Writing is my first love. But travel is a close second.
Amalfi Coast, Italy, 2014

Blog Posts About Writing

Recap: Festival of Faith & Writing

By WritingOne Comment

Every other year in Grand Rapids the Festival of Faith and Writing comes to Calvin College. (That’s Calvin as in John, not Klein or the cartoon character.) I’ve wanted to attend for more than a decade, and this year it finally happened. My writer friends Diane McDougall (roommate) and Heather Goodman, with whom I took a press junket to Israel, are here, as well as my former teaching assistant, Kelli Sallman.  Because I teach a class on Wednesday nights, I missed the Thursday morning events, which included a keynote by Gary Schmidt. But when I went to board my flight Thursday, I found I was on the same plane with my friend Mary DeMuth. So she’s here too.    Before going to the Calvin Campus, I had arranged to visit my publisher at Kregel headquarters here. Since they’ve sold 200,000+ copies of Glahn/Cutrer books, I figured it was high time I…

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Book Recommendation for Fiction Writers

By WritingNo Comments

Lots of people feel they have the GAM (Great American Novel) inside of them. Even people who don’t live in America. If you’re one of those people, I hope you’ll write that book. And to get you started I recommend a resource: Fiction Writing for Dummies, by Randy Ingermanson. (If you’re one of my writing students, you know Randy as “the snowflake guy.” If you’re not one of my students, no, Randy’s not flaky. He’s just got this snowflake metaphor that works for novel-writing.) Randy is a wonderful teacher of fiction-writing. He has the best newsletter out there on the subject. And he’s taken some of his great content from seminars and blog posts and experience and stuffed it all into one resource. You can read the book in print or download it to your e-reader. And no, he did not pay me to say this. He did not even…

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On Writing Fiction

By WritingOne Comment

Rather than give you a summary of what William Dean Howells had to say about fiction, I’ll share with you some favorite quotes from his work, Criticism and Fiction: Moods and tastes and fashions change; people fancy now this and now that; but what is unpretentious and what is true is always beautiful and good. The mass of common men have been afraid to apply their own simplicity, naturalness, and honesty to the appreciation of the beautiful. They have always cast about for the instruction of some one who professed to know better, and who browbeat wholesome common-sense into the self-distrust that ends in sophistication…. They have been taught to compare what they see and what they read, not with the things that they have observed and known, but with the things that some other artist or writer has done. Especially if they have themselves the artistic impulse in any…

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Book stats

By WritingOne Comment

Thinking of writing a book? Check out these stats from an article by Chris Anderson in the July 17 issue of Publishers Weekly. In 2004: • 950,000 titles out of 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies• Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies• Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies• The average book in America sells about 500 copies• Only 10 books sold more than a million copies• Fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000• Nearly 200,000 new titles are published each year Speaking of books, the winner of my drawing for The Angel is Erica Aguilera. Congrats, Erica!

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What Should I Read?

By WritingOne Comment

This morning I ran into Erica at church. Well, not literally. Anyway, she said she read my blog and identified herself (humbly, I thought) as the kind of person Stephen King said he would chase down the driveway a decade from now and ask where the (expletive deleted) books were. Then she asked a great question: “What does an educated person read? Where should I begin?” I thought of a book my dad recently gave me. It is an out-of-print compilation of 101 classics. It has excerpts and summaries of works by Homer and Austen and Dickens and Dante and Chekov and Descartes and Plato. Lots of great writers. I would start somewhere like that, with an overview of some wonderful stuff that has stood the test of time. As you read you can note the works that particularly appeal to you. When finished with that familiarizing introduction, go to…

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Voice Lessons

By Writing2 Comments

You’re trying to write the GAM (great American novel), but you can’t concentrate. Why? Someone in an adjacent room sits clicking through Viagra ads. The surfing stops and you hear an announcer say something about a family network. When the commercial ends, you’re pretty sure you recognize the British-accented voice that’s saying, “spit-spot,” and “practically perfect in every way.” It has to be your favorite nanny. The clicking resumes. Now another nanny’s voice grates through the walls with a Jersey “Oh-h-h-h, Mr. Sheffield!” followed by a snorty little snigger. Next thing you hear, Tony Soprano’s asking, “How you doin’?” before ordering calzone. Capisce? The time you’ve lost may actually help you write better if you focus on how spoken voice is to TV what written voice is to novel-writing. “Voice” shows up in each character’s use—or non-use—of accent, pet phrases, favorite subjects, metaphor, slang, vocabulary, contractions, sentence structure, and even…

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Favorite Book Ever

By Writing10 Comments

What is your favorite book? Singular. Not a list. What is the very best book you have ever read? And why is it your fave? The novel that shook my world is a combination of satire on human depravity, meditation on faith, murder mystery, love story (or two), legal thriller, testament to courage, and ultimately an apologetic for grace, grace, grace: Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. One of the numerous Amazon reviewers who commented on this classic said, basically, “I’m an agnostic, but almost doth Dostoevsky persuade me to become a Christian.” This book convinced me it was possible to tell a story in such a way that people would fall in love with grace. And it could be pulled off without including one sermon, altar call, sinner’s prayer, “Four Spiritual Laws,” or iota of Christianese. Your turn.

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The Writing Life

By Writing4 Comments

Why writers should put their contact info in their attachments as well as their emails: I am waiting for a writer to get around to following up on a manuscript he sent me so I can tell him I want to pay him $350 for it. He didn’t include his name or any contact info on the attachment/manuscript—only in his email message. But my AOL business account long ago automatically deleted his message. I downloaded his attachment, printed it, and stuck it in the slush pile without noticing it had no contact info on it. I didn’t print a copy of the email, so I have no idea who the writer was. I recommend including contact info in the document itself—on every page—via a header in Word. For writers’ groups: Sometimes members of a writing group fall into the trap of dishing out only praise. When that happens, I’ve found…

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The Book-Writing Process

By WritingOne Comment

Question. An aspiring author wrote this to me today: I was wondering if you could give me some idea of how the book-publishing process usually works after they accept a proposal. I am unsure about what to expect.Answer. I combined all my pre-agent experiences with a number of publishers to produce what follows. Editorial person really likes itHe or she takes it to the marketing meetingYou wait forever for that meeting to happenMarketing approves itYou wait for them to agree on an offerThey issue you an offerYou reel from the shock of how low it isYou negotiateYou wait for them to draw up the contractYou receive and sign the contractYou write “author” after your name to check out how it looksYou write the bookYou send the book to the publisherThey send the first half of the advanceYou spend it all in one placeYou wait for them to edit itYou wait…

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What makes a good novel?

By Writing4 Comments

Last week I handed out two pages of Wall Street Journal article ledes to grad students, and I instructed everybody to choose their favorite and least favorite ones. Interestingly, one person’s favorite was another one’s reject. Which proves only one thing: writing, like romantic attraction, is a subjective deal. So if writing is subjective, what makes a good novel? As with non-fiction ledes, one person’s reject is another person’s masterpiece. I don’t much care for Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, but hey–she won the Pulitzer for it, so what do I know? And I’m not a huge fan of the Left Behind series, but millions love it. Some who have never read the Book of Revelation find the series highly imaginative and original. Some of those who have read Revelation find the series almost literary with its many references to the Bible in the same way East of Eden…

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All right, already

By WritingNo Comments

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’ve been buried under tons of editing this semester. And down here under the pile, I keep encountering another boo-boo: people writing “alright” for “all right.” I suspect the merging of two words happens because we accept already and altogether. But writing “all right” as one word is altogether slang, non-standard English. Enough, already. All right?

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Editing Foibles

By Writing4 Comments

I spent all day editing today. First there was a chapter in a book I’m working on. Then I plowed through two works of fiction and a screenplay by my students. Add to that the segments of three novels by three peers in a novel-writing class I’m taking and another stack of students’ papers. All of the folks whose stuff I read are in grad school, and they all write well—some extremely well. Yet I encountered some of the same punctuation errors again and again. Here are a few of the biggies: Everyday. This word means ordinary, not daily. If you want daily, you have to put a space in there: every day. I served dinner on my everyday dishes, which we use every day. The p’s and q’s of m’s and n’s. A hyphen and an n-dash and an m-dash each have different purposes. A hyphen joins words or…

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The Bible and the Back Story

By WritingOne Comment

If you went to see “CATS: The Musical” and heard Old Deuteronomy’s “Addressing of Cats,” wouldn’t you miss something if you didn’t know the source of his name? Thirteen years ago, my husband and I were eating our salami-and-liquid-cottage-cheese breakfast with a medical group in Kiev, Ukraine, when some women approached us. Having heard about our team, they introduced themselves and humbly submitted what they knew was a bold request. These leaders from the Ukrainian equivalent of the National Organization for Women wanted to know if we would teach them the Bible. Frankly, I was a bit suspicious. But when I explored their reasons for asking, I found out they were legit. They said they sensed they were missing a lot of good literary references and wanted to know the “back stories.” It was their feeling that intelligent, educated people should know the Bible. Yet because the book had been…

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Inclined to Write?

By Writing3 Comments

Back before I’d ever published anything, I used to look at all the books on the market and think, “Do we really need another book on prayer” or “Why yet another book on marriage,” or “Why would someone want to publish another Bible study on Sermon on the Mount?” I have revisited this question recently as I prepare to launch The Coffee Cup Bible series with Mocha on the Mount, Espresso with Esther, Java with the Judges, and Solomon Latte (March 2006, AMG). What I didn’t realize back then but came to know years later was that each author’s unique sphere of influence provides a platform through which some readers are more apt to hear from that author than from others—even if the others are more eloquent. Thus, there will always be a need for more books, new books, even on “old” topics. For example, Richard Baxter wrote wonderful stuff…

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