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Blog Hop! A Little About My Writing

I've been invited to participate in a “blog hop”! The assignment is to write a post that answers four specific questions about my writing, and then tag three other writers who will do the same in their blogs. Be sure to see the links at the end to their blogs–you'll want to get to know these amazing ladies! Thank you to Sandy Ardoin for inviting me to be part of this. You can find Sandy's answers to these questions on her blog. In the meantime, here are my answers:

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What are you working on?  I am still working on my first novel. Do No Harm is women’s fiction, the story of a young female obstetrician who’s struggling to overcome the trauma of a delivery gone very wrong, while trying to fit in with the women of the church where her husband is the new worship pastor. I wrote the first words of this manuscript in 2012, and if anybody had told me then that I’d still be working on it in May 2014 … I probably would’ve cried. But here I am, plugging away, word by word, trying to get it right.

I’m also working on capturing some ideas for a second novel, and trying to be more consistent about blogging. All this is in my “free” time outside my day job.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?  I’ve often asked myself that question. One of the things I struggle with most in my writing is the feeling that everything worth saying has already been said, more than once, by better writers than I. But I’ve been reminded multiple times that no one else will say things quite the way I do, because I bring my own perspective, colored by my lifetime experiences. So there’s that.

I think my work also might differ in that I try very hard to be honest and transparent, to not skirt the tough issues. My goal in all my writing, fiction and nonfiction, is to tell the truth, because I really do believe that the truth will set us free.

Why do you write what you do?  I write the things I want to read. I write to explore the questions I have about life and human relationships, because I need to believe that I’m not the only one who feels the way I do, and I hope that by telling the truth as I see it, somebody else will feel a little less alone.

How does your writing process work?  My writing process works s-l-o-w-l-y. I have to make time for writing while still practicing law full-time and trying to be a decent wife and mother.

Do No Harm started as a question–the proverbial “what if?”–that turned into a stack of index cards. On each card I wrote one little sentence or idea for a scene or an event. Then after I had a good-sized stack, I sorted them into an order that made sense, then copied the scene ideas into Scrivener (the app I use for writing), and I just started writing, one scene at a time, fumbling for words as I tried to find my story, get to know my characters. I generally try to write from the first scene through to the end, but sometimes the next scene in order just isn’t there for me, so I’ll look through the list of scene ideas and pick one that catches my eye.

I have an overactive internal editor who sits on my shoulder when I write, telling me what I’m writing is stupid and badly written. To shut him up, sometimes I’ll set a timer and just start writing the first words that come into my head, as fast as I can, without stopping or editing or correcting. I’ve learned that the purpose of a first draft is to get words on paper. They don’t have to be pretty; they just have to be written.

Once I have paragraphs, pages, scenes, chapters written, I can edit them. I LOVE editing. Moving words around, playing with sentence rhythms, finding a better word, a better way to say what I’m trying to say.

Tag, You're It!

I’ve enlisted three of my favorite writer friends to pick up the hop from here. Sometime in the next couple of weeks each of them will answer the same four questions in their respective blogs. Be sure to watch for their posts. They are:

  • Amory Cannon writes romantic suspense as Amryn Cross. She and I met through the American Christian Fiction Writers’ big online critique group, so I had the privilege of reading some of her wonderful work-in-progress early on. Her debut novel, Learning to Die, will release in September 2014. Amory/Amryn blogs on her very cool website. Watch for her answers to the four questions there in the next week or so.
  • Laura Hilton will post her answers at her blog. Laura leads the small critique group I’ve been privileged to be a part of for the last couple of years. She writes wonderful Amish fiction, and has published several novels in that genre. I’ll confess that I’d never been a fan of Amish fiction until I started reading Laura’s chapters–she adds humor and a bit of sauce to the genre that makes it tremendously appealing.
  • Dana McNeely is a semifinalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis contest in the historical category. She's been such an encourager to me in my writing journey, so I'm excited to see where her writing is taking her. Watch for her answers to these questions in a few days on the Christian Writers of the West blog.

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Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . .
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom
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I’m Running Away From Home (and We Have a Winner!)

As this post goes live, I’m packed and ready to run away from home. This weekend I’ll be holed up at a Dallas hotel with a writer friend of mine. She and I were talking a few weeks ago, both of us lamenting how close we are to finishing our respective manuscripts, but our daily lives and writerly insecurities keep getting in the way of typing “The End.”

In The War of Art (a book I recommend highly for people who pursue creative endeavors of any kind), author Stephen Pressfield writes about “resistance” as a force everybody has to overcome when attempting to do anything that matters. He says that resistance increases as you near the end, and boy, has that been true for me!

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

So my friend and I decided to run away from home (together) and spend the weekend in a marathon writing/editing session. I don't like being away from home for the weekend, but I’m hoping this focused time will help me get over the hump so I can finish this project in time to meet my goal of sending it off by the end of the month to the agent who asked for it 8 months ago! If you think of it from time to time, I’d appreciate your prayers for a productive time of writing.

Before I disappear for the weekend, though, I wanted to fill you in on a few random things:

  1. The winner of Sharon Srock’s new release (see the post about it by clicking here) is … Zoe McCarthy! Sharon will be in touch with you to work out the arrangements for getting your copy to you.
  2. If you didn’t win this time, take heart. Come back on Tuesday, May 14, to read an inspiring guest post and sign up for a chance to win 16 great novels in CrossReads’s “Spring Cleaning Print Book Giveaway.” Don’t miss it!
  3. As a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, I'm honored to have the opportunity to guest post on the ACFW blog on Wednesday, May 15. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the question of being “called” to write, and I’d love to have your feedback. Please stop by and check it out, then let me know what you think.
  4. I was surprised and honored to learn last week that Do No Harm was selected as the winner in the women’s fiction category of The Write Stuff, a fiction contest sponsored by the Connecticut Chapter of Romance Writers of America.This contest was particularly worthwhile because the judges gave really helpful, detailed feedback on my 30-page submission.
    Write Stuff list 2013-05-09

One last request: If you’re a pray-er, I’d appreciate prayers for my sons:

  • Benjamin (the newlywed) started Army bootcamp this week, so we'd welcome prayers for both him and his new bride back in San Diego.
  • Sam just finished his freshman year in college and is home for the summer, contemplating big changes for next year.
  • Matthew will be moving his wife and sons from Hawaii to Connecticut this fall as he starts his next post in the US Navy. His new assignment is a big opportunity and an exciting challenge for him, but the move means a huge change for his wife and boys.

So what about you? Are you battling resistance with respect to something you’re trying to accomplish? What do you do to overcome it?

See you next week!

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Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . .
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom
Email me

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Winning the Olympia

As I mentioned in an earlier postDo No Harm (my current novel-in-progress) won the 2013 Olympia, a contest sponsored by Clash of the Titles. As the winner, I received some great feedback from the amazing final-round judges, a gorgeous plaque, and an interview by author and blogger Cynthia L. Simmons. The interview is now live on Cynthia's podcast, so if you're interested, you can listen to it by clicking on the podcast link earlier in this sentence. You can also read the COTT story about my win. There's a link to Cynthia's interview of me in the right sidebar of the COTT story.

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Can I just take this opportunity to thank the judges and coordinators of the Olympia contest? Participating in the process of this contest has been such a blessing to me, and it would not happen without their hard work and generosity.

For my friends who are pre-published writers, I encourage you to enter a few carefully chosen contests. Whether you win or not, the process of learning and complying with the submission rules is a valuable exercise for anyone who wants to get published. And the feedback from the judges is invaluable in improving your craft and your story. Check the COTT website for information about how to enter the next Olympia contest.

Your turn: If you're a writer, have you entered your work in any contests? How do you feel about the experience? And if you're a reader of fiction, what do you look for in the books you choose to read?

 

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Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . . 
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom
Email me

5 Benefits of Attending a Writing Conference

Writing conferences can be expensive, in terms of both time and money. There's the registration fee, the travel and lodging expenses, the cost of business cards and maybe a new outfit or two–it can all add up pretty quickly. For pre-published writers, especially those who have yet to earn a single dime from writing, it might seem an unreasonable expense.

But . . .

Recently I was privileged to attend the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, six days at a gloriously refreshing mountain retreat center with around 300 other writers. Costly? Yes (**but see note below).

Worth it? Absolutely.

Mount Hermon word cloud 2013-04-03

I've been thinking about it ever since I left the conference, and thought I'd share with you some of the benefits I received.

  1. Excellent teaching and generous mentoring by world class writers.  The Mount Hermon conference Mount Hermon conference, like most conferences of this type, offered a veritable banquet of indepth morning sessions (you picked a track and attended those sessions with the same teacher each morning) and afternoon workshops covering every possible aspect of writing. For the morning sessions I elected to participate in the fiction mentoring track, which meant I spent 2-4 hours each morning in a small group (see photo below) led by Robin Jones Gunn. We critiqued and discussed each others' work, with each of us getting incredibly valuable input from Robin and the others on our respective projects. Irreplaceable.
  2. Time away from the demands of my day-to-day life. Most of us pre-published writers have to fit writing into the margins of our daily life, whether we have an outside career or are stay-at-home parents. A conference–especially a multi-day one away from our home town–gives us the chance to really devote mostly uninterrupted time to our writing. The Mount Hermon conference ran from Friday morning to Tuesday noon. I also signed up for their “early bird” Head Start program (more about that in a moment), which started on Wednesday afternoon, so I had six days away from home and day job to focus on writing. I came away with a new vision for both my current project and the possibilities of future writing.
  3. Inspiration, ideas, and renewed motivation. Before I left for Mount Hermon, I had been stuck for a couple of months on some unfinished scenes in my novel. I knew what I needed to accomplish in those missing scenes, but didn't know how to do it. Fortunately, I had signed up for the Head Start mentoring program. That meant that during the first day and a half, I was privileged to spend several hours in a very small group–just me and two other writers–mentored by Susan Meissner. As part of that program, each of us got a thirty-minute one-on-one session with Susan, to talk about whatever we chose. My one-on-one turned into a brainstorming session, in which Susan tossed out an idea that flipped a switch in my brain and led to a solution to the block that had prevented me from finishing.
  4. Refreshment and encouragement. The Mount Hermon setting is spectacularly beautiful and refreshingly peaceful. Unfortunately, during my everyday life I seldom take the time to sit on a bench outside and soak in the sunshine and fresh air. At the conference, I did. It made a world of difference in my outlook on life and writing and a lot of other things. Even better, conferences like this create an environment that fosters spontaneous conversations with other writers (in addition to fun discussions in the various workshops). Around the table during meals, outside during breaks, it's easy (even for an introvert like me) to enter into conversations with people I don't know, because you can always start with, “So what do you write?” Some of these spontaneous (God-arranged?) meetings left me encouraged in a way I deeply needed at this point in my writing journey.
  5. New friends. I've listed this last, but it's by no means the least of the benefits and blessings I came home with. I can't described the impact any better than agent Karen Ball did in her post-Mount Hermon blog post on community. Writing is a solitary, and often lonely, enterprise. Maybe the best thing that happened to me at this conference was connecting with some amazing people with whom I hope to remain in contact. We've already continued our communication via Facebook and email, so the encouragement and–dare I say?–friendship that began in California continues now that we've all gone home.
The "Smoking Gunns" at MH, courtesy Ashley Mays

The “Smoking Gunns” at MH, courtesy Ashley Mays

Sure, there was networking and there were opportunities to pitch my story to editors and agents. And maybe another time I will do that. But that wasn't my objective this time (although I did get an invitation to send a proposal to an editor I visited with at lunch one day!). For now, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience all this (and more) at the conference, and look forward to attending one or two conferences a year in the future.

**Like many other similar conferences, Mount Hermon offers the opportunity to apply for scholarships to attend. If you're interested in attending next year's conference but finances are tight, be sure to check out their website for information about the scholarship opportunities.

Your turn: Have you attended writers' conferences in the past? If so, what are the top one or two benefits you received?

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Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . . 
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom
Email me

Giving Thanks & Starting Over

It's hard to believe that the first quarter of 2013 has passed already. Why is it that the older I get, the faster time seems to fly by?

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Have you accomplished what you hoped in the first three months of this year? I haven't, although I did get some things done for which I'm grateful. I had hoped that Do No Harm would be finished by now. And that I would be back on track in my regular workout schedule.

But here's the thing: hoping won't get goals accomplished. Only doing will make that happen.

And here's another thing (a really great thing): every day is a chance to start again.

God's mercies are new every morning (thank God for that!)

And every morning the world starts over.

My tendency is to focus on the things I haven't done, the things that haven't gone the way I'd hoped. But I am trying to learn to focus on the positive. And honestly, the last couple of weeks I've been consumed with the many things I have to be grateful for. Such as:

  • the fact that God's mercies are new every morning (!!)
  • a husband who loves me and supports me in the crazy things I think up (like . . . this whole writing thing, and moving to New York a few years ago with our five young kids so I could go to law school, and . . .)
  • my kids are healthy and happy
  • I have a great job that challenges my mind every day
  • I've been given opportunities to grow and learn as a writer–and make some amazing new friends–by attending the My Book Therapy Deep Thinkers retreat and, most recently, the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference
  • affirmation of my writing by judges in the fiction contests I've entered this year
  • a major breakthrough in a complicated, contentious matter I've been working on for three years (for a client of my law practice)
  • did I mention those new mercies every morning?

Today is the first day of the second quarter of 2013. I spent some time last night thinking about my goals for this quarter, and writing them down. Some of them are very private, but I thought I'd share some with you:

  1. Finish Do No Harm and send it to the agent who, at Mount Hermon, reaffirmed her request to see it when it's finished.
  2. Get back on track with regular workouts and healthy eating. (For those of you who are time management geeks like me: yes, the actual goal as I wrote it down is more specific and measurable than that!)
  3. Give thanks daily for the many blessings in my life.

Your turn: What are you thankful for today? What is one thing you plan to accomplish in the next three months?
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Laura
Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . . 
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom
Email me

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