Back around 1996, my friend, Dave told me that when he was fourteen, his father died. At the funeral, a woman said to him, “I guess you’ll have to be the man of the house now.” Dave said to me. “I did not want to be the man of the house. I wasn’t ready for that responsibility.”
I never forgot his words and nearly a decade later, as I prepared to write the story of a North Carolina polio epidemic which happened in the midst of WWII, those words helped me discover my character.
Here’s what Ann Fay Honeycutt tells us on the first page of my book, BLUE.
Daddy took my chin and made me look right at him. “I expect you to be the man of the house while I’m gone,” he said. He handed me a pair of blue overalls. “You been wanting to wear britches ever since you first climbed that apple tree. I reckon this is your chance.”
Dave’s sentiments provided the spark for Ann Fay’s personality. I needed a character who would be overwhelmed with more responsibility than she thought she could handle. One who would feel weak but discover an inner strength. She’d need to be feisty and determined, resourceful, and sometimes bossy.
Before I knew her name or gender I considered giving my story a male protagonist but there was something in me that wanted to tell a strong female story. And, after all, the story called for it because so many women kept the home front strong during WWII.
Ann Fay was also informed by what I knew. There was a great deal of me in her. While writing I drew on the love of my daddy and his garden as well as my determination to conquer whatever obstacle gets in my way. All that came from my personal experience.
It’s natural for authors to draw on themselves and their own personalities and this can work well. But each story needs its own cast of characters and they can’t all be made in the author’s image. Sometimes the author has to research to discover authentic characters. Finding characters and rounding them out hasn’t always been as easy for me as knowing who Ann Fay was.
I anticipate sharing my process as well as what I’m learning from my beta readers, editor, and other experts at Write 2 Ignite’s Writing Fiction Master Class. I’ll also provide some hands-on exercises for finding your character’s personality and voice. I hope to see you on September 19, 2020!
Joyce Moyer Hostetter lives in Hickory, North Carolina, where she enjoys spending time with her children and grandchildren. Before she wrote historical novels, Joyce taught special education, worked in a camp for at-risk children and directed a preschool program. She also wrote Christian curricula, magazine articles, and a newspaper column & feature stories. Her novels have won an International Reading Association Children’s Book Award, Parents’ Choice Honor Awards, and a North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award. Her books include Healing Water: An Hawaiian Story about a teen boy’s survival in Hawaii’s leprosy settlement and the Bakers Mountain Stories series: Aim, Blue, Comfort, and Drive. Equal, the fifth book in the series will be released in 2020.
“‘So why does our writing matter again?’ they ask. Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.” –Anne Lamott, pp. 237
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott should be on every writer’s shelf. Her advice offers encouragement through an honest discussion of what writing is like. Lamott sits her reader down and shares her experience as though she were chatting over a cup of coffee. As she shares, she addresses the feelings of anxiety, discouragement, and even jealousy that almost all writers face at some point. In doing so, she reminds us that we’re not alone in our struggles. We all hit the wall on occasion, and it’s possible to keep going despite those setbacks.
Throughout the book, Lamott gives insight on ways to improve our writing. She offers advice on how to write better dialogue, how to stay motivated, and how to find a writing group. But mostly what she provides is inspiration to persevere. Every piece of insight resounds with encouragement (even while Lamott acknowledges the hardships of being a writer). And that prompting to persist, paired with her pithy advice, makes the book well-worth reading.
So here I want to share three of my favorite tid-bits of advice from the book:
1. “Dialogue is the way to nail character” (pp. 67).
In both her chapter on characters and her chapter on dialogue, Anne Lamott emphasizes the connection between the two. She argues that creating one line of strong dialogue that rings true captures your character better than a whole page of description (47). What a character says, or doesn’t say, or how he says it tells the reader how he thinks and what he cares about. Dialogue gives us insight into the personality of the people we read about and brings them to life. And therefore getting to know our characters is vital to creating good dialogue.
(*If you’d like to learn more about how to create strong characters and great dialogue, you should consider checking out Write2Ignite’s Master Class in September!)
2. “The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you’re empty” (pp. 178).
Lamott’s chapter on writer’s block focuses on the truth that all writers experience dry periods. Sometimes we get burnt out and our creativity stops flowing the way it usually does. Lamott says that the best thing to do when we reach these moments is to accept the block, the empty reality, so we can fill up again (pp.178). Her advice is practical: “Do your three hundred words, and then go for a walk” (182). Write a little each day to keep up the habit but then focus on activities that nourish you. Replenish your creativity rather than trying to eke out ink from a dry pen.
3. “You are going to have to give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be a writing” (pp. 202-203).
Bird by Bird includes an entire chapter dedicated to writing as giving. Our works-in-progress, she says, “teach you to get out of yourself and become a person for someone else” (203-204). In order to write well, we have to pour everything we have into our writing. And in doing so, we have a chance to act as hosts for our readers, to welcome them in and offer them a feeling of connection (204).
This is especially important for us as Christians. If writing is our calling, then we should be willing to give it all we’ve got. Our words should be for God and for others, not simply for ourselves.
I could go on a while longer, pulling out clever quotes from Lamott’s book. But instead, I’ll simply recommend you pick up a copy for yourself.
Bird by Bird isn’t an earth-shattering text holding the key to the inner sanctum of writing. Instead, this book offers solid advice to steadily improve. It offers relatable accounts of the difficulties of writing and an honest assessment of what it’s like to be published. Lamott encourages us that while writing probably won’t bring us fame or fortune, it does carry with it its own rewards. Her whole book, start to finish, reverberates with the cry, “Just keep going.”
I give her book 4 1/2 out of 5 stars, if you’re looking for a rating.
What books have been encouraging you lately?
Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time writer, and full-time bookworm. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.
Sixth in the Write2Ignite Self-publishing series by Debbie DeCiantis
In 2016, Write2Ignite Conference began receiving a lot of questions about non-traditional options like hybrid-and self-publishing. When our spring conference that year had to be canceled (actually, postponed, because all our presenters signed on to give their keynotes and workshops in March of 2017), author and publisher Cheri Cowell of EABooks Publishing, offered to give the workshop she had planned as our first Write2Ignite webinar! She presented the webinar on September 21, 2016; on September 23, we published a recap of her webinar content on our blog. Three months later (December 16, 2016), author, freelance editor, and W2I Team member Brenda Covert wrote about “Editing Before Self-Publishing.” In 2017, we began a series of interviews with authors who had self-published a book, describing their process, pros and cons, as well as tips, from their experience.
It’s been over a year since we ran a self-publishing article, so when Diane Buie notified us of her new self-published children’s book, we asked for her feedback. Here are our questions and the details she shared.
Q: What book did you first publish using a self-publishing provider or system? What publisher or system did you use? Describe your book, telling when it was published.
A: The first book I self-published is called What If Birds Could Talk? It’s a children’s book for ages 3-8 years. I self-published it in late March of 2020, using Lulu.com.
Q: How many self-publishing companies or products did you investigate before choosing? What factors led to your choice?
A: I researched just two or three companies prior to choosing Lulu.com. My brother’s successful experience using this company in his own self-publishing projects was of huge importance to me. I think, looking back, that God prepared me with this choice, as my brother, David, had been a guest speaker at a writers’ meeting held at my church. I already had a lot of information about Lulu, and they had been on my mind and in my notes! I chose Lulu also because they were a more local company (NC). This was an easy and quick decision.
Q: What up-front costs did you incur to publish your book? How long did it take to recoup these costs (if you have), or what is the projected time frame to recover them?
A: This self-publishing project surprisingly cost very little! I used what resources were free. I used the pexel.com website for access to free public-domain photos, and I began to add pictures where I wanted them within the story. The typing and formatting were free, as Lulu.com provided the format and templates for books. The only cost I had was the money for my proof. So, with shipping, my transaction was under $20.
Q: How much control did you maintain over the process (editing, revision choices, cover design, illustrations, book type setup, font, size of the print, etc., book description for marketing purposes, etc.)? Did you hire a professional or use services provided by the self-publishing company for cover design, illustrations, editing, or layout?
A: Self-publishing gave me control over all of it. I own the rights to my book(s). I chose my front and back covers from those that are free with Lulu; I could have used my own. I chose the size of my book and downloaded Lulu’s template. From start to finish, the project was mine to envision and to bring to life.
Q: Did you self-publish in print or e-book format, or both? Did the self-publishing company provide software services to create book files for printing or e-book conversion of your manuscript?
A: I had no budget for hiring a professional. I was able to understand the process from the conferences I had attended with Write2Ignite since 2017. I kept my notes from those classes and workshops. I stayed in contact with the authors I met at the conferences; we chatted via social media, and I saw a few of them in my local community. Since I was so prepared by W2I, I had the courage to TRY self-publishing my writing projects.
I created What if Birds Could Talk? as a for print-only book. This is due to Lulu’s rules and regulations regarding public domain images. These types of photos are not allowed in e-books due to copyright laws. My next books will most likely be available in many forms.
I had been working on my children’s stories for at least two years prior to self-publishing. I had them edited, and I entered pitch parties on Twitter for about two years with no interest. Two publishing companies contacted me about publishing with their group, but I lacked the money to invest in the printing costs. I had also contacted many traditional publishers over those two years, but again, no response In frustration, I tried Lulu.com. I believed in my story and wanted to share it with others.
As I did all the typing, editing, choosing covers and book sizes, as well as reading instructions and legal questions and answers; I think my total time to have an actual book ready to sell was about two months. I did work daily from home during the Covid-19 pandemic because my job offered us all a choice of working out in the field or from home. It helped that my manuscript was already edited and ready to go. All I did was transfer that text onto the right template, and it was fairly easy from there.
Initially, I printed one proof for myself. I did learn from a mistake when I prematurely announced that my book was for sale. This became an extra cost, as I had to replace the original with the updated version and sent the revised one to five friends who had purchased it online. The order to correct my manuscript with a revised version was about fifteen copies. [Note fromW2I: Check self-publishing websites for starting prices for different types and sizes of books, according to page count, paper stock, color or b/w, binding, and other options.]
Q: Is the book being marketed in stores (print)? Online only? If online-only, what sites offer your book?
A: My book is for sale on Lulu’s online bookstore. Lulu has an 80/20 split of profits from print book sales, which means that after publishing/printing costs, 80% of profit goes to the author, and 20% to Lulu.com. The cost per book for larger orders is lower, resulting in more profit to split.
My book will be on Amazon in a few weeks. I plan to sell copies at various arts/crafts venues in my local community, now that I have my retail license. (This part of selling books is something I am still reading about and learning as I go)!
Q: What process was involved in obtaining your retail license? How much time did that take?
A: About a month. I took a few days to research online, and I chatted via FB with friends like Melissa Henderson and Gail Cartee, who guided me through a few questions. I sent my application and fee into the SC Dept of Revenue via USPS, and my license arrived by mail about two weeks later.
Q: From your first self-publishing project, what advice do you have for authors who are considering embarking on a self-publishing adventure?
Work and write one day at a time. Learning to write while learning the rules of self-publishing can be overwhelming and frustrating.
Go slow. Be patient with yourself. Treat yourself and your project as a work-in-progress every day.
Stay involved with the world of books online and in-person in your community. Chat with authors on social media and follow them as you can. Attend writers’ conferences and workshops. Love your local library, as they can be a resource, too.
When you complete your work, remember to thank those that helped you get there. They will want to be excited and celebrate with you at this accomplishment! Not everyone in the world understands the difficult and joyful tasks involved in writing and publishing, so the ones who do are important to keep in your life.
Use what resources you have in your life to fulfill your writing dreams. I never anticipated self-publishing, yet after years of trying to locate the right publishing house, I decided to publish the book myself. Be open to suggestions and other options for your dream. Be willing to try something you have not used before just to see how God might be involved in it.
Don’t Do This:
Don’t let any kind of hindrance to your goals for writing – a disability, lack of finances, illness, belief in yourself, etc, — stop you from trying to achieve your dream. If you sense in your spirit that you have to get those words or illustrations out of yourself, then do it!
When you are waiting for your proof to come, try not to let the excitement get the best of you and announce your book as open for sale! Wait and edit your proof two or three times. Then, announce online!
Diane Buie has always had a desire and a knack for impacting the lives of young children in the hopes of leading them to faith in God and His son, Jesus. The education, nurture, and care for preschoolers and children have always been at the heart of Diane’s work. With joy, she recently began a further, deeper walk along the path of Christian education by writing part-time for Union Gospel Press. What if Birds Could Talk?is her first picture book.
She received her Bachelors from Carson Newman University and her Masters at Campbell University Divinity School. Diane resides in Greer, SC, near her family. When she is not writing or reading, you can find her being crafty, gardening, and hanging out with friends and family. You can connect with Diane on Facebook and on her blog.
Think back to the resolutions or goals you set in January. Less than 5 months ago, yet it feels like years have passed! Did you write them down? Do you remember what they were…or would you rather forget?
How well have you done with your goals? Perhaps you haven’t thought about them for months. Maybe you recall them but just gave up. Maybe you’re one of the few pleased with your progression, but want to do even better.
We’ve all been enmeshed in a giant “pause.” Terms such as shelter in place, quarantine, and social distancing have wreaked havoc with our plans and our goals for 2020. If you’re anything like me, you may have thought that staying home would give you extra time to work on your manuscript. But for many of us, the disruptions to our routines, combined with new concerns such as homeschooling children or where to buy toilet paper have shattered our hopes to get that book finished.
Whether you’re focusing on your own goals or encouraging others, this is the perfect month to talk about it because May is National Recommitment Month. It’s a time to review the resolutions you made or the goals you set.
Your goals might be related to physical health, such as diet, exercise, or conquering a habit or addiction. Or they might be relationship-oriented, focusing on issues of forgiveness and restoration. Perhaps your objectives are in the financial realm, such as managing debt or exploring new investments. Maybe you set a goal of tackling a new challenge, one you’ve never attempted before. And of course, they can be writing-related.
Regardless of what your goals are, here are five ways you can encourage yourself and others to recommit.
1. Avoid guilt trips
As we move through the month of May, we’re approaching the halfway point of the year. Our natural inclination is to beat ourselves up for failing to meet our goals or accomplish our resolutions.
Maybe with the strain of juggling work-from-home demands, family responsibilities, and home-schooling in addition to all your usual activities has forced your writing onto a back burner.
Perhaps you’re lacking motivation because the pandemic hit just as you were approaching the “sagging middle” of your novel. You haven’t picked it up again because, frankly, you’re not certain of how to progress the story.
Maybe you’re struggling because your objectives are tasks you have to do, not items you want to do. The right motive makes a remarkable difference in accomplishing goals. You may need to tweak your objectives to examine them in light of the things you want to do. How can the objectives you have to complete help you accomplish the aims you want to complete?
Perhaps the toll of caring for ill loved ones or sadly, the tragedy of losing loved ones in this pandemic, has consumed your emotional energy and depleted your creative drive.
Regardless of why you’ve stalled in your writing, don’t beat yourself up. If you didn’t achieve your objectives today, remember tomorrow’s a new day.
2. Define success
Perhaps you haven’t made progress because your goals are too vague. Finish my story. Market my book. Develop my writing skills. Even if you accomplished these goals, how would you define success?
Re-examine and tweak your objectives to make them SMART. SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Assembling SMART goals will make it easier for you to both define success and achieve it.
3. Take one day at a time
Have you ever been asked how one eats an elephant? The answer is simple: one bite at a time.
When it comes to your goals, there may be days when you feel as if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Are your resolutions overly ambitious? Once you’ve established SMART goals, you can develop interim action steps and benchmarks.
As the saying goes, “nothing succeeds like success.” So create objectives that enable smaller successes on your way to accomplishing the final goal.
The more worthwhile the objective, the more effort it will require and the longer it will take to accomplish. The question to ask may not be whether you’ve achieved your goal. The better question to ask may be, are you making progress toward your goal?
Don’t be discouraged…and keep chewing, one bite at a time!
4. Encourage accountability
When John Donne penned the words of the poem, “No Man Is an Island,” he could not have realized the impact his work would continue to have almost 400 years later.
We need each other. We need love, fellowship, and encouragement. With regard to our goals and objectives, we also need accountability partners and prayer partners. Being transparent makes us vulnerable, which can be scary. But if we refuse vulnerability, we’ll cheat ourselves out of the support we need to achieve our objectives.
With whom have you shared your writing goals? Have you given them permission to ask you about your progress? Have you scheduled specific times to meet for accountability?
Who will you ask to pray for you as you recommit to your resolutions? What a privilege it is to know you and your goals are being brought before God’s throne on a regular basis!
5. Reward yourself
Celebrate your successes. Reward yourself each time you reach a new benchmark. Be alert to even the smallest achievements, which are often lost in the shuffle of our day-to-day commitments, and certainly in our Coronavirus-sensitive environment.
Those achievements do not always come in a way you might expect. Sometimes they come in the form of dogged perseverance. Other times they will appear, not in standing firm, but knowing when to retreat and regroup before you try again.
The important thing is to identify progress…and celebrate it.
As we recognize National Recommitment Month, what resolutions, goals, or objectives will you recommit to?