Interview with Adam Blumer, Author of Kill Order

Adam Blumer writes page-turning “meaningful suspense” novels. I loved his first two: Fatal Illusions and The Tenth Plague (linked to my reviews). His third novel, Kill Order, just released a few days ago. Here is the summary:

When he sleeps, the forgotten terrors of the past come alive.

Grammy-winning pianist Landon Jeffers’s brain cancer has given him only a few years to live. But when he sleeps, the forgotten terrors of his past torment him. When he wakes, shameful memories come rushing back. Desperate for answers, Jeffers discovers that a brain implant intended to treat his cancer is really a device to control him, forcing him to commit terrible crimes. Now he’s being manipulated by an evil crime syndicate and a crooked cop.

What if free will isn’t? What if your every move is predestined? If you kill, are you guilty of murder?

Intriguing, isn’t it? I’ve read the book and will be reviewing it next week, and I can assure you, it’s excellent! At the end of this post, I’ll let you know how you can enter to win a signed copy of the book.

Today I am welcoming Adam to Stray Thoughts to share a little about about himself, Kill Order, and writing.

First, a little background information:

Adam Blumer fixes other people’s books to pay the bills. He writes his own to explore creepy lighthouses and crime scenes. He is the author of three Christian suspense novels: Fatal Illusions (Meaningful Suspense Press); its sequel, The Tenth Plague (Kirkdale Press); and Kill Order (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas).

A print journalism major in college, he works full-time from home as a book editor after serving in editorial roles for more than twenty years. He lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with his wife, Kim, and his daughters, Laura and Julia. When he’s not working on his next thriller, he’s hiking in the woods, playing Minecraft with his daughters, or learning new chords on his guitar. He is committed to writing clean suspense that is free of profanity, vulgarity, and sexual content. He is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), the Christian Editor Network, and The Christian PEN. He works with literary agent Cyle Young of Hartline Literary Agency.

What gave you the inspiration to write Kill Order?

My dad, Larry, passed away from brain cancer in 2011, and several aspects of his cancer journey kicked off the initial story idea. One key detail involved a medical procedure; the doctors agreed to remove as much of my dad’s brain tumor as possible and replace it with medicinal wafers intended to fight the existing cancer. My mind began playing the what-if game. What if the doctor implanted something else, something that could monitor or even control my dad’s life? The story’s premise grew from there.

I noticed that your branding on your website is for “meaningful suspense.” What inspired you to write these kinds of thrillers and suspense novels? Also, could you please tell us what inspired your “clean fiction guarantee”?

I began reading Christian novels in junior high and soon gravitated to suspense. Back in the day, an inspirational thread was a staple in Christian fiction, and I believe a Christian novel can do more than simply entertain. These days many authors are leaning toward writing clean, moral stories but avoiding overt Christian content. I’m a believer that the inspirational content should stay (hence “meaningful suspense”). Books can encourage and even challenge readers’ thinking while taking them on a roller coaster of a ride. The “clean fiction guarantee” came about due to the rise of objectionable content in some Christian fiction. My fans were expressing disappointment to me due to content issues when they tried books by some Christian authors. I felt it was time to declare where I stood, and many readers have appreciated my guarantee.

When did you realize your calling to create words on paper to share with the world?

When I was a child, I began writing wildly imaginative pirate and fantasy stories. My first handwritten story was a fantastical tale about Captain Kidd’s spyglass. In high school, I also wrote and finished an unpublished novel called Down with the Ship. It’s such an Agatha Christie copycat that I laugh whenever I peruse it, but emulation is how a lot of authors get to be where they are today. Those were the early projects that inspired me to take novel writing seriously. When I won a high school award for creative writing, I wondered if God wanted to do more with my love for fiction. In college I won more writing awards, and though I studied journalism, I took as many creative writing courses as possible. God opened doors from there, and I’ve never lost my love for fiction writing.

If you could go back in time and give advice to your younger self, what would that be?

Writing the story is only half of the project. The other half is finding out what readers like to read, crafting the story for them by following publishing standards, and writing the story to the best of your ability. Then remember that publishers can take a very long time to decide whether they want your work. Don’t get discouraged. Just keep going and waiting.

Name your three biggest frustrations about the writing business.

  1. The amount of time each book requires from start to finish. Included in this is the long wait time from publishers.
  2. The continually changing rules in writing and publishing. Just when you think you know what publishers are looking for, your agent tells you something else.
  3. Book marketing. One cannot guarantee sales. I wish a book release was like the movie Field of Dreams. “Build it, and they will come.” If only it were that easy. There is almost an equal amount of work in just promoting the book.

On the flip side, what excites you the most about the creative process?

I get most excited about the creative process when a plot development I never saw coming unexpectedly presents itself, taking the story in a new but stronger direction. This epiphany has happened to me several times.

Where is your favorite place to write?

I have been blessed with a wonderful home office. Though I often like to write in other locations, this is by far my favorite place. I can close the door, shut out life’s distractions, pray, and become immersed in my story. Now and then, if I need a break, I can glance out the window and delight in God’s creation.

What are you reading at the moment, and who are a few of your favorite authors and why?

I’m currently enjoying Mind Games by Nancy Mehl. I especially enjoy a good thriller, whether Christian or secular. Some of my favorite authors are Steven James, Terri Blackstock, Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker, and Brandilyn Collins. I like how they weave story threads together and craft their scenes in ways that keeps the plot moving forward. Their books are great examples of what works in suspense writing. I learn so much simply by reading their novels.

What is the best part of your author’s life?

I love hearing from readers who went to work tired because they stayed up too late finishing one of my novels. If I kept them immersed in my story and entertained, that’s a score in my book.

Do you have any new writing projects on the horizon?

I’m almost finished with the first draft of the sequel to Kill Order and hope to have something ready for my agent sometime this fall.

Adam, thank you for stopping by and for giving us another great book. I am looking forward to the next one. Thank you, especially, for producing books that are not only well-written, but clean and meaningful.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my writing life at your blog.

Where Readers Can Buy a Copy of Kill Order

Paperback:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1645261867/
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/kill-order-adam-blumer/1132572349?ean=9781645261865
Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas: https://www.shoplpc.com/product/kill-order/

Kindle E-book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07VRSPGMN/

How to Connect with Adam

Website: http://www.adamblumerbooks.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AdamBlumerNovelist
Twitter: https://twitter.com/adamblumer
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Adam-Blumer/e/B001PYV33I/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2315682.Adam_Blumer
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/adamblumer/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/adamblumer/

Kill Order Paperback Giveaway:

You can enter for the opportunity to win a signed paperback copy of Kill Order here.

(Sharing with Grace and Truth)

Advertisements

Writer Newsletter Survey Results

A couple of weeks ago I invited you to participate in a survey I was conducting about writers’ newsletters.

Some of you subscribe to me blog via email. Someone asked me privately if that was what I meant by a newsletter. No, when you subscribe to the blog, you get an email from WordPress each time I post with that post’s content. A newsletter is something in addition to that, with additional news or thoughts not posted on the blog (though it may contain links back to the blog as well.)

I’ve been told that some publishers put great stock in the size of one’s newsletter list. As a reader, I don’t subscribe to very many newsletters myself, from either bloggers or authors. So I wanted to discern how other readers felt about them in order to know whether I should start one as I finish my book.

31 people responded to my survey. Here are my questions and their answers:

1. Do you subscribe to newsletters from authors or bloggers? How many?

    • Yes, a few: 17
    • Yes, several: 5
    • No: 8

2. If you don’t subscribe to any, why?

    • I don’t want any more email: 12
    • I already follow their blog or other social media: 8
    • Not interested: 4
    • Other: 4

3. What’s the ideal frequency of newsletters?

    • Weekly: 5
    • Monthly: 10
    • Quarterly: 5
    • A couple of times a year: 1
    • Only when a new book is coming out: 6
    • Other (please specify): 4
      • not daily or only if you have a new book that you is on sale. Weekly or whatever makes sense to you.
      • whenever the author feels the need
      • None thank you
      • Bi monthly

4. What do you like to see in newsletters? Check all that apply.

    • News about upcoming publications: 16
    • Chatty news about the author (family, travel, hobbies, activities, etc.): 12
    • Interesting background information related to book: 16
    • Sales: 3
    • Bonus material: 11
    • Quotes or reviews from other readers: 2
    • Upcoming events (speaking events, book signings, etc.): 9
    • What books the author is reading or recommends: 11
    • None – would rather read this on blog: 10
    • Other (please specify): 5
      • I am glad to see this blog with info about your book/s as they happen.
      • Summaries with links to make it easy to choose what you want to read.
      • Material relevant to my interests. I don’t have time for a bunch of fluff.
      • I subscribe to a few newsletters from bloggers who have “subscriber freebies”, mostly homeschool materials. But I don’t generally read the email except to find the password to the subscriber page. I generally dislike getting extra email and prefer to read content from blogs I can subscribe to in Feedly.
      • Giveaways (there should be some sort of perk for the reader)

5. What don’t you like about newsletters? Check all that apply.

    • Too frequent: 20
    • Too long: 15
    • Too repetitive (sharing information already seen on blog or other media): 17
    • Not enough information: 3
    • Other (Please specify): 8
      • dull colors; find some other color than gray for your background
      • I don’t want to read a blogpost – I’d rather have the feeling of being an “insider” into their real life.
      • Repeated items for sale. I don’t mind sales, but I don’t like to keep getting it in my inbox over and over. That’s annoying. Perhaps just a reminder that it is there if you want it, but not being pushy about it.
      • Always trying to say me something (perhaps “sell” was meant?)
      • I find them presumptuous.
      • When they are interesting I want to share them, it’s more difficult than sharing a blog post
      • I don’t like a cluttered inbox. I prefer to control what I read.
      • Too much bragging in general

6. Have you ever bought an author or blogger’s product directly from their newsletter or as a result of their newsletter?

    • Frequently: 1
    • Occasionally: 16
    • Never: 14

7: What is your preferred way to hear from a blogger or author? Check all that apply.

    • Newsletter: 11
    • Blog: 24
    • Facebook: 11
    • Twitter: 4
    • Instagram: 5
    • Other (please specify): 2
      • I use all of the above 🙂
      • their website

8. How do you feel about a writer’s offer of free downloads, booklets, printables, prayer guides, etc., on their blog or newsletter?

    • Great! I download lots: 4
    • It depends on what it is. I download occasionally: 20
    • Not interested: 5
    • Other (please specify): 2
      • I like downloads as do others. But the danger for you is that people like free things and just because they take your free things, doesn’t mean they will take your paid for stuff. And if you give too much free too often, then there isn’t a reason to for me to buy your book.
      • I don’t prefer them. I feel they are gimmicky and I cringe at them.

9. Have you ever subscribed to a newsletter just to enter a contest and unsubscribed later?

    • Yes, frequently: 5
    • Yes, occasionally: 14
    • No: 12

10. If your favorite writer has a blog and a newsletter, do you read both?

    • Yes, I do for several writers: 3
    • Yes, I do for a few: 15
    • No, I only read their blog: 9
    • No, I only read their newsletter: 3

First of all, thank you so much to those who responded! Your feedback is helpful and I really appreciate it! The survey was set up so that I have no idea who took it or who shared what responses, but I appreciate each one.

As you can see, opinions vary. People are pretty much agreed that they don’t want just sales flyers, a lot of repetition, or an excess of mail. Of course, if a writer has followers across several outlets, some of those followers will only follow on one. So some repetition is inevitable. That’s why I generally just choose one way to follow each writer.

But other preferences differ. Each blogger or author will have to experiment to see what his or her particular readers like, what they have time for as writers, etc.

My thoughts:

I probably should have put more distinction between newsletters of bloggers and authors. But these days most publishers want authors to have a platform before submitting a manuscript, so a lot of book authors started out as bloggers.

I only subscribe to one blogger’s newsletter, because it’s part of a reading challenge. I prefer to keep email for correspondence. With email, there’s an understated urgency to handle or answer whatever it is. I prefer reading blogs through Feedly. Plus, so many bloggers’ newsletter share a list of their blog posts from the last week or month, which I’ve already seen.

I don’t subscribe to many authors’ newsletters, and I have unsubscribed to those that have arrived weekly or monthly. One that I subscribe to comes out quarterly. Most of the rest are occasional, just whenever there is an update (which is my preference.)

My favorite author blog has maybe ten authors, so each only posts once every other week. I read a few of them, so when the other authors that I don’t read post, I often still skim over their writing. This is where I find a lot of newsy posts, background information about books, personal details, etc.

So as a general rule, as a reader, I prefer blogs to newsletters. One respondent mentioned web sites: I should have included that as an option. I was equating blogs with web sites, but usually a blog is one part of an author’s web site. I only follow a couple on Facebook because the information there generally comes too often for me.

As a writer, well, I am still trying to decide what to do. I’ve thought about starting a newsletter with information about what I am writing, where I am in the process, how you can pray, if you’re so inclined. It would probably come out no more than quarterly unless there’s exciting news (like landing a contract! 🙂 ). On the other hand, I could just put that information on the blog.

Some good posts I’ve found on the subject:

I’d love to hear your thoughts about writer newsletters, either as a reader or a writer — or both! Please share in the comments.

Writer Newsletter Survey

While I am revising my first draft of my book, I am researching publishers, agents, and advice for writers.

One frequent piece of writerly advice is to have a newsletter. To clarify, a newsletter subscription list is different from an email subscription to a blog. Subscribing to a blog, like you can do from my sidebar, just means you get an email copy of a new blog post here. A newsletter can contain a variety of other information.

I’ve seen some agents place more importance on an author’s email list than anything else. The prevailing wisdom is that newsletter subscribers have voluntarily given you their email addresses and thus are the most interested in your book or blog.

This surprised me because I don’t subscribe to many newsletters myself. So I wanted to see how other readers felt. I created a survey at Survey Monkey about writer’s newsletters, and I’d like to invite you to take the survey. Please answer from the standpoint of a reader, not as a writer; what you like to receive and read, not what you’ve read writers ought to do.

I’ll keep the survey open for a week, then I’ll let you know the results in a future blog post.

Your participation will help me know whether this is something I should pursue. Thanks so much!

My Writing Journey

IMG_1453

I’ve been writing almost as long as I have known how. My earliest writing went into letters, mostly to my grandmother, later to friends and cousins. In my pre-teen and early teen years I poured my heart out in journals, which I sadly did not keep. I wrote a few stories here and there, but most of my writing has been factual. I seem to process what I am thinking by writing it out, pulling one strand of thought out at a time and laying all the strands out to see how they fit.

In high school my speech teacher wrote for a neighborhood newspaper and advocated for me to write a regular column for our school. In early married and young mother years my main writing was directed to my mother-in-law to keep her up-to-date on her grandchildren 2,000 miles away. I had a few magazine articles published. In 2006 I started a blog and have loved having that outlet.

Once, while visiting my mother-in-law, I saw a little booklet produced by the ladies’ ministry of her church. It was mostly made of of news for the group, but had a place for devotional thoughts, poems, etc. I liked it so much, I brought a few samples home and showed them to my pastor. When I asked him if we could do something like that for the ladies of our church, he told me to go for it. I compiled a 12-16 page monthly booklet for our ladies there for 9 years. When we moved to TN, the pastor’s wife of our church there asked me about writing a ladies’ newsletter for our group. I showed her samples of what I had done in the past and asked what she thought. She liked the idea, and we discussed what changes we would like to make. I compiled a monthly ladies booklet for that church for over five years. I wrote about these booklets in more detail here.

Once in the first church I mentioned, our ladies meeting hosted an open discussion about devotions, quiet time reading the Bible and praying. Every lady who shared was not satisfied with her devotional life. Some had trouble getting a regular time established, Some had been reading for years, yet felt they could be getting more out of the Bible. Most struggled with distractions, sleepiness, and lack of motivation. I started a column in the newsletter to encourage ladies to maintain and make the most of their time in God’s Word.

I began to think that perhaps those devotional columns could be made into a book. I made an outline and did some preliminary work, but set it aside while raising my children and participating in various other ministries. In the meantime, I was a community guest columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel from October 2011-October 2012 and contributed to The Perennial Gen, Blessed But Stressed, and iBelieve.com.

In March of 2018 I had the unexpected opportunity to go to a writer’s conference. I had heard of writer’s conferences but had no real thought of trying to go to one. But I saw a notice for one in a town where I used to live, only three hours away. Since it was in a familiar place, that took away some of the angst about going there alone. But I did not think it would work out. We were taking care of my husband’s mother in our home, and I didn’t see how I could get away. I didn’t even mention it to my husband for a few days while I thought it over. When I finally did tell him, he encouraged me to go, and he would work around his mom’s care.

That conference showed me much that I didn’t know, but it jump-started my desire to actually complete this book. I’ve been making time to write in the midst of everything else going on as I am able. Though I started out with what I had previously written in the ladies’ booklet columns, I couldn’t just copy and paste those columns. I needed to revise, fill in gaps, smooth out overlapping information, and employ some of the writing techniques I’ve learned. My first draft is finished, and now I need to go back and edit and shape up each chapter.

I was able to attend a second conference this year and received a much more positive critique of my manuscript excerpt. Plus I won a couple of writing contests there. All of that encouraged me that I have grown and improved in my writing and spurred me on to continue writing, growing, and improving. I’m reading books and writing blogs to learn more about writing and publishing.

In many ways I regret that I did not start writing a book earlier. I’ve had the desire to write a book for some 30, maybe even 40 years. On the other hand, I think those years of writing a newsletter booklet and blog exercised my writing muscles. I don’t think I could write this current project without that background of writing regularly to encourage friends.

I have a few ideas for other books projects. I’m looking forward to exploring them after I finish this current project.

Thank you so much for your encouragement! When I first started a blog, I had no idea that I would make such dear friends online. I’ve enjoyed meeting a few of you in person. Some of us will probably never meet til heaven. You’ve blessed my life in more ways than I can tell.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Booknificent)

My Second Writer’s Conference

Friday and Saturday were  a whirlwind of activity as I had an opportunity to attend my second Carolina Christian Writer’s Conference. I had a wonderful time, and my head is still spinning, processing all I learned.

Karissa Culbreath was the keynote speaker. Wow! She was both sweet and dynamic, accomplished yet relatable.

As with last year, there were four different workshops times over the two days, with about half a dozen workshops to choose from each time. Most times I wanted to attend two or three, so it was hard to narrow down the choices. I wish they all could have been recorded. Topics ranged from how to find (make) time to write, how to navigate social media, fears, grammar and editing, writing for children and youth, writing for various markets, aspects of nonfiction and fiction writing, mastering Amazon – and multitudes more.

There was an informative panel discussion Friday night, an opportunity to split into different genre groups with a few of the faculty members on hand to answer questions, a “lightening learning” session where we went in small groups from table to table to hear five minutes of each speaker’s best or favorite tips, and an opportunity to eat lunch with one of the speakers.

We also had an opportunity to send in an outline and ten pages of a manuscript ahead of time for a critique and then to have a fifteen minute meeting with the person who critiqued us. Last year the manuscript was given to one of the speakers, and we didn’t know who until we got a notice of our meeting time with them. This year we got to choose which person we wanted to look at our manuscripts. We were also able to sign up ahead of time for a fifteen minute meeting with another of the faculty members. I got both of the people I requested for each of those (last year the person I asked for had no slots available). Then Friday morning we had the opportunity to sign up for another fifteen minute meeting. That person ended up having a different role than what I had thought, so in a sense we didn’t really fit each other’s needs. Still, she gave me a piece of key, valuable advice that’s going to have a big impact on how I shape my book, and I enjoyed the conversation.

Last year, some of you may remember, I’d had no plans to attend a conference, and I had never even heard of this one. When I did hear about it from an online friend, it was only 2-3 weeks before the conference. Since it was in the city where we used to live, that sparked more of an interest and a possibility to go since it was in a familiar place. But it was so soon, and we had my mother-in-law’s care, and I had not traveled alone nor attended anything like a conference in eons, etc., etc. But God worked it all out. I had a manuscript I’d started, but it was really in no shape to be seen. But it was all I had, so I pulled it out of mothballs with no time to shape it up and sent it in. The critique last year was pretty devastating, with not one positive note, leaving me thinking perhaps writing was just a pipe dream. But the critique was good in pointing out some glaring mistakes I was (obviously) unaware of, making me now acutely aware of them. And the rest of the conference encouraged me that all was not lost yet. Last year I also missed all of Saturday mornings events due to being sick in my hotel room.

This year, I started off feeling sick before I ever left. I ended up missing the very first explanatory session, but was able to attend the rest of it. Last year my nerves were taut with the newness of everything, being in circumstances I was unused to with a lot of strangers. It wasn’t until the last few hours then that I just relaxed and enjoyed the rest of it. This year, though nerves did flare up, I was more at ease and relaxed through the whole conference. I enjoyed a lot of good conversations with fellow conferees.

Last year, since the conference came up so suddenly, I just kind of went with the flow and had no idea what to ask. This year, after a year of more intense focus on my writing and reading writing blogs in the meantime, I came with two pages of typed questions. 🙂 I didn’t get all of them answered – I wished my fifteen minute sessions could have been thirty – and I added several more questions after the conference was over.

My critique session was as different as night and day than last year. Part of that was the different personalities of the critiquers. The lady I had last year was not unkind, but she was just more of a matter-of-fact personality. The lady I had this year was very sweet and encouraging. She did have some corrections and valuable editorial notes, but the whole tone of the critique was more uplifting. I was so thankful and encouraged for the growth God led me through since last year, and the hard critique last year was definitely one of His tools.

One new aspect of this year’s conference was contests. We had an opportunity to submit writing in any of several categories. If I remember correctly, I think we could enter as many times as we wanted, but there was a $20 fee for each entry which was then used to provide scholarships for people who needed financial help to attend. The fee was for a good purpose, but also served to limit how many entrees most of us could submit. As it happened, I won first place in the Devotional category.

IMG_1391

And! EABooks sponsored a contest in which we could submit entries on the theme “Blessings in Disguise,” and they would choose 20-25 to be included in their book compilation. That would not only give us exposure and an opportunity to get our message out, but being actually published would increase our writing credentials. My entry was one of those chosen for the book.

IMG_1392

IMG_3919

(Special thanks to my new friend Tori for taking and sending me the last photo!)

Besides just being excited about winning anything, I am so encouraged. Though I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn, the positive critique and conversations and the contests all help me know growth has occurred and I’m heading in the right direction.

Last year I shared some of my takeaways from last year’s writer’s conference. Those were all reinforced. It will probably take me several days to process everything from this conference. But I would encourage you to attend a conference if you have any desire to write, especially for publication. You can get some of the information from blogs and books on writing. But the ability to ask questions, talk with people inbetween workshops, have lunch with a writer or editor, listen in on some of the more informal sessions like the genre groups and “lightning learning,” and especially the fifteen-minute meetings with the faculty are experiences you can’t get anywhere else.

For me as a first- and even a second-timer, it helped that the conference was small. It wasn’t quite so overwhelming that way. Many areas have one or two-day writer’s conferences. There’s a really big Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference not too far from me that I may try to make it so some day. But it’s five days, and therefore more expensive. And if my head is about to explode after two days, I don’t know what it would do with five. But there are also that many more writers, editors, and publishers to hear from and opportunities to interact and ask questions.

Now – back to regular life, laundry, and more writing.

(Sharing also with Literary Musing Monday)

 

Writing Contest: You Are Enough

I am participating in the Writing Contest: You Are Enough, hosted by Positive Writer. The following is my entry.

Writing can be cathartic, healing, freeing. Writing helps me think. Writing is the best way I express myself.

You, too?

But we often talk ourselves out of writing, don’t we?

Anything I could say has already been said by someone else.

Maybe. But each generation wants to hear from its peers as well as its ancestors. And no one else has our exact perspective or sphere of influence.

It’s scary to bare our souls to the general public. What if people laugh – when I didn’t mean to be funny? What if readers belittle and criticize my carefully measured words? Or, worse yet, what if my writing is ignored?

Writing requires a certain amount of vulnerability. But that vulnerability is what makes it good and keeps it from sounding canned and fake. That’s what invites readers in and helps them connect.

Writing is risky. Any of those scary scenarios might actually happen. No one will please everyone. Look for truth in any criticism. Learn from it. Use it to improve. Grow. Ignore haters. Keep going.

My writing isn’t good enough. So many others are much better writers.

There will always be people who write better than we do. There will always be room for improvement. But you know the only way to be a better writer in two, five, ten, twenty years? Start writing now.

Are any of us “enough” in the sense that at this very moment we have all the knowledge, skills, and experience we will ever need?

No. But we have enough to start.

To get there, we have to start here.

It’s in the process of writing, in making mistakes and learning from them, in exercising our writing muscles, that we improve. A baby learns to walk by taking one faltering step at a time. In the process, despite many falls, muscles strengthen, balance improves, sure steps increase until finally the baby is not only walking, but running. But walking never happens without those first shaky steps and many stumbles.

Take in: learn your craft, read books and blogs about writing, attend conferences, listen to speakers.

And step out. Go ahead. You can do it. Before long you’ll be running.

 

Writing thoughts and questions

The writer’s conference I attended last March became a catalyst to take my writing off the back burner and make it a priority. I had a list of ideas for further writing, but one topic most on my heart and the most developed so far: encouraging women to read the Bible and dealing with some of the problems (distractions, busy schedules, etc.) that keep us from God’s Word. Different sources I’ve consulted say that a non-fiction book should total somewhere between 30,000-50,000 words. I have 24,000 so far!

One of my biggest writing roadblocks was making time. Every piece of writing advice I have seen says to make a schedule to write and keep your writing time sacred. But that just doesn’t work in my situation with caring for my mother-in-law at home, having caregivers and hospice people coming in and out (never knowing quite when some of them will be here), having a son working at home and taking online classes at home, and a husband who started working some days from home just about the time I decided to focus on writing. I was distressed for a while, but I knew that if God wanted me to write now, He’d help me find or make a way. Finally the idea came to focus on my writing as much as possible when my husband is away from home and then to spend the time he is here working on my household tasks. Even though this schedule isn’t the same each week. it has helped me make more progress with less stress than the hit or miss style I was working under before.

Several weeks ago I submitted a guest post to a particular site. The site owner sent back several helpful editorial suggestions. Sometimes writing just flows, and sometimes almost every word is a struggle. This was one of the latter times. I spent more than two weeks of my available writing time revising. The end result was immensely better than what I had sent originally sent in, but I was discouraged that the process was so laborious and took so much time. If a 1,000-word blog post took that much time, how long is it going to take me to finish a book? Around that time I came across a blog post on What 20 Famous Authors Had to Say About Rewriting. A couple of samples that most spoke to me:

Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it. ~Michael Crichton

More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina. ~John Irving

I have rewritten–often several times–every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers. ~Vladimir Nabokov

Those and other sources I read encouraged me that rewriting is just a part of the process.

I’ve had moments of thinking, “I love this! I want to do more!” and other moments of, “What was I thinking? Who am I kidding?” But, from what I have read, those roller coaster feelings are pretty normal.

I had also started following some blogs and Twitter accounts for writers. While they were helpful in many ways, I got discouraged after a while reading every single day “Here are 20 things you MUST do or you’ll never be a successful writer.” So I cut back on some of those. There is still a lot I need to learn, but I am taking it in smaller doses and working on a bit at a time. I’ve started a Pinterest board for articles and memes about writing.

I’ve also been wrestling with some of the following issues:

  • What name to use. There is already an author by my name who writes on water birth (something I know nothing about). Should I just use my name and trust that readers won’t mix us up? Or should I include my middle or maiden name or initial? I asked Facebook friends, and no one cared for the middle initial, but they were split pretty evenly between adding my middle or maiden name. I’m not crazy about using a three-word name, but it might be best.
  • Everything I read says an author needs an online presence, a platform, before submitting a manuscript for publication. Publishers want to make sure you have something of an audience already. At some point I’ll make a separate author Facebook page, and I will probably use my Twitter account as is, since I don’t use it for much now except linking blog posts. But I wonder if I should create a new blog or use this one. On one hand, though this blog isn’t viral by any means, I do have some readers. I’d hate to start over with a new blog. On the other hand, when I started blogging, blogs were more informal and neighborly. I love my little hodgepodge blog, but I wonder if a “professional” blog would work better for an author platform. I would probably still keep this as a personal blog.
  • What should I do about book reviews? I write them because I love talking about what I have read and want to share these books with others, who hopefully will love them, too. And while I am not nitpicky or hypercritical, I want to be honest if a book contain problems (mainly bad language, risque scenes, or iffy theology, but sometimes poor writing). Some of you have told me that you buy books based on my reviews, so I want to be especially careful that I am not steering anyone into problem areas without at least a heads-up. But would it seem unprofessional as a writer to criticize another author’s work? I once read a particular new book based on the recommendation of a favorite author, and the writing was some of the worst I had encountered. I felt I had been deceived and wondered if all authors recommended each other’s books unreservedly. I couldn’t honestly do that, but maybe the solution is just not to mention the books I have problems with.   If I kept this as a personal blog, I would probably continue with book reviews as I do them now. If I transformed this into a writer blog, I might create a separate book review blog.
  • For tax purposes, do writers file as self-employed, or do they form a company (an LLC, my husband suggests, but I have only a vague idea what that even is. One more thing to learn…)
  • If I “crowdsource” and ask for opinions or ideas on a blog or Facebook page, and I use one of the ideas suggested, do I owe the person who suggested it anything other than a mention in the book’s acknowledgements? For instance, the title I had always wanted to use for this book has been used by someone else recently. The editor who critiqued the few pages of my manuscript at the writer’s conference did not like the alternate title I came up with. I’ve jotted down some other ideas, but nothing really grabs me yet. I’d love to get some feedback, but if I ask for it in a public way, I’m not sure what the implications are. Perhaps if I present it as a contest, and offer the winner a free copy of the book (or something), that would be sufficient?
  • If you quote from someone’s blog, do you need to ask them first, or just attribute them properly?
  • What about those quotes all over the Internet from famous people that you can’t find a source for? They’re just recorded in lists of quotes, but further searching doesn’t reveal an original source. Can they be referred to just as “as quoted by C. H. Spurgeon” on this site?
  • I’d love to find a critique group of not just new writers in the same boat I am, but with experienced authors as well. A couple of authors who were at the writer’s conference are involved in Word Weavers, and they have a local branch. So that might be a possibility, though there is a fee. Both the critique at the writer’s conference and the editorial suggestions I mentioned in regard to my guest post have shown me how valuable it is to have a more experienced person’s eyes to take a look at my writing and provide feedback.

So those are some of the “behind the scenes” thoughts and issues I’ve been grappling with on the writer’s front. Some answers I can probably find with a little more research; others I just need to ponder a while. If you have any thoughts about anything I’ve written here, I’d love to hear them!

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

A Writer’s Survival Kit

When I got back from the writer’s conference I attended, a dear friend who had prayed for me while I was there, while I traveled, and especially while I was sick there, gave me this Writer’s Survival Kit. I thought it was such a sweet, thoughtful and clever idea, and I wanted to share it with you.

IMG_0793

img_0795.jpg

img_0803.jpg

IMG_0802

img_0804.jpg

I loved all of it, but I think the stress relief is my favorite. 🙂

Takeaways From a Writer’s Conference

Last week I told you about attending the Carolina Christian Writer’s Conference. This week I want to share some specifics I learned.

Writers make time to write. I was astonished to learn how incredibly busy everyone was. Each writer had several irons in the fire: family, books, multiple organizations, blogs, newsletters, and more. No one is luxuriating at a resort with nothing to do but write. Michelle Cox shared in the Lightning Learning sessions that she writes in 25-minute increments, a manageable goal. In addition, getting up and doing something else for a few minutes keeps writers from developing physical problems from sitting at the computer too long. Larry Leech told of one woman homeschooling several children who wrote for ten minutes at the top of every hour during the school day. If this is something God wants me to do, He will give me wisdom to discern how to make the time.

Writers learn. Writers are expected to know how to self-edit, format according to preferred standards, understand point of view, and myriad other aspects of writing long before they submit a manuscript for publication. Not knowing these things is seen as lazy, so I need to research, self-educate, soak up and glean all I can about the craft of writing.

Writers read. Most writers are readers, but writers are encouraged to read for more than pleasure. Nancy Lohr with Journeyforth suggested reading about the craft of writing, reading to see how other writers put together their work and what techniques they employ, reading books in one’s own field of interest, reading fiction even as a nonfiction writer. Craig von Buseck and Les Stobbe encouraged reading books like the one we want to write, both to see what’s already out there and to find our own unique approach.

Writers start small. Many of the speakers emphasized that writers rarely publish a book right off the bat with no previous writing experience. We were encouraged to start with writing articles, newsletters, blogs, etc., which will help us gain experience, write for an audience and receive feedback, work with deadlines and specifications, etc.

Writers are teachable. Candy Arrington emphasized the need for writers to be teachable and flexible. She and others encouraged joining a critique group so we can help each other with our blind spots, mistakes, clarity, etc.

Writers have a target audience in mind. Writing to our target audience keeps our writing focused. In addition, publishers want to know the target audience for marketing purposes. Sarah Bolme helped me clarify that my target audience does not have to be a certain age group: it just has to be the people who would have a particular interest in or need for my subject matter. “Adult women” is not a narrow enough target.

Since coming home from the conference, I started following a few of the speakers on Twitter to keep receiving tips and information. I also started reading:

The Write Conversation blog by Edie Melson. Edie is one of the coordinators for the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference. She was one of the speakers for the Carolina Christian Writer’s Conference, but, unfortunately, I didn’t get to attend any of her sessions. Her blog is considered one of the top writing blogs, and I have already learned a lot from it.

Writer’s Write.

Writing and Editing.

Have you attended a writer’s conference? What was your best takeaway from it? What other sources do you read to keep inspired or to hone your writing skills?

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday)

My First Writer’s Conference

I mentioned in Friday’s post an adventure. I spent Friday and Saturday at the Carolina Christian Writer’s Conference!

I had read about writer’s conferences, but attending one was a distant dream. I had never heard of this particular one until Mary mentioned it in a Facebook group we’re both in. I was surprised to see that the conference would take place in a city where I had lived for twelve years. That would take away the anxiety of traveling by myself to a strange new place. Plus it was just overnight, not several days. It seemed smaller than some of the others I had heard about, which would not be so overwhelming as some of the bigger ones. I didn’t think we’d be able to work around my mother-in-law’s care so that I could attend, but my husband said he could be home, and he encouraged me to go. So I did!

Authors, editors, and publisher representatives made up the faculty who presented the workshops. I had read one of the authors, heard of one other, and knew one of the publisher representatives years ago when she was on staff at my sons’ school, but everyone else was new to me. I came away with many of the faculty’s books added to my TBR list.

Four workshops divided into eight sessions each, covering topics like a writer’s social platform, managing time to write, self-editing, storytelling, plot, character arc, book proposals, publishing, and so much more. I wish I could have attended the majority of them! The one most beneficial to me was Craig von Buseck‘s “Fiction Techniques in Nonfiction Writing.” He explained that even though nonfiction informs, persuades, and inspires, it must also entertain or engage the reader, or else the reader will put it down. My writing sometimes tends to be “Just the facts, ma’am,” which might work for a Wikipedia article, but not a book. I gained both ideas and inspiration from Craig’s workshop for fleshing out my writing.

Todd Starnes was the enjoyable keynote speaker, and two panels covered editors’ pet peeves and publishing trends. Friday night after the last session we all divided into genre groups with faculty members available to answer questions.

A “Lightening Learning” session was both fun and informative. All of the faculty were stationed at various tables, and conferees went in small groups from table to table, changing tables at the blow of a whistle. Each faculty member had three minutes to share their favorite writing tip. Though all the tips were beneficial, one faculty member gave me a great idea for narrowing down my target audience.

We had an opportunity to submit an outline and the first ten pages of a manuscript for a critique before the conference, and during the conference we had a fifteen-minute appointment with the person who critiqued our work. That was a humbling experience, but then that was somewhat expected. We can’t improve our writing until we see what we’re doing wrong.

We also had the opportunity to sign up to meet with a faculty member for at least one 15-minute session just to ask questions, share our project and get feedback, etc.

Before the conference when I was trying to determine whether to spend the time, money, and emotional energy to go, I looked over the workshop topics and thought, “You know, I could read about most of this in books or online.” And though that’s true, and though I am sure I will read more, the conference sessions helped distill some of these topics down to their most important essence. Besides all the information and inspiration, one of the biggest takeaways from the conference was encouragement. It’s hard sometimes to know when or how to bring up writing in everyday conversation, but at a writer’s conference, everyone asks what you’re working on, and no one thinks you’re silly or self-promotional. Plus, at an event like this, editors and publishers are encouraging and instructive. They know we don’t know everything we need to and they’re there to help. But once you submit a manuscript to them, you’re down to business, and they expect you to know the ropes. Meeting a variety of editors and publishers gives you some sources to pursue when you do get ready for those steps. It was also encouraging to meeting others at various stages of the writing journey.

And since this was a Christian conference, two of the themes that continually emerged were prayer and responsibility. We need to seek God at every step in the writing process and ask others to intercede for us. And we need to remember that all we do is by His power and grace and for Him. If writing is a calling, we’re responsible to obey God’s call, and if it is a gift, we’re responsible to develop it for His glory.

One other plus for me was meeting Mary Hill at Maryandering Creatively! I have been participating in her Literary Musing Monday for some time now, so it was great to meet in person.

Before the conference Mary had also pointed me to Edie Melson’s The Write Conversation. Her sidebar contains a wealth of information about preparing for a writer’s conference, an invaluable help to me. Edie was also on the conference faculty, and I was sorry to miss her sessions. But I’m delighted to find her site and glean the information there.

I had let a couple of you know privately that I was going and asked for prayer: thank you! I had not traveled by myself since I had to drive from Spartanburg to Knoxville to house-hunt before our move here almost eight years ago (and since college days before that!) I am not a good traveler anyway. During the trip as well as before and after, I kept thinking, “I can’t believe I am doing this!” Excitement battled with fear, anxiety, and even dread at some points, but excitement won out, and God gave me peace. Everything about the trip itself went well: God kept me safe on the road and in parking lots. I spent all of Saturday morning sick in the hotel room, and I was sorry to miss those sessions. I had considered going home once I felt well enough to drive. My dear husband offered to drive up with my son so that he could drive me home and my son could drive his car back, but I didn’t think that would be necessary. I texted a friend to request prayer. I’m so thankful that I felt well enough to attend the Saturday afternoon sessions, as those were the best of the conference for me.

I also enjoyed just the aspect of getting away from everyday responsibilities for a while, and the quiet hotel room provided a counterbalance to all the new experiences and being with so many people. I’m so thankful to my husband for not only allowing me and providing for me to attend but encouraging me to and taking care of things at home while I was gone. It’s not easy being the sole caregiver for his mom, so I appreciate his being willing to do that for a few days.

My emotions definitely hit highs (“Maybe I really can finish a book!”) and lows (What was I thinking?!“) But I came away from the conference challenged and encouraged to move writing from the back burner. I have a lot of work to do, but I gained some good ideas, more direction, and more awareness of what needs to be weeded out. I tend to be wordy (in case you haven’t noticed… 🙂 ), so I need to tighten up in some areas and flesh concepts out in others. My head is still spinning and I am still processing much of what I learned.

If you enjoy writing, I’d encourage you attend a writer’s conference! I am already hoping to attend next year.

Special thanks go to Linda Gilden for organizing everything, for her patience with this newbie, and especially for her warm and encouraging tone in everything she did. Thanks to all the team who helped everything go so smoothly! Great job!

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Faith on Fire)