Other writers have asked me how I get so much writing, blogging, etc. done. This often makes me feel like a fraud—I don’t feel like I’m doing very well. Comparison can be a dangerous thing. Someone is always more successful or less so than we are, at whatever we think of as success.
But I am committed to writing. Whether I sell it or not is a different subject. However, let’s discuss what works for me.
First, set aside time. I’m very blessed to not have to work full time. That means I get up in the morning and write, or do writing related business. Let me explain the latter since it comes in many forms. It could be research for a project or for finding an agent or editor, catching up on reading newsletters or blogs focused on writing, working on a student lesson, submitting or querying projects, updating spreadsheets, critiquing for a client or work to find a client, etc. It often includes time spent on social media, although it’s easy to get sidetracked with that so I try to limit it. I also volunteer for a writing organization and may spend some time on that.
The writing part can be fiction or short nonfiction and is 99% of the time done on a keyboard. If I’m in the midst of a novel, that’s usually the most compelling project for me to approach. Nonfiction usually includes blog posts for both of my sites, plus occasional articles for pay. On my writing for children site, I also do book recommendations. Of course, writing any of these can require me stopping to research a needed fact or two. This is another place I can get sidetracked... Whatever I’m writing, I may be at the getting words down part or revising what I already wrote.
After lunch I return to the computer to do one or more of the above. This schedule is normal five days a week. Saturdays, I may write, or I may do family things. Sundays, we meet with our local church and usually rest and relax the rest of the day.
However, I know many others who write after their full-time job is done for the day. They write in the evening and on weekends. Maybe on lunch breaks. So, if you’re working another job, don’t despair that you can’t also make progress on your writing. If you only writes 1000 words a week, that’s 50,000+ words in a year.
Second, I’ve given up other things. I used to sew and do a few handcrafts. I haven’t done them in many, many years. Instead, I write. I used to do scrapbooking—I’d like to say I do it occasionally but can’t remember the last time I did so. Yes, of course, I read books—mainly in the genres I write. I even watch TV via Netflix or watch a movie in the evening. I spend time with friends—mainly my fellow writers—and family. And of course, I cook, clean, do laundry, pay bills in partnership with my husband. (Our children are grown.)
Third, I’ve made a commitment to myself to write. What helps me stay committed? Love of the written word. Habit. Meeting with other writers. A regular critique group motivates to bring something to share. A scheduled writing time makes me show up with computer in hand and usually a project in mind. As Tony Fahkry says, “Success requires discipline, hard work, perseverance, tenacity, will, courage and faith.” Until I read that quote, I hadn’t thought much about the faith part. Yes, I believe I’m doing what God would have me do. But I have faith that my writing is worth something as well.
Here is another writer’s story on being committed: “Three powerful lessons from my 2017 Writing Challenge.”
Your path won’t look like mine or hers. But it’s amazing how deciding to commit to writing makes being committed to writing easier.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
I attended a program put on by the Clinic for Special Children in Strasburg, PA, where I learned about hereditary diseases that affect only Amish and Mennonite children at birth. That might not seem like a very romantic start for a love story, but once I pictured an Amish midwife delivering a baby at home and added an Englisch (non-Amish) doctor who opposes home births and natural medicine, the story took off.
How long did it take you to write this book?
The Amish Midwife’s Secret is book 2 in the Love & Promises series, so my due dates were 6 months apart. I didn’t have the full time to write it because I took off on a 3-week mission trip to Africa in October and also had Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday travel during that time. Then in March, I spent two weeks in England and Scotland on a children’s literature tour. I tried to get some writing in, but with so many scheduled activities, I could only write late at night.
Tell us about your revisions…
I have to confess that I basically turned in a first draft to my editor after a quick read-through and making the corrections my Amish beta reader suggested.
When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
Actually, my agent sold this 3-book series on a proposal. I came up with three blurbs and wrote three sample chapters. My agent read it and made a few suggestions for changes.
Obviously, this isn’t the usual process for fiction when you’re starting out. When I sold my first series to a different publisher, it was a more involved process, so I’ll detail that below.
What happened along the way in your submission process?
Before I got my first fiction contract, I wrote several inspirational novels in what I hoped would be a series. I took the first 10 pages to the Oregon Christian Writers conference and signed up for editor appointments. Unfortunately, all three agents said the book I’d written was too dark and angsty for the inspirational market (I think that’s changed now).
One agent, Mary Sue Seymour said she really liked my voice, and we chatted about my life and goals as a writer. When she found out I lived near Lancaster, PA, and had spent time with the Amish, she asked if I’d ever considered writing Amish romances. She said if I ever decided to, I could send her a query and synopsis. Now most people who get an offer like that would jump on it right away, but I didn’t. I was busy writing educational books, mostly work for hire, and I had tight deadlines. Yet I still dreamed of writing fiction.
Five years later (Yes, 5!! So, if you get an opportunity or a revise/resubmit, don’t panic and rush through it.), I sent her the synopsis. She not only remembered me, she wrote back and gave me detailed suggestions for making the synopsis stronger.
Once again, she warned me that my ideas were too dark and had me cut out a death I thought was central to the story. I really struggled with that, but I followed her instructions. Now I’m glad I did, because that character became the heroine in the second book in the Sisters & Friends series (Buried Secrets), and many people have told me that’s their favorite story.
When I finally finished the synopsis to her satisfaction, she told me to go ahead and write the book. This is a rather backward process, but it worked. I’d send her several chapters, and she’d tell me if I was heading in the right direction. It took about 8 months until I turned in the 85,000 words she’d requested.
I sent it to her right before Christmas, and she asked for extra time to read it. In January, she sent it back with edits – 2 words changes and a 1-paragraph addition – BUT she thought it would work better for the category market. Would I be willing to cut it to around 60,000-65,000 words?
Gulp! Cutting 20,000 words was torture, but I did it and sent it back. A few days later, she emailed to say she’d sent it out on sub. I didn’t even have time to get nervous, but waiting was difficult.
When and how did you get the offer on your book?
The book went out in February, and we had our first interest in March. The book needed to go to committee, etc. and while that long process played out over almost two months, we got another offer. The advance was good for a first novel, and they wanted a 3-book deal, so I had to come up with two more book ideas right away. There was only one hitch.
They wanted the books to be 75,000 words. Acckk! You’d think I could just go back to the original manuscript and add some words back in, but no, I’d changed the story so much none of that would fit. And I couldn’t just shoehorn in extra description and pad the manuscript. I had to go back and write it again from the beginning. They also had a few things they wanted me to take out or change, so I worked on the story for a few months (along with attending grad school and working full time).
I turned it in to my agent in July and was thrilled when she emailed a deal memo for the Sisters & Friends series in early August. After we hammered out some details, I finally signed the contract in October.
Since then, I’ve been blessed to sign several other contracts for Amish novels and series, including a 6-book contract with Kensington.
Tell us about the editorial process…
I detailed the editorial process for my first novel in the previous question. After all that back-and-forth, it seemed strange to send my editor the first draft of The Amish Midwife’s Secret.
My editor emailed listing the changes she wanted:
In addition to sending a detailed email and Track Changes in the manuscript, my editor likes to follow up with phone call. I’m an introvert, so phone calls always make me nervous. I’d be happy to work from the emails and skip the call.
After the first round of big-picture edits, I often get second-pass edits to clean up a few things that need to be clarified. Then the book heads to the copyeditor, who picks up on little details and inconsistencies. Next, the proofreader does a final pass for typos. From there, it goes to galleys. I get a pdf version of the final book and need to read it for errors. Amazingly, I still find some.
Did you get to participate in the cover process? If yes, how?
Yes, I did, which I really appreciated. I was even invited to the photo shoots in New York, but unfortunately, I couldn’t attend any of them. My editor went and took snapshots for me.
For my other books, I just filled out a sheet with some basic information about the hero and heroine’s looks, and I included pictures of the clothing, hairstyles, and other details to be sure they were correct. After that I had no input; they just sent the final cover design. Although I love all my covers, not all the covers have authentic outfits or hairstyles.
With Hachette/Grand Central, though, I provided detailed directions about the clothing, and they followed it exactly. I even sent my Amish friend’s heart-shaped kapp (headcovering) for all 3 book covers in this series. It makes me so happy to see that all the major details are correct, and I think they created gorgeous covers.
How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand or on screen (e-book)?
For this series, Grand Central made the offer in January 2017 (we also had another offer for the series, so my agent negotiated with both, and we went with the best deal). I signed the contract in March 2017, and the first book came out April 2018.
What marketing are you doing for this book?
I have an interview with USA Today, a brief TV appearance, and a radio show. My street team is reading the book and will review and help promote it. I have two blog tours scheduled, as well as quite a few guest blogs set up. I have 6 in-person book events coming up. Unfortunately, with this novel releasing so close to winter, I didn’t set up many book signings. I’ll do more when book 3, The Amish Widow’s Rescue, comes out in March 2019.
Instead, I’m doing a lot of online events. I have shared book parties with other inspirational authors. I’m part of a lot of book giveaways, especially for the holidays. I’m interacting with several online book clubs and will do some in-person and Skype book events.
For me, Facebook is where my target market can be found, so I try to interact a lot on there with my readers. Before each book releases, I hold an Amish Life series in a private Facebook group, Rachel J. Good’s Hitching Post. Anyone who’s interested in learning more about the Amish or wants to hear about the unusual things I discovered while researching for the book is welcome to join. I’ve talking about Amish herbal medicine, Amish pregnancies, babies and midwives, the Special Clinic for Children, and other fun details. The last session was held Monday, November 26 at 8 PM EST, but readers can stop by any time to read the posts.
Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
Persistence is the key in this business. Although I’m mainly talking about my triumphs here, these came after many years of struggle and discouragement. I’ve found over the years that it’s not necessarily the best writers who get published, but the ones who keep picking themselves up and moving on. And even after you get an agent and a book contract, it isn’t all an uphill climb.
Publishers close down lines, books get remaindered, and agents die. All of those have happened to me. At the time it seems all is dark, but I’ve discovered that if I keep plodding ahead and trusting God, I find new publishers (even ones willing to take on orphaned books), and a wonderful new agent. And here I want to give a shout-out to my agent, Nicole Resciniti, who’s done some amazing things for my career.
Where can you be found online?
Newsletter sign-up: http://bit.ly/1qwci4Q
Where can your books be purchased? (Please include links.)
Other retailers: https://books2read.com/u/bWzJoY
*Walmart, Sam’s Club, Meier’s, and Barnes & Noble carry them. If they aren’t there, you can ask them to order them in.
I’ve known many people from different backgrounds, ethnic groups, skin color, languages, etc., but I’m not them. I can observe what it’s like for them from the outside, but will not have an accurate view of the inside. Since I’m of the dominate culture, I don’t KNOW what it’s like for them as non-dominate, and therefore, should not write from their viewpoint.
This is a concept that wasn’t even considered until recently. I know I hadn’t. When I was a child, we played “cowboys and Indians”—even my own children dressed up as both over twenty years ago. From my childhood, I remember the story of Little Black Sambo (and the restaurant) along with classics such as The Jungle Book. I was raised to believe prejudice was wrong, but was blind to see how people were still having their lives stolen in literature and TV and movies. That has changed for me. Here’s a great article on the topic: “Don’t dip your pen in someone else’s blood: writers and ‘the other’” by Kit de Waal.
A TV show I’ve been watching recently has shown me “the great white savior” concept is still alive and kicking. Even though I like the characters, I keep waiting for the nonwhites to solve the problem, not the white guy. Hasn’t happened. Sigh.
Conversations about this at conferences, in online groups, etc. have made me rethink. I have some stories I wrote 20-25 years ago that will remain in the drawer. I have some stories written as recently as a few years ago that need altering before I can sell them.
Does that mean I can’t have multicultural characters in my stories? Of course not. However, my main characters will be white like me. And I’ll want sensitivity readers for my nonwhite characters.
What are your thoughts?
I was given a wooden sign that states, “Don’t judge a book by its movie.” I love it because most often movies don’t do justice to books. But recently I started watching a TV series that is better than the book series. I won’t name titles or author; however, I think the issues I discovered are good for writers to ponder.
First, the books. They are by an author I like. I probably have 15 of her books. I’ve reread the books a number of times. But, this one series, I didn’t like as well as the others, although I didn’t know why. I haven’t reread them in at least twenty years, and meanwhile, have learned a lot about writing.
Second, the TV series based on the book series. I started watching with only vague memories of the books. There were lots of interesting characters, beautiful setting, and most importantly, I cared about the main characters. The shows aren’t perfect, but I enjoyed them so much I binge watched. In fact, I reached the end that was available on Netflix.
I wanted more, so I decided to reread the books. They are short and therefore quick reads. I’ve only reread the first book, but was disappointed. The love story, perhaps the main point of the story, was too easy and too quick. She’s interested in him, but he’s not the marrying type. She can’t forget him. They are put in circumstances to see each other a few times and enjoy each other’s company. We barely see him doing anything—like his job. Then she is in danger and he helps her. He also kisses her. Next, the man lies by saying he has no feelings for her and so she plans to leave the area. He stops her and confesses his lie, tells her he does love her, and asks her to marry him. She says yes. Story over.
By contrast, in the TV series, we have the same “she’s interested in him, but he’s not the marrying type,” and she’s annoyed, but not a woman waiting for a man. In fact, she’s dedicated to her work and that’s more important to her. Yes, circumstances push them to deal with each other. They enjoy each other at some level. We see him doing his job. They actually work together for the good of the community. They have some arguments. When they eventually decide mutually that they are interested in each other, they agree to take it slow. We see them learning more about each other. They actually go on some dates. They have troubles and disagreements which they work out. He doesn’t ask her to marry him until sometime in the fourth season.
So, what do I think is the difference between the two? What makes the TV series stronger?
The TV series takes a much deeper look at the main characters. And secondary characters are there for more than the convenience of the main characters. They have lives and problems of their own and we see that.
In the show he helps her out, but less of a rescue “the damsel in distress” situation as in the book. Sometimes she helps him, too. She also accomplishes amazing things on her own. So does he. Both are strong in their own ways. Both take action.
Sense of Reality
The characters, circumstances, and problems feel more real and believable in the show versus the book. Their relationship is not too easy in the former. And it took time, like for most of us in real life.
The TV series has more humor. The two main characters get themselves in trouble by saying and doing awkward things. Especially with each other. And sometimes can’t figure out what he or she did wrong.
Will I reread the rest of the book series? No. Will I watch more of the series when it becomes available? Yes.
So, in our fiction writing, we need character depth, agency, a sense of reality, and a dash of humor for books readers will want to read again and again.
I often tell my students to “show, don’t tell”—and for good reason. Showing is how we can make scenes come alive. Telling is talking about something. Showing is putting the reader on scene. Joyce Rachelle says, “It's always easier to tell people that a character is funny rather than attempt to hit the punchline of a joke that character would've said.”
Let me give some examples of telling and showing:
My dog growled when the man approached the car, so I rolled up my window.
My American Eskimo balanced his front paws against the panel below the passenger door window. His back paws danced on my lap.
I laughed. “Quinn, your feet are hard on my legs.”
He wagged his tail at my words. His black nose quivered at the scents the breeze carried through the open window. A woman and two kids hurried past our parked car and Quinn wagged again. Same with a couple men going by on the sidewalk.
I glanced toward the store my husband had gone into.
Quinn stilled, and growled.
A man walked up to our window. “Hey, could you spare a couple bucks?”
Quinn growled again. Shaking my head, I rolled up my window.
So, what’s different between the two? The first is a summary. The second has sensory details, dialogue, and action. There are specifics. You know the kind of dog and that he is friendly. You know we were waiting in a parking lot with at least one store. You know I’m married and my husband is inside a store. You know why the man approached me. And look at the active verbs not used in the telling: balanced, danced, wagged, quivered, carried, hurried, glanced, stilled, walked.
Here’s another example.
We lost the cat in the hotel room, but finally found him.
After we showered and dressed, I put our black cat Salem in one carrier, while my husband looked for our white cat. In the previous hotel Toes had hidden under an easy chair.
“I don’t see him.” Don let the room-darkening drapes fall back against the window.
I lifted up the blanket and duvet on my side of the bed. “He’s not over here.”
“And he’s not behind the dresser, the TV, or in the bathroom.”
I frowned. “How could we have lost a cat in a hotel room?”
Don’s eyebrows drew together. “I have no idea.”
“Kitty, kitty, kitty,” I called.
Salem in his carrier meowed. But nothing from Toes.
Come on, I thought. We need to get on the road. “Could he be under the bed?” I asked.
Don shook his head. “No, it’s a solid platform. Maybe he got down behind it.” He pulled the mattress away from the wall. “Nope. No space.” Then he saw the small opening in the fabric of the platform. “Hand me my flashlight.”
I pulled the flashlight out of the outside pocket of our suitcase and gave it to him.
After shining light inside the platform box, Don said, “I can see him. Back in the far corner.”
“How on earth are we going to get him out?!”
Note in this example there’s some summary written at the beginning: “we showered and dressed.” Those are everyday things where the details aren’t important or necessary to this story and is “telling.” The cat being lost and how we found him is “shown.” It includes some thoughts. And hopefully it left you wondering, how did we get Toes out? The answer: Don picked up the platform and shook the cat down to the opening where I grabbed him! For fiction, I would raise the stakes by making it urgent we got the cat out.
Jerry Jenkins says, “When you tell rather than show, you simply inform your reader of information rather than allowing him to deduce anything.” What can a reader deduce from my second example? That I’m puzzled, and a bit frustrated. I didn’t need to say, “How on earth are we going to get him out?!” I asked with frustration. “With frustration” would be telling on top of showing. A reader can deduce my frustration about the lost cat. What about the first example? How did I feel about the man who approached my window? Wary, distrustful. I showed that by rolling up my window. I didn’t state it, but felt if my little dog didn’t like him, there was something wrong and so I moved to protect myself.
R. Michael Burns says, “Provoke emotion through character reactions and vivid writing.” I still remember reading a scene from a book by Mary Stewart when I was a teen. The author’s description of a character’s meal that satisfied the character made me, the reader, hungry for that filet mignon. (Just like the juice from the steak in the above image makes my mouth water!)
I like this definition of telling: “it's a little more removed from the immediate experience of the moment.” – Emma Darwin
Use telling for summaries. E.g. The set up: Jay is a main character who was in a car accident. The reader experienced the accident with Jay. Now the man is home. He might open the conversation like this: “I’m afraid my pickup is totaled.” Jay told his wife what had happened. “Hearing” the details of the accident again would be boring for the reader. Some new aspects may be revealed in dialogue and reactions, and those are worth sharing. E.g. “I knew you shouldn’t have driven tonight.” LeAnne sighed.
Use telling for transitions. E.g. Four hours later, we stopped for lunch. OR He drove all day. A reader doesn’t need a blow by blow of driving on a freeway, hour after hour, where not much happens. Telling often has a time composite. Both of these examples do. It can be longer—days, weeks, months. Use telling in those places everyone wants to skip.
I’ll end with this quote about showing: “Create a world in front of your readers where they can taste, smell, touch, hear, see, and move. Or else they are likely going to move on to another book.” ― Pawan Mishra
My husband read a recipe aloud because he found the above words in the ingredients list. It made us laugh. We assumed it should say “crushed Cajun nuts”—so crushed spicy nuts. But if it hadn’t been a recipe, would it really be funny? Recently I’ve become aware by several Facebook groups how some of the terms we use jokingly can be offensive to others. They include “nuts,” “crazy,” “psycho,” etc.
Robert Spencer said, “’Crazy’ has been a word to portray those who suffer with mental illness as dangerous, weak, unpredictable, unproductive and incapable of rational behavior or relationships.” In his article, “Don’t Call Me Crazy,” he talked about how the definition should be changed. Read more here. And this article, “6 Reasons ‘Crazy’ Is Never A Thing You Should Call Someone – Regardless of Their Behavior” goes into more details why the word shouldn’t be used so casually.
Unfortunately, I found 12 instances of the word “crazy” in my novel published in 2016. Only one didn’t refer to what people were feeling, saying, thinking, or doing. Wow!
Language is always changing, and it is easy to resist change. But I think as writers we have a responsibility to consider making changes in what we write even when it is fiction. Even when it’s dialogue or thoughts of our characters.
Obviously, I doubt any writer is going to know all terms that are offensive to others, but if we don’t have open discussions, we won’t learn them. If you’d like to discuss this or other terms, feel free to do so in comments and I’ll reply.
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.