Thursday, April 28, 2011

How To Accomplish Your Writing Goals This Summer

Many writers, myself included, rely on the summer months as their time to “power write.” Longer days and fewer winter activities make this the perfect opportunity to get more writing done.

Some others might spend summer taking a much needed break from the written word, but for those of you who try to accomplish more writing during the summer, I have four tips to help you make the most of the upcoming summer months.

1) Be very selective about what you spend your time on. For those of us who like to say yes to everything, this goes against our natural inclinations. But the truth is, none of us can do it all. A very wise college professor once said “Life is about choices.” We all can point to time that we waste on unnecessary activities such as watching television, surfing the internet, or talking on the phone. Writing is a discipline like everything else. If you want to achieve your goals you have to set boundaries around your activities. And as writers, we have to decide when to say no and when to say yes. If the Lord leads, let this be the summer where you say YES to writing.

2) Establish a strict schedule.Think about getting up an hour earlier, or going to bed an hour later. Squeeze extra writing time in where you can. Author Jody Hedlund uses the quiet moments at the beginning and end of the day for writing, instead of other administrative tasks, such as blogging, twitter, facebook, emails, and the like. Get your writing done FIRST as that is your main goal and use any leftover time for less important tasks.

3) Set a goal. This device is used by many successful and disciplined people and it works for writers
too. Set a reasonable goal for yourself and try to keep working toward it. Maybe it’s writing 50,000 words, or sending out 20 query letters. You might not always succeed but you’ll get a lot more done knowing you have a finish line. And that’s where number four comes in.

4) Reward yourself. Whatever you do, no matter how trivial, reward yourself with something special. Go see a movie, take a walk, or treat yourself in some small way. Of course, achieving the goal is by itself a great reward!

I hope this summer is a blessed one for you and your writing journey!!

Any ideas of how you plan to accomplish your writing goals this summer? I'd love to hear them !!

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fact and Fiction: Part Two

Last time, we discussed how much liberty is permissible to take in your historically based novel. Today, we will discuss effective ways to research your historical fiction, to make it both factual and interesting.

As I read the reviews other authors receive for their novels, they often say something like this: “This novel immerses readers in the rich historical detail of Queen Elizabeth’s court.” Or. “This sweeping tale will envelop readers as it takes them from a Kentucky fort, through the vast wilderness, to the west; in search of true love.”
This is the kind of review one would hope to receive for a historical novel set in a specific time period. It conveys that the author was able to transport the reader into a different period in history and do it effectively.

So, how do we conduct research that will give us this end result?

There are many ways to research information that will convey accurately the period in history you wish to convey to your reader. I usually start my research by using one or both of the search engines, Google or Amazon. Using these I can find four or five well written books on any particular subject. Reading these is more effective than spending hours on the internet, thus saving time. While I read the books, I put sticky notes on pages that have useful information and photo copy them. After I have a compilation of pages, I sort them according to category, daily life, food, clothing, etc. Then while I’m writing the book, I can refer to my notes whenever needed.

Another method used by those who choose to use detailed chapter by chapter outlines, is to place your research notes under the particular chapter in which they will be used. For example, if the chapter has a character dressing for a ball, you would add notes on gowns of that era, the number of servants who would have assisted her, etc. This saves the trouble of having to search for the information in the middle of a scene. Compiling information ahead of time that you know you will need will save time when writing and will add to the richness of your work with accurate details.

Occasionally, you will find other works of fiction that have been written in the time period in which you are writing and you can utilize these tools as well. If you have a sound base of knowledge about the particular time period, your work will feel more real to the reader. There are many internet sites and books that deal with different periods in history. I have found the following to be most helpful:

1)“What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew” by Daniel Pool

2) “Everyday Life in the 1800s: A Guide for Writers, Students & Historians” by Marc McCutcheon.

3) Writers Guide to Everyday Life series - Check Amazon for titles on different time periods.



Researching is an art in it of itself and it may, or may not, be something you enjoy. Yet, with every novel you write, it becomes easier. Conducting accurate research ahead of time will also make your writing more enjoyable.

Your turn. How do you conduct research? What tips do you have in this area? I look forward to your comments.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fact and Fiction: Part One

I’ve read many excellent novels where an author has taken historical characters and brought them vividly to life; so vividly I could see beyond their stiff, grim looking photographs. But I’d never considered writing a novel like that myself. So much research would be involved, I’d write the character in an utterly unbelievable way, etc. Now however, much to my surprise, I found a story based on the experiences of a young woman in history and it caught hold of my imagination and wouldn’t let go. And so, guess what? I’m plowing through mounds of internet articles, reading stacks of books, and attempting to meld fact and fiction.

How Much Liberty Can You Take?

Real people live real lives. And real lives do not always fit in the world of fiction. So can you take liberties, fudge dates, add characters, keep character’s alive who in reality died? There is no confirmed answer to this question. Some writers say absolutely no, some yes, and some put limits on how much they change. Then there’s the publisher. Most publishers want happy endings. What if in reality the ending wasn’t happy? In my WIP the hero and heroine spend their honeymoon in Paris, whereas the real couple went to both Paris and Egypt. My decision for changing this detail was based on several factors.

1) The Egyptian location has no bearing on the rest of the story. No life changing events took place there. Anything that did occur could just as easily have taken place in Paris.
2) The real life personalities of the characters can be more easily portrayed in Paris rather than Egypt.
3) The Parisian trip is more suited to the era than the Egyptian one.

In your own historical novel should you allow the story to alter from what really occurred? I believe in all reality it is impossible to be completely accurate and make an interesting story. I’m not suggesting one should sacrifice accuracy for readability, or the other way around. Changes may need to be permitted however, especially in the case of writing historical romance. Readers may be mixed on how they want the ending to go, but the majority want the read to end happily, and so do publishers. Therefore, some altering of event may need to take place.
This is to be the first of a three part series on fact vs. fiction so look for the rest in the weeks ahead.

Your turn. How accurate are your own novels or the novels you’ve read? Do you think accuracy is more important than readability, or the other way around? I look forward to your comments.

Monday, April 18, 2011

An Interview with Shar MacLaren

Joining us today is Inspirational Historical Romance Author Shar MacLaren. A huge thank you to Shar for doing this interview! Read on, for tips on writing, research, and more!
1) What made you want to become a writer? Was there a particular event, person or book that inspired you?

I have always loved to write, but throughout my life so many other things took precedence. However, in the summer of 2000 (when I was 52), God laid it on my heart to give fiction writing a try. Since I loved reading fiction, it felt like a natural transition for me to write it. Many authors inspired me, but it was truly God's nudging that gave me that push I needed.

2) What do you like most and least about being a writer?

I love the creative energy that flows through me when I write, but it's deadlines that sometimes put a cap on that energy's flow. Those are the times you have to push through and write anyway – even when you don't necessarily feel like it. Unfortunately, contracts and deadlines can turn writing into a job, not that I don't still love it, but it's a different mindset, and you have to view it more as your career than as a pleasant hobby.

3) Do you do a lot of research for your novels? Do you do it before, in the middle, or after you write your novel

Yes, most of my novels require research BEFORE and DURING. I enjoy that aspect for the most part unless it starts getting tedious. Sometimes I just go ahead and start the writing process even if I haven't quite finished all the research just because I get so "antsy". I am a big one for stopping in the middle of a scene to look up something before proceeding.

4) What would you say is the biggest mistake beginning writers make? Did you find yourself making this mistake when starting out?

Ha ha, there are so many I can hardly pinpoint just one. When I first started writing I just charged ahead like a bull running up and down store aisles. I had no idea where I was going, how to find my way through the maze, or what I was going to discover around the next corner. I didn't stop to think about the right and wrong, i.e. the "mechanics", of writing, I just plunged ahead – thinking all the while what I wrote was somehow good. Little did I know I had MUCH to learn in those early days. As soon as a writer discovers he/she has a great love for writing, as in a deep passion, they need to get themselves hooked up with other writers, join writing groups, start attending workshops, read books on the writing craft, begin honing skills, and then keep at it. One of the biggest mistakes writers make is letting discouragement burn out their flame of passion. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER let go of your dreams.

5) Do you have a particular place you write best at? Do you listen to music while you write?

My best place to write is my downstairs home office. It's a secluded room decorated to my liking, warm, cozy, and bright. I don't do well listening to music, and I'm not much for taking my laptop to coffee shops or even scenic settings. I do best with sameness and familiarity if you know what I mean.

6) Has there been a particular technical book on writing you return to again and again?

There are several books, though not necessarily technical, I find helpful. Since I write a good deal of historical fiction, I refer often to Everyday Life in the 1800s. Other favorites are The Thesaurus of Slang, The Romance Writers' Phrase Book, many online sources, and then, of course, my trusty Flip Dictionary

7) Is there a scripture verse that has inspired you in your writing?

My favorite verse is Romans 8:28 "For we know that all things work together for good to them who love the Lord, to those who are the called according to His purpose." That verse has carried me through many a life's trial.

8) What three tips do you have for beginning writers?

I think I may have touched earlier on this, but if I have to narrow it down to three items I would call it the three Ps of writing.

Pray – Always bring your thoughts and ideas to the Lord and ask Him to guide your writing day, whatever it may entail.

Plan – As much as you can plan ahead, carve out writing times, know your scenes and characters, have a clear beginning, middle, and ending in mind before setting out to write your novel. It's difficult to write a good plot if you don't have any idea of where you're going with it. I'm not big on outlines, and I would call myself a seat-of-the-pants writer, but I do have my story all laid out in my head, at least a general idea of it, even if it's not plotted out on paper chapter by chapter.

Persevere – Don't let rejections or a hurtful criticism slow the writing process. If you must pout (smiles), don't let it go on for more than a day or two. Learn and grow from every negative word, whatever it may be. Remind yourself from whence your writing passion comes (GOD!!!), and then dive back in, remembering everything you've learned and looking forward to learning more! Store up your knowledge and then apply it. Trust God for every outcome, and daily commit your ways into His capable hands!

About Shar:

After 31 years of teaching, Shar decided to say, "Bye-bye, Students!" and "Hello, Writing World!" and it's been an interesting, exciting, challenging, and inspiring adventure. One thing she knows for certain--God dropped a seed of passion for writing in her heart back in the summer of 2000, and He's been growing it ever since

Shar started her publishing career with Whitaker House in December of 2006 when she launched the release of "Through Every Storm", a general fiction title that finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writers Book-of-the-Year in 2007. Shar won the "Road to Romance" Reviewers' Choice Award in 2007 and 2008. and also picked up a third place award in the "Inspirational Readers' Choice Contest" in both 2008 and 2009.

In the fall of 2008, Whitaker House released a stand-alone contemporary titled "Long Journey Home", and in January of '09 launched her 3-book historical series, "The Daughters of Jacob Kane". In the years 2008, 2009, and 2010 Shar was awarded second and third place standings in the "Inspirational Reader's Choice Contest".

Shar’s upcoming novel, Livvie’s Song will be released this July. Go to her webpage to learn more!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When It Feels Hopeless

The contest ended and your name wasn’t on the winners list. You can’t get past chapter one on your novel. The comments given by your critique group weren’t as glowing as you’d hoped; in fact they weren’t glowing at all.

These, and many other problems, are what we face when we embark upon the wild, stressful, exhilarating journey of writing.

So what do we do when it feels hopeless? When we feel like pitching our manuscript in the trash, rather than to an agent? Here are 5 tips I’ve found helpful:

1) Remember, even the best writers were once where you are. Think of your favorite writer. Jerry Jenkins? Beverley Lewis? How about one of my favorites- Charles Dickens? They all started somewhere. They all floundered. They all had days where writing was the last thing they wanted to do. But they all persevered and made it. You can too.

2) Stop, drop, and roll. We’ve all heard the saying. What most of us don’t realize is that it can apply to writers too. Stop writing, or blogging, editing etc. Drop (I don’t mean literally) your manuscript, and roll (again, not literally) away from it. Do something else. Read the book that inspired your story in the first place. Watch a movie. Go get a doughnut (or several if that’s what it takes!!) And then after a reasonable amount of time, go back, and start over. You’ll find it’s a lot easier after you’ve had a break.

3) Try a different approach. Occasionally try a different angle on a scene, or add a different facet to a character. Recently, in my current novel, I was struggling with liking a character enough to write about her. She was too loud, her dialogue wasn’t flowing, and I was hating every minute I spent in her company. I decided to change her past and circumstances and now she is one of the most sympathetic characters of all my novels.

4) Be open to constructive criticism. Recently, I received some not so positive feedback on a previous novel. After doing step two (stop, drop, and roll) I reread the comments, and found that many of them were just what I needed. I outlined the useful ones in red, crossed out the rest, and began to revise. Writing is not for the faint hearted so take critiques and make them work for you.

5) Remember who you write for. In the case of Christian Fiction, most of us write for the Lord. Pray about whatever it is your having trouble with. Write your concern down and place it in your Bible. Then wait for the Lord’s answer. You’ll be surprised at what it might be!

If you have any tips that have worked for you, please share them. We can all benefit from the help and support from other writers who are in the trenches with us.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Starts That Will Make Readers Finish!

As well as being a writer of fiction, I am also an avid reader. And in the course of my reading I have put down several books because the first few chapters weren’t going anywhere. Either they were bogging the book down with unnecessary backstory, or they were too involved that the reader had no idea what was going on. Here’s five ways to avoid the above mistakes, and write starts that will make readers finish.

1) Start with an unusual statement, something that goes against the status quo. By unusual, I mean a line that will keep the reader hungering for more, not confusing them. Some classic examples include,

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” — A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

"Scarlet O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” - Gone With The Wind, Margret Mitchell

2) Never start with long winded backstory. Although I love the starts of the above novels, and although writing standards have changed drastically since the era the novels were written in, I don’t advise beginning with the entire history of the hero’s life, or what happened to the heroine when she was six. Unless, of course, that’s where the story starts. Instead, weave in backstory as needed, slowly and seamlessly.

3) Don’t begin with the character waking up or hearing his alarm clock. (lol) We all know what happens when someone gets up, we don’t need to read about it. If the character’s morning rituals are essential to the story, weave them in later, rather than throwing them at the reader at the beginning. Or show them as a flashback. Anything but on page one.

4) Don’t begin with a battle or car chase. The oft quoted story of the Hollywood producer and the young screenwriter applies here. We want to know who’s in the car or who the armies are. Instead, begin with a different pivotal point and save the car chases for a few chapters later.

5) Last but not least practice, practice, practice. Try several beginnings, and see which one fits. Poll friends and family. Read authors you admire and study their first page. And most importantly never give up.

 Do you prefer a cinematic beginning or does a description draw you in?

Happy Writing!