Tag Archives: Writing

Thick Skin

I never really liked the term “thick skin.” The Urban Dictionary defines thick skin as the ability to withstand criticism and show no signs of any criticism you may receive getting to you. In the writing business, a writer is expected to have thick skin. After all, it is one of the few professions where you put your heart and soul out for the world to critique you in a very public way.

RhinoThe reason I never liked the term is because many times it seems thick skin goes deeper, into a hardening of the heart. But if my heart is hard and calloused, how can I write from my heart? And how does one develop this “thick skin” that supposedly saves you from the hurt and doubt that comes from criticism?

Those were the thoughts I had this morning. I’ve been writing for years, I have two published books with another one soon to be released, and finaled in a couple awards.

I don’t have thick skin. What I do have is experience. It is not success that builds thick skin, it is disappointment. No matter how much you prepare for that first hard hitting review or intense criticism, it still hits hard. It is in that moment that you start to figure out who you really are as a writer.

Who do you write for? Why do you write? It is the answer to these questions that keep you going. This is your “thick skin.” No matter what other people say, you know deep down this is why you do what you do.

Who do I write for? Honestly? I write for myself. Yep. I don’t write for an audience, I don’t even write for God, although my writing becomes an outpouring of my questions, awe, and understanding of God.

Here’s why: audiences are fickle. Their tastes can change from year to year. If I were to tailor my writing after my audience, I would be chasing the wind and find disappointment when what I wrote doesn’t match up with what the current audience desires. If I am going to spend a couple hours a day for a year or more on a novel, I am going to write the story that burns inside of me. Granted, that may mean I don’t find an audience for my story, but I will have spent the better part of my time enjoying what I did.

Why do I write? I am a storyteller. I have these stories with complex characters thrown into awful situations and I have to figure out how they survive! As I start to write the story, I connect with the character. I feel what they feel. I understand their past and why they ended up in this situation. I ask the same questions they are asking.

This is my thick skin. When I receive a review that hurts, I remind myself why I write. No matter what the person says, he or she cannot take that away from me. When someone dislikes a character or scene, I take it in stride. I wrote for myself. I won’t please everyone. As long as I am pleased with the character or scene, then that is enough for me.

How about you? What is your “thick skin”? Why do you write and who do you write for?

 

My First Rejection

RejectI am a stubborn woman (I think my husband just said amen to that!). I figure out my goal and throw myself at it. I strategize, plan every minute detail, and calculate my odds at achieving that which I want most. I subconsciously live by the belief that if I just work hard enough at it, I can have it.

But sometimes what I want and what God wants for me are two different things.

Sometimes He says wait.

I just received my first book rejection two weeks ago. Now at first that would seem like a bummer. No one likes to be rejected. However, this person had a lot of nice things to say about my manuscript. As a writer, I needed to hear that. But she let me know, in the end, that the Christian book market (at this point) is not looking for a book like mine.

Anything else I could work with. If my manuscript needed more work, I could do that. Better writing, a thorough grammar check, a stronger main character: those are things I have control over. But the market? No matter how hard I work, I cannot change the market.

I stared at the email a couple more times, elated that someone liked my work and yet disheartened about the state of the market. Why write then? I thought. Then God pointed out two things:

He is not confined by the market. He can do what He wants when He wants. If God wants my book out there, then He has the power to do it (that if is a scary word).

And…

Only He can make it happen. I can write the best book I can, but only God can bring together the market and the people to make it happen. That is out of my hands.  Believe me, the stubborn side of me wants to. But I can’t.

So what do I do now? I write and wait on Him. Waiting is not easy, but it produces patience and self control. Instead of barreling on ahead with my own agenda, I am learning to quiet myself and wait for God to move. That might be months or it might be years. I might not see it in my lifetime. But I believe that I am supposed to write. So therefore I will continue down the path God has shown me and trust Him with the ending to my own life story.

***

I wrote that post back in September 2010. Two years later I published my first book, Daughter of Light, with Marcher Lord Press. The next year Daughter of Light finaled in many prestigious awards. Along with that I published the second book in the series, Son of Truth. I am now finishing the last bit of rewrites on Heir of Hope, the third and final book in the Follower of the Word series.

God has done so much with my writing since I received my first rejection, above and beyond what I ever imagined! Sometimes I need to remind myself that I have no idea what God is going to do, but to just trust. Writing is hard, very hard, and I want to know that I’m not wasting my time. But the future is not mine to know.

I want to encourage those of you who are writing to keep on writing. Place your dreams and stories before God. I don’t know what He’s going to do with them, but when they are done for Him, they won’t be done in vain, even if it touches one soul. In the end, it is worth it.

For Love or Money?

moneyA friend of mine posted a question on Facebook: “Would you rather do what you love and barely make ends meet or do what you tolerate for abundance?”

Good question. I think most people would say they would rather do what they love. After all, who wants to be chained to a mundane job day after day for forty years if they had a chance to do what they love?

The problem is, I think people view the whole “do what you love and be poor” idea with rose-tinted glasses. Sure, they would live in a smaller house and drive a cheaper car if they could just do what they wanted. However, sometimes being poor doesn’t mean having less, it means not having at all.

Dan and I are both currently doing what we love and what we believe we have been called to do. Dan is a pastor and I am a writer. We wouldn’t trade what we do for the world. But love for our work is not always enough to sustain us:

-When medical bills come in.

-When your doctor says you need a procedure done and the insurance doesn’t cover it.

-When a family member is facing death and you can’t go to be with them because you can’t afford the plane ticket.

-When the car breaks down and you don’t know how you’re going to fix it.

-When you wonder how you’re going to feed your family.

The reality is there are times when you get tired of scraping by and wondering how you are going to provide for your family every month. Sometimes the stress out weighs the love. That’s when love is not enough to sustain you.

So how do we do it?

Honestly? I cry. I pray. And God meets me where I am. He has always taken care of us. We have never went hungry, never went without a roof over our heads. Each and every need He has provided for. And I have learned to be content with what I have in the process.

Love alone doesn’t keep us going. I’m not sure if it could keep anyone going in the long run. But doing what we love and placing our love in God’s hands, trusting Him to take care of us, that is what helps us during the rough patches.

How about you? Would you rather do what you love or be secure financially even if that meant doing something you don’t necessarily enjoy?

 

How I Write a Novel

Last week I shared on my facebook page that I had written almost 100,000 words on Heir of Hope (the third book in the Follower of the Word series). I had one person leave a comment that she had written 10,000 words and that was hard for her. She couldn’t imagine writing 100,000 words!

You know, she’s right. I remember back in high school and college writing a 15-20 page paper and I thought that was a killer (and I had weeks to work on it). Now I write that much in less than a week. So how do I do it? How do I not only write 100,000 words, but actually write something worth reading? Here is how I write a novel.

1) I plan my novels out years in advance. I have an idea and I create a folder for it on my computer. As the idea grows, I add to the folder (like scenes, dialogues, character information, etc…). I also recently started using Pinterest as a place to keep images that inspire me. By the time I am ready to sit down and write the novel, I pretty much know who is in the book and what is going to happen.

Storyboard
                              My storyboard

2) I take one day and do a storyboard. I condense every scene/chapter into one sentence, write it on a sticky note, and pin it to my board. This becomes my map. I don’t always follow it exactly, but it gives me the big picture and major events so I don’t get writer’s block.

3) I write the rough draft. Usually the rough draft comes out to be about 120,000+ words and takes me almost a year to write. I will admit every time I start a novel, I feel overwhelmed by the idea of writing that much. So I break it down. I remind myself that to eat an elephant, you just need to take one bite at a time (no, I don’t eat elephants, but it is a great picture).

My “bite” is 500 words a day, 4x a week. Every week, every month, until the novel is done. Most of the time I write more, and sometimes 5 or 6x a week. But there are some weeks when writing feels like pulling teeth. I groan and gripe and drag my computer out and make myself sit and write 500 words.

I had one month not too long ago that all I could do was write 500 words a day, and that is all I did. Usually this happens in the middle of the book. I’m tired, I hate everything I’ve written, and I don’t know if I will ever reach the end. But I press on. I don’t go back and change anything, I just keep writing a little bit everyday. Usually I find my joy again when I reach the last third of the book and see the light at the end. I also realize what I wrote wasn’t bad. In fact it is quite good and worth keeping (one reason why I don’t go back, usually it’s my emotions rather than reality that is telling me my writing is junk).

4) After almost a year of writing, I finish the rough draft. At this point, I am sick of this story and need to do something else. I put the rough draft away for a month and recharge, usually by reading gobs of books or playing games. Then I come back and spend 2-3 months tightening all the scenes, checking for continuity, adding description, and making sure the flow is good. I don’t do a lot of rewrites, probably why it takes me so long to write a rough draft. I put most of my energy and thoughts into the story during the rough draft stage. When I come back, the meat of the story is there, it just needs some clean up.

5) I do one more glance over for grammar and typos, then I am done. I have completed a novel. Is it ready for publication? Not at all. I’ll explain next week how I publish a novel. This is simply how I write a novel: one bite at a time 🙂

How to become a Writer

Writer

I am asked all the time where a person interested in writing should start. I remember wondering the same thing. It took two years for me to finally find resources, people, and places where I could learn the craft of writing. Here is what I found. Hopefully you find my list useful 🙂

There are two parts to writing for a new writer: learning how to write and practicing it.

First, learning. I learned the craft of writing by reading books, attending classes or conferences, and learning from other writers. Here are some great resources to get you started.

 

Books:

The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke (he’s my editor and good at what he does. His books and seminars are phenomenal)

Plot vs Character by Jeff Gerke

Fiction Writing for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

 

Conferences:

The Oregon Christian Writers put on some great one day seminars and a summer conference. Here is their website: Oregon Christian Writers

Two nation conferences I have been to and recommend are the ACFW Conference and Mt Hermon Writers Conference

 

Organizations/Blogs:

Here are some blogs or organizations I am a part of that help writers learn:

-Randy Ingermanson’s blog Advancedfictionwriting

Bestseller SocietyThis site is a great place for video and audio teaching and the instructor is Jeff Gerke for the fiction track. I think it’s about $35 a month and you can pay for one month or more.

ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). This organization offers local chapters you can be a part of, online classes, a place to ask seasoned authors questions, and a yearly conference.

 

All of the above are great places to start learning the craft of writing.

As far as practice: write, write, write! My friend Randy says that you usually need to write a million words before you start writing something worth reading. I wrote for about six years and had a finished novel and the rough draft of another before I was published. I wrote when the kids napped, early in the morning, or at night. Even now I write for about 1-2 hours most days and get in about 500-1,000 words (everything in writing is measured by words).

Now, go forth and write!

 

Why Do I Write?

Ink and quillToday I was encouraged by post by my friend Mike Duran titled Your Reason to Keep Writing. This post came at a time where I was once again wrestling with the question, “Why I do I write?”

I struggle with this question at least once a month. I’m not wildly successful, at the top of the charts, or have thousands of reviews, the measurement stick of how the world would define my success as an author. So why put in all this effort, all this time, if the pay out for writing is peanuts?

But as I was talking to Dan this morning, I realized I write because I have stories burning inside my heart, stories about God. I have to write. If I didn’t, I think the words inside me would overflow.

I get discouraged sometimes, or afraid that I won’t finish the rough draft of my latest story, or secretly wonder if I would be more productive if I chose something else to fill my writing time, like a job. But I keep coming back to writing. Everytime.

I write the stories in my heart. I must. And when my story touches the heart of another, even better.

How about you? Why do you write? What keeps you going when you just want to give up?

 

What I Learned My First Year as a Published Writer

It’s hard to believe I’m approaching my first year as a published writer. The journey has felt like a roller coaster, with a lot of ups and downs, moments of panic, and wondering if the world will stop spinning. It was a crazy year! Looking back, here are three things I learned during the ride:

1)   Not everyone is going to like your book. Ouch. I knew that, but it is different when you experience it. It took some time to get over the fact that not everyone would enjoy my work, whether because of style differences, genre differences, etc. But I learned to move on. After all, I don’t enjoy everything I read either, and I should allow people their differences.

2)   Don’t read your reviews. That was a hard one for me to learn. I could have 12 positive reviews and one negative one and guess which one I would focus on? Yep. It’s like having a stain on your favorite shirt. No matter how much you try to ignore it and not let it get under your skin, your eyes keep coming back to it. Finally after a couple months, I decided not to look at my reviews at all. I figured reviews were there for the readers anyway, not for me. I had written the book to the best of my ability. That’s about all a person can do. Once I stopped looking at my reviews, I found peace.

3)   It’s not so much about developing tough skin as it is about guarding your heart. I never liked the idea of developing tough skin. It felt like I was hardening my heart as well. And since I write from my heart, I couldn’t let that grow hard or the soul of my writing would suffer. But in letting my heart remain soft, I allowed it to be hurt.

CastleAfter months of hurting, I finally asked my husband how he dealt with all the negativity in his life. As a pastor he receives a lot of criticism and yet I hardly ever saw it affect him. So he shared with me how he guarded his heart. He imagines his heart is a castle. He only allows 2 voices into that castle: God and me (since I am his wife). Then there is a wall, and within the courtyard he allows the voices of his most trusted friends. Then there is a moat and there he allows friends and acquaintances.

When he shared this with me, I realized how many voices I was allowing into the very heart of me, voices that really had no business being there. And by listening to all those voices, I wasn’t hearing the ones I needed to hear.

So I put his idea into action. One day I had someone tell me I wasn’t good at grammar. I’m not. It is one of the weakest areas in my writing. But then I imagined my heart. Her voice had no business inside my castle. Yes, she was right, but I already knew that. What I didn’t need is her voice echoing around inside my heart, reminding me over and over again of that fact. Instead, I needed to acknowledge the truth of her words, but not let her over the moat.

My heart remained soft, but not damaged.

Being a writer is the hardest thing I have ever done (apart from being a parent). I confess: if I knew it would be this hard, I would have probably given up a long time ago. But I would have also missed the joy of being creative, of sharing my heart with people, and seeing a dream come true.

How about you? What have you learned, either from a new job, a new relationship, or a new way of life? What were the struggles? How did you overcome them?

 

 

Marketing for an Audience of One

Many of us Christian writers have heard the term “write for an audience of One.” Our first audience is God. When God is our audience, we seek only to please Him, and to let Him do what He wants with our writing.

Recently, it occurred to me that the same idea applies to book marketing. I am not marketing myself. I am not marketing my book.

I am marketing God.

When I interact with a reviewer, I am connecting with someone who may or may not know God. Through my emails, phone calls, or letters with reviewers, I am displaying God to them, even if I never mention His name.

When I do an interview, the words I write or say go out to a group of people I will probably never meet. But through an interview I have an opportunity to share my life, my passions, and my writing. And through that, whether overtly or covertly, I share God.

And when I am invited to do a blog post, I am sharing God, even if the topic I write about is writing. This is because people are not just reading about how to write a scene, or how the theme of forgiveness is woven into my story. They are also reading me. And when they read me, they are reading God.

When I realized this, marketing took on a whole new perspective. If I am marketing myself or my book to drive up sales, that will only last temporarily. Sure, I might reap the benefit of more money or a higher rating on Amazon. But it will disappear, whether the next day, week, month, or year.

But when I view each thing I do as a chance to share God with this world, then marketing takes on an eternal value. Imagine that. Marketing as a way to be a light in the world :).

This is the passion and goal behind my marketing: to reach as many people as I can. I hope that by my words and actions, the people I interact with will see someone who is different. And that will point them to God, the one I really want people to embrace.

 

When Reading Loses its Magic

When I was a child, I devoured books. In fact, I broke the record of the most books read in one year at my elementary school. I read anything I could get my hands on. I even read Shakespeare, biographies, and encyclopedias :).

As an adult, my love for a good story continued. I found myself blessed with a husband who loved reading. Even better, we loved the same kind of books. We read Star Wars novels together, Harry Potter together, even Twilight. And I would read whatever nonfiction he was going through, whether it was on church ministry, leadership, or spiritual disciplines.

It wasn’t until I became a writer that reading began to lose its magic. I still read, but now that I was learning the craft of writing myself, I began to critique what I read. I couldn’t help myself. If I learned to stay in one-person point of view, then every book I read that didn’t follow that rule I thought was wrong.

As an author recently put it, reading a book is like watching a magic show. It’s fascinating and you are caught up in the spectacle. But when you start to learn the magician’s tricks, the show loses its charm. You know how he does it now. And you begin to critique the magician if he doesn’t do it right.

So how does a writer find her way back to the magic of simply enjoying a story? That’s a hard one, a feat that has taken me almost 2 years to learn.

One, I had to learn to turn off my inner editor. If there is one thing I have learned in writing, it is there are many styles of writing. And one style is not necessarily better than another. Just different. Both accomplish the same thing: a well-written, emotionally engaging book. But if I let my particular style drive my reading, then I am bound to be disappointed in a book that is different than me.

Two: don’t go into a book with preconceived ideas or emotions. What do I mean? In this industry, it can be easy to let jealousy come in and distort my view of a book. That is not right. If I am jealous, I will not see the good in a book, I will only be looking for the bad. But if I learn to rejoice with my fellow authors when they produce a good book, then I will enjoy their written work (for more on that topic, click here).

Thirdly, I need to let myself enjoy the experience of reading. Drink a cup of tea, curl up on the couch. Allow myself to be drawn in and taken to another place. And make the writer part of myself stay home! It has no place in my pleasure reading.

When I do this, I am finally free to just simply read. I get to experience the book as a reader. And the magic of reading comes back, just the way I remember it as a child.

 

Marketing for Writers on a Dime

First, my philosophy in marketing is how effective is whatever I’m doing compared to the time/money I have to put in? As a mother of four kids and the wife of a pastor, I have limited time to use toward my writing and marketing. So unless it guarantees a big return, I am reluctant to do something that requires a lot of time.

Same with money. My family just came off of being unemployed for a year and we are currently recovering from that. And as a small indie publisher, I have very limited resources from my publisher. Not that I’m complaining, I absolutely love Marcher Lord Press and there are some benefits you get with going with an indie publisher vs a traditional publisher (that will be a topic for another time ;)). Lastly, I see marketing as a small, step by step, reader by reader process. If I gain even one more reader through my endeavors, then I see that as a win.

So here is what I have done that has required little time and money:
-I started a blog 2 years ago (and here it is :)). I love blogging and so it’s not a hard thing for me to do. I blog about anything and everything on my heart and am not afraid to bring up sticky issues like what does a person do when they have lost their faith or how to deal with bitterness. Through my blog I have found a small readership who isn’t just writers. They appreciate my candid approach to faith and that readership has transferred over to my book.

-Build a relationship with the people you interact with on Facebook, don’t just talk about your writing life. Most of the people in your life do not understand the writer’s life nor do they really care. But when you are a real person with kids who do funny things or issues you are passionate about, you build ties with readers.

-Send arcs 3-4 months in advance to some big review places like Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, even Locus magazine. I sent to about 10-12 places and only heard from 2. But that was 2 more than I had the day before :).

-I chose not to do endorsements. At the time I was getting ready for my book release, I was also getting a house ready for the market and moving across states. Since endorsements have never influenced my choice in books, it wasn’t high on my priority list. And I didn’t really know anyone personally to ask, except one friend. She had just signed a contract for 2 books (hurrah!) and was honest and said she didn’t have the time, which was fine by me.

-Reviewers: I’m still learning this aspect of marketing. I do a lot of research into a reviewer before I ask them to review. I see what their site is like, do they like my kind of book, do they post their reviews in other places besides their blog? I know traditional publishers can send out a lot, but since every review book I send out comes out of my own pocket, I am selective on who I give one to.

-How to find reviewers: I just spent yesterday looking up quite a few of them. I looked over amazon’s top 150 reviewers, saw who reviewed my kind of book and sent them a nice, polite email with a request for a review. I also see who is reviewing my peers’ books and see if they would review mine. I have already received responses, all positive, and half of them said they would review.

-Always be respectful and polite. For one thing, you are an example of Christ to whoever you interact with (for the Christian writer). Secondly, it might win you a review. I had someone respond yesterday that they were so impressed that I actually took the time to look at their blog and read their posts that even though she was bogged down, she was going to make a spot and do a review for me.

-Be a part of Goodreads. I had never heard of this site before, but it is a great place to interact with your readers. Also check out Shelfari.

-Do a book giveaway with Goodreads. I am finding that a giveaway gives your book great exposure and it’s free advertisement! And it’s going on right now, so if you’re interested, here is the link: Goodreads book giveaway

-Book trailers. Not everyone likes them, but some people do. And it might bring them one step closer to purchasing your book. If you have a mac, it comes with iMovie. That is how I made mine: Daughter of Light Book Trailer

-I have not done a blog tour, but thinking about it.

-Remember, you can’t do everything or you’ll go crazy (not to mention not have time to write!). Do what you are good at. I don’t twitter or do pininterest because I don’t know how or have the time to keep either updated. I’m good at FB and so that is what I do for now.

– And lastly, remember God might have different plans for your book than you do. Keep your priorities straight: God, spouse, family, then writing. Sure, there are seasons when writing needs to take a front seat (like that dash to the release date), but it shouldn’t stay there. Be who you are suppose to be, have eyes open and ready for opportunities, and give your writing and marketing to God.

When you think you did it all yourself, you take the glory away from God. But when you give your marketing to God’s control, He might surprise you and in the end, all you can say is “God did it, not me!”