Tuesday, April 26, 2011

You Can Find Me...

...Still at the hospital. Yes, today (Wednesday) should be Connor's last day in the hospital. He has been doing wonderful--he's off IV fluid, his appetite is back, and he is getting sufficiently annoyed with the confining crib in his room. Too bad he has to be hooked up to a pulse oximeter or I'd just let him run.

You can also find me over at my good friend, Jill Kimerer's blog. She asked me five questions...I answered five questions. Go join in the conversation! :)

For all you military wives out there, you can find me over at Wives of Faith, I haven't posted anything in the past week, but you can look me up or just read some of the other great articles by fellow military wives.

Do you have any news to share? Any place around the web we should be looking for you?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Update on Connor

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you are probably already aware that my son is in the hospital. Let me catch you all up:

Connor has been sick since last Monday night. On Tues, the doc said it was a cold and gave us an inhaler to use when he had trouble breathing. During the day on Tues and Wed, he was fine except for a runny nose. But at night he had trouble breathing and was unable to sleep except when I was holding him upright on my shoulder.

Thursday morning it didn't go away. In fact, it sounded a lot worse, he was literally sucking air. By the time my husband got home from work, I was frantic with worry b/c he had quit eating and just wanted to be held all afternoon.

After a little emotional breakdown on my part (after all, I hadn't slept much since Monday night and my son was really sick), hubby told me to take Connor to the acute care center on post. (Acute care center is kind of like an ER, but they aren't open 24/7 and they only handle small stuff...everything else they rush off to Tripler Army Medical Center or a closer ER).

They immediately took him back and started him on steroids and breathing treatments. After they got him a little more comfortable breathing-wise, they called an ambulance and took us up to Tripler. There we had various tests run, including chest x-rays. The diagnosis basically came back as some viral infection was causing his bronchial tubes and trache area to swell, causing strider (the sinking in of the chest on inhale), and use of accessory muscles to help with the extra strength to breathe.

We were admitted late Thurs night. Since then, he's been getting breathing treatments every 2-3 hours. They decided that he has a bad case of croup that is causing the swelling. Every time the doc thinks he's sounding better and starts to extend the time between treatments, he gets worse and his O2 stats drop.

Today he finally started coughing up mucous stuff and his O2 seems to have leveled off in the mid-90s (not great, but def better). Doc said that he will still need treatments for several hours, so he will be staying overnight again.

Hope against hope, and praying, Connor will get to go home tomorrow so we can celebrate Easter at home! So, please, keep praying that God will heal him. Thank you for all your love and support!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Writing Moral Dilemmas by Alex Lidell

It is my pleasure to once again welcome Alex Lidell to Faith Without Limits. Alex has been a long time critique partner who is a fantastic writer. Her novel, Service of the Crown, will be published by Dial Books soon! One of the aspects that I love about SOC, is that she peppered the novel with moral dilemmas that really make the reader reflect on the situation. So, I asked her to write a blog post about just that! Without further ado...


My muse savors moral dilemmas – with savage consequences for my characters in Service of the Crown. Nonetheless, when Raregem asked me to write a blog post on the topic, I found that dissecting dilemma creation is trickier than I presumed. A moral dilemma is a conflict between two opposite but ethically comparable choices: should you tell on a friend who broke the law? What if you are a police officer? What if the friend had a good reason? You get the idea.

So far, so good. Things get interesting when you start writing this stuff, because, unlike real life, you get to control not only the dilemma but also the definitions of right and wrong. In fiction, mass murderers (“assassins”), robbers (“rogues”) and juvenile delinquents (“misunderstood teens”) can be beloved protagonists. Lots of strings to play with here.

Let’s get practical. There are two types of dilemmas and you need to know which one you are going for. The two types are

1. Dilemma your character experiences. This deepens characterization and is easier to control.
2. Dilemma your reader experiences. This taps the reader’s emotions directly and is more dangerous.

Character dilemma

Here, the character, Jane, is caught between two choices. The reader will judge Jane’s actions largely by Jane’s own values. Should Jane skip church to go to a party? is only a dilemma if Jane if a faithful churchgoer to begin with. Whether or not the reader goes to church is secondary. At the end of the scene, the reader will get a deeper understanding of Jane, and not necessarily a deeper contemplation his own approach to spirituality.

Yes, yes, yes, I hear your shouts of indignation. Readers identify with characters. I agree. But at the moment we are comparing the two types of dilemmas to each other. A character’s dilemma primary examines the character, any introspection the reader does is a second layer.

Reader dilemma

Here the characters are clear on what they want, but the desires of sympathetic characters conflict each other, leaving the reader to judge right from wrong based on the reader’s own values:

Jane protests greedy Norm’s plan to fire Kate, an elderly employee who’s been with the company over thirty years.


Norm knows that Kate does nothing, and has kept her position thus far through blackmail. Plus, he has to let someone go.


Kate has no other income and will be homeless without a job. Plus, back in her twenties, she worked hard and saved the company.


Kate purposely turned down an offer of free housing to “ensure” Norm can’t fire her. She’s done nothing for the past twenty years because she’s entitled to a break after the sacrifices she made for the company in her youth.

You get the idea. The reader is left torn between Jane’s desire to find an alternative solution, one that would not turn an old woman out on the street and Norm’s plight for fairness and keeping the company afloat. Show that both Jane and Norm are contentious, compassionate and good human beings, and you’ve got the reader torn and involved. The danger is that the reader’s conclusion may not be the one you want him to make.

What do you think? Do you introduce dilemmas into your work? What have you read where dilemmas have been handled well… or not so well? What made them work, or not? Curious minds want to know!

By Alex Lidell
Author of Service of the Crown, upcoming from Dial Books for Young Readers.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Are Blogs and Websites Necessary?

The BIG question.

Gone are the days when a writer can shut themselves away and forget the world exists except on the days when their precious novel ships off to the editor. With the advancement of technology, readers want to connect with writers, to get to know who they are and why they write. On top of that, people just like us are on the lookout for tips and tricks on how to make it all work. Like we have it all together…pfft.

So, then we start hearing all about blogs and websites. Do we or don’t we? When? Now? How much attention does it require? Oh, the questions!

Here is what I have garnered from my own research mixed with my personal opinion: Blogs are a must. Unless you have something else to offer, a website can wait until you’ve signed with an agent (at the earliest).


Okay, I’m sure you’re looking at me all cross-eyed now that I’ve declared blogs a must, but let me explain. Blogs are a must for every writer the minute they decide to become a writer. I think their blog should start out as more personal and grow into a professional blog. This may sound a little counter-intuitive—hear me out. I think one thing a lot of writers need, especially in the beginning is some sort of accountability, as well as something that will hold us to deadlines. Blogs can do that. A lot of experts say that when you start up your blog, you should choose a niche that way you can attract the most readers from an audience that will want what you have to offer. I agree that your blog should be that eventually, but in the beginning, it shouldn’t be about the readers.

Blogging, in its rawest form, is a lot like journaling. It’s an opportunity to share your experiences, your hopes and dreams, what makes you tick, etc. For writers, this is an important, and often untapped, resource. Our writing is based on who we are deep down, and we best express ourselves through words. So, in the beginning, set up a blog with this in mind. It’s just a journal. Make up your mind to post only as often as you can fit it in—but at least once a week. You probably won’t garner many followers at first, and that’s okay.

The more comfortable you become with blogging, and the further you progress in your writing career, you can start to channel your blog into what you have to offer—what you’ve learned, what you are working on, what you’re exploring. If you’ve followed me long, you know I’m all about three things—faith, writing, and family. I talk about life as a Christian, military wife, homeschooling-mama who wants to be a published author.

As you take your blog to a more professional level, you’ll want to increase how often you post. The adage is that you will attract more readers the more often you post. So, once you hit professional level, it’s best to post AT LEAST three times a week. I typically post 3-5 times a week depending on how busy I am. The next is my downfall—be consistent about it. If you’re only going to post M-W-F, then post M-W-F. Your readers will come to expect it—and readers can be rather fickle. We still love them though.

Blogging can be a great marketing tool once you’ve been contracted. If you’ve spent the time building up your following ahead of time—when your dreams come true, you’ll have a team of people ready to support you after all you’ve done for them! Mutual giving.


I don’t have a lot to say on this at the moment. Websites are not necessary in the beginning stages of writing, or even as you get into it. Websites are where people go to find out more about you and your product. If you have nothing to offer, there’s no reason to have a website beyond your blog.

Once you become contracted to be published, a website is good to help promote the upcoming book. It gives you an opportunity to display more about you and your writing and invite people to interact with you.

Now, if you do have something else to offer—maybe you’re a freelance editor, or maybe you write historical romance and also make handcrafted items indicative of that era—then a website will help promote both sides of your world in one, central location. Something to be considered.

What about you? What are your opinions on blogs and websites? Please share!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My Lil' Boy...

So, my plan for today was to post a reflection on Easter as it approaches in less than a week. However, this morning, all I can be is a worried mom.

My son woke up at about 3:45 this morning wheezing like crazy. I could hear him breathing from another room! It was very scary. I got dressed and rushed him to what I thought was a 24 hour urgent care (that's what we'd been told) on post. We were told they'd assess him real quick and if need be put him in an ambulance to rush to an ER. Yeah, it wasn't even open.

By this time, his breathing had returned to normal, so I turned around and went home. I figured I'd either take him to the urgent care when it opened at 6, or if Connor was doing better, I'd just make a same day appointment.

We got home and he pretty much went straight to sleep. I stayed with him just to listen to him breathe until I was sure he was fine. Then I went back to bed for an hour (days like this you wish the older kids would just sleep in).

Now, I find myself plagued with worry. My reflection on Easter has turned into a prayer for help and of thanks. Without the sacrifice made on the cross that day, and the fact that 3 days later, Jesus rose from the dead--I would not have the humble ability to go before my Savior and lift up my son.

When Connor woke up again, he sounded awful! Wheezing again, stuffy nose. Poor baby. He has an appointment in a little while. Hopefully we can find out what's wrong with him. I'll keep you all updated!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stories, Articles, and Blogs...Oh, My!

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve talked about steps to take toward making writing a career instead of just a hobby—to include making a schedule that includes writing time and a special space to write. Now it’s that time. We push everything else aside to sit down with a blank computer screen for a couple of hours. What do we do next?

For many, they just want to sit down and start on that novel they’ve had simmering inside for weeks, months, even years. That’s great! It’s exciting to have that motivation and desire to get it all out on paper. If you can think of nothing else you would like to do—go for it. Just start writing. That’s how I wrote my first couple of novels (the ones that are in the back of the closet and will probably never again see the light of day).

Take a minute, though, to consider a few other options. In Jerry B. Jenkins’ book on writing, Writing for the Soul, he ventures to suggest that we should start small—articles and short stories. He began his writing career with articles for his local newspaper on area sports; it was many years before he joined with Tim LaHaye to write The Left Behind series.

For the most part, I agree with Mr. Jenkins. When we start writing, we should use articles and short stories to teach us how to make our writing tighter and to use stronger verbs/nouns to make the prose pop. This doesn’t mean we can’t work on our novels—after all, sometimes those characters won’t let us rest!

This is where a good writing schedule comes in. It’s nice to set aside at least one writing day a week just to focus on articles and/or short stories. The continued practice will only help you in your overall writing style, but there’s an added bonus.

Articles and short stories are a way to get your name and style out there before you reach the end of your novel. If you’re looking to earn a little extra cash, selling articles to magazines and online content offer a quicker turnaround (and slightly better odds) than waiting on your novels.

Don’t think you have what it takes to write articles? Take a moment to take stock of your interests and expertise. For me, I can say that I am a follower of Christ, a wife, a mom, a writer. I am into homeschooling, learning how to cook and organize my home, reading, accomplishing goals…the list goes on.

There are many different types of articles, from how-tos to devotionals to features. While you may find it harder to break into features, starting out with how-tos and short devos will open many doors. Study up on the different types of articles and match them up with your interests/expertise. Then start looking for places that want what you have to offer. Check out the market guides, local/regional options, do a little research online. You’ll find there is a lot out there for you to get some experience under your belt.

I cannot express enough the benefits of incorporating articles and short stories into your writing routine. Even poetry and blogs can help. Poetry allows you to use more colorful, flowery language, often with even tighter word restrictions. You also learn more about rhythm and flow, meter and cadence. Blogs…well, we’ll talk more about that on Wednesday!

Join me tomorrow as I reflect on my journey with Christ as we venture into the last week before Easter. Wednesday, we’ll talk about blogs and websites…do writers need them and when. Thursday, Faith Without Limits will welcome my CP and good friend, Airdale, as she talks about moral dilemmas in our writing. Earth Day is Friday and we’ll see what I can whip up for then! Something about Easter and Earth Day…there has to be a way to connect the two. Welcome to another week at Faith Without Limits!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Schedules: Get Your Family Involved!

Know what’s harder than putting a schedule together and making it work?

Putting it together and making it work when it involves people other than yourself.

Everyone is different. They have different priorities, different strengths and weaknesses. Different routines. And they don’t all fit into the nice-sized gift box that is our own vision of a schedule. Son is more active in the morning and can accomplish his chores as soon as he wakes up, while Daughter has to be dragged out of bed, kicking and screaming. Hubby’s mornings are rushed, but he gets off at a decent time and has some spare time between work and dinner.

I hope that you kept that in mind as you built your personal-slash-family schedule. Now that you’ve got the schedule planned out, it’s time to get the family involved!

Call a family meeting. Relate the schedule as you see it…don’t forget to include the why and wherefore. Sometimes people are more cooperative when they understand where you’re coming from.

Listen. Really listen. The kind of listening that workshops talk about. That means open your mind to the possibility that the schedule is not yet perfect (trust me, it’s probably not). My hubby and I had to discuss in depth how much time I would to devote to my writing, and when it was best to work in that time. We came up with an excellent schedule that actually afforded me more time than I had anticipated!

Work out the kinks they point out. If Son thinks his grades would improve if he dropped one of his three extra-curricular activities because he’d have more time to study. Go with it. If hubby says it’s too much of a stretch to make it home for dinner at 5:30, but he could definitely make it more consistently at 6. Go for it. It doesn’t hurt to try.

One big fact to realize is that, just like a schedule isn’t right for every family, it may not be for every person in the family either. Some people freeze under such structure, others thrive in knowing exactly what comes next. As long as the routine is understood and everyone is knows what is expected of them (i.e. Son takes out the trash at night before he can watch TV) then you are on the right track.

When your family is on board, it makes everything easier. You don’t have to fight them tooth and nail at every point in the day. In fact, isn’t that the point of a schedule? To make sure you get the necessary things done and out of the way so you can enjoy more time with the ones you love?

God bless and have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Make Your Schedule Work for YOU! Pt 2

Welcome back to our exploration of that thing called a schedule. In the last post, we discussed the first four steps in my 10 Steps to Creating YOUR Schedule! We made a list of everything we do in a typical week (to include boring, everyday stuff like cleaning). We made a list of our priorities in life. We then combined the lists, placing each activity with a priority, and then we prayed over the lists.

Today, after having a day or so to think and pray, we can sit down and continue.

5. Grab your calendar and mark down anything that occurs on a weekly basis at a specific date and time. Bible study, church, meetings, playdates, work, school…you get the picture. Your schedule has to work around these.

6. Create your priority schedule. With the remaining activities on your priority list, start filling in your schedule. Start at the top and work your way down. For me, I start under my God priority. The first thing I work in is my quiet time at 5:45-6:30 in the morning. This way I start my day off in the right mindset! Then comes my husband—gotta make him a priority, so I schedule date night before my week gets too cluttered. Keep working your way down until you reach the bottom.

7. Make a cleaning schedule. I used to be one of those that didn’t have a schedule and I would end up spending hours on Saturday making everything just right, or hurrying to clean up the house before company came over. Then I discovered Flylady… If you’ve never heard of her, run over to Flylady.net, you won’t be sorry! Talk about a time (and sanity) saver. But here is what my general cleaning schedule looks like:

Monday—Great Room plus Daily Mission (DM) from Flylady
Tuesday—Bedrooms (wash linens every other week), DM
Wednesday—Bathrooms, Meal/Grocery planning, DM
Thursday—Laundry Room/School Room, Grocery Shopping, Errands, DM
Friday—Van, Great Room, DM
Sunday—Laundry catch up (my goal is to not have to do this, but some weeks…)

***Side Note: These are intense cleaning days, it doesn’t mean I ignore the room completely until the next time I’ve scheduled to clean it.

My suggestion is to work cleaning into your schedule 15 mins at a time. Flylady’s motto is that you can do anything in 15 mins—you’d be surprised on how much you can accomplish! I can clean the entire bathroom, to include sweep and mop, in 15 mins!

8. Don’t forget down time! There is nothing wrong with watching TV. There’s nothing wrong with reading a book. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sitting on the back porch sipping iced tea while the kids run around in the backyard. Everyone deserves, and is better for having, some downtime. If you know you won’t give it to yourselves (I’m mostly talking to the perfectionists out there…you know who you are), schedule it in. Now. It’s a must.

9. Move things around, try something new. Now you’ve got this schedule all laid out. Maybe one or two things aren’t looking right. Maybe you realize you’re not devoting enough time to one area, or maybe too much to another. Change things up. Like I said earlier, I used to do my quiet time at night, but because I was so tired, I only had that time maybe once or twice a week. Since I’ve moved it to the morning, it happens almost every day without effort.

10. Put your schedule to work—but be flexible and open to change. This is a work in progress. Every Sunday night for the first few weeks, sit down and tweak the schedule as you see fit. Once you get the hang of it and everything falls into place, you’ll be all the happier, and more accomplished!
Know what I did today?

Changed the bedding, cleaned the kitchen (a doc apt through off my schedule yesterday), 2 load of laundry, homeschool (2 hours for preschoolers), a review for my critique workshop, 2 blog posts, caught up on emails/blogs, and spent time with hubby and the kids—and it’s just now 3:00 pm. All I really have left to do today is to vacuum the bedrooms and make dinner. Then I have an FRG meeting later tonight, and maybe some writing time.

It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we have a plan. No matter how loose or strict it is, it’s a blessing if it works for us!

Make Your Schedule Work for YOU!

Every discussion I’ve encountered concerning schedules often has at least one person (often more) who say, “I just can’t stick to a schedule” or “I prefer more flexibility”. This is all well and good, but we still need some structure or we will whittle away time with laziness, selfishness, or busy-ness. In case you’re curious, I have definitely been guilty of all of the above! So they say, better to have a plan and not need one than to not have a plan and need one.

If you’re a writer, working in time to write/review/read/study the craft is necessary. If you work outside the home, making time and inventing way of accomplishing household tasks is a must. If you’re a homeschool parent, it’s likely that you’ll lean towards focusing too much on school or not focus enough as you let housework, activities, etc take over.

We all need some sort of routine to keep us on track. The key is finding the schedule that will work for us, not just a schedule that will make us work. So here is my 10 Steps for Creating YOUR Schedule:

***First, you will need a pencil/paper, a calendar, appointment book (if you have one), and some time to sit alone (or with your spouse) and think/talk.

1. The first step is to make a list of everything you need to do during a TYPICAL week. If you have a few things that happen on a regular basis in a month (but not necessarily every week), list those as well. This should be as complete as you can make it. Be sure to include stuff like housework, grocery shopping, church, etc.

2. Next, put that paper aside, and on a separate sheet of paper, consider your priorities. List them, leaving a few spaces between each. Based on Biblical principles, mine looks something like this:
*My Health (if you knew all my health issues…)
*Extended family/Friends
*Church activities (not church itself)
*Other activities (FRG, MOPS, etc)

3. Now, assign each of the activities from the first list to your priorities. What this exercise does is find areas in your schedule that are unnecessary or not being used adequately. This is just a visual for you and something to get your brain firing up before you start making your schedule. For instance, I recently cut out most of my TV time, because I found that I could have more time for both my kids and my writing, if I put that aside. Sounds like a duh-thing, I know. But sometimes you don’t want to give up shows you like. Now I just stick to two or three favorites, which I DVR so that I can watch them on MY time.

4. Pray over your lists. Take the time to consider what is important and why. Does Sally really need to be in soccer, dance, AND cheerleading at the same time? Would it be better for spouse to pick up Bobby from football on his way home from work, so that you can squeeze in 45 minutes of exercise/cleaning? Make notes as they come to you, but don’t start trying to work a schedule yet. To keep from making any rash decisions, these thoughts need to stew and simmer until…


Monday, April 11, 2011

A Day in the Life of Ralene

Last week, we discussed the steps anyone who wants to be a writer should take. One of the suggestions was to make time in your schedule to write. After all, how will you ever be a writer if you don't get to write?

Now, I know in this day and age we have so much to keep us busy. If you're anything like me, you have everything from work to family to house to writing. Oy! It all adds up!

People keep asking me, both on the blog and in real life, how I do it all. Honestly, I'm bewildered because I definitely don't think I have it all together. There are days when I am stressed beyond belief. Still, I thought I'd give you a peak at "A Day in the Life of Ralene". Then, on Wednesday, I'll offer tips and tricks for carving out a schedule that works for YOU (not me, YOU).

A Day in the Life of Ralene:

5:45-Alarm goes off

5:45-6:45-Quiet time and morning rountine

6:45-8:00-Emails/Blogs/Social Media
7:00-Wake up kids (if they aren't already)
7:30-Breakfast (yes, I'm a horrible mother, I check my emails during breakfast)

8:00-9:00-Misc, sometimes I clean, sometimes I finish up emails, sometimes I help the kids get ready for the day

9:00-Baby goes down for nap

11:30-1:00-Lunch and cleaning

1:00-3:00-Kids rest time, me writing blogs/reviews

3:00-5:00-Free time to hang with kids/watch a TV show/read

5:00-Start on dinner, we usually eat about 5:45/6

7:00-Hubby takes over with kids, writing for me

8:00-Bedtime for kids


10:30-Lights out for me

For me, this is a good balance. It offers time for the things that need to be done (housework, school) with the things I like to do (writing, spend time with family).

Of course, this is an ideal day. I have to keep myself flexible for the needs of those in my life--family, friends, church family. Sometimes I'll have a week that needs to be more writing focused (like when I am prepping for a contest), or one that is more family dependant (like when I have a sick kid or there's a holiday).

The first thing that suffers if things get out of whack is the houskeeping. It's my least favorite, so I have absolutely no qualms with putting off dusting until tomorrow...or the next day, or the next. If that goes on for too long though, I go into cleaning overdrive!

So, that's a glimpse at my day and what goes on. Stay tuned because on Wednesday, I'll offer tips and tricks for making your schedule work for you.

In the meantime, what about you? What do you do to get it all done?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Get Real Friday

UPDATE: Yay! I'm a semi-finalist in the ACFW Genesis contest! We're going to party here on FHS next week. :) Schedules and a party? Do those even go together? lol...

Hey everyone--Happy Friday!

I don't know about you, but I am so excited the weekend is just about here. I need the break! So, a little update from me:

*Yes, the above photo is the actual picture of our washer and dryer. Aren't they pretty? lol... The piles of laundry are gone AT LAST!

*The Genesis contest semifinalists should be announced sometime today. Eek! I can't tell you what a ball of anxiousness I am. Originally, I thought I wouldn't care if I made it to the next round or not, I really just wanted some professional feeback. However, if I'm completely honest--getting cut in the first round still sucks.

*I have not been working on my 3in30 goals. I know, it's horrible. But since I've felt so good this week, my focus has been on finishing up my house. And this week was a review frenzy in my critique group, so most of my writing time has been reviewing my good friend Kurt's story.

*Connor started walking! Yes, it's very exciting. He doesn't go very far, only a few steps at the moment...but he's being very brave and letting go of the couch/table/hand. My hubby loaded a video on Facebook. You'll have to go to my page and check it out!

*I've been participating in the Bible in 90 days challenge and I'm keeping up with that fairly well. It's an interesting goal, one I've never attempted before. Still, reading through the OT now, I am enjoying those old Bible stories.

So my first week of April has been productive, though not necessarily as much as I would like. Any progress is better than none! What about you? Do you have any news to share? Spill it!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

So You Wanna Be a Writer? (Pt 2)

So You Wanna Be a Writer…Pt 2

On Monday, we discussed what comes next after you decide that you are, in fact, a writer. As a quick refresher:
10. Start to Budget for extras.
9. Join national/local groups for writers.
7. Start small, dream big.
6. Join a critique group.
5. Adjust your schedule to allow time to write.
4. Don’t give up on reading!
3. Write, write, write!
2. Read every book on the craft you can get your hands on.

And now for the ugly truth.

The number one thing that a new writer has to do is…


I know, I know—“But, Ralene, I don’t have any illusions. I don’t expect to be the next “insert name of famous author here”.” (Did I even punctuate that right? Oy!)

Trust me…that’s not the only myths that new writers (and some not so new writers as well). I could start a whole different Top 10 for that, and maybe I will someday, but not now. Instead, I just want to let you in on a few little secrets.

Writing isn’t easy.

That’s the biggie. You may have cranked out 70-200K words blindfolded with one hand behind your back. Sorry—it ain’t that easy. Some of the best times for a writer are when they are creating a new story. They get to live vicariously through their characters and experience things they may not otherwise (or possibly re-experience something they already went through). It’s fun to discover new people, places, and ideas.

It’s also hard work and little immediate return. When you commit to writing, something always gets sacrificed. For some it’s time with family, others it’s their social life, and still others (like me) it’s stuff like housekeeping, hobbies, etc. For some, it’s all of the above. Writing can be a very lonely profession. (And people wonder why we’re obsessed with Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, and other social media!)

Sometimes, though, we just want to give in. Give in to that TV show, give in to that date with the girls, give in to that voice in the back of our head telling us we’ll never amount to anything so crawl under a rock and hide. Writer’s block hits and we’re ready to throw in the towel—is it really worth it?

Inside we discover a strength we didn’t know we had, and we push through and move on. We do what we do because it’s our passion, our heart, our lifeblood.

Just so you know, the publication process is slow.

The average wait time for a novel to go from contract to book shelf is about 12 months. Sometimes shorter, often times longer. And that’s AFTER it’s been contracted. No one told me that it can take up to 2 months to hear back about a stinkin’ query letter…IF I hear back from them at all. Or that, even though the agent/editor sounded SO excited in their request for a full manuscript that it could be anywhere from 1 month to 6 before I hear a yay or nay.

The joys of writing.

All that to say…writing is tough. Not just anyone can write, and write well. That’s not to discourage anyone…but to reveal the ugly truth. Let go of your illusions, roll up your sleeves, and dig in for the long haul.

Here’s just a few fun quotes from fellow writers:

Diane M Graham: “One of the best parts of being a writer is creating a world and characters. One of the worst parts of being a writer is the responsibility of that world and its characters.”

Kimchi Lya McMahon Blow: “The worst thing and best thing...the creative "voice" in me never shuts up!:) Sometimes that's bad and sometimes it's good!”

Katie Ganshert: “The best thing about writing is writing. The worst thing about writing is writing.”

Do you see a trend in those quotes?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

So You Wanna Be a Writer...Now What?

Almost five years ago, I made the biggest decision in my life next to getting married and having kids. I wanted to write professionally. Of course, that’s easier said than done. I can say I’m a writer, but what makes that so? It has to be more than my verbal announcement.

The decision to write professionally means a lot of changes. Some are fun, and , well, some aren’t. Let me tell you right off the bat: Writing is not easy. That’s not to say it isn’t fun, but it’s definitely not as easy as it appears at first.

When I first sat down to crank out my first novel—I had the time of my life. I wrote and wrote and wrote. The words came effortlessly, the story and characters were fun and interesting. Then, thanks to a critique group, all my hopes and dreams were dashed. What was all this about plotting and character arcs? What in the heck is wrong with adverbs? Don’t even get me started on the intricacies of query letters, synopses, and pitches.

There are things that took me awhile to discover on my own, so I thought I’d share my expertise (pfft!) with you. First things first! You’ve made the decision to become a writer. That’s great. Here’s my Top 10 for New Writers (in ascending order):

10. Start to budget for extras. Being a writer comes with its own unique set of expenses. From printer ink and paper to writer conferences, sometimes it isn’t cheap. The sooner you start saving, the more freedom you have later on. (I highly recommend getting yourself down to a good writers conference!)

9. Join local/national writing groups. There’s nothing like a group of like-minded people who get together and cause trouble! There’s also nothing like a good support group when you get stuck—whether it be research, schedule-juggling, or just plain writer’s blues. There are several out there, and for different genres. I am a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW)—a fabulous group with a wealth of information and support, not to mention and kickin’ conference in September!

8. BICHOK (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard)—sit down and write! Nothing is better for a writer than practice. And we all know that practice makes perfect, or at least as close as we’ll get this side of heaven!

7. Start small, dream big. I first read this concept in Jerry B. Jenkins book, Writing for the Soul, a few years ago. He suggests that a writer start with producing articles and stuff of the like, then moving on to short stories, and finally a novel if they so wish. I don’t necessarily agree with the whole of that concept—I see nothing wrong with writing articles and working on a novel at the same time! I do agree that mastering different types of articles and the art of short stories can do a lot to enhance your skills as a novelist.

6. Join a critique group. Our eyes are only as good as our brains. And what happens when our brains see the same thing day in and day out? They become accustomed to what’s put before them. We cannot be unbiased readers of our own novels. It would be like being an unbiased judge in a cutest baby contest that your child is in. There are several different ways to go about this—several online writing sites have different kinds of critique groups. I belong to one on Writing.Com and have had some really big breakthroughs with them. Some groups, like ACFW, offer critique loops that encourage the formation of unique critique groups. If nothing else, you can advertise that you’re looking for a critique group and see what happens! For a while, I also had a dedicated critique partner. She was a great asset and it was nice because she knew MY writing style and all about my novel!

5. Adjust your schedule to allow time to write. We all have busy lives. Me? I have three young kids (5, 4, and 9 months), a husband who is in the military, active in my church and local playgroups. This year, I also start officially homeschooling two oldest. I have to make writing a priority or I’d never get anything done. This does not mean that I make it more important than my other responsibilities, but I know I have to make certain sacrifices (like TV time, extra time with kids/hubby). With the help of my supportive husband, we work out a schedule that allows me time for writing and for extra stuff like reviews, blogs, and building my platform (yeah, I’ll talk about that eventually!).

4. Don’t give up on reading! Great writers and great readers. If you push reading to the side, then you’ll lose a major area of both enjoyment and opportunities to learn. Read everything—good, bad, and in between. Learn from the masters, learn from the mistakes—what worked? What didn’t? While I wouldn’t go so far as to analyze every book you read, it definitely helps to reflect on what you can learn from it.

3. Write, write, write! Did I mention this before? My mistake…it must be doubly important! You’ll never learn if you don’t try. Trial and error is the best way to find everything from your writing style, to your genre, to your voice.

2. The second most important thing every new writer should do is to read as many books on the craft as you can get your hands on. This is very important. There is so much good advice available to you out there. If you can’t afford to purchase the books, borrow them, check the library—just read! Another great option is to find and follow the blogs of published authors, agents, editors, and other publishing professionals. They are a wealth of information. Just don’t go all stalker on them…

Here's a SHORT list of some great books on writing (both Christian and non) to get you started:

On Writing by Stephen King
Plot and Structure AND The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell
Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamot
Writing the Breakout Novel AND The Fire in Fiction by Donald Mass

And stay tuned on Wednesday for the number one thing that new writers need to do! Yes, I’m completely evil that way. For those of you experienced writers, what do you think of this list? Anything you’d add to it?