Monday, September 26, 2016

If I was a Time Lord and I had a TARDIS, what would I tell my younger self?

What writing advice would I give my younger self?

I was six-years-old when I was first published. No joke. My mom sent in a story I wrote about a princess and a witch to a local newspaper contest. I won for my age category, and had my story published. It was my first taste of glory. My little six-year-old heart didn’t truly appreciate it. I really wish I still had that newspaper.

When I was in sixth grade, I promised my teacher I would write a book someday. At thirty-years-old I finally fulfilled that promise. Don’t get me wrong. I had written lots of stories, songs, and poems for years and years before that. But my first full-length novel didn’t come until my youngest was out of diapers. I mean, who can handle poop and writing a synopsis at the same time? I sure couldn’t. I’m just kidding, I know lots of fantastic writers who have babies. (Lucy, for one!) And I’m in awe of them. Seriously folks, I was barely hanging on to my sanity when my littles were babies. I do not know how they do it. But they prove to me, it can be done.

I’m not exactly sure how far back I should go to tell my younger self some advice. I think if I tried to explain the world of publishing to my six-year-old self I would just get a blank stare and maybe some food thrown at my face. But my sixth grade self? I would tell her, “Write sooner. Write as much as you can. Don’t wait to write that book. It will never be a perfect time to write it, so just do it.”

And start with the ending. I hate, hate, hate writing endings. My entire childhood drawers were full of short stories that had no endings. I think that’s why I was always discouraged when it came to writing. I knew I had natural talent from God (at least I was told so) but I could never finish a stinking story. I would tell my younger self, write the ending that you envision first. You can always change it later, but at least you will have an end.

I would tell myself to watch less TV. To read less trashy stuff. To learn to focus and read faster. I would tell myself that you can do this. You can write a full length novel, and you don’t have to wait and wait and wait. Do it now.

I would tell myself, LEARN about English. Don’t hate on it. Embrace it. Pay attention in class and do it well. Reading tons of books will only get you so far, you still have so much you need to learn.
I would tell myself to learn the craft earlier on. To not let ‘the rules’ define you or stifle you, but to let your creative juices flow and implement the rules later. BUT LEARN THE RULES. Rules are not your enemy as much as your hippy-I-don’t-want-to-follow-no-stinking-rules heart wants to think. 

You are not as good as you think you are. Step off your little pedestal. I repeat, step off. No, jump off. Get off the darn thing. You stink. You’re terrible. Just kidding. You’re not that bad. But you have TONS of room for improvement. Raw talent won’t get you far. You need to work hard. You need to learn. To grow. You need to humble yourself and listen to the experts.

They are the experts for a reason. Even if you don’t agree with them right away, just wait…you will.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Dear young and aspiring author,

Ever wished you could go back in time and share something with the younger you?
This month we decided to share some wisdom we've gained since writing that first chapter, things we've learned since our 'decision' to become writers.
Read Robin’s inspiring blog here if you’ve missed it.

I scribbled my first ever story in a notebook. In pencil, and I remember it like it was yesterday, not eighteen years ago. The words flowed. Sentences followed and paragraphs were created that evolved into chapters. I thrived! I wrote about five more ‘novels’ in notebooks. Back then I thought it was simple. I was so blissfully happy in my ignorance.

Then I started studying the craft and realized how much there was that I didn’t know. How very little I actually did know about this dream I wanted to pursue. Things that I’ve never even considered plagued me. It overwhelmed me. And it terrified me, but I persevered. Somewhere between joining ACFW and now, I’ve managed to gain some form of foothold. I’ve experienced just how up and down a writer’s life can be.
There are hundreds of things I would tell that starry eyed thirteen-year-old. But if I have to narrow it down, here’s the things that would’ve made a lot of things easier.

1.   Please do not compare yourself to other writers. Ever.

We’re all different. That's how God made us ;)
Some writers have a knack with descriptions. Others flourish with dialogue and some manage to create well-developed, larger-than-life characters. You have your strong points - you really do - don’t belittle your strengths. Appreciate the talent the Lord gave you and work on improving it.

2.   Don’t aim for perfect.

Allow yourself to write terrible first drafts. Writing a novel is going to take time, sometimes a lot of time. For some writers it takes multiple rewrites before they have a manuscript that’s publishable. You're one of those writers. And it's OK. If you always stress about writing a perfect first draft, you’ll never have anything to work with.
Good things take time.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 He has made everything beautiful in its time.
Nothing kill's creativity faster than perfectionism, especially during the first draft.
~K.M. Weliand, Conquering writer's block and how to summon creativity.

3.   You can’t make everyone happy – 

you’re not coffee!

Don’t let your people pleasing tendencies influence your writing so much on so many different levels. I have several examples that I won’t bore you with. The brutal truth is if you’ve received feedback you don’t necessarily agree with, then so be it. Unicorns aren’t going to keel over because you’re not accepting every single suggestion you receive. The sun will still rise. The birds will still sing in the morning. One day you’ll decide not to implement some suggestions you’ll receive from an author you admire and your book will be OK. You’ll be OK. The critic will be fine too. I promise!

4.   Enjoy the ride.

Don’t rush. You’re still young and na├»ve and have so much to learn. And yes, receiving that desired publishing contract is awesome. It really is. But so is the ride. And the people you’ll meet on the journey. Your speed doesn't matter. Forward is still forward!

Since I know we're not the only writers with some wisdom to share, I’ve asked a couple of my good friends to share their answers as well. Check out they're websites if you have a moment.

(Thank you ladies for sharing so willingly.)

Find a writing community. You will need it. There is so much to learn, and writing can feel like a very lonely endeavor. When the amount of work becomes too daunting or the rejections start coming in, you'll need a writing community to turn to. Supportive family members and friends are a huge blessing, but only fellow writers can completely understand and give you the reassurance that you're not crazy, and you're not alone.
~ Laurie Lucking

Knowing now what I didn't know then, if I could start over I'd start creating my platform much sooner and pay closer attention to the business end of this business, including marketing/promotion techniques. Writing a great book is vital, but not knowing how to promote it renders it moot.
Believe me, having to play catch-up where marketing techniques is concerned is my biggest regret.
 ~ Author, Linda W. Yezak

I think it was Steven James who said something to the effect of, "Worry about the story, not the sentence." I agree. A compelling story will get readers to forgive a multitude of sins if you can sweep them away. I would urge my younger writer self to (1) really explore plot structure sooner, and (2) make sure every scene raises the stakes, builds tension, and moves the story forward. #2 would have saved me a lot of re-writing. Oh, and one more thing: PLOT your story. I'm a huge convert now!
~Author, Heather Blanton

If I could turn back time (yeah...Cher's now stuck in my head), I would tell myself to pay more attention to what I was reading so I could answer the old cliche questions, who, what, when, where, and why?
Who: Who are the characters and why am I finding them so appealing? Then bring those qualities to my own characters.
What: What makes the story so good in my eyes? Is it the setting, the period, the plot, the characters?
When: When am I reading the most? Morning, afternoon, evening, night? If that's when I'm most drawn to story, maybe that's when I should be doing my writing.
Where: Where is the story taking place? What geographical area do I read about most, and why? Should I be setting my story in a similar area? Or maybe "where" could be where am I reading? Maybe think about writing in that spot. If that's where I feel most relaxed and open to imagery and story, that's where I should probably sit to do my writing.
Why: Why is this book important to me? How can that translate to my own writing?
~Mikal Dawn

Dear self-'s me. Just wanted to drop you a note at the beginning of your writing journey. You probably already noticed that I said "journey," not "career." I won't throw zen statements about a journey being one step in front of the other or that it is a long haul. Don't be so hard on yourself when you fail, because you WILL fail. A lot. You will get unhelpful critiques and never hear back from agents or editors who asked you to submit. Yes, silence is the worst.


Keep going. Even if it's a blog post or a chapter on a fanfiction story because your heart cannot find your book characters for days (even weeks). Write inspirations, even a sentence or just a word, because your characters WILL come back. Keep learning and step out of your comfort zone for a short story or two because you will surprise yourself.

Above all, be faithful to the vision God has laid on your heart. He has given you a story to tell. Tell it. He has given you desire to write. Write it. These words, they are not yours or mine, they are His.

~Sarah Bennett

As always,
Be Blessed

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Advice To a Newbie Writer

This month the writers at Quills and Inkblotts are thinking back to their early days of writing, and sharing advice they would give themselves if they could.

I have to go back nearly five years, to Fall of 2011. That's when my husband listened to me falter, and shrug, and attempt to explain this writing "thing" which I didn't even fully understand. He was gracious to give me two full days alone to write (with three children under 7, that was an extravagant gift to me). I cranked out 10,000 words in those two days. When the weekend was over, I emerged from my cocoon smiling, exhausted, and excited about what I had created.

I've added hundreds of thousands of words to those first ones, in the form of four complete manuscripts (and one partially written one), two blogs, and pages and pages of journaling. 

If I could go back to that faltering, excited newbie writer, I would tell her three things.

1.  It's not ready yet. It's not even close.
Stop fantasizing about your adoring fans, and how much they are going to love your work. You think it's great. It's not. Don't waste a single second thinking about querying (silly me, you don't even know that word yet), contests, and publication. You're not there yet. 

This will be a long process for you. There will be starts and stops, and massive "life stuff" that suffocates the writing flame. Let it happen. The flame won't go out entirely. It will be a pilot light, fragile, blue, and flickering in cobwebby shadows in the basement of your mind. When the time is right, the flame will roar to life again. You will successfully knock the cobwebs away, and open the document. The story will change in ways your mind can't conceive right now. After all this time, you will have eyes to see how much you've learned about writing, about life, and about God. That has to happen. You can't rush it, so just keep pinging away on the keyboard for now, and know that it's not ready yet.

2. You are not alone.
I know you feel like the only person on earth who has had this crazy idea: I think I'll try to write a book. You walk past shelves at the library, lightly touching the cellophane-wrapped spines as you pass them, convinced those authors are mythical beasts. They don't exist in your world. Normal, suburban nobodies like you don't dream this dream. They don't devote copious isolated hours to this strange task which may never come to fruition. 

In a few short years (they will feel long to you, but they aren't), God will make you see that your greatest need as a writer is to have a reader. You will pray for that constantly for a while, feeling acutely lonely, and then He will direct you to ACFW. You will discover a whole world full of people exactly like you, the ones who dreamed this dream, devoted themselves to their creative labor, and came together online to encourage, critique, and remind one another that they are not alone. This will change everything for you. Remember to thank God for this when it happens.

3. Take the pressure off yourself. God is sovereign over this.
You will read Ephesians 4:1 "I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge to you walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called." And you will hope writing is what God has called you to do. You will wonder, what does it look like to walk in a manner worthy of it? A thousand words a day every day? A blog post every week? Post clicks, likes, and shares? Saving up for conference? The Almighty Book Deal?

This verse will weigh heavy on you as the years of striving pass with nothing much to show for your work. You will begin to doubt this is what God called you to do. "I'm trying!" your heart will cry out in shame that you were wrong, and in fear that you've wasted your time, your witness, your life.
Then one Spring day in early 2016 God will pry your eyes open and make you see the pride in all your striving. He'll show you how your heart was tangled up in self-righteous knots, and how your ambition, though it has always been sincerely to please him, was also bound up in your own glory, the work of your hands, the thing you would create. You hoped it would please him, but you also hoped it would please a publisher; that it would make you feel satisfied, productive, and accomplished.  

That's not your calling, my friend. Your calling is so much bigger than writing, so much longer-lasting. It is eternal.

Your calling is to live a life justified, in fellowship with Christ Jesus. It looks like patience. It looks like obedience. You don't need to strive. The striving is done. It was done by One more qualified and able than you.

But there is work. If your calling is to live in fellowship with Christ, then your work is that which builds up the body of Christ. This can be done through writing fiction; through creating characters who struggle with disunity, who learn, and who grow in their faith. It is right to use this writing gift to tell the story of a people who loved the Lord. It is a fitting labor.

This I know today, after five years of writing: I am at rest.
I still don't have it all figured out. I still have made very little of myself in the writing world. Truthfully, I am not worthy of this writing work. I confess that to you, Dear Reader, and to God. Yet the work continues, and will continue until God takes from me this dream, and sets my heart on another. Until that day, this work of my hands, this thimble of foam, I offer trembling to Christ, to do with what he will--to keep it hidden, or to give it wings--whatever would be to the benefit to his beloved people, the Church. I can rest in that.

Follow Robin on

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

2016 ACFW Conference

by Jebraun Clifford 

I recently returned from four fabulous days in Nashville where I was able to attend the American Christian Fiction Writers' conference, and, wow, what an adventure! I've mulled over all the information I received; all the publishers, agents, and authors I met; and all the experiences I had. I can honestly say it was one of the best events I've ever been to. Each part of my writer's soul was ministered to! Every workshop I attended spoke to me, educated me, challenged me. There were so many 'divine conversations' and God-moments that I couldn't possibly recount them all. While I was thrilled to win the Genesis award in the YA category as well as have successful interviews with four agents who want to see more of my work, for me the bestest, most awesomest part of the conference was the people! I finally found where I fit in, and I loved every minute.

I walked away with several impressions that will stay with me forever:

Morgan L. Busse in steampunk garb

#1 Writers are weird. 

I mean, where else but the genre dinner would you find such an eclectic mix ranging from Scottish kilts and hoop skirts to steampunk bustiers and military fatigues?
Michele Harper as Risa from 'Inkheart'
 and Amy Brock McNew as a kick-butt warrior

Elizabeth and Paige Newsom
as Rey and General Leia Organa

Me in my costume of a native Kyrian,
 my imaginary world

I'll admit, I was terrified of getting down to the dining room and discovering no one else had dressed up, but my fears were soon put to rest. Everyone's costumes were as unique and as varied as the stories we write.

#2 Writers are friendly.

So many selfies!

Michele's birthday dinner

I loved really meeting people who I'd only 'met' through social media. It can be intimidating walking up to someone and introducing yourself (especially well-known authors!), but each time I stepped out, I was rewarded with the start of a new friendship. The best encounter was an unexpected bear hug from the awesome Nadine Brandes when we were both waiting for the elevator, and I told her how much I'd wanted to meet her. Talk about making my day! This happened again and again. Every single person I talked to had an amazing story to share about their journey with God. It was great sitting by somebody new at breakfast or lunch or in a workshop and hearing how God was working in their life, what kind of fiction they write, and where they were in their writing careers. 

Breakfast after the conference at
The Frothy Monkey
David Rawling and I hiding from our fans ;-)

#3 Writers do best when they write with God.

Ted Dekker 
It may seem like a no-brainer, but this point was reiterated again and again. First, by our fabulous keynote speaker, Ted Dekker. Yes, he's just as amazing in person as one would imagine! He's clearly as passionate about pursuing God as he is about writing. He focused on letting our personal transformation be an important part of our stories. Everyone wants to live a better story, he said, and when we share our transformation, that will resonate with our readers.

Allen Arnold, Mary Weber, Katherine Reay,
and Kristy Cambron sharing in 'Soul Care for Storytellers'

Another refreshing time was in panel discussion about the necessity of taking care of your mind, body, soul, spirit, and community. I came away feeling like I could do anything...with God. We were all encouraged to remember we are co-creating with the Creator and spending time with Him should be our goal when writing.

So thanks ACFW! I don't know when I'll be able to get to another conference, but I don't see how anything could possibly top this one!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

ACFW Genesis contest, YA Category WINNER is JEBRAUN CLIFFORD!

We are pleased to announce the winner of the ACFW Genesis Awards in the Young Adult category, all the way from New Zealand, our one and only, Jebraun Clifford.

She did it my friends!!!!

Were we surprised? Not a bit.

Are we thrilled beyond belief? You bet.

Is she exhausted beyond belief? You better believe it! ;)

Was she stunning at the awards gala? Most definitely so.