Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed . ~ 2 Timothy 2:15

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Virelle Kidder: Finding her song

“I never planned on being a writer,” writes Virelle Kidder in her latest book, The Best Life Ain’t Easy, But It’s Worth It (2008, Moody Publishers). “I literally fell into it one brilliant June morning in front of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.”

When she writes “literally,” she means it. The two slipped discs in her neck and lower back caused by the fall required 15 months of neck traction and a cervical collar.

“Not welcome news for this mom (of four teenagers) in high gear,” she says. “There was little choice but to settle into my new contraption and learn to listen to God all over again.”

After a few weeks, she began to look forward to the time alone behind that bedroom door, reading God’s Word, listening for His voice, and just resting. “The perfect escape,” she called it.

“Within a few months the strangest thing would happen,” she writes. “Something like a song begging a voice echoed from a place before unknown. Day by day, it drifted through forgotten rooms in my soul where faces and voices I’d once loved still lived. I longed to bring them to life again, to listen and linger over ideas once muffled by my busy life.”

What, she wondered, was she to do with this? Tell someone was the answer.

So she told her husband the stories that bubbled from her heart and soul—in the morning over coffee in the bathroom while he shaved. Steve’s interest surprised her. “Tell me more,” he’d say. One day he said, “You need to write these stories down. Our children need them. Others need them.”

And so she did. Mothering Upstream was published in 1990 by Victor Books. The song had found a voice.

Today Virelle is the author of six nonfiction books, a retreat and conference speaker, and a writing teacher and mentor.

But she’ll be the first to tell you it isn’t easy. Writing, especially nonfiction, requires a transparency most find uncomfortable. Opening your heart and life to an unseen reader, hoping your words will reach across time and distance and touch another’s life, means being vulnerable. But that’s the only way to be authentic, she says. Because it’s in the sharing of your very real pain that others identify with you. They know you’re real.

Says Virelle, “Writing became my song to sing back to God.”

Adapted from her memoir, The Best Life Ain’t Easy, But It’s Worth It and published in THE UPPER CASE, the newsletter of the St. Davids Christian Writers Association, Winter 2010

Visit Virelle's website.

"No eye has seen, nor ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV)

Virelle's book, Meet Me at the Well: Take a Month to Water Your Soul (Moody Publishers, 2008) has spawned three satellite ministries: Virelle's "Meet Me at the Well" women's retreat, a companion Meet Me at the Well Bible study, written by Jocelyn Hamsher, and an inspirational music CD by Lisa Troyer. You never know what God has in store for those who trust and obey. For more information, click here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Jerry B. Jenkins on Writing for the Soul

Jerry Jenkins's book, Writing for the Soul: Instruction and Advice from an Extraordinary Writing Life, should be on every writer's professional bookshelf. Especially beginners. Especially intermediate writers. Especially professional writers. A candid look into the real world of the professional writer, Writing for the Soul is packed full of advice, born of decades of experience. It's also the story of Jerry's journey from a high school sports stringer for his local newspaper to a best-selling author with over 150 titles to his name. But it's not a "look at what I've done" type of book. Jerry's much too humble for that. It's more like "look at what you can do."

For those of you who don't recognize the name, Jerry B. Jenkins is the co-author of the bestselling Left Behind series. He's also the owner of the Christian Writers Guild and publishes a weekly blog for writers every Wednesday. (Click on under "Writers' Blogs in the right margin of this page.)

Writing for the Soul serves up thirteen chapters addressing all phases of the writing life, from "Why Write?" to "Keeping the Goal in Sight." Sprinkled throughout the book are helpful writing tips and interesting anecdotes about famous folks Jerry's had the privilege of writing about.

Jerry addresses the reader on the inside front flap of the book's dustcover:
Now is the time for honest, perhaps painful, self-assessment. If you have what it takes, including skin thick enough to endure the honest evaluation of your work, you can succeed in making the most of every opportunity. I'm living my dream as a full-time freelance novelist, writing about things I believe in and care about. And you can too. The path is crowded and the passage long, but but the reward is worth it. You can write for the benefit of your soul. And you can write to reach the soul of another.

From the back cover:
"In Writing for the Soul," best-selling author Jerry B. Jenkins takes you on a personal and inspiring journey, imparting experience and wisdom gained from his impressive writing career. Unknown in his early days, Jenkins persisted in his passion to write, and his story reveals rewards that can come to writers who put in the hard work and keep their priorities straight. Jenkins shares honest and straightforward truth about how to find writing success and why the journey is a continuous one.

"With heartfelt advice and intimate anecdotes that will satisfy writers and fans, Jenkins discusses:
  • the skills and abilities requires to build an exciting career
  • breaking into the industry through reporting and writing for small markets
  • establishing and maintaining a professional image
  • how even experienced writers should continue to learn and grow (including Jenkins himself).
"Writing for the Soul is filled with Jenkins' autobopgraphical stories--including many of the famous people he's written about--and the lessons he's learned from his decades of experience in the writing and publishing world."

Jerry's big on continuously learning, reading, improving your skills. That's why 10 years ago he bought the Christian Writers Guild, which offers courses for writers all along the spectrum, from beginners on. And why every year, usually in February, he hosts the Writing for the Soul Christian Writers Conference. I recently was on the team of writers who rewrote two of the Guild's writing courses. The Guild, reflecting Jerry's desire is committed to helping writers move up to the next level.

The writing team discusses changes to the Writing Essentials course with Jerry
(from left) Julie Ieron, Karen O'Connor, Jerry, Michele Huey

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Grammar goof: misplaced modifiers

I laughed out loud when I read a local radio station’s online news email:

“Walker was charged with burglary, trespass, and other charges in connection with Walker breaking into his ex-girlfriend’s apartment and videotaping an intimate moment she was having with his cell phone camera.”

My, that must be some cell phone camera! The technology these days . . .

Correcting the goof:

It has to do with the placement of modifiers. A modifier is a word or phrase that describes, or modifies, another word. A modifier that describes, or modifies, a noun is an adjective; a modifier that describes or modifies a verb, adjective, or adverb is an adverb.

Modifiers can be single words or phrases, but they should be placed next to the word they modify. When they aren’t, they are called misplaced modifiers, and can create some pretty hilarious sentences.

In the above gaffe, “with his cell phone camera” is meant to modify the verb “videotaping.” In other words, he was charged with using his cell phone to videotape an intimate moment his girlfriend was having. Placing the phrase at the end of the sentence, next to the verb “having,” makes it modify “having.” You get the gist.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Writing goals: What's your game plan?

From my viewpoint as a spectator who knows little about soccer, the players are all over the field, haphazardly chasing a ball, trying to kick it into a net.

But there’s more to soccer than meets the untrained eye. Pre-designed plays, defensive and offensive maneuvers, skill, and an understanding of the opponent all factor into this grueling sport, as does endurance and training—and a strategic game plan.

Writers need a game plan, too; otherwise, we’re like the clueless soccer player, running randomly around the field, kicking at an elusive object, hoping somehow we’ll connect and make a sale.

Perhaps the most important part of the writer’s game plan is developing writing goals— daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.

What’s a goal, anyway?
This seems elementary, but unless you understand exactly what a goal is, you’ll be like the clueless soccer player who’s better left on the sidelines.

A goal is the specific end result for which you work. It is measurable and is something over which you have control. For example, my overall goal as a writer is to be published. While that goal is measurable (publication), it’s also vague and not one over which I have control.

How do you write goals that are specific, measurable, and controllable?

Take, for example, this article, which was published in Christian Communicator in January 2009. My goal was to write a well-written article of no more than 650 words on setting writing goals and submit it that week to Christian Communicator.

It’s Specific
Nothing fuzzy about that goal. It’s specific in that I stated the topic, the length, the market, and a definite time I’ll submit the manuscript. Think 5 W’s and H of journalism:

  • Who? “I”Me
  • What? A 650-word article about setting writing goals
  • When? That week
  • Where? Christian Communicator
  • How? Well-written
  • Why? To give writers an understanding of both the importance of goal-setting and how to do it

It’s Measurable
The goal has standards that can be measured: Is the article within the suggested word count? Am I staying on topic? Am I following the editor’s guidelines? Am I on target as far as the deadline?

It’s Something I Can Control
Although I take great pains to submit my best work, I have no control over whether or not manuscript is accepted for publication. So I state the goal in terms of what I can control:
  • Quality: ("well-written”). Submit only my best work. Have someone read and critique the manuscript before I submit it. Stay on topic and deliver what I promised, following the publication’s writers’ guidelines, including word count.
  • Punctuality: (“this week”). Send the manuscript by the deadline—before, if possible.
  • Professionalism: (all of the above). Remember the skilled soccer player? He trains to become the best he can be, so he can build up endurance and persevere. Good writers plan their work and work their plan as they formulate daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals, then follow through with them. They are also flexible, adapting and reformulating those goals to fit changing scenarios. They develop a good offense in terms of a submission plan and meet disappointment and rejection (defense) with persistence. They understand—and seek to understand better—the world of publishing as a whole, and the specific publication to which they want to submit their work. And always, always, they strive to learn writing techniques and hone their skills.

Share Your Goals

I send my weekly goals to my online writing critique group, as well as a brief recap of what I accomplished the previous week. It helps me not only to be accountable, but also to recognize my tendency to over -schedule.

Like soccer, freelance writing can be grueling, with goals just as elusive as kicking that ball in the net. But having a game plan in place helps you—in training, enduring, and reaching those goals.