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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

In my head, I'm a best-selling author: How pretending will motivate you

My first novel sold 20 million copies. It was on the New York Times best seller list for nearly a year where it was number 1 for four months. It was critically acclaimed and solidified my place in the halls of the greatest wordsmiths in history.

At least, it will do all those things. Eventually. When I actually finish writing it, of course. 

But in my head, the book is already a success, and therefore I am already a success. And it's that envisioning of what great things my book will do that propels my writing forward. 

See, as I've said before, the odds that my book will actually be published and sell well are slim. The writing world is a very tough market where only a scant percentage of fledgling writers ever gain any sort of headway. To be a successful writer is akin to winning the lottery. 

If you dwell on what your chances of having your book published are, you will ponder yourself into a depressing pit of writer's block, eventually asking yourself, "What's the point?"

But if you maintain that you are already published and currently stomping your way through Barnes and Nobles as you greet your adoring public, your attitude remains conducive to effective story writing. 

Some would argue that to keep your hopes so high is accomplishing nothing more than setting yourself up for a huge letdown. I disagree. 

At the end of your final draft, when every comma is placed and every typo corrected, what do you have?

You have a completed book. That you wrote. Who around you can say that? Even if you never sell a copy, you completed what you set out to do. Some would say that is its own reward. 

I'd still like my name in the Times, though. And make sure you spell my name write. It's John, not Jon. 

Until next time, keep those keyboard warm. 


Tuesday, July 21, 2015


I haven't abandoned this blog. My new job is keeping me very busy. New post coming this week. I promise. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The biggest distraction keeping you from writing and how to fight it

If you are reading this, you are connected to the internet. And chances are, this isn't the only window open. 

Look around. What other tabs do you have up there? Facebook? Twitter? The Yugoslavian Tourism site? 

Okay, maybe that last one is just me. 

If someone was to line up all writers in a room and ask us how much time we spent on our respective projects today, the ensuing debacle would make headlines. A handful of us would raise our hands and proudly declare that we had met our goals, and the rest of us would stare sheepishly at the floor before turning over tables and running about the room throwing vases at our do-gooding peers.

And why? Because most of us spend way too much time surfing the internet.

Tally up every other distraction in your life that keeps you from writing. Taking care of children, working, popping an underwater wheelie next to a shark while wearing a Santa costume...

What? You thought I was joking?

Of all the things that take up precious time in this circus we call life, navigating the endless pages of the internet is perhaps the worst culprit.

But you can beat it. You can disconnect yourself from the internet and actually be productive.

First, this only works with Google Chrome. So if you are using another browser, get rid of it and download GC. Trust me. I am in no way endorsed by these folks, but their browser is superior to firefox and of course everything is superior to Internet Explorer. (Unless this is 2001, you shouldn't be using IE anyway).

Secondly, this will only work for your PC/Laptop/Mac. It's up to you to put your cell phone on airplane mode and bury the tablet under a pile of laundry. We are just looking at the tech that most of us use to write. 

Thanks to the guys at Let Me Work, you can temporarily turn off access to certain websites for 30 minutes. From their website, "The goal of the extension is to keep you working by keeping you away from sites which distracts you from work."

I've tried it. And believe me, it helps. I've never had a Facebook page, but there are any number of other sites that I seem to spend valuable time on instead of writing. With Let Me Work, I'm actually seeing progress on my book again.

Give it a try. Do thirty minutes, check your Facebook and email quickly, and then do another 30 minutes. And then another 30 minutes. You will be surprised at how great it works.

Until next time, keep those keyboards warm.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Carry your story with you. And I don't mean just around in your head.

Writers need to write. We crave it. While others are thinking about what they are going to watch on TV when they get home from work, we are thinking about what event will start our next chapter. The thought of crafting a story is always somewhere on our minds, and if you happen to catch a writer in his natural habitat, you will notice the quirky mannerisms. The rubbing of the fingertips together as we imagine typing away at a keyboard even as the boss drones on about the value of the company's parsnip investments (that may not apply to everyone,) or how writers always seem to drift off when speaking to people after a few seconds. It's not that we aren't interested, you probably just inspired a great bit of dialogue that is now running at full click around our brains. Writing isn't a job or hobby. For a lot of us, it's our lives.

And sometimes we hate it.

See, as I've covered before, the realization that we must actually produce a written work to be successful is an annoying little creature that likes to gnaw on the base of our skull while we are trying to go about our daily lives. We procrastinate to the point where often good ideas that we had at the initial point of our story have long been forgotten. We put off touching our story for a day, then a few days, and before we know it, it's been a month. And then we go back and read some of the story and it's very much like a stranger wrote it.

But it wasn't a stranger. It was you. And you neglected your story. And now it weeps alone in a dark corner and wonders why you ever bothered in the first place.

Feel guilty yet? Well, you don't have to. Not anymore. From now on, you are going to carry your story around with you wherever you go. On a flash drive.

I have mine. It's in the little pocket of my jeans that I think was once designed to be used for lighters. You know the one.

And I carry it with me always. Along with my keys, my wallet and my phone, it is always on my person. And because it is always there, I am constantly thinking about it. When I walk in the house or happen upon any other unsuspecting laptop, I plug in my flash drive and write a few pages. My progress on my novel is on warp speed because I don't leave my story alone anymore. I literally carry it with me like a child everywhere I go.

So put your book on a flash drive and make a habit of having it on you at all times. You will be surprised how much more you write when your best friend in the world, your story, is always there to remind you to get to work.

Until next time, keep those keyboards warm.


Monday, June 22, 2015

My Interview with Singer/Songwriter and published Author, Melissa Fleckenstein

I would like to thank Melissa Fleckenstein for allowing me to interview her. Please do yourself a favor and check out her music and her book. She's amazing.

Me: When did you first start singing?
Melissa: I may have started singing while still in the womb. I have always loved singing from the time I was itty bitty. I still remember the first song I had in my head @ just 3 years old, having a fisher price tape recorder, dancing around the coffee table to the Beatles, taking an actual Beatles record for show and tell in Kindergarten etc...
My friends used to joke that maybe I swallowed a canary because I often had a song in my heart and was often singing. I am the type that always has music playing, even in my kitchen, bathroom, sometimes even when I am walking back from the car on my Mp4 player.
Me: What did your family do to encourage you?
Melissa: It's really a hard profession, the music business, that has had to overcome a lot of false stigmas over many generations.  Despite all that, I was blessed to have my Dad as a constant motivator for me to sing @ the country club, sharing my live recording of  "I will always love you" by Whitney Houston when I was a teenager, he also assisted with me putting together my first demo and was supportive of my majoring in music in college, as long as I wasn't a Performance Major. He wanted me to have more than that to fall back on.  And my mother's sides of the family comes with a deep spiritual legacy, where Christianity and song found rich harmony together. My mother also took me to my music lessons. I feel like I have much to be grateful for here.
Me: Who are your musical inspirations?
Melissa: I have so many musical inspirations. It's a very vast array. I love melodies and Top 40 music. I have also listened to a lot of K- Love. Some of my inspirations are Kari Jobe, Plumb, Toby Mac, Crystal Lewis, Jars of Clay, Mandisa, Whitney Houston, Leona Lewis, Beyonce, Mariah, Chris Tomlin, Matthew West, & classical influences i.e. Sarah Brightman, Jewel's Ave Maria, Mozart & Bach; to name some that come to mind.
Others include: Switchfoot, Lecrae, Warren Barrenfield, Colton Dixon, Francesca Battistelli, Hillsong United, Allure, Celion Dion, U2, Mary J Blige, Sarah Bareillis, Tori Amos, Taylor Swift, Bella Ferraro's (Birdy cover), Sarah Mclachlan, Usher, David Guetta, Neyo, Bruno Mars etc.
I am also a fan of many indie artists/bands and strive to be an advocate for them. Great music that is untouched by manufactured hands is amazing and has a very special place in my heart. I LOVE Soundcloud, good quality music and the community there etc...
Me: Where would you most like to perform?
Melissa: I'd love to perform @ a large well respected venue i.e. Harvest Crusade, The Dove Awards, K LOVE Fan Awards, Grammy's or Madison Square Garden orTimes Square. It might also be pretty cool to perform on TBN, or @ the Crystal Cathedral.
I am trying to stay open to where and what I am called to do. Whether it's a small venue like a convalescent home, a humble church, or a larger venue, I am trying to be as flexible and open as I can.
Me: Who would you most like to open for?
Melissa: I have been thinking about that a lot. That is a very difficult question for me. I have a lot of love and respect for other artists and their artistry/vision etc.. I especially have great respect for commerical songwriters to meet all the qualifications of radio and the industry. Any of the above influences would be amazing, but if I can only pick one I'd like to open for Switchfoot. Their songs on the Walk to Remember soundtrack changed my life and I love their harmonies, strings and songwriting.
Me: Aside from singing and songwriting, you are also an author. Tell me about your published works.
Melissa: I just released my first self-published book. It's a motivational/inspirational eBook. Being an entrepreneurial musician has developed a lot of character in me since it's such a tough industry. I wanted to encourage, inspire and help foster encouragement among other musicians to keep working hard, grinding, and keeping the faith when things get tough. The book consists of 365 of some of what I feel are some of the best motivational/inspirational quotes. Of course these include some scriptures in there as well. It's a combination of the two.
The book is Free on my website @ By signing up you will be on my mailing list and I will keep you in the loop with exclusive content such as early releases etc... The title of the book is called "Keep The Blaze Returning" which underlies the concepts and purposes of the book that I spoke of. It is a direct quote from a lyric from my song "Turn My Darkness Into Light."
I plan to re-release the book on Amazon in the future, but like I said, subscribers get the original early-release now.
Me: How has your faith helped inspire your music and writing?
Melissa: I believe most of my songs were given directly to me from the Lord. So many cool things have happened. Each song has a personal story. Working for free and on one limited income to do this was pretty tough and took a lot of faith. However, God would give me lyrics and songs to comfort me and meet me exactly where I was. The immense sacrifices that my husband and I made, to continue on this path, have tested our faith many times. A lot of that came right out into the songs. I believe it was all for a purpose for others though. At the time I just wanted to know why God was allowing and not allowing certain things, but now that I am on the other side of it all, I see how much sense it all made. He was refining me, preparing me, giving me strong roots, and developing character within me for everything that I'd face. Some of that has led to writing the eBook, songs, and brought a lot of positive things to fruition.
I also believe that Christians should be loving and try hard not to judge other people. I am really big on that. Giving people freedom and taking great care to avoid, what many refer to as the Pharisee spirit.
Me: What’s your “go to” Bible verse?
Melissa: That's another tough question for me since I mostly grew up in the church. I have a Bible that my grandfather (who was a very well respected prophet and pastor) gave to me. In there are tons and tons of highlighted verses that I added over the years. I turn to them. I also like books like Beth Moore's "Praying God's Word" because for whatever you may be going through there is usually one or more scriptures that have comfort or an answer. This book categorizes them and will take you right to the gems for various specific setbacks. Used the right way scriptures can make a huge difference if you are right with God and have the faith. They can protect your mind, change your situation etc...
It took me a long time to figure this out. God has secrets and reveals them when we really search for Him.
If I had to narrow it down to one, I guess I would pick Mark 11:23-24.
Me: Where do you see your singing career taking you?
Melissa: I am open to whatever God wants me to do. I'd love to be a successful recording artist, possibly tour, have my music on the radio etc... The main thing that has always been very important to me is to work really hard to put out more high quality choices for Christian music. Growing up I always had wished that there was more and more Christian music that resonated with me. However if God just wants me to solely be a songwriter and only perform every so often I am also open to that. I believe that being a performer and being a celebrity/public figure brings it's own set of challenges. I am not sure I'd want that, but I know that either way God will meet me in my path as He's always done as long as I continue to surrender it fully to Him.
I'd love to also have an opportunity to become successful so that I can bless others and be able to do more philanthropic work to change the world.

Me: Finally, what advice do you have for other artists/writers?
Melissa: When you put God first everything that is supposed to happen falls into place. Fight for what you want, even if you can’t see it yet, still believe it and work toward it until it comes to fruition. 
Keep practicing your skills as consistently as you can to build and keep those muscles.  What good is learning if you can't apply it? Keep yourself accountable until it becomes automatic.  No matter how good you are or how much you know, in music there’s always a higher level that you can reach.
Surround yourself with those who are getting the results that you want and those who know more than you and have credibility.
In terms of writing, nearly every single detail is a major decision and should be treated as such. Don’t take it lightly, especially when you have the power to make something good, great, and something great, excellent. Don’t compromise or settle until you believe it’s your best work. Try to be objectively hard on your own work, improving evaluation process so that when other pros etc...encounter your work you have a better chance of providing others, customers, the industry, artists, what they all want/need etc... 
To illustrate this: I am currently devising my own checklist for the cumulative knowledge that I have learned thus far. This has been on my heart for the past couple months and I am collecting data from various sources to be as thorough on this as possible.
Find out who you are and what your voice is in the world and go for it. You have more power in your voice and decisions than you might think and you can change the world and add value to this world, just don’t give up when you face resistance.
Finally, whenever possible,  Colossians 3:23 should be more than just a verse in the Bible, but a pillar to writing your own music. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Stuck? Write the ending and work backwards.

When the protagonist from my novel I Will Follow, Jude, first arrived in Austin, I hit a wall of writer's block so hard I had a mild concussion and couldn't remember how to tie my shoes for a week. You see, being the shoot-from-the-hip writer I am, I started my novel with no outline or any particular sense of direction. I had the story in my head, and I just ran out of the gate. I know that it's incredibly unprofessional, but at the time I couldn't be bothered with such nuances like outlines or character development. Sometimes, ya just gotta go for it.

Well, as Jude pulled into Austin, my train of thought pulled off the tracks. I knew more or less what was going to happen to him and where he would end up at the end of his journey, but since I hadn't bothered to map out the trek stop by stop, I was at a loss. So there my hero sat. A man without a destination and hopelessly doomed to trudge around the Texas capital with nary a smidgen of a clue as to what he was supposed to be doing.

Realizing that I had to get Jude going soon or risk slowing my progress even further, I resorted to an old, tried and true tactic: I wrote the ending to my book and went backwards. 

Now, in the interest of maintaining the mystery of any reader who truly wishes to read my book, (and thank you for that), I won't reveal just how the book ends. Sufficed to say that it culminates in a very serious, very traumatic event that wrenches every ounce of strength and courage out of every character involved. I haven't posted the ending anywhere yet, but it'll be done soon. 

In any event, seeing how the climax of my novel played out kickstarted my inspiration and I began to understand the chain of events that would lead up to the final chapter. I then retrofitted Jude's journey to reflect the path that he would have to take to wind up there. It worked quite well, actually. 

Again, had I actually outlined and planned my novel, I probably could have avoided this, but I recommend this step regardless of whether you have mapped out every step or not. It'll enlighten you and your characters greatly. 

Until next time, keep those keyboards warm. 


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

You either finish the book or work for the man forever: Why you MUST complete your novel.

Hey, congratulations to me for the blog's tenth post!

Now then, on to business.

Every writer has that dream of one day opening up their email and seeing a message from a publisher or literary agent in which an offer has been made on your book. What a glorious day to know that you can finally shrug off the shackles of your mind-melting 9 to 5 day job and write for a living! As you sit at your computer and contemplate just who will play the protagonist in the feature film that will surely follow, you reach for the phone so you can eloquently and politely tell your boss just where he can put the job you have hated all these many years.

It would be nice, right?

Well, there's just one issue. Before that even has a chance of happening, and most of us know all too well that the likelihood of ever being published is remote at best, you have to do something that sets you above and apart from all of the other writers paddling wildly through the ocean of procrastination.

You have to finish your book.

Many of you just threw your hands up and yelled at your keyboards. Some of you may have threw up on your keyboards and yelled at your hands. I suppose you were expecting that I would reveal some great, mysterious secret that would get you instant publication and have you on a private jet to NYC to sign the contract before dinner. But, my friends, I'm afraid there is no secret.

In order to have someone publish your book, you have to have a book to publish.

That little fact is what stares a lot of writers in the face daily. It scowls at them and occasionally curses them in French. My novel has been 60% complete for over a year now, and every day that slips by that I do not progress it any further is another day that the prospect of writing for a living becomes dimmer.

Now, I know what you will say. "I'll find another paid writing job. I'll take up blogging and immediately have thirty thousand dollars a month in Adsense revenue."

"I'll copy-write and soon be giving away the hundreds of Ferraris I'll have accumulated."

"I'll just switch over to screenwriting and knock out an Oscar winning screenplay in a week or two and you can kiss my tuckus as Spielberg and I drink espresso."

None of those things will ever happen. At least not that easily. And I don't think Spielberg drinks espressos anyway.

The reason you will never truly excel in any other avenue of writing is because your novel, your book, your passion, will be incomplete. It will haunt you and eat away at you. You cannot run from it.

That's why you need to finish it.

So whatever it is you were planning on doing after you read this, cancel it. Open up your book and write at least a page. Then tomorrow write two. The day after that, see if you can do three. And so on.

And don't forget to call me from NYC when you get there. ;)

Until next time, keep those keyboards warm.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Is your main character weird? Make him/her so

Normal doesn't sell books. No one cares to read about the mundane exploits of a stock character with vanilla mannerisms and a boring personality. If your protagonist could be any person you'd see on the subway and not give a second look to, you've got a problem.

Now, I'm not talking about physical characteristics. You don't have to immediately rewrite your precious star to suddenly be missing an ear or have a third leg growing from their forehead. I'm just suggesting you give them a quirk. Or several. Set them apart from the crowd and your readers will not be able to forget them.

The main character in my novel I Will Follow, Jude, took a page from my own life (pun completely intended). See, every since I can remember, I have the habit of uncontrollably taking paper napkins and unfolding them and then refolding them inside out before I use them. I don't know why I do it, but I have since I was a kid. And Jude does the same thing. It's only mentioned a few times in the book, but it makes him relatable. It makes him human rather than merely "the guy in the book."

People want to know that they are not the only ones who possess the little idiosyncrasies that make us all unique. We all do or say something that makes us who we are. Let your characters stand out with that same behavior.

You could have your protagonist sneeze every time someone near them says 'hello.' Maybe they wipe off their utensils before they eat. Every. Single. Time. I know at least three people in real life who do that. Or maybe your antagonist secretly cries in solitude after they verbally assault someone. Or they have to wear a red shirt every Thursday. You get the idea.

Give your character some character. Make them unique and your audience will not only understand them better, they won't be able to forget them.

Until next time, keep those keyboards warm.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mozart, what's another word for ecstatic? How music helps the creative process.

As I type this, Hans Zimmer's Chevaliers de Sangreal is building to an epic crescendo. So don't be surprised if I forgo the witty banter, zany one-liners, and dexterous jokes in favor of serious and thought provoking instruction.

Just kidding. I just wanted to work dexterous into the post.

But the fact of the matter is, some of my best work is done while the composers of today and yesterday weave their classical magic around and in my ears. I cannot write in complete silence. I know a few folks that can, and I envy that ability, but when things are too quiet, my train of thought skips the next three stops and winds up in Tunica, Mississippi.

I also cannot write when there is too much noise. The appeal of Starbucks as a setting for writing will forever escape me. I'm sure that it is has more to do with being seen as a writer than actually being an environment that fosters great work, but nonetheless I simply cannot concentrate with that many people milling about while whomever the artist of the month is wails soulfully away on an acoustic guitar.

I do like their croissants, though.

The perfect setting for me is alone, at home, with soft music laying a foundation for my creativity to set up shop. Now, everyone's preferences are just that, and you may find another style of music that does the trick for you, but classical has always been my flavor. And believe me, it works.

I wrote Peretti, my screenplay, while listening to Chopin. Aaron's action scene where he runs from the police in I Will Follow was crafted to the score of The Amazing Spider-Man. When a string section is giving it their all, I can't help but to respond in kind. And film scores really do the trick as they run the gamut of tempo and emotion, which is a model all great novels should follow.

So the next time you sit down to write, try a little music.

Just please, no adult contemporary. Nothing great has ever been accomplished listening to Phil Collins.*

Until next time, keep those keyboards warm.


*Merely a joke. I love Phil Collins.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Delayed Gratification: How waiting until the end of the chapter to edit helps your story

And then, she walked out of the door and right into traffic.

And then, she strolled around the corner and was hit by a bus. 

And then, she jumped out of the window and sprouted wings. Yeah. That's it.

We've all done it. For the more OCD challenged of us, (and I use that term as an exaggeration, not to offend anyone who suffers from the condition,) editing on the fly has become such a dirty little habit that we'd sooner admit we chain-smoke three packs a day and floss with strips of bacon. It's nearly impossible not to go back and reread every sentence as soon as it's typed. It's what we do as writers.

Well, stick out your hand.


Stop that.

You see, the creative process is like a lumbering eighteen wheeler. It takes forever to get up to speed, but once it's there, it's very hard to stop. But if something like a small electric car, (read: constant editing,) jumps in front of it and cuts it off, the results are disastrous. Going back over every word as you write it will stifle your creativity to a slow, painful death. I write most of my best stuff on the fly, and often the first thing that comes off of the top of my head is what stays in my writing.

So my challenge to you, dear readers, is that you finish an entire chapter without going back and editing once. Then, once you hit the 'page break' button after completing, you are free to go back and edit to your heart's desire. And if you're having trouble finishing that chapter, I can help you with that too. Whether it's writer's block or tips for punching up your story, I've been there and done that. I lost the t-shirt, though.

Until next time, keep those keyboards hot.
Until next time, keep those keyboards cozy.
Until next time, keep those keyboards scalding.
Until next time, keep those keyboards warm. There!


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Where do you see yourself at by the end of this book? How interviewing your characters results in strong development

How interesting is the protagonist in your story? Does he/she inspire readers to jump up and seize life by the horns? Or maybe they are so generic and boring your audience chooses to jump out the window instead. Does your antagonist make people shake their fist at the sky and wonder how someone could be so evil and cold-hearted? Or have you met fluffy kittens eating marshmallows who are more threatening?

One of the things I've done is to interview my characters. I write about twelve questions ranging from, "What would you say is your most annoying habit?" to "What motivates you to get up in the morning?" There's really no template or requirements to the questions; the goal is to gain insight into just who your characters are as people. 

Once you've interviewed all of your major characters, go back and retread your interviews as if you were actually asking the questions to another person. Maybe have someone else read the answers you came up with. You'll be surprised how effective this is. 

Until next time, keep those keyboards warm. 


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Keep the momentum going: How stopping mid-paragraph will keep your writing pace steady

You're nearing the end of a chapter. After an hour of creative juices just pouring from your fingertips, you prepare to close out another moment in the lives of your characters. At this point the excitement has taken hold of you so much that you aren't even sitting down anymore. As you stand and peck away the last few sentences, you breathe a sigh of relief. Finished. Time to start the next chapter. 


Or, in a few days. 

Or maybe next week. 

For those of us that have the uncanny ability to procrastinate ourselves right into a river of laziness, finishing a chapter can push the pause button on our writing. Sometimes for days. 

Well, here's what I've started doing. And it's helped immensely. 

Instead of closing out the chapter and running the risk of experiencing "celebratory hiatus," stop your writing before you reach the end. Mid-sentence. 

This leaves your motivation to finish at an all new high. You know EXACTLY how you're going to finish, and you cannot wait until the opportunity to do so. But here's the catch:

Have your next few opening sentences of the following chapter already prepared before you close out the unfinished preceding chapter. That way, as you close out one chapter, your preparation carries you right into the next. Let Lady Inspiration take the wheel from there. 

Hope it helps, I've found that...


Monday, May 11, 2015

"All together now": Using friends and family to hear how your story sounds

Just how great is that sequence of dialogue that you just wrote? It's a frantic, dramatic scene in which two of your major characters reach their boiling points with one another. There's yelling, screaming, a bit of crying, and that was just you trying to get out the right words. But are they the right words?

Your friends and family are your biggest fans of your writing. If you're like me, your mother has no doubt said this to you on at least a few occasions, "You are so talented! I can't imagine why the whole world wouldn't want to read your writing!" After stopping yourself from chastising your mom for using a double negative, you sit and ponder her poorly constructed words of praise. "Mom's right," you say. "I should be a best-selling author."

There is, however, one small issue. You see, even though those closest to us love us unconditionally, they are not publishers. Or literary agents. Your sister in Des Moines and your bff in Vegas are not key holders to the mythical kingdom that is "Paid Writing." So, while their intentions are good, their compliments do nothing in the way of furthering your professional career as an author. It is nice to hear how awesome you are every once in a while, though.

But if words of praise do nothing for your story other than boost your self-esteem, there is a way that grandma and aunt Clotilda can still help you. They can be your voice actors!

You see, fictional dialogue has to flow naturally. It has to seem organic and realistic. When two lovers reconcile on a bridge under a starry sky, the words they say to each other need to sound like something two people would say in real life. If it's forced or cheesy, your readers will be able to tell.

In my novel, I Will Follow, the characters find themselves in several overwhelming situations where what they say to each other truly defines who they are as human beings. Remember, readers cannot see the facial expressions on the people who live in the world you've created. The only way they can gauge if the person speaking is genuine or not is by how they say what they say.


She leaned in as they danced slowly across the marble floor. Gazing up into his eyes, she let a coy smile play at the corners of her mouth. After five long years, she could finally reveal to him how she truly felt.

"I like you. I like you a whole lot. When I see you, I know how much I like you. Which is a lot."

Not exactly something publishers are going to be racing to print, is it? Granted, that's a humorous exaggeration (I hope), but the point is, you can paint the most exquisite setting for your characters and destroy the whole image with stilted dialogue.

So how do we find out if what the people who live in our head are saying is presentable or not? You have people read the words aloud. Invite your friends over for a reading of your novel, and assign everyone a character as you narrate the action. By doing so, you will hear where your interactions fall flat, and where it is really working. I have heard stories where writers had people read their work and the actors had to stop for a moment as they became so choked with emotion at what they were speaking.

That's how you know you've got a winner.

Until next time, keep your keyboards warm.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Writing hands free: How my iPhone is helping create my novel

You come bounding out of the elevator as you race towards a meeting you were supposed to be present at 15 minutes ago. In one hand, you hold a Starbucks that is still roughly the same temperature as the molten core of the sun, and in the other you carefully juggle a briefcase, cell phone, tablet, car keys, a desk lamp, several small woodland creatures, and a bumper to a 1978 VW bug.

Ok. Maybe a that's a slight exaggeration. Bug bumpers are notoriously hard to come by. 

The point is, if you're anything like me, this is exactly the time when Lady Inspiration throws open the ornately decorated double doors and makes her grand entrance. Your book was the last thing on your mind not thirty seconds ago, and now you have the perfect ending where your protagonist has such an amazing revelation that future readers will be forever better for having been part of the journey. You even have the dialogue, verbatim, which creates such an eloquent and touching moment that you nearly tear up. It's absolutely perfect.

And there is no way of getting it out of your head.

If you stop and set down your sherpa's worth of gear, you're going to be even later for the meeting. If you make the mistake of telling yourself, "It's too great of an idea to forget. I'll remember it," then you've just committed the one tragic error we are all guilty of. You need to get your great idea secured now. 

Before I move on, I'd like to make it clear that in no way am I affiliated with Apple or any of its products. Ok? Ok. Moving on. 

What I have done throughout the entire writing of my novel, I Will Follow, is utilize the voice memo feature of my Iphone. I use it constantly. In my car, at work, in line at the grocery store (which results in no shortage of confused and concerned looks from onlookers and passers-by as I scream into my phone, "And finally, as he leaps out of the window, he lands on a fire hydrant and then flies away on a magical gravy boat!) Ok, so I haven't actually dictated those exact words, but you get the idea.

For the android users, I'd bet a weeks worth of macaroni and cheese that your phone has the same capability. Use it. When you absolutely cannot get to a laptop, PC, or even the ol' tried-and-true pen n' paper, take advantage of technology. You'll be glad you did.

'Til next time, keep those keyboards warm.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Do you have a story or a sedative? The one thing that will make yourwriting lull readers to sleep.

If you follow these instructions, your writing will improve. You will learn a great deal, and be a better writer for it. Your story will intrigue, and your readers will rejoice.

And if I'm putting you to sleep, there's a good reason for that.

The tempo of your writing is crucial to keeping readers interested. When you get in the groove and the fingers are flying away at the keyboard, you run the risk of repeating sentence variations that can be detrimental to the flow of the story. In essence, you begin writing a lullaby. 

"Rock-a-bye baby, in the tree top,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock."

The melodious tone is meant to "lull" the listener to sleep, in most cases an infant. The timing of the sentences is intentional. When you are trying to keep a reader engaged, however, you have to constantly change the pace. Take the following example:

"He was still holding the pipe above his head, but the poor girl didn't listen. He slammed it on the counter, sending shards of wood everywhere."

Now, the action is there, but the repetition distracts from the overall flow. Instead, let's break it up a bit. 

"He was still holding the pipe above his head and when the poor girl didn't heed his beckoning he slammed it against the counter. Shards of plastic and splinters of wood shot out in all directions. The cashiers screamed; even the guy."

(Shameless plug) that's actually an excerpt from my novel, I Will Follow

The point is, keep the pace exciting. It'll keep the readers hooked and guessing. 

Until next time, keep those keyboards warm. 


Thanks, random sales clerk. Beating writer's block using your minor characters.

We've all been there. For the last hour, you've brought your story to a rolling boil of nail-biting excitement and frantic conflict. Your characters are begging for a reprieve as you yank them along through plot twists and dramatic action. Right when you reach the apex and are ready to bring it all on home...

You realize you've got nothin'. Zilch. Zero. You've hit the brick wall of writer's block so fast that your keyboard flies off the desk and lands somewhere in the corner, propped neatly up against the ficus. (Do people still have ficus in their homes? Ficuses? Fici? I digress.)

As you stare at the monitor and silently mouth obscenities to yourself, your story has lost all its momentum and now bobs slowly about in the sea of uneventfulness that is writer's block.

The last time this happened to me, one of the major characters from my novel, I Will Follow, had just walked into a convenience store he was planning to rob. Aaron had the drive to do it, the will to do it, but once he entered the store, he and I both sort of forgot what the point was. I mean, I knew the reasoning, but I couldn't find the words to convey it. So I asked one of the clerks in the store. 

Aaron eventually approaches a female clerk and demands the money from her register, and as he does that, a male clerk at the end of the counter looks on. He doesn't even any dialogue, well, except for a scream that erupts when Aaron slams his pipe on the counter. But as I contemplated on how I could wrangle the rabid gang of squirrels that were my thoughts together to finish the chapter, it came to me:

Let the male clerk tell his version of what's happening. 

I went and rewrote the beginning of the chapter from his perspective, describing what it was like to work in a boring corner store with a bunch of women. His inner monologue about how one day his band would rise to the upper ranks in Austin's music scene segued into his uninterested observation of Aaron as he entered the store. And it was the clerk's cowardly behavior against Aaron's desperate crime that jump-started the chapter and enabled me to finish it. That version isn't in the novel, of course, but it was a very effective tool. 

So, if you're stuck, let someone else in your story drive for a while. You'll be surprised where they take you. And thanks, male clerk. I promise if I write a sequel, I'll promote you. 

Til next time, keep those keyboards warm.