Thursday, 4 August 2022

Summer Writing Series 5: How to keep writing

“The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” Anne Lamott

I have this quote set as a reminder on my phone each Saturday morning. The words always make me smile and nod. “You’re so right, Anne.”

I usually write on Saturdays because I don’t have the energy after a day of work. I know there are writers who get up at 5 in the morning to get in their hour or 1000 words before work, but I have a demanding job that uses up every ounce of my body and brain. Fortunately, I have summers off. I do a lot of writing in the summer. And even though I’m not getting up at 5 in the morning to write (I get up at 5 in the morning to worry! Pointlessly! With no pay!) I’ve still managed to write 12 books in 25 years.

I look forward to my writing day throughout the week. It’s a bright star shining on my horizon. But when I open my eyes on Saturday the dread sets in. “I could skip today. I’m fine. I’ll still get the book done. I was stuck in a boring place. I’d rather read.” One or all of these thoughts might flash through my mind as I lay in bed and don’t get up.

Eventually, I make coffee, cook an egg, make toast, read something, and then dig out my computer. Sometimes I beat Anne Lamott’s quote and say, “You were so right, Anne!” Other times, the quote beats me, and I say “I'll get on that, Anne!” Butts in chairs. (That’s one of hers too.)

When I started writing, my computer took at least ten minutes to start. That’s a lot of time to waste. Now, in seconds, my computer is running, and my latest project is open. I quickly reread the last paragraph or two. “Oh yeah. . .”

Some days I get going immediately. Other days I take more time. I might need to do some research. Historical fictions takes more research. You might write a sentence and then think “If they didn’t have running water, how did they get water in winter? What were the stoves like?” It’s fine to research. Google is right there on your computer. Do some research. Get it right. Just don’t wallow.

“The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” Even if I don’t have a great day of writing, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I’ve moved the story slightly . On a good day, the writing inspires me. And on a REALLY good day,  I see the novel finished and shining as a ray of hope in this difficult world. Which is a pretty fine way to spend my time.

Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Summer Writing Series Part 4: Finding a Publisher or Agent

I recently took a trip to Victoria, BC, a lovely place to visit full of interesting historic sites. These two captured my imagination:

A statue dedicated to Scottish Poet, Robbie Burns

I've always loved reading and writing and dreamed of having my own books on a shelf one day. Here's a little bit of what I've learned about the publishing process.

Step One: Write a great query letter. Start with a general letter and then personalize it for each publisher, editor, and agent. A query usually needs the following:

·         A short bio – one to two sentences about yourself. This is your chance to sell yourself and your writing. Take your time!

·         Your working title and word count – Your novel must be finished before you send it out

·         A one-sentence pitch – sometimes called an elevator pitch. Sell your entire novel in one sentence! I find this extremely difficult.

·         A one-paragraph summary

·         A one- to two-page synopsis – I’m no expert. I used the Save the Cat format to write my last synopsis. I think it helped, but I still haven’t sold my book😊

Step Two: Research publishers, editors, and agents. I do general Google searches and include my genre and the year. The TCK website usually has great suggestions.

Step Three: Start sending and keep sending queries until you land an agent or publisher. Read submission guidelines carefully. Make sure to send exactly what they want and nothing more. For instance, some publishers want to see three sample chapters. These must be your first three chapters. Don't send more than three.

Also, Some agents and publishers do not accept simultaneous submissions (ie. When you send your work to one agent, they do not want you to send it to any other agents until they have accepted our rejected your work.) I don’t bother with these anymore.

Ideally, try sending three or more every week. I also like to send three more as soon as I receive a rejection. It used to take me a week or more to get over each rejection. Now, instead of wallowing, I turn this energy to researching other avenues.

Step Four: Start a new project. You are a writer, not a marketer, although marketing is extremely helpful to writers. You should become better at marketing yourself, but what I’m trying to say is that writing is your passion. Don’t stop writing! This is the part that feeds your soul and inspires you. Searching for a publisher or agent can be a crushing process. Writing something new should keep you grounded. If you need to take breaks from the query process, do it. Or, better yet, if you can afford it, hire someone else to do this for you.

Best of luck! I'd love to read about your experience in this journey in the comments below. Click here if you want to read more about my first experience landing a publisher.

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Summer Writing Series: Revising

I am a huge believer in letting my work rest. I can’t see my work clearly for a few weeks after each draft. Now is not the time to let others read the whole thing. I might share a few chapters here and there. I find reading them aloud to trusted listeners very helpful. I also like to write a few short stories, blog posts, or even to start a new novel while I wait for the first draft to rest. If problems or ideas for revision pop up while I wait, I jot them down for later – in a notebook or as a note on my novel. These ideas can wait. Here is an example from my book Taking Comfort.


Originally, I called the book Canada Day. I checked off edits as I went!
A list of edits for the book that would become Taking Comfort

After the wait, I reread the whole novel slowly. I do a quick edit – spelling, extra words, wrong words, mistakes, anything that stands out. I also make notes, either directly on the manuscript or in my notebook, about things that need developing, or storylines I drop later. I know I will need to do another revision. I find it overwhelming to attempt these revisions the first time through. Again, it helps to let these ideas simmer, like a stew gathering flavour for hours on the stove. After the second draft, I wait another few weeks.

I have also created Timelines for my books as I edit. This helps me keep track of months, seasons and years. Here is an example from my book Expectations:


I even used the date for each event!


The third time through, I try to fix the problems I noted during the second draft. Often, there are still problems I can’t fix. I note these down to ask my Beta Readers. I pass the book onto trusted friends and writers after my third draft. More waiting while they read and answer my questions.

In my first novels, I found feedback difficult – embarrassed by my weaknesses. I don’t find this anymore, but don’t be surprised if it happens to you. Give it a few days. Then, you should be ready to accept the suggestions with more perspective. You may also find you need to use different readers for your next novel.

On the fourth draft, I don’t read the whole novel again. Instead, I go through and fix whatever my readers have noted. I really love it when they use Track Changes and I can go through and read their comments or simply accept changes made.

At this point, I usually start sending my novel out to agents and publishers. I’ve received some excellent tips this way. If I could afford it, I would send my book to an editor instead. Maybe one day.

I recently received some excellent tips from Leanne Morgena, Senior Editor at The Wild Rose Press. Thank you, Leanne! Here are some of the tips I am currently using to improve my books:

·         Search for passive phrases “it was, it is, it’s, there’s, there was” etc.

·         Don’t paraphrase dialogue

·         Look for times when I say “felt, heard, noticed, thought” Usually, these sentences should be rewritten to show rather than tell

       I use these tips to go through my novel in detail. After this point, I can’t do much else alone. I send it out. I hope for the best!

       Next week, I will share what I’ve learned about seeking a Publisher or Agent. 

Thursday, 14 July 2022

Summer Writing Series Part 2: The First Draft

First Draft

I love delving into my own world. For me, the best day of writing is when I have escaped into a new reality, breathing, seeing, and hearing what my characters experience. For this reason, I let myself go, without rereading, forgetting about editing until later. Terry Pratchett says, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” Revel in this. If you find it difficult, remember you can change anything and everything later. For now, just go! Don’t self-edit, don’t tell yourself you are being ridiculous, simply play. No criticism allowed!

Planning

I haven’t used a specific organizational format for any of my novels. I jot down, as quickly as possible, whatever I know about the novel as I go – a character sketch, a brief plot line, even a conversation. 

I think I could improve here. I plan to use Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat outline before I start my next novel. I used it after my latest works in progress were completed. I also continue drafting throughout the book.

For a while, I left a synopsis whenever I stopped writing for the day. One or two sentences about where to go next. I also keep a character journal where I keep track of details about each character – age, hair colour, favourite phrase, names of friends, siblings, or pets.

Finishing the first draft

Finishing the first draft is so exciting! But one of my problems is that I anticipate this completion and tend to rush my endings. Knowing this, I try to draw the ending out. Again, Save The Cat has helped me in this area. Brody has a very specific set of steps necessary for the ending. I have used her process to help me revise my ending, but I’m hoping my next book ending will be smoother if I plan first. 

I think it's important to celebrate this momentous occasion. I like to keep track of the days I write, how many words I write, and when I complete each draft in a little notebook. Perhaps this is the schoolteacher in me. I like to see what I’ve done – to keep a record of my work. When I finish the first draft, I like to go out for dinner with my husband, or at least buy myself a fancy coffee.

Does any of this sound like your writing process? I'd love to know.

Wednesday, 6 July 2022

Summer Writing Series Part 1: Novel Beginnings

I’ve been reading a lot of books about writing and I wondered – After 25 years of writing, do I have anything to say about writing? My favourite writing books are On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott, Save The Cat by Jessica Brody, and The Right to Write by Julie Cameron. What could I add to their great advice? 

Here is part one of several posts about my novel writing process.

Questions

For me, ideas for novels have grown out of questions. Questions I can’t answer any other way. What would King David’s story look like in Modern Times? (After His Heart


What happened to Elizabeth and Darcy after Pride and Prejudice? (Expectations)

How did my grandmother manage teaching for a year with no salary? (Emmy in Harding)

These questions have to be big enough and interesting enough to sustain me for several years. This thought can be overwhelming, so I often tell myself to just write a short story (Expectations should have been a 20-page continuation for my sister’s 29th birthday.) 

I have several books started that fizzled out. The questions I asked in these books weren’t big enough. Or another question took over and I stopped writing those books. I still mean to return to Prairie Book Club one day!

In my next blog, I'll talk more about the First Draft. Subscribe now so you don't miss an article in my Summer Writing Series

Saturday, 18 June 2022

Barney Bentall & Lawrence Hill: An Evening of Reading and Song

Canadian musician, Barney Bentall sang and played with acclaimed author, Lawrence Hill on a cool, quiet Bowen Island evening in June. The event was hosted in The Hearth Gallery and Bowen Island Library Annex, an airy, chapel-like structure nestled amongst the Cedars and Alders of Snug Cove. 

Local writer and community leader, Pauline Le Bel, opened the event with a land acknowledgement for Bowen Island, Nexwlélexwm, where she taught us the Squamish word for "We Lift Each Other Up". 

Photo by Samantha Adkins

Then, Barney Bentall and Lawrence Hill took turns playing and reading from their life works. Cosmic Dreamer was a big hit with the audience and Hill says is as one of his favourites. A beautiful video of the song is available on YouTube:

Hill read from Beatrice and Croc Harry, The Illegal, The Book of Negroes and his work in progress about black soldiers building a highway in the Yukon during World War II. Hill is currently staying on Bowen Island to work on this book. As well as being an excellent writer, Hill is a skilled reader and storyteller.

But how are Bentall and Hill connected? Back in 1975, Lawrence Hill held a 45-pound typewriter on his lap during a flight from Toronto to Vancouver to study writing at UBC, much to his family's consternation. (They hoped he would become a doctor or a lawyer.) He rented a place near the university for $60 a month (!). Hill felt at home in a place with a trampoline, an Italian plum tree, and Sunday dinners where he was invited to dine each week, accompanied by a bottle of Baby Duck.

Hill remembers Bentall at 18, coming from Calgary to visit his girlfriend, now his wife, Kath whose family owned the house where Hill lived. Bentall built a fence during his visit, which greatly impressed Hill who doesn't consider himself very handy. Bentall says he's still building fences on his ranch in Northern British Columbia.

Hill and Bentall have great chemistry and I think we were all charmed by the stories and camaraderie. Bentall attributed inspiration for most of the songs he played to his wife Kath, who cheered him in the crowd. 

Being a pastor's wife, I was haunted by his song The Preacher. The song references Bentall's experience leaving his Baptist upbringing to "play the devil's music in bars." I was relieved Bentall told us his once rocky relationship with his Dad was repaired before he passed. The theme reminded me of my current work in progress currently titled Enough about two pastors families struggling to live up to the expectations of their congregations. Follow this blog to hear when Enough will be available.

"We life each other up" was certainly the right word for this uplifting and inspiring night. I was once again amazed by the talent and gifts housed on Nexwlélexwm.



Friday, 13 August 2021

An interview with Author Sandra Kay Vosburgh

I've been a mystery book fan for years. I think it started with Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and then moved on to M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin series, and most recently Louise Penny's Gamache mysteries. I've tried writing mysteries, including a short-lived children's mystery series, but I struggle to write about murder. It is just too awful. However, I've noticed that murder is not really the point of the mystery books I really love - instead they are about human nature and relationships.

Photo courtesy of Sandra Kay Vosburgh

I met mystery writer, Sandra Kay Vosburgh online at the Greater Philly Christian Writer's Conference this June. I was impressed with her "elevator pitch" for a murder mystery series she calls The Deadly Sins Mysteries. When she said she'd published the first book in the series, I knew I had to read it! When she said she is also a pastor's wife, I knew I needed to talk to her. I hope you enjoy the following interview as much as I did.

Image courtesy Sandra Kay Vosburgh

Sam: How long have you been writing?

 

Sandra: I was well into my forties when I began to write seriously. I began attending writers conferences, and I even took a few college courses. After my first novel, The Stonecroft Incident, was published, I had to place my writing on hold until I retired two years ago. I have written two novels since, and have become a devotional writer for “The Quiet Hour” published by David C. Cook.

 

Sam: Who are some authors you enjoy that have inspired your writing?  

Sandra: Agatha Christie will always be my favorite author. Mignon Ballard is also a favorite mystery writer, as well as Sister Carol Anne O’Marie.

Sam: Tell me about your “A Deadly Sin Mystery” series. 

Sandra: I’m writing a series of seven books, each based on one of the seven deadly sins, set in the tourist town of Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario. My main character is Ada Whittaker, a Christian senior citizen who writes the advice-to-the-lovelorn column and solves murders with the help of her bickering housekeeper and secretary.  

 

Sam: Why do you write mystery? 

Sandra: I love the mental challenge of mystery, picking up clues, putting the pieces together, solving the puzzle.

 

Sam: What else do you write? 

Sandra: My novel Anchorless Summer is a women’s contemporary, a story of a young woman who struggles to love herself because, like many women today, she grew up with her father’s neglect, never feeling his love. This leaves her struggling in other relationships. There is some mystery and some romance, but the theme is redemption.

 

Sam: Does being a pastor's wife affect your writing in any way? 

Sandra: Perhaps. I am aware of the struggles people face. I have seen the deadliness of sin. The death of a marriage, the death of a teenager, the death of relationships. All caused by sin. We suffer because of our own sin, but we can also suffer because of the sin of others. Our society laughs at sin, but the reality is there is nothing humorous about ruined lives.

Mystery writer, Dorothy Sayers, wrote, “If we fail to bring our readers to the bar of eternity, we have merely constructed an entertaining puzzle.” I want my stories to entertain my readers, but also to have a lingering positive effect on their lives.

Sam: Thank you for sharing, Sandra! I can't wait to read the rest of your books. 

Find out more about Sandra on her website sandrakayvosburgh.com Here's my review of The Stonecroft Incident on Goodreads.