Sunday, November 27, 2011

Finding Our Niche: Writing for Healing--With Tongue in Cheek, sort of

Is there someone in your life who drives you nuts? A writer friend told about an anonymous pastor's wife she knows who writes murder mysteries. Since this dear woman can't afford to unleash her frustations on offending parishioners, she kills them off in fiction.

If you plan to follow suit, don't forget to change the name and identifying characteristics of the person, the circumstance, and the setting. The driving force you want to maintain is the raw emotion you're feeling. You want to hook your readers and keep them engaged. They long to feel with you--to be moved to tears, shock, laughter. If you can somehow capture your feelings on paper, regardless of circumstance, your readers will stay with you. Make them cry. Make them double up with laughter.

It may be healthy to bump off a boss, a "friend" or a family member in fiction, but you don't want to open yourself up to a lawsuit if the person recognizes herself. You don't want to become a "person of interest" if the individual you've bumped off in print comes to an unexpected ending.

We all have negative feelings toward others from time to time. You can always journal negative feelings, but hide your journal. You don't want your mother-in-law discovering how you really feel about her control issues. After you get all your venting out on paper, have a bonfire and destroy the evidence. Feelings change, and you don't want to be embarassed by them later.

Prayer helps. Even though we don't like it, circumstances and offending people in our lives build our own character. Part of the "all things" that work together for good in Romans 8:28 may be people and circumstances that drive us to our knees and teach us patience.

Writing fiction is one way to defuse anger. Journaling also helps. If you choose to journal, spend time writing about your feelings about what happened rather than just the incident itself. Harbored negative feelings create ulcers, hampers our ability to love, and blocks creativity.

Like our anonymous pastor's wife, it may be in our best interest to stay sweet and put our best face forward. We don't want our negative attitudes to leak out through our words, tone of voice, facial expressions, or body punches. We don't want to be the character in a book the author kills off.

Though it would be hard for a lot of us to do since most writers are so nice, if you have a lot of irritating people in your life and you haven't considered writing murder mysteries, you may have found your niche.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Overcoming the Opinions of Others

You know who the Statler Brothers are, right? Don Reid, retired lead singer for the Statler Brothers, tells this story in the September/October, 2011 issue of Homecoming Magazine.

As a kid, he loved Southern gospel groups like the Speer Family and the Statesmen and The Blackwood Brothers. When he grew up, he wanted to be "one of those guys."

His first stage appearance was at the age of 6 for a spring concert at his elementary school. The students practiced every day in class to get the songs just right.

A few days before the night of the performance, his teacher pulled him and three other students aside. She told them that during the concert she wanted them to just "mouth the words because [they didn't] really sing all that well."

Don Reid says this: "Such irony fills the memory and yet never scarred the dream. God bless you, Miss Carrier, wherever you are. This next song is for you."

I know a few writers so bruised by critique they put their pursuits aside. As a writer, has someone stepped on your dream? God bless them. Now write.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Matter of Perspective

In her August 29, 2011 newsletter for Ambitious Enterprises, Ally Peltier shared encouraging words about perspective. Ally E. Peltier is an editor, writer, and publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge of the publishing industry and more than a decade of writing experience to help others reach their publishing goals, whether it’s showing a writer how to improve his manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish, or ghostwriting a book to help an entrepreneur skyrocket her business platform to new levels. Grab Ally’s free white papers and learn more about her services at and

Here's Ally's excellent article, used by permission. The photo of Ally Peltier is from her August 29, 2011 newsletter.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I have a friend who often calls me asking, “What’s shakin’, bacon?” I never thought I’d be able to respond with, “My house, for starters!” On Tuesday we experienced a 5.9 earthquake on the East Coast. As it was based in Virginia, those of us in Maryland felt it pretty acutely, but I’ve heard people felt the tremors as far away as Toronto, New York, and Cincinnati, too. It was pretty strange to see my 1921 foursquare shimmy like a belly-dancer. My cats didn’t appreciate it much, either.

I didn’t get much work done Tuesday afternoon. Instead, I devoted a few hours to checking in with friends on Facebook. Some of them are former West Coasters who laughed at our distress. “You guys would never last in California,” they joked.

It occurred to me how different our perspectives are, and how much perspective can be affected by something as simple as geographic location. Our perspectives are also affected by our gender, age, occupations, education levels and types, and more. I imagined how a Mid-Atlantic native’s version of yesterday’s events would differ from a California-born transplant.

Similarly, earlier this week another friend got into an Internet squabble over the use of the term “sacrifice.” A former Air Force medic, he argued that missing a family breakfast or getting up extra early on a Sunday morning for a meeting are but mild inconveniences, and not appropriately deemed sacrifices insofar as that word is understood by him and other military members, firemen, policemen, etc. Clearly a difference in perspective even gives words different weight.

If you feel discouraged because you think you’re telling the same old story, or that your idea for a book has already been done, consider what your unique perspective can bring to the project. It’s been said that there are no new ideas—what’s fresh and interesting is the way in which those recycled ideas are presented. No one has your experiences, your voice, or your exact perspective. No one can write the same book you can.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Power of Ten

Are you stuck on a project? Is your stomach tied in knots because you're not doing what's on your "to-do" list? Have you heard of The Tolerable Ten?

On a post about overcoming procrastination, recommends we work at a task for ten minutes that we've been putting off. Is it something we need to start? We can do that in ten minutes. Is it a project we've bogged down in? We can tolerate a ten-minute tackle of a difficult spot. After staying with the venture for ten minutes, we can choose to continue working on the project or quit. Staying with a dreaded task for ten minutes builds our confidence. We can do it, even if we have to do it ten minutes at a time.

The important thing is just starting, or in many cases, starting again. I have an article I promised I'd rewrite the night before I left for the Philly writers' conference. After the conference, I had company for almost two weeks. Then I lost a week concerned with many things. When I finally sat down to do the rewrite, I discovered my notes were missing. I probably left them in Philly. So I've dreaded having to admit to the person I interviewed I haven't finished the profile rewrite.

I can do this. I really can. In perspective, it's not that big a deal. I've allowed myself to be sidetracked. All I have to do is sit down (half-way there--I'm sitting) and rewrite the article ten minutes at a time. I can pick up the phone and dial her number to ask for details if I need to. I can do that in ten minutes. I might be a little embarrassed, but I will survive.

So what have you been putting off? Writing? Editing? Cleaning? Calling? Confronting? Set a timer for ten minutes. Take a deep breath. Let's get unstuck. Let's get started. Let's begin and finish incomplete projects ten minutes at a time.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

More Powerful Than the Written Word

My friend Barbara flew up from Florida to attend the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers' Conference with me. After the conference during her visit, we had lunch with her friend Betty who told us about a doctor's appointment she had.

During extensive testing, her doctor discovered the blood pressure in one of her legs was lower than the pressure in the other. He told her he wanted her to walk an hour a day seven days a week. "You'd think he'd at least give me Sundays off," she said.

Betty doesn't walk the hour in one session. Some days she'll walk the length of the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk and back. That takes her 45 minutes. Then she'll walk the other 15 minutes at her home later in the day.

Last Christmas her kids bought her a treadmill so she didn't have to get out in the weather. She's not a TV watcher, she said, so she'd walk 30 minutes during the noon news broadcast and 30 minutes during the evening news. As she told her story, I felt a few pangs of guilt and shame.

I have a treadmill gathering dust in my living room. Sure, I was going to walk while I watched TV, too. "You need to get some kind of exercise," my husband has said. "Why don't you walk?" So we bought a used treadmill.

"You need to walk at least 30 minutes a day three days a week," more than one doctor has told me over the years. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I've read the articles. I really have. I know the benefits of exercise for physical and mental well-being.

Why did one woman's story over breakfast at IHOP motivate me to get moving? Picture this. Betty is 86. Can you see this dear lady walking along the boardwalk every day or on a treadmill in her living room when weather doesn't permit?

On the way home from our meeting with Betty, Barbara and I had a heart-to-heart. "My doctor thinks I walk every day," she said, "because I lied to him." Ah. My sister. "If Betty can do it, I can do it, too," she said. Barbara turned 82 on her last birthday.

More powerful than the words I read in all those articles on-line and in magazines and pamphlets, more motivational than hearing my husband's, my doctor's, and Dr. Oz's encouragement is the power of example. Who would have thought an 86-year-old woman would be strong enough to get my sedentary body up and moving?

We can't spend all our time in front of the computer. Let's get out there and motivate someone to be her best self. Do you have a motivational story to tell? Write it. Share it. But better than writing it is living it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

We Can't Do Everything -- But We Can Do Something

I just returned from the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers' Conference. What a great (exhausting) four days! I met so many wonderful writers and came home with new focus.

Liz Babbs, one of the speakers, said Great Britain is a post-Christian nation and she sees America quickly following. She talked about darkness in Great Britain. A missionary/writer serving in Bulgaria talked about the darkness in Bulgaria and how difficult it was to share the gospel. The people are discouraged, without hope, she said. America as a post-Christian nation? What do those in darkness need but light?

Let's keep the ground fertile for the message of life. What can you write today to let your light shine? Jesus is not dead. Neither are we. As long as we have breath, our writing is important. Let's put God's love in writing.

Write a letter to someone struggling and remind them of your love. Write an article, a devotion, a brochure, a letter to an editor, an e-mail to offer hope, comfort, encouragement. Do a little thing today. The book can wait. Wrap your words in an envelope of prayer, stamp with love and send your message on its way.

Let's commit to being light, sharing light, through our writing. Remember the Motel 6 tag line, "We'll leave the light on for you"? Let's leave the light on for our children.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Keep On Keeping On

I need about two more weeks to get ready for writers' conference. But instead, I have two days. I've been focused on preparation for more than a month.

Early on, I studied the list of authors, editors and agents coming to the conference. I requested meetings and pulled out articles I wanted to present. I had plenty of time, I thought, to get the writing done.

But this morning, I was still struggling with getting one article just right. How could I best say what I wanted to say in those worrisome paragraphs?

I needed some help. Then one of Oswald Chambers' devotions from My Utmost from His Highest came to mind. From December 15th, "Approved Unto God":

"If you cannot express yourself on any subject, struggle until you can. If you do not, someone will be the poorer all the days of his life. . . Always make a practice of provoking your own mind to think out what it accepts easily. . . . The author who benefits you most is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance."

This morning I wanted to quit. I didn't see how I could finish the article. But I know this: just when we want to quit, it's time to keep on.

All an editor at conference can do is say no. And if she does, then I have a completed article to send to another market when I get home.