Category: writing

It’s time for another Insecure Writers’ Support Group blog hop! This month’s question is: If you could use a wish to help you write just one scene/chapter of your book, which one would it be?

An animated gif of Aladdin rubbing the magic lamp, causing a puff of smoke to appear and the Genie to whirl out.

Oh, man. This is such a fun question! I’m currently in rewrite mode for my WIP after getting a manuscript critique from an editor. She was really positive about one half of my dual-timeline narrative, but found some major weaknesses in the story arc of the other protagonist/timeline.

Here’s a look at my Scrivener “binder.”

Scrivener software is shown with a list of scene descriptions, some highlighted in pink.

In the final version, the chapters will alternate between Zola in 2000 and Erin in 2019. But for this phase of writing, I used Scrivener’s amaaaazing powers of click-and-drag-to-move-scenes-and-chapters-around to put this timeline in consecutive order. So this only shows the timeline of the weaker protagonist. The scenes highlighted pink are complete. The scenes in white are either scenes to write new from scratch, or scenes to rewrite–either to meet a new purpose, to meet their purpose more clearly, or small rewrites to accomodate a new location in the story/timeline.

If I could make a wish and a genie would help me with a scene or chapter, it would definitely be the chapter down toward the bottom of this list: “Erin’s Bad Guys Close In.”

I decided to use Save the Cat Writes a Novel to attack this rewrite. When I put my story through the filter of Jessica Brody’s scene breakdowns, I discovered this was the plot point where I was most lacking. I have four scenes to write to create this chapter (or two chapters?), and I’m most nervous about getting the tension and stakes right.

I think the buildup was solid–but this plot point was missing, so the resolution scenes were unfulfilling. I’m confident that if I can nail this section, the rest of the story will hang properly, like a well-cut dress that drapes just right.

At least, that’s what I’m wishing & hoping!

A lighthouse is shown in sepia tones, overlayed with the words "The Insecure Writer's Support Group"

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This past weekend I attended my first ever writers’ conference. #MSCWC was a huge blast in Collierville, Tennessee.

Friday

I was a bundle of nerves at first–no surprise there–but I am so deeply glad I didn’t let that stop me. I drove down on Friday after dropping the kids off at school, which left me a few hours to relax in my hotel. I’d brought my laptop and everything I would need to do a little writing on the WIP, but I was too keyed up to focus. So instead, I flipped on the TV and painted my nails.

Tim and Al from ABC's "Home Improvement"

(Funny side note: I couldn’t figure out how to change the channel. The hotel was undergoing renovation and the floor must have just been opened back up for guests, because the remote was still in plastic packaging with no batteries. I didn’t want to call the front desk to send someone up to program the remote {because Stranger Danger… I mean, honestly. Doesn’t that sound like the beginning of a horrible story Keith Morrison would narrate?} and there only seemed to be a single power button. When I turned it on, it was tuned to CMT. So I watched two and a half hours of that old Tim the Tool-Man Taylor show. And then when I was leaving the room and trying to figure out how to turn the television back off, I discovered that the single button controlled volume and channel, too. Ay yi yi.)

The Friday evening event was a meet & greet, and the whole way there I prayed that I’d meet at least one other person who was new and nervous so we could help each other out. And isn’t God good? That’s exactly what happened. I sat with a table of ladies and as we chatted, I hit it off with a new friend who writes cozy mystery!

Cake displaying "God's Plan, My Pen" at MidSouth Christian Writers' Conference

If I go back next year, I’ll know not to eat dinner right before the meet & greet, because they had a lovely spread of food (including this beautiful cake, which had a screenprint of the theme artwork by one of the board members) and I was too stuffed to eat a bite. I’ll also try to remember to take more photos! Afterward, I went back to my hotel for that rare luxury in a busy mom’s life: peace and quiet and a full night’s sleep.

Speaking of sleep: this was so amazing. Is this everywhere now, and I just need to travel more? The hotel had a white noise machine built right in on the nightstand. Genius–especially since there was a train track right by the hotel than runs, apparently, at 5:15 a.m. daily.

Saturday

Saturday morning I had just one objective: to locate a decent cup of coffee. (Hotel coffee is just always a letdown. Isn’t it?) Google came through when I asked it for “good coffee near me” with a recommendation for the Donut Hutt.

Do you even really have to ask if I got a donut? The coffee was amazing–apparently, they have their own roaster who makes them a signature blend! And they had a huge case full of fancy donuts, but I tried an original glazed and a long john and can vouch: they were excellent. If you’re in the Memphis area, jonesing for a java fix, head over to Donut Hutt.

Bag of donuts and cup of coffee beside an Erin Condren Life Planner.


Caffeinated and sugared-up, I was ready for the day. The conference is run so well and with so much kindness. I can’t say enough about how wonderful my experience was.

I met up with my new friend from the meet & greet, and we lined up together to sign up for one-on-one appointment. There was a bit of free time to mingle and chat, and then we heard Bob Hostetler‘s first keynote.

He was SO encouraging. I wish I could bottle up the effervescent feeling of sitting in a room full of writers, hearing someone urge us on to keep working, keep striving, keep our eye on the ball. (There were some baseball metaphors. I’m not a sports person, but I managed to keep up!)

Bob Hostetler gives the keynote address behind a clear lectern at the MidSouth Christian Writers' Conference.

Following the keynote, there were three breakout sessions with four offerings in each time slot. I attended an editing class called “Cut the Fluff,” by Shannon Vannatter, an author website class by Linda Fulkerson, and a craft class on “Creating Characters with Personality & Pizzazz” with Patricia Bradley and Johnnie Alexander. All three sessions were so helpful! I came away with notes and handouts and email follow-ups. It was really exciting to start brainstorming how to put their excellent advice to use on my current manuscript.

The final keynote was followed by a Q&A panel discussion with two agents, two publishers, and an editor. Attendees were given paper to submit anonymous questions, and the experts each weighed in. It was really helpful (again, I took tons of notes) and it was also very heartening to see their interactions on stage. It felt like a tiny peek behind the curtain. Yes, these folks act as gatekeepers in the industry. Yes, they have exacting standards and it can feel like a LOT of work to meet the requirements. But they’re also really kind, genuine, normal people who love great books and are happy to meet writers… even newbies like me.

If you’re looking for a conference & you live in driving distance from Memphis, I wholeheartedly recommend the Mid-South Christian Writers’ Conference. You can visit their blog all year long to get great encouragement and information, and sign up to be the first to hear their plans for next year’s speakers and presenters.

If you’ve ever been to a writers’ conference, what surprised you the most about it? Or if you’ve never been–what worries you the most about going to one? Drop me a comment below!

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Today I’m participating in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. Click the image below, or follow along the list at the bottom of this post, to follow other insecure writers and read their responses.

This month’s prompt asks, Whose perspective do you prefer to write from: the hero/protagonist, or the villain/antagonist?

My fiction is centered around realistic women who face everyday obstacles. So far, I’ve only written from the heroine/protagonist’s perspective — because my characters aren’t going up against actual bad guys. There are no cloaked witches or creepy villains or bands of dragons or invading hordes of aliens to defeat. Most of the women in my stories have faced their biggest antagonists in the form of circumstances to overcome and misbeliefs to correct.

Maybe someday I’ll craft a novel where the main character faces down an external antagonist, but right now I’m really enjoying exploring the ways women can be our own worst enemies.

Have you ever heard Andrew Peterson’s song, “Be Kind to Yourself?” (That song never fails to make me cry, for one thing, so go download it to your phone and add it to your Spotify playlists.)


There’s a line that asks, “How does it end when the war that you’re in is just you against you against you? You gotta learn to love, learn to love your enemies too.”

See, I think there’s something inside all of us that longs for stories about defeating lies and overcoming the circumstances that tell us we can’t or won’t or don’t measure up

That’s how my life feels. My enemy — my antagonist — isn’t a scary monster or a criminal bad guy. It’s my anxiety, my anger, or my lack of faith. It’s my fear in the face of a diagnosis or the way I react to past traumas. And I have a hunch I’m not the only one. What’s more, I have a hunch that the way I’ve battled those enemies — the lessons I’ve learned — would resonate with women all over the world.

So that’s what I write. I hope & pray that my stories, whenever they hit the wider world, will be uplifting and encouraging because of the way they speak to the “villains” we all face.

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“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?” -Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

When I was a girl, I adored Anne Shirley. I hadn’t her tragic background nor her dramatic flair, but I loved the exuberant way she expressed herself. Those monologues, when an enraptured Anne would go on and on about something she loved, charmed my socks off. That was how I talked, too — inside my head.

I remember worrying from a very young age that the monologues and scenarios I imagined in my head were an indicator of a mental health problem. (Back then, before I learned that ‘crazy’ is a pejorative, I would’ve put it like this: “I talk to imaginary people a lot. Does that mean I’m crazy?”) When I was around 10 or 11, I picked up on the  notion that what separates the mentally ill from the mentally healthy is that the latter may have an imaginary friend, but the former talks to imaginary friends and they talk back. That was probably supposed to make me feel better. I was supposed to think, “Well, golly, I’m 100% sure that this is all in my own imagination. It doesn’t feel like a separate entity no one else can perceive is speaking to me, so I’m fine.” Instead, my little brain warped it so that I thought, “Hmm, sometimes when I engage in these long conversations in my head, I really do imagine what the other people say back. Maybe that means I AM crazy.”

So you see, it felt like it was only a matter of time before my parents and the rest of the world figured out I was insane. I was sure that the clock was ticking and when they discovered my secret, I’d be in trouble at best – or at worst, hauled off to an asylum for some good old-fashioned shock therapy. (I was a weird kid and had read some admittedly unhelpful books on the subject of mental health.)

I wish I could remember having a moment of epiphany, but instead my late teens and early twenties simply gave me a gradual slide to a state of comfort with the way my mind worked. I stopped fretting about a clinical diagnosis (and I learned not to throw around the word ‘crazy,’ even in my own mind about my own self) and accepted the fact that I have an active imagination.

I eventually realized that the way I’m wired keeps my sense of wonder and laughter close to the surface – which is definitely part of what makes me a great teacher of young kids. I realized that my imagination sometimes works against me, when it manifests as generalized anxiety, and that I can control that part with medication, therapy, and mindful practices. (So: interestingly enough, I do have a mental health diagnosis, just not the one I feared when I was a kid.) I realized that my imagination is like a puppy with a lot of energy, and if I set it to the task of writing –dreaming up an entire novel-sized world of people and places and situations– it’s a lot less likely to bother me by misdirecting that energy*.

So. Like the effusive Anne Shirley, I’m glad to live in a world where we get to enjoy Octobers. This time of year is beautiful here in western Kentucky, and autumn always seems to renew my energies. I’m thankful for what I’ve learned about imagination, because embracing mine opened up the path for me to explore writing. Even if my novels never hit bookshelves, the act of writing them has been wonderful in and of itself.

Because, as Anne Shirley would say, “when you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worthwhile.”

 

 

 

*for more on that notion, I highly recommend Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Her analogy about creativity as an overactive dog sparked an instant sense of “hey me too!” in my heart and you might enjoy it, also.

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It’s nearly that time again, y’all. It’s about to be November, and that means NaNoWriMo is upon us! National Novel Writing Month is a really fun, inspiring initiative where folks sign up to attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November.

It’s frantic. It’s beastly. It’s exhilarating. It’s insane!

I’m doing it again. I ‘won’ Nanowrimo in 2015 (anyone who completes 50,000 words by November 30th is declared a winner) and took that manuscript through another 40,000 words, beta readers, critique partners, edits and rewrites, queries and submissions and revise-and-resubmits to literary agents… and now it’s literally shelved in my office. Maybe someday I’ll pull it out and polish it up and send it back into the query trenches. Maybe it was never meant for the world’s eyes. I’m not sure, but it was a wonderful experience and I finally feel ready to try again.

I’m not quite playing by the official rules, however. Nano encourages writers to start fresh with a blank page and a brand-new idea on November 1st. They tell people to do some research, character sketches, outlining and such – but no writing until the month begins.

A few months ago — after lots of non-writing around these parts– I was laying in bed, about to drift off to sleep, when a Perfectly Formed First Line came into my head. I sat straight up and said it out loud, then tapped it into my notes app on my phone. Eventually, I daydreamed up the person behind that first line, and I got a tiny sliver of a notion of who she was and what she wants out of life.

I sat down and started writing. At the end of September, I had about 15,000 words. Enough to know that I really love this character and this setting. I’m a pantser (as opposed to a plotter, one who plots and outlines each scene before writing; I fly by the seat of my pants) so I had very little idea what the story was about in a big sense. I had no elevator pitch, no back-cover copy. But I loved this girl, as broken as she is, and I was watching her fight for redemption, and I loved it.

I set a goal to double my word count by the end of October. If I added 500 words per day, I could hit 30,000; then if I play along with Nanowrimo and add another 50,000 words, I would have a complete (or very nearly so) first draft by November 30th. Today is October 24, and I have 28,625 words in this manuscript. (I know, if you’re a nonwriter that is total gobbledygook! I apologize. It’s about ten chapters, or not-quite-100-pages in an average sized novel.

If you need me, I’ll be up every morning for the next six weeks at least at 5:00 a.m. making coffee, stumbling to my computer, and trying to dream up the resolution to this drama that has played out in my brain. (And then midday I’ll probably be napping on the couch because writing plus full-time momming wears me out.)

Anyone else trying Nano? Let me know if you need a Writing Buddy!

 

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I believe in the power of story.

I love once-upon-a-times and remember-whens and me-toos and what-ifs.

I believe that writing down, speaking up, typing out all give life and color and meaning to ideas that need to be shared.

I love when a turn of phrase or a perfect analogy lodge in my head for days.

I believe that stories give us connections – to our past, to our future, to folks we’ve never met halfway around the globe or the guy on the corner or the lady down the street.

I love pressing a book into someone’s hand with an urgent “you have to read this” and I love retelling my favorite memories with my favorite people for the hundred-millionth repetition, with no urgency at all.

I believe that my heart contains sparks of story that are begging to be told, shared, repeated & remembered.

I love storytelling.

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Meet the author

MICHELLE NEBEL

I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!

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