Category: writing

If you’re here for the Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop, welcome! My writing life has been full of good stuff lately, and it’s so fun to have the IWSG community to share with here, both here and on Twitter.

The logo of the Insecure Writer's Support Group shows a lighthouse in sepia tones behind the lettering of the group's name.

First, I had the opportunity to write a guest blog on a topic I’m really excited about. That will go live in a few days, so be sure to subscribe to my mailing list if you want the link as soon as it’s available! (There’s no spam, just a ping in your inbox when I post.)

Then, the results of the next round of judging in the ACFW writing contest were announced.

via GIPHY

I didn’t advance to the finals, but I did get my scoresheets and comments back from the judges, and their insight and feedback is an invaluable help. If you’re thinking about entering the ACFW Genesis contest in the future, my advice is: go for it. Seriously! You’ve got nothing to lose and your writing will be stronger for it.

And finally, I wrapped this manuscript up and sent her out into the world for her first taste of the query trenches. I use QueryTracker and a homegrown spreadsheet to keep up with important details, but I also made a colorful flowchart on the whiteboard right behind my desk. It makes me HAPPY every time I see it.

But hold on. Let’s be honest. There’s never a ‘finally’ in this writing life. Because even though my completed manuscript is done-enough-to-query, I’m not done. No, I’m still getting up at 5:00 a.m. to make a cup of good coffee and flip on the desk lamp and write. There’s a new WIP [work in progress] brewing, this time with a single main character and no time slip.

Oh, and I’m also loosely researching for another story idea (by which I mean, there’s a topic that intrigues me as a jumping-off point for a plot, so I’m listening to podcasts and reading books and articles about that topic… I feel a story percolating in the far reaches of my brain, but I’m not sure yet whose story it is or where they are or how it’s going to unfurl.)

Which brings me to the July IWSG Question: What personal traits have you written in to your characters?

via GIPHY

I think my first manuscript may have been the closest I’ve come to writing characters who had my personal traits. It seems to me that a lot of writers ‘accidentally’ write an autobiographical character now and again, but the best characters are the ones who aren’t US.

The novel that’s out in the trenches right now has two main characters: one’s in her sixties and the other’s in her twenties. Both of them materialized pretty fully in my mind’s eye, and they’re definitely not aspects of myself. They don’t share my penchant for reading, coffee, or a village full of friendships to keep them on an even keel. I suppose both of them are great in the kitchen, and I do love to cook & bake–but that’s it. My new WIP is still a glimmer in my eye with a half-formed protagonist, but I won’t intentionally give her any of my personal traits.

So talk to me, friends: do you ever guest blog? Do you love it? Have you ever participated in a writing contest–good, bad, or ugly? If you’re querying, what do you use to stay organized and happy through the process? I’ll make my way through as much of the IWSG blog hop as I can. I’m excited to read your answers to the July question!

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Hi, friends! It’s the first week of June, and you know what that means: a new edition of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group Blog Hop!

This month’s question is: Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?

First, let’s talk reading. Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut. I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read.” (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 10th Anniversary Edition, p.145)

I’m not quite as voracious as Mr. King. (Then again, I suspect he’s not parenting three kids and doing all his own housework, so I’m giving myself some grace on this whole book-count situation.) A few years ago, I started keeping records of the books I read. I finished fifty-six in 2016, forty-five in 2017, and sixty-seven in 2018. Not too shabby for this season of life!

To break it down by genre, in the past six months I’ve read the following:
7 mainstream women’s fiction
6 Christian Living (non-fiction)
4 Christian speculative fiction
3 Christian women’s fiction
1 writing craft (non fiction)
1 mainstream thriller/suspense 
1 mainstream comedy
1 Christian romance

My tastes in reading material are a little like my tastes in breakfast food: I’ll eat ANYTHING, but I tend to get stuck with a favorite and eating oatmeal every day for a month until I burn out and switch to bagels. I sometimes read lots of light-hearted fiction (chick lit or up lit or women’s fiction with romantic subplots) and then switch to heavy documentary style nonfiction for ages.  I also enjoy the occasional memoirs, mainstream nonfiction, YA contemporaries, and YA fantasies. So, if I zoomed out to look at the stats for what I’ve read over the past year or nine months, you’d probably see some representation in those genres, too.

My favorite genre to write in is women’s fiction—but (confession) it’s the only genre I’ve written in long-form seriously. I’ve written a few articles for magazines and a few children’s stories for my own kids, and of course I’ve been blogging here for years. But when I decided to jump into novel writing, the stories I really wanted to tell were definitely women’s fiction. The first manuscript was mainstream and my second is Christian, but both center around women’s lives and the friendships and family relationships that carry them through their emotional journeys.

And you? If you’re a reader, what’s your jam? If you’re a writer, join us on the blog hop!

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A blue Weimaraner puppy lays curled up in a fluffy gray dog bed. One green eye is looking at the camera.

Porter, my youngest Weimaraner, lays curled up in a fluffy dog bed right beside my computer desk every day while I write. Today, he’s peeking out of his nest to announce that I’m a semi-finalist in the Contemporary category for the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Contest!

ACFW is such a wonderful, supportive organization, and this is the first writing contest I’ve ever entered. It is so exciting to see my name among so many talented writers. The semi-finalists go on to a second round of judging, and three finalists will be announced June 15th.

I feel like “semi-finalist” is a lot like the word “half-marathon.” You know, I ran a half-marathon and let me tell you: it was a full race. It was a whole lot of work. There was nothing ‘half’ about it. And for me, being a semi-finalist feels the same. This in itself is a whole achievement, and I’m fully thrilled with it.

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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!

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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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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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