Thursday, September 30, 2010
Question: When is a writer successful enough to stop learning?
Just like any other profession, the life of a writer needs to be an on-going and ever growing process, otherwise it will become old and stale. This means staying on top of the market, honing one's skills, and not being afraid to take risks.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen. I said risks.
It's quite easy to sit back and dab at that which has become safe and familiar. But think. Great authors did not become that way by playing it safe, by playing follow-the-leader. They became who they are by being different and taking chances. By "boldly going where no man has gone before."
Shakespeare. Poe. Twain. Fitzgerald. Lewis. Tolstoy. Austin. Tolkien. King. Rowling. These are just a few who carved their names into the tree of literature not only by being great writers, but also by being risk takers.
I encourage you--writers young and old, new and seasoned--to take hold of the gift God gave you. Allow Him to push it outside the box. Outside your comfort zone. Give Him permission to teach you: Take classes. Go to seminars. Find a mentor. Maybe even write outside your genre. Outside your safety zone. See what can happen when you allow God to push you beyond your boundaries.
Whether you're a newbie or multi-published author, ACFW has great tools available for those who are looking for ways to walk down that road. The Storycrafter's Seminar is one of them. Coming November 13th to Thornton, Colorado, Susan May Warren will offer techniques that help turn an idea into a story. Great seminar for those who need help with the basics. Great seminar for those who need help with brain freeze. Great seminar for those who wish to add a little spice to their writing stew.
Then, on February 5, 2011, the 3rd Annual Peak Writing Conference will take place in Colorado Springs, featuring award-winning editor, best-selling author and speaker Karen Ball, and Alive Communications agent Andrea Heinecke. Join us as these talented ladies share their combined experience ranging from fiction to non-fiction, and from simple books to complex novels.
Coming April 8-9, 2011, to the ACFW Colorado retreat, is New York Times best-selling author and keynote speaker Cec Murphey. Known as the "Man Behind the Words," Cec's passion is to stimulate people's minds and nourish their souls.
And finally, link up with a local ACFW chapter each month to hear seasoned speakers, writers, and professionals talk about everything from encouraging God's call on your life to what a publisher looks for in a novel to how to handle trauma in the emergency room (great tool if you are writing an emergency room scene). Not a chapter in your area? Now would be a good time to start one up. You can get more information on "how to" by contacting our Colorado Area Coordinator, Margie Vawter.
In the words of Captain James T. Kirk of the starship USS Enterprise, "All your people must learn before you can reach for the stars." (-- Kirk, "The Gamesters of Triskelion", stardate 3259.2) And what better time to learn, than now!
(For details on the above opportunities, visit our web page at www.acfwcolorado.com)
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Confessions of a Non-Traditional Student
It was a dark and stormy night in the little village of Coldwater, Ohio, when the young widow determined she had one of two choices. She could continue working low paying jobs and surviving on Social Security benefits, or she could step out of her comfort zone and investigate the possibility of a secondary education.
A local community center offered evening classes in *Word Processing, where our widow enrolled and completed the classes with enthusiasm and determination. However, upon completion of the Word Processing classes, she found herself still unable to secure gainful employment. Determined to improve her lot in life, she pushed forward and endeavored to take her secondary education one step further.
One bright and sunny afternoon she drove to the neighboring village of St. Mary’s and visited the branch campus of Wright State University. There she met with an advisor who showed the widow the educational opportunities and financial assistance available to a women in her situation. The adviser concluded the interview with, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
With her head spinning and the front seat of her rusted out 1980 Chevette strewn with registration materials, our widow drove home with an entirely new outlook on life. There was a whole world of opportunity out there and she wanted a piece of it. “What do I want to be when I grow up?” she pondered.
Arriving home to her twelve-year-old son and nineteen-year-old daughter the widow discussed the possibility of her entering college as a part-time student. The twelve-year-old son’s reaction was, “Mom, don’t you think you’re a little old to be going to college,” and the nineteen-year-old daughter shrugged with a “Whatever.”
After much research, soul searching, and discussions with her advisor, our ambitious student of 42 determined she would enroll that fall, not as a part-time student, but as a full-time student working in the faculty offices. And so, she began her educational journey at the branch campus, majoring in Social Work. Three quarters later, she completed her Associates Degree in English at the little campus by the lake. (Even at the ripe old age of 42, we often change our major.) That summer she began French classes at the main campus in Dayton, Ohio, and in May 1993, our widow earned her B.A. in English and Professional Writing, walked with her class, and graduated with a 3.8 GPA.
As you probably have assumed by now, I was the widowed mother of two who became a non-traditional student at a major university at the age of 42. In addition to earning my degree, I received an amazing hands-on education in computer usage. At that time PCs were only beginning to run in Windows with a mouse. That is correct, up until 1991, all PCs ran in DOS (Disc Operating System). Only Macintosh used a mouse, and only geeks used a Mac. (Yes, I admit I was a PC snob.)
Through the years I have been blessed with computer training opportunities offered though my employers. I have been blessed to learn new software programs and to advance that knowledge through subsequent employers and positions.
Now, my writing career has opened a plethora of opportunities to learn. This past year I completed the two year Apprentice course of study with the Christian Writer’s Guild and intend to begin the Journeyman course of study next year. I have attended several writing seminars, numerous lectures at our ACFW meetings, two Christian Writer’s Guild Conferences and am registered to attend my third in February 2011. I have attended one National ACFW Conference and one Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference. The classes at these conferences are informative, encouraging and keep me on track with my writing. I hesitate to mention the numerous books on the craft that I lug home each time I attend a conference.
Thanks to my education and training, today I have a good paying job that I truly enjoy, but a job that I hope to retire from in eight years when I begin my career as a writer and public speaker. With the Lord’s blessing it may be sooner than eight years, but that will depend on my success as a writer and speaker. As you can tell from my late entry into college, I seem to be a late bloomer, and it takes me awhile to get things right. (I didn’t learn to swim until I was 30.)
I intend to be a lifelong learner, and I advise anyone of any age to do the same. It keeps your mind alert and functioning and makes you a much more interesting individual.
*For those unfamiliar with a Word Processor, it was a type of stand-alone office machine that combined the keyboard text-entry and printing functions of an electric typewriter with a dedicated processor – like a computer processor – for the editing of text. Word processors usually featured a monochrome display and had the ability to save documents on memory cards or diskettes. This was 1989, and personal computers were in their infancy. Even the Commodore was only recently available to the general public.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
There are many ways to learn about the craft of writing. Online writing courses, books, critique groups, participation in a local group, talking with other writers, and yes, even conferences, retreats, and seminars -- if you are open to learn, you will be able to take away a nugget from any of these situations. If you aren't open to learning, you can spend a lot of time and money and not get any benefit from any or all of these activities.
See, I think continuing education is a lot like meal preparation. We start with the meat and potatoes of a story. We have some characters, a setting, maybe even a time period. We start cooking our ingredients together, hoping to come up with something delicious at the end.
Okay, so here is where continuing education comes in: learning new things about our craft of writing is like opening a cook book and getting a new recipe for cooking chicken. Sure, you could take your pieces of chicken and do what you always do with it. Or, you can take a recipe from a book and add a few extra ingredients, and come up with a wonderful dish your family asks for again and again.
In the same way, you can take your characters, your setting, your time period, string them together in the same old way, and come up with a book nobody wants to read. Or, you can open a book on writing, go to a critique group, attend a writer's meeting, buy a tape from a conference -- and add a dash of expertise, a teaspoon of craft, a pinch of grammar and style, and come up with a book that has your readers asking "When is the next one coming out?"
Continuing education, in all its forms, will spice up your writing, will make the process go faster and easier for you, and will open doors to editors. Learning more about the craft of writing will improve your plots, make your characters more believable, and will garner you faithful readers.
So whatever form of continuing education you choose, start out with a desire to be better at what you do, to wisely use the gifts God has given you, and to have a teachable heart, intent on being the best you can be.
Monday, September 20, 2010
I imagine that advocating continuing education to those returning from national conference is preaching to the choir. After all, it’s one of the best writing conferences. Some of us might argue the best. You can’t NOT learn from the experience.
Well, maybe that isn’t true. Maybe one day you woke up a zombie, stumbled downstairs in search of yummy brains for breakfast, and through a series of mystifying events ended up in a conference room with only your tattered, moldy clothing as fortification for the day.
That happened to me this weekend.
Somehow wires crossed, the stars fell out of alignment, and I found myself with a birthday slumber party and a Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference planned for the same weekend.
Ten boys, ages six to ten, invaded my home on Friday night. In a display of sheer insanity, I spent all day Friday cleaning for the occasion. I’ll never do that again. I mean, really, only the village idiot tidies her hovel for the approaching Viking horde.
Aside from the noise and the mess, the party went well. My husband, the sainted Kory of Denmark, took over the party at 11 PM, knowing I had to wake up at 5 AM to drive to Denver for SCWBI. Unfortunately, a lightsaber battle broke out shortly after I’d gone to bed. My husband must’ve been quickly vanquished because the young warriors ended up in my bedroom, fiercely battling and oblivious to the maiden trying to sleep.
The maiden got out of bed and kicked them out. The battle raged on until 2 AM, when Kory the Long-Suffering resurrected and decreed that the army must make camp or DIE!
Shortly thereafter, the zombie maiden rose and walked among children’s book enthusiasts.
In all honesty, caffeine kept me vertical but didn’t do much for my learning receptors. I tried to listen to speakers, tried to apply their advice to my writing, tried to network and smile and form coherent sentences. But how could I absorb anything with the mushy head of cauliflower I had for a brain?
You’d be surprised. The good thing about cauliflower is that it has sponge-like properties. On the way home from Denver yesterday afternoon, Mom and I talked over our last session with children’s author Linda Arms White. I mentioned that I liked Linda’s concept of having a bank of words for her picture books. She only has around a thousand words in her bank and must decide how to spend those words wisely. She allows herself only two adverbs per story. In my mind, those adverbs equate to splurge purchases.
Mom said something to the effect of, “See, you did learn something.”
And she was right. Despite my limited brain function, lack of coordination, and occasional drooling, I did manage to absorb several good tidbits of information, and I’m glad I went. My point is, there's no excuse for not benefiting from continuing education. You can always learn something new. Even if you are undead.
Evangeline Denmark co-authored The Dragon and The Turtle (Waterbrook Press, 2010) and The Dragon and the Turtle Go On Safari (Waterbrook Press, 2011). Evangeline also enjoys writing adult fiction and has perhaps allowed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to go to her head.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
I've long been an advocate of constantly learning more about the craft of writing. Since I was very young, I enjoyed writing. Even those many, many essays in high school and college! And I enjoy teaching writing/self-editing whenever I get a chance. And I promote conferences, like the Colorado and Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers conferences, the ACFW national conference (which I am missing this year . . . sigh), and other conferences.
But . . . true confession time . . . I am an online writing class junkie! LOL I'm permanently signed up to the course loop ACFW offers their members. Why not? It's free. And I can hit the delete button as well as anyone on the months I'm not interested in the topic. But usually I keep or copy or print the lessons the "teacher" presents and try to go over them when I get a chance. I don't usually have time to keep up with what people post in response to the assignments, unless the topic really interests me (i.e. is an area I really need help with).
This month is a discussion on including the faith factor in our writing—how much is too much; how much is enough; what is too little, etc. And of course those answers vary as to who we perceive our readers to be and the purpose we write. Sharon Hinck is leading the class, and I consider her one of the best in seamlessly incorporating faith into her books.
Also this month, I'm taking a course from Writer University on pacing in novels. Mary Buckham (co-author with Dianna Love of Break into Fiction) is leading the class, and I'm finding it challenging and extremely helpful. I'm behind, but already I've seen how the beginnings of my current wip (historical mystery) and the revision of my amateur sleuth mystery can be redone to start the stories out at the right pace. Good stuff.
I've also taken courses from Writers Online Classes and Beau Monde and the Orange County RWA chapter. Usually they run about $30 for a month-long class, a little more for Masters classes. For various reasons, this is the first class I've taken online this year, but I've taken many over the past several years.
As for the impact on my writing and editing, I can't begin to put a value on these classes—only that they are worth much more than I pay as far as the information and skills I've acquired as a result. Check out some of these places that offer classes in various formats and choose what looks best for you and your pocketbook.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Featuring Susan May Warren
RITA Award Winning Novelist and Writing Coach
Saturday, November 13th, 8:30 am - 4 pm
Graystone Castle Event Center
I-25 & 120th Avenue
Registration check-in and continental breakfast begin at 8:30 am. Seminar begins at 9 am.
Come with an idea...leave with a story!
Have you always wanted to write a story but didn't know where to start? If so, the Storycrafter's Seminar is for you! RITA Award-winning author and writing coach Susan May Warren will teach you story structure, go step-by-step in the character creation and plotting process, then show you how to apply it to your story. She'll brainstorm your idea, share essential secrets of storytelling, and finally, you'll take home a plan that will act as a map for your novel. With time for writing, as well as learning, it's a day for writers of all levels that will jump-start your novel onto the road to publication.
Early-bird registration is $89 from July 1st - September 30, 2010. Registration is open to both ACFW members and non-members. Those who register by September 30th will be entered into a drawing to receive a $50 cash refund on their registration fee. One winner will be chosen. Drawing to be held on day of seminar. Prices will increase to $109 October 1st, and space is limited, so register early! Registration ends November 1, 2010.
The event will be held in Thornton, Colorado, 12 miles north of downtown Denver and 30 minutes from the airport, in the Graystone Castle Event Center. Admission to the event includes:
* Storycrafter's workbook
* Continental breakfast
* Deli lunch buffet
For registration instructions, click here.
ACFW members, please enter discount code "ACFW" to receive a 5% discount. Membership must be current. Discount available for early-bird registration only.
Susan May Warren is the RITA award-winning author of twenty-five novels with Tyndale, Barbour and Steeple Hill. A RITA winner, as well as a four-time Christy award finalist, she's also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Book of the Year. A seasoned women's events speaker, she's a popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation and the author of the beginning writer's workbook: From the Inside-Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you!. She is also the founder of www.MyBookTherapy.com , a story-crafting service that helps authors discover their voice. A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at her website.
8:30 am - 9:00 am Registration check-in and continental breakfast
9:00 am - 10:15 am Session
10:15 am - 10:30 am Break
10:30 am - Noon Session
Noon - 1:00 pm Lunch
1:00 pm - 2:15 pm Session
2:15 pm - 2:30 pm Break
2:30 pm - 4:00 pm Session/End