Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Please forgive the cheesy Shakespeare reference.  It’s just that I’ve been feeling a little Hamlet-y lately.  You know, troubled, indecisive, grumpy. . .borderline insane.

Actually, I feel much better after making a very difficult decision. I am taking a vacation from writing. A sabbatical.  A breather.  I’m going to look at my situation in January and re-evaluate.

I’m sure, since you are passionately interested in all of my activities and decisions, that you want to know why I would do such a thing after plugging away steadily for five years. I can give you some very credible reasons.

See, I’m a mommy.  I just started homeschooling my oldest son. (That alone would be reason enough.) We signed up for Cub Scouts. He’s playing soccer. All of these things are going to make it murder to get to my critique group meetings.  Plus it’s football season here in this college town, and you know the Holidays are coming up. . .

Are you convinced yet? Some of you are, but I can see you writers out there shaking your head “no.”  If you’re a writer, none of these things would be enough for you to go cold turkey for the next four months.  And they’re not enough of a reason for me, either.  But maybe they should be.

Ah, see, now we’re getting to the heart of the matter.

Time for a flashback. A vivid memory of a conversation I had with my much beloved and respected sister-in-law.  It was when my youngest son was about five months old.  It was getting late and our respective families had gone to bed, but we had stayed up talking. I was telling her about my writing goals for the upcoming year, and I said something like, “Sometimes I wish I could just be a regular mommy with no writing projects to worry about.” She looked at me like I was crazy.  To her, it was pretty clear — if I wanted to be a mommy with no literary entanglements, I could be.  What was the problem?

You writers understand.  You know what it means to decide you’re going to write. Even if you slow down or encounter obstacles, you keep going.  Writer becomes part of your definition. And I’m sure you also understand that sometimes it would be easier if you didn’t have characters making conversation in your head while you’re trying to pay bills/bathe your children/fix dinner/(insert routine task here).

But for months now — maybe even longer — I’ve questioned whether writing was a good use of my time. My time doesn’t belong to me, after all, and I want to make sure I’m spending it well. And when I focus on my writing, I feel very selfish.

Every time I’ve talked to my friends about this, they’ve said, “Well, everyone has their hobbies.  Some people play golf, some people collect Star Wars figures.  You write.” (I know some writers who would be offended at having their writing referred to as a hobby, but I never have been.  Until I gain the credibility that comes along with publishing, I feel like it is “just” a hobby. That doesn’t mean I don’t take it seriously.)

I also hear a lot of people saying that having my “own” thing makes me a better mommy/wife/etc.   I’m not really sure I buy that. Even if I did, it’s not like this is the only interest there is for me to pursue.  I have an unfinished childbirth educator certification that’s been in limbo for several months. Not to mention sewing projects.

The point is that I have become too focused on my writing and on being a writer — reading, blogging, listening to podcasts, doing whatever I could to feed that aspect of who I am. I’ve been losing my focus on things that matter more. The fact is, I have kind of an obsessive personality. I tend to focus on one thing to the exclusion of all else, and I have to work hard to keep myself in check.

I’ve prayed about it a LOT.  I’ve asked for God’s help in deciding what to do. (What I really wanted was some clear cut sign: I’m gonna lay my manuscript on the table before I go to bed.  If you want me to keep writing, God, please let the manuscript be dry in the morning while the table all around it is wet. ) Instead, He has given me good, godly friends who’ve listened to my concerns.  It’s amazing when several people who you respect all give you essentially the same advice.

In addition to the counsel I’ve received, it was right after I started praying about this question again —  “Should I be writing?” — That I undertook the third revision of my novel.  If you’ve read any of my recent entries, you know how that has gone.

I’ve also considered a few reasons why I might not want to take a break now.  This blog is one.  Because I thought I was fairly close to finishing my novel, I thought it was a good time to start networking a little, maybe create a web presence. It seems a shame to put that effort to waste.

This reason is a little funnier: I finally took subscriptions to Writer’s Digest and The Writer after not getting them for Christmas or birthday gifts for the last several years. So I’ll be getting both of those, along with the Poets & Writers subscription that my darling husband signed me up for as a Valentine’s gift. (Or was it Mother’s Day? — I can’t remember — but what a husband I have. He has been so wonderfully supportive of my dream.)

Another reason not to quit or take a break is that I’m afraid of disappointing people.  My friends who think it’s cool that I’m following my dream. Or long time crit circle — we’ve grown quite close. I don’t want anyone to think I’m wimping out. I’ve always been very concerned — too concerned — about what people think of me.

And what about all the time, money, and energy I’ve spent up until now?  Won’t they all go to waste if I quit now? I guess in one sense they would, but in a bigger sense, because I’ve learned so much about the world and about myself, and I’ve made so many good friends, I can’t call it a waste.

And I don’t know yet if this is THE END of Laura the writer.  I strongly suspect not.

This is the thing — I have to know that I can give it up if I need to. I can’t allow anything in my life that is more important than serving the Lord. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.

I know that it’s possible to bring glory to God through my writing.  I hope that I give Him glory in everything I do — that’s what I’m here for. But the truth is, my primary motivation for writing is that I want to.

I sincerely hope and will continue to pray that this time away from it will give me some clarity, will help me decide what I need to do when January rolls around. I hope I feel like I’m able to come back to it, because I don’t want to quit. It’s been an arduous and tearful decision. Most of all, I hope that if I decide that writing can’t be part of my life, I’ll have the courage and grace to accept it.

If you want to contact me, I’ll still be notified of any comments posted to this blog, and you are more than welcome to e-mail me through the link in the sidebar. And I’m pretty sure I’ll still be blogging some here while my writing is on hiatus.

And I’ve written all of this without crying, which means I’ve made a pretty big breakthrough.

If you’ve stuck with me and read this whole post, I sincerely thank you for your dedication.  If you weren’t already there, you are now officially added to my list of very good friends.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Mt 16:24-26)


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I promised I would report back when I’d gone through the second quarter of my manuscript, so here I am.

The good news is that the writing improves as I move through the book.  This makes sense.  Although I didn’t write the first draft in a strictly linear fashion, I did move generally from beginning to end, with lots of jumping around.  I’d expect that my writing would improve with practice, and that appears to have happened.

This is especially good for me to know, because it means there is a high likelihood that whatever I write next will be better than this first manuscript.  And the thing I write after that will be better still.  This is what is keeping me sane right now, where my writing is concerned.  If I had no hope of improvement, I would be listing all my writing books on ebay right now.

But it’s not all good news, folks.  The manuscript stinks.   I’m not being hard on myself–I realize that there are a few lovely, redeeming passages. But as a whole, it needs a tremendous amount of work.

Some of the problems would be funny if they didn’t make me want to cry.  Repetitive gestures, for example. The people in my novel are very keen on lifting, raising and arching their eyebrows.  They also do a lot of deep breathing when they get stressed, and when they’re thinking, they do a lot of things “in silence.”  (Ok,  I’m about to choke, it’s so embarrassing.  At least I can see it, though, right?)

All of those things, pitiful as they are, probably wouldn’t be that hard to fix.  I can change gestures.  I can find other ways to demonstrate that my characters are stressed or thinking hard before answering a question. But there are bigger problems.

Point of view — I’m not a big head-hopper, so that’s good.  But I have a more subtle and devious problem.  A large part of my manuscript is written in a very distant third person.  What I mean is that while I only enter the thoughts of one character in any given scene, the writing doesn’t focus deeply on that one character’s perspective.  A lot of it is like watching things play out from no one’s point of view.  A distant POV makes it hard for a reader to identify strongly with a character.  And this particular problem will take a lot of work to fix.  So there’s that.

I also need to put more into characterization.  I know these people very well–I know who they are and what makes them tick.  But a lot more needs to be done to let the reader know them as well as I do–more characterization through action.

There are other things, people who need to be introduced sooner, little technical or logical problems that would be fairly easy to fix.

I feel like I have a better grasp now on what needs to be done.

Now I just have to decide what I’m going to do — Set this one aside?  Start something new?  Buckle down and fix it?  I’m actually considering taking a vacation from writing.  I’ll make a post about that next time.


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I don’t pass up a book by Brenda Coulter.  That’s how I am with authors I like.  And I’ve liked Brenda Coulter since her first book, Finding Hope. More about that in a minute.

I was really looking forward to reading At His Command, and it did not disappoint. (I really hope it’s ok for me to have a copy of the cover here — if it’s not, someone tell me quick and I’ll take it back down!) There are a couple of things I think Ms. Coulter handled particularly well in this story.

The first was the creation of vivid and memorable characters.  I think I could learn a lot from Brenda’s characterization techniques — the way she gives each character a few defining traits and then weaves those traits in and out of the whole story.  It really made Madeline and Jake come alive for me.

I also liked how tightly the story was written — she mentions the peanut allergy in the first chapter, where it adds humor to Jake’s aversion to Maddie’s presence.  But the peanut allergy isn’t there randomly; she puts it to good use later.  Also something I can learn from.

Anyway, if you’re at all inclined to read “inspirational” romance, you should give this one a try.  It’s a fun, fast read, and it will disappear from stores pretty soon.  If you need more incentive, check out the book trailer:

I think the trailer captures Brenda’s style very well.

And now, more about why I like Brenda Coulter so much.  Finding Hope, her first book, was the first Love Inspired (a Harlequin line) I ever read.  I liked it so much, I immediately did two things:

1- I subscribed to Love Inspired so I could read more great books like that, and

2-I checked out Brenda’s website.

The Love Inspired subscription didn’t last for long.  I couldn’t read the books as fast as they were sending them to me, so they were piling up on my nightstand.

The website, however, turned out to be more important.  For a long time I’d been toying with the idea, dreaming really, about writing.  Something about the story of how Brenda became a writer pushed me over the line from wishful thinking to determination.  I just knew somehow that if she could do it, there was a chance I could do it, too.

Since then I’ve read all of her books, and I’ve enjoyed every one. And I’ve at least begun the writing life myself, working slowly but steadily.


(Next time: What I’ve learned from the second 50 pages.)

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I have a little list of blog topics, a few drafts saved to polish up.  But this post was completely unplanned. It arose last night as I went through the first fifty pages of my 200+ page manuscript.

I’ve already done one major revision — I rearanged the scenes to get the main conflict started sooner, and I’ve cut out some scenes that didn’t advance the plot. Then I went through from beginning to end trying to clean up the prose.

So why all of a sudden the urge to trash it?  Part of the problem is that I’ve worked on it so slowly, looking at only a tiny chunk at a time — usually less than a chapter at any one sitting. I wrote it that way, and I’ve been editing it that way. I’ve been working on it like that for about five years. I’m a mommy — I’ve been squeezing it in where I could.

Now that I’m sitting down to read through a big section at one time, I see so many things that need to be fixed!  There are characterization issues, POV issues, plot issues — the story doesn’t propel itself forward like it should.

Part of the problem, no doubt, is that I’ve learned a lot about craft since I started on this story.  But I really think the biggest problem is the way I wrote it.

When I started crafting the story, I had a list of scenes that I knew had to happen. (Or at least, I wanted them to happen — several of those are gone now.) But I didn’t work from beginning to end, creating a logical sequence of one event that fed into another.  I wrote whatever scene I felt like writing at the time.  I thought it was a good strategy, and in truth the book probably still wouldn’t be finished if I didn’t let myself jump around in the first draft.

But what I’ve ended up with is a bunch of disconnected scenes — not one smooth story.

Can it be fixed? Probably.  But I’m not nearly as close to being finished with it as I thought. I think that’s the main source of discouragement at this point.  I thought I was closer to being done.  I’m about to tackle batch number two — pages 51-104.  (I thought I’d try to end the second batch at a chapter break.)

I’ll let you know If it looks any more salvageable after I finish this batch.

What do you do when you look at something you’ve written, and it’s awful?  Ok — maybe not totally awful, but in need of major surgery?

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The logo is gross, but the features are great.

The logo is gross, but the features are great.

Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16, NASB

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes need a little help focusing on a task. When I’m doing housework, for example, it really helps me to plug in an audiobook on my iPod to keep my mind occupied so I don’t get distracted. Otherwise, I tend to flit from one job to another without finishing anything. The same applies to my writing time.

For me, the ultimate distraction is the internet. It’s so. . .endless. My favorite social networking site is always calling my name. If I get on to check my comments, I can easily be lost down the rabbit hole for an hour — when I <i>should</i> be writing. And I really can’t afford to lose one second of valuable writing time — I’m still pretty much limited to nap time at this point.I blogged earlier about creating an alternate user account, and that’s one good option. But I’ve found something else that helps, too.

LeechBlock is a Firefox addon (You do use Firefox, don’t you?) that helps manage where and when you spend your online time. With it you can create different groupings of websites that are time wasters for you, and then put limits on them. You can assign hours when those sites are off limits, or you can limit the amount of time you spend on them.

And when you really have to get some writing knocked out, you can do a LeechBlock lock down. This lets you completely block any or all of the sites in your lists for a certain amount of time. This would be great if you’ve set a word count challenge for yourself.

The thing I like best about LeechBlock is that it’s specific. I can block only the sites that give me trouble without blocking sites I use while writing, like Thesaurus.com. Of course, even reference sites can end up being time wasters — you just have to decide how much you need to limit yourself.

LeechBlock, like Firefox is 100% free. If you haven’t tried Firefox, I highly recommend it. I’ve been using it as my primary browser for over a year now, and I’ve never looked back.

I have no idea if there’s anything similar for Explorer. If you’re an explorer user, and know of a way to put controls on your time spent on certain sites, add it to the comments, won’t you?

For those of you who use Mac, Freedom lets you completely disable your wireless (or Ethernet) internet connection for a certain period of time. That kind of lock down is a little hard core, but it might be just what you need to make yourself get the pages knocked out.

Do you have any favorite software that keeps you on track while you’re writing?


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Several years ago, I was browsing the “Christian fiction” shelves at my local Books-A-Million, and I picked up a book that looked promising. It was The Widow of Larkspur Inn by Lawana Blackwell, and it turned out to be one of my all-time favorite novels. I ended up buying the other two books in the series (The Courtship of the Vicar’s Daughter and The Dowry of Miss Lydia Clark) and I loved them as well.

I have loaned these books out many times–so many times that I’ve lost track of who had them and I’ve had to buy new copies. Everyone I’ve ever loaned them to has loved them too. I’ve since sought out and read most of Lawana Blackwell’s other books, and I’ve enjoyed them all. But in my opinion, her Gresham books are her best work. The world she’s created for these books–the small Dairying town of Gresham, feels like a real place to me.

And now, after many requests from her readers, Ms. Blackwell has treated us to another Gresham book, The Jewel of Gresham Green. It does not disappoint. Lawana Blackwell’s greatest strength is creating lovable and lifelike characters, and this book is no exception. It was so much fun to revisit Julia and Vicar Phelps and their families. The thing I like the most about Ms. Blackwell’s characters is that they always inspire me to be a better version of myself.

In this story we meet Jewel Libby, a lovely young widow living in Birmingham, England with her daughter, Becky. While Jewel works long hours, she fears for her daughter’s safety. Mr. Dunstan, the rent collector, has taken an unhealthy interest in four-year-old Becky, and Jewel must make some difficult decisions to escape him.

As a writer, one of the most enjoyable parts of this book was reading about Adela. Readers first met her in The Widow of Larkspur Inn, as the young daughter of widow Julia Hollis. Now she has grown into an independent woman—and a writer. Adela struggles to find the privacy to write and fears rejection of her work—things that most writers can identify with. I’m sure that Ms. Blackwell had fun drawing on her own experiences as a writer to create this adult version of Adela.

The Jewel of Gresham Green is most enjoyable for the chance it offers to revisit beloved characters in a beloved setting. I can’t blame Ms. Blackwell for wanting to add to this series. As a stand-alone novel, however, I think it would be more difficult to fully appreciate. I strongly recommend reading the earlier books from the Gresham Chronicles before reading this one.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?


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Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to be a writer, and for as long as I’ve known about pen names, I’ve wanted to have one of my own. (More about my reasons in another post.)

It took me a while to find a pseudonym that suited me. The first time I tried, I sat down with a baby name book and made a list of names I liked both the sound and meaning of, including names that I thought would make suitable last names. What I came up with was “Clara Brent.” One meaning for “Clara” is “light,” and “Brent” can mean “a high place or hill.” So “Clara Brent” together meant “a light on a high place, a la Matthew 5:15-16. “Brent” is also the name of a very dear uncle of mine who passed away when I was twenty, so it carried a special significance. I liked “Clara Brent,” but I felt like I needed something snazzier for the young adult market. That’s when I remembered a tidbit I’d picked up in a graduate course in children’s lit.

His name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, but you probably know him as Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (and many other delightful works). According to the information I found on the internet, Dodgson chose to write under a pen name to protect his privacy.

When in search of a pen name, he translated his first and middle names into Latin, getting “Carolus Lodovicus.” Then he reversed their order, changed them into more English forms, and voila! “Lewis Carroll” was born. (If you’d like to read more about Lewis Carroll, I recommend checking out the website of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America.)

I really liked the idea of a pen name that was linked in meaning to my real name. So I decided to try something similar. Unlike Charles Dodgson, I didn’t attend Oxford, and I’m completely unacquainted with Latin. So I decided I’d plug my first and last names into a baby name search engine, and see what the possible meanings for them were. Then I did a search for names that had the same or similar meaning, and this is what I came up with:

Laura–laurel, crown–Cole, Lawrence (and many others)

Weldon–glen, valley–Deena, Glenda (and many others)

Then, as Charles Dodgson did, I switched my first and last names (he switched first and middle), and put together from the lists I’d compiled the names I thought sounded nice and went together. The results (which you know if you’ve read my “About Us” page) were “Deena Cole” and “Glenda Lawrence.”

I thought Deena Cole sounded the best for young adult fiction–more modern. That’s the name I plan to publish under if this first WIP ever sells.

So what about you? Do you like the idea of using a pen name? Why? If you have a nom de plume, how did you come up with it?

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Like many of you, I’ve been watching the Olympics this week. Talk about excitement! Michael Phelps and Nastia Liukin, they take my breath away.

I was thinking this week as I watched how these athletes have worked so hard to make their dreams come true. But the truth is, they were also blessed with natural abilities that made those dreams a possibility. With all the training and practice in the world, I never could have been a Shawn Johnson, even if I had started when I was six.

And that of course, like everything else seems to, leads me to think about this writing thing I’m doing. Part of me wonders–ALL THE TIME–if I should even bother with writing at all. How much natural talent is required, and do I have enough? What if I work hard and keep at it, learn what I can, hone my craft, and my work still isn’t good enough? I know that no amount of work will guarantee that I’ll ever be published. I guess all writers face these doubts.

The thing I keep coming back to is that I really enjoy writing and the writing life. My dear husband reminds me all the time that even if I never get to count writing as more than a hobby, if I enjoy it, it’s worth it.

And the truth is, I don’t aspire to winning a gold medal. I’d be content just to qualify for the games.


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I mentioned Self Editing for Fiction Writers in a past post, but I decided that it really needs a post all it’s own. I originally purchased this book because I heard it recommended by so many people, including many multi-published authors.

Quite simply, it is one of the most useful books about the craft of writing that I’ve read so far, and I’ve read many. I like to reread it about twice a year, just for a refresher.

To share a little tidbit, the authors offer a formula they call 1 + 1 = 1/2. The idea is that when you put in two words, two sentences, two paragraphs, two scenes, two chapters, or two anything that are both there to serve the same purpose, you diminish the effect. That advice alone is worth the price of the book.

If you aren’t pleased with your writing and don’t know why, chances are good that Renni Brown and Dave King can point you to the answer, or at least the start of one, in this book. I recommend it to even seasoned writers.

If you’re a beginner, it may be a bit much to take in at once. Read it anyway. Let it sink in some; write more, revise more, and come back to it. You’ll “get” more of it the second time through.

If you’re serious about getting published, this book needs to be on your shelf. Or better yet, on your desk, dog-eared, highlighted, and sticky-noted.


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One of the dilemmas that I am faced with as a writer is that of reading and recommending books about writing (although this can apply to any type of book). There are many excellent books out there to teach writers ways to improve their craft or increase their chances of publication, but many of them contain material that is offensive to me as a Christian–“filthiness”, “coarse jesting” (See Eph. 5:4), and the like. In some books, this is minimal, and can easily be filtered by the reader the same way we must filter speech we hear in our everyday lives. In other cases, however, this content is so pervasive, that it can make a book unreadable for a Christian.

This is a problem not only in the reading, but also in the recommending of certain books. I have read books that contain a wealth of good information, but were so full of bad language and offensive humor that I felt it was impossible to recommend them. Take for instance Anne Lamott’s classic, Bird by Bird. I confess, I love this book. I think Lamott offers exactly the kind of encouragement that most writers need. But if I recommend it to fellow writers, will they think I approve of the language she uses? One of her chapters is titled, “Shoddy First Drafts.” It has some really important things to say about letting yourself write really awful stuff, because you can fix it later. But it’s title doesn’t actually use the word “Shoddy.” It uses another word with a similar sound.

I could make a list as long as Rapunzel’s hair. James N. Frey’s How to Write a D*** Good Novel is full of useful advice, but even the title is problematic. Stephen King’s On Writing contains priceless knowledge, but is littered with the kind of language and base references you’d expect to find in, well, one of his novels. By endorsing these books, which contain profane material, I fear I could diminish my influence as a Christian and fail to glorify God properly.

So why not just dispense with such books, and stick only with the ones that are relatively clean? That is one good option. I could end the article here, and it would be sufficient. There are plenty of good books about writing that aren’t full of profanity. Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King comes to mind. Rarely will you find such a useful tome, and while there is a smattering of unclean language, it does not dominate the text.

But I suppose I am stubborn, insistent on mining every resource for ore and discarding the slag. So here, in a nutshell, is how I handle otherwise valuable books that are overpowered by objectionable content:

  • Edit as I read. I read with a marker or correction pen and obliterate the undesirable text as I go. Since I’m not planning on selling or distributing my censored copy, I have no qualms about doing so. I know that most authors would rage against me and call me a communist for it, but when it’s my own, private copy, for my own private use, I will do with it as I see fit.
  • Recommend with a warning. If I feel compelled to point someone in the direction of one of my less-than-pristine favorites (perhaps because it addresses a particular problem they’re facing), I do so with a corollary. I let the person know what they’re getting into and make it clear that I don’t approve of the bad content.

This may not be a fully satisfactory way of dealing with these books, but it’s the best I can do for now.

What’s your policy, Christian? Leave a comment to share your suggestions.


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