Saturday, November 7, 2015

Accountability Partners--And Why You Should Think of Getting One

I first heard of the idea of accountability partners a year and a half ago at the LDStorymaker conference. Annette Lyon and Luisa Perkins taught a class on accountability partners (and wrote a book about it). I was unable to attend the class, but heard about it afterward and in the following year had several friends tell me that it had helped with their productivity levels.

Then this past LDStorymaker conference, I had a friend approach me about being accountability partners. I agreed to give it a three month trial to see if it worked for me. I was worried it would be too structured and too much pressure (same way I used to think about outlines) but I was wrong.  It turned out that the structure and planning increased my productivity in ways that I hadn’t foreseen.
Here’s the format me and my current accountability partner use:

1. We email each other the night before our lists for the next day. It looks something like this:


·         Exercise 30 minutes
·         Write 3000 words in WIP
·         Read at least 2 chapters in book club book
·         Return 10 emails
·         MAKE DINNER (new recipe?)
·         Laundry/dishes/straighten up downstairs
·         Volunteer in kids’ classroom
·         Read with kids for 20 minutes

So it’s a list of goals and tasks for the next day, which I love because it gets me thinking about what I need to get done the next day (and reminds me of things like doctor’s appointments and volunteer commitments.)

2. Throughout the day, we text each other as we accomplish our goals. The AP will respond with some sort of affirmation like “YAY!” “Way to go!” or a super cool fireworks emoticon. It feels weird at first, but you get used to it in a day or two, and then you look forward to it.

3. At the end of the day, you re-email your partner the list from the night before, saying what you did and didn’t get done, and why you didn’t get the task done. It will look something like this:


·         Exercise 30 minutes—YES. Ran 3 miles!
·         Write 3000 words in WIP—YES! 3,700 words!!!!
·         Read at least 2 chapters in book club book—No. I ended up taking one of the kids to the doctor, so no reading time.
·         Return 10 emails—NO—the doctor’s appointment took two hours. 5 emails, though, and they were the hard ones.
·         MAKE DINNER (new recipe?)—YES. Pecan crusted chicken. SO GOOD.
·         Laundry/dishes/straighten up downstairs—YES.
·         Volunteer in kids’ classroom—YES. They are adorable.
·         Read with kids for 20 minutes—YES. Harry Potter.

4. Upon getting your AP’s evaluation email for the day, respond back with thoughtful comments and words of affirmation. You are showing them that you support them and are in their corner.

5. Make your list for the next day. You can refer to your previous list and build on that, or you can reprioritize tasks, and decide maybe sending those next five emails isn’t something you really want to take on.

6. Repeat Monday through Friday. We take the weekend off because we want the freedom of not planning on those days, but the nice thing about this is that it’s flexible, so you decide with your accountability partner what works best for you.


I’ve noticed my productivity increase, not only because I have someone rooting for me, but also because I’m making a plan for my day and prioritized my time instead of starting my day with little direction.

While doing this, I was able to revise a book and write an entire novel (80K) in six weeks.  My inbox is cleaned out. I’ve read the book club book every month since I started doing this. And I haven’t forgotten any appointments or obligations for that day. I’ve also tried out new recipes and carved out quality time with my kids. I feel less stressed in my day, and more accomplished. I’m completely converted.

So grab a willing friend and jump into a trial run of being accountability partners, and see what it can do for your days!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

$0.99 Sale on Books (and Win $200 in Holiday Cash!)

The authors of Echo Ridge decided to organize a multi-author sale during release week and invite our favorite authors to join us. All the books featured on this sale are only $.99 and they are all amazing!
Don't forget to enter the rafflecopter giveaway for $200 in Christmas Cash.
Happy book shopping!

Christmas Kisses: An Echo Ridge Anthology
Christmas Kisses is a collection from five bestselling and award-winning authors. Set in the snowy town of Echo Ridge in upstate New York, these inspirational romances are sure to delight while you sip cocoa by the fire and listen to Christmas carols.
Amazon * iTunes * Barnes & Noble * Smashwords * Kobo * Goodreads

Brownies & Betrayal by Heather Justesen
Pastry chef Tess Crawford thought moving from Chicago to quiet Silver Springs, Arizona would simplify her life. That was before she found the body of a woman with whom she had traded heated words the previous night, left her fingerprints on
the murder weapon, and came under attack for trying to clear her name. When her cheating ex-fiance shows up, intent on convincing her to come back to work for him, Tess—armed with an extra batch of éclairs—decides to take control and solve the mystery herself, with the help of friends and frenemies alike.
But will that be enough to save her when she gets too close and the killer decides it’s safer to get her out of the way?

Simplify & Savor the Season by Connie E. Sokol
Ready to enjoy the holidays again? Use this two-part holiday organizer to help you savor the celebrations. In the first half of the book, brainstorm the Big Four; then, detail the To Dos including menu, gift-planning, etc. with success tips on how to eliminate the unnecessary and focus on the essential. Wrap up with "5 Holiday Juicers" to make life joyful. Keep your notes handy in the companion Simplify & Savor Take-along Planner. 
With the second half of the book. curl up with a cup of cocoa and read "Savory Suggestions and Stories," a collection of laugh-out-loud anecdotal stories including "Let Go of the Cookie Cutter Christmas" and "Thankful for Turkey Warbling". Make this holiday season one you remember and enjoy!

Diamond Rings are Deadly Things by Rachelle J. Christensen
Adrielle Pyper knows how to plan a wedding, and she's especially good at pleasing bridezillas. But when her biggest client and best friend is murdered just three days before the wedding, Adri's world falls apart. She moves to the resort town of Sun Valley, Idaho, and starts from scratch. Thanks to Adri's impeccable taste and unique style, she lands two celebrity clients, and her business seems headed for success—until someone vandalizes the specialty wedding dresses she imported from overseas. Adri must race to uncover the secret hidden within the yards of satin and lace before she becomes the next victim. 
With a delightful blend of mystery, toe-curling kisses, humor, and spine-tingling thrills, Diamond Rings are Deadly Things will keep you turning pages long into the night. 

A Baker's Dozen by Lucy McConnell
Tempt your sweet tooth with 13 delicious, easy, and beautiful dessert recipes. Each recipe has been time-tested and found irresistible. You’ll horde the Lemon Brownies but you might be willing to share the Rock and Roll Cake—with a good friend. 
Recipes include: Chocolate Chunk Peanut Butter Cookies, Pumpkin Bunt Cake, S’mores Cheesecake, No-Fail Lemon Bars 
Impress your coworkers, family, friends, and even the guys at the car repair shop with these recipes. They’re sure to become favorites in your recipe box, lunch box, and ice box. 

The Colony by Cami Checketts
To protect her sons from the mistakes of her past, Brinlee Trapper escapes to a secluded mountain home. But there are dangers lurking in the mountains she has never encountered. The little family is saved from injury by Jed, a mysterious hunter. Brinlee is drawn to him, but she worries about his involvement with a peaceful commune hidden deep in the mountains behind her property.
Lance, Brinlee's attentive neighbor, has his own troubled history. Between his obvious attraction to Brinlee and his developing love for her children, Brinlee finds it more than difficult to guard her heart against this tender intrusion.
While Jed offers a life of excitement and freedom, Lance holds the key to the family Brinlee always wanted. When it comes time to choose, she learns that both men have secrets that could shatter her fledgling trust in men and the wrong decision could leave more than her heart exposed to danger.

Torn Canvas by Donna K. Weaver
Modern-day pirates took more than Jori Virtanen’s friends; they stole his face. Not only does the twenty-four-year-old former model have to confront months of reconstructive surgery, he discovers his previous life was as superficial as his looks. Up-and-coming talk show host Olivia Howard wants an interview. She, like the rest of the press, expects a hero, but Jori knows the truth. His beauty masks a beast.
In seclusion and evading the press, Jori struggles to make a new life as an artist. But he can’t hide from himself; more than his face is damaged. How can Jori possibly make amends for all that he’s broken? When Olivia finally tracks him down, he must decide if he can trust her. Could this unlikely woman be a key to freeing his heart and healing the beast?
The audiobook is only $1.99 with the purchase of the ebook.

Son of War Daughter of Chaos by Janette Rallison
Aislynn is accustomed to watching for the enemy. Her parents instructed her from the time she was young to look for people with the signs: greater than normal strength, eyes that can glow green, and the ability to jump long distances. Over the years, Aislynn has come to view her parents' fears as quirks-things that get in the way of having a normal high school life. When Aislynn's mother dies under suspicious conditions, her father doubles his restrictions. But all his precautions can't stop the boy with glowing green eyes from finding Aislynn. She realizes too late she's been drafted into an ancient Egyptian war, whether she's prepared or not.

Vocal Crush by Lisa Swinton
Can you ever out run a broken heart?
Lexi Court spent seven years traveling the world, living the nomadic Broadway life, in an attempt to outrun the broken heart Nick Rivers gave her. Now, there’s nowhere left to go.
When she accepted a position as a high school drama teacher in Las Vegas, Lexi hoped to get over Nick, find a nice guy, and settle down. But what should be a quiet summer gets turned upside down when Lexi's best friend, Taffy, drafts her to be an emergency replacement coach on a televised vocal competition.
Feeling out of her league among the other three celebrity coaches, Lexi fights for the most promising contestants to be on her team. One note from a single voice shatters her summer. Nick unexpectedly auditions and joins Lexi's team. With her vocal crush on him raging as strong as ever, she has nowhere to run from Nick’s dreamy looks or siren voice.
Lexi has no doubt that Nick can win the competition. The question is does he want to win her heart as well or will he damage it beyond repair?
Think television reality show The Voice meets Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

Picture Perfect by U.S.A. Today Bestseller Heather B. Moore

Gemma has never done anything out of the ordinary, until her boyfriend Randy starts to ignore her. But even cutting and dyeing her hair doesn’t get his attention. She decides to join her old high school friends for spring vacation, only to be faced with Drew, her best friend who suddenly seems interested in her as more than a friend. Gemma must determine if her heart is on the rebound or if it’s finally met its true match.

Endless Modern Cinderella by Jaclyn Weist
Sydney lives her nightmares every night. While other teenagers are dreaming of boys or traveling to exotic places, she must run a staircase with no beginning or no end, or a terrible debt will never be paid. 
Just before her seventeenth birthday, the dreams change. She is no longer alone.  
But her nightmares don’t end when she wakes up. Her stepmother and stepsisters threaten to ruin everything she holds dear. She must protect the secret that both she and her father have magic or they will use it to their advantage. 
As Sydney learns to control her magic, what seemed impossible before—escaping her stepmother and those ever-present stairs—is now at her fingertips. When she learns the ultimate plan of her evil captor, Sydney must stop her at all costs, or she will forever be trapped inside her nightmares. 

Cookie Girl Christmas by Christene Houston

Molly Hayes has one more job before Christmas and then she can put her plans for a storefront bakery of her own in motion. What she doesn't bargain for is the handsome young Scrooge who insults her cookies and makes her blood boil. Toss in a heaping helping of snowstorm and a pinch of romantic old Inn and you've got yourself the perfect recipe for a not-so-silent-night.

And Something Blue by Paige Timothy

Bridal consultant Laurie Fletcher spends all her time helping others prepare for the most special day of their lives. Logan Reese is easily the most irritating man on the planet, and for some reason, he's made annoying Laurie his mission in life. Will true love ever come Laurie's way, or is she doomed to watch others get their happily ever after while she sits on the sidelines?

Six Days of Christmas by Kaylee  Baldwin

When Natalie goes home with her best friend for Christmas, she expects plenty of quiet time to work on a winning ad so she can turn her dream internship into her dream job. Instead, she gets time-consuming Christmas festivities, a house full of children who seem to be multiplying, and Jimmy, her best friend’s brother—someone who makes her question everything she’s always thought she wanted. 

Ring Around the Rosie by Julie Coulter Bellon
As the ex-wife of a law enforcement officer, Sarah Reed has known loneliness and loss. In order to cope, she makes a life for herself that's full of routine while building a wall of ice around her heart. Everything about her is as predictable as she can make it until a tiny detour for her ex-husband, Ron, changes her life forever. Caught in a bomb crisis, Sarah is taken hostage by a man who wants Ron and everyone around him to suffer---and his idea of suffering is more terrible than Sarah had ever dreamed. 
Captain Ron Reed has seen the worst of humanity in his job with the Hostage Negotiation Team, but he never expected his past to come back with a vengeance---literally. Aaron Starks, a criminal explosives expert, has stolen next-gen bomb technology. He uses it to force Ron to bargain for the lives of his team and his ex-wife, Sarah, the woman he still loves. But the situation escalates when Ron discovers that Starks has an even bigger objective in mind---using the bomb to show how vulnerable America and her people truly are. 
Ron is willing to risk everything to save his country and those he loves, but when negotiations break down, will his sacrifice be too little too late?

Yesterday by Amanda Tru
Her yesterday was five years ago. What will her tomorrow bring? 
When Hannah Kraeger saves a family injured in a car accident, she has no idea she has changed events in the past. Waking the next morning, Hannah discovers her yesterday was really five years ago. 
Each trip Hannah takes through time changes the timeline and her own life. With help from Dr. Seth McAllister, Hannah must unravel the mystery of why she time travels and who she actually is before the strange ability costs her future, the man she loves, and even her life. 
YESTERDAY is a thrilling Christian Romantic Suspense filled with unexpected twists, mystery, and romance. 

My One and Only by Shannon Guymon
Meredith Jensen has seen her share of ups and downs. She’s found love twice already and lost it in spectacularly traumatic ways. Now? She just wants a peaceful life, free from love and drama. Meredith’s plans for the future center around planning other people’s weddings and her new online dating website. Just because she works to help other people find love doesn’t mean she wants any part of it though. Unfortunately for Meredith’s plans, Asher Murphy is determined to get her to give love another chance. But then again, so is Pule Matafeo. Meredith has never denied that she’s stubborn and feisty so it might take the combined forces of all their friends in Fircrest to get her heart back on track in time for Valentine’s Day. 

Stealing Adda by Tamara Leigh
WRITER’S BLOCK, NIBBLED NAILS, PLAGIARISM, OH MY! AND DID I MENTION ROMANCE? Life for Adda Sinclaire, New York Times best-selling author and historical romance writer extraordinaire, reads more like a country song than a breathless, bodice-bursting affair. For starters, she has no romance in her own life. That might have something to do with the fact that her husband—correction, ex-husband—ran off with Stick Woman, whom everyone knew would never be more than a mid-list author anyway. To add insult to injury (and another verse to the country song), her ex not only took their dog but gave it to Stick Woman. If that isn't enough, Adda has come down with a horrible case of writer's block, finds herself gifted with a Bible that is determined to speak to her, and is the unwitting target of a romance cover model's misdirected advances. Just when she catches her breath—and quite possibly the eye of a certain fabulously good-looking man (ahem…her new editor)—her arch-nemesis gives the pot one final stir.

Spy by Night by Jordan McCollum
After watching her parents’ marriage crash and burn, CIA operative Talia Reynolds doesn’t believe in “happily ever afters.” Besides, her job entails eighty-hour weeks, juggling a dozen covers and disguises, and tracking down a dangerous Russian spy ring. She hardly has time for romantic entanglements, even if she could let her guard down enough to get close to anyone.But all the rules she lives by could be broken when she meets aerospace engineer Danny Fluker.
Danny moved to Canada for a great job — and a chance to start over after a bad breakup. Dating definitely isn’t in his plans . . . until beautiful and enigmatic Talia throws a perfect storm right in his flight path. When he catches a glimpse of the real woman behind her façade, he has to get to know her better.
Talia has to find a Russian spymaster before he figures out she’s not who she claims, and failing to keep her two lives separate in the process could mean the death of more than just her budding relationship. Danny has to decide if a future with Talia — and facing the past — is worth the risk of getting hurt again. If they can break through the barriers keeping them apart (and avoid a major international catastrophe), they just might have a chance at being happy together.

Saving Grace by Michele Paige Holmes
From #2 Amazon Bestselling Historical Romance Author and Whitney Award Winner, Michele Paige Holmes, comes SAVING GRACE, a regency romance from the Hearthfire Romance series: 
After the death of her grandfather, the Duke of Salisbury, Grace Thatcher wants nothing more than to live quietly in the country with her younger siblings. Her father’s debts thwart those plans, and to protect her sister, Helen, Grace must marry a man of her father’s choosing. 
As each suitor proves less than desirable, Grace comes up with clever schemes, causing each to reject her. While staying at the mysterious Sutherland Hall, a middle-of-the-night mishap sends Grace into the arms of a stranger, Nicholas Sutherland—and provides inspiration for her grandest plan yet—one that will leave her reputation in tatters yet free both her and Helen from all possibility of marriage. 
Too late Grace regrets her rash actions when her father’s last choice, Mr. Samuel Preston, proves to be a gentleman and a friend. But Samuel is the sworn enemy of Nicholas Sutherland, the man responsible for her “ruin.” Now instead of being free, Grace is caught between two men—each with his own agenda. 

An Unexpected Proposal by Annette Lyon
While working at a wood camp in the Logan canyon during the winter of 1880, Caroline Simpson is forced to thwart the aggressive advances of Mr. Butch Larson, and in the process discovers that her long-time friend James has genuine affection for her. But as stubborn as Caroline is, she minimizes the emotions James has awakened in her, and it takes almost losing him to admit her true feelings.
 An Unexpected Proposal was introduced in the first volume of the bestselling and award-winning Timeless Romance Anthology series, Winter Collection:
Amazon #1 Bestselling *New Release* in Clean Romance, Top 10 in Regency Romance, Top 5 in Victorian Romance

Paris Cravings by Amazon #1 Best Selling Author for Clean Romance, Kimberley Montpetit
Can life really turn on a dime, a missed bus—or a stuck pastry shop door?
Chloe Dillard's life has always been complicated. Her mother is a neurotic romance novelist and her boyfriend, Mathew, has been pressuring her to go "all the way".
But after The Worst Night of Her Life, Chloe escapes on her Senior Class trip to the swoon-worthy city of Paris which takes her mind off her troubles—temporarily. On the final leg of her dream trip, Chloe squeezes in one final run for a last-minute box of decadent pastries. Add a broken shop door, subtract a broken four-inch heel from her cute strappy sandals, and Chloe ends up one stuck girl on the bakery shop floor with a sprained ankle.
Rescued by the shop owner’s dreamy son with chocolate-syrup eyes, the beautiful city of Paris suddenly becomes Chloe’s personal secret adventure. And even though Jean-Paul, the oh-so-kind La Patisserie shop boy is the gentlemanly guy Chloe has always dreamed of, even he has a girlfriend.
The police are tracking her down as a run-away, Mom’s having a nervous breakdown over her daughter’s “disappearance”, and Chloe’s just trying to have a Happily-Ever-After even as her dreams with Matt are swirling down the drain.
What’s a girl to do in the most romantic city in the world?
Easy Pastry Recipe in the back of the book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

August Reads 2015

Bone Gap

I really didn't know anything about this book before reading it, other than I'd heard from a few people that it was one of their best reads of the year. It is well-written (beyond well written, the words are like works of art) and the images are very vivid. I love reading these kind of books because I feel like I learn how to be a better crafter of words by studying their art.

Saint Anything

I've been a Sarah Dessen fan for a long time. I loved the layers of conflict in this book and how they blended together in the end.

Brown Girl Dreaming

Beautiful story, beautiful writing. I love books in verse. And this one is a memoir in verse written for the MG audience, which intrigued me a ton. She was able to take a very limited number of words and use them to her full advantage--evoking images of a past that almost made me feel like I was there.

Becoming Bayley

How have I not read this book sooner? I have had the sample saved on my Kindle since the book first came out a few years ago, but I've never gotten around to reading it. A few weeks ago, I was in the mood for some LDS romance, so I pulled this one up remembering that several trusted friends recommended it. I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. Read it in one night, something I haven't done in a long time! Well written, emotional, real, and humorous, plus it had a fantastic love story and took me straight back to my BYU days. I love books that do that. I will now be stalking Susan while I await the release of her next book.

Keeping Kate

This one is a Jane Eyre retelling, a book which I hadn't read until a few years ago when a friend badgered me until I read it. How could I graduate with a degree in literature without having read Jane Eyre. I don't know. Anyway, going on my LDS romance kick, I picked this one up. She stays pretty close to the plot while managing to make it relevant for today.

A Worthy Pursuit

Confession: I was working on a romance outline in August (which is now my current WIP) so I read a lot of romance to immerse myself back in the genre voice and conventions after writing and revising a few YA books. Witemeyer is one of my favorites in the Inspirational Historical fiction genre. Her characters always have great growth, the conflict is perfect, and the romance is sweet as can be. Her books are very clean and focused.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

July Reads

Here are my July reads--which were mostly fantastic!

P.S. I Still Love You (To All the Boys I've Loved Before, #2)
Jenny Han writes such readable prose! This is the kind of book that you sit down for a minute to read, and the next time you look at the clock, you've been reading for two hours and half the book is finished. This is the second (and final, I believe) book in the series.
Contemporary YA

Heart of Gold
I've mentioned this before, but I have a huge soft spot in my heart for LDS romances. Miller has a way of making even the smallest touches and looks make you feel swoony inside. She writes great male leads.
LDS Romance

The Kiss That Launched 1,000 Gifs
Sheralyn Pratt=The Banter Queen. This romance is based on the banter between the two main characters, who are co-hosts of a battle of the sexes radio show, and it's non-stop fun from beginning to end.
Clean Romance.

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1)
The world building in this novel was astounding. I'm not a huge fantasy reader, and yet I loved the premise so I checked it out from the library, and was drawn into the story from page one. This was one of the best-written books I've read all year. Content warning: Violence.

Trouble in Paradise
Ah, Hawaii. I felt like I was almost there. Tuft builds up her secondary characters and uses them in a natural-feeling way to help us learn more about the main characters.
LDS Romance

A Most Inconvenient Marriage
I love a good historical romance. This was a near perfect execution  of the trope of where they don't like each other at first and then grow to love over time. She took a well-used idea and twisted it to make it unique.
Inspirational Romance

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)

I absolutely loved this book. I loved it so much, I lent it to a friend the day after I finished it, and she read it in one day. And then she passed it on to another friend who read it in only a few days. Maas does an incredible job of making it impossible to put this book down. The way she twists the plot and reveals new things, the way she makes us love the characters and raises the stakes at every turn, it all added up to an fantastically entertaining read. Content warning: Innuendo and a steaminess toward the end.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Critical Reading=Becoming a Better Writer

If you want to improve your writing, one of the best things you can do is learn to be a critical reader.

Critical reading is active reading. 

Becoming an active reader takes practice. It's more than consuming stories the way you might binge-eat buttery theater popcorn while watching the latest Marvel movie. The movie's over and though you feel satisfied, you didn't give a second thought to the handfuls of popcorn you shoved in your mouth. Consumed then forgotten.

Analyzing how successful authors work their craft into something that catches the eye and imagination of their readers (and agents or editors) will help you to do the same.

One way to get started with learning how to read critically is to pretend you are the author's critique partner or that you are a contest judge and this book is one of the entrants.

Read through the book carefully and thoughtfully. Make note when something isn't working for you--and here's the important part: Think about WHY it isn't working for you. Because the answer to this is where you will learn.

Just as important: Take note when an author does something brilliantly--when you laugh, cry, can't put the book down for a second, are impressed, when you gasp out loud, or have any sort of visceral emotional response. Then think about how the author managed to make you feel that way. What did she do, how did she built the narrative, to a point where you were connected on a real level with the story?

If you can figure out some of the mechanics of connection, you can incorporate those pieces into your own writing.

Channel your inner-Simon Cowell from the original American Idol episodes.


 He was the man we loved to hate, and he could sometimes appear to be overly harsh, yet he was an active listener. More than saying he didn't like someone, he could tell us WHY he didn't like their singing--most times because they were forgettable, trying too hard, or there was a disconnect between who they are and what they were trying to do. Viewers may not have always agreed with him, but he knew what would sell and could articulate why something didn't work for him. That kind of insight comes from years of practice and analysis.

Here are a few examples of questions I might ponder while I read:

--Why did the author choose to write the book in this style (multiple point of view, verse, lyrical prose, first person, etc.)?

--Why did the author start with this scene? What about their first sentence/chapter hooked me or didn't hook me? Was the inciting incident clear and compelling?

--What were the turning points in the book, or places the main character made decisions of no-return?

--What parts did I set the book down? When did I get bored? What made these scenes boring?

--Why did I connect with this character and at what point was the connection firm? Or why did I never connect with this character--and what could the author have done differently to help me understand his/her motivations?

--Why does this narrative structure work/not work for this story? What does it do to drive the pacing forward?

--What made this story memorable or forgettable?

I hold myself accountable by posting on my blog the things I've learned from the books I read the month before. I focus on the positive things I learned because I'm not interested in publicly trashing anyone's book, but we have just as much to learn from the parts we hated as well (so I do that mentally.)

My challenge for you: Try it out. Actively read the next novel on your list and apply the principles you learned while reading to the manuscript you're working on.

The more you do it, the more natural it will feel until you actively read every book you get your hands on. Your writing will be better for it.

Girl Reading Image courtesy of stockimages at
Simon Cowell photo courtesy of

Monday, July 27, 2015

How to Be a Good Critique Partner

Image courtesy of anankkml at
I wrote here about ways to find a critique partner, and today I want to talk about how to BE a good critique partner.

1) Discuss a good return time with your partner and make sure to have it back to them by then. I like to return my critiques within two weeks, some people like a month, some even like six months to read. Make sure you are on the same page as far as expectations of timing go—and return it within the promised time frame.

2) Ask if there is anything in particular they want you to look at. Again, setting expectations right at the beginning is really important. You may spend your whole time doing line edits when they’re not at that stage yet.

3) Look closely at plot, pacing, characters, and structure. If you find holes in motivation or consistency, point those out. Comment on the places where the book lost your interest for a scene. Believe that the person you are reading for is highly capable of writing an amazing book and help them dig deep into their story. Don’t let them be lazy with clichés and boring, overused tropes. They can do better, and if you believe it, they’ll believe it.

4) Look for threads of theme that they may not realize are there—or that they could explore more and point those out. Sometimes an author can be so close to a manuscript, they may not realize a reoccurring image or idea that they could play with.

5) Read a lot so you know what’s out there. Some of the best critique partners are voracious readers. à This is also good writing advice as well. JUST READ.

6) Learn the “track changes” function in Word. For too many years, I didn’t know that existed—and I may be the last person on earth to realize that it’s there—so I had an entire complicated, time-consuming code for editing. What a waste of time! Track changes marks every change you make to the manuscript and with the reviewing pane, makes it easy for the person you’re reading for to go straight to where the changes were made.

7) Be Kind! Remember that this manuscript is someone’s baby. They have poured an irretrievable chunk of their soul into that story and those pages, and they need to know where the good parts are JUST AS MUCH OR MORE than they need to know all the areas they need to improve. Because this business is hard. And rejection is around every corner. And it is so, so easy to doubt yourself, your story, and your ability to write because someone gave you a very harsh critique. You can give a thorough and honest critique, and still be kind.

8) Don’t rewrite their book the way you would have written it if it was your story. It’s not your book. Instead, point out the places that aren’t working for you. If you know why it’s not working, let them know. Ask questions that will get them thinking.

9) Be willing to answer follow-up questions they might have. For my very close critique partners, I will often reread passages (and in a few cases, whole novels) and brainstorm new ideas. We’ll even chat on the phone to workshop the story. For everyone—even for first chapter reads—I am willing to answer as many follow-up questions as is needed to help them understand my thoughts.

On that note: One thing that’s helped me the most is to make sure me and the potential critique partner are a good fit before I commit to critiquing a 400 page manuscript. To do that, I suggest exchanging first chapters to start with—especially if it is someone that I don’t have any sort of prior relationship with or have never read anything they’ve written.

It doesn’t do anyone any favors to read a book you don’t connect with because you’ll likely give it a harsher critique because you don’t like the genre/writing style/etc. Additionally, if you spot a lot of problems in the first chapter—no clear sense of character/place/time, an implausible plot, lacking in research, starting at the wrong place, etc you don’t spend hours (and hours) on a manuscript that can be revised based on the feedback from chapter 1.

*Note: Just because I only read a first chapter and don’t ask for more doesn’t mean I hate your book. I love mentoring and I love critiquing, but I’m so busy with my family, writing, church, and conference planning that I don’t often have time to read entire manuscripts—and for that reason alone, I will read pretty much any first chapter that someone sends to me, but rarely more than that.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Where's the Love?

There’s a trend on social media that’s being talked about a lot lately: How awful people can be to each other.

I know a lot of it has something to do with the anonymity that comes with screen names and avatars, and there’s this self-righteous buzz that comes from “setting someone in their place” or calling someone out for what you perceive is incorrect. Monica Lewinsky addresses the social media meanness in her TED talk (which you should go watch if you haven't already.)

Just this week on Facebook, one acquaintance talked about the ugly emails she’d received after a guest post she wrote for a popular online blogging site. Things no one would dare say to her face if she were there and things that should never be written.

Another woman talked about how she shaved her head—a bucket list item she had. After posting a picture of herself, she received so many hurtful, hateful emails that she ended up deleting her inbox without reading the rest of them.

What is going on?

Are we not allowed to have opinions, live our lives the way we want, look the way we want, or express our beliefs without hatred being flung at us?

A few months ago on Twitter I posted about how I came across a rattle snake on my morning walk. I had all of my kids with me and was nervous that it might strike at us. Rattle snakes are common in the desert, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing them. We skirted around it carefully and continued down the nature trail. On the way back home a man told us that he had killed the snake because it was on a very commonly used path—especially by kids walking home from the elementary school not too far away.

After I posed about it on Twitter, I was attacked by the snake-loving community (they exist). They told me I was a horrible person, that I didn’t deserve to live, that I should have my head cut off like the snake's. They called me names and wrote many other horrible things that really upset me. Dozens more people came up out of nowhere, sending me awful tweets and tagging each other so more could join in.

I made the mistake of engaging, first by apologizing for offending them, and then by justifying my feelings of relief that the snake was dead. MISTAKE. Things only escalated from there, and I ended up blocking all of the attackers and deleting the post. The whole thing blew me away and turned me off of Twitter for months. I’m still a little nervous when I post on there. (I hate that I gave them that power, by the way.)

My plea for today is that we all be a little bit kinder. It's not your place to offer your opinion on every life decision someone makes. It is not your place to arrogantly assume that your hateful comments are relevant. And it is definitely not your place to tear someone down. 

Where is the value in that? In trashing someone’s day, disparaging their character, and making them feel bad about themselves. It's too common now to take a complex, multi-dimensional person and boil them down to one characteristic that gets picked out from one tweet, one picture, one blog post and then branded to their chest like a scarlet A they have to wear around for the rest of their life. 

These commenters feel like they’ve done something powerful. That they’ve made a difference, when in reality, all they’ve done is added more hate to the ever-growing pit of hate that people seem to love swimming around in.

Want to know where REAL power is? 

It’s love and kindness.

So my challenge for us all is to be a little bit kinder today than you were yesterday. Respond with love, not judgement, not hate, not trying to push someone down or prove that you’re right.

Words are powerful. Let’s use them for good. Let’s make them meaningful.

And maybe together we can start a new trend.