How to Refill Your Writing Tank

Feeling empty after finishing a manuscript or spending weeks marketing your books? Has burn-out become your default mode?

Then it’s past time for you to indulge in some writerly self-care. Here’s how I refill my tank:

  1. Eat ice cream. Lots of ice cream. It freezes all the synapses in your brain so you can’t think about writing, even if you wanted to. The idea is to give your brain a break, and ice cream does it every time for me.
  2. Read a lousy book. In fact, read two. It will remind you that anyone can write a book, but YOU can write a GOOD book. Pat yourself on the back. (Gratuitous self-praise is one of a writer’s most potent secret weapons when it comes to longevity in the writing business.)
  3. Go cliff-diving. (No, wait. That’s too much like writing – throwing yourself into a project not knowing where you’ll land. I guess that’s why I’ve never gone cliff-diving in real life since I do it all the time with writing. True confession: I just included it in the list to catch your attention…)
  4. 4. Take up a new hobby. Not cliff-diving (see #3 above). I’ve recently started weeding the yard, lopping off dead branches and building rustic furniture. Physical activity is good for the body, soul, and brain. (Hmmm… I just realized that my new hobbies all involve aggressive behavior: I get a visceral thrill from yanking out weeds, cutting off limbs and I absolutely LOVE drilling and pounding in nails. Let’s move right along…)
  5. Make something from Pinterest. Admit it, you’ve wasted time on Pinterest along with the rest of the world, oohing and aahing over charming hand-crafted items or exotic destinations or delightful food presentations. I took the plunge and here’s my result:(Hey, I didn’t promise it’s always pretty to refill my tank. I just offered to tell you what works for me. Sometimes, the most motivating thing I can do is fail miserably at something else and tell myself “Well, I can always write…”)
  6. Be a language vigilante. I love this one. I’ll make a point of reading every sign I see in a day and point out to anyone who’s within hearing the grammar/spelling mistakes. Big favorites are the ever-present “Your” instead of “You’re” as in “Your our most valuable customer” or “Thanks for you’re support!” I have to make a conscious effort not to carry a big fat red magic marker with me everywhere and circle the errors. By the end of the day, I once again feel like I have a firm grip on the English language, and it’s my duty to enlighten others how to properly use the written word.
  7. Thank God for writing. It’s a lot more fun than standing all day with a stop/slow sign directing traffic in a one-lane construction zone. Truly, I am blessed!
  8. Laugh! After all, God made you a writer, of all things! Talk about a great (make that OMNIPOTENT) sense of humor…

Writing About Suffering

One recent evening, a friend told me about her stepmother’s stage 4 cancer, asking for advice on ways to help her. The next morning, I received word another friend was killed in a car wreck. That evening, a different friend’s granddaughter’s baby was admitted to the hospital in an unresponsive state following a seizure. It was an emotional 24 hours. But one reason these friends talked to me about their issues is that they’ve walked with me through my own.

Lessons Learned

Have you ever noticed that when you’re about to write or teach a spiritual lesson, you walk through circumstances that make you confront your own handling of said spiritual lesson? It happens to me almost every week. I teach a weekly Bible study class and I promise you, whatever the lesson is about, I faced it during the previous week!

There is a good reason for this. It’s called authenticity. Nobody wants to listen to a Pollyanna who has never gone through tough circumstances preach about how to handle them. We all know this, but still it can be so easy to spout platitudes or quote Scriptures that seem to say everything will turn out okay.

The Right Approach

What is the right way to approach writing about suffering? Telling your personal story is a good place to start. Every one of us has faced some level of trauma or grief or physical suffering at some point in our lives. When we dare to talk about our deep hurts, it opens our readers’ hearts to hear the rest of our message because they feel a connection to us. We become real when we become vulnerable.

Reward

Therein lies the rub, as they say. It is terrifying to bare your soul to strangers. I submit to you that it may be the most difficult thing you ever do. It may also be the most rewarding thing you ever do. When I share my struggles with those I teach, an inner tension releases that I previously didn’t even know existed. And the connections I make with my class members are priceless. A bond is created that allows for more receptivity on their part.

Respect

I need to add a caveat here. Some things cannot be shared in a public forum. When there are other people involved who might be hurt or embarrassed, we must keep the situation private. We might be able to refer to it in generic terms, but we can in no way include anything that would identify them. The only exception would be if prior permission is granted.

Transparent Honesty

Readers don’t sit in a classroom with us each week and we’ll never know or hear about most of them. But they will listen to us when they read our message and learn the truth we’ve shared when they know we aren’t just spouting words–that we have lived the truth of what we say.

Do you have a message to share that involves difficulty or suffering? How ready are you to be transparent with your readers?

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Why you should write backstory you won’t use

cross-out-wordsA few years ago, I got the oddest suggestion I’d ever heard from an editor: write a few scenes between my novel’s characters that I wasn’t going to include in my final manuscript.

Say what?

I should deliberately spend time crafting scenes I was NOT going to use? How was that going to improve my book, writing scenes I wasn’t going to include in the final version?

Being the people-pleaser/non-confrontational  soul that I am, I didn’t question the editor’s wisdom, even though I thought it was nuts and a clear waste of time.  She was the editor, after all. She had to know what she was doing. So I sighed a great sigh of resignation and set to work writing scenes I wasn’t going to use in my book.

And lo! Before I even finished writing the first ‘unnecessary’ scene, I understood the point of the exercise: by creating more interactions between my characters, I was getting deeper into their heads and personalities. I was basically giving them a more complete personal history and backstory that would more accurately inform and motivate their actions on the pages of my novel. In other words, I was giving them life beyond the book, which would, in turn, make them very real within the book.

Crazy, huh?

Let me give you an example.

“This late-night conversation between Rafe and his mother doesn’t sound natural,” the editor said about a scene in my book. “Try writing another conversation between them that focuses on a different aspect of their relationship. Something from their past.”

So I did. I wrote a scene from Rafe’s high school football years, some 20 years prior to my book’s time frame. As I wrote, I imagined what this man might have been like before he matured, and how his relationship with his mother evolved. He was a headstrong teen then, and while he dutifully respected his mother, he couldn’t appreciate her wisdom at the time; that insight alone helped me revise the dialogue my editor had questioned in my book. It also changed the way I described the interaction between those two characters, and it influenced how I then changed Rafe’s interactions with his female colleague to better reflect his attitude towards women as learned from his mother.

Writing that little piece of personal history for Rafe was like shading in another part of a portrait or adding important information to a personality profile; because I knew his backstory better, I was then able to strengthen another scene in which he confronts a female assassin with conflicted respect, rather than brute force. My ‘unnecessary’ scene that I knew I wasn’t going to use actually helped me produce a more realistic hero.

What can I say? If ‘crazy’ works, I’ll take it. Especially when it improves my writing.

How about you? Have you found some crazy ways to improve what you write?

How to Write a Book in 3 Months

The following post comes from WordServe author Cassandra Soars. 

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The first book I wrote (Love Like Fire: The Story of Heidi Baker) was a ten-year process, from the day I started my research to the day it was published in April 2016. But I’ve recently discovered that writing a book doesn’t have to take that long. When a filmmaker hired me to write a book for him, I discovered some helpful tips for writing a book in draft-form in three months.

  1. Write what you know. If your project involves a lot of research, do your research first, then put it away. There will always be more to learn, and you will never feel like an expert. At some point, you need to put away the research and write from what you have learned and what you do know. Writing what you know is always easier than writing what you don’t know.
  1. Don’t try to write and edit at the same time. I have one friend who constantly studies plot and form while she’s writing, and needless to say, her process takes much longer and is much more complicated since she’s always analyzing and second-guessing her first draft. I’ve found that writing and editing are two completely different processes that use different parts of the brain, and it’s best to keep them separate. If you try to edit while you’re writing that first draft, your process will take much longer.
  1. Don’t be afraid of a bad first draft. A first draft is not going to be your best work. It probably won’t even be good. Don’t worry. Give yourself the freedom and permission to get the story down on the page, no matter how bad you think it is. After you have an entire first draft, then you can start editing. This is where you can make it shine.
  1. Give yourself deadlines. If you want to write a book in three months, give yourself a daily word count. For a longer book of around 90,000 words, set yourself a daily goal of writing 1500 words a day, 5 days a week. This will give you 30,000 words a month, and within 3 months, you’ll have written your book. For a shorter book of 60,000 words, your daily deadline is a word count of 1,000 words a day, 5 days a week.
  1. Be consistent. You don’t need to wait until inspiration strikes. If you make it a routine to sit down at your desk daily, even it’s only for an hour, you will find that there is always something that you will feel like writing about. Go with that—and give yourself permission to not follow your writing outline. Write about what you can connect with emotionally that day. Your emotion is transferred through your writing; if you feel it, so will your reader.

The best writing advice I ever got was from a college writing professor who told me that he writes a book by writing one chapter at a time. He showed me his file folders, individually marked by chapters. When he finishes writing one chapter, he puts it away in a file folder, and then starts the next chapter. Take it a chapter at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking about the entire book at once.

cassandrasoars-201x300Cassandra Soars has published various national magazine articles on a wide range of topics, including life in Mozambique, Africa, where she lived for five years. She has a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Pittsburgh. She also earned a master’s degree in international development from the University of London’s prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies. Cassandra and her husband Steve recently founded a social media site for couples called iheartus.com.

Crowd Source Marketing

finger-769300_1280There’s an old adage in marketing that says in order to get a consumer to pull the trigger and buy something, they have to hear about the product three times. There was a time when the blueprint to accomplish that was pretty straightforward. Get reviews from newspapers or magazines and get interviewed on television or radio. Then, go make public appearances at bookstores or book fairs or local meetings, and don’t forget to keep writing.

None of those were easy to accomplish and they all took a lot of work to hit the magic three, but at least there was a path to follow that thousands of authors from decades past had taken with some success.

Times have changed. Not only have they changed, they keep changing at an ever-increasing pace.

The internet opened up the world and made it so much easier for authors to reach the public directly. That’s the good news. The flip side is there are hundreds of different ways to do it and a lot of them are really good, but may not be right for you.

So, the goal becomes finding the right tools for your genre and your personality and staying up to date about everything that’s new, while still finding time to write, and then have a life.

This is where just a little organization can funnel the hive mind of social media down to the essentials. Look for groups, particularly on Facebook, that are not only devoted to marketing books but are also in your genre. If you’re in traditional publishing, include that on your checklist. If you’re going the indie route, make sure the group is too.

A few other things to add to your checklist are:

  • The group is devoted most of the time to marketing – not selling, not writing
  • It’s invitation-only, so that it’s a safe place to share and there’s some control over the postings
  • There’s a monitor who shows trolls (people who complain or bully) the door and kicks them out of the group
  • Active members who are sharing information and are willing to answer questions – lots of questions
  • Be one of those people and share when you can – admit when you don’t know enough to add to the conversation. In other words, participate.

Some of the benefits you can reap from joining together are:

  • Doing cross-promotions with others in your genre. There’s power in numbers.
  • Getting a heads up about a new site that’s working for someone. And getting a thumbs down for a site that would only waste your time and your dollars.
  • Sharing each other’s ads or promotions on each other’s social media sites. Again, it’s that power in numbers.
  • Gaining a realistic view of how well you’re doing. It’s the equivalent of your water cooler.
  • Getting applause when things go well and getting some inspirational chitchat when they don’t.
  • Testing out new blurbs for your book or, if you’re indie, testing out new covers and getting early feedback.

Everything is easier when we work in cooperation with others and come together as a team, building on the information, adding in a post to what’s already there. That’s the definition of crowd sourcing.

Since I’ve found my own peeps I’ve been able to course correct a lot of mistakes I didn’t know I was even making and I’ve come up with a streamlined ad campaign that is even more in line with my budget. Best of all, though, I’m having a lot more fun sharing ideas and cheering on my fellow authors.

Use Less Scripture in Your Manuscript (And…I love Jesus.)

bible-1031288_960_720One of my pet peeves—as an editor, as a writer, as a reader—is when authors use long passages of Scripture in their manuscripts, or pepper it with too many verses.

And, of course, now that it’s out there, I feel like I need to defend myself. So let the record show:

  1. I love Jesus.
  2. I believe that Scripture is God-breathed and has the power to transform lives.
  3. I earned a Master’s of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. (Sorry if that makes me seem like a show-off. It had to be said.)

Also:

  1. I don’t want to see too much Scripture in the manuscript you’ve sent me to edit.

I’m actually delighted to announce this grumpy thing publicly, for the first time, because I finally figured out why it gets under my skin:

Cutting and pasting large portions of Scripture into your manuscript, or peppering way too many verses into it, DOES NOT SERVE READERS.

Overusing Scripture is problematic for two reasons: it’s either too much or too little.

1. It’s too Much: Avoid Including Lengthy Scripture Passages

Problem: When readers—and I mean Christian readers—encounter long passages of Scripture in a manuscript, they tend to skim over them. From the cursory glance at keywords—“Moses,” “praise,” “sanctify,” “Jesus”—the reader determines that she’s already read this before and keeps reading (if you’re lucky) beyond the Scripture-brick to discover what he or she does not yet know.

Solution: Use a shorter passage of Scripture. When you crop the text down to the most salient verse or verses, the reader can better glean what you most want to communicate.

Example: In lieu of including the entire text of Psalm 119, which has 176 verses, give the reader a bite and tell them enough to make them hungry for more…

Every verse of Psalm 119 describes the good way God’s designed us to live. In verses 9-12, notice the words the Psalmist uses to point the reader to the good way:

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. (Psalm 119:9-12)

Path, commands, word and decrees all point reader toward the good way God’s designed. And If you read all of Psalm 119, you’ll find lots of other synonyms for this path that leads to life.

2. It’s too Little: Avoid Including Too Many Scripture Passages

Problem: When you pepper too many verses of Scripture into a manuscript, you might assume that lots of Scripture is benefiting the reader. But there actually might be more value in including less! Too many verses of Scripture can feel like being pelted by a rapid-fire Nerf gun. If the reader can’t make a meaningful connection to each passage, the verses will bounce off the reader and fall to the floor.

Solution: When you do weave Scripture into your manuscript, it’s your job to help the reader find fresh spiritual nourishment from the passage by demonstrating the connection to your message. Here are a few ways to help the reader glean as much as possible from the biblical text:

  • Provide historical context, noting time, place, speaker, culture, audience, etc.
  • Provide literary context, helping reader understand why what comes before or after this passage illumines its meaning
  • Offer practical application, demonstrating how this passage was vivified in your life of someone else’s
  • Strengthen the connection between the passage and the reason you’ve shared it

Example: “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14)…

When Jesus says, “You are the light of the world,” he’s making a radical claim! Did you know that, in the ancient near east, a nation’s king was said to be the “light” who reigned on behalf of a deity?! Jesus is saying something pretty bold, then, about the kingdom of God and about your role in it by announcing that you are the light of the world.

Finally, Scripture was never intended to become a quantity to be used, cropped, leveraged or wielded. I know that and you probably do, too. Being thoughtful about presenting Scripture in a way that it can be tasted and digested, to offer real nourishment, is a gift to your reader.

 

 

Praying for the Armor of God: A Prayer for Writers

4c62df84a873982a7e0d7d5ea11ce3a4 (1)Dear Lord,

As I come to write today make me bold and fearless. Give me words to make you known in the world. Protect me with the armor you promised in Ephesians as I pray the words from scripture.

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Give me your strength which is so much more powerful than my own strength. And your words which are so much more powerful than my own.

 

Put on the whole armor of God

Give me your whole armor to protect me as I write today. As I make myself vulnerable to others by sharing my heart and mind, take down my walls and let your armor be my protection.

. . . having fastened on the belt of truth . . .

Help me to stand firm with your belt of truth buckled around my waist. Truth protects me and gives my life and writing integrity. Help me to focus on your truth, not the world’s lies.

. . . having put on the breastplate of righteousness . . .

 Protect my heart with your breastplate of righteousness. As I strive to put my thoughts and ideas on paper I can doubt myself and feel unworthy. But with your righteousness in place over my heart, I have the authority to write.

. . . as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace . . .

 Make me ready with the firm foundation of the gospel of peace on my feet, ready to go places in my mind or places outside my comfort zone.

. . . take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;

 Lord, negative thoughts assail me like flaming arrows. “What ifs” fly at me. Critics wound me. Give me you shield of faith to stop them before they pierce me. Faith makes me strong and gives me courage to stand firm in my convictions.

 . . . take the helmet of salvation . . .

Protect me from my own thoughts. Let me meditate on things that are worthy and good. Transform my mind and give me the words that you would have me write today.

 . . . and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,

Teach me to take up your sword, Lord, which is Your Word. Your stories encourage me. Your wisdom guides me and gives me discernment. Your promises strengthen me. Your love empowers me.

Thank you for the great honor of writing for you. Thank you for your armor and protection for me.

Amen

Ephesians 6:10-11, 14-20

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Praying from scripture has been a powerful tool in our lives. Our latest series of books takes passages of scripture and guides parents and other adults a child’s life to pray God’s promises for them. Our latest is Be Strong in the Lord: Praying for the Armor of God for Your Children, September 2016.

Betsy and Laurie

www.WritingSisters.com