Tuesday, December 21, 2010


What's in your "Fruit of the Spirit" Basket?: Ever struggled with any aspect of Galatians 5:22-23 while serving on the field?

We have a great article in the first issue of 2011, Alight with Kindness, that will launch our encouraging feature to show how God can work in our hearts, first, and then move on to change the world in a very fruity kind of way. Could it really be as simple as showing kindness to a weary world???...find out on January 6 when the next issue comes out!

If some of your fruit is a bit rotten or even completely out-of-season, I'm putting out a CALL FOR ARTICLES to talk about that very issue in the 2011 WOTH onlineMagazine. Submit your articles to: editor@womenoftheharvest.com

Start your writing career in the pages of the WOTH onlineMagazine: Sign up today to receive the encouraging, free, bi-monthly onlineMagazine that gets your cross-cultural life.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Punctuating Dialogue

As I was doing a quick edit of Linsey Painter's winning fictional piece, "Rachel Asks for Wisdom," I spent most of my time looking up the proper way to punctuate dialogue. As the last post for our writing fiction segment, I would like to pass on some grammar tips that I found helpful:

1. Do not capitalize speech tags (he said/she said), unless the speech tag begins with a proper noun.

Original: “Why is everything manual in this blinking country?” She exclaimed, utterly exasperated.

Corrected: “Why is everything manual in this blinking country?” she exclaimed, utterly exasperated.

2. Do not capitalize the second half of split sentences.

“Remember,” Dr. Francie’s voice lowered as if she was encouraging herself as well, “this life is just a breath to God, He’s got things worked out on a level which we can never understand. Our job is to do our very best for God, using the wisdom He gives when we ask and to be lights pointing towards Him in this dark world.”

3. If it is not a split sentence, capitalize the beginning of the next quote.
“It just seems so unfair!” Rachel exclaimed. “In Australia we have so much, and here, where there is so much need, there is so little.”

4. Start a new paragraph for each speaker. Even when someone just acts and doesn't speak, she still gets a new paragraph.

“Would you like some water?” Dr Francie asked. It was the first question everyone in the community asked anyone walking through their front door.

“Yes, please,” Rachel replied.

The ceiling fans spun round trying desperately to keep the heat at bay. Rachel gratefully sat down on one of Dr. Francie’s cane chairs.

“I heard you had a rough night on Friday,” Dr. Francie stated, sitting down opposite Rachel.

“Yes,” Rachel replied slowly not wanting to show the depth of her emotions.

“Do you want to tell me about it?”

5. Use italics instead of quotation marks for short internal dialogue.

Original: Rachel remembered her last desperate prayer. "Oh God, help me, " she cried out silently as her knife sunk into flesh.

Corrected: Rachel remembered her last desperate prayer. Oh God, help me, she cried out silently as her knife sunk into flesh.

6. If a speaker continues talking for more than one paragraph, all paragraphs except the last do not have close quotation marks, but all paragraphs have open quotes.

Dr Francie nodded. I have been struggling with this very thing from the very first day that I got here. When I returned to PNG after completing my studies in Sydney, I was determined to make a difference in the level of healthcare. (no close quotation marks here)

There is so much in the world that is unfair; we do what we can to tip the balance a little, eh?

"Thank you, Dr. Francie, for your last inspiring bit of dialogue," remarked the editor. "At Women of the Harvest, we also want to tip the balance when it comes to more women in cross-cultural service writing fictional pieces."

One fun outcome of this blog segment on writing fiction has been Linsey agreeing to write a new chapter in Dr. Rachel's life in PNG for each of the upcoming 6 5 issues of the 2011 onlineMagazine. We will begin in the Jan/Feb '11 Mar/Apr '11 issue with her winning entry.

"Doesn't Dr. Rachel already feel like a colleague and friend?" Cindy asked. "I've been wondering what she encountered at the hospital after she answered the emergency call. That's why I asked Linsey to keep writing. I gotta know!"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010



Rachel Asks for Wisdom
By Linsey Painter, PNG

Rachel groaned and gingerly picked herself up off the floor. Her small frame ached from the physical exertion of the operation she had just preformed. Glancing at her watch, she could barely make out the time in the darkness of the house. It was 3:00 a.m. That afternoon she had been in surgery, confident and self-assured that the operation would go smoothly. Now she felt like her coffee mug which yesterday had smashed to pieces on the tiled floor.

Two months ago she had been in her element. A senior doctor in one of the best hospitals in Australia, she was respected, did her job quickly, efficiently and very well. Now she was volunteering in this small remote community in Papua New Guinea for six months. Completely out of her depth. She felt utterly uncomfortable, constantly one step behind and baffled by the culture, language and lack of hygiene.

Rachel felt defeated. She wanted to curl up in bed, fall into a dreamless sleep and wake up in her bedroom back home in Melbourne. Instead she dragged herself to the bathroom. She needed a shower, a steaming hot jet of water that would massage her back and help ease the tension. The water was lukewarm; it had rained all day and the solar water heater hadn’t been able to do its job. The water became a trickle. Rachel almost screamed remembering that she had forgotten to pump water up to the header tank in her rush to respond to the call from the hospital.

“Why is everything manual in this blinking country?” she exclaimed, utterly exasperated. It would have to do, she needed to clean up and get some rest.

Two days later, Rachel walked across the grass airstrip towards a tiny white house hidden behind two huge bougainvillea trees covered in deep purple flowers. The sun was setting in front of her. God had painted the sky different hues of orange. Dr. Frances Gale had lived in the community for over 15 years working in the hospital. She was a rather formidable figure, someone whom Rachel was only just beginning to appreciate for her depth of spiritual wisdom and cross-cultural understanding. Dr. Francie, as she was known, was not present on the night of the operation that had left Rachel reeling. She had been away at a medical conference and only just returned that afternoon, being flown in on a small aircraft that frequented the tiny strip.

“Come in Rachel,” the gentle voice called out in response to Rachel’s hesitant knock.

Dr. Francie’s generous curves were hidden under a bright, multi-colored voluminous blouse, a style worn by many Papua New Guinean women. The top contrasted her dark skin and her distinctive Melanesian tightly-ringleted hair framing her round face.

“Would you like some water?” Dr. Francie asked. It was the first question everyone in the community asked anyone walking through their front door.

“Yes, please,” Rachel replied.

The ceiling fans spun round trying desperately to keep the heat at bay. Rachel gratefully sat down on one of Dr. Francie’s cane chairs.

“I heard you had a rough night on Friday,” Dr. Francie stated, sitting down opposite Rachel.

“Yes,” Rachel replied slowly not wanting to show the depth of her emotions.

“Do you want to tell me about it?”

Rachel remembered her last desperate prayer. Oh God, help me, she cried out silently as her knife sunk into flesh. How many times had she prayed those words that day? She could still picture the young woman lying helpless on the operating table. Her labor had been too long. “We’ll have to do a cesarean,” Rachel could hear herself say. “If we don’t, they’ll both die.” She had been so confident everything would work out, sure that by now there would have been a proud mum and new baby on the maternity ward.

“I can’t help but think that if the woman had been treated in Australia, she would most likely still be alive,” Rachel said haltingly, not wanting to offend Dr. Francie. “I know that this was her only choice and infinitely better than nothing at all.”

She continued picturing the hospital. When she had first seen it, she had thought it was a condemned building. Rachel thought of the ancient ultrasound machine, which stopped working that afternoon. She tried to quell her annoyance at the staff that seemed out of their depth so much of the time and the dispensary that was constantly out of stock. Her nose wrinkled as she recalled the smell of urine which permeated the air. All this starkly contrasted her workplace in Melbourne—a hospital with state of the art equipment; numerous staff and specialists, endless supplies of medicine and clean, shiny rooms that were air-conditioned.

Now the young woman was dead. The box of tissues that Dr. Francie had on the table was empty and the wastebasket at Rachel’s feet full.

“I don’t understand,” Rachel’s voice caught in her achingly tight throat. “I asked God to give me wisdom,” she whispered, “I was so sure after praying that whatever decision I would make would be the right one.”

Rachel wiped her tears with the drenched tissue in her hand. She couldn’t get her head around the injustice of the situation. Maybe if she had operated sooner. But no, she had asked for wisdom, and made the decision to operate at that time. Now there were two new bodies in the morgue.

“Rachel, you asked for wisdom and God did give it to you,” Dr. Francie said with conviction, her hand reaching out to grasp one of Rachel’s. “The Bible says when we ask God for wisdom He gives it to us. From talking with Dr. John and reading your report, you did everything right.”

Rachel nodded her head. She knew what she had done was medically correct, but when God and people where involved, things just didn’t seem to follow logical patterns.

“Now you have to trust, even though things didn’t work out the way you would have liked them to and maybe not how they would have worked out at your hospital in Australia, God will continue to work in and through you as long as you keep asking for help."

“Remember,” Dr. Francie’s voice lowered as if she was encouraging herself as well, “this life is just a breath to God, He’s got things worked out on a level which we can never understand. Our job is to do our very best for God, using the wisdom He gives when we ask and to be lights pointing towards Him in this dark world.”

“It just seems so unfair!” Rachel exclaimed. “In Australia we have so much, and here, where there is so much need, there is so little.”

Dr. Francie nodded. “I have been struggling with this very thing from the very first day that I got here. When I returned to PNG after completing my studies in Sydney, I was determined to make a difference in the level of healthcare.

“There is so much in the world that is unfair; we do what we can to tip the balance a little, eh?”

Rachel smiled ruefully; she never before understood the incredible strength and perseverance as well as spiritual conviction it would take to work in a place where the odds were so stacked up against you. But the hospital continued to save lives, doing so much with the little they had to offer.

“The nurses at the hospital tell me the woman’s family are blaming her death on sorcery, why would they do that?” Rachel couldn’t understand their reasoning when she had already explained the cause of death.

“That is not unusual,” Dr. Francie responded.

Rachel groaned and felt the heaviness of responsibility resting on her shoulders again. She wished God had given her some miracle knowledge that would have preserved their lives. Now, instead of people rejoicing and giving thanks to God for a new baby, a family and whole village would be turning to the spirits to find out who had put a curse on the woman. What could God possibly do to redeem the situation?

“It is what many people do here,” Dr. Francie continued. “Traditionally in Papua New Guinean culture they believe that sickness or death has to do with some form of sorcery. Many times it has to do with revenge or payback.

“When I was a little girl, my grandfather was accused of sorcery. I haven’t seen him since then.

“At the hospital we try and teach people why sickness happens and how to prevent it. But it is hard to get around beliefs that have been thought of as truth for so long.”

Dr. Francie stopped and smiled at Rachel. “What you may not know is that the woman’s husband is standing up against her family’s wishes. Dr. John told me the hospital chaplain has been visiting him quite often since they first came to the hospital. There is a struggle going on, one that you would do well to pray about. Doctoring the body is only part of what we do here.”

Rachel walked away from Dr. Francie’s house deep in thought. Praying for her patients—let alone family members of her patients—was something she rarely, if ever did back home. This place was getting under her skin. She had never felt so uncomfortable with the world’s pecking order or so completely out of control in her own life. But the lack of control was forcing her to reach out desperately to God.

A week later the woman and her child were laid to rest. The community gathered for the burial service and Rachel was surprised at the number of people who had come. Death was such a huge part of every day life in PNG. From Rachel’s point of view it seemed to saturate and suffocate the culture much like the high humidity that made it hard to breathe. She still had flashbacks about the operation, waking up in a cold sweat, her hands shaking. It would take a long time before she could think about the woman and her baby without regret, but maybe now the questioning was gone.

During the service the pastor spoke of God’s timing and how it was only God who gave life and took it. He spoke of every person’s need for salvation and the assurance of life after death when one accepts Christ as their personal Saviour. There were many tears and shouts of “Amen.” Rachel wondered at the sincerity of many of the people there. Then she remembered her own brash declaration of faith which had been tested when God answered her prayer in a way she still couldn’t fully comprehend.

The next morning Rachel sat on her veranda drinking coffee out of her plastic travel mug and enjoying the view of the river below, snaking lazily past. The sun was blazing hot and the sky a gorgeous blue streaked by thin white clouds. On the opposite bank someone’s banana trees were heavy laden with green fruit. Rachel jumped as her radio squawked on the table announcing an incoming call.

“Dr. Rachel, this is Special Care,” a voice with a distinct PNG accent transmitted.

“Go ahead,” Rachel responded, her heartbeat quickening.

“Dr. Francie needs you in the operating room right away.”

“Coming,” she said automatically into the radio while standing up and moving into the house.

She would have to hurry. Rachel found herself once again praying for wisdom and that she would trust God for the outcome of her prayer. Just before she rushed out the front door, she firmly pressed the button for the water pump. This time there would be no lukewarm trickle to greet her when she returned.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Writing dialogue is a piece of cake," she said.
But what kind?

“I don’t know the first thing about this subject,” the editor muttered as she typed the first sentence. “I really wish someone reading this blog would have contacted me.”

Here is something I copied and pasted from a site that will give us a taste of writing dialogue.

Some Dialogue Conventions to Consider*:

1. Each new speaker requires a new paragraph, properly indented and set off by quotation marks.

2. “Use double quotations,” the novelist ordered, “and remember to place commas and periods inside those quotation marks.”

3. “If a speaker goes on for more than one paragraph,” the count responded in his heavy Transylvanian accent, “do not close off the quotation marks at the end of the first paragraph.
“Simply place quotation marks at the beginning of the next paragraph, and carry on to the end of the quotation.”

4. Use “he said” expressions only when you must, to avoid confusion about who's speaking. You can signal increasing tension by moving from “he said” to “he snapped,” to “he snarled,” to “he bellowed furiously.” But the dialogue itself should convey that changing mood, and make such comments needless.

5. Action as well as speech is a part of dialogue. We expect to know when the speakers pause, where they're looking, what they're doing with their hands, how they respond to one another. The characters' speech becomes just one aspect of their interactions; sometimes their words are all we need, but sometimes we definitely need more. This is especially true when you're trying to convey a conflict between what your characters say and what they feel: their nonverbal messages are going to be far more reliable than their spoken words.

6. Speak your dialogue out loud; if it doesn't sound natural, or contains unexpected rhymes and rhythms, revise it.

7. Rely on rhythm and vocabulary, not phonetic spelling, to convey accent or dialect.

8. If you are giving us your characters' exact unspoken thoughts, use italics. If you are paraphrasing those thoughts, use regular Roman type:

Now what does she want? he asked himself. Isn't she ever satisfied? Marshall wondered what she wanted now. She was never satisfied.

9. If you plan to give us a long passage of inner monologue, however, consider the discomfort of having to read line after line of italic print. If you wish to emphasize a word in a line of italics, use Roman: Isn't she ever satisfied?

[* #1-9 excerpted from http://www.darkwaves.com/sfch/writing/ckilian/#13]

10. Once you've read this, write me something of the fictional nature and submit it by December 1--that's just a day away!

Again she wondered, Would anyone respond to this delicious chocolate cake kind of offer?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Check Her Resume

Who is that woman?

What is she waiting for?

What was her last job?

Did she quit or was she fired?

Why does she want to be in my story?

And more importantly, where did she get those boots?

Before you sign on any character for your story, it is always advisable to check out their resume. And if you have a cast of characters that you are trying to create, filling out a "character resume" may be the tool you need to keep your unruly bunch in line on the pages of your fictional tale.

Writing Prompt: take time to answer the questions about our mystery woman in the comment section. I'd love to get to know her...from your imaginative, character-building point of view.

The Character Resume*

One useful way to learn more about your characters is to fill out a “resume” for them--at least for the more important ones. Such a resume might include the following information:


Address & Phone Number:

Date & Place of Birth:

Height/Weight/Physical Description:

Citizenship/Ethnic Origin:

Parents' Names & Occupations:

Other Family Members:

Spouse or Lover:

Friends' Names & Occupations:

Social Class: Education:


Social Class:


Community Status:

Job-Related Skills:

Political Beliefs/Affiliations:


Personal Qualities (imagination, taste, etc.):

Ambitions: Fears/Anxieties/Hangups:


Sense of Humor:

Most Painful Setback/Disappointment:

Most Instructive/Meaningful Experience:

Health/Physical Condition/Distinguishing Marks/Disabilities:

Sexual Orientation/Experience/Values:

Tastes in food, drink, art, music, literature, decor, clothing:

Attitude toward Life:

Attitude toward Death:

Philosophy of Life (in a phrase):

You may not use all this information, and you may want to add categories of your own, but a resume certainly helps make your character come alive in your own mind. The resume can also give you helpful ideas on everything from explaining the character's motivation to conceiving dramatic incidents that demonstrates the character's personal traits. The resume serves a useful purpose in your project bible, reminding you of the countless details you need to keep straight.
(*source: http://www.darkwaves.com/sfch/writing/ckilian/#13)

I'm looking forward to meeting your newly created characters that you will be submitting for the "A Good Story is Hard to Put Down" Contest. Remember to submit it by December 1--please see sidebar for details.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Building Character(s)

I'm in love with Augustus McCrae. Tough. Soft. Humorous. Brave. Philosophical. Friend. Courageous. Moral. Immoral. Uncommitted. Totally driven. Full of regret. Full of hope. I cried when he died in chapter 96 of Lonesome Dove.

I have known the deep yearning Heidi had as she sought her beautiful mountains down in the crowded city. Until I reached Colorado, she was my little beacon and muse as I sat in a college dorm deep in the heart of Texas. I am indebted to her as I look at my mountains that are outside my window today.

And that my dear readers is the power of a character in a fictional piece.

As you are working on your piece, you are also in the process of creating characters that are telling your story. So who are they? What did you name them? What are they like? Will they be memorable?

Again, I am just one step ahead of you all in this fiction-writing process. But it is an exciting journey to be on. Here are some fun ideas about character-building that I came across in a Writer's Little Book of Wisdom, by John Long:

1. A character without a purpose is a story without a cause.

2. Give a character a valid grievance.

3. The fact that one character wants to explore Saturn and another character wants to elope with the janitor’s stepdaughter is of little importance. It’s the intensity of the wanting that fuels the story.

4. Work to make a character achieve a credible degree of salvation in an unresolved world.

5. Feelings should vibrate from what a character does, how he moves and what he says.

6. Sensual and emotional vividness give us a sense of who a character is.

7. A character without inner turmoil or contradictions belongs in vestments or in a coffin, not in a story.

8. A character faces a crisis. He must change, or die. Desperate, he takes action. Fill in the blanks.

9. Most people cannot and will not change unless financial, physical, emotional and spiritual ruin forces them to.

10. If your character isn’t a mélange of your father, boss, childhood bully, neighbor, and the corner tamale vendor, chances are you’ve created a cartoon.

11. Allow characters to reveal themselves through words, thoughts and deeds.

12. Never announce character traits to the reader.

13. Memorable characters do normal things in unforgettable ways.

14. Characters who do unbelievable things are often unbelievable.

15. Words and behavior match only in the most exceptional people.

16. It is uncanny that the degree to which we feel for a character is relative to how much that character changes in the course of the tale.

17. A character might lie, but his body rarely does.

18. Tone and body language are the internal externalized.

19. There is only one thing more important than a character’s actions: what he thinks about before he goes to sleep.

It is 10:00 p.m. I've had 3 cups of coffee, so I'm not sure when sleep will come. I am thinking about tomorrow and all the deadlines I must meet at work. No, what I'm really thinking about is the hard telephone call I had with my mother today...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

One Last Crazy Contest in 2010

"A Good Story is Hard to Put Down" Contest

I had this crazy idea that maybe with all this talk about fiction, we should have a contest to get you motivated to write a story. And what's crazier is the winner will be the first-ever published fiction writer in the onlineMagazine. And I have one last $15 iTunes gift card in my stash to give away before 2010 ends. So jump on the crazy bus with me and don't get off until you've submitted your best fictional effort.

So as a refresher, here's the definition of fiction:

Fiction (Latin: fictum, "created") is any form of narrative which deals, in part or in whole, with events that are not factual, but rather, imaginary and invented by its author(s). Although fiction often describes a major branch of literary work, it is also applied to theatrical, cinematic, documental, and musical work. In contrast to this is non-fiction, which deals exclusively in factual events (e.g.: biographies, histories). [thanks, Wikipedia]

Contest Rules/Guidelines

1. Write an original short story, no longer than 2,000 words in length.

2. Topic of Writing: Convey a spiritual concept (i.e. redemption, endurance, etc.) through story; if possible, set your story in the culture you are currently in or have served.

3. Submit as a WORD attachment, double-spaced, edited for grammar and spelling.

5. Submit by Wednesday, December 1.

6. Winner will be determined by a blind reading by a selected group from the WOTH office.

7. Winner will be announced on Tuesday, December 7 and receive a $15 iTunes gift card and be published in the March/April 2011 issue of the WOTH onlineMagazine.

So there's your bus pass...will you take the ride????

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Good Story is Hard to Put Down

Have you ever written fiction? I haven't, but I want too. Jamie Jo, writer and blog host at IRL*, told me recently that writing fiction is what is hot in the publishing realm. A good story will take you places where nonfiction can't. It has staying power. To Kill a Mockingbird I remember from high school...I can vaguely remember some of the words from the titles of the nonfiction tomes currently stacked up beside my bed.

Fiction can keep you transfixed. It can travel deep into your soul, leave its mark, and perhaps rearrange a portion of your heart. And isn't that the intended outcome of your cross-cultural service? Could a good story, concocted by you, get you over the threshold and into your intended audience's heart?

My biggest hang-up in writing fiction is coming up with an actual story. I don't feel real imaginative in crafting a complete story from beginning to end. However, I get hopeful about this when I hear authors talk about how the story often writes itself. Hmmmm...sounds like I need a magic pen or something. Maybe all I need is a little courage to go beyond what I think is possible and challenge myself with something new.

What if we all (yes, even you Ms. Bible-Study-Writer) thought seriously about writing a fictional piece?

Would you have it in you to write a short story?

Could you put on your imagination hat and start dreaming of a new world, with a few colorful characters, and a great storyline that would convey an idea you have been wanting to share with your friends in the country you are serving?

Through my research I came across this about developing a storyline. Robert McKee, in his book, Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, gave this helpful tip for testing out a new plot:

Next time you're out with a friend, ask him or her if you can tell them your new story idea. Halfway through, make an excuse to leave the table. When you come back, start talking about something else, as though you've forgotten all about the story. If your friend interrupts to ask you to finish, you know you have a winner. If your friend instead seems relieved, definitely think twice about your story idea.

Let's start there.

P.S. If you are a published fiction writer and would like to help us out with a few informative posts (like writing dialogue), I'd love for you to contact me, Cindy Blomquist, WOTH Editor: editor@womenoftheharvest.com . Thanks.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NaNoWriMo Challenge: Starts Nov. 1

Hi WOTH Writers! I am plugging something a friend suggested to me a year ago (after November). I cut and pasted the official press release for this fun month-long challenge. Please read and let me know if you are taking the challenge! ~Cindy Blomquist, WOTH Editor


Symptoms include flashes of brilliance, questionable plotlines, and blatant use of mixed metaphors.

Berkeley, California (Oct 1, 2010) - At midnight on November 1, armed only with their wits, the vague outline of a story, and a ridiculous deadline, more than 200,000 people around the world will set out to become novelists.

Why? Because November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, the world’s largest writing challenge and nonprofit literary crusade.

Participants pledge to write 50,000 words in a month, starting from scratch and reaching "The End" by November 30. There are no judges, no prizes, and entries are deleted from the server before anyone even reads them.

So what’s the point? "The 50,000-word challenge has a wonderful way of opening up your imagination and unleashing creativity," says NaNoWriMo Founder and Executive Director (and eleven-time NaNoWriMo winner) Chris Baty. "When you write for quantity instead of quality, you end up getting both. Also, it’s a great excuse for not doing any dishes for a month."

More than 500 regional volunteers in more than 90 countries will hold write-ins, hosting writers in coffee shops, bookstores, and libraries. Write-ins offer a supportive environment and surprisingly effective peer pressure, turning the usually solitary act of writing into a community experience. That sense of community even extends beyond the page—so much so that more than a dozen marriages and at least four babies have resulted from NaNoWriMo over the years.

Although the event emphasizes creativity and adventure over creating a literary masterpiece, nearly 60 novels begun during NaNoWriMo have since been published, including Water for Elephants, a New York Times #1 Bestseller by Sara Gruen.

"Writing a novel in a month inspires incredible confidence in seasoned and first-time novelists alike," says NaNoWriMo Program Director, Lindsey Grant. "Completing a draft of the novel they’ve been contemplating for ages gives participants a tremendous sense of accomplishment and leaves them wondering what else they’re capable of."

For more information on National Novel Writing Month, or to speak to NaNoWriMo participants in your area, visit http://www.nanowrimo.org/ or contact press@nanowrimo.org.

The Office of Letters and Light is a California-based international non-profit organization. Its programs are the largest literary events in the world. Learn more at www.lettersandlight.org

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Are You "In," or "Out"?

Quotation Marks + Punctuation = ???
My red pen bleeds profusely over the writer's confusion of whether to put the commas, periods, question marks, and their one alotted exclamation point (see previous post) inside or outside of quotation marks.

Quick Lesson

1. Commas and periods go inside quotation marks:

Mary McQuire wrote the article "Going Overseas Isn't for Sissies."

"I can't believe she writes so well but punctuates like a kindergartner," Cindy said. "She seems so smart."

2. Question marks and exclamation points go inside quotation marks if they are a part of the quote. Put them outside if they apply to the whole sentence:

"Well, did you ever consider that she is from England?" asked Freda. "When it comes to grammar rules, Brits and Yanks are separated by a common language!"

Who said "England and America are two countries separated by a common language"?

3. According to my grammar books, these two rules are "almost always." For lack of time, I would be curious to know the exceptions, playing by the U.S. rules.

"Do you know of any?" she inquired.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Cheese Stands Alone

from our one entrant and deserving winner of our
"Searching for Beauty" Simile Contest

From Christine Harms:

Knowing a Haitian woman is like having a Royal Poinciana tree--she is fruitful, surprisingly colorful, and spreads her arms wide.

What a gorgeous simile...thanks, Christine, for taking the time to share the beauty of the women you serve. I'll be contacting you with your prize: a $15 iTunes gift card.

Of course, if Christine's simile is kick-starting your creative process, please submit your beautiful simile in the comment section this week.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Searching for Beauty

Amidst the drab browns of this land, their beauty shines like the hand-blown glass goblets I saw hidden away in dusty heaps in a local shop last year.
~taken from “Searching for Beauty: Confessions of a Non-girly Girl”
by A.R., WOTH onlineMagazine, Sept/Oct ’10.

I love a beautiful sentence. I paused when I read the one above. The writer did a remarkable thing—she created a picture in my mind depicting the women of her region and drove home the theme of her piece in 29 well-chosen words.

I congratulated her on that one sentence alone (and then went on to publish her piece).

Writing Tidbit: Never underestimate the power of a simple simile and its more complicated sister, the metaphor.
  • Simile is a comparison of two dissimilar objects that uses the words like, as or than.
  • Metaphor is an implied comparison that brings together two dissimilar objects, persons, or ideas. Unlike a simile, which uses the words like or as, a metaphor directly identifies an obscure or difficult subject with another that is easier to understand.

Jesus knew how to keep His audience’s attention with the beauty and power of speaking metaphorically: “you are the light of the world,” “a farmer went out to sow his seed,” “I am the bread of life,” etc.

So be like Him…and here is how I’ll know…

Enter our writing contest: “Searching for Beauty”

  • Write a one sentence simile that depicts the women of your region.
  • Submit it me: editor@womenoftheharvest.com by Monday, October 11, 10:00 AM (MST) with “Searching for Beauty" in the subject line
  • I’ll post all the entries next week and you all will vote on your favorite.
  • A $15 iTunes card will be awarded to the winner! (my one e-point)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

You Only Get One!

One what?

One exclamation point (!) per written piece. Think of it like a diet (you know, one Reese's peanut butter cup/day mentality).

I'm not sure if this is a tidbit or another of my writing pet peeves, but you must consider eliminating the compulsion to put an exclamtion point at the end of your sentences. Let the reader be moved by your words, not manipulated by your punctuation.

When should you use one:

1) Interjections. Used to express an isolated emotion on the part of the speaker ( "Yikes!")

2) Commands. Used to express the weight behind the words ("Get out!")

So take a hint from your keyboard as you knock out your exclamation points: You only get one.

~Cindy Blomquist, WOTH Editor

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Clear Out Deadwood

I am jumping in for the next 4 weeks to give some writing tidbits that will strengthen your writing.

The first tidbit: clear out the deadwood. Deadwood refers to a word or phrase that can be omitted without loss in meaning.*

Look for:
  • Words or phrases that add unneeded bulk to a sentence and weaken its message (quite right, very unique)

  • Common phrases that are bloated with redundant words (added bonus, currently unavailable)

  • Unimportant words at the beginning of a sentence that push the most important information farther from the start (As a matter of fact, in the same way)

Look for these "deadwood" words and clear them out:

  • actively, actually, already, always, any, appropriate(ly), associated, automatic(ally)
  • currently
  • easily, existing, extremely
  • fairly
  • much
  • particular, predefined, previously
  • quickly, quite
  • rather, really
  • several, simply, so, suitable
  • totally
  • very

Do you have any favorite "deadwood" phrases that drive you nutty when you read them in an article, newsletter, etc? Please post them in the comment section...

I'll start with: " As you know..."

~Cindy Blomquist, Editor

*Chris Barr, The Yahoo! Style Guide (St. Marten's Griffen: New York, 2010) 288.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Marketing Your Published Book

Last week we focused on the Production phase of the pipeline. In my final segment, I’d like to focus on what happens once you’ve self-published your book—and how to market it to retailers, book buyers, and other possible distributors across the country.

Once your book has been made orderable, it will begin to earn a profit—or royalty—from each sale. Royalties are the money that’s left for the author after a book is sold and all the associated costs of things such as printing, shipping, etc., have been subtracted from the retail price. With a traditional publisher, that profit gets shared between the author and the publisher with the publisher keeping the majority of the profits. But with a self-publisher such as Xulon Press, royalty rates are much more hefty—in fact, we are one of very few publishers who pay 100% of the net profits on all books sold through a third party distributor (such as Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com).

How it works is this: We get reports from all the distributors, bookstores, websites, and other retailers that are carrying your book. As an author, you’ll receive an easy-to-read statement that shows exactly how many copies sold, when they sold, and what your net profit is. We also offer online monthly statements and quarterly payments so you can keep track of what’s happening with your book and how much you’re earning.

Be advised that the royalties you accrue are directly proportionate to the amount of marketing you invest in your book. Without marketing, people won’t know your book is out there—and they won’t be aware it’s available to order unless you specifically tell them to order it from the places where it is distributed.

So what can you do as a self-published author to get the word out about your new release? The first step is to invest in some marketing tools. Marketing tools include a press release, bookmarks, business cards, postcards, posters, flyers, and anything that can be used to promote your book.

Traditionally, a press release has been the go-to tool for authors seeking to make an impact on the media—and quickly! It is a piece of marketing material that is written to appeal to potential customers and inform others about your news item. Strong copy filled with action words, concrete images, and basic facts may even snag you an interview with your favorite TV station or news publication! Additionally, when a press release is optimized for keywords or phrases, it can gain you visibility by ranking high on search engines such as Google and Yahoo.

Once a press release has been sent out to announce your book to all the local newspapers and publications, it is then time to begin scheduling events to gain you recognition. Try approaching local bookstores with a copy of your press release and asking them to host a book signing for you. Traditionally, bookstores are more willing to hold a book signing for an author if they have taken steps to promote it by sending out a press release to local media, getting book reviews, and promoting it in other local venues. These are all good ways to attract attendees to the book signing, and bookstores will be more amenable to the suggestion if they see the author is proactive about it.

If you are a Xulon Press author, your Publishing Consultant can equip you with marketing ideas and possible discounts when you first purchase your publishing program. By telling them exactly what you are looking for, they can customize a program that works for you from start to finish.

I hope this information has been useful to you, and good luck in your publishing endeavors!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Production Phase of the Pipeline

Last week, we went through the steps it takes to submit your manuscript to Xulon Press. This week, we will be looking at what you, as an author, can expect throughout the duration of the Production phase.

Once your book is considered “In Production,” the Xulon Press team will go to work to turn your manuscript into a beautiful professional-bound book. First, we will send it to our typesetters, who will set the text according to the specifications of our printer. The text will be typeset in a standard Times New Roman 12-pt. font—unless an author informs their Author Services Representative otherwise prior to typeset—and in full justification.

Our professional designers will immediately begin crafting a beautiful glossy cover to fit your book. The award-winning Xulon Press design team has generated more than 8,000 covers for authors in the past, and their meticulous work is done with a fine eye for detail—and an ear for your needs. Simply send your suggestions through your representative, and our designers will be able to take it from there.

Once your typeset manuscript and cover design are ready, they will be made available for your review online—or via hard copy for a fee. If you are dissatisfied with the work that has been rendered, you can then notify your representative that you would like corrections to be made.

If the author has no additional corrections, they will simply continue on into the next phase of production. Here, the BCC text—a 300-word block of text that appears on the back cover of a book—will be created and typeset, and then an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) will be assigned to your book by Xulon. Once all of these files have been signed off on by the author, the book will then be uploaded to the printer and made available for order.

Because Xulon Press is a print-on-demand (POD) publisher, no copies of the book will be warehoused anywhere. Instead, the book will be printed only as it is ordered. As soon as it has uploaded to the printer, the book will be listed on our affiliates, Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com, where it is orderable through a simple click of the button. Once the order is made and then processed, our affiliates will notify our printer, which can print an 800-page book in less than one minute, in any quantity, even one book at a time, fulfilling orders fast.

If you have any questions at all during this part of the process, don’t worry; once we assign you an Author Services Representative, you will have someone to help you every step of the way. You will be able to communicate with them by phone or through Author Center, a tool that has allowed for a much more effective, streamlined mode of communication between authors and their service representatives. What Author Center allows our representatives to do is push more useful information to our authors so that they have it directly at their fingertips.

Next week, we will take a look at what happens once your book has been made orderable and begins to earn royalties.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Publishing Pitfalls

Welcome back! I’d like to take some time this week to look at what exactly authors need to do in order to get their manuscript ready for publication—as well as reveal some common mistakes authors make when submitting for the first time. Hopefully you will gain much more insight into what it takes to get your manuscript “clean” and in line with our guidelines.

When you sign on to publish with Xulon Press, you will have the option of choosing to print your book as either a black & white or color book. Once you have made your selection, you must then review the preparation guidelines for submitting your books according to our printer’s recommendation. These guidelines can be viewed on our website at the following locations:

For the sake of ease, I will list here some items of note. Many of these items are common mistakes that we see repeatedly from first-time authors who have never published a book before. Keep in mind that it really pays to have a second pair of eyes on your manuscript just to ensure you haven’t included any of the following:

• Do not include page numbers on your TOC (Table of Contents) or on actual pages. Our typesetters will add these in during formatting.

• Do not add headers or footers to your manuscript. Your book’s title will be placed in the header by our typesetters.

• Do not use the Enter/Return key at the end of each line as you would on a typewriter. This is called a hard return. Let the text automatically flow from one line to the other. Only insert a hard return at the end of each paragraph.

• Do not use the space bar or tab key to align or indent your text (with the exception of poetry). Any indent you want in your text should be done with the margin controller. Use the tab key only to indent the first line of each paragraph.

• Do not manually insert hyphens to indicate where a word should break at the end of lines.

• Do not alter your document’s page setup. We will do this once we are ready to format your book. Please leave the paper size set to “letter” and all margins set to normal.

• Do not insert graphics into your manuscript; these must be submitted separately to your Author Services Representative, and not within the body of the text. This rule does not, however, apply to PDFs.

If you do not feel comfortable submitting your manuscript as-is, or if you are having trouble understanding the guidelines, we offer an approved list of Xulon Press referrals who can proofread and copyedit your manuscript to get it in ship-shape. All of these professionals have experience in the publishing industry and have worked under extreme time constraints, so rest assured that you—and your book—will be in good hands.

Once your book has been copyedited and/or proofread, you are now ready to submit it to your Author Services Representative. Congratulations! From then on, it will be considered “In Production”—and the Xulon “wizards” will begin weaving their magic to turn your hard work into a beautiful end product.

Next week, we will discuss what happens when your book is “In Production,” as well as what you can expect during this process.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Self-Publishing Made Simple

A Breakdown of the Basics

You’ve just put the finishing touches on that old manuscript you’ve been working on for years, and the ink has only just dried. “What now?” That is the question most authors find themselves facing upon completion of their first book. Over the next several weeks, we will be taking a look at all of the steps that are involved in publishing your book with a POD (print-on-demand) self-publisher like Xulon Press.

For many authors, self-publishing is a much more viable alternative to traditional publishing because of the cost and exclusivity of the latter; for a nominal fee, authors can get their name in print and push their book into the hands of the readers who need it most. And for “niche” books that ordinarily receive minimal marketing and distribution—such as family history books, autobiographies, or cookbooks—self-publishing is also a wonderful option.

Once you have written your book, what is the next step? First off, congratulate yourself on a job well done. Writing an entire book is no easy feat, and you are to be commended for your devoted efforts and “stick-to-it-ness.”

Second, you must select a publisher that is most in line with your needs—one that cares about helping you. For instance, when you sign on to publish with Xulon Press, you will speak with one of our Publishing Consultants before completing our Online Book Publishing Agreement. Our Publishing Consultants are there to help you customize a program that will work for you and your book—all depending on your needs. When you fill out this agreement, you are submitting your choice of publishing program as well as your complete payment. Although we do not need your final book manuscript at this time—you have up to a year to complete it—you are welcome to submit it if you are ready.

We offer a tier of programs that fit the budget of almost any author and are negotiable in price.
  • The Basic Program includes book cover design, interior formatting, ISBN number assignment, a listing on Google Book Preview, and more.
  • The Premium Program features all of those things plus distribution through Ingram Book Distributors and Spring Arbor Distributors, Amazon.com marketing, a hefty 100% net royalty rate after print cost and distributor discounts, Books-in-Print listing, and more.
  • The Best-Seller Program features all of these things plus placement in the Xulon Bookstore Catalog, an online bookstore page, and tradeshow placement.
  • Finally, our Elite Program includes everything plus a professionally produced ChristianBooksTV trailer, placement in the Christian Book Browser Catalog, our press release service with newswire blaster, a Christianity.com banner ad, and much more!

No matter what program you select—you are always able to upgrade later or add options!

To view these prices and programs, please click here.

This may seem like a lot of information, so you may want to take a moment (or five!) to digest it before making a decision. Once you are absolutely certain you are signing up for the publishing program that best suits your needs, you will submit your publishing agreement and then be considered a “Pre-Production” author.

In our next article, we will be looking at what exactly authors need to do in order to get their manuscript ready for publication—as well as common mistakes authors make when submitting.

I welcome any questions you may have about the publishing process!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Write a Memoir" Contest: Winning Entry

And the winner is...

Who is my Neighbor?
By Susan

It had been a tough three and a half years. Everyday life takes all day, but I did find time to chat with neighbors and get to know the people. In the round mud-brick home next to ours lived a woman who was part of the clan I had been named into. I knew her sister better, as she was a believer, but this woman had always been friendly to me.

One day, a small, battered hatchback pulled up next door and three men jumped out, one of them carrying a rifle. They stormed into my neighbor’s home, and I started hearing shouting and screaming. My husband had gone with the herd boys to the cattle tank for conversation practice, and there didn't seem to be anyone anywhere. Where was everybody? I ventured over to my neighbor’s door and looked inside. The men were shouting and slapping the lady around, and hitting her with the butt of the rifle, while she tried to protect the baby in her arms. My language skills were still very poor, but I could tell they kept asking her, "Where is he? Where is he?"

They noticed me standing in the doorway and one of the men came over and asked, "What are you doing here? Go away. This matter doesn't concern you."

I answered with my limited vocabulary, "This lady is my neighbor and I am concerned about her. What are you doing?"

"This is a police investigation. It is none of your business."

"But she is my neighbor so it is my business.” Was that my voice?

“Are you really policemen? Where I come from, the police don't act like this.” (This was an inaccurate and somewhat ethno-centric comment on my part. In fact they do sometimes act like that if a person is a member of the wrong ethnic group in the wrong part of town.) Disgusted, the man flashed me his credentials and turned back to continue the investigation.

I just stood there, frozen in the doorway. I felt powerless to intervene, knowing it was no use to go inside the house and try to stop them. I stood there watching, wincing, wishing there was something I could do, wishing it would stop. After some time, they brought her out of the house, shoved her into the car and rattled away. I guess they wanted to continue their investigation somewhere else. I tried to memorize the license plate number, but forgot it before I could locate a pencil and paper in the dimly lit room.

Later, I found out that her boyfriend was wanted for the murder of another man in a drunken knife brawl. She returned in a day or two, thanking me profusely for what I had done. I couldn't see that I had done anything. Maybe just being there, being God's eyes and ears, can be an influence sometimes. Even if it doesn't change the evil, it may encourage those to whom the evil is being done. Maybe that’s part of what it means to be a good neighbor.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Come Apart Before You Come Apart--Robin Jones Gunn

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me.
Get away with me and you'll recover your life.
I'll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
Matthew 11:28, The Message

Don’t you love that phrase; “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace”?

Now, just how do we do that?

Several years ago I copied in my journal a key phrase that Jesus said in Mark 6:31. Crowds of people were coming and going so that Jesus and his followers did not even have time to eat when Jesus said, “Come apart and rest awhile.” I jotted a note after the verse and asked myself, “What does it look like when a woman takes the time to come apart before her life starts to come apart?”

Here’s the interesting thing about what happens when we stop and rest. We might find ourselves taking extended dives into the deep places of the heart in order to revisit times when we faced an experience we weren’t able to process in the moment. Those memories were purposefully weighted and sunk with the flimsy promise that someday, if we were terribly brave, we might return to the wreckage and see if anything was salvageable.

But you see, when we’re so busy all the time we don’t have to return to the wreckage. We don’t have to do what the verse from last week told us to do – “make a careful exploration” of who we are and the work we’ve been given.

Yet here’s the surprise. When we come apart and fearlessly take those extended dives into the deep places, we find treasure in the wreckage. Not just salvageable bits of brokenness. Treasure.
When we can put our hands on that treasure and give it to the Lord, He fashions it into a gift for us to give to others. I think that is when we begin to learn something about living in the unforced rhythms of grace.

As a writer, my stories will never ring true or touch a heart or change a life unless I am first taking the deep dives. Only then can I unashamedly hold out to readers the treasure that the Lord has refined and reshaped in my own life. He redeemed all of me. I have life experience gold to offer to others. But I will never dig deep enough to find that salvageable treasure that the Lord is so eager to turn into a gift unless I come apart and rest awhile.

So how are you going to come apart and rest awhile this week? As soon as I finish typing this, I have a date with the hammock in our backyard. Tell us your place and way of coming apart with Jesus.

May the words your write be a gift to many.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Created to be a Missionary Woman--Robin Jones Gunn

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.
Galatians 6:4, The Message

I feel quite honored to be here to talk about writing. And maybe just a little shy.

The truth is, when I was growing up I wanted to be you. I wanted to be a missionary. Our church, Calvary Church of Santa Ana in California, had a strong missionary base and I was certain the best way I could serve the Lord would be as a missionary. I longed to go to the remote corners of this beautiful earth and tell an unreached people group about God’s amazing love.

Alas, I was turned down a number of times from a variety of missionary organizations. When Ross and I got married we were both involved in youth ministry and continued to serve in that much needed ministry for the next 22 years. We loved it and I saw that my missionary woman dreams were being fulfilled as I encouraged all the young people in our youth group to go to the uttermost ends of the earth. Some of them did.

But I’ll tell you when the premise of the above verse started to unfold. The girls in our youth group asked me to write stories for them. And as I wrote, for two years, I would read each feeble chapter attempt to them and they would tell me everything I did wrong and everything that needed to be changed. I wrote and re-wrote and cried a little and re-wrote some more. Over those two years I received ten rejection letters for that first Christy Miller book but I saw how the story was changing the hearts of those girls. I decided that if even if the book was never published, interacting with them on creating the story was worth every long hour of writing and rewriting. Those teenage girls were my unreached people group and I was right where I needed to be, doing exactly what I was created to do. And God blessed the work.

That first book in the Christy Miller series was finally published in 1988 and has not gone out of print. I’ve written over 70 books. Thirty-three of them are about Christy and all her Forever Friends. They have been translated into a number of languages. For the past 20 years I have received letters from young hearts all over the world that tell me they gave their life to Christ while reading one of these books. And every time I read one of those letters I cry because God seems to whisper, “See? I put that desire in your heart for a reason. I created you to be a missionary woman. Just not the sort you imagined you’d be. You stayed home and I accomplished my purpose by sending your stories around the world.”

This is the blessing of getting older, isn’t it? We begin to recognize some of the patterns God has been patiently weaving into the fabric of our lives.

So let’s talk about this verse as it’s paraphrased in Galatians 6. In what ways have you made a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given to do? How have you taken the responsibility to “do the creative best you can with your own life” when it comes to this unmistakable gifting and calling to use your words and write your little heart out?

Do tell all, sweet sisters. I’ll be checking in all week and next and adding comments.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Assembling Your Memoir--Linda Thomas

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor.…
You are the ruler of all things. In Your hands are strength and power.…
Now, our God, we give You thanks and praise Your glorious name.
I Chronicles 29:11-13

Now that you’ve written three or more chapters (stories), and you’ve started a running list of additional stories you’ll write in the future (you will, won’t you?!), let’s consider assembling them into a finished memoir.

The beginning and the ending of your collection of stories:

Place the following at the beginning of your collection of stories:
  • Title: for the front cover and inside on your title page. Example: “The Mountain’s Top,” by Jane Doe.
  • Dedication: (to whom you are writing these stories).
  • Table of Contents (optional): chapter titles with page numbers.
  • Introduction: state why you’ve written these stories. Let your personality shine. Include what you hope readers will take away from your stories. Sign your name, date, place, and perhaps a photo of yourself.

At the end of your collection of stories, write an epilogue, and make it a grand finale—a celebration of God. Make it personal. Leave your descendants inspiration, direction, purpose, wisdom, and courage in making life’s hard decisions.

Suggestions for your epilogue:

  • What do you envision Heaven will be like? (You might be there when some descendants read your memoir.)
  • Hymns:
    1. All the way my Savior led me

    2. God Be With You Till We Meet Again
  • Bible verses and benedictions:
    1. Numbers 6:24-25- The Lord Bless you and keep you….

    2. I Kings 2:1-3 - When the time drew near for David to die he gave a charge to Solomon his son. “…So be strong….” (See also IChronicles 28:9 and 29:19.)

    3. Ephesians 3:14-19 - … I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through the Spirit….

    4. Philippians 1:9-11 - And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more … so that you may be able to discern what is best….

Since your grand finale can be emotionally draining for both you and your readers, consider ending with a little humor. I tacked this at the end of one of my memoirs; it’s a family joke that will make my kids smile:

Matt and Karen: If I die before your dad does,
remind him to lock all the doors before he goes to bed at night.

Possible formats for your finished memoir:

  • booklet
  • published book
  • scrapbook or three-ring binder
  • a spiral notebook, empty book, or journal (in your own handwriting)

Be sure to include photos and mementos!

Dear friends, thank you for sharing the past five weeks with me. I encourage you to continue learning the craft of memoir (this was merely an overview), keep writing, have fun, and give your stories to your kids and grandkids, because “…an unfinished manuscript cannot change lives. Even a finished one cannot minister in a drawer or filing cabinet. One in published form can … go where you and I will never go, to people we [might] never meet…” (Lee Roddy, writer, speaker, writing teacher).

Your memoir can shape your descendants’ values, choices, culture, and faith, and help them find their place in your family and God’s. Celebrate God and connect His stories with those of your family.

~ Linda

[Editor's note: You must enter the Linda Thomas-inspired "Write a Memoir" Contest! See sidebar for details. Thanks, Linda, for your expertise and heart!]

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Endings. Edits. Inspiration.--Linda Thomas

“Father … You met me at every fork of the road
with clear guidance and fresh grace.
I beheld Your glory.”
~Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Quiet Moments with God

If you’re working on three stories, you already have three chapters-in-the-making for your memoir. Congratulations! That brings us to today’s lesson:

All-important endings:
Finish each of chapter with punch and muscle. Make the end the high point of your story. A weak ending could make your story fall apart and deprive readers of its richest message. Writing the ending might be the hardest part of your story.

Tips for writing endings:

1. Pray!
2. Read Cindy Blomquist's post on "Endings."
3. Review the definition and goal of memoir.
  • Why are you telling this story?
  • What is your current understanding of what God was doing?
  • Include Bible verses that illustrate and validate your story.
  • As a result of the incident and/or writing these stories, what did you learn about yourself? About God?
  • How was your faith strengthened?
  • What new person did you become?
  • Cause readers to think, ponder, smile, shed a tear, and apply your story’s lessons.
  • Remember: your stories can shape the spiritual lives of your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and other readers.

4. Take plenty of time to ponder the message you want to give readers, and make your ending pop!

Edit your work:
I’ve heard that 80 percent of what we communicate is misunderstood so we need to re-write and edit for clarity.

  • Set your story aside for several days, then print it and read it aloud. Eyes catch typos on paper that they miss on the computer, and ears hear choppy or ambiguous words.
  • Does your story make the point? (Do you know what your point is?)
  • Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Will they understand your story? Have you used lingo or “Christianese” your readers might not understand? Eliminate anything that causes confusion or clouds meaning.
  • Read Carol Brinneman's post , "The Ideal Final Draft."
  • Ask a trusted friend or writer to critique your story. (Critiquing is not fault-finding; it’s evaluating and analyzing. It’s meant to help the writer.) Many, but not all, of their comments will be valid. Revise, set it aside, re-read, and revise until you’re satisfied.
  • Polish your story and make it shine.

Next week we’ll consider ways to compile your chapters—along with the many more chapters you’ll write throughout your life (hint, hint). That brings us to...

God has been more involved in our lives than we recognize or remember, so here are ideas to inspire additional stories:

  • Who are your spiritual role models? Why?
  • How have others’ prayers kept you going?
  • What are the two most delightful surprises God has given you?
  • When have you “beheld His glory” (John 1:14)?
  • Other possible topics: your salvation; God’s forgiveness and grace; an agonizing decision; a closed door; wanting to quit; doubting God’s call; feeling put out to pasture.
  • Genesis 50:20; Exodus 4:13; Deuteronomy 33:27a; 2 Chronicles 14:11; Job 23:10; Psalm 4:8; 40:3; Matthew 10:27; John 1:16; Philippians 4:19; 2 Timothy 4:17a.
  • What are your lions and bears? Click here
  • See Carol’s blog post . Think “chapter” in place of “article.”

Next week: The grand finale! A Memoir Writing Contest! Get ready to submit what you are writing--details in next week's post!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

If Your Heart Ached, Make Your Reader's--Linda Thomas

“You (God) are to receive the glory for Your grace at work in me . . . .
What will people learn from me about how to deal with difficulties,
how to have courage in problems,
and how to express joy when circumstances are frustrating?
What will others learn about Your peace and hope?”
~Lloyd John Ogilvie

“May I share what I’ve learned from You without pious superiority and the lessons of life without arrogance…. I want to point away from myself to You – the Author of my life story.”
~Lloyd John Ogilvie

We learned last week that since we can’t force people to read our stories, we must write stories worth reading, and we looked at accomplishing that with leads and details. This week we’ll take rough drafts from boring and generic to vivid.

Write with pizzazz (avoid blah words):

Instead of “red,” write crimson, scarlet, or fire-engine red. Instead of “flower,” choose daisy, rose, or sweet pea.

Use specific action words—verbs that describe a precise motion—rather than a generic word that shows little to readers. Instead of “walk,” choose shuffle, prance, tiptoe, strut, or lumber.

Show, don’t tell:

Avoid telling readers, “She was beautiful.” Instead, write details as you saw them—details you want readers to see—so your readers conclude for themselves, “She was beautiful!”

This is telling: “Doris, always flamboyant, arrived smelling of strong perfume.”

This is showing: “Doris burst through the doors, glided around the room hugging everyone, even strangers, and left us swathed in billows of Estée Lauder’s Beautiful.”

In an early draft of Grandma’s Letters from Africa, I told: “A hippo stampede thundered through our camp the first night.” Later I replaced those 10 words with 139 words of showing: what I heard, thought, asked myself, did, and felt. (Wordiness is not the goal, though; be concise with your details.)

Include your emotions, feelings, and thoughts:

You want readers to feel your emotions, thoughts, joys, and struggles. Show, don’t tell: Instead of writing, “I was afraid,” describe your fear. Rather than “I fell in love” or “I was homesick,” describe those using concrete details. If your heart ached, make your reader’s heart ache.

Writing about emotions, feelings, and thoughts in a “show, don’t tell” fashion can be difficult so I recommend you try this: With paper and pencil in hand, find a quiet time to mentally relive the event—to feel again your emotions, ask again your questions, shout your praises, weep in gratitude, sob in grief. When you’re back in that moment, write!

Other tips:

• Write as if you’re having a comfortable, personal conversation with your reader.

• Avoid jargon, especially “Christianese.” Instead of “I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb,” explain in everyday words what that means. Explain even words like “repent.” Write in such a way that your readers discover your deepest message.

• Make ’em laugh and make ’em cry.

This week’s assignment:

• Review lessons from week one and two.

• Revise your stories based on today’s lesson. Remember: re-writing is not punishment. Make your stories shine.

• Start more rough drafts, or at least jot down a few notes. Each will be a chapter in your finished memoir.

• Pray for God’s help so readers will know about His character, trustworthiness, and grace, and more about their own relationships with Him.

• Have fun!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Remebering the Details--Linda Thomas

Remember, your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the Lord your God: His majesty, His greatness, His awesome power. It was not your children who saw what he did for you in your desert wilderness and how He brought you to this place. No, you saw these things with your own eyes (Deuteronomy 11:2-7, paraphrased).

We will tell the next generation the praise-worthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done … so the next generation would know … even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds, but would keep his commands (Psalm 78:4b, 6-7 NIV).

Your story is important. It can make a difference in someone’s life—maybe for eternity—however “No story has a divine right to be read” (Peter P. Jacobi). In other words, you can’t force people to read your stories so you must write stories worth reading.

How? Let’s start with leads and details.


Most writers find it easier to create a lead after they’ve written the first draft. If you wrote two or three stories last week, this week you can craft a lead for each. The lead is the first thing your reader reads. It “hooks” him, catches his attention, causes curiosity, and motivates him to read.

Since this is a min-course, (Memoir Writing Lite), here are only a few brief examples:

  • Anecdote: a short story to illustrate or personalize the point of your piece.
  • Action: a vivid word-picture of the action.
  • Quote: a quote, song, or proverb that illustrates the point of your story.

  • Scene-setting: a description of your setting that makes your reader feel he’s there; builds up expectancy, suspense.

  • Startling assertion: a shocking statement, meant to surprise.

  • Question: “Have you ever noticed that.…?” Entice the reader to think how he would answer the question.

  • A “you” message: use “you” so your reader will identify with the person(s) in your story.

  • News article: one or two sentences that answer the Five W’s – who, what, where, when, why.

  • The flashback: the most riveting part of the action starts the story, then the writer flashes back to the beginning of the experience; at that point, use the word “had” because it moves readers to the beginning.

Feel free to use variations on the above list. Catch your reader’s attention and motivate him to read your story.

Details, blessed details

Since your lead promises readers a great story, you must follow through—you must write a story worth reading all the way to the end. Details make your stories’ settings and characters come alive. Invite readers to see each scene or person as if they are living it with you. Enable readers to hear, feel, smell, taste, and see what you experienced. (Photos, journals, and old letters will help you recall details.) You don’t need to include every detail, but select details that capture the essence of that place and the person at the time of your story.

This week’s assignment:

  • Review last week’s lesson, keeping in mind the elements of memoir and your purpose in writing.

  • Craft leads for each of your stories.

  • Write details into your stories so readers can hear, feel, smell, taste, and to see what you experienced.

  • Review Carol Brinneman’s post about strong writing. All of Carol’s posts are excellent, as are Cindy’s. I also recommend Cecil Murphey’s blog, Writer to Writer.

  • Write stories that inspire readers to conclude, “What an awesome God!”

  • Have fun!

Remember: You’ll revise your stories each week so don’t worry about perfecting them yet. Re-writing is not punishment! Every good writer revises a number of times. Revision is an art: polish your stories and make them shine.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What is Memoir?--Linda Thomas

Always remember, and never forget, what you’ve seen God do,and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren!
~Deuteronomy 4:3a, 9, paraphrased

I suspect God smiles at the word memoir and at those who write memoirs—at least our kind of memoirs. In fact, I believe He originated the concept (based on verses above and many more!) So…we’re about to embark upon a holy endeavor.

What is memoir?

Memoir is not autobiography, but the two can overlap. Autobiography starts with your birth and covers your whole life, but memoir focuses on a segment of your life—a specific aspect, theme, or time period—which you explore in depth. Our theme is Deuteronomy 4:3a, 9, paraphrased: Always remember, and never forget, what you’ve seen God do, and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren! So, what have we seen God do—for us, through us, in spite of us—that we can record for our descendents?

In answer to that, I based today's post on Matthew 6:8, “…your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (See also Isaiah 65:24.) You, too, probably recall a time God met a need even before you had time to ask. If you keep that example in mind while reading the following, it will give you some context.

You’ll need more than historical facts to convey your stories’ most important messages. Pondering, examining, unraveling, musing, and reflecting are necessary ingredients in memoirs. In the writing process, you will examine what God was doing as you see it now, in retrospect. The stories in your memoir will include your thoughts—even your struggles—to understand what God wanted to teach you and how, over time, He made it clearer to you.
  • Looking back, what did you learn about yourself?
  • Do you see a pattern in your faith you hadn’t noticed before?
  • How did the experience change your life? What new person did you become?
  • Do you now have a better understanding of God’s purpose for your life?
  • What did you learn about God?
  • How did the experience strengthen your faith for future challenges?

In summary, your stories will capture how you remember God’s activities in your life and what you discovered about both God and yourself. A memoir can be a few pages or a whole book. I suggest you aim at writing a collection of short chapters.

In coming weeks, we’ll examine options for compiling your stories, but for now, here’s …

This week’s assignment:

  • Start small: choose two or three occasions in which God acted on behalf of you and/or your family: turning points, answered prayer, decisions, the happiest/saddest day of your life, etc. (Avoid traumatic or complicated stories; you’ll learn the craft of memoir more easily if you start with straightforward events.)

  • Write rough drafts, three to five pages for each occasion. Include pertinent Bible verses. (You’ll revise your stories each week so don’t worry about perfecting them yet!) These will be chapters in your finished memoir. You can write stand-alone pieces or a series of related stories.

  • The writing books listed in the right column are great resources.

Your stories will help shape the spiritual lives of your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and anyone else who reads them (your “spiritual children”).

Your memoir could be the finest gift you’ll ever give, so pray for God’s help!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Where's Linda???

Dear Friends,

I inadvertently told our next blog host, Linda Thomas, that her post would begin today. And then she told her friends, and now, I bet everyone is wondering: "Where's Linda?"

And then, I told about 10,000 onlineMagazine subscribers the same thing today...I'm firing my calendar; it couldn't have been me.

Please come back tomorrow!
We will be posting each Tuesday for the next 5 weeks on the topic of writing a memoir.

Sorry for the confusion...

with humblest apologies,
Cindy Blomquist, Editor

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Arise. Shine.--Cindy Blomquist

I am not a teacher, but an awakener.
~ Robert Frost

I want to awaken you to the possibility of writing a tidbit of your story in the form of a spiritual essay. By me asking the question, "What is the Lord doing in your life?", how would you answer, in a written piece, consisting of:

  • a stunning first sentence,
  • a paragraph setting up your life (Act 1),
  • an inciting incident (God's shining principle vs. your dull reality),
  • the body that unfolds your struggle (Act 2),
  • the climax (your spiritual breakthrough/transformation), and
  • the final paragraph (Act 3), elegantly crafted that does not end with " and as you can see, 'all things work together for the good.'"

The challenge of the spiritual essay is trying to convey your story so effectively that you don't even have to quote Scripture. Jesus told spiritual stories by way of parables (sans Biblical references). Am I saying don't quote the Bible? No. But what I'm trying to get across is let your story speak for itself--the unfolding of events, your honest stirrings. You have to trust that if Christ is living in you, then He will most certainly come across in how you live out your story. That's how you capture the essence of "what is the Lord doing in your life?" on the page.

Be believable. Wrestle with God...in front of all to see. Once you commit to writing your story, commit also to telling the truth/Truth. Avoid the tendency to "preach" at your readers. If you want to convey a story of trusting in the Lord, just tell the story. Let your audience draw their own conclusions. Nothing is more satisfying than being moved, on my own, by a spiritual story. I love it when I can see the Truth too.

So, wake up! Tell your story; that is my hope with writing these four posts. Know what you are going to say. Plot out how you are going to say it. Draw us in with a captivating first sentence and then release us with great care with your last. Be honest. Be believable. And believe that your story, as simple as it may seem, has power to impact others. As the writer Flannery O'Connor said, "When the book leaves your hands, it belongs to God."


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