How to Connect with Your Readers (Part II)

I’m sitting in a coffee shop, reading a book that was written in a coffee shop, about life in a coffee shop. Did you get that? I’m reading Finding Common Ground, by Lee Warren www.leewarren.info. It’s a book of contemplative essays written in 30 coffee shops in Omaha, Nebraska, the author’s hometown.

Why did he write it? His goal was to witness a “commonality” between the patrons, baristas and himself. We all have common needs. Common struggles. We all desire attention and to be recognized for who we are. In his own words, he was on a “pilgrimage of observation.”

“I wrote about what I observed and experienced. In some cases, what I observed or experienced were jumping off points for something I remembered. So there really isn’t a formula to these essays. If there was, it wouldn’t be a pilgrimage,” Warren says.

Why am I reading his book in a coffee shop? I want to experience his point of view, feel what he was feeling, in the environment he felt it. It’s working. I feel like I’m sitting alongside him, observing the world through his eyes. But that’s not all. I also want to discover jumping off points from his essays to help me write my own.

As I sip a White Chocolate Mocha, I’m reading his essay titled, “Staying in the Moment.” In it, he is comparing patrons who come into a coffee shop, grab their coffee and leave, with those who use the Drive Thru. Those who stop in, if only for a few minutes, appear to crave interaction, connection. He quotes C.S. Lewis: “We read to know we are not alone.” Warren concludes that we may visit coffee shops for the same reason.

In this essay, Warren’s observations about people needing connection serves as a jumping off point for me. It reminds me, as a writer, our readers need to interact, connect, and engage in the articles or books we write. They study our settings, our characters, and the predicaments we put our characters in—to find commonality, and conclude they are not alone.

I think Richard Paul Evans, bestselling author of The Christmas Box and The Walk series said it best regarding what our readers long for: “For every now and then, we find that one book that reaches us deep inside and introduces us to ourselves. And, in someone else’s story, we come to understand our own.”

That’s common ground. And there’s no better way to connect with your readers than to find it.

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Lee Warren’s book, Finding Common Ground, can be ordered from his website www.leewarren.info or from Amazon.com. Finding Common Ground is a three-book series which includes: Common Grounds, Sacred Grounds and Higher Grounds.  These titles are also sold separately.

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WRITER-to-WRITER: Please comment on the best way you connect with your readers.

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Write to Inspire at Chicken Soup for the Soul

As a writer, I’m always looking for inspiration—and, I’m attempting to inspire others. One place I have found inspiration is in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. They have published over 250+ titles, are a major brand, and offer loads of opportunities for writers to contribute to their popular books which feature 101 stories on a specific topic.

They recently sent me a “call-out for stories” for a book titled, The Best Advice I Ever Heard. They were looking for advice that made a difference in my life and might help others. I wrote a story on a subject that matters most to me–my sons. The story contains the best advice I ever heard about raising kids. What was that advice? Well, you should pick up the book—but—I will tell you here.

The best advice I ever heard on raising children is: “Always treat your children like the adults they are capable of becoming.” Since I only had sons, I changed this to: “Always treat your sons like the men they are capable of becoming.” My story is titled, “The Men They Will Become.” I talk about how I kept this advice in mind as I raised them to adulthood. What did I do? Well, now you will have to pick up the book.

The book launched nationwide this week!  It is available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, bn.com, and your local bookstore. You’ll find advice in these 101 stories on how to live a happier life, healthier life, how to pursue your dreams, how to be successful in your career or vocation, how to keep your marriage fresh and how to raise happy, healthy children.

For more information, click on this link http://bit.ly/2PPqoez.

Most importantly, why don’t you consider writing for Chicken Soup for the Soul. To find out what they are looking for go to their website (chickensoup.com), under “Books,” click on “Submit Your Story” to see what books you can submit your story to and the corresponding deadline.

So, check it out. Get inspired to write—and, be an inspiration to others.

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WRITER-to-WRITER:  Since we’re talking about inspiration, tell me what inspires you. Please post a comment below.

What is Your Ultimate Reward as a Writer?

Why do you write? We all write for something. We all seek some reward. What reward do you seek? A finished article? A published book? A rave review? The satisfaction of self-expression? An expanded platform? Three-book contract?

There are many rewards for writers, but perhaps the most gratifying is simply finding your audience. Not just any reader. Readers with whom your message resonates. Readers who identify with your main character, engage in your plot, and settle into your setting. Readers who want to hear your voice well beyond your first book. Readers so deeply involved in what you’re writing that they see themselves in your story. And, readers who can sense “truth” in your fiction as they uncover insights in your fictional world that shed light in their everyday reality.

Perhaps Richard Paul Evans, the #1 bestselling author of The Christmas Box, said it best: “Every now and then, we find that one book that reaches us deep inside and introduces us to ourselves. And, in someone else’s story, we come to understand our own.”

As writers, isn’t this what we’re trying to achieve? Aren’t we, essentially trying to write that book or article that reaches deep inside our readers and introduces them to themselves—in such a way, that through our story, they come to understand their own? This, to me, is the ultimate reward for a writer.

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WRITER-to-WRITER:  What do you think? Why do you write? What is your ultimate reward as a writer? Please comment. I want to know what other writers think.

 

To learn more about Richard Paul Evans and his thirty novels, visit www.richardpaulevans.com

Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash.

New Look, Same Inspirational Content

Welcome back to The Writer’s Refuge, the blog specifically designed for writers to find a place to “pause” from the pressures and deadlines of the writing life. A place to break away from the writing routine, and for just a few minutes, find insight, inspiration or simply a brief word of encouragement.

Perhaps this blog looks different to you. We have a fresh, new look. Notice the clean white design, and the bold, easy to read font. This theme also features a light color scheme, a two column format, a featured header image, and a photo of the author. (Yeah, that’s me.)

The Writer’s Refuge still contains: 1) helpful writing tips, 2) fresh ideas, 3) pithy quotes from successful writers, 4) advice for overcoming writing obstacles, but most of all, 5) inspirational thoughts to apply to your writing life.

The “About the Author” and “Why Writers Read This Blog” pages have been updated and if you haven’t subscribed to this blog, you still have that option.

I hope you enjoy the clean, contemporary new look of The Writer’s Refuge. There’s more great content coming soon.

Keep writing.

 

P.S. As always, feel free to comment on this blog and share it with others.

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Voices from the Shelf

Words are powerful! They speak to us across time and space. We don’t have to be present when they were written for them to tug at our hearts or stimulate our thinking today. That, is beauty of books! Gilbert Highet said it best (and I’ve shared this quote about books before), but it bears repeating:

“These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but MINDS alive on the shelves. From each of them goes out its own voice…and just as the touch of a button on your set will fill the room with music, so by taking down one of these volumes and opening it, one can call into range the voice of a man far distant in time and space, and hear him speaking to us, mind to mind, heart to heart.” 

Books are, in essence, minds and voices alive on the shelves. We hear the voice of the author and we relate to his thoughts, identify with her characters, embrace his ideas, relax in her setting, or engage in her premise and plot.

I experienced this recently with a favorite author of my late Uncle Jim. The writer was Og Mandino, a bestselling author of over 13 books. The most famous is The Greatest Salesman in the World, followed by The Greatest Miracle in the World and The Greatest Success in the World. I had forgotten about Og Mandino, but I remember how much Uncle Jim had admired him and followed his work. My uncle was the president of a small publishing company with national reach so he often had the opportunity to meet famous authors. He had met Og Mandino and was captivated by his books and his parable storytelling style.

Recently, I stumbled across The Greatest Miracle in the World in a book store. I read the cover, back cover and the About the Author section. Soon, this 108-page paperback began to look and feel familiar. I had read it before and I recalled how strongly Uncle Jim had encouraged me to read Mandino’s books when I was a young adult.

I read two pages in the store. Then a few more. The hook was set. Before I knew it, the Highet quote above came to life for me. I had “called into range the voice of Og Mandino far distant in time and space and heard him speaking to me” in the way my uncle so appreciated. Mandino’s fluid style, compelling plots and life changing messages pulled me in.

This unexpected reintroduction to Mandino’s work led me to read five of his books, all of which, in some way, reminded me of my uncle, the values he lived by, the interests he held and his love of literature. Funny how he must have known I would one day love the literature he loved.

It’s been an inspiring journey to rediscover Og Mandino again, and more importantly, to be reminded of something my uncle cherished. And, I realized something else. All those years ago Uncle Jim’s intention might have been to not only challenge me to read meaningful literature, but perhaps, someday, write it.

Thanks, Mr. Mandino, for sharing your voice across time and space, and in some small way, for bringing my uncle back to me—if only for a moment.

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Library photo above by Susan Yin 647448-unsplash.jpg

 

 

5 Reasons Why Writers Should Attend Writers Conferences

What’s the best way to advance your writing career? My advice? Attend a writer’s conference. The sooner, the better.

alejandro-escamilla-1I’ve been writing for years with good success, but I’ve been writing alone, in a silo. No writer connections, camaraderie, critique or competition to keep me at the top of my game. I just got back from Write-To-Publish, a Christian writers conference on the Wheaton College campus in Wheaton, Illinois, and it delivered all of these things and so much more.

Here are five reasons why you should attend a writers conference.

  1. Connect with a Community of Colleagues. Ditch the silo and get connected. The first thing you notice at a writer’s conference is, well, other writers. Writers with a common passion, inspiring projects and similar publication challenges. You’re in this together. It won’t take long before feelings of competition yield to camaraderie. And, you’ll sharpen each other as your colleagues critique your work and you return the favor.
  2. Meet, Network, and Pitch Agents & Editors. A writer’s conference is the perfect place to meet and network with agents and editors–up close and personal. Yes, it’s intimidating to pitch them a book that consumed two years of your life in a 15-minute time slot. And yes, before it’s over they’ll know if you can write and if your book will sell. Judgement comes quickly. But you’ll never learn more so don’t let fear get in the way. If they’re interested in your book you have a leg up because agents and editors prefer to work with writers they meet at conferences. They also often share nuances about the best way to communicate with them on future projects.
  3. Cultivate Your Craft & Refine Your Writing Skills. Continuing classes educate you on: writing fiction, non-fiction, personal experiences, creating your website or blog, how to pitch an agent or acquisitions editor, ghostwriting, building a social media platform, writing book proposals, developing a marketing plan, how to write faster and sell everything you write.
  4. Focus Your Writing Priorities. I attended this conference to find out what agents and editors need, not hope they want what I’ve written. The agent and editor panel discussions presented what each publication requires and how to submit to them. I came home with a list of what’s hot and what’s not so I can focus my writing priorities on what the market needs now! The panels also expanded my thinking to supplement my fiction writing with exciting non-fiction opportunities.
  5. Revive Your Commitment to Write. Surrounded by other writers, there’s no better environment to revive your commitment to write and stimulate you to slide behind your computer—and stay there.

So, if you’re wondering what’s the best way to advance your writing career, here’s one practical answer; attend a writers conference.

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Photo courtesy of Alejandro-escamilla (Unsplash)

Feeling the Words You Write

Writer's Digest Cover, October, 2017We all have heard the admonition to write with passion. What we have not heard nearly enough is to write with empathy. In other words, “feel” the words you write. The focus, then, is on who we are writing about and how to get the reader to be a part of that experience. I learned this lesson several years ago and share it with you now in a story just published in the October, 2017 issue of Writer’s Digest magazine on book stores shelves now. (Page 10.)

This short 600-word story in the “5-Minute Memoir” column has already received a warm response so I have posted it below and will post the online link to the magazine after October 10 when it is available online. In the meantime, my hope is it will help you in your journey to become a better writer.

 

Feeling the Words You Write

It’s ten o’clock on Tuesday morning. Most people are hard at work trying to earn a living. I’m interviewing Katie, mother of three, who’s doing her best just to keep living. Katie is dying of ovarian cancer. She’s 27. She has three months to live. Three months to agonize over what life might be like if her health care provider had approved appropriate chemotherapy treatment in a timely fashion. Katie’s goal now is to live till tomorrow.

For me, tomorrow is just another day—Wednesday. I’ll be writing a brochure for an architectural firm. On Thursday, I’ll write an ad for a Fortune 500 company. And on Friday, I’ll draft a speech for an executive. I’ve been hired by a local health care facility to write the story explaining how it helped prolong Katie’s life after a competing health care system failed her.

My tape recorder is running and I’m interviewing Katie. As she answers my question, her 4-year old son, David, climbs into my lap and gives me a hug. Suddenly, I don’t feel like the writer. I feel like I’m part of a similar story.

My mind shoots back to a balmy June afternoon in 1965. My father just returned from the hospital. He calls his six children, ages 4 to 14, into his bedroom. “Your mother passed away today,” he says. Panic seizes our hearts. My mother died after a short battle with cancer. She was 45. I was 11.

I feel the eerie irony of David’s childhood colliding with mine. Tears well in my eyes as I know he will soon no longer enjoy the security of his mother’s embrace, the warmth of her touch, the power of her encouragement, even the fragrance of her perfume.

Back at my home office I write a lead for the story.

Cancer. Next to heart disease, it’s the leading cause of death in America. All of us know or love someone who has fallen prey to this impartial killer. If Katie Miller didn’t have to fight her former health care provider for an accurate diagnosis, she might not have to fight cancer today. Now, she’s not only fighting for her health, she’s fighting for time. This is her story.

This lead feels cold. Sterile. Empty. As I replay the interview I sense I’m writing Katie’s story like one of my business articles—with my head. No heart.

I hammer out another lead, then another. Still sterile, unfeeling. Finally, I tap this out:

For Katie Miller, life is short. At 27, she’s just seen her last Christmas, her last wedding anniversary and her final birthday. She knows she will never see Jenny, her 6-year old, finish the first grade. She knows she won’t be there when David, 4, loses his baby teeth. And she grieves knowing Joanna, 3, will never remember her.

Katie is dying of ovarian cancer. She has three months to live. But the real tragedy is it didn’t have to be this way.

I finish the article a few days later and send it to my client so Katie’s story will appear in a local publication.

Writing is a cerebral profession. Yet, to tell Katie’s story, I needed to feel the words I wrote.

Perhaps Hemingway said it best. “A writer’s problem does not change. It’s always how to write truly and having found what is true, to project it in such a way that it becomes a part of the experience of the person who reads it.”

I suppose I could’ve learned how to feel the words I write from Hemingway; but Katie taught me first.

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Writing for Legacy

My father considered himself an ordinary man. But to me, and my five siblings, whom he raised alone following my mother’s premature death, he was nothing short of extraordinary. As a member of what Tom Brokaw christened the “Greatest Generation,” my father, a World War II vet, never talked about himself. So, naturally he wouldn’t approve of me talking about him now–much less writing about him.

But that’s exactly what I’ve been doing since his death from Alzheimer’s disease eight years ago. I’m writing about how this ordinary man etched an indelible mark on, at the very least, his six children and eleven grandchildren. How am I doing it? Well, one way is I’m watching for opportunities in publications that are, in essence, looking for snapshots of the life he lived.

On Sale Now at most booksellers
On sale now at Amazon.com, bn.com and most booksellers

So, for example, when the editors at Chicken Soup for the Soul send me a story call-out for stories about “what makes America great” for a new book entitled, The Spirit of America, I responded with an article about the men and women in our Armed Forces that protected this country in World War II. And, I told my father’s story of service as a U.S. Marine serving in the South Pacific and later stationed in Iwo Jima.

The story is entitled, A Devotion to Duty, and the book was recently published and released nationwide in early June. The book is intended, in part, to commemorate, the 15th Anniversary of 9/11 today. The story focuses on why the men and women of the “Greatest Generation” so willingly volunteered to serve their country at one of the most tumultuous times in our history.

Many of the articles and stories I write these days celebrate the quiet legacy of integrity and devotion my father demonstrated to his country, his wife and his children.

Do you want to write for legacy? Do you have someone you want to honor? Consider checking out the Chicken Soup for the Soul website. There you will learn about new books you can write for, the type of stories the editors are looking for to include in their anthologies and precisely how to submit your stories.

Most importantly, you just might find a home to publish a story you’ve wanted to tell that will not only engage their readers; it will honor the legacy of someone you love.

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For a related story, type “resonates” in the search bar at right and click “search.”

Why Writers Never Take a Vacation (But How to Benefit if You Do)

Writer--VacationI’m a writer. I’m on vacation this week. But I can’t take a vacation—because I’m a writer.

W-H-A-T?

The truth is writers rarely take a vacation. That is, a vacation from their writing. Why? Simple. Our mind won’t let us. Sure, we can take time off and escape our 9-to-5 life. We can travel to some exotic location. But, we can’t take time off from writing—or thinking about writing.

We never know when a new idea will strike, the perfect opening line of our article will emerge, or a captivating ending to our book will crystallize and tap us on the shoulder and say, “Hey, write this down.” Our muse is a strange thing. It arrives unannounced. Thus, it never lets us take our vacation alone. It must come along for the ride. My wife has gotten used to this phenomenon. She graciously allows my writing to stowaway with us on most vacations.

“But my vacation is for relaxation, not writing,” you say. “I can’t possibly write productively on my vacation. Besides, writing during my vacation will not be good for me or my writing,” you insist. I beg to differ. With the proper balance of rest and writing, both you and your writing can benefit.

Here are three ways a vacation can improve your writing:

  • Vacations allow you to unplug your 9-to-5 life and set your mind free. Think of your vacation as a brief sabbatical. It’s a time to rest, relax and yes, write. But in that order. When you relax you not only set your mind free to think clearly, you allow it to think differently—to explore different story angles and points of view. And a vacation refreshes your thinking because you are free from the deadlines that typically constrain you. Most importantly, on vacation, you can write at the time of day when you have the most energy, creativity and inspiration.
  • Vacations allow you to change environments to invigorate your writing. There is nothing like a new environment to fuel your creativity. I’m writing this blog outside on my patio overlooking a striking tree-line, wetlands and a pond. (Sure beats an office.) I once vacationed in Monterey, California, near Cannery Row, the setting for the 1945 novel of the same name by author, John Steinbeck. Talk about getting in the mood to write. Vacations allow you to change locations, climates, venues, and scenery which elevate your mood, energy and your writing.
  • Vacations (especially staycations) boost productivity by naturally putting you in a “start & finish” mode. This week on my staycation, I will be starting and finishing several tasks: cut the lawn, change the oil in the car, clean the garage, repair a bike tire, etc. How does my writing benefit? These small tasks thrust me in a mode (and mood) to start and finish projects. I will exploit this momentum to get some writing projects started and finished during my vacation.

So, I guess it’s true.  Writers never really take a vacation because even if they’re not writing—they’re thinking about writing.

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What are you writing for?

Walt DisneyWhat’s the most important thing to remember as a writer? From where I sit (and write), two things. I never want to forget why I’m writing and who I writing for. It’s easy to forget these two things if you’re preoccupied with publication or you’re enjoying so much success that you forget what got you there. Thankfully, there is enough rejection in this business to keep us grounded, focused, and consequently, writing.

Yet, I love the advice Walt Disney and F. Scott Fitzgerald bring to the essence of storytelling despite their immense success. Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, said, “You don’t write because you want to say something…you write because you have to say something.” This speaks of the innate compulsion all writers feel to express themselves and why we must write—or burst.

Walt Disney also never lost sight of his reason for being, “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money so we can make more movies.” In other words, it’s about “the work,” the craft, the story, and the audience entertained, changed or moved by that story. Writing is about the “process,” not merely the end.

Writing. It’s hard work. Painstaking work. And yes, often painful work. Yet, it’s also there’s-nothing-I’d-rather-be-doing work, despite often delayed rewards. We persevere because we know every master began as an apprentice and good writing is nothing more than good rewriting.

Never lose sight of why you write and who you are writing for. Besides, there’s a fringe benefit to doing the work; the desire to write grows with writing.

Keep writing.

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For more on this subject, type “process” in the search box at right.