Brainstorming Craziness

img_01031 I decided to take a week to writer and pray in Kansas City at the International House of Prayer. I have some friends here and thought a change of pace and setting would be inspiring.

Plus. I wanted to be in an atmosphere where people prayed 24×7. Church, we do not pray enough. Seriously. I’ll be first in line to say, “I need to pray more.”

I wanted to accomplish a good bit of writing and have learned some lessons about get-a-way writing retreats. More on that later.

Wednesday, I was stuck. So stuck, I was starting to be worried and bothered. My last two books, I managed NOT to lose any sleep and was believing I’d broken through into a new place of confidence in my writing.

But, when one is not sure how to bring the story together or how to pull the pieces in, then it’s troublesome.

I’ve been thinking about this book off and on for over a year. The core idea I’ve had since before Sweet Caroline. Two, three years. I’d actually considered it for Sweet Caroline, but it was too much for the story so I changed the plot thread.

But now, it WAS the story and I couldn’t hide or back away. How does one write about a cooking show host who can’t cook? What does that look like? Is it funny? How funny? What are the layers and depths to the story? I could see dozens of potentials. There’s the whole spiritual metaphor, the psychology behind food and comfort and families.

Susie May and I worked out enough of the book for my synopsis, but once I started writing. I ran into trouble. I rethought some things, reconsidered, got Susie May’s approval (she requires it over me. ha!) and went back to work. STILL ran into issues.

Mentally, I couldn’t make the leap from the opening to the beginning of the character’s journey. So, Wednesday afternoon, I got on the phone with Susie and the result was the pictures you see. A white board covered with the Plot Roadmap.

What a blessing my friends had one in their office! We had a blast. Susie said, “We’d talked about this story so much, I could just see it.” She talked, I wrote. I challenged a few points with “why?” and we talked it out. After all, I don’t want a wimpy heroine or dumb hero.

I love this kind of process. I love scribbling notes and plotting things out with pen and paper. I love the activity and swirl of ideas on the white board. I GET the story. There’s an odd kind of creative comfort in the circled words, arrows pointing to different ideas, the diagonal scribbles.img_01041

I need a white board at my house!

Once I had the first plot point for the beginning of the book, I was off and writing. Even though the story takes on a bit of  it’s own life and I will adjust and write scenes with ideas not on the white board, I understand and get the over all journey.

It’s like mapping out a road trip, planning all your major stops and “must sees” but leaving the potty breaks, food stops, sight-seeing spontaneity to the whim of the moment. Some may even enhance the rest of the story.

My hero has always been a bit clear to me. I never struggled with him. My heroine, hard to bead in on her. But, I’m settled now, able to drop in a layer or two deeper. That’s critical to me in the writing process.

There are still many weeks to go before I finish and turn in the book, but I’m on my way.

Butt in Chair

Martha, Rachel Hauck said “butt.” Okay now that we got that out of the way. . .

Writing is very hard work. Fun. Exciting. There’s nothing like holding your hard work, in hand, printed and bound. But, the labor is much like giving birth.

Being creative is fun. Dreaming up ideas and imagining scenarios, talking with our potential characters.

Then comes the hard work. Writing. As I talked about last week, it’s a lot like dating on e-Harmony. The person on the other end of the phone or computer is not the person sitting across from you at dinner.

Same with characters. Your heroine was so lively and fun in your head, but on the page she’s snippy, snide and unlikable.

Here’s the biggest writing tip you’ll ever get. Ready? Here it is. Butt in chair! I know. You’re on your way to being a published author now.

And you know what, no matter how you theorize it, butt in chair is advice that never changes. Read any writing book, and butt in chair is the same.

No arguing over POV, or first person. No silly “I never use the word ‘that.'”

So, how can we manage the butt in chair writing rule?

1. Schedule your time. Even though “we artist” like be like a leaf in the breeze and land wherever, book, art, music doesn’t get accomplished that way.

2. Repeat after me. No. no. NO! No! N-o. Keep repeating until effective in denying anyone and everyone access to your time.

3. Give yourself permission to write “badly.” First drafts are largely discovery. Go for it.

4. Get off the excuse-o-go-round. Either decide you’re going to be an author, published or not, and write books, or stop talking about it and go on to something else. Don’t waste time and energy on a dream you give no effort to. It’s okay to let go!

5. Get a comfy chair. 🙂

Let’s not let our dream fade because we couldn’t manage our time. Blessings and happy writing.

Meet the Voices: Keri Norton

Keri NortonThis week’s featured Voice is Keri Norton. She is a northern MN girl with two adopted boys who keep her busy as well as remind her of God’s blessings daily. She graduated in 1995 from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Owatonna, MN with a major in Bible and minors in both church ministries and English (with an emphasis on creative writing). She worked one year as a journalist for the local paper, but decided that was not the direction she wanted to take her writing. Her husband is very supportive of her writing dreams and is also her encourage to continue on when she gets lazy on her WIP. Both her boys (Kody-10, and Jaxson-almost 3) have special needs, so she has a very soft heart for people with special needs and tends to include them in some way throughout her WIP.

What is the biggest writing challenge you’ve encountered this past year–craft, career, writing life, etc.?

Just sitting down and doing it…life seems to get in the way too often…surgery, boys’ appointments, church activities.

How did you solve it?

Being accountable to someone for my time spent on the WIP. Pick a spouse, friend, or someone from the forum here to keep you on track.

What is the one thing you learned that you could share with other writers?

One important item to learn early is to be true to yourself about your writing style. As I stated above, I worked as a staff writer/journalist for my local paper for about a year, but it just wasn’t my style of writing and neither myself or my editor were happy with my work. Be willing to admit your strengths and weaknesses and be flexible enough to allow the Lord to guide your writing.

Tell us about your current WIP.

The Faith Walkers

Beaten and left for dead in the northern Minnesota wilderness, nine-year-old Mariah is forced to rely on lessons Papa George taught her about outdoor survival and faith in Christ.

Keri, thank you for being this week’s featured Voice and sharing about your writing life. Visit the My Book Therapy forum and chat with Keri!

Be sure to join us on Friday, October 16 at 8 pm EST/7 pm CST for a My Book Therapy chat with Keri and our book therapists, Susan and/or Rachel. To access the chat forum:

*Log into My Book Therapy.

*Click on the forum button.

*Sign in with your username and password, if necessary.

*Click on the Chat tab.

*Your name will show up in the box on the right hand side. To comment, type in the box in the bottom under the yellow smiley face.

*In the chat room, we will abide by chat etiquette–type ? for question, type ! for comment, and type GA for go ahead after you’re completed your question or comment.

*If you have any questions, e-mail

Writing is like dating on e-Harmony

I spend a lot of time “dating” my characters. I ask questions, delve into their back story. I write bios, dream up their greatest fears and secret dreams.

I consider the lies they believe about themselves, life and God. I figure out eye and hair color, height and fashion sense. What car do they drive and why? Where do they live? Alone? With a friend? With family? Whose died? How many broken hearts? Any major disasters that still drills holes in their hearts?

With Susie May, I figure out the characters’ basic story journey. We answer story questions. I send them to college, give them a career.

Sighing with satisfaction, I begin writing. “This story rocks”

Half way into page one, I’m bogged down in story sludge.”This story stinks!”

I’ve just moved from the romance stage of my story, the pretending and dreaming, the “talking on the phone” and “emailing” to actually meeting up with my characters face to face. And nothing is like I imagined.

It’s like dating on e-Harmony. Two potential lovers spend hours discussing who they are and why. They email. Then call on the phone. Eventually… Skype. All things are feeling good, personalities jiving, likes and dislikes on a level playing field. He hates chick flicks but can endure. She in turn agrees a Van Diesel movie might not make her break out in hives.

After months of an online, on-the-phone relationship, they agree to meet. Love is in the air. So excited. This is IT. The best ever.

They arrive separately and meet at the restaurant. Wow, she’s taller than five seven. Why did she wear those heels? Didn’t she remember he was only five nine?

He said he went to the gym every day. What’d he do, sit in the lounge area? No discernible muscles. And the mini pot belly is a sure sign of a beer love affair. Or waaayy too much time with the Playstation. He’s not one of those is he? He never mentioned it.

She was so lively on Skype and the phone. Since ordering, she’s not said two words. And when he suggested a seafood appetizer, she wrinkled her nose. “I’m not really into seafood.”

“But you said you loved it when we were talking about fishing.”

“Oh, really? I did. I don’t remember.”

Hmm, okay, things change. Perceptions are not always right. When she suggests the latest Matthew McConaughey movie, he sighs. “Sure.” So, he’s not so willing after all.

And what, he didn’t actually finish his degree at Ohio State?

The night ends with disappointment and the temptation to quit and start all over again. With another e-Harmonyite. Maybe the daters wonder if they are EVER bound for love.

So goes it with our characters. We start writing and realize we don’t know them like we thought. The dialog is pat and boring, the setting not alive. We wanted her to be aggressive and confident but once we  consider the story more, she’s really kind of reserved and hesitant.

Or, oh now wait, I already wrote a character like that and I can’t do it again.

Like dating on e-Harmony where you never really know if you’re compatible until you spend time together, face-to-face, fictional characters never come to life until we start writing. Often, they are not what we imagined. Often, our planned story doesn’t work well with our planned character.

To be sure, we have way more control over our characters than an e-Harmony date, but we still have to face the pain of meeting them “live” and on the “page.”

Hang in there. e-Harmony claims to have successfully matched thousands of couples. I know a few myself. Keep writing and working with you characters. Give them a bit of room to breath and come to life. You’ll discover a great story inside them.