ACFW2016: My Perspective

ACFWThis past week/weekend was the annual ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Conference. It’s the conference I look forward to each year. And for good reason. The teaching is phenomenal. The speakers are great. And the networking and fellowship is the reason to be there. This year was no exception. So, without further ado, let me give you the rundown of what I thought of this year’s conference:

People at the conferenceThe Classes. ACFW sets each class at a level (Freshman-Senior) based on which level of writer it will be most applicable to. I find this very helpful. In some areas, I am further along than in others, so this system means something to me. I walked away with great things from every class I took. Spiritually, I gained from “The Two Realms” the most. While craft-wise, the Early Bird and the Post Session were the most packed (and the longest) sessions. I have already started applying what I learned to my work in progress!

The Early Bird brought some great questions to ask yourself as you look at your manuscript. Questions that will enhance and deepen your plot and writing. While the Post Session went a long way to helping this “pantser” understand the importance of some high level plotting.

conference1The Keynote. Nothing at this conference was as challenging as what the keynote speaker, Ted Dekker, brought to us. Am I right, fellow ACFWers? I am still trying to unpack everything he said. He spoke about intimacy with God and “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” through our writing. It was beautiful and through provoking at the same time.

The Pitching. For me, the pitching is one of the highlights. Not necessarily that I love pitching. But it’s always good practice, a good skill to keep honed. Whether I’m pitching to an agent (which I did…twice), or to another author at lunch. After all, they are readers too. Being able to talk about your books in a concise way is a skill we all must acquire and maintain.

meeting peopleThe Opportunities to Meet Other Authors. This goes hand in hand with the next point, but what I’m talking about here is the authors we fan-girl. The ones we look up to. These big conferences are a chance to walk up to them and say to their face, “I love your work. Can I tell you about my book?” I got that very chance this past weekend. One of my favorite authors, Tamara Leigh, was in the coffee shop with her laptop (probably working…oops). I walked up to her and told her how much I enjoyed her work. And proceeded to tell her how it inspired my own work. Then we chatted a little about one of my books. How cool is that!?!

supportThe Networking. This is, by far, the reason that conferences exist, in my opinion. The classes are great…you can get that online. The pitching is wonderful…and you can do that at home or through your computer. The speakers are tremendous…but you can read compelling blogs and find great speakers online too. But nothing can replace the networking. The face-to-face bumping into another author and striking up a conversation that leads to a connection you didn’t have before. And who knows where that might lead?

All in all, you know my stance: conferences are well worth the money and time and effort you put into them. They show publishers, agents, and acquisition editors that you are investing in yourself and learning more about your craft. And that’s only ONE of the MANY benefits to you. I say take a chance and check one out. Start with a local conference, a small one if you must, but GO! Experience! And have fun!

Scrivener, How I Love Thee, Let Me Count the Ways

Scrivener, How I Love Thee

Since becoming an author, who worked with a word processor called LibreOffice (very similar to Microsoft Office), I have been converted. I was introduced to the program known as “Scrivener”. Now, at first I was a skeptic. Not of the program, but of my ability to use it. I don’t do change well. But I did their little tutorial after signing up for the free trial. Which, just let me say…30 days of use…what a concept. This is not 30 calendar days…they log the days you USE it.

So, after going through their tutorial (which, I will admit was long, but worth it), I started using it. And I was BLOWN away. Is there anything they didn’t think of? I mean that a novelist needs? Having the research at your fingertips in your document, the ability to move scenes around as you please, the snapshot feature, and let me just mention…the compose screen. What a gem! And if you’ve ever tried your hand at self-publishing, the compile feature is a life-saver!!!

But I’m here today to talk about my favorite features, not to blubber on so. Without further ado, here they are (in no particular order):

  1. The Name Generator. This is a tool my husband introduced me to. Under EDIT, select WRITING TOOLS, and you will see NAME GENERATOR. Then another screen will pop up. You can select all kinds of parameters for your character name, like gender, obscurity, whether you have the forename or surname already, if you want alliteration, etc. And then boom, it gives you a list of names. Awesome. I only wish I’d found this tool sooner.
  2. The Compose Mode. If you are anything like me and you get…well…distracted by pop ups or your e-mail tab notifying you that you have a new e-mail in your inbox, this is the screen for you. There is a button on the top of the screen labeled COMPOSE. It will blank out your desktop screen and leave you will a white space to work on. You can select a picture to put in that black space behind the paper if you choose. The easiest way is to hit ESCAPE, go to VIEW, select COMPOSITION BACKDROP, then select CHOOSE. Now, once your back in the COMPOSE mode, you can move your cursor to the bottom of the screen and find options to adjust the white space (paper) width, the size of the text, the part of the screen the paper is on, how transparent the paper is, etc. LOVE IT!
  3. Files and Folders. If you haven’t discovered the ability to use files and folders, you are missing out. People do this differently, but I’ll tell you how I find it best works for me. I make the FOLDERS my chapters and the FILES my scenes. So, my BINDER (the area to the left that has a list of folders and files) looks like Manuscript, Folder, file, file, file, file, etc., Folder, file, file, etc.).
  4. Scrivenings. If you have seen the tutorial, you have heard of the CORK BOARD, OUTLINER, and SCRIVENINGS. These are ways of viewing your document. I like to look at my document in SCRIVENINGS. At the top of the screen near the right is a three button section called VIEW MODE. The one that looks like a paper is called SCRIVENINGS. After it is selected (clicked on), you can then view your document in this mode. When you click on MANUSCRIPT, you can see the whole document. When you click on any FOLDER, you can see that whole chapter. Clicking on a FILE, lets you see only that scene.
  5. Mobility of Files. When you click on a scene, you can drag it up and down in the BINDER. So if you think it should be earlier or later in the chapter, that is very easy to do. Just click, drag to the spot you want it, and release.
  6. Compile Capabilities. There are numerous things you can do when compiling in Scrivener. You can make your manuscript a Microsoft Office document or an ebook or prepare it for Createspace. My husband knows much more about this. And has written a more informative blog article on it here.

Again, these are just a FEW of the gems you can find in Scrivener, a few of my favorite things, if you will. I encourage all novelists and writers to check it out. Give it a go! Don’t be leery of change. This is one change that is good.

I’ve Got a New Attitude: Kids Go Back to School, I Get Back to Routine

I've Got a New Attitude (5)

I just want to start off by thanking the good Lord for school. Now, don’t get upset at me yet. Do I miss my kids during the day? You bet! I miss them like crazy. But I know a couple of things that make it easier: they are getting the peer-to-peer social environment I just can’t provide every day when they’re at home and they are back to a routine in which my one with ADHD and my one with autism really need and thrive in. As do I.

schoolhouseSo, as they get back to the rhythm of school, I get back to my own routine at home. It’s a new frontier this year. My child with autism has gone off to kindergarten (one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do) and my littlest one is in preschool two days a week. So, our house is more quiet than ever before. We even have more of a routine for the little one on the days he is at home. But I’m finding my own rhythm with writing and caring for the home and the after school stuff and the various responsibilities outside the home I have committed myself to.

onceuponatimepaperWriting. Just as the school year starts, I am on a deadline. Yep, that’s how I plan things. So, I am writing and editing like a mad woman. I stay locked in my office pretty much. But even here it can be hard to focus. Trips to a local coffee shop have helped with that as I ease back into full time writing mode. There is no substitute for a good writing schedule and some old fashioned bum glue for writers who want to meet their goals. You won’t always feel it, somedays you just have to sit down and find that muse yourself.

flyladyHouse and Home. This gets a bit trickier. For the past two years, I have had a mother’s helper/nanny to help me stay on top of laundry, cleaning, general housework, etc. But, alas, as my kids get older, she is better suited for another, younger family. So, I am needing to take up these extra duties as she is here less. And I’m settling back into a cleaning routine. I love Fly Lady! If you have not met her, I cannot say enough about her. And you should probably hear it from her own website. Great cleaning plans, reasonable expectations, phenomenal advice for housekeepers of all levels.

busy momOutside the Home. I love being involved in things outside the home. I co-lead a writer’s critique group. I’m a leader in my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group. I help in a 3-year-old Sunday School Class at my church (when my kids and I are all well enough). And I attend writer’s conferences and manage appointments for 5 people. And I can’t forget time out with family and friends! It can be craziness sometimes, but it’s a good crazy, you know? I wouldn’t have it any other way. I thrive on the busyness, but it can cause me to come crashing down when I’ve taken it a step too far and committed to too much. Only I don’t see it coming until it’s too late. “No” is an okay word.

So, there’s my life in a nutshell. Somehow, I’m going to get into a routine with all of it. And then, the magic will happen.

Essential Oils: From Skeptic to Believer

 

Essential Oils- From Skeptic to Believer

I have shared that I was skeptical of essential oils and this whole oil revolution that seems to be sweeping homes across America. I’ve always had my feet firmly planted in Western medicine and been rather unsure about the holistic approach. Not doubting the benefits my friends receive, just not thinking any of that was for me and my family.

diffuserWhen a friend invited me to a class on essential oils, I was intrigued as I did support the use of oils for aromatherapy. Though that borders on the holistic side of things, I did see the benefits of utilizing scents for calming, preparing for sleep, energizing, etc. And so, I ended up purchasing an introductory kit which contained several oils I was certain I would never use, some I knew I would (for aromatherapy), and a diffuser with which to get those “good” oils into the air for my family.

Now, for those of you who have been following my blog, you know that I had a 13 day migraine that did not respond to Western medicinal approaches, but which essential oils cured in a matter of minutes. And I was hooked. What else could these oils do? Thus began my exploration into some of the other problems I was dealing with.

dark cloudMood Issues. I struggle with mood issues lingering from my struggles with postpartum depression. Most days I’m fine, but occasionally, I have challenges with low mood. I utilize the tools I have learned in counseling, but it’s difficult to do that when there’s a dark cloud hanging. I have begun to use oils such as Valor, Frankincense, and Acceptance during these times. That dark cloud notably lifts, making it much easier to implement and practice what I know to be best for me.

peppermintDigestive Issues. I have IBS. And, while I do have prescription medication I take when I have an IBS attack, it doesn’t always ease the pain completely. Just this last week, I found myself pretty incapacitated with pain, twenty minutes before I was to meet up with a friend. I planned to cancel and even had sent a preliminary text. But my husband suggested we try the “go to” oil for digestive issues – Peppermint. He made a tea and put a couple of drops of peppermint oil in it. As soon as the steaming cup was near me and I could inhale the oil, the pain began to subside. Within minutes, the pain was gone. I went out that night.

migrainedogMigraines. I continue to suffer from chronic migraines. Instead of taking the “rescue pills” for these “breakthrough” migraines (since they don’t work anyway), I do my oil regiment that cured the 13 day migraine. It includes Thieves, Panaway, and M-Grain.

ADHD. My daughter has ADHD. And in the evenings when she is coming off of her medication, she can become quite a handful. So, from time to time, I’ll diffuse Lavender in the house, to calm her (and the other two kiddos) down in preparation for bedtime. Yes, I still believe in the aromatherapeutic properties. I know that there are also oils to help with focus as well. We have yet to try those.

All in all, I am new to this journey. But the more I learn and the more I try, the more impressed I am. Even the Bible tells us that “the leaf shall be for medicine” (Ezekiel 47).

Care to share your favorite use for your favorite essential oil?

I Do An Incredible Amount of Teamwork

i in teamI know what you’re thinking…”Wait, there’s no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM’!” No? Well, maybe not. But there is an “M” and an “E”…”ME”! Yes, I jest. Everywhere we go we find teams. It takes “a village” to raise our children (though where this village is at 2 am when my child is screaming at the top of his lungs, I have no idea). We and our co-workers have a common goal (and often common target of blame) in our jobs. Even our marriages are a partnership (he does his part and I let him – just kidding!).

gearsIn a society that so values individuality, why the emphasis on teamwork? Do CEOs really look at their employees as a mass production unit that should work as if they’re cogs in a machine? Seamlessly? Don’t squeak, don’t cause your neighbor to rust at all, and for heaven’s sake, don’t spark! Does God expect marriage partners to behave in this oneness as if the individual is lost? “Two shall become one”? What does that even mean?

individualIs there any place for the individual? Certainly. You, your story, your unique set of experiences, is valuable. To your children, to your friends, to society. I don’t know about your CEO, but your skill set is not found in just every other person. You have a certain set of strengths, and of challenges that you are working to overcome that make you the individual that you are. And, therefore, set your input apart.

Let’s talk about SYNERGY. What is Synergy? Let’s say I can lift 10 lbs. And you can lift 10lbs. Well, the law of synergy says that if we work together we can lift…I know you’re thinking 20lbs. But, it’s actually 30lbs. None of us is as brilliant as all of us are working together. In a team, we can brainstorm, bouncing ideas off each other, enhancing each other’s sparks until the best in all of us culminates into something really great. Can you picture it?

So, how do you participate in this team and exert your individuality? It’s a balance, just like with anything else. You have to realize that your successes don’t diminish with the success of others. That by helping others further themselves, you will not lessen yourself. Helping others will not sabotage you. You must let your own spark be seen, but you need to do your best to work well with others, too. To enhance their contributions as a member of the whole while interacting on an individual level with your own talents, gifts, and specialities.