Monday, May 1, 2017

Writers, Authors, Screenwriters: Try Something So Big God Has to Show Up

Filming my 168 Film Project Documentary
"The Door"
Have you ever heard that saying? “Try something so big God has to show up”? I’ve heard it. But I can’t tell you of a time I’ve really practiced it. Until this year.

Whether you are writing for magazines or online outlets, writing books — either fiction or nonfiction — or writing screenplays, let me ask you some questions:
  • Are you satisfied with where you’re at as a writer? (Tweet that!)
  • Are you happy with where your career is right now? Or where it’s headed?
  • Are you writing what you want to write, or have you been drawn into another area because you need the pay check or byline? Or because that’s where the opportunity is right now?
  • Do you feel stale in your present course? Do you wish you could break out and do what you’ve always dreamed of doing?
If you connect with any of those questions, maybe, just maybe, a course of action you need to take is to attempt something so big God has to show up. (Tweet that!)

NOTE: I do not recommend this course of action without a lot of prayer in advance!

Even if you’re not a believer in Jesus, I hope you’ll keep reading because I still believe there is something important here for you.

My adventure in attempting something so big God has to show up didn’t start out as me purposely attempting that. I jumped into a project I wanted to do, and that I thought I could accomplish, and then I found myself there, in that situation where I needed God to show up big time or the whole project was going to fail.  (Tweet that!)

Since then I’ve toggled between sweating it out and trusting Him. It has been an adventure!

I’ve done the 168 Film Project before, but it has been five years. I wanted to do the project again, but I have scheduling conflicts with the dates of the project. Plus it’s a huge undertaking, especially when I don’t have a film crew put together who I’ve worked with before and who really wants to do the project with me. To have that, by the way, is a dream of mine! What better way to find that dream team than to start working with people. So I jumped in. Again.

Last fall I decided I would enter the spring contest again. Actually, I entered twice: once in the documentary category and once in the speed film making category. I started with plenty of time to find a team to work with for each entry. The documentary would be done first. The speed filming making takes place one week in mid-May.

This story is about the documentary.

I knew of a story I wanted to tell for my documentary. I would need to contact the people involved — people I did not know and didn’t know how to contact — and get their permission. This was my “fleece,” my way of asking God if He wanted me to proceed with the project.

Early this year I was able to track down the people and they said yes, I could tell their story. I had my answer: God said yes, do the project.

So on was on my way.

Here are four lessons I’ve learned along the journey that I hope will help you in your big writing dream:

Do Everything You Know to Do


I know the first order of business was to prayerfully and carefully do everything I could do. Some of the things this meant was:

The silver pickup truck (and police car) I was able to get
for the filming of "The Door" documentary.

Figuring out how I wanted to present the story. 

I wanted the people involved to tell the story. That would be far better than me telling it. That meant I would need to interview people. On camera. I also wanted to re-enact some of the scenes. For that I would need locations and actors. I would also need some specific items to re-enact the scenes, including a small red car, a silver pickup truck, and a police car. (Yeah, right. How was I going to get that?)

Putting together the film team. 

I would need a camera man to capture the story on film. I would need someone to capture good sound. And I would need someone to edit the film and put it all together.

Setting about finding everything I needed.

  • I contacted a local college and found a camera guy, sound, and editor.
  • I contacted the people I wanted to interview and they were willing.
  • Now others were starting to offer help. I had an assistant. She showed me locations that really helped me out.
  • I nailed down the locations I would need and agreed with them on a filming date. Now things were really picking up.
  • I began looking for re-enactment actors.
  • I asked churches to let people know of my need for extras to come.
  • I found the red car I needed and the silver pickup truck.
  • But I didn’t have a police car. Because I hadn’t asked. More about why later.
  • I even ran a fundraiser. Didn’t raise as much as I’d hoped, but raised some and it would be enough.
So I had done, or at least was working on doing, everything I could possibly do to make this happen. It was a lot of work. But I was making good progress.

When it all falls apart… Put it back together.


It was Friday. We were a week out from filming. I had the locations. The cars (except the police car). Most of the actors. I’d put out the call for lots of extras to come. I had people excited about the project and helping me find everything I needed.

However I had an uneasiness. There was a lack of communication from some on my film team. Did I really have a team that was going to show up and get the job done? I needed to know. So I pressed them.

And then…

…my camera man let me know he wouldn’t be able to do the job. He had his reasons. But I suddenly had no camera man.

This is when I knew. I knew I had attempted something so big that if God didn’t show up to help me, it wasn’t going to happen. (Tweet that!) The whole project would fall apart. But God had green-lighted the project, right? So He had to help me. Right?

I had already done everything I knew to do. Or had I? I hadn’t quite tapped all my resources. So the first thing I did was sent an urgent prayer request to a group of strong pray-ers telling them of my need. They went to work praying and I went to work for the next 24 hours tapping every resource I could think of to find another camera man who could step in on short notice. People sent me suggestions. Even a friend on the prayer loop suggested her son who is a cinematographer and lived hours away, and doesn’t share our faith, but was willing to consider the project.

Michael DeHerrera, Camera and Editor filming
"The Door," a 168 Film Project Documentary.
Day 2 of filming, Saturday of Easter weekend 2017.
Another friend who was praying for the project sent me the name and number of a local man. I called. He said he’d let me know by the end of the day.

I had several calls out. All I could do was wait. I was waiting as long as I could before canceling everything. Finally late Saturday evening I had to make the call. I had churches who were going to ask people the next morning in their church services to come out as extras. I had to let them know before Sunday morning if we were filming the next week or not.

At 8:30 or so Saturday evening, I finally decided I need to cancel the film shoot. I made the necessary calls to the churches and canceled the call for extras.

As soon as I finished the phone rang. It was the local camera man. He was willing to come. But I had just canceled it all.

Did I act too soon? No. For the first time I felt at peace. I had felt I was rushing everything. I’d rather meet with this new camera man. Tell him the project. Put together the film shoot again later. It was the right decision.

Long story short - we met. He’s great. He’s experienced. He has great equipment (better than we had before). He was willing to sit down with me and edit the film so I could be involved in that (as opposed to sending the footage to the other editor who lived out of town and not being involved in the editing). He was even familiar with the story I was telling. He remembered  it. His assistant was also at this meeting and I learned he had witnessed the event. This felt right.

Filming the crowd scene in
"The Door" on Good Friday 2017.
I re-scheduled the film shoot. We filmed on Good Friday night and Saturday, Easter weekend. Because that’s the only day the whole month of April family could come to be interviewed. Even that felt right. It was Easter weekend, but God was in it helping me create a film to bring Him glory and make Him known. It couldn’t be more right.

Ask for Prayer


Two men I interviewed for the
documentary: Pastor Doug Cox (L)
and Pastor Roy Garcia (R).
It was the prayer and my prayer-warrior friends who made the difference. Their prayers created the break-through. I asked for continued prayer to put it all back together. (Tweet that!)

It was their prayers, I’m convinced, who found me the local camera man.

It was a lot of work to put it all back together, but the project was now bathed in prayer more than ever. And I’m convinced the project is going to be much better than it would have ever been before!

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask


I felt intimidated to start asking skilled camera people to help me, but what else could I do? As a result, I met many highly professional people. Who knows? Maybe we’ll work together on a project at some point in the future. Maybe the Lord is preparing another project.

And about that police car. Okay, I’ll admit it. I was afraid to ask. Not because I was afraid of the cops. That wasn’t a problem. Hey, I’m married to one (retired). I was afraid that I’d open a whole can or worms that I didn’t know how to deal with. I was afraid the city would tell me I needed a film permit. I was afraid I wouldn’t have the budget to cover the expense of a permit. I was afraid they wouldn’t let me film. I was afraid I’d need to pay the cops (which is often required on larger film shoots like in Los Angels) and I definitely didn’t have the budget for that.

The Pueblo (Colorado) Police Department sent
me police cars to use in my 168 Film Project
Documentary, "The Door"!
L-R: Camera/Editor Mike DeHerrera, Production
Assistant Dominick Faust, Producer/Director Dianne E. Butts.
Plus, we were shooting the film on a Friday night. And, I’d learned, it was prom night. The police department would be busy enough without taking a car off the road to help me make my film.

It was the Wednesday before we were scheduled to shoot the film on Friday. My husband acted. He sent a message through a colleague to the local police department. Before the end of the day the Deputy Chief called me. Yes, he could get me a patrol car. Not only that, he went far beyond what I requested and he went to the city attorney who went to the city counsel and got me a waiver so I could use the police department logo, the uniform, and the uniform patch in my film! Wow!

That Friday night we had at least three police cars (though some had to come and go to respond to calls) and about six police officers! It was amazing. It made my film very real. Wow.

Lesson learned: Don’t be afraid to ask.

As I write this, the Camera/Editor, Mike, and I spent the past two days editing the film. I couldn’t be more pleased. I can’t tell you a lot more about it until it competes in the 168 Film Festival in August, but I’m thinking I’ll write the August post about what happens between now and then.

Apply these lessons to your project


So back to you:

What project do you have in your heart that you haven’t yet attempted? And why haven’t you? Is it a project that is so big God has to show up to make it work?

Or, is this the type of project you need? Do you need to create a project with God that is so big He has to show up to make it work? Is that the boost you need to re-start your writing career to reach higher, to stretch, to do the type of project you've always dreamed of doing?

Interviewing Pastor Roy Garcia
on the film set at the end of
Friday's shoot for "The Door"
A 168 Film Project Documentary.
What steps can you take now to start the process? Here’s a hint: Prayer needs to go before everything. This is something you can start now. Then He will show you when to move. Ask others to pray also. This moves the project out from your private thoughts and into the view of others.

If you’re ready to start, what are the things you know to do toward making the project happen? Make a list. Make a plan. Begin to do what you know to do.

Make a list of all the resources you have. Perhaps make it in an Excel spreadsheet so you can keep adding to it. Gather your resources so you know what you have and what you need. Look for backups for everything, so when it all falls apart — and expect it to at some point — you have resources to put it back together. Know that every big and worthy project will have challenges. This is a test to see if you’re willing to work harder and stick with it to make it happen. Also know that when you put it back together, it will be better than it ever would have been before. (Tweet that!)

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Ask for help. I found so many people were excited to help and get involved!

Do you know when I get the most scared, excited, and fascinated in a project? It's when I look around and see all these people and realize none of it would be happening if it weren't for me. I created something that gave dozens of people something to be a part of. They loved it. None of them would have had that opportunity had I not started the project. (Tweet that!) This, for me, is the most amazing and fulfilling aspect of a film project. When we’re in the middle of filming and I look around and I realize everyone is here because of me. It’s intimidating. It’s exciting. It’s amazing. And I love that.

So what is it you want to do? I hope you’ll attempt something so big that God has to show up to make it happen. It’s the thrill of a lifetime. (Tweet that!)

Related Site:


This is a short film project which will compete in the 168 Film Project. By the contest rules, I may not show it until after that film festival in late August. Hopefully I will be able to release a movie trailer earlier than that. And hopefully also a movie poster. Stay tuned!

Learn more about this film by visiting it’s web site. Please sign up for the newsletter to receive updates: bit.ly/ConnectFilms (Tweet that!)

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Lessons in Beginnings for Writers

A swirl of books. How do you get into a story?
(VisualHunt.com)
As a writer, have you ever heard the term "throat clearing"? Over the years I've heard this term used when I met with editors at writers conferences and also in workshops. For me, this usually applied to a short piece I was showing them, like an article or devotional, but the principle applies to longer pieces like books and chapters also. The editors were telling me that I didn't really get to the heart of my piece of writing for several sentences or even paragraphs. (Tweet that!) In longer pieces, you may find your real beginning pages later.

I was reminded of this term recently by an article in the Christian Communicator:
…great beginnings often don't appear in the first draft. Or, if they do, they often aren't at the beginning. That's why the editing process is so important.

Many times you will discover that the first couple pages of your writing are no more than "throat clearing," and you get to your point somewhere around page 3. In a short piece, like a devotional or article, those first lines you type may not be the best beginning and will probably need to be deleted and replaced with a sentence currently in your fourth paragraph. 
("Your First Impression" by Linda Taylor, March-April 2017 issue of Christian Communicator, page 15.)

From my own experience, I find this principle very true for my non-fiction writing. And as I pursue writing fiction I find the same holds true. However I've learned a lot about beginnings and how to get started from working in screenwriting and making short films. (Tweet that!)

How do we get into the Story?


One of the first short films I produced was "Air Guitar." This was actually a practice film. I was preparing to shoot the first short film I produced on my own and I wanted to run through the whole procedure once just to perform the process from start to finish — including filming, capturing sound, then the film editing. I also wanted to run through the whole process with my small film crew — camera man, sound person, actors, film editor. So one day I gathered my camera man, sound, casting and acting coach with a couple young actors and we did a run-through. I'd worked with the camera man on a short film the previous year, so we both had that experience. He would also be my film editor.

In order to have something to shoot and practice with, I wrote a one-page script. It was actually a joke I'd made up and then wrote it to play it out with actors. I opened the script in a kitchen with my actors cooking brownies for a birthday party. We set up to film in my kitchen.

Then my camera man hit me with a question: Yes, it's a story about a birthday party, but how do you want to open up the film? What's our first image? What do we show?

Until then I didn't even realized that I had never considered how to get into the story. How do we get started? (Tweet that!) How do we introduce this world we're in and our story's characters. Thankfully my camera man also had a suggestion: he did a close shot of just our hands passing out festive-colored plates and napkins. In the editing he put jazzy music under the scene. And, of course, he added the title and opening credits. That's how we got started.

Had I left it as I had it, we would have just jumped into cooking and dialog. No title. No opening credits. The audience would not have known it was a party. We would not have set the festive tone with the jazzy music. My script probably would have stumbled around with some meaningless dialog — "throat clearing" — trying to get into the story.

If you'd like to see the short film we made that day, it's here: "Air Guitar" short film

Since then I've tried to think much more about how to start my stories, articles, and books — both fiction and nonfiction — as well as each chapter. How is it best to get into them?

Establishing shots


In film, it used to be popular to show what is called an "establishing shot." I'm sure you've seen them, you just didn't know what they were called. An establishing shot is usually a camera shot showing a city skyline or the outside of a building or house — something that shows, and establishes, where we are. The tone is often also given: a storm is brewing, or a sunny day, or scary bad-guy music. But there is no dialog or anything that moves the story forward.

For the film I'm currently producing, a documentary of a true-life event, so far my best thought for opening the film is to show an establishing shot of a certain street intersection in the small city where I live. Then we'll widen the shot to show more of the city skyline and mountains beyond. I'm thinking I may even superimpose the city's name, state, and population. Of course the audience won't understand the importance of any of this information at the beginning, but it's all important and relevant. It will tell them where we are (city and state). Then through the story they will learn that this busy traffic intersection is actually where the event took place, in a city of sufficient size that it's very interesting that so many people are connected to what happened that night. This establishing shot will help me introduce and get into the story. (By the way, I also plan to come full circle and end the film here at this intersection … with one important change that has taken place since the event happened.)

Films and television shows don't use establishing shots as much as they used to. In writing, it may be good to have a character in this "establishing shot" or something that moves the story forward, but that is one way to get into the story. (Tweet that!)

Thesis Statements


In non-fiction writing, whether articles or a chapter in a book, it's good to focus the piece of writing with a focus statement or thesis statement. I wrote on this topic in a previous post so you can find more help with that here:


The thesis statement typically goes near the beginning of the piece and then the rest of the article or chapter supports that statement. So finding an introduction that introduces or "gets to" that thesis statement is needed, and is the path to a good beginning. (Tweet that!) However finding that path is still challenging.

"Throat Clearing" is Necessary to Find Your Beginning


You may need to do a lot of writing, allowing yourself to do a lot of "throat clearing," before you find the best path into your article, chapter, or story. That's okay. Do it. (Tweet that!) Just be sure to let it rest (days, weeks if you have the time), and then go back and edit. Let it rest. Edit. It will most likely take several rounds before you get to a great beginning.


What about you? Do you struggle with great beginnings? Do you need to do some "throat clearing" in writing before you can find your best starting place? (Tweet that!) It's not bad or wrong to write this "throat clearing." I actually think it's necessary in order to find the best starting place. We just can't leave it like that. We need to edit all the throat clearing out and find our best beginning before we turn in a project or let a prospective editor or publisher read it.

That doesn't mean we can't let anyone read it. We often need the help of another writer. A friend and fellow traveler on the writing journey, because they understand what a great beginning is. And they can spot "throat clearing" in our writing far better than we can see it in our own.

Take a look at the beginnings of your previously written stories or articles. Can you see any "throat clearing" going on? How would you now edit that beginning?

Then take a look at your work(s) in progress. Have you found the best beginning yet? Or do you need to do some "throat clearing" to find a it? (Tweet that!)

When you look at your previously written projects and your current works in progress, what lessons in beginnings can you learn?

Related Article and Link:



    Wednesday, March 1, 2017

    Helping A Writer’s Muddled Mind - Part 2


    Last month I was lamenting the problem I was having getting going after the first of the year. I felt muddled during most of January and felt like I wasn’t making much progress with my writing projects. (Tweet this!) As a part of that muddle, I also couldn’t think of what to write about on this blog. When a friend suggested I write about that very topic — How to generate new writing ideas when we’re dry — and suggested others might be helped by my struggles, I gave it a go and, much to my surprise, ended up with such a lengthy blog post I’ve divided it into two!

    If you wish to read about the first three causes of my thinking and writing-muddle I identified last month: 
    • 1. Not Enough Ideas 
    • 2. Too Many Ideas 
    • 3. Distractions, 

    Here are the other three causes of a writer’s muddled mind that I was able to identify:

    4. Things I Don’t Want to Do (But Need to Do)


    It seems clear to me that whenever I get overloaded with tasks I don’t like doing or dread doing, everything slows and I can’t seem to get much done. (Tweet it!) I don’t think it matters if we’re creative people or business people or laborers or whatever, in every job I’ve ever held there have been tasks I enjoy doing and tasks I dislike or dread doing. It seems equally clear to me that we can all get ourselves to do those tasks we don’t like or dread. Because it’s part of the job.

    But when everything on our to-do lists is stuff we don’t want to do, it can stall us out completely. We need a little bit of sugar mixed in, don’t you think?

    I also think sometimes I don’t want to do things because there’s something else going on. It could be that I really don’t know how to do what I need to do. That’s my next point #5 below.

    But it can also be that I’m stalled out on doing something I normally don’t mind doing. Such as, you ask? Last month I described how dry I was on ideas for this blog. Normally I enjoy writing this blog. I love sharing with you something I’ve learned or something I know which I think will help you.

    Still, there are times when I intensely don’t want to write this blog. (Sorry. It’s true.) Why? Well that’s a very good question for me to stop and think about.

    The “why” behind why I didn’t want to write this blog last month, once I stopped and gave some thought to it, turned out to be because I didn’t have a great idea that I felt would help you. I couldn’t think of anything new to share that you might need. I could think of things to write about, but not that I thought sounded profitable for you.

    I was stuck. Stuck for a good idea. I needed to do it. But I didn’t want to do it because nothing sounded good to me.

    So what’s the solution? If possible either mix in some things you want to do, or figure out a way through what you don’t want to do, or both.

    If you’re stuck, ask for help. Ask your writer friends. Ask other friends. Ask a stranger if you must. Ask the person next to you the bus or the train or in the waiting room or standing in line.

    I recently read a statement from a successful author who said that early in her career an editor advised her to ask everyone (strangers included):
    “What book do you wish had been written for you to read?” 
    Wow. I never thought of doing that. This author said it had served her well and had sparked many of her books. (Tweet that!)

    So ask someone for help and see what you get.

    Furthermore, if you’re a believer, ask God for help. He may have a great idea for you. And He just might be wishing you would ask.


    5. Things I Don’t Know How to Do (But Must Do)


    Sometimes I mistake a task as #4 above — something I don’t want to do — when the real problem is that I don’t know how to do it. And so I’m stuck. No matter how much I prod myself to get going, I can’t move forward. Then I realize the real reason isn’t because I’m lazy or don’t feel like doing it, it’s because I don’t know how to get over the mountain that is standing before me.

    One such recent dilemma for me was this: My writing projects this spring include two film projects. I need to do a fundraiser for both of them.

    Not a writer's usual work. I’ve never done a fundraiser before. I have so many questions. I don't know how to do this. I’ve observed others and therefore thought I knew how to do it and I have many ideas of what I can do to hopefully make it a success. But I kept not starting the project.

    I had questions in my mind I didn’t know how to answer. Should I do this fundraiser? Should I not? I hate asking for money. What should I offer for incentives? I’m producing not one, but two, projects this spring — one with a larger crew, one with a small crew. I couldn’t see running two separate fundraisers and making them both successful, nor could I see how to run one and divide the proceeds fairly between the two. Help!

    Then I asked God to help me figure out how to do this fundraiser. Before I got to bed I had an idea that could work. The next morning I spent an hour writing down all my ideas.

    Incentives? Duh. I have books. And I have expertise. I can offer consultations, phone meetings with writers and filmmakers. Others on my film teams might be willing to offer the same in their area of expertise.

    Which film project? I could let the donor tell me by listing the same incentive three times:
    • Choose this one if you want your donation to go to the narrative film team. 
    • Choose this one if you want your donation to go to the documentary film. 
    • Choose this one if you don’t have a preference and I can use your donation wherever it is needed most.

    This fundraiser had me stopped for a long time because it was something I could not figure out how to do. But I kept seeking an answer and it came. (Tweet that!) Now I’m moving forward, excited about my FUN-Draiser!


    6. A Writer’s Worries


    Finally, as I was trying figure out why my writer’s mind was so muddled that I was having difficulty getting anything done, I discovered that the more difficulties I had getting going on projects and finding answers to my dilemmas, the harder it was to sleep at night. I didn’t want to worry about these things through the night but they wouldn’t let me sleep. That just added to my muddled thinking the next day.

    So what was my solution to this? One night I made a rule: No thinking about the project allowed between the hours of 9:00 PM and 7:00 AM. This is sleep time. I can’t do anything about any of it during those hours anyway. So why lay awake worrying?  (Tweet it!)

    My new rule works. Mostly. I still break it occasionally but I’m better for the rule and with practice it’s getting easier to enforce it. It’s about setting boundaries around our work and our projects. It’s about keeping good boundaries so we can have a life beyond our work.


    What about you? What muddles your writer’s mind? What stops you from making progress on your writing projects? Can you identify different problems than what I did? What suggestions do you have to deal with the problem so you can get going again?


    Related Article: 

    • Helping A Writer’s Muddled Mind - Part 1 


    Wednesday, February 1, 2017

    Helping A Writer’s Muddled Mind - Part 1

    Is anyone else having trouble getting moving on writing projects this New Year? Since I slowed down for the holidays, I can’t seem to get moving again. I keep trying, but I just can’t seem to even make myself do what needs to be done. (Tweet it!)

    Well wait a minute maybe that’s not quite true. When I stop and think about it, I realize I have been doing a lot. But then I’ve also been piddling around a lot.

    I thought maybe I’d stop and evaluate what’s going on and why. As with anything, the first step to solving a problems is to accurately identify what the problem is. (Tweet it!)

    When I did stop and evaluate, I could see that I have been working on various projects — and making significant headway in them. I can also see some of the snags that have been holding me up.

    Surprisingly to me, I found six areas that have been muddling my mind and my progress. I have so many thoughts and ideas about these six that it’s too much for one blog post! We’ll cover three causes of muddle in a writer’s mind this month and another three in the March 1 post.


    1. Not Enough Ideas


    I know one reason why I’ve been stymied since the first of the year. I don’t have enough ideas. More specifically, I don’t have enough ideas for this blog. I have some ideas stashed, but when I reviewed them, I went down the entire list saying, “No. No. No. Not that one. Nope…” 

    Why? For one thing, not many of the ideas excited me. They were ideas brainstormed during a past time when I was dry on ideas. I’ve used the ideas that excited me, leaving only the ideas that now feel old or overdone.

    The ideas that might excite me I wasn’t sure would excite you. I mean, just because I’m into screenwriting right now and have a ton to say about that doesn’t mean that’s what the audience of this blog wants. Through my evaluation I got to thinking this blog started out being for writers of magazine articles and books, and the most popular blog posts are the ones where I’m sharing something I’ve learned with people who want or need to know that information. I’m not sure screenwriting topics fit in to that.

    So that left me without a great idea for this month’s blog post and I just wasn’t coming up with something new to share. I mean, I’ve already shared a lot of what I know that I can think of which others might want to know or want help with. What else can I share? I’m dry on ideas. (Right now are you screaming at your screen what you need and wish I would blog about? Let me know in a comment!)

    The end of January was looming and I didn’t have a single idea that excited me for this February 1 post. So I asked for help. 

    I had the privilege of chatting with some writer friends and I told them my problem. Someone suggested that I write about how to get new ideas. I asked her if she realized she was asking me to write about the very thing I was struggling with and that I had no solutions for?! She said sometimes others are struggling with the same things we are and how we solve it can help them. Ah well. She had a point. So here I am, trying to figure it out and hoping I’m helping you as well as myself.

    This morning I set a timer for an hour and am typing as fast as I can on this blog post. Whaddya know? It’s coming. My timer just went off and I’ve got a bunch of notes written. I just reset the timer for another hour. (Tweet it!)

    And now guess what? I’ve found so much to write about I have enough for two posts!

    If you’re still stuck, check out this article. It’s for screenwriters, but it might help spark something no matter what you’re working on: “5 Tips to Turn Your Script Into a High Concept Idea.” 


    2. Too Many Ideas


    Ironically, another dilemma that muddles my writer’s mind is the exact opposite of #1 above. When I start listing all the projects I would like to write, it can be overwhelming. 

    I have a large white-board where, at the beginning of the year, I list my goals including the projects I want to write. I don’t always get them all done. But the past few years I’ve done pretty well at picking a few to accomplish that year and getting them completed — written, polished, submitted somewhere.

    But I have to choose which ones I will do. I can’t do them all. I have too many ideas. So I pick one or two major projects and get to work on them. (Tweet it!)

    This also means there are many projects I cannot work on. I have projects sitting in the wings waiting for my attention. It’s hard to let them sit there. Some of them really excite me. But it’s not their turn yet. (Tweet it!)

    Sometimes it is best to let them sit. One of my projects I started writing back in 1999. I still believe in that project. And I still believe it was good then, even though some things happened at the time that put it on the shelf. But now, because I’m also a screenwriter now, I can envision this project on the big or small screen (movie or TV). I couldn’t have even dreamed that possibility back in 1999. 

    Furthermore, the world has changed. This project will be intensely more meaningful now — with parts of it amazingly prophetic, if I may say so, given things happening in the world now. The time for this project is coming. It’s getting closer all the time. And I am far more prepared to make it great than I was seventeen years ago.

    I’m still not ready to re-write it and complete it, but I can see it on the horizon! It’s moving closer. And I’m excited!

    But I need to let it sit for a while longer, because if I pull it down off the shelf now when I already have so many projects working, it will just add to the muddle in my mind.
    Make a plan. Then work your plan.

    A Note About Brainstorming


    Interestingly, I think brainstorming can create problems instead of fixing them. (Tweet it!)

    I think writers love to brainstorm new ideas. It’s fun! Then some of those ideas rise to the top as really good ideas and we can’t wait to work on them. But if we brainstorm too often or too much, it can be a procrastination tool. Brainstorming can be the fun thing we do instead of working the projects we already have that need to be finished.

    Brainstorming more ideas can add to the #2 problem we: Too many ideas or projects which can muddle the mind.

    Are you using the fun work of brainstorming more ideas and projects to avoid doing the hard work of finishing the project you have before you? I have this Bible verse printed out and tacked on my wall in my office:
    “Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.” 2 Corinthians 8:11, NIV

    3. Distractions


    I’ll admit it. I’m a news and political junkie. It’s not just that I like to be informed, although I do. Staying informed on what’s going on in the world also informs my writing. I write on current events whether I’m blogging on Bible prophecy in the news or am writing my fiction. 

    With all that’s been going on the past few months with the U.S. presidential election, with all that’s going on now that we have a new president, and honestly with all that’s been going on the past year with the campaign…and even years before that with our former president and his decisions matched with other world events… I want to listen in and stay up on it all. I often have the radio on in the background and I’m listening to talk radio and news.

    Eh-hem. We cannot concentrate on two things at once.  Yes, I know “multi-tasking” is big and many people think they are good at doing two things at once, but our minds cannot concentrate on two things at the same time. (Tweet it!We can do mindless work with our hands (filing for example). But we cannot think on two things at the same time, like listening to a conversation in the background and thinking on a writing project in front of us. Nope. Doesn’t work. 

    It may be obvious to you, but I had to be reminded that I’m not getting much done when I have talk that I want to listen to going on in the background. Either I’m listening to it or I’m not writing anything because I’m distracted by what I might be missing.

    Distractions muddle our minds. The obvious solution? Turn it off. Whether your favorite distraction is the same as mine or Facebook, other social media, surfing the web, music, or other, turn it off and see if your muddled mind doesn’t focus in.

    But then there’s the enjoying life factor. We do these “distractions” because we enjoy them and we don’t want to miss out. It’s one of the reasons we work from home as a writer, so we can do these things! Okay. Find a reasonable compromise. Schedule when you go online, respond to Facebook, do social media, listen to the radio, email, or do anything online, etc. Make sure it’s not during your most creative time. Protect that time and do your creative work — and only your creative work — then.

    This article may help: “May I Have Another Cup of Creativity, Please?” 

    Control the time you put into those things that distract you and control the time you devote to your writing project. You’re in the driver’s seat. (Tweet it!)

    I hope that help you get started with your writing again. It has me. Come back next month and we’ll talk about three more things I’ve identified which have had my writer’s mind so muddled that I’m having trouble getting my work done. These three are: 

    • Things I Don’t Want to Do (But Need to Do)
    • Things I Don’t Know How to Do (But Must Do), and 
    • A Writer’s Worries

    Until next month, I hope your writer’s mind gets un-muddled and you get lots done.

    Sunday, January 1, 2017

    The Fear of Writing

    © Maxim Golubchikov
    Dreamstime Stock Photos
    It was one of those email newsletters from authors for authors. I had just signed up for it and got my first edition on the first of the month. I opened it. But the lead article stopped me in my tracks.

    The feature article was by a well known author. I like her writing and I've even met her in person. But the title of the article screamed that I dared not write if I was "behind-the-times." If I wrote, and if I wasn't up-to-date in my understanding of how things are done today, I might as well not write or else I'll become a laughingstock!

    I tried reading the article. I really tried. But the first few lines told me I was doing it all wrong. (Tweet that!)

    You're Doing It All Wrong!


    My punctuation. My point-of-view. All wrong.

    If I'm doing that wrong, what else am I doing wrong that I don't know about? And where do I go to find out?

    The idea of having to figure out how to research in order to find out all the things I'm doing wrong and learn the current "right" way to do it seemed like such a huge, mountainous learning curve. I was overwhelmed.

    Then I Felt Angry


    Then I felt angry. Who was this author to tell me I'm doing it all wrong? (Tweet that!) I've been writing for publication since the late 80s. It angered me to have someone telling me I don't know what I'm doing. I've fallen behind. Get out of the way and let the younger people do it right.

    What about the novel I wanted to start writing? The one I've wanted to write for years. The novel of my heart. Is it going to be a waste of time? Because I'm so old-fashioned and out of date and times have changed so much that I'm doing it all wrong? Good grief. Why even start?

    I don't have a chance.

    I Don't Have a chance?


    For heaven's sake I don't want to write the novel of my heart and then find out it has made me a laughing stock. Nobody wants to be a laughingstock, right?

    Can someone please tell me where does an author go to learn the so-called "right" way of writing?

    The fear of doing it all wrong stopped me. I was dead in the water. I feared writing a single word. (Tweet that!)

    Never thought that would happen to me.

    But I'm a Good Writer


    But wait a minute. I'm a good writer. I know I am. I've been off on other adventures the past few years: screenwriting and filmmaking and all kinds of exciting things. Now that I want to come back to write one of the novels I've always wanted to write, I'm told I'll never make it because I'm "behind the times"?! (Tweet that!)

    Have you ever felt like that? (I hope not.) But have you ever feared writing? (Tweet that!) Maybe you've experienced it for a different reason. Like fearing what people will think of your story. Or fearing putting yourself out there. Or fearing something else.

    Fortunately I have a friend who calmed me down and offered to help. "Just write your story the way you want to," she said. "Forget all that stuff. Write it and show it to me and I'll show you how to fix whatever is needed. I'll help you."

    I melted. What a relief. What a great friend.

    After she talked me down off the ledge, I could see that I'm not that behind-the-times. The few things that are different from twenty years ago are easy to change. I can make the transition. I'm going to be okay!

    When the Fear of Writing Strikes, What Can We Do?


    Looking back on my time of fear, I can see three things that can help in our time of panic when we feel afraid to write. (Tweet that!) I hope these will help you when you need it:

    1.) Find a Friend


    Writing is a lonely business. Writers spend hours at a stretch alone with our stories. When we finally come up for air, we can discover others don't "get" what we're doing. Or they don't "get" our story. Or they think they have better ideas.

    Critiquing is good. It's a good way to grow and learn and help each other. But we also need a friend who isn't going to rip our writing apart. We need a writing friend who can help us.

    My friend and I meet regularly -- at least twice a month. (Tweet that!) We talk about what we're working on, what difficulties we're having, and what we want to accomplish before the next time we meet. We help each other. I've been helped over stumbling blocks. I've been encouraged to try big things. I've offered her ideas which I hope help her. More than anything, I'm not in this alone. Someone is there with me, struggling along beside me. And on the rare occasion when I really need it, she talks me down on off the ledge.


    2.) Write it Your Way


    This takes courage. It takes daring. But I dare you! Do it. Go for it. Try it. (Tweet that!)

    I learned a great lesson last fall when I had a new and exciting adventure. A film crew was filming a feature movie in a town about 30 miles from me. I applied to work as an extra on the film and was hired to work two days. What a great opportunity!

    The film was based on a novel titled Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. Of course I had to find out more about this book and how it became a movie. In my research I discovered some interesting information.

    The author was actually born in the city I live in now. He lived in Colorado and wrote several novels about a fictional Colorado town.

    He also wrote without quotation marks.
    "No quotation marks – ever. He said he liked the way it looked on the page,” according to an interview with the author's wife in The Mountain Mail (Salida, Colorado).
    His wife did his editing before it went to his publisher, Vintage / Penguin Random House. I thought that meant she would put in the quotation marks. But when I ran over to Barnes & Nobel to get the book I discovered no, she did not put in any quotation marks. Nor did the publisher. There isn't a set of quotation marks in the book.

    To spoof a line from the movie Back to the Future: "Rules? Where we're going, we don't need rules!"

    This is what I mean when I say "write it your way." Ditch the so-called rules.

    3.) Don't Let It Stop You!


    The other thing I learned when I researched Our Souls at Night is that when the author wrote the book, he was dying. (Tweet that!) Kent Haruf learned it was terminal in February. Previously it had taken him six years to write a book. But he decided to write another story. He didn't tell his publisher.

    By August 1 he had a draft. By September 15th he was ready to send it to his editor at the publishing house, as a surprise. In late November the publisher sent back a surprise: a mock-up of the book so Kent could see it. He died the following day, on November 30, 2014. His wife finished the final edits the next day.

    You can read more about this story in the article, "'Our Souls at Night': Interview with Cathy Haruf reveals insight into author's work," The Mountain Mail, August 31, 2016.

    This author knew he was dying and yet he wrote another book. And now his book is being made into a Netflix movie, Netflix's first theatrical release, starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.

    Now that's a writer who didn't let anything stop him.

    Thursday, December 1, 2016

    Have You Ever Wanted to Write for Kids? Try Tara Lazar's Picture Book Challenge in January

    The former PiBoIdMo has its new name!
    As of December 27, 2016, it is now "Storystorm,"
    taking place in January!
    You know NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). But did you discover PiBoIdMo? It took place in November up until 2016 when it was bumped to January 2017. (Tweet that!) Organizers promise this event will be given a new name, but as of this writing, that new name has not been announced yet. (Once announced, I just might edit this post and add a new image...whenever that info is released. But I want to post this info in December so you'll have it if you want to participate come January.

    I discovered PiBoIdMo last year. (That's Pie-Bo-IDE-Mo.) It's short for Picture Book Idea Month.

    If you've ever had an interest in writing picture books for children or writing other books for kids, or if you're looking for something new and interesting to put your creative energy into, or if you just need a brain-break, you might look into participating in this challenge. (Tweet that!It's free to participate, of course.

    I learned about PiBoIdMo last year, in 2015, when my author friend, Karen Whiting, mentioned it in an email loop for writers. I participated on a whim and had a great time with it. I had many projects going and wanted a break. Plus, secretly, I've had a number of children's books in mind to write for a long time. I hoped it would help me make headway on them. (Tweet that!)

    Creator Tara Lazar says, "Tired of watching novelists have all the fun in November with NaNoWriMo, I created PiBoIdMo as a 30-day challenge for picture book writers."

    Previously held in November alongside NaNoWriMo,
    starting in 2017 Tara Lazar's PiBoIdMo has moved to
    January and will have a new name -- unknown 
    at the time of this post!
    The original idea for PiBoIdMo was for writers and illustrators to simply jot down one concept for a picture book each day.  (Tweet that!) Thirty days later participants would have "30 bright & shiny new ideas" to spur them to create new books for kids. To "win," participants end the month with at least 30 new picture book ideas and sign the PiBo-Pledge confirming they completed the challenge.

    The founder, Tara Lazar, posts daily during the event with guest posts from successful children's authors, illustrators, and editors. I found these guest bloggers very helpful and inspiring. I learned a lot about the children's book industry through them. Tara Lazar also offers give-away prizes.

    What does it mean to "win"? This if from the FAQs:

    Simply end the month of November with at least 30 new picture book ideas! Then you can sign the PiBo-Pledge... confirming you have completed the challenge. Those who register AND sign the pledge are eligible for prizes, including a consultation with a literary agent, a professional picture book critique, original signed art, plus much more!

    PiBoIdMo Participant, Author Karen Whiting:


    I mentioned above that I learned about PiBoIdMo from my author friend Karen Whiting. I thought it would be fun to do a quick interview with her about her experiences with the challenge:
    Karen's new Christmas book!

    BAW: Were any of  your published children's books inspired during PiBoIdMo? 

    Karen: The One Year My Princess Devotions was inspired at that time quite a few years ago. It released in 2013,

    BAW: Any struggles to participating in PiBoIdMo?

    Karen: Wile doing the PiBoIdMo I received a few contacts different years, including Christmas is Coming, Waiting is Hard!, which released September 2016. That cut short my completing the challenge as I needed to get writing.

    BAW: Do you recommend eating more pie during PiBoIdMo?

    Karen: I would avoid pie at that time because it’s so close to all the holidays -- in fact for me doing it helps keep me away from food! A good diet plan is to focus on creating new ideas and chatting with friends about their ideas.

    BAW: What inspires you? Any inspirational tools you'd like to share?

    Karen: What inspires me? I like to look at calendar dates at Brownielocks (any month) like Elephant Day in September and others. I just look at random days on their calendar. Those spark my imagination. (Tweet that!)

    And the SCBWI group in Maryland where I lived until this spring has a celebration outing at the end of the month that adds to the fun as we get together and laugh about lame titles and encourage one another on the fresh ideas.

    BAW: Thank you, Karen, for sharing your inspirations!


    More PiBoIdMo Info:

    • Is there a registration?
    In previous years registration in on Tara Lazar's site beginning late in the month previous to the event and continuing a few days into the event month. Watch her site for dates and instructions.
    • Any prizes?
    Those who register are eligible for prizes.
    • Must participants tell their title ideas to win?
    No. It's on the honor system. If you say you have thirty new ideas, they believe you.

    Look for them on Facebook here:

    For me, sometimes I just need a brain-break. So I'm thinking I'll participate again next month, which will my second time.  (Tweet that!)

    I'm planning to schedule time at the bookstore perusing picture books for inspiration.

    And I want to make a goal to read thirty picture books during January. That's one per day. I have some here at home which I haven't read yet. The rest I'll get from a library so I don't go broke. (Tweet that!)

    What about you? Do you plan to take part in PiMoBiMo ... or whatever it's going to be called now?

    Related Resources: 


    Tuesday, November 1, 2016

    How to Pitch Conference Directors on Teaching a Workshop

    Dianne teaching a workshop for writers at the
    Colorado Christian Writers Conference
    Estes Park, Colorado, May 2011
    I'm often asked how I got started teaching at writers conferences. Usually the one asking  is doing so because he or she would like to be on faculty at a conference. I'll answer the question of how it happened for me. Then I'll give you tips on how you might ask a conference director to put you on staff.

    I'm betting my answer to the question, how I first got on faculty at a conference, is fairly unique. The first time for me, I did not ask to teach. I wasn't comfortable standing in front of a classroom teaching -- public speaking made me nervous. So instead I told God, "If you want me to teach, then instead of me asking the conference director, I'd like you to have the conference director ask me. If that happens, I will know it's from you and I'll say yes."

    Now, I had attended this particular conference for at least fifteen years and had never been on faculty. So imagine my surprise when only a few weeks later the conference director contacted me and asked me to teach a workshop.

    What could I do? I had to say yes, didn't I? Well, hey.  If God was asking me to teach a workshop, then he would just have to help me do it, too, don't you think?

    Since then I've taught lots of workshops at several conferences. The more I do it, the less nervous I am.

    If you're nervous about public speaking, I highly recommend you check out Toastmasters International and find (or start) a club near you. (Tweet that!) This group helped me immensely.

    But what if God doesn't open a door for you? How do you ask to get on faculty to teach workshops at a writer's conference? (Tweet that!) If I had to do it knowing what I know now, here's what I'd do:

    Find out when to pitch your workshop ideas

    Send a polite email to the conference director asking when would be the best time to send some workshop ideas. (Tweet that!) I'm on faculty about every other year at the conference I first taught at, the Colorado Christian Writer's Conference, held in May. From what I can tell, now is the time to pitch that director. I know she'll start putting the spring conference together before Christmas, so I want to pitch her before that so she'll have my info in mind when she's thinking about her conference.

    The same director also gives a conference in August, the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference. I know to give the director time after a conference to rest, clean up, finish the book work, etc. (Tweet that!) So I think it's best not to pitch right after you get home. Give the director some time to breathe.

    If it's a conference you are attending (it's a really good idea to attend the conference you want to teach at!), then you might ask the director while you're there when she would want you to send her workshop ideas.

    Prepare several pitches:

    Meanwhile, brainstorm and prepare your workshop ideas. (Tweet this!) Don't just send one idea. Giving conference directors three or four options to choose from helps them shape the conference they want and gives you a better chance of success. They might even want you to teach more than one workshop (which saves them on costs for bringing in more faculty).

    Here are some tips to think about when you are picking your possible workshop topics or brainstorming your ideas:

    Make it useful.

    I've heard some pretty boring pitches. I've also heard some pitches to teach information that is so basic probably most people there already know that much. You have something useful and unique that others need. What is that?

    Check your motives. You don't want to be the person who seems to just want to be at the front of the room speaking. It's not about you. It's about:
    1. your workshop attendees and serving them (Check out my article about serving others through your writing: "Writing for Publication and ...Servanthood.");
    2. your conference director and serving her overall goals for her conference.


    Make it unique. 

    Why should the director pick your workshop? (Tweet that!) Remember that a lot of other people are wanting to be on the faculty too. Your pitch is competing for a limited number of workshop slots in the conference. So what do you have to offer that isn't already being offered routinely?

    Alternatively, what "holes" do you see in your knowledge base or in the usual conference offerings? If there is something you need to know but nobody is teaching on, maybe you can research that topic, find helpful answers, and offer that information in a workshop. In your pitch, let the director know you've needed this information so other writers probably do too.

    In other words, instead of thinking about what you want to teach, think about what this audience needs or wants. Then match that with what you can offer.

    Make it short 

    Write a one-paragraph (a short one!) description of the workshop you envision. Give a solid overview of your idea as well as some of the topics you'll cover. This is your pitch that you'll send with your business-letter type email to the conference director.

    Then also write and send a one-sentence description to go in the conference brochure.

    Make sure you have the credentials.

    If you haven't yet sold a book to a publisher, don't pitch a workshop on how to get multiple book contracts. Duh, right?

    Also, if you've only done it once, think twice. There may be some topics where if you've succeeded once it's a major accomplishment that you can talk about. Other topics, though, need the experience and success of more than a one-hit wonder. In other words, getting a book contract from a large, respected publish is a great accomplishment. However it may take doing that more than once to know if it was your concepts which other people can employ that made it happen and will work for them.

    Think about what you have experienced. What have you learned? What knowledge do you have to share that will help or interest others? Is there enough info there to teach a 45 minute (or two-hour) workshop?

    Under Promise / Over Deliver

    Whatever you promise the conference director in your pitch, make sure you can and will deliver what you promise...and more.

    You may be asked for...

    Recently I heard a writer ask another conference director what she wanted from people who pitched her workshop ideas to teach at her conference. She said she wanted to hear you teaching. She asked for a CD or an MP3 recording. You might want to be prepared in case a director asks you for a recording of you teaching a workshop.

    Many of the conferences where I've taught record workshops and give the presenter a free copy. If yours doesn't give a free one, ask politely if that can be included.

    Of course if you haven't taught a workshop anywhere yet, this is a problem. Perhaps you could ask to teach to a local writer's group or club and record that.

    When You're Invited...

    You'll need a photo for the web site and brochure. You'll probably receive a contract to sign. You may be asked for a bio to put on the web site. You will probably be asked for a lot of activity. Be sure to respond promptly with quality items.

    Add Value for Your Audience

    As you prepare your outlines for the workshops you might teach, think about adding value for those in your class.

    At the very least create handouts - something for your attendees to take home. Perhaps you can give away other products of value to your students (that doesn't cost you a lot): maybe a checklist to help them implement your strategies when they get home, or a list of resources.

    You'll be giving far more than your workshop presentation. People will want to hang out with you, ask you questions, eat a meal with you, talk, tell you about their projects, etc. The conference you're speaking at may schedule you to meet with conferees one on one during hours when you're not teaching. You may be asked to critique manuscripts attendees bring or send in advance. Some conferences expect you to do these things when you're on faculty and it's all included in what you're being paid. Other items you may get paid an additional fee for doing some items, like critiques.

    Add Value for Yourself

    Think about what you would like your students to do when they get home. Would you like them to buy your books on Amazon? Visit your blog? Then put your Amazon page (short URL), web site, blog URL, etc., on all your handouts. (Tweet that!)

    During your class, circulate a sign-up sheet for your newsletter. You can input their email addresses yourself when you get home and your newsletter app will send them a confirmation to opt in.

    Think ahead about what could benefit you, and then create sign-up sheets or whatever you need for that. But of course always remember the purpose of the workshop is for the benefit the people attending, not you!

    If you don't have books published, make other products to sell on the faculty tables or bookstore. More than a dozen years ago I created five helpful pamphlets for writers with my teachings on several topics. These continue to sell well at conferences where I teach, adding to my income, and I've since made some of them into e-books so more writers can benefit from them. All because I wanted to offer something of value at conferences.

    Avoid these Turn-offs 

    I've experienced:

    • Workshop leaders walking in late.
    • Coming completely unprepared.
    • Talking about nothing but themselves.

    I still have a bad taste in my mouth and am reluctant to purchase those authors' books.


    When you're asked to be on faculty at a conference, this is a time to give, not to take. Give to your conference director and give to your workshop attendees. (Tweet that!) Give to others at the conference. I'm betting you'll end up receiving more than you give in the long run.  And chances are good you might get invited back.