Friday, September 19, 2014

Writing: Keep Your Head Down

The oft-repeated mantra for a writer is to assume this position: behind in chair, fingers on keyboard. The idea, of course, is that in order to be a successful writer it's necessary to keep at it. If you can't write every day, write as often as you can. Persistence pays.

By the way, when I first started out on this road to writing, I'd hear people talk about the reward of BIC, fingers on keyboard, and I'd think, "Yeah, right." But it's true. Of course, this also involves learning the craft and improving with every paragraph. Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

But I digress. I'd add to the anatomic advice for the would-be writer a third position: keep your head down. And by that, I mean don't spend your time reading so many social media posts that you forget what your own calling is. The temptation is to see so many posts that talk about a book winning this award and a writer attaining that honor that we decide there's no use in our continuing. That's wrong!

If you could see the story behind those award and honors, you'd see hours and hours spent at the chair in front of that keyboard, searching for just the right word, the best phrase, the most effective way to communicate the ideas in our heads. You'd probably also see a stack of rejection notices as these writers learned the craft. So don't let what's going on with other writers keep you from doing what you need to do. Keep your rear end in the chair, your fingers on the keyboard, and your head down. That's the recipe for success.

Any questions or comments about the writing life? Leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Whose Brand Do You Wear?

Golfers mark their golf balls so they can identify them if there's a question--for instance, two balls in a sand trap or two balls in the cup (yeah, right!) How we mark our balls is an individual matter. Some people use one or more colored dots, some fill in the open spaces in the name on the ball (both a's in Callaway, for instance). My partner uses a stylized version of his initials.

My "brand" is one I learned when Cynthia and I spent a week at the Prude Dude Ranch as part of an Elderhostel program. If you're familiar with cattle brands, you may know about adjectives such as "rocking" or "lazy." Given my prior specialty as a physician, I was drawn to the curves at the beginning and end of the brand, signifying "running." That gave me an idea, and I mark my balls like this: a "running nose."

Whose brand do you wear? Your family? Your profession? Your relationship with God? Is it evident to those around you, even when it's not easily visible? 

I'd love to hear what you think about the brand you wear.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Writing: Meeting With An Agent...Again

The annual conference of the American Christian Fiction Writers is coming up in two weeks, and lots of nervous not-yet-published authors will be meeting with agents or editors. But what if you've been published, have had an agent, and now are meeting with another one? Sound unusual? I was asked this question just a few weeks ago. Here's my answer:

I believe the first thing a prospective agent will want to know is why and under what circumstances you left your previous agent. Was the parting acrimonious or friendly? Whose idea was it? And why? Although you want to be truthful, remember that the writing community is a relatively small one, so don’t needlessly bad-mouth your former agent. Like Joe Friday on Dragnet, the person to whom you’re talking just wants the facts.

After that, the agent will want to see a sample of your writing. You’re ahead of the game if you’ve previously been published, because you can bring a copy of your latest book for them to read a few pages at random. Offer to send them a copy if they’d like to read more. But don’t force the book on them right then. No agent wants to take home a suitcase full of stuff from a conference.

If the question hasn’t already been answered, they’ll want to know what your genre is. What’s the track record of sales for your previous book? If the book didn’t sell well, don’t try to hide the fact (the agent, like a publisher, can get this information). Instead, be ready to suggest ways your next one can sell more copies.

Then they’ll want to hear about your ideas for future books. A one-sheet is nice, but it may not be mandatory. It’s probably best to have one, though. If there has been interest from a publisher, the agent will want details. Have any of the books you’re pitching already been seen by specific editors? What was their reaction?

At some point, ask the agent if they’d like you to send them a formal proposal. I was disappointed to find that being previously published doesn’t negate the need for proposals—at least, not in my case. Perhaps J. K. Rowling or Tom Clancy can get a contract with just an idea for a book, but for most of us it doesn’t work that way. Agents and editors like to know you have concrete ideas about your next book.

My final advice? Be truthful and open. Be confident without being brash. Be ready to listen instead of just talking. And pray about the outcome—you can be certain the agent will do the same.

Oh, and if you're going to be at the ACFW conference, check out the 11 AM Saturday class I'm co-teaching with Jordyn Redwood and Candace Calvert on "Medicine: The View From Inside." I hope to see you there.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11, 2001--May We Never Forget

I'm departing from my regular Tuesday and Friday blogging schedule to recognize the anniversary of an event that (in my opinion) is as important as the day on which the first shot was fired in the war our fledgling country fought for independence. This day marked a dividing line beyond which our lives would forever change.

We probably all remember where we were on the morning of September 11, 2001. As we pause to recall those terrible moments and all that has come since, may we renew our commitment to our country, our fellow citizens, and our God.

God bless America.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Back To School

Now that school has started again, I thought it would be fun to consider how your children/grandchildren reacted to going back. Were they eager, or did they hang back and wish that summer could go on just a little longer?

And how about the parents? Was this a relief they'd been awaiting all summer, or were they sorry to see school begin again?

How did the return to school go at your house or with your family? Let us know in the comments section.

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