Pantser or Planner?

All writers are created differently.

We can sit in the same classes, but each of us holds different stories in our hearts and minds. Each of us has our own voice. Each of us has our own process or lack there of when we work on our books.

Thank the Lord we are all so different or we wouldn’t have a variety of stories and books filling the shelves and internet. But no matter how different our process or our stories, there is a rhyme and reason to structuring our novels.

I just got back from the Deep Thinkers Retreat through My Book Therapy where we focused on story and structure. Both Susie and Rachel write fantastic books. Both have different processes. As I sat listening to how they process and plan, I realized that I fall in the middle of their styles. I’m a planning pantser. Like how I just created my own title there?

Planners need an outline, a very specific structure. The story is mostly written before they begin. They just have to weave it. Pantsers don’t like the structure. They have it all in their head and heart and want to sit down and write however the story leads. There is a beauty to both. There is also a danger to both when we overcompensate. It is important to focus on story structure. It makes the story cohesive, focused, and strong. There is also a beauty to allowing yourself the flexibility for letting the scene change.

Historically, I write a very brief outline, focus on some character development and personality, and then hit the page. Often the structure would overwhelm me and make me feel boxed in, so I would toss my hands in the air and just start writing because there I find the freedom to breath.

After this retreat, I have realized I need the structure, I need to plan. I know how and have the tools to accomplish this in a manner that makes my character and plot sing. Then I need to use that to allow the words to just flow.

So where do you fall on the wide spectrum of writers? If you are a planner, plot that thing out. Know the ins and outs of your character. My boss always says to “plan to be flexible,” and I would echo that with your writing. No person, place, or thing is without the ability to change, even if only a little. No matter what you plan, the story will probably change as you write. Enjoy the process!

And for all my pantser friends out there, own it and enjoy! I would encourage taking a little time to make sure it all connects and then rock that flexibility.

I am discovering that I don’t need to follow the process of other writers. They are succeeding with their writing not because they all write the same, but because they have owned their voice, story, and process. Perfection isn’t the end goal. I would argue that connection with reader and excellence in the story is more important. However it works best for you, get that story on the page, write from the voice that God gave you, and do it to the best of your ability as unto the Lord and not unto man.

Are you a pantser or a planner? What works best for you?

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Top 10 Ways to Finish a Book

Kariss editingAs I write this, I have just finished up a few days in St. Louis at the ACFW conference. Any other attendees feel like they drank from a fire hose? I’m still digesting all I learned. Still thanking God for orchestrating the meetings He did. As I talked to published and pre-published authors alike, a trend began to emerge.

Those who want it bad enough have the discipline to finish.

Unfortunately finishing doesn’t immediately equal a contract. Some pre-published authors have multiple completed manuscripts stuffed in drawers still waiting to be read. To you, I say, “Keep writing and keep pursuing publication!”

To those working on the first book and struggling to finish, life happens. It happens to those with deadlines. It happens to those with contracts.

It happens.

In the publishing world, life revolves around deadlines, and somehow you have to find the will and way to “let your yes be yes” and fulfill your commitment. Editors want to know you can finish and finish well before they invest in you. Before you comment with the specific circumstance that hinders you from finishing that manuscript, let me just say that I get it! And I want to help.

My creativity is officially angled towards my third book now, and as I work to finish that one in the next ten weeks, I can confidently share with you what it took to finish Shaken and Shadowed and what it will take to finish Surrendered.

  • Turn off your inner editor and write. I’m not a scientist, but I feel the tug of war in my brain when I try to think technically while thinking creatively. Write. Be creative. Edit later.
  • Pick your favorite caffeinated beverage and keep it handy. I became a coffee drinker about a month after I signed my first contract.
  • Select a time of day, place, and schedule that works for you! I’ve tried to become a morning person, but my best writing happens at night. Why fight my body clock? I love to sit in my room or on my patio in the quiet of the night with a candle burning and my creativity racing full speed ahead.
  • Alert your cheerleading squad. I have a group of about 20 ladies who consistently ask me about my writing schedule. They know when I have a deadline. They help me process. They are my test subjects when I need a reader’s perspective. They see the tears, laughter, creative passion, and the frustration. They know and they encourage me. Find your team.
  • Set healthy boundaries. I work full time, write on the side, volunteer in a young adults ministry, have Bible study, and time with friends and family. BALANCE is key.
  • Know that life will happen and work around it. This year, I’ve experienced family emergencies, my brother’s wedding, ministry situations, work crises, and somehow the writing gets done. I set my schedule and adjust when necessary. If I miss my word count because of something I can’t help, I make it up.
  • Cook ahead of time. Don’t forget to work out. Take care of yourself! Eating correctly and working out gives you energy to juggle everything.
  • Prioritize what’s important. For me, it is making sure to focus on the relationships I currently have. The Lord has sovereignly placed me in my city, my family, and my job right now. I need to be present where I am while saying no when necessary to hibernate and write.
  • Trust the Lord. He knows your journey. When you feel like nothing is happening, trust that He is working behind the scenes.
  • Just do it! Finish strong! You will go from pre-published to publication. But it takes discipline. And chocolate and caffeine. But mostly discipline. And prayer. Tons of that.

What else would you add to this list?

Working with an Editor

Kariss manuscriptsThey say that all good things must come to an end. Sadly, the same holds true in writing. As you turn your manuscript in to the publisher, you abdicate your position as ruler of your own fictional kingdom in favor of an advisor who tells you all the wonderful things you did wrong and how you can fix them. (For example, my editor would have asked me who “they” is in that opening line.)

But this “bad” thing doesn’t actually have to be bad. In fact, think of it as iron sharpening iron. Who knows your story and characters better than you? And who better to help you improve than an unbiased person who likes to read and knows a whole lot about writing and how to craft a story?

I am by no means an expert, but as I edit my second book, I realize how much I learned while editing Shaken. As you prepare your book for the editing process, here are some ways to prepare yourself, as well.

1. Check your pride at the door.

First of all, realize your editor is there to HELP you, not hurt you. Don’t take it personally. I thought I understood that, but I didn’t really grasp it until I received my first round of notes. Then my pride took a nose dive and shattered in a very ugly pile around my feet. This process is meant to refine both you and your story. I tend to write in a steady stream of consciousness, wrapped up in my story world. It takes someone looking at it from the outside to show me where the issues are and help me to change them.

2. Kill your darlings.

In Texas, we call this “killin’ your darlin’.” Your editor believes in your story, too, or they wouldn’t spend countless hours helping you. They want to make it better, but sometimes that means cutting important characters or scenes you love. This is the part I hated in the editing process.

It is challenging to dig into your story, delete scenes, and create new ones where you originally imagined something different. There were times my editor suggested a line of copy or dialogue that made me cringe, not because she wasn’t right, but because it wasn’t in the exact voice my character would have said it. Here’s where camaraderie came into effect. She could see the holes. I could keep the story true. We made a great team. Killing my darlings made my story stronger.

3. Fight for your story.

This may seem to contradict the previous point, but trust me, it doesn’t. Like I’ve said before, NO ONE knows your story or characters better than you. Here’s where discernment comes into play. At the beginning of the editing process, my editor asked me to cut several characters. No matter how much I played with this request, something didn’t sit right. So I fought for these characters, explained the role they would play in future books, and stood my ground. I knew keeping them would benefit the story. Once I explained their importance (and not just my emotional attachment), my editor listened and immediately replied with ways I could make these characters even stronger than what I had in mind.

It turns out that the characters I fought to keep have been some of the favorites for readers. If you know in your gut something needs to stay, fight for it. Just make sure to check your emotional attachment at the door and identify exactly why this piece adds to the story.

So, take what I’ve learned. Add your own insight. And I’ll add to the list after I finish this round of edits. I never want to be a bratty author who says I know best. I do want to collaborate. Yes, I know my story, but I need people who will help me make it better. I’m pretty excited about the possibilities. Bring on the next challenge.

What lessons have you learned while working with your editor?

WordServe News: January 2014

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

ScrapsBarbara Cameron released Scraps of Evidence (Abingdon Fiction).

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ForgivingLeslie Leyland Fields released Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers (Thomas Nelson).

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WintersPromiseKen Gire released Winter’s Promise (Harvest House Publishers).

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FleshHugh Halter released Flesh (David C. Cook).

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HandsofDarknessHeather James’s Hands of Darkness (Kregel). This is book #2 in the Lure of the Serpent series.

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ShakenKariss Lynch’s debut novel, Shaken, releases February 4th (Charisma Media).

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The KnightTara McLary Reeves and Amanda Jenkins released The Knight and the Firefly (B&H Kids).

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YouFoundKeith Robinson released You Found Me (Regal Books). His first book!

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RethinkDave Stoop released Rethink How You Think (Revell).

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WayfarerJanalyn Voigt released WayFarer (Harbourlight Books). This is book #2 of the Tales of Faeraven series.

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LifeComesBackTricia Williford released And Life Comes Back with (WaterBrook Press). Her debut book!

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New WordServe Clients

Linda Kuhar, miraculous cancer survivor, Certified Christian Life Coach, and teacher on Proverbs 31 Ministries Online Bible Studies’ Executive Leadership Team signed with Alice Crider.

New Contracts

Arnie Cole and Michael Ross, in combination with Back to the Bible Ministries, have signed a 13 book contract with Barbour Publishers to launch a series of books in the “goTandem” line, primarily direct-to-church, in support of the goTandem Bible engagement app being launched May 1st of this year.

Tami Weissert signed with Authentic Publishers for a book with a working title of Off the Page (and into your heart), 12 stories of how women in different stages of life engage with God’s Word.

What We’re Celebrating!!

FlightCongratulations to Capt. Dale Black and Ken Gire. Their non-fiction book, Flight to Heaven, made the New York Times Best Seller List!

Wounded Women of the Bible co-author Dena Dyer was recently honored with two “Best Of” awards for her articles on The High Calling, an online magazine sponsored by The Foundations for Laity Renewal. The two articles, chosen out of hundreds which ran on the site in 2013, were Resting my Mind in the faith category and Confessions of a Homeschooling Mom in the family category.

Amy K. Sorrels, author of soon-to-be-released How Sweet the Sound, received a wonderful review in Publishers Weekly: “Debut inspirational novelist Sorrells opens her story powerfully, with a rape and double murder within the Harlan family, who grow pecans in Bay Spring, Ala. This strong stuff is Southern gothic, but it’s also biblical, a retelling of the story of Tamar, who is raped by her brother, a son of King David. The story of this event and its tangled consequences is narrated alternately by Anniston, who is 13 and has seen her father murdered, and her aunt Comfort, the rape victim. The family’s secrets emerge, even as healing, propelled by faith, begins. Sorrells’s ambitious work has beautiful elements, chief among them the strong voice of Anniston. Others need work: Princella, the Harlans’ matriarch, could use more development and subtlety, and so could the prose (“The haze of quiet sunlight floated into the room like a slow dance between dreaming and waking up”). Sorrells will likely move many readers of faith, and she’s worth watching. Agent: Sarah Freese, WordServe Literary Agency. (Mar.)”

Lucille Zimmerman got a guest post gig on Michael Hyatt’s blog. Here is the link to her thoughts on “The Placebo Effect.” How’d she get it? She asked. Great lesson, Lucille. Remember, the worst anyone can say is “no.”

You’ve Been “Notebooked”

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Have you ever read or watched a scene that gave you chills? The guy says all the right things, the girl responds accordingly, and the scene ends in an epic kiss that you feel down to your toes because you know that these two are meant for each other.

Those are the kind of scenes I like to write. And I’m still learning. Several years ago, I would have laughed at anyone who told me I would write romance. Don’t get me wrong…I’m definitely a romantic, but I’m more of a closet romantic who only expresses it if the situation allows. As I write, I’m learning to tap into that closet romantic side of myself. To do so, it helps to understand why people love the romantic pop culture hits.

Let’s face it: You can’t talk pop culture romance without talking The Notebook.

People mock it. Chicks dig it. He’s hot, and she’s girl next door gorgeous. Guys groan when their girlfriends “Notebook” them. But there’s a reason that The Notebook and other movies based on Nicholas Sparks’ books do so well. If you can move past your bias, you’ll identify the attracting factor.

It’s all about love. Those are the moments in the movie/book most remembered and most quoted. Think about it. You remember what Noah said to Ally. You remember the passion and tears. You remember the words, the heartache, and the victory.

You root for this couple. So what can we take away that will help us write memorable romance?

1. The scene becomes another character and sets the mood.

Whether it’s the sweeping southern scenes that make you long for small towns, front porches, and handsome gentlemen, or the throes of war that make you cheer for the soldiers on the battlefield, Sparks (and others) knows how to give the scene a personality all its own. The scene definitely sets the stage of the romance, tugging at your sympathies.

2. The characters are three dimensional.

I love following Noah’s story in The Notebook. And no, it’s not just because he’s good looking. I love watching his growth. He starts out as a gutsy teenager who works to help his family and experiences summer love. Only he doesn’t let go when the summer comes to a close. He writes, growing in the midst of recording his heart to a girl who left. Then he heads off to war with his best friend, loses him, comes home, buys a home, loses his dad, and spends some time refurbishing a house. He is no longer the gutsy teenager out to charm the girl. He’s experienced heartache, loss, success, regret, and loneliness. But then Ally comes back. He’s the same romantic guy, but more mature, calm, confident in what he wants. By the end of the movie, he is an old man still set on charming his one and only love and fully confident in their love story. Who doesn’t like to watch love conquer all?

3. The dialogue is memorable and passionate.

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Once again, I love Noah’s dialogue. This country boy is deep. Why? He realizes the cost of love, the difficulty, the pain, the joy, and he’s willing and ready to weather it all. He believes it’s worth it. And he makes us believe it, too.

4. Good, bad, or indifferent – it doesn’t shy away from cultural issues or trends.

We live in a culture of sex, drugs, and whatever you want goes. Don’t shy away from the issues. Be in the world but not of it with your writing. Some writers define love by physical relationships. We have to address how Jesus defines life and love in the midst of our romance.

5. It relates to our desire to be known, loved, and belong to something greater than ourselves.

Why is this a big deal? Because God created us for relationships, set eternity in our hearts, and said it isn’t good for us to be alone. Tap into your emotions. Let them flow on the page with every word. And in the midst of the character romance, point people to the romance they can have with Jesus.

What tools help you when writing romance?

I Told You So

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Some of the most well meaning people told me to wait to write until I get older. No way a twenty-something can write what people want to read. You don’t have enough real world experience. This is a pipe dream.

The reality of writing a book is that this is a tough job, tough business, and not everyone succeeds. So often the people in our lives have the best intentions as they quietly attempt to redirect us. They don’t want us to be disappointed, experience the sting of failure, or struggle through pain induced by rejection.

Thank goodness the Lord has different plans. I’m thankful for those who attempted to redirect me. I’m thankful for the countless friends and family members who consistently encouraged me. Both groups helped me trust the Lord more. I imagine Him smiling down with a little chuckle and saying, “I told you so.”

I am under qualified in life experience, but I serve a big God. If fisherman can become world changers, so can I. I love what the apostles say in Acts 4:20, “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” So let’s turn that into writing advice:

1)   Write what you know.

I know the heart of young adults to make a difference and dream big. I know the pitfalls that come with learning this adult life. I know the struggles of my parents to raise kids and find a new dynamic with adult children. I know my grandparents’ joy as they pour into us and take the “friend and counselor” role because they’ve already done the parent thing.

I know the south. I know Texas. I understand different personality dynamics. I know how girls think. With a younger brother, I’ve been around guys enough to know how they react and respond.

Bam. I can take all that and craft characters, scenes, problems, and story lines. Imagination takes care of the rest.

2)   Write what you want to learn.

In the course of writing my first book, I wanted to learn more about the SEALs, Haiti, and living in the deep south. (Yep, my brain is random.) So I set my book in Alabama with a trip to Haiti and a Navy SEAL love interest. I might recommend starting out with something slightly more familiar for a first novel, but I rarely pick the easy avenue when I start a project. So here we are!

I traveled to Haiti, made friends with a SEAL, and peppered my Alabama friend with questions and requests for pictures. I worked to become an expert. I’m still a long way from perfection, but I can now speak with a working knowledge on these topics.

3)   Write from your passions.

Three things impact my writing heavily:

– Characters that dream big

– Life as an adventure

– Hope that is found in Christ

I believe we serve a big God who loves to do big things with everyday people. I believe every day is an adventure crafted by the Master Storyteller. And I believe every story ends with hope because of Christ. Forget this post-modern idea that you live and die and that’s it. We were created for something more, and my stories wrestle through hard issues that don’t always end perfectly but always end with Christ. With that fueling me, passion informs every word I write.

I don’t have to understand life, the universe, and everything. I understand my world and snapshots of the world around me. I write what I know. I write what I want to learn, and in doing so, my world expands to fuel my next novel. I write what I’m passionate about, which changes and grows constantly.

Now, I’m telling you that you can do it. You can achieve your writing dream. There were many moments when I doubted this dream would come true. But if the Lord has called, He will bring it to pass. Keep writing. Keep growing. Keep networking.

One of these days, when you get that first contract in the mail, know that you heard it here first: I told you so!