Friday, March 9, 2012

Make a Fashion Statement

Alright. I’ll admit it. I love to shop. I love fashion. I don’t have a budget that allows designer labels, but (on a good day) I can at least try to pull off the style. I know what looks good on me and I know what to avoid – things that shows off all my worst features. Sometimes, though, I get into that dressing room and realize that even an empire waist won’t cover those extra pounds of winter weight – compounded by a few too many winters. I wish I could just find something that covered all the undesirable parts and displayed a flawless me.
I have an irrational fear of being  caught underdressed. The very idea of walking into a new church, restaurant or office and realizing that I’m the only one in jeans and a t-shirt makes me want to disappear into the floorboards. Almost as terrifying is the idea of spilling something all over myself when I can’t change and looking sloppy for the rest of the day.    
The prophet Zechariah tells the story of a similar nightmare in one of his visions. He saw the high priest Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord in filthy rags. Satan stood beside him to accuse him of his symbolic fashion faux pas, pointing a finger at his disgrace.
Zech.3:4-5 reads: The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.” Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.
Isaiah reinforces these themes, referring to our attempts at righteousness as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). Isa. 61:10 says I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.
When I go to meet my King that’s what I want to be wearing! But what exactly do garments of salvation and a robe of righteousness look like?
Rom. 13:14 puts it this way. “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” In Ephesians 4:24 Paul states, "Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” This theme recurs in Colossians 3:10, "And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:"
So if I wear a robe of righteousness before the throne of the almighty King, I will look just like his Son! What a fashion statement!
Do you keep God locked away deep inside or are you willing to wear the robe of righteousness, the image of Jesus Christ for all to see?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

12 Steps to a Life Free from Excuses

Over the past weeks, months even, I have accomplished less than I'd hoped. I haven't met my goals in writing or life in general. I get discouraged and distracted. And above all, I have lots of excuses for why things aren't getting done. I've been sick. I started a new job. My family has put extra demands on my time. I've committed to large projects with less help and support than expected. And the list goes on. Many of my excuses are valid challenges, but I've allowed them to keep my goals out of reach.

I've come to a conclusion that I'm posting here to keep me accountable. Here it is. I don't want excuses. I don't want anything to validate me being ineffectual for God. I want to be so surrendered and dependent on Him that it doesn't matter what's going on in my life.

I heard this quote attributed to David Brainerd recently and it's become my prayer. "God let me make a difference for you that is utterly disproportionate to who I am."

I'm weak. I can't do this on my own. Thankfully, God doesn't ask us to do it on our own. As a matter of fact, 2 Corinthians 12:9 says: But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
Amen! I'm ready for a power surge!
According to Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Isaiah 40: 29-31 promises: He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary,and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
With these truths in mind, I'm making the following resolutions.
12 Steps to a Life Free from Excuses:

1) Begin every day in the word of God with a focused quite time. (And no, a prayer in the shower doesn't count.) But don't stop there! Pray your way though your day.

2) Honor your family. (Make time to help kids with homework, keep drawers stocked with laundered clothes and cupboards full of clean dishes, spend an hour with hubby, even if it means sitting beside him while he watches yet another episode of Man vs. Wild)

3) Write everyday no matter what. (Even if a few hundred words is all I can stay awake for.)

4) Eliminate time wasters. (Remove the game apps on your phone. Turn the TV off. Seriously limit facebook time.)

5) Use lists, schedules, reminders, alarms, times and notes to manage time and responsibilities.

6) Learn to say "no". Don't take on any new commitments. Eliminate unnecessary activities.

7) Prioritize. Put first things first.

8) Work in a way that will earn a "well done, good and faithful servant". No lazy, half-hearted effort. No distracted wandering mind. Put your all into it and get it done.

9) Make reasonable Goals and don't allow distractions or interruptions to excuse you from being effective and accomplishing those goals.

10) Don't procrastinate. Thinking ahead is not one of my strengths. I say, "I'll do it later" way too often.

11) Get enough sleep. Sleep is the first thing to go when I get too busy, but I invariably get sick when I'm sleep deprived. Getting an extra few hours of work done today is not worth the foggy head I'll have next week while I'm fighting off another cold or flu.

12) Forgive yourself. Tomorrow is a new day. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

You don’t have to be a Pro to Write a Winning Entry Part 2

Yesterday I shared the story of how I went from inept amateur to Frasier winner in less than one year. Today, I’d like to share how the Frasier win affected my life and how you can transform your entry into a scene you can be proud of.   
The My Book Therapy website advertises the Frasier contest as the perfect way to:
1. Get feedback from professionals on your manuscript, and
2. Start a buzz for your work among the gatekeepers.
1. Get feedback from professionals: When I entered, I believed the feedback would be well worth the entry fee. I was not disappointed. The judges took time to really examine my work. Their comments were thorough, encouraging and helpful. Not only did they point out areas I could improve, they also gave ideas on how to fix the problems. They took the time to show me where I excel. They provided specific example for both positive and negative comments so I could apply the feedback to improve my work. They also gave advice about how my work fits into the industry and offered suggestions to improve my chances of making a sale.  
2. Start a buzz for your work among the gatekeepers: At my first ever ACFW conference, people knew my name. Both of the agents I met with had heard of me or even read my work before I arrived at my meetings. I received requests for materials from both of them as well as one editor. Since my win I’ve been featured on blogs and websites. I even have people outside of the writing community taking notice of me because they ran across my name on the web. People from my church, the nurse at my doctor’s office and old acquaintances I haven’t seen in many years have tracked me down to find out what all the buzz is about. I have opportunities to network and establish my brand as an author almost everyday.
Another benefit of winning is the scholarship to an MBT retreat. Because of that scholarship, I have the opportunity to return to Deep Thinkers this year. With so very much to learn and so much valuable information presented, repetition is good! I couldn’t have possibly absorbed all there was to learn the first time.     
Receiving the Frasier award has had an amazing effect on my life, but the benefits of entering began long before the winner was announced. As a matter of fact, they began before I’d even sent my entry!
In the days leading up to the entry deadline, My Book Therapy blogs, chats and forums were packed with Frasier contest specific information, tips and tricks. The Frasier is unlike any other contest because they not only tell you exactly what the judges are looking for, but then take it a step farther and actually train you to deliver exactly what they are looking for! Polishing my Frasier entry last year was one of the most valuable exercises in writing I’ve ever participated in. I learned how to weave all the elements into the story, not just for the entry, but for all of my subsequent writing and editing projects.    
My biggest piece of advice to anyone who is considering entering the Frasier is to be teachable. MBT will give you the tools you need to write a powerful scene that will exceed your own expectations. 
A few things to remember when crafting a Frasier contest entry:
           Your entry should only include ONE scene with ONE point of view (POV). This scene should be the first scene in your story.
           Weed out words that end in “ly” and the word “was” as much as possible. These are symptoms of passive writing, or telling instead of showing.
           Replace dialogue tags (he said, she said) with action beats (use body language, emotional reaction, internal dialogue, and expression).
           Limit back story. Your reader doesn’t need a full explanation of your character’s back story in the first scene. A well written hint or emotional reaction can be more powerful than paragraphs of explanation. Leave the reader wanting to know more, not overwhelmed with information dump.

           Stay under 1500 words. It would sure be a bummer if your winning entry was disqualified because you couldn’t manage to shave off those extra 64 words. You can do it! If you have the opposite problem and your entry is only 700 words, then you probably haven’t included all of the elements. Keep reading! We’ll talk about what you might need to add.

One of best tools available for polishing your Frasier entry is the first chapter checklist.

First Chapter Checklist (from the Book Buddy by Susan May Warren):
1.        Have you created sympathy for your character so we love them?
2.     Have you shown us your character's home life, so we know where their journey begins?
3.     Have you shown us your character's competence, and their identity?
4.     Have you given us a glimpse of your characters greatest dream?
5.     Have you given us a hint of your character's greatest fear?
6.     Have you given us a hint at your character's spiritual lie?
7.     Have you set the mood of the book (suspense/mystery/fantasy, women's fiction, rom-com, romance, etc).  
8.     Have you delivered the story question that will drive us through the book? 
9.     Do you have crisp, interesting dialogue?
10.   Have you honed your hook to include the Who, What, Why, When and Where's of the story? 
11.   Do you have sufficient storyworld?
12.   Have you used the five senses? 
13.   Have you shown us the story in active voice?  
14.   Have you used specific nouns and vivid verbs to add emotion to the story? 
15.   Finally, have you ended the scene with a disaster, something that makes the reader want to turn the page?

It seems impossible at first. How can you fit all of that into one scene without breaking any of the rules? (If you don’t understand any of the elements, search the MBT blog and forum for explanations, or post a comment here and I'll do my best to explain.)
First, look at what you have written and highlight any elements that are already clearly defined. Next, find places to naturally interject missing elements. When you believe you have accomplished this, have someone else read your scene (preferably a writer who understands the concepts. If you don’t have a craft partner or crit group, post an offer to exchange entries with someone else on the “Critique Partners?” Forum in the MBT Bleachers. Here’s the link
Ask your critique partner to read your entry carefully then answer the 15 checklist questions without looking back. Ask for more than just Yes or No. See if they can give an example or short explanation for each question.
If your reader can’t answer all of these questions (with the answers you intended) then go back and strengthen the weak areas.
You don’t have to be a pro to write a winning entry. Trust me! I have a long way to go. But whether you win or not, you won’t regret entering the Frasier. The skills you learn just by polishing an entry will be worth it and the judges’ feedback takes those skills a step farther. You'll improve your writing, learn about the industry and get your work in front of professionals. And who know, you might be the next Frasier winner! 

To read the story of my journey to the Frasier win, check out yesterday’s post, You don’t have to be a Pro to Write a Winning Entry Part 1. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, February 6, 2012

You don’t have to be a Pro to Write a Winning Scene Part 1

In September 2011 I was honored with the 2011 Frasier Award. (The Frasier is a writing contest for unpublished novelists through My Book Therapy.) This is the story of how I went from inept amateur to award-winning novelist in less than one year. This victory is not mine. This story is a testimony of the power and faithfulness of God Almighty.
My Frasier story:
In the fall of 2010 I had the privilege of meeting Susan May Warren at a women’s retreat. Somehow over the course of the weekend, I managed to disclose to her my deepest secret. I’m sure my face turned five shades of red telling THE Susan May Warren that I liked to write novels in my carefully hidden free time.  Once, about eight years before, I had checked out and read the only two books my local library had on writing and publishing. Beyond that (and my college composition courses) I had no training in creative writing. My method of writing a book was to come up with interesting characters, throw a situation at them and keep writing until I found out what happened next. (No wonder my first few finished books were over 140,000 words. J) In 2002 I had send out a few queries. When I got rejections to my first three attempts, I decided that writing novels might just have to be my hobby. I changed gears, changed my major in college and became a journalist. After college, I worked as a newspaper reporter for a few years. I kept writing stories, but I did it in secret. Until the day I met Suzie and she convinced me it was time to come out of the closet.
A few weeks after the women’s retreat, I attended the My Book Therapy Storycrafters retreat. And I learned how much I had to learn. The group had more than a dozen real writers with real potential who all seemed to know what they were talking about. The shop talk might as well have been a foreign language for me. I’d never heard terms like deep POV, WIP, active vs. passive writing. What was with all the acronyms anyway? And even more overwhelming than the terminology was the foundational concept of outlining a story before writing it. I shed a few tears of discouragement. But as I took inventory of the work that I had previously done, I discovered something that pulled me off the ledge. Even though I’d never outlined a story, every book I’d written did contain all the elements of the LINDYHOP (Suzie’s acronym for the story spine or outline). Alright, so maybe I wasn’t totally hopeless. Even if my books were full of passive head hopping that had been told rather than shown. (Gibberish, right?)
At Storycrafters, I heard about Deep Thinkers. For this North Dakota girl, it was a pipe dream to go to Florida to write for six whole days.  But Deep Thinkers or no Deep Thinkers, I committed to learning how to write well.  I attended MBT chats on Monday nights. I read the archives and the blog and the e-zine. It never ceased to amaze me how many resources were there for the taking. All those years of solitary writing I never knew I was a few clicks away from a supportive community packed with information I could have been learning and growing from. I wasn’t going to waste any more time.
Through God’s provision I was able to attend Deep Thinkers 2011. I couldn’t have been more nervous or out of place. I ended up in a carpool from the airport with the 2010 Frasier winner, Melissa Tagg. Intimidated doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt with her. Not to mention two of the 2010 Frasier finalists and all the other amazing writers who attended 2011 DT. But when I discovered that all those talented writers were also amazing people who didn’t even look down at me for my unlimited supply of stupid questions, I was so glad I’d gone. I learned so much that week! Until I attended Deep Thinkers, I had never heard of ACFW or writing contests. I left Florida with the challenge to enter contests and join ACFW.
I entered the Frasier because I had heard such wonderful things about the judges’ feedback, and because I trusted MBT.  I knew my writing had improved in the six months since joining MBT, but I had no illusions of actually winning. I wanted feedback to help me pinpoint problem areas and continue to grow as a writer.
Sometimes I still can’t believe it was my name announced as the 2011 Frasier winner at the MBT Pizza Party during the ACFW Conference in St. Louis in September. It could not have been on my own merit that I won. It was only though God’s grace and power to work mightily in my life. I can look back at one incredible year and see His hand on every moment of it.
My award is also a testament to the value of the teaching offered by My Book Therapy. Everything you could possibly want to learn is presented on the pages of the resources offered there. And if it’s not, start a discussion on the forum or put in a request for the topic on the blog or e-zine and I’m sure it would quickly be addressed. Check out My Book Therapy at
Thanks for stopping by! Check back tomorrow to read about how the Frasier win has affected my life and get practical advice on how to polish your entry!