Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Write Like You're in Love...Edit Like You're in Charge!

 10 Minute Novelists, an online writing group held their first-ever face-to-face writing conference this past week in Cincinnati. Attendees interacted with incredible speakers like James Scott Bell, Donald Maass, and Janice Hardy. What a line-up! 

Always Cool to Hang Out With A Best Selling Author
Like James Scott Bell
I’ve always said if you can walk away from a conference with one great idea or changed in one way, it has been a successful conference. I walked away from this experience with so much more. Though I hope to share tidbits of information gathered from the conference over time, I want to offer you words from James Scott Bell. These words resonated with me and reminded me of the roots of my writing.

“Write like you’re in love,”he said. If you are a writer, you’ve had those stories, posts, or ideas that captured your imagination. You poured yourself out on the page. You invested yourself in the story. You found yourself constantly thinking of that story or that character. You began to hear the character’s voice in your head. You wrote with abandon, void of formulas or rules. In fact, breaking the rules in this love relationship with words seemed right. 

Smacks a little of a great love story, doesn’t it? But that’s how we get a good story on paper. And readers can tell when you own it. They ask if it is based on a true story. They want to know the backstory. They ask for a sequel. Because you fell in love with your story, you carried your readers along with you. 

Jim Bell was right about that. When you are in love, joy oozes out of your soul and onto the page. You could stop there. You could file away your passionate story of good versus evil or love triumphing against all odds. You could never publish your historical fiction or capture the feeling of someone from the past in a vibrant biography.

Jim Bell's Newest Release
Click Here to View
You could stop there. You would be a storyteller. You might be a caretaker of family history or you may even write because doing so feeds something in you. But if you are a writer; if you hope to publish and share this story and these characters you’ve created, you have to do more than write like you’re in love.

“Edit like you’re in charge,” Bell tells us. And this is what separates the amateur from the professional. Work. Writing is often fun and engaging. Many people I know write as a sort of self-induced therapy. But if you want to share the story; if you want to publish, you have to go into the story you love, rip it apart and take charge of it. You have to ask yourself tough questions about what you’ve written. 

For example, the vignette of the little girl finding a puppy in the midst of chapter one may be cute and have sweet dialogue but if it doesn’t move your story forward, why is it there? Does it offer insight into the character of the little girl? Will the puppy play a role in rescuing her in the future? Is the dog a metaphor for another character in the story? If the scene is helpful to your reader, keep it. If it is not necessary, no matter how much you liked it when you wrote it, get rid of it. Use it somewhere else…in an alternate universe, so to speak.

Look at your story structure. Examine your words and phrases. Scrutinize your spelling, grammar, and punctuation. And when you have it as close to perfect as possible, send it to a professional editor and beta readers for their recommendations. Then start the editing process all over again. 

The story doesn’t change. 
The good guys will still win in the end. 
And so will you. 

“Write like you’re in love. Edit like you’re in charge.” 
Thank you, Mr. Bell.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Living in the Overflow

Overflow. My word for the year. 

As some of my readers know, I choose a word each year. During the year I see how that word plays out in my life. I try to keep a list of examples of how I see that word in my life and Bible verses where it appears. This year I chose the word overflow. I chose it because I want to recognize those areas where my life is full. Full and overflowing. I chose it because of God’s promises. I chose it while I was in Kosovo.

My Sweet Friends, Bob and Lina
When I returned to America in June, I put little thought into the word. I couldn’t even find my small notebook where I tracked examples. It didn’t matter. My heart was indeed full. I hugged my children and grandchildren. I held my mother tight and reveled in the closeness of my family. 

I gave little consideration to my word for the year until …there was water on the bathroom floor. 

I thought my toilet overflowed. I wondered when it happened. I asked my grandkids. Nobody could explain. I wrote it off as a one-time incident. I had guests over for dinner one evening.  I cleaned the house and got everything ready. I put one of those little blue tablets in the toilet tank. One of my guests came out of the bathroom and sadly reported the toilet may have a leak. There was blue stuff all over the floor. 

The sealing ring needed to be replaced. I took advantage of the situation and replaced the whole toilet with a better one. Actually, my friend Bob did all the work. I was the go-fer. Bob is the one who fixed my hot water heater, too. Yep, I had all these little “issues” popping up as I settled back into my life here in Ohio. 

But they are the sorts of problems that remind me of my chosen word for the year: OVERFLOW. 

Some May Think Their Life is Down the Toilet
Others See Their Life as Overflowing
Yes, I had to replace a toilet in my bathroom, but I’ve lived in houses where we had “outdoor facilities.” I not only have indoor plumbing, I have three bathrooms.

My hot water heater failed resulting in a cold shower, but I have a hot water heater. And it happened in the summer when a cold shower wasn’t the end of the world. Furthermore, I had enough money to buy the parts to fix it.

And I have good friends like Bob and Lina who not only cheer me on but, come to my rescue in times of need. 

This morning, my Bible reading was in the book of Romans. In it Paul writes, 
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

That is my prayer for you today. That your life is  filled to OVERFLOWING... with hope.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Exercising in My Writing Gym

Last week I talked about my writing business.  I am the CEO of my writing business—along with everything else. I’ve noticed that many large corporations offer workout rooms for their executives. Physical exercise makes for good mental and physical health. I get it. I engage in physical exercise; but since I’m a part-time writer, I do the physical exercise on my “own time.” 

I do, however, exercise my writing muscle on a regular basis. This is during my scheduled three-hour workday but apart from my big projects. Generally, I only go to one part of my writing gym each day to get my writing off to a good start. I refer to these exercises as time spent in my writing gym. 

Benefits to Engaging in Writing Exercises Abound

So here is a little tour of my writing gym, the workout stations you’ll find and how each of these exercises benefit you as a writer. These work for me. Try them but feel free to explore other forms of writing exercises that meet your needs.

Station 1Warm-Ups
These exercises put my brain in gear and get my creative juices flowing. In fact, there is abundant research to support the notion that people often think better when they put a pen or pencil to paper. 

When I taught at the university, I would tell my students to never leave an essay question blank. I told them that even if they couldn’t remember ANYTHING about the topic to start by copying the key words in the essay question or to simply start writing “I’m not sure where to begin.” Anything to get the pencil on the paper. The very act of writing triggers the brain to access information we don’t know we know. Seriously. It opens the floodgates. Words will begin to pour out on paper and new ideas will take shape. My students learned this valuable lesson. Often, though their start was shaky, they “suddenly remembered” something about the topic. Even partial points were better than getting a zero.

keep a list of what I need to write next on a project or topics I’d like to write about on this blog. Even if I feel clueless, I don’t sit and stare at a blank sheet of paper. I start writing. I may eventually throw out the first paragraph or the whole draft, but those first warm-up words get me started.

Station 2- Stretching 
 Exercises at this station are designed to stretch me as a writer. Here is an example. Flash fiction is a complete story (read characters and plot fully developed) in about 1500 words or less. I had never tried it, so I put it as a novelty in my exercise gym. I think of it as a kind of Pilates ball added to my aerobic routine. It strengthens my core. Here is an example:

I “exercised” using flash fiction for a week. First, I wrote a single sentence to try to capture the essence of my story. I spent the next few days “training.” Writing a fully developed story in 1500 words with a beginning, middle and end and making the characters people you can care about is a challenge. You have to make every word count. Never written flash fiction before? Try it. It is a great exercise. By the way, I put the story aside for a while, took it out later and exercised my revising and editing muscle. 

Here is another one. Craft a tweet that captures the essence of your story in 280 characters…hey that’s up from 140 so I can squeeze in a lot more! When I am working on a novel, I stretch myself every once in a while this way. It helps me focus on my storyline and gives me fodder for an elevator pitch or twitter pitch when I’m ready to seek out a publisher. 

There are other ways to stretch as a writer. You can try a new genre or move from fiction to nonfiction. You can try to write from a different perspective. Any of these strengthen you as a writer. Be creative at this station. 

Station 3-Sprints
These are exercises with deadlines. With them, I have actually turned writing exercises into cash.

In my writing gym I keep a list of writing prompts from Chicken Soup for the Soul to use as writing exercises.I also note the date the story is due. When I have a story I think is good, I submit it. As a result of those exercises I have published threes stories to date in Chicken Soup for the Soulbooks. And they pay. Of course the money goes right back into my writing, but it’s fun to hold that book in your hand. It is a measure of success –an affirmation that you are indeed a writer. 

You may want to pitch a story or article to magazine or journal. Read their guidelines, do a bit of research, draft your query letter, and exercise your writing muscle as a freelance writer. Freelance generally pays little but it helps you build your writing resume. 

Station 4- Strength Through Team Building
Although writing may be done in isolation, publishing is usually a team effort. You may have an agent or an editor you work with on a regular basis. Or not. You shouldbelong to a group of writers. If you can’t find one near you, form a group or join an online group.
Team building helps each member build strength, grow as a writer, and remain consistent. Teams often meet on a regular basis. So how does this fit into my writing gym? 

I’ll offer two suggestions here, both in my writing gym currently. They are part of one project. (It doesn’t always work that way.) I mentioned last week that I have a story being released soon that is part of an anthology. All nine stories in the book take place in Ohio. 

Each author helped with editing and revisions for at least two stories aside from their own.  This strengthens my own writing and gives me insight into how other writers build their craft. 

The second is guest blogging. Bloggers like having a guest author on their posts from time-to-time. I am working on a blog post for Sandra Merville Hart’s blog, Historical Nibbles. It’s related to my entry in the anthology. I, in turn will be featuring some of the other authors on my blog as well. I have to write my post for Sandra’s blog according to her guidelines and she will need to write her post to fit my readers. These kinds of exercises help us grow as writers.

Those are the four stations in my writing gym. They are exercises that make me a stronger, more productive writer

What do you do to build your writing muscle?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Getting Back to the Business of Writing

Yes, I view my writing a passion, a gift, a calling, if you will, but it is also a business. I discovered that side of things when I received my first book contract. My initial and quite simple business plan (read “write, find a publisher, and get published”) morphed into a plan to include what might be called research and development, production, marketing, and networking. Within this business vernacular I could easily define my “what if” sessions as my “think tank” and the rough drafts I create as “prototypes.” 

The Work Day
Writing is a business…my chosen line of part-time work. I set my hours and goals. I determine how much time and energy I will invest each day. Since I am most productive in morning, I like to schedule my working hours from 6:00am to 9:00am. That isn’t particularly difficult for me. I am generally up by five every morning. 

I like to write a minimum of a thousand words a day, though I rarely track the exact number. I know I usually exceed 1000 words. But if I meet the thousand-word goal for a novel, I can lay down a decent draft for a short novel in three or four months. That’s assuming I take weekends off. 

So it is entirely feasible to create a draft in a few months of part-time writing. Draft. Remember prototype? And the draft only comes after the “think tank” session followed by the research and development stint. The draft or “prototype” as I’m calling it here is the earliest stage of production.

With my extra morning hours I work on my blog, research topics I need to know more about for the novel, study my craft, diagram my next project (I’m big into poster board diagrams for my stories), reread, edit, and revise sections of the work in progress, work on marketing materials, and essentially, wear all the other hats writers must wear in this business.

Do it all in just three hours a day...If only it worked that way.

I may sit at my computer three hours a day engaged in my writing business, but my mind works overtime. So do I. sometimes I get so excited about the direction a story is heading, I can’t help but write until my tummy growls. 

Editing and revising takes a lot of time. I throw editing and revising to the head of my Quality Control department. Me. 

Then there is the marketing and networking side of the business. Keeping up with my readers via Twitter and Facebook as well as emails eats into my day in other ways. Social media is not a 6-9am proposition. 

Nothing is Linear
I write. I revise. I edit. I submit. I get a contract. I sit back and wait for the reviews to roll in. NOT.

It's more like this: I write project A. I revise. I edit. I write some more. I edit some more. I write and revise a whole lot more. I submit. I wait. 

I start project B. I get rejected for project A. I revise A some more. I submit. Maybe I get a contract. Maybe not. I work on project B. 

I hear from my publisher. I edit and revise more. I re-submit. I’m working on project B while making decisions about the cover and dedication, and continually making revisions for project A. 

A release date for project A is announced. I ramp up my publicity for project A. I get excited and take lots of “selfies” of me holding my book. The book is released and I ramp up my marketing even more. 

Eventually I get back to project B, but I spend three days re-reading the manuscript because I forget what I wrote or where I was heading. As I’m reading, project C pops in my brain like a cute kitten on the doorstep just begging for a chance to live. I diagram project C while I’m working on project B and marketing project A.

Real-Life Example
I continue to market Breathing on Her Own, my first novel while promoting the three books in the Writing to Publish series and completing my first romantic suspense novel. I have a novella being released this fall as part of an anthology of Ohio writers. The anthology is called From the Lake to the River and my story is called Courtesy Turn, based on a square dance move. 

In addition, I have a novel being released in March of 2019 called Libby’s Cuppa Joe. The editor from my publishing house sent me her suggestions yesterday so I need to wade through the manuscript again and make those changes. I’ll send it back to her and she’ll likely send it back to me again. We’ll do this dance off and on until the book is ready for publication. Plus…that story takes place in Door County, Wisconsin so I hope to do a girls trip with my daughters up there before too long for some photo shoots. 

And I blog. That’s not the only writing I do. More about that next week as I take you on a tour of my Writing Gym.

I think you get the idea. Writing to publish has a business side. Writers don’t make widgets. It is never a one and done experience. And even if we write in a “one-widget” genre, every story is unique. Every work requires something new from its creator. 

If we write solely out of passion, that’s one thing… But if we publish, it’s a business.

Curiously, the day after I drafted this blog post, one of my publishers sent out a list of articles authors might find helpful. Here is one of them. It is a post by Elizabeth S. Craig called Balancing Writing and BusinessHow’s that for timing? Click on the title to read the article. 


If you don't want to miss a post, simply add your email address in the box on the right where it says "Follow by email." 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


Last week I wrote about reverse culture shock. I think it may be my last entry regarding my adventure in Kosovo, though the people and experiences there will always be a part of me. I’m sure references to Kosovo will resurface from time-to-time.

My oldest daughter, Allison, and I talked about the blog on a recent trip to the beach. I started “A Novel Creation” to take people interested in writing on a journey with me as I crafted a novel. I shared what I learned about writing with my readers. And I sustained that work from January 2013 until I left for Kosovo in August of 2017. Yep, I posted a blog about writing every Wednesday for over four years. Of course I had a few guest posts along the way.

If you’ve been following me for this past year, you know my full attention has been given to sharing the experience of living abroad. As Allison and I talked, I realized the blog has morphed into sharing me as a “novel creation.” I’m not alone. We all are novel creations. All created in the image of God, yet all unique. 

And just as the blog has changed over time, I’ve changed as well. Allison suggested that maybe the blog now is about transitions. I’ve certainly made a few since Tom died. Selling my house and moving into another. Living there for two months before moving to Kosovo. Teaching children again. Then moving back to America and adjusting to life here once more. Transitions. But there have been other transitions. And though they may seem less significant to most people, they were major hurdles for me. 

Paying bills. Tom always took care of that task.
Building a fire in the fireplace. He showed me how to do it.
Learning to mow my own lawn. This was tough. I didn’t eve know how to start the mower!
Negotiating the purchase of my car. Tom actually walked me through that one.

Eating alone. I’ve adjusted at home, but in a restaurant? No.

In fact, making decisions without Tom, no matter how small, often prove to be moments marked by a bit of fear and a dose of uncertainty. Ultimately however, I know each time I make a move, it is a small step forward. A step marked with growth and independence.

I don’t know what God has in store for me. I do know I have a story being published in an anthology the fall. The book is a collection of works from Ohio writers. I have a contract to publish my second novel, Libby’s Cuppa Joein 2019 and I’m working on my first romantic suspense novel. I’ll be at the 10 Minute Novelist writing Conference in August. Yes, writing is part of me. 

But where that takes me?…only God knows. He’s always been good to me. I TRUST HIM COMPLETELY. Why? Because He is the God of transitions. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Reverse Culture Shock: My Take

When I left for Kosovo, I expected to be met with what is generally termed “culture shock.” I knew the rhythm of my everyday life would change. I would be eating new foods, learning a new language, and interacting with people who viewed life differently than I did. I understood the challenges. Though I understood the challenges, I harbored some fear. Fear of the unknown.

I lived and worked in Kosovo for ten months. My fears were quickly set aside and I enjoyed what I can only refer to as something akin to a celebrity status. Kosovars LOVE Americans. In a restaurant or even on the street, if someone realized I was an American, they would offer the biggest smile and tell me how grateful they are to Americans. I attended an Albanian wedding. It was beautiful and yes the bride and groom were the focus of our attention. But in the middle of the reception, my colleague and I were asked to stand. Everyone applauded as we were recognized. Because we are Americans. (To visit that wedding experience, CLICK HERE.)

The food in Kosovo was great. The coffee was incredible. I made friends from all communities and many nationalities. I learned how to call for a taxi…in Albanian. I attended parties, threw parties, and went shopping. I may not have been able to read all the labels, but I managed. Life in Kosovo was good.

As I said, I was only there for ten months. When people talked of reverse culture shock, I set their comments aside. I knew some of what they described. My middle daughter lived in Baku, Azerbaijan for a time. She had a meltdown the first time I took her with me to one of America’s super sized food stores. She was overwhelmed by the selection and abundance of food available. I understood what she experienced as reverse culture shock. Food was plentiful in Kosovo so I didn’t expect any stressors to hit me. 

I was wrong.

I miss the tight-knit community I had with people in Kosovo. I miss the interactions with the nationals there and my church friends. I miss the pace of life that seems less busy and more intentional. And the very thing that made me more comfortable in Kosovo? That almost celebrity status of being an American? I miss that, too. I can’t help it. It was fun.

Don’t misunderstand. I love being near my family. I love having dinner with my mother, hanging out with my daughters, and hugging my grandchildren. I love getting together with friends and hosting people in my home. And if ever you’ve traveled, you know there is an easiness about hearing nearly everyone around speaking your own language.

I am three weeks home now. Settling back into the routines and rhythms of my life. Mostly. I drink more mineral water and watch less television. I’m trying my hand at recreating some of the Albanian foods I love. I find myself asking people over for coffee. 

Maybe living abroad and moving back isn’t culture shock at all. Maybe it is a realignment of sorts. A recalibrating what is of value. It may be a strengthening of the core. A clearer understanding of who you are and who others are in this world. A true sense that Americans are great. And so are Albanians…and Serbians…and Mexicans…and Canadians…and…well, you get the picture. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Rebecca Waters on Freedom

Like most Americans, I have taken freedom for granted for most of my life. Don’t get me wrong…I wave my flag proudly. My heart swells when I hear the national anthem. There is something moving about standing in a crowd reciting the pledge of allegiance as one unified voice. I read news stories of people held captive abroad because of their beliefs and I revel in the freedom we experience in the USA.

But I never fully captured how incredible and far reaching this freedom is until I lived for an extended time in Kosovo. Sometimes when Americans move to a foreign country they come to that understanding rapidly because they live under the severe laws and tight restrictions of their host nation. That wasn’t my experience. My awareness came through teaching fourth graders.

The school where I taught, Prishtina High School, is an American school. All students study Albanian, their own language but all core classes are taught in English. The school implements the Ohio curriculum. This certainly makes it easy for American teachers to transition into the classroom there. However, I ran into one tiny glitch. If you know anything about American school curriculum, you know that in fourth grade all across the fifty states, social studies is centered on state history. My class consisting primarily of Albanian students did not need to study Ohio history. 

To make the lessons on history, geography, government, and economics relevant to my fourth grade class, I set out to teach these themes using Kosovo as the vehicle. There was a lot of research to do but I was not alone. I had fourteen eager research buddies working with me.

I learned everything I could about the history and geography of Kosovo first. I searched the internet, studied maps and began reading historical accounts of this area of the Balkans. My students were doing the same. Kosovo’s regional history is extensive and dates back thousands of years. We learned of the Romans and the Turks and the Albanians. We studied the region as part of Yugoslavia, learned of the Serbian influence, and examined the ever-changing borders of this small country. I won’t go into detail here about everything we learned over the course of a year…only about what it means to be free.

While I read published accounts of Kosovo from just prior to the documented war (1998-1999) to the present, my students conducted interviews with people who lived in the area before the war, during the war, and within five years after the war.

Actually, the war may never had happened if the Albanian Kosovars had experienced

·      Fair representation for the taxes they paid (Sound familiar?) and 
·      Freedom of speech (Yep, we’ve heard that one before.) and 
·      Freedom of religion (Wow, I’ve read this long before I came to Kosovo…nearly every Thanksgiving!) and 
·      If they had not been harassed in an attempt to drive them from their homeland.

Instead, Slobodan Milosevic, (a Serbian who rose to power in the 1990’s) tried to force Albanians who had lived for centuries in the province of Kosovo to leave the area. He heavily taxed the Albanian residents while limiting their work opportunities. He made it illegal to speak or teach the Albanian language. 

Kosovo is Now 10 Years Old
Milosevic instituted what he called a parallel society. Children attended "parallel schools."For example, at first, Albanian children were schooled on the lower level of the school building while Serbian children were schooled on the floor above.  The Albanians were not allowed to speak or teach the Albanian language. Everyone had to learn Serbian, even though by this time Serbians made up only around nine percent of the region’s population. The Albanian students had no books or resources. They were lucky to have a single piece of chalk for the blackboard. Teachers taught as best as they could and students memorized everything. 

Milosevic’s parallel society permitted the children to play... on separate playgrounds. However, the Serbian students had playground equipment and were allowed to engage in organized sports while the Albanian Kosovars were denied any equipment and were not allowed to play any sort of organized sport. I talked with young adults who, as children during this time period would bunch socks together to create their own soccer ball. One young man told me how he and his friends were caught playing soccer and sniper bullets rained down on the grassy area where they were playing.  He was six-years-old at the time.  

In Their Declaration of Freedom
From the Soviet Union,,
Hungarians Cut The Soviet Symbol
 From the Center of Their Flag

Who are these children now? They are the parents of students in my class. They are young teachers and administrators in my school. They are the entrepreneurs shaping the economy of the country. They are the members of parliament and government officials. They are the future of Kosovo. To their credit, few harbor ill feelings toward the Serbian population. They blame the politics and government of that era for creating an atmosphere leading to fighting.

I can’t go back in time and interview people in colonial America. I know they felt disenfranchised. I know they were taxed without having a voice in how that money was spent...and it wasn't being spent on them. I know many of them suffered religious discrimination. I know those we now call Native Americans were mistreated and forced from their land. I know our country has suffered many hardships throughout our short history as a nation. I can only imagine the early members of our society's strong desire for independence. 

But now, I can hear their many languages.  It is the voice of freedom. 

If you missed these posts, click on them to better understand Kosovo's pursuit of freedom.

Four Pieces of Wood: A Story of Two Neighbors in Kosovo 

Thank You, Mr. President: Students Learning About the War and President Clinton's Response

Happy Birthday, Kosovo: The Ten Year Celebration for This Tiny Country