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Where do our ideas come from? Best answer: everywhere.

I’m visiting with friends and someone mentions a strange circumstance that intrigues me. Or talks about a quirky character they met. Or refers to a larger-than-life experience they read about online. These are all fodder for the idea mill.

 

First lesson: Be observant. Listen. Imagine how this or that can be recreated in our writing.

 

 

Sometimes good ideas slip away on me because I’m not convinced they are novel-worthy. Can I build an entire book around a particular idea? Will it really fit into my plan without messing it up? Perfectionist tendencies show up and may need to be squelched in order to give the brain free reign to imagine the possibilities.

 

Second lesson: Cast off perfectionist tendencies. Welcome the ideas and save them for later use.

 

 

As amazing as some of the ideas are that come to me, I have a confession to make: they often take leave as quickly as they come. I have an unfortunately poor memory. I may remember having a fantastic idea, but the gist of it is gone forever.

 

Third lesson: Write. It. Down. We can’t always trust our brain to remember even the most intriguing ideas. At least I can’t.

 

 

 

 

To recap:

* Observe

* Accept

* Note

Grab those ideas and run with them. They are everywhere, but they want tending.

NOTE: This post first appeared on the InScribe Professional blogsite on August 30, 2017.

ANOTHER NOTE: All photos from pixabay.com.

 

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I recently read an article in “The Writer” magazine (July 2017) about creating characters “that are not secretly you.” It was one of those revelations that came to me a little late, but resonated nonetheless. Here’s my take on it.

When we are young—I’m talking babies and toddlers and young children—oh yes, and teenagers—the world revolves around us. Or, at least, we think it does. We are naturally selfish and needy, and expect others to put us first and fulfill our needs.

Most of us outgrow this eventually. Or do we?

What was the main character like in your first novel or short story? Did he or she at all resemble you? Good chance your answer is yes. We often create characters that think like us, respond like us, even look like us. Through them, we are able to work through our thoughts, feelings, struggles, dreams and hopes. Non-writers may not realize how much of our hearts and souls feed into our characters.

But, as Susan Perabo suggests in her article in “The Writer,” it’s time we got over ourselves and started creating other kinds of people, freshly imagined folks who are nothing at all like us.

This is what happened when I started writing the first draft of my current WIP: I had invented a young woman passionate to know who she was, but after a couple of scenes, I was looking into a mirror of sorts. Diana was a “fraidy cat.” She didn’t like challenge or risk or danger. She was naïve and passive and, frankly, boring. I’m not putting myself down; I’m being honest. But I didn’t want Diana to be that way. Too easy. Too much like some of the characters I’ve written in the past.

So, what to do? I rewrote the first scenes (I know, I know. You should never edit until you finish the first draft. It’s not the first rule of writing I’ve broken.) and for my every inclination to make Diana respond like me, I stopped, listened, and allowed her to be herself. And do you know what I discovered? She is nothing like me. She’s rebellious. She adores the limelight. She is sometimes disrespectful. I’m not sure I even like her very much. But she’s interesting. I want to know why she does these things, what she really wants, how she is going to become her own worst enemy as the story unfolds.

Two specific takeaways for me from the article:

1) Often we don’t realize what we’re doing until someone points it out (thanks, Susan Perabo)

2) It’s helpful and wise to consider the truth of the matter and make the necessary changes

So, let’s get over ourselves and bring into being brand new, fascinating fictional characters that inspire and spark our stories.

©2012 DEBBIE RIDPATH OHI. URL: INKYGIRL.COM

 

NOTE: This post was first published on the International Christian Fiction Writers blog on August 7, 2017.

 

 

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Writing involves not only good technique but also personal investment. It involves practice and learning.

An acquaintance said recently that practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. In other words, if we continue to repeat our mistakes, we are not getting any closer to perfection.

Michael J. Fox said he doesn’t aim for perfection but for excellence.

Sometimes it’s a matter of semantics. The key is to do our best at whatever we are doing, and that will always require effort, practice, and time.

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Here are seven key points that will, in my opinion, help us to grow our writing:

1. Keep writing regularly. This is the practice part, the refining, the trial and error.

2. Keep reading. This is the activity that helps us get the feel of good writing (and poor writing).

3. Keep learning. Attend workshops and conferences, take courses online or through books, videos, etc.

4. Polish your writing. Strive for excellence. Don’t ever say, “Good enough.” Be the best you can be.

5. Publish. This step helps us commit to finishing a project, whether it’s a blog, a guest post or a novel.

6. Market. Oh, bother! This is my greatest challenge in the writing arena. But what do we have to lose? If we want people to read our writing, we must make it and ourselves available. Try writing in a new genre or point of view. Try writing at a different time of day or a location more conducive for you. IMG_1116Subscribe to a new social medium that you’ve so far avoided. Can’t hurt. Then analyze the advantages and disadvantages and refine your lists to what works for you. Most new things become manageable with practice and familiarity. Some remain useless and can be scrapped. But give them a chance. Note: if you don’t have a website, create one. You can do it yourself or ask someone else to do it for you. Without a website, you won’t be searchable.

7. Share. One of the best ways to learn is to share what you know or what you’re learning. Again, use blogs, guest blogs or various social media to accomplish this. It will invariably help strengthen your knowledge and understanding of the topic, method or genre (or show you where you need to bone up a bit).

So let’s keep writing and encouraging each other to strive for excellence.

This post originally appeared on the InScribe Professional Blog in May of 2016.

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I’m pleased to welcome Alberta author, Eleanor Bertin, to my site today.Eleanor Bertin, author

JANICE: Eleanor, how long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

ELEANOR: My sister was the first to plant in my head the idea that I could write. In a Grade 3 school assignment, she marveled that I had used the phrase, “Mother’s voice trailed away.” What can I say? I was an avid reader with a particular giftedness in plagiarism. Fear of unoriginality still plagues me.

JANICE: Who are some of the people who most influenced your decision to write?

ELEANOR: My high school English teachers offered encouraging comments on my writing. For example, one essay was returned with a good grade and the comment, “Is this your own work?” (By that time, it truly was.) My college profs were a little more positive in their appraisals.

JANICE: That kind of early encouragement can make such a difference in our confidence. What’s your preferred genre?

ELEANOR: A quick survey of my work forces me to answer “fiction.” My first novel, Lifelines, came out last April and I am at work on two others. But I recently completed a non-fiction book, Pall of Silence, and sent it off to a contest. It’s a memoir about our late son Paul who was killed four years ago in a hit-and-run incident at the age of eighteen.Lifelines, by Eleanor Bertin

JANICE: I’m so sorry for your loss. That is traumatic. It partially answers my next question—why do you write?

ELEANOR: 1) I write to untangle my thought threads, making them coherent and cohesive. 2) I write to forthtell truth.

JANICE: How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

ELEANOR: I’ve evolved to the point of composing on a keyboard. Much of my first novel was written longhand as I waited at the swimming pool or shared a guest room with my special needs son while visiting my daughter in Texas. I used to find the blinking of the cursor on a blank white screen as stressful as my husband tapping his foot while I browsed in a fabric store. But I’m getting over that.

I am growing to become more of a plotter. I see the value of organizing the flow of a fictional narrative from the outset, rather than doing all the re-arranging of chapters that I did with my first. I expect it to eliminate the problem of missing information or repetition.

JANICE: I agree that it’s an evolving process. Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

ELEANOR: I find people and their stories endlessly fascinating. Truth, indeed, is stranger than fiction! But I write fiction to protect the guilty (or innocent, as the case may be). It’s been a special satisfaction to me when readers say they like my characters.

JANICE: How do you research and how do you know you can trust your sources?

ELEANOR: I can’t get over how wonderful it is to have the biggest library in the world – the Internet—at my fingertips! In college, my recurring nightmare was having a tight deadline and the libraries all being closed. The issue of trust is a concern for everyone, not just writers. In fact, there’s a clash in my book between a scientist and a conspiracy theorist. The best I can say is, read a variety of sources, from differing points of view, and pray for discernment.

JANICE: What do you like most / least about writing?

ELEANOR: I get a surge of adrenaline when I finish a scene or chapter and just know that I’ve nailed it. The dialogue rings true, the tension or conflict is right, the word choice works, the characterization is spot on. The thing I least like is planning and researching. But it is worth it! I’m also not keen on writing from a point of view that is foreign to me. When I began Lifelines I planned for the main character to not only be a man but also to be a rabid proponent of a worldview hostile to Christianity. But it was too hard to write him that way. Not far into it, I transferred the hostility to a lesser character and made my professor more uncertain and conflicted.

JANICE: We definitely learn by doing. Let’s switch from writing to promotion. What are some of the best methods of promoting your work?

ELEANOR: I wish I knew! 🙂 So far, I’d have to say: Rhonda! Every writer should have a sister-in-law who is a church librarian, town librarian and has a broad base of acquaintances that fit my target audience. I did learn that small town libraries are very willing to host author talks, but the turnout is small. But I did get one review through that avenue.

JANICE: That’s a great suggestion. What are your favorite / most effective social media?

ELEANOR: I enjoy blogging and I’m always surprised at who might read it. I’m only learning twitter, trying to expand my use of my author page on Facebook, and I gained a wonderful friend and super-helpful critique partner, Janell Butler Wojtowicz, through LinkedIn. In fact, her book, Embracing Hope, just came out last fall.

JANICE: I believe that writers must also be readers. What are you currently reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

ELEANOR: Books on my nightstand:

Handling the Truth; on the writing of memoir by Beth Kephart

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien (Giller prize)

What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an by James White

The Great Exchange by Jerry Bridges

— and just finished The Eye of the Storm by Janice Dick (loved it, by the way)

— Margaret’s Peace by Linda Hall

I prefer an actual book, but sure do love the convenience and light weight of my Kindle for travel.

JANICE: (Thanks for the plug!) Tell us a bit about yourself. What are some of your favourite things? What makes you unique?

ELEANOR: My favourite things are people! My husband Mike, our five sons and their wives, our daughter, her husband and our four (soon five!) grandchildren, my mother, my sister (who is an invaluable sounding board for my writing) and many other family and friends.

I also like pretty things, flowers, fabric, sewing, quilts, home decorating, books, Jane Austen movies, thinking deep thoughts.

JANICE: Wish we lived closer. Would be nice to watch Jane Austen and talk about our deep thoughts! (But I’d skip the quilting.) What keeps you going in your writing career?

ELEANOR: Moments of discouragement or tasks that seem insurmountable instantly dissolve when I see a new favourable review, or someone tells me they were helped, encouraged or changed in some way by something I’ve written.

JANICE: How is your faith reflected in your writing?

ELEANOR: While my faith is scrawny and limp, beset by doubts and fears, the One I trust is powerful and sure. I would have no words to offer if it weren’t for The Word, both the Person and the written scripture. But what’s important to me to convey is the intersect between a character’s day-to-day life and their relationship with the living God. Which is why, in my novel, there are no scenes taking place in a church service – the main character is an irreligious man but God is at work on him.                                                                                                        

JANICE: Beautifully said. What are some things you learned from your own writing?

ELEANOR: It’s odd that a writer would learn from her own writing, isn’t it? But that’s exactly what happened with my recently completed memoir. By the time I finished, I realized I’d found healing because it changed the way I viewed our late son. Writing about him allowed me to take a panoramic view of his life, ridding me of bitterness and shame and freeing me to enjoy who he was.

JANICE: I’m so glad it proved therapeutic for you. What is your ultimate writing goal?

ELEANOR: The Heidelberg catechism defines Providence, in part, as all things coming to us, not by chance, but from God’s fatherly hand. My goal is to embed a biblical worldview into stories of ordinary people so that readers will see that Providence in their own lives.

JANICE: Do you have any advice for a beginning writer?

ELEANOR: Start! Set goals! Finish something! Be humble about people’s critiques. Don’t be afraid to submit something for critique, and be willing to make changes. Your first piece (article, poem, book) will not be your best — you will grow! Take advantage of all the wonderful websites and blogs that offer writer advice. There’s a huge readership out there that is voracious for the written word and there’s room for an infinite variety of writers.

JANICE: Thanks again, Eleanor, for spending time with us this morning. May you receive God’s rich blessings on your writing as you reach out to your readers.

For more information about Eleanor Bertin, see her website. Her book, Lifelines, is available in Kindle and paperback formats. You can also see Eleanor on her LinkedIn page.

 

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I recently attended a free two-hour workshop on self-publishing, presented by Arthur Slade, “author of eighteen books, four comics, one graphic novel and a poem.” So says his website. He had many things to say about independent publishing, much of which I concur with because I have put out two novels and a short story under my own imprint (Tansy & Thistle Press) to date. But it was still good to be there, to hear other people’s struggles, questions, suggestions.

Just this past week, I drove down to Moose Jaw to participate in a one-day conference called LitCon, on independent publishing (also free). LitCon is supported by the annual Festival of Words conference I had attended a couple of years ago, so I had confidence that this mini-conference would be worth my while.

I write Christian fiction, primarily. Both of these events were secular in nature. However, I benefitted from attending, from rubbing shoulders with other authors I didn’t know before. We never know when, how or where we will have the opportunity to influence others’ lives.

I do not apologize for being a Christian author. Why would I? It’s who I am, what I do. And sometimes, secular authors are sincerely interested in the difference.

It’s about worldview. The lenses through which I see the world around me. Every one of us has filters that sift and interpret for us. This constitutes our background, experiences, attitudes, decisions, personality. So all’s fair. Just different. I think it’s healthy to observe and listen to people with differing perspectives. We can always learn from each other.

And isn’t life about learning?

P.S. An interesting thing happened at LitCon: I discovered at least two, maybe three other Christians in the group. It only takes a couple of words to connect with people of like faith.

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I have exciting news for my Indie Blog this week: a new book!

In a Foreign Land_cover_5.25x8

 

 

Other Side of the River cover

 

 

In a Foreign Land is the second book in the In Search of Freedom series. The first book is titled Other Side of the River.

In a Foreign Land was released at the end of January through CreateSpace (print) and KDP (digital). I have to say this book release was easier on my nerves than any others to date. Firstly, it is independently published, so I set my own timeline and it happens when I’m ready for it. Secondly, I learned which parts of the publishing process I need to hire out.

I was able to come to a very mutually beneficial agreement for editing with my friend and colleague, Marcia Laycock of Small Pond Press. Marcia read through my manuscript with eagle eyes and gave me feedback in a short time-turnaround.

Then I sent the document to Rik Hall of Wild Seas Formatting for the…wait for it…formatting! In record time, he sent me the PDF for CreateSpace and the MOBI for Kindle Direct Publishing. Rik works quickly and is always willing to make corrections that I’ve overlooked or changed my mind on.

The cover, which I love, was created by Fred Koop of Fred Koop Design. He designed all three covers for this series at the outset, so they are ready for the ISBN, barcode and back cover copy when each book is completed.

Knowing I have these professionals to step up to the plate for me is very freeing. Yes, it costs me some cash, but it’s worth every penny, and I know the result will be professional too.

Now for the difficult part: starting the next book. I have the characters, the backstories, the probable ending, but there is so much to research and consider and build. I’m working through C.S. Lakin’s The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction in an effort to create more effectively and efficiently. I’ll let you know how this works out.

You can read the first chapter of In a Foreign Land on my blog, and purchase it at Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.

If you read In a Foreign Land, I’d be forever grateful if you’d leave a brief review. That’s one of the most valuable things you can do for an author.

Thanks,

Jan

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Along with the innate freedom of self-publication, there have been a couple of major struggles to balance the euphoria.

One obstacle, which I have often referred to, is marketing. For those of us who aren’t inclined to narcissism, who don’t have a self-promotional bone in our bodies, marketing can be the bane of our existence. We just want to write, but if no one knows we have written, or what we have written, or how to access it, it won’t go beyond our own small world.

I encourage other indie writers—myself included—to reach for help in the marketing department. We cannot be all things to all people, but we can access the tools to gain our goals of promoting our work.

The second obstacle that comes to mind is that of placing our independently published books in brick and mortar stores. My first three books, traditionally published, were carried by local and larger center booksellers for years. I did arrange launches and presented my product, but the outlets were always glad to comply with my request. The reason: they could return any unsold copies to the publisher for a refund.

These same stores have either gently refused my request or passed it over, because they don’t have the same options of returning unsold books. My novels are released as POD (print-on-demand), so once they buy these books, they have no option to return them.

While I realize the difficulties for booksellers, I also think we need to find a way to promote and sell self-published books in the marketplace. There’s no problem with digital copies, of course, and I also publish e-books, but I have readers who either can’t or don’t choose to read digitally. When they ask if my latest books will be available in local stores, I have to direct them to the online store (Amazon or The Book Depository – no shipping cost for TBD), which also creates a barrier for some readers.

This is an ongoing issue that writers with more clout are working to fix, and although I don’t have that kind of influence, I’d still like to add any help I can by informing readers about these problems. Because the number of writers who are publishing independently is not waning; it’s growing steadily.

How can people help? One way might be voicing our concerns (not only as writers but as readers) to booksellers. A practical way to help indie authors is to request their books in bookstores.

 

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