Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How Do I Get Past the Writing Blahs? Part Two

Happy Wednesday, my writing friends,

Last week I offered three ways I battle those troublesome writing blahs. First, I tell myself, “It’s going to be okay.” Making a big deal out of something going wrong only leads to frustration and stress. Second, “Remember the Love.” Recalling why I write—because I love it!—snaps me out of a slump. And finally, “This One’s for You.” This pushes me to focus on my first and most important reader, the Lord (of course).

I promised to finish with three more tips. Here you go:

Something Fun
“You must complete everything you start,” my inner parent chides. And so I finish—reading a book, cleaning a toilet, eating a plate of Thai food, crafting and re-crafting an impossible scene … But when I’m in that depressed, “writing’s lame” mode, it helps to allow myself to shift focus for a while. I don’t have to finish that troubling scene right now. It can wait. I give myself permission to put aside the project that’s tormenting me and write something fun. It’s okay. I won’t get in trouble if I don’t finish this scene right now. Really. I promise.

Somebody Slap Me
Writing is a solitary thing. Even when crouched over my computer in a busy Starbucks, I’m still existing in my own world, alone with my stories. I like that about writing. But it can be detrimental too. It’s easy to lose perspective. Negative self talk scowls its nasty voice, saying I’m not good enough, my words deserve a big F—fail! And sometimes this sends me spiraling, wanting to give up. When this happens, I often attempt a self-help project. “I can get myself out of this one.” Problem is, this rarely works. What I really need when I’m wallowing in self pity is someone to tug me out, give me a kick in the rump, and tell me to set my fingers to typing. That’s why I have my critique group. What a relief to receive their words of empathy followed by a kick in the pants. “Thanks, I needed that.”

The Way He Sees It
Remember those quotes on Starbucks cups? I miss them. A friend of mine was in a slump and read this: “The humble improve,” by Wynton Marsalis. Snapped her right out of it. Early on in my writing career an editor encouraged me with this quote, “Never be afraid to write a [crummy] first draft.” How often has that propelled me onward? How about this one,

Keep at it! The one talent that's indispensable to a writer is persistence. You must write the book, else there is no book. It will not finish itself. Do not try to commit art. Just tell the story. Tom Clancy

See, it works. Can you think of more inspiring writing quotes? Share!

I hope you never succumb to the writing blahs, but if you do, give yourself a moment to whine, then come back more determined than ever to build the best story you can—and have fun!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Transformation and Redemption in Story by Bonnie Grove

Happy Tuesday morning! This post originally ran on Novel Matters a few weeks ago, but the message was so good, I asked Bonnie if I could re-run it for you. She graciously agreed. 'Want to know how to keep the "Christian" in your Christian fiction without sounding preachy? Read on ...
~ Angie

Back in the day, I took an English course at the University of Alberta. The professor was young, passionate about literature, and a wholly likeable guy. He was also passionate about preaching the dictums of postmodernism. He told us that postmodernism is the way of the future.

I wasn’t convinced.

One day he raised a finger to the ceiling and declared that most popular of postmodern edicts: “There is no ultimate truth!”

I cleared the earwax out of my ear and said, “Come again?”

He passionately re-exclaimed, “There is no ultimate truth!”

I liked the guy so I refrained from rolling my eyes. “Except,” I said. “That by proclaiming that there is no ultimate truth, you are in fact proclaiming an ultimate truth.”

He reddened.

I said, “Don’t you really mean to say that there is no ultimate truth except this one, that there is no ultimate truth?”

He stuttered.

“Except,” I went on, “If you believed that, then you would be soundly in the camp of the religious who would declare that they too hold to one ultimate truth. And in doing so, does that not unmask the whole thing as simply looking for another way to redeem ourselves?”

His surprising answer was that he began to cry.

In that moment I understood two things: 1) I was so going to fail this course, and 2) I had grown weary of the cultural meat grinder of postmodern deconstructionism.

On Monday, Katy pointed us to a video called The Arc of Storytelling by Bobette Buster. The whole video is interesting, but I’m focusing on the content from around the nine-minute mark to the end, which is where she talks about story as the vehicle by which we understand by “seeing” that transformation is possible, and redemption is attainable.

Every one of us has come through that meat grinder of postmodern thought. We’ve focused our questions and attention on deconstructing the notions of what it means to be human, and of pretty much everything we see, touch, think, hope for, and believe. But what I have noticed is that entire generations of people are weary, frightened, and hopeless. And these deconstructed people are looking for stories that show them they are more than the sum of their parts.

Transformation and redemption

Bobette Buster focused on transformation as the key story element that captures audience (reader) imagination and elevates that story to the position of “success” or “worth keeping”. I like how she phrases this by pointing out the transformation brings the character fully alive. It’s more than proving we are capable of change, it’s the hope that we can (will) become people who meet life head on with gusto, verve, purpose, and passion. Yes, purpose. Not mindlessly wandering from home to work to the TV set, to bed, and then start all over again the next day. But to know what it is we’re here to do, and then have the guts to go out and do it. Fully alive.

Buster ties the concept of transformation to redemption, which she means not in the theological sense per se, but in a more general sense. Still, redemption is more than the second chance; it’s a state of being in which transformed, fully alive live. The place where we understand that regardless of circumstances we are supported by someone or something greater than our self.

The generations who grew up inside of postmodern deconstructionism are still looking for the redemption story their guts tells them is out there. Even after been weened on the notion that such a thing doesn't exist. Stumbling, getting lost, losing hope, finding it again, they are searching.

For these people, ultimate truth is an answer they must be left to discover on their own (hence their distain for preachy stories with an agenda), but they are looking to story to remind them they are more than the sum of their parts, they have purpose, and a hopeful future. That they can be the heroes of their own lives.

Writers who are people of faith need to keep two things in mind: transformation is a journey that cannot and should not be summed up in a single prayer. It is a journey, and that fact must be respected in our story. Secondly, redemption isn’t what we think it is. It’s better than that. It is a state of being that allows us to experience our fully aliveness. People don’t want to transform into churchgoers, they want to transform into wholly alive human beings with the courage to face difficult, even impossible odds, with courage, knowing there is “an inexorable force in the universe there to support you if you keep going, you will discover the faith, the courage to move on.”

Until we can approach the concepts of transformation and redemption sensitively, and understand the journey that they entail, rather than racing to the finish line, we will be stuck in the postmodern meat grinder, proclaiming that our ultimate truth is better than that guy’s ultimate truth.

To put it another way, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

Read more about Bonnie Grove on her website, blogs - Fiction Matters, Your Best You, and, of course, Novel Matters.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Writing Mysteries Series, Part III by Cynthia Hickey

We’ve talked about characters, clues, and red herrings. We’ve typed The End to our wonderfully twisted mystery. We’re finished. Or are we?

Nope. You must read straight through to make sure everything lines up. Let someone you trust read it, also. If they figure out your culprit too soon, it’s back to the drawing board. Often, you can insert a character who only pops up once in a while to throw your reader off track, yet not change the line of clues leading to the conclusion. Remember: THERE MUST BE A REASON FOR EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS IN YOUR STORY. 

Every character must have a purpose for being there. Every clue must lead the reader and character down a path you’ve set before them. Every red herring must appear true. A poorly written mystery will have the reader flinging your book across the room. A cleverly constructed one will have your reader eagerly awaiting the next installment. Mysteries are challenging to write, but oh, so much fun.

If your mysteries are continuous, as mine are, you need to wrap things up in the last one. Each book has its own puzzle to be solved, but if you started a romance in book one, then it must end in a happily ever after in book three, or the last book in your series.
Being a person who prefers to write without an outline, I’ve discovered this is virtually impossible to do with a mystery. I had to get my paper and pencil and outline the crime. Who was present? Why were they there? Why would anyone suspect them? What happens next, then next, you get the picture. An outline is invaluable in writing a mystery. You need something to refer back to when your thoughts get as twisted as your plotline.

I hope you’ve learned a thing or two, and I can’t wait to read your mystery in print.


Multi-published author Cynthia Hickey has three cozy mysteries published through Barbour Publishing, with a novella scheduled to be released in March 2013. Her first mystery, Fudge-Laced Felonies, won first place in the inspirational category of the Great Expectations contest in 2007. Her third cozy, Chocolate-Covered Crime, received a four-star review from Romantic Times. She lives in Arizona with her husband, two of their seven children, two dogs, two cats, a snake named Flash and a fish named Floyd. She has five grandchildren who keep her busy and tell everyone they know that “Nana is a writer.” Visit her website at

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Rollercoaster Ride by Meg Moseley

The writer’s life is not easy. Most of us will experience ups and downs, highs and lows. Yet, because the rewards are great and we love what we do, we push through the tough times. Today, author Meg Moseley shares a bit of her own ride. I enjoyed her candor, and I think you will too.  ~ Dawn

A Rollercoaster Ride
by Meg Moseley

At a writers’ conference, I once heard a speaker call the publishing industry “a sick little business.”

Good, I thought. Somebody’s brave enough to say it.

Then I realized she’d said “a cyclical business.”

I like the misheard version, though. Publishing is indeed a sick little business, a strange blend of art and commerce. Writers have to hone their craft and cling to their artistic vision while they market their books, conquer paperwork, and learn the latest social media.

It’s a rollercoaster ride. When the rollercoaster makes a heart-stopping drop, you can’t hear your muse’s whisper over the screams. Add some real-life stress, and you’ve got twin rollercoasters pounding side by side through unpredictable twists and turns.

My debut novel released during a particularly chaotic time for me. It was the year of a fractured arm, a dying mother, and a tornado hitting our house. About the time the rollercoaster slowed down, I was on deadline for Book 2—and we were moving.

I turned in the book, although I’m still awaiting my editor’s revisions letter. My husband and I accomplished our move, although we still have boxes to unpack. I’m trying to give myself a break from my to-do list and from obsessing over Book 3, but stress hangs over me like Pooh’s little black raincloud.

My agent advises keeping a “sunshine file” for dark days. My file holds extra good reviews, fan mail, and such. I don’t open it often, but knowing it’s there helps me remember the sunshine.

Personal encounters are better than a sunshine file. Yesterday I met an older woman who’d read When Sparrows Fall. She sat me down in her kitchen and asked fascinating questions about the writing process. We talked about symbolism and editors and where characters come from, but we talked about our own histories too. She was a teenager during World War II when Daylight Savings Time, or “War Time,” went into effect. Her town chose to observe double the daylight savings, so darkness came very early on winter days. She remembers ice-skating by the light of headlights. The memory made her smile, and her lively retelling of it made me smile.

I came away knowing I hadn’t just met a fan. I had made a friend. It was a joy to connect with her—and I wouldn’t have met her if I’d been holed up with my computer and my to-do list.

Lesson learned? Sometimes we have to walk away from the to-do list, the looming deadline or the latest rejection letter, and find some sunshine. Our rollercoasters will be waiting when we come back. I promise. This is a cyclical business, and a sick little business, but it can be a healing business too. Story is a gift from God, and serving Him and people through that gift is a privilege. We can be part of the process of bringing light into darkness. What a blessing it is!

A Californian transplanted to Georgia, Meg Moseley took the scenic route to her lifelong goal of being a novelist. She has been a candle-maker in a tourist town, an administrative assistant at a college, a homeschool mom, and a newspaper columnist. Her debut novel, When Sparrows Fall, was published in May of 2011 by Multnomah Books. Her second novel will come out from Multnomah in September of 2012. Meg’s favorite spot for plotting new stories is on the back of her husband’s motorcycle as he takes her on rides in the mountains of Georgia, Tennessee, or the Carolinas.

To learn more about Meg, please visit her
website at and

Thursday, November 24, 2011

This and That Thursday: Give Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving, my writing friends! I hope you’re having a wonderful day.

Last year when I was teaching the life of David to my junior high class, I couldn’t help pausing at the spot when David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. It was a joyous moment for God’s people, and David wrote a Psalm to commemorate it. Here’s a portion:

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
his miracles and the judgments he uttered,
2 Chronicles 16:8, 12

In order to heed David’s call to give thanks, I created an activity for my students. I participated as well. We started with how God has blessed all of His people, then moved to our churches, our families, and finally us as individuals.

Since David said to “make known His deeds among the peoples!” we used our class time to sit in a circle and share what we found. It turned out to be a really neat activity, which sort of bonded us as a class.

I decided to do it again this year. Here’s how I filled out the worksheet I gave the class.

Give Thanks Worksheet

First, read 1 Chronicles 16:8-36

1. When God’s people were … waiting and waiting for the promised Messiah who would take them out of the cycle of sin which they couldn’t escape on their own

God … sent His precious Son Jesus to walk this dusty earth, suffer, and die, drinking the cup of wrath they deserved and giving them new life.

2. When my church was … Mourning the loss of one of our covenant children

God … Knew our pain and comforted us with the truths of His Word, bonded us together in the love of the body, and offered Himself as the comforter to our souls.

3. When my family was … Terrified they might lose me to a cardiac arrest

God … was their shelter from the storm, calmed their fears, and answered their prayers by bringing me home.

4. When I was … overwhelmed with anxiety and perfectionism, the busyness of life trapping me in it’s unyielding grasp

God … allowed me to have a cardiac arrest which slowed me down, helped me see what’s really important, taught me more about love than I can express, and made me thankful for each precious moment I’m here.

I liked doing this. It helped me to focus my thanksgiving on God and His character. Hmmm...I can see it becoming a tradition.

If you’d like to add this to your Thanksgiving activities, I’ve posted the worksheet and instructions on my web site. It's called, Give Thanks Worksheet and Instructions.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ask O: How Do I Get Past the Writing Blahs? Part One

Happy Wednesday my writing friends! Let's get right into my answer to this week's question:

“Dominos! Yay!” When my then six-year-old son literally flipped (did a somersault of joy) for the deluxe set of dominoes he received for Christmas, little did he (or I) know the tough lessons awaiting him. Unloading the massive bag onto the dinner table, he strove to align domino after domino into perfect position—up steps, curving like a snake, into a pyramid. Careful, Careful. “This is gonna be good.”

Then an accidental nudge from his knuckles sent his beloved creation toppling into rubble. After a few do-overs with the same outcome, my son ran into the backyard crying. “I’m never gonna do dominoes again!”

That’s what happens with my writing sometimes. I’m struck with a great idea for a novel. It develops as I sleep, shower, cook, do dishes, drive. I put fingertips to keyboard, click out an outline, start a draft, and fall in love with it. “This is gonna be good.” Then, before I know it, something happens to make it topple like my son’s dominoes.

It doesn’t really matter what causes the catastrophe. It could be an implausible character, an awkward setting, a thematic problem, or a scene that just doesn’t work. In a past mom-lit project, I kept misjudging the tone of a certain scene. The book was supposed to be funny and emotional (a difficult combo, I’m finding), and I just couldn’t figure out how to blend the two in this scene. I had to rewrite it so many times I wanted to run into the backyard crying, “I’m never gonna write again.”

But since never writing again is not an option, I’ve had to find ways to buck up. Here are three that help me. Next week I’ll share three more.

“It’s Going to Be Okay”
It may seem childish, but when I’m stressed, I like to hear those words. This phrase draws out the truth that what feels like a major roadblock is just a small obstacle on a bigger journey. If I trust the process and continue to re-think, re-work, re-write, I’ll find the answer. It’ll come.

Remember the Love
When stalled in frustration, it also sometimes helps to ask myself why I write. After a little hemming and hawing, I answer, “Because I love it.”
“I’m passionate about it.”
“I can’t not, okay. It’s who I am.”
Without fail, remembering how writing permeates my being motivates me.

This One’s for You
I do love to write, but it’s not the only reason I persevere. I also write because I love my potential readers. I mold my novels because I want to touch a reader with a truth about God. I labor over my mommy blog because I want to give hope to frazzled moms like me. I pen writing columns because I relate to author’s frustrations and joys. And ultimately, I write because of only One reader. Remembering my purpose pops the balloons of my poor-me party and pushes me back to work.

So if you’re tackling frustrations, try these three tips to get your fingers moving again, and tune in next week for three more.

Don't forget to leave your writing questions in the comments or on my website:

Happy Writing!



Overcoming the Writing Overwhelm by Cindy Sproles

This is the time of year when things can really get overwhelming: shopping, Thanksgiving, shopping, cooking, shopping, relatives,  - oh, yes, and shopping. Where does your writing fit in to your schedule during the holidays? Cindy Sproles, of has some wonderful thoughts for us to help us overcome the "overwhelm."
~ Angie

Life does have a way of happening. As much as I make the effort to control the things around me the truth is, I’m not in control at all. Publishers and professionals tell me, “You must blog. Facebook is an asset to your writing career. And oh, chirp, warble…uh no, it’s tweet, tweet, TWEET .”

When I gazed across my to-do list and see its length, my stomach churned. Worse yet, none of the work is my personal writing. It’s writing for others, reading submissions and editing. In the back of my head my own novel flailed, bobbing up and down through the river of “stuff” that called my hand of attention. My work was floating but I was personally drowning.

How do we manage to write when we’re overwhelmed? It begins when we re-examine the reason we write. The reason we write is from a love, a passion that burns deep inside us—that gift God has placed within us to nurture and develop so He is able to use our talent. When we allow the world to overwhelm us with earthly junk, God won’t work through us. We shove God to the bottom of the slush pile when it’s His calling that has ignited the desire to write.

I sat in front of my computer screen in a fog. Tweets popped up in the corner of the screen and instant messages lined the bottom. Who do I answer first? I slowly inched the cursor over the x and closed out Tweetdeck. One by one, I closed the instant messages and marked myself … off-line in Gmail. My heart knew I needed quiet.

I turned in my Bible to Isaiah and his words of encouragement … but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Just reading these words gave me a renewed strength.

Mental and physical overload is a worldly thing that sends me into a frenzy where the unimportant clouds the words God speaks to me to write.

It seems cliché to say “Pray,” but God wants us to bring every need, every thought to Him. When we offer up our plate filled with “things,” it’s His pleasure to scrap it clean.

Fighting overload begins at the feet of Christ—where we release the unnecessary and regain the necessary.

The work is too much to handle alone. Be quiet. Lift your weariness to the one who can manage it. Give the work to God. Renew your strength. Then, will you find the strength to fight the overwhelming junk of the world.

I get it God, I thought. So I slammed my Bible closed and grinned as a Twitter feather floated to the floor.

You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Exodus 18:18

Cindy Sproles is Editor and co-founder of Mountain Breeze Ministries and co-founder of Christian Devotions Ministries. She has contributed to Novel Journey, Novel Reviews, and contributes to the She co-writes the He Said, She Said devotions with Eddie Jones, which are featured on Christian Devotions Ministries and in Common Ground Christian Newspaper. Cindy is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and has a BA in Business.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Writing Mysteries Series, Part II by Cynthia Hickey

Last week we talked about characters. Well, what’s a good mystery without clues and false leads? Webster defines these things as:

Clue: something that guides through an intricate procedure or maze of difficulties; specifically: a piece of evidence that leads one toward the solution of a problem. 

The book gives the reader plenty of clues to solve the mystery.
Red Herring: [from the practice of drawing a red herring across a trail to confuse hunting dogs]: something that distracts attention from the real issue.

The plot of the mystery was full of red herrings.

Clues and red herrings are what makes a mystery fun! In order to keep my clues and “false clues” straight, I make a list. I already know who my characters are: main, secondary, villain, and suspects. It’s my suspects that lay my red herrings. Everyone is suspicious. Even loveable Uncle Roy. But there must be a believable reason for your suspects to be suspicious. i.e. Uncle Roy is hiding something. Money. He wants to take Aunt Eunice on an anniversary cruise. Our heroine finds his secret stash. Voila. Suspicion. But, the reader’s turned in another direction with a creepy carnival man who seems to deal drugs from his trailer. See where I’m going with this?

BUT, don’t leave too many clues to where your reader discovers the bad guy halfway through your book, but you must leave enough real clues that your reader can look back and go, “Oh, yeah. I see that now.” Outlining clues and red herrings are the most fun I have writing a mystery.


Multi-published author Cynthia Hickey has three cozy mysteries published through Barbour Publishing, with a novella scheduled to be released in March 2013. Her first mystery, Fudge-Laced Felonies, won first place in the inspirational category of the Great Expectations contest in 2007. Her third cozy, Chocolate-Covered Crime, received a four-star review from Romantic Times. She lives in Arizona with her husband, two of their seven children, two dogs, two cats, a snake named Flash and a fish named Floyd. She has five grandchildren who keep her busy and tell everyone they know that “Nana is a writer.” Visit her website at

Friday, November 18, 2011

How I Captured the Illusive Ship of Publishing by MaryLu Tyndall

As you travel on your writing journey, do you search for answers that will help you reach your dream destination? It could be getting your first contract, a multi-book contract, or maybe some type of intangible reward. Many authors, agents, and editors offer helpful tips to being a successful writer in the market. But, there are other things important to our success that shouldn’t be ignored. Enjoy as author MaryLu Tyndall shares her personal journey to publication. ~ Dawn

How I Captured the Illusive Ship of Publishing
by MaryLu Tyndall

I’m currently writing my 11th novel.  Wow! Did I say 11? That fact is still as shocking to me as the first time I got “that call” from my agent, telling me that I received a contract on my first book. Every contract I’ve received after that has been just as exciting. God has been good to me. But, now that I’ve been in the business awhile, I often get asked, how did I get published? What is my advice for writers trying to capture that illusive ship of publishing?  

If you’re a writer who’s been at it for quite some time, you’ve probably heard a multitude of answers such as: study the craft, join an online writers group, get in a critique group, attend conferences, enter contests, take classes, create a platform, blog, website...etc.  So I won’t bore you with all of that again. All those things are good and valuable and are definitely things that can help you as an aspiring writer. Having said that, however, I should tell you I did very few of those things before I got my first contract. 

In fact, I hadn’t written in years when I heard God tell me to write a novel about a Christian pirate. Yes, I know…I thought I was hearing things too!  At the time, I worked full time and had a husband and six kids to care for, but I obeyed. I wrote on weekends, evenings and on my lunch breaks, never really believing anything would come of it. After all, I didn’t know a thing about writing. I had no formal training, no creative writing classes, wasn’t on any loops, didn’t belong to a critique group, and had never attended a conference. I did, however, gather all the writing books around me I could and studied the craft. 

And guess what? Within three months of completing my first full length manuscript, I got an agent and within two months after he sent it out, I received a contract, not just for the one story, but for two more books as well.  It was a miracle! And I give God all the glory. Boy, am I glad I obeyed Him! So, how did I do it? Especially when I wrote that story with no specific plot in mind, no preconceived set of rules, no website, blog, platform, and no expectations of it ever being published, let alone have it get nominated for a Christy! 

I’ve often found the best answers are the simplest. The ones that cut through all the rules and requirements and hit at the heart of the matter.  So, here are the most important things I did when writing that break through novel:

  1. God was in control. From the very beginning, my pirate series was initiated by Him and as I wrote it, I wrote it for Him. Make sure that’s true in your case.
  2.  I wrote my passion. I LOVED these pirate stories! I couldn’t wait to steal a few minutes away from my day to write. If I knew I would never get published, I would have still written them. Can you say the same? If not, maybe you need to pray and ask God what you should be writing and then write that story burning on your heart. 

This is how I wrote The Redemption.  If it worked for me, perhaps it will work for you too!

MaryLu Tyndall, a Christy Award Finalist, and best-selling author of the Legacy of the King’s Pirates series is known for her swashbuckling historical romances filled with deep spiritual themes. She holds a degree in Math and worked as a software engineer for fifteen years before testing the waters as a writer. MaryLu currently writes full time and makes her home on the California coast with her husband, six kids, and four cats. Her passion is to write page-turning, romantic adventures that not only entertain but expose Christians to their full potential in Christ.

To find out more about MaryLu and her books, please visit: