Thursday, April 26, 2012

How Do You Critique?

            I entered a writing contest and received a written critique. Now, mind you, I don’t have a very thick skin for being a writer, and I hadn’t prepared very much for this contest. So, not surprisingly, I scored very low on the overall point total. The person who judged my work pointed out what I needed to do, and it was substantial. But, sprinkled within all the things I needed to improve on, were comments like these: You have a good idea here; a lot of possibilities; don’t give up. There were so many positive statements, it wasn’t difficult to look at the negative and outline the plan of attack on my manuscript.
            How do you critique another’s work? Do you give the positive first and then list the negative? Or do you find that you point out the flaws first and sometimes don’t even make it to the encouragement side?
            I believe it makes a world of difference in the writer’s next steps. I have had my work critiqued verbally and received many negative responses. Those are the times when I come home and put my manuscript in a drawer and don't look at it for a while. But, if I am shown respect and someone finds just one piece of advice that leaves me smiling, I am more apt to pick up the manuscript the next day.

Be Positive First

            When you have the opportunity to share with someone what you think of their work, I think it is important to always find a positive before you ever give one negative remark. The very act of putting the words on the paper took courage.

Give the Negative, Gently
            If you find things that can be improved upon in a work, share those. We need to help each other as writers. But, be careful to give your advice in a way that causes the writer to get up earlier the next morning to work a little harder.

How about you? How do you critique? Do you remember a critique that caused you to believe in yourself?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Are You Afraid to Say You Are a Writer?

Being that I am a few weeks away from celebrating the one year anniversary of my blog, here is a repost.

            When I attend a writer’s conference, I spend time with published and unpublished writers. There are classes, I can't get enough of, about writing, publishing and marketing our work. We laugh, cry and stay up late as we talk about our writing. I become an extrovert for a few short days.
            But, in the course of a normal day when I am going about my tasks and someone asks me what I do, (they mean for a living) I sometimes hesitate, and then tell them that I work at a public library (my part-time day job). Afterwards, if my husband is with me, he will usually ask me: “Why don’t you also tell people you are a writer?”
            So, I thought about that question and these are my conclusions:
1.     It is too difficult to explain. When I started doing some freelance writing, after the publishing company I worked for relocated out of state, I would respond to others that I was a freelance writer and of course they asked: “What do you write?” When I tried to explain that I wrote daily devotionals and articles for Sunday school take-homes they would say: “What are those?” I tried to explain and then they said: “Do you make a living at that?” Of course, I had to answer: “Well, no,” and then they smiled and I believed they were thinking: “She’s not a real writer.”

2.     I doubt my writing skills. Even though I have a degree in journalism, been an editor for a weekly newspaper and have published articles, I do doubt my skills. I think because grammar is not my strong suite, I have always felt inadequate.

3.     It sounds presumptuous. Me, a writer? I’m not a bestselling author or I don’t have articles in major magazines.

4.     I’m afraid I will fail. If I say I am a writer, I fear I will hear: “Hey, I have this writing project.” I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it.

            These are some of the reasons I won’t say who I am or say it so quietly no can hear. Most of my hesitancies deal with other’s perceptions of me, which I just simply, need to get over! If I lack skills, those can be learned, and people don’t become bestselling authors overnight.

            How about you? Do you find it hard to admit, at times, that you are a writer and why?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Twenty Feet from the Door

Carolyn Boyles is the winner of the book, Writing So Heaven Will Be Different. Congrats!

     The following is an excerpt from the book, Writing So Heaven Will Be Different, 35 Years of Encouraging Stories From the Write-to-Publish Conference, compiled and edited by Joyce K. Ellis & Tammie Edington Shaw. This article tells the story of Tim Shoemaker's journey from unpublished writer to an author of eight books.

Please leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for this book, Writing So Heaven Will Be Different. Contest ends Thursday, April 19 at midnight. Please remember to leave your email!

Twenty Feet from the Door

by Tim Shoemaker

I’ve got to get out of here. I stood in the hallway of the Billy Graham Center on the Wheaton College Campus—alone—for the moment. Everybody else sat in classrooms scribbling notes on how to write better. I’d had enough, though. Obviously I’d misread God’s cues. I don’t belong here.

 Shouldering the strap to my canvas briefcase, I made tracks for the exit. Who did I think I was to go to a writers conference? I’d been fooling myself, and now I intended to face reality.

I had come with a manuscript in my canvas bag and a dream in my heart. Somehow I had felt that publishers would be looking for the story I’d labored over. It didn’t take long at the conference, however, to realize my writing left a lot to be desired, especially by editors.

I needed to go back to my day job. Back to where I knew what I was doing. Rounding the corner, I passed the book table. Neatly stacked how-to books promised the writing dream, but for me it was time to wake up.

The doors were just ahead. Once I hit the crash bars, I’d never go back to the Write-to-Publish Conference—or any other writing conference. But for some reason a woman standing near the exit started talking to me. I stopped no more than twenty feet from the door. In a matter of seconds, I would have been of there. 
Outgoing and friendly, faculty member Marlene Bagnull introduced herself. “Tell me about what you’re writing,” she urged.
            I don’t remember what I said. All I knew was that I wouldn’t be writing anymore.
           “Let’s take a look at it.” She led me to a place to sit down.
           With a bit of fear and, by now, embarrassment, I handed her my manuscript.
           Marlene read quietly for a few moments. I’m not sure what I expected at that point—probably that she’d whip out a red pen and run it clear out of ink.

 “Well it’s obvious you know how to tell a story,” she began. Instead of picking it apart, she found good things in my writing. She pointed out little elements that impressed her. We talked and prayed, and our visit fueled me with encouragement and hope.

Turning around

 Moments before, I’d been thinking my case file was buried somewhere at the bottom of God’s briefcase, or maybe it had blown off His desk. Now I realized He’d scheduled a divine appointment for me. Marlene’s presence in the hallway was no coincidence. My perspective changed. This wasn’t just about publishing a story anymore. It was about God’s call on my life. A new call. A fresh chapter. This was about a plan he had for me that was so unexpected that I hadn’t even imagine it existed.

I stayed for the rest of the conference. In addition to learning writing skills in the workshops, I also met many people, such as staff members Carla Williams and Jane Rubietta, who eventually helped shape my future. Before I left, I spent time at the book table and went home with a stack of those “how-to” books.

I kept writing, going to conferences, and meeting other writers who impacted me. By God’s grace, and in His time, things slowly changed. It took years. I wrote skits for the youth group at our church. I wrote a series of devotions to use with my wife and three sons. My original story never went anywhere, but an editor I met at one of the Write-to-Publish Conferences bought a different one. That company also published many of the youth-group skits.

In 2002 Christian Publications published my family devotions as Mashed Potatoes, Paint Balls, and Other Indoor/Outdoor Devotions You Can Do with Your Kids. This book and its sequels were picked up by WingSpread Publishers and re-released in 2007.

Taking the leap

By 2004, God had led me out of my day job and into full-time writing and speaking. I teach at men’s, parents, and children’s ministry conferences around the country. And I’ve been teaching at writing conferences since 2005. I have now published eight books, and am under contract for three more. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t rack these things up on my scoreboard. These are evidences of God’s amazing grace. These are the results of God’s plan, one I never saw coming and almost ran out on. For me, it all started at the Write-to-Publish Conference.

Now when I’m at a writer’s conference, I recognize the lost look on the faces of many overwhelmed conferees, especially if they’re attending for the first time. Others carry the disappointment and frustration of failing to find an editor interested in their work. I love to look at their writing, encourage them, and pray with them.

Maybe you’re still waiting for your “break”. You feel inadequate or discouraged. You’ve been at this for a long time and you’re still getting rejections. It’s embarrassing when family and friends ask if you’ve had any nibbles from publishers. Maybe you’ve even thought about giving up.

Don’t do it. Keep going. I don’t know a published writer who hasn’t experienced those feelings. If you’ve ever felt God was moving you to write, don’t stop. The process takes far longer than most people expect. If you walk out now, you’ll probably shortchange yourself and others of God’s rich blessings. Others may need to read what you put down on paper.

Just twenty feet. Not much more than an average car length. That’s how close I came to giving up and missing God’s plans for me. Thank God, He stopped me twenty feet short, and now I’m miles ahead of anything I could have ever dreamed.


By God's grace, Tim Shoemaker is a speaker and author of eight books. He has three grown sons and has been happily married for over 32 years.
Tim’s first contemporary suspense novel, published by Zonderkidz, came out last month. Code of Silence is targeted for 8-12-year-olds (especially boys), and is the first in a three book series.

Don't forget to leave a comment to be entered in the drawing for Writing So Heaven Will Be Different, which includes 33 other stories like Tim's, to encourage your writing dreams. Contest ends Thursday, April 19, midnight. Leave your email!


Friday, April 6, 2012

All About Him

            Today is Good Friday and it is a day of remembrance for us who are Christians. Today is the day we commemorate when Jesus died on the cross. He took on the sins of the world, so that we would be forgiven and have eternal life, if we come to know Him as our Lord and Savior. But, he didn’t stay in the tomb. He arose three days later, which we call Easter Sunday. 

            As writers, we are always reminded that we should write so our readers will be engaged, learn from us and enjoy what they read. And this is true. We go through our days thinking about our needs and those of our families, but today and this weekend, it is all about Him. It is about Jesus, who died for us and now because of Him we have hope and the promise of eternal life.
            Have a blessed Easter.