Writing Tip — Writing Anxiety

upsetw-2681502_1280The post may seem to have no connection with National Poetry Month, but keep reading.

Has writing ever overwhelmed you? With all the advice out there on characters, pacing, plot, setting, dialogue, and more, it seems there are a thousand and one ways to go wrong. Why even start?

In the wonderful article, author Jane Anne Straw write about how she overcame writer’s block with poetry. Poetry allowed her to think small and work in manageable portions.

I am a huge advocate of thinking small because big projects easily stress me. But if I work on a small series of goals that lead to a large one, the large goal seems much more doable.

This was how I reconciled writing for the YA audience. I wrote about my problem in “Know Your Audience!” which has appeared on other sites, but this is the first time I have posted it on my own website.

lego-1044891_1280“Know Your Audience!”

After I finished my YA Christian fiction novel and edited it a few hundred times, I looked into publishing it.  All agents and editors gave the same advice, “Know your audience!”

It seemed so overwhelming to me, getting to know the reading preferences of thousands of teen readers. But I dove into researching my audience and nearly drowned in discouragement.

Most YA Christian fiction is either romance or speculative fiction, which often breaks down into fantasies and dystopian fiction. My novel, set in contemporary West Virginia with crime elements and a male protagonist, seemed to have no place in the current publishing landscape.

But I continued my research. Eventually I realized that when it came to tailoring my novel to the YA audience, I had to understand what I can do and what I can’t do.

What I Can’t Do

I can’t write a romance or speculative fiction novel. This is not a case of lack of confidence or fear of stretching my skills. Some things I just can’t do, like flying or running faster than my teenage nephew.

I don’t read romance. I know none of the rules of the genre and would give myself and any future readers unspeakable nightmares if I wrote one. I do like some speculative fiction but don’t have the imagination to create something fresh. Anything I wrote would easily be identified as a collision of Middle-earth, Star Trek, and Narnia.

What I Can Do

Even if I don’t write romance or speculative fiction, I could learn from them and see if those lessons could apply to my novel.

One reason I believe speculative fiction is so popular is because writers can pack in a lot of action sequences. My novel needed more of them, so I added two scenes and made sure they were reasonable within my setting.

Another reason is that both genres appeal to emotions. Will the girl get the boy when his family is prejudiced against her? Will the teen rebels save the world from the evil tyrant?

My novel has high stakes for my characters, which leads to many emotions. Will Junior Lody keep his family of eight siblings together after their aunt who has raised them dies and the sheriff is determined to tear them apart? Since I write from Junior’s viewpoint, it’s easy to let readers experience and identify with Junior’s fear, rage, triumphs, and more.

Best Audience Analysis

lego-2158115_1280The best way to get to know my audience was to let real live teens read my novel. They filled out a one-page questionnaire for me. Because one boy said I had too much exposition at the beginning, I examined my first chapters and saw I could lop off the first two and start with the action in the third.

And I discovered something else. I can’t write to please thousands of readers. But when I see my future readers as individuals, like the teens who critiqued my book, Amanda and Andy and James and Brooke, I feel compelled to go beyond my best. I am still getting to know my audience — one reader at a time.

How do you handle writing anxiety?

Writing Tip — Favorite Poem


With the opening lines and a style of illustration unique in picture books, I was drawn into The Magic Woodan adult poem by British writer Henry Treece. Barry Mozer uses only blue and black for the illustrations, sprinkling in sparks of gold to highlight certain elements in the picture, like eyes or a gold ring. This palette conveys the dread and danger the narrator ignores when he enters the wood at night. The sense of dire consequences is apparent in every picture.

But the poem has an upbeat ending. I read it as a Christian parable. The wood is temptation, and the narrator takes his first steps into giving in to it when he ventures inside. The strange creature he meets tries to entice him further. But when he senses danger, he says prays and rushes to the safety of his family’s land.

The poem is an example of stanzas written in rhymes or near rhymes. Although I usually don’t like that style, the poem does have a rhythm, which makes it fun to read out loud to kids.

Mr. Treece wrote five books of poetry. I’ve tried to read them. He has great skill in establishing a mood of loss and darkness, but a little of that goes a long way with me. If I read too much of it, I get depressed.

So test your taste for Mr. Treece’s poems with The Magic Wood. Maybe you will be captured by it like I was.

What are some of your favorite poems?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts

swanw-2494939_1280Write an acrostic poem to celebrate spring. Acrostic poems are great way to introduce poetry to kids since they don’t have to worry about rhyming. Last spring, I helped a group of elementary school children write a book of acrostic poems. One of my kids was part of the group and wrote about a sure sign of spring: Turkey vultures.

California has swallows, but here in the Midwest, we have turkey vultures. Or buzzards, as I like to call them. These birds return from South America during the last week of February or the first week of March. As soon as their big, black silhouettes appear in the sky, we know spring is one the way.

Below are my oldest’s vulture poem and mine for April. Please share your acrostic poem to spring in the comments.


Up in the sky.

Lots of vultures migrating on

The coast of South America. They come

Up from South America.



crocus-1753790_1280After Easter, being

Pelted with snow



Leave, winter!

Think spring!





Writing Tip — Writing in Time

forwardw-3181875_1280Looking over the calendar, I find April may be more boring than March this year. With its two major holidays, Easter and April Fool’s Day, coming on the first day, there’s not much to look forward to in the rest of the month. But my kids’ spring break occurs in this month, and the weather in April present possibilities.

April Fool’s Day: The holiday presents a great situation for humorous, middle grade fiction. Maybe a competition between kids to see who can fool the most people. Or maybe a family could be engaged in playing practical jokes on each other.

Spring Break: A trip always has a lot of potential for storytelling. Whether it’s a family trip, a mission trip, trip of college kids, or retirees, the process of traveling in the spring can be exploited for both comic and dramatic effect. This year, my kids and I are traveling with my sister and her kids in their van to visit another sister seven hours away. By the time we get back, I may have more inspiration than I can handle

Storms: Where I live, in a temperate climate, April is the first month of the year when we usually experience thunderstorms. Storms are a great plot twist or metaphor. As a metaphor, a storm can mirror dueling emotions, desires, or ambitions inside one character. It can also underline the conflict between two characters or more characters. The storm can be a twist to heighten the tension between characters or force them to survive and reveal their strength and weaknesses.

How would you use April as a setting?


Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts

narrativenp-794978_1280To celebrate National Poetry Month, most of the posts this month will be about poetry. To learn more about how to celebrate, check out the site for National Poetry Month.

Your spark is to share any poem you have written. Here’s mine. It’s a haiku that a character in my novel writes.

The rain pours and pours

So nobody sees the tears

Pour into the mud.

Please share a poem of your own in the comments below. Enjoy!



Writing Tip — Plot

easterw-1443348_1280Easter contains so many themes to inspire stories. Last year I wrote about how the drama of Holy Week could be adapted for a storyline. This year I wanted to focus on the theme of resurrection which leads to change.

Pretending to kill off a character only to have him return may be the most dramatic plot twist a writer can use. One of my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories is “The Empty House”. In it, Holmes reveals to Watson that he didn’t die battling Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf the Grey’s resurrection as Gandalf the White is a major plot point.

Survival stories are a good way to use the resurrection theme without it seeming contrived. The extreme demands of a hostile environment on a character provide reasons for the character to reevaluate her life and, if she lives, to return to her old life changed for the better or worse.

I love survival stories, both fiction and nonfiction. In January, I featured the story of  Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica, one of history’s epic survival stories. I recently watched a little-known survival movie from 1953 that is a great example of how the struggle to survive changes the main character.

In Infernoa wealthy husband and wife and the husband’s business partner are traveling on horseback in the Mojave desert, looking for a mineral deposits. When the husband falls and breaks his legs, the wife and partner say they will send help. But instead, they mislead the authorities with a false trail, leaving the husband to die. The husband becomes determined to make it back to civilization and exact his revenge.

Because the husband is alone, we learn his thoughts through voice–over narration and can follow the change in his character. The actor portraying husband, Robert Ryan, is so skilled that his expressions and body language perfectly accompany his narration. (It’s also a great visual example of the writing concept “Deep POV” but that’s for another post.)

How can Easter inspire your writing?



Writing Tip — Character Names

hellow-1502386_1280I love finding just the write names for my characters, and if I need unusual names, myths can offer a gold mine of potential. Below are list of more obscure names from several different mythologies.

But  keep in mind the cardinal rule of character names: Names Must Be Pronounceable. If a name is too difficult to sound out, readers will substitute something familiar or simply bleep over it. I like the name “Koschei”, a villain in a Slavic myth, but have no idea how to pronounce it correctly. If I used it, I would have to adapt it for English readers. Maybe “Koschay”?

Greek and Roman Names
  • Atalanta
  • Meander
  • Dido
  • Alecto
  • Evander
  • Nisus
  • Marsyas
  • Thetis
  • Arion
  • Leander
  • Cadmus
  • Maia
  • Nysa
Norse Names
  • Sif
  • Idun
  • Galar
  • Brokk
  • Alvis
  • Gerd
  • Thiazi
  • Skadi
Celtic Names
  • Balor
  • Bran
  • Branwen
  • Bres
  • Dagda
  • Morrigan
  • Caradoc
  • Finntan
  • Korrigan
  • Mael Duin
  • Nemed
  • Nuada
  • Veleda
Central and Eastern Europe
  • Sadko
  • Morevna
  • Perun
  • Mati Syra
  • Kurent

If you need to create original names for characters, where do you find inspiration?


Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts

rabbitw-3249427_1280Since I’ve been writing about myths, an interview with the Easter Bunny seemed appropriate. So what would you ask the Easter Bunny?

Reporter: So what is your exciting announcement about expanding your operations?

Easter Bunny: I have decided to increase my market share by delivering candy on other holidays. Halloween doesn’t really have a mascot. That market is ripe for taking over.

Reporter: The Halloween Bunny?

Easter Bunny: I was thinking more like the Halloween Hare.

Please share your ideas in the comments below. Have fun!

Writing Tip — Mythology

king-arthurw-2448042_1280When someone says Zeus or Ares or Thor, most Americans can produced a mental picture because Greek and Norse mythology are fairly well known and have been adapted to popular culture. But many people don’t realize how much Celtic mythology has worked its way into American culture. King Arthur, leprechauns, and banshees are all part of Celtic mythology.

IMG_0275If, like me, you don’t know much about Celtic mythology, The Book of Celtic Myths by Adams Media is a great place to start.  The myths related in the book concern those found in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and Brittany. Because the Celts only used writing after the Romans conquered them, and then not often, historical and archaeological evidence is used to understand the myths.

The books describes origins myths, the major gods and goddesses, heroes, and epic stories. As the Celts converted to Christianity, their gods morphed into the the fairy folk, like banshees, leprechauns, sellkies, and other mischievous or malevolent creatures that people had to be careful to avoid.

Celtic fantasy is already a sub-genre of fantasy, and King Arthur and his knights, originally from Wales, is a sub-sub-genre. But I think aspects of this mythology can be worked into a speculative fiction story set in contemporary times.

The Four Hallows

These four objects possessed unparalleled power in Celtic myths.

  1. The Sword of Light: Belonging to Nuada, an Irish god. None could escape it.
  2. The Invincible Spear: Belonging to the Irish sun god Lugh. It never missed.
  3. The Cauldron of Bounty: Belonging to the Irish god, the Dagda. It was “a source of endless sustenance.”
  4. The Stone of Destiny: This stone “would cry out when walked over by the true king of Tara”, which would make him the high king of Ireland. Some think the Stone of Scone, which now resides in Scotland, was the original Stone of Destiny.

In a speculative fiction story, I could say that these four objects aren’t supernatural but the product of ancient Celtic technology that taps into dark matter. Descendants of the Celts have kept the four objects safe, passing them on to four people, specially chosen from each generation, to use them to serve humanity.

Or a team of archaeologists is looking for them, believing them to be real, and must find the four hallows before an evil billionaire or government spies can locate them.

Fantastic Voyages

“Imram” is the Celtic word for the heroic journey. Three tales of this kind, much like The Odyssey, exist in Celtic myth. The “Voyage of Mael Duin, the Voyage of St. Brendan, and The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Riagla” qualify as imram stories.

Mael Duin begins his quest to avenge his father’s death. St. Brendan sets out as penance for burning a book. A similar tale could be told in contemporary times of a hero or heroine starting out on a journey with a specific goal, maybe searching for a lost relative. The heroine could travel to a distant country or explore the subcultures of her own country, any place where she would be an outsider. She could acquire and lose companions, meet unusual people and situations, all within a realistic setting.

Which ideas appeal to you, the four hallows or the fantastic voyage? Or is there some other part of Celtic mythology that sparks your imagination?


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