Stephanie Nickel

A Few of My Favorite Things by Steph Beth Nickel

This post first appeared on InScribe’s Blog on Writing

Have you hit a slump or do you just need a pick-me-up to inspire your writing? Here are a few of my favourite things:

A New Journal

A beautiful handcrafted leather cover or a whimsical cartoon character beckoning you to open a pristine new journal, full of nothing but potential … is there anything more inspiring—or terrifying? Tentatively, you grab your favourite pen (see below) and make that first mark on the page. And then you’re off to the races, sometimes writing at lightning speed, sometimes pausing and wondering if you’ll ever again write a coherent sentence. I have a love-hate relationship with my journals. Most often I assign a specific subject to each journal—and then end up using them as scrap paper because they’re at hand. I’m sure I’d be surprised at what I’d find if I took the time to read through old (and not-so-old) journals.

A Favourite Pen

For those of us who still like to write longhand—at least some of the time—we probably have our favourite type of pen. Some of us like fountain pens and are always on the lookout for the one that writes “just so.” For others it’s a classic like a Parker. (You can still get nice pen sets in stores such as Staples.) Personally, I’m a huge fan of Zebra Sarasa gel pens. They’re not extravagant. They don’t cost very much. But they write beautifully. I haven’t found another gel pen I like anywhere near as much. And they come in a wide variety of colours, which appeals to my artistic self.

The Internet

Can you even begin to image where we’d be without the Internet? I know I’d be lost without it. I use Bible Gateway to look up scripture verses. I use Pixabay to find images to create memes, to add visuals to my blog posts, and to create graphics for our midweek kids’ club. I use PicMonkey to add text to my photos and those I find on Pixabay. And of course I connect with clients and fellows creatives via email and social networks. I also take online courses to improve my writing skills. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The Library

Even though I love the Internet, I’m a huge fan of paying regular visits to the library. While I have hundreds of eBooks, I prefer physical books. And my favourite of all are hardbacks wrapped in plastic. I love the feel and the crinkling sound. Library books probably take me back to happy memories of childhood. Books and libraries have been my friends from way back. Do you pay regular visits to the local library?

A Crowded Coffee Shop

Granted, this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. (I couldn’t resist the pun. Admittedly, I didn’t try very hard.) At any rate, there is an exhilaration about taking your laptop or your notebook to a local coffee shop and writing. It’s almost cliché, but it’s one that’s likely going to be around for a long time. (As an extrovert, I love the idea, but I’m too easily distracted to make serious headway on a writing project when I’m surrounded by the sights and sounds—not to mention smells and tastes—that await me at Starbucks or Coffee Culture.)

A Smartphone

An app such as Evernote

Though I no longer have a smartphone, I did write my first guest post for Kimberley Payne on my phone when I had one. (Mind you, I think I would invest in a tablet before buying another smartphone.) For those of you who use an app such as Evernote, what do you like best about it?

A camera

I had a discussion with my nephew this past Christmas about the likelihood that phones with attachable lenses will replace DSLRs in the future. While I can’t see that happening (I love my Canon EOS), cameras on cell phones are getting better and are certainly good enough to snap a shot of that inspiring scene you want to write about.

Books, Books, Books, and More Books

Of course this goes without saying, but what list of writers’ resources would be complete without it? Author Susan Meissner says something interesting. She suggests reading more well-written books than skills development books. Rather than learning from how-to books, she believes we can pick up much that will make our own writing better (when applied) simply by reading authors who know how to apply those skills. What do you think?

Writing Courses

There are so many great online courses floating around cyberspace. I definitely don’t have time to take even a fraction of those that interest me. Taking a course may be something to consider doing annually, even a couple of times per year. Have you found any courses that were well worth the time and financial investment?

Critique Partners / Beta Readers

We all know that it can be unnerving to send our writing out into the world, but if we have a handful of trusted readers who will tell us what works—and what doesn’t—we can polish our blog, article, or manuscript before sending it off to potential publishers and / or agents. Finding critique partners we can count on is a tremendous blessing.

What resources do you especially love?

~*~

Steph Beth Nickel

12 Ways to Make the Write Resolution

The New Year is rapidly approaching and many of us will soon be setting our goals (aka resolutions) for 2016. Where is writing on your list? If you are reading this post, it’s likely close to the top.

Here are a dozen writing and writing-related goals you may want to include and tips on how to do so:

  1. Be on the lookout for inspiration.

Some people record ideas, snippets of conversation, random words and phrases, etc. in a notebook or on their electronic device. Make it a habit to do so. Don’t simply trust your memory; it’s amazing how quickly “that perfect idea” can vanish.

  1. Set up your writer’s nook.

What do you need around you when you write? Pictures of your family? A shelf of skills development books? A cozy corner with a comfortable chair, your journal, and a stash of gel pens? A clutter-free desk with only your laptop and a cup of your favorite beverage? The busyness of a crowded coffee shop? Create your perfect space and if at all possible, don’t do anything besides writing and writing-related tasks there.

  1. Enlist your support system.

If others take your writing seriously, you are more likely to as well. Explain to your family that you are going to set aside time every day (at least Monday through Friday) to write. Ask them to give you your space, only interrupting if it’s something that legitimately can’t wait. And from your end of things, don’t answer emails, the telephone, or the door during your writing time.

  1. Write every day.

Set aside a specific time every day to write and record the time in your planner and / or set an alarm on your cell phone to remind you—at least until it’s a habit.

  1. Set a specific writing goal.

Do you want to write a new blog post each week? A short ebook or novella for publication online every two to six months? A full-length novel or nonfiction book for print within the year? Break each task into bite-sized pieces and set deadlines for each piece.

  1. Read skills development books.

Read up-to-date books on general writing topics and on specifics that are of interest to you. You may want to read a new book every month or two. For most of us, that would be an achievable goal. Don’t forget to incorporate the skills you are reading about into your work.

  1. Read other books as well.

It’s amazing what you can learn about good writing just by reading a variety of books in a variety of genres. Read with a notebook on hand so you can record words / phrases / sentences that appeal to you. Jot down thoughts about what makes the writing amazing—or terrible. Learning opportunities are all around us.

  1. Enter writing contests regularly.

Entering contests is a great skills development exercise—even if you never win. You learn about writing with specific guidelines in mind. You learn about submitting on a deadline. There are countless contests you can research online. Just a word of caution . . . be sure that the contest sponsor is reputable.

  1. Join an online writing challenge.

I participate in OctPoWriMo (October Poetry Writing Month) and PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) each year. In October I write 31 poems and in November I come up with 30 ideas for picture books. I often attend Camp NaNoWriMo once or twice a year but have never participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), though I would like to do so one of these years. You can learn about these and other challenges online. Just type “writing challenge” into your search engine and see what catches your attention.

  1. Attend a writers’ conference or one-day workshop.

From skills development to networking . . . from inspiration to feeling understood . . . there’s nothing quite like hanging out with other writers and industry pros. Don’t feel intimidated. No matter how far along the path, every writer has more to learn. And every writer was a newbie at some point.

  1. Join or start a writers’ group.

I had the privilege of being one of the original four members of Women Writing for Christ. Over a decade later, we still meet monthly (except in the winter) and share the adventure of writing. We each write in different genres and for different audiences, but it is a wonderful opportunity to encourage one another. It’s a highlight of my month.

  1. Be patient with yourself.

Remember it takes time to develop new habits. Add one or two new goals each month. It’s much easier than trying to incorporate everything all at once.

Have a New Year overflowing with rich and abundant blessings!

~*~

Steph Beth Nickel

13 Steps To Narrowing Your Focus by Steph Beth Nickel

With the end of the year fast approaching—Can you believe it?—it’s time to narrow my focus. Below is some advice I’m giving myself.

 

  1. “Hello, my name is Stephanie and I am a Facebook addict.” I must, must, must severely limit my time on this and other social networks.

 

  1. I should complete each day’s tasks in order of importance. Too often I don’t expend the most energy on the tasks I would say have the highest priority—thereby, revealing my true priorities. Ouch!

 

  1. Because I’m eclectically interested, it’s easy to get distracted by other items on my To Do list. As much as possible, I must stick with one project until it’s complete, at least set a timer and work until it goes off.

 

  1. I must minimize distractions: close Internet windows, clear off my desk, refuse to walk away until the task is done or the timer goes off.

 

  1. Listening to upbeat, motivating music—without lyrics—keeps me motoring along. It helps me focus on the task at hand.

 

  1. I keep a pen and notebook handy to record what I need to do later. That way I won’t forget to do it, but I won’t be tempted to switch gears and do it when it crosses my mind.

 

  1. I will write or get busy editing in a more disciplined way. I won’t simply wait for inspiration to hit me upside the head.

 

  1. I am considering devoting each day to one or two projects rather than flitting from one thing to the next to the next.

 

  1. I will systematically get things done that have been on my Procrastination List for far too long.

 

  1. I will stop adding more writing how-to books to my Kindle and will actually start reading the dozens of physical and ebooks I already have.

 

  1. I will practice the art of being still and quiet. I don’t always have to be doing something—mentally or physically. This time does not, however, include watching TV, something I can waste far too many hours on.

 

  1. I must also exercise regularly. “I don’t wanna” followed by “do it anyway” is soon followed by “hey, why don’t I do that every day?”

 

  1. I think it would be best to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. This will eliminate the temptation to oversleep when I’m feeling bummed and help me develop a regular routine.

 

What steps would you find helpful? Any other suggestions?

~*~

Steph Beth Nickel

Time To Refocus by Steph Beth Nickel

What should someone like me write?

 

I love movies, from CG to sci-fi—and many genres in between.

 

I love television, from old sitcoms to crime dramas—and really, what else is there? (Just kidding . . . sort of.)

 

And given endless hours to read, I would almost always gravitate to novels—primarily, but not exclusively, Christian fiction. Both my physical and my virtual shelves are bending under the weight of unread volumes.

 

I even have an idea for a series of contemporary Christian novels bee-bopping  around in my head, the first of which is fairly well planned out.

 

But what have I written over the last number of years? I’ve co-authored a Paralympian’s memoir. I’ve written dozens of poems, hundreds of blog posts (beyond ROW80 check-ins), and recently, I’ve written and recorded over 50 devotionals for HopeStreamRadio.

 

Yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, I somehow have always thought that when I publish a novel, I’ll be “a real writer.”

 

Strange . . . because I don’t see other nonfiction writers as anything less than they are. There’s probably a whole psychological thing going on there, but that’s not what this post is about.

 

And there’s the whole gamut of skills required to write captivating fiction.

 

Just because I love to get emotionally involved with the characters I read about doesn’t mean I could create a protagonist who isn’t “too stupid to live.”

 

And just because I love a story that can make me laugh—or sob—aloud doesn’t mean I could weave together a plot with that much intensity.

 

And my favourite novels of all? They grab me by the throat and won’t let me go. I can only begin to imagine the amount of time and energy it takes to create a book like that.

 

So really, is novel writing for me?

 

And is it any less fulfilling to continue writing nonfiction and poetry? Will I still be a writer if I never see my name on the cover of a novel?

 

Remember what I said about the television shows I enjoy? Because I’m all about relationships, I’m all about the back-and-forth between characters—their relationships—and this is something I just don’t get from documentaries and cooking shows.

 

By the way, I teared up at the end of Night at the Museum 3. “Real” relationships were ending. Sigh!

 

I love to grab a new novel and get to know the cast of characters and how they interact with one another. And recently, I’ve discovered the joys of re-reading. It’s like visiting old friends. I’m enjoying several of these stories more the second time through. Oh, my! My To Be Read pile just got a lot higher.

 

So, will my novel ever be on someone’s TBR pile? I’m not really sure. But I do know a thing or two. I am a writer. I will seek to further develop my skills and write the best poems, blog posts, and nonfiction I can.

 

Sometimes it isn’t about something else. Sometimes it’s about the project right in front of you. If you’re like me, you may just have to refocus in order to recognize it.

 

 ~*~

Stephanie Nickel

 

 

 

6 Ways to Take Responsibility For Your Writing by Steph Beth Nickel

Some people choose a word for the year. Others choose a theme. My theme for 2015 is The Year of Taking Responsibility.

 

What does taking responsibility look like to a writer?

 

Here are six ways we can each step up this year.

 

  1. Create a list of goals.

 

Since you’ve signed up for A Round of Words in 80 Days, you’ve likely started on that list. At least you have goals for the next 80 days … and that’s a great start.

 

Keep in mind the acronym created by George T. Doran: SMART.  Goals should be specific, measurable, assignable (or attainable), realistic, and time-bound.

 

  1. Schedule time to write.

 

Of course it is ideal if you can write every day, but that isn’t always the case.

 

Haul out your day planner or your smartphone. Schedule a regular rendezvous with your pen and paper—or your keyboard and computer.

 

Except in the case of truly extenuating circumstances, keep every date with your creative self—even when you don’t feel particularly creative.

 

  1. Participate in ROW80

 

I know. I know. You already have this one covered.

 

But to take full advantage of what your fellow ROWers have to offer, check in at least once per week; visit other participants’ sites from time to time; and if you’re so inclined, pop by the FB group and connect with your fellow writers.

 

  1. Read skills development books and blogs.

 

If you’re anything like me, you don’t have to look any further than your bookshelves, physical and virtual, for a stack of writing-related books that you have yet to read or reread.

 

Scheduling specific time to curl up with a good book is a great idea. We all have more to learn, no matter how far along the writing journey we are.

 

  1. Read other books too.

 

Read in the genre in which you like to write. Read in other genres.

 

Read books that grab you by the throat. Read those you think have nothing to offer—you might be surprised.

 

While you’re reading, think about what the author has done well and things you would do differently. Incorporate what you learn in your own work—the good stuff, at least.

 

  1. Write. Write. Write. And then, write some more.

 

We can call ourselves writers if we write. The adjectives like prolific, skilled, and published come with time.

 

Keep on keepin’ on, my fellow ROWers.

~*~

Steph Beth Nickel

The Backdrop of Darkness and Turmoil by Stephanie Nickel

A light, fun, airy, romantic story makes for a great read, but I’ve rediscovered the three-dimensional effect of including darkness and turmoil in my writing.

I entered a contest years ago that won second place. I admit I was confused as to why the Crossings Book Club was sending me a check for $100—until I read the memo line. I’d forgotten entering the contest. I’d also forgotten which piece I had entered.

I found the short story and gave it to my mom. “That was sad,” she said. And yes, it was.

There is a richness to love magnified by loss. And that’s what served as the inspiration for the piece I wrote for the Write to Done Flash Fiction Contest. (Thankfully, I sent it to a few trusted fellow writers and am getting some great suggestions on how to make it better. Seems my protagonist is completely unsympathetic and unlikeable. Perhaps she is a tad too dark. Sigh!)

Even after I tweak this story, it won’t be wrapped in a pretty package. No big, bright bows to tie everything together.  I want it to be raw and real.

In The Slumber of Christianity: Awakening a Passion for Heaven on Earth, Ted Dekker says, ““We Christian writers must paint evil with the blackest of brushes, not to sow fear, but to call out the monsters to be scattered by our light.”

No matter what your religious persuasion, I’m sure you realize it’s hard to recognize the light without some concept of just how deep the darkness.

What is joy without gut-wrenching sorrow?

What is elation without emptiness?

What is hope without despair?

When I wrote “Shattered Hope,” my 440-word flash fiction piece based on my novel “Becca’s Journey” it gave me a whole new perception on how I want to rework the entire manuscript. Granted, it will take longer to write. It will take more soul searching, more connecting with my characters and making them relatable if not actually likeable, more bleeding on the page. But in the end, I’m sure it will be worth it.

I very much like the Paul Gallico quote, which long-precedes a similar one attributed to Ernest Hemingway. It reads like this: “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.”

As many of you know, I’m all about relationship, about establishing contact with my readers—and others whose lives intersect my own in various ways.

Here is a brief quote from my flash fiction entry. What do you think? Have I established contact? Is the darkness deep enough, the turmoil palpable enough, to act as a backdrop to the glimmer of hope I sought to include?

“And then it happened, the horrific high pitched whine I’d only heard on television. The straight blue line raced across the monitor. The nurse slipped in, flipped the switch, and disappeared without a word . . . the DNR order taunting me.

“Now I couldn’t tell him forgiveness and love were starting to take hold—but they were.”

How do you incorporate darkness and turmoil in your writing?

~*~

Stephanie Nickel

Grammatical Fisticuffs by Stephanie Nickel

I read a meme on Facebook recently that was originally posted by Grammarly. (I love their memes.) I found it to be a humorous exchange between a student and his teacher about the difference between “may” and “can.” Yes, I admit there are things that make me twitch, but this isn’t one of them – and the                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           things that do aren’t actually important to “the big picture.”

The thing that really got me thinking was one of the comments left by another reader. She seemed quite offended that someone who was concerned with proper word usage would be called names (pedantic and pretentious in this case). I also know of a writer and editor who feels each time we don’t follow “the rules” we diminish the language. It’s okay. They’re allowed to feel this way.

There may be some of you who already feel your blood pressure rising. Funny how a discussion about linguistics and grammar can do that to people. 

I heard Ammon Shea, author of Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation, on a radio talk show. I learned a thing or two and very much want to read his book.

One of the things that aggravates Shea is that often those who get up in arms when the rules are broken haven’t done their research. These “purists” would have been considered the uneducated ones in the not too distant past. You see, these rules change over time. What was once considered proper is no longer. Shea believes that a language that does not evolve is a dead language.

I use reference books such as The Chicago Manual of Style, but 5, 10, 50 years from now, the edition that sits on my shelf will be outdated. Even now, despite what some academics say, editing is often a subjective endeavour. Just compare one publishing house’s style sheet with another’s.

What is language really and why is it important to learn – and use – the currently accepted rules?

A Means to Communicate with One Another

According to Wikipedia, researchers conclude that less than 35 percent of face-to-face communication is verbal. If we break a rule from time to time, it won’t likely have a dramatic effect.

And when it comes to written communication, for the most part, we have to use language that can be understood by our target audience. Writings for the general population are now at a lower reading level than in days gone by. Of course, neither of these things means we shouldn’t use accepted spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

A Means to Express Your Thoughts and Feelings

Our intention may come across loud and clear if we are communicating face-to-face. However, if our written work is bogged down by errors, our thoughts and feelings may get lost in the muddle.

A Means to Effect Change

If we want to effect change on a broad scale, we don’t want our audience distracted by our apparent ignorance about the language. Whether we consider this distraction their problem or ours is irrelevant. If we want to be heard and know our audience may very well be alienated by such things, we should purchase, read, and apply a book (or two) on the subject. If you do a search for “grammar” on Amazon, you will find 100 pages of books. (This is also a good place to mention that a skilled editor is worth the investment – even for editors.)

A Means to Entertain

Deliberately breaking the rules can have a humorous effect. First, however, you must know the rules. You must also know that your audience will understand why what you say (or write) is funny.

When your humor has nothing to do with linguistics and grammar, it’s a good idea that errors in this area don’t distract from the message. On the flipside, strictly following the rules can be equally distracting—and unintentionally amusing. Consider Winston Churchill’s words: “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

An Aside

If you haven’t read Lynne Truss’s Eats Shoots and Leaves, you absolutely, positively must. It’s my favourite book on punctuation. I howled as I read it while my family was watching TV. They thought I was a little strange, but that’s okay because I am. Using incorrect punctuation can convey an unintended—often hysterical, sometimes tragic—message.

My Personal Philosophy

As an editor and writer, I want to do the best I can to create—and help others create—the most polished, effective written communication possible.

When it comes to reading work created by someone else, I want to be gracious, looking passed the mistakes to the message they are seeking to convey.

~*~

Stephanie Nickel