Week 14, Step 14: “Is There Such A Thing As Being Too Humble?”

Actually… Yes there is.

Let me explain.

Last week we talked about pride. We talked about how pride is the root of all evil and how it can cause so many issues in the lives of Christians, young people, and writers. But here’s something I did that is almost just as bad. After I realized how prideful I was, I almost became too humble. You’re probably thinking, “How is that even possible?” Oh it’s possible! Let me show you.

If you’re a perfectionist (like me) then you can sometimes take things to the opposite extreme. For example, when I realized that I was being prideful and overly critical of others and what they were saying about my story, I started to buy every little comment they gave me to make my writing better. I started catering to what everyone said and became fearful of man instead of fearing God. Thank goodness none of my editors pointed me away from Christ. But there were things that were suggested that would’ve taken away from the story.
I was a part of a writing group for several years. Everyone else in the group was writing fantasy that was geared towards older teens and young adults. Their writing was awesome, suspenseful, gripping, and very action-packed. Then…. There was my book. “A Cry From Egypt” is geared more towards 8-16 year olds, though I’ve had 4 and 5 year olds all the way up to college students and adults like it! But my friends who were fantasy writers didn’t really love to read my story because it wasn’t as exhilarating and exciting as all the other stories that were being passed around in our circles. They read it and enjoyed it and helped me work through it. But they kept saying it needed to be more suspenseful. I started to worry that my book was too bland and that people wouldn’t enjoy it.

However…

When I brought my worries to my dad he told me, “Look, your stuff is exciting. It’s right from God’s word. That is what makes it exciting. Not the fact that there are people about to die in every chapter. Not about how action-packed it is. Not how much you can relate to different characters or put them in near-death situations. It’s about God’s word and His story. If you add any more action and mystery you will be taking away from God’s word and the message that people need to learn through the ten plagues.”

And boy was he right! I’m so thankful that I listened to him and stayed as close to the Biblical account as I could. Now, I did add some suspense and adventure and excitement. After all, what’s a good book without some moments where you’re holding your breath and dying to know what’s happening next? But action isn’t the main theme of my story. God is. And the funny thing is, lots of people who have reviewed my book now that it’s published thought there was almost too much violence and action in it! Good thing I didn’t add any more! :-)

I also had two editors who I loved very much give me some very radical suggestions. They suggested that I combine “The Promised Land Series” into one giant book. They also suggested that I cut out some character entirely from the story. Wow. That was pretty wild! But these were people I trusted and who knew me and who knew my goals for the story. So, I prayed. I tried to use what little wisdom God had given me. And I talked with my dad. My dad and I agreed that we shouldn’t turn my series of four books into one giant book. But we did realize that the characters my editors mentioned were in the way. However, I couldn’t just get rid of them. I had to think long and hard, but I was able to minimize their importance in the story so that I can pull them out when I need them, but they weren’t distracting from the story any more. If I had taken their suggestions hook, line, and sinker, there would be no book entitled “A Cry From Egypt”! But if I didn’t listen, the book “A Cry From Egypt” wouldn’t be as good as it is today, by God’s grace. :-)

So to summarize what we’ve said over the last two weeks and give you your homework….

1. Be humble! Be a listener and be teachable in all of life, not just your writing.
2. Pray for wisdom and use discernment when evaluating feedback.
3. Fear God rather than man.
4. Remember that other people are prideful, too, and they will want to write your story for you.
5. Listen carefully to suggestions you receive for radical changes (my dad and I just talked about some big changes for book 2!). You don’t always have to take them, but be prayerful and think it through and find the root or source of the big problem in your writing.

Happy Writing! Be sure to email me any questions you have that I haven’t answered so far in the series! It’s only 4 more weeks until the final blog post! Come back next week to learn about the different publishing routes you could take as a budding author!

A Joke For My Fellow Writers :-)

Hello Fellow Writers!!

Here’s a joke that one of my writing friends posted the other day. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! :-)

How many screenwriters does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Ten.
1st draft. Hero changes light bulb.
2nd draft. Villain changes light bulb.
3rd draft. Hero stops villain from changing light bulb. Villain falls to
death.
4th draft. Lose the light bulb.
5th draft. Light bulb back in. Fluorescent instead of tungsten.
6th draft. Villain breaks bulb, uses it to kill hero’s mentor.
7th draft. Fluorescent not working. Back to tungsten.
8th draft. Hero forces villain to eat light bulb.
9th draft. Hero laments loss of light bulb. Doesn’t change it.
10th draft. Hero changes light bulb.

Week 13, Step 13, “What Will Keep You From Becoming a Published Author”

Now I want to share with you the one main thing that will keep you from becoming a published author. Actually, this blog post isn’t just for authors. It’s for every single person in all of the world. And it’s something that most people don’t really talk about today, particularly in Christian circles. You ready to know what that one thing is? It is…. (drum role please!….)

Pride.

Now you’re probably thinking right now, “What? Pride? That’s it? I’m not prideful! No problem for me!” Well… If you thought that – or anything close to that – you just became prideful.


I’m going to open my heart up to you here. Up until the last year, I was a very, very, VERY prideful and judgmental person. I didn’t realize it. Whenever I heard about pride I just assumed that everyone else struggled with it. I didn’t think it was my issue. But then I started a Bible study called “Seeking Him” by Nancy Leigh DeMoss in preparation for a play I was in about the life of Jesus. We got to the pride chapter and I thought I would just whiz through. But each page and Bible verse that I read stripped the blinders from my eyes. I saw that when I compared people to myself and put them down that that was pride. I saw that my defensive spirit and desire for everyone to see me as the “perfect child” was pride. I saw that my desire to do well was not to please God, but was centered around the praises of men. I found myself crying my eyes out in my office, absolutely devastated that I was so entrenched in my sin. I now realized how it had affected my relationship with my family, my friends, and most importantly, it was hindering my growth in my relationship with God. God hates pride. He abhors it. Pride is the root of all evil. Pride is the sin that got Satan kicked out of heaven and started all of the sin in the world.

I’m not saying that I have mastered this area of my life. Pride is still a struggle with me each and every day. A bunch of reviews came in for my book this week and I had to be very careful as I read them that I would not get a big head or start to become prideful in my capabilities. I know now that it’s only because of Christ that I have the ability to write at all!

I’ve noticed that many Christian young people today, just like me, can be kind of closed off from other Christians and even the world because we think, “Oh, we’re Christians. We’re better than them. We have God and our lives are in great shape.” We also think that we as Christians have to show people our good side. But… As soon as we think that, we’re falling into pride. I’m saying this to you to help you. Please, don’t grow up prideful and judgmental. Not only will it affect your writing but it will affect your walk with God and your relationship with all other believers. You will be a dead Christian if you’re filled with pride.

But how does this apply to your writing? Well, unfortunately, many authors are prideful. They think that they are awesome writers, that they have all the answers, that they can do it all without God or without the help of editors and readers. But we can’t! We have to seek help from others. We don’t have all the answers. God put people in our lives to help us as iron sharpening iron. If you don’t let others look at your book, read it, and critique it, your writing will stink. You need help. It’s really hard but with God’s help, you can do it. You can seek help. You can write something wonderful and powerful for God’s glory. But you must empty yourself and let God fill you with Himself and His spirit.

I’ve met many, many budding authors who wouldn’t accept help at all. And, unfortunately, their writing really wasn’t good. Either that or they had a great talent, but when I pointed out errors they wouldn’t listen. People like that aren’t going to become published authors, or at least they won’t have the impact and the reach that they could have if they had humbled themselves and developed their full potential. Publishers also know when someone is not being humble and teachable. They are much less likely to work with you and publish your book if you aren’t willing to make necessary changes. Don’t go for the easy way out! Here’s some hypothetical examples of what a prideful writer could look like. NOTE: These aren’t actual people or circumstances, but are very loosely based off of general problems I’ve seen or heard about in beginning writers.

Helen has always enjoyed writing and had a good idea that brought glory to God’s name and showed evil for what it really was. She began writing and shared her story with some of her friends. Her friends loved her theme, her characters, and her writing style. But as Helen sent out more and more chapters, her friends began to feel lost. It felt like the characters were wandering aimlessly and not making it closer to the goal that had been presented in the first two chapters. Actually… The goal wasn’t being talked about at all any more! A whole new goal had been introduced. But that one also wasn’t being advanced correctly, either. Helen’s friends pointed this out to her. They said, “You’re a great writer! We love your characters and your story. But you’re losing the plot and trying to do too many things at once.” Unfortunately, Helen didn’t listen to them or agree. She continued writing, but her book didn’t get any better. Slowly, very slowly, her friends lost interest in her book. A great writer and a great theme that showed how terrible and cunning darkness is was wasted.

Eric is a very fun-loving guy who has won prizes for his book reports and short creative stories. He started to develop a new book that was several chapters long. He wanted it to be a character-driven, fast-paced fantasy. All his friends in co-op loved his ideas and begged to read each new chapter. Then one girl name Melanie came up to him one day. “Hey Eric, I love your book. I really do. But your two main characters… They argue all the time. And it was funny to start off with. Now it’s just kind of old. I think your humor is great! I just think that you need to pull back the arguing. It isn’t uplifting, and it’s starting to take away from all the other awesome things in your story. Several of the other kids and even Mrs. Beven, the literature teacher, agree.” But Eric didn’t listen. He thought that the comedy was better left in. And it ended up ruining the story.

Meredith wasn’t the best writer ever, but she had an idea for a medieval story that she and her best friend, Connie, really enjoyed. Meredith wrote out the first two chapters and gave them to some of her friends at church who were really good at writing. When her friends gave her back the two chapters, Meredith was discouraged to see that they were covered in red ink. Grammatical and spelling errors abounded. Several things were unrealistic. But at the end of the 15 pages everyone had written something like, “You have a good story! The theme of forgiveness is something that everyone needs to hear. If you just learn these grammatical rules you’ll be off to a great start!” But by this point Meredith was so upset that she discarded her story and never worked on it again. The world missed out on a story that would have been convicting and challenging.

Mark had written stories ever since he was nine years old. He joined a writing group at his local library when he turned fifteen and started a historical fiction based in the Civil War. But soon he got a lot of edits and started to get a bit disheartened. He started another story based on World War II. But he only got a few chapters into that before starting another historical fiction that took place in Rome during the 1st century. His writing group started to pressure him to finish one of the books and not keep adding more. He was a good writer! He just needed to finish what he’d begun. Mark is now twenty-five years old with six or seven story ideas that he’s never finished.

You see, we must listen. We must pray. We must evaluate our attitudes and our actions and accept the advice others give us.

I was a part of a writing group for a period of time. I’m blessed that since I’m writing Biblical historical fiction I never really get writer’s block or get stuck because my plot-line is already written! It’s the Bible! But there were plenty of times that I wrote something very cheesy, especially when I tried to describe the plagues. You should’ve read my first version of the plague of darkness! When I would get stuck or hate a section of my story, my writing group would throw out random ideas. They really, really helped me. Some of the best ideas or parts in my book were suggestions from other people. Bryan Davis, the writer of the “Dragons in our midst” series and the “Oracles of fire” series gave me an idea for a plot-line to go through all four of my books! If you’re not open you could miss some very important ideas and critiques.

In closing, here are some scripture verses from Proverbs (the book of the Bible that I’m studying now) about pride and its dangers. Be sure to check back next week for a blog post about humility, and how extreme humility can also cause issues to yourself as a writer.

Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate.”

Proverbs 11:2, “When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom.”

Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.”

Proverbs 29:23, “A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor.”

Suggested Homework:

1. Pray and ask God to cultivate a spirit of humility in you.

2. Look at some of the edits that you’ve gotten back for your story and start fixing it.

Week 12, Step 12: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Editors and Readers”

Now that you’re revising, it’s time to have a good talk about the people that will be helping you complete this writing journey. There are three different groups of people that I want to talk about today. They are professional editors, editors, and readers. I will tell you what I’ve learned through my writing process about each group and suggestions as to who you should approach. So, let’s get started!

Professional Editors: 

The Good: These are people who edit books either part-time or full-time for as a career. They are obviously very skilled and will cover your manuscript with red ink and suggestions as to how to make your story better. Some of the best professional editors won’t even accept your whole book at once. They will read part of it to see if it’s even worth their time to edit it. They are also a trusted voice and can help get you in to different publishing agencies or publishing houses.

The Bad: While professional editors are amazing at what they do, they do not know you personally. They don’t know your voice and what you’re trying to accomplish through your story. Let me give you an example. A friend of mine had a wonderful story that they were working on. It was really, really good. Of course, there were always little things to correct, but my friend was doing a great job. They got a professional editor interested in their story and sent it in for review. In no time at all the editor’s notes came back. There were a lot of notes, and he had a lot of good things to say to my friend. However, the editor corrected the book based on how he, the editor, would write the book, not as the way my friend would write the book. My friend started to revise the story, but they’ve had trouble writing ever since because the editor had taken away my friend’s voice. Don’t let that happen.

The Ugly: Professional editors can be really, really expensive.

Suggestions: I don’t think you have to get a professional editor (I’ll finish explaining why later on). But if you do decide to get a professional editor, make sure you find one that specializes in your genre. Also, make sure you don’t take all of their comments and suggestions hook, line, and sinker. Always keep your voice!

Editors:

The Good: Editors are the people that we’ve been talking about the whole time. They’re your tutors, writing friends, parents, movie and book critics, English majors or teachers, and others that are in your life. These people know you and know what you want to accomplish through your story. They can provide advice and criticism while not rewriting your story in a negative way or changing your goals.

The Bad: The bad thing is that these people do know you. You’re probably thinking, “Now wait a second… You just said that it’s a good thing that these people know me!” And I did. But… Sometimes your editors who know you might not be ready or willing to be brutally honest and tell you what you’re doing wrong and what needs to change. Make sure you tell everyone who reads your story, “Tear it up. I don’t care. I need to know what I’m doing wrong. Please, be brutally honest. I can take it.” And when they are brutally honest, accept it and don’t get defensive.

The Ugly: Be careful that you don’t have too many editors at once. You’ll have too many conflicting voices. Pick a few people at a time to read your story, then edit it according to their suggestions before you pass it on to others.

Suggestions: I never got a professional editor, only the normal editors. And they were great! I didn’t have to compromise my voice. I could have a personal relationship with them all and get help for other ideas just when I needed it. They were almost as good, if not better, than a professional editor. These are the people I go to all the time, no matter what.

Readers:

The Good: Readers are awesome. Readers are people that read your story, cheer you on, and tell you their thoughts about your book. I had a lot of readers over the course of my seven years of writing “A Cry From Egypt.” I got many kids, boys and girls, from the ages of eight to eighteen to read my book and tell me if they liked it. Many parents read it, too, to make sure it was something that their whole family would benefit from and enjoy. Generally speaking, all of the feedback I got was good. Some people gave me suggestions for changes, but it was nothing big. My readers really inspired me to keep writing. It was just so much fun to actually discuss my book with people who had actually read it and loved it! It also really helps with word-of-mouth recommendations. If they liked the book, then they’re bound to tell other people about it. And when they tell other people about, more people are going to buy your book!

The Bad: Don’t get too many readers, just like you don’t need too many editors. Readers can become a little obnoxious (thankfully, I never really had obnoxious readers… :-) ) because they can keep demanding to read more of your story or start crossing into the editor role. Don’t let that happen!

The Ugly: There really isn’t ugly about readers! They’re just amazing! :-)

Suggestions: Get people in your targeted age range (my targeted age range is 7-18 year olds) to read your book as it gets closer to being done. Not only will it fuel you with inspiration and excitement, but you’ll get feedback about whether or not your story is worth being published.

Copy Editing:

I only had one “professional editor” right at the end of the publishing process. This professional editor was really a “copy editor,” meaning that they didn’t check the story for content so much as they checked for typos, grammatical errors, overused words and sentences, and lack of flow in the story. Feel free to get as many copy editors as you want! I’m still catching minor things in my book before it goes to the “official” printing that need to be changed, and we had so many people read it! Ah well. Live and learn. :-)
So… There are my suggestions! I also want to let you know that, with me or with any other author or editor, you don’t have to take all of our suggestions as law. There isn’t a set method that will work for every single person. As always, it requires a lot of prayer and seeking the Lord for His wisdom, not the wisdom of others. God puts people into our lives to sharpen us as iron sharpening iron. There will be people who God will bring into your lives to make your story better and to refine it and to refine you. But seek Him to know what His will is for you and for your story. Seek Him first above everyone and anyone else.

Happy Writing! Check back next week for the 13th installment which will address what will keep you from becoming a published author.

Suggested Homework: 
1. Find your editors and your readers. Give them a date that your story will be ready for them to read so that they can keep you accountable. Tell them to be blatantly honest with you, and get ready for an exciting new step in your journey!

2. Try saying the phase “edited it” 5 times fast. I bet you can’t do it. :-)

Week 11, Step 11: “The Revision Process”

Now we get to the hard part… Revising your work. The revision process is never as fun as the first draft, but it is absolutely essential to making your story the best that it can possibly be. Here are some steps that I recommend to make the editing process as fun, fast, and painless as possible. :-)
First, go through your manuscript one more time by yourself. The best way for you to catch your mistakes would be to print out your story and try to read it like you’ve never seen it before. Taking a couple week break from reading or writing will help you look at your story with fresh eyes. Printing your story out also makes it look and seem different. You won’t read it quite as fast as on the computer and it’s easier to make notes and see your mistakes. One of my publishers’ sons recommends reading your story out loud. This will help you find typos, grammatical errors, overused words, and also get a feel for pacing. Make sure that you don’t only look for little errors but also look for big errors, like lack of character development, plot holes, unnecessary sections of the your story, unrealistic details, etc.

Second, once you finish your own revisions have your parents, friends, writing buddies, any English majors or movie critics or book lovers that you know read your book. Anywhere from 3-8 people editing your book is great! We’ll talk more about editors in the next few weeks. But have them read your story and be honest and very, very critical.

Third, take their edits and do another draft of your story. Be really picky with yourself!

Fourth, take a few week break. Then print out your story and read it again. Do another revision.

Fifth, have one or two of your editors check your work and look through it for nit-picky things and finalize your story.

Then…. You’re done! For now, anyways. There’s a ton of crazy steps when you get to publishing. And it’s ok if it takes months or even years to get there. From the time I started my story until the time it was published was seven years! Now, I didn’t work actively on my story for seven years. Another little brother joined our household. Our family built a house and moved. I had to graduate high school. :-) My mom and I both had major health issues at separate times. So I didn’t work on it actively. But it was finished in God’s perfect timing. So don’t get discouraged! Work hard, pray a lot, and have fun! You never know how God wants to use you and your story for His purposes!

Stayed tuned for next week’s blog post! It’s going to relate to what I believe is one of the most important thing that you writers need to know about.

Suggested Homework:
1. Start reviewing your story! Print it out, read it out loud, check it for errors, and start revising.
2. Find some editors who will be willing to critique your work after you finish editing it all.

Another Great Book Review for “A Cry From Egypt”!

I almost cried when I read this review written by Shelby at “Gobs and Gobs of Books.” She was so sweet and encouraging and took the point of the story to heart. I’m so glad to hear that older teens enjoy my book, as well. :-) Check out the review here!

http://gobsandgobsofbooks.blogspot.com/2012/09/a-cry-from-egypt-book-one-promised-land.html

Week 10, Step 10: “The Climax and the Resolution”

So…. Now we get to the end of your first draft. This is probably the funnest and most satisfying part of your whole journey- the climax, and the resolution.

The climax is the ultimate goal; the clash between good and evil, the heart-wrenching anguish of your characters, the fear of not knowing who will win and what the outcome will be. You as a writer get to decide that. But there are a few things that your climax needs to have to make it gripping.

First, it needs to be big. It needs to be suspenseful, and by that I mean on-the-edge-of-your-seat-can’t-put-the-book-down suspenseful! You need mystery and adventure and excitement. You might not be writing a fantasy where there can be a epic battle sequence or a thrilling end to a mystery. But a battle within your character’s soul or a crucial argument between friends could provide exactly what you need.

Second, something has to change. In your battle, either good or evil needs to triumph. You can’t have it end the same way as all the other skirmishes have been ending. Even if evil still wins, somehow your main character has to change and grow through the whole learning process. If it’s a battle that’s in your character’s heart and mind, then a decision to change has to be made. But don’t make it easy. Make it difficult. Make it hard for them to push their own will aside and pick up the new thing that they’ve been too scared to start.

Third, try not to make the climax predictable. For example, for most sci-fi or fantasy stories everything leads up to a giant battle at the end, right? Ok. That’s fine. But do it when no one expects it. The possibilities here are endless! You could have an ambush occur that starts the battle when the good guys weren’t expecting it. You could have one of the main characters or leaders get sick and die and another character has to unexpectedly take the lead and change direction for the attack. Maybe your characters could have everything planned out, and then find a spy in the camp who already told the bad guys everything. Perhaps the bad guys have a new secret weapon that they unleash on the battle field and no one knows how to stop it. And you could always throw in a close friend dying in someone’s arms either right before a battle or in the thick of everything. I would love to see a book that ends with the main character dying as he or she sees that the victory has been won and they had accomplished their Master’s business. Make it as unpredictable as possible.

For historical fiction or a modern story or everyday life, have some unexpected and unannounced event happen. It could be the death of a family member, a loss of a best friend, sudden financial issues or a sudden trip. Anything to bring about the ultimate decision faster than expected is a good thing and keeps your readers on their toes.

Now, for the resolution. The resolution is when everything winds down. The resolution can be a couple of chapters, just one chapter, a few paragraphs, or even just a few sentences! But there are a few things your resolution needs to have, too.

Of course your resolution needs to show what’s changed and what’s been resolved in the story. It needs to make it feel complete and tie up any lose ends. You also need to make sure that the main point of your story is re-emphasized and that in the end, God gets all the glory.

But….

If there’s a second book coming, you also need to add some mystery. For example, in my book a character runs off into the night hurt and bleeding, and I never tell you what happens to that particular character. You need to have links between your first, second, and third books and beyond. Don’t resolve everything if you have another book coming. Otherwise no one will actually want to read the next books! :-)

So there you have it. Those are really the only rules. So go have fun and be creative and be dramatic and mysterious. :-)

Suggested Homework:
Write the climax and resolution! Make sure there’s something completely unexpected in your story. And make sure the resolution and climax meet your goals for your story.