Monday, December 1, 2014

Keep Your Eye on the Ball: One Sentence that Can Elevate Your Writing to New Heights

I'm a football fan. Are you? For this analogy, pretty much any sport will do. I love to watch professional and college football in the fall and winter. My husband is a big baseball fan. One thing I've notice over and over again is that if a ball player does not keep his or her eye on the ball (or puck or whatever), they are not going to catch that pass or hit that ball out of the park.

You've got to keep your eye on the ball. Look it all the way in – to your arms to catch that pass, or to your mitt to catch that ball, or to your bat to get that hit.

When a player misses a catch or swings and misses, watch the replay. Watch his or her eyes. Most of the time, their eyes leave the ball before it gets there. They are already thinking about what they are going to do once they get the ball and their eyes betray that thought. They begin to take that action, but… They don't actually have the ball yet. And so they drop the ball, or don't catch it, or don't make contact. Consequently they never get to make the move they had planned out in their head.

It's all about focus.

How do you fix it? Sometimes it's a great idea to go back to basics. In fact, I don't think we get back to basics nearly often enough. If we could remind ourselves of lessons learned in the past more often, we'd probably do much better in the now.

All of this applies to writing. One of the best things I learned about writing very early in my career in a writing class I took was about "Thesis Statements." (Tweet that!) I don't hear much about thesis statements any more. But they have not lost their importance, so let's talk about a good thesis sentence.

It might be a common thought (I'm not sure. You can check me on this one.) that thesis statements are most often thought of for nonfiction writing, especially, for example, the essay. But I think writers who create a thesis statement for whatever they are writing, whether it's for a nonfiction book, or even if it's for fiction whether short stories, books, or screenplays, come out with a much stronger piece of writing. (Tweet that!)

Because the term "thesis statement" often causes people's eyes to glaze over, I sometimes call them "focus statements." More recently the term "a one-sentence" has cropped up with the advent of "one-pages." (Tweet that!)

What is a Thesis Statement?


A thesis or focus statement is stating the single main idea that you want to communicate through your nonfiction article, book, or fictional story in one sentence.

It is a specific sentence, not a vague one. It is a complete sentence, not a word or phrase.

Not: We should all create a thesis statement.

But: When writers created a thesis statement or focus sentence, their writing becomes more focused, better communicates what they set out to say, and leaves concrete thoughts for their audience.

A good thesis statement limits your content to communicating only what is relevant in this piece of writing. A thesis statement not only gives the idea of what you're going to write about, but also hints at your position on the topic as well as your purpose in writing.

Nailing Down a Thesis Statement


Sometimes a writer knows exactly what he or she wants to say and can state it right off the bat (pun intended). I think this is a talent, and for writers who have that talent I think it is one many writers don't know they possess.

For me, more often than not I have to write and rewrite and brainstorm and toss out and re-do a thesis or focus statement before I find it. This, for me, is pure agony. (Tweet that!) But when I finally find it, it's that sweet feeling just like you get when you hit the ball with the sweet spot on the bat and you know you just knocked it out of the park. (Tweet that!)

For some of you reading this I suspect you think that's crazy. What do you mean you don't know what your thesis statement is? Don't you know what you want to write about?!

I know. It sounds crazy to me too. Writing a thesis statement has always been a bit of a mystery for me. (Tweet that!) I should know what I want to write about, shouldn't I? I should know what I want to say. I guess the way I'd try to explain it would be to say that ideas are vague. They float around in the air and refuse to be captured. They are elusive. And so I can't capture a solid idea until I nail it down. And I can't nail it down until I get it on paper.

It's a struggle for me. So if this comes easy to you, you're one of the lucky ones.

What To Do With a Thesis Statement 


Thesis Statements for Nonfiction Writers


When I'm writing nonfiction, especially a short piece like an article, most of the time the thesis statement will fit into the article somewhere close to the beginning. It's part of introducing the idea of the article.

It's possible for a thesis statement to come more toward the end of an article, probably as part of the wrap-up, but that's rare. I can't think of a time that worked for me.

For nonfiction book writers, the thesis of the book most probably fits at the beginning of the book as the subject is introduced. But the nonfiction book writer then has much more work to do, because there would also be a thesis statement for each chapter in the book. That's one thesis statement for the overall book and a separate thesis statement for each chapter.

Even though I've been writing for over twenty-five years now, I have to confess that to this day at times I still forget to write a thesis statement. I blame part of this on the fact that it is not a natural thing for me to do. That's because I still think I should know what I'm writing about and what I want to say when I start writing, right? So for me to have to stop and figure out what it is I really want to say or what I'm really trying to say still feel crazy to me. But I can tell you this: If I will remember, and stop, and go back to basics, and write a thesis statement, then my writing becomes much easier! Then I know what I'm trying to say. I've nailed it down. And I can say it. In words. On paper.

After that agonizing exercise, I can then spend my time writing and fleshing out and explaining to the reader why that statement is important and relevant to them.

So what do you do with your thesis statement? After figuring it out, after writing it down, then print it out and tape it to your computer monitor so it is right there in front of you all the time. Keep your eye on your thesis. This will help you focus. It will help you stay on track. You'll instinctively know when you're headed down a rabbit trail and you can get back on track. This will save you writing time, effort, and many unusable words. (Tweet that!)

When the time and place is appropriate, you can stick your thesis statement into your writing so that your reader will know exactly what you're saying, what you're doing, and where you're going. That's a great place to be, and after that you'll most likely knock it out of the park!

Thesis Statements for Fiction Writers


Most of the time I've heard thesis statements discussed (which is pretty rare, actually), the discussion has been for or about nonfiction writers. But I believe this same principal applies to fictions writers also, whether you're writing a short story, a novel, or a screenplay.

Every story has a thesis. (Or it should.) Even though it's fiction, it's still going somewhere. It still has a message. A story without a message is just a bunch of happenings with no meaning.

And if you try to put too much into your story, then you're trying to cover too much and the true meaning of what you want to communicate gets muddled and lost.

So if you're a fiction writer, I would still encourage you to perform this exercise of writing a thesis or focus statement for your story. (Unlike for nonfiction writers, I don't believe you need a separate thesis statement for every chapter because your story is one cohesive whole, unlike a nonfiction book where each chapter speaks to a different aspect of the whole.)

Here, I think we can take a lesson from screenwriters. When writing a screenplay, screenwriters are often required to also write a "logline." In my mind, this is pretty much the same thing as a thesis or focus statement.

A logline is a one-sentence summary of the story. It's what you see on your TV guide that describes the movie or episode.

It is a complete sentence. It doesn't need to name your characters but it does need to give an idea of who the main character is, the journey she is on, the story problem that needs solved, and hint at the resolution. (That's probably not a comprehensive idea of how to write a logline. But it's a start.) Here's my attempt at an example. See if you can figure out what story it is for:

A lonely Kansas farm girl is whisked away by a twister to a fantasy land and must find her way back home.

Again, for you fiction writers, write your focus statement out and tape it to your monitor as your work. Unlike nonfiction writers who would include it in their written piece, your focus statement may never actually appear in words. However it will keep you on track to tell your story. It will keep you from chasing rabbits. It will help you focus on the story you're trying to tell and will keep all other thoughts from creeping in and muddling your main, focused idea. You'll come out with a much more cohesive story.

Thesis Statements are Different from Topics, Themes, and Tag Lines


To help define a thesis statement, it's helpful to know it is not a "topic," a "theme," or a "tag line."

A topic and a theme are most often a single word or a simple phrase.

These are topics:
  • Homelessness
  • Domestic Abuse


These are themes:
  • Love conquers all.
  • Hope never dies.


A tag line for screenwriters is not the same as a logline. A logline is the term used for a one-sentence summary of the story that an employee at a production company used to log in a script when it arrived in the mail. (Not sure that's done much anymore because we don't mail scripts much anymore, but that's where the term came from.) A "tag line" is what goes on the movie poster.

This is a tag line:
  • Every man dies. Not every man truly lives. (Braveheart)


Again, a thesis statement or a focus sentence, like a logline, is always a complete sentence.

What To Do With Those Rabbit Trails


I know what you're thinking. You're thinking about all those wonderful thoughts, ideas, story threads, characters, etc. that you discover along the way of writing that don't fit within your thesis statement. What about those? What should we do with those? Surely we don't just take all those wonderful ideas and throw them away! No, of course not.

You are likely to have many "left overs" (post Thanksgiving Day pun intended). Don't dismiss or throw those away. They are so wonderful and useful. Just because they don't fit (according to your thesis statement) into what you're currently writing doesn't mean you can't use them.

Here are some ideas of what you can do with what doesn't fit:

For nonfiction writers: 
  • Use them for a sidebar to accompany your main article. 
  • Use them for an additional article. 
  • Possibly make a series of related articles.

For fiction writers: 
  • Use those ideas for a sequel* or a prequel.* 
  • Use them for another story in a series.* 
  • Or use them in another story all together. As I was developing one story I want to write, I had one scene in my head that I loved but it just didn't seem to fit. I lifted that scene out of my story and guess what? I built a completely different, unrelated story out of that scene.


*A sequel follows a story. A prequel predates a story. A series is the same related story with the same characters but doesn't require following the first story; stories in a series can be read in any order.

More Help


If you're able to write what you believe is your thesis statement right off the bat, that's great. But don't be afraid to work with it, massage it, refine it. You might come out with a deeper thesis that takes your writing to another level.

If you're like me and struggle to nail down that thesis statement, then understand that often it emerges with the writing, thinking, and brainstorming. This means I might be constantly rewriting and refining my thesis statement well into the writing process. Still, I push to nail my thesis as early as possible because having that statement clearly expressed in concrete terms guides everything else. So having my statement nailed down can save me a lot of wasted work of writing what is not on target.

As with your larger writing of articles, chapters, books, and screenplays, when it comes to your thesis statement: Rewrite. Revise. Repeat.

When you finally hit that thesis statement that is what you're really trying to say, you'll know it when you nail it.


Now, if I could just remember to write a thesis statement or focus sentence every time I begin developing an article, book, or story. I'd rather forget about it and avoid it, because for me it's such hard work. But when I do it, everything after is so much easier. I guess I need to type out "Write a Thesis Statement!" and tape that to my monitor. Or perhaps tattoo it on my forehead.


SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: 

Another Helpful Back-To-Basics Technique


I'm very excited to let you know that I have a new e-book coming out on Kindle! It is titled Cutting the Passive Voice: How to Convert Passive Voice to Active Voice to Improve and Add Power to Your Writing.

Cutting the Passive Voice: How to Convert Passive Voice to Active Voice to Improve and Add Power to Your Writing
Book 2 in the
"Getting Published" series
If you remember my article “Cutting the Passive Voice,” which was originally published in 1996 and was reprinted several times and that I used as a handout in some of my workshops, that is the basis for this little e-book. I added to it and fleshed it about a bit more. I added a few more exercises.

I wanted to make this information accessible to many more people, so I'm making it into a small e-book that costs only $ .99. I can reach a much larger audience and get this helpful information to many more writers with an e-book on platforms like Amazon.com. However I'm keeping it inexpensive so there will be absolutely no barrier for anyone who needs it to get it.

As we're talking about "back to basics," this is a great technique to use as you edit, revise, and refine your writing (both fiction and nonfiction). I go through my manuscripts searching out the passive voice as one of my final revisions. I can't tell you how much this will improve your writing.

Using passive voice is a natural way most writers write. I see it over and over again in beginning and advanced writers. If you don't recognize passive voice, you won't know how to change it. But I can testify from personal experience that if you cut most of the passive voice in your writing, people will notice! They won't know what you have done, but they will notice your writing is more lively, fun, and exciting.

Cutting the Passive Voice e-book is not for English majors who already know what passive voice is and what to do about it. This is a guide for the rest of us.

This little e-book not only explains in easy-to-understand layman's terms what passive voice is, it gives you several easy ways to change it into active voice that brings your writing alive.

Trust me. This will be the best .99 cents you every spent on your writing.

Cutting the Passive Voice is scheduled to release on December 17, 2014, but you can pre-order it right now. It will then be delivered to your Kindle device (or computer with the free Kindle reader) as soon as it releases. So order now! And please invite your writing friends to check it out as well. (Tweet that!)

"Getting Published" series:




Saturday, November 1, 2014

Help for Writers Dealing with Disappointment

Morguefile.com 
Have you had a great month writing? Or a disappointing writing month? I've had a disappointing month, so I thought this might be a good article to run...for me as well as for you.

For writers, dealing with disappointment is something we have to learn to do more than we ever wanted to. Or ever thought we'd have to.

You're not alone. I have to remind myself that neither am I!

I hope this article helps you this month. What writer do you know who needs this today?

ReRun from the September 2010  Dianne E. Butts About Writing E-Zine, with certain updates


Dealing with Disappointment 


Writing and publishing (or attempting to get stuff published) can be filled with disappointments. Going in we know there will be rejections of our work, and most of us can deal with that. Those who can't don't last long in the business. But even when we've been in the business a long time, there are times when a rejection comes along that's just really hard to take. (Tweet that!)

Maybe it's because we really, really wanted this article or story published. Or it could be that we really, really wanted to be published in a particular publication or compilation book. (It would have looked great on our resume.) Maybe we're trying to break into book publishing, and so with every book proposal we send out we're hoping and hoping that this one will be the one the publishers loves and offers a contract for. Maybe we're finally a published author...but then our publisher takes our book(s) out of print. Or maybe we've just had a long string of "no's" and it's quite possible that if we get one more, it might well be the proverbial straw (or envelop, or e-mail) that breaks our back. (Tweet that!)

Sometimes it's easier to say, "Oh well. That's okay." But there are times when the disappointment in the rejection just seems bigger than we are. We really thought it would be accepted. Or we really hoped it would be accepted. Or we really hoped our success -- whatever that success was -- would last longer. So when the "no" comes, it hits us hard. And then the thoughts start coming... and escalating...and multiplying: "Well, maybe I'm not good at this. But nobody wants my work. Maybe I should find something else to do with my time and energy. Something that pays better. Or pays period. I'm never going to get anywhere in this business. Publishing contracts are for all those popular writers. I don't stand a chance. I should just quit." (Tweet that!)

What does the voice in your head say?

When I wrote this article back in 2010, I had experienced a discouraging event. At the time, it was pretty devastating. One of those disappointments that was hard to take. It kind of knocked the wind out of me, and it took me a while to catch my breath. Have you ever felt like that? (If you're a writer, I bet you have.)

So, it got me to thinking that maybe we need to talk about how to deal with disappointment. Which got me to thinking about why I was so knocked for a loop with this disappointment. Which made me start considering what I could learn from this. Which made me wonder what wisdom I could possibly share with you to help you through your disappointments? (Tweet that!)

Gleaning from that experience back in 2010, here are a few thoughts:

  • Prepare to be disappointed. I don't know why but I totally neglected to prepare myself for this disappointment. It just never occurred to me the answer might be no. Was I cocky? Not intentionally. Was I over confident? I don't know--I don't think so. For some reason I just failed to anticipate that I might be told no, so I wasn't expecting it, so when it came I was extra super disappointed. Lesson learned? Note to self: Next time try to remember the answer could be no and be prepared for that, for goodness sakes. When we're prepared for the possibility of a disappointment, it's easier to take if it comes. (Tweet that!

[Of course now, in 2014, I realize that only applies to disappointments we can see coming, not disappointments that come out of the blue.]

  • Try not to let the negative thoughts take over. Sometimes I think our own thoughts can start kicking us around. I believe writers are notoriously insecure. That's partly because we're so alone. We can't compare ourselves to anyone else, so we don't know if we're a good writer. And we don't know it when other writers get huge disappointments. When we get a "big" rejection, then we're in danger of letting those negative thoughts overrun us. Listen to me: The fact is you are not the worst writer in the world. You do have good ideas and good information to share that others need to read to help them in their lives. You're not stupid, dumb, or inept. You do have every bit of the same potential you had before this rejection. And everything you've ever written or ever will write is not trash. There.  (Tweet that!) Copy that to a Word doc. Put it in size 72 font. Print it out. Hang it on your wall. And the next time you get a "big" rejection that makes you want to quit, review. (And the next time I get a big rejection that makes me want to quit, please remind me to re-read what I just wrote and tell me this applies to me, too.)

[Interjecting a comment after experiencing a major disappointment last week in 2014: Did I write that? I think back in 2010 I wrote that for me now in 2014. Thanks me, I needed that.]

  • Give it time. This is probably the biggest, most helpful thing I can tell you. I knew it at the time. I had to tell my husband (as the tears welled in my eyes. No, I'm not kidding.), "I'll be okay. I just need some time." If there's one thing I've learned after twenty years of writing for publication it's this: if you give a big hurt some time, it will eventually start to hurt less. (Tweet that!) Kind of like pounding your thumb with a hammer. Takes your breath away, but hang in there and you'll get your breath back. Sometimes a smaller disappointment only takes me a day to catch my breath; sometime I only need an hour. This one... This one took me about two weeks. For me, that's a big disappointment. Huge. Galactic. Univers... Well, you get the point.

  • Failure is not the end. I'd just completed a class, and ironically this is something a faculty member told us in class. As I recall it, he asked when did we ever begin to think that failure means the end?  (Tweet that!) Many people fail. Many writers who write articles, books, and films fail. But that doesn't mean it was the end of those people, their career, or even their writing careers. Think of how many writers have written something that  failed. Then they wrote something else. Writers should take note. So you tried something and failed. So what? Try again.

  • Catch your breath. Get your feet back under you. Take a look around. After about two weeks, I began to realize that I really wasn't any worse off than I was before. Sure, I didn't get to move forward in the way I wanted to. But I still have all my writing ideas. And I can still write them to the best of my ability. And as I write I will still be learning and improving. And I can still study more about writing. And I can still write those nonfiction ideas or story ideas as novels or screenplays. And I still have all my friends and contacts. And I can still ask them for help. And... And... And I can still continue on with the same plans to write I had before I received this "no." And I can still submit again. So what have I lost really? I'm no worse off than I was before I got this "no." What about you? Chances are that rejection you got wasn't the only project you had going or the only place you could send that project or the only idea you had. If it was, come up with another idea, project, or place to send it. You're creative. You'll come up with something.

  • Figure out your next move. Now that I've realized I'm not worse off than I was before, I realize I can keep moving along the same track I was on. Maybe a "no," a disappointment, tells us we should change tracks, or maybe we just need to back up to where we were last on track and move forward from there. Either way, figure out your next move and keep moving. (Tweet that!)

That's where I'm at now. My next move? Anything I want. I have ideas that are priorities and others that need further development. I've signed up for something new: the 168 Project's "Write of Passage" screenwriting competition.* I've got articles to write. In other words, I've got lots to do and lots to look forward to and lots of possibilities.

[*Update in 2014: Looking back, I realize I wrote this article for September 2010. The next month in October 2010 I participated in the 168 Film Project's "Write of Passage" for the first time, and my short film script ended up one of the top eleven finalists. See what can happen if you keep moving forward?]

What about you? As a writer, how do you deal with disappointment? (Tweet that!)

Or, what's your next writing move?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What Does Your Audience Need to Hear from You?

Morguefile.com
Some of you may know that this blog used to be a private e-magazine that was delivered to subscribers only. I made the decision to convert my private e-list to an open, public blog back in June of 2012. But I've often thought about some of the articles I wrote for my e-zine subscribers. The messages of those articles are still valid; their information still useful. And so I've been thinking I would like "rerun" some of those articles.

Okay, since we're talking about publishing the proper term is probably "reprint," but I like reruns on TV so why not here? 

I'm thinking in coming months I'm going to rerun some of those old articles, my "Best Of," because I believe they will benefit many people all over again.

If you've been with me since the days of the e-zine, you may remember some of the topics I'm going to rerun, but I'm thinking you most likely don't remember the details. It's been long enough since they ran that I believe you'll enjoy reading them again.

Of course if you've only come on board since the conversion to this blog, these reruns will be new to you so I hope you enjoy them and benefit from them.

While the events and dates in some of these articles maybe several years ago, the core message is timeless. So I sincerely hope you enjoy these re-run articles.

ReRun from the October 2010 Dianne E. Butts About Writing E-zine:



What Does Your Audience Need to Hear from You?


In the last two and a half weeks I've attended two funerals and a banquet. The first funeral was for a wonderful Christian man, co-owner with his wife of an awesome Christian bookstore. I have attended more than one International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) with these two. He died suddenly of a heart problem, the only warning sign: a similar episode two years ago. Then a week later to the day, I attended the second funeral for a lovely woman, full of Christian faith, the mother of a friend I ride motorcycles with in the Christian Motorcyclists Association. She had struggled with cancer for the past two years, since shortly after her husband passed away. For both of these funerals, the churches were full.

My husband and I attended a banquet and other festivities last weekend celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Colorado State Patrol. In its inception in 1935, Colorado State Troopers worked 6-day weeks, 9 hours a day. With no radios, they had systems for someone to leave a light on with a note to signal patrolmen if there was a call they needed to attend to. We've come a long way! (If you don't already know it, my husband has served with the Colorado State Patrol for more than 28 years--not quite since 1935.) About 600 attended the banquet.


At all three of these events, I kept having the same thoughts: There are people in this room who would be helped by what I have to offer. I know things that would help them if they knew them, too. I wish they could hear what I have to say. I wish I knew how to reach them with the information I have. (Tweet that!)


Do you write for the message or the joy?


I've often wondered, are there writers who are writers simply because they love to write? I've heard some writers express that: They wanted to write since they were a small child. They've always wanted to be published. They simply wish to share with others what they have written with joy. 

But there's something in that I wonder about. I guess in my brain it just doesn't compute. Doesn't every writer have a "message" they want to convey, or a "mission" they want to accomplish? (Tweet that!)


Maybe not. Maybe some write just for the love of writing. Perhaps these writers produce for the sole purpose of entertaining. But for me, I can't write without a message in mind. If I don't have a message that's important, and that's meaningful to somebody else besides me, then I don't see the purpose in writing. Maybe that's just me. I don't know. What do you think? (Tweet that!)


If you write simply for the joy of writing, perhaps you can straighten me out. And I surely don't want to leave you out of the conversation. But for writers with a message, don't we have a burning in our soul to express it, to share it? I think this is especially true for the Christian writer. (Tweet that!)  I'm sure there are an infinite number of passionate messages to be conveyed, but for the Christian who believes Jesus is the only way to heaven, we are almost desperate to share the how and why of that.



People would be helped by what I know and need to hear what I have to say.


At that first funeral I was surprised to learn that many people in the family of that Christian bookstore owner are not Christians. Imagine, owning a large bookstore filled with nothing but the message of Jesus Christ and having your family not knowing, accepting, or embracing that message! I know Jesus Christ. And I know that He is the only way to heaven. There were people in church at his funeral who would be helped by what I know, who need to hear what I have to say.

At the second funeral, the family spoke of their own deep Christian faith that they had largely because of the influence of this mother and grandmother. But there were also many people from the community that helped fill that church, and I'm sure many of them do not know Jesus. There were people in that church who would be helped by what I know, who need to hear what I have to say.


At the banquet, the Chief Chaplain gave an invocation in Jesus' name, and one of the three Chiefs of the Colorado State Patrol who spoke (two of them former, retired) spoke of his Christian faith. I know there were many in that room, perhaps hundreds, who do not know Jesus and would be helped by what I know, who need to hear what I have to say.


Reigniting the passion to write.


Attending these three event reignited my passion not only for writing, but for reaching the people who will be helped by what I know. Through writing I can reach people I could never reach in person. I can meet them in the privacy of their homes and lives, and we can talk. We can have a conversation about the things I know that would help them, the things I have to say that they need to hear. We can talk about Jesus and why I believe. We can talk about where He is in the hard times, and why He seems so silent. I can tell them how I know beyond doubt that He is there and He is real. I can tell them that He knows their names and He loves them, that He cares about what they're going through and that He will help them through it if they'll let Him.

I don't care if you're writing the latest, greatest edition of Christian apologetics or a romance novel. Don't you have a message? Even in a romance, isn't it a message of hope? That we can find love? Maybe you're writing a magazine article that will help someone eat better to live healthier. Or a humor column that will inspire or reach someone with a reason to smile on a bad day. It's all important. So I'm back to my question: Is there ever a writer who doesn't have a message he or she is passionate to convey? Maybe, but I'm hard-pressed to think of one. (Tweet that!)


Questions to ponder.


So as you write this month, and the rest of this year, here are some questions you might ponder:
  • What is the message that I really want to convey?* Or what message is at the root of all that I write?*
  • Who are the people who need to know or to hear my message? Look for them in real life, wherever you go where other people are around. Also, think of those whom you will never see or meet but who might read what you write.
  • What do I know that they need to know?* What have I learned, or what information do I have, that would help them?
  • How can I reach them? What can I write that might get to some of them with the help, knowledge, or encouragement that they need and that I have to offer?
All of this is summed up in the questions, "What does your audience need to hear from you?"

*This root message that you're passionate about sharing and that comes through in everything you write about is your "brand." Put it into words if you can. Or for the rest of this year, work on putting it into words. When you have it nailed down, print it in large font and pin it up on your wall. (It can be subject to editing.)


The group of people you see and imagine who need to hear what you have to say, or who need to know what you know, this is your audience. Write for them. Reach out to them. Work to reach them with your words. You will make a difference in their lives. (Tweet that!)  And isn't that really why we write?


~ * * * ~

I hope you enjoyed that rerun from 2010. I've recently started a new private e-mailing list, but this one is about my person news, including what I'm writing, which of my products are going on sale, where I'll be appearing or teaching...that sort of thing. So if you're interested in hearing about these things, please sign up for my new e-mailing list using the box at the top on the right. Thanks!

Can't see the form? Only see the heading? I know! Sometimes it's there; sometimes it's not for me too. I'm still trying to figure that out. (I think it has to do with the popup overriding any other signup form?) I've also put the signup form on the "Blog Contents" page, so please try clicking on that tab at the top and see if you can see it there. (Again, sometimes I see it, sometimes I don't. <sigh> I don't know why.)

If nothing else, there is a signup form that is always visible on my other blog. Look for it in the upper right-hand corner of Bible Prophecies Fulfilled. Yes, this is the same e-newsletter. Thanks for your perseverance. That's a sign of a real writer.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Dreaming of Seeing Your Writing Project in Film? Maybe You Should!

Morguefile.com
How are you doing in your writing? Are you on fire, it's flowing like crazy and you can't wait to get to the keyboard? Or are you feeling overwhelmed and aren't sure how to progress on your project? Or are you feeling tired and burned out, trying to decide if you should push on or quit? This month, just for the fun of it, let's talk about seeing your writing project in film.

Whether you're dreaming of becoming a screenwriter or not, if the idea of someday seeing your novel, short story, memoir, true story, nonfiction book, article, or other writing project reach a whole new audience by being produced into a movie, short film, video, documentary, web series, or other film project intrigues you (or even if you think that's impossible), let's talk about how can you better your odds or even make it happen yourself.  (Tweet that!)

Let's dream big...even if it seems like a crazy, impossible dream. I love that old image of a donkey pulling a cart with a stick extending over his head dangling a carrot in front of him urging him onward. Let's let the dream of seeing our projects on the screen dangle in front of us like a carrot, tempting us, moving us onward. (Even if you're not interested in seeing your writing project on the screen, or even if you're not dreaming of screenwriting at all, I'm betting there's something here that will help you in your writing journey anyway.)

In my journey in film so far, I've learned a ton. I'll share bits of that here. I've discovered many resources that have really helped me and I'll share those too.

In recent years and months I've seen a growing trend. More and more writers are interested in seeing their projects possibly make it to the screen. For some writers it's a big dream that once seemed nearly impossible, but as they see more projects become films, the impossibility is shrinking. I'd put myself in this category. For other writers, they've never even considered their projects could be produced on film. (Okay, well I was there too.)

Technology in Producing Films


Besides selling your project to a big production company, there are other ways to get your project to film. As with many other areas in recent decades, technology has made what was once nearly impossible possible. Where once only the big production companies or people with a lot of money had or could obtain the equipment to produce a film of the quality to be shown on the big screen to a large audience, today high definition (HD) cameras are available to all of us. Now HD cameras are available for under $1,000 (or even less). A few years ago I purchased a Canon EOS Rebel T3i camera in a package which came with two lenses, a bag, and more. This is the camera we used to film my short film, The Choice. (You can find it at http://bit.ly/TheChoiceFilm. Watch the 2-minute trailer for The Choice.) This camera does both still photography and video, so I can pursue my passion for photography (and finally move to a digital camera) as well as produce films (a bonus I didn't expect!) with the same camera.

Even your cell phone probably has an HD camera! And I've even seen short film contests for films created exclusively with cell phone cameras.

There are so many outlets for film these days, I don't even know them all. Besides YouTube.com and Vimeo.com, there are now over a thousand cable TV channels (according to The TV Showrunner's Roadmap by Neil Landau). Or you might create a web series or even see your series produced for NetFlix or Hulu.

So you see? Anything is possible.

It all starts with the Writer


But, as Robert McKee affirms in his Story Seminar, it all starts with the writer. Without the writer, there is no script to produce. There are no characters for the actors to portray. There are no lines of dialog for the actors to speak. There is nothing for the director to direct, nothing for producers to produce. There's nothing...until the writer writes. (Tweet that!)

It starts with you. So dream big. And write big!

And use your imagination. You don't have to be writing a novel or dreaming of it becoming a movie with a theatrical release to be thinking of film. Do you write short fictional stories? They can also become feature-length movies or short films.

Not a fiction writer? Then for nonfiction think not only of true-story films, but also of documentaries.

Am I still not hitting your writing-fancy? Then what about reality TV? (Yes, there are writers for reality TV. So I've heard. Don't ask me -- I don't know but you can research it.) How about a cooking show? What about a talk show discussing the topics that are your passions?

Have you considered a continuing series for TV or a web series based on the characters you've created? Or the story world you created? Isn't that what has happened with TV series like When Calls the Heart, Cedar Cove, Bones , Rizzoli & Isles, and A&E's (sadly, just canceled) Longmire?

If you're having trouble getting publishers interested in your books, don't you think they might suddenly be interested if your material is going to film? Absolutely. At least I should think so.

No matter what you're writing, the possibilities truly are endless.

Writing for Film Resources


Now that I've gotten you all excited, let me share some resources that I've found helpful. (Tweet that!)

Learning Screenwriting


If you're interesting in learning screenwriting, you'll need to learn about screenplay format and story structure. I'll include resources for both of these below.

If you want to jump in fast and learn quickly, consider taking part in the 168 Film Project's "Write of Passage" writing contest coming in October. Sign up now! This is a Christian-based speed screenwriting contest. (You don't have to be a Christian to take part.) 

In this contest you will have 168 hours (that's one week) to write a short film (10-page max, if I remember right). Plus, for your entry fee of about $40 (less if you register early), you'll get a mentor, called a Development Executive, to look over your screenplay up to three times during the writing week and give you feedback. That's a bargain! 

You can't start writing before the event begins or you're disqualified. How do they know? You will be assigned a Bible verse to base your story on. Obviously you can't start writing until you get your Bible verse. If you're interesting in taking part, use the link above to go register now.

If you'd like to take an online class on various aspects of screenwriting, I've taken some great classes, both free and paid, from ScreenwritingU.com. Sign up for their e-mail list to hear about their free teleconferences.

If you're really serious and wish to write stories that express your Christian faith, check into the Act One Program, which holds classes in Hollywood. They offer both a training track for writers and for producers.

Story Structure


My favorite book that not only made learning story structure easy but showed me how to use a cork board and index cards to structure my stories is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.

By "story structure" we're talking about the Three Act Structure. Learn it. Love it. You'll need it.

Even if you're not dreaming of writing for the screen, this resource helped me get my stories organized for maximum punch before I ever start writing them as a short story or novel. So if you're not into screenwriting but are still reading this far, here's a promised resource for you too.

Screenwriting Format


Screenplay format means how you put your screenplay on paper: what is in all caps and what is not, where to put dialog on the page (hint: it is NOT centered), how to write a scene heading, what to put in direction paragraphs, etc. To do this I highly recommend getting some software to do this for you. (See Screenwriting Software below.)

But even with the software to put dialog in the proper place and put your scene headings in all caps, you're going to need to know what to type in. What goes in a scene heading? What is the proper order for each element in a scene heading? When do you use a transition? How do you tell the camera person to do a close up? For all this information you need the book The Hollywood Standard by Chris Riley. The Hollywood standard means the standard screenwriting format. This is your handbook for that.

Screenwriting Software


I use Final Draft, but there are others.
                        
If you're just playing with the idea or have a limited budget, there's a free screenwriting program called Celtx. (I haven't used it, so check it out yourself.)

Get "Coverage" (Feedback)


In the film business, movie companies have readers to review screenplays and write a short "review" of your script to let the production companies know if your script is worth their time to look at. The report these readers write is called "coverage." But you can also pay a company to read your script and give you coverage, which includes what we call "Notes," which is feedback on your script. When you're ready for that, I've heard these companies recommended:

Writing for TV


As I mentioned in the opening, the opportunities for writing for TV are expanding like crazy. The source I read that says there are now over 1,000 TV changes is the book The TV Showrunner's Roadmap by Neil Landau. If you're interested in writing for TV I highly recommend this book. I haven't finished it yet, but I've learned a ton already.

I also read an interesting article, especially encouraging for those of us wanting to write faith-based material, in this article from Variety.com the entertainment-trade magazine:


Film Related E-Newsletters


I enjoy reading Script magazine. They have blogs to read and will send you their e-newsletter for free. Sign up here: Script Magazine. I just discovered their blog posts for "Writers on the Web" which I can't wait to catch up on. This seems to be a series of articles about writing and producing a web TV series.

You might also be interested in subscribing to the free newsletter InkTip, which sends a weekly e-mail with up to three production companies that are looking for scripts to produce. You can get more with a paid subscription, but it's kind of expensive ($60 per quarter, I think), so just wait until you have finished scripts to offer before subscribing to that. Still, you can learn a ton from the free newsletter. 

Organizations


There are so many online organizations for screenwriters it's kind of crazy. A couple I've found are:

Even if you're not interested in writing for the screen but are a Christian and want to make an impact on what comes out of "Hollywood" (meaning that as a synonym for the entertainment industry), you might be interested in
I'm writing next comment FOR CHRISTIANS ONLY. (If you're not one, move to the next section now.): Christians, have you seen something objectionable come out of Hollywood recently? Then let me ask you this: Have you prayed for Hollywood recently? If you want to make a difference in Hollywood and what comes out in our entertainment industry and influences the world, then sign up for the Hollywood Prayer Network's free monthly prayer newsletter.

Facebook Groups


I've found several screenwriting groups active as Facebook groups. Here are the names a few Facebook groups for Christians interested in film. The Facebook groups I know about happen to be for Christians but I imagine you could find similar secular groups. Use Facebook's search bar to search for the group, then ask to join. 
  • 168 Film Project
  • Christian Film
  • Christian Movie Making Network
  • Believers in Film & Video...DO SOMETHING!
  • Churches Making Movies

Screenwriting Contests (Christian)


There are so many screenwriting contests it would be difficult to list them here, so I'm listing only a few that are specifically looking for faith-based, Christian entries. 

If you're writing something else, you should have no trouble finding screenplay contests by linking in to other resources listed in this post. For example, see Scriptapalooza.

The 168 Film Project has two different speed contests.
  • 168 Film Project production contest is a speed film-producing contest which takes place in May. Here, you produce a film based on an assigned Bible verse in 168 hours (one week). There is a 10-day pre-production period to get your script written, find locations and actors, etc. Filming begins at a time and day and you must turn in your completed film the following day, same time. The contest takes place in May. All films are screened at the 168 Film Festival in September. 
If you have a feature-length film completed, here are two Christian faith-based contests:

Protect Your Scripts


Before you send your script(s) out to a contest or allow anyone to read them (producers, agents, your critique group, etc.), you should protect your script by copyrighting it or registering it with a registry or both, if you wish. This officially puts your script in the hands of an official third party so that if there is ever a question about whether someone stole your work, you have documented what your work is and the date you documented it.

You can copyright your written script(s) with the U.S. Copyright Office.

You can also protect your written script(s) by registering it with the Writers Guild of America (WGA). You don't have to be a member to register your script. Cost is $20 for five years. There is a WGA-East and a WGA-West (dividing the United States).   

What is IMDb? 


Finally, if you haven't heard of IMDb.com, it's helpful and fun to know about. IMDb stands for Internet Movie Database. If you have ever googled something like, "Who was the actor who starred in The Terminator movie?" you probably ended up on an IMDb.com page.

IMDb is owned by Amazon. It came installed on my Amazon Kindle device. You can look up actors or movies or TV shows and find out who starred in them, when they ran, actors by episode, trivia about a show...all kinds of information.

If you're moving into writing for film, it can be an invaluable source for finding out who the production companies and producers are who do particular projects. Publishing and film have so many similarities it's incredible. Just like in publishing where you want to research which publishers are publishing the type of material you're writing, you want to do the same in film. This is one place where you can find that information. You can use IMDb.com for free, but there is also a paid subscription site which gives you information a serious screenwriter might want, such as the budget numbers for a movie and contact information for a production company.

In one class I took we were told that whenever you are talking to anyone official about your screen project, they are online looking you up on IMDb to see what you've done. Not everyone can have a page on IMDb. You have to have a credit in a film that IMDb recognizes as created for public viewing. In other words, you can't make a "home movie" and then go get an IMDb page. The folks at IMDb weed out those types of films. If your film is shown at a film festivals, that might get your film qualified for be on IMDb.

I qualified for an IMDb page by taking part in my first 168 Film Project and working on a film titled Steel City. The other producer, Nancy Bevins and I were in the same Act One class and teamed up to do the 168 Film Project. Nancy already had IMDb credits so when she added our film, Steel City, to her credits, I could then apply for a page since I was credited in that film as a co-producer, writer, line producer, and production designer. Once I was approved for a page, then I could add the 168 Film Project I produced the next year, The Choice.

I also wrote a script for a 168 Film Project this year. It's called Swapped and is scheduled to premier at the 168 Film Project's Film Festival September 12 - 13, 2014, in Los Angeles. You can see it on the schedule for 4:00 Friday at that link. After the film premiers at the 168 Film Project's Film Festival, it should be qualified as an IMDb film and then I should be able to add that project to my IMDb credits.

So that's how IMDb works. If you're interested, you can see my page here: Dianne's IMDb page. Aspiring to having your own IMDb entry is a fun challenge to work toward.


Surely there's something here to help you in your screenwriting, film, or other-writer journey. I hope it also spurs you on toward a new carrot-like treat in your writing. For those of you with the big dream, I hope to be sitting next to you soon watching your dream of seeing your writing projects in film on the big screen or on TV come true. I'll buy the popcorn! (Tweet that!)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tidbits from the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference

Downtown Philadelphia in the
distance
I returned from the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference last Sunday and I'm still trying to catch up! It was such a wonderful time. This was the first time for me at this conference. I was invited by the director, Marlene Bagnull, to be on faculty this year, and I had a great time.

As promised, I gathered some tidbits of writerly news, publishing scoops, tips, and thoughts. Here's a rundown of my adventure at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference:

Getting there

My day started at 3:50 am. I'd already driven two hours the day before to spend the night near Denver International Airport. Still, I had to get up early to catch my flight. Thought I'd grab breakfast and coffee on the way, but McD's wasn't open. It's a good thing, probably. I cut it close catching the flight!

We landed in Philadelphia around 12:30 pm, the plane taxies to the gate, and there I am, waiting to deplane. I'm thinking about how I need to find two other people on the same flight because we're catching the same ride from the airport to the conference. I didn't have time to find them before boarding the plane, so now I need to find their cell phone numbers or something. During the flight, I checked out their photos in the conference brochure to see who it is I'm looking for.

Just then, I hear this lovely voice floating in over my head from somewhere behind me on the plane:
"Hello. Dianne? We've landed in Philadelphia and are sitting on the tarmac waiting to get off the plane..."
I'm seated by the window. I stand up, ducking because of the overhead bin, and turn around to see where that voice is coming from.
"We have the same driver so we need to connect...
I spot her. A lovely lady two seats behind me is talking into her phone. (Everybody on the plane, it feels, is watching.) I smile at her and wave.  Her voice trails off...
"...and, oh, I guess that's you looking at me right now. Goodbye."
She hangs up her phone. We laugh.

Too funny! Now I know. It's going to be a great trip.

We connect with our ride and stop at Wendy's on the way to the conference since none of us has had breakfast (or coffee!) yet.

Day Lily at Cairn University
Langhorne, Pennsylvania
We arrive at the campus at Cairn University, a seminary, and can you believe while spending three and a half days there I don't once think to take a photo of the grounds?! I did take a photo with my phone of the lilies outside the dormitory. Guess this flower-gardener has her mind on lilies, not on university grounds. Although the pond was beautiful and peaceful. Were those swans floating out there? I couldn't tell.

The Room

I check into my room and realize what it means that these are dormitory rooms. I'm handed a package containing sheets, blanket, pillow case, and towels. That means I get to make my own bed.

The room is sparse, but I'm not complaining. I'm always grateful for whatever I'm provided. By "sparse" I mean it's a really good thing I have a hotel bar of soap in my suitcase. (I knew I should have packed a blow-dryer for my hair, but didn't.)

I'm delighted to be rooming with my long-time conference friend and author Linda Evans Shepherd. We think we both attended our first-ever writers conference the same year -- 1989 in the Denver area. We've never really got to spend a lot of time together, so rooming with Linda and getting to know her a little bit more was an absolute delight. Together, I think we make a great team. She had a blow-dryer. I had soap.

Wednesday

The conference is already under way with the Early Bird workshops taking place.

I'm focused on getting my books and pamphlets for writers consigned and displayed on the book table. I filled out my consignment paperwork at home. I packed the books in my suitcase. I had to put two books in my carry-on to get my suitcase to weighs in at just under the 50-pound limit at the airline.

After getting my books and pamphlets taken care of, a few of us have time to catch part of a workshop by Megan Breedlove on "Writing for Women." I make some great notes on her ideas. Regrettably we have to cut out a bit early to head to the dining hall for the faculty dinner.

The director, Marlene, has only a few announcements for the faculty. I wave at many of the familiar faces on faculty. My friend and roomy, Linda, is taking phone calls on an important project she has in the works. That's exciting!

After dinner we head to the Chapel for the official opening of the conference with various speakers giving short presentations on issues of our times.

After closing, we head back to our room. It's been a long day. It's going to be a short night.

Thursday

After breakfast I pick up my registration packet and schedule of appointments. As a faculty member I'll be meeting with conferees who have requested a 15-minute appointment with me. My schedule is not completely full. That's good. I'll have some breathing room.

We have a time of worship and a speaker. After that I get to attend a special workshop with a panel of speakers about "Living in the 11th Hour." The panel has some amazing credentials and it's interesting to hear their perspectives on our times.

Lunch comes and goes and then I sit in on a panel of literary agents. There's only three of them, fielding questions from the audience. It's good to hear them tell us they will work with promising authors to get them and their book proposals to a place where they will sign them as clients. Previously I'd thought we'd better be an accomplished and mature writer before we approach an agent. So that's a piece of writerly news to remember!

After that panel ends I have to hurry to my first appointment. I not only meet with conferees, I also get to request appointments with other faculty members to speak with them about my own writing project. That's my first meeting: I get to have some one on one time with actor Torry Martin. I show him a few pages of my script. He makes a suggestion and then tells me some positive things about it. I'm encouraged!

As soon at that appointment ends it's role-reversal time: I'm now acting as faculty and am meeting with an author. I'm as helpful as I can be.

As soon as that meeting is done I have to rush off because it's almost time to teach my first workshop.

I arrive at the "Teens Write" room. Twenty-five teenagers have registered this year! They are taking a break as I arrive. I get ready for my workshop. I'll be teaching them some basics about screenwriting. I wonder if any of them have even thought about writing screenplays. When I was their age, I had not.

They are enthusiastic, polite, and attentive. They have a few questions. My class goes well.

Afterwards I meet with one of these teens one-on-one. We decide to meet in the hallway. We talk. She wants a photo. Then I'm asked if I can meet with another teen. Yes, I have an open time slot. I meet with her. She's searching for direction for her writing. We talk about it.

Then I have to rush off for an appointment of my own, back downstairs in the meeting room. I'm a few minutes late getting back to the meeting room. I apologize. The man who taught the "11th Hour" workshop kindly talks with me about my blog, www.BiblePropheciesFulfilled.blogspot.com. He makes a few suggestions. I'm grateful.

Then he must rush to his next appointment and I'm needed back upstairs to sit on a panel for "Teens Write." They are already talking when I join them (but we already knew I'd be a few minutes late getting back up there). The teens ask excellent questions. There are about ten of us on the panel and we all enjoy sharing what we've learned with these enthusiastic teenagers.

Guess what? It's already dinner time.

Afterwards, back in the Chapel, I am again encouraged and inspired by the keynote speaker, author of over a hundred books, Cecil Murphey. He talks about the heartbreak of losing his wife just over a year ago. He talks about what a blessing she was to him in a conversation they had only a short time before her passing...when neither of them knew what was coming. Here is the author (or ghost writer) of books like Ben Carson's Gifted Hands and Don Piper's 90 Minutes in Heaven, and he was so incredibly blessed by the words of his life-long companion. Words are so powerful. Words are why we are here.

Afterwards there is a booksigning for half the authors attending. Then it's late and time to walk back to the room.

Friday

It's the first of August. After breakfast, the opening keynoter is Rusty Wright with www.AmyFound.org. He gives us solid instruction in how to engage our culture with our words, based on how Jesus engaged His culture.

Afterwards I attend a panel of book editors who answer questions. One interesting piece of news, a publishing scoop, I pick up is that some of these book publishers are now looking for Bible studies. That's a change from recent years when usually all those publishing slots for Bible studies are filled. I'm wondering what I might have that they might be interested in...

After the panel I have a meeting with an independent book publisher. I meet with Larry Carpenter and talk with him about a slew of questions I've had that I've been dying to ask someone in the know. (Yes, even I have questions!) He kindly answers all my questions...not necessarily with the news I was hoping for. But that's okay. I've been in this business long enough to know we don't always get the news we're hoping for. He is incredibly kind, knowledgeable, and helpful.

I rush off to sit on the other side of the table and meet with conferees, hoping I can be as incredibly kind, knowledgeable, and helpful to them. I have meetings until lunch.

After lunch I'm one of the independently published authors sitting on a panel answering questions. The room is full. Standing room only in the back. We get good questions and all the panel members share good answers. I think we've helped some writers.

I rush off, back to the meeting room where I have more meetings. I stop by the desk and am delighted to learn more writers have asked for appointments with me. Now that they've seen me and know that I'm a smiling face, approachable and kind, they want to meet with me and my time slots are filling up.

I learn I have a ride to the airport the next day. That's great news!

I stop by the snack table and grab some fruit. I meet with three more writers.

Then it's time to head upstairs to find my next workshop room to teach my first workshop to adults on writing Query Letters. I find the room. A lot of people are there talking with the workshop teacher of the previous workshop. It must have been a good one. But the clock is ticking closer to the time my workshop starts. I'm feeling antsy, wanting to get set up for my workshop. With only two minutes to go, I say something, asking them if I may have the room. Then I worry that I came off as pushy. I sure hope not.

I didn't count but I think there were about fifteen adults in my query letter workshop. Many leave and return as they are going to meetings of their own. The class seems receptive and appreciative of the material I'm presenting. That's good. Soon our time is up and now it's time for me to clear out for the next workshop leader.

I take a break, and suddenly it's time for dinner.

After dinner we're back in the Chapel where we hear from a couple of missionaries in foreign countries who are attending the conference. Marlene takes an offering for them. That's okay. I'm wise to Marlene. I know she's going to do this at least two nights. I've come prepared with a special envelop with several bills in it so I have something to put in the box when it passes.

The keynote speaker is author and youth minister Rob Cook. He's good. I heard him speak at the Colorado conference in May. I picked up his book last night at the author signing. He does a good job.

We worship through song and prayer. There's another author signing and I buy another book. Suddenly another day is done.

Saturday

Already it's the last day of the conference. Can you believe that? I turn in my key and check out of my room.

After breakfast I attend a panel with the magazine editors. Wish I could remember something interesting to share from that, but my now my mind is beginning to muddle.

After the panel it's time to head to my third and final workshop that I'm teaching. It's a workshop for adults titled "Shape Your Story for the Screen." There are about a dozen people in my class. I talk to them about 3-act story structure. I describe how I use a cork board and index cards to organize my stories. I share my favorite screenwriting resources. And then I give them an example by telling them the Gospel story in 3-act structure. Their questions and comments reveal they are quite impressed with my workshop! What a delightful surprise that is. I get many great comments. What an encouragement.

I walk to lunch with a man who attended my workshop because he didn't know where else to go for that time slot. He's glad he walked into my workshop. I consider it a divine appointment. This is the man who sings so beautifully with his hands as he signs the words to the hymns and praise songs we sing in the general sessions. He's such an encouragement to me.

After lunch I meet with more writers.

Then as the conference heads toward its closing session, I inventory my books and take them off the table. I haven't sold many books, but I sold a lot of pamphlets and that's good. That will help cover some expenses of coming.

I have to pack what I haven't sold back into my suitcase for the trip home. Gratefully I've sold enough that, even with the two books I bought, my suitcase is lighter so all the books can fit and it shouldn't be over the 50-pound weight limit.

At the closing session we get out the "Commitment" form. It's brightly colored and is in two halves. It says in part, "I will endeavor to complete the following manuscripts(s) before next year's conference." I know which manuscript I'm to write down. I've already asked the Lord for direction and He has given me confirmation. It's a screenplay. I can't wait to get home and get to work on it.

We write it down twice and tear the paper in half. We take one half home and deposit the other on the "altar" at the front of the room. Marlene promises she and her staff will pray over these commitments and pray for us. The next Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference is already scheduled for July 29 - August 1, 2015.

Heading Home

Philly Cheese Steak at the
Philadelphia Airport
Five of us pack into the car. Three of us are headed to the airport and we're grateful for the ride. The highway is full on this Saturday night but we're told that's pretty normal. The other side of the highway is packed with people headed to New Jersey. We get to the airport with plenty of time to get something to eat in the food court. What should I choose to eat?

I see the Philly Cheese Steak. Perfect! When in Philly... what else would I have?! I even try a squirt of hot sauce. It's yummy. I text a photo home to touch base with my husband and perhaps make him jealous.

Our flight leaves late. I talk writing with the others while we wait.

We get into Denver around midnight. I get to my car and discover it is dead dead dead. Can't even open the door with my key fob. No lights. No nothing. How grateful I am when I remember this airport parking lot offers car service. I walk to the shuttle stop and find the phone number. It's a pleasant night and I can't see another soul around so I feel fairly safe. I call. It takes about 30 minutes but a man named Dave comes, give my car a jump, and it starts right up. He points out the dome light is on. It's then I remember yes, I did turn the dome light on when I was getting my stuff together in the dark early Wednesday morning. He assures me there's nothing wrong with my car or my battery. "Let it run four or five minutes," he said. "Then you can go." I do. My car runs fine and I'm grateful.

I get back to my over-night stop at about 1:00 am. I go to bed around 2:00 am. When I get home there will be work to catch up on and e-mails to answer from people I met at the conference. It has been a really good trip.

. . .


I hope this gives you an idea of what it's like to attend a Christian writers conference and perhaps even excites you about attending one. I hope I've also given you a bit of news or inspiration that helps you along on your writing journey.

You can buy CDs of the workshops, starting at $4 each. You can also buy all the workshops -- yes, that's the entire conference! -- for only $99! And as a "first" this year, handouts are posted online for you to download.