Monday, April 23, 2012

So You Didn’t Final - Now What?

I entered the Genesis this year and didn’t make it to the second round.L

This may be a boat many of you are in. You waited excitedly for the results to be announced, kept your phone in your pocket, and hoped your name might be on “the list.” Yet when the results came through you discovered you didn’t make the cut.

What now?

Well first, I admit I did sulk and had the strong inclination to eat a pound of chocolate in one sitting. (Which might have really helped!)  The two novels I submitted, I hoped would go past round one, but they didn’t.
So what do I, and those like me, do now? Here are a few tips.
1 – Read the feedback – I’m excited about the Judge’s feedback, seeing my scores and finding out what they thought. This will enable me to locate areas I need improvement, and areas I did well. When looking at the feedback, note similar views and contradictory ones. After all, writing can be very subjective. Where one thing really hits the mark for someone it might not for another. Using the feedback, I’ll make changes. I might not have finaled, but I can always gain more knowledge, more ability to improve. That should be a reason to celebrate in itself. Which brings me to my next point.
2 – Celebrate – You entered didn’t you? This is a huge achievement. So celebrate taking that step and being brave enough to put your “baby” out for criticism. I’m sure there are many who wanted to enter, but just weren’t brave enough, or for whatever reason weren’t ready. You were. And you entered. Also, remember how big a job it is getting entries ready for the contest. So be proud of all the hard work involved in just submitting.
3 – Remember there are others out there – Every author wins at least one contest before being published, right??? This thought crossed my mind, and I began to wonder if I would ever win anything. Yet, the day after the results were announced I read a blog post by an author who I think very highly of and who has just received a three book contract from a very prestigious publishing house. She said she didn’t win a single contest before publication and the only time she entered the Genesis she didn’t make it to the second round. That made me feel much better. J Another author, whose debut novel releases in just a few weeks, put out a post to the ACFW loop which was such an encouragement. She said a few years ago, she entered two novels and also had an agent. Neither of those works made it onto the next round. One of those two novels hits shelves very soon and has already received amazing reviews. The other novel is scheduled to release in a year. So what does this tell you? Just because you didn’t final doesn’t mean your writing isn’t any good. It may need work, but it doesn’t mean all hope is lost.
Lastly, I’m not saying any of this to demean contests or contest winners. I think they’re great, and I know a ton of writers who credit their success to the contests they entered. Yet I do think they can also be very subjective (rather like Amazon reviews in a sense). I’m just guessing here, but I’m sure there are some published authors, who upon entering a manuscript, might not final either. It’s just the nature of contests.
So read your scores, celebrate taking the step of entering, and as Winston Churchill famously said “Nevah, nevah, nevah give up.” You don’t know what’s around the next bend in the road or where the next contest will lead.
Happy Writing,

How did you fare on your Genesis entry this year? Any tips you learned from not finaling? Or anything you can pass on to others if you did?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Five Things I’ve Learned About Writing From Downton Abbey

Recently my family and I have been watching the wildly popular British miniseries, Downton Abbey. If you like large, beautiful English country houses, lavish costumes, and plenty of Upstairs/Downstairs drama , this series is a must see! I’d watch it for Highclere Castle alone!

As I’ve been watching this, I’ve been wondering why this show is so popular among so many who wouldn’t normally watch a period drama. Plus, how the screenwriter, Julian Fellowes, manages to keep the conflict escalating for such a long time and never once bores the viewers.

If this can happen with a T.V. series, it can, and should, certainly be done with novels. Just what keeps the readers and viewers coming back for more and anticipating the next scene? How can we learn from successful period dramas and incorporate some of their techniques as writers?
This is what I’ve come up with. I’ll try not to give too many spoilers , so if you decide to watch the series for yourself everything will still be a surprise.
1 – Introduce a new character – Often, when one plot or storyline is exhausted, a new character will be introduced and no matter how minor, ramp up the conflict in some way. This is also a great technique for us writers to use. If the storyline is starting to drag, intro a new character and see how she or he can add tension and drama.
2 – Make the villain more villainous – Anyone who’s seen even one episode of Downton, will know it has it’s villains. For example, Thomas, the scheming footman, and Miss O’ Brien, the evil lady’s maid. Or, Sir Richard Carlisle, one of the antagonists in Season 2. Sometimes there seems to be no end to what misery these characters can inflict. They always seem to be getting worse and worse! I’ve found that giving your antagonist a score to settle or a vendetta against a particular person (preferably one of your main characters) can often add new complications and subplots.
3 – Add Humor – After you’ve introduced all these new characters and made the villains more evil, perhaps it’s time for a change. And Downton Abbey would not be Downton Abbey, without those funny one liners, usually delivered in a cut glass British accent by the dowager countess, played by Maggie Smith. Such lines as, “what’s a weekend”, and her “swivel chair” scene have become constant quotables at our house. Adding a character who has biting wit or a fun sense of humor can balance out your novel.
4 – Give your character’s actions long lasting consequences – Make the stakes higher! Sometimes while watching Downton, I wonder how much higher they can go? Give your character a secret, or a scandal, or perhaps a suspected murder, and always be piling on more and more tension. Have one character’s actions affect their whole family, or put them in jeopardy of losing their job. Drag this conflict out, to keep readers guessing.
5 – Leave readers hanging – End each chapter with a bang! Each episode of Downton leaves readers wanting more. The ending of the first season makes it impossible to not watch the second. I won’t spoil things by mentioning the wonderful ending of Season 2. J End a chapter with a character discovering something, (maybe they’re going to inherit an estate J) or perhaps end it with a funny one liner. But make sure to end it so that readers can’t wait to turn to the next page.
 So there you have it. Five tips on writing I’ve learned from watching Downton Abbey. I’m already putting these in place in my own writing and loving the results! By the way, I also viewed the most recent mini-series from Julian Fellowes on the Titanic, and he incorporated these same techniques with similar results. Maybe he’d like to do the movie adaptation of my next book? (Just dreaming here!!)
Happy Writing,
Your Turn – Have you watched Downton Abbey? Feel free to stop by and chat it up. I’d love to hear what you thought of the show and/or these tips.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Thoughts On Writing

Some poignant and inspiring thoughts to carry you through your writing week. Enjoy!

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.
Cyril Connolly

The reason one writes isn't the fact he wants to say something. He writes because he has something to say.
F. Scott Fitzgerald

No one is able to enjoy such feast than the one who throws a party in his own mind.
Selma Lagerlöf

Writing is the best way to talk without being interrupted.
Jules Renard

Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it.
Jesse Stuart

Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you're doomed.
Ray Bradbury

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
E. L. Doctorow

When once the itch of literature comes over a man, nothing can cure it but the scratching of a pen.
Samuel Lover

We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.
Somerset Maugham

Writing a novel is like heading out over the open sea in a small boat. It helps, if you have a plan and a course laid out.
John Gardner

You must learn to overcome your very natural and appropriate revulsion for your own work.
William Gibson

And one last one for a laugh:

Life is what happens to a writer between drafts.
Damon (aka Dennis R. Miller)

Happy Writing,


Monday, April 2, 2012

Beating Writer’s Block!

Confession: I have writers block. You know the kind where you sit down and want to write something- anything, but for the life of you, you can’t. This isn’t a regular occurrence, but boy it’s a really painful one. I wouldn’t wish writers block on my worst enemy!

Thankfully, there are ways to beat “the block.” It might not happen overnight, but “the block” can eventually be cured.

Here are my top ten tips!
1 – Listen to Something New- As many of you know I listen to music when I write. Even while writing blog posts I have my headphones in and music playing. In case you’re wondering, right now I’m listening to Hunting Fast Polka by Johann Strauss Jr. J Usually though, I listen to movie soundtracks or quiet classical music I’ve purchased on itunes. Sometimes, during writers block, I head over to itunes and scroll through the movie soundtracks and have a listen. Often I find just the right track for the particular scene.
2 – Write Somewhere Else – I do about half of my writing at my desk in the dining room and the other half sitting in my room, or in the recliner in the living room. Yet if I need somewhere new, I’ll change location. A new vista really does help!
3 – Have A Snack When I have writers block I tend to want chocolate, and lots of it!  But usually I try to go for something more healthy, such as fruit. Also, I like drinking tea, especially out of my fancy teacup, which looks like it belongs in one of my characters English manor houses. Also, getting up and doing something diverting can relieve the pressure on your mind and get your thoughts flowing again.
4 – Do Something Productive I’ve found that one of the best ways to beat writers block, is to take a break and do something productive. It can be something as simple as answering emails or cleaning out a cupboard. One of my favorites is doing a few loads of laundry. J
5 – Watch A Movie – While I’m doing the laundry, I’ll often pop in my current “inspiration movie.” Maybe it’s the BBC version of Bleak House or maybe it’s a documentary about Newport mansions in the Gilded Age. Either way, it really helps to recharge my batteries.
6 – Read or Re-read A Book – Reading some great writing by an author I love, is always a good way to beat writers block. For example, Susan May Warren’s Heiress is a favorite of mine or Jody Hedlund’s The Preacher’s Bride. Both theses authors style and techniques motivate and inspire me!
7 – Go Through Your Idea Notebook – I keep an idea notebook full of plot complications, great dialog lines, thought up while grocery shopping, etc. When I’m stuck, rereading that often gives me ideas.
8 – Talk It Out – This would probably have to be one of the ones I do most often. Thankfully, I have a very supportive family and friends who will read what I’ve written and give me honest feedback on it. They are also great sounding boards and help me brainstorm on plot twists.
9 – Exercise – I got this tip from the wonderful Julie Lessman, who says that whenever she’s stuck she runs on her treadmill and ideas start flowing. Now, I don’t have a treadmill, but I do have a bicycle, and I’m planning on trying this out soon, hopefully, with the same results!
10 – PrayAs Christian writers this should be our number one tool. Sometimes when I’ve prayed for ideas or inspiration they’ve popped into my head within the hour. We’re writing for His glory and He’s always there to give us the tools and help us along the way!
There you have it! My top ten ideas on how to cure writer’s block! Hope it helps!
Happy Writing!
Your Turn – What tools do you use to beat writers block? Are there any tips here you haven’t tried but would like to?