I Write Because…

By Joan Campbell

I am a writer. I create. I dream. My head is in the clouds most of the time, which is probably why I am still reeling somewhat from the Publishing Conference I attended last weekend. Called “The Suitcase Under the Bed Seminar”, it was a very authoritative look at the business of publishing, run by two publishing experts with a wealth of experience and knowledge. There were stats—rather sobering stats—on the (small) number of readers in South Africa, and the (low) average book sales in our country. There was a discussion on the (vast) number of manuscripts received every month, and the (rare) writers who receive a contract.

It was informative and sobering and I’m (generally) glad I heard it all, even if my head dropped out of the clouds to hover somewhere in the lower branches of a tree. Yet, in the midst of the healthy reality-dose, one of the speakers, Alison, asked something very profound, which I’ve been churning on this entire week. She asked, “Why do you write?”

Why do I write?

It should be a simple question to answer, but it isn’t. There is a tangle of motivations, Joan Campbelllongings, emotions and dreams bound up in that single, short question. Let me unravel a few of the main strands.

I write because…it is who I am in the deepest part of me. To not write feels like a betrayal of myself. A stunting. A death.

I write because…it helps me comprehend the world. In describing emotions, I have to dig deep, beyond the superficial level of my own—or another’s—heart. To create a scene requires more than a cursory glance; it requires seeing and perceiving, hearing and understanding, tasting and experiencing.

I write because…I long to connect with others. Words are dry when they tumble from my lips. They crack and warp with nervousness. But on the page, my words sing and dance with joy. They come alive, at least for me, which makes me hope they come alive for others too.

I write because…I love to be surprised. I am a wife and mother. I cook, clean, drive, listen and counsel. My life is full of routine and schedules. Yet the moment I drop into a story, everything changes. I’m somewhere else and anything can happen. Even as the creator of the story, the twists and turns delight me, because often I do not see them coming. For an hour or two each day, I live different and more exciting lives, and the spark of that ignites my own predictable life with joy and purpose too.

I write because…I hope my words will touch and change hearts and lives. Maybe there is something a bit arrogant about this—thinking that I have something to offer the world. Yet, I am unable to deny this deep longing, which is the reason why I can’t just enjoy writing the story, and then let the manuscript languish in the suitcase under the bed.

In short, I am compelled to write, despite the sobering stats and meagre chances of finding a publisher. I am grateful to Alison for asking the question (in fact, she asked four questions, but maybe that’s material for another blog post).

For now, it is enough to know that I write because I am a writer. You might all be glad to hear (unless you’re a publisher with a huge slush pile) that my head just broke through the low cloud cover as I typed that.

Why are you compelled to write?

We posted this article with permission of Joan Campbell of South Africa. It was originally published on her blog. Thank you, Joan!

Photo above: Joan Campbell (left) gets feedback from MAI Trainer Lawrence Darmani at a workshop for South African writers.

The Pros and Cons of Self-publishing

Are you wondering whether self-publishing is right for you? Do you have an important message to share? Author Stella Okoronkwo helps mentor Christian writers in French-speaking Africa. Here she discusses the advantages and challenges of going the route of self-publishing.

This video is one of a series of 3-5 minute teaching videos based on workshops led by top international Christian publishing professionals at LittWorld 2012 in Kenya. We give thanks for the dozens of dedicated men and women who serve as our volunteer trainers, many of whom shared their expertise in these videos.

These mini videos on writing, editing, marketing, design, digital publishing, leadership, and more, were shot and produced by Good News Productions, enabling MAI to bring them to you.

How I Learned to Create Realistic Dialogue

This post was used by permission of author T. Davis Bunn and originally published on his blog as “Readers Ask: What was the most valuable advice you received as an unpublished writer” on March 12, 2013.

I finished seven books before my first was accepted for publication. I made my first presentation to a New York agent with the third novel. She thoroughly disliked everything about my work. Her letter was one page long, and was perhaps the most painful set of words I have ever been forced to confront.

The most telling of her criticisms was, “your characters are one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs and your dialogue is flat.”

The worst thing about her comments was, I knew she was right.

I ditched novel four, which by then was almost completed. And I knew it was basically just more of the same. I then spent three weeks trying to decide whether to ditch the writing gig entirely. Remember, I was running a consulting group and struggling every day to make time for the writing. And after three and a half years, this was the result?  My family wanted me to quit, I was exhausted most of the time, I hadn’t been on a date in over a year. This was a life?

But there was nothing else I wanted to do with my life. That was the only answer I had. Everything else paled in comparison to the thirst, the desperate longing to write, and the compelling agonizing joy that came from meeting the empty page.

If I was going to continue, I had to change. I had to improve. I had to break out of this rut and grow. But how?  I was living in Germany. I had no contact with any writers’ group. The books on writing that I studied didn’t say much about how to survive a savaging from a NY agent. So I improvised.

I began taking a pocket recorder into every contact with other people outside of business. Coffee with friends, dinners, family, sports, everything. For a month I recorded everything I heard, then went home and wrote it all out. The exercise defined boring. I truly loathed the experience.

But by the end of that month, I owned those people. I could take a kindly grandmother and turn her into an assassin, and make it work, because I had her individual traits and the revelations she made in her conversation, mostly unconscious.

From there I began working on point of view from the standpoint of revealing both the viewer and the outside world, something I identified in the writers I most admired. Little one-paragraph sketches developed into longer pieces, as the characters began to take on tasks. Action and tension became real because they were developed from the inside out.

Four weeks into this grueling exercise, I woke up in the middle of the night from a dream where I heard an old man’s voice telling me a story. I got up and wrote it out, four and a half single-spaced pages. Nothing but dialogue. Two men and one woman. The story still holds me. When I finished, just before dawn, I knew I could leave that exercise behind. The lesson was not learned. It was mine.

Space-break for a fast forward ten years:  My breakout novel The Great Divide was released by Doubleday.

The NY Post had this to say:  “Bunn’s excellent characters reveal a strong good-vs-evil story. His dialogue is racehorse fast. That’s some feat.”

I agree.

Have you ever felt like giving up on your writing? What compelled you to continue?

A Big Idea Book That Changes Lives

Alice Crider is an editor, an author, and an author coach. Since 2011, she has combined her life coaching skills with her writing and 15 years of publishing experience. Here she offers writers advice on how to create a book that results in changed lives. Alice shared these ideas at LittWorld 2012, gathering many of them from “Steps to Bring About Life Change” by David Kopp.

Watch the video and enjoy Alice’s more detailed points below.

1. Identify the reader’s stronghold/problem; show its overlooked significance.
What problem is your reader experiencing?
How has the problem been overlooked?

2. Describe what is being lost to the problem so the reader says, “Yes, I have this problem, and I now realize the personal cost.”
What are they missing out on due to this problem?
What impact has this problem had on their life?

3. Surface the misconceptions in the reader’s language. (Misconceptions are beliefs that keep the reader from experiencing the benefit; these misconceptions may be subconscious or known, but assumed to be inarguable or harmless).
What misconceptions has the reader bought into that keep him/her from experiencing the benefit?
What underlying beliefs do they have that keep them from seeing a new solution or alternate view?

4. State the truths that offer a benefit to the reader, and show why they’re true. (Aha! Lights come on for reader.)
What solution or benefit will you show the reader?
What truths will help the reader see the benefit?
What will give them an “aha” moment?

5. Attack the armed defenders of the stronghold. (The armed defenders are the influences, sins, or fears that violently defend the stronghold and shout the dangers or futility of change).
What might influence the reader to avoid possible change? In other words, what influences, sins, beliefs or fears need to be exposed and torn down?

6. Show the benefit again, strongly increasing the reader’s desire for the benefit (How? Visualize, make real, show others who are enjoying it, show that the benefit is what the reader was meant to experience and has always wanted, show surprising connection to other deep desires in the reader’s life).
How are others enjoying this benefit?
What connections can you make between the benefit and the reader’s deepest desires?

7. Lead the reader to—then through—a choice to change. (Life change happens when you put down one belief and pick up and implement another. Transformation happens when insight is followed with congruent action, and it is enhanced even more when shared with others).
What will the reader let go of in order to adapt a new view of their life?
What choice(s) will they make?
What action(s) might they take?
With whom will they share their paradigm shift?

Do you have a big idea book in mind?

This video is one of a series of 3-5 minute teaching videos based on workshops led by top international Christian publishing professionals at LittWorld 2012 in Kenya. We give thanks for the dozens of dedicated men and women who serve as our volunteer trainers, many of whom shared their expertise in these videos.

These mini videos on writing, editing, marketing, design, digital publishing, leadership, and more, were shot and produced by Good News Productions, enabling us to bring them to you.

How to Critique Manuscripts in Languages You Do Not Read

By Miriam Adeney 

Working with writers using languages you don’t read can be tricky. However, even if you cannot read every word of every piece, with a little help you can still provide critique.  Here are a few hints on how to help writers make the most of workshops.

1. For your first public critique, select manuscripts in the language written by the majority of the class. Use these to demonstrate the application of the principles you have taught. Invite suggestions for improvement in organization, research, and biblical and cultural depth and balance. Modeling this process will help minority and majority language writers critique their own work.

2. Ask all writers to provide an outline for their manuscript in the majority language. Their outlines should include ideas, arguments, events and summarized illustrations in the order they appear in the writing.

Simply by studying the outline, the class can formulate questions, such as:

  • Miriam AdeneyIs there any research to support that point?
  • Here’s a suggestion for an illustration.
  • Does the sequence of arguments make sense?
  • Have you considered this cultural value?

You may ask writers to translate paragraphs or the beginning and ending of their work to give a sense of style. Try to minimize your requests so as not to disrupt their creative process.

3. Require writers to find someone who reads his or her language to critique their work. This may be someone from the class, community or home region who can keep in touch via email. Provide a simple critique tool — possibly a series of questions — to help the reader offer feedback on strengths and weaknesses.

Put these tips into practice and you should be able to offer useful advice on ideas, organization, research, audience and some aspects of style to all members of your class, regardless of their language. Plus, writers will complete the workshop with practical tools for future critiques.

Photo above: Miriam Adeney (right) leads an MAI workshop for Middle Eastern writers creating books in Arabic.

Author and educator Miriam Adeney equips and encourages emerging Christian writers around the world. She is a trainer for MAI and a former board member. Miriam has written several books, including her most recent release, Kingdom Without Borders:  The Untold Story of Global Christianity.