The Breathe Writers Conference

Last weekend I was at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference. It was my fifth year attending and my third as a speaker. (I shared tips on getting started as a writer and how to use WordPress.)

Breathe is simply the finest writers conference I’ve ever attended. And this year it was the biggest one yet and, in my opinion, the best ever.

Breathe is full of inspiring presentations, informative workshops, networking opportunities, helpful people, nurturing situations, and great food. Aside from all this, the best part for me is talking with people. Some I meet for the first time, others I reconnect with each year, and many who I communicate with throughout the year but only see at the conference. Each year my list of friends who I see at Breathe grows.

At Breathe, we’re able to celebrate finished books, agents procured, book deals, and published books. More importantly, however, is those who don’t realize such grand results are not reduced or left languishing but are encouraged to persist.

Writing is a lofty calling and Breathe is a valuable resource to help us become what we yearn to become. Breathe is my “can’t miss” writers conference each year, and I hope you’ll make it yours.

Next year’s conference is October 9-10 in Grand Rapids Michigan.

What did you like about Breathe? What other writers conferences have you attended?

How to Blog Your Fiction Book

Last week we discussed ways to connect our blog with our book, which works well for memoir and nonfiction but not so much for fiction. While the vision is clear to blogging a memoir or nonfiction work, it’s murky when it comes to fiction.

With fiction, we can’t simply blog excerpts from our book because we will either end up posting the complete book online or leave readers frustrated over gaps in the story. Besides, who wants to read an entire book in blog length sections? Doling out the story in too small of segments, over too long of time, will fail to engage readers.

That doesn’t mean fiction writers can’t connect their blog with their book. Though I’ve not written a fiction book (yet), here are some blog ideas to consider.

  • Blog about the era: If the novel takes place in a different time, be it past or future, blog about the period. For historical settings, you have researched this thoroughly, so reveal what you’ve learned. For futuristic novels, share about the world you’ve created.
  • Blog about the location: If the story takes place in another country – or another world – give details about the setting.
  • Share deleted scenes: Just as movie DVDs often have deleted scenes, your book likely has scenes you didn’t use. Share these with your fans. Do they wish the deleted scene stayed in the book? The one caution is if you want to save the unused scenes for a sequel.
  • Disclose character profiles: Most novelists write character profiles for the protagonist and antagonist, as well as for supporting characters. It’s rare to use all those details in your book, so share the complete profile on your blog.
  • Reveal more backstory: Often there is background information, which although interesting, doesn’t move the story forward. Blogging unused backstory is one more way to engage readers and build excitement for your book.
  • Post short stories about your characters: Have you ever finished a book and wanted to read more about the main characters? Or perhaps discover more about an interesting but ancillary character? Short stories can fill that need in readers, building interest in the book without revealing too much.

The timing on when to post these ideas varies. Some work great as pre-publication buildup, whereas others lend themselves to post-publication promotion. The key is that fiction writers can support their book with their blog.

Happy blogging.

What ideas would you add to the list?

How Can We Connect Our Blog with Our Book?

As writers we’re encouraged to blog. Our blog should be a platform-building, audience-enhancing tool. The rub is the time we spend blogging is time not spent on our book. Is there a way to do both at once?

Can We Blog Our Book? Assume we’ve written our book. We have a publishing deal and are marching towards our release date, or we are looking for an agent and publisher. Can we begin to post segments of our book to sell books, heighten anticipation, or gain attention? Yes, as long as we’re careful – and knowing that publishers will object if they think it will hurt sales.

Can We Book Our Blog? In this scenario, we start with our blog, write our book in small segments, and incrementally post them for the world to see. The benefits are receiving immediate feedback, honing our book’s concept and theme, discovering and correcting problems, and developing our voice. We hope a publisher (or agent) will stumble upon it, love our work, and offer us a book deal. Some writers have found success doing just that, but the majority of blog-to-book authors have not.

Be Careful: Of course, if we blog the entire book, why would a publisher want to produce it, and why would a reader want to buy it? This is a problem. A better solution is to blog some of our book, but we shouldn’t post all of it. Leave readers wanting more.

Blogging our book and booking our blog works best with memoir and lends itself well to nonfiction, but what about fiction? Can we blog our book if we’re writing fiction? The answer is “yes” and “no,” which I’ll cover next week.

Finding and Fostering Writing Ideas

Each week I write five blog posts. Each month I write one magazine article, three newsletter articles, two more blog posts, and usually one press release.

That’s a lot of writing, requiring a lot of ideas. Yet I never have writer’s block. Why is that? Because I’ve cultivated a method to discover and develop content ideas. So when it’s time to write, I already have an assortment of items to pick from.

Here’s what I do to keep stocked with ideas:

Maintain a List: When I had one or two writing projects in my queue, I kept a mental list of ideas. As the number of writing commitments increased, I needed to juggle more ideas, but my memory didn’t keep up, and I lost too many good ideas. Now I keep a written list in a Word document, with a heading for each blog or publication. Under each heading is a bullet list of content ideas, some of which are partially developed. This morning I had seven possible topics to pick from for this post. I chose the one that most resonated with me today and am now writing it.

Know When Inspiration Hits: Ideas are most likely to form when I first wake up. Now that I’m aware of that, I need to be ready to capture those ideas. If my computer isn’t close by, I jot a quick note before inspiration flees.

Understand Creative Situations: There are two instances when content ideas are likely to show up: during a nature walk and after watching a movie. While I’m not intentional about using these activities to generate ideas, I’m aware it could happen and am ready to listen.

Mentally Write: I often work ideas over in my mind before I write. For example, this morning I looked at my list and selected today’s topic – then I ate breakfast. The four points of this post materialized as I prepared and ate my food. The shower is another great place for me to mentally write, while bedtime is the wrong time as it stimulates my mind and chases away slumber.

This is what works for me – and works well. Each writer is different, so adapt these ideas to what works for you – and chase writer’s block away.

How to Literally Improve Our Writing

The word literally means that something actually happened. However, too often, people use literally as an intensifier, effectively meaning figuratively – quite opposite of the original meaning.

Consider, “He literally turned blue.”

We don’t interpret this as a man becoming Smurf-like or joining The Blue Man Group, but more likely that he was having great difficulty breathing or was quite envious (blue with envy, to be cliché).

In a strict sense, this is a misuse of the word. Unfortunately, so many people have misused literally for so long that dictionaries are beginning to reflect this misuse as now being acceptable.

This can result in confusion. For example, “He literally fell on the floor laughing.” Did this actually happen? I suppose it’s possible. More likely, he merely laughed really hard. But we can’t be sure.

As writers, we need to ensure our words are clear. So how should we use literally? Do we cling to tradition or follow the trend? I suggest we do neither, that the best response is to stop using literally. (Which is unfortunate, since I use it often – and always “correctly.”)

If we use it only in the traditional sense, some people will be unsure if our words are actual or hyperbole. Yet, if we embrace the new meaning, purists will decry our work as sloppy.

The best solution is to avoid it, literally.

News Release: Peter DeHaan to Speak at the 2014 Breathe Writers Conference

Seasoned Magazine Publisher and Editor to Hold Two Workshops for Writers

Sep 19, 2014Hudsonville, Mich.Author Peter DeHaan will speak at the 2014 Breathe Christian Writers Conference taking place October 10 and 11 in Grand Rapids Michigan. This year the event moves to a new location, the campus of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

“I’ve attended the Breathe Christian Writers Conference for the past five years and again have the opportunity to lead two workshops,” said magazine publisher Peter DeHaan. “I tell everyone The Breathe Christian Writers Conference is my ‘can’t miss’ writing event each year.”

Peter’s first workshop is “Ten Steps to Start (or Restart) Your Writing Career,” designed for new writers, those considering a writing career, and those who want to breathe new life into their work. It is an update of last year’s popular presentation, with new content and more information. “This is a great session for those who need a little encouragement to get started or a gentle nudge to get restarted,” stated Peter.

Peter’s second presentation “Getting Started with WordPress for Your Author Blog or Website,” applies to all writers at any level. “Every writer who wants to share his or her work and connect with readers must have a website; social media is not enough,” said DeHaan. “Using WordPress for your blog or website is easy, but a few pointers will save time and avoid wasted effort.” After attending Peter’s WordPress session, attendees will have the basic knowledge needed to start using WordPress or to improve what they already have. Peter also talked about this topic at the recent Grand Rapids WordCamp in August.

Peter DeHaan has been a magazine publisher and editor since 2001, but started writing four decades ago; he published his first article in 1983. Peter brings to Breathe the perspective of a seasoned writer, publisher, and editor.

The keynote speaker for this year’s two-day conference is New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Julie Cantrell. Julie will give two keynote addresses: “This One Life: Dare to defy the odds” and “Sink or Swim: Lessons learned from a head-first dive into publishing.”

In addition to Julie’s keynote addresses, the conference offers other general sessions, an array of workshops, plenty of networking opportunities, and time for informal social interaction.

Learn more about the Breathe Christian Writers Conference and Peter DeHaan.

How to Incrementally Improve Our Writing

One way to improve our writing is to write every day. Another method is to receive feedback from qualified sources. A third technique is to pick one new skill to study and master each week.

If we learn and then practice one new skill for seven days, it will become ingrained and begin to form a habit. Possible areas to consider are:

  • A writing technique
  • A punctuation rule
  • A vocabulary word
  • A spelling that trips us up
  • A style guide directive
  • A grammar tenet

Each of us needs to pick what to focus on, based on our weak areas. Some people struggle with punctuation or syntax, others with word choices or passive sentences. While I could pick something from any of these categories, my biggest deficiency is style guides.

Over the years, I’ve used every major style guide. Each one has rules that contradict other style guides. As a result, conflicting advice has muddled my mind. While some mavens can spout off the requirements for a particular situation from multiple guides, I struggle to comprehend just one. This week, I’ll work on colon usage, as covered in the Chicago Manual of Style.

What area do you need to work on? What new skill can you start this week?

The 2014 Breathe Christian Writers Conference

Last month I spoke about blogging at the Grand Rapids WordCamp. Next month I’ll again be speaking about blogging, this time at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference on October 10-11. The title of my Saturday presentation is “Getting Started with WordPress for Your Author Blog or Website.” In addition to my workshop on WordPress, there will be two other blogging sessions as well.

In another session, this one on Friday, I’ll talk about “Ten Steps to Start (or Restart) Your Writing Career.” This is an update of my well-received presentation from last year. In addition to my two presentations, there will be over thirty others to consider as well.

I invite you to attend the Breathe Christian Writers Conference to learn about writing. I hope to see you there, either to meet for the first time or to reconnect. Breathe is a great writing conference and my one “can’t miss” meeting every year.

If you’ve never attended a writers conference, please make Breathe be your first one; otherwise, I encourage you to add it to your agenda. Do this for yourself, your writing, and your career.

Are you considering going to Breathe this year? What other writing conferences do you attend?

What is the Only Rule of Writing That Really Matters?

Many writing teachers and coaches offer all manner of rules for optimum writing. Do this; don’t do that. Always include this one element; never use another. These rules make my head spin and threaten to paralyze my writing. Is it possible to compose even one sentence that doesn’t violate some critical principle?

Though I’ve given my share of recommendations, my goal is to offer suggestions not absolutes.

First, know that there are few unconditional imperatives in writing. Rules, as they say, are made to be broken. We just need to make sure we have a good reason when we do break them. Never deviate from convention just for the sake of rebelling.

Next, remember that all writing instruction is one person’s opinion, based on his or her perceptions, experiences, and training. Even when most people agree, surely other credible sources will disagree. Art, after all, is subjective.

Last, the trends and expectations of today will become tomorrow’s tedium. Remember, each new trend is the result of someone who opposed expectations.

There is only one true, unassailable rule in writing: keep your readers engaged. All else is secondary.

What writing rule irks you? Have you ever gone against a writing rule? What happened?

What is Your Writing Weakness?

As writers, we all have strengths and weaknesses. One person’s forte may be another person’s nemesis. It’s wise to know where we excel as writers and what trips us up.

For myself, I’m good at editing for length and ensuring a piece flows, something I do every day at work. I’m good at spotting needless words and pride myself in dialogue. Conversely, though I know the basics well, I’m still learning the intricacies of punctuation, am abysmal at spelling (which makes my love of crossword puzzles confounding), and struggle mightily with grammar.

As I relish my strengths, I strive to shore up my weaknesses. While I never expect to master grammar or win a spelling bee, I can do things to improve. To aid in my understanding of grammar, I follow the Grammar Girl; for spelling, I maintain a list of words that often trip me up. I also keep my shortcomings in mind when I give feedback to other writers, either not talking about what I’m not sure of or prefacing my comments with a disclaimer.

Not only should we assess our own abilities, but we should also be aware of the capabilities of those in our writing circles. After all, we are wise to esteem syntax advice from a grammar expert, but foolish to consider period placement from a punctuation novice. We need to not only evaluate the comments of our critique partners, but also factor in their mastery of that area.

This is one more step to writing well.

What are your writing strengths and weaknesses? Let’s look at both.