Edie Melson is a freelance writer and editor with years of experience in the publishing industry. She’s a prolific writer, and has a popular writing blog, The Write Conversation. In keeping up with the leading edge of al things digital, Edie has become known as one of the go-to experts on social media for writers wanting to learn how to plug in.
find one of the hardest parts of being a writer is the silence.
I’m not talking about the silent hours spent with only the tic-tock of the clock on my office wall and the pitter-patter of lap-top keys. No, I’ve grown to love this silence, days with only my cat to keep me company.
It was not always this way. I’m an extrovert turned introvert by means of calling. When the Lord called me to write a book, I had no idea that it would become my ministry and career. Shifting from educator to full-time mom, to assistant pastor to all day writer, proved a challenge.
This wasn’t easy. I missed the activity with others. It’s been hard to say no to coffee dates and walking partners—though I don’t say no very well. I make time, perhaps too often. But when need be, God clears my schedule, and I spend days with only the tic-tock, pitter-patter, and Hank purring, curled behind me in my chair.
A writers conference or a weekend speaking event reminds me of the introvert, silence needed, person I’ve become.
But there’s another silence all writers face that’s not so gentle. Endearing. Healing.
It’s the silence experienced after your words have been published for all to read.
Your soul naked.
Your heart lent to others.
Your story no longer your own.
There are reviews of your book or an occasional comment on your blog. Once in a while an e-mail will come, or you’ll meet someone who tells you how your book changed her life. But most days there is nothing.
And we must trust.
And we must continue to write.
And we pray our words matter.
And that’s why I’m writing you.
Because I want to cheer you on.
I want you to know that your words really are making an impact. Just as your prayers matter, so do your words typed out of obedience to the One who called you to this craft.
Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, we pen hope resurrected out of our pain, joys, sorrows, and healing. We either create a fictional character who our readers can relate to and experience redemption with or we write about restoring marriages, discovering a healthy self-image, developing a deeper prayer life or graceful parenting.
It is with the comfort we’ve been given of which we comfort others with our words.
Words that point them to a Savior.
I can’t imagine living a life without the promise of eternity. Can you? What if one reader reads your words and finds Jesus. Just one. Would that be enough?
Jesus spoke of the shepherd who left the ninety-nine to find the one.
Yes, your words matter.
What if your words stir the heart of the next Billy Graham or Beth Moore?
What if they simply comfort a soul buried in grief?
And what if you never know?
I think one day we will know. When we’ve finally arrived home, we’ll meet many face to face who’ve been helped. But for now we write by faith not by sight or sound of accolades.
We write trusting that somewhere out there for all eternity, our words matter.
Andy Lee is the author of A Mary Like Me: Flawed Yet Called and The Book of Ruth Key Word Study: A 31 Day Journey to Hope and Promise. She is a blogger, inspirational speaker, Bible teacher, and empty-nest survivor. Join hundreds of viewers on her Facebook Live broadcast Monday-Friday for the Bite of Bread, and visit her website at www.wordsbyandylee.com where Andy provides resources to help you dig deep to live fully.
Love once blended with another. As one. Now fading as the mist of dawn. Dreams once pursued now silent. Like the still of a moonless night. Such is the exploding emotions when dreams fade.
Karen Blixen, who wrote by the pen name of Isak Dinesen, started her poignant biography, Out of Africa with, “I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills.” She went on to passionately describe scenes that had fixed themselves in her heart and mind during the seventeen years of her life there. The day came when it was time to pack up the life she’d known and loved, store it in her heart, and move away. In saying goodbye to Africa, she penned, “If I know a song of Africa, I thought of the Giraffe, and the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs in the fields, and the sweaty faces of the coffee-pickers. Does Africa know a song of me?” She never returned but her book, Out of Africa, forever sings her love song of when she had a farm “at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”
Saying goodbye to a dream tears at your heart as you reel from the impact of hard choices. When circumstances dictated that I put my husband in Memory Care, I knew his faint knowledge of me would dwindle even more as the disease progressed. As he gazes at me with lost eyes, I remind him of his two tours of duty in Vietnam as a search and rescue helicopter pilot. I point out all of the lives he saved and the American dead he risked his life to rescue from enemy territory and the families that now have a grave to visit on U.S. soil because of his sacrifice. I tell him about the business we started and ran for over thirty years. One built on honesty and integrity. I tell him what an honorable man he is and of his love and commitment to our marriage and family. I remember for him.
I’m not angry at God. I’m not angry at Agent Orange that dripped from the jungle vines as he navigated his helicopter into tiny openings in enemy territory. God is sovereign. My son recently reminded me that one cannot mourn the past, only rejoice in the many gifts it gives. So, through my tears, I write so that others will have hope as they bridge the gap between closure of one dream and the beginning of another. I illustrate my struggles in story. With happy endings, because a happy ending is what we’re made for. It’s what Jesus came for. It’s what we’ll one day experience in heaven.
Karen Blixen’s dream of a life in Africa had permeated her soul. As the African sun sank below the horizon and burned the sky warm with yellow, red, pink, and orange, she and her farm workers would often sit around the campfire. “Please, Memsahib, talk to us like the rain,” they’d say, describing her storytelling. This lilting rhythmic style that she developed while storytelling carried on into her writing. If we allow, lost dreams will blend into the mosaic of our lives, and breathe new life into our tomorrows.
God never misses an opportunity to use closed doors to nurture our calling. Just answer the call, no matter where it takes you. No matter how unpopular. Be bold and say what you’re meant to say. Do what you’re meant to do. Be a brave soldier. Know that God has equipped you with the words that only you can write. The message only you can bring. The story only you can tell, for partial obedience is disobedience. Dance until the music stops. God’s dream for us will be fulfilled. If not in this life, in eternity, where we were born to reign with Christ forever.
We’re not to live in the past, but if lessons are learned well, the past can weave into our todays and tomorrows and bring both wisdom and memories of a life well lived. We’ll see how God knew that we’d need the joy of yesterday to bring a smile to today. Sometimes through tears, but a smile just the same. Looking back, we’ll remember that we braved the odds and experienced that spiritual place on earth that is only available in union with God. Letting go isn’t failure but, instead, is trusting God for tomorrow—one where visions are not as clear and the advantages do not seem great. We are embarking on new territory, still seen through a vapor but one day will be as clear as the Carolina sky on a cloudless day.
Emme Gannon is a wife, mother, and grandmother who loves to write stories that stir the heart. Her award-winning writing has appeared in Focus on the Family magazine, several anthologies, and numerous newsletters. She just completed her first novel.
*disclaimer. This series is about following rules. I know that Indies don’t have to follow rules. That’s the whole point of being indie. But indies who pay attention to what rich and famous authors do, have a much better shot at fame and riches.*
Very few authors have a series of reader-satisfying books burning a hole in their pockets. These books have to be written and released successfully for the empire to be built. This is a particularly poignant article for me to write. I need to launch a new series. The series that has formed the foundation of my indie success has been completed. No new books are coming for it, and it has been around long enough now--almost 7 years since book 1 released!—that it has reached market saturation. So everything I write in this post is also for me. A prod to both do the job, and do it right.
Do not release a book all by itself. No matter what you did in the past. If you are starting over with the idea in mind to start an empire, take your time and do it right. Does it take you 6 months to complete a reader-satisfying novel? Then you need to write for over a year before you launch this series. This is technically point 1, so let’s get to it.
1. Launch when you have three novels in the new series, and not before. Novels one and two should be complete and ready to go and launched live [instead of pre-order.] Book three can be first draft finished, in the editing stage, so long as you can get it uploaded live within a month of the first two. If only two of the books are complete, the third one needs to go up as a preorder. I am adamant about this point. Launch all three books at once in your new series. You are going to go in strong right away. The first one will already be at that ridiculously low price and the other two will probably be somewhere between $3.99 and $5. When wildly successful indie author Gemma Halliday was asked what one thing she would have done differently she said she would have released all of her books at once and not waited. It is much better to release many books at once than to try and build a brand on a single title.
2. Get reviews. Those books need reviews. Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are the word of mouth of the internet. Word of mouth is currently still the best way to get readers. Reviews are readers telling each other what they think of the books. Give away copies of your books to your friends, family, and anyone who is willing to promise a review in a short span of time. And I mean short. You want to get these reviews up within days of the launch. Book one is most important here, but if you can get people reading and reviewing books two and three, all the better. I’m sure this feels like potentially lost sales but it is not. Evidence in point 3.
3. This point is merely evidence for point two. Dan Brown did not have a best seller until the Da Vinci Code. He sent a copy of the Da Vinci Code to every newspaper reviewer in the country [this is only a slight exaggeration] when he launched it. He did not do this for his first two books. His book got lots of reviews in the papers. He went on to be famous. You get it. Do what he did, or at least get as close to it as you can! Early reviews matter!
4. Feed your series regularly. Your readers want them as fast as you can get them out. Be a writing and editing machine. Take no more than 12 weeks to complete a book for maximum success. Yeah, 12 weeks sounds insane. But it works, and writers who write full time can do this. If you can’t write full time, I get it. But you honestly don’t have to, to make this happen. Can you write one thousand words in about two hours? I am pretty sure you can. One thousand words a day, Monday through Friday, for two months is an eighty thousand word novel. The third month is for editing. That’s all it takes. See? A real novel every twelve weeks is doable for most everyone who is going to take this super seriously.
Traci Tyne Hilton is the author of The Plain Jane Mysteries, The Mitzy Neuhaus Mysteries and the Tillgiven RomanticMysteries. Traci has a degree in history from Portland State University and still lives in the rainiest part of the Pacific Northwest with her husband the mandolin playing funeral director, two busy kids, and their dogs, Dr. Watson and Archie Goodwin. More of Traci’s work can be found at www.tracihilton.com
In the over politicized culture of today, these next few paragraphs will either excite you or frustrate you. And for some of you reading this, you may feel a little bit of both.
The excerpt is from the submissions guidelines of one of the editors at a big 5 publishing house. These words were shared in a public forum, and they reflect the current trend and state of ABA publishing.
I am an editor of picture books and graphic novels, and am only accepting unagented submissions from minority creators at this time*. Please send your query letter and manuscript to **************** the subject header “#MSWL query: [title of your submission]”. Due to inbox avalanche, I’m afraid that my response time is slothful.
*I recognize that asking people to self-identify as belonging to a marginalized background is imperfect at best, and problematic at worst, but am being direct about my ask because I feel strongly that editors need to do better at representing diverse creators in publishing. It is important for young readers not only to see themselves reflected in the stories they love, but also to know that should they want to tell their own stories one day, there is a space for that. If you wish to discuss this further, I am always open to dialogue (though still slow at responding). I am listening and learning.
Now, I understand depending on your political leaning, those words above will either infuriate your or give you a hope that marginalized voices are finding a place in the publishing world. Of course, some people will argue it’s getting harder to be published if you are not part of the diverse minority of the publishing landscape.
That perspective rings true, but competition is never a bad thing. Authors of all creeds and colors must work harder, write better, and market well. The recent box office success of the movie Black Panther, has revealed that diverse characters and settings can sell, and publishers are taking notice.
The publishing industry is seeking diversity from content creators. They also desire non-western settings and non-Caucasian casts of characters. Write your story, but don’t forget that we live in a world full of people who are different from each other. Don’t force diversity into your book, but be sure you don’t neglect it either.
Cyle Young is an author and literary agent, husband & father of 3. As a self-proclaimed “Binge Writer”, Cyle writes over 30,000 words in a weekend. Get his free Binge Writing video class at www.cyleyoung.com
Edie here. I'm super excited about Linda's new book, I wanted to make sure you had a chance to pick up a copy. Articles, Articles, Articles has just released and it's absolutely full of the information writers need.
Writing Articles to Market Your Books by Linda Gilden @LindaGilden
I meet a lot of people who are either writers or want to learn how to write. And the majority of them will quickly start telling me about book they are working on. I don’t recall anyone ever saying, “Let me tell you about this great article I am working on. I am so excited about it!”
But I, for one, love to write articles.
Here are a few reasons to write articles, especially while you are working on your next bestseller.
1. Writing articles is a good way to establish yourself as an expert in a field. People read your articles and begin to associate your name with your subject. If you book is nonfiction, you will begin to build a tribe who will be anxious to buy your book when it comes out. If your book is fiction, you can write articles that have a tie-in to one of the subjects or issues in your novel.
For instance, if the heroine in your novel suffers from depression, you might write articles like “How to Recognize Depression in a Loved One,” “The Warning Signs of Depression,” or “Ways to Reach Out to Someone Suffering from Depression.” Not only will you have an article credit, you will build credibility with your readers. You didn’t just pick a subject out of the blue for your heroine, you know about the subject.
2. As you build your following as an article writer, you will build a base of potential book buyers. When your book comes out, buyers will be waiting.
3. The number of people you can reach with an article is many times the number you can reach with your website, your blog, or even a large speaking engagement. Many magazines have a circulation of over a million people. Most people pass their magazines to someone else 5-7 times. So if your bio states “Mary Stewart is the author of the soon-to-be-released book, Depression Doesn’t Have to Keep You Down, how many people has Mary just told about her new book? Could be millions.
4.New York Times best-selling author Seth Godin says, “Three years before the book is published—if you can—start building a network of supporters and reviewers.” Three years may seem like a long time but building a following takes time and if you start early it won’t seem like such a frenzy to gather potential book buyers.
5. Search for e-zines, blogs, and websites related to the subject of your book. Read them and determine which ones have audiences similar to the readership of your book. Contact the owner and offer to do a guest post.
6. Timing is important. Writing articles early in your book process is a good plan. Just remember to schedule a few key posts and articles immediately after your book is released. This will increase awareness and remind your readers it is time to go shopping. For example, with my book releasing soon called Articles, Articles, Articles.This blog is a good place to mention that because many of you are my target audience.
Whatever you are currently working on, don’t miss the opportunity to make articles part of your marketing plan.
Linda Gilden is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She loves to take one subject and create multiple articles from that information. Linda finds great joy (and lots of writing material) in time spend with her family. Her favorite activity is floating in a pool with a good book surrounded by splashing children.
“This, then, is how you should pray…” Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)
I rewrote the Lord’s Prayer and wondered if I’d done something sacrilegious. After all, it was Jesus’ prayer before it was mine, but I needed solstice. Sometimes we simply need to seek peace. Our minds and bodies grow weary.
It’s one year from my first brain surgery. One year ago, when I couldn’t walk a straight line or hear over the internal sounds of my heartbeat, blood pumping, and footsteps. My world was so noisy and I longed for peace and quiet.
Drilling into my head wasn’t the answer I sought. It’s not like God can just snap His fingers and fix things, but that wasn’t His plan. He needed me to walk a different path. He wanted to groom me for something that, well. . . is truly yet to be seen.
My prayer became pleas for protection, healing, and peace. I wanted quiet. And if God needed me to hear that still small voice, it was impossible through all the noise. Concentration eluded me. The words I felt pushed to write . . . missing. Still I forged ahead even when I knew the words I penned were . . . less than adequate.
I took hold of the hundreds of times I’d heard, “Just write, even when things are hard. Just write.” And I wondered if “just writing” for the heck of writing words, was worth it? Sitting down at the computer became a dreaded thing and not something I ever imagined I’d feel about this craft I loved. I’m a good student and I continued to do what I was taught. Write, despite. . .but God was calling me into a new season. I was too blind to see and literally, to deaf to hear.
There is wisdom in continuing to forge ahead. Wiser writers than me have weathered tougher situations and yet, they kept up the battle. Some turning out their best work, but me – I struggled day to day. My mind refused to process quickly and frustration became my writing partner. In a moment when tears dripped off my cheek, I relinquished control. That’s when I made the decision to rewrite the Lord’s Prayer. I needed redirection. I needed to be left alone for a time – no expectations, no demands.
There were times Jesus secluded Himself. Times He felt and longed for quiet. In the thick of His ministry, thousands swamped Him, pleading for a touch of His healing. Physically and mentally, He grew weary and He would retreat alone to spend time in prayer with His Father. We don’t know the prayers Jesus offered up during those times. Perhaps, for His compassion to remain intact, maybe physical strength, or just peace and quiet. Maybe, like me, He felt part of His ministry slipping away. But He needed to renew and recharge from the cries of the afflicted.
When Jesus took time to teach us prayer, the simplicity of His words etched in our hearts. His prayer became our prayer—the one we go to when we cannot find the words. I’ve spoken that prayer hundreds of times, but this time I brought a healing and weary body to the feet of Christ. He’d protected, healed much . . . not all, but much, and as I sought out the peace and quiet I longed for, I heard Him speak to my heart. Rest my love. The words are in the peace you will find. Trust me. Rest.
I rose from my bed, grabbed my computer and poured the first real words I’d penned in months. But it took my re-writing the Lord’s Prayer to see what I needed. I’ve prayed the rewrite over and over and when I least expected it, God answered.
Give me this day, Lord, my portion of bread. Please, in your mercy, forgive my sins and guide me to forgive others—even when it’s hard. Protect me from Satan and the things he entices me toward. For You, O mighty God. . .You are holy. May I be teachable and acceptant of your will in my life, especially when I do not understand the path You have me on. For, Lord God, this is YOUR kingdom from now into eternity. Amen. And Amen.
Writing through the hard times are important, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make important time to seek Him out for rest and renewal. Take time to re-read the prayer Jesus taught, then rewrite it to fit the cry of your own heart. He will hear and answer.
Cindy Sproles is an award-winning author and popular speaker. She is the cofounder of Christian Devotions ministries and managing editor of Straight Street Books and SonRise Devotionals, imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Cindy is the executive editor of www.christiandevotions.us and www.inspireafire.com. She teaches at writers conferences nationwide and directs The Asheville Christian Writers Conference - Writers Boot Camp.
The writer’s life isn’t an easy one. So much of what we create comes from some place deep inside ourselves. Giving that way can be exhausting, not to mention frustrating, when we feel empty.
The good news is that there are things we can do to help ourselves. I’ve come to learn that we either set ourselves up for success or we set ourselves up for failure. Today I’ll share some of the writing and blogging hacks that every successful writer needs to know.
12 Things Every Writer Needs to Remember
1. Writing is a mind game—and our minds play tricks on us. When we’re in a good mood, we have confidence. When something goes wrong, that confidence melts away. Successful writers don’t base their confidence on emotions.
2. Speak kindly to yourself. Along with the attitude comes the way we treat ourselves. We talk junk to ourselves in ways that we would never talk to someone else. Decide right now to stop. Speak words of encouragement to yourself and you’ll speed the path to success.
3. Take care of yourself physically. Writing isn’t just hard because of the mind games. It’s hard on our bodies. Just sitting all day has shown to cause horrible health problems. Take time to get the exercise you need and fuel your body with healthy food and plenty of water.
4. Schedule some rest and relaxation. I’m not necessarily talking about napping, although that's not a bad idea. Writing regularly is important, but so is time away. Take a drive, plan lunch out with a friend, what ever helps you relax.
5. Follow a regular writing schedule. Notice I said regular—not normal. You may only be able to write late at night, or early in the morning. Or you may only be able to write on the weekends. Whatever works for you is fine—as long as you do it regularly.
6. Surround yourself with other writers who have the same commitment. This is so important. If you surround yourself with others who aren’t serious about writing or those you constantly have to shore up and encourage, you’ll wear yourself out. Find people who are committed to finish well, no matter what life problems crop up.
7. Set goals that you can track and measure. If you can’t tell how close you are to a goal, it’s pretty frustrating, so make sure the goals you have are ones where you can track the progress. For example, set a goal to send out so many queries or proposals or attend so many conferences. Don’t make getting a publishing contract the goal. You really don’t have any control over a publisher saying yes or no. BUT you can write the book, send out the queries and get everything in place for when it does happen.
8. Invest in your dream. You have the right to follow your heart. Don’t let anyone say you don’t. But also don’t be your own worst enemy. Invest time, effort and money in making your publishing goals a reality.
9. Learn how to take critique. Writers seem to range from one extreme to the other. We either think everything we write is perfect and better than anything out there. Or we think everything we write is junk. We have no perspective. Find others you respect and listen to what they have to say about your writing. Improve where you need to, and relish the parts that truly are great.
10. Read regularly. I know that none of us has the time, but successful writers (those who are growing in their craft) know it’s vital to take the time. Read regularly, read deeply and read widely.
11. Never go anywhere without a notebook. That notebook might be a note-taking app on your mobile device, but never be without a way to record idea. Inspiration ALWAYS strikes at inconvenient times. Don’t get caught without a way to capture an illusive idea.
12. Keep writing, no matter what. Yes, life happens. But no matter what rough time you’re going through keep writing. You might be able to put away the formal projects when a crisis hits, but keep writing something—a journal, a poem, a prayer.
These are the things that help me keep moving forward, no matter what. I’d love for you to add to the list.
by Sarah Van Diest @SarahVanDiest God in the Dark, the little devotional book I wrote, comes out on April 3rd and its launch team has been meeting together on social media for about six weeks already. I had no idea what to expect in launching a book, and I am in awe.
As if a door cracked open just ever so much, I have glimpsed how the Lord has begun using the book in the hearts of those who read it. Like I said, I am in awe.
If you remember the story, I never planned on publishing this book. They were letters to a friend. The words in those letters had done their job, at least in my mind. Ha. I laugh. The words in the book are the not the answers people seek. No. The words in the book, I hope, will point the way to that sometimes elusive light when the way seems overwhelmed with darkness. Even more than that, my prayer is that they will see the Father who stands faithfully by their side.
I asked the team to underline passages in the book that resonate with them. We’ve only read through the first week, but it has been a good week thus far. I thought I’d share some of those passages with you today.
When there is pain—the kind that lingers or resurfaces—we can feel frustrated at ourselves, or even at God. We may think that if our faith were stronger, or our love for the Lord held a tighter grip on our hearts, then the pain would be gone, should be gone. But is that really what God tells us? What do we do when pain won’t leave us alone?
And then as we feel overwhelmed by the circumstances of our lives, and when all we can see is darkness, hope seems to vanish. But that is an illusion. Hope remains.
The book left the warehouse on Monday for retailers and distribution centers around the world. This is surreal indeed. Even before the release date of April 3rd, books will likely be on shelves and in mailboxes.
Would you join me in praying for each book sent out?
There are hearts suffocating, drowning in the dark waters of depression, grief, pain, and all sorts of chaos… and they need the Light of Hope. My prayer is that the words in the book will lead their hearts to the giver of Life. Many already know him by name, but they can’t seem to find him in their despair. May this book be a light for the way home.
Educated as a teacher, Sarah taught school for nearly 20 years. As a young woman, she lived in China amid the rice paddies and water buffalo near Changsha, and then later taught English in Costa Rica for four years and raised her two sons.
Sarah is married for the second time, the mother of 2 boys and the step-mother to 3 more. She and her husband, David, work together in their agency The Van Diest Literary Agency. Her full name is Sarah Ruth Gerke Van Diest. She’s 5’5” and cuts her hair when stress overtakes her.
She is a freelance editor (including a New York Times and USA Today bestseller), blogger (The Write Conversation) and writer for hire. Her first book releases with NavPress in 2018.
When it comes to cooking and using a recipe … well, I’m not the most strict follower of outlined steps.
Oh sure, I buy the recommended ingredients. But when it comes to measurements, I tend to eyeball a teaspoon of salt or a cup of sugar. Close enough is good enough, right?
Follow the recipe to a point … and then freewheel a bit. That’s the fun of being a “creative.”
Don’t you love that word creative? It gives you permission to push the rules back a bit so you can try new things … explore … and enjoy the unexpected results.
When it comes to writing, I am a creative. Yes, I’ve learned the craft — and I’m still learning new ways to be a better writer. But when it comes to story, this is where I fight the recipe. This is where I dare myself to try new things, to up my game, to set aside the literary measuring cups and spoons and follow the story down unexpected twists and turns. Sometimes I allow my characters have their say, rather than putting words in their mouths.
Fighting the recipe … daring to embrace life as a creative … and allowing the story be more than I ever imagined.
Beth K. Vogt is a nonfiction author and editor who said she'd never write fiction. She's the wife of an Air Force family physician (now in solo practice) who said she'd never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She's a mom of four who said she'd never have kids. Now Beth believes God's best often waits behind the doors marked "Never." A women's fiction novelist, Beth's first novel for Tyndale House Publishers, Things I Never Told You, releases May 2018.
Beth is a 2016 Christy Award winner, a 2016 ACFW Carol Award winner, and a 2015 RITA® finalist. Her 2014 novel, Somebody Like You, was one of Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2014. A November Bride was part of the Year of Wedding series by Zondervan. Having authored nine contemporary romance novels or novellas, Beth believes there's more to happily-ever-after than the fairy tales tell us.
An established magazine writer and former editor of the leadership magazine for MOPS International, Beth blogs for Novel Rocket and also enjoys speaking to writers' groups and mentoring other writers. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Rob, who has adjusted to discussing the lives of imaginary people, and their youngest daughter, Christa, who loves to play volleyball and enjoys writing her own stories. Connect with Beth at bethvogt.com.
Even if you’re a southern woman who “glistens” instead of sweats, when it comes to conveying emotion-evoking images, do sweat the small stuff. Like seeds in a shell, it’s the little details and rituals and routines of life that pack the power.
Often when we struggle to describe a person, place or thing but can’t seem to pinpoint its essence, we launch into elaborate descriptions in hopes something among our many words will capture what escapes us. Or as someone told me, “we go around our elbow to get to our thumb.”
It might seem contradictory that the first example of succinct, vivid writing I recommend is a 270-word sentence, but journalist Ken Fuson’s, “What a Day!” is worth a look. When his editor asked him to write about the weather and how Iowans celebrated a spring day, Fuson took a potentially dull subject and spun gold. Using over thirtyverbs and their accompanying concrete nouns, he captured a spring moment anyone born north of Mason-Dixon would raise their fist and shout yes! to.
Here’s how Iowa celebrates a 70-degree day in the middle of March: By washing the car and scooping the loop and taking a walk; by daydreaming in school and playing hooky at work and shutting off the furnace at home; by skate-boarding and flying kites and digging through closets for baseball gloves; . . .
The beauty of the piece is that it describes common activities but resonates on a universal level. Seeing the little details. Expressing them with strong nouns and verbs. Powerful.
In her essay, “Math Lesson,” Rebecca McClanahan writes about the losses both children and parents experience as age related dementia or Alzheimer’s subtracts memories. She describes walking into a room where her father has fallen asleep in his chair, the left side of his mouth “drooping from the last stroke or the one before that.”
Instead of saying he had three more strokes and describing with a multitude of adjectives the damage they’d done, she picks out three specific images that make us see the effects of his “subtractions.”
One took his gait, another his easy laugh, another his writing hand that once signed documents and checks, composed letters to grandchildren and great.
And some writers, like Bill Bryson, can even make owning a refrigerator a humorous experience. In The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bryson uses his family’s pride to reflect the post-war prosperity many Americans experienced by being able to own modern appliances.
When I was about four my parents bought an Amana Stor-Mor refrigerator and for at least six months it was like an honored guest in our kitchen. I’m sure they’d have drawn it up to the dinner table if it hadn’t been so heavy. When visitors dropped by unexpectedly, my father would say: “Oh, Mary, is there any iced tea in the Amana?” Then to the guests he’d add significantly: “There usually is. It’s a Stor-Mor.’
In The Story of Arthur Truluv Elizabeth Berguses bold, but simple strokes topaint an image of the widower Arthur in our minds.Life after the loss of a loved one is something many, if not most, of us will experience. Portraying the rituals of daily life in minute details, Berg draws us into Arthur’s world.
Arthur’s wife died six months earlier, but Arthur still visits her grave every day. Can you not see him settle himself graveside?
When he reaches Nola’s grave, Arthur opens up his fold-up chair and gingerly sits down. The legs of the chair sink a little way into the earth, and he steadies himself, making sure the thing won’t move any more before he spreads his lunch out onto his lap. An egg salad he has today, real eggs and real mayonnaise…and a sprinkling of salt.
Or in his daily rituals, now simplified since Nola’s death.
He finishes his coffee and rinses his cup, turns it upside down in the drainer. He uses the same tan-colored cup with the green stripe all the time: for coffee, for water, for the occasional dip of Jack Daniel’s, even for his Metamucil.
Although seemingly mundane, each of these actions involving the “tan-colored cup with the green stripe” makes up the moments common to the human experience. By tapping into them with strong verbs and vivid nouns a writer connects a small moment with a big life one.
Marcia Moston—author of the award-winning Call of a Coward-The God of Moses and the Middle-class Housewife—has written columns and features for several magazines and newspapers. She has served on the faculty of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and currently teaches her true love—memoir and creative nonfiction—at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute on the Furman campus in South Carolina.
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