“I Want to Write a Book…”

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Occasionally I’ll connect with someone who’s itchy to write. Maybe he wants to start a blog. Maybe she wants to write a book. And this potential writer is itchy to take the right next-steps to do this.

Maybe you’re that potential writer.

Without yet knowing you or your story, here’s what’s in my heart for you and other eager potential writers…

Write

Start. Begin. String words together. Gather your sentences into a meaningful whole.

It’s estimated that 81% of Americans feel they have a book in them and should write it. I don’t know the stat for people who go on to actually write them. I feel fairly confident guessing it’s not 81%.

So by sitting down at your laptop and writing, you’re well on your way.

The thing that makes any legit is…writing.

Work at Your Craft

The best writers work at their craft. There are a number of good ways to do that:

  • Attend a writer’s conference.Writer’s conferences offer great workshops to help you improve your writing. And they often offer opps to network with writers, editors, publishers, and agents. (Here’s a good listing of Christian writer’s conferences, if that’s your bag.) I’m not a conference junkie, but I do believe that there are a host of rich resources available at most writers’ conferences.
  • Join a writer’s group. Gather with writers in your area. Meet face to face to share and critique one another’s work. Or, find an online critique group. Others’ feedback—noticing strengths and offering areas for improvement—is extremely valuable in growing as a writer.

 Before You Publish…Publish

If you’re anything like me, you may secretly hope and believe that the first draft of the book that’s in your heart will become a New York Times bestseller.

Psychological professionals call this “magical thinking.”

If you’re serious about writing, begin to develop an audience.

  • Guest post on a friend’s blog.
  • Start your own blog.
  • Pitch articles to online magazines.
  • Enter a contest.

Though it can be tempting to want to dazzle audiences with that first book, either traditionally published or self-published, there’s a lot to be learned on the journey. Good writing is worth the wait.

Don’t rush.

But do start.

So You Want to Write a Book

photoHave you ever experienced that awkward “oh” followed by the nodding of the head and a slight pitying glance cast your way right after you tell someone you are writing a book? Maybe it’s just me. But it happened more often than not when I shared this little secret of mine: I wanted to be an author. But not only did I want to be, I was trying to be.

Now that my third book will soon hit shelves, those pitying looks have changed to looks of surprise and some pretty fun conversations. I continue to get contacts from friends, friends of friends, and strangers asking, “How do I write a book? Will you help me?” Originally, this overwhelmed me. A lot goes into writing a book. Where do I even begin to teach this? How do I know who will be dedicated to pursue this to the end? Major shout out to the mentors who took time to teach me. The sad truth is that not everyone who wants to write a book or says they are writing a book will ever finish it or see it published.

So how do you avoid falling into this category of a “wanna-be” or “wish-I-had?” No formula is perfect, but this worked for me and this is what I give people who ask me how to start. I had a lot of missteps. I spent a lot of money on training and books. Lost a lot of sleep. Cried a lot of tears. Wondered if I could really do this. Fell in love with characters and settings. But the bottom line is…I tried. And I’m still trying. My writing journey is still a work in progress. But I am always willing to help those who try. My guess is, if you are taking the time to read this, on some level you are serious about making your dream a reality.

  1. How bad do you want this?
    • Know that this is a long journey. How bad do you want it? Have others affirmed this gifting in you (other than your mom)?
    • Ask why this story should matter to others.
  2. Learn how to develop a story.
    • Buy books. Take classes. Do writing exercises. Join a writing group.
    • Write a couple of short stories. Study dialogue, plot, character development.
  3. Brainstorm your idea.
    • Determine what research needs to take place
    • Buy books on the topic/Check out the library
    • Write down your ideas/get something on paper
  4. Start writing.
    • Most companies won’t look at your work until you are finished. Finish the book. Write, rewrite, write again.
    • When you are finished, research publishers that print in your genre. Look into agents that represent your genre.
    • Purchase tools on writing a book proposal.
    • Pray; and be ready for rejection. If this is something you really want and others have affirmed, then keep going
  5. Connect with other writers in your stage.
    • Local writer’s groups are a great beginning, and there are also some online!
    • Develop relationships with people who love story.
    • Ask people to critique what you have, and request honest, tough feedback. Then change your work accordingly.

Prayer + Passion + Perspiration = Success

Keep writing!

Writing a Book When Life Gets in the Way

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverI should have known when I chose the title, Getting Through What You Can’t Get OverLife threw me plenty of fresh material, as one tough thing piled on top of many little distractions. Anyone relate?

With the greatest of intentions, you plan your life around that contract, basking in the after-glow of signing your name. You cut back, say no, and schedule in ways conducive to writing the next great masterpiece. But then…life.

For me, it started right after I signed the contract in April, with the loss of a dear friend to cancer, and my father-in-law’s diagnosis of a new brain tumor. This aggressive grower would require a second surgery, less than a year after he’d been through the same procedure. Only this time, he would undergo radiation five days every week, for a period of two months. Add other appointments, follow-up visits, side-effects requiring care, and my mother-in-law’s freshly broken ribs. Let’s just say as their main care-giver, it was one rough summer. And all the while, hovering over my shoulders, the contract deadline. September 1st.

So what’s a writer to do when life wants to get in the way of the writing? You take the problems and solutions, questions and lessons, the painful and the purposeful, and you write from the heart of your struggles. But there were a few practical/spiritual tidbits I acquired as I walked that long valley. I pray someone finds a nugget of help here today.

  • Don’t discount the value of brief moments. One of the most inspiring things I’ve ever read was the story of a man who wrote an entire novel two minutes at a time, because that’s all he could muster everyday due to his job/financial responsibilities.
  • This truly is a no-brainer, but bears saying anyway–turn off the social media for a while.
  • No matter how frazzled, far behind, or feverish you feel about the work you need to do, take a Sabbath rest. I can’t tell you how many times I was tempted to pick up my computer and write on Sundays, but I stuck to my commitment to honor God with that day set aside each week. I firmly believe He honored my obedience with supernatural strength and inspiration.
  • Look at your commitments through a microscope. Are there areas you can delegate? Can you humble yourself and ask for help–then accept it? Will you stop people-pleasing and say, “No,” when appropriate? Is there something you can neglect temporarily? Are there troops you can rally to teamwork? In my case, I was able to strategize with family members. We came up with a plan and took turns driving my father and mother-in-law to medical appointments. Not everyone helped, but instead of letting bitterness add to my emotional weights, I expressed gratitude for those who were willing and able.What Satan Means for Evil God Means for Good
  • Remember, what Satan means for evil, God means for good.
  • Crawl in your Writer’s Cave. I explain the process in the post link. But to date, I’ve found no better way to gain the solitude I need when those precious writing moments arrive.

It isn’t easy to pen a book, especially when life conspires to hamper your productivity. But I must say, life holds no power over the One who created it. When I asked God for help, praising Him in advance, He gave the assist. He never let me down.

I slid across the deadline exactly on September 1st. Are there parts of the book I wish I’d written better? Of course. Writing a book isn’t easy when life gets in the way, but if it was, then everyone would do it. When you finish yours, celebrate. For getting through something many never will.

What tips can you offer to those who are struggling to meet their writing commitments?

Seven Key Members of a Writer’s Team

Coxed four from aboveIt’s not any one person. It’s not any one coach. It’s the team. Brian McBride

What is true in sports is also true in writing. Becoming a published writer involves assembling a team of talented individuals who will help you write the best book possible for your readers. Here are seven key members of a writer’s team and the roles they play to help a book succeed:

1. Beta Readers – A beta reader is someone who will read and critique the three chapters of your book that you will include in your book proposal if you are writing nonfiction or the entire manuscript if you are writing fiction. You will use this feedback to improve your manuscript before sending it to an literary agent. Choose a person who loves books, belongs to your target audience, and understands how to give feedback on the big picture of your writing instead of bogging down circling typos.

Give your beta readers a time frame for completing their critique and clarify that your manuscript is confidential and should not be shared with others. A beta reader who is also a writer or who understands the publishing industry is ideal. Send your manuscript to multiple beta readers and pay close attention to feedback that is echoed by more than one beta reader.

2. Agent – Your literary agent presents your book to publishers and negotiates the sale. However, your literary agent often provides guidance and editorial suggestions before your book proposal is submitted. He or she knows the industry, so take the advice. After your book is published, your literary agent can provide marketing advice and help you develop your writing career.

3. Editor – Your editor helps you polish your manuscript to its final form, while also guiding you through the entire publication process – title selection, cover art, book design, copy editing, and choice of reviewers.

4. Reviewers – You will encounter three types of reviewers in the traditional book publishing process. The first set of reviewers, selected by your editor, provide feedback on your manuscript. You can take or disregard their suggestions when writing your final draft. However, their insights help you see your book with fresh eyes and learn how your readers might respond to certain passages. The second set of reviewers read the final manuscript and write short reviews for inclusion on the back cover of your book. You select these reviewers with input from your editor. The last set of reviewers are the readers who bought your book and decided to review it on Goodreads, Amazon, a bookstore website, or their blog. All reviewers are essential for the success of the book and the development of your writing career.

5. Marketing Director – Your marketing director will help your book find its way to readers. He or she will coordinate ad placement, mailing copies of your book to key influencers, and the work of a team of publicists. Touch base with your marketing director if you see a valuable opportunity for getting the word out about your book. Coordinate your author efforts with the marketing plan your publisher develops for your book.

6. Publicists – Publicists may specialize in broadcast, publications or online publicity. If you are fortunate to have a publisher that has a team of publicists working to promote your book, they will arrange radio and podcast interviews and connect you with print and online opportunities to introduce readers to your book.

7. Key Influencers – Key influencers are the individuals who will receive an early copy of your book from your publisher. These individuals should connect with segments of your target audience and be able to create positive buzz about your book. Choose influencers across a wide geographical area and with characteristics that represent the breadth of your likely readers.

Other individuals may join the team to help you create a valuable book for your readers, but these seven key team members make up the core of your team as a writer. Appreciate the expertise that each team member brings, and build a good working relationship with all of them.

How has working with a team enhanced your writing career?

I Am A Writer

My brother got married a couple of months ago, and our family forever changed. I gained a new sister, a new twist on life, AND a bigger family. My dad performed the ceremony and I sat with him and my brother two nights before the wedding around our kitchen table listening to them go over the vows – vows to honor and cherish and grow old.

Vows carry a certain kind of weight. In the past few weeks, I’ve found it necessary to make a different kind of vow. Not a vow to another person, a job, task, or event. I am making a vow to myself.

Kariss - Shaken in storesI am a writer. Period. End of any wondering or questions. I have all the dreams and insecurities that come with the itch of fingers to grab a pen and hit the paper.

I am a writer, and within a week of beginning work with my editor on Shaken, I emailed my mentor and told her I thought I needed to start the whole book over. I felt like I need to somehow make it better. I did that with my second book, Shadowed, too. Now my goal is to make each book better than the last.

I am a writer. We can be our own worst enemies. We can also be our own greatest advocates because NO ONE can make me finish the job but myself.

I am a writer, and I type THE END for my own benefit. It will never be perfect. But it can be something I am proud of once I push past the insecurities and just finish.

I am a writer, and I notice people in a different way. This gives me the unique desire to figure out how God wired them, to value their quirks and struggles, and to cheer them on in their successes. I know the best kind of character is one who reflects what God has already created – people. So I’ve learned to value each person individually and love his or her uniqueness.

I am a writer. I can be introverted or extroverted, depending on the situation. I can be equally emotional and analytical, which can sometimes be confusing.

I am a writer. I know the power of words, the pain they can wield or the healing they can bring.

I am a writer. I can stand back and observe a scene, using words to paint a whimsical picture or one cloaked in shadows.

I am a writer, and from what I’ve heard, we subsist on coffee and chocolate. Of course, I can’t personally verify this.

Kariss - Courage quoteI am a writer, and with that comes the necessity to be uniquely myself while God continues to mold me in the process. But when I fail to be who God made me to be, I miss out on being part of the story He is weaving in and through me. When the insecurities or the pride creep in, I vow to fight and write, because no one can write a story exactly like I can.

No one can reach my audience quite like I can.

No one can speak or create or brainstorm or think quite like I can.

I am a writer, but I am only one part of a whole community. Together, we reach a wide audience. Individually, we touch specific hearts, those that are, for one reason or another, particularly attracted to the stories placed on our hearts. When I fail to be unapologetically myself, my readers and those in my life miss out. I miss out.

So this is my writer’s vow. I vow to be unapologetically myself, to be the person, the writer, that God made me to be. I vow to grow in this craft, knowing I will fail and knowing I will succeed. I am a writer, and I want to be part of this beautiful story God is writing with my life, not just an unwilling participant.

What lessons have you learned as you grow to be the best writer YOU can be?

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?

How to Edit a Manuscript

You’ve edited a paragraph, a chapter, maybe a few chapters, but now your manuscript is Kariss editingready to go and your editor sent you back the first round of edits full of major content changes. Where do you begin?

Editing the manuscript as a whole can seem like a daunting task. Editing is a necessary evil to me. I prefer writing any day. But I’m always pleased with the end result after time spent editing.

The truth is that editing needs to be a matter of prayer before you feel tempted to knock your computer off the desk. (Kidding. Kind of.) It can feel frustrating and detailed and confining after a fluid writing process to finish your book.

Here’s the good news: If you crafted your story correctly, it should be frustrating. Just look at it as a challenge to overcome. Content edits often include tweaking details used in major story lines. You have to track each story line down and make sure your changes are consistent. If you tweak one detail, it may cause you to slightly amend a detail in another story line. I was thankful to see that my story lines were so interwoven that one change affected another but was terrified I would miss something. But don’t worry, that’s where your editor comes in to catch anything you missed. Just try to do your due diligence on the front end.

I just finished a round of edits for my second book, Shadowed. Here are some of my takeaways for a major content edit:

1) Start small.

Read through ALL of the suggestions from your editor. Weigh what she is asking. Then set the manuscript aside for a couple of days. Process the best way you can tackle the job. Pray that you will know the parts to keep and parts to cut, when to kill your darlings and when to fight.

2) Make a plan.

I found it difficult to keep scrolling through the manuscript to find all the places I needed to fix, especially when it came to juggling scenes and chapters for better time placement. Write down a knock list and cross out each item as your finish it. You will feel accomplished and know you are moving in the right direction. Even if the list is extensive, take it one step at a time. If something else comes to mind, write it down and come back to it. You can do this!

3) Take your first pass.

Start at the top and work through until THE END. Write down any questions you may have about research or editor comments. Make all the smaller changes you can make right away. For instance, I noticed I referred to an organization two different ways in my manuscript. For consistency’s sake, I used the “Find and Replace” feature in Word for an easy fix to ensure accuracy. Easy check mark on my list!

4) Attack the major problems with gusto.

It helped me to print my manuscript, make notes, and then get to work. My editor Kariss manuscriptssuggested some things that I struggled to pull off. However, when I looked at a clean, printed manuscript, I was able to take her suggestions with my preferences and style and make the changes something that fit the story better. I love to work with my hands, so it helped to have something to hold and mark up with a pen. It also got me time away from my computer screen, which gave me a great brain break.

5) Finish strong and pray.

Time for that final look. I try to make it my goal to tackle as many issues as possible so the next edit is easier. Send the editor any notes she may need to do her job well and help you. I learned on my last edit that sending an accompanying timeline saves LOADS of time for both you and the editor.

Finish by praying that God will use this for the process ahead and that the finished product will bring God glory. Take a deep breath, type that email, and click send. Your manuscript is changing, but so are you!

What lessons have you learned during editing? What process helps you?

Writing In Every Season

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I don’t know about you, but as a writer, I struggle with managing my time.

I work full time. Serve in my young adults ministry. Belong to a community group. Spend time with my family. Juggle a writing contract. Spend free time with friends. Find time to work out. Sleep somewhere in there.

For those of you who have children, I’m sure this list is much longer. Somewhere in the middle of juggling that mess, I hit seasons of extreme burn out and discouragement. Everything seems to pile on at once, and ultimately my writing suffers.

I once heard that it is vital for a writer to be mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally healthy. To be honest, I don’t know how that is humanly possible. I am rarely completely healthy in a couple of these areas at a time, and healthy definitely hasn’t described me the past few months.

In January, I received a three-book contract. I couldn’t express my excitement! But, it went down hill from there. Work demanded all my time, I wrecked my car, edits came in right as I hit the most demanding couple of weeks on the job, and conflict rose in several friendships. With all the stress, I lost my appetite and my ability to sleep. Talk about unhealthy in every area.

I wondered how I could possibly finish the edits. I couldn’t concentrate. Creativity escaped me. But I stubbornly kept plugging away. Signature

Then something clicked. My broken emotions began to pour into my character’s painful moments to a greater degree than they ever had before. Not only did I understand what the editor was requesting, but I finally felt like I could pull it off and be proud of the result!

The Lord used my weak moments to breed creativity. 2 Corinthians 12 says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Thankfully, the call and standard of a writer is not to be healthy but faithful. In times of emotional struggle, the Lord uses that brokenness to translate a truth someone can relate to in my writing. I love what the psalmist said in Psalm 139, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” If God knows our hearts inside and out, surely He can make beautiful writing flow from the inward parts of who we are, for His glory and the good of others.

Just as we labor to create a masterpiece, Jesus is in the process of molding us into His image. Sometimes He uses desert seasons to chip away excess. Sometimes He uses the mountain tops to create epic scenes. But He uses every piece of our story for His glory. We are never disqualified as writers when we can’t get it all together. Trust, obey, and write. Those messy seasons may just be used to encourage a reader, creating a mountain top moment in their life.

The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

What areas do you need to focus on in your own life to be healthy? How has the Lord used rough seasons in your writing?

10 Kooky Tips On How To Write A Book

My writing nook at home. Don’t be fooled, it looks Pier One, but really, it’s a hodgepodge of thrift store and Craigslist.

I receive emails from people asking how to write a book.

I have written a book but I haven’t actually published it (yet, God give me patience and faith).

So when I am asked, it feels a bit like someone asking a person coloring a picture in a Strawberry Shortcake coloring book how to paint a still life.

Here are 10 kooky tips that popped into my head about writing a book if you absolutely don’t know how to start:

1) Start with a dangerously low self-esteem

This is vital. If you don’t, you may not be able to handle getting knocked off the height of your perch daily from rejection. It’s much easier to begin writing from the depths of despair.

2) If you have kids, get a lock for your bedroom door

My reasoning is two-fold: 1) my bedroom is where I write, and 2) my bedroom is where I cry when I am convinced that I cannot write, and it seems to upset the children when I cry uncontrollably.

3) YOU PROBABLY NEED TO ACTUALLY ENJOY WRITING

Or at least be able to stomach it, if you want to embark on a long project. Seriously, in order to write a book, you have to spend countless hours writing, which may stop you right there. Luckily for me, I love to write and see where it takes me. I also love to sit!

4) Make sure your writing desk has an economy size box of Kleenex.

I cry when I write. I cry over a beautiful sentence (both other people’s and my own). I cry over the fact that I can’t spell. I cry about God’s work in my life rendered on the page.

5) Listen to Papa Hemingway

I talk about Hemingway often, but I believe the goal is one true sentence.

Sometimes sentences string together perfectly and send shivers up my spine. One true sentence is the payback for locking yourself in your room to write.

6) Read books

Readers usually make good writers. Some of my favorite books include “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo, “Traveling Mercies” by Anne Lamott, and “Twilight” by Stephanie Meyer. (I’m just kidding about Twilight. Sorry, not a teen vampire fan.)

Read books on craft. For memoir, I love Vivian Gornick’s “The Situation and the Story” and Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.”

7) Join a writing class

Most writing classes will require submissions and offer critique. This forces you to write. For years, I attended a memoir workshop in Chicago.

8) Buy business cards on-line and slap “writer” under your name

Call yourself a writer.

Even if you don’t have anything published, if you write, you are a writer. You may not be an author until you are published, but by golly, you are a writer. Put it out there! (And if you buy 250 business cards and have no one to give them to, the kids love to make up card games with them.)

9) Call or text or email people who love you, often

Writing is solitary. You show up and put words on paper and wonder if you actually have anything of value to offer the world. Call your mom, or your best friend, or Joe, the creepy guy at Starbucks who saw you writing one day and gave you his business card. Call anyone who loves you (OK, maybe not Joe) and ask for encouragement. You need cheerleaders. Buy pompoms and pass them out to friends.

10) Don’t write for attention

Believe me, an easier route for attention would be to hold up a Seven Eleven.

What’s your advice about writing a book?