Monday, September 29, 2014

The "D" Word Nobody Likes

Ready for a crucial morsel of food for thought?

In his classic book The Essentials of Screenwriting, UCLA professor and Screenwriting Chairman Richard Walter states...

"Like all creative expression, writing depends not upon talent alone but also discipline. Each is rare all by itself. The two in tandem, however, are exponentially rarer still. Copious talent and paltry discipline will not carry a writer nearly so far as the converse combination" [my underlining for emphasis].

You may already be thinking, "So what? I'm not a screenwriter." However, chances are good that you have some goals, or at least dreams. The point is, no matter what your personal dream, if you cannot muster the self-discipline to take regular, tiny steps toward that dream, you may as well kiss it goodbye.

That sounds like a negative conclusion, but it can actually be liberating if you aspire to something you're not cut out for. Maybe you once pictured yourself playing major-league ball, or competing in the Olympics but always preferred doing something else instead of practicing. Maybe you aspired to political office, but preferred to spend your allotted number of daily minutes in other pursuits. Maybe you picture yourself tending a lush, beautiful garden, but prefer painting pictures. Since most people find time to do what they really truly want to do (even if that is simply watching TV), it's always possible that you're not cut out for major-league ball, or Congress, or the Olympics, gardening, or whatever.

On the other hand, if what you just read irritates a little and you honestly believe you really have the talent but simply never buckled down to develop the discipline--then here's your reminder. Richard Walter proceeds to say, "Neither can writers have inspiration unwillingly thrust upon them; they must discover motivation within themselves."

Talent, Motivation, Discipline. What a dynamic trio! But no matter what your field of endeavor, without discipline to take regular baby steps toward the goal, having the other two is pointless.

Thanks for listening in while I've preached this reminder to myself today!

Your turn. Do you have tricks or tips about how you developed the stick-to-it-iveness to pursue a dream? Or maybe you realized the dream on your horizon was the wrong one and you switched targets? We'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Another Manuscript Sold!

No opinions or fresh observations for today. Just an exciting (for me) announcement: Thanks to my hardworking literary agent, Linda Glaz, my third novel manuscript has found a home! Well-known Grand Rapids publisher Kregel Publications has reviewed my manuscript and liked it enough to offer a contract to publish it. I praise the Lord for this development!

So what's the story? It's too soon to advertise all the details, since a ton of things need to happen before the finished product hits store shelves. But as a brief description, this is an adult suspense novel. The working title has been The Methuselah Project (but of course titles can change by publication time). The main character is Roger Greene, a P-47 fighter pilot in World War II. Roger's main goals in life are to fly airplanes, to serve his country, and one day to find the right girl to marry. But all three goals are put on hold--possibly forever--when he gets shot down and becomes an unwilling guinea pig in the Methuselah Project.

Curious? Click the "Contact" tab and shoot me your email address if you would like to be notified when the book comes out. (I promise not to sell or share this list.)

Thanks for rejoicing with me!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Can You Handle Success?

My morning Bible reading carried me back in time to the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. Over and over, God stressed that He would help the children of Israel as they entered the Promised Land. He would drive out stronger armies than theirs. He would provide a land flowing with milk and honey. But the flip side was a warning: They were not to adopt the ways of those pagan nations. They were not to grow proud and think that their own might had achieved such great victories. In short, they were to remain humble, to obey God's laws, and to praise Him for working on their behalf.

So how does all this relate to you?

It's easy to be humble and to seek God's direction when you're starting a new endeavor. Maybe it's a new job. Maybe it's writing a book. Unfortunately, some people don't handle success very well. They look back and see how far they've come and swell with pride, as if they reached those heights without God's aid.

An editor friend once confided (without naming names) how even Christian authors sometimes fall into this trap. After their first book or two, they become haughty. Their nose tips upward. They polish the halo a bit as they soak up praise. According to my friend, one author even publicly claimed, "No one has ever edited my material," when in fact the editorial team had thoroughly edited his words.

Can you handle success? If you reach your goals, will you remember to thank God for His help? Or will you ignore the fact that He is the One who gave you your brain, your talents, and your health as you can take all the credit?

Friend, I wish you good success, but I also wish for you the humility and good sense needed to keep success from spoiling you!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"It's Not Quite There."

In response to a manuscript I once submitted to an agent, I received the following reply: "It's not quite there." The agent was polite. The note was even handwritten, which I appreciated. However, as I sat and reread those words, I wondered what my story needed to be "all the way there" instead of not quite there. The problem was, I'd already spent so many hours with my characters and their predicament that I could no longer view my own pages objectively.

After that experience, another writer requested that I take a look at part of a manuscript and give some frank feedback. (By the way, only frank feedback is helpful. Feedback that praises the writer when the quality is lacking actually hurts the writer by instilling false confidence and misleading him or her.) As I read the pages, I truly wanted to tell my acquaintance, "This is great. Keep up the good work!" Instead, the words that came to mind were "It's not quite there." And I understood what the agent meant about my own story.

You see, the draft I was reading simply lacked polish. At times the heroine did things that didn't make sense based on what the story revealed about her. She was also a bit of a cardboard cutout rather than coming across like a real person. For the most part, the grammar and punctuation were okay even if not stellar. Yet, sentence by sentence the story simply unfolded in a straightforward way from Point A to Point Z. There were no clever plays on words. No irony. No red herrings to keep the reader intrigued. The setting descriptions also lacked pizazz. Sure, there were descriptions of locale, so I knew where the heroine was. But those locations didn't come alive. There were sights and sounds, but little or no sense of smell, of taste, or touch.

In other words, as I proofed this manuscript, it certainly was complete as far solving the mystery and uniting the boy and girl. But was the tale polished to the point where a publisher would say, "We'll offer you a contract for this"? Regrettably, no. The story wasn't quite there.

With the input of a professional writing coach, I attacked my story with hammer and chisel. I knocked off rough portions I'd left in the story, injected fresh elements where needed, then grabbed sandpaper and started polishing. The end result is an improved manuscript that caught the eye of a literary agent. Now she is shopping that story to publishers.

What's my point? Try to scrutinize your own words with a professional eye, not with your author's eyes. Step back. Be objective. Compare your style, your phrasing, your everything to the writing of your favorite authors. When you can see why your story is "not quite there," you will have taken the first step toward improving it!