Two Ideas to Help You Write Your Book

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If you’re thinking about writing a book but you’re really not sure how to push through the often-frustrating process, you might consider hiring a writing coach or surrounding yourself with a group of writers to help you to “The End.”

stressed african woman with computer

Writing Coaches

In a nutshell, a writing coach is like a physical trainer. They don’t do the work for you, but they can help you through the process.

A writing coach offers guidance through the developmental process. He or she will help you outline your book and plan the chapters. After defining the scope of your book, you and your coach will decide upon a calendar. Every week or so (depending on what you two decide), you’ll send a chapter to your coach via email. The coach will give feedback on each chapter. You’ll move forward through each chapter of the book with your coach’s input and a sense of accountability along the way.

Some coaches provide other services, but this is the basic gist of what writing coaches do and how one can help you reach your writing goals.

For the record, I am NOT a writing coach. I don’t use a writing coach, but I know authors who have used writing coaches, particularly for their first book or two.

The writing coaches I know well are all booked up for now, but you can send me an email if you’d like their contact info. If you’re a writing coach or if you know if a good writing coach, please feel free to post your contact info. in the comments!

Writing Critique Group

Study group

My first experience with a critique group came at the home of award-winning, seasoned author Lena Nelson Dooley (thanks, Lena!).

Here’s how it worked: One evening each week, we met and circled up in her living room on chairs and couches—sometimes as few as 5, as many as 12 or so. Whoever had something to read (up to 10 pages double-spaced) read their work aloud. Everyone listened and followed along (if that person brought copies for everyone to read). Lena commented first, then everyone else went around the circle adding their two cents. Some of the comments were praise, most were suggestions for improvement, all were helpful. Even if I didn’t bring a chapter, I learned so much by listening to the other writers’ work as well as the following critique.

We all wrote Christian fiction or non-fiction. Most were members of the local ACFW chapter, but some were personally invited.

Several of us who used to go to Lena’s formed a smaller group, closer in proximity. It’s been absolutely amazing to celebrate the achievements of the group. Since we’ve been meeting, 3 have signed multi-contract deals with major publishers and several have self-published with amazing success.

If you don’t know any authors who might invite you to a critique group, consider forming a critique group of your own! Quick tips:

1) For safety’s sake, I’d host it in a public place (library or café) unless you know everyone

2) My groups have been all-women. When I hosted a group in my home, we did move it to a library when men wanted to start coming. I don’t think my husband would have taken kindly to some dudes sitting up in his living room with me when he came home from work

3) My groups have also been comprised of people who read and write in the same genre, for the most part. When people understand the genre’s expectations, they are able to provide critique that lines your work up with the standards

4) In my current group, we don’t bring physical copies of our work. We send it via email ahead of time. Everyone makes their comments through Microsoft’s reviewing options. We send the comments back to the author via email after having our conversations.

If you’re not the one for meeting face-to-face or one-on-one coaching, you might consider virtual support groups (Google hangouts, FB groups, etc.). Any more ideas for how to collaborate with others to finish your work? Please post in the comments!

The Creative Itch

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Are you multi-talented? Do you have, like, a TON of things you can do well? Don’t worry. You’re not alone. I’m a firm believer that if you’re faithful with your gifts, you get the chance to use even more (Luke 12:48).

Hands working on pottery wheel ,  retro style toned

An artist is always thinking of ways to express creativity. When I break between projects, I pick up little fun things that keep my creative juices flowing.

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Scripture Bracelets

Scripture Bracelets – I started making these in 2006 to keep the word in my face constantly. Later, my daughter and I started making these. It was a bonding activity for us. However, when she turned 16 she got a “real” job that paid more than Momma. Now, I just make them when I get the chance.

Acting – In the last few months, I’ve received 2 invitations to make cameo appearances in plays. I’m in!

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Drawing of my daughter

Drawing – I drew this one of my daughter when she was 2 years old. I can’t draw mouths well, so I put a pacifier in her mouth. Hey – it worked. She always had the binky in her mouth anyway!

Exercise Video – When I tell people about my exercise video that only consists of words and music, they crack up! Who needs somebody on the screen if you already know the moves in your head?

Yes, this is the screenshot of the video. My favorite songs play. I know what to do!

Creating Book Covers – I dabbled in this last year and actually sold several of my pre-made designs. What I’ve learned, however, is that I’m really not that good at custom designs yet. It’s far too time-consuming for me at this point in my development. I think I still have 2 more that I’ve agreed to do, but I gotta slow down and perfect some things for now.

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By the way, these pre-made covers are available for $50 each! Email (stimpson.michelle at gmail.com) me if you want one!

What about you? How do you scratch that creative itch?

Last Day Free on Kindle !

Stepping Down

Stepping-Down-Lessons-Part-1.jpgHard at work on growing his church, Pastor Mark never realized that his own household was falling apart. Now a scandal threatens everything he stands for and has worked so hard to achieve. Together, can he and his wife learn to forgive? From a national bestselling author.

Download today for Kindle!

People and Stories in My Head

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Every writer I know has several ideas floating around in their heads. Sometimes, these ideas and characters keep me up throughout the night. One of the benefits of being in a critique group, teaching writing classes, and communicating with other writers online is that I get to bounce ideas around before I start writing.

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In a spirit of collaboration, I’d like to hear your thoughts about these ideas and hear some ideas you’ve got bouncing around, too!

Hope – She’s a typical “Superwoman” who’s in love with a guy who has been stringing her along for the longest time. When he finally told her had something really important to ask her, she thought he was going to pop the question. Unfortunately, the “big question” was a request to borrow money. I got that idea from watching an episode of Judge Mathis. It was hilarious but sad. I think I’m gonna do a series with Hope eventually.

Rev. Brown – He’s a man who was married multiple times in the past. He has 3 daughters from those relationships (3 different mothers). He’s a changed man in Christ and he’s trying to reconcile with his daughters, but it’s not easy. The daughters are also struggling through life because they have Daddy issues. This idea is not necessarily “new” but I’ve been studying the orphan spirit in preparation for exploring this topic deeply through fiction. Not sure when it will happen, but it’s on my heart.

A Mean Prophetess – I’m still trying to figure out if she really is mean or if that’s what people think of her because she does what Old Testament prophets do—she warns people before destruction and they don’t like it. I still have to research this, though, because I’m not sure what New Testament prophets are called to do. Is it different now that believers have the Holy Spirit to teach us? How can she warn people without condemning them? Is she really a prophet or is she just a mean, judgmental person who needs to learn humility underneath that title?

Mama B # 6 – I think I’d like to see Mama B and Frank on a cruise or in some place other than their house. I’ve been thinking about making Mama B a sleuth (which is what happened with her Caucasian quasi-counterpart, Miss Julia), but I have to read up on that series to study the transition.

Blotted – this is a different genre (Fantasy? Sci-fi? Adventure?) This book is about teen who knows whose name has been blotted out of the Book of Life. I’ve got a few chapters already. My son liked it. This is his genre, so I’ll probably finish it soon, but I don’t think it will end up being a short story. I still need to find out if there’s a difference between the Book of Life and the Lamb’s Book of Life in scripture.

Historical Fiction – this one will probably be a short story, too. Late 1800s. An African-American girl who’s who is in training to become a midwife but she doesn’t want this destiny. Something goes wrong during the birth of a white woman’s baby…that’s where the trouble starts. This will probably be a short story, too.

Deon Jackson – this is an 8-year-old boy who has ADHD. The family dynamics change when his grandfather (who has Alzheimer’s) come to live with them. My son didn’t like it. But Tia McCollors’s son is reading my first few chapters to let me know if it’s remotely interesting.

[*Note – nothing I write ever turns out the way I plan it—and even if it did, no two writers would write the story identically. Every writer has his/her own voice, so I don’t worry about people “stealing” my ideas. What God has for me is for me.]

So…which idea piques your interest? Any suggestions? Are you a writer, too? Who’s dancing around in your head?

A Day in the Life of a Writer

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For YEARS, I have been resistant to blogging. I’ve even blogged about how much I don’t blog very often because I just don’t have the time. But last week, after reading a blogger’s recap of her typical day, I caught the blogging bug. I mean, I really, really caught it.

Write Sign, Love for Writing, for writers and authors.

In hopes of inspiring those who have been trying to decide if writing is something you might want to do full-time, I’ll share my typical day (6 days a week):

7:30 am – Wake up but stay in bed. Change the channel from ESPN to TBN. Listen to Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, John Hagee and Joseph Prince while dozing in and out.

9:30 am – Get up, get dressed, eat breakfast. Replay episodes of ministers (from above) that I really wanted to listen to closely while I’m getting dressed. Stretch or maybe exercise for a little bit while listening.

10:15am – Go to the prayer closet. Read, study the Word, journal, pray.

12:15 pm – Write fiction

1:00 pm – Eat lunch.

1:30 pm – Return the morning’s phone calls. Handle inside-the-house business (i.e. update sales chart, schedule free books, sales, ads, read professional blogs, etc.)

2:30 pm – Write fiction, social media

4:00 pm – Handle outside business (i.e. post office, groceries, stuff my husband put on my list of things-to-do because he thinks I do nothing all day)

5:00 pm – Housework, listen to podcasts or other material that grows me professionally or spiritually. Eat.

6:00 pm – Write fiction

7:30 pm – Break. Watch TV with my husband while he unwinds. He likes reality TV shows or sports. I don’t like either of those, but I do what I have to do.

9:00 pm – Write. Might be fiction, might be a presentation, perhaps a blog J

11:00 pm – Update daily sales chart.

11:15 – Call it a night. Pack my husband’s lunch. Go to bed.

Following this schedule, I’ll get anywhere from 1500-2000 words of fiction written daily.

I answer email messages and phone calls as well as post on social media throughout the day. My husband is also home some days and may work at different times, so there’s some variety.

Sometimes I go to bed around 11:30 pm, sometimes I stay up until after midnight to write if I’m really on a roll or under a deadline. On those nights, I look like this video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abXri2-xGcQ

So, tell me…is this what you thought the writing life was like? If you’re an artist, what’s your typical day like?

Mama B #5: A Time for War

MB5Smaller

When I told my son that the fifth book in the Mama B series was being published, he replied, “How many times is she going to help these people?” (Leave it to your own child to give a new perspective, right?)

But his question made me think: How many times will Mama B help people? Does there come a point in our lives when it’s time to stop helping? Time to stop sharing the love of God?  Time to focus only on ourselves and our own happiness? I don’t think so. That’s not the point of life in Christ.

The beauty of life in Him is that what we do flows from His loving Spirit within us. What looks like a whole lot of work to others is really just an extension of the life of Christ. Mama B’s natural personality doesn’t necessarily always want to house people who are going through tough times, but she can’t deny The Savior’s influence upon her heart. She has to help people. It’s more than her nature–it’s her Essence.

I pray that Mama B#5: A Time for War will be a shining example that no matter how young or old you are, your life can be used for His glory ;)

Avoiding Distractions While Writing

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Fellow author Jeaninne Stokes and I recently corresponded about a common question: How do you keep from getting distracted by your writing while writing. Specifically, if you’re working on chapter three, how do you keep from going back and fixing something in chapter one without getting stuck in chapter one again?

Just so you know: I am not the queen of staying-on-track. However, I have devised a few tricks that keep me from getting completely derailed when I write.

1. Write description later – If I’m writing a restaurant scene and I have no idea what the restaurant looks like, but I know exactly what I want my characters to say to one another at their table conversation, I skip to the conversation because I don’t want to mess up my flow. I make myself a note in the text (see below) and then I come back through and describe the restaurant when I revise (which is AFTER I finish the entire first draft). By the time I start revisions, I probably will have gone out to a restaurant with my friends and thought, “Oh! This looks like the kind of place for that scene!” and then I’ll insert the description. One note: Now that I’m more conscious of using “character as setting” thanks to my critique buddy Lynne Gentry, I want to make sure to include details that add to the mood of the scene.

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2. Research small things later – If a character was born on a Tuesday in October of 1947, I may need to know an actual date so I’m going to have to look this up. But if I stop writing and skip on over to the internet to look up the 1947 calendar, there’s a good chance I’ll get distracted by a whole bunch of stuff that took place in 1947 and I really don’t need to be in the internet at that moment. So, I make myself a note within the text (like above) and come back to it later. The internet is probably my #1 distraction when it comes to writing. I try to stay off of it when I’m composing.

3. Keep a document called “Things to Fix Later” - While I’m working, I keep another word processing file open entitled “Things to Fix Later.” Every single book I’ve written has had such a file in its folder. In that file, I keep notes about what needs to change in a previous chapter now that something relevant has unfolded in a later chapter. Even if I have a pretty good outline, things still change as I write.  (Spoiler alert – the picture below is from my book The Start of a Good Thing.

Screen shot of my list of things to fix.

Screen shot of my list of things to fix.

When I go through the revision process, I fix these issues.

Okay, my fellow authors, that’s all I have to share for today. I hope these little hints will help you make your way to the final chapter! Please feel free to add to the conversation in the comments.

Be blessed :)

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First-Person or Third-Person?

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Blank notepad and pencil

I had an interesting conversation this morning with fellow author Nigeria Lockley about whether to tackle a book in first- or third-person. Our conversation sparked some ideas worth sharing because this question comes up often in workshops and even in critique group. Of the 21 fiction books I have written, 11 are first-person and 10 are third-person narratives. I speak from this body of experience only and I do hope other writers will chime in on the comments.

My first book, Boaz Brown, came easily as a first-person novel because in many ways, I am LaShondra. We’re both educators, we both grew up in a Dallas suburb, we have the same church background and were raised in almost identical family structures. Couple that familiar background with the fact that I’ve been keeping a journal since the age of 12 and one can see how I found it fairly easy to sustain a first person book for 300+ pages.

Then came the challenge with my second novel, Divas of Damascus Road. It’s a book about several women in a family dealing with drama. I started off writing the book in first-person because that was my style, but I got about five chapters into it and realized the story wasn’t working. I called my publisher, Denise Stinson, and told her my dilemma. I felt like someone had turned on a light in my head when she said, “Why don’t you try changing it to third person and see how it sounds?” I ran with her suggestion and the book came to pass, but I confess: I didn’t like writing it as much because I didn’t feel as connected to the characters.

Since those experiences, I ask myself a few questions when it comes to deciding on point of view.

1. Who can tell the story best? If one very strong character has an excellent vantage point and has enough personality to tell the story, try first-person. Mama B is the kind of character who is very opinionated and has so many quirky little country, old-school sayings, no one call tell the story quite like she can. I don’t think she would want anyone else telling her story. I like the plots in her books, but (in my mind) it’s really all about being close to a godly woman like Mama B and seeing her relationship with God grow even at her age.

2. Is this more about the plot or the character? While ultimately good fiction brings both into play, if the book is more about what happens than who’s telling it, try third-person. You can be in lots of different places and know what’s going on “Meanwhile, back at the farm.” Unlike Kendra Norman-Holmes who always keeps men at the forefront of her books, I have a really hard time writing male main characters. I don’t think like a man, so it’s hard for me to go first-person with a male character. Anyway, my first attempt at a male main character came with the book Stepping Down. It was an especially tough go for me since it was a full-length novel rather than a novella. While the main character, Mark, does undergo his character arc, the message of this book was paramount in my brain. There was also a sub-plot going on behind his Mark’s back that needed to be told through is wife’s eyes, so third-person was the only way I could make it work.

3. Would I want to read this story in first- or third- person? This is kind of a tricky question because I’ll read a well-written first-person book over a good third-person book any day, but I still have to ask myself the question because if I’m not careful, I’ll write what’s easiest for me rather than what works best for the book. I started off saying that first-person comes naturally for me, and it does. But first person is harder for me to sustain now that I’m writing books that aren’t about a character who’s basically me. The beauty of a third-person book is that I can skip on over to another setting and pick up drama from different characters and households. Because of this, writing third-person is faster for me. The mathematician in me has estimated that I write about 900 words an hour third-person, 600 words an hour first-person. Sometimes I feel like I’m cheating, taking the easy way out when I write third-person. (I know – I’m taking it too far, right?)

Here lately, I’ve been experimenting with using more than one POV–sparingly! I wanted to write No Weapon Formed (sequel to Boaz Brown) in first-person, but there was some stuff going on with Stelson that I didn’t want LaShondra to know about. And I didn’t want Stelson to give this big explanation speech near the end of the book –that always sounds cheesy to me. So I called my friend Lynne Gentry (who reads like a gazillion books a month) and asked her if it was “okay” to have a few chapters written from a secondary character’s POV in third-person. She said to me, “You’re self-published. You can do whatever you want.”

I was like, “Oh yeah! That’s right!”

At the time, I was also reading Tia McCollors’ Friday Night Love and saw that she’d switched POV and gone from first- to third-person a few times for the male’s perspective and I was like, “That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!”

So there you have it.  If you can write first person and get into the character’s head, give it a shot. But if the plot, your style, or even your genre dictates otherwise, stick to third. I realize that this blog comes down to the a age-old advice to “do what works for you.” I can only add to that wisdom by suggesting that you try your hand at both and develop your skill in both so that you can use them as each book demands.

Happy Writing!

Writing as Revelation

MichelleStimpson_NoWeaponFormed_800pxNearly thirteen years ago, just a few days after our country was devastated by 9-11, I started writing a book about a woman who wanted to fall in love but couldn’t see past color. The connection between the tragedy and the romance was simply that I had a hard time processing the pictures of survivors, who were covered in gray ash, without the benefit of knowing their skin color. The Lord was not happy. He prompted me to explore my own prejudices because if I couldn’t pray for people without using racially-defining adjectives, I had a SERIOUS problem.

He was right, of course.

Writing Boaz Brown was life-changing because the main issue was one that had been brewing in my heart for as long as I could remember; an undercurrent of resentment that I didn’t even recognize as sin. But God. Starting with this book, He has changed my heart and given me spiritual eyes to see that prejudice has no place in the heart of a believer. Discernment – yes, but prejudice – no. And He has continued to prove His words to me over these 10+ years.

For years, people asked me if I was going to write a sequel and I would heartily reply, “No! They lived happily ever after, all right?” But then a funny thing started to happen last year: I missed LaShondra and Stelson. What were they up to? Did they have kids? How many? How had they grown? Did her father ever accept Stelson into the family? 

Aside from my curiosity, I wanted to explore issues of race within the context of the story. But something else emerged as I was writing–the issue of healing. Now, I don’t want to give the story away (insert smiley face), but these characters and their story has, once again, pushed me toward a deeper revelation of Christ’s declaration: It is finished (John 19:30). Jesus is finished. Whatever He is going to do has already been done once and for all.

Watching/writing LaShondra and Stelson face the issue that arose in their family turned the mirror on where I stood with my own health as well as my mother’s ongoing struggle in the aftermath of a stroke. Everything has been called into question. Do I receive the statistics that doctors and researchers throw out? Is my health really secure in Christ or does it depend on me? Can God undo the damage of a stroke, even if it has been two years? Does my mom need her old mind, or can she just receive the new mind Christ? Why does my confession waver? We sing songs like “He’s Able” and “There’s Nothing God Can’t Do” but do we really mean them? Sometimes, believers are the first to say, “Well, we just have to accept the facts…”

And just like before, I look forward to God revealing Himself through the scriptures as He did with these characters. He is a faithful teacher, a faithful keeper, and faithful to His word.

I pray that No Weapon Formed, like it’s prequel, will be a blessing to you. Please feel free to share books that have touched your life in the comments section.

And I’d like to pose the question to my fellow Christian authors, too: How has writing been a blessing to you? Has God ever changed your heart because of something to wrote?

What Now? (A Random Post about Possibilities)

This weekend, I had an opportunity to visit with my grandmother and several family members. I got into a side conversation with someone about how to best utilize the talents and gifts God has given us. Now, I know plenty of people who have no idea what their talent/gift/purpose is. The answer to that question lies in the One who created each and every one of us.

But this family member of mine and I were talking through another dilemma: What if you believe that you have MANY gifts and talents? How can you possibly exercise all of them in one lifetime? Do you concentrate on one for a decade and neglect the other ones? Do you try to combine them? Do you pick the one that seems to be most in demand? As we talked, she listed the many things she’s good at: cooking, decorating, speaking, party-planning, organizing, interior decorating, project management, sales. I listed mine as well: writing, all-things-techy, speaking, teaching, consulting, instructional staff development, and most recently book cover design. Some of these skills we’ve gone to school to master, most have come from practical experience and God-given understanding.

So, what are we to do when we have been blessed with minds that operate well in various capacities? I mean, I was a secondary education major and my two teaching fields were exact opposites: English and math. Though I enjoy creating things, according to my 20+ year old SAT scores, I’m actually better at quantitative tasks. The score report analysis actually recommended a career in engineering. Go figure!

Alas, I have no actual solution to this very humbling but sometimes frustrating dilemma. I only know that I’ve tried to chase talents down and give them a try until they don’t bug me anymore; until I actually say, “Okay, I tried that and I liked it for a while but I don’t want to do that anymore.”

I can hardly breathe without writing, so that’s a given. Honestly, it’s amazing that I have enough attention span to write novels because all these other things keep my mind reeling with ideas. On one hand, these ideas cause me to face each day like it’s full of fresh opportunities. But on the other hand, they probably waste time. Still, I reason that if I weren’t busy thinking creatively, I’d probably just be watching “Gilligan’s Island” reruns on TV anyway. Gilligan and his crew will still be on the island the next time I tune in, so I haven’t missed much.

Here’s what I do know: I want to spend my days honoring God. I want to arrive in heaven completely poured out in service to Him. I don’t want to live my life wondering what might have been if I had tried this or that. Not everything, of course. I’m asking God for discernment because I know sometimes even a good idea is just a cleverly-disguised distraction. (Can I get an amen?) 

Anyway, I’m going to sleep now. Tomorrow is a brand new day. I watched hours of youtube videos today, learning how to create podcasts so that I can finally obey the call to teach regularly. In 3-5 business days, I should receive my special podcasting microphone (woo hoo!) and I’ll be off on another adventure. I hope you’ll join me :)

Now that I’m thinking about it, perhaps this is the life of Christ. A life that is full of service, full of people to reach, new roads to travel, new challenges, never a dull day in Him.

I’d like to encourage you as I encourage myself in this post: God knows exactly how He made us and the capacities He placed in each of His children. Let’s trust Him to open the doors that need to be opened and shut the ones that seem interesting/promising but are only time-stealing dead ends. Yes, let’s trust His Spirit to nudge us because Jesus said He would (John 16:13). His ability to keep us is far greater than our ability to get off track. After all, He is the one who gave us all these gifts. He is willing to show you and I what to do with them, how He wants to be glorified in them. And He is able.

I hope you’ll chime in on this sideline discussion. Have you ever struggled with the idea that you’re not sure which avenue to pursue first? How do you cope?  How do you know when something is NOT for you?

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