Thursday, August 30, 2012

How to prepare for a writers conference

Are you going to a writers conference this year? I hope so. Conferences can be a great boost to your writing career. 
If you’ve never gone to a writers conference, attending a local one is often a good way to understand the rhythm of the conference culture. But if you’re confidant, dive right into a multi-day conference.
Some people get a case of the nerves thinking about attending a conference. Here are a few tips that might help you prepare for a conference:
Practice your pitch. You must be able to pitch your project in a 30-second speech. If you can memorize this blurb, it will help you greatly when you’re asked, “What’s your book about?”
Get a good night’s sleep. It’s important to be well rested before you arrive at the conference. There’s so much to learn, so many people to meet, and only so many hours in a day. Those attending conferences cram as much as they can into a few days. Be sure to start out the experience well rested and ready to go.
Plan out your wardrobe. I usually pair pants and shirts and make note of what I’ll wear each day of the conference. It makes the day that less stressful when you don’t have to stand in front of the closet deciding what to wear.
Pack Tylenol, Tums, whatever you may need. Bring business cards and perhaps a one-sheet that explains all the projects you have available. Pack your Bible and any inspirational reading that will feed your soul.
Consider bringing some of the following items: Clorox wipes to disinfect telephone, doorknobs, etc., small packages of tissues to have on hand, breath mints to use prior to meetings, and notebook/pens or a laptop for notes. I usually try to remember to bring blank note cards to write out and give to people who have been particularly helpful or kind (instructors or people who give critiques). 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Writing as a diet plan

Writing as a diet plan? 
That sounds crazy, but writing as part of your diet plan might just be the nudge some writers need to stay productive.
That is if you care about what you're writing.
A study found that people who write about what they valued lost weight. Apparently experts have concluded making ourselves happier acts as an appetite suppressant. I guess it's the other side of the spectrum of people eating when they're depressed.
So hustle over to your keyboard or notebook, and get writing!
For more information, check out an article about the study here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Brain food for writers

To be more productive, should writers chew gum, drink coffee, and nibble on chocolate?
I never heard a writer crave chewing gum, but there’s a lot of talk out there about drinking coffee and snacking on chocolate while in the midst of the creative process.
study found chewing gum was associated with higher alertness, reduced anxiety and stress, and improvement in overall performance on multi-tasking activities.
As far as “smart foods,” science has endorsed the idea that some food can indeed play a role in your cognitive abilities. Anything with caffeine will help boost energy level, help you to focus, and aid in concentration. Sugar (glucose) enhances alertness, fish with omega 3 fatty acids enhance memory, and avocados, rich in monounsaturated fat, contributes to healthy blood flow and helps to fire up brain cells. Walnuts contain antioxidants that increase memory. We are warned though, that too much caffeine or sugar will backfire and actually make you jittery (and perhaps overweight).
So tomorrow when you sit down to write, consider chewing gum, drinking coffee, and snacking on chocolate. And for lunch have some salmon with a few slices of avocado, a handful of walnuts, and a glass of orange juice. Then maybe you’ll pen that breakout novel.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Authors -- Respect your readers

This old (2008) Associate Press news article caught my eye, and I think it has an application to writing.
Trust me, I'll explain. But first, here's the story:
Woman Shoots Self While Trying to Kill Mice
POTTER VALLEY, Calif. — A Mendocino County woman who was trying to kill mice in her trailer with a gun ended up shooting herself and another person.
The 43-year-old woman pulled out her .44-caliber Magnum revolver after she saw the mice scurrying across the floor of her trailer on Highway 20 in Potter Valley, sheriff's officials said.
But she accidentally dropped the gun, which went off as it struck the floor. The bullet went through the woman's kneecap, bounced off the keys sitting on the belt loop of a 42-year-old man in the trailer and grazed the man's groin before ending up in his coin pocket.
Authorities did not release the shooting victims' names.
The mice escaped the shooting unharmed.
Okay, here's my take on this bizarre connection: writers need to respect their readers. When tempted to take out the big guns (READ: over explain or add too much unnecessary detail), don't do it! Our readers are smart people. They like nuance, they like to use their imagination when reading a scene. All the dots do not need to be connected to be understood.
Sometimes the big guns just backfire!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hooking readers with a great first sentence

I’ll say it up front: I’m a real sucker for a good first sentence in a novel. I may read on if the sentence is ho-hum, but I’ll read more eagerly if the first sentence pulls me into the story.
Like many readers I’ll peruse the books on a shelf and pick up novels by authors I’ve previously enjoyed or select a book whose title or cover catches my eye. I’ll flip it over and read the back cover copy and then turn to the first page. Reading the first lines of a novel is like going out on a blind date, I don’t know what to expect, but I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised, swept off my feet, and fall madly in love.
Some people contend that the most difficult sentences to write in a novel are the first ones. After all, they are the hook that draws people in. My favorite first sentences are the ones that make me ask, “what??” —the lines that peak my curiosity and leave me panting for more. Please don’t give me a weather report or tell me what the character looks like. I want to read a provocative statement or a question that has me hungering for an answer.
Here are a few of my favorite first lines:
In the moments before, she laid a hand on his arm. “No matter what,” she said, giving him a look, “you cannot stop.”
Mercy by Jodi Picoult
A grieving woman, I’ve decided, is like a crème brulee: she begins in a liquid state, endures a period of searing heat, and eventually develops a scablike crust.
Doesn’t She Look Natural by Angela Hunt
I watched her for three days, sitting by myself in the park underneath an elm tree, beside an empty fountain with a series of uneaten sandwiches in my lap and my purse at my side.
Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner
I sneaked down to the boat that night to say this couldn’t happen anymore.
Healing Stones by Nancy Rue
I Twittered a request for favorite first lines, and novelist Lena Nelson Dooley sent me a few:
The click of a rifle being cocked stopped J. L. in his tracks.
Golden Dreams by Kathleen Yapp
On the night of the first murder, a full moon sailed over middle Georgia.
But why Shoot the Magistrate by Patricia Sprinkle
Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner also responded to my Twitter plea for favorite first lines. She teaches a workshop on writing the first page, and here are some sample first pages that she shares with students:
I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
From my first breath in this world, all I wanted was a good set of lungs and the air to fill them with—given circumstances, you might presume, for an American baby of the twentieth century. Think about your own first gasp: a shocking wind roweling so easily down your throat, and you still slipping around in the doctor’s hands. How you yowled! Not a thing on your mind but breakfast, and that was on the way.
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
I was six years old the first time I disappeared.
Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult
In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.
A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.
Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C S Lewis.
I have been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Harbine's father over the top of the Standard Oil sign.
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver?
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen?
What are you thoughts on first lines? Which are your favorites.
For more on first lines, here's the American Book Review’s list of the 100 best first lines from novels.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What buying peaches has to do with selling books

 I bought some peaches the other day. Not headline-making news, but consider this, I knew that I had peaches at home in my fridge. 
The reason for my impulse purchase was because the clerk at the store stopped me to tell me how delicious the peaches were. She said that she really looks forward to eating one when they’re this fresh and ripe. She made those peaches sound like the most delicious fruit on earth. I bought them because she hand sold them to me.
Having someone talk up a product adds perceived value to that product. Seeing the clerk’s eyes light up while she talked about the sweet, juicy fruit made me want to experience the same pleasure.
If you’re wondering, yes—this is writing related. Anyone who is concerned that the book market is down can do something about it. You can talk up some great titles that you loved to your friends and family. We can all influence the purchase of books by influencing those in our circle to purchase good books (or even borrow them from the library).
Often when a new book comes out the author and publisher will find influencers to talk up the book. Word-of-mouth advertising is a powerful tool. I’ve been an influencer and have had influencers. It’s fun to put a book into someone’s hands and say, “This is a great book. I loved it, and I bet you will too.” I’m not bashful, and when I’m browsing in a bookstore and see someone looking for a book, I’ll strike up a conversation and recommend some books. It’s as easy as selling ripe, juicy peaches.
Oh, and those peaches? D-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Upcoming -- ACFW yearly conference!

Are you a novelist or want to be one? (Wait, didn't that sound like that old magazine ad, "Be a model or just look like one? --LOL) If so, it's still not too late to register for the conference.

Six weeks from today I'll be hopping a plane to Dallas, TX for the yearly ACFW Writers Conference. The early bird rates disappear on August 19th, so don't waste time if you're interested in going. This year's keynote speaker is Michael Hyatt.

Attending a writers conference is one of the best things you can do for your career. Just spending time with others who share your enthusiasm will fire you up. In addition you get to participate in excellent continuing sessions and  workshops. You'll have the opportunity to meet with agents, editors, and mentors. If you'd like, you can pay to get a critique of your work.

Best of all you'll make new friends and spend time with old ones talking about the craft of writing. ACFW is a very welcoming group, so if you don't know anyone, don't worry. The conference even hosts a first-time attendees orientation and a before-conference email loop. Check it out here.

So who will I see there? Are you going?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Soul Saver by Dineen Miller

I have to tell you about a good book I just finished reading. It’s The Soul Saver by Dineen Miller. It’s a story about faith and hope woven with suspense and spiritual warfare. Yes, it’s very good!

Lexi Baltimore has an unusual ministry. She sculpts the face of strangers God will lead her to so she can minister to them. Such an intriguing idea! Lexi's ministry connects her with a local pastor, which opens up a can of worms because she begins to compare her unbelieving husband to the pastor. One thing leads to another, and accusations and rumors swirl her life into a dark place.

Dineen writes beautifully. So well in fact that I spent time away from writing my story to read hers. Lexi was a warm and relatable character, and I loved the time spent with her. 

Do yourself a favor, put The Soul Saver on your to-be-read list.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Writer's block and how to get unstuck

Last Thursday I discussing writer’s block and strategies to get your productivity back on track. Writer's block doesn’t have to paralyze your writing progress. I gave you the first few suggestions, and here are some more methods to get your fingers flying over the keyboard: 
1. Work on another project for a while.
• If you can, switch gears to another project you have in the works or make notes on a subsequent project you’ve been thinking about. You may return to your “blocked” project with fresh eyes after a little time away from it.
2. Read a great book.
• Sometimes reading great writing gives you the itch to write yourself.
3. Try to write out of your genre.
• Write non-fiction if you’re a fiction writer. It could be just a simple letter to a friend or a short article on craft that you can share with writing buddies.
• Write a poem.
• If you write non-fiction, practice fiction techniques to use in your non-fiction writing.
4. Try freewriting.
• Give yourself a time limit of 10-15 minutes and let your fingers fly over the keyboard. Even if you’re writing crazy nonsense, you may spark a thought or idea that will springboard you back to work.
5. Take a creative fieldtrip.
• Visit a museum, listen to soul-stirring music, go to the movies.
• Sometimes spending time in other creative environments, spurs the desire to be creative in your own work.

Do you have any tips on getting unstuck that you can share? Please do.