In Others' WordsIn Others' Words

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In Others' Words: Dreams

"There is no telling how many miles you will have to run while chasing a dream." ~ Author Unknown

That's the funny thing about dreams: You have to chase them. You can't walk into a store and purchase that elusive dream. It's not sitting on a shelf, waiting for you to dole out a few hard earned dollars or charge it on your credit card.

You want a dream? You have to chase it. Some days it seems so close . . . right there, just beyond your reach. And other days, you're at the back of the pack of runners, watching everyone else cross the finish line. Reach their goal. Attain their dream. 

And you have to keep on running. Another lap. Maybe two. You look around--are you the only left pursuing your dream?

Is it worth all the effort? All the running? Really, what would life be without dreams? 

In Your Words: What dream are you pursuing? What dream have you achieved? Did you learn any lessons along the way? 

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Social Media: It Really is about Relationships

At first, I was a not-so-enthralled social media participant. I already had enough to do, thank you very much. Writing. Editing. Shampooing my hair. Rinse. Repeat.
But the almighty "they" tell me that to succeed as a writer I need to engage in social media. Facebook. Blog. Tweet. Comment on others' blogs. Google+. I know the list goes on, but, hey, I have a word count.
What made me embrace the concept of social media? When my friend and social media guru, Edie Melson called writers and social media a "match made in heaven," I listened. Edie believes "Writing is all about building relationships--with readers, editors, agents, other writers--and what better vehicle than social media?"
When a package arrived in my mailbox today, I had proof positive that social media builds relationships. The package came from author Keli Gwyn, a writing friend I've yet to meet face-to-face. (But the ACFW conference is only a few weeks away!) So how have Keli and I become friends? You guessed it: social media.
We've retweeted each others' blog links, left comments on our blogs, and we also both participate in the WordServe Water Cooler blog.
So what did Keli send me? Two boxes of Atomic Fireballs. Why? On a Flashback Friday blog post, Keli reminisced about penny candy. She mentioned some of her favorites were Sweet Tarts and Tootsie Rolls and red licorice ropes. In my comment, I recalled trying to keep Atomic Fireballs in my mouth without spitting them out.
Back to today, and the arrival of two boxes of Chewy Atomic Fireballs. Keli had found them in her old time candy store, thought of me, and sent them my way.
Like I said: Social media really is about relationship.
You read someone's blog.
Retweet their link.
Leave a comment.
Build a relationship.
And, you never know, you just might end up with a sweet surprise in your mailbox.

In Your Words: Has social media helped you develop relationships with other writers? With your readers? Have you had any unexpected surprises, thanks to tweeting or commenting on someone's blog or Facebook page? If someone asked you why they should get into social media, what would you say?

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Monday, August 29, 2011

In Others' Words: One Thing

"The shortest way to do many things is to do only one thing at a time." ~Richard Cech, author

I very rarely, if ever, multitask.
For the longest time, I thought multitasking was the way to accomplish amazing amounts of things in brief amounts of times.
Well, I was wrong.
I could multitask with the best of them (and most of them were women). Talk on the phone. Fold laundry. Start dinner. Help my kids with homework. 
A multitasker extraordinaire. That was me.
You know what I realized?
I wasn't giving any one thing (or person) my complete, undivided attention. Everything and everyone got just a little bit of me as I tried to do it all at the same time.
I don't think so.
Sometimes I got to the end of the day and couldn't remember what I had done. Who I had talked to. Where I had put something. 
So now I'm all about one thing at a time. One thing done well. And then I move on to the next thing. And do that well. 

In Your Words: What about you? Multitasker? Or one-thing-at-a-timer? Which works best for you? 

*In case you're interested, research backs me (and Richard Cech) up. 

**Julie C. won the set of stationery and stamps from the giveaway from last Monday's post!**

photo by thegnome54/

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Friday, August 26, 2011

In Others' Words: Hope

"The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof." ~ Barbara Kingsolver, novelist

What do I hope for?
That life isn't all about me. 
That there is something ... Someone ... bigger than me. Wiser. More sufficient. 
What do I hope for?
Grace instead of the backbreaking load of do-this-don't-do-that laws I lived under for too long.
What do I hope for?
Faith that sees the rainbow in the midst of the flood of tears.
What do I hope for?
Truth, even the harsh "how do I live with this?" kind of truth that takes you to your knees and makes you look up and cry out for God. Yes, I will take that over placating lies any day.
And love. Laughter. Forgiveness.
May my life be shot through with hope that is constructed of all these treasures.

In Your Words: What do your hope for? Are you living inside that hope--or merely admiring it from a distance?

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

In My Words:A Writer and Time -- Who's in Charge?

First a little fun: I also blog with a multi-talented group of writers over at the WordServe Water Cooler. What brought us together? We are all represented by WordServe Literary. My agent is the fabulous Rachelle Gardner. Today's my first time blogging over at the Water Cooler. I hope you stop by and read my post: The Writer's Life: On the Edge of the Cliffs of Insanity. 

Clutter is a sign of genius, right? Right?

That, my friends, is an unretouched photo of my desk. If I'd "touched" it for the photo,you would be looking at some clean-to-the-extreme desk.

But then there would be no visual for this blog post.

I could give you lots of reasons why my desk is such a mess. I could confess there are times my desk is messier. I could claim genius status, hence this is merely a sign of that reality. I could reveal one of my nicknames: Bird of Paradise. My dad dubbed me that because he said he always knew where I was because of my droppings.

Ha. Ha. Ha. 

There is one reason, and one reason alone, for such a messy desk: I don't have the time to organize it. I don't make the time.

Right now time is controlling me instead of me controlling my time.

When someone asks me, "So, how are you?" my standard reply is "Busy."
And it's true. I am busy. Some days it feels like my schedule has my by the throat and his hauling me through life, with the scenery whizzing by.

But here's the question: I am a professional writer.

Another question: Does that desk say professional to you?

Wait. I'm sorry I asked that. Maybe I'm being too harsh ...

Look, I don't think that I or any other writer has to live up to some Martha Stewart standard of organization. (Kudos to anyone who does. And you have a standing invitation to come over to my house and clean off my desk.)

For the last six months or so, I've realized that my schedule needed an attitude adjustment. I needed to confront it. Say no more and yes a whole lot less.

  • I walked away from a non-fiction critique group that I loved. I'd been a member from it's conception--almost 10 years.
  • I embraced (albeit with tears) when God directed me away from longstanding writing avenue in my life. 
  • I recognized tonight it's time for another no. The commitment is beneficial to me. But when I look at my priorities--writing my work-in-progress and my editing commitments--it's time to say goodbye to this too. 
Clarification: By "this" I mean another writing commitment--not this blog. Sigh. Poorly constructed sentence. My friend, Sonia, questioned me about it.

And, who knows, maybe I'll find some extra minutes to put the dictionary back on the bookshelf. Load the software on my computer. Throw that Brighton catalog away. Pay for my Good Housekeeping subscription. Make my picks for the fantasy football draft weekend. (Yes, really.) 

In Your Words: So who's in charge of your schedule--you or the unrelenting busyness? How do you decide what you say yes to and what you say no to?

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

In Others' Words: Imagination

"Your imagination is your preview of life's coming attractions." ~Albert Einstein, physicist

When was the last time you let your mind wander ... let it lead you down the "what if?" road, around an unexpected bend into an idea that took your breath away?
When I read Einstein's quote, I realized I'd been taking these shallow half-breaths that didn't fill my lungs.
And then I thought of my 10-year-old daughter. She's all about coming attractions. Life for her is one "what if I do this" and "what if I do that" after another. She starts writing one book. Stops. Starts another. Stops. Starts another. Stops--and you guessed it--starts another. 
The writer/editor in me wants to give her a stern lecture about finishing what she started. Set some measurable goals. Maybe ask her if she wants me to critique one of those stories-to-be.
But she's too busy imagining the next story she could write. 
I've decided to let her go. Let her run after those dreams. Let her imagination run wild. This is no time to erect a corral around her maybes and what ifs and imaginings. 
Sure, I have things to do. The never-ending To Do list resides in the clutter on my desk.
But if I ignore my imagination one day I'll wake up and the "Coming Attractions" sign will be removed from my life. Why? Because I won't have taken the time to daydream ... ponder ... ensure that something was waiting up ahead ...

In Your Words: So ... dreaming about anything? Dreaming big? Any coming attractions in your life? When is your favorite time to imagine "what if?"

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In My Words: When Packing for ACFW, Don't Bring Along Too Many Expectations

Last week, the Alley Cats over at The Writers Alley interviewed Chip MacGregor. I consider Chip the go-to-guy for all things publishing. The founder  MacGregor Literary, Chip knows writing and editing and marketing and agenting like no one else. And, yeah, I like his sense of humor, snark and all.
Chip listed five excellent reasons to attend a writers conference. One sentence stood out to me like a flare shot off into the night sky: The value of a conference depends on your expectations.
A bit of brilliance in nine words.
We haul a lot of stuff with us when we travel to a writers conference. Clothes. Pitch sheets. Book proposals. Business cards.
When you're packing for the conference, do you ever wonder if the hidden load of expectations will push you  over your allowed weight limit?
Just what are your expectations for a writers conference? Specifically, if you're going to ACFW, what are your expectations?
As Chip pointed out in his blog post, it's not about not having expectations. Rather, it's about evaluating your expectations. Hoping an editor will read your manuscript during a 15 minute appointment?  Well . . . expect to be disappointed. That's not what those appointments are for.
So what are some reasonable expectations for ACFW?

  • Expect to be tired--but in a good way and for good reason. Going to bed early and sleeping in late is not the reason we attend writers conferences. I mean, go ahead if you want to. If you need to. But realize that most people toss away their notion of time for the duration of the conference.
  • Expect to learn. A lot. Oh. My. Word. How do you ever choose between continuing education sessions and workshops and appointments? DiAnn Mills. Randy Ingermanson. Susan May Warren. Jenny B. Jones.
  • Expect to be disappointed. (I'm sorry. Somebody had to say it.) It happens. An appointment bombs. You forget your pitch. Or an agent says, "No thanks." Or you don't win the Genesis award. Part of being a writer is learning to deal with the disappointments. To not let them derail you from pursuing your dreams.
  • Expect to make friends. You're with other writers. They get you. They speak your language. They want to hear about your story. Does it get any better than this?
  • Expect to want to come back next year. Yep, writers conferences are addicting. You're gonna want to do it again. And again. So start saving those pennies and those frequent flier miles. 

 In Your Words: What expectations are you packing for ACFW? What expectations are you making sure don't sneak into your carry-on bag?

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Monday, August 22, 2011

In Others' Words: The Significance of Postage Stamps (& a fun giveaway!)

"Consider the postage stamp: It's usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing 'til it gets there." ~Josh Billings, pen name of 19th century humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw

Ah, Mondays. The week stretches ahead with a long list of to-dos and must-dos and you'd-rather-not-dos.
And if you're like me, it's so easy to get sidetracked. I start in on one thing--say, editing, for example--and then I get diverted by Twitter. Or a phone call. Or I go work on a chapter of my work-in-progress. And, hey, I think I want a new title for that because the one I've had for months just isn't working for me. And I'd better go move the laundry from the washing machine to the dryer . . . And why didn't I blow dry my hair before these freakish cowlicks formed in my bangs . . . How did all these emails pile up in my inbox . . .
Where was I?
Point made.
It's not that I don't want to accomplish all these things--including corralling my cowlicks. But I'd like to see some forward motion, rather than feeling like each day is another chance to spin doughnuts in the parking lot of my life.
This week I'm going postal--as in I'm living life like a postage stamp. I'm sticking to one thing until I get there. That one thing? I set aside a collection of wedding and graduation announcements with a promise to get to them after my daughter's wedding. Well, Katie Beth has been Mrs. Huntley for over a month now. Time to fulfill my commitment.

In Your Words: Want to join me? What one thing do you want to stick to this week until it gets done? We can check back here on Friday and see how we did! Leave a comment and I'll put your name in for a drawing of . . . a cute set of stationery and some stamps! ;o) 

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Friday, August 19, 2011

In Others' Words: Words

"Among my most prized possessions are words that I have never spoken." ~ Orson Rega Card, novelist

Are there things I wish I hadn't said?
Sometimes the words spilled out of my mouth, surprising me almost as much as they surprised the other person.
Sometimes the words were planned. Deliberate. Only once they were spoken did I think, "Why did I say that?"
The words--rehearsed on the stage of my mind--seemed so right. So fitting. But now, under the harsh glare of hurt-glazed eyes . . .well, really, was what I said the right thing to say--or was it more that I wanted to be right?
As the years accumulate in my life-book, I find myself talking less and listening more. Why? Two reasons. The Bible puts it this way: Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise ... (Proverbs 17:28) Works for me.
The other reason? I learn so much--about people, about life--when I choose to be silent. When I choose to listen. 
Do I have things to say?
But oftentimes, I realize my words wouldn't have added anything to the conversation--except a bit of a breeze.

In Your Words: What did you think when you read today's quote? How do you handle the power of words? Was there a time when silence was truly golden for you?

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Let Me Ask You a Question: A Quick Survey for Writers About Conferences

With the annual ACFW conference only five weeks away, writers are asking a lot of questions. Are you going? Where are you staying? What workshops are you taking? What are you pitching? 
It got me thinking about all-things conference related--and I came up with a few questions of my own. Seven, to be exact--and the last three are super-simple. (How hard is it to remember your name?)
At this point, I'm going to depart from regular blog protocol and ask you to please take a brief survey about writers conferences.
Well, I'm curious about your answers.
And besides that, your answers will guide upcoming blog posts here at In Others' Words.

And to make it fun, if you take the survey, you have the chance to win a $10 Starbucks card. Tweet about the survey or post about it on your Facebook page, and I'll enter your name into the drawing twice.

Let the Q&A begin!

Click here to take survey

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Prepare for the ACFW Conference with the MBT Polish and Pitch Scrimmage

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at

"The 2010 My Book Therapy (MBT )Polish and Pitch Conference was worth the time and money I invested. I learned the skills I needed to pitch my book ideas at writing conferences--and I had fun while I did it." ~Roxanne Sherwood Gray, writer

You've written your novel. Revised it, with hopes of having one more look at it before the September ACFW conference.Your critique group helped you slog through the book proposal. (Market analysis, anyone?)
All that's left is, gulp, pitching your book to that dreaded, I mean, dream editor or agent.
Nothing to it, right?
Just keep telling yourself that.
Better yet, stop talking to yourself and make plans to attend the MBT Polish and Pitch Scrimmage.

Susan May Warren

Bestselling author Susan May Warren remembers pitching her first book at an ACFW conference. She remembers being nervous. Stumbling over her words. How she paused for a moment and thought, "Wait a minute. I love this book. I believe in this book." Her passion for her story propelled her past the nervousness to pitch the idea and land her first contract.
The Scrimmage, scheduled on September 21, the day before the ACFW conference begins, equips you to  make your 15 minute appointments count. The coaches, including Susie and author Jim Rubart, will help you craft your pitch and premise, polishing them into a solid verbal presentation for editors and agents.
I attended Susie's first-ever Polish and Pitch Seminar in May 2011. The thought of pitching my then-novel-in-progress felt like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. But by the time I sat down with agent Chip MacGregor (somebody hold my hand, please!) for a practice pitch session, I was calm. Well, calmer.  I had a pitch--including this one sentence hook: Can the wrong kiss lead to Mr. Right?--and Susie sitting next to me for moral support.
Pitch sheet for my debut novel, Wish You Were Here

By the time ACFW rolled around, I'd taken what I'd learned at the conference and produced a pitch sheet (Many thanks to my graphic designer friend, Marty Osborn.) I looked forward to sitting across from editors and sharing my book idea with them because I was prepared. Eight months later, I sat with my fabulous agent Rachelle Gardner and signed a two-book contract with Howard Books. (This is the part of the story that still flabbergasts me!)
Does the Scrimmage guarantee you a book contract? Sorry, no. But here's what you do get:

  • 4 hours of instruction
  • small group pitching practice
  • handout for future reference
  • interaction with other writers

There are lots of ways to advance your writing career. Attending the Scrimmage is one of the best investments you'll ever make. Consider this a personal invitation from me to you to join us for a worthwhile and fun four hours that will help you be more than ready to pitch your book at ACFW! To hear more about the Scrimmage, visit writer and fellow MBT Ponderer Melissa Tagg's blog, Tag(g)lines. My fun friend even shows you how not to pitch a book via her vlog post!

Are you excited about the ACFW conference? Ready to pitch your book? What are you doing to get ready? 

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Neutral Corner: Six Things I've Learned between Rounds of Editing My Manuscript

Someone just rang the bell on Round Two of editing my debut novel.
That someone was me.
I dragged myself to a neutral corner, where I'll wait for the bell to ring again, signalling the commencement of Round Three.
If you're wondering who won the last round, my manuscript is the one bleeding red ...
Sorry. Lousy editor humor.
And, truth be told, my publisher included a green colored pencil with my manuscript, along with strict "do not use anything but this pencil to make changes" instructions. I dubbed it my "magic" pencil and warned my family not to touch it.
Like a boxer in between rounds, I'm catching my breath and gathering my strength for getting back in the fight. I know there's another round of edits, and I want to be ready. I'm reviewing what I learned as I read through the copy editor's notes. (Think: trainer.) Why make the same mistake twice? Here's a few of my observations while I catch my breath in the neutral corner:

  1. Weasel Words can be invisible. We all have words we overuse. Mine are but and just. As a writer/editor, I focus on hunting down and killing those weasel words. However, the copy editor found them alive and well in my manuscript. Gasp! All I can figure is those blasted weasels were invisible.
  2. Saying, "I'm not an editor" is a cop-out. You are a writer. You expect someone else to edit your manuscript. Maybe it's someone in your critique group. Maybe you're banking on that sainted copy editor at your publishing house. Sorry. If you're a professional writer, this means you need a basic understanding of book editing. (Can you say Chicago Manual of Style?)
  3. It's okay to ask questions--but be nice about it. Even though I'm an editor, I didn't understand all the copy editor's marks on my manuscript. I also didn't understand why she changed some things. The solution? I asked questions. However, I'm aiming for a long-term relationship with Howard Books, my publisher. Alienating my copy editor isn't going to help me win friends and influence people. So when I asked questions, I started off by saying thank you for all the work she'd put into my manuscript.
  4. Know your publisher's style standards. Book publishing is governed by the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS.) Is something italicized? Capitalized? Is the period inside the quote marks or outside the quote marks? Ask the great and wonderful Oz ... I mean, refer to CMOS. You also need to realize that publishers develop their own in-house style standards that may differ from CMOS. Find out.
  5. Invest in the necessary tools. I own two dictionaries: both the 4th and the 11th editions of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. Why? I use the 4th edition when I edit magazines. I found out that Howard Books uses the 11th edition. Time to double-up on dictionaries.
  6. Take editing one round at a time. Editing is tough. Exhausting. Sometimes you want to say, "That's good enough" and quit. But just like a prize fighter wants his gloved fist to be thrust in the air as he claims victory, you want to succeed. You want your book to be a winner. You need to go the distance, one round at a time. When the bell rings, go to your neutral corner. Rest up. Review you what you learned in the last round, and be ready to get out there when the bell rings again.
In Your Words: What's your attitude toward editing? Are you ready to jump in the ring and mix it up? Or do you hang on the ropes and wish someone else would fight for you? What tips would you add to my list?

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Monday, August 15, 2011

In Others' Words: Everything ... Or Maybe Not

"You can do anything, but not everything." 
~ David Allen, productivity consultant

This past weekend? It was not about getting everything done. 
It's 2:10 A.M. on Monday--I don't know how many of you were still asleep while I typed this blog post. If I peeked outside my office, I could see the "everything" that didn't get done. 
My kitchen is waiting for someone to clean it. Hhhmmm. Wonder who that will be?
My family room? Well, some of us sat around earlier and watched a musical . . . 
And the photo I posted with my blog? That's the "anything" that I did accomplish this weekend: I (almost) completed the second round of edits on my novel. Ya gotta love Post-it notes. And a long coffee table to spread pages out on. And kids old enough to cook dinner while you edit. (Many thanks to my son-in-love because making dinner was another bit of "everything" I didn't get done.)
Even though my house is, um, let's say unsettled, I'm okay with that. Why? I knew going into this weekend that all the things I wanted to accomplish weren't going to be checked off my To Do list. And as other things (think people) became priority, I had to tell myself things like,"Face it. The house is going to be a mess this weekend."
I chose two priorities: finishing my edits and being with my family. Everything else became a distant third. 
I knew I could do anything.
I also knew I couldn't do everything.
So I chose something

In Your Words: Do you aim for anything or everything? David Allen, the guy who said that breathe-a-little-easier quote, is a time management guru. Do you have any tried and true tips to handle a too-full schedule?  

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Friday, August 12, 2011

In Others' Words: Genius

"Everyone is a genius at least once a year. The real geniuses simply have their bright ideas closer together." 
~ Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, German Scientist

Everyone is a genius at least once a year.
Don't get me wrong. This quote fascinates me. I love how much potential this quote gives me. I've been a genius sometime this year. How did I miss that moment?
There are times when I think I'm brilliantly funny. Times I crack myself up to the point of tears. Of course, it's usually when I'm so overtired my kids say, "Mom's doing it again. She needs to go to bed." And they laugh. Not with me--at me. Or maybe a little of both. I mean, I'm funny when I'm tired.
But if I look back over the last eight months, do I recall moments of genius? Even one?
My first response is no. Not me. Leave the genius-status to others. And then I think ... wait a minute. There was that moment when I chose to listen to a friend instead of talk about myself.
That moment when I knew I'd pushed myself way-past my emotional and physical limits. I gave myself permission to rest. (I've heard it said a wise woman knows her limitations.)
That moment when I listened to my mentor's challenge to dig deeper into my character, to write not just a better scene but a "breathless" scene. I may not have landed the scene perfectly ... but I tried.
Maybe it's not so much that I haven't had those moments of brilliance. Maybe it's that I'm under the mistaken impression that genius is something big and grand and larger-than-life-size. Maybe it's that I haven't take the time to pause ... to appreciate ... to be thankful for the lessons learned in my unexpected blink-and-you-miss-them moments of genius.

In Your Words: "Everyone" includes you. You realize that, right? So tell me, what genius moment or moments have you experienced in the last eight months? And do you have any tricks up your sleeve that help you be at your most brilliant best?  

photo by pukeycow*/
* I'm thinking someone wasn't having a genius moment when they came up with that name.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

In My Words: The Love of Story & How It Should Affect Your Writing

My husband Rob and I went on a double-date last night, with our daughter, Katie Beth, and our new son-in-love, Nate. We went to The Melting Pot for dinner. Ah, the joys of fondue! And, since this was Nate's first time at the restaurant, it was even more fun to watch him enjoy everything from the  Traditional Swiss and Wisconsin Trio Cheese fondues (first course) to the Flaming Turtle and Yin and Yang Chocolate fondues.
Even better than the shopping and the first-time experience for Nate and the food?
The conversation.
And here's the point of this blog. (It really isn't  about double-dating.)
Our nonstop conversation centered on stories. Remember this ... and Does Nate know about ... and Oh, you don't know about what happened when mom had a kidney stone when she was 8 1/2 months pregnant ... (true story) and Tell Mom and Dad about the time you ...
Last night, as we savored fondue, we loved telling and listening to stories.
People love stories.
We enjoy sharing stories, whether we are the one telling the story or we are listening to someone else recount the who, what, where, when, why and how of the story.
And this fundamental truth--that people love stories--is why we write.
How should this truth affect us as we plot and write and revise our works-in-progress (WIPs)? Ask yourself:
1. Why do you love stories? Sharing stories connects me with friends and family. It's a kind of verbal give and take that bonds people together through memories wrapped in laughter and tears.
2. What kind of stories grab your attention? When someone's talking, what do they say that makes you forget all about that piece of cheesecake waiting to be dunked in the pot of chocolate fondue? When someone opens up and shares from the heart, giving me a glimpse of what they value, that's when they have my undivided attention.
3. When do you disconnect from others' stories? I have stories. You have stories. And yet we've probably all been around someone who thinks she (or he) is the only one who has a worthwhile story to share. So she monopolizes the conversation.When this happens, I mentally tune in to another station.

Now take these three questions and apply them to your writing:

  • Why do you love stories? Is it because you feel connected with others? When you write your novel, are you crafting characters and scenes that your readers connect with and care about?
  • What kind of stories grab your attention? Are you staying on the surface or delving into heart issues or challenges that your readers are facing in their real-life world? If you want your readers undivided attention, write about reality.
  • When do you disconnect from stories? Does your story have depth? Or are they a one-character act--a monologue with minor characters who have little impact?
In Your Words: How does the truth People love stories affect your writing? Answer one, two or all three of the questions in the comment section! Looking forward to learning from you.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

In Others' Words: Conversations

"Each person's life is lived as a series of conversations." ~ Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics

I've never looked at life as a series of conversations. Things I've said--and not said. Because aren't conversations both the spoken and unspoken words?
The responses of others. Or their questions. Or their words of comfort. Or their words that prompt a life-giving belly laugh to rumble up past my lips.
Give and take.
Ah, I'm beginning to see what Deborah Tannen meant.
Considering this quote from the perspective of a writer: I am all about dialogue. Often my first draft is 75 percent He said-She said and 25 percent He did-She did.
Dialogue, so I've been told, is action. And I believe it.
When people talk, they are interacting with one another. They may be confessing their love for one another (gotta' love a good romance) or plotting how to prevent the aliens from conquering the world (Cowboys and Aliens, anyone?). Maybe they're revealing a secret. Or lying. Or apologizing. Or whining. (Sorry, I've raised four kiddos and done some whining myself.)
What we say, just as much as what we do, is action. It's life.

In Others' Words: Is there a recent conversation echoing in your mind? Is it a good memory--or not so good? Would you go back and change what you said or didn't say? If you embrace the concept that your life is a series of conversations ... how would that change what you say?
And for my writer friends: How do you use dialogue to create action in your stories? Any favorite conversations between your fictional characters?

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

In My Words: Looking for Signs Along the Writing Road

When I think of the writing life, I think of a road. One complete with curves. Speed limits. Bumps. Unexpected detours. And, as my writing friend author Jody Hedlund pointed out in her blog post, the occasional traffic jam.
I had a plan--a road map, if you will -- when I set my sights on pursuing writing. Let me rephrase that: I wasn't pursuing writing, I was pursuing publication.
I learned quickly that publication was beyond my control. Pursuing writing -- bettering my skills -- now that was my responsibility, and mine alone. I had to see the writing road as an open road -- not as a series of impassable obstacles.

A possible road sign reminder?  

 No parking. Why? Success requires forward motion, not sitting for so long that my writing attempts are non-existent. Do I want to waste so much time that I could be designated an abandoned vehicle in a tow-away zone? (Okay, work with me here. It's a rough analogy, but you see my point, right?)

There's another lesson I've learned along the writing road: You have to know the difference between learning technique from a more skilled writer and believing the (false) idea that there's only one right way to do things.

A possible road sign reminder?

Here's two: This Way or One Way. "This Way" is what a mentor says when she shows me how to dig deeper into my character. A skilled teacher shows you the "how" and then lets you adapt it to your voice. Consider the words "One Way." How limiting. Only. One. Way. No room for voice. No room for flare. No room for your personal interpretation of how to craft dialogue or develop characters.

In Your Words: What signs have you seen along the writing road? If you had the chance, what sign would you post for other writers? 

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Monday, August 08, 2011

In Others' Words: Humor

"I think the next best thing to solving a problem is finding some humor in it." ~Frank A. Clark    

There are so many things wrong with the photo I found to illustrate this blog post, I had to laugh. 
You've got a parking sign pointing right.
And directly below that is a "Wrong Way" sign--and "Wrong" is spelled incorrectly. Or is it? Maybe the street name is "Wong." I don't know. Is "Wong" right--or wrong?
And then there's just a glimpse of a yellow sign right behind the blue signs also pointing to the right ... So can you or can't you turn right and find parking? I don't know. If I was driving in an unfamiliar part of town, those signs would spell T-R-O-U-B-L-E.
When I read the quote, I couldn't help but think about my older brother, Bobby. he was the only kid in the family who could make my mom laugh when she was angry. We would all be waiting on the wrath of mom to descend--and we probably deserved it--and Bobby would do something outrageous. Say something beyond ridiculous. 
And Mom would laugh.
Anger diffused.
So often when I'm faced with a problem I go all tense. I've got to solve it. Now. Nobody interrupt me until I figure this--whatever it is--out.
Think about your favorite suspense movie. The anxiety is ratcheted as high as it can get, you can barely breathe. And then--something funny happens. Tension diffused. (I remember watching one scary movie that had this silly magician's bunny hop across the screen at these odd moments. I don't remember why. But I do remember laughing. And catching my breath.) You realize how much you needed that moment of laughter to be able to finish the movie.
Life's like that too. A moment of humor, a bit of laughter, can help you regain perspective and solve the seemingly unsolvable.

In Your Words: Can you laugh in the midst of problem solving -- or do you have a strictly enforced "No Humor" policy until everything is resolved? Can you think of a time when humor helped you solve a problem?

photo by shirleybnx/        

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Friday, August 05, 2011

In Others' Words: Vision

'Optical illusion' photo (c) 2007, Michael Condouris - license:

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." ~Henry David Thoreau, author

I am not a huge fan of optical illusions. When I look at them, my brain screams, "Something is not right with this picture!" Or else I'm thinking, "What is it the artist wants me to see that I'm not seeing?"
Rather than enjoying optical illusions, my mind is scrambling to make the picture right. Fix it. Make it work.
Maybe if I relaxed, allowed myself to go with it--whatever "it" is--I could relish unraveling optical illusions as much as, say, my husband does. Or all of my children do.
I limit my vision--my ability to see--when I get all caught up in the "rightness" or "wrongness" of what I'm seeing. 
Okay, I understand that there are some unbreakable truths. Grass is green. (Well, except when you don't water it.) And the sky is blue. (Except right before a thunderstorm.)
As a writer, I've learned that I'm more creative when I shrug off the "must-dos" and embrace the "why not try this" moments. When I look at a scene that's not working and--instead of focusing on everything I've done wrong, I see what's working and build on that.
Or consider relationships. 
Sometimes relationships feel like that photo looks. Off-kilter. Out of whack. Who took that photo anyway? But step back and think about it. Is that house really leaning? Or did someone have fun, tilt the camera, and take a silly photo?
Is that a wasted shot? Or a fun memory?
Is an off-kilter not salvageable--or merely in need of an adjustment?
I don't know, you tell me. What do you see?

In Others' Words: We hear about the value of vision--but do we stop and think about what guides our vision? Is it really what we look at--or all our experiences and circumstances--even what's happening right here and now--that determine what we see?

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

In My Words: By Way of Introduction -- Social Media Expert Edie Melson (and a giveaway)

My friend, Edie Melson -- a social marketing wunderkind
Question: How would you feel if you came home from a trip overseas to find out that while you've been gone for the last few weeks, someone published your book?
Not that you wrote the book. Or pitched the book. Or sweated it out while your proposal went to a pub committee.
My friend Edie Melson, an accomplished freelance writer and editor, could tell you exactly how that you've-got-to-be-kidding-me experience feels like--she lived it!
Her bestselling ebook, Social Media Marketing for Writers, was the idea of her publisher, Eddie Jones, with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. They are also publishing Edie's devotional book, Fighting Fear, Winning the War at Home, later this year.
As Edie tells it, her publisher knew she taught Social Media Marketing to writers at conferences all over the country. He asked her to send him all of her notes so he could evaluate the possibility of doing a book. "The rest, as they say, is history," Edie said.
When I first met Edie, we had an instant heart-to-heart connection. She is one of those rare people that radiates warmth and encouragement. So, okay, I'm biased. But I learned quickly that behind Edie's friendliness was a social marketing savvy woman. Edie knows what she's talking about.
Her introduction to social media wasn't exactly easy.
"It was a sink or swim situation," Edie recalls. "I got a job as managing editor at a Christian magazine for college-age guys. Everyone I worked with was young enough to be my son--and social media is the only way to reach that audience. I had to become an expert or quit my job."
With her success has come a huge sense of accomplishment.
"It's become one of my passions to show others that social networking is nothing to be afraid of. Believe me, if I can do it, anyone can!"
Edie calls social media and writers "a match made in heaven."
"Writing is all about building relationships--with readers, editors, agents, other writers--and what better vehicle than social media? We writers communicate best through the written word," she says. "And social media gives us an unprecedented opportunity to connect with our readers."

Social Marketing for Writers is available on Kindle  and Nook.

Giveaway for commenters on today's post: To give you a sample of the kind of expertise you'll find in Edie's ebook, leave a comment today (including your email address) and I will send you Edie's two-page handout "Learn to Manage TweetDeck to Keep Social Networking in Check." Edie sent it to me when I sent her a "Help me!" email a few months back and said I can share it with my blog followers today. (Thanks, Edie!)

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

In Others' Words: Timing

"God is always previous."

While this blog isn't necessarily always faith-based, my life is. So the topic of my faith shows up from time to time. 
Today is one of those posts.
Last week I had "one of those days" that lasted most of the entire week. I had a major decision to make--one that closed a door on something that I loved being part of. And even though I knew God's hand was guiding me to shut the door, it was still a rough week. 
It's difficult--painful--to walk away from something you love. Something you value.
Even as I made the difficult-right decision, I sensed God saying, "You're moving in the right direction. Keep going."
No--I didn't hear an audible voice. I just felt an overarching peace, even as I grabbed another tissue and erased the tell-tale tears. 
I'm blessed to have a mom-in-the-Lord--my husband's Aunt Jean. She has listened to me talk about, cry about, rejoice about my life over the past two decades.She's counseled me. Prayed for me, my husband and our family. I will only see what her prayers have wrought in heaven.
As I discussed last week with her, I shared how quickly God revealed what was next for me--literally within hours of my "Close the door" decision.
My always wise Aunt Jean shared something her friend Carol often said: God is always previous.
Previous. PriorOccurring before something else in time or order.
Like he might have a perspective about life--my life--that I don't have.
Like he might have a plan.
Imagine that.
No. Really. 
Imagine that.

In Your Words: Have you experienced the "Yes, this is the end of something good, but wait until you see what's waiting around the bend in the road" phenomena? I'd love to hear about it. 

photo: Fog Door by Salvatore Vuono

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

In My Words: How Author James Scott Bell Helped Me Conquer Discouragement

I've met bestselling suspense author James Scott Bell twice.
I don't think he will remember me, but I most definitely remember him.
 Mr. Bell--what, you think I'm going to call him Jim?--encouraged me when I was a newbie-nobody writer. And I've never forgotten him.
More then ten years ago, I attended the Colorado Christian Writers Conference in Estes Park. I'd paid for a critique of a chapter with another established author who was teaching at the conference. I wasn't expecting a "You're on the fast train to the New York Times best-seller list" type of critique, but I didn't expect to have my hopes dashed. Don't get me wrong. The author told me I could write. Told me that my story was good. And then said I needed to change the setting and the time period. Since my story was biblical historical fiction, I was perturbed. Change the setting? Change the time period? I might as well toss my book out. (Caveat: I understood the advice. Biblical historical fiction wasn't selling back then. I just didn't like the advice.)
Immediately after this 30 minute appointment, I had a 15 minute appointment with James Scott Bell. I'd never met him. Never read any of his books--but something in his bio made me think, "He's probably a good person for me to talk to this weekend."
I had no idea.
I walked to the appointment. Sat down.
JSB (the professional author wearing a driving cap): "How can I help you?"
Me (the oh-so-discouraged newbie-nobody): "I don't know why I'm here."
At this point, Mr. Bell could have said something like, "Great! We've got nothing to talk about. I've got 15 spare minutes to go get coffee!"
I wouldn't have blamed him.
Instead, he looked at me and said: "Well, maybe I can help you with that."
And he then proceeded to listen to me talk about the critique, the feedback--and help me unpack it, even giving me suggestions on how I could make my story work, maybe even turn it into a three book series.
Did I follow his advice and go on to writing success, massive royalties and a movie producer optioning my book?
But I learned a lesson: Encouragement is invaluable. It may not solve all your problems. It may not launch you to an instant book contract--but encouragement gives you hope. Encouragement enables you to dust off discouragement, put it in perspective and try again.
I met Mr. Bell again at the 2010 ACFW conference--ran into him in an elevator jam-packed with people. I managed to grab a few seconds as the elevator went between floors to say, "You probably don't remember me but ..." After all the years I finally thanked him for encouraging me.

In Your Words: I am forever thankful that James Scott Bell took the time to speak hope into my life. What about you? Who has spoken hope into your life when discouragement threatened to destroy your dreams?

I seem to have an encouragement theme weaving through my blogs this week. To read about best-selling author Liz Curtis Higgs, who prefers to be known as an encourager, check out my blog post at the MBT Ponderers: 4 Key Truths for Writers from Encourager Liz Curtis Higgs (& a book giveaway).

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Monday, August 01, 2011

In Others' Words: Wrong

Photo by grebenru/

"A long dispute means both parties are wrong." ~Voltaire

Update: "Thinking I'm right is wrong." ~Beth K. Vogt, with compliments to my friend, Doug (a.k.a. "Wise Guy"), who taught me and my husband this concept

That whole "Who's right and who's wrong" concept? I struggle with it. Complete honesty: I like to be right. 

When my husband Rob and I are, um, in a heated debate, it's easy to see how wrong he is--and how right I am. I don't understand why he can't see things from my perspective: the right one.
This I'm-right-and-you're-not attitude created some extended tension between Rob and I. Seems we're both stubborn. (There's just no other way to say it.) Oftentimes, I opted to just wait-out my husband. You know what usually happened? I fell asleep. Or I forget why I was so all-a-dither. 
Then we had the advantage of partaking of the counsel of "Wise Guy." His point (one of many excellent points): If you are determined to be right, that means you are just as determined to make someone else wrong. Is that really the goal in your relationship: to make the other person be wrong? 
Here's another life-giving principle Wise Guy taught us: Sometimes you are going to be upset with one another. One person may be ready to deal with the problem and one may not be ready. Realize that and agree to discuss things within a certain time frame.
We now have a 72-hour limit on arguments. And yes, I have been known to say, "I have 72 hours before I have to talk to you." 
Funny thing is, I think I've only reached that limit once in the last five years after I embraced the "Thinking I'm right is wrong" principle. 

In Your Words: Don't worry, I'm not going to ask you to divulge your last argument with your spouse or best friend. But I will ask this: How do you handle friction? Do you come out swinging, determined to deliver a knockout punch and prove that you are right? Or are you able to see the other person's side? 

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