Notable Quote

I ran across a quote on Noel De Vries‘s blog. And no, she’s not paying me to plug her.

It’s a quote from author Frank Cottrell Boyce, about writing. I won’t elaborate, just share the wisdom:

Tranquility and control provide the best conditions for completing the work you imagined. But surely the real trick is to produce the work that you never imagined. The great creative moments in our history are almost all stories of distraction and daydreaming – Archimedes in the bath, Einstein dreaming of riding a sunbeam – of alert minds open to the grace of chaos.

So, fellow-writers, let’s quit cursing the distractions, and start spelling them inspiration.

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What a Book Teaches

Sometimes I think there are too many movie remakes and sequels, as if screenwriters are too afraid, or too uncreative, to come up with anything new. Not that I watch that many movies — I’d rather read a good book (or write one). But I’m not above taking a page from the screenwriters’ script and indulging in a remake myself.

Or maybe, a referral.  Noel De Vries had a great post on Novel Journey this week. Since I’m preoccupied with the aforementioned book writing and am looking for an easy out for a blog post, I’ve decided to share it.

Like most (all?) writers, I grew up devouring books. I never gave a thought as to how the stories I read might be shaping my thoughts or influencing my values. However, as an adult — and more particularly, as a parent — I’m continually amazed at how our childhood experiences influence the values we embrace, the decisions we make, and the attitudes we carry into our adult lives.

(Sidebar: Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

Back on topic:  This is big. No, huge. And sobering. What a responsibility we writers have!

This is particularly true for those who write for young minds, but it’s important for all of us to be aware of it. Not everyone is as impressionable as a child, but not everything kids read is written specifically for them.

It brings me back to why I write to begin with.

It brings me to my knees.

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Writing Contests: Why Bother?

The following is an article posted earlier this week on another blog to which I contribute, Novel Journey. I’m reproducing it here because it’s timely and I’d like to discuss the same thing here, and because I’m too lazy to re-write it:

I recently read a discussion about whether a writer should enter contests. The conclusion was a vehement No.

The reasons:

1 – Winning a contest doesn’t influence the decisions of agents or editors to whom you submit your work;

2 – The folks who organize and administer writing contests are only out to sell you something and/or collect the entry fee;

3 – Who’s judging these things? Chances are, they don’t write as well as you do;

4 – Better to spend your time polishing your work and submitting to a paying publisher than chasing after a useless award certificate.

Agreed, entering contests is no ticket to a publishing contract – not even (except perhaps in rare cases) if you win. And yes, some contests are designed to lure in customers for the sponsor’s critique services, training seminars, or other business offerings. But not all of them. You need to be discerning.

Judges? Well. Having been on both sides of that fence, I could tell you some stories. But I won’t.

The sad fact is, writing contests are subjective. Unlike an athlete whose race is timed, score is tallied or distance is measured, a writer isn’t judged by a non-negotiable standard. In the literary world, the only difference between barely competent and truly exceptional is the opinion of the reader. So, yeah – you could be a better writer than the judges and still get a poor score.

So why bother?

If you choose not to, I couldn’t fault you. But there are some valid reasons to play this game:

1 – A win looks nice on a resume, provided the person you’re contacting is familiar with the contest and knows it to be reputable. That is, taking first place in Uncle Ralph’s Best Children’s Story at the family reunion probably doesn’t need to be mentioned; but a Second Place finish in a Writer’s Digest contest demonstrates that you’ve got the basics under control and you might even know what you’re doing. The person you’re querying will read on.

2 – Many of these events charge a (usually nominal) fee, but they can also provide helpful feedback. Take the ACFW Genesis contest, for instance, where for $35, you get three detailed critiques. Not a bad deal.

3 – Judges. Okay, so they’re human. So are you. Get over it.

Seriously, though – at least, in my experience – the judges know their stuff and are fair-minded. You might not think they “get” your story. And maybe they don’t, particularly if they have a different philosophical viewpoint. But chances are, they see your story more clearly than you do. You’re too close to it. The judges aren’t engaged in a personal vendetta, they’re just giving their honest opinion. For whatever that’s worth.

4 – Preparing your entry for a contest gives you practice submitting and helps you hone your pitch. The more you do this, the better you’ll get at it. When you’re ready to go pro, you’ll know how to be professional.

5 – If you’ve never shown your writing to anyone but your grandma, receiving critical feedback from strangers could be good experience for you. Once you’ve been released from treatment for your depression, you might be better able to roll with the punches that will come your way in the wonderful world of publishing. If you think contests are a jungle, wait till you see the real thing.

The bottom line: There’s seldom a pot of gold at the end of the contest rainbow, but it is possible to benefit from the process. If you make your choices wisely, the experience can be a good one.

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Pruning Season

In this climate, fruit trees and vines are usually pruned between late fall, after the leaves have fallen, and early spring, before new growth begins. My husband and I like to do it on warm winter days when we want to work outside but it’s too early to garden.

I cut my reading teeth on the old classics, written when language was flowing and flowery. Consequently, when I began writing my own stories, I followed the wordy example of my teachers.

Keeping my writing clean and concise was difficult for me at first. For one thing, it seemed wrong to cut off all that beauty. Or at least, what I perceived as such. For another, old habits are hard to break even when you’re convinced of the need for it. Which, at first, I wasn’t.

When I finally realized wordiness is more clumsy than cute, I discovered something surprising. That is, the most helpful guide for trimming the fat from my fiction was the same book that taught me the art of pruning: Lewis Hill’s marvelously practical resource, Fruits and Berries for the Home Garden.

For several years now, I’ve been applying Mr. Hill’s guidelines to my apple trees, grape vines, and writing with equal success.

For instance: why do we prune?

1 – To remove diseased, broken, or old branches;

2 – To thin out extra limbs;

3 – To remove crossed limbs and prevent weak divisions;

4 – To allow more light to reach the inner branches;

5 – Removing old limbs that have lost vigor allows new ones to replace them, thus renewing the whole tree every decade;

6 – To train the tree into proper shape and size.

Though we’re talking about fruit-bearing plants, it’s easy to apply the same principles to writing.

Confusing phrases and misused words are diseased and broken branches. Redundancies and repetitions are extra or crossed limbs. Side tangents that don’t move the story forward are crossed limbs and weak limb divisions. Unnecessary words need to be removed to let the sunshine of clarity shine in. With all these things removed, our writing will take on the shape and size that makes it beautiful and fruitful.

When undertaking the task, Mr. Hill recommends removing everything you dare. The next day, go out and do the same thing. Again. To the same tree. That should yield the desired result.

I do the same thing with my writing — I remove everything it seems possible to cut, let it rest awhile then go back and do it again.  As he says, that seems to do the trick.

Unlike the orchardist, the writer can prune in any season. We needn’t worry about temperature or sap flow. So scribes, get out your clippers and saws, and start trimming!

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Law of Attraction: The Universe v. Jah

A professional Virtual Assistance organization of which I’m a former member promotes the belief and practice of the “Law of Attraction” (LOA). Simply put, this is the idea that “like attracts like.”  That is, if you emit positive vibes, positive things will happen; if you’re negative, you’ll attract negative results.

Whether or not you’re into metaphysics, you probably agree that, just as the world is governed by physical laws, there are less tangible principles at work in our world as well. These aren’t so readily measured and quantified, but they’re widely recognized and often expressed in such time-honored homilies as: what goes around, comes around; beauty is as beauty does; there’s no great loss without some gain; the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Having observed one of these natural principles at work, proponents of the LOA created a cult around it.

Honestly, it’s pretty appealing. Moreover, there’s a certain amount of validity to it; we’ve all seen it in action to one degree or another. For that reason, some of my VA friends might look at my recent three-book publishing contract as evidence of the “law’s” effectiveness. Didn’t I just clear a spot in my life for this (as evidenced in my post of January 4), deliberately focusing my attention on writing? Wasn’t that attitude and determination the catalyst that drew the contract to me?

There are a whole lot of reasons, both logical and scriptural, why I disagree with this interpretation. But since I’ve got the aforementioned publishing contract to fulfill and don’t have time to write volumes on the subject, I’ll cut to the chase.

The Bible speaks of this same principle in familiar, picturesque terms in Galatians 6:7: you sow what you reap. But the first part of that verse puts the issue in its proper perspective: Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Though we’d like to think we’re masters of our own destinies, we’re not. This is obvious to anyone on his or her deathbed.

I should be less concerned about what I want than with what He knows is best. Jehovah God is bigger than my dreams and goals. He moves heaven and earth to accomplish His perfect purposes, not mine. If I want to submit myself to His authority, that’s my choice. It pleases Him when I do, but it doesn’t diminish Him if I don’t.

The Law of Attraction might at first seem to get you what you want; but follow it to its logical conclusion, and it leads to chaos.

When you delight in the Lord God, however, He gives you the desires of your heart.

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