I’m distracted. My conscious thought is pinballing between dozens of logistics and social commitments, regrets and what ifs, bits and pieces of about six works in progress, the memory of an arcade pinball machine that my dad once brought home as a surprise, and wondering whether I brushed my hair today and what my kids are eating for dinner and how my mom is doing and…
My daddy died. He was 86, ambulatory and lucid right up to the end. He and Mom had just celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary. He died peacefully in his sleep after an evening of visiting with family, including playing on the floor with his great grandson, whom he adored. Not a bad way to go. Still. My heart is broken.
I had been making great progress on an e-book that I’m writing. Then, suddenly, it didn’t matter anymore.
Usually in times of stress, I immerse myself in writing and editing. Work focuses my mind and gives me a break from overwhelming feelings. But that is, for now, impossible, so I put aside my work in progress and decided to write my feelings instead, to turn all that emotion into a new creation. But the only word that came out was sad.
Daddy used to tell me, “Girl, there ain’t no reason on this earth that you cannot do exactly what you wish, if you put your mind to it.” (He pronounced the wish like whoosh.)
So, for my dad and for myself, I won’t stop writing. I’m carrying around a pad and pen and scribbling notes–even one word notes like “sad”–as random events and emotions come to mind. They’re not cohesive, but who knows what may come of it? And I’m writing this blog post, which I know isn’t formatted correctly to look right, but I don’t care today. At least I showed up.
I’m new to this phase of life, and I still have lots to figure out. But I “whoosh” to write. And I’ll find a way.
How about you? How have you dealt with following your dreams in the midst of soul-crushing distraction? I’d love to hear from you.
And if you’d like to leave a comment on my daddy’s memorial page, I’d appreciate that, too. It isn’t finished, because I’m distracted, but I’m working on it.
Ciao, writer peeps!
For those of you who find yourselves either without a style guide, or too busy writing the next great American novel to get bogged down in the nit-picky details, I made you a handy-dandy, quick-reference chart for punctuating dialogue in fiction. Since most fiction is written in Chicago style (CMOS), that’s the style I used.
Of course, the chart doesn’t cover every possible case of punctuation in dialogue, but it covers the usual suspects. You can always ask me questions in the comment section if you come across a grammatical stumper. I’m here for you. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it for you.
I made the chart as a two-page, downloadable PDF, so you can print it out on two sides of one paper, then slip it into a page protector to keep for easy reference. You have my permission to download, print, copy, and share for personal use. I’d appreciate it if you link back to this blog post if you’re sharing.
Get the PDF here > Punctuating Dialogue 2016
For those of you who just want to look at it online, I made the JPEG below, but that didn’t turn out so well. Womp, womp. I’m better with words than with pictures.
Whichever you use, I hope this will free up your time, so you can keep writing. Only you can write your story.
Ciao, writer peeps! I still have this eye thing limiting my screen time. Surely, there’s a blog post in there about serious writers overcoming all obstacles to express their craft. But I didn’t write it.
Since I love you and want you to succeed, though, I’m using my time to turn you on to Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method for Designing a Novel. If you’ve been writing fiction for a while, you already know about the Snowflake Method, even if you don’t use it. If you’re a newbie writer, I promise you, this is gold.
I don’t know the man, and I don’t get any compensation for recommending this. I just want you to have this tool in your writing toolbox.
You can find the Snowflake Method in a nutshell at http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/
Ingermanson offers software, designed for the Snowflake Method, available through his site, but you can use the method without the software. Make sure you skip down to the bio pic at the bottom of the page, where it says “About the Author” to sign up for his free Advanced Fiction Writing e-zine for more awesome, practical, writing skills.
Do you write by the seat of your pants, or do you plot out your work? (I’m a plotter.) How is your method working for you? Have you tried the Snowflake Method? Do you use another method that works better for you?
Many thanks to my friend and sometimes critique partner, John Brunson, for the following guest post. It is most appropriate for this Holy Week.
WHY THE CRUCIFIX?
by John Brunson
In my experience growing up, there weren’t many Good Friday services being Protestant. It wasn’t until I came to where I am now that I got a chance to attend one. And most churches I’ve attended display an empty cross. So why the crucifix?
Consider for a moment what you are looking at: A man, who has had his arms and legs attached to wood by driving a railroad-like spike through his wrists and his feet. No doubt the victim is in wordless agony. The pain is so bad that there’s a word for it: excruciating (literally “out from the cross”).
Consider again that the man on the cross is taking our punishment. The wages of sin is death. And here death is, in all of its repugnant horror, before us. So much so, that we are led to gasp, “Christ on the altar!”
Some will say, “But Jesus isn’t on the cross anymore.” And they are right. But without a Good Friday, there is no Easter Sunday. Without the Cross, there is no resurrection, there is no hope. Woe unto us because we should be pitied above all other men. And yet the cross is where sorrow and hope meet. Sorrow because the innocent God-man dies in order to save his creation. And hope because this isn’t the end of the story.
In the gospel of John, the writer makes an interesting point. He stated that Jesus “gave up his spirit” when he died. It’s a turn of a phrase that has always made me pause until… I remember Jesus’ words: “No man takes my life from me. I lay down my life and I take it up again.”
And that’s why the cross isn’t just a sorrowful memory. It’s a hint of the resurrection. Not even death could claim victory. It’s Jesus willingly laying down his life. His life wasn’t taken; his life was given. Meaning Jesus holds all the cards. Jesus is doing things his way. And he’s doing them on his terms. The Messiah is dealing decisively with Israel’s greatest nemesis. Not The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks or even the Romans. Jesus is dealing decisively with death itself. It’s here that Jesus takes his place as the king without equal.
The crucifix, the place where sorrow and hope meet.
Kathy here again. What are your thoughts on the crucifix? Do you display an empty cross, a cross with the figure of Jesus, or no cross at all? Why? Explain your thoughts in the comments section.
Have a blessed Easter. Christ is Risen!
Purim begins Wednesday, March 23, 2016 at sunset and continues until sunset Thursday, March 24.
Purim is a freewill offering holiday, not commanded by the LORD under the Law of Moses, but rather instituted by the Jews to commemorate deliverance from a planned systematic genocide, as recorded in the Bible book of Esther. (See Esther 9:27-28)
Celebrating Purim includes four parts:
Optional: Get rip-roaring drunk. The Talmud (not the Bible) says, “A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai’” (Meghilla 7b). Maimonides wrote, “That one should …drink wine until he is drunk and falls asleep from drunkenness” on Purim (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Megillah 2:15). Tradition tells us to get drunk on this one day only, to strip away all pretense of social etiquette and reveal our true hidden natures.
I personally think we can skip the tradition of drinking altogether, or at least drink in moderation. In my opinion, too much harm occurs when rage, arrogance, or recklessness reveals itself through alcohol. And there is only the whisper of a line between getting drunk enough to “fall asleep from drunkenness” and getting drunk enough to die from alcohol poisoning or asphyxiation.
A traditional food that is eaten and given away on Purim is called hamantaschen, literally, “Haman’s ears.” Haman got into trouble by eavesdropping, but Haman’s ears are delicious! They’re three-pointed cookies filled with jams, poppy seeds, chocolate, or whatever you like.
Traditional Hamantaschen recipe
1 1/3 cup shortening (Fleischmann’s vegetable oil spread is pareve, if you’re cooking kosher)
1 cup sugar
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour + a little to dust the rolling surface
6 tablespoons water or orange juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
filling of your choice, such as poppy seeds, Nutella, jam, orange marmalade
plastic wrap, baking sheet, mixing bowl, spoon
Directions: (1) Blend shortening and sugar together until creamy. (2) Blend in eggs, one at a time, until creamy. (3) Stir in water (or juice) and vanilla extract until well mixed. (4) Stir in flour, a little bit at a time, until blended. (5) Put the mix onto plastic wrap, cover and chill thoroughly. (6) When chilled, dust a rolling surface, and gently roll or pat the dough to ¼ inch thickness. Use a round cookie cutter or the top of a glass to cut out circles. (7) In each circle, place a teaspoon of filling. Pinch into three corners, with the filling peeking out from the center. (8) Bake on an oiled cookie sheet at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until golden. Makes about two dozen.
Chag Sameach! (“Happy Holiday!”)
Photo by Francisco Farias, Jr at publicdomainpictures.net
Ola, readers! I have an eye thing and have to limit screen time for a couple of weeks, so today’s post will be short and sweet. It’s an editing trick I learned years ago, and still use today to help me decide whether or not to cut a line, a scene, or whatever.
In your manuscript, mouse over and highlight the text in question. Then change the text color to white. It will “disappear.” Don’t delete the space this creates, or you’ll delete all your work. Leave the white space. Go get a cup of coffee or take your dog for a walk. When you get back, reread that section without the text that’s been whited out. If it works better without it, delete the space (or cut and paste to somewhere else, if you think you’ll use it elsewhere). If you want it back, just mouse over it and change the text color back to automatic, and the text reappears.
“Why don’t you go to another church?”
“Because I’m Catholic,” Harold answered.
“You’re not Catholic,” I argued, “if you don’t believe what they teach.”
Harold just smiled. “I’m Catholic.”
My friend and I were in high school–those extraordinary years of challenging our parents and forming opinions of our own.
In some ways, adolescents must vilify authority in order to become independent adults. I rejected the secularism of my upbringing, and believed in Jesus. Harold, raised Catholic, questioned the tenets of his church, but as far as I know, he never entertained the thought of leaving.
During Lent, the Catholic/Protestant issue invariably surfaces. Protestants insist that “it doesn’t take all that” to please God. Catholics just smile. They’re Catholic.
“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” (1 John 4:15-16, NIV)
I believe God appreciates our questions. “Come now, and let us reason together, says the LORD…” (Isaiah 1:18). How else can we know Him for ourselves?
Like teenagers wrestling with childhood uncertainties, people of all faiths struggle with conflicting doctrines, especially during holiday seasons. When questioning, however, adults sometimes resort to the ways of adolescence, and accuse their spiritual predecessors of deliberate fraud. Vilifying their parents or church leaders is the only way that some people know how to cope with an opposing viewpoint.
I say it is time to put away childish things. No one lied to us. Right or wrong, our ancestors shared what they believed, mostly with good intentions. No man or woman can hand us pure truth. Only God is all-knowing. It’s up to each one of us to pray, study, listen, and learn for ourselves. That means we won’t all agree. And that’s okay.
“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.” (1 John 4:20, NIV)
Last I heard, Harold was still Catholic. I’m still not. He embraced the beauty and truth in his church, and didn’t worry about the parts he disagreed with. By staying in the church that he loved, Harold has seen opportunities to reach out and make a difference in the lives of people I will never meet.
How do you handle doctrinal and denominational differences with your brothers and sisters in Jesus?
We writers refer to our writing personalities as voice, because readers “hear” us when they read our words. For the same reason, many of our writing mistakes can be corrected by simply listening to our own voices. With our ears.
You can write every word, sentence, and paragraph grammatically correctly, and still have errors in your manuscript. That’s why you must hear it. If it’s a short piece, ask someone to read it to you. Your kid could probably use the practice. If it’s long, read it aloud to yourself. And listen.
LISTEN FOR THESE COMMON MISTAKES
Did I miss any? Do you already read your work aloud? Let us know how that’s working for you in the comment section. We’re all in this together. Oh, and by the way, isn’t my granddoggy Owen a handsome fellow?
During this Lenten season, and as we prepare for the spring holidays, I’m purposely reflecting on what I call “Pretty Secrets.” Pretty Secrets are truths, experiences, memories, whatever, that refresh our spirits. They’re not necessarily things that we can share with others, but they make us smile when we think about them.
One of my Pretty Secrets is the presence of God. As a Christian, I believe that God is everywhere, and that his Holy Spirit literally inhabits the physical bodies of believers (of me!). Still, I lose sight of him. I get distracted by the shiny baubles of this world, or drawn into negative thinking by the outrages of this world (both legitimate and ridiculous), and I simply forget God. Then I remember. And it makes me smile.
I often pray that God will keep me aware of his presence throughout my day. And he does! And that awareness brings me such joy. Whatever you do today, wherever you go, may God make his presence known to you, and bring to your remembrance all the Pretty Secrets you hold in your heart.
See also Easter-Only Churchgoers Want More
Indie publishing is becoming more mainstream, more professional, and leading to more money in the author’s pocket than ever before. Self-publishers earned 40% of all money earned by authors from e-books at Amazon.com in 2015 [See report].
But before you can get any of that cash into your pocket, you’ll need to polish up your work. With so many indies publishing, the competition is stiff. Readers are wary of self-publishing. They’ve been disappointed by indie authors who don’t write well or don’t use professional support, so it’s hard for them to trust an unknown. If readers give your indie book a chance, you have one job: Don’t disappoint them. So take the time to do it right the first time.
Use professional software. You can download Open Office word processing software, which is compatible with MS Word, for free at www.openoffice.org. Scrivener, which I love, love, love, costs only $40 per year. And if you get together with some of your writer friends and buy it together, you can get Scrivener’s discounted group rate.
Hire professional help. Before you publish, you’ll need a structural editor, a copy editor, and a proofreader to clean up your manuscript, someone to format your manuscript for either print or e-book (or both), and someone to design and format your book cover. And possibly a photographer, if your cover design includes a photo. (That will be up to the cover designer. She may have a photographer that she works with.)
You know you need these professional services, but you’re broke. Never fear; I’m here for you. If you can’t afford to pay for professional services, consider the following.
Order a proof copy before ordering a bunch of print books. If you find mistakes, you can fix them before they go out with errors to hundreds of readers.
Pay as much attention to your book’s summary as you do to the manuscript. I’ve seen self-published books on Amazon that I know are well-written and polished, because I’ve read them, but the summaries seem hastily slapped on. They lack organization, contain errors, or are just plain boring. The reader looks to your summary as a sample of your writing. Make it your very best.
You know that expression, “You only have one chance to make a first impression.” Make sure you come out of the box looking as good as possible and never offer up a badly written book.
What have you done to cut costs and up your professional status? Have you tried Scrivener? What do you think?
The following is an excerpt from my upcoming e-book series on holidays.
Long before Moses and the Law, God created the seven-day week, and with very few exceptions, people from all cultures since the beginning of time have kept it. Our solar system moves in such a way that a seven-day week makes the most sense.
Within that week, God established a day of rest.
“By the seventh day, God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day, he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day, and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Genesis 2:2-3, NIV
The One who spoke the universe into existence did not need six days to do it. And he wasn’t worn out and needing a break when he finished. He created the seven-day week for us, for all humans, as a natural, immersive learning opportunity, to teach us how to live and how to die.
Instead of bringing everything into existence at once, God lived out a pattern of building one accomplishment upon another over time, sticking with a task to its completion, showing us how to pace our lives. Then he deliberately set apart one day, demonstrating the optimal ratio of work to rest, and reminding us that our days of creating on earth will end at the appointed time, and our creations will be left in the hands of others.
The New Testament grants us freedom to consider every day alike. But when we number our days, and yield to creation’s six-day work/one-day rest pattern (even if only sometimes), all of our senses participate in the demonstration that God made specifically for our benefit. It’s worth playing out, at least once.
A traditional Sabbath greeting is Shabbat shalom (pronounced shah-BAHT shah-LOHM). It means literally, “Sabbath peace.” I am convinced that the key to a peaceful Sabbath lies in working like crazy the first six days of the week. You might remember the scene in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, where Jewish villagers pack up to leave Russia by order of the czar. They reminisce about the home they are forced to leave, asking, where else but in Anatevka, where they were underfed and overworked, could Sabbath be so sweet?
I have spent many Friday afternoons scrambling to finish chores before sunset, already tired out from the week, and frustrated with the extra workload of the day. The smell of bread rising in the oven pushes me on, encouraging me to stick with it just a little bit longer, because the time for rest is nearing.
In the same way, during busy and difficult seasons of our lives, if we stop to reflect, the sweet aroma of heaven pushes us on, encouraging us to stay faithful just a little bit longer, because the time of eternal rest and rejoicing is nearer now than ever before.
“There remains, then, [an eternal] Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.” Hebrews 4:9-10, NIV
Do you observe one day above another, or do you consider every day alike? How do you find balance and peace in your life?
In 2007, for a class assignment, I entered a writing contest. And everything changed.
At first, I didn’t like the idea. I didn’t know what contest to enter, and I didn’t have anything prepared for submission. I didn’t like deadlines, and what if–gasp!–I didn’t win? What would that do to my self-esteem? (Imagination can mess me up, like it does to a lot of creative types.) I gulped back the fear and went for it, deliberately choosing a local, county-wide contest because fewer entrants equals less competition. I wrote a poem, entered the contest, and won the grand prize–$200, four tickets to a comedy club, and an invitation to read my entry at a local poetry event. I was too scared to attend, and someone else read for me.
Even though I’d placed too much importance on that one contest, winning it gave me something to mention in query letters. More important, it gave me confidence. In that confidence, I submitted articles to magazines, and I dared to enter a bigger contest. That contest paid for my attendance, room, and meals at the Colorado Christian Writers’ Conference, which included lots of classes, encouragement, feedback, and a one-on-one critique of my work with an editor from a national glossy magazine. I also met a writer friend that I still hold dear. (Hi, Beth! ::waving::)
With direction and a handful of published articles, more doors opened, both in writing and in editing. By the end of 2009, I was getting steady writing and editing work with steady pay.
If you’re a newbie writer, winning a writing contest–even a small, local contest without much competition–can plump your portfolio, give you confidence, earn you a little money, and help get your foot in the door with publishers. If you’re invited to join an event with other writers and publishers, that can turn into an opportunity to make friends in the industry.
I’ve found that not winning has its benefits, too. Sometimes judges scribble hand-written advice on contest entries before returning. That advice is gold. And those straight-out rejections with no feedback will either strengthen our determination or send us spiraling into the depths of anguished self-doubt. Either one makes for good writing fuel.
All this, of course, if the contest is legitimate.
IS THE CONTEST LEGIT?
Lots of scammers target writers, so watch out! Legitimate writing contests may charge a small entry fee (around $15-$100), but no legitimate contest will require you to pay anything to receive your prize. Not one.
If you live in the US, and you’ve been the victim of a writing contest scam, report your experience to the Federal Trade Commission.
A good source for information on legitimate writing contests is Poets & Writers Magazine.
Some current contests:
Keep up to date on the latest writing contests at Poets & Writers.
Have you ever been targeted for a writing scam? Entered a legitimate contest and won? Lost? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comment section. Please. I’m so lonely. 😉
I'm inspired, so I inspire
COPYEDITOR ~ WRITER ~ MERRYMAKER
A personal blog by John Parsons, author of the Hebrew for Christians web site.
COPYEDITOR ~ WRITER ~ MERRYMAKER
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer. Psalm 45:1
Using what's on hand.
COPYEDITOR ~ WRITER ~ MERRYMAKER
COPYEDITOR ~ WRITER ~ MERRYMAKER
Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi