Saturday, September 5, 2009

Three Quotes on Writing

I came across a few quotes in the last several days from other authors that were worth sharing.

Kurt Vonnegut: "People have been hearing fantastic stories since time began. The problem is, they think life is supposed to be like the stories." Although the point of this article is that people create drama in their uneventful reality, I think it shows off well how to create drama in your works.

Abraham Piper: "Phrases like oddly enough, not surprisingly, or ironically, hinder readers from discovering the oddity, lack of surprise, or irony on their own." Not surprisingly, I'm quite guilty of this one.

Randy Ingermanson: "If God has called you to write, then don’t you dare quit. Don’t you DARE!" Thanks to Myra Johnson for pointing this one out.

Anyone else want to share a writing quote in the comments?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Squeezing the Creative Juices Dry

I read a post titled Ten Great Ways to Crush Creativity, and while it is aimed at the creativity desired in a business, I think some points apply very well to the creative process in writing.

1. Criticize and 7. Punish mistakes
No sooner do we write something down than we start picking it apart. "This won't work in the plot." "This doesn't fit into the argument." "This sounds awkward." Before we know it, we've turned from critiquing the piece to punishing ourselves verbally: "I'm never going to get this right." "Who am I kidding, I'm not a writer." Good writing takes time, and it takes the freedom to let the ideas flow... even if they aren't perfect at first.

6. Adhere to the plan
Some of us struggle with this more than others. My strength of outlining a plot is also my downfall. I get so focused on what I originally planned that I ignore the possibility that maybe one piece doesn't belong or should go in a different direction. Sure, the end goal should be kept in mind, but a plan should be flexible enough to allow for multiple ways to get there.

10. Don't waste money on training
Or time. Why learn from others when you can be mediocre all on your own? Training doesn't necessarily mean that you're taking a college course. It can be as simple as talking to another writer or even keeping a writer's eye peeled when reading a book.

Curtain Control

Jill Dearborn, author of Bang the Keys: Four Steps to a Lifelong Writing Practice, suggests that the act of writing should have cues of beginning and ending, similar to how a play begins with the curtain rising and ends with it falling.
Arranging one's time is a huge part of this phase in one's writing practice. There is something about training your body and mind to begin and end an endeavor consciously, as in lighting a candle to start the workshop, blowing it out to end, that naturally carries over into the way you structure your writing life as a whole.
How do you set off your writing times? How do you get in the mood? Is there something that you do to mark the end of it? I don't do anything special, unless you count the opening and closing of my notebook, but I'm considering trying something to get me in the mood.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Acorns to Oaks

Rita Gerlach writes:
For a writer to truly become masterful it takes work, and you can never believe you've so arrived that you no longer need to improve or grow. Pride can lead to a fall. A humble heart keeps you open to learning.
At this point in my writing, it's fairly easy to stay humble. All I have to do is crack open a published novel, and I can easily see how far short my work falls. My trap comes in by giving up instead of seeking growth. And giving up is really pride as well, claiming that God cannot transform me into a great writer, or that I know better than God at how I should be spending my time and energy.

So, the question for everyone out there is: What are you using to grow your writing talent?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Everybody's Favorite YouTube Videos

If you're interested, Novel Journey has been posting some YouTube videos of grammar lessons on their blog every Saturday or two. Here are the first three:

Adjectives and Adverbs
Prepositions and Transitive Verbs

Please pace yourself on these; they have to last until next Saturday, at least.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

There is a Published Writer in our Midst!

Everyone, please join me in congratulating our very own Steph Fink! Her diligence, hard work, and determination have paid off. This November, you can find her article "More Examined in the Waiting Room" in the P31 Magazine.

Steph submitted this article several times to Scribe's Alley. She worked tirelessly on writing and rewriting. She took a chance by submitting her article and now she is a published writer!

Thank you for being such an inspiration Steph! Way to go!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Remove your Setting from the Background

Ronie Kendig recommends that your setting should be more than where your characters interact, but instead should have a psychological impact on them (whether good or bad):
Setting should be as much alive as your character. Don’t let it grow stale or cliché. Does your character have a flat-screen TV? Why? Is it your heroine who uses the massive, ceiling-to-floor screen to study the surveillance footage of a crime scene? Or is your hero an America’s Army game junkie who’s hooked it up for life-sized gaming? Does the floor-model TV remind your hero of long nights spent watching Mr. Ed with his grandfather? What about the curio cabinet full of snow globes? Why are they there?
Where are your characters placed? What is around them? How does all of this affect how they feel, what memories are evoked, and what actions they take? I now understand that in the bizarre reality I'm creating in my novel, I need my characters to be thrown off, on guard, or simply curious more often than I do. What about you? How could your characters interact with your setting? How can a richer setting compel your characters and plot more effectively?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Let your I.E. DIE

Is murder okay if you're just killing that voice in your head? Kathleen Y'Barbo, an author of more than 3o published works, thinks so.
Inside each writer, just to the left of the creativity spot and wedged tight against the spot where logic meets magic, is another sort of editor. This editor is mean, nasty, critical, opinionated, and the worst enemy your manuscript ever had. Okay, some of you may have met a few human ones who display these characteristics as well. I assure you, however, there is not a single editor alive – or no longer with us – who can do more harm to your writing than I. E., aka. your Internal Editor.
She goes on to describe the I.E. and some of its more diabolical friends: the Research Junkie, the Perfectionist, and the Squiggly Red Line.

So, who is your writing nemesis? Mine is the Snoozing Lullaby, the one who says I can sleep in for just a few minutes more, and all I'd be losing is my time to write. He's been winning the battle this past week, but I'm in the mood to spill some blood, at least of the imaginary kind.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Hemingway on Writer's Block

Check out this idea from Ernest Hemingway on combating writer's block:
The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.
(quote from Ernest Hemingway on Writing, courtesy of WriteToDone and Lifehacker)

I've tried that a few times, stopping mid-sentence a few times. The only problem I've seen with it is I forget how I wanted to continue the sentence. I'm debating about even making some notes to myself on where I'm headed.

What do you do to keep the words flowing?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Street Theater

If you get a chance to get into the city for one of these shows, I promise, you won't be disappointed! These teens write and star in the story of their lives. It is a remarkable experience.

City at Peace takes it to the streets of DC!

This week, City at Peace DC is debuting our first ever free street theatre with scenes from our show LIVING [in theory]. Thanks to our collaborative partners, DC Department of Parks and Recreation and Duke Ellington School of the Arts, we will run four shows, one in each quadrant of DC.
We wanted to make sure you have the latest details on street theatre:
Rain or shine, the first street theatre performance will now be Thursday, May 28th at Fort Davis (1400 41st Street SE, corner of 41st and Alabama)Our upcoming show at Randall (820 South Capitol St, SW near Nationals Stadium) will be rescheduled date TBD
We have two more shows next week: Tuesday, June 2nd at Stead at 1625 P St, NW (Dupont Circle)Thursday, June 4th at Turkey Thicket at 1100 Michigan Ave, NE (near Brookland/Catholic University)
All shows begin at 6pm. Bring your friends and family (suitable for audiences 13 years and older), folding chair or cushion and pick your seat to watch our street theatre starring 13-19 year olds from DC, MD and VA.
The show will address a diverse set of challenging issues such as racism, independence, fitting in, self abuse and hetero-sexism. The show is an engaging tool for initiating dialogue and finding ways to make change within your community.
For questions, please contact me, Tom Prewitt, Managing Director at 202-319-2200 or Thank you to our gracious partners:

We hope to see you there!

P.S. If you can't make it to the show, you can make a gift to support our work!
City at Peace DC is a non-profit organization that uses the performing arts to promote non-violent conflict resolution and cross-cultural understanding. Each year, City at Peace DC provides a year-long intensive program for teens to share their personal stories and explore the challenges that confront young people from racism and peer pressure to sexism and power. Through the process, they learn life-changing communication skills, embrace diversity and understanding, and become empowered to foster change in their communities.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

2009 Schedule

Here is the group schedule as it stands now. I will update this post as changes are made.

4- Group 7:30 - 9:30
11 - Jen out of town, leader Mike Gross
18 - Jen out of town, leader Mike Gross
25 - Group 7:30 - 9:30

2 - Group 7:30 - 9:30 (anyone going out of town for the 4th?)
9 - Group 7:30 - 9:30
16 - Group 7:30 - 9:30
23 - Group 7:30 - 9:30
30 - Group 7:30 - 9:30

Jen on maternity leave - Leader TBD

Jen on maternity leave - Leader TBD

Jen on maternity leave - Leader TBD

Jen on maternity leave - Leader TBD

Jen on maternity leave - Leader TBD

7 - Jen Return from maternity leave

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Writer's Prayer

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests.
Psalm 20:1-5 (NIV)

May the Lord give you those missing words when you are searching for just the right sentence. May he send you help and support from those who are on the road with you, reminding you that you are not alone. May he remember all those late nights/early mornings spent seeking him, while you furiously scribble/type to get that idea down before it escapes. May he accept your rough draft and give you wisdom about how to make changes. May he give you the desire to be published, change a life, change your mind, or just complete your project, and make those plans succeed. Scribe's Alley will shout for joy when you are victorious in completing a project, submitting something, getting something published, or accomplishing your goals. We will lift up our banners of praise in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests as you walk boldly before the throne of God thanks to the blood of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

To Edit or Not to Edit

Here's something lighthearted to remind us that editing is necessary, even for the greatest writers.

Be aware there's some questionable language in this video.

(Credits to 22 Words for finding this video.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is it Magic?

Quote: The only way to learn to write is to write. -Peggy Teeters
The following was taken from The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass:

"A masterpiece novel may be singularly inspired, and it certainly can be a once-in-a-career event. But even so, it is not magic. It may feel that way to the author. He may hype its close-to-my-heart genesis and confess in The Writer on NPR that the manuscript wrote itself.

It disappoints me when authors perpetuate the myth that writing is magic. Some allow it to be so. It's a a shame that those writers fail to understand their own process. What's wrong with that? What's wrong is simply that magic is unpredictable. A method that's mysterious cannot be repeated.

I believe that passion is available to every author, every time she sits down to write. Every novel can be inspired. Every scene can have a white-hot center. it is not a matter of conjuring demons, being obsessed, or just plain luck. The passion that inspires great fiction can be a writing technique as handy and easy to use as those with which all fiction writers are familiar. Passion can be a practical tool."

Monday, May 11, 2009

An Outpouring

You have to learn to pace yourself
You're just like everybody else
You've only had to run so far
So good
But you will come to a place
Where the only thing you feel
Are loaded guns in your face
And you'll have to deal with
-- Billy Joel
So, here we are. Writers. We have a pull on our hearts to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and craft a tale of truth or fiction out of our imaginations. There are words to be used that no one else can write, and yet time and time again we stare at the clean and white, not knowing even how to start. And when we do staple the letters down to the page, we always seem to get them in the wrong order.

How heavy of a weight when we cannot seem to do the thing we must do. Heavier still is it if we feel the weight of God's calling on our writing. We need to use our words to glorify Almighty God, to show Him to the fallen world! How will we ever live up to that?

And then a fellow writer reminds me of the true perspective:
He doesn’t call me on this adventure called life so that I can, with my deep pools of awesomeness, release some sort of handcuffs He’s wearing. He calls me on this adventure because He knows I love adventures and He enjoys seeing me do things I love.
Maybe he's right and God really is saying:
"Let me be clear. I am God. I am complete. I do not need your additions. I want your work to be an overflow of love. I want to pour so much love and strength and truth into you that you cannot help but do things. Add to the world. Add to the people around you. Overflow on them what I give to you. Not because I need you to do something but because you can’t help but go out and share the love I am overflowing in you."
If that is true (and I'm starting to believe it is), we are not burdened by the call to write, but are blessed with the opportunity to write. We don't have to write; we get to write. Let's celebrate and pen some words overflowing from His love.

Fun New Site

I was cleaning out my inbox this morning when I found an e-mail from Courtney from forever ago. She sent me this link: which is now located in the left margin under "Check These Out". It contains freelance writing opportunities, exercises, writing tips, interviews, and more. I hope it helps to light the path on your writing journey.

If you read anything inspiring, or have a breakthrough, please let us know. Let's build each other up by sharing our encouraging news.

Friday, May 8, 2009

New Blog

Please note the new blog posted under "Must Reads" in the left margin. Resting on the Alter chronicals the adventures of Jimmy Ballanger, a long time member of Scribe's Alley. Enjoy!

Practice What You Preach

For this is what the high and lofty One says he who lives forever, whose name is holy: "I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite." Isaiah 57:15 (NIV)

The following was taken from The Writer's Block by Jason Rekulak:

Take a common cliché and write as though it were a literal truth. Describe a character who is "fat as a cow" or "skinny as a rail." Invent a fashion model who becomes "green with envy," or a cardiologist whose "heart swells with pride." Suspend left-brain impulses toward logic and common sense.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Your Right to Trite

You may be filled with fright
That you will pen something trite
Or release a full-blown blight
When first you start to write.

Believe I know your plight
For I have fought the fight
Of dreading endless spite
For things I strive to write.

Let me be your shining knight
And get your heart to just take flight;
Producing junk is just alright
When you first begin to write.

For when finished you may right,
Edit away with all your might.
Then your work will be a'ight
And be proud of what you write.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Food for Thought

Quote: If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster. -Issac Asimov

The following was taken from The Writer's Block by Jason Rekulak:

Clichés are a common pitfall for many beginning writers, and the easiest way to avoid them is to read and read and read - as much as you can, fiction and biography and journalism and anything else you can get your hands on. By processing thousands of pages through your subconscious, you'll develop a "cliché radar" that will zero in on phrases like "heart of gold" and "light as a feather" (Etymologists take note: the word cliché dates back to eighteenth century France and early newspaper publications; typesetters wold keep commonly used phrases and expressions on easy-access blocks called clichés.)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Letters from an Editor

I came across this interview with a successful literary agent, and thought it was worth sharing. Here's one thing that jumped out to me:
For thirty years I have observed fiction careers. I’ve seen them succeed and fail. The more I see, the more I feel that novelists fall into two broad categories: those whose desire is to be published, and those whose passion is to spin stories. I think of these as status seekers and storytellers.

You can’t tell the difference right away, but over the course of a career it always emerges. Status seekers focus on self-promotion and obsess about the industry. Storytellers ignore that stuff and focus on improving their novels. Guess who succeeds and who fails?
He also has a new book out called "The Fire in Fiction". It's been added to my wish list, though I've got WAY too many books to order this quite yet.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What's That Smell?

Quote: "There are two kinds of writer: those that make you think, and those that make you wonder. -Brian Aldiss

Today, as I was chopping cucumber and strawberries for my salad, I thought, "This smells like summer".

As writers, it is our job to bring our readers into our world with us. To give them enough space to be able to look around and see what's going on. Using the 5 senses is a great way to do that. So, choose three things to describe using all 5 senses. Here is a small list, but I bet you can come up with even better things to describe.

Summer, Winter, Fall, Spring
Your house
The beach
A baby
A baseball game

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pick Two Numbers

Romans 8:35,37
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (NIV)

The following was taken from The Playful Way to Serious Writing by Roberta Allen:

Pick two numbers from 1 to 20. Then, scroll down to find the words that correspond to your chosen numbers and combine them in a piece. Set your timer for five minutes and go.

1. Jog
2. Job
3. Lethargy
4. Levelheaded
5. Lung
6. Luna Moth
7. Neutron
8. Neuter
9. Nag
10. Picnic
11. Possible
12. Ribbon
13. Riding
14. Scream
15. Saddle
16. Sink
17. Skidding
18. Toy
19. Snob
20. Sullen

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lightning vs. Lightning Bug

Quote: "Bold writers run the risk not only that readers in general will see right through them but that readers they care about will see them for who they are and walk away." -Ralph Keyes The Courage to Write

The following was taken from The Writer's Block by Jason Rekulak:

Mark Twain dispensed plenty of advice to writers over his career, but perhaps no remark was more famous than this: "The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug." Word choice is crucial in any story, and even the moist arbitrary of decisions will establish and change the tone of your fiction. To illustrate this pint, poet and novelist John Balaban asks his creative writing students to consider the words stomach, belly, tummy, gut, and abdomen. These words all refer to the same thing, yet they all carry very different connotations (poets love to dwell on a pregnant mother's belly, but I've read very few odes to a pregnant mother's gut!). If you're having trouble with a story, review every line and make sure the tone is consistent. Have you written the word love when you really mean affection, passion, or tenderness? Are you using the word money when you mean cash, currency, dough, capital, or moolah? By fine-tuning word choice, you can zero in on the heart and soul of your fiction.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Complete These Sentences

Colossians 3:23-24
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (NIV)

The following was taken from The Soul Tells a Story by Vinita Hampton Wright.

Complete These Sentences

The activity that gives me greatest joy is...
The good qualities that best describe my life are...
The help that people often solicit from me is...
The part of my personality that I would most hate to lose is...
The work that is most satisfying to me is...
The activity that I feel drawn to, even when it's scary, is...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Anxiety Anyone?

Quote: "It is perfectly okay to write garbage - as long as you edit brilliantly." -C.J. Cherryh

The following was taken from The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes.
It is a must read for anyone who is trying to survive life as a writer.

Here is what Ralph has learned after writing eight books:

"Along the way, I've learned three things. One is that I'll survive; finish the book and live to write another. Second, I'll regain my sanity (such as it is). Finally, I've learned that a rising tide of anxiety isn't necessarily bad. It's a sign that I'm getting serious. Nervousness keeps me alert. Fear forces me to focus and to work longer hours. Restless nights mean I'm gaining momentum. The end is in sight. Getting there isn't always pleasant. Neither is running in a marathon. Or staging a play. or climbing a mountain. All such activities take courage."

"Finding the courage to write does not involve erasing or 'conquering' one's fears. Working writers aren't those who have eliminated their anxiety. They are the ones who keep scribbling while their heart races and their stomach churns, and who mail manuscripts with trembling fingers."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Name Your Gifts

Quote: "Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart..." - William Wordsworth

The following exercise is taken from The Soul Tells a Story by Vinita Hampton Wright.

For the next five minutes, write about what gave you joy as a child. Write quickly without analyzing or editing.

Take another five minutes and describe the most glorious or satisfying event of your high school life.

Try to remember the last time you were involved with a project that so captivated your attention that you lost track of time. What were you doing?

If five people closest to you - whether friends or family - were to tell you honestly what good things you have brought to their lives, what qualities or gifts would they list?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Bit of Advice about Writing

The following was taken from Writing Alone, Writing Together: A Guide for Writers and Writing Groups by Judy Reevees.

Eight Techniques from Jack Kerouac
  • Blow as deep as you want to blow
  • Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  • Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  • Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  • Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  • Don't think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  • No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language and knowledge
  • Write for the world to read and see your exact pictures of it

Nine Guidelines from William Struck Jr.

  • Choose a suitable design and hold to it.
  • Use the active voice.
  • Put statements in positive form.
  • Use definite, specific, concrete language.
  • Omit needless words.
  • Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
  • Keep related words together.
  • In summaries, keep to one tense.
  • Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.

Twelve Suggestions from E.B. White

  • Place yourself in the background
  • Write in a way that comes naturally
  • Work from a suitable design
  • Write with nouns and verbs
  • Do not overwrite
  • Avoid the use of qualifiers
  • Do not affect a breezy style
  • Do not explain too much
  • Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity
  • Make sure the reader knows who is speaking
  • Do not use dialect
  • Revise and rewrite

Seven Beacons from Gary Provost

  1. Brevity
  2. Clarity
  3. Precision
  4. Harmony
  5. Humanity
  6. Honesty
  7. Poetry

Eleven "Fumblerules" from William Safire

  • No sentence fragments.
  • It behooves us to avoid archaisms.
  • Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration
  • If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, "Resist hyperbole."
  • Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
  • Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
  • Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  • Writing carefully, dangling participles should not be used.
  • Kill all the exclamation points!!!
  • Don't verb nouns.
  • Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Writing Hodge Podge

Writing Contests:
For guidelines on evaluating contests and to determine if a contest is legitimate, go to:

The 2009 Christian Writers' Market Guide has an incredibly long list of contests in just about every genre. If you are interested in entering a contest, please let me know what genre and I will be happy to e-mail you a list.

THE WRITER’S EDGE, PO Box 1266, Wheaton IL 60187. E-mail: Website: No phone calls. A manuscript screening service for 90 cooperating Christian publishers. Charges $95 to evaluate a book proposal and if publishable, they will send a synopsis of it to 90 publishers who might be interested. If not publishable they will tell how to improve it. If interested, send an SASE for guidelines and a Book Information Form; request a form via e-mail or copy from Website. The Writer’s Edge now handles previously published books, including self-published books or those that are out of print and available for reprint. Requires a different form, but cost is the same. Reviews novels, nonfiction books, juvenile novels, Bible studies, devotionals, biography, and theology, but no poetry. See Website for details.
I am planning to try this once "Letters to Edward" is finished.

Questions for Discussion:
What does your writing life look like? Where do you write? When? What inspires you?

Writing Conferences

Here is a short list of Conferences listed in the 2009 Christian Writers' Market Guide:

Check out these websites for more complete lists:, or Link to these conference websites at

ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) National Conference

Act One: Screenwriting Weekends

American Christian Writers Conferences

Faithwriters Conference

Muse Online Writers Conference

The Publishing Game Workshop

"Write His Answer" Seminars & Retreats (I have been to this one and it is fantastic!)

Writer's Nudge Workshops

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fellow Travelers

I ran across a blog a few days ago called A Novel Journey. In these past few days of monitoring it, I've seen such interesting and quality posts come across it that I wanted to share it with everyone. This looks to be a blog for Christian writers, and most notably, they seem to interview a published author nearly every day. They also post entries containing wonderful advice for aspiring writers, such as:
Though the accomplishments of these submitters are impressive if not intimidating, I've found the advice and interviews to be down-to-earth and practical. If it's something others really like, may I suggest we add it to the list of links?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Daily Promptings

A few days ago, I came across (through a site called Plinky. Despite the strange name, it offers something wonderful to writers: a new topic--or "prompts"--every day. If you're stuck or just wanting something to stir your inspiration, check out the prompts. Here are the prompts for the last five days, to give you a taste:
  • List five things to do before you die.
  • Engineers are getting closer to the dream of the flying car. How would you sell one of these if you were an auto dealer?
  • What gadget is at the top of your wish list?
  • Hybrid Prius or Escalade with gold rims?
  • What's the worst way you've ever dumped or been dumped by someone?
You can also view the answers others give on each prompt, which is wonderful for inspiration for a character.

Update: the newer posts give a much better idea of its eclectic nature:
  • You have to give away a million dollars. How?
  • Name a children's book that makes you nostalgic.
  • Give us your unreasonable demands.
  • What will you do when the zombies come?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Advice from Writer to Writer

I came across an interview with a published writer in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I thought his advice (though we've all heard it before) carried some force given that it came from another writer. So, here it is:
BB: What advice do you give to fledgling writers?

LW: The same as everyone else's. Write. Apply seat to office chair and fill screen with words. Don't expect to be a master from the beginning. Your first drafts will always suck. That's what first drafts are meant to do. Once the story is down on paper (or magnetic media), you can re-write and revise until you've said what you meant to say. Get friends who write, or are discerning readers, to critique for you. Once you think the story is perfect, put it away in a drawer for about 3 months, and then look at it again. You'll be appalled at what you find, but that's usually the point where you can do a final draft and actually have something that's not an insult to an editor.
Do you think this guy is out in left field, or is his advice spot on? If he's got a point, how will you apply his advice to your writing?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fire Starters

Here are a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing. Choose one or do them all. Set your clock for 10 minutes and just go. Be free. Don't think about it, just write. You will be amazed at what you can do.

These ideas are taken from The Writer's Block by Jason Rekulak.

Invent a character who has won 76 million dollars in the Florida State Lottery. What's the first thing they buy? How much do they give to charity? How long before an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend re-enters their lives?

Begin a story with a character getting dressed. Be sure to note sizes, designer labels, and any holes or stains in the fabric. A person's choice of clothing will reveal worlds about their motivation, how they perceive themselves, how they want to be perceived by others and more.

Describe the most boring job you've ever had to suffer through.

Write about a parent trying to explain the facts of life to his or her child.

Were these exercises helpful? Are there other exercises that have been helpful that you would like to share?

Monday, February 23, 2009

How to Say Something without Saying It

I started perusing this book review to see if I'd like to buy the book, but the review itself turned out to be a treasure of its own. In it, Brandon Barr points out in excerpts how the author tells the reader without writing too much.
Overstreet keeps to the action in the paragraph. He could have easily stopped at several points and dallied over some distraction...for instance...

Inside the well a rope is bound to an iron ring. She seizes it and feels resistance. Persisting, she pulls until a sturdy bucket appears.

Let's look at what he DIDN'T do:

Inside the beautiful well a rope is bound to an iron ring. Her eyes narrow on the familiar object. She seizes it and feels resistance. "There's something down there!" she says aloud and smiles. Persisting, she pulls with all her strength until a sturdy bucket appears.
I know I have a tendency to write like the second example, but I'm struck by how much more powerful the simpler version is.

Brandon goes into two more examples, one on setting and another on character development. It's a fascinating study on how to let fewer words tell the greater story.


There are times I certainly struggle with being inspired for my writing. I can't seem to figure out what to write, so I write nothing. This holds for my blog more than anything else. Well, it was nice to read how Jack London (White Fang) dealt with inspiration. Below are a couple quotes from the article:
"To write — and make a living — the way London did, there just isn’t the possibility of waiting around for inspiration to strike. The same holds true in other fields. When we’re in need of inspiration for any project, we have to be prepared to go find it."
"Nice as inspiration is, there are always projects where we just don’t have the time to find inspiration. While inspiration can make the work go faster, though, it’s not always necessary: sometimes just sitting down and putting together an uninspired project is the best option."
Where do you go hunting for inspiration? I get some of my inspiration from the online blogs I subscribe to, or news articles that come across my virtual desk. What do you do when you go looking for inspiration but come back empty-handed? For the most part, I don't write, but I'm getting better at either going to revise an earlier work, or simply writing to get something down on paper, and worry about making it "inspired" later.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Art of Critiquing

Last Thursday, someone asked about critiquing - how exactly do we do it? Are we getting bogged down in too much detail? What should we be looking for? So, I did a little digging and I came up with quite a few gems.

The following thoughts and direct quotes are taken from Writing Alone, Writing Together: A Guide for Writers and Writing Groups by Judy Reeves.

When critiquing a piece:

"The piece in what the exchange is about, not what the writer intended to write or how much the critiquer knows. It isn't about the writer's skill. The dialogue concerns only what is on the page and how well it meets its mark or, if it doesn't, where, specifically, it veers off course."

"We don't teach anybody anything by being cruel to them or through disrespecting their work."

"This is not to say that critique, honestly and objectively and kindly given, doesn't hurt sometimes. We writers are a sensitive bunch, how else could we do what we do?"

"No matter how long we've been writing, when we tell the truth on the page, we have exposed ourselves and made ourselves vulnerable. You can't do one without the other. So when someone tells us something isn't working, or wasn't as effective as we thought, or goes off the mark, it is as natural as tears to wince a little at the bruising."

"Every now and again, someone takes up time picking one of those nits of spelling or the use of a cliche, or a line edit. But ideally those things are simply noted on the manuscript and discussion is devoted to larger issues."

How to Critique:

Be honest, objective, and kind. Tell how the piece affects you as a reader.

Respond only to the work being read, not the writer's previous work, the writer herself, her hairdo, or the company she keeps.

Critique the elements of the craft, not the content. The writer is the only one who can say what he wants to write about, and ideally, he will write about what matters to him, what he is passionate about.

Be specific in your comments.

Move away from your personal opinions of like/don't like to what works in the writing and what doesn't work.

What to Critique:

Point of View
Compelling or Predictable/Fresh or Trite

"Keep your critique to what's on the page. Critique the elements of the craft, not the content. Be specific. Be honest, objective, and kind."

If there are any words on this list that you are unfamiliar with, make sure to look them up and become familiar with them. As writers, we are responsible to educate ourselves about our craft.

One last thing, before you submit a piece for critique, please make sure that you have gone over it yourself at least once.

Are there any questions? Comments?


Here is a list of books that I love:

Writing Down the Bones - by Natalie Goldberg

Wild Mind: A Writer’s Workbook - by Natalie Goldberg

The Soul Tells A Story: Engaging Creativity With Spirituality In The Writing Life – by Vinita Hampton Wright

The Courage to Write – by Ralph Keyes

Bird by Bird – by Anne Lamott

The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition - by William Strunk Jr

The Heart of the Artist – by Rory Noland

Don’t Forget to Write – by The 6’ Ferret Writers’ Group

The Playful Way to Serious Writing – by Roberta Allen

Christian Writers’ Market Guide – by Sally Stuart

Write His Answer – by Marlene Bagnull

Any other helpful resources out there?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Talent to Write

The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.' 'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied.
-- Jesus (Luke 19:16-17a)
What struck me tonight about this passage--and the other one like it in Matthew 25--is the proportion of the "money" that was earned in comparison to what was given. In this version, the master gives one mina, and the servant earns ten more. So, the master supplies only 9% of the final value. Now, a mina isn't a piddly amount; it's three months wages, a quarter of your annual income. There's no way any sort of investment could be made without that initial gift. But still, most of the end result, though accomplished through the master's gift, really comes down to the hard work of the servant earning it.

I came across a blog entry a while ago and saved it, mainly for these two quotes:
  • The ability to write well is not a gift.
  • Writing well is not a gift reserved for the few but a set of skills that can be learned by anyone.
I do happen to believe (based on the Scripture above) that the ability to write is a gift, and that certain people are specifically called by God to write. And yet, the call to invest that initial deposit is what produces the ability to write well. It is a skill that can be learned and improved through practice and study.

My role may not be to be the next Shakespeare (or Asimov, or even Ingermanson), but I am called to write. However much God has invested in me, I am responsible for turning it into much more, for His glory. I must accept that this writing is more than a hobby, it is a ministry as holy as missionary or preacher, for it is what He has purposed me to do.

What do you think about this? Do you feel that a calling has been placed on your life to write? What's your reaction to the one mina invested/ten minas earned parable?

Friday, January 30, 2009

be Willing to be Intentional about Deliberate word choice

We had a discussion last night at group whether the word in someone's piece should be "willingly" or "willfully", and we never came to a conclusion on which was the right word. So I took some time to look up the words, and in the process rediscovered what I believe to be one of the greatest vocabulary tools out there.

I'm not sure what the official name of it is, but it's half-dictionary, half-thesaurus. Maybe it's best explained by the example I encountered:

Synonyms of "voluntary":
These adjectives mean being or resulting from one's own free will.
  • Voluntary implies the operation of unforced choice: "Ignorance, when it is voluntary, is criminal" (Samuel Johnson).
  • Intentional applies to something undertaken to further a plan or realize an aim: "I will abstain from all intentional wrongdoing and harm" (Hippocratic Oath).
  • Deliberate stresses premeditation and full awareness of the character and consequences of one's acts: taking deliberate and decisive action.
  • Willful implies deliberate, headstrong persistence in a self-determined course of action: a willful waste of time.
  • Willing suggests ready or cheerful acquiescence in the proposals or requirements of another: "The first requisite of a good citizen ... is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight" (Theodore Roosevelt).
From: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
I love getting a list of synonyms in this format, because it illuminates the nuances of each word, and enables me to choose the perfect word for what I'm trying to convey. So, please cheerfully accept [be willing] my proposal and act to achieve your aim [be intentional] of creating a masterpiece by performing premeditated [deliberate] research into your choice of words.

So, what's your favorite tool or resource to turn to while working to improve your writing?

P.S.: I've changed my mind and now believe "willingly" is the better choice.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where Are We? - a Writing Exercise

In my world travels, I happened upon a society that was very peculiar. I couldn’t say exactly how, but I was drawn to them. I didn’t quite fit in, but I couldn’t make myself leave either. It was very strange indeed.

Upon my arrival, I noticed that they didn’t have any hotels, motels or Inns. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I knew I was getting hungry, so I stopped at the local diner. I was greeted by everyone – workers and patrons alike. I took a seat at the bar and ordered a club sandwich with fries and a chocolate milkshake. “You might want to look at the menu, honey.” The waitress said. “We don’t serve anything like that.”

How could a diner not have club sandwiches and chocolate milkshakes? I opened the menu – it was only two pages. I looked around. Had I mistakenly walked into a health food place? No, it was a diner all right, but the only things on the menu were meat, fruits, veggies, and whole grains. “I guess I’ll have a wrap with turkey, tomato and lettuce. Could you put a little mayo on it as well.”

“What’s mayo?”

“Never mind. What do you have to moisten it a bit?”

“Oil and vinegar?”

“Okay, I’ll have that. And to drink…” I flipped the menu to the back page for a list of beverages. “I’ll have a strawberry smoothie.”

“Commin’ right up.” She said with a smile.

Once she had placed my order, she came back and introduced herself. “Names Doris, by the way. Your new around here, huh?”

“What gave it away?”

“You just passin’ though, or will you be with us for a while?”

“I was actually planning to stay for a few days, but I didn’t see any hotels.”

“What’s a hotel?”

“Are you serious? A hotel is a place that you can stay when you’re passing through a place.”

“Oh no, we don’t have anything like that. Around here, we just stay at someone’s house.”

“But, I don’t know anyone here.”
“That doesn’t matter. They’ll put you up for as long as you want. They’ll feed you too and if you need clothes or something, they can provide that.”

“How much does it cost?”

She looked at me with a bewildered expression on her face. “Nothing.”

“A stranger is going to put me up for free?”

“Yeah, how do you do it?”

“I pay for a hotel.”

“Well, then this is better, right?”

“I’ll let you know.” I was skeptical to say the least. I love my space and I was not really happy to have to live with a stranger for any length of time. “So, do I just start making random calls from the phone book, or what?”

Before I know what she was doing, Doris made an announcement to the entire diner. “Hey, folks! Does anyone have a room for this young lady?”

There were about 4 different responses. They all laughed and then calmly, very politely decided that Dominick and his wife, Lacy would be my caretakers. They sidled up next to me at the bar. I was already hating this.

We exchanged pleasantries and they left me with directions to their house and a key to the front door! They said to come and go as I pleased. My room is the first one on the right at the top of the steps. I sat and stared at them as they left the diner. I kept watching the empty doorway long after they had gone.

“Here’s your food, sweetie pie.” Doris said.
I ate in silence, trying to digest what had just happened along with my food.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Where are we?

Writing exercise:

There is a society in which all the people are godly people. They live their lives exactly the way the Bible says that they should. Then, you drop in. What do you see and hear? How do you fit in? How is it different than the world in which we are now living? How is it the same?

Feel free to post your answers here in the comments section, e-mail it to the group, or come to the mall next Thursday at 7:30 to discuss.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


In the process of downloading and reading the writings for tomorrow's meeting, I noticed that Google had very nicely put some ads related to book publishing alongside the e-mail. Well, one caught my attention and I decided to check it out.

Basically, they'll post your book to Amazon, allow you to set your own price, print it each time someone buys a copy, and seemingly all for a percentage of each sale plus the cost of one book delivered to you as your proof.

I haven't tried it yet (helps to have something written to publish), but it sounds pretty good. Of course, the one thing they're not doing is getting the word out for you, or putting on the shelves of a bookstore.

Anyone else know of or recommend other on-demand or self-publishing outfits?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


I'm going through the book "Write His Answer by Marlene Bagnull and I finally got to chapter 9 which is all about procrastination. I am a HUGE procrastinatory person!
Here are the things I do to procrastinate when I'm supposed to be writing (this is a confession):
  • organize my desk
  • make lists of things I need to do
  • check my e-mail
  • read a book about writing
  • clean

I spend my days thinking about writing, longing to write, excited about the ideas swimming around in my head. "I will write." I tell myself. "Right after this one last thing." And then I see something else, but it won't take very long so I figure right after that, the rest of the afternoon will be dedicated to my writing. But then, guess what? Yep, one more thing. And then, the day is over and I'm bloated with all the ideas that did not find their way onto my computer screen or into one of my many notebooks.

I've joked about procrastination, told myself to get over it, made resolutions to just sit down and write. I've never thought of it as sin. But, that is exactly what it is. Matt 21:28 - 32 tells the story about two brothers who were both asked by their Father to go out and work in the field. One said he would go, the other said that he would not. They both changed their minds. It doesn't matter what we say, only what we actually do.

I have been asked by my Father to go out and work (write) and I said that I would.

James 4:17 says "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins."

Lord, I confess I have squandered my time and I have not valued my writing as You do. I know that you've called me to write. I want to stop sinning against You. Thank you for the privilege of writing Your truth into this world. Please help me with my unbelief and with my schedule. You are a real and mighty God, able to meet us right where we are. I praise You Lord, the greatest artist.

Any other procrastinators out there? What do you do to procrastinate?