Baby steps – Write the First Word

It is so easy to read a book. Therefore, it must be easy to write one, correct?

Sigh. If only that were true. If I give one piece of advice to a beginning writer, it would be this: join a critique group.

My critique group has taught me so much. I wrote an enjoyable story, and it had positive points. But, whooee, was it rough around the edges! The members of my crit group started kindly, pointing out the baby problems. So I’ll start with that too.

First problem to look for–filler words. The most common filler word is “that.” Sometimes we need the word. Take this sentence, for example:

“It was that dog!” She pointed at the animal, crouching in the shadows.

In this example, removing the word “that” would not make sense. “It was dog!” Obviously, we need to keep this one.

But in the following sentence, we can delete it with no one being the wiser. “She clung desperately to the illusion that she was in control.” If we delete this instance of the filler word, the sentence still reads correctly. “She clung desperately to the illusion she was in control.”

See? We don’t need it. The only purpose filler words serve is to slow your reader.

Other fillers: just, only, really. Compare “I’m just so sad,” to “I’m so sad.” The meaning is the same. Delete!

Look for: almost, slightly, seemed, perhaps, maybe, simply, absolutely, basically, actually, sort of, kind of, a little, and very. I’ve caught myself multiple times writing sentences with the words “little bit.” For example: “They did know a little bit about what needed to be done.” Cut, cut, cut. The new sentence will get the job done. We talk this way, so it’s easy to write this way. Train your eye to catch them when they pop up.

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It’s super easy to fix this problem if you have words on the paper already. (Oops! I just used one myself. Should I leave it?) Open your document in whatever word processing program you have and use the “find” command. In Word, you access it with Ctrl-F. (By the way, do NOT do a “find and delete!” Read each instance.) Decide whether you need the word, or if you can axe it. Once these filler words disappear, your writing is tighter and easier to read.

Here is a link to a document I found on Google:

Go back to your manuscript and tighten your words. Your readers will thank you.

Books are like air. . .

“She reads books as one would breathe air; to fill up and live.” Annie Dillard

This is truth. Who’s with me? When I hear someone say they don’t like to read, it leaves me speechless. How is that even possible?

I read an infographic years ago detailing how little Americans read once they leave school. It astonished and saddened me. I was teaching geometry at my local high school, and I did an experiment with my 10th-grade students. Each of them got a survey asking them to rank their feelings about reading from 1 to 5. Don’t you agree— EVERYONE would enjoy reading if they could find the perfect book, the one written just for them? The amount of students who ranked themselves as 1 to 3 was depressing.

This could not stand! They just had not read the right book yet. Survey number two asked them to tell me the last thing they’d read for pleasure and their favorite book and/or author. If they couldn’t answer that question, they listed their three favorite movies.

If they ranked their reading enjoyment at a 4 or 5, they would likely read anything, so I used their favorites and made suggestions I thought they’d enjoy. Got them to branch out. Try science fiction – here is a copy of Dune. Try non-fiction – read The Perfect Storm. How about a classic – here is Pride and Prejudice.

With the 3s and below, they told me about their movie list. We determined the common thread. Why did they like the movies? You would’ve been surprised by their answers, too. One boy loved “Boyz In the Hood” for its theme of friendship and loyalty. Another chose Superman because he cared for underdogs. The hidden depths in their answers would’ve shocked you.

Thus the Soulmate Book project was born. Shelves and shelves of books lined the walls in my home, relegated to gathering dust; meanwhile, my TBR pile grew on the windowsills in my bedroom. It was time to purge—out with the old, give them as gifts to my students. The goal was to change the minds of those 1s, 2s, and 3s.

Do you believe we can learn new things, regardless of age? The heretofore untapped world of Young Adult fiction opened up. My reluctant readers needed books to speak to their quiet souls. Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Ranger’s Apprentice—I needed to read them in order to recommend them. I loved them. Have you tried YA? It may surprise you!

Each of my 170+ students received the gift of a personally curated book. Wouldn’t you LOVE to sit and talk books with potentially eager readers? Wouldn’t you enjoy thinking about their likes and choosing from your favorites to share with them? Each one had a note in the front cover, explaining why he/she might enjoy reading it. They were stacked all over my classroom. The kids grew curious, some excited. They asked me daily what I was doing with all the books. “You’ll see.” They saw their survey answers stuck inside the cover like a bookmark. At the beginning of class, someone would ask, “When can I have mine?!” It was as exciting for me as it was for them.

Each was wrapped to reflect the gift it was. On the last day before final exams began, the books were handed out. The kids were asked to give them a chance, to read without interruption for at least this one class period. If they didn’t want to finish them, they could leave their books behind. If they were interested, they could take them home and finish reading over the summer. So they read. And they took the books with them!

People who love to read want others to love to read. People who like books want to talk about books, discuss the magic inside the pages, share what they’ve enjoyed with others. My teacher friends began saving popular titles for me, helped me wrap them, helped me decide what would be a good match. It was a project of love and generosity.

Teaching geometry is no longer my job, but I still want to share my love of reading. The difference is now you can share my own books. I write inspirational romance. Real people with real faith struggles. Christians are not perfect. And while it is inspiring to read about Christian characters who always know the right thing to say, who always turn first to God when they have problems, who have wonderful, thoughtful prayers, it is also, sometimes discouraging. At least, it is for me. Because I sometimes say the exact wrong thing. I often wallow in my own problems for far too long before finally turning to God for guidance and help. At times, my prayers are a curse and a fist shaken toward Heaven.

So I write about people like me. We struggle. We do better on some days than on others. But we always seem to find our way back to the God who loves us and waits patiently for us.

Follow the birth of these stories. Get to know the characters. Read the deleted scenes. Learn the unique things I discover as I research for the books. See if you relate to anything in their stories. And share this love with me.

The Incredible Journey – a blog

Welcome to my very first blog post ever! I am excited to start this journey.

I have learned so much since September 2019, which is when I attended my first writer’s conference. I started this new chapter of my life with little regard for how green I was. Almost immediately, I learned how many things I had done wrong. Once I learned those little nuggets of wisdom, I wanted to share them with other budding authors. (I’ve spent the past 20 years being a math teacher, and I find it difficult to leave that teacher mentality behind.)

So if you’re interested in writing and publishing, go to my contact page and subscribe to my blog. Come alongside me as I travel this unfamiliar—and exciting—road. I am happy to share what I learn along the way, and also eager to find out what you learn on your own adventure.