Sunday, May 17, 2015

Right Place at the Right Time

I've never believed in coincidence, and I probably never will, but I do believe God puts us where we're needed at that particular time and place in our lives. In 2013, I attended the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association's Writers' Conference where I met Margie Lawson--a licensed psychologist turned book doctor.

Margie taught several seminars during that conference, but the one that struck me the most was on writing emotions. I didn't know how to write or describe emotions in a way that makes the reader feel as if they are right there with the author, right there between the sheets of paper. I came home, found her website, signed up for all her reasonably-priced workshops, and I've learned how to invoke pain and tears and giggles!

I'm no expert, but as long as Margie is teaching, I'll be signing up for her classes. Margie also does writing retreats-well, sort of, but not exactly. She calls this Immersion Master Classes. And yes, there are prerequisites. For five days and four nights you are invited into Margie's home where she will work her magic on your work in progress. She's helped countless authors turn their blah pages into bam pages just by adding a tweak here or there. Your story, your way, Margie says, but with power.

In a few hours, I will be landing in Denver, CO ready to meet Margie for a 2nd Immersion and four other classmates. This is not a retreat where you meet for a few hours and then go off and work in your own writing. Yes, you will have time to work on your projects, but you'll be working on specific things like dialogue, emotion, setting, action, tension, etc. And you will do this from approximately 8:30am to 10:00pm. And I love every minute of Margie's dig-deeper philosophy.

Have you met Margie Lawson? Have you taken any of her classes? Have you been to an Immersion? Share, share, share! I'd love to hear about your experience!

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Before you can build your writer's platform, you need to know what a writer's platform is. Like the platform on a woman's shoe, it gives you a step up, a support to stand on. In today's publishing world you need to prove to a publisher that your book will make them money. How do you do this? By bringing your own audience to the table. This tells the publisher that you have a “following” that will purchase your book, as well as any other books you write down the road. So how do you build yours?

In order to build a strong writer's platform, you will need to be your own marketing manager. If you are a lawyer and write about the law, you've already proven your expertise. If you are a teacher and want to write children's books, you already have a leg up on your competition. But what if you consider yourself to be a “nobody” without an expertise? Maybe you are a stay at home mom who writes poetry, fiction, or young adult literature. Maybe you're an unemployed college student who wants to write science fiction or screenplays for movies. Or maybe you're a full time mechanic who likes to write romance novels in your spare time. If you aren't an “expert” in your field of writing pleasure, then you will have a little bit of work cut out for you. Luckily with the establishment of the telephone and the Internet, it's not as hard as you might think. Here are some tips to help you get started:

What Is Your Niche
Before you can start building your platform, you need to know what your niche is. What do you want to write about? Pick one or two subjects and do tons of research.

Write On Other People's Forums
Search the Internet for forums that you can ask questions on.

Write For an Established Website
I write for Yahoo’s Contributor Network. You can write articles with a minimum of 400 words and get paid for it. The pay isn't great, but getting your name out there is priceless.

Build Yourself a Website
You can promote your writing through your own website. Add a blog for different topics, put out a monthly newsletter. Use social sites like Twitter and Facebook to help spread the word.

Arrange Opportunities To Speak
If you have a topic to share, call schools, churches, and/or book stores to see if you can speak to a group of people on your subject. Make calls and write letters to promote your ideas.

Sign Up With Community Education
Check with your local Community Education center to see if you could teach a class or offer a workshop of your own.

Become a Freelance Writer
Writing articles for newspapers and magazines is a great way to get your name in print and share your message. You can do this for websites like Yahoo’s Contributor Network as well.

Brand Yourself
You could design magnets, pens, t-shirts, key chains, as well as other merchandise to get your name out there in the public. Come up with a favorite phrase or quote to add to them.

Start or Join a Writer's Group
Put an ad in the paper, advertise on Craig's List, post flyers at the local mall, or put a message on your website that you are starting a writer's group in your area. Getting together with like-minded people will help all members network.

There are countless writers conferences offered each year. Check out some local conferences to see if they need volunteers. It helps to get your name out and you will be in the mix of other writers, agents, editors, and publishers.

The bottom-line is that you need to make yourself known in the genre of your writing choice. Whatever you can do to increase your image as an expert in your field will help publishers believe in you as well.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Bursting into tears, my five-year-old daughter repeated the offenses of her now ex-best friend. They'd argued and then supremely announced to one another that they were no longer friends. She calmed down and decided to see if another child in the neighborhood could play. The other little girl had the same idea with the same child.

Coming back home, my daughter walked into our house with long, red scratches down her neck. My daughter had poked her now ex-best friend in the mouth and the girl reacted as most females do: with her fingernails. We did the dutiful trek and talked to the girl’s parents. We adults agreed that the girls needed a break from each other.

Our doorbell rang the following day. My daughter ran to the door to see who was here. Her ex-best friend. My daughter whipped the door open. Before the girl could say a word, my daughter said, “I’m sorry I hurt you. Will you forgive me?”

I stood speechless and proud and humbled and speechless. I didn’t tell her to say those things. In fact, she had already apologized to the girl the day before in front of us adults. 

The Bible tells us to be like little children. If a five year old child gets it, why can’t we adults? Forgiveness is a hard lesson to learn if you’ve been knocked down over and over and over. Our hearts become hard. We tell ourselves no one will ever hurt us ‘like that’ again. And when someone does, because someone always will, we become even more determined to not let it happen again.

Forgiveness sounds nice, polite, and respectful to the other person, but it’s not for them. It’s for you. You don’t want to become fearful and bitter; it’s a lonely place to live. I know. It’s easier to forgive someone for one or two hurts they may have caused you. But it’s another thing when those hurts continue year after year after year.

I am learning to forgive. One of the hardest words to say is one of the hardest words to learn: No. Set your boundaries and don’t let anyone cross them. Easier said than done, yes, but it’s a requirement you owe yourself. Did you hear that? For YOU, not for the ones that hurt you. Every time I say, no, I’m not taking that anymore, I get stronger.

My five-year-old daughter taught me how easy it is to say, “I’m sorry I hurt you. Will you forgive me?” And she meant it. They weren’t just flippant words. Push yourself. The next time you hurt someone, tell them you’re sorry. And mean it. Ask for their forgiveness. Whether the person accepts your apology or not, isn’t the point. Forgiveness is for you. Your heart and mind will fill with peace.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


I participated in Writers Helping Writers’s Amazing Race a while back where for seven days they helped close to 350 writers with hooks, first pages, query letters, blog posts, and much more.  Each day held a variety of prize drawings as well and I won one of the twenty seats for Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s webinar on creating and knowing your characters’ past. 

A simple way to think about your characters is to think about the real people around you.  I love sitting in a mall or airport or even church, just to watch people.  How they move.  How they communicate.  How they dress.  Do you have someone interesting in your life?  What makes them interesting?  Personality?  Accent?  Behavior? 

Writers need to recognize that our readers want to read about real people—even when they know the story is fiction.  They long for something deeper:  Understanding, connection, hope.  A way to make their own lives better somehow. 

“Crappy things happen every day.  Give readers someone to root for,” Becca said.  Writers can do this through empathy.  The reader needs to care about our protagonist and whatever battle he or she is up against.

Backstory is the key.  The protagonist’s—or antagonist’s—emotional wound is what makes for a realistic and genuine character.  Whatever the wound may be, it has changed them.  The character will go to great extremes to avoid finding themselves in that painful situation again.  Their past affects their present and how they respond to any given circumstance. 

The character moves on with his or her life.  Challenge them.  Motivate them.  What’s compelling is their goals and desires that keep them going.  Provide small to medium-sized successes that keep moving the story, and the character, forward.  Eventually, they must face their fear and overcome it.  The goal will always outweigh their fear.  Hence, the story arc. 

But how much backstory is too much and where and when do you put it in?  The backstory must apply to what is currently happening in the story.  You never want to stop, provide the backstory, and start again.  This slows pace and causes readers to skim.  And that’s the last thing you want. 

You also want to show, not tell.  Do this through dialogue, remembering, interaction, a pivotal moment.  If you must pause for a flashback, get in and get out.  Don’t take more time than necessary.

I’ve listened to several agent and editor panels at various writers’ conferences across the country over the past few years.  They all say the same thing where backstory is concerned:  Sprinkle it in.  It’s better to do it in doses here and there than to stop the story for chunks of writing your reader will most likely skim.  Skimming is never a good thing. 

For someone writing memoir, like myself, the entire story happened in the past.  Choose where to start your story, but keep in mind that most of your history will not make it into the book.

How do you create your characters and how do you handle their backstory?