Category Archives: Uncategorized

You, Me, & Thomas Edison

Recently I was reading a book by Charles Swindoll (Joseph: A Man of Integrity & Forgiveness; published by Thomas Nelson) and he relayed a true story that had been originally been written by Charles Edison. Charles wrote a book called The Electric Thomas Edison, in which he talked about his famous father. Writers, please pay close attention to the spirit of a man who refused to quit.

[One] December evening the cry of “Fire!” echoed through the plant. Spontaneous combustion had broken out in the film room. Within moments all the packing compounds, celluloid for records, film and other flammable goods had gone up with a whoosh….

When I couldn’t find Father, I became concerned. Was he safe? With all his assets going up in smoke, would his spirit be broken? He was 67, no age to begin anew. Then I saw him in the plant yard, running toward me.

“Where’s Mom?” he shouted. “Go get her! Tell her to get her friends! They’ll never see a fire like this again!”

Faced with the choice of giving up or going on, at 5:30 the next morning, Thomas Edison declared that he was going to rebuild.

Has a recent writing project gone up in smoke, leaving you wondering what to do? Have comments from a contest judge engulfed your passion, choked out your desire, and left you without a sense of direction?

What will you do? Give up or go on?

How would the world be different had Thomas Edison given up? More personally, how will you be different if you give up? Maybe you need time to regroup–to clear the rubble and sweep up the ashes–and that is perfectly understandable. During the regrouping time, let God rebuild you. He’s good at that.

Then, when the time is right and you are ready, start the rebuilding. With God’s help, you CAN do it.

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Filed under books, Christian Fiction, Christian Growth, Christian Life, Larry W. Timm, Uncategorized, Writing

Top 10 Wrong Ways To Deal With or Avoid a Sagging Middle

This is not a post filled with diet and physical fitness tips. I’m not what you’d call a real good role model in that particular area. I did buy a pair of running shoes a while back, and if you just look at my feet, I look like a runner. However, if you scan up from there, the illusion is quickly blown (but I digress).

I don’t run. I don’t even hike…wait, did I say hike? Well what do you know…hike rhymes with like! And since you mentioned it, I’d be appreciative if you’d hike over to my Author Page and click Like. It’s at www.facebook.com/larrywtimm I’d love to break the 200 mark by the end of August. Tell your friends to go there too. The person who is my 200th Like may just win something (of course they may not, but let’s not dwell on that now.)

As writers, we all have had to deal with middles (of our manuscripts) that are saggy. Perhaps even sluggish and unappealing (which is how people often describe me). We seek out advice on how to deal with and/or avoid the dreaded sagging middle.

“Larry, do you happen to have any advice on what to do?”

Thanks for asking. But…nope, I don’t know what to tell you to do, but here are some things not to do. It’s my duty & pleasure to introduce…the Top 10 Wrong Ways To deal With or Avoid a Sagging Middle:

#10:  By having a blurb on the front cover that boldly declares, “This is the first novel in history in which the brilliant author has skipped the middle all together!

# 9:  By claiming that the middle has international intrigue just because you put an “o” on the end of every other word so readers will really like the the “el-middle-o.”

# 8:  By including a bibliography of “books that have more horrible middles than mine.”

# 7:  By putting a pop up section in the middle so that when opened paper villains jump up from the page and scare people to death.

# 6:  By printing the middle on edible paper so that readers can “at least get something good from it.”

# 5:  By drawing a little cartoon character in the upper right hand corner that looks likes he’s running from a stick Grizzly bear when people flip through the middle chapters really fast.

# 4:  Put 100 blank pages in the middle so that “readers can write their own snappy middle…if they think it’s sooooo easy!”

# 3:  Fill the middle chapters with 20 car chases, 14 gun battles, 12 knife fights, 10 kissy-face scenes, 8 explosions, 6 sharks, 4 pits of nasty snakes, 3 hurricanes, 2 giant ill-tempered turtle doves, and 1 immodest partridge in a pear tree. (and, no, I have no idea what that means).

# 2:  By putting in a “Smells of the Bible” scratch-n-sniff section.

# 1:  By dedicating the book to “My dear, sweet, recently deceased mother who used her last breaths of life to dictate the middle of this book, right after she single-handedly saved 75 poor, blind children from roaring inferno that swept through their orphanage on Christmas Eve…so they could live to enjoy the box full of puppies and kittens that Mommy had purchased for them from the humane society…with the money she’d received by selling her fake leg. It was a good thing she recently been evicted from her home by evil bankers and that the walls of her old cardboard box in the alley were thin enough to hear the little frightened voices calling for help from the broken windows of the condemned building they called home. The middle of this book meant a lot to my mom…I hope you like it too.”

Now…how does YOUR middle look?

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The Writer and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

The rejection comes, the bad review gets posted, the sales report points downard, the contest judge bleeds all over your entry before dismissing it from the contest, and not even your mother wants to read your latest book. It’s one of those days. Ever had one? Or two…hundred?

Most writers have. If you haven’t, you will. Sorry, but it’s a “Murphy’s Law” kinda reality. The whole if-anything-can-go-wrong-it-will concept. On steroids. You can probably relate to whoever it was–most likely a writer–that amended Murphy’s law with the following painful truths:

    • Murphy was an optimist
    • The other line always moves faster
    • The chance of the peanut butter & jelly sandwich falling face down is proportional to the cost of your carpet.
    • Inside every large problem is a series of small problems struggling to get out.
    • 90% of everything is crud.
    • Whatever hits the fan will not be evenly distributed.
    • Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clear to the bone

Do yourself a favor and find a copy of Judith Viorst’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. You’ll be able to nod and chuckle at the same time. Been there…done that…maybe even there now. You understand how young Alexander feels, and, like him, you are thinking of “moving to Australia.” Perhaps not literally, but you’re so bummed out–dare we say “depressed” even?–that you want to get away from your writing. Yep, a mild pity-party is allowed. I’ll invite you to mine if you’ll invite me to yours.

If you are hurting, please take to heart these next words:  If you tried, you are not a failure. Read the bold words again. One more time. The only writers who are failures are the ones who never try, never put themselves or their work out there, or never even write a word. You’re not a writer because someone else said you are or because one day you decided you would be one; you’re a writer because you write. You tried. And you will try again. Yes, your book or article may “fail” in the sense that it doesn’t get published, but that doesn’t mean YOU are a failure. Every writer knows failure. Sometimes has coffee with it on a regular basis.

Someone said, “It’s not failure, but low aim that’s a crime.”

And, yes, you knew it was coming, you really need to hear the words of Teddy Roosevelt again: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

If you are having on Alexanderish period in your life, please read one more quote. It’s the most important one of all the ones mentioned in this post, because it is from God’s Word.

“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” (Psalm 43:5)

People may not always love your writing, but God will always love the writer. That’s YOU. So write on, dear friend…write on.

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“Wounded Warriors”

Writers are some of the bravest people I know. They march into the kingdom of darkness–following the lead of their Lord–and seek to do battle with the evil hosts that lurk within.

And they write.

Christian writers bear the burden of conviction, the weight of mission, and the scars of their past. And a keen awareness of their present weakness. They need not look often to know that the baggage from their own past is dragging along behind them.

And they write.

The enemy of our souls–of all souls–tries to stop them. He tells them that they are not as good as “so and so.” He reminds them of hurtful comments. And mocks their attempts to move forward on the writer’s journey.

And they write.

As they sit to write stories that stab his veil of darkness with the sharp power of words, and threaten to open avenues of light for others, the devil retaliates with lies. “Your Work-in-progress is terrible,” or “Your last book was a failure…and that means you are too.” He spews discouragement, threatening them with weariness and doubt. Tempting them to give up.

And they write.

He offers them the sweet taste of arrogance and pride, and tries to make them believe that they are a star…one that shines brighter than the Nazarene. Satan’s flattery is lined with razor-sharp blades that cut as the writer swallow his lies, the cuts opening wounds that bleed away their joy.

And they write.

Dear God, Someone reading these words today needs Your help. They have grown discouraged under the weight of our enemy’s deceit. They can feel his hot, foul breath on their necks and they are feeling defenseless before him. They have started to question Your calling in their life. They are ready to quit. Please, Father, come to their aid, and assure them of Your never-ending presence. Refresh their soul. Heal their wounds. Send them a friend. And return to them the joy of their salvation. And then…they write. In Jesus Name, so be it.”

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“How To Build A Writer”

If we put on ill-fitting lab coats and gathered in a dank laboratory, in order to give life to the next great writer, how would we start?

How would we build a WRITER from scratch?

What necessary parts would we need to stitch together so that our Franken-writer would do more than keep polishing the same three chapters while moaning and stomping around like there’s a rusty bolt lodged in an uncomfortable place?

We’d probably want a writer with a noggin stuffed with the type of grey matter that can remember the lessons that matter, while shoving aside the unhelpful stuff. And this build-it-yourself cranium needs to be sturdy enough to ram its way through writer’s block, have a face that looks good in author’s photos, and have a nose that can be held to the grindstone. Not to mention a mouth that knows when to open and when to stay closed.

Next we’d want to give this writer a heart. Not just any old blood-pumper either. It needs to be a heart that’s strong enough to love, and hard enough that it’s not easily broken when people don’t love back. The heart will be soaked in a strong solution of passion fluid that will keep it tender. And this heart will have room to care for the needs of readers and other writers.

Give Franken-writer a godly soul, and this prototype will keep the right priorities in the correct order, desire to follow God through thick and thin, and consider each story to be an offering to God.

At some point–and much to our disgust, perhaps–we’ll need to turn our attention to Franken-writer’s rump region, and tack on a fairly generous amount of seat-meat. It needs to be padded well enough to endure long sessions in a desk chair, yet firm enough to withstand a good, hard kick from friends and foes alike. And, yes, it will have to be able to take repeated coatings of butt-glue when Franken-writer needs to stay in the desk chair, but doesn’t “feel like” writing anymore.

And Franken-writer’s entire body will need to be covered with a thick hide that can withstand the barbs of criticism, and scrub clean with soap and water.

That’s just some of what we’ll need to give our Franken-writer. On second thought…why don’t we just concentrate on how WE can be the greatest writer WE CAN BE? After all, we have some ideas on what it takes, right?

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“Seeing With Your Ears”

Would you be willing to try something for five minutes? It’s safe, legal, and free. Ready? Great! Here’s the idea:

Find a comfortable place and stand/sit there for five minutes with your eyes closed.

Listen–really listen–to what is around you. How would you describe what you are hearing? Were the sounds layered? Was there one predominate noise that took charge of the space? Did sounds come from many directions? Distances?

When speaking to blind people and how they function and interact with the world, many times we learn that they see with their other senses. Their ability to hear, smell, or even taste their environment often leaves them more acutely aware of their surroundings than those of us with sight. I’m certainly not saying that it’s good that they are blind, nor am I saying that those of us who aren’t should want to be blind. Not at all. But I am saying that the privilege of sight often is allowed to overpower our other senses. And we need all of our senses to work at a high level if we’re going write stories that capture our readers from page one. But for this post, let’s concentrate on the sense of hearing.

Back to my original challenge:  Will you try this experiment once, then let me know what you observed with your ears? Write a reply to this post and share with my readers. I can’t wait to hear–or should I say see–what you discovered.

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“Top 10 Bad Ways to Start a Proposal Letter”

One of the jobs of a writer is to craft and send out query and/or proposal letters. There are many wonderful resources available to help a writer do so with professional flair. Below is a list of a few ways NOT to start a query/proposal:

10:  “Have I got a deal for you! And if you’ll lower your commission to below 10%, I’ll let you represent me–at least for my first book.”

9:  “I was talking to my cat, Mr. Wiggles, and he told me I should let you be the first one to see this book.”

8:  “I wrote me this here book, see. It ain’t not like any book what’s been wroted before.”

7:  “I have to use a pen name because I’m being pursued by the FBI. For  a current “author’s photo”, you can see me in just about any post office. If you’re interested, tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree. I’ll be in touch.”

6:  “Hello, dear. I’m writing you because my thirty-five-year-old son–who is unemployed and lives in our basement–has written a book. He’s a decent writer when he’s sober.”

5:  “Hello. My name is Suede Beefcake…” (couldn’t resist 🙂  If you’ve read my posts, you know…) However, as a bonus, let me offer another number 5:  “UFOs are scary. I should know. I wrote this novel when I was held captive on one.”

4:  “Since I’m sure you’re going to want to be my agent, I’ve taken the liberty of signing you up for your choice of either a gift certificate for Kilts-R-Us, or a year’s subscription to the “Laxative Of The Month Club” as a token of my appreciation!

3.  “You seem like a nice person. I’ve been following you for a long time. But since you lock your car doors everyday, I’ve decided to email my book to you instead of leaving a copy on your driver’s seat.”

2.  “I’ve written a book in secret code. If you’re ready to represent me, I’ll send you the secret agent decoder ring.”

1: “I’ve tried everyone else on this list, so now I’m sending this book to you. You’ll probably hate it too.”

Just keep this list handy when you’re ready to send out a query letter or a proposal. Can you suggest any other bad beginnings?

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That Small But Loyal Band”

One of the disciplines that I try to keep up as a writer–and one that I recommend to writers at all stages of their writing journey–is to keep two types of reading a part of your regular routine: First, always be reading a novel or two. Read novels of all genres. Learn to appreciate the skill of another writer’s ability to tell a story. Second, always read, and reread, books on the craft of writing. And don’t limit your reading to only your particular type of writing–fiction writers can learn from those inclined to the non-fiction side of the table, and visa versa).

I’m glad to tell you about the craft book I’m reading now, because it has been a tremendous blessing to me. It’s published by Writer’s Digest Books (they have several great ones), and is called Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively. I highly recommend this book by Rebecca McClanahan. It’s impossible to quote every line or paragraph that has wowed me (I think there are laws discouraging such liberal borrowing), so let me share just one quote (emphasis mine):

“Unlike visual artists, we [writers] have no brushes, no clay, no glazes, no many-colored palette to aid us in describing our world. And unlike performing artists, we have no keyboard, no trombone, no toe shoes, no tutu, no midair leap with which to stun our audience and ourselves. What we have is the alphabet, that small but loyal band of vowels and consonants.

Since the word is our only tool, we cannot afford to be imprecise…”

Writers are artists. I’m awed and humbled by that concept. Moreover, we’re using what has been entrusted to us as writers–namely words–to paint new worlds, or at least new perspectives of the old world, for our readers. It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But writers know that the right words–precise and evocative–can be worth a thousand pictures in our readers minds.

So paint away, my friend. Gather that “small but loyal band of vowels and consonants” into a work of art. The world will be a more beautiful place because you did.

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Discovering

For me, one of the most exhilarating experiences on my writing journey is discovering what I don’t know.

The respect of writing happens when we come to an understanding of how enormous the task is. Such awareness is liberating, not humiliating. It’s like wandering around in a huge mansion that contains room after room after room of surprises and discoveries. Each room is filled with opportunities to learn something. And I’m convinced that part of what it means to be created in God’s image is that we possess the unique ability to discover, reason, and learn in a given context. And each lesson learned is like a key that unlocks another door.

I don’t want to “just write,” I want to write with power and passion. I want to be a good steward of this calling. And good stewards are alert learners. They’re hungry and teachable.

Sometimes I learn from other writers or editors, and sometimes I learn from books on the craft/business of writing, and other times I just stumble my way into an “Aha!” moment.

While knowledge isn’t the a guarantee of skillful application, you can’t apply what you don’t know. But once you know it, you can grow it!

How man times do we cheat ourselves–and God–by not being humble enough to admit that we don’t know everything? Pride is a poor covering for ignorance. It really accomplishes nothing but self-deception. And deceived stewards can’t be good stewards.

I’m in the process of going back through my first book. Oddly enough, I can’t find the words to describe how empowering it is to look at the glaring weaknesses and be able to know that’s what they are! And then feel confident about how to fix them! It’s more than the thrill of discovery, it’s the thrill of creativity intelligently focused.

The balance to be maintained on the writer’s journey is between celebrating strength and recognizing weakness. If you know something now that you didn’t know before, than you have grown. And if you remember that there is much more yet to be learned, you can continue to grow in the future.

What has been a lesson you’ve learned as a writer in the last year?

 

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And the Winner is…”

On a great episode of The Andy Griffith Show (Season 2), a poor fella named Henry Bennett had been tagged with the reputation of being a jinx. Henry decided the only way to get on with his life was to leave Mayberry. In an attempt prove Henry wasn’t the cause of bad luck, Sheriff Andy Taylor decided to have a fixed raffle which was “guaranteed” to have only one outcome: the fella known as the Jinx would win the television set. It would prove his luck was changing.

Everyone would pull a number out of a hat–and all the slips of paper would have the same number–and when the “winning” number was called no one would answer, giving the Jinx the only opportunity to be the winner. But when the winning number was announced the Jinx didn’t respond. When asked if he had the winning number, he said, “No.” And he didn’t. His number was something like 4 7/8…he’d pulled out the tag that had the hat size!

Ever entered a writing contest and ended up feeling like you were left holding the tag with the hat size? It may leave you asking, “Why did I enter in the first place?” or “What’s the point of contests anyway?”

Good questions.

Contests should be seen as opportunities to grow as a writer. And if approached with the right mindset, they can be worth your time. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • For the most part, contest results don’t make you a writer. They aren’t meant to create writers, they’re meant to critique writing. If you take the results as an attack on you and your worth as a person, you’ve missed the point.
  • Sometimes the best way to win a contest is to have had lost it in the past. Sounds goofy, I know, but I really believe it. Many of us are more comfortable and confident entering a contest we’ve entered before. And–like the GENESIS contest sponsored by American Christian Fiction Writers–if the contest includes feedback from judges, that returned feedback can be priceless in helping you prepare for next go around. But, more importantly, you are learning as you go.
  • Contest results only have the power you decide to give them. It’s up to you to make the experience positive or negative (for you and others). How you respond to the outcome of a contest may reveal as much about you as it does about the quality of your writing. And I’m told that agents and editors notice stuff like that.
  • And lastly (mostly because I wanted to use the word “lastly” :)), contests were never meant to be ends in themselves. Our desire should be the grow as faithful–skillful–stewards of story. To the extent that participating in contests help us head in that direction, they are useful. But if all a writer ever does is become a professional contest enterer, then a great calling has been wasted.

There are other benefits, but since I’ve used the word “lastly” I’ll just ask you to share your opinions and experiences. How do you feel about contests? Have you learned to be a better writer because of a contest experience?

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