Tag Archives: critiquing

Tis’ The Season: Writing Conferences #SheSpeaks2015





No, I’m not just reading out of a thesaurus; I’m getting ready for my very first writer’s conference.

*Insert squeal of an eight year old blonde girl in ringlets*

Yes, because that is how I feel inside. Granted, I’ve never squealed in my life—well maybe when I was eight, but even then it’s unlikely. I’m not much of a squealer (whining I did a lot of, but squealing…not so much). That in no way means I don’t get excited about things, because I am pumped.

I don’t know what this conference will bring.

Maybe nothing.

Maybe something.

And that is what is so exciting!

Not knowing the outcome means the possibilities are endless. Which also means I have very few expectations. And being amenable to a wide variety of outcomes means I can be satisfied no matter what happens in the end.

Okay, so we’re entering the gushing realm here, so I’ll refrain from going on and on and ask a couple of questions:

What kinds of writing conferences have you attended and what did you get out of them?

Evidently—tis the season! I follow a lot of blogs and everyone is talking about the conference season in full swing, so I want to know what’s out there, what’s going on, and what is the experience.

The conference I am attending is entitled “She Speaks” which is specifically for Christian writers and speakers.

I am not a speaker.

Oddly, though, because I am not a speaker, this conference appealed more to me. I’d like to be a speaker. Or rather, I’d like to be able to get up in front of a crowd and talk about my writing, hopes and dreams and to be able to encourage others to seek their own hopes and dreams without wishing that the floor would swallow me whole and send me straight to Fiji!

I know, I know. I’m a teacher—I should be an expert public speaker.

No—speaking in front of pre-pubescent, and pubescent pimple popping punks, princesses and princes (I love teenagers!) is completely different than speaking in front of a crowd of peers. Believe me. If you don’t, try it some time. You’ll see.

And I’m not saying it’s easier either, it’s just different.

My point is, I’d like to be a better speaker, so this conference has perks in more than one way—including networking prospects.

Even though my expectations are wide open, I have signed up for my track and so for those of you who follow (and those of you who pray) I’d appreciate your thoughts and prayers during these times! You’re my support and I want to make sure that I get the most out of this experience that I can; the only way I can do that is to call on ALL my support—and that includes YOU!

(Oh, and I know the dangers of posting this on the internet—but be warned I have a pit bull at my house and she’ll protect it while I’m gone—plus it’s not empty. I’m not stupid.)

Thursday 7/23

1-2 welcome, worship, devotion

-I love that the conference starts out with worship and devotion. The only way any of this work can be truly blessed is if it is DEVOTED back to the ONE who blessed me in the first place. AMEN.

2:15-3:15 Finding something to talk about

-Now, we all know that I have a lot to say, but this is about avoiding procrastination, and this kind of direction—focused direction can be helpful to someone who has been talking about being a writer since she was…six? And is just now doing something about it (hey—I’m going to be 30 in a month…better late than never, right?)

3:35-4:35 What is a platform and Why do I need one? Blogging 101

-Now, I’ve been blogging for a while, but I could definitely be better (and more consistent) with it. And building a platform is important—and not easy. I am looking forward to this. Suggestions bloggers? Always welcome

5:15-6:15 How to title your book and carry its theme throughout

-I always title my books LAST because I believe that the title should be carried throughout—so if it isn’t after I title the book then I can make those changes as I edit. I wonder what suggestions they’ll have in this workshop because I’ll admit that titling is NOT my forte.

Friday 7/24

9:30-11 General session

11:20-12:20 Social media and panel discussion

-I could always use help (and advice) in improving my PR.

2-3: Storytelling on the page

-During this I will also be meeting with a publisher. My appointment is at 2pm. It will likely only last about 15 minutes. PLEASE pray at 2pm on Friday if you pray at no other time during the conference. I don’t know if this publisher will be right for me or not, but it will be a good experience and I would like to make a good impression as it is an important contact regardless of how it turns out.

 3:30-5:30 Track meetings (Word power equals Sales Power; Overcoming procrastination) 

-At 3:30 I will also take time to meet with an agent. Again, I don’t know if this agent will be interested or right for me either, but also an important experience and contact and I want to make a good impression.

8:15-9:45 Main session

Saturday 7/25

8:30-9:30 welcome, worship, morning devo

9:50-10:50 Getting things done in ministry on a budget

-I find that many times people don’t like to talk about the financial aspects of writing and publishing. It needs more attention because it isn’t cheap! And you don’t make millions.

 11:10-12:10 Take the mystery out of marketing

-Ahhhhh, that WOULD be helpful.

1:15-2:15 Memoir writing

-A genre I haven’t tackled and haven’t thought about until recently…details to come.

2:45-5:45 bonus session (critique groups)

7-8:30 main session

8:30-9:30 dessert and mingle

As you can see, it’s a PACKED agenda and I’m excited. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, if you do nothing other than just pray a little for me over the next few days I’d appreciate you—but more importantly pray for all the women at this conference because speaking and writing CAN make a difference in this crazy mixed up world of ours and the fact that there are so many women who want to try to make a difference really is a beautiful thing.

So Tis’ the Season to get your conference on.

The Artist’s Way Week 7: The Paradox of Creativity and Ashley’s Writing Brain

Sometimes we hold so tight to the control we think we need that we don’t realize the act of releasing control puts us more in control than when we were holding on. It’s a paradox. One that might make your head spin, but starts to answer the question of how to access more or at least a different kind of authenticity.

When my nieces play, they do a great job of sharing…most of the time. But, they are human and what’s more, they are children and so occasionally conflict does arise. This past year, they all dressed as different Frozen characters for Halloween (I know, you’re downright shocked), which was all well and good until Maggie, the youngest, got an Elsa costume for her birthday. Suddenly Sadie and Maggie could both be Elsa at the same time, while Bailey was stuck being Anna.

Anyone who has ever been around small children, can predict the next scene.

We tried reason: “But Bailey, you love Anna. You’ll be the only Anna. Don’t you want to be Anna.”

No. She wanted to be Elsa too.

We tried logic: “If you wear the Cinderella dress, you’ll look like Elsa. It’s blue too.”

No. It has a picture of Cinderella. Obviously one cannot be Elsa without a cape and with Cinderella tattooed on the front of your dress.

Clearly, she was left out. She could not be Elsa.

The Frozen phenomenon still strikes me as odd. Why do all the girls want to be Elsa? This is obviously a special case, but all over the world little girls are imitating this new Disney Princess turned Queen who doesn’t “get the guy”, who is not in the film as much as Anna, and doesn’t have as many musical numbers and yet, she steals the show almost every time. What is it about Elsa?

As I was reading though this chapter, It struck me in a new way: Elsa is the creator. Sure, she has magic, but even more she is an artists. And like all artists, she lives in a paradox—the more she tries to control something, the less control she has and when she let’s go—that’s when she becomes her true self…a conduit for creativity, change, power, and, of course, love. That kind of repression is something we can all relate to, especially as artists.

Regardless of whether or not you have or have had Frozen fever, or if you’ve even seen the movie, you can still relate to this idea of letting go and becoming your own true artist self. I dislike the idea of letting go—especially of control. It makes me uncomfortable, which is probably why it is most likely to work.

I can reflect on my life, and I know that the most fun I’ve had is when I let go of the fear, the worry, the regret…all of it and embraced the unknown and all the possibilities it could bring: surfing in the Pacific ocean, traveling around Europe, taking a train to Connecticut, singing Karaoke in front of a room full of strangers. I look back on these and wonder why I don’t do more of these things. The power in letting go brings us closer to who we really are, inside and out.

I became a better writer when I stopped trying to control the story. Maybe I’ll be a better person when I stop trying to control the world; maybe that’s really where the authenticity comes from.

My sister and I took both of Bailey’s complaints about the Cinderella dress to heart in solving the problem. Rigging a towel as a cape, my sister was able to solve one problem while I performed surgery on the dress to remove the Cinderella stamp. The blue dress was now ready, and donned in her costume, Baily sailed into the family room, singing at the top of her lungs right along with her two sisters: “Let it go…Let it go…can’t hold it back anymore!”

And you’re welcome…that’ll be stuck in your head now.

Do you leave reviews?

Some people are fastidious about leaving reviews for people and products while others brush it off as a superfluous social construct and “I just don’t have time for that.”

We’re all busy, but think about the reviews you’ve read on a product or book. Did it help you in making a decision? Chances are, at least once, you’ve allowed a review to influence your decision making process. On the whole, reviews have become necessary in a world built on competition.

So, how do you give a review without allowing it to take up too much of your time?

Personally, I prefer reviews that are to the point anyway. Too much detail and I either stop reading the review or become uninterested in the product. Not ideal. Here are the steps I use:

  • Rate the product honestly

I know this sounds “duh”, but often reviews are not honest to one extreme or another. I find that I’m much more interested in products and books that have a variety of ratings. Straight 5 star ratings are just as suspicious to me as a one or two star rated product. Why? Because nothing is perfect. So unless you really think it’s worth five, be honest.

  • Don’t spend a lot of time summarizing

You’re not writing a book report, so keep the summarizing to a minimum. Summaries take the mystery out of the story for the readers and for products, there are already descriptions with each product! Don’t reinvent the wheel. If you must summarize, keep it short and sweet—a couple of sentences should be sufficient.

  • Identify your purpose—are you writing the review to rave? To point out a flaw? To offer criticism?

Once you know why you are writing your review, jump right in. People appreciate it when you get to the point quickly in a review.

  • Unless you actually are trying to point out that it’s the “best” or the “worst” ever. Avoid extremes in your language

Explain why you liked (or hated) the book or product, but also give examples and reasoning. I suggest trying to avoid spoilers, but using evidence proves that you weren’t just a friend or someone hired to write a review. In this way, the review takes on more meaning for the audience.

  • Avoid criticizing the author/creator. Stick to reviewing the product.

No need to mud-sling. People do have feelings. Reviewing the product is important and valuable, but stick to the product or book.

What process do you use to review? Do you have other suggestions?

Let the EDITING games BEGIN

I have been so focused on productivity for the past few months, I have neglected my editing.


 Now that I have three manuscripts completed—let the editing games begin.

 And oh boy, let the editing games begin.

I decided to start at the very beginning (a very good place to start—and you’re welcome for that song being in your head from now until eternity. The only way to cure it is to start singing “This is the song that never ends…” oops…good luck). I opened my first manuscript, which in all fairness is a novel I started when I was sixteen years old and finished when I was around 22. I’ve continually gone back and forth to and from it, kind of like a security blanket. I love the plot, because, let’s face it, it’s my first novel and I am attached to the characters, but there has always been something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on that bothered me about the whole story.


It hit me a few months ago—this story has WAY too much BACKSTORY. Sure, I care—that’s because I’ve been in love with these characters since I was sixteen. But you won’t. My readers will stop reading after the first sentence probably because it’s pretty lame. I mean seriously, read this:

 The creaking floorboard sounded eerily loud in the engulfing silence of the vacant room.

I shuddered when I went back and read it. 14 words just to say “the empty room was quiet.” And what is that vacant room even supposed to mean? Very little in the grand scheme of things. That whole chapter is back story—why she’s there, what she’s doing, who she is—explained in meticulous detail.

So I gutted it.

I deleted the first three chapters.

It only hurt a little, but the new beginning gave the novel new life. Compare the two:


The creaking floorboard sounded eerily loud in the engulfing silence of the vacant room. The air smelled musty and old but strangely comforting in the peaceful hush. For years the building stood in the center of downtown, as tall and proud as one of the Queen’s soldiers at Buckingham Palace thousands of miles from Bentenville, Texas.

A second creaking broke the silence with the firm step of the determined Andrea Honor Cartier, who intended to do more than just break the silence. She would have her way with the building first by eliminating the years of redundancy with necessary restorations and renovations, and then by inviting change that would bring new life to the stoic solider.

At least that’s what she told herself as she stopped in the center of the large open room eyeing every inch of space the building had to offer. She closed her eyes and listened to the silence soon broken by Liz Tonnozi’s voice whispering through her memory.


Andi, do you want to have some real fun today?” Liz Tonnozi asked as she sat across from her friend Sunday morning. She was stretched out on the couch kicking her legs up in the air while Andi read a book in the recliner across from her. Liz hadn’t been there more than five minutes before she’d broken Andi’s cone of silence with her less than rhetorical question.

Andrea Cartier, recently liberated debutante from Atlanta, looked at the much more relaxed Liz from over the top of her book. While Liz had never been one to follow convention, Andrea, or Andi to her friends, sat up straight even when she was relaxing. Under her mother’s watchful eye, Andi had learned that when in polite company a lady never touched the back of her chair.

Liz didn’t care about the rules of polite company. And with five brothers, she only occasionally recognized that she was a lady.


I spent three chapters introducing these two characters before when in these three paragraphs, I gave you a distinct impression of the two from the get-go. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t compromise the basic plot—it’s still there, I’m just editing it for style, because let’s face it, I’ve learned a lot since I was 22. And that’s what I love about the writing process.

Writing is about change. Continual, never ending, constant, on the move, change. It’s why it is a process and it will never be perfect. By definition, a process is a systematic series of actions directed toward some end—a continuous ACTION or series of CHANGES and oh how we all rebel against both of those ideas.

 Taking action is hard.

No one wants to admit that something they worked for years on still needs work—a lot of work—before it reaches any kind of definite end. And yet, unless some kind of definite action is taken, what good can come of it.

And if taking action is hard, change, ugh, who likes change anyway? For years I rebelled against the idea of taking anything out of the novel because I’d spent so long putting it in there in the first place. BUT if it’s useless crap, then that kind of change is good. Just like cutting the dead ends off your hair helps it grow.

The thing about a process though—it’s not the song that never ends. At some point, you do get to get off that small world ride (oh look, now you have that one stuck in your head) and if you’re really lucky—and you take definite action—you see something beautiful. After all, a caterpillar doesn’t become a butterfly till it breaks out of that chrysalis and a writer doesn’t become an author till she learns how to adapt, change, and publish her work.


Can Opposites Attract?

It’s a saying for a reason, but sometimes I wonder. So as a Blogging 101 assignment, I played with my header and added some widgets (well, actually I did that a few days ago) so I creeped on the Writing 101 prompt for this beauty and wrote a contrast dialogue. As it happens in the piece I’m working on now–two of my characters are about night and day difference and they are currently in conflict with one another though they have been assigned as partners in their new jobs–tell me what you think of my contrast dialogue.

“Whoa there, Princess. Watch where you’re going,” Jordan ducked out of the way just in time before I bowled him over on the sidewalk in my inattentive musing. I resisted the urge to growl at him.

            “Sorry,” I murmured, stepping to the side, but refusing to defer any more. A week and a half had done little to improve our relationship. In fact, my animosity had grown as his barbs stuck further and further into my skin.

            “Latte, better enjoy it now. Not going to be drinking those for a while, princess,” he pivoted and fell into step beside me as we walked toward the office.

            “I’m aware,” I rolled my eyes.

            “Eric wants us in the conference room this morning. We’re talking emergency protocols this morning. Think you can handle it?”

            I stopped, put a hand on my hip and stared at his back. He hadn’t noticed that I stopped walking. When he did, he turned and faced me with his wide, challenging stance.

            “What is your problem with me, Jordan?”

            “I don’t have a problem.”

            I snorted and started walking past him again. “Could have fooled me.”

            “I imagine there is a lot out there that could fool you, princess.”

            “See?” I stopped and turned on him again. This time pointing my index finger right at his smug nose. “That, right there. Patronizing and smug. Condescending. What is your deal?”

            “Fine, you really want to do this?”

            “Yes, please.”

            “You don’t belong on this project,” he said it simply and then crossed his arms over his chest. The sun light reflected off his head and I squinted against it, staring at the dark and powerful force he’d become in front of me. “Look at you. Naïve, sheltered white woman with no experience in the journalist field. You think you can go to Africa to save and Christianize the poor little black savage children. But that’s not the way it works, and you’ll end up in Africa alone and scared, hysterical and exhausted and then you’ll go home and all our resources and time will have been wasted on training and sending you there in the first place. It’s abominable and selfish.”

            “You think you know me,” I said shaking my head and pulling in a breath to calm the anger threatening to take over. “Just because I’m not like you. I’m not a black man, and I don’t have the experience you have so that gives you the right to become the almighty judge and jury over this project. Let me just tell you something. First, I’m not a princess. Nothing has ever been handed to me. I have had to work hard my entire life and I have experienced pain and heartache to a degree that you can’t possibly imagine so I’m not as sheltered as you’d like to believe. I may be a white girl, and I may have never been to Africa, but I’m not self-righteous enough to believe I can save anyone let alone judge them as you have done to me. I barely even believe in God so I’m not arrogant enough to try to force those beliefs on anyone else.

“Second, we are partners. I expect you to treat me as such, not as your problem. You are not my boss, and despite how you feel about me, I have nothing to prove to you. “ I tossed my braid over my shoulder and stomped off down the sidewalk.

I could hear his footsteps following closely behind me, though I’d hoped he would just disappear into the earth. Maybe we were just too different.


I didn’t stop. I had no desire to speak to that arrogant, self-absorbed…


I turned. “What?”

He stumbled into me, unprepared for my abrupt about-face. Placing both hands on my shoulders, he steadied himself and me, barely keeping us both from tumbling onto the sidewalk.

“I should apologize,” he said. I could see my cornflower blue eyes reflected in the deep pools of his dark charcoal eyes, which had softened for the first time since we met. “I guess I maybe have been a little hard on you.”

“You don’t owe me anything, Jordan,” I pursed my lips. His apology, half-hearted and choked out, meant little to me. We could work together, but that didn’t mean we had to be friends. “Let’s just get to work.”