Writing Advice (and how it sounds when I can’t collect my thoughts)

A question I get asked on a somewhat regular basis is if “What’s the best advice you have for new writers?” Oh help us all! How is a question like that supposed to be answered? My urge is to cram as much advice as I can think of into about sixty seconds and that generally looks discombobulated and somewhat nonsensical like this: 
My recommendation is if you want to be a writer you need to read a whole lot because when you read you get to learn. Not only should you read books about the writing craft, but you should read blogs about the writing craft. You should maybe find a writing group to join. Also, you should read a lot of books because when you read a lot of books it helps you to learn how to do character arches and to foreshadow and all that kind of stuff. You learn to do descriptions, you learn what you do like and what you don’t like and then you can incorporate that into your own writing… Although obviously don’t steal from other writers.

I also think it’s really important to read reviews for other books so you can see what writers like and what they don’t like. Um, I also really recommend to, um, write a lot of reviews yourself because that helps you to think through what you do and don’t like about the books you’ve read. It also helps other writers.

If you want to be a writer you need to write. Um, I know that sounds silly, but, when you write it really helps you to get better. Consistently write and that really helps. Um, just really dig into it and go all for it. Yeah.
That ^ my friends, is a literal word-for-word dictation of 60 seconds of me trying to give writing advice.  

What I really mean to say looks more like this:

If you want to be a writer I highly recommend you read a lot. There are many benefits to reading, including learning the way to craft a story and annoying habits you’ll want to avoid in your own writings. Reading books (and blogs) about the craft of writing is very important, as well as reading books that are in the same genre you write.

It’s also important to get in the habit of writing often, even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time. No matter how much you study how to write, you’re not a writer unless you actually write. 

In addition to reading and writing, finding a good support group can be extremely helpful. I’m part of an online writing group and have been incredibly encouraged and supported by the other members.

One last thing is rather difficult, but fundamental: If you’re wanting to pursue publication you’re going to need to be extremely open to a lot of critiques, some of which will hurt. It’s hard not to get defensive when someone’s tearing your precious book apart, but a lot of times it actually helps make the book better. So, pretty much you need to be extremely passionate and willing to leap out of your comfort zone and keep going even when the going gets tough.

Only, I’ve yet to figure out how to make my words flow smoothly when I’m talking. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been working on reading out loud this year. So often my words get jumbled up and I seriously miss saying words, or even full sentences, out loud because my brain is like “hurry child!” which isn’t always good advice.

What about you? Do you find it easier to express your thoughts when you’re writing or talking?

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The destination for our Around The World in Fifty-Two Weeks post for this week is: Chad!

When Names and Writing Collide

There’s a decided draw in my mind toward names. I find them intrinsically pleasing.  God calls each of the stars by name, Adam was charged with naming the animals, down through the years billions of people have named their children, and now I get to name countless pets, characters, and places. 

Before I started writing I was worried that when I grew up my children would have to have seemingly endless monikers so I could cram in as many delightful names as possible (Elizabeth Joy Emmeline Anne for instance). It was incredibly rewarding to finally have an outlet for all the beautiful names I’d come up with when I began writing. I’d pore over baby name books (I have nearly a shelf of them), look up meanings online, and spend way too much time making sure they fit the character perfectly.

I soon discovered that names are the bane of my writerly existence half of the time and the cause of great joy and happy dances the other half. My way of coming up with names has evolved into a rather quirky experience, especially when it comes to names for the fictional countries I’ve created.

The way I came up with the name for the first country I ever made up was by looking at the names of some missionaries who’s picture I had next to my bed some eight or so years ago. I thought their last name was the perfect title for a country and so incorporated it into the book. Only, I had no clue how to pronounce it and the first time I heard someone say it aloud I was disenchanted. So… I changed a few letters around and omitted a few more until I came up with “Turglar” which I promptly remembered by thinking of a turtle drowning and therefore gurgling as it sunk to a slow death on the bottom of a pond (don’t worry about telling me how unscientific that is). “Turglar” ended up being the main country in the Medieval-like series I wrote back in my teens. 

Today I thought I’d share with you some ways I’ve discovered to name fictional places:

1. Chose a country that is similar to the country you’ve created and then get on Google Earth and look up streets, cities, and landmarks from that county. Simply tweak a letter here or there and boom, you’ve got it. 

2. Research your ancestors. If you have multitudes of Sylvia’s in your family tree, why not find a way to incorporate it into the book? 

3. You could choose a word that summarizes the people group like “fierce” or “rich” and then look up the word in a different language. For instance in Javanese “fierce” is Galak,  “Rich” is Rikas in Finnish, and Redimir means “redeem” in Catalan. 

4. Take all the letters in your name (or a friends) and unscramble them. For instance my full name has the letters a-d-e-h-i-j-l-o-o-w-y-y, with those letters we could come up with Wiloo, Aidlow, or Loyad. (I’ve decided I come by the name-intrique honestly. While coming up with a name for their daughter one of my aunts and uncles combined their two names – Angela and Nick, and got Anika. Then they added an “I” to fit with the names of their other children, and ended up with Inika; a beautiful, and very unique, name.) 

5. I find it quite fun to tie my different books together in nearly unnoticeable ways. Flip a character’s name around, chose a special word and then change the language, use a last name from one book for the name of a town in another, etc…  

6. Listening to the people around you talking is a great way to come up with a name. Just drop a letter or two off of a fairly common word, and there you are. “Kios” is the name of the country where my Echoes series is located (the book I wrote in November). I came up with the name one day while church I was visiting was being dismissed and the pastor said something about the kiosk in the back. And yay, there the perfect name was. 

7. Chose your favorite meal (or least favorite depending on what you’re naming) and mix and match. Like if you like lasagna and green beans and garlic bread you could name the people group “Laseenga.” (Okay, yeah, that was weird.) 

It’s a two-way street though. Not only has my delight in names helped with my writing, but my delight in writing has also helped with my naming. Over the years I’ve had dozens upon dozens of pets, and some of them have had rather singular titles. 

Take for instance some of the goats I raised with my brother we had Epilog, Prelude, and Synopsis. I named a sweet litter of kittens Booklyn, Smilie, Metaphor, and Onomatopoeia. My dog’s name is Novel, and my rat’s name is Autumn Genre. Names are so much fun and I’m thankful to get to work with them. 

What are some of your favorite names? Or some of the names you’ve come up with? 

* * *
Today I had Josh (who’s pretty much a brother) help me choose the destination for our Around The World in Fifty-Two Weeks post, and the country is: Poland! 

A Beautiful Light

The sunrise yesterday morning was gorgeous as the plane took off. Mist weaved across the earth and sunbeams broke through clouds, illuminating the world world all around us. It was delightful and satisfying to watch it as we flew higher and higher and eventually the beautiful rays unfurled and the everything was aglow. 
One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 4:18: But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day. It’s a reminder each day as I see the sun rising that  I serve a God who not only creates beautiful sunrises, but He also has the power to turn my life into a luminous masterpiece that brings Him glory. 
On my own, my life is nothing. Even if I reached the absolute heights of the human equivalent of success, my achievements all burn up in the end. It’s so easy to get sidetracked, to focus on the daily and earthly instead of the eternal and spiritual. Then reminders come and I reset my priorities and mindset. See, my life isn’t my own, I’ve been bought with a price. That means my life has infinitely more potential and I have the ability to impact far more people than even I can dream of. 

 Isaiah 30:21 says,Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” I want every step of my life to be guided by God; I want to walk in His light and mirror that light in my own life. When people see me, I want my life to be a reflector that directs them to a a Light that is so bright that we can’t even handle His glow.

Life is exceedingly short and fleeting when compared to eternity, yet at times it seems so tiresomely long and impossibly hard. No matter what happens though, life isn’t a complete mystery, it isn’t hopeless, it isn’t impossible. Because do you know what? We can know what the outcome is at the end.

You see, God, the creator of sunrises, of galaxies, of you and me… He’s the victor. No one can stand against Him and win. The Bible tells us that weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. I serve an all-powerful, omniscient God who isn’t bound by time, by gravity, by human limitations. And in that, I rejoice.

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The destination for this week’s Around the World post is: Montserrat.

Yankee in Atlanta By Jocelyn Green: Book Review

I finished multiple books during the last few days and so this Monday is going to be my “Review Day” where I post three or four of them. I hope y’all enjoy seeing what I’ve been reading and maybe choose one or two books to add to your own reading list. To see a complete list (and reviews) of the books I’ve read in 2016, you can check out my Goodreads list. If you have any books you’d recommend, I’d be delighted to hear from you. 
It’s that time again where we get to choose where Annie goes for this week in our Friday Series, Around the World in Fifty-Two WeeksAnd our destination is… Bosnia and Herzegovina!

Yankee in Atlanta 
By Jocelyn Green

Find it on: 

Third-Person, Multiple Views
Fiction
416 Pages


About the Book
(Back cover blurb)

When soldier Caitlin McKae woke up in Atlanta after being wounded in battle, the Georgian doctor who treated her believed Caitlin’s only secret was that she had been fighting for the Confederacy disguised as a man. In order to avoid arrest or worse, Caitlin hides her true identity and makes a new life for herself in Atlanta.

Trained as a teacher, she accepts a job as a governess to the daughter of Noah Becker, a German immigrant lawyer, who enlists with the Rebel army. Then in the spring of 1864, Sherman’s troops edge closer to Atlanta. Though starvation rules, and Sherman rages, she will not run again. In a land shattered by strife and suffering, a Union veteran and a Rebel soldier test the limits of loyalty and discover the courage to survive. Will honor dictate that Caitlin and Noah follow the rules, or love demand that they break them?


Why I Choose this Book: 


It appears to be a spy book and starts out with the MC masquerading as a man to fight in the Civil War. Now that, my friends, is a big grab for me. 

What I Thought About this Book:


I had such high hopes for this book and it started out SO well. I read the first two books in the series just so I would be ready for this book and not miss out on anything. Both books 1 (see review) and 2 (see review) received three stars and I was pretty sure this was going to be a four star book because it was so promising… And instead it barely squeaked in with three stars. What in the world?

First of all, I was wrong about the premise. Caitlyn isn’t a spy. She’s only a solider during the prolog. She’s a governess. (I must confess, I didn’t read the whole back cover blurb because I like being surprised. After reading the book I guess I would have had lower expectations and therefore might have enjoyed the book better if I had finished the back cover.) Still, the book was still redeemable, despite the two most exciting elements not panning out… Yet, it wasn’t redeemed. 

Instead I felt like there was far to much focus on romance and some of it was too detailed and I ended up skim reading sections. A fair amount of one of the sub-plots was how one of the characters from a previous book dealt with being abused and (sorta) forced into prostitution. I’m guessing that if I was working with ladies who were dealing with those issues this book might have come in handy, but I’m not, and it didn’t. (Hence the skim-reading.) 

The ending was also an eye rolling experience for me. I felt like one of the characters jumped out of character and did something that in reality, they would never do. And then *boom* so many pieces fell into place at just the right time for a happy-ever-after. Obviously that kind of stuff can happen, and when it does in real life it’s so cool, but in fiction it feels very… fictional. 

So, with all of these issues why did the book still garner three stars? Because, despite all that^, the book was captivating at times and the characters really came alive and were well developed and individual. I liked the story, although it wasn’t what I was imaging, and I enjoyed finding out what the characters were doing after the last book. 

I learned a lot about the war and how the civilians lived in Atlanta and all the problems they faced. The book reminded me once again how horrible war is. This series has brought the Civil war alive from the perspective of the women during that time. I commend the author on what seems like through research. 

Conclusion: 


I was pretty sure I wouldn’t read any more books in the series… But, then I saw the next book IS about a spy, so we’ll have to see. I sadly won’t recommend this book because of the romance I had to skim-read, but other than that I think it was nice. 

Rating: 


I’m giving “Yankee in Atlanta” 3 out of 5 stars, 4 out of 10 stars. 

*I received this book for free from Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review*

U is for Uno #atozchallenge

Creativity is a lifestyle for me, not an action. This month I’m exploring twenty-six quirky ways I keep my creativity flowing.

Sometimes you have to take normal games and change them up. My little bro and I play Uno a lot – last week alone we probably played a couple hundreds hands. I wasn’t really into Uno until my best friend told us the way her family plays the game and then we tweaked a few more rules and came up with a fast-paced game that you have to be fully engaged in to win. Changing up rules and creating new ways to play games is a fun way to exercise creativity and quite rewarding as well. 
Today I thought I would share our rules with y’all so maybe you can enjoy this version of Uno as well. (I’m explaining how it works with two people, you can play it with more using the same rules, but it works out slightly different.) 
1. Start out with each person having 7 cards like with a normal game and begin the same way.
2. Whenever a card gets played, people can play matching cards, even if it’s not their turn. (For example, if I play a red 4, I can also play another red 4, or a green 4, or a blue 4… Any 4 can be played. Same thing if my bro plays a 4, I can jump in and play several cards right in a row.) This makes the game really fast, because you try and play the next card before the other person can play a match. 
3. You can skip, reverse, and build up Draw 2s and Draw 4s. This makes the game quite crazy and it’s not unusual to have to draw 10-16 cards at once. Let me explain how it works: If I put down a yellow Draw 2, my bro can then play a Draw 2 of any color, a Draw 4, a yellow skip, or a yellow reverse. If he plays a red Draw 2, then I can play a Draw 2 of any color, a Draw 4, or a red skip, or a red reverse… And you get the idea. 
It’s not surprising to be able to play 10 or so cards at once, especially when there are just two players, because when you play a skip or a reverse, then you get to play again right away (unless the other player jumps in with a skip or reverse before you can go on). 
This is an example of a long row of cards one person would be able to play in one turn: 
And that, my friends, is the way we play Uno now. It seriously makes the game about 60x more fun than the regular way and also takes some strategy (you have to keep skips and reverses to protect yourself so you don’t have to eat your own Draw 4s or Draw 2s, etc…). 
Do you ever change up rules to games? Does this way of playing Uno sound like fun to you? Games are so much fun and I enjoy discussing them. 
* * * 
It’s that time again where we get to choose where Annie goes for this week in our Friday Series, Around the World in Fifty-Two WeeksAnd our destination is… Norway!

O is for Optimistic #atozchallenge + Pictures from Cancun

Creativity is a lifestyle for me, not an action. This month I’m exploring twenty-six quirky ways I keep my creativity flowing. 
I was born a rather pessimistic person, but over the years I’ve trained myself to become an optimist. It’s not always easy to find the good in each situation, but it’s worth it. Philippians 4:8 tells us “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

The pessimistic side of me thinks, “Oh wait, I’m becoming good friends with this person. That means I’m going to be hurt some day when they die. I should just cut off our friendship now so it’s not as hard.” 

The optimistic side of me jumps in with, “Wait, wait, wait! This friendship is a beautiful gift. No matter what happens in the future I’ll always have the wonderful memories and know that we made a difference in each other’s lives. Instead of focusing on me, I’m going to focus on them and wow, God has really blessed me by putting this person in my life. Thank You, God!” 

I’ve been doing this for so long now, that the pessimistic thoughts don’t even fully form before I’m chopping away at them, thinking of the good in each situation. There are times when I have to get creative to think on the bright side, but it’s worth it. I don’t hide from reality, but I choose to focus on the uplifting sides of it whenever possible. And it really does make life better. 

* * * 
Yesterday we left Cancun, Mexico, for Merida, which is about a four hour trip across the Yucatan Peninsula. Before we left I took some pictures of the lounge where I spent a lot of the week working on editing WLHYL. 

There were lots of gorgeous flowers in the hotel. Flowers make pretty much everything better. I’m nearly constantly delighted by the wonderful and diverse flowers God has created and how they look, smell, and feel so beautiful.

There was a coffee/tea bar open all the time and sandwiches and little desserts from 12:00 until 4:00 each afternoon. It was so much fun editing and drinking lots of coffee and iced tea and nibbling on little cakes. The best part was it was all free. (Technically the company we work for and earned the trip with paid for it, but it was a flat fee and so we could take as much or as little as we wanted.)

The view out the one side was bright and lovely, the sun shinning brightly through windows that are bigger than my office.

On the other side, we could see down about four stories to a courtyard. When we were at the same hotel five years ago, there was ivy growing from the top floor all the way to the bottom – that was a sight to behold. 

And, above the courtyard was a brilliant dome with lovely stained-glass.

Now we’re staying at a very delightful old coconut plantation. I’m looking forward to sharing pictures of it with y’all during the next few weeks.

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It’s that time again where we get to choose where Annie goes for this week in our Friday Series, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks. And our destination is… Georgia! (The country.) 

March 2016 in Review

What I Focused on in March: 

1. Editing and cutting down the word count in When Life Hands You Lymes 

2. Training for the marathon – Eating healthy, tracking my food, walking/running 121 miles 

3. Working at regaining my creativity 
4. My non-writing job 
Birthday Challenge and Dream List Update 
2. Pray the “prayer of Jebez” every day for three months {Completed in December. +3)
3. Read the whole Bible {Psalm, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi}
4. Go to Wednesday night church 24 times {3}
6. Read 12 non-fiction “spiritual” books {4}
7. Read the Proverb of the day every day for six months {Completed March 31st}
12. Go to bed at 10:30 or before 24 nights (not in a row) {Completed}
13. Write a monthly review on my blog within 5 days of the end of the month whenever internet is available {6 months}
14. Blog my 3 (or more) top goals for each month within 5 days of the beginning of each month whenever internet is available {4 months}
15. Write 24 book reviews {8}
17. Track my food for 24 days in a row, not counting weekends {Completed March 28th}23. Read 24 non-fiction books {7}

None 

Reading Update
Fiction: 8
Non-Fiction: 7
Reviews: 15 
Audio Books: 4 (fiction)
Traveling
Nights Gone: 1
New Countries or States: None 
March Goals 

1. Walk or jog 100 miles – YES (121 miles)
2. Work 80 hours on my non-writing job – YES
3. Work 100 hours on my writing work – YES
4. Read at least an hour each day – YES 
5. Read and review 4 non-fiction books – YES (7)
6. Either re-write or edit each chapter in WLHYL – YES
7. Write at least 300 words on the re-writes every day – YES (although I won’t use most of them, they were more for practice)

What I’ve Been Learning
I spent March filling my brain with a bunch of words and it really helped me in various ways. I learned about goals, finances, technology, creativity, and living the way God wants me to live. 
It also hit me in March that although I’ve spent years being quite creative, creativity isn’t simply a part of my life – I have to cultivate it. The last couple of months were kinda “creativity killers” so I worked at learning how to combat that lifestyle and learn how to once again embrace creativity. Thankfully it was a fun process and really helpful. 
Throughout the month it was interesting to get to study the countries I “visited” in the Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks series: Italy, South Korea, Reunion Island, Luxembourg, and Denmark. It can be hard at times to find interesting information that I can weave into a short story, so it’s been a good challenge for me.
I’ve also been working at learning how to set realistic monthly and weekly goals that stretch me, but don’t totally overwhelm me. Thankfully I’m getting better in this arena of life.  

Other
This month I celebrated Noveltea’s 4th birthday, stayed home most of the month, and got to cut grass for the first time in 2016. 
I also discovered how to borrow audio books online through the library. *cue celebration music* It’s been really fun to listen to books while doing mindless work and while walking. Hearing the books instead of reading them has actually helped me pay attention better. I skim read a lot and so not being able to skim read has been an eye-opening experience. 
Walking and really training for the marathon I’m, Lord willing, going to run in October was one of the best and most challenging parts of the month. Ramping my health into full gear is well-worth the pain and discipline it takes. 
I reviewed (on Goodreads) every single one of the books I read in March, so that was a new experience for me. It was enjoyable to get to review the books, and really helped me gauge them as I was reading. I’m petty sure that 15 reviews in one month is my record, but I’m not positive. 
* * *
It’s that time again where we get to choose where Annie goes for this week in our Friday Series, Around the World in Fifty-Two WeeksMy blogging buddy, Hosanna, helped choose the country this week. (Thanks!) And the destination is: Bhutan!