note she didn’t like.

Cindy loves to connect with friends at: http://www.authorcynthiaherron.com/

She also hangs out here:

http://www.twitter.com/C_Herronauthor

http://www.facebook.com/authorcynthiaherron

http://www.pinterest.com/cynthia_herron/

For love, fun, and encouragement ~

Sign up for Cindy’s monthly e-NEWSLETTERS

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Before You Release Your Words Into the World…

If you’re writing a book you hope to see published, your words must serve the reader.

  • Maybe it’s a memoir.
  • Maybe it’s self-help book.
  • Maybe it’s the story of a remarkable relationship.
  • Maybe it’s tips about gardening.

No matter what you are writing, it has to have value for the reader.

So before you send your proposal or manuscript to an agent or editor (or before you send it to me to review!) imagine that the agent/editor/publisher will be reading your words with one question in her heart: What’s in it for the reader?

Questions I want you to ask, of your proposal/manuscript, before you release your words into the wild…

  • What is the value, for the reader, in this book?
  • When she finishes the first chapter, does she want to keep reading?
  • When she’s really tired, is there a reason for her to keep turning pages?
  • Does every sentence, every page, every chapter serve the reader?
  • When she finishes, can she articulate the single important takeaway of the book?
  • When the reader sets this book down, has she gained something from it that she wants to share with a friend over coffee?
  • Does she want to buy a copy for her sister because the book had so much value?
  • ls she able to apply what she’s learned to her own life?

If the answer to some of these questions is either “no” or “I don’t know,” I want you to return to your word-baby and review it one more time through the spectacles of an agent or editor. Name the value–write it out–that the reader gleans from each chapter.

If you can’t identify the takeaway value for the reader–the “payoff” for purchasing your book–then work at it until you can.

Ultimately, “your” book is not about you. It’s about the reader.

Serve the reader.

This post first appeared on Margot’s blog, Wordmelon

Defining Real Writing Success

The new year has come and gone, and we’re in the full throes of fresh starts, new goals, and updated resolutions. This has me thinking about the definition of success — and more specifically, defining real writing success.

Most authors would say success is selling thousands of books, which means reaching thousands of people. It’s a worthy goal and necessary if you want to write professionally, long-term. But lately, as I’ve considered the time and energy required from an author, I realize the importance of balance. I’ll explain.

The more contracts I sign, as speaking engagements multiply, and because I’m selling more books, I’ve gotten a glimpse of the future. And it can go in one of two ways.

I don’t struggle with self-discipline as some do; instead, lately I’ve noticed my struggle to relax. When I can’t unwind, it’s time to make a change.

I have a choice. I can pour even more of my time and energy into my writing and speaking career, and to a degree, I need to, but I must exercise caution. As a natural workaholic, I could slip into a regular routine of fourteen to seventeen-hour work days. Because of deadlines, commitments, and special opportunities, there are times when I need to pull a writing day like that, but if it becomes the norm, I’m in danger. There’s a fine line between protecting your writing/speaking time and neglecting your family and close friends.

Life is Better with Friends

Recently, I imagined what it might look like to work myself into a frenzy, reaching success as many would define it, only to realize I might stand alone at the top. If we don’t have friends and family to share and celebrate with, what are we working so hard for?

This epiphany has put me on a mission to usher some balance back into my life. I adore the days I get to sequester and write, but I equally love spending down time with my family and friends. Both are valued activities to me, and they deserve equal time.

My work ethics and integrity are intact, but I am choosing to slow down enough to breathe  deeply, while on this crazy, thrilling, and daunting writing ride. To me, defining real writing success is simple.

I have goals to write and sell many more books, but part of my planning strategies now include more time set aside to enjoy walks with friends, cups of coffee with people I respect, and to laugh often with my family. I want to catch up on life, and I believe by doing so, I’ll have even more to write about. I don’t want to “make it” as a writer, only to look around and discover I’m perched in a precarious position — standing all alone.

How do you maintain balance between your writing and real life? 

20 Ways Writers Spread Joy

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You’ve heard it said before. The writing life is not for the fainthearted.

In addition to the actual writing, marketing, and everything our craft entails, there’s an added dimension. Because our work is solitary in nature, sometimes, loneliness nips at our heels. Toss in a few life events and trials, and we have the perfect recipe for conflict—an element integral to great fiction.

The reality is it’s real life. Our lives. And sometimes, it’s difficult for us to talk about what we’re going through. Transparency is tough. Uncomfortable.

The good thing?

When we experience heartache, we view others’ hardships through a fresh lens. We’re inclined to nitpick less, listen better, and love more. We’re considerate of the process and we’re moved to pay it forward.

 

Here are 20 ways writers spread joy:

 

1. Joy-minded writers write something worthy. They take the high road. They uplift. Motivate. Inspire. Love.

2. They comment, retweet, and share. They are intentional. They multiply fabulous thoughts!

3. They mentor others in their journey. Fifteen minutes, one day, a week, a month, or longer.

4. They lend an ear. And keep a confidence.

5. Joy-minded writers encourage. They offer a kind word. A smile. A hug.

6. They pay it forward. When someone extends a kindness their way, joyful writers keep the ball rolling!

7. They are authentic. They say the very thing you wish someone would have said to you. And they mean it.

8. They deliver a pep-talk. They accentuate the positive. They reboot a day gone south.

9. They share knowledge. Joyful writers aren’t selfish. If they know something that will help, they happily bear glad tidings!

10. Joy-minded writers toot others’ horns. They shine the spotlight on friends’ accomplishments and lavish praise accordingly.

11. They show appreciation. They send encouraging e-mails, cards, and well-wishes. Sometimes, they even mail goodie packages!

12. They solve a problem. They help without being asked. They “fix things” that are within their power to fix.

13. They compliment (and complement.) They find something good to say. They bring out the best without hidden agendas.

14. Joy-minded writers brainstorm. They weed through the “noise” to help with solutions.

15. They pray. They bear others up when the going gets tough.

16. They follow through on promises. Their word is their bond. If they commit, they finish the task with a joyful mindset.

17. They challenge. (In a good way.) They inspire others to rise to new heights.

18. They hook up. They link back to favorite websites and highlight folks in their sidebars.

19. They generate excitement. They host guest bloggers, offer book reviews, giveaways, and influence free gratis.

20. Joy-motivated writers stay the course. They persevere when, sometimes, they’d rather not, and they encourage others to do the same.

Today’s post is dedicated to those writers who spread the love—day in, day out, and expect nothing in return. I appreciate you and I know the folks you bless do, too!

 

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Original Image Credit: Engin_Akyurt/Pixabay

How will you spread joy this week?

How has someone shared joy with you?

What’s one thing that encourages you the most in your writing journey?

 

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Cynthia writes Heartfelt, Homespun Fiction from the beautiful Ozark Mountains. A hopeless romantic at heart, she enjoys penning stories about ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances.

“Cindy” has a degree in psychology and a background in social work. She is a member of ACFW, ACFW MozArks, and RWA.

Besides writing, Cindy enjoys spending time with family and friends. She has a fondness for gingerbread men, miniature teapots, and all things apple. She also adores a great cup of coffee and she never met a sticky note she didn’t like.

Cindy loves to connect with friends at: http://www.authorcynthiaherron.com/

She also hangs out here:

http://www.twitter.com/C_Herronauthor

http://www.facebook.com/authorcynthiaherron

http://www.pinterest.com/cynthia_herron/

For love, fun, and encouragement ~

Sign up for Cindy’s monthly e-NEWSLETTERS

How to write a GREAT book

What makes a book a great read?

If someone asked me to name the best books I read in 2017, four immediately come to mind: Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore, Be Strong in the Lord: Praying for the Armor of God for Your Children by Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers, and Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.

But if you asked me why they were the best books of the year for me, I would have specific reasons for each. I choose Walker’s book because it literally changed my behavior in two ways: I now try to get more sleep to improve my health, and I refuse to drive a car if I’m in the least bit tired (yes, he scared the heck out of me with statistics!). Moore’s book impressed me deeply with its story of women who suffered terribly, yet fought industry to make it responsible for employees’ health on the job. Be Strong in the Lord deepened my faith for both my children and myself, and Picoult’s novel gave me new eyes and a new heart to confront racism in America.

These books changed my behavior and attitudes in specific, concrete ways. I am a different person because I read them.

And that is ultimately what makes a book a great read: it meets the reader where she lives, and changes her.

Book design, reviews, buzz, brilliant writing, thorough research, perfect plotting – authors dream that all those things will come together in their books to make it a bestseller, but the key to every book’s success, I believe, is in how the author connects to the reader about something important to that same reader. This means, naturally, that there exists a myriad of topics a writer can address (and they do!), which also means many – actually, probably MOST – books will never appeal to every reader, and because of that, every author needs to be mindful of the particular audience for whom they write. To best serve that audience, however, the successful author has to dig deep into his own wants and desires, unearth the most compelling, most universal, needs he can share with his readers, and then translate that into the written word.

The words “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone” are attributed to Ronald Reagan. Likewise, every book can’t be a great read for every reader, but for some reader, some book can be a great read. As you set forth on your writing journey in 2018, I hope you write that great book for some reader.

Who knows? You might even change my life.

New Year’s resolutions…or not

Well, this is embarrassing. I thought I’d write a post about writing resolutions for a new year by reviewing my resolutions for 2017 and noting how I did.

But I can’t find my list of resolutions.

Anywhere.

So I either 1) put it somewhere I wouldn’t forget, and I’ll find it in another six months or so, or 2) the dog ate it, along with several grocery lists and the instructions for assembling my husband’s new bike, or 3) I never made a list in the first place.

I have a suspicion it’s door #3: I never made resolutions for 2017.

And here’s why:

  1. Years ago, I realized I didn’t have to wait for a new year to begin new habits or improve on old ones. Making resolutions is really procrastination, waiting for the right moment to begin a new project or make a change. Every writer I know has learned the truth – there is no ‘right’ moment to start writing. A new year is not going to magically make it happen. You just have to sit down and write. Now.
  2. Resolutions sugarcoat tough realities. Of course, a writer resolves to write a book every year. Some years, that actually happens. Yippee! Other years, that ambitious resolution gets buried by the nuts-and-bolts of marketing the last book you wrote, preventing you from even picking a topic or plot for the new book you wanted to write this year. Or you have a family crisis that demands all your attention and energy. Experienced writers know that life happens…and when it does, writing resolutions go out the window…until those same writers are ready to process what they’ve experienced and incorporate it into their next book, which may not be the next book they thought they’d be writing.
  3. Resolutions are limiting. Again, life is full of surprises, and when a writer feels tugged in a new direction, an old resolution can be inhibiting. Why keep hammering away on that novel you’ve worked over for years, when an unexpected opportunity to write (or co-write) a self-improvement book presents itself and you find yourself drawn to it? Good writers know they need to welcome growth opportunities, sometimes even before they finish old projects.

So you won’t find me writing resolutions for 2018 in the next week. Instead, I’m going to rejoice in all the satisfying things my writing life brought me in 2017: learning how to build my own website, hearing from a growing number of readers how much they enjoy my books, an unexpected nomination for a Christy Award from my publisher, invitations to speak to groups, returning to writing a blog, sharing my faith with published devotionals, and mentoring new writers.

Wait a minute. I am going to write one resolution after all. And here it is: Thank God every day for the gift of writing.

I know I can remember that. And I’ll never have to worry about the dog eating it, either…

Happy New Year, writers!

How about you? Do you make resolutions?

12 Unique Last Minute Gift Ideas Writers Can Give for Christmas

Has the date snuck up on you? Maybe you were hunkered down all of November to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge. Or perhaps you’ve got a book deadline, and the focus on your writing sphere has kept you from realizing what’s going on in the real world. Yikes!

If you are a writer who’s run out of time and you still have a list of people to get gifts for, then this post might just give you hope. I’ve compiled some unique gift ideas for writers — since we have the ability to give thoughtful words. Not only are these personalized items special, but they are inexpensive (some nearly free), and they hold the potential to make a lasting impact. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get writing and giving!

12 Last Minute Gift Ideas for Writers

  1. The Story of Us: Write a condensed version of your special moments with the gift recipient, the traits or talents you especially appreciate in them, or a shared dream. How did you meet? Did you watch them enter the world?
  2. 12 Things I Love About You: Write one for each month and print them on cardstock — if you add pictures, you can make a calendar.
  3. Crazy Love Directional Christmas: You can use the sample template here, or write your own from scratch. But however you craft the story, have your family members bring a $10 or less, unisex, wrapped gift for the game. Stand in a circle, and every time the words right, left, back, or forward are read from the story, everyone passes their gift in that direction. When right or left is said, each person should hand off to the person on that side of them. When they hear back, the gift goes back to the person who had it last. Each time forward is said, pass the gift to the person across from you. Whatever you’re holding when the story ends, becomes your gift. 
  4. Dedicate a Blog Post or Series to Your Recipient’s Favorite Cause: In honor of your loved one, spotlight a social issue they care about. 
  5. Write a Personal Tribute or Family History: Write an accolade or look up the origin of family names. Print on decorative paper, then frame for hanging.
  6. Warm Up Cold Cash With a Personalized Touch: Fold up bills and place them and coins in the slots of an empty candy box, like Whitman’s. Add a customized note, that you place on top, using monetary terms to define the way you feel about the relationship. A few lines to consider: You can’t appreciate me a quarter as much as I appreciate you. I’m ten-fold better off because you are in my life.
  7. Money Balloons: This is another unique twist on giving money. Place folded up bills, coins, and appreciation notes inside un-aired balloons, then blow them up no more than a few hours before your special someones will open their gifts.
  8. Blessing Cookies: Make your own fortune cookies with special messages just for the person you’re gifting inside. Instructions here.
  9. Willy Wonka Golden Ticket: Make up your own golden ticket based on something your recipient likes. Include a note about why you want them to have this. Research and write out economical ways to visit one of their dream vacations.
  10. Punny Gifts: Add humor to the holidays and make Christmas a little bright and funny with these delightfully punny gift ideas.
  11. 5 Things That Make Me Grateful I Know You: Write out a gratitude list specific to the person you are gifting. (Use the examples listed below or come up with your own complimentary comments.)
    1. The way you make me laugh
    2. Your kind heart in helping others
    3. Your generosity with strangers as well as friends
    4. Your talent with a hammer and nails
    5. The special way your nose crinkles when you smile
  12. Check Out More Creative Money Ideas here: Just put your special writing twist on whatever you give. The gifts of our words can be the most priceless present of all.

What’s your favorite gift idea from the list? Do you have a unique way to use writing for gifting?