Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Questions about Writing?

A note from Twila:

Do you have a writing-related question you'd like to see addressed in a future blog post? Now's the opportunity to let us know as we consider upcoming topics for 2016.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Writing-related Questions

A note from Twila (Cec's assistant):

The year is coming to an end and we're thinking about topics for future blog posts.

Do you have writing-related questions that you'd like us to address in the days ahead?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Self-care for Writers (Part 11 of 11)

Here are my final thoughts on self-care.

Don’t stay engaged. Back off. You don’t need to answer your cell phone every time people call, or drop everything to text. Let them wait. When individuals have become too pushy and demanding, I start putting time between responses. My cell phone showed the name of the caller, and I made them wait at least an hour for my callback. “I was busy with something when you called . . .” I’d say, and it was true.

Then I started lengthening the response—several hours, then a full day. Except for the most demanding (and least appreciative), they caught on quickly. One woman didn’t get a response from her email from me for 10 days.

“What’s wrong she asked?” on the sixth day. When I did respond on day 10, I said, “I have a lot going on these days.” Detaching from those dispensable relationships is a form of self-rescue.

Reassess your values. It may not be easy, but you can learn to distinguish between the essential and the nonimportant. Not only will you do better as you care for yourself, but you’ll conserve time, energy, and stay more centered.

Pace yourself. You can teach yourself moderation. Is it fun to give yourself so unstintingly all day and feel totally wasted by 6:00 p.m.? Think of the word balance. You’ll probably never do it perfectly, but you can learn to hold back when necessary so you can enjoy the rest of your day.

I like myself 
so I’m committed to taking care of myself.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Self-care for Writers (Part 10 of 11)

Here are a handful of miscellaneous suggestions.

Don’t over-nurture individuals. Many of us tend to feel responsible for others when they need to be able to handle their own issues.

One day I thought that if I solve their problems, I cheat them out of the challenge to do so and to grow from the experience.

Here’s another maxim of mine: My role is not to solve others’ problems; my role is to be with them while they solve their own problems. And being with them doesn’t mean giving them huge amounts of time and energy. Rather, we let them know we care and then disengage so they can figure out their own answers.

Set boundaries. That’s one of the most difficult things I had to do. I was a helper and wanted to encourage others. Instead, they sucked me into their private morasses.

Learn to say no. I tried every possible say to give the one-word answer but it didn’t work for me. I felt I had to explain, and that was a mistake. When I said, “I can’t because. . . “ they responded by telling me why I was wrong. Finally, in desperation, I came up with a single sentence that has worked for me every time: “My rubber band just won’t stretch that far.”

Friday, December 11, 2015

Self-care for Writers (Part 9 of 11)

Avoid burnout. I use that term to refer to a condition in which we lack motivation and feel inefficient and exhausted. If we push ourselves we tend to become frustrated and even cynical. (“Who cares? Do I make any difference?”)

What’s called occupational burnout strikes those in what we call the human service professions such as social workers, teachers, police officers, nurses, and professional writers. This comes about because of the high-stress they go through. And for most writers I know, it means that in their scramble to make enough money to survive, they lose their enthusiasm. They become careless, disengaged, and indifferent about their work.

Lack of self-care is one of the strong ingredients for feeling used up and asking yourself why you’re in this crazy profession. In my more than 30 years of full-time writing, I’ve hit burnout twice and I wondered if I’d ever write again. I recognized three significant facts:

1. Too much work;

2. Too few results;

3. Too little self-care.

I was not only emotionally disengaged, but both times I did the only sensible thing I could: I stepped away from my work. The first time I didn’t write anything for two months and about a month the second time. I read for many hours, exercised more, and accomplished tasks I’d been putting off.

Good self-care practices 
keep me free from burnout.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Self-care for Writers (Part 8 of 11)

Maintain Structure. This hasn’t been a problem for me because I’m highly self-disciplined—but sometimes I was too self-disciplined to enjoy my free time.

Being able to work at home doesn’t mean working without a schedule. It means being able to create your daily timetable.

For many of us (and that includes me) at the end of the workday I jot down the things I want to accomplish the next day. As I complete each task I draw a line through it.

When I first started doing that I was a full-time student in two graduate schools (yes, crazy I admit), so I had to be careful about my time. Each Saturday afternoon, I projected how to use every hour for the next week. It worked fairly well for me.

Later, I didn’t need the strict to-do program and listed only the items I wanted to accomplish. One writer friend never completes her daily calendar—she overschedules. I tried to be careful about that and each day I gave myself about 30 minutes when I didn’t have to do anything. Generally, that took care of the unexpected events.

Occasionally, even now, I don’t accomplish everything I jotted down. So here’s one of my maxims: Today I have time to do everything I need to do today. That prevents feelings of guilt from popping up, especially when somebody calls me on the phone and ties up an hour or more.

Today I have time to do everything
I need to do today.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Self-care for Writers (Part 7 of 11)

One writer friend rarely gets invited to dinner because he doesn’t want to talk about anything but writing. Nothing is wrong with the topic—except that’s the extent of his interests.

Because you’re a writer doesn’t mean you have to know everything, but the best writers are curious people. They want to increase their knowledge. They ask questions. They extend themselves—even if it takes effort to reach out.

Here are a few ideas to enhance your own self-caring and avoid too much isolation.

* Join professional groups. Writers clubs are a good place to start, but expand that to civic groups or public service organizations. Take along your business cards (and because you’re a professional writer, you always carry them). Pass them out and express interest in networking or connecting.

* Join nonprofessional groups. By that, I mean an exercise group at your church, square-dance or ballroom dance classes. Mix with people who have other interests.

* Make online friends. Establish good relationships with people in your field and those who live in other parts of the country or overseas.

* Eat lunch out at least once a week. Most of my out-of-the-house meals are with nonwriters. I meet with people whom I like but who have interests and occupations outside of publishing.

In short, don’t do everything alone. Developing or renewing relationships not only brings new insights, but also works as a powerful, natural medication against depression.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Self-care for Writers (Part 6 of 11)

Avoid too much isolation. For those of us who write full time or spend hours each day at our craft, being alone too much may be harmful.

Many of us get so caught up in our writing that we ignore distractions such as interacting with others. I’m a natural extrovert and it took me a long time to enjoy being alone and writing for long periods. The more recent challenge for me has been to turn off my computer and reengage with the world outside my office. I’m emotionally healthier for making that adjustment.

One of the big factors in mixing with people is hearing their opinions and learning from them. Sitting at my desk, I don’t get feedback and at times I feel lonely.

In my next blog entry, I’ll suggest ways to avoid too much isolation.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Self-care for Writers (Part 5 of 11)

Consider healthy eating an exciting challenge, not drudgery. I began my quest for health and disease-free living because of a simple Bible verse. “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:32 NLT). And later Romans 12:1 became my motivator because it says to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God.

Remind yourself that healthy living is a long-term project. Make realistic choices of what you can reasonably expect of yourself. To accomplish that, most people need to be answerable to someone.

Make yourself accountable. Unless you already have strong motivation and can truly make changes on your own, team up with someone. And make it someone whom you’d hate to disappoint and who will say, “But you said . . .”

Schedule answerable times—and I suggest weekly. For more than 30 years I’ve had an accountability partner, and we meet weekly for mutual growth and encouragement. When either of us promises to accomplish something by the next meeting, we make ourselves liable to fulfill that commitment.

I want to be healthy and productive, 
so I choose someone to help me be responsible.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Self-care for Writers (Part 4 of 11)

Watch your eating habits. That’s not easy for most of us. Not only are we bombarded with ads for food—especially desserts and junk food—but our social lives center on food.

Food appears at most social and business functions. Whenever a colleague or friend wants to meet, why is it always for lunch or dinner?

Statistics say 34.9 percent of Americans (78.6 million) are obese and that results in heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Such ailments come primarily from overindulgence and consuming junk food.

If you seriously care about your body and extending your productivity, you need ways to control your eating. It may not be easy, but it’s worth the effort. And all healthy-and-lasting good weight-loss programs involve exercise (see my previous blog).

My first suggestion—and this is what worked for me—is to reeducate your taste buds. I never considered a meal complete without meat and dessert. Slowly I moved away from both. I found ways to eat healthier and learned to like food that was good for me.

I added vegetables to my meals and raw salads. I never gave up anything, but because I learned to like rutabaga, spinach, and any kind of beans, my choices changed. I now weigh a couple of pounds less than I did when I was 21 years old. But more than the weight, I’m healthy. And I enjoy my life.

I’ll give you one example. We lived in Africa for six years, and I missed ice cream more than any other food. As I learned to experience a healthier way to live, I gradually cut down because I ate more nutritious meals. It’s now been at least four years since I’ve bought that dessert.

I’m opposed to diets because they don’t work, at least not very long. Worse, they’re based on deprivation—you have to give up foods. And being human, the tendency is to want what you can’t have.

I change my eating habits
by educating my taste buds.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Self-care for Writers (Part 3 of 11)

Get physical.

Begin an exercise program. The usual excuse is, “I don’t have time.” I sometimes say, “But do you have time to get sick?” I don’t add, “And if you don’t keep your body moving, it will betray you and make you sick.”

Think of it this way: God created our bodies to be in motion. Those of us who sit in front of a screen for long periods of time need to activate those muscles.

Start by deciding on an exercise that suits you. Walking is the easiest for most people. Other than a good pair of shoes (essential) you don’t need much more. I chose running years ago and still do it.

My friend Larry Leech plays golf; a neighbor gets on the tennis court twice a week. How about ballroom dancing? Bowling? The what isn’t as important as finding an exercise you enjoy and then doing it regularly—at least three times a week.

Instead of exercise being a waste of time, I’ve learned that I’m healthier and more creative. I’m nearly 83, have no physical problems, and take no meds. Daily I thank God and credit my exercise programs and my dietary habits.

I sharpen my tool (my body) every day. I also do a few isometric exercises during the day when I take a break. Nothing for more than five minutes, but enough to recharge me.

Because I care about myself and my productivity,
I find ways to get physical every day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Self-care for Writers (Part 2 of 11)

Reward yourself. 

For a long time I rushed from project to project, but I didn’t make provision for rest time. Once I became aware of that, I decided that whenever I finished a place worthy of self-reward I’d honor my efforts. It could be at the end of a difficult chapter, completing the book’s outline, or finishing the first draft.

My rewards are simple, such as taking two hours to watch a film on TV. Going for a long walk through the woods. Calling a friend and saying, “Let me take you to lunch.”

One writer gets a massage after he completes every 50 pages. My wife was an editor and whenever she finished a difficult manuscript, she took a long, hot soak in the tub.

Building in those small compensations can keep us fresh. Schedules are important and we all have responsibilities, but once in a while we should do something that breaks our routine.

It can be as simple as driving the longer way to get to our destination or spending an extra couple of hours reading. It doesn’t take much to divert ourselves—and it pays off if we do it intentionally and for our own good.

As a serious writer 
I discover ways to reward myself.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Self-care for Writers (Part 1 of 11)

“Why do you polish your tools every time after you use them?” I asked my dad when I was about six years old.

“Makes them last longer.” Dad was a man of few words, but I understood. At the time it seemed like a lot of extra work. When I was older I understood the lesson. As I thought about this topic, the principle applies. If I care for myself—my body, my mind, my spirit—every part of myself—I’ll survive and be productive much longer.

We writers tend to neglect caring for ourselves, and that’s true whether we write full time or only an hour a day. We can learn to care for ourselves, so let’s start with something simple: “Self-feeding means I’ll remain productive longer.”

If we’re serious about writing—and doing it long term, we need to think about caring for our instruments. Our brains and our body are our tools. This series is about keeping our tools sharp.

Let’s start with something simple: Feed yourself.

It amazes me when I talk with some writers who don’t read much. “I can’t be a writer and a reader,” one man said. “Just not enough hours in the day.”

He didn’t mean that he never read, but he treated reading—especially books—as something he did when he had extra time or wanted to relax. He didn’t see that as a vital part of his learning experience.

You can unconsciously learn when you read others. I’m not the analytic type and don’t try to dissect sentences. I think of it as absorbing. I get the feel of the structure and the author’s use of words.

About a year after I began to write, I realized the importance of reading to keep myself growing. I promised myself to read at least one book a week for the rest of my life. And I’ve held to that. Instead of stealing time from my writing, opening a book for an hour has become a powerful self-teaching tool.

One writer said, “If you keep going to the well to fill up your bucket, eventually you pull it up empty unless you find ways to fill the well.”

My advice is read everything. Read constantly. Take in every kind of nourishment you can. If you want to be a successful writer, read successful authors.

I want to be a successful author.
I read to nurture myself.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Finding and Writing with My Voice (Part 7 of 7)

Your voice has both an inner and an outer dimension. The outer is your style or your way of writing.

The inner dimension is the message giver, the nudger, or the guide that you experience as critic, friend, or God. You need to learn to listen to your inner voice and decipher its message—positive and negative. Then you learn to respond in ways that enhance your writing.

Finding and honoring your voice is really about self-acceptance and self-love. When you’ve learned to honor your voice, you appreciate voices that are different, and respect the unique range of voices. You'll never write like your favorite authors—but then, they'll never write like you.

Here's something written by my friend Jeff Adams, and it captures the idea beautifully.

In the movie, Hook, a grown-up Peter Pan has forgotten how to fly. The lost boys, led by Ruffio, question whether or not this man is their hero. One little boy isn't so quick to disbelieve. Robin Williams's face contorts like silly putty in the boy's hands. He peers into Robin's eyes in search of a glimpse of their former leader. In wonder, the boy exclaims, "Oh there you are, Peter."

Jeff Adams concludes with these words: Peter forgot who he was. It's easy for the rules to suffocate our voices. We must continue to learn, to practice the craft, and hone our skills. But we must not forget who we are. If we do, our voices will become cold and analytical. We will forget how our words should soar.

My words can soar if I heed my own voice
and ignore the others.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Finding and Writing with My Voice (Part 6 of 7)

So how do you find your distinctive voice?

Here are a few things to think about.

First, write the way you talk. Be as natural as possible—but be grammatically correct. People need to be able to hear you on the page. The greatest compliment I receive from readers who know me is, "I could hear your voice as I read your book."

That's the affirmation that helps me know I'm succeeding.

Second, remind yourself that your voice is unique, And every true voice is unique. Every voice—your voice—has something valuable to say, and it becomes more effective and worthwhile when spoken in your own words.

Third, as you accept your voice, it begins to sound authentic and true. From there you have the freedom to expand and grow.

Think of finding your voice as a sacred quest. Respect your search.

Fourth, consider your voice as a gift from God, which it is.

And no one can write the way I do except me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Finding and Writing with My Voice (Part 5 of 7)

Until you are able to accept your voice as legitimate and adequate, you'll continue to cheat yourself and attempt to sound like someone else. Finding your voice means writing from your soul—from deep within. It means facing your imperfections and uncertainties.

The challenge becomes more difficult because not only do you need to discover your voice, but to value it. When you find your voice, you can seek to expand your potential as a writer and tap into the deep place within yourself where both pain and passion dwell.

Both pain and passion.

That's not easy or natural—it comes from facing your fears and struggling to know who you are and what you feel. You need to become intimate with your inner critic and accept that it does have things to tell you—but it’s not everything.

Face your inner critic and don't run from it, and it may lead you to honor your inner voice.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Finding and Writing with My Voice (Part 4 of 7)

Writing with your own voice means you trust yourselves to write with your words, your style, and your outlook.

Writing in your voice means you don't try to sound literary or imitate someone else. Those with a compulsive, inner need to impress with their knowledge are usually the most difficult to help. They need to impress or show off their education. They tend to fill their prose with polysyllabic phrases and esoteric terms.

Perhaps they're afraid to be real. As one writer said, "If I show my true self and you don't like me, that's all I've got." That's risky, but worse is to deny who you are and trying to sound the way you think you ought to sound.

You need to represent your material in the way that serves it best—using the right tone and the right words (your words). I'm not sure anyone can teach you to find your voice, but we can provide the atmosphere and encouragement for you to strive toward recognizing and claiming your inner voice. And when you do, you'll know you're being authentic.

Voice is at the heart of all good writing. You can learn techniques and write in a variety of genres, but if you write from someone else’s voice, the syntax sounds forced, hackneyed, or inauthentic.

I want to be authentic;
I strive to write with my voice.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Finding and Writing with My Voice (Part 3 of 7)

"Uh, I'd like to, uh, I mean, I'm, uh, going to teach . . ."

That simple piece of dialog tells you about the speaker's insecurity or uncertainty. Perhaps it's more obvious when others speak, but we also catch the timidity in their writing when they use statements such as, "It seems to me" or "I like to think." Or we notice the dogmatism with sentences like this. "If you ever want to succeed you must follow every rule and no deviations. There is only one way to master this topic." The more unsure of themselves they are, the more they go to one extreme or the other.

By contrast, writing with your voice means you trust your knowledge and technique sufficiently to use your own words, your personal style, and present your outlook as your own.

When you write on different subjects, your approach varies, but you're still writing with your voice.

For example, clarity is a primary rule for me. I want readers to understand, so I use a direct approach and as few words as possible. It's my style and my voice. Some have accused me of being a choppy writer and I wouldn't argue.

Or I would write the above paragraph like this: For example, clarity is a paramount concern for me and I strive to enable prospective readers to understand, grasp, and ingest my words through a straightforward, undeviating style, and in so doing I use as few words as necessary to convey my intention and my meaning; after all, I want them to grasp my style and my voice even though some have accused me of being a choppy writer and I wouldn't argue a great deal about their accusation.

In the first paragraph I used 44 words and four sentences; in the latter, 79 words for a single sentence.

Your true writing voice is truly you.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Finding and Writing with My Voice (Part 2 of 7)

"In your natural way of producing words, there is a sound, a texture, a rhythm—voice—which is the main source of power in your writing. It’s the only voice you’ve got," wrote Elbow in Writing without Teachers.

Whatever you write shows your style. You can't hide your voice unless you intentionally try to disguise it or try to sound like someone else. A long accepted principle of psychology is that everything you say or do reveals yourself.

Our voice is how we see the world and how we write our impressions. It's the sound of ourselves on paper; it's who we are on the page.

The most serious writers admit that finding their voices is ever ongoing. "I want to sound like the real me," I said many years ago.

If you feel that way, it means being relentlessly honest with yourself. There are several ways I could have written the previous sentence. (And you might write it to sound like you.)

Writers who want to be authentic begin by being true to themselves.

Probing deeply within and being aware of our shadow side enables us to learn to function as authentic writers.

Be you. That's your major task.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Finding and Writing with My Voice (Part 1 of 7)

You don't have to move into publishing very long before you start reading or hearing about the author's voice. And that means your voice, which many books and articles center on these days.

Finding, discovering, and activating your own voice will probably be a struggle—at least it is with most successful writers. Their authentic voices set them apart from others. It's their distinctive manner or style of writing. A true voice is something uniquely yours.

Readers learn to recognize you. It’s the way you write. And if it's genuine, it will always sound like you. Or it will sound "off" or awkward when you write using someone else's words.

Voice carries two meanings for authors.

First, it's your style—the quality that makes your writing unique—unlike anyone else. It conveys your attitude and your personality. "I like his warm tone," a friend said about her favorite writer. "I feel he's talking just to me."

Voice also refers to the speech patterns. Some refer to it as persona. A decade ago I tested this in a class in which I taught a nine-hour course at a writers conference. At the beginning of the second hour, I handed out different paragraphs from five people.

I asked the class to number 1 to 5 for the readings. "One of those paragraphs comes from one of my books. I'd like you to write my name when you hear my paragraph. And if you know any others, do the same, or write one quality about that person's voice."

Out of nearly 50 people in the class, everyone guessed mine. Many of them hadn't read anything I'd written, but they had heard me speak for an hour.

None of them recognized the other authors but they caught the gist of who they were. "She's a romance writer," was one almost everyone got correctly.

I want to develop my writing voice so it reflects who I am.

Friday, October 16, 2015

How Do I Improve My Writing?

I hope every writer asks that question and asks it often. Too many authors, even multi-published ones, write at the same level today that they did three years ago or a decade ago. My favorite scribes are those whose works show their growth and increased skill. After someone hits best-seller lists, I like to go back to their first books and read them in order. I learn a great deal from them and can smile at their progress.

Improving isn't easy and you have to push yourself to discover techniques and methods that make your writing better.

So here's my first answer: Never stop learning.

Second, read and analyze other writers. Ask yourself why something works (or doesn't work). I don't consider myself particularly analytical but I still read and have an interior dialog with the authors. Occasionally, I'll read an awkward sentence and say to my invisible author, "How could you let that get past you?" Sometimes, I smile and then say, "That was an excellent paragraph."

Third, start or join some kind of group where you edit each other. I no longer do that, but it was an invaluable part of my growth for the first twenty years. Even after I had published enough to make a living, I still shared my work.

The last group I started, called the Scriptiques, made me realize I was ready to go it alone. For several meetings, they had made what I refer to as copyediting suggestions—often helpful—and all of us realized it was finally time for me to move on.

I want to improve my writing, 
so I continue to find ways to develop my skills.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What Is Most Essential to Writing an Excellent Book Proposal?

First, be able to summarize your entire book in no more than four sentences. If you can do that, it shows you know what you want to say and where you're going.

I don't know anyone else who does this, but on page two of my proposals (following the title page), I write what we call a précis statement or the elevator pitch. I put it in a box with a 14-point font.

From reading those three or four sentences, editors can easily decide if they're interested. If not, I've saved them a great deal of time and they can stop.

Second, consider the proposal is a soft sales pitch. Don't claim that it will change lives or it's the best novel written since 1806. Present the book honestly and simply. Editors probably know better than you what the book can do.

By contrast, a self-published writer tried to get me to buy a copy of his book by telling me that "everyone who reads it is instantly changed." That statement also appeared on the back cover. (His best friend told me that the author had sold a total of four copies.)

Let the manuscript sell itself. And the soft-sell pitch is your enthusiasm. I don't write anything unless I'm excited about it. That excitement shows in my writing.

I don't like pitches that all but guarantee I'll become a new person by Friday, permanently lose 20 pounds in 14 days, or find a soul mate in three months.

Finally the essential element of a good book proposal is one that clearly expresses your well-conceived idea.

Friday, October 9, 2015

How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?

I asked my literary agent about her clients and her answer was, "About seven to nine months." And she referred to full-time writers. Writing isn't just typing words on a page, but forming words in your head before putting them on the screen, deleting them, revising, searching for exactly the right word or phrase, and going back over everything again.

Dorothy Parker once said she wouldn't write five words without deleting seven. Her hyperbolic statement is where most of the hard work in writing comes—the rewriting.

It's an individual issue. For some writers, like me, the words flow quickly; for others, it comes out a single word at a time. Because I write fast, my time is usually about four months to complete a book. (I also have a lot of energy and enjoy working long hours.)

The first professional writer I ever met said she wrote one sentence and stayed with it until she knew she had it exactly the way she wanted it. Then she went on to the second sentence. She never went back or edited. That system worked for her and it made her a slow, slow writer. As far as I know, she never finished a book on deadline, which causes problems with her publisher, but she was excellent.

How long will it take for you to write? You have to answer that for yourself.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Where Do You Get Ideas for Your Books?

Although I could probably squeeze out a number of responses, here are my three major idea places.

First, I read widely, and I ponder what I've read. That keeps ideas flowing. By widely I mean outside my normal areas of publishing. Other books open up for me a world full of fascinating people and ideas.

When I was in graduate school I promised myself that I would read at least one book a week. I've held to that. When I read, I ask questions, which the author doesn't always answer. I might read a chapter and think I have a better idea or could state the same truths more clearly. (If we're going to write, we have to have a certain amount of ego involved.)

Second, I'm attracted to people who are as bright, or brighter, than I am. When they tell about books they like, I'll look into them. Others' ideas stimulate me. My best friend, David, and I meet every week and open up to each other—and I can think of only one or two times when I haven't grasped a new concept or left with a different approach to an old idea.

Being in the presence of people who think deeply and who process information differently enriches my life and spawns new ideas.

Third, I'm open to new ways to see the world. Some authors say, "I'm curious," and I assume it means they're constantly asking questions and seeking to deepen their lives. That's a compact way to say it for me.

Ideas are out there waiting for me to find them.

Friday, October 2, 2015

"How Do You Find Time to Write?"

I've never found the time to write; I make time. It's a matter of individual priorities because all of us lead lives filled with dozens of daily tasks. In 1971, I decided I wanted to write, so I made the time by giving up a few activities I enjoyed.

For the first few months, I reached my office 30 minutes before my secretary arrived. Before long I arrived an hour earlier. Eventually it was two hours.

Here's something else that helped me. I was a pastor in Atlanta and regularly visited seven major hospitals. During the day while I drove from place to place, I edited inside my head. The next morning I sat at my desk and wrote all the things stored inside my brain. (They didn't come out exactly the same, but I had done a lot of playing with the material and had it mentally outlined.)

In 1983, a year before I began to write full time, I started taking off all day Friday to write. It was an adjustment to be home with no interruptions, but after a few weeks I realized I could adapt to such a life.

Here's my advice: If you keep trying to find time, it will be a constant frustration. If writing becomes your passion, you'll see it as more important than other activities and drop them. That's making time.

And one final word. If you absolutely can't find or make time to write, ask yourself this question: Am I supposed to be a published writer?

If I try to find time to write, it will always elude me;
I can make time to write.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

From Amateur to Pro

"At what point in your career did you feel you'd shifted from amateur to professional status?"

When asked, I tell them I don't know the answer, and I assume it's different for each of us. I started my career the old-fashioned way: I wrote articles—many—and learned the craft before I attempted a book. Not only was it excellent training, but the pieces were short. I could write them by devoting myself to one hour during the day and sneak in a little time on Saturday afternoons.

When I started to publish, I was a pastor in the Atlanta area and loved the combination of writing for print on the side. After my twelfth year of being a pastor, I had to decide if I was a preacher who wrote or a writer who preached. It took me more than a year to make that decision and, during my fourteenth year, I opted to become a fulltime writer. By then I had published several books.

Even then I didn't consider myself a professional. Here's why I've given all this lead-up material. The move from amateur to professional is an inside job—something we have to believe about ourselves. Some braggarts call themselves professionals as if they hope it's true, but that's not what I mean.

Call it lack of self-confidence or being focused on feelings of not being quite good enough as a writer. I vividly remember the first time I said, "I'm a professional writer," and that was after someone asked me what I did for a living.

I gulped as I said those words, but, for the first time in my life, I knew they were true.

How do you move from beginner or amateur to the professional status?

Here's my answer. First, you need some kind of proof of your professional status, that is, a record of accomplishment. Second, you have to feel you've moved to the professional status.

Only I can decide when I am a professional.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Branding

Shortly after I began publishing books, someone advised me to brand myself. (We didn't use the word brand back then.) She said that those who write in only one area build a reading audience and are more likely to achieve success. It was good advice.

At the time I was writing a number of articles on marriage (and had already sold one book on the topic). I could have made that my focus. But I asked myself, "How much can I say about marriage?"

The problem with branding is that, once established, it's difficult to move out of your little corner of the publishing world. As you build audiences, they choose to read you and stay with you—but they don't move into new genres with you. For example, fiction readers rarely shift when their favorite novelist writes nonfiction. They simply find a new favorite who writes in the areas they like to read.

I understood that, and I took a big risk because I decided that I was going to write whatever touched me, regardless of the results. I'm an anomaly, and I recommend others to take the advice I rejected.

I fell into ghostwriting because an editor read something I wrote and asked me to ghost for his publishing house. (I did 35 books for them.) In one sense, I branded myself, but I also wrote on a variety of topics because I ghosted everything from autobiographies to diet books to business.

I've written fiction (including three cozy mysteries), and even in nonfiction I've moved into a wide variety of genres. Yet my own work hasn't sold as well as books I've done for other people. Years ago I assumed that would be the way, and I was correct.

I write this because some beginning writers think they'll impress agents or editors by saying, "I have a romance, a YA novel, and a self-help for housewives who need easy ways to simplify their lives."

They don't grasp the concept of building a consistent following. Think of any celebrity in any field. A few years ago I was in New York City and got tickets to see Chicago with George Hamilton. He had a nice suntan, but I doubt that he'll ever make it as a singer.

Get the idea? Your fans like what you write because you write what they want to read. It's that simple. My advice, brand yourself. Find your area—the genre—where you write with the greatest passion.

Maybe it's possible to move to a new genre once you're established, but . . . for now, mark your spot in the publishing world, and write the best you can.

You might want to move on later. And that's the significant word: later. Focus on the word now.

I seek to find my genre
and then become the best I can in my chosen area.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Nicely Done?

In 2014, I saw a film called Whiplash. Despite the extremely vulgar language, I resonated with the sadistic tyrant instructor, Fletcher. Here's a two sentence summary of the film: Andrew, a promising young drummer, enrolls at a music conservatory with dreams of greatness. The professor, Fletcher, insults, humiliates, and intimidates him. (The title refers to a piece of music.)

Only at the end does Fletcher explain. He saw immense talent in Andrew, but that greatness would never come out if he had said, "That was nicely done." He felt he had to drive the talented ones; only the great ones survive his relentlessness.

I hope I don't become sadistic in my treatment, but when I work with newer writers, I warn them that I'm tough. For me, good enough is never good enough. As in the film, the gifted ones keep at it, despite rejection and echoes of failure. They not only keep at it, but their writing soars.

And like Fletcher, there's only one way I can recognize the outstanding ones: They keep at it.

I'm committed to remain a writer who is always learning—
and growing.

Friday, September 18, 2015

How many WIPs Do You Have Going?

From texting, I learned that WIP means work in progress. We all write differently, so I'll tell you my answer first. And this is a common question I receive.

Until this year (I'm intentionally slowing down), I've had anywhere from one to four books going at any time. I earn most of my living as a ghostwriter or collaborator. For me, that's important because each book is in a different stage of development.

Let's say I've just finished the proposal for a book and my agent sends it to her "hit list" of editors. What do I do then? The responses usually take weeks, sometimes as long as three months, to get a contract offered and negotiated. I don't wait but work on something else.

After I finish one full draft of another book, I send it to the author and that person may take anywhere from a week to two months to return it. On my own book projects, I try to let my full manuscripts rest for a month before I go back for a final polish.

That gives you an idea of how I work, so that I haven't allowed much empty space between projects. Not everyone works that way.

My son, John Mark, helped me see the principle when he was quite young. One dinnertime I watched as he ate one item at a time on his plate and didn't touch the next one until he had finished.

I ate a little of the salad, a few bites of corn, and maybe picked up the bread. "It all ends up the same place," I said.

He has never changed, and why should he? That's his chosen way to eat.

The principle is true with writers. Some can't focus on anything except what they're currently writing, whether it's fiction or nonfiction. They push aside any new ideas or they jot them down to consider later. "I don't want to be distracted," one writer said.

So whose way is better? That's easy to answer: Your way. Whichever is the most natural, follow that pattern.

Be the best YOU that you can.
Follow what works for you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

How Do I Write Faster?

I'm a fast writer, and occasionally I receive emails like this: "I wish I were a fast writer like you. I tend to write slowly and to keep pouring over my words as I shape my work. I have many writing projects which I need to complete, so I desire more speed, yet keeping the same quality. Any suggestions?"

To this one I responded, "There are no secrets to writing faster. It's who I am. I walk, talk, and think quickly; I'm also a fast typist. And I have a lot of stamina—sometimes joyfully writing 10 to 12 hours a day. Why wouldn't it be the same way with my writing?"

I never thought much about speed until I lived in Kenya, East Africa. As I learned, the nationals watched those of us with colorless faces and tagged us according to our actions and way of relating to others. They gave me two names. The first was Omore. Literally it means a person who has joy within himself, or we'd say, a happy person. The second name was Haraka, which means quick or fast.

Until then I hadn't thought much about either quality, and I was surprised at being called Haraka. I've always been quick at everything, so it didn't seem like anything usual. But they helped me see that's who I was, and I'm grateful for that.

I tell writers, "You are who you are. I'm sure there are things you can do to discipline your mind to focus more quickly or to stay focused, but I doubt that you'll change much." I ended my email with a question: What's wrong with being exactly who you are?

I am who I am,
and my writing reflects me.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Writing Descriptively (Part 7 of 7)

When I create an illustration or story inside my head, it's always wonderful and oozing with emotion and action. When I put it on the page, it's never as powerful as it was in my imagination.

That's probably true of all writers.

However, some writers carry those images, write a few words, and they feel they've created a picture with which readers resonate.

"My crystal ball refuses to function," I told one writer. "I can't see inside your head, no matter how wonderful your prose." It took her several weeks of struggle before she was able to move the images to her computer screen.

My assumption is that introverted and introspective authors have the biggest struggles in this area. Because they have what I call a rich interior life, they have to learn how to translate those mental pictures to the page. It may be difficult, but they can learn.

Inside my head, my words are always wonderful;
I seek to match that with the words on the screen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Writing Descriptively (Part 6 of 7)

You work hard and learn to write descriptively. What are the payoffs for you? The first and most obvious answer is that you feel you've written something worthwhile—that's the intrinsic reward.

You also create the illusion of reality. You subtly invite readers to keep reading. As one of my friends said, "It's the proof that supports and sustains the story."

When done well, the sensory details penetrate layers of consciousness by grabbing readers both intellectually and emotionally.

Descriptive writing establishes characters and settings quickly and efficiently. Well-placed phrases move your prose along and act as a transitional device by linking scenes or changing of time and place.

I'm an artist 
and my words create pictures for readers.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Writing Descriptively (Part 5 of 7)

When writing descriptively, don't hesitate to use figurative language—if it fits. The first two below are my own.
Having planted seed in my curiosity patch, Mark will watch to see if it sprouts in my actions.

Darkness dwells within the best of us; in the worst of us, darkness not only dwells but reigns.

Love was a sacred garment, woven of a fabric so thin that it could not be seen, yet so strong that even mighty death could not tear it, a garment that could not be frayed by use, that brought warmth into what would otherwise be an intolerably cold world—but at times love could also be as heavy as a chain mail.—Dean Koontz, False Memories, p.71.
Metaphors, if well written, enliven our writing. But don't use them unless they flow from you. Here are two negative examples.

* His writing was like brilliant comets that streaked across the sky, drenching readers with a blizzard of insight.

* In the meeting thorny problems bobbed, which we tried to sweep under the rug, bobbed up several times. 

The above examples are bad because they used mixed metaphors (i.e., comparisons that aren't consistent). In the second, thorny problems starts the sentence and we get it. Do thorns bob, and we sweep thorns under the rug?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Writing Descriptively (Part 4 of 7)

What makes description effective?

You first know the correct names and terms that catch the emotion or the image. Good description goes beyond accuracy and precision to include the musical qualities of language. The sounds of your words and the cadences of your sentences reinforce the content of your description.

Think of good description as the use of the senses. Your readers need to see things. Here's descriptive writing that makes me feel I'm right in the middle of the dust bowl in 1934 Oklahoma:

Dust coated the dials on the radio, the plates on the table, and the dishes in the cupboards. Evelyn rinsed the lenses of his spectacles, and a few minutes later, she had to do it again.

Are you there? Notice the use of spectacles—which was the common word in those days. That single detail lends authenticity to those two sentences and pulls us into that kitchen.

Good description employs specific, concrete detail
for readers to visualize or experience the scene through their senses.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Writing Descriptively (Part 3 of 7)

Descriptive writing isn't a long list of adjectives. Some writers strain over using what they call strong verbs. Don't do that.

Descriptive writing flows from your understanding of what you want to say and you use your own vocabulary and styles (we call that your voice). It's not what someone called "that flowery stuff that embellishes stories."

For example, why would you write "her visage" or "his countenance" when you'd normally use the word face?

Descriptive writing tries to create an image—a picture—by selecting exactly the right words that clarify. You provide visual details that include sounds and smells, and texture.

Here's my favorite explanation, written by Richard Price: You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid’s burnt socks lying in the road.

You need to present the most significant details—those that reveal the essence of the person, object, action, or situation.

To write descriptively, I don't need to search for strong verbs;
I need to embrace my own natural voice.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Writing Descriptively (Part 2 of 7)

When you write descriptively readers nod because they get it. You pay attention to the details by using as many of your five senses as you can.

Another way to say it is that you write in such a way that readers feel they're involved in the story or the illustration.

I caught this April 30, 2001, from a lead article in USA Today. This is nonfiction called, "A puff of smoke, and then chaos at 4,000 feet" by Jack Kelley.
Missionary worker Jim Bowers peered uneasily out the front passenger window of a Cessna 185 floatplane. To his right: a Peruvian air force fighter jet.

It had been tailing the Cessna for about 15 minutes.

Suddenly, there was a puff of smoke from the fighter. Bullets pierced the missionary plane in machine-gun fashion. The jet flew under the Cessna, reappeared on its left and fired again.
Notice "peered uneasily," "puff of smoke," "bullets pierced." That's descriptive writing and puts us inside that Cessna.

Because I want readers to feel they are part of the story
I write descriptively.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Writing Descriptively (Part 1 of 7)

Recently, I worked with a new writer and tried to explain what I meant by descriptive writing. I began by telling her it was like the third leg of a stool. "No matter whether you write fiction or nonfiction," I said, "it's a skill you need to learn."

The first leg is the background information. Someone called it exposition. The second is the narration—the storyline, or the telling of events.

Then we get to the description, which paints the story in word pictures. Here's the idea behind descriptive writing: Your words enable readers to capture a picture in their minds.

I write descriptively
to enable readers to feel and visualize my writing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 22 of 22)

How do you deal with the issue of pride that might come up when people brag about your writing or your books?

I don't think much about pride. Perhaps this will explain. When I began to ghostwrite in 1981, publishers and "authors" never acknowledged ghostwriters' existence. Could I write and not care who received the credit? That was the issue I had to resolve.

Once I was able to grasp that my writing ability is a gift from God, I went through a ten-year period when I only ghosted for others and I enjoyed the anonymity.

Even though my name now appears on the ghostwritten books and on my own books, it's no big deal for me. I'm doing what I can do well and God has honored my commitment. I love what I do and when I stop loving it, I'll stop writing.

Where's the place for pride in that?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 21 of 22)

You're a successful writer and have obviously reached your goals. How does it feel to reach your publishing goals?

I don't know because I've never established any ultimate goals. I write because I love to write. I work hard at the craft because it's the most fun I've ever had—and I make money doing it.

I'm delighted that I make a good living as a writer and it is satisfying to know that I've worked hard and God has honored my faithfulness.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 20 of 22)

What is the best and the worst advice you've ever gotten about the publishing industry?

The best advice came from a professional after I had published a few articles. I struggled with being transparent, and she said, "If you're going to be a professional writer, you must be willing to walk down the street naked." She said that in 1973.

I'm still learning.

The worst advice came from an editor: "Don't write biographies or memoirs. They don't sell." (I've made my living for 32 years by writing books for others, especially autobiographies.) Instead, I urge writers to follow their hearts.

It took me six years to get a publisher to accept When a Man You Love Was Abused. I persisted and God honored that persistence. So write what you're passionate about. Even if you don't publish it, you will be true to yourself.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 19 of 22)

What are two things about writing you wish non-writers would understand?

We're like everyone else, except that we have different talents. Strive to be the best you can. I don't think like anyone else and I don't write like anyone else.

For example, I might use the word tiny and someone else might prefer small or minute. The important thing is to choose the one that sounds like me.

Second, there are no shortcuts to becoming a real writer. You might hire or barter for lessons, but you still have to embrace those ideas and learn to write them yourself. (Or hire someone to ghostwrite for you, which isn't uncommon.)

Too many seem to think that because they have an idea and can write 50,000 words on the topic, it's a book worthy of publication. I see this entitlement mentality frequently these days and I feel sorry for those individuals. They have many, many painful lessons to learn.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 18 of 22)

What is your author fantasy? [This isn't a FAQ because only twice has anyone asked me.]

I'd like to see one of my nonfiction books at the top of the best-seller lists (and I've had that) along with a novel at the top of the fiction list. Maybe even two at the top of both lists. Why not? This is fantasy.

Also I'd like to write a manuscript so perfect the editors will cry because of their inability to find a single thing to change.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 17 of 22)

Will you give us one "do" and one "don't" for someone aspiring to be a writer?

First, do learn the craft. I can't say that strongly enough.

Second, don't try to be like other writers. Don't imitate them. I see so much fiction that reads as if they all had the same ghostwriter.

To combine those, learn the craft, don't imitate other writers, and strive to sound like yourself.

When people read me, they may not like my style or my topic, but I don't want them to think I write like someone else.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 16 of 22)

What are three things you wish you'd known before you reached where you are now?

I hate to limit it to three, but here are the ones I think of immediately—which means they probably are the most important.

1. I wish I had been able to accept rejections objectively. Like any serious author, I throw myself into everything I write. It hurt deeply when I received my early rejections.

2. There is no place to stop improving. I assumed that once I became a good, well-published writer I could relax. I work harder at the craft now than I did in my early days. And part of my joy is in learning how to write better, even in small ways.

3. I wish I hadn't compared myself with other writers. When I did, they always seemed better or more successful than I was.

Nowadays I say to myself, I'm the best Cec Murphey in the publishing business.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 15 of 21)

You've mentored hundreds of writers. Why has mentoring writers been such a priority for you?

First, I'm not sure hundreds is accurate—it seems like an exaggeration. But it is a priority for me.

Second, it's part of my passion. When I was still a novice and written perhaps 100 articles, I knew several well-known writers and asked them for help—nothing big, just answers to a few simple questions. Not one of them responded.

That's when I promised God I'd never stop learning and I'd do whatever I could to help other writers. Today they call that mentoring, but I'm more comfortable with the old-fashioned terms, helping and encouraging.

Third, publishing is more difficult now than it's ever been since I've been in the business. Newer writers need all the help they can get. As much as I can, I try to help those on their way up.

Fourth, I love to spot talent. It's usually not developed, but when it's there it makes me want to show them how to polish and turn themselves into first-class authors.

A couple of people I've worked with have done that, and truthfully, they're better than I am. And I can smile because I know (and so does God) that I've done whatever I could to help them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 14 of 22)

If you had known what you know now, what would you have done differently when writing your first book?

I would have written faster, written more books, and written with more self-assurance. Not really.

I don't know that I would have done it much differently. That is, I gave myself to each project and tried my best. I wrote with all the passion and knowledge I had at that point.

Here's what many don't grasp: Writers improve by writing. Each time I receive the edited version of my book, I learn things. Furthermore, if I had known it all in the early days, being a fulltime, paid author wouldn't have been exciting. I would have known all the answers and faced few of the challenges.

Sure, I hate rejections, and I love acceptances. That means every time I write, I'm anticipating wonderful results. Sometimes I get them. When I receive a rejection, these days I remind myself, "The next one might be a big one!"

I wouldn't want that taken away from me.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 13 of 22)

Do you recommend self-publishing or working with a publishing house that can handle the marketing? It seems to me marketing, selling, and distributing my own book would be a big hurdle to selling enough books to pay for my investment of time and expenses, not to mention the need to make a profit.

This question usually comes from a host who has writing aspirations (obvious, I suppose).

That's difficult to answer. First, it's true that publishing houses do little to promote books. Even if they have an excellent staff (or even one talented person), they have too many books to promote. And many publishers put out a new list every three months. That means, unless your book takes off with big sales figures, that's all the attention you receive.

Either way, these days—even if you don't like it—we, the authors are the primary marketers. But also think about these things:

* If you can afford it, you can hire someone to set up interviews and speaking engagements for you.

* Self-publishing still carries a stigma, mainly because there are so many, many badly written and barely edited books out there that bookstores rarely carry them and media hosts won't look at them. There is also the assumption that no one would buy the book, so the author went into self-publishing.

* If you're savvy about marketing and can put your book in front of people, self-publishing may work for you, but it's a big, big, big job.

* Those who are primarily speakers, and have many opportunities each month to speak, might do well with self-publishing.

If you have marketing skills and know how to generate sales, try self-publishing. But remember, just putting your book on Amazon doesn't automatically mean sales. It's hard work—unless you have a talent for it and then it's fun.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 12 of 22)

Do you start with a marketing perspective, brainstorm chapter ideas, research the topic, or unleash the burning message locked deep inside your heart?

The short answer is none of the above. I have to decide if it's a project I think I can sell to a publisher. Some ideas have been wonderful, but the reading audience for that topic is too small. Or there are already too many books on the topic. These days, personal experience books are difficult to sell; fiction is also in a heavy downswing.

If the idea sticks with me, I play around with it until some form or structure comes into my head.

The one thing that hasn't failed is this: When I know the first sentence, I'm ready to write. (I may edit that sentence five times, but it tells me where to begin.) Once that happens, the book begins to unfold and takes shape.

I want to add that I'm a runner. Usually the idea turns around inside my head, and one day when I'm hitting the pavements that first sentence pops out. Then I know I'm ready to begin. This is just as true whether it's my own book or a manuscript I'm writing for someone else.

For me, marketing is one of the last things I consider—other than asking myself if I think it will sell. I'm absolutely terrible at marketing; however, I have a wonderful virtual assistant, Twila Belk, who intuitively knows more about marketing than I could ever learn. So after I write the proposal, I ask Twila to help me. (Please don't tell her; I don't want her to think she's important.)*

The above paragraph is to say that I know what I do best: I write. I could spend much of my efforts in marketing strategies, which I did badly—in the past.

I focus on what I do best;
I get help from those who do what I can't do effectively.

* * * * *

* A note from Twila: Mark this day in history. Cecil Murphey said something nice about me. Wow! But don't tell him I know. He doesn't think I can read. (Twila smiled.)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 11 of 22)

When you have a book concept, what's your development process?

We're all different. I don't always start with the concept. Occasionally a publisher has said, "We'd like you to _________," and they let me know the theme or thrust of the book.

Most of the time, it's an idea that won't let go of me. I get ideas—lots of them—almost every day. Out of every 100, perhaps two of them have the kind of impact that sticks with me. I'm not one of those individuals who writes down ideas because that doesn't work for me. If the idea is important, I don't worry about forgetting it.

That's no guarantee a publishing house will offer a contract, but it helps me know what issues are hitting me. And occasionally, I've had a wonderful idea but the time wasn't right and five years later I sold it.

There is only one way to develop your book—
the method that works for you.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 10 of 22)

Many of your books are collaborations. What is the difference between writing collaboration and ghostwriting?

For the first dozen years I wrote for others, it was truly ghostwriting. That means readers didn't know who wrote the book. For example, I wrote books for celebrities such as Joyce Meyer; Franklin Graham; and Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A.

Collaboration has two meanings. First, you get credit on the book—shown by with Cecil Murphey, as I did with Gifted Hands and 90 Minutes in Heaven.

Second, if you write with someone but much of the writing is yours, you're also a collaborator and you have the word and before your name. (I did three additional books with Don Piper, all with and.)

Friday, July 3, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 9 of 22)

How important is it for authors to think of every kind of personality of their readers as they write? Has that helped make you successful as a writer?

My best friend says he'll never be a writer, "Because I always think that some won't understand or they'll disagree."

It's a trap to try to figure out the personality of your readers. Most of us know the age group or the type of people for whom we write. To attempt to be "all things to all people" is paralyzing.

I know writers who think that way. They're so careful to be orthodox, culturally correct, and not offend anyone, and their writing doesn't come from deep within. This is especially true of Christian authors. They don't have to prove their faith; they have to show their faith by opening themselves. When they're honest, even people who don't agree can accept them.

As I keep saying in this blog, I write from my heart and throw it out into the world. Not everyone likes my writing or agrees with my worldview. And I get criticized sometimes.

Here's one of my maxims:

I'd rather be disliked for who I am
than to be admired for who I'm not.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 8 of 22)

On your website, www.cecilmurphey.com, you say you like to hug people with your words. What do you mean by that?

My hugging is an action from within. I open myself and show readers who I am. If they read my words and understand, they have received my hugs.

From the beginning stages of my professional writing, I've tried to be faithful and open about my pain, joy, triumph, and even stupidity.

That's my way to hug readers.

For me, hugging them is my way to symbolically wrap my arm around their shoulders and say, "Let's talk. I care about people like you. I want to pass on my mistakes and failures so you can avoid them."

I want to be open and loving to readers.
When I do that, I'm hugging them with my words.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 7 of 22)

What would you say to the person who is afraid of or suffers from writer's block?

1. Think of that block as a divine message to you. There's a reason you're struggling. Don't push it; don't force it.

2. Ask yourself, What is going on inside me that doesn't want me to write this? Fear of failure? Fear of success? Not something I truly want to do? I feel inadequate to write it?

3. Listen carefully to your heart's answer. Be compassionate toward yourself. Several times in my career, I've dropped projects (which wasn't easy to do) because, deep inside, I knew I didn't want to do them.

Here's one of my maxims:

Professionals write even when they don't feel like it.

I'm a professional.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 6 of 22)

What are the best professional practices you can recommend for those who want to improve their writing?

1. Challenge yourself to keep learning. Read books, articles, and blogs of all kinds. Stay curious. Look up words or phrases you don't know.

2. Note the writers you like and ask yourself why you like them. For me, it means they're writing in a style with which I resonate. The implication is that I can learn more about writing in my voice by reading that writer.

3. Copy sentences by those special writers and keep them in a folder or a document, which you read from time to time. (I've been doing that since 1996.)

4. Join an editing group, because that helps you de-sensitize yourself and learn not to take rejection personally.

5. Pass on everything about writing you learn. The universal principle is that the more you give, the more you receive. (And didn't Jesus say something about that?)

The best professional practice is

to keep learning and not stopping.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 5 of 22)

Will you share a few personal habits that have helped you over the years to remain a productive writer? That question usually comes after the interviewer mentions the large number of books I've published.

Here are three personal habits.

1. When I face a task I don't like doing, I set a date and time to start. I put a sticky note next to my computer. I look at the note several times during the day and remind myself of that self-imposed deadline. And it works.

2. I'm a professional and I work even if I don't feel like it. When I taught school, I had to prepare lessons even when I didn't feel like it. Here's a maxim I wrote: My feelings are only emotions; they are not reality.

3. Early in my career I faced a large number of rejections (and still receive them). I remind myself that I have offered to sell a product and the editor says, "It's not something we're interested in buying."

One of the things I began to say to myself daily—and still do—is this: I accept rejections objectively and dispassionately.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 4 of 22)

What is the toughest obstacle you've faced as a writer?

My biggest obstacle is to keep writing, even now, because I'm tempted to hit the delete key a dozen times a day. I constantly think, This is garbage and everybody knows it.

My late wife, Shirley, used to say to me, "Because you think about it all the time, you assume everyone knows it. But they haven't read it the way you write it."

Another factor is that once I've worked through something, I'm ready to move on to new territory. "I've finished with that," I hear myself say. That's the major reason I write in the midst of my struggles. I do it when I'm still unsettled, confused, or in pain.

For instance, I wrote a book called When God Turned Off the Lights.[1] For eighteen months, God didn't communicate with me. I'm not one of those individuals who has chummy conversations with the Lord, but I sense directions after I seek guidance. But nothing happened for all those months.

In the Old Testament, the writers speak of God hiding his face from them for a time. Then I understood—it didn't change my emotions, but it did help me to know that my experience wasn't unique. Psalm 13:1 was the verse I most often thought about: "How long, O Lord, will you hide your face from me?"

After a few months living in the darkness, I began to rough out chapters (and entries in my journal). I've never had such a dark period in my life, but I knew the day would come when God would smile on me again.

Outwardly, life was going well and I had book contracts for collaborating with others. But my own life felt empty and lifeless. The worst part was when I asked myself, If God never makes his face shine on me again, will I still trust him?

Again, it was painfully hard to write about the darkness because I was living in it. But I kept on. The book has never been a big seller, but occasionally I hear from individuals who tell me they have been or are going through that dark, arid period.

I write in the midst of my pain 
and that helps me come out of my pain.


[1] When God Turned Off the Lights, 2009, Regal/Baker Books.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 3 of 22)

In order of frequency, here's number three: What do you hope to accomplish with this book?

I don't like this question and I know the interviewers are sincere in asking, but my most honest answer is: Whatever God wants. I'm not smart enough to figure out how my writing will touch others—if it does.

For example, I wrote 90 Minutes in Heaven for Don Piper. Most positive comments came from people who spoke about their powerful or peaceful response to Don's description of heaven. However, a large number of people responded in a way that surprised me. The first one was from a man who said, "Thank God, someone understands chronic pain and has the courage to write about it." Others resonated with that same idea.

I wasn't insightful enough to anticipate that response, but it amplifies my answer: Whatever God wants.

That doesn't mean I never have anything in mind, but often I have to be asked the question before I figure it out. This is the response I gave to the ezine interview mentioned in a previous blog about my book When a Man You Love Was Abused: "I want to help women who know or suspect that an important man in their lives was abused. They also need to realize that his victimization affects them. I hope women will share portions of the book with those men who might not otherwise seek help."

Again, when I ponder the wide level of responses, most of the readers—male and female—tell me that what they liked best was that I talked personally about problematic topics few people dare to mention. They identified with many of my issues.

But here's one answer that covers every book I write:

I write with transparency 
to encourage others to face their own issues.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 2 of 22)

What did you learn while writing this book? If you read the previous blog, you know my answer.

For an ezine, here's the answer I gave about my book When a Man You Love Was Abused: I learned that the only way to overcome the pain of our past is to face it and not to feel shame or embarrassment.

I learned (again) that although it hurts, we need to feel those experiences repeatedly until the past events no longer have the power to hurt us. I was surprised because I assumed I had moved beyond my pain, but some of those unhealed places erupted and I had to face them.[1]

Each time I complete a book, I can say one thing: "I've learned something new about myself." Of course, I also learn about other people, my culture, and about the mysterious workings of God in my life.

When I finish a book and can say,
"I've learned something about myself,"
I know I've done my job.


[1] http://sormag.blogspot.com/2010/06/featured-author-cecil-murphey.html.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions from Interviewers (Part 1 of 22)

I want to pass on some of the FAQ I receive from interviewers. Some of them are good questions any of us would do well to answer for ourselves.

Why did you write this book? I'm asked that question more than any other. And each time, the answer varies.

Rather than give you my many answers, here's how I cover it. "I wrote this book because I felt I had something to say." I don't add, "I believe readers can learn/grow from it." I hope they do, but that's not at the top of my list.

As selfish as this may sound, I write for me, and most of the books I write come from my own journey because of issues and problems I've faced and eventually overcome. Normally, I start the book while I'm still seeking resolution.

Instead of waiting until that "Ah ha! moment," I write the problem and each chapter contains the tiny steps I'm taking toward resolution. I don't say it that way, but I want to write in the heat of my pain and not afterward when I can say, "I've overcome; so can you."

I also assume that my problems aren't unique, but they're the kind of issues that most individuals face at one time or another. As it says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, our temptations (and problems) are common to humanity. Once I find peace, I'm ready to smooth out my writing and send it out.

I write out of my issues
as part of my method of solution.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Interviews Raise Awareness of Your Name

(A big thank you to Jeanette Levellie for providing this blog post.)

As your writing career progresses, interviews can be an important factor in increasing book sales and gaining name recognition.

Whether you participate in a radio, TV, blog, or print interview, you need to prepare.

Some interviewers want to create their own questions. If so, request to see the questions ahead of time so you can write and practice succinct answers.

Other interviewers will be happy to receive questions you’ve devised. If you write your own questions, make a variety based on your career, the content of your books, and the take-away value of your writing. You may want to include a question or two about your family and hobbies. Readers enjoy knowing that you have two kids, hate housework, and love old movies so they can perceive you as a real person.

For a blog interview, check back several times to reply to comments and thank the blog host. Link back to the post from your own social media sites, to increase exposure to the interview.

In a radio interview, listeners rely solely on your voice to know your heart. Ensure that your tone of voice and word choice reflect your personality and writing style. If I am doing an interview about my book The Heart of Humor, I smile often and add wit to my answers. If I’m talking about how growing up in an alcoholic family has affected my writing, my voice will take a more serious tone.

TV interviewers usually send you guidelines for acceptable attire, how to tell when the camera is on, and where to look during the interview. The more relaxed you are, the better the interview will flow. Try to chat beforehand with the camera operators, studio technicians, and interviewer, so you’ll feel more at ease. Sincere compliments will endear you to those new friends who can raise awareness of your name.

If you trip over your words or make a mistake during a radio or TV interview, simply go on. Don’t draw attention to your mistake or over-apologize. The sooner you recover the more professional you’ll appear.

View, listen to, and read your interviews to learn how to improve. Should you wear less jewelry, smile more often, or talk less about your dog Frankfurter? Don’t criticize or lose sleep over your blunders; learn from them so you can do better next time.

—Jeanette E. Levellie has published hundreds of humor/inspirational columns, articles, greeting cards, and poems. She is the author of three books, Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top, The Heart of Humor, and Shock the Clock: Time Management for Writers and Other Creative Types. www.jeanettelevellie.com

Friday, May 29, 2015

How Speaking Increases Book Sales

(Thanks to Jeanette Levellie for providing this post.)

You have something important to say or you wouldn’t be a writer. Whether you write novels to entertain or non-fiction to enlighten, your words have the power to change lives. And the more books you sell, the more scope you have for changing lives.

Although the majority of writers feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts at the keyboard, public speaking can help your writing career flourish and lead to increased sales. Just as you improved your writing skills, you can learn and grow in public speaking skills until you’re comfortable in front of a crowd.

I don’t consider myself an accomplished public speaker, but I love people and I love words. I take every opportunity to speak at a myriad of venues—civic clubs, church groups, even nursing homes. I ask God what each audience needs to hear, and pray that the exact people he wants to attend will be present to hear my message.

I may speak to a Rotary Club about the culture shock of moving from Los Angeles to rural Illinois or tell a group of senior citizens in wheelchairs that God still has a use for them. If I speak to a church group, I gear my message to a Christian audience.

I try to be transparent during my message to make people laugh or to help them relate to my foibles. I focus on how I can help them enhance their lives.

And I always read at least one chapter from one of my books.

I don’t make a huge commercial out of that aspect of my talk; I simply shine a light on my writing. After my message, I sell books at an artfully decorated table at the back of the room. If the crowd is large, I pre-arrange for someone to help me sell books, giving them a signed copy of a book as a thank-you gift.

I keep professional-looking brochures about my speaking and writing career on the table with the books, as well as freebies—colorful pens with my website address, a sample chapter from my first book in pamphlet form, and candy—so people will feel valued, and have a way to contact me later.

These speaking gigs have led to TV interviews, additional speaking gigs, and increased book sales.

—Jeanette E. Levellie has published hundreds of humor/inspirational columns, articles, greeting cards, and poems. She is the author of three books, Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top, The Heart of Humor, and Shock the Clock: Time Management for Writers and Other Creative Types. www.jeanettelevellie.com

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What an Acquisitions Editor Seeks

(an encore post by Nick Harrison, acquisitions editor at Harvest House)

I enjoy writing about writing—and talking about it. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy writer’s conferences. They’re a great way to fellowship with other writers.

One often overlooked aspect of a conference is the networking benefit. I’ll let you in on a trade secret. Once I know authors—usually those I’ve met at a conference—I feel more at home in evaluating their book proposals.

Sometimes I’ll meet aspiring authors at a conference, and despite their present lack of ability or focus, if I find myself meeting with a kindred spirit, I’m more likely to want to help them than if the aspiring writers are cold or unwelcoming. It’s just human nature.

Sometimes I’ll pursue the moodier writers if the writing is really good, and sometimes I’ll tell kindred-spirited authors that there’s no way I can help them, but not often.

The best author/editor combination is when editors “get” what authors are trying to accomplish with their writing and when the authors understand the importance of finding not just any editor, but the right editor.

In a recent issue of Publisher’s Weekly, they printed lengthy tributes to two deceased members of the publishing industry—one a well-respected editor and the other a noted agent. In both cases, I was struck by the tributes from those writers who worked with them.

They spoke endearingly of the deep friendship they shared, and, of course, gratitude for the help those friendships had in advancing their careers.

Almost all of the writers I edit, I also count as friends.

So in reality I’m not just out to acquire books, I’m also out to acquire writing friends. Friends who love to talk about writing and who hunger for the same kind of success I hunger for.

Really, such relationships are rare, but worth the search. I should know; one of those friendships for me has turned out to be Cec Murphey whom I met years ago at Mount Hermon.

All that to say that you really do need to attend at least one writer’s conference a year if you want to succeed. That’s the way you’ll eventually meet that rare editor who will light up with recognition when he or she meets you—a kindred spirit!

--Nick Harrison, Harvest House

Friday, May 22, 2015

Beware Using Online Quote Sources

(This is a guest blog by Bob Hartig.)

“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”

What a pearl of commentary on the value of life experience! Leave it to Mark Twain to put it just so.

Except it’s not Twain. Not exactly, anyway. It’s a misquote of the kind that proliferates online through quote aggregators such as BrainyQuote, Lifehack Quotes, and Goodreads.

These sites have their purpose. They are great resources for speakers who want to season their presentations with colorful quotes. But there are good reasons why you should never use them in writing.

For one, they’re notoriously inaccurate. Misattributions and misquotes are common. Many quotes have no certain source, as you’ll discover if you ever have to research them.

And you will have to research them if you’re going to provide adequate documentation. You know: endnotes or footnotes that give complete publishing information. Showing nothing more than a URL for the source isn’t sufficient. Does it really matter that much? Yes it does, if you wish to write responsibly.

Finally, there’s the matter of credibility. Quoting another writer implies that you’ve actually read his or her work. Endnotes with entries like “Lifehack Quotes, http://andsoandso” tell readers you’re not as literate as you first seemed, and an editor for a publishing house may reject your manuscript on the basis of poor documentation alone.

If you like to use quotes, then quote from books and articles you actually read. Record any excerpt you like in your own book of quotes, and include the author’s name, the book title and subtitle, and the page number. And be able to access your sources in order to provide full publishing information.

So what did Mark Twain actually say? Here are his exact words: “Uncle Abner said . . . a person that started in to carry a cat home by the tail was gitting knowledge that was always going to be useful to him, and warn’t ever going to grow dim or doubtful.”[1] Tom Sawyer is the speaker, and the book is Tom Sawyer Abroad. Good luck finding out any of that from any of the popular quote sources, though. You’ve got to go to the book.

* * * * *

Bob Hartig, a freelance writer and editor, served for fourteen years as the copy manager at Zondervan Publishing House before going into business as The CopyFox (www.thecopyfox.com). Bob is also a jazz saxophonist, a storm chaser, and the author of The Giant Steps Scratch Pad.


[1] Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad (Auckland, NZ: The Floating Press, 2008; first pub. 1894), 116.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

When Your Editor Wants a Rewrite (Part 3 of 3)

Think of rewriting or revising as an opportunity for you to improve. If you're given the opportunity to rewrite a page or a chapter, accept it as graciously as you can. How many people can go back to their work and make it better? You can and readers will never know.

Remind yourself that you're a writer who's learning and you'll never stop learning. I've published more than 100 books and I'm much better than when I started, or when I was on book 39. I'm still improving.

You may receive a suggestion that you're convinced is off or misses the point you want to make. Email your editor and explain your reasoning. (Never call unless you have permission to do so.)

A few times I've explained to an editor why I didn't agree. I've tried to do it rationally and not defensively. If I feel disquieted or angry over something, I know I'm not ready to respond. Only when I have resolved the issue inwardly, am I able to look at it impartially.

There is a time to compromise and a time to stand firm. You need to be sure you pick the right issues. Recently, an editor asked me about someone to write a children's book for their publishing house. I mentioned a man I like personally.

"He's too defensive," she said. "We tried working with him once. Never again."

And remember, like writers, editors talk among themselves. If you're difficult, the word gets around.

If you honestly can say, "The revision diffuses the point I'm trying to make," that's valid. When you can present your position rationally, that's usually enough. Or it may be the editor insists your wording is imprecise or misleading and wants to help you clarify. Try to read without bias. It's a skill you can learn.

Friday, May 15, 2015

When Your Editor Wants a Rewrite (Part 2 of 3)

Put aside your ego—and it may be difficult to do that. Whenever the edit comes back from my editor, I don't look at it for a day or two. I focus on preparing myself to be objective about the editing.

It's not easy to have some unknown person say, in effect, "This is dreadful," but we may need to hear that message. However, I've never had an editor actually write such words.

As I ready myself, I say to myself many times during the day, "I accept the editing objectively and dispassionately." At some point, I know I can do that and then I'm ready. I prepare myself to accept the worst criticism possible, and it's a relief to see that my worst anxieties were just that—anxieties.

It may help if you remind yourself that editors have their reasons for making suggested changes. They're not always correct, but they read your work with a fresh and objective perspective. Sometimes editors will raise a question I haven't thought of, and I'm grateful because it makes my book better.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

When Your Editor Wants a Rewrite (Part 1 of 3)

This hasn't happened to me (yet), but it's not uncommon among authors. You might as well prepare yourself in case it happens. So here are a few tips for responding to the request for a serious revision.

* Respect your editor and her opinion. It's easy to tell yourself your editor wants to ruin your marvelous writing. Or you can tell yourself that you're a good writer—and that person is only an editor and he doesn't know good writing.

* Remind yourself that, like you, editors are professionals. They've paid their dues, usually by starting as a proofreader or copyeditor, moved to assistant or associate editor, and finally editor. Like you, they work hard and deserve your respect.

Within the publishing house, the rise or fall of an editor often depends on how well their edited books do. Why wouldn't they want to do an excellent job for you? If you don't like the final product, you won't be enthusiastic about selling it.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Let's Talk about Editors (Part 12 of 12)

Here are a few thoughts about relationships with editors.

* Editors cultivate reliable writers. They call on them when they have a project that they believe will fit their field of expertise. Most editors have a list (even if unwritten) of competent authors who also meet deadlines.

* Editors aren't looking for best friends. It may happen that you build a warm relationship with the editor outside of the field of writing. Immediately I think of two editors who have become close friends, but that's separate from our professional relationship.

* Focus on the professional relationship. One way to see that is when your editor leaves (and editors move around), the relationship often ends.

* You may not like this term, but you are like a salesperson. You offer a commodity (books and articles). If you leave publishing and go into another field, you probably don't stay in touch.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Let's Talk about Editors (Part 11 of 12)

Let's try this from the other end. Editors make certain assumptions about the people they edit. And they'll tell you that some authors make their lives extremely difficult.

A then-famous singer spent five hours on the telephone yelling at her editor, telling her what a terrible job she had done and went through every page. I don't know the outcome except it was the only book the singer sold to that publisher.

* Editors assume writers are always learning—and never stop learning.

* Editors assume that writers look at the comments nondefensively, even if they disagree. Here's a sentence I tell new authors to memorize and repeat regularly: "I am a professional and I respond professionally."

* Editors assume you know they are criticizing a product and not the writer. You're not being criticized personally. The focus is on your work—a product separate from yourself.

* Editors assume you realize that every author is edited.

* Editors assume that the best writers welcome them as guides and helpers to bring in a different-and-improved perspective.

* Editors assume writers will grow through the editing experience. As you look at the editing, you can probably figure out why he cut or changed something.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Let's Talk about Editors (Part 10 of 12)

When you work with an editor—any editor—the word to remember is together. Writers and editors work together to turn out a quality product.

Too often, I hear authors speak of editors as adversaries or say they want to "steal my voice."

Why would they want to do that? It's your book and you have to stand behind it. I usually hear that cry from defensive, insecure writers who aren't willing to be edited.

You may encounter an editor who "doesn’t get me," so break off the arrangement and work with one who does. If your publisher assigns an editor like that, it's all right to ask for a different person. But be sure that's the case and not your defensiveness.

Think about these things when you work with an editor.

* Assume your editor wants a quality product. You don't have to agree with everything your editor suggests, but you need to have the attitude that she wants to help you.

* Assume that your editor knows grammar, word usage, and style.

* Assume an editor wants to work with you; he wants to maintain a good relationship.

* Assume your editor is able to be objective enough to push aside personal prejudices. (If not, you'll grasp that quickly.)

* Assume your editor knows she is not the writer. Some editors forget they are only editors and try to remake your material to fit their personal tastes, but they're exceptions.

* Assume your editor has a broader view and knows marketing better than you do. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Let's Talk about Editors (Part 9 of 12)

Where do you find a competent editor? I put the question that way because I believe every serious writer hires an editor to go over the manuscript before sending it to a publisher or an agent.

Paying that person can easily make the difference between a sale and a rejection. Once you sell the manuscript, you still go through the editing process explained in the previous postings. No matter how well you write or how well you've been edited, another editor will find things that can be made better.

Think of the money you pay as investing in your writing career.

So where do you find a good editor?

Try to get a referral. Ask other writers or agents at conferences. Go online and type in freelance editors, but be careful that you get someone who has experience (and you'll want to read their résumé). A group called Freelance Editors has been around for several years and so has the Independent Editors Group. I know of two groups that edit Christian books: The Christian Communicator Manuscript Critique Service, owned by Susan Osborn, and Kathy Ide's Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network. There are many others. (I've used the same woman for years and I'll be delighted to send you her contact information, if you request it.)