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?

Helen Steiner Rice

I have loved Helen Steiner Rice’s poetry from the moment I discovered it.  It is always so encouraging and inspirational.  I wasn’t ready to share something of my own today, so I decided to share a Helen Steiner Rice poem.  I hope you will enjoy it and that it will encourage you today.

Storms Bring Out the Eagles But The Little Birds Take Cover

When the “storms of life” gather darkly ahead,
I think of these wonderful words I once read
And I say to myself as “threatening clouds” hover:
Don’t “fold up your wings” and “run for cover”,
But like the eagle “spread wide your wings”
and “soar far above” the trouble life brings,
For the eagle knows that the higher he flies,
The more tranquil and brighter become the skies…
And there is nothing in life God ever asks us to bear
That we can’t soar above “On The Wings Of A Prayer,”
And in looking back over the “storm you passed through”,
You’ll find you gained strength and new courage, too,
For in facing “life’s storms” with an eagles wings
You can fly far above earth’s small, petty things.

Helen Steiner Rice

I believe it is based on one of my favorite scriptures:  . . . “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”   — Isaiah 40:31

Are Writing Exercises Helpful?

I used to think that using writing prompts or exercises was like plagiarizing or cheating because you begin with someone else’s idea and just build on it.  But I have recently found that many writers use writing practice as warm-up or as a help to get ideas for a story flowing.  Recently, I have begun to read:

In this book, Josip Novakovich offers many writing exercises and he suggests that you connect them, to take your best shots and connect them in a collage or use them as seeds for fiction.  The exercises vary from very narrow to very broad and they build upon each other.  He explains that these exercises can be used to develop a story, to grow a story or to support a story in progress.  I am finding this book quite interesting and helpful.

Another great source for writing exercises is The Write Practice website.  Not only does this site offer writing practice prompts and ideas, but it also offers a wealth of writing advice.  You can also simply google “writing practice” or “writing prompts”, and their are other books that offer writing practice and prompts as well.

As I am still kind of stuck in a bit of a writing slump, trying to decide what genre to write and building a good story idea, I am finding the writing practices helpful because between them and this blog, at least I am writing.  I may post some of my writing practices here if I feel they are worth sharing.

My Writers’ Group Update

This past Saturday, I attended my second Christian Writers’ Club meeting.  The guest speaker was Michele Chynoweth, who has written and published two novels and has a third one currently in publishing.


She explained that she writes modern Bible stories and that The Faithful One is based on the Book of Job and The Peace Maker is based on the story of Abigail.  I purchased both books and she autographed them for me.

She spoke about building character in our stories.  She talked about how important our characters are because they are what connects the reader to your story.  They make the reader feel.

Ms. Chynoweth encouraged us to allow the reader to make his/her own judgments rather than stating character traits directly, which, she explained, is part of the “show, don’t tell” mantra.

At the end she gave us a handout that includes 85 Character Development Questions for Writers.  I won’t post them here, but I will give you the acrostic she gave us:

Communication:  How does your character talk and sound?

History:  Where does your character come from?

Appearance:  What does your character look like?

Relationships:  What kind of family and friends does your character have?

Ambition:  What is your character’s passion, goals, needs?

Character defect:  Flaws make your character real.

Thoughts:  How does your character thnk?

Everyman-ness:  Your character needs to be relatable and believable.

Restrictions:  Your character has to deal with a challenge, weakness, handicap

Those are some of the things to consider when creating your characters in your writing.

I have never been fond of writing outlines, but Michele Chynoweth shared how important it is to be able to keep track of your characters so that you are consistent and don’t make errors.  She told of how she had once created a minor character and hadn’t made a note about him and one place had written about his dark hair and later said “he ran his hand through his sandy blonde hair”.  So, she said, even the little guys are important.  Therefore, I will at least keep a notebook about all of my characters, even if I don’t do an actual outline.