Tuesday, September 19, 2017

What makes a writer great?

There’s not a reputable writer out there that doesn’t want to be the best in their craft. One way we scribes measure our success is by how many awards or best-sellers we have under our belt. Others measure it by how many books they’ve published or sold. A top-ten Amazon ranking, a New York Times Best-Seller list: what writer hasn’t drooled over those prospects?

But as I’ve written before, being God’s writer involves much more. And today, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite writers. You probably don’t know her because you won’t find her writing at Barnes and Noble or Amazon. But you will find her words in hundreds of homes and hearts. Maybe even thousands.

Her name is Marcia Ousley. I want you to remember her name because when you are in the depths of despair during times of rejection and frustration in your writing career, remembering her will put your writing gift into perspective. This writing journey isn’t all about us. Never was. Never will be.

Marcia was my dear friend who passed away on June 6, 2017 at 12:32 a.m. I miss her much more than I imagined. Marcia was a cheerleader. I could always depend on her to ask me about my writing life, my teaching life, my life in general. I never heard her say a harsh word or criticize anyone. She was soft-spoken, gentle, and the absolute epitome of what Jesus is like in the flesh. Oh, I know she wasn’t perfect. But she was as close as any mortal could be.

Cancer struck Marcia fast and mercilessly. Within months of her diagnosis she became very ill and passed away. Sadly, hundreds of people in Indiana and elsewhere lost their strongest and best encourager. This is because Marcia had and shared the gift of writing through penning dozens of handwritten letters and notes each week. In this day of email and texting, Marcia still used her precious hands to hold a pen and write loving and very personalized messages to those she loved and cared about. She even wrote to those she didn’t know very well at all.

Marcia and her husband, Homer, didn’t have children. But she was a highly educated schoolteacher and taught in the public schools for nearly 30 years. Twice she received the coveted Distinguished Dekko Award for Teaching Excellence. Twice! She thought of each one of her students as her own, and never lost touch with them. She followed their lives all the way through adulthood, showed up to all their graduations and open houses, and attended their weddings and baby showers. She never stopped sending encouraging letters and cards to them even after they were grown with families of their own.

At our church she was in charge of the card ministry--a ministry that has yet to be filled. Writing encouraging notes with her own hand inside each card, she didn't simply sign, “Love, Marcia” but wrote a truly heart-felt paragraph or two to lift up the receiver. She never stopped writing. It was her gift, and she used it wisely. When she wrote for the church she didn’t sign her own name, she signed, “Love, The Congregation of Christian Fellowship Church.” Whew. That’s a long signature to write over and over again by hand..

When this earth lost Marcia, they lost one of the greatest writers that ever lived. I still can’t believe she’s gone, and it startles me how very much I miss her. Even though we never really “hung out,” I just knew that Marcia had my back. She never judged anyone. She was there for you through thick and thin. She was Jesus with skin on. If there’s anyone on this earth I wanted to imitate, it was Marcia. She was not only a writer but her outreach included volunteering at food pantries, visiting shut-ins and spreading God’s love everywhere she went.

As I sat in her funeral service, I found myself whispering in a repeated prayer, “When I grow up, I want to be like Marcia…” before it dawned on me, ahem, I’m more than grown-up now. And if there’s anyone I should want to be like it should be Jesus.

But the thing is, Marcia was so much like Jesus, that it’s not a far reach to want to imitate her, too. Just as the early Christians imitated Apostle Paul:

“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

As far as I know, Marcia never won an award for her writing or saw her name on the Best-Seller List. But her name made the most important list of all: the Lamb’s Book of Life.

That’s The List we all should strive for, whether we’re a writer, carpenter or toilet scrubber. That list matters most of all, along with the words from our Father, “Well done.”

"What Makes a Writer Great" first appeared on KarlaAkins.com. Karla is the author of several books including The Pastor's Wife Wears Biker Boots and A Pair of Miracles. She currently serves as the president of ACFW-Indiana. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

5 Ways Editors Can Enhance Editor/Author Collaboration

by Jean Kavich Bloom

Last month I shared five ways authors can enhance author/editor collaboration. As promised, here are five ways I think editors (like me) can enhance that same relationship, the editor/author collaboration. And yes, you'll see some similarities on the other side of this coin.

1.     Recognize your authors' diligent work, producing the words and improving their craft. Experienced or not, most authors work hard. Whether or not an author has a proven, positive record within the publishing and reader communities, that hard work deserves recognition as a springboard for a potentially great collaboration with you, an editor. Don’t fail to acknowledge that. Most writers willingly, and sometimes at their own expense, accept an editor’s help to boost the effectiveness of their writing and connect with their readers. Acknowledging they work hard and have achieved goals, and showing appreciation for their openness to editorial suggestion (and even correction), supports an effective working relationship. Also, sometimes an author can struggle in ways they haven’t before. Editors need to remember authors are human, too, and life happens to everyone, requiring perseverance.

2.     Consider the importance of each editing suggestion. I recommend editors take care not to give every editing suggestion that comes to mind the same weight. Make it clear when a suggestion is “just a thought,” emphasizing a change is certainly up to the author. Better yet, forgo making every suggestion that pops into your head. If a change won’t be all that important to the story or reader, let it go. Overwhelming an author is easy to do, but unnecessary. I must be honest: Although we had successfully worked together on more than one book, I recently had an unhappy author who thought I had committed this very act, making too many suggestions that didn't strengthen the book. Regardless of what I thought, this was that author's perception, and it's my job to take heed and adjust.

3.    Be willing to make a change. If authors tell editors they don’t like the way an edit is going in general, they don’t like a suggested edit, or they have any other issue with an edit, they should say so. Don't be offended, but ask gentle questions to be sure you understand the challenge. Sometimes this conversation will reveal you're not the best match for that author and/or that project. But many times you can adjust how you're going about the edit or how suggestions are communicated, to better accommodate the author’s personality or preferences. Some flexibility is required on both sides of almost any relationship.

4.    Express appreciation and encouragement. Just as an editor values words of encouragement and appreciation from writers, writers value those kinds of words from editors. As an editor, I try to remember to tell an author it's been a privilege to have their trust, as well as note anything I especially liked or appreciated about their work. Do I sometimes get rushed or busy and forget to do that? Yes. But I’d like not to.

5.     Be grateful for acknowledgment in the final product or a recommendation. If an author chooses to acknowledge your work as an editor, such as on an acknowledgments page, or recommend you in any way, I hope you say thank you. Not every author chooses or thinks to do either, and when they do, a sincere expression of gratitude is a must.

If you have a great collaborative relationship with a writer as an editor, or with an editor as a writer, what do you think makes the most difference? Please share!

Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer for Christian publishers and ministries

(Bloom in Words Editorial Services), with nearly thirty years' experience in the book publishing world. Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she sometimes posts articles about the writing life. She is also a contributor to The Glorious Table, a blog for women of all ages. Her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.

Photo credit: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=155179&picture=we-power

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

10 More Reader Tips for Writers

Last month I shared 11 tips from readers on what they love to see in novels. Here are more tips to help you write compelling fiction.

Research Matters! (More so for historicals)
  • Probably the #1 thing for me is accuracy. I just read Eleanor & Park (very popular YA set in the 80s). The author almost lost me as a reader when she had a line that sounded like the father was a Korean War veteran but would have been about 12. I stayed with it and the line was clarified. He was a Vietnam vet stationed in Korea. Seriously, one line nearly ruined a book & the author's reputation in my eyes. An extremely successful author did this by writing an entire novel based on a medical condition, and the details were WRONG! I'm not talking about a medical condition that I'm intimately familiar with, but one I know about through my own manuscript research.
  • Accurate research is vital to keeping my attention. :)
  • Never change actual history.
General Suggestions
  • Where do I start???? One thing that isn't probably something a newbie needs to know right away but will when they start entering Genesis or any contest that requires a synopsis. They need to know that a synopsis is not a back-of-the-book blurb. All my years on Genesis and now doing critiques for conference have led me to realize a great many newbies have no idea how to write a synopsis.
  • Write what God tells you to write without second guessing how the results will look. You may publish, you may not. Is it an offering to God? That's what matters. :-) He's in charge of the results. Of course, that's for believers. LOL
  •  How long to really expect the process to take. (I think people might be inclined to give up if they aren't moving as fast as they expect to.)
  • Perseverance. Practice. Keep moving forward and not giving up. Being teachable. Most people who are willing to put in the effort will make it to a certain degree, but not if you're arrogant and inflexible. No matter how talented a top athlete is they have to put in time learning and improving. Writing is no different.
  • I'm an avid reader. For new writers: Characters must be believable, no matter the genre. Make me want to know them. Help me live inside the characters so I feel what the characters experience.
  •  The plot and storyline must also be believable and maintain integrity within the story. As a reader I want to trust the author. Otherwise I won't read them again.
  • While writing the first draft: Get the story down. Just write it. And know you will rewrite and edit - later. Don't get so hung up perfecting a paragraph or scene that you become discouraged with the process. First get the basic story written.
  • Then, when working through it again, pay attention to the details. Do the necessary research. Readers do notice. Keep the main POV clear - don't bounce from head to head. Pay attention to what can jerk a reader out of the story - and don't do it.
  • The comment about being teachable and not arrogant or inflexible is spot on. That goes for the entire process, including sales.
  • And, for the record, I love reading new authors. Especially when their stories not only are free from "fatal" flaws but leave me sighing, "Wow, I can't believe this is her/his first book."
  • Not sure this is an issue for everyone, but I definitely prefer a story that does not rely on graphic violence or sexuality.
What would you add to this list? What makes a book compelling to you?

An award-winning author of more than twenty books, Cara is a lecturer on business and employment law to graduate students at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. Putman also practices law and is a second-generation homeschooling mom. She lives with her husband and four children in Indiana.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

'I Wanted to Get Away'

This summer I served an Indianapolis congregation whose young pastor was on sabbatical leave. When he met me to debrief what had happened, he arrived with a stack of books, so I asked what they were. “A few books of theology I’d intended to read,” he said as he put them back on his shelf. “But I didn’t. I read four novels instead.”

When he decided to make a clean break with his workaday routine, the novels provided a way of escape. He chose a couple of suspense novels and a couple of historical pieces. Somewhat sheepishly, he admitted that he read them without any thought of gathering sermon material. “They were just plain fun,” he said.

A strict work ethic makes it difficult for many of us to admit we do anything that’s “just plain fun,” but we do. And I believe it’s altogether fitting to write books for the same purpose. If we can provide even a few hours’ escape from this world of tasks and appointments, we have served the Kingdom well. Without teaching a lesson or propagating a moral, we can provide a sanctuary for readers who just want to get away.

Who knows? They may gain insights on our narrative retreats they would receive in no other way.

Joe Allison has been a member of the Indiana Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN. His non-fiction books include Setting Goals That Count and Swords and Whetstones.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Why Writing with Kids Isn't So Bad

By Abbey Downey

As a mom of two young kids (ages five and three), it’s safe to assume I’ll hear the same question every time I mention I’m also a writer. “How do you make time to write with kids at home?”
Honestly, it’s a reasonable question. Kids take a lot of our time and mental resources, don’t they? And, even if you can get them playing peacefully without you, a mom knows those minutes won’t last as long as she hopes.
“He hit me!”
“She took my toy!”
“Can I have a snack?”
“I have to go potty. Now!”

"Look, I deleted Mom's entire manuscript with one click!"

But here’s what most people don’t realize: having my kids around actually makes my writing better. In spite of the interruptions, the constant questions, and the frequent potty/refereeing/feeding breaks. 

Here’s what I mean:

   They make me more creative.
Have you ever just listened to a kid playing imaginary games? They’re hilarious! My oh-so-dramatic daughter frequently ends sessions of playing Barbies with someone getting hurt and going to the hospital. My son likes to make his superheroes face off against the bad guys. All of their games involve dramatic conflict. Also, since I write fiction, I can give young characters some of my kids’ funniest quirks!

They force me to use my time wisely.
I love the way another author recently responded to the question of how moms find time to write. She laughingly replied that nap time is her friend, but then went on to say that somehow, God always provides the time. Isn’t that just like our God? He calls us to write and He provides what we need to accomplish that. But this is where I struggle: I have to get off Twitter and use the snippets of time I do have, especially when there are kids around with all their various needs. If I want to get any writing in, I have to plan my day and stick to it.

They make me get out and experience the world.
I’m an introvert. Even if you aren’t, as people who work in a rather solitary profession, it’s easy for writers to get wrapped up in our words and forget that there’s a whole, real world right in front of us. And that world provides endless inspiration! My kids require things like being picked up from school, getting food to make into meals, trips to the library, and hours spent eavesdropping on—I mean, accidentally overhearing—conversations during sports practices. All wonderful places to gather ideas that I would miss if I holed up all the time in my house.
"Hmm....I think this story would be better with a few
random letters sprinkled in."

They remind me to always include God.
As they all do, my kids ask questions. So many questions. My five-year-old is very much trying to make sense of how things fit into the world and his questions usually revolve around how things work together. When we get into a line of questions, often it will circle around to how God fits into the subject. Where’s God when kids are at school? How does Jesus eat if He’s invisible? It’s a great reminder that God is in everything we do. No matter the market or genre, there’s always a way to include God in our words and in our writing process.

Have you faced a challenge in your writing that turned out to hide blessings? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Abbey Downey never expected her love for writing to turn into a career, but she’s thankful for the chance to write inspirational romance as Mollie Campbell. A life-long Midwestern girl, Abbey lives in Central Indiana, where her family has roots back to the 1840s. She couldn’t be happier spending her days putting words on paper and hanging out with her husband, two kids, and a rather enthusiastic beagle.

You can check out Abbey's books at www.molliecampbell.com

Photos from pixabay.com