5 Ways to Grow as a Writer 2015

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” —Ernest Hemingway

Do you want to become a better writer in 2015? Whatever you write – articles, devotions, essays, blogs – or in my case, novels – we should always strive to communicate with more clarity, more simplicity, more elegance.

It has long been my practice as a novelist to take stock of my writing skills every year and make a goal to ramp up one area of my writing. Dialogue, Storyworld, Characterization, creating tension, emotional writing, description, streamlining prose, adding in metaphor and symbolism – whatever I feel might be my weak area.

And, even after 10 years of being traditionally published, I still see my writing as swiss cheese – so many holes, so many opportunities to write better.

Being a gal who likes lists and schedules, I like game plans or a strategy to accomplish this.  [We’re going to go in-depth on how to employ a strategy in our monthly Open House for writers (it’s FREE!  Sign up here!) on Thursday, January 8th. ]

This is a great week to sit down and think through your strategy for upping your wordsmithing game in 2015.  And having a strategy and plan is key, because as your year progresses, you’ll read some great books and probably get so involved you will forget that you’re actually supposed to be paying attention to, say, the storyworld.

[I know, I wreck reading and movies, but here’s an idea – read the book, and if you love it, GO BACK with a highlighter and find all the passages that sing (and are in your area of learning for the year.)  Deconstruct them and figure out why they work.  Write them in your writing inspiration journal (you have one of those, right?)]

Having a strategy helps keep you headed in the right direction, and game plan keeps you on track as you invest in writing classes, conferences and writing books.

[Without a strategy to you can find yourself sitting a class for Screenwriters because it sounds fun, and completely miss out on the essential class on storyworld (which is what you might currently need).]

So, once you figure out what area/topic you are going to drill down and learn this year, here are 5 suggestions to help you become a better writer. 

1. READ UP in your Genre. You know what I mean. Those authors who you read and think…I will never be able to write like them!  Learn how!  Read their books (sometimes twice?) and keep a journal of great ideas, phrases, words, plot twists and anything that inspires you.  Once you have it isolated, it’s much easier to figure out how they do it.

2. READ OUT of Genre. We miss out on great writing when we stay only in our Genre. Yes, knowing our genre inside and out is essential, but challenge yourself to read biographies, essays, poetry, plays and even outside your genre.  Two of  the best books I read this year were 11-22-63 by Stephen King. (it’s a time-travel book) and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. (a biography).  Powerful books, so well written.

3. READ Through different POV Voices. We can get stuck in a rut writing only one POV. (Point of View).  I usually write Deep 3rd POV, but every once in a while, moving out of Deep 3rd to Distant 3rd, or even 1st person past can give my writing voice a jumpstart, a tune up, a freshness.  Vary the POV Voices and you’ll widen your writing palate.

4. Get books/take classes on writing in your topic. I have a huge library of writing skills books from WD and some of my favorite authors, like James Scott Bell, Jeff Gerke, Randy Ingermanson, Steven James, not to mention Donald Mass, Sol Stein, Dwight Swain, Christopher Vogler, Noah Lukeman, James Frey and too many others to count.  The key is to take away the things that help you understand your topic more, that work for you, and leave the rest.  Everyone learns/writes differently, so pull out the tools, add them to your arsenal. (BTW, the MBT Premium Membership has an extensive list on writing skills lessons.)

5. WRITE. Yes, I said that – but don’t just actively apply your learning to your novel. That is your LAST application.  Before you get there, write short pieces of, say, storyworld.  Or Dialogue.  Edit. Give it to a writing buddy for their feedback.  Not unlike my son Peter working on just his starts for track, or my other son Noah working on tackling styles (yes, I had to get a football metaphor in there!).  Drill down, take it apart, rewrite…and get feedback.   Then, start adding it to your rough draft.


“Don’t say it was delightful; make us say delightful when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers Please will you do the job for me.” ― C.S. Lewis


Want 5 more ideas – and tricks and tips on becoming a better wordsmith?  Join us for our Free Webinar on January 8th, 7pm CST.

Until then, Go- write something brilliant!

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Richard Mabry

Today, we’re celebrating one of the authors who helped us make the Frasier Contest possible! Richard Mabry’s recent book, Fatal Trauma, will be released by Abingdon Press this coming spring

Q: Richard, can you tell us a little bit about your next book?

It began with Dr. Mark Baker facing a gunman who had nothing to lose. It could end with him behind bars.

In the Emergency Room, Dr. Mark Baker and Nurse Kelly Atkinson stand at the mercy of a gunman who declares, “If he dies, everyone here dies.” At the end of the evening three men lie dead. One of them is a police officer Mark and a surgeon, Dr. Anna King, couldn’t save. The other two are members of the feared Zeta drug cartel, and their threat of revenge puts the lives of Mark, Kelly, and others at risk.

It isn’t long before the shootings begin, and Mark finds himself under suspicion as a killer, yet still a potential victim. Because of Kelly’s growing love for Mark, she is hurt when he turns to his high school sweetheart, now an attorney, for help.

Who is the shooter? And can Mark find out before he becomes the next victim?

Q: What is one piece of writing advice you’d give the MyBookTherapy community?

I heard it almost from the time I started writing: keep your bottom in the chair, apply your fingers to the keyboard, and your persistence will get you published. And after six years as a published author, my assessment of that advice can be summarized in one word: hogwash! Yes, we should write, and write, and write some more. But don’t just write. Get someone knowledgeable—not your aunt or your wife or a friend—but someone who knows writing to critique your work. After you get over your pique that someone would dare criticize your efforts, go back and revise the work. Let it cool, read it again, and you’ll be surprised at the improvement. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to edit your own work. Is that it? No. Writers should also read. Read good novels so you’ll have a feel for what resonates with your reader. Read bad writing so you’ll know what to avoid. Never stop learning the craft. Never think you’ve arrived and know it all. That’s what I’ve learned about writing. It helped me. I hope it helps you, as well.

RLM headshot 2Richard Mabry is a retired physician, past Vice President of the American Christian Fiction Writers, and author of “medical suspense with heart.” His novels have been a semifinalist for International Thriller Writers’ debut novel, finalists for the Carol Award and Romantic Times’ Reader’s Choice Award, and winner of the Selah Award. His latest, Critical Condition, is his seventh published novel, and will be followed this coming spring by Fatal Trauma. You can follow Richard on his blog, on Twitter, and his Facebook fan page.



Writers and word count: One Word in 2015

We’re writers. We’re all about words.

Writing a novella? You’re concentrating on producing around 25 thousand words.

Writing a novel? You’re focused on approximately 90 thousand words.

Words and more words. Yes, sometimes we have — GASP! — edit and rewrite … maybe delete a scene or a chapter. But it’s all about the words.

Today, I want you to consider focusing on one word.

There are 13 days until January 1, 2015.

A lot of us are thinking about the new year and what we want to accomplish. We’re setting goals, maybe mulling over New Year’s resolutions.

Consider this instead:

  • Tear up the list of resolutions you’re writing out. If you’re like me, you’re going to lose track of it by the end of January, right?
  • Pick one word for 2015. It’s simple to remember one word, right? Focus on that One Word for the entire year. Ask God to use that one word to change you through the year.
  • Anchor your One Word to a Scripture verse. I also look for a “visual” of some sort: a photograph with a quote or a bracelet or necklace with my One Word on it. This year a writer-friend sent me a mug with my 2015 word on it.

This is my 10th year choosing one word. My previous One Words have been:

2006: gratitude – I kept a gratitude journal and found my “glass-half-empty” attitude revolutionized.
2007: simplify – A severe illness turned this word into survival. I embraced simpler things in ways I never imagined.
2008: content – as in “be content with such things as you have” (Hebrews 13:5) I bought a lot less that year!
2009 & 2010: forgiveness – I had a lot to learn and unlearn about forgiveness.
2011: hope – A word I clung to when life hurt or when my heart ached for others who were hurting. There were times I could have asked “Why?” Instead, I asked myself, “Are you going to abandon hope?” My answer: No.
2012: trust – During a year of change, I faced doubting versus trusting — and chose to trust. I also began posting trust quotes on my Facebook page to encourage myself and others.
2013: confidence – I feel so much stronger emotionally after keeping my heart and mind set on “not throwing away my confidence.” (Hebrews 10:35-36) And yes, I continued the tradition of posting confidence quotes on my FB page.
2014: think – I tried to anchor my thinking to truth more and more, rather than letting my thoughts go wandering into comparisons and expectations and flat out lies.

This year my One Word is collaborate. Isn’t that a beautiful word? I’m specifically applying this word to my writing. I want to collaborate with God as I write.

Collaborate means to work jointly on an activity, especially to produce or create something. Synonyms: co-operate, join forces, team up, band together, work together, participate, combine, ally.

As always, I’ve wanted a verse to anchor my word to, and my treasured friend, author Cynthia Ruchti, shared the perfect one with me while we were at a writers retreat in Monterey:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it (complete it) until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6 NASB)

What about you? Have you ever chosen One Word to focus on for the year? Are you considering One Word for 2015?


Social Media Minute—5 Tips for Using Hashtags Correctly

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson

Hashtags—especially for Twitter—can be incredibly valuable in helping us increase out audience. But only if we learn to use them correctly.

They’re not that hard, but there are some rules you need to follow so you’re not wasting valuable real estate in your tweets.

Hashtag Refresher

First, lets back up and evaluate the reason we’re all working at building an online presence. We are looking to deepen existing relationships and build new ones. But building new ones can be difficult if the only people we interact with are those we already know, either online or in person.

We can get a little bit of exposure to new folks by our existing connections introducing us, but that’s a time consuming way to go about it.

What if there was a way for someone to search a given social media network by topic and find new, interesting people to interact with? That would be a great way to grow our connections.

THAT, in the simplest of terms, is the purpose of using hashtags.

When you compose a social media update that includes one or two hashtags that summarize the topic—you are giving folks who wouldn’t otherwise have a connection with you—a way to find you.

Here’s an example of the correct way to do this. this is the tweet I use to share this post (minus the link):

5 Tips for Using Hashtags Correctly – via #SocialMedia

Mentor @EdieMelson #twitter 

5 Tips for Using Hashtags Correctly

  1. Don’t overload your social media updates with hashtags. The optimum number of hashtags depends on the social media network you’re on.
  • Twitter: two hashtags is best, but one or three will also work.
  • Facebook: no more than one hashtag per update, otherwise you may be unintentionally spamming your followers
  • Instagram: two hashtags is best, but one or three will also work here as well.
  1. Take time to research the best hashtags. Some hashtags are better than others. You won’t know which ones are most current unless you take time research them. The best way to do your research? Do a search on the social media network where you want to use the hashtag. You can also research a hashtag by typing it into the Google search engine and seeing what updates come up.
  1. Making up a new hashtag is fine—if you pair it with a popular hashtag. If I wanted to try to make #TheWriteConversation into a writing hashtag, it wouldn’t do me any good unless I paired it with another popular #writing hashtag. No one is going to know to search for #TheWriteConversation unless I educate them. If I just use #TheWriteConversation, it’s no more than wasted space in my social media update.
  1. Remember a space ends the hashtag. So often I see people forget and add a space in between two words in a hashtag. Once you hit the space bar, the hashtag ends. So #Social Media is really only the hashtag #Social, instead of #SocialMedia. NOTE: this is also true of the @ sign. If I type @Edie Melson, it’s just like I’m typing @Edie, and that person is NOT me.
  1. Leave some room at the end of your tweets so your hashtags aren’t cut off if it’s retweeted. Tweets are only 140 characters long. If I use all 140 characters, then if anyone retweets it, the end will be cut off because there’s no room for the retweeters information that goes at the beginning of the tweet. I try to leave 10 to 15 blank characters, but my absolute minimum is 7. This insures at least one unchanged retweet.

These are my top 5 tips for using hashtags correctly. I’d love for you to share yours. Or, be sure to leave any questions about hashtags you have in the comments section below.