Archive for May, 2018

How 300 Words a Day Becomes a Book

By Kathy NickersonMay 30th, 2018mercy, writingNo Comments

Face the Page

 

Hello from the Wednesday Writer.

Three hundred words. That is the challenge I set when I decided to actually write one of the stories in my head. If I wrote five days a week, I could have a rough draft done in less than a year. Every morning, I sat at my desk whether I wanted to or not, and I wrote three-hundred words before work. Some of them even made it into the eventual book.

Here are a few tips of my trade:

Follow a Path: I printed blank calendar pages for my novel Thirty Days to Glory since it would follow a month in the life of my characters. I jotted down the main scene for each day. If I had no idea what would happen next, I’d just say something general like, “Elmer will have a memory of the war.” That kept me on course. Calendars have since become my favorite way to plot a story. I rarely write from a detailed outline, but I like to have some stepping stones for the path. Characters keep surprising me along the way, and plots twist or fizzle out. But the main stones are in place. I always fill my calendars in pencil so I can move things around.

Review and Resist: I take a few minutes every morning to read the last few paragraphs from yesterday’s work. Generally, I resist the urge to revise those sentences. Revision steals time from the rough draft. However, I admit, I’m kind of a revise-as-you-go-gal. I do it. But, everyone says you shouldn’t. Pick your own path on this one. Do review, though. Otherwise, you will end up repeating yourself or leaving gaps in your story.

Find a Spot: My morning writing spot for years has been the rocking chair where I read and pray. It sits in a corner of the living room, and everything I need is within reach. We are moving things around in our house this summer, and I may get an actual office. I suspect I’ll keep writing in the rocking chair, though. Carve out your own spot somewhere. You will be surprised how soon your mind begins to respond.

Put Your Fingers on the Keys: Lots of mornings I thought about working on the calendar or coming up with new character names or sketching cover designs because I did not feel inspired to write. Unfortunately, I rarely feel inspired. I always tell young writers that we must discipline our art. Sit ourselves in the chair, put our fingers on the keys (or pick up the pen), and write. Something. Anything. The very act of putting letters together and forming words unlocks something in our brains and our souls. The sentences start to stand in place and march on command. It is a miracle, actually. Every time it happens, I experience a rush of pleasure because I can feel myself cooperating with the Holy Spirit. (Although, I never claim my writing comes straight from God. He would do a much better job than I do.)

Repeat: I am writing my fifth novel now. (Number four comes out this fall.) I find lots of other spaces in my life for writing, of course. I write on the occasional Saturday at home. I steal a few minutes after work. I take my computer and calendar when we travel. And I lock myself away for hours when I get to the serious business of editing and revising. But, those thirty minutes in the mornings are what keep me on task.

 

Lots of people want to write a book. A novel, a textbook, a family history for the grandchildren. Thirty minutes a day will get it done. Have fun!

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When Kindness came to Rascal Flats

By Kathy NickersonMay 27th, 2018Friendship10 Comments

 

 

I wasn’t expecting a fairy godmother that afternoon. So I almost ignored the knock at my front door. I hadn’t wished on a star, rubbed a magic lamp, or even whispered a desperate prayer. I’d simply left work early and collapsed on our sofa. The knock jolted me.

Probably an insurance salesman. Or a religious fanatic.

I didn’t have the strength for either battle. I had come home because I simply could not sit another three hours at my desk. It was easy to blame the pregnancy since morning sickness lasted all day. The truth was much harder to face. A deep, dark depression had slithered around my soul and would not let go.

I had entered marriage with all the enthusiasm of a girl going to the prom. And with just about that much maturity. Being a grown-up had proven less thrilling than I expected. My husband and I moved into a honeymoon cottage on the back street of a small town. The locals called our neighborhood Rascal Flats, quite possibly in honor of some of our neighbors.

Now, a few months after our wedding day, I was pregnant, depressed, and desperate to avoid whoever was knocking at my front door. The knock sounded a second time, and a voice called out my name.

I peeked toward the front porch and caught a glimpse of skinny blue jeans and toenails painted cherry red. If I had asked for a fairy godmother, this would not have been my style. I opened the door.

Evelyn Hagar introduced herself and held out a plate of deviled eggs. She shrugged toward her own house across the street. “I saw your car pull in just now. And I thought, ‘shoot, maybe they can use up some of these eggs I cooked.’” She held the plate out to me. “I always get carried away, and I made way too many for Archie and me. They’ll just go to waste if you don’t eat them.”

I thanked her and accepted the first of many such offerings. As the year progressed, I became certain Evelyn had never lived in a fairy tale. She didn’t talk about her pain, but it was written on her face. Even when she smiled, I could see the sadness.

She bore in silence, though, the sorrows of her youth and the conflicts of adulthood. Even when her only son died in the promise of young manhood, Evelyn grieved quietly. And she kept crossing the street.

She brought the extra biscuits Archie couldn’t eat. And the roast beef she found on sale and couldn’t pass up, which was silly since the two of them would never eat a whole roast beef.

We kept playing the game all through the winter and fall. I didn’t notice the changes going on in my soul at first. They were small, like the first fluttering of life had been inside my womb. When Evelyn brought soup, I found myself wanting to wash her dish before I sent it home. When she talked sweetly about Archie, whether he deserved it or not, I appreciated my own husband more.

Slowly, I found myself coming out of the darkness. And then, our daughter, Felicity, was born. She was sweetness and light itself. My depression lifted the minute we carried her home. Now I had a new obsession. Instead of fretting all day about how sick I felt, I sat in the rocking chair and sang lullabies. I left the dirty dishes in the sink so I could watch her sleep or see her smile. And, I ignored my husband even more.

Felicity was three months old when Evelyn showed up on my porch one morning in her mini skirt and halter top with bracelets jangling on her wrists and a basket in her weathered hands.

“I need to run down to the Laundrymat and wash a few things,” she said, “but I don’t have enough to make a full load of whites. I hate to waste a quarter on half a load. Don’t you have some diapers I could do?”

I stared at Evelyn. She was a grandmother with troubles enough to fill several baskets. Yet, here she stood, trying to make me believe I would do her a favor it I dumped all my soggy diapers in with her half load of underwear.

Suddenly, the spell was broken, and something shifted inside of me. I think it was my own emotions stepping aside to make room for someone else’s needs.

Evelyn washed my diapers that day and a few other days besides. She did so many acts of kindness, in fact, that I’ve lost track of some of the details. But, I have never forgotten.

It has been more than forty years since she delivered that first plate of eggs. I’ve never been able to pull off her glamorous style, and I’ve allowed my sorrows to grow audible many times. But, I’ve also enjoyed a great marriage and helped raised a brood of remarkable kids. Best of all, I have occasionally managed to play fairy godmother for someone else. I owe that part to Evelyn Hagar and the year we shared a street.

Rest in Peace, my friend.

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How to Start Small as a Writer and Dream Big

By Kathy NickersonMay 23rd, 2018writingNo Comments

Start small. Dream big. Look up.

 

In this edition of the Wednesday Writer, we will look at some places you can actually start publishing your work. Before you tackle a 75,000 word novel, exercise your skills and improve your craft with some of these ideas. Some writers say you should never give away your work to a market that doesn’t pay. But, I’m a big fan of internships. Plus, you are sure to pick up a few loyal readers along the way.

Letter to the Editor – Your local newspaper is a great place to break in. Find a neighborhood treasure and give a shout out in a short letter to the editor. Write, revise, edit and apply all the rules from The Elements of Style. Make it your best work before you debut.

In-House Newsletter – Do you get a regular newsletter from your company, your church, your library, your sons’ PTO, or any other group? Check to see if they accept freelance articles. Keep it positive and polish before you send.

Social Media – Twitter is a great place to practice the art of making every word matter. Facebook posts can become short essays. (250 words or less are best). Even the short captions on Instagram can be exercises in creative writing. Start thinking beyond what you had for dinner, and use your social media accounts to brand yourself as a writer.

Blog – Pick a niche that interests you and start blogging about it. Your herb garden. Antique cars. Raising children in the city. Growing up on a farm. Faith, hobbies, sports, or even politics if you are feeling brave. Google the subject of blogging and learn as you go. Or,  hire an expert (like your twelve year old nephew) to help you get started. Remember to edit and revise every post to make it your best.

Letters to Your Mom – Or your grandchildren. Or your former teachers. The most important words you ever write may be the personal lines you send to someone you love. Never stop writing those, whether you send them in a text or mail them on lovely paper.

 

Keep dreaming. Keep writing. Keep looking up in faith. And drop me a line or leave a comment to let me know when you get published!

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If I’m Writing, Who is Reading?

By Kathy NickersonMay 16th, 2018writingNo Comments

 

Pirate Mike is not my target reader. He is just a generous friend who stopped in at one of my book signings. May you be so blessed.

 

 

On today’s Writer Wednesday, I’m talking about audience.

If you don’t want anyone to read your work, you probably aren’t ready to be an author. Keep on being a writer, though, tucking your poetry and prose away inside a journal. I have notebooks full of things I wrote in the early years, and I’m probably leaving a note for those to be burned at my death. They don’t need an audience. (If you are writing journals to hand down to your children, they are your audience. Good work!)

Most of us write because we have something to say. And, we hope someone is listening. Here are some tips for figuring out the someones.

Before you write, imagine your reader in great detail. If you are writing Science Fiction with a high fantasy element, you probably don’t imagine your grandmother and her friends sipping tea and reading your story in rocking chairs. Yet, those are exactly the women I imagine reading my Glory Circle Sisters series.

Question: Where does your reader sit when he reads?

Create an ideal reader. Think about the gender, age, interests, and deep needs of this reader. You can even give the reader a name and physical traits. Cut a picture out of a magazine and post it over your computer if that helps. I keep a file of notes I’ve received from readers. Their comments remind me I’m creating characters and stories to relate to the needs of specific people. I keep a few of those actual readers in mind as I write.

Question: What does your reader do on Sunday afternoon?

Recognize your limitations. Never submit a book proposal to an agent or editor and say, “People of all ages and genders will love this.” No, they won’t. You will have some crossover readers, of course. But, you will have a more narrow target audience, such as 9-12 year old boys who long for adventure and want to know their lives matter. That could have been the original target audience for the Harry Potter books, even though people of all ages and genders did end up loving them. If Rowlings had written to all us muggles, rather than to the peers of Harry, the books wouldn’t have worked as well.

Question: What scares your reader? (You don’t have to write thrillers for this question to matter. In a love story, the answer is often “being alone.”

Remember that readers are real. The buzz word in publishing these days is “platform.” That is simply the reach you have as a writer. Your social media presence, speaking engagements, and other places you can sell books. Every writer needs a platform of some kind if they intend to be published and read. But, it is easy to move into a user mentality when you feel this pressure to build. Eventually, people can just become planks in your platform. One way to avoid that is to be closely connected to real people who read your books. Friends, family members, co-workers, the neighbor down the street. Every time you write something, picture a real person who might read it.

Question: How will your Aunt Tillie, your boss, your son’s soccer coach, or your hairdresser feel when they read this work?

 

We will talk in another post about how to find these readers and connect to them. For now, start to write with readers in mind. I suspect it will change a few things for you. It did for me.

 

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Three Secrets for Surviving Change

By Kathy NickersonMay 14th, 2018family, happy endings2 Comments

John read one of my favorite scriptures at baccalaureate. From Isaiah 40: “Those who wait upon the Lord shall gain new strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles.”

 

Happy Graduation Season! Mothers everywhere are trying not to cry while baby-adults are throwing off caps and dashing into the great unknown. Wendell and I have attended lots of graduations in our life together. But, this week, we enter a whole new phase with the graduation of our first grandchild. (And, those will continue until approximately 2032.)

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can survive changes in life. Here are some of my best tips:

Pray:

My grandfather often asked God to, “Reconcile us to the changing scenes of this life.” Isn’t that beautiful? And helpful? I’ve adapted it somewhat. Occasionally, it just comes out as, “Help!” I am often more eloquent. Sometimes even repeating my grandfather’s prayer. But, I’m sure when John Michael crosses the stage on Sunday, and I send out a silent cry for help, God will answer. He will understand that my one-word prayer encompasses about a zillion things. It is for me, for my family, and especially for John as he ventures into the big, wide world.

Embrace:

My mother often reminded us through the years to enjoy every stage without longing for the one that had passed. She was right, and that has become easier every year. Do I miss the snugly babies of my youth? Of course. I even miss the toddler stage and the teenage years. But, I don’t long for those days. I love the people our children have become. And I wouldn’t trade one adult conversation with them for all the lullabies in the world. (Plus, they have given me fourteen more reasons to sing lullabies.)

Anticipate:

Now that the second generation is starting to leave home, Wendell and I are feeling our age just a bit. We could moan about the things we’ve failed to accomplish. (We do moan about getting out of bed some days.) We could be jealous of the endless opportunities ahead for our grandchildren who have strength and youth on their side. Instead, we are anticipating our next season. When our kids were teens, we started planning for our empty nest by making sure our marriage stayed strong. Now, we are planning for staying healthy, active, and available into old age. (And, keeping our marriage strong.) We expect to celebrate lots of graduations, weddings, babies, groundbreakings, debuts, promotions, and experiences we can’t even imagine today.

I will still probably cry just a bit when the baby who made me a grandmother takes his long stride across the platform. But, mostly, they will be the happiest of tears.

 

 

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How Do I Learn to Write?

By Kathy NickersonMay 9th, 2018work, writingNo Comments

Welcome to The Wednesday Writer edition of my blog. I’ll attempt to answer some of the questions readers ask about the writing process in general and writing for publication, specifically. 

I might own a pair of scissors, and I might like to snip away at things, but that does not make me a hairstylist. Every career or pursuit requires training, study, and practice. This is a phenomenal era in which to find those things as a writer. Here are a few simple ways:

Read Magazines – Your local library probably has copies of things like The Writer, Writers Digest, or one of the many other magazines for writers. If you subscribe, you can clip and keep articles that pertain to your genre. Of course, you can get digital versions, as well.

Read Books – Reading for pleasure helps develop your own voice and style. You might start out copying your favorite author, but you will grow. Reading helps tune your ear for writing. Also, buy good books on the craft of writing. Anything by Writers Digest Books will be an excellent resource for your personal writing library. Consider it investing in your education and in the career of another writer.

Watch Movies – Careful, this can be a cop-out to avoid writing. However, movies can also help you learn to write good dialogue and can teach you story structure.

Read Blogs – The number of good blogs for writers is almost endless. Every year, Writers Digest lists the Top One-Hundred. The archives on some of these sites are a treasury. Plus you can start to develop an online circle of relationships as you comment and ask questions.

Join a Writing Group – When I couldn’t find one in our rural area, I created one. It didn’t take much work to discover a dozen or so other people with an interest in writing. In our few years together, we have seen some wonderful growth. One of our members went from never finishing a project to being published in one magazine so frequently they asked him to work as an editor. Now, we submit to him! Check local libraries, college campuses, social media sites, or writing magazines and reference books for groups.

Take a Course – This doesn’t have to be a college class. Lots of online classes are excellent and affordable. I’ve taken several.

Attend a Writers Conference – I do this every year. Writing is a solitary experience much of the time. Meeting real editors, agents, and other authors is worth the price of admission. Plus, you will learn more than your brain can hold.

This list is not exhaustive, of course. It is only a small beginning, but I expect it shall lead to great things. Please let me know when it does so for you. Happy writing.

 

Resources: (Just a few of my favorites)

Magazines: The Writer, Writers Digest

Books: 

Just Write, (plus, everything else by James Scott Bell)

The Irresistible Novel, by Jeff Gerke

Deer on a Bicycle, by Patrick F. McManus

Writers Market

Christian Writers Market

Blogs

Books&Such Literary Agency

Steve Laube Literary Agency

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Sally Apokedak, Agent

Courses

Anything at Udemy.com by Sally Apokedak

Anything at Udemy.com by Jeff Gerke

The Jerry Jenkins Christian Writers Guild

Guideposts “How to Tell a Story”

Conferences 

Heart of America Christian Writers Conference, Kansas City, usually in October

Omaha Wordsowers, usually in April

Called to Write, Pittsburg, KS, usually in the spring

Realm Makers, this year in St. Louis, but it travels every year.

 

 

 

 

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Good News for Young Couples

By Kathy NickersonMay 7th, 2018mercyNo Comments

Forty-four years ago this evening, I walked down the red-carpeted aisle of a Methodist church to marry the man of my dreams. And, of course, you know what happened next. Babies, bills, breakdowns, and breakthroughs. All the stuff of life. Since we started out together as teenagers (I was 18), we had to grow up together. And we did. Not always elegantly, but God was gracious.

One of the things we had going for us was an attitude Wendell brought into our marriage. We would never use the “D” word out loud or in our minds, and we would hold onto the belief that things would just keep getting better through the years until we became two old people still madly in love.

He was so right.

That is the good news. Life can be hard and mean. People can fail and disappoint. But, if you both hold onto Jesus and to one another, marriage truly does get better and better through the years.

(If you are fighting for you marriage alone, I’m so sorry. I’m not writing this to make you feel worse. Please know my heart hurts for you, and God sees.)

If you are in a committed marriage, if you are overwhelmed with the trials of life, if you wonder whether you can ever get back to the romantic days of your youth, here are a few things I can tell you about long marriage:

  1. We like one another even more than we did in the heady days of wooing.
  2. The irritating habits that showed up a few years down the road have become endearing traits. (Or, at least neutral) 🙂
  3. We’ve survived some of the worst life has to offer, and we still believe in the best.
  4. A strong foundation makes a great launching pad for new ideas, dreams, and even careers.
  5. The best moment of the day is the bedtime snuggle.
  6. The sheet music of life can go from a fun duet to a fine-tuned symphony.
  7. Arguments are fewer, shorter, and don’t leave battle scars.
  8. We were right about our kids. They grew up to become our best friends.
  9. Grandchildren. Enough said.
  10. And, now, even after all these years, we still truly believe the poet Robert Browning who said, “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be …”    

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Why I Write

By Kathy NickersonMay 2nd, 2018mercy, work, writing2 Comments

Welcome to Writer Wednesday.

 

One of the basic questions professionals like to ask newbies is this: So, why do you write? The answers are as unique as the folks replying. But, here are three of the most common reasons.

I write because I want to be rich. Nobody actually says this, of course. We know that wouldn’t be polite. Anyone who writes, though, has a little seed buried deep inside that expects our book could be the one to win the publishing lottery. We hear the dismal statistics of how few books actually make a profit. We know scads of authors who still have day jobs. Yet, we keep writing with a best-seller ticket in our mind.

In case you are wondering, writing for riches is not a good idea. Could it happen? Of course. But, if it doesn’t (and it probably won’t) you risk giving up in despair. And maybe you were just one idea away from the most important book of your life. (Which probably won’t make your rich, either.)

So, if you probably won’t get rich, should you quit? Absolutely not. Adjust your perspective. If you are intent on making a living as a writer, check out advice from people like author Jeff Goins. If you want to let your art grow and breathe without the burden of supporting you, find a job that leaves you enough strength at the end of the day to write around the edges of your life. Or, you might even find a willing patron who will support you while you write. (Spouses and parents can be excellent at this.)

I write because I want to be famous. Again, we probably don’t say this, but it creeps in. I entered a writing contest where a Hallmark Movie executive served as judge. Once my story broke through the first round, I started listing in my mind which agents I knew who could handle the TV movie rights for me. Good grief, Charlie Brown.

Wanting to be liked, noticed, accepted, admired, and loved is part of our humanity. We just need to remember where it got us back in the Garden of Eden. Think of the best book you’ve read this year. Do you know the author’s name? How about a movie you loved. Know the screenwriter? Beauty is fleeting and so is fame, to misquote the scriptures. So, let’s look for something more rewarding and eternal through our art. Like friendships.

I write because I have something to say. Ahhhh, there it is. If you don’t have something to say, just doodle on your notepad. Don’t try to become an author. But, if you have something to say that will help the world, start saying it. Maybe your thing is about building a healthy family. Or about how to train your dog. Or about how the Civil War impacted commerce and what we can learn from that today. Maybe your message is how to plant a garden and live a sustainable lifestyle in the zombie apocalypse. We need to know!

Every writer has something brewing in their soul. It may come out in a variety of stories and forms, but it will always emerge. When an editor read my second novel, Rose Hill Cottage, she said, “I love how you write about community.”

I said, “What? This book is about a widow looking for solitude.” Then, I realized I had written community all around her in the secondary characters. I couldn’t escape from my message, and neither could the grieving Nora.

So, why do you write? Have you sorted that out yet? If not, start asking yourself some basic questions, and it will become clear.

(If you figure out the getting rich part, please let me know.)

(Just kidding.)

(Sort of.)

 

Resources: Jeff Goins on writing

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