A Season of Gnarled Trees by Angela Arndt

“They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green …” Psalm 92:14

There’s an old pear tree at the end of our road that is gnarled and twisted. The rough bark is peeling and the branches are fragile. The ground beneath is littered with twigs and leaves that have fallen from its ancient branches. We’ve had an odd winter: cold weather one day, hot the next. Last week we had sunshine, rain, hail and two inches of snow all in one day. They say if you don’t like the weather in South Carolina, just stick around five minutes and it will change.

The odd weather has been rough on many of the trees on our property through the years. One year we lost lots of little pines that were so full of ice, the tops bent over and snapped off. A few old oaks toppled over, roots and all, because there wasn’t enough rainfall. But in spite of all the destruction around it, that old pear tree still stands. In fact, it is covered in buds every year. Those delicate pink-tinged blossoms announce that Spring is really here.

God created seasons so that life would continue. Plants need rain, sun and even space in order to bud, flower and bear fruit. We have seasons in our life as well. When we think that we’ve reached the fall or winter of our life, God can still use us. We can still bear fruit.

We must available for him to work in our lives. If we’re too busy, when hard times come – just like the ice and wind – we snap in two. If we don’t get enough spiritual nourishment, we’ll topple over from the weight of our problems. But if we remain steady, lifting our branches to the one who made us, he’ll continue to care for us and allow us to bear fruit.

Have you ever reached a point where you felt old and withered like that pear tree? Did you know that God could still use you to bear fruit? There’s always someone who needs a cheery call, a sweet note, or a heartfelt prayer. All you have to do is stand there and wait for him.

~*~

Angie Arndt was a corporate trainer before health issues sidelined her. She’s writing a contemporary women’s fiction series set in the South. Coincidentally, she and her husband live in the middle of a big wood outside a small town in South Carolina. She’s a team member of Seriously Write and represented by Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency. She’d love for you to visit her at her website, http://www.angelaarndt.com or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

The Writing Life: When Saying “Yes” Begins Things

I always wanted to be a writer. But for years, my focus was on nonfiction: writing for newspapers and magazines and eventually a nonfiction book. And I was happy with that dream.

And then a season of burnout became a bend in the writing road. I wrote a “just for fun” novel. And despite telling my husband that no one would ever see the manuscript, I eventually showed it to my agent. And after she read it, she announced, “Let’s set aside this nonfiction book we’re shopping around and see if we can establish you as a novelist.”

And — as crazy as it seemed — I said yes.

And that yes began so much new in my life.

Here I am, six years later, and I’m a novelist. By this summer, I will have published five novels and four e-novellas thanks to a one syllable word — yes — and an unexpected bend in the writing road.

  •  Because of that initial yes I understand myself better. That’s what happens when you’re developing imaginary characters’ Wounds, Lies and Fears. You tend to consider your own and, if you allow God to work through your writing to heal your broken places, you grow stronger. More honest. And that honesty weaves itself into your writing.
  • Because of that initial yes I’ve grown closer to God. This writing gig — and the to-be-expected reviews and up and down sales and the daily demands of deadlines — will mess with your mind and heart if you don’t anchor yourself to the Truth. Who He says I am has become my trustworthy True North.
  • Because of that initial yes I know “living the dream” means doing the work.” Knowing I’m living my writing dream is both a humbling, satisfying thought — and a huge reality check. Living the dream means you’ve signed a contract (or two or three or more), which means you’ve said yes to all the work that entails. Edits. Copy edits. Line edits. Back cover copy. Whatever it takes. Early on, someone asked me, “Are you going to be on Oprah?” I laughed and said, “If she asks me.” So far, I haven’t been invited, but I’m still willing — and I still am thankful I’m living my version of the writing dream, without a conversation with Oprah.

 

Oh …  since that initial yes, I’ve also learned there’s one question I’ll always say no to. It’s this one: Are you going to quit?”

How about you? How has saying “yes” to the writing life created growth in your life?

 

15 Things Successful Writers NEVER Say

Writers are an odd lot.

I can say that, because I am one. So I speak from experience, not judgment. Like all creative people, we tend to feel things more deeply, reacting poorly to criticism.

We also have no perspective at all when it comes to our own creations. Because a lot of us begin writing as a hobby, we also seem to have a lop-sided view of the publishing industry.

So today, I’d like to clear up some common misconceptions and share some things that successful writers never say.

  1. Uh…I guess…uh…I write. So…I suppose that makes me a writer…sometimes. CUT. IT. OUT. If you are serious about writing, even if you don’t get paid, you can call yourself a writer. So repeat after me. “I am a writer.”
  1. I’m a much better writer than the majority of the published writers out there. This is for the small percentage who don’t have trouble telling everyone, “I am a writer.” Some of you believe you know more than everyone else. I hate to break it to you, but you don’t.
  1. Sure, I don’t need to write today. I’ll go to lunch with you. Successful writers make spending time putting words on paper (or a screen) a priority. If we want to be taken seriously and have our time respected, we must set the example.
  1. I don’t need to read books. I’m a writer, not a reader. Besides, I don’t have time to read. I am not kidding. I’ve actually had writers tell me this. We need to spend time reading, and reading widely. Read outside your genre and learn what works and what doesn’t.
  1. I don’t need an editor. I have a sharp eye and can catch anything I need to in my writing. Yes, many of us do have an editor’s eye. That’s a good thing. But that is NO substitute for an editor. We are blind when it comes to our writing. We see what is supposed to be on the page, not what is.
  1. I can’t afford to attend conferences. I know conferences are expensive, but they’re also vital to moving forward in your writing career. There are a lot of ways to fund a conference—from asking for money from family and friends instead of gifts for holidays, to writing small articles for pay and saving that money. Conferences do three MAJOR things for writers:
  • They provide a place to learn the latest industry standards and techniques.
  • They provide a place to network and talk to writing professionals, like editors, agents and published writers.
  • They provide a place to network with other writer.
  1. I decided to self-publish because traditional publishing just takes too long. I’m glad to say that self-publishing—when done with professionalism—is now a respected option. Beyond that, there are a lot of good reasons to self-publish. But using self-publishing as a short cut is NOT a good reason.
  1. I don’t have a target audience, everyone loves what I write. Every book has a primary audience. Yes, there are books that a lot of people enjoy. But if you write to a specific audience, you’ll have a much better finished product. Not to mention the fact that book stores will know where to shelve your book.
  1. The rules don’t apply to me. Yes, I’ll be the first one to agree that there are exceptions to almost every single rule you ever hear about writing and/or publishing. BUT we can’t look at ourselves as that exception. Follow the rules and let the exceptions be a wonderful surprise if and when they happen.
  1. The first part of my book is just information the reader needs, the story starts on page 70 (40, 60, 90, etc.). I really have lost track of the number of times I’ve had an author say this to me. Here is my response. If the story starts on page 70, that’s where your book needs to start. Trust your reader, and trust yourself, and skip the background information.
  1. I’m not a marketer, I’m a writer. If this really is true and you absolutely refuse to market your work, then be prepared to pay. You’ll have to hire someone to market your book because marketing is a joint partnership between the publisher and the writer. That’s just the way publishing works today.
  1. The publishing industry is dying. No, not really. It’s definitely changing, but it’s not dying. There’s a difference. Learn to adapt with the changes, but realize books and people who write them aren’t going anywhere.
  1. I already have a book contract, I don’t need a literary agent. Now you need one more than ever. There are those who will argue this point, but here are my thoughts. Because of the rapid changes in publishing, contracts are brutal. You need someone in your corner, advocating for you. After the contract, you still need someone to help with possible (really probable) hiccups in the publishing process. If you don’t like your cover, or the copy editor isn’t doing a good job, your agent can be the bad guy and go to bat for you. This makes it possible for you to stay on good working relations with the publisher.
  1. I don’t need to work on social media until after I have a contract. This is another that makes me cringe. Editors and agents award book contracts based on a lot of things. Now days, one of those things is whether or not an author has solid online presence. The lack of a presence may not always keep you from getting a contract, but it will affect the way you’re viewed by prospective buyers. Smart writers build an online presence while they’re working on a book, so everything is in place when they begin pitching.
  1. Published authors don’t need to take classes or read books on writing. Successful writers know there’s never a point when you’ve arrived. Lifelong learning isn’t just a buzzword, it’s vital to stay current in the publishing industry.

Even though I slanted a lot of the points toward books, all are equally applicable to writers of shorter works. These are things that I believe you’ll never hear a successful writer say. I’d love to know what you’d add to this list. Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

A Storycrafting Checklist

storycrafting checklist

Do you have all the pieces of a brilliant novel?  Before we dive into our storycrafting checklist, let’s talk about the debate between character driven and plot driven novels.

Character Drive versus Plot Driven Novel

Think of the last story you read, the last great movie you watched. Even your favorite television series. Were you more interested in the plot or the person? I would bet that the element that drew you into the story were the characters.

Let’s think about this. Plot is interesting, but not unless it is about someone we care about. A fantastic example is the Hunger Games. The plot construction and premise is fantastic–a dystopian world where one District makes the other Districts pay for their rebellion (and earn their food allotment) but making two champions from each district fight for their survival. Interesting and tragic, but not compelling until a champion rises. And not just one champion, but two–one who loves the other, and both who choose to defy the system and inadvertently start a revolution toward freedom.

The Hunger Games are interesting, but it’s the compelling fight for survival of our champions that makes this book (and series) riveting.

Another great example of this is the Firefly series, a sci-fi series about a renegade smuggler who is just trying to survive in this post-apocalyptic world. As the series progresses, we care about Mal and his crew as they struggle to stay alive and save the life of a girl who is on the run. When they encounter peril, we dive in and care because we want Mal and his crew to live.

The key to this series, however, is that we understand Mal, the captain’s past, and what drives him, the wounds he carries, his greatest fears and his great loyalty to his crew. We also know that this group of people has survived a war together. Without this insight, we’d simply think, “Here’s another space adventure.” This is the point of a great television series–the people we care about.

So, there is really no such thing as a plot-only driven book. All books are about characters.  Your plot just serves to push your character forward. You can have some powerful, intriguing external stakes, but a brilliant story is always about the people that are involved in those things.

 

Overview of Story

A great story, summed us, is about a character that we care about who wants something for good reason. This character is driven by some sort of dark event in their past that has molded them into the person they are when they walk onto the page.

This character also has a fear about something which they’re trying to stay away from while they’re going about their normal life.

Then, something happens. This something (called the Trigger, or the Inciting Incident) creates a compelling dilemma that they must solve. Either to put right what went wrong, or to pursue something positive that is now necessary. This is called the Noble Quest–a worthy, justifiable goal. Restated, they either have something negative that happens and they need to pursue a positive outcome or they have something positive that happens and they want to keep that positive outcome.

The Noble Quest also gives rise to a secret desire. It’s that deep want, sparked by their greatest dream that starts to fuel the Noble Quest. The Noble Quest is always shown through an external goal. However, it’s driven by that internal desire.

Thus, they launch on their “journey,” either physical or metaphorical. While the journey has an external, physical goal, the journey itself–the entire story, is about character growth. The story is not about how they achieve their Noble Quest, but rather how the Noble Quest sets the character free of their fears, heals their flaws and gives the character their secret desire.

The Noble Quest reaches its apex toward the end in Black Moment Event–or the realization of their Greatest Fears. As a result of this event, the character experiences a Black Moment Effect–or the realization of their need to change. This effect drives them to their metaphorical knees where they experience an Epiphany, or realization of the point of their journey, some universal TRUTH that sets them free, changes them and gives them the tools to do something at the end they couldn’t at the beginning, sometimes called the Grand Gesture or Sacrifice.

If your character hasn’t had a black moment, an epiphany and a character change, then they haven’t completed their journey.

Figuring out how to construct this internal character change against the backdrop of external goals can, admittedly be overwhelming.

Or not, if you take it apart, piece by piece.

Or, you start at the beginning, the Character Bio, or Dark Moment Story.

This is the center of your story equation.

 

We’ll dive into the Dark Moment Story next week, but for now, ask yourself: Does your character have a true journey?

Here’s a checklist:

  • Does your character have a powerful motivation for their Noble Quest?
  • Does he/she have an external goal, something tangible that he/she is “questing” after?
  • Is it propelled by a Secret Desire or Greatest Dream?
  • Does your character have a greatest fear?
  • Does your story have a Black Moment Event, or the realization of that greatest fear (often the antithesis of the Noble Quest).
  • What does your character realize about himself/herself after that Black Moment Event, or a lie they believe?
  • What Truth (Epiphany) sets them free?
  • Can your character do something at the end that he can’t in the beginning?  (A Grand Gesture or Sacrifice?)

If you can say yes to all of these elements, then you have the bones of a brilliant story.  Stop back next week and I’ll teach you how to develop that brilliant story from the inside-out.

Go! Write Something Brilliant!

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(P.S – Wanna learn my secrets?  How to Write a Brilliant Novel!  Only $4.99 on Kindle!)