What’s Really Important?

by Alena Tauriainen writing as Alena Wendall @alenawendall

I remember hosting my very first Thanksgiving dinner. Fyi..the following is a perfect disaster scenario for someone’s story.

I should explain a little a bit about my family. My parents are from the islands and I was raised on typical Trinidadian foods. Hence, our Thanksgiving dinner looked a little different than those in the states. Okay, to be truthful, a lot different. We served things like macaroni pie, plantains, and rice. There was always rice.

My husband’s family is from Finland and they opt for a traditional Thanksgiving. Turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and, of course, my mother-in-law’s famous stuffing.

Did I mention at that time I had never cooked for both families like that before?

That day, I woke up super excited and determined that everything was going to be perfect. I had my step-mom and my mother-in-law in the kitchen with me. Both had an opinion on everything I did that day. EVERYTHING.

Did I mention I was pregnant at the time?

I thought I was doing great. We were close. I was plating all the big items for the meal. I was listening, nodding, and smiling. Then it hit.

Did you see that emotion zing across the kitchen? No? It was that fast.

When someone told me how to pour the rice into the serving dish, I lost it. Unequivocally lost it. One minute, I was pouring rice, and the next, I was in the bathroom crying.

All I remembered was my husband appearing in our bathroom. He just stood there until I was ready. He never said a word about me crying. Just waited. Smart man.

Later that afternoon, after all the food was eaten, leftovers bagged and put away and we were on our second round of dessert, both of my sisters-in-law started laughing. I didn’t know what was funny. I didn’t think I’d missed a joke but apparently, I had.

They said that they knew it was going to hit the fan, so they deliberately stayed outside. Smart women for sure!

I bring up that story because if I’d taken a moment before all of the craziness to reflect on what was truly important—time with family, laughing, joking, eating—then I wouldn’t have been so wound up about everything being perfect.

Thanksgiving is a time of reflecting on the blessings in your life. Being thankful. Sure, we look forward to the meal, but really, whether you make a baked turkey, a smoked turkey or a fried turkey—it doesn’t matter. Paper products versus real dishes, freshly made rolls versus store-bought—those things aren’t deal breakers, not if you remember what’s really important.

So, before the craziness starts…take a moment to reflect.

Then when the green beans are over-cooked, or some very helpful family member tells you for the thirtieth time how to do something, you will have the patience to let it go. Because you will be smarter than I was that Thanksgiving, and you will remember to focus on what’s truly important.

Oh, and if I had to give one extra tip for a happy Thanksgiving dinner? Delegate. Get those in-laws and siblings to bring something and/or put them in charge of something. Share the load. Share the fun.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tweet: What’s Really Important? #Thanksgiving thoughts by @alenawendall via @NovelAcademy https://ctt.ec/J2hEv+

Tweet: Thanksgiving is a time of reflecting on the blessings in your life. Being #thankful. by @alenawendall via NovelAcademy #gratitude https://ctt.ec/3ckfL+

~*~

Writing as Alena Wendall, Alena Tauriainen pens contemporary Christian romance novels that always end with a happily ever after. By day, she partners with her lifelong mate Clyde, to run the family HVAC business. She manages both business and family life with four lovable but crazy kids. She is the Retreats Coordinator for My Book Therapy. She is represented by Rachelle Gardner with Books & Such Literary Management. Visit her at alenawendall.com.

 

 

 

An Introvert’s Guide to Writers Conferences

by Connilyn Cossette,@ConniCossette 

Last week was the annual ACFW conference, which, for many writers, is one of the highlights of the year. Let me tell you, stepping out of my comfort zone to pursue a writing career was scary enough, but going to that first conference to mingle with hundreds of people I didn’t know was terrifying. If you are an introvert like me, then the prospect of small talk with strangers is a little like nails on the chalkboard, but if you have a plan you can face any writers conference with confidence.

The best way I’ve found to push past my natural bent to clam up during writers conferences is to brainstorm conversation starters in advance. Open-ended questions are best, so try to avoid ‘yes’ or ‘no’ type questions if possible. Here are some great ones to get you started:

  • How long have you been writing?
  • Which genre do you write?
  • Which sessions are you attending?
  • What are you hoping to accomplish this week?
  • Tell me about your work in progress.
  • Who are your favorite authors?
  • What got you started writing?
  • What great tips have you learned so far this week?
  • What’s your elevator pitch? (This has the benefit of helping people practice!)
  • Which agents/editors are you meeting with?
  • How are your appointments going so far?
  • Which critique group are you a part of?

The possibilities are endless! Write a few of them down if you are nervous and scan over them before you head to a meal or a class to keep them fresh in your mind. And don’t forget to bring your business cards wherever you go, exchanging cards is a great way to break the ice.

Also, keep in mind that the writing industry is full of introverts. We are, in general, a very introspective sort, which is a great strength for a writer. Start out by assuming that most of the people in the room are probably feeling a lot like you, a little out of sorts, a little insecure, and more interested in making strong connections than meaningless small-talk. At my first conference, I was at a table all by myself, feeling like a fish out of water, when two gals purposefully sat down on either side of me and engaged me in conversation. That breakfast was the beginning of two very precious friendships and writing partnerships for me. So make an effort to search out someone looks a little uncomfortable or is standing alone, you never know if that person is a future writing partner, a future best friend, or just someone who will help you practice your pitch or pray with you before an appointment.

So relax fellow introvert, plan ahead, keep yourself open to divine appointments, and keep in mind that all of us writers are just a wee bit different than the “normals,” anyhow.

Tweet: An Introvert’s Guide to Writers Conferences by @connicossette via @Novel.Academy #writing https://ctt.ec/c09bu+

~*~

Connilyn Cossette is the CBA Best-Selling author of the Out from Egypt Series with Bethany House Publishing. Her debut novel, Counted with the Stars, was a finalist for both an INSPY Award and a Christian Retailing’s Best Award. There’s not much she likes better than digging into the rich ancient world of the Bible, uncovering buried gems of grace that point toward Jesus, and weaving them into an immersive fiction experience. Although a Pacific Northwest native, she now lives in a little town near Dallas, Texas with her husband of twenty years and two awesome kids, who fill her days with laughter, joy, and inspiration. Connect with her at www.connilyncossette.com.

The two things every writer needs to succeed (and it’s not talent or marketing!)

My husband has a girlfriend. And I really like her. She’s cute and even I enjoy spending time with her. Her name is Lilly.

She’s a 1978 vintage Alfa Romeo Spider.

 

Okay, that was a little tongue-in-cheek but he is spending a lot of time restoring her, from the inside-out. And that included a weekend trip to Iowa get a junker Alfa for parts.

Which left the remote control in MY possession on Sunday. Since the Vikings don’t play until tonight, I roamed the channels searching for something to fill the gap until the Outlander season premier.

I landed on Hacksaw Ridge. Yes, I’d seen it before, but something about the courage of Desmond Doss, the medic who saved 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa stirs my own courage. Makes me want to save people, or at least clean the kitchen.

But it also made me think about being a writer, and the fact that it takes great courage to expose our hearts and get our work out there for the world to scrutinize.

In fact, the courage of Desmond Doss grounded me back into my long held belief that writers must have two essential tools if they want to succeed.

  • Conviction
  • Grit

16 years ago today I was in Russia, watching with horror as the news played out the events of 9-11. I was a missionary, an ex-pat living in far east Russia and in that moment, I just wanted to go home. I ached over the tragedy in our country and grieved with my fellow Americans. But I was held in Russia by my conviction that God had called me to be a missionary. That conviction rooted me to my cause over two terms of service, through illness and danger and injury and fear. It kept me from flying home when I was on my knees, overwhelmed. It gave me a purpose and a vision and a focus.

 

We came home a year later, and God changed my focus to writing. But he never lifted my conviction. In fact, he deepened it. He transferred it to writing and to teaching writers—expanding my reach to 11 countries and into the lives of other writers who are like minded and convicted to write life-changing stories. (you!)

A writer has to be convicted that they are called to WRITE. To tell a great story. To write a story that matters. Because it’s not easy. It’s lonely, it’s exhausting, it’s sometimes thankless (hello Amazon reviews!) and in the beginning, not very profitable. But writers write because they must. They can’t escape it. They are convicted that they must write.

But what about Grit? “Just one more, Lord, just one more.” Desmond said this over and over as he dragged the injured to safety, and admittedly, although I’m not in peril, I sometimes say this when I begin a scene. “Just one more scene, Lord.” Because half-way through the story, I’m mucking about in the middle, hoping that my plot is working, my conflict and motivation are realistic and my characters likable. And when the book is done…I need to write another one. Because that is what career authors do…they write. And write. Just one more…

I recently watched this fascinating Ted Talk on the power of passion and perseverance. (aka, conviction and grit!) I encourage you take a look over your lunch hour: https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance

Grit keeps you moving forward when the world tells you to give it up. Grit settles deep inside you and says, keep going…you’ll surprise yourself. Grit says, it is worth it. Grit believes. Grit gets it done.

Conviction and Grit. It’s the stuff heroes…and writers…are made of. Don’t give up. Your story matters!

Write something brilliant this week!

Susie May

P.S. If you’re the kind of writer who likes pushing yourself to new depths in your writing, who likes the power of brainstorming and enjoys the beach in February, you’ll fit right into our annual Deep Thinkers Retreat! Registration is now open—get the early bird discount price of $50 off until November 1st! (use coupon code at checkout: EarlyBirdDT18)

Hope to see you there!

What are you reading?

What are you reading?

I asked this question to approximately 40 aspiring writers this weekend as I sat across from them at a table during our private one-on-one sessions at the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference. A few of them would tell me of a story that they were reading, a bestseller perhaps or some obscure book from series they liked. And then I would ask them is this story in the genre you are writing?

Only a couple nodded. The rest sort of shrugged and said, “well, no, I actually don’t read in my genre.”

What?

They followed up with, “I really prefer this genre over the one that I’m writing.”

“Then why are you writing in that genre?” I asked. “Because if you don’t love it then why spend all that time writing in it?”

And, honestly, I was astounded at those that admitted they weren’t reading. They were simply writing.

Writing is GOOD, very good for a writer. But…how will you know what to write in the genre, if you’re not reading in that genre?

Becoming an author isn’t an instinct…it’s a craft. It’s something you need to be proactive about. But you can’t be trained by simply going to writer’s conferences, or reading books on writing. (Although, I do understand that I have a writing website, and teach people how to write on it! So I definitely want you to stop by and take a look!)

Of course learning the craft through classes is essential as you pursue your writing craft. But you need application as well. Which means you need to learn from those who are already exercising the craft. Reading a writing book is fantastic when you then take those lessons and apply them to a book by, say, John Grisham. Or Stephen King. Or Harlan Coben. Or Nora Roberts. Or any of the bestsellers that we find on the New York Times, USA Today, Amazon, CBA, and ECPA bestseller lists. You must look at those who are already good at their craft, already making sales, already connecting with their audiences, to understand how to apply those writing techniques.

Analyze, then turn to your own work.

The learning curve is steep for an aspiring writer. You must learn how to plot, how to create great characters, how to layer in metaphors, how to create scene tension, how to create storyworld, how to make sure the middle doesn’t sag, and do it all in a way that doesn’t stunt your voice. Don’t make it tougher on yourself by having to learn a genre that you’re not already familiar with. When we read, the elements of the genre we’re reading naturally sink into us. Those who write suspense instinctively know they need to set up a problem, illustrate that problem by having a danger or a dead body at the beginning of the book, create a trigger that ignites the suspense plot, add a deadline and utilize a number of other elements to create the suspense. But because they’ve invested in reading suspense, they already understand these elements. They just need to learn HOW to implement them (cue: writing classes!)

Same with romances. All romance writers know they need a “meet cute” at the beginning. They need a reason for the hero and heroine to spend time together. They know there needs to be at least a breakup even if they don’t know how to create it or why. And they know there needs to be a happy ending.

Reading in your genre is essential to understanding that genre.

Summer is busy. Family vacations, kids at home, visiting relatives. It can be hard to study the writing craft. Instead, I give you permission to turn to novels. Read a novel in your genre. Get it into your heart, if not your head. You might not have time to analyze it but if you’re reading it you’ve already learned something.

I have a strategy. During the week I read for work–I read research books, biographies, and novel about my topic. Right now I’m reading a novel in a first person voice, similar to one I’m working on.

On the weekends I read for pleasure. I find a book that’s going to delight my heart. On Monday I go back to reading in my genre—my work.

Here’s the secretwhen someone asks me what I’m doing when I’m sprawled on the sofa in the middle of the afternoon, listening to music, my feet up, the laundry undone and supper forgotten, reading a book, and eating bon-bons (really, what are bon-bons, anyway?) I can turn to them and say… I’m working! Can’t you tell?

So, pick up a book and read something brilliant this summer!

I have a couple great events coming up.

One of them is a career building event that will help you figure out how to launch your writing career. It’s a summit I’m involved with along with a number of other masterminds in the industry. It’s awesome and it’s only $99 during the early bird! You don’t want to miss it because it will ignite your publishing career.

The next thing you might want to take a look at is our Deep Woods Writing Camp! It’s an intense week of writing for authors at every level. (If you’re new, you might have some prerequisites for you to prepare, so check with me first (susan@mybooktherapy.com)) If you’re a little farther down the road, spend a week with me in the north woods of Minnesota, writing, getting feedback on your stories, and brainstorming with other authors. I can’t wait to come alongside you and help you write your brilliant story.

Your story matters! Go! Write something brilliant!

Susie May

www.learnhowtowriteanovel.com