Writing Strengths and Weaknesses

Today I’d like to share about the strengths and weaknesses in my writing in hopes of encouraging some of you.

I’ve been writing for a long time, although I took quite a few years off to raise and homeschool my two older sons.  I returned to writing three years ago and now am fairly immersed in the writing culture as I am a member of a large local writing group, a huge national writing group (most of which I participate in online), a small writing group that I started which is quite different from the first two mentioned, as well as two critique groups — one online and one that meets face-to-face.  In addition to that, I attend at least two small writers’ conferences a year and have connected with quite a few writers online through social media. In addition to all of that, I have this blog.

All that to say that I AM WRITING!  Also, I have learned A LOT over the past three years, and continue to learn daily.  One of the things I learned most recently is what I am really good at writing and what I really need to work on in my writing, novel writing/fiction writing.

So, I will start with my weakness — description/setting the scene.  You see, I have the scene and the characters so ingrained in my brain that I forget the reader cannot “see” it and I simply write the action and dialog with very little description and scene setting.  Another reason this happens is because I have heard many people, in the writing world, over the past three years, say things like, “Be careful not to include too much description because it will bog the story down”; “readers don’t want a lot of description”; “too much description can be too telling instead of showing”.  Because of these statements, I think that I simply avoided description.

However, over the past three months other writers have been explaining to me how important some description is so that your reader can picture the scenes in their minds.  I’ve been told how important it is to include the five senses.  I have some wonderful suggestions and examples from other writers that are helping me learn to do this, but I have to be deliberate about it.  I have to re-read every scene I write to be sure I included some great description and use of some of the five senses to bring my writing to life.

Yes, as I use description and the five senses, I do see my novel coming to life.  So some description and use of the five senses is important because it breathes life into the story!  This is hard work for me because it doesn’t come naturally yet.  As I said, I have to be deliberate about it, but I am finding it very rewarding, and I believe it will come more naturally the more that I do it because the more that I have done it over the past few days the more comfortable I have gotten with it.  However, I will still rely heavily upon my critiques to be sure that the descriptions I write are of good quality.

Now my strength — dialog!  Good dialog just flows from my brain onto the page.  I was recently made aware of this when several other writers and my critiquers commented and praised my written dialog.  I believe this is because I am so in tune with my characters and their personalities and character traits.  I’ve never had to work hard to write dialog.  It comes easily and naturally.

What do you find comes naturally from you for your writing?  What do you have to work deliberately on in your writing?  Leave a comment below and share.  I’d love to hear from you.

Why Connect with Other Writers?

We all know that writing is a solitary activity, and that most writers are introverts.  That is why we, writers, have to push ourselves to step out of our comfort zones and connect with other writers?

“Why?” You may ask.  “I’m happy in my little corner of the world.” You may say.

Well, writers are a great group of people.  They enjoy talking about writing with other writers.  They like to help on another along the writing journey.  I have found this to be true with every writer I have ever met.

If you’re truly happy hiding away in your little corner of the world, you can connect with other writers without stepping outside that little corner by use of the internet.

Let’s face it, as writers, we sometimes get stuck, frustrated, and feel like giving up.  That’s when it’s great to have at least one other writer we can connect with, either in person or on the internet.

In addition, we can learn from one another’s experiences.  Brainstorming with others is a lot more fun than brainstorming alone.  Critiquing one another’s work is invaluably helpful.

I have been blessed to find writers’ groups in my community that I can meet with face to face.  I have also been blessed to connect with some wonderful writers through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and an online writers’ group.

So, don’t hide alone in your corner.  Reach out and see what a bright spot you will find by connecting with at least one other writer either in your community or on the worldwide web.

Are any of you part of a writers’ group?  Is it a community group or an internet group?

A Thursday Tribute

I have never done this before, but I really feel like I need to do this.  I want to pay tribute to two people who mean a lot to me because of their support and/or contributions to my writing life.

First of all, my husband.  I just have to say how much I appreciate the way that he shows his support for my writing.  How does he do this?

He never complains about my attending all of the monthly LCW (Lancaster Christian Writers) meetings that I want to attend, which is all of them, (smile).  In reality, I usually end up having to miss one or two because of family things that come up that take priority.  He also never complains when I find a free or inexpensive one-day writing event that I want to attend, and he doesn’t mind when I leave two, sometimes three evenings a week for two or three hours to get together with other writers for critique group or to write, brainstorm and encourage each other along our writing paths.  He doesn’t complain that I spend so much time writing and participating in writing related things and yet am still not adding to the family income.  He understands that it is a long process.  I am blessed to have a husband who quietly supports me and I greatly appreciate him.

The second person I want to pay tribute to is a fellow writer who has become a very dear friend and is moving to the other side of the country, Laura Zimmerman.  I met her at LCW but our bond of friendship began when she and I both attended a one day writing workshop in the private home of a complete stranger.  We were surrounded by strangers, and I think, because we recognized each other’s faces and knew we were both part of LCW, we both felt more comfortable and we sat together for the workshop and had some time to talk a bit and start to really get to know each other.

Then when I started the weekly writing group for those of us homeschool moms who often struggle with finding time to write without interruptions in our own homes, Laura soon became a regular part of that writing group, Scribes Oasis.  She has rarely missed a night of Scribes.  Laura also encouraged me in my ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) membership, as I was debating renewing my membership.  You see, ACFW is a national organization, and though we have a local chapter, most of the best resources of ACFW happen online, and for the first entire year, I didn’t really get involved in that online community.  Again, lack of time, as family takes priority.  Laura encouraged me because she was involved in a couple of the things that the online ACFW community offered.  So, I renewed my membership and have jumped into getting involved with both feet, and I’m loving it!

Through all of these wonderful writing groups, Laura has also encouraged me in my writing.  She has offered me great advice on my writing.  She has gotten excited about stories I have written or am writing.  She has helped me talk through some issues that came up in my writing that I wasn’t sure how to improve or write well.  Laura is a little bit ahead of me in the writing world, as this year, she obtained an agent and she has submitted three story proposals to this agent already.  He has already gone over the first one and told her what she needed to do to edit the story and improve it, and she literally pulled her story apart and put it back together again, and she believes it is better than the original.  It broke my heart to see her go through that, but her positive attitude through the whole thing and the happiness she shared about the finished edited product was quite an inspiration to me.  Also, the fact that she is a homeschool mom who still homeschools three children and still finds time to crank out stories, and now, devotionals and articles, amazes and inspires me and makes me believe that I can obtain those things too.  I just need to keep working.

So, when Laura leaves after Memorial Day weekend, I will miss her so much, but I am so thankful for today’s technology which will help us to be able to remain close friends who will still be able to encourage and help each other in our writing.  Thanks Laura for your friendship and your encouragement and support in my writing.  I know God has good things in store for you and your family wherever He leads you.

How about you?  Who is a big support and encouragement to you in your writing journey?

Some Great Writing Tips

This past Saturday, I attended the Lancaster Christian Writers’ monthly meeting.  Laurie J. Edwards, who also writes under many pen names – one of which is Rachel Good, gave us some great information and had our minds churning about our current WIPs.

Three resources she suggested for writers are:  Inside Story by Dara Marks, Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, and The Anatomy of Story by John Truby.

Laurie shared that the two most commonly missed elements missed in novels are:  Character Arc and Theme (Moral Argument).  She shared that even fiction that is not specifically “Christian” should include a theme, otherwise a book may be popular for a while but it will eventually fade away.  She mentioned about current popular series for kids/teens that have great story lines and action; they keep the readers turning the pages, but at the end of the book, there’s no real takeaway because they lack a good, strong character arc or they lack a theme.  That’s why in about ten years or so, they will fade away; their popularity gone.

Laurie pointed out that all good stories should have the following pieces:

Premise:  logline, one sentence; essence of the story — every decision is based on this                          decision.

Theme:  Moral vision of how people should act in the world.  Express through action                          and story structure to surprise and move readers.

Central Conflict:  Who fights whom over what?

Fundamental Change in Character:  could the character at the beginning of the story                                                                                       do what he/she does at the end?  How and why is                                                                                     he/she different?

She shared the following from John Truby’s book, The Anatomy of Story:

Seven Steps of Story Structure

  1.  Weakness or need – moral and psychological; hero unaware of these flaws.
  2.  Desire – Story goal; must be intimately connected with need.
  3.  Opponent – not preventing hero from goal; wants the same goal.
  4.  Plan – defeat opponent and reach goal.
  5.  Battle – confrontations escalate until final conflict.
  6.  Self-Revelation – hero recognizes weakness
  7.  New equilibrium – fundamental and permanent change.

*Psychological Need: a flaw that only hurts the hero.                                                                              *Moral Need: a moral weakness that hurts others.

Her talk was filled with lots of great little tips and advice that had my friends and I really thinking about things we need to change in our current WIPs (work in progress) to make them better, or things to do to make our stories “unputdownable”.

Laurie has lots of experience as an author, speaker, and editor.  You can find out more about her and her books at https://lje1.wordpress.com/

How about you?  Have you heard or read any great writing tips or advice you’d like to share?

 

Writers’ Retreat #2

On Saturday, we held our second writers’ retreat.  One of the ladies from our PA chapter of ACFW held it at her house, but it wasn’t strictly for ACFW members and we had a nice turn out.  There were nine of us this time.  If I’m not mistaken, that’s two more than last time.

I led another creative exercise in the morning to get our creative juices flowing.  Then we had a brainstorming session to talk about our current work in progress or any other writing project we thought we could use some brainstorming.  At first, I didn’t think I had anything I needed help with.  I don’t have any short projects in the works right now and I don’t seem to be struggling for blog posts either.  However, Lisa, the hostess, asked me questions that got me to thinking, and I decided to ask a question and share a scene from my current novel.  I’m glad I did because even though it was hard to hear something negative about the scene, it ended up being a big help, and the fact that we had a free writing session immediately following the brainstorming session gave me an immediate opportunity to rewrite the scene, making it much better.

After lunch, we had a lesson that Donna led about self editing.  I don’t mind saying I did not enjoy this lesson.  It was very difficult.  I know that self editing is important, and I also know why she had us do the lesson she had us do, but I still didn’t like it.  She had us choose a long paragraph from our current work in progress and count the words in it.  Then she gave us five minutes to cut that word count in half.  After that, she had us count the words again to see how we had done.  Then she gave us another five minutes to cut that number in half.  This exercise was an epic fail for me.  You see, I don’t have very many long paragraphs in my work in progress.  I struggle with including enough description to properly set my scenes, but am talented at writing good dialogue and action to keep the story moving.  Therefore, I am not an overly wordy writer so it was extremely difficult to cut a paragraph without removing important information.  I do understand the need to do this, though.  I watched a friend struggle through having to make a lot of cuts to her first novel according to her agent’s guidelines to attempt to find publishers who might be interested in publishing that novel for her.  She is extremely happy with the final results but she struggled and worked extremely hard to get there.

That is not to say that I am not willing to struggle and work hard to put out a really good final product, but I don’t think I will go about it the way that Donna had us do.  I know I will start by looking for all of the “over used” words.  You know, words we use over and over again because we tend to write like we talk or think.  I know I will have to change, cut and find synonyms to correct this problem.  I’m sure there will be other things I will have to cut as well, but I’m not really ready for that stage just yet and I need guidelines to be able to determine what really needs to be cut and what doesn’t.

How about you?  What have you experienced with self editing?

My Writing Life

Okay, so I am working on an historical romance story that takes place in the old west.  I have ideas for at least two more books, possibly three, to create a series.

I’m part of several writing groups that offer critiques or are strictly critique groups.  Also, a couple of weeks ago I attended a writers’ conference where I had two appointments for one-on-one conferences with published authors to get input on part of my story.  Of course, I have things I need to work on and am very grateful for the two writers who were kind enough to give me advice.

Being a visual learner, one of the writers, my friend, Mike Dellosso, gave me some great advice that he worded in a way that created a picture in my mind, which I know I will not forget and will be able to apply to my writing.  You see, I am struggling with setting the scenes because I’ve been told not to write too much description.  Therefore I had swung to the opposite extreme and wasn’t writing enough description.  Mike told me to put myself in my character’s shoes and use my five senses and describe what my character is seeing, hearing, smelling, etc. as he walks down the street in that old, dusty western town.  He also gave me some examples which made this advice come alive for me.

A few days after that, I shared a piece of this same story with the critique group I recently joined.  I was extremely nervous and afraid of what might happen in this group.  I was pleasantly surprised that there were many positive things said (One lady really likes my main character) and they also offered some great advice.

Therefore, on Thursday night when I met with my weekly writers’ group, I was feeling overwhelmed about how to go about sorting through all of the advice and applying the needed changes to my story.  I just didn’t know where to begin.  My friend, Laura, who just finished edits on her first novel had great words to help me.  She suggested that I get rid of any advice that I didn’t believe was helpful, which I had already done.  Then she said to go through the ones who offered the least amount of changes and work toward the one who offered the greatest amount of changes.  She said that by the time I get to the one with the greatest amount of changes, I probably will be surprised to find that I’ve already taken care of many of those changes from things the others suggested.  Ahh, thank you, Laura, you gave me a workable plan that I can handle.

I am so thankful to have met and made connections with writers who have gone before me who are willing to help me on my journey.  As writers, we spend a lot of time alone working on our craft, but we need each other.  We need the help and encouragement of others and then we need to pass that on to those who come behind us.

How about you?  Who’s been helping you on your writing journey?

 

Upcoming Writers’ Conference in Lancaster County

PRESS RELEASE: LANCASTER CHRISTIAN WRITERS HOSTS ONE-DAY CONFERENCE ON APRIL 16, 2016, AT LANCASTER BIBLE COLLEGE

Are you an aspiring writer seeking to hone skills, become market savvy, consult personally with editors/authors—all on a budget? Then join us at Lancaster Christian WritersSuper Saturday 2016!! April 16th, 2016, from 8:30am-4:30pm at Lancaster Bible College, 901 Eden Road, Lancaster, PA, 17601. This one-day writers conference offers a dual track of workshops in fiction and non-fiction. Early registration price of $50 is due by Wednesday, April 13, and includes soup/sandwich buffet lunch and LCW membership. Registrations after April 13 and walk-ins day of the conference are $60.

Non-fiction faculty include writers conference director and author Marsha Hubler, professional writer/editor Hana Haatainen Caye, transformational speaker and novelist Tracy Higley, and award-winning Toastmaster speaker and author Michele Chynoweth. A fiction track will be taught by award-winning novelists Gayle Roper, Mike Dellosso, and Dwight Kopp.

Workshops cover such topics as:

  • Can You Say Satisfying? Creating the Inspiring Moment.
  • Keep ‘Em Wide-Eyed! Sure-Fire Techniques for Writing Hi-Octane Suspense
  • From Book to Bestseller: You Are Your Own Best Publicist
  • The Delicate Art of Creating Villains
  • Non-fiction That Sells: Making Your Article or Book Irresistible to Editors
  • Style: Uncovering Voice and the Power of Identity.
  • The Business of Writing: Making Money as a Freelance Writer.
  • Impactivity: Pursuing Your Writing Dream with Passion, Balance, and Joy

A conference bookstore will offer a wide variety of writer resources and faculty titles. Personal consultations with faculty are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Author/editor/conference director Marlene Bagnull and award-winning novelist/collaborative writer Jeanette Windle are among auxiliary faculty offering personal consultations.

More information, including the Super Saturday 2016 Flyer/Registration Form and Press Release can be found at Lancaster Christian Writers Today (http://lancasterchristianwriterstoday.blogspot.com/) OR email LCW president Jeanette Windle at jeanette@jeanettewindle.com.

Mail Super Saturday 2016 registration form (or relevant info) and check or money order payable to: Lancaster Christian Writers, c/o Jeanette Windle, 1776 Euclid Drive, Lancaster, PA 17601. For credit card/PayPal payment, request invoice at jeanette@jeanettewindle.com (preferred) or call 717-209-0011 after 4 PM.

I have attended LCW’s Super Saturday conferences for the past three years and am already registered to attend this one!  I always learn something helpful or make a valuable new contact or make a new friend, and I have heard all but one of these speakers before and they do an excellent job!  So, if you write or want to write and live in or near Lancaster County, plan to join us for this Super Saturday Writers’ Conference!

My New Favorite Local Place

A friend of mine told me about a great cafe in our county.  It’s about a half hour drive from where I live, but it is so worth the drive.  If you are a bookish person or a writer or both, like me, you would love it too.

It’s called The Rabbit and the Dragonfly.  It is a coffee shop and bookstore and its decor speaks of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien and the Inklings.  The food is quite tasty.  I love how many of the menu items are named after characters in The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings.

The staff was quite welcoming and friendly to my son and I when we visited Tuesday a week ago.  We even got a tour of the entire place without requesting one.  I asked permission to take photos because I fell in love with the decor and certain things really caught my eye.

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The above photo is a corner in the cafe set up to look just like the area where C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and the rest of the Inklings would meet in a pub in England.

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If you are familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia, the above photo needs no explanation.

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A Narnian shield (above)

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A map of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth from The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  (above)

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They have been open one year!  They hung a banner to celebrate.  (above)

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Totally love this display of an old typewriter spewing the first twenty-two pages of (I believe Dave told us) The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

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Love this unique bookshelf that holds works by the Inklings.

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As you enter and exit, you can see Mr. and Mrs. Beaver!

I cannot wait to go back to The Rabbit and the Dragonfly again, and again, and again, and again, and . . .

I want to sit there and write.

They also have cool special events.  Click the blue highlighted tag of The Rabbit and the Dragonfly in the upper part of this post to visit their website and see all that they offer, and if you’re a Bookish person, a writer or both and are ever in Lancaster county, you won’t want to miss a trip to The Rabbit and the Dragonfly!

Winter Writers’ Retreat

Several months ago, I received an email from my writing friend, Lisa at Lisa’s Musings, talking about the possibility of having a Winter Writers’ Retreat.  She asked me for ideas and she shared her ideas with me.  Then we talked about what the schedule might look like and how we could keep it very low cost by simply having a simple lunch of sandwiches and salads and a dessert, with drinks and snacks available throughout the day, and the lunch would be all that each person would have to pay for.  Lisa also ran the idea by our friend, Donna at Donna L. H. Smith, who helped with some activity planning, getting the word out and registration.

So, this past Saturday, February 27th, seven (counting Lisa) of us got together at Lisa’s house for this retreat.  Donna asked us to introduce ourselves and share what type of writing we do and how long we’ve been married and how many children we have.  Then she opened with a devotion and prayer.

Lisa had asked me, during the planning, if I would be willing to lead an activity.  She gave me two choices and I chose the one I felt was the less daunting of the two.  🙂

Therefore, after the opening devotion and prayer, I led a creative writing exercise.  I was relieved when everyone found the exercise to be so much fun.

After the creative exercise, Lisa gave us two characterization exercises and two setting exercises and we spread out around the downstairs of Lisa’s beautiful home to spend some time writing, using at least one of these exercises.  I actually used a combination of one of the characterization and one of the setting exercises and I applied them to my current work in progress.  I think the creative writing exercise we started with helped to get my brain into writing mode.  (Of course that was the purpose.)

The next thing we did was break into two groups and we each shared about something we are currently struggling with in our work in progress, whether it was a plot problem, problem with a character or with the setting, or something else.  Then the others in the group helped to brainstorm to come up with ideas to work the problem out.

During lunch we had conversation about upcoming writers’ conferences, what we thought of the retreat up to that point, self-publishing and the possible challenges that would include, flash fiction and blog writing.

After lunch we had a critique group, where Lisa shared the critiquing process — a way to help and encourage the writer, not rip their work to shreds — to begin with a positive, then point out something that could use some work or fixing up with an idea or suggestion for that, and concluding with another positive.  These things need to be specific to be of any real help to the writer and the people doing the critiquing need to consider the Big Picture.

We ended with another prayer and an excerpt from a book that Lisa recommended for encouragement.

I cannot speak for any of the other ladies, but I found this day so very helpful.  I was able to leave there with a fresh excitement about writing, especially working on my work in progress.  I had been struggling with something before that and so the brainstorming for story problems was a huge help with that.  I also really enjoy being able to share with other writers because they understand me and I understand them.  We can help and encourage one another and that is so valuable.

Everyone left with a desire to do another retreat in the future.

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This was the great group of ladies who attended, minus Donna, who took the photo.

I encourage all of you who write to find a group of writers you can spend time with talking, sharing, brainstorming, problem solving, and encouraging one another.  You may even want to consider starting your own small writers’ group or hold your own small simple retreat like the one we just had.  Writing is a solitary activity and can be stressful.  It’s good to step out of your writing closet and breathe some fresh air and spend time with others who understand your struggles and the way your mind works (you know, that you talk to your characters and stuff).

Have you been to a writers’ retreat?  Do you belong to a writers’ group?

Three Books Every Writer Should Have

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If you are a writer and you don’t have these three books:  The Emotion Thesaurus:  A Writer’s Guide to Character ExpressionThe Negative Trait Thesaurus:  A Writer’s Guide to  Character Flaws, and The Positive Trait Thesaurus:  A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes all by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, I highly recommend that you get them.

I bought the Emotion Thesaurus almost a year ago and have been using it a lot.  I keep it beside me as I write a novel, and I refer to it often.  I bought The Negative Trait Thesaurus and The Positive Trait Thesaurus with Christmas money and I am so glad I did.  They were my resources for helping to create the three main characters in my new WIP (work in progress).

If you find yourself overusing tags or struggling with how to “show” instead of “tell”, or are having problems creating characters with different personalities and having them express themselves appropriately for their personality, these books can lessen or take away the struggle.

The Negative and Positive Trait Thesaurus give you a personality trait with its definition, similar traits, the possible causes for that trait, behaviors associated with the trait, associated thoughts or emotions, positive and negative aspects, examples from film or literature, how your character can overcome a negative trait, traits in supporting characters that may cause conflict with this character, and challenging scenarios for a specific positive trait.

The Emotion Thesaurus gives you an emotion, its definition, physical signals that show that emotion, internal sensations caused by that emotion, mental responses to that emotion, cues of acute or long-term emotion with other things it could escalate to, as well as cues of suppressed emotion, and a writer’s tip.

I find these books helping me create richer, deeper characters, as well as better written stories that “show, don’t tell” what is going on in the story  — stories that will draw my readers in.

What are some of your favorite writing resources?  Please tell me in the comments, as I am always looking for great writing resources to learn from.  I believe it’s important to never stop learning our craft.