Category: The Craft of Writing Page 1 of 21

Social-Distancing for Writers

social-distancing for writers

This week has been a turning point for the COVID-19 crisis in the United States. Many governors have enacted stay-at-home-orders, New York is erecting temporary field hospitals, and American manufacturers have pledged to build ventilators and protective equipment. All of this made me wonder: what does social-distancing for writers look like?

As writers, we often gain our inspiration from traveling, visiting historic sites, attending cultural events, and spending time with friends. Those things are not possible right now. Coffee with friends is limited to a FaceTime call and Google Earth is the only safe form of travel.

Social-distancing may be easy for some. And while working from home in your pajamas and watching Netflix all weekend seems like a welcome break from the usual pace of life, one can only handle so many hours of mind-numbing indulgence. Here are some tips to help writers be good stewards of their social-distancing time:

Self-Betterment

Reading

Take time for professional development, research, or inspiration — read books you’ve been wanting to read, listen to podcasts from inspirational writers or speakers, and take advantage of free online learning.

Whether you’re interested in developing your writing skills, learning about the publication process, researching for your own writing, or gleaning inspiration from fiction, take this social-distancing time as an opportunity to catch up on your reading.

Listening

There is a podcast for everything these days — from true crime to daily news updates to radio dramas. Here are two of my personal favorites that tell true stories and encourage me to see the world as a place full of opportunity and ideas:

  • This American Life — One of the most popular podcasts in the United States, This American Life shares true stories from Americans. Each episode is laid out in a three-act format and focuses on one central theme. One of my favorite episodes is set in my town of Lynchburg, Virginia, and tells the story of seven black students who integrated into an all-white boarding school in the late 1960s.
  • Criminal — Not for the faint of heart, Criminal tells true-crime stories in 30 minutes. The soft-spoken, inquisitive host — Phoebe Judge — tells true stories ranging from kidnappings to murder mysteries. Each episode also features original artwork!

Online Learning

If you enjoy learning new skills or knowledge, consider taking a free online class or watching a Ted Talk. Depending on how you like to learn, there are a variety of ways you can learn online.

  • Sites like Coursera offer traditional online courses that provide a structured, classroom-style environment. You can take courses from some of the country’s top colleges and companies.
  • If you prefer a more laid-back learning environment, sites like SkillShare provide video-based courses on a variety of topics. These courses are taught by professionals in the field. Students can even share their work with each other for feedback. While this is not a free service, you can sign up for a two-month free trial to occupy you during this time of social distancing.
  • Ted is a nonprofit dedicated to sharing ideas about technology, entertainment, and design. Ted Talks are usually presented at conferences and are available on YouTube and the Ted website. Search the Ted database for talks on any topic that sparks your interest.

Writing

social-distancing for writersIf you do not already have a writing routine built into your schedule, this time of social distancing is an opportunity to establish a writing discipline. Pick a time during your day to just sit down and write. You don’t have to work on a project or even write with intention. Just take some time to put a pen to paper or your fingers to keys and flex your writing muscle.

I’ve found the best way to exercise my writing muscle is to do “sprints.” Set a timer for five or ten minutes and write without stopping to edit or review. This sense of urgency allows me to write without my usual self-censorship. Some of my best work has come from “sprinting.”

Self-Care

social-distancing for writers

My governor ordered a stay-at-home order until June 10, so I will be spending a lot of time at home.

Practice self-care for writers: meditate, pray, practice yoga, or go for a walk.

By the grace of God, I’m still employed and am working from home. Though my workday is as busy as ever, I no longer have to budget time during my day for the commute to and from work, and I’m home for my lunch breaks. This gives me an additional hour and a half each day! I’ve opted to practice self-care during the time I spend at home.

Meditation and prayer are two things I’ve focused on over the past two weeks. My favorite spot to meditate and pray is my deck, which faces a treeline. I put down my exercise mat and lay on my back with my arms by my sides. Taking time to notice the noises — my wind chimes singing, birds chirping, and bees bumbling — and enjoying time away from the barrage of COVID-19 updates has really improved my mood. This is also a wonderful opportunity for prayers, either silently or aloud.

social-distancing for writers

Light activity like stretching, yoga, or walking has improved my moods and posture and decreased back pain from sitting all day.

Yoga or stretching helps with the stiffness and pain that comes with sitting at a desk. If I’m feeling stiff, I’ll either do some basic stretches or follow an instructional video on YouTube. My favorite video right now is called “Yoga for Writers” from Yoga With Adriene.

This week, my governor instated a stay-at-home order, which only allows me to leave home for groceries, medical appointments, family visits, and outdoor recreation (with appropriate social-distancing). Thankfully, my apartment complex has a short walking trail, so I’ve been able to go for walks during my breaks throughout the day. I’ve found that I have more energy to continue my workday when I go for a walk during my lunch break.

These are suggestions based on what I’ve found works for me. I hope this was helpful to you! Tell me how you’re spending your time social-distancing in the comments or on social media — I’d love to hear from you.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. — Romans 15:13

Researching for Historical Fiction in Bath, UK

I had the privilege of visiting England the last week of February — one of my favorite destinations before the coronavirus situation became a deterrent for travel.  I am so grateful! Since I am a historical fiction author, researching the location in person is a real treat, as you can imagine!

The day after I arrived in the UK, and before my week-long intensive Bible course began (the main reason for my visit), my teen friend Mariah and I headed to Bath on a local train to do a bit of research at Sally Lunn’s. During my last visit, I discovered a tidbit of information that led me to write about Sally. More later . . .

The Sally Lunn bun (the size of large hamburger buns, but with the texture of brioche) was excellent — worth risking a reaction to my gluten intolerance. I couldn’t come to Bath without enjoying one! I would describe it as the best hamburger bun you have ever tasted. Hopefully, that’s not offensive to a Brit. Here is a pic of my daughter five years ago when we first experienced this culinary delight. In my story, which I tentatively have titled, “Soli’s Saving Grace,” I bring to light a purely fictional crisis that inspired her to create her bun recipe.

The top of the bun is on the right, and the bottom section is on Olivia’s plate. It is so large, that you must use a knife and fork. Since the bun is as light as a feather, it is no problem to eat both parts in one sitting.

This time, I asked for both. Although the server happily agreed, she seemed a bit perplexed. Evidently, very few people ask for both. Leave it to the Americans to want more! Isn’t this a lovely tearoom? You can feel the history seeping out of the walls.

We finished our lovely meal and headed down to the basement, where a small museum is located. I wanted to revisit the tiny historic exhibition which inspired me five years ago. At that time I found a little sign tacked into a wooden cabinet. It noted Sally Lunn was probably a Huguenot girl named Solange Luyon. That tidbit of information is all I needed to let my imagination run wild! Hopefully, someday, you will read Soli’s story in print.

Next, we visited Bath Abbey, where my character, Soli, flees for refuge. Last time I was in Bath, we were not able to tour it, so I was thrilled when I realized it was possible!

 

So, my reason for visiting the Abbey, other than enjoying the architectural beauty, was to ask a question: Did the Bath Abbey indeed offer refuge for Huguenots who came knocking (did they?) at their enormously imposing wooden doors?

The card given to me by the priest

I found a priest who had time to chat with me. I was surprised to discover he had Huguenot roots himself. Small world! But, unfortunately, he wasn’t able to answer my question. But he did refer me to the archivist who works at the Abbey, and on my way out, I was given a card.

Just what I needed. Now that I have all this time on my hands, due to the #covid-19 crisis, I will email him this week. Who knows what that will uncover!

So, that was my short day trip to Bath for research — quick but productive.  If you are interested, here is a link to my blogpost about my trip to Charleston, SC for Huguenot research.

For a more in-depth look at the city of Bath see my blogpost.

I have two questions for you:

Which era of history is the most fascinating to you?

How is the Covid Crisis affecting your writing habits?

I’d love to read your comments below!

 

Inside the Head of Your YA Protagonist: What You Need to Know

 

Photo by Stanley Morales from Pexels

Last week, I was sitting around a conference table with an enthusiastic group of writers. They passed out their copies and we all took turns offering gentle but constructive feedback. Before I go on, consider joining a critique group; it’s key if you want your writing to grow and your story to be the best it can be.

An older gentleman in the group read his piece, and I was intrigued by the fact that his main character was a 16-year-old girl. The feedback that followed focused on how his MC sounded more like him than a teenage girl. How can he help that? How can you?

Here is a list of details you should keep in mind when writing in the perspective of a YA:

  • Teenagers are in the beginning stages of finding themselves. Even the most mature teenager probably has many underlying insecurities. If it’s not body image, it’s peer pressure, or bullying, or not feeling understood. If you’re writing contemporary YA, you also have the growing amount of mental illness among young people to factor in. It’s not cliché, it’s real life for them.
  • Your characters shouldn’t act too logical or mature. Young adults are still learning about handling conflicts. They are infamous for acting out of emotion.
  • Just like with adult men and women, young adult girls think different than young adult boys. If you’re writing in the perspective of the opposite sex, one of the first details you should research is the mindset of that gender. That way, you won’t impose too much of your own thinking on your character.
  • Seek to understand what abstract concepts look like to young people. What do they fear? Do they have hopes? What does victory look like? How would they describe love? The fears I had at 15 are on a completely different spectrum than the fears I have at 26. And I’m still peeling back the layers of love. Capture that, and your youthful readers will relate better to your characters.
  • Understand your time period. Some of these traits are universal for teens, but some details change depending on the generation you’re exploring. For instance, Generation X seemed to be very keen on getting their driver’s license the day they turned 16, but Gen Z seems less motivated, possibly due to the many rideshare apps. Consider these subtle generational changes when you write.

Now that you have a whole lot to think about, how do you go about answering these questions?

  • Crack open the child psychology books. Rudimentary knowledge of brain development at that age can make a world of difference. Even if your character doesn’t suffer from them, learn about mental illnesses and how they affect emotions and relationships between people that age.
  • Interview your young connections. Sit down with friends and family members, a high school class, or a church youth group and really hear their words. You will get a real visual and auditory understanding of them as well as a peek into their mindset.
  • Find younger beta readers to look over your work and give them questions to focus on regarding character authenticity or plausibility. They may have good feedback that you can include in your manuscript.
  • Research trends, not only in fashion or ideals, but also in how young people are treated by bullies, parents, peers. What responsibilities are common for the age group in question?
  • Most importantly, remember. Remember your adolescence, your struggle, your journey, and your growth. Doing so will provide the heart that your story needs. The research will only enhance your experiences. As the writer, you can confidently give your young adult characters the arc that they need to make a compelling journey.

How do you like to tackle the mind of your YA MC? Let us know!


Leah Jordan Meahl is an up and coming Christian author. She loves to journey with new adults and Christians alike with her blog. Check out her full Bio.

Get Organized! Helpful Tools for Writers

organizationOne of the most difficult parts of any writing project is keeping your ideas, writings, and sources organized. Here a few tips and resources to help you organize your next project.

Outlines

Forget about the Roman-numeral-heavy outlines from grade school and think in lists, paragraphs, images, or phrases — whatever helps you organize your thoughts. 

Outlines are best used for organizing information chronologically, which is great for larger projects like books. However, your outline isn’t limited to words. If you have photos that inspire certain scenes in your story, feel free to paste those into your outline as well. 

Personally, I like using a basic outline written in complete sentences that defines my story from start to finish. However, outlines can be customized to fit your writing style.

Timelines

Similar to an outline, a timeline lays out your story chronologically, giving you a big-picture view of what’s happening in your plot. If you’re a visual person, creating a physical timeline with a roll of craft paper on an empty wall in your home works well. 

When I was 16, I created a giant timeline of a manuscript I wrote so that I could see when everything was happening in the story. I wrote basic plot points on the timeline directly and used sticky notes for smaller events so that I could rearrange them. This helped me understand where the plot was lacking and helped me fill in some holes. (This story is still under construction.)

Planning Softwarewriting organization

There are a ton of free resources available online that can help you plot your story and organize your thoughts and ideas. While there are some paid programs designed specifically for writers, I’ve found that basic project management programs can be easily adapted to fit the needs of a writer. Here are three of my favorites.

Google Drive

Perhaps the simplest and easiest to use, Google Drive is an online storage facility for all of your big ideas. I love creating project folders for my stories because I can have a folder for each piece of the planning process, whether it be inspirational photos, drafts, or brainstorm documents. 

Trello

Trello is an interesting project management platform that allows you to create boards, lists, and cards. I’ve found this site to be particularly helpful when I’m in the early stages of planning a project because you can break your project out into sections via the boards and then assign specific plot points to cards, which can be infinitely rearranged. It’s basically like using index cards, except you can’t spill coffee on them.

Bear

If you prefer something that is really simple and easy to organize, I suggest using Bear. This desktop and mobile app offers both word processing and easy organization. Just use hashtags to categorize your documents. When you need to find something, you can search hashtags to find the document you need. This loose form of organization works great if you are still in the early stages of plotting and aren’t sure exactly how you want to structure your work.

How do you currently organize your writing? I’ve used all of these methods in the past, but right now, Trello and Bear are my two favorites. Once I get through the conceptual stage on my current project, I’ll probably start using a traditional outline.

Happy writing!

Find out more about Emily here.

Learning to Think In Pictures

Picture-Driven Stories: Learning to Think in Pictures

“A picture book illustrator needs to tell a story with pictures. A picture book author needs to show the same story with words.”Jean Matthew Hall 

When I attended last year’s Write2Ignite conference, I went to Jean Matthew Hall’s discussion, What is a Picture Book. One of her main points was that a true picture book tells the story through both the illustrations and the words. Without either, the story would be incomplete.

When the illustrations build the story, rather than merely reflecting the words, it adds a layer of magic and delight to the book. But while it’s easy to recognize that pictures and words work together to make great stories, it’s sometimes hard to write a book designed to be accompanied by images (especially if you aren’t an illustrator). In order for pictures to help tell the story, the words have to leave enough unsaid.

As a beginning picture book writer, I struggle to leave details unsaid. My brain wants to describe everything, leaving no creative space for a future illustrator. The words feel like the heavy-lifters, so I don’t want to leave too much work for the pictures to do. I struggle with deciding what to show with my words, and what to leave for the pictures to tell.

What has helped me to look at my story drafts differently is reading picture-driven stories.

Picture-driven stories remind me that the words don’t have to do all the work. The illustrations are capable of taking on a larger role than I give them credit for.

One great example of this is Watersong by Tim McCanna. In this beautifully illustrated book, the words are entirely onomatopoeia. They are poetry, providing the sound track to the story told in the images. A fox runs through a storm, and though not a word is said about the fox, the reader is engaged by his experience.  The overall tone is heartwarming and satisfying. This is a story that had to be told in pictures; words simply could not have produced the same effect. Reading it reminded me that sometimes, simplicity in words creates the perfect atmosphere for imagination.

The opportunity pictures provide for imagination is even better seen in wordless picture books. I didn’t realize this genre existed until I began working at a library where patrons asked for help finding them. One fun example I found is Rainstorm by Barbara Lehman. (I was on a rainy-day kick this week). In this book, a young boy all alone in a big house finds a key, which leads him to explore and to find unexpected friends. Told in colorful images, the story guides the reader through the action and curiosity but leaves space for us to imagine as well. What is the boy feeling, thinking, saying? All that is left to our interpretation.

As a writer focused on words, reading a story without a single sentence in it lets me exercise a muscle I don’t usually use.

The advantage of reading books where the story is told mostly or entirely in images is that it trains my brain to think differently. They teach me to think in pictures. Suddenly, I’m not hearing my story being told; I’m seeing it. My narrative becomes a Pixar short film in my mind rather than a podcast.

Without steeping myself in the power of illustrations, it’s hard to let go of my pet narrations and descriptions. Cutting away the unnecessary details becomes easier when I’m reminded of the beauty of discovering the story visually. Wordless picture books like Rainstorm and picture-driven stories like Watersong help me to experience the capabilities of pictures. They teach me to be a better writer by showing me what I don’t need to write.

What are some of your favorite picture books? Do you think their stories are more word-driven or picture-driven?

 

Mr. Rogers – Will You be Our Mentor?

 

Our family had the opportunity in December to watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks, who, by the way, did a fabulous job portraying Mr. Rogers. It would not surprise me if he won an Oscar. It helped me understand the heart behind the man so dearly loved by his young viewers. What can we learn from this children’s icon?

Childhood Recollections

Reflecting on my childhood, I can’t believe my mother never introduced me to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I’m sure he would have brought peace into my sometimes troubled heart. Instead, Garfield Goose filled our screen. Are you old enough to remember the program? You can watch an excerpt HERE.

In rewatching a few minutes of Garfield Goose, we are introduced to a few new ideas which concentrate primarily on information, with a bit of humor thrown in. Mr. Rogers, on the other hand, focuses on feelings. Sure, he exposes children to many new things as well, but all with concern for the young viewer’s heart. Many of the topics Fred brings up, are issues children deal with sometimes on a daily basis. Death, divorce, bullying, prejudice – the list could go on.

What Was His Attraction?

 

After watching A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, I understood what attracted me to this iconic figure, and why I would have cherished him as my mentor: compassion and patience. Two traits I lack in spades. Oh, not that I’m not compassionate when others are hurting. No. It shows up when I face those who have chosen a wrong path, have hurt others, or are generally un-loveable. But, according to Mr. Rogers, there are no unloveable people; only those who need to be heard, understood and loved — just the way they are.

I admired his patience as he waited for a response in conversation. He felt no need to fill in the silence with platitudes or advice. His goal was to listen and accept each person on the journey they were taking, praying daily for many as he took an early swim.

That’s why I’m thankful his legacy can continue on at the Fred Rogers Center where they pass on his mission as they help children grow as confident, competent, and caring human beings.

I wanted to know what made the man we know as Mr. Rogers? Biographies tell us he was a minister who loved God, his fellow man, Scripture, and prayer. His Christianity shone through.

Mr. Rogers Quotes

 

Here are a few quotes from Mr. Rogers that we all need today, compiled by Geoffrey James:

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”

“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”

“We speak with more than our mouths. We listen with more than our ears.”

“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully, your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”

Enjoy getting to know Mr. Rogers more fully in this trailer of another film that debuted last year, more of a documentary with Fred himself as the star.

If you’d like to see episodes from years past, find them here on Mr. Rogers’s official website. They are precious black and white footage from days gone by. Why not watch a few with your family and reminisce? If you want to get to know the puppets and their role in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, check out this LINK.

A few days ago, I listened to Janet Parshall’s In the Market podcast You Are Special where she hosted Amy Hollingsworth, one of the few journalists allowed to interview Mr. Rogers, due to a rebuttal she made to an article maligning this gentle man. For over a decade, they conversed, exchanged emails and shared thoughts about life and faith. Amy was the last one to receive a letter from the humble star young viewers loved. Listen to the In the Market podcast HERE.

What does this have to do with the craft of writing?

 

Hmmmm. . . I had to think about that one. Mr. Rogers was engaging. He was genuine. And he loved children. He told stories about real people in everyday situations. Senarios children would experience during their young lives.

Death. Divorce. Loss. Anger. Friendship. Kindness. Jealousy. Fear. Bravery.

He helped them deal with the scary things in life and made peace with them. Then showed the good side of folks we all can emulate. And isn’t that what we strive to do in our writing? Connect with our readers where they are.

Be truth-tellers — even in a scifi or fantasy world. Be heart-healers — giving hope to others via our words. And, be bridge-builders to a better world where all things work together for good — in God’s kingdom.

What about you? What do you hope your readers take away when they read your work? Share your thoughts below!

**post repurposed from my author’s blog.

Jarm Del Boccio’s debut middle-grade historical fiction, The Heart Changer, released with Ambassador International April 26th. You can connect with her at https://www.jarmdelboccio.com/

10 Reflections from a New Author

 

This past year has been a special one for the books (pun intended) because I published my first book! As you know, the process is anything but quick, but you can bet that the experience has been rich with lessons that will carry on into my future projects. My brief takeaways might just work as a reminder for you while on your writing journey.

 

  1. Dedicating your work to God makes a world of difference

Writing a book is a daunting task that involves more than just hashing out 300 pages. You have the task of giving a reader an experience, good or bad, influential and entertaining. Praying over my message, my chapters, my ideas and more helped me surrender, knowing God will help, inspire, encourage, and take the book where it needs to go.

  1. Don’t marry your words

This idea comes from one of my writing professors. We writers can get so attached to our words that we fail to receive criticism. When it comes to crafting your ideas effectively, the best practice is to be open minded and flexible.

  1. Your audience is more important than your ‘dream’

I’ve always been so focused on “writing the book” that it hindered me from thinking about who I was writing for. Becoming a writer may have been the dream that got us started, but our attention to our readers allows us to bear good fruit, which is ultimately more fulfilling.

  1. Editing never ends

You can go through your manuscript a hundred times and still find something to tweak. I had several sets of eyes go through my work and I went through in a variety of formats, but the final product still has a few errors. Learn when to let go before you let the editing process keep you from ever publishing.

  1. Rejection doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer

I thought that I would be a mess when I received my first rejection. To my surprise, I had prepared myself enough to be confident despite each “No” from the industry. Publishing houses and literary agents reject for a number of reasons: length of the manuscript, criteria of the publishing house, market need, etc. Let them roll off your back as you continue to learn and grow.

  1. Your work is not less significant if it’s self-published

I always went along with the stigma of self-publishing. Obviously, it meant that the writer wasn’t good enough to get really published. Fortunately, I don’t feel that way now. Though some self-published books are less than good, self-publishing is a great way to learn about formatting and design. It’s also effective in building a readership that publishers ultimately admire.

  1. Don’t skimp on quality

In reference to self-publishing specifically, you are the one with the final say and the same goes for quality. Have editors but don’t rely on just their edits. Go back through yourself. Don’t try and design a cover if you have little to no experience as a graphic designer. Those details will scream low quality and end up hurting your readership. Cost effective solutions are out there, and you’ll be thankful once you have that stellar looking book in your hands.

  1. Marketing is a game: win or lose, you still have to play

Many writers hear the word ‘marketing’ and cringe. Growing your inner marketer is part of the job, and it will include trial and error. Read the books, try new things, get people excited about your work. Marketing is necessary, so bite the bullet. Seeing your platform growing, your calendar filling, and your books selling will make it all worthwhile.

  1. Doubt is part of the territory

No matter where you are in the process, I bet you’ve experienced doubt. I had many doubts right up until my release. We tend to doubt our story is as good as what’s out there. We doubt if anybody will truly enjoy reading our work. The list goes on. But don’t let those feelings keep you from doing it anyway. Keep writing, keep querying, keep advertising, and keep editing. You’ll be glad you did.

  1. Practice makes perfect

This is a lesson we all learn at a young age and it’s no different for the writing and publishing world. The more we read, write, edit and worm our way into the industry, the better we will get. I look forward to the day I can look back at my first book and praise God for how far I’ve come.

What’s something you’ve learned on your writing adventures? Is it on this list or is it something different? Please share with us!

Write on, friends!


Leah Jordan Meahl is an up and coming Christian author. She loves to journey with new adults and Christians alike with her blog. Check out her full Bio.

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