Monday, October 28, 2013

Organic Writing: It’s Not About Technique, It’s About Story

By Karin Beery

I love outlines. It started in high school, and I mastered them in college. When I started writing for a local newspaper, I struggled with my articles until I busted out the Roman numerals and outlined my rough drafts. Then the articles practically wrote themselves.
My confusion started when I wrote my novels. I wrote my first novel in six weeks, no outline. I just sat down and wrote, never thinking about the details. My second novel, however, didn’t flow. I wrote two versions with so many holes that by the time I finished my final draft, I’d thrown away over 90,000 words.
My gut reaction told me to outline my next novel. It worked for articles, it should work for books, right?
I outlined my next manuscript, and something peculiar happened – I only followed it for the first few chapters. Then the story ran off in different directions. Whole chapters summarized themselves into a few paragraphs. Situations that took two lines in the outline stretched into multi-chapter events. In summary, the outline failed.
So where does that leave me? Most writers classify themselves as outliners or SOTP (seat-of-the-pants) writers. You can find dozens of articles extolling the virtues of each, but I don’t fit into either clubhouse. Should I outline, or free-write?
I recently read Organic Writing by Steven James, published in Writer’s Digest and it changed my perspective. He doesn’t focus on technique. Instead, it’s all about the story.
So how does one write organically? These are James’ ideas through the lens of my understanding.
1.     Re-evaluate what you’ve heard about story. Know what every story needs, and put it in there. James says, “When you’re informed about what makes a story work, you’re never writing from the seat of your pants.” That doesn’t mean you don’t write freestyle, it just means you know what you need to include before you start typing.
2.     Let narrative forces, rather than formulas, drive your story. I’ve got lots of diagrams and ideas about the writing doors, bridges, acts, etc. The problem comes when I try to fit the story into those molds, rather than letting the story tell itself. Forget the formulas.
3.     Follow rabbit trails. “Without serendipitous discoveries your story runs the risk of feeling artificial and prepackaged.” Enough said.
4.     Write from the center of the paradox. You need to know the backstory, but you don’t need to write it. Start in the middle, with the action, and go to the end.
5.     Trust the fluidity of the process. It’s okay to abandon the outline. It’s also okay to start with idea and watch the story run off the page. Just go with it.
These revelations relieved the pressure of identifying what type of writer I am and freed me to sit and write, even if that means a great outline that I abandon midway. It’s okay to follow the story, where ever it leads. After all, it’s the reason I’m writing.
Karin Beery is a freelance writer/editor/coach, wife, care giver, and homemaker, Karin Beery has published over 350 articles in various periodicals, in addition to writing her novels. With a degree in English and five years of experience as a freelance writer and editor, Karin offers proofreading, editing, and coaching services for writers at all levels. She is an active member of many professional organizations, and is well-versed in publishing standards and requirements. She specializes in business writing and fiction (strange, but true). You can find her online at:
Twitter: @karinbeery

Friday, October 25, 2013

Be Still and Listen

Psalm 46:10 "Be still, and know that I am God;"

This is my treadmill desk. I love to write while I'm walking and listening to background music. The time flies and I don't have any shoulder or back pain from sitting in a chair. I turn the treadmill to 1.5 or 2.0, which is a very slow walk. However, the exercise keeps the blood flowing and makes for a better writing session.

I miss my desk! Lately I've been writing at my kitchen table. Mostly because I've been so tired and worn out. Going through heart tests and the doctor advised me not to do the treadmill right now. Then bronchitis settled in and totally wiped me out.

My daughter said it was God telling me to slow down. After the death of my husband, I threw myself into major projects so I wouldn't be able to think about the sadness of being alone. Since I've always been a very healthy and active person, all of this has been difficult to accept.

God never does anything to harm us and sometimes we need to slow down and regroup. These are the times when He draws us closer to Him. When we are too busy, we can easily forget to listen to God's voice. Every day God talks to me. He speaks to me through nature, through friends, and through family. I'm slowly recovering and waiting for results from the doctor. I'm doing a lot of resting. God tells me this, too, shall pass. For the moment, I'm savoring the beauty of the heavens, the blue skies, the stormy skies, the clouds intricately stacked in 3-D, the sun, the moon, the changing leaves. I'm soaking up the lessons in Bible Study. Reading good Christian books. Reading the Bible. Listening to God.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Write your Passion

What’s Your Passion?

Linda W. Yezak

In a recent discussion on ACFW’s Women’s Fiction loop, author Sharon A. Lavy said, “I really care about the relationships between people of all kinds. Parents and children, siblings, friends. I really have a passion that women need other women. So every story I write includes the close friendship of women. No matter what else is going on in the story.”

Whatever an author is passionate about shows up in their work and often fills the characters with life and the strength of their convictions. Sometimes the passion is just there, quiet and subtle, like Sharon including close friendships in all of her works; sometimes it whacks you across the face with a wet towel, as in stories written by authors on a soap box (not recommended, by the way). But the author’s passion can make the difference between ho-hum characters and memorable people who live in the pages of our books.

Specificity is important when writing about our passions. Although Sharon “really cares about relationships” in general, she’s passionate about the idea that “women need other women.” What’s implied in her statement is that along with her husband, her children, her family, a woman needs female friends. As a reader and a woman, I can relate to that. I need my friends. I need the opportunity to be just a woman–not a wife, daughter, mother, or any other tag that goes along with being female, but just a woman associating with other women who understand me.

My first novel, Give the Lady a Ride, is a romance, and I can say that I’m passionate about love–who isn’t? But even with this, it helps to be specific. Love between a man and a woman is the point of romance, so specifics could include first love, renewed love, growing love, 50th-anniversary love. Women’s fiction often deals with other kinds of love–between sisters, mother and daughter, friends, any other relationship. If you’re passionate about love, tell me: What relationship is important to you? What aspect appeals to you? What is it about love that pumps your blood? Be specific.

Patricia Talbert, my main character in Give the Lady a Ride, reflects my one-time conviction that I’d never get married again. Tried it. Hated it. Never wanted to do it again. I held on to that for the entire ten years between my first husband and my second. God gave me a second chance at love, and now I’m passionate about the idea of second chances–which is also reflected in Ride.

My current novel, an unpublished women’s fiction story, The Cat Lady’s Secret, reflects my passion too, but from a different angle. Instead of God granting a second chance, it’s granted by one person to another. Inherent in this are the concept of forgiveness and the idea that fights aren’t fatal to a relationship, that misunderstandings can be overcome. Because of my life experiences, it took me a long time to learn this. Now I consider it the most valuable lesson God ever taught me, and I want others to understand it too.

I could go on through my current WIPs and show how my passion–second chances at love–is illustrated time after time, but suffice it to say, it’s there, “no matter what else is going on in the story.”

What’s at your core? What are you passionate about? What ideals do you cling to? How are they reflected in your work?

Bio: Linda W. Yezak holds a BA in English, a graduate certificate in Paralegal Studies, and a bucket list as long as her arm. Among the things on the list is owning a stable full of horses, and since that’s not likely to happen, she includes horses in each of her novels, from her contemporary western romance Give the Lady a Ride and her current work, The Cat Lady’s Secret, to her works-in-progress. Until the day she can retire with her husband to their land in Central Texas and ride to her heart’s content, she’ll continue with her writing and freelance editing careers.

Friday, October 18, 2013


by Darlene Franklin

And let the loveliness of our Lord, our God, rest on us, confirming the work that we do. Oh, yes, affirm that work that we do. (Psalm 90:17, MSG)

Contests and writers go hand and hand. As a parent, I scouted Caldecott and Newberry award winners for my children. When I am adventurous, I read a book that won the Nobel prize or look up a Pulitzer-prize winner. In my limited writer’s world, I admire writers who win a Carol award, the Will Rogers Medallion, a RITA award.

In my quest for recognition, though, I have overlooked the most important one of all: God’s seal of approval.

Moses says that God’s loveliness affirms and confirms my work. I associate “lovely” with things that please my sense: voice, face, taste, smell.

But God’s loveliness lies, not in something my sense can observe, but in His character. He is my friend and my Savior, my protector and my husband.

The parallelism of Hebrew poetry says that God’s loveliness both confirms and affirms my work. He both proves and declares their value. He pokes around my work, my words, testing them for truth. Then He declares and supports them.

What might readers say if I put a gold star on my book covers, stating “approved by God”?

My gut reaction is, what hubris, the most awful sort of pride. Moses’ words suggest it’s available to all of us, whatever our work is. If God wrote a review of my books, what would He say? Instead, for now, He chooses to work through His people. Until we get a glimpse into the heavenly records, all we can do is to support each other.

Since God offers to give me His seal of approval, He deserves my very best. I should strive for quality because He is my ultimate editor and critic.


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Bio: Darlene Franklin’s greatest claim to fame is that she writes full-time from a nursing home. She lives in Oklahoma, near her son and his family, and continues her interests in playing the piano and singing, books, good fellowship, and reality TV in addition to writing. She is an active member of Oklahoma City Christian Fiction Writers, American Christian Fiction Writers, and the Christian Authors Network. She has written twenty-six books, been published in twenty more, and has written more than 200 devotionals. Her historical fiction ranges from the Revolutionary War to World War II, from Texas to Vermont.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Making S.M.A.R.T. goals

Guest Blogger Terri Main

Many people treat goals like wishes. A goal is something they hope will somehow happen if they work real hard and have good luck and the stars align properly. In reality, a goal is the first part of an action plan. That means you have to think through your goals carefully. I just read this acronym and loved it. S.M.A.R.T. goals.

S - pecific

Your goal needs to be specific enough that you will know instantly if you achieved it or not. Take a look at Nanowrimo. The goal is to write 50,000 words as the first draft of a novel. I know exactly when to crack open my bottle of Classic Coke ( I don't drink alcohol ) and celebrate. Too many people will tell me their goal for the coming year is to "write more," "get to work on my novel," or "build up my business." With goals like that, not only will you not achieve them, you won't even know when you did achieve them.

Some examples of specific goals include:

  • Write an average of 1000 words a day on non-holiday weekdays. 
  • Edit and put in the mail the following novels/short stories/nonfiction books/articles
  • Complete two novels. 
  • Write and send out 25 magazine articles.
  • Send out at least two query letters per week/month
M - easurable 

Being specific means your goals need to be measurable. As mentioned before, "doing more writing" is not only a vague goal, there is no way to measure it. Some types of things that can be measured in writing are:

  • Word Counts
  • Pages Edited
  • Projects Completed
  • Projects Submitted to Editors/Publishers
  • Projects Self-Published
  • Number of local clients contacted
  • Number of blog posts written
  • Number of social media connections made
A - ctionable

 Too many people set goals they have no direct control over. For instance, they will set a goal like "Publish three novels." Now, unless you plan to self-publish, that is not an actionable goal. There is nothing you can do to ensure it will happen. Much of that goal is outside your control. First, an assistant editor has to pass along your proposal to an editor. That editor has to meet with an editorial committee. They have to consider budget, market trends, the composition of their fall catalog and a dozen more factors before deciding whether or not to publish your work.

So, what is  under your control? Writing the novel. Editing your novel. Sending out proposals or meeting with editors at writers conferences. So, frame your goal in terms of the actions you will take. like: "I will complete three novels and submit them to at least five publishers each."

R - ealistic

Now, this is one where people fail by either overestimating or underestimating. Your goals should challenge you, but not to the extent that they are virtually impossible to attain. For instance, Nanowrimo's 50,000 word challenge is doable for most people if they can put in an hour or two a day on the project. That's 1650 words a day or about seven double spaced type written pages a day. Now, to determine if this is reasonable for you or not, you need to know some things. First, you need to know how fast your write, rough draft speed. You can find this out by writing for fifteen minutes three times, counting the number of words and creating an average for an hour of writing and reducing it by 25 percent. So, if you average 1200 words an hour, call it 900 so you have some wiggle room for slower days.

You can do the same with other writing activities like editing, preparing the final manuscript, formatting an ebook for publication, even writing your blog. That way when you say you want to be able to write 10,000 words a month on your novel, you will know approximately how much time that will take and be able to decide whether or not that is realistic.

T - imed

There is nothing like a deadline, even a self-imposed one, to motivate completion of your goals. One of the values of Nanowrimo is the fact that by the end of the month, you either have written your 50,000 words and you get your badge to put on your website, or you didn't. As those last days of November tick down, you feel the pressure of the deadline to either keep up the pace or increase it.

When setting your goals, make them time sensitive. For instance, don't just say you want to complete such-and-such a novel, say, "I will complete such-and-such a novel by the end of March." That sets a specific time frame for completion.

So, as you begin to think about your goals for next week, next month or next year just how S.M.A.R.T. are they. 

Terri Main taught communication, both written and oral, at the college level for 30 years prior to her retirement in 2012. She has also written professionally for 40 years. She has published novels, short stories, magazine articles, dramas and nonfiction through both traditional and self-publishing venues. She is currently anticipating the release of a new novel as well as teaching a variety of writing oriented courses including novel writing and self-publishing classes.


Friday, October 11, 2013


“Which crayon do I use to color God?” asked Heather.

I taught third grade and fourth grade in a parochial school. Pictures of God were nestled within the illustrated pages of bible stories and religion texts stacked on the bookshelves. Fortunately, questions with this depth rarely needed an explanation from me or a book. The kids usually took the conversation where it needed to go.

“Jesus is white,” insisted James.

“No, he’s not,” argued Matteo. “He’s tan.”

“How do you know?” inquired Amy.

“He’s white in church,” replied James.

“Jesus is in the church?” she asked.

“No, the Jesus statue is in the church,” explained James. “The statue is white. And so is Jesus.”

“That statue was thought up by an artist,” Michael mumbled. “That guy didn’t know what Jesus looked like. He just made his looks up.”

“I didn't ask about a Jesus-colored crayon,” argued Heather. “What color is God?”

She dumped her box of crayons on the table, reminding me of all of the colors of paint that were available as I selected hues for a picture of an elephant when I was five. At five, I felt no need to mix the black and white to bring life to the elephant’s grey skin. I chose red and yellow and brown and black and white because I liked them. No one said “Color between the lines” until I entered kindergarten where I learned the “correct” color of elephants … and people. God? That was a tricky one. I never considered the question before, but today I heard plenty of answers.

While the children argued among themselves, Michael walked over to the world map on the wall and traced Israel’s boundaries with his finger. The land of milk and honey. The Promised Land. Jesus’s home. Michael meandered to the window sill and picked up the globe and flashlight used for a lesson the day before about sunlight and the equator. He placed the globe on the table in front of me and put the flashlight in my hand.

“Do it again, Miss Connor,” said Michael. “Talk about the sunlight and the equator. And people’s skin color.”

“The closer people live to the equator, the darker people’s skins get,” shouted James. “They’d be sunburned all of the time if they didn't have dark skin.”

“Kinda like a permanent suntan,” laughed Alicia.

“Well, sort of like that,” I agreed. ”In science class we call that …”

“Brown,” Michael interrupted, pointing to his own skin. ”We call it brown.”

Man was created in God’s own image.

“What color is God, Michael?” I asked.

Wisdom often unfolds in questions … when I’m wise enough to listen by inviting answers from Divine sources. Like Michael.

“God’s whatever color he wants to be,” he happily replied.

The bell rang. The children lined up to go to recess. And I understood God a little better than I did before. God transcends colors … and we do not need to confine the Divine to shades between the lines. God is. And, today, that’s all I need to know.


Dr. Julie Connor is popular workshop presenter and conference speaker, author, and passionate advocate for at-risk youth and multicultural inclusion. She has 30+ years of experience as a teacher, pastoral minister, nonprofit director, and program administrator. As an expert in vision, mission, and collaborative goal-setting strategies, Julie believes we are created with purpose for a purpose. Dr. Connor shows others how to dream big, plan well, work smart, and embrace our Divine call to greatness. She hosts a website called Inspiration With Julie She is the author of An Inspired Walk, a four-book series providing tools needed to transform dreams into manageable plans of action that will be available in August, 2013 (Go to for more information.

Monday, October 7, 2013



Writing Christian fiction is not for the faint of heart. As my friend Tom Jones (the pastor not the pop star) recently told me, if you’re going to be a writer you have to grow a thick skin because people will criticize.

A few weeks ago, I received a criticism of my young adult trilogy from a friend of mine who is a deacon in the Episcopal Church. She said that teenagers are going to roll their eyes at my characters Abby and John for their commitment to sexual abstinence. She assured me that mainline denominations believe that concept is misogynous and outdated, and that as long as the couple is mature enough and respect each other enough, sexual activity is suitable and even assumed—especially if they are engaged.* See more below.

A recent (3-star) review of Every Hill and Mountain by SKJAM! REVIEWS closely mirrors her view.

“This book is aimed at the Christian young adult market, so there is quite a bit of God-talk …The sexual prudishness of the protagonists will probably have older teens, particularly ones not raised in more conservative Christian communities, rolling their eyes. Conservative Christian parents, on the other hand, are likely to approve of Abby and John’s chaste relationship.…”

This same reviewer jumps to the conclusion that the reason my characters are so “prudish” is because they’ve been the victims of an abstinence-only sex ed program. He continues:

“And [Ryan’s] reasoning for having sex with Kate shows the perils of abstinence-only sex ed and purity culture–a more streetwise woman than Kate would have noticed how bogus the logic was.”

Speaking of bogus logic. Modern sex-ed programs do everything but assist teens into bed with so-called “safe sex” instructions. It is the abstinence-only programs that teach girls (and boys) to be “street smart,” to warn them of the perils of listening to their hormones talking.

Of course, I was quite conscious as I wrote the trilogy that our culture has taken the position that abstinence is passé, uncool, unnecessary, and an impossibility. (And possibly even dangerous to the health of its practitioners.) No one could watch contemporary TV or movies or read secular novels without realizing that “dating” (if the word is used at all) equates with a sexual relationship. Actually, “relationship” itself equates with sexual activity.

And I knew that many contemporary mainline denominations are silent about what the Bible says about sexual purity. My deacon friend actually asserts the Bible doesn’t even teach this.

But I have to admit I’m more than a little shocked that this reviewer and especially my deacon friend would find Abby and John’s commitment to abstinence a negative. After all, even if you believe that it is impossible to live a sexually pure life wouldn’t you still want novels to present this ideal to teenagers? I would say that although it is impossible to fully live up to any of the Bible’s commands we still need to hear what they are. (And turn to Christ as the law’s fulfillment.)

I once read an article in which young people had been interviewed about teen novels that adults write for them. More than one complained that adults seemed only to write about teens having sex and using alcohol and drugs. “We think about more than that,” one girl said. “We think about lots of other things, important things.”

I respect that and try to offer teens substance in my books. I believe they are looking for heroes and role models such as my fictional characters, Abby and John. I disagree that my characters are sexually repressed prudes. Here is the passage from Every Hill and Mountain that apparently offended my critics. Abby and Kate’s boyfriends are stuck at Abby’s house and spend the night downstairs in the living room. During the night, an emergency comes up and Abby must find her boyfriend John quickly.

The tricky part would be finding John. Pat had brought a sleeping bag from the hall closet for him, but Abby had no idea where he put it. Other than the soft snores coming from the vicinity of the couch, the room was completely quiet.
She discovered the answer to her question when a hand came out of the darkness and grabbed her ankle. She stumbled and landed on a warm chest. A bare warm chest, from which came a soft whoosh of air. Right after the whoosh, a large hand covered her mouth. The precaution was unnecessary. She had recognized John’s cologne and knew in an instant that it was no nightmare monster attacking her.
He put his mouth to her ear and whispered, “What are you doing here? I thought [Ryan] Turner was the one planning on nighttime shenanigans.”
Abby pulled his hand away from her mouth and tried for indignant, which was difficult when whispering. “Don’t be ridiculous, Mr. Roberts. If I was inclined to get into your bed, and I’m not, it wouldn’t be with Ryan in the room.”
“Well, you are in fact in my bed, and you’d better get out of it quick. I know the Bible says God will never give us any temptation stronger than what we can handle, but…”
“Just to be clear, you are the one who dragged me into your bed, and—”
“Abby. Please. Have pity. What is it you want?”
If felt wonderful being in John’s arms, but she had promised him and God that she wouldn’t intentionally tempt him to break his commitment—their commitment—to abstinence.
“Come up to the computer room,” she whispered. “There’s something you have to see.” And then she rose less than gracefully and stood looking down at him. “And don’t wake Ryan.”

I think they’re being heroic, not prudish. After all, they certainly think sex together would be pretty wonderful. Consider another passage that exemplifies the thinking more typical of our culture today. Here, Abby’s friend Kate tries to convince her that premarital sex is okay.

“Ryan said virginity is like a tamper-proof seal on a bottle of aspirin. It’s meant for the man you’re going to marry. And now that we know we’re getting married, what’s the point of waiting. You’ll see when you’re engaged, Abby.” Kate turned on her side away from her. “Let’s get some sleep.”
Abby lay staring up at the blinking red smoke detector light on the dark ceiling, wondering if she even really knew her roommate any more.

How sad that Kate has fallen for that line. It’s not that she lacks “street smarts.” She just forgot to run away from temptation, something that John becomes quite adept at in Unclaimed Legacy.

It would be wonderful if everyone who read my books loved them (and posted glowing reviews for them.) But as they say, you can’t please all the people all the time. However, I really listen to every comment I receive about my books, whether positive or negative. Sometimes I learn some pretty good stuff that will help me to be a better writer.

But not this time. I pray that I will remain firm in my commitment to please God rather than reviewers.

*But back to mainline denominations. Is my deaconess friend even right about their teachings on sex? Do you have experience with such churches? I sincerely would like to know their various positions on sex. Wait! that came out wrong. I mean, I would like to understand what churches are teaching about sex today. You may leave your answer in the comment section of my blog. Clickhere to go to the article.

By the way, I am a prudish and happy member of a “radical, extremist, and conservative” denomination that still believes premarital sex is sin. I live with my husband in Waterloo, Illinois, where I enjoy reading (of course), gardening, and learning about regional history. We have three children, four grandchildren, and two canine buddies Scout and Digger.
I love to interact with my readers, who may learn more about the history behind the books at my website and my Facebook author page. My books may be purchased in paper and ebook formats at