A New Season

Ah… Fall. My favorite time of year! I love the colors of the leaves, the crispness in the air! It’s the time to take long walks down leaf-strewn country roads. The time to wander through a corn maze or go to a Fall Festival. The time for apple cider and hot chocolate and all things “pumpkin spice.”

It’s the beginning of a new season. The heat of the summer is past, and as we look forward to cooler weather, we put away our tank tops, shorts, and sandals. I’m ready to break out my jackets, sweaters, and cute boots. How about you?

It’s a new season for my writing, as well.

I’m working on Book 2 in my series, and I’m finding that it’s a very different experience the second time around.

When I started working on Book 1, no one knew about it. Just me and the Lord. It was our little secret. I could work at my own pace. I could make mistakes. I could start, stop, and then start again. I had the freedom to create this little world of my imagination however I wanted.

After a little while, I let a few people in on my secret – those I trusted with my little dream. I even let a few of them read my work! It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time.

As time went on, more people entered my writing world, as I joined a writers group, then a critique group. I met more writers at conferences and made new friends.

But for the most part, my writing world was still “quiet.”

As I begin work on Book 2, it’s so very different. My writing world is crowded. There are more people involved. More who know about my little dream. More who ask me, “How’s it going?”

I’m trying to get published. Which means going to conferences, meeting agents and editors. Sending proposals. And waiting. Lots of waiting.

But there is still much to do during the waiting periods. I have social media to worry about. Did I tweet today? What should I share on Facebook? I need to update my blog. What will I write about? Am I “engaging” my audience? Am I building my “brand” and “platform”?

For, you see, that is what agents, editors, and publishing houses look at. It’s what they expect me to do – to market myself and my writing. But also, to write. All while holding down a day job. And cooking. And doing the laundry. And oh yeah, trying to have a life somewhere in between.

And I’m finding that it’s just much “louder” this time around. I’m not sitting in my writing room, just me and the Lord, playing with words, creating characters and worlds from my imagination.

There are expectations, people to please, audiences to find, pressures to excel.

And while all of this can be a good thing, it does a number on one’s creativity.

I’m finding that I must try even harder to shut out the “noise.” I have to be mindful to close myself off to the outside world and immerse myself into the writing world. Consciously. Forcefully, even.

The desire to write is still there. Maybe even more so, since I am re-visiting characters I have come to love. Like visiting with old friends. And I can’t wait to see what the future holds for them.

It’s still fun. It’s still thrilling and terrifying. But it’s just different. A new season. But just as I look forward to sweater weather and bonfires, I can look forward to this new season – with all its possibilities and unexplored paths and new discoveries that are just waiting for me. And soon the new will become as familiar and comfortable as my favorite pair of boots!

What about you? What is YOUR favorite thing about Fall? What have you discovered through the different “seasons” of life? Please join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

Happy Blog-iversary!

I just realized that this month marks 3 years that I’ve been doing this blog. Wow! How did that happen?

Time certainly marches on, and day by day, week by week, the years roll on. And here we are, 3 years into this whole “blogging” thing, and I still have much to learn.

I started this blog because of reading the book, “The Circle Maker,” by Mark Batterson. In it, Mark explains how he had a “circle” of people praying for him as he wrote his first book. And it inspired me to create my own circle of friends and family to hold me up in prayer as I wrote my first book.

The blog became a way for me to communicate with you all as I progressed through the process. And then something incredible happened.

I gained a little confidence. I got serious. I read books about the “craft” of writing. I took an outlining class. I spent nights and weekends holed up in my writing room, pounding away at the keyboard until I had finished the first draft. A whole completed novel! I really did it! And you prayed me through it!

Then, I joined a writers group – my local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. I started going to monthly meetings. I talked “shop” with other writers. I learned. And learned. And learned.

I joined a local critique group of 4 other women. I read their chapters and gave feedback. I shared my chapters and got feedback. And I got better.

And I kept writing. I wrote and edited and re-wrote and proofread and re-wrote again. I polished (and in some cases, wrestled) that little story into something else – a “manuscript” (which is what the publishing world calls it).

I began to see myself as a “real writer.” And then I did something truly scary – I attempted to get published.

I entered contests, sharing my writing with faceless, nameless “judges” who held my little dream in their hands. I went to writing conferences, meeting more writers and making new friends. I learned about “pitching” and what “one sheets” are. I sat down across from Agents and Editors and pretended to know what I was doing as I told them about my manuscript.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be attending the ACFW’s annual conference. This year, it’s being held in Nashville, TN. It’s my first time attending this large, national conference. I’ll write more about the conference later, but it’s hard to believe the path I’ve traveled in just 3 years. Going from a total newbie who knew next to nothing about writing to sort of feeling like I’m starting to get a handle on what it is to be a writer.

Most importantly, what I’ve learned in that time is that being a writer is truly what God has designed me to be. It is not just what I do, but who I am. And when I write, I feel like the best version of myself.

I’m so thankful for your continued support, encouragement, and prayers. Without them, I wouldn’t be here, still plugging away in 2016. My little “circle” has grown bigger, but it’s still as special to me. Thank you for continuing on this journey with me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share by leaving a comment!

Thankfulness

 

It’s Thanksgiving! I hope you and your family and friends are spending time together, eating good food, and most of all – remembering to be thankful for all our blessings.

Every year I make a mental list of the things for which I am thankful. And the list is long. This year, I especially want to make note of all the new writer friends and colleagues I have gained. Some of these people I have met through conferences and some through writers groups. My critique group is a wonderful source of encouragement and growth for me. My local ACFW group is a source of learning and fellowship. And there are numerous friends I have made at conferences that I can keep up with through social media.

In the past year, I have completed my manuscript, received a request to submit it to a publisher, had it fully critiqued, rewrote, edited, proofed, edited again, and had it read by a group of gracious beta readers. That’s a lot to accomplish in a year!

It’s been a lot of hard, but I don’t regret one minute of it. It’s a lifelong dream to have a finished book in my hand. The next part of that will be to get it published, so I have more dreams to look forward to in the coming year.

Most of all, I want to thank God for allowing me to be a part of what He’s doing in the world through fiction. I don’t take it lightly that He’s called me to write, and I count it a privilege to come alongside His work. It’s His story; He just let me write it down. I never want to forget that.

In the midst of turkey, dressing, and desserts, I hope we’ll all take a moment to reflect on what God has done in our lives this year and to give Him all the glory. I also hope that we’ll carry that attitude of gratitude with us each day of the coming year.

What are you thankful for this year? Leave a comment and let me know.

Questions I Ask Myself

I’ve been working through the beta reader feedback and the last of the critiques of the chapters from my critique group.

Now that the story is all out there on the pages, the characters are formed, the plot is set, and the message is embedded, I find myself pondering the greater questions. Here’s one that came to mind recently: Is this story compelling?

This topic was discussed in a writing article I read, and I don’t remember where or I would put a link here, but here’s the idea: A story needs to be compelling and needs to include a topic or related incidents that readers want to read about.

So I ask, is MY story compelling? Is the topic and/or related incidents something that MY readers will want to read about?

I know the answer will be different for everyone, but I hope that for the most part, people will find my story compelling. Here’s how I answered this question to myself:

What is compelling about my story? Sam searching for her father’s killer, but more than that, she is searching for a relationship with the father she never knew. Which also relates to her relationship with God as her Father. I want the readers to care about Gabriel so that they want/need Sam to find out what really happened to him.

Not everyone will relate to the fact that Sam is estranged from her father. I know that her relationship with Gabriel, or lack thereof, is the very opposite of my relationship with my own dad. We are very close, and I’ve always been a “Daddy’s girl.”

But, I think that’s part of what made me want to explore this story and how Sam was affected by growing up without her father. I can’t relate to that, so I wanted to discover Sam’s story and try to understand how that situation felt to her.

I think the idea of dads and daughters is a universal one, as is the way we relate to God as our Father. I’m hoping that the character of Sam and her journey is a compelling idea that will resonate with readers long after they turn the last page.

Tell me what makes a story compelling to you? What about a story do you relate to most? The characters? The setting? The plot? What do you look for in a great read? Leave a comment below and let me know.

 

Beta Reader Feedback

I’ve received the feedback from each of my Beta Readers! I picked 5 people that I know love to read, some who read romantic suspense and some who don’t. Some of these people have known me for a while, some know me well, and some don’t know me well at all. Their ages range from early 20s to mid 60s. I wanted to get a small but diverse group that would represent the readers who will eventually be the audience for my book.

Sending your story out to beta readers isn’t easy on the emotions, nor is the anticipation of getting their feedback. Putting your work out there is a terrifying thing. You’ve worked hard, lost sleep, shed sweat and tears over this story. You love your characters as if they were your best friends. And now, you have to turn them over to others who may not love them as much as you do.

Opening yourself up for critiques leaves you feeling raw. It’s like that nightmare where you find yourself naked in front of a room full of people. But, it is all part of the process. A necessary evil in order to make your book the best it can be. Because you don’t want to send your child out into the world with tangles in her hair and clothes that don’t fit or match. No, you want her polished and looking her best.

Thankfully, the feedback overall has been positive. There were some great suggestions on ways I could improve the story, and I will be following up on those in the coming months. That’s why I asked for feedback in the first place. As much as I love having my ego inflated, flattery will not make my story better.

The Bible likens it to iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17). Think of a knife. It doesn’t get sharper by slicing through something soft, like cheese. The only thing to make it sharper is a hard, gritty surface that grinds away the dullness of the blade. And so it is with critique. It may not feel comfortable while it’s happening, but the end result will be so much better.

I owe many thanks to my beta readers, which I promise to deliver in a tangible way. And now, on to the next step – editing, re-writing, rinse and repeat.

What about you? Has there been a time in your life when you received some feedback that wasn’t easy to hear? How did you handle it? How did it change you for the better? Leave a comment to join in the conversation.

The What If Question

One of the most asked questions writers get is “How do you come up with your ideas for your stories?”

I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say that in general, story ideas begin at a certain starting point: asking “What if…”

The “What if” question can come from any small point of inspiration, and it can take a story in countless directions. Think of your favorite story. I bet you can come up with a “What if” question that goes with it.

For example, “What if a girl fell down a rabbit hole and found herself in a whole other world?” That would be Alice in Wonderland. How about this one? “What if a teenager was forced to compete in a fight to the death with other young people, for the entertainment value of a corrupted society?” That would be Hunger Games.

How about this one? “What if the man you thought you hated turned out to be the very man you were in love with?” This one is a bit more general, on purpose. It could probably go with many different stories. I’m thinking specifically of Pride and Prejudice, but do you see how a simple question could lead a writer in a thousand different directions?

The value of a “What if” question is that it can open up a world of ideas, and by asking and answering the question over and over again, you can eventually build a plot idea that turns into an entire book.

For me, the first “What if” question that I had for my first book was, “What if a woman grew up without a father? How would she relate to God as her Heavenly Father?” That question and the subsequent ones became the plot for Relentless Pursuit.

For Book 2, I started with this question: “What if Jake’s sister and Sam don’t get along?” Starting from that idea, I’ve been working through my “What if” questions for Book 2, and so far, I have over 2 pages of “What if” questions, each building from the answer to the one before it.

Some of them may never make it into the story, and some may lead down a useless “rabbit hole,” (haha), but in essence, all of them are important because they help to shape the idea into the story that it will become.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Did you think of a “What if” question for your favorite story? Leave a comment below to join in the conversation.

Still plugging away

So, it’s the end of August. How did that happen? Days turn into nights, which turn into weeks, which turn into months. Spring is gone. Summer is gone. It’s almost September.

I love Fall. It’s my favorite season, especially in Georgia, where we get to enjoy the beautiful leaves in brilliant yellows, oranges, and reds. It’s been a long, hot summer, and I’m ready for cooler temps, crisp air, and cute sweaters.

I’m still plugging away at getting the manuscript ready to submit to the publisher. Yes, it takes that long. Even longer sometimes.

My critique group is only 4 chapters away from the end of the book, so they should be completely through it in about a month or so. I’m editing, proofreading, re-writing, and editing some more, and starting to think about beta readers.

What is a beta reader, you ask? Well, according to the wonderful “Wikipedia,” a beta reader is: “a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting.”

This does not necessarily include your mother and your best friend – who, by the way, were my “alpha” readers.

Choosing the right beta readers is important, and I have a select few people that the Lord has laid on my heart that I’m going to reach out to in the next few weeks.

In addition to editing and re-writing, I’ve been contemplating a few writers conferences to attend in the coming year and even praying about sending the manuscript to a freelance editor before I submit to the publisher.

Through it all, I’m praying and asking the Lord for guidance and wisdom. This is His work, and I’m just blessed enough to get to come along for the ride and see what He will do with my tiny offering.

As always, I appreciate your prayers and support. Happy Fall, y’all!