Monday, May 30, 2011

Avoiding the Writing

I am constantly trying to create the perfect environment to write in. I think it is a way to avoid the actual writing.

Life just ain’t ever going to be perfect.

Instead of perfection, I should be seeking discipline. A phone call, the dogs barking, a sudden headache are all excuses for me to abandon my work.

Why do I continue to do this? It’s as if I’m in a holding pattern right now. I’m wondering what is going to happen next in my writing career and I’m twiddling my thumbs instead of getting on with the next book.

I think part of the problem for me is that I’m my mother’s primary caretaker. I’m just not sure if I get a book published that I’ll be able to do the promotional aspect expected from me. I can’t leave her alone for extended periods of time. At least, I don’t think I can.

While I’m avoiding writing, I have rearranged the study and loaded up a box of books to give away.035

I like the study rearranged this way. It’s much more open and I have a comfortable, albeit worn, chair in the corner. Really, I have created a perfect spot for me to write. 036

Besides rearranging the furniture, to get back into a proper frame of mind, I’ve begun rereading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Last week I started writing my “morning pages.” They do seem to help clear my mind.

I’ve also started keeping a journal that chronicles my writing journey. I’ve kept a prayer journal for many years, although I don’t write a prayer in it every single day, but now I intend to do so.

I’m trying to establish a routine. With a routine in place, I’m hoping the writing will flow more easily. (You know—If I build it, the muse will come.)

My new routine will consist of this. I will write my morning pages, my writing prayer for the day, and jot down some ideas in my writing journal.

(By that time the day will be over! At the rate I write, probably so.)

Seriously, I hope this will help with my frame of mind and will allow me to get some things accomplished.

In the meantime, at least my closets are getting cleaned out!

Do you have any routines for your writing?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ways to Choose (and not to choose) the Perfect Book Title

The titles of our books scream out to the readers. Yet what are the titles saying as they vie for attention among thousands of others? Sometimes they might be conveying messages we do not wish to convey. We need to think before we settle on a final title. Publishers can steer us in the right direction, but often we self publish and choose our own titles. The right title may be the deciding factor of whether or not someone buys our book.

I have read titles that have left me bemused, to say the least.

For example, I have read Christian book titles that may be construed as  sexual innuendos. Steven Tyler is enjoying a boost in popularity right now. If you’re old enough to remember that far back, his group, Aerosmith, had a hit song entitled “Walk This Way.” The song dealt with sexual themes. If we entitle our book, Walk This Way, people may very well think it deals with pornography or at least graphic sex. We need to be careful if that’s not what we’re trying to convey.

Sometimes we try to be clever and come up with a title that is a take on something already popular. An example of this might be Rudolph’s Journey. And you know people reading the title are immediately going to think of reindeer and that’s why you chose it.

Sure, it may help pull readers in, but if the book is about a boy named Rudolph and has nothing to do with reindeer or Christmas, you may well run the risk of disappointing or even angering your readers.

Where, then, you may ask, can I find good titles? Many well-known books are titled from lines of poetry. For example, For Whom the Bell Tolls is a line from a John Donne poem.

As a matter of fact, the title of my blog was inspired by a line of poetry. Emily Dickinson wrote: I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine. And, thus, I settled on Rise, Write, Shine!

Also popular are books entitled from Shakespearian lines, such as Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

For Christian writers, the pages of the Bible hold thousands of potential titles. My other blog is entitled Eternal Springs. This verse inspired the title:

(John 4:14)

The reason I chose this title is because springs are within us, a gift of “water” from our savior, and lead to eternity.

Another reason, however, is because “Eternal Springs” reminded me of the saying Hope springs eternal. This particular title, then, is a two-for-one.

Another source for book titles may be a main character’s name if the character name is unique. Again we need to be careful. The character may be named “Liberty” in a contemporary romance. A person reading the title may be expecting a historical.

Place names from the book may also be used especially if they have a special significance. Or an event central to the theme or words conveying the theme of the book. Jane Eyre’s Pride and Prejudice comes to mind.

Let’s be careful when choosing book titles (or blog titles, for that matter). Book titles may cause people to buy books with wrong expectations, leading to confusion or anger. Quotes, character names, place names, and themes are great sources for book titles. Titles stand out even more when they have a double meaning.

Titles take time and thought. Remember, the title is the first thing a reader sees. Let’s spend the time and energy to choose just the right title to make that all-important good first impression.

*(Disclaimer: I’m just using my blog titles as examples of ways to come up with titles. This is not to imply my titles are good or bad.)

Any titles you especially love? What are some other good sources of titles?

P.S. When doing some rearranging on my blog, I lost my followers. Thanks for those who have rejoined. If you have not rejoined, please consider doing so. Thanks!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Response to Russell D. Moore’s “Can Romance Novels Hurt Your Heart?”


Many Christian writers have read Can Romance Novels Hurt Your Heart? (click on the link to read Russell Moore’s blog to see what all the fuss is about) and have left thoughtful and passionate defenses of writers of Christian romance.

In the comment section, some people have blasted fiction in general, implying that Christians should not be involved in the writing or reading of it. This is not the first time I have heard this and, frankly, I’m getting tired of hearing Christians complaining of fiction.

In response, this is the comment I left. “Tim Downs spoke eloquently at the ACFW Conference last year about “story” (if my memory serves me correctly). He shared how Nathan confronted David. Instead of openly accusing David of murder and adultery, Nathan tells the story of the man with one ewe lamb that the rich man had stolen from him. A fictional story yet one that contained truth and a story David responded to with a broken and contrite spirit. That is the job of Christian writers of fiction–to convict the world, to prick hearts by being more true than the truth. Or, conversely, to offer comfort and compassion to those in pain. Be it sci-fi, romance, mystery, fantasy, or whatever. Are there Christian books that fall short? Sure, but all men sin and fall short of the glory of God. Christian writers are instruments in the hands of God. They must write as their consciences dictate!”

 And, again, poor old Harry Potter is attacked. One person had this to say in the comment section:

I also agree that no Christians (period) should be reading the stuff market today. That includes Harry Potter, Twilight series, etc. All that does is make you yearn for the next one, take your eyes off Christ, and put your feet on the wide road.

(Some still see the Harry Potter series as an attack on Christianity. Check out this blog for J.K. Rowling’s beliefs: J. K. Rowling, a Christian?)

I have shared my beliefs about the Harry Potter books before and will do so again, I’m sure, so let’s get back to the question at hand.

Should Christians be reading fiction? Should Christians be writing fiction?

Yes and yes.

Can I get an amen?


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The World’s Hottest Pepper

My mother-in-law, many, many years ago, when my boys were preteens, grew what was billed as “the world’s hottest pepper.” Carl broke off a pod, took a bite and swallowed it whole, and then pretended to chew it.

Of course, both my boys, being the competitors they were, wanted a bite of the pepper. For a second or two, they chewed their bites. And then they raced for the faucet and gulped several glasses of water before their mouths cooled. It was just too much.

Only a tiny bit of that pepper is needed to season food. We don't need to bite off big chunks.

The same way, only a few select words can 'season' our writing. We do not need big chunks of description. When reading, most readers conjure up their own images. And that’s a good thing.

If they picture their Aunt Sally as the kindly old woman, the story becomes more personal.

We need to make each word count if we limit the details. Vivid nouns and strong verbs describing our characters bring them to life.

The best descriptions are those that compare and contrast by using similes and metaphors. Even if the Bible were not the word of God, it would still be the greatest piece of literature ever written, and it gives us many examples of comparing and contrasting. For fun, let's look at a few examples from the Song of Solomon. (I know many believe this is a description of Christ and the church. The Bible is filled with symbolism and thus it may well be. We'll look at it simply as descriptions of actual people.)

Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens. 2:2

A comparison: his darling is like a lily; and a contrast: a lily among thorns. We're used to hearing such comparisons today, but, when this was first written, the vivid imagery was fresh, as ours should be.

Another description:

Your eyes behind your veil are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats MP900406516[1]descending from Mount Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing. Each has its twin; not one of them is alone. 4:1-2

If we used a description like this today, readers would be pulled out of the story. One simple reason is because we're not used to seeing flocks of goats and sheep. If we were raised in the culture of the Old Testament, this descriptions would produce vivid pictures. (And it does even today, although it makes us giggle.)

Let's end with a description of the man:

His head is purest gold; his hair is wavy and black as a raven. His eyes are like doves by the water streams, washed in milk, mounted like jewels. 5:11-12

To modern ears this description is over the top. However, it does conjure up images in our minds of a very handsome man.

Our descriptions should be like "The World's Hottest Pepper," creating  sensations our readers will never forget. However, we need to remember a little goes a long way and the best way to describe is by comparing and contrasting.

Just as the coolness of the water contrasted with the hotness of the pepper, our vivid images should flow like a flock of goats on a hill.