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Years ago, we knew a lady who never turned left when driving her car. She organized her travels about our small town so that all her turns were right turns. I thought of her the other day while making a left turn onto a busy street in the not-so-small town where we now reside. The way this city is laid out, I would waste a lot of time and gas if I practiced the right-turn-only approach.
Yes, right turns may be safer than left turns, but I admit I wonder what else that woman did to avoid risk. Planet Earth is a scary place, from germs lurking in public restrooms to stranger-danger, from slipping on ice to email scams, poisonous snakes and tsunamis. But unless we become monks or hermits, we have to buck up and face life. As Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but be courageous. I have conquered the world.”
Sometimes we writers also tend to use the safe approach. One writerly “right turn” might be to pen something and then store it where no one will ever see it and thus not be able to criticize it. I once knew an author who wrote book after book of historical fiction. When he finished a novel, he’d print it out, place it in a box, seal the box and set it on a shelf in his closet. As far as I know, he’s never attempted to publish his work.
Other writers only share their work with “safe” people, those who’ll tell them how wonderful their story, essay or poem is without saying anything bad about it. Those are the writers who are afraid to ask critique groups, beta readers, proofreaders and professional editors for input.
More daring creatives (yes, that’s a word these days!) might allow a critique group to read their writing, but they argue against every criticism and, therefore, gain nothing from the experience. Back when the indie publishing movement was just beginning to take hold, I heard of an indie writer who listed her book on Amazon, which was brave of her. But then she wrote scathing replies to reviewers who posted negative comments. I don’t remember her name, which is too bad, because I’d like to know whether her writing career progressed from that point or fizzled.
Some of us worry about offending readers and we shy away from the nitty gritty of a story or memoir. As an editor, I’ve discovered that authors often hint at a problem but they don’t delve into the intricacies of it, which can make for a boring, unsatisfying read. I’m not saying we should fill page after page with lascivious detail, but I am saying readers need to know how a person got into and out of a tricky situation, how they survived it. I’ve written a couple novels that include scenes related to sex trafficking. I understand the wisdom required to provide needed information without including gratuitous details – and I thank my critique partners for assisting me with that balancing act.
Maybe you’re someone who has thought for years of writing a book. You know the subject matter; in fact, you even have a title and some chapter headings or scenes in mind. But, all you can see are left turns. You don’t know where to begin. Where would you find the time? Writing is hard and the competition is tough. Your neighbor, the one who writes for the newspaper, would laugh at your feeble attempts to turn thoughts into written words. On and on go the excuses and the “I’ll never be a writer” right turns.
My advice to you? Be courageous! Go ahead. Turn left. Grab your laptop or pen and paper and start writing. Every worthwhile endeavor requires step-by-step effort to achieve the desired result.
Word by word, write your story, article or blog and with the help of savvy supporters, take it all the way to publication, whether for an audience of one or thousands. Your goal may be to write a song or a letter to your city council or to surprise your wife with a birthday poem. Just do it. You’ll be glad you did.
WINDS OF HOPE, the prequel to the Kate Neilson Series, debuted this week. You can find it in eBook format on Amazon for less than a dollar. For those who prefer to hold a print version in their hands, that should be available by March 25. Thanks so much for your interest. I think you’ll enjoy this early look at the lives of some of your favorite Whispering Pines characters. If you do, please leave a review (ha, it rhymes!). Here’s a description.
A beautiful ex-felon who’s had her fill of men. A crotchety old ranch hand who loved and lost. A lonely rancher facing a difficult summer.
Kate Neilson leaves a Pennsylvania penitentiary and heads for The Whispering Pines Guest Ranch in Wyoming. Although she’s determined to be a good citizen and support herself with her newly acquired marketing skills, other forces are just as intent on dragging her back into the pit. Can Kate withstand those who oppose her—and learn to love again?
Cyrus Moore, a longtime Whispering Pines ranch hand, has lost the women he once loved, including his daughter, who left for the university and never returned home. When he learns the WP owner, Laura Duncan, offered an internship to a university graduate who looks like his daughter, he vows to put the young woman in her place.
Since his father’s death, Mike Duncan’s only desire has been to help his mother keep their guest ranch running smoothly. But lately, despite the work that occupies most of his waking hours, and despite the longtime friends and neighbors who surround him, loneliness plucks his heartstrings like a lost melody.
Winds of Hope is the prequel to the Kate Neilson Series, contemporary romantic suspense novels set on a picturesque guest ranch nestled deep in Wyoming’s Sierra Madre Mountains. If you like engaging characters, vivid locations and high-octane action, you’ll love Winds of Hope and the other Kate Neilson stories that follow—Winds of Wyoming, Winds of Freedom and Winds of Wyoming.
Read an excerpt here.
Curious to know more about the “real” me?
Some of you may know that in addition to writing books and blogs, I also work as a freelance editor. Over the years, I’ve edited a wide variety of publications from white papers, newsletters, articles and business letters to Bible studies, short stories, memoirs and novels. I’ve met a lot of great people along the way and learned much about the writing process.
The key insight I’ve gained is that writing intended for publication, whether it’s traditional, partner or self-publication, should be sifted through an editor filter. Why? Because we authors tend to read what’s in our heads, not what’s on the computer screen. We also have trouble pinpointing weaknesses in our own manuscripts. Editors who have no emotional attachment to our work can provide unbiased, professional feedback. Even editors need editors. My writing is always improved by an editor’s candid comments, more than you might imagine.
Just so you know, an editor’s job is not to clean up your first-draft mess; rather, it’s to hone your second, third, fourth, fifth draft—whatever it takes for you to submit your very best work. In order to receive the most benefit for your investment when you hire an editor, take these suggestions to heart.
- Read. I’m always surprised when someone says they don’t like to read but they want to write a book. Reading teaches us word usage, sentence construction, paragraph rhythm and flow, a feel for building tension, scene and sequel construction, character development and so much more. Read everything, from newspapers to novels, blogs to biographies, cereal boxes to political soap boxes. “At the risk of sounding obvious, good writers are first and foremost good readers.” (Joseph Bates, July/August 2016 Writer’s Digest)
- Study. Study the craft of writing. In order to move your writing from good to best, take writing classes, attend workshops, seminars and conferences, listen to writer-focused podcasts and webinars, read how-to magazines, blogs, newsletters and books. Send me an email if you’d like recommendations (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Learn. Learn correct grammar and punctuation. Few manuscripts arrive on an editor’s desk with perfect grammar and punctuation, which is expected; however, you’ll do yourself a favor if you learn how to properly use the English language, and your editor and readers will appreciate your effort. Instructional websites abound online that specialize in English usage.
- Follow. Follow formatting rules. Your agent, editor or publisher will provide format guidelines. These vary slightly from person/publisher to person/publisher. I ask writers to submit their work in a Word doc with one-inch margins all around and that they use a 12-point Times New Roman font. I also ask that the lines be double-spaced and the paragraphs automatically indented five spaces (not spaced or tabbed). Each chapter should begin approximately one-third of the way down the page, and page breaks should separate chapters rather than multiple line spaces. (Please don’t add frills and fancy fonts, etc. to your submission. Plain text is great. When your manuscript is ready for publication, the publisher or you or your formatter can bold the chapter headings, enlarge the fonts, add section breaks and whatever else is required to make it look pretty.)
- Double-check. Check for wordiness, which can involve searching out repeated information, redundancies and overwriting. Oftentimes, a forty-word sentence can be written in five to twenty words. Strive to be clear and concise.
- Enlist. Ask your well-read friends, colleagues and critique group to serve as beta readers. I suggest a minimum of three people other than or in addition to family members (I enlist six to twelve beta readers). Ask them for honest feedback and accept it with gratitude, not defensiveness. You may not choose to use their input, but when they take the time to read your work and offer you advice, thank them and include their name in your book’s acknowledgements. And gift them with an autographed copy of your published book (or a trip to the Bahamas…your choice). My experience is that beta-reader and critique-group input is priceless.
- Fix. Make changes as you see fit and set the manuscript aside for a couple weeks. After you’ve had time away from your project, you’ll see it with fresh eyes. Again, fix as needed and then, ta-da…hit the send button to shoot your manuscript to your editor, which leads us to number eight.
- Grow. Similar to number six above, appreciate your editor’s input. Accept his or her comments and suggestions without defensiveness. Feel free to disagree, to dialogue about issues and to ask questions, but do so as a student who’s anxious to learn and grow into a better writer.
Wishing you fabulous final weeks of summer filled with sunshine, good books and great writing! Becky
WINDS OF CHANGE, the third book in the Kate Neilson series, was released over the weekend. In case you missed the celebration, ALL six of my ebooks, fiction and nonfiction, are selling for 99 cents on Amazon. But this is a limited-time offer, and I’m not sure when it will end (my guess is before the week is out). Here’s my Amazon page with links to the 99-cent books: Amazon author page
Here’s what readers are saying about WINDS OF CHANGE —
“This is my first Kate Nielsen read, but I loved it. I laughed, I cried and I couldn’t put it down. It’s full of suspense as well as heartbreaking information about sex trafficking. I have to go back and get the first two in the series. Thank you, Ms. Lyles; it was a great read.” Maureen Rose
“When happily ever after meets real life. A great encouragement to trust God no matter what comes.” Lisa Phillips, multi-published romantic suspense author
“Just finished Becky Carey Lyles latest book, Winds of Change. It was a fast read for me since I couldn’t put it down. Be sure and read the other two first, Winds of Wyoming and Winds of Freedom as they are a series. Very enjoyable and suspenseful, you do not know what will happen next!” Gail Harmon
“Wonderful book! Touches on a very real problem-human trafficking. Becky writes with a Christian message woven in the story. I was honored to preview the book & could not put it down. A must read!” Ginger Barton-Jordan
“Great Book!! Once I read the first few pages, I couldn’t put the book down.” Eva Marie Beisner
He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. Ps. 104:3
Many moons ago, I attended a writers’ conference in Colorado. Well, I think it was Colorado…could have been Wyoming. The event was so long ago I’m not sure where I was. I remember only one workshop at the conference. It was led by a thirtyish man with brown hair, but I don’t recall his topic.
However, I do remember (aren’t you relieved I remember something?!) how he ended the class. His final piece of advice was to “look up.” Sounds simplistic. Right? He said we spend most of our lives looking down or looking around us, but we don’t look up.
Try it! Elevating my gaze above the sidewalk or the horizon always encourages me and gives me hope. The vastness of the big blue sky, the ever-changing clouds that float overhead, and the reminder that our Creator is immensely bigger than his creation all serve to lift my spirits.
In addition to being a mood enhancer, looking up takes our focus off mundane daily duties and literally broadens our view and opens our minds and hearts, readying us to be stretched and inspired. We writers need to regularly escape our computer caves and take a few minutes to bask in the sunshine and breathe fresh air. Not only does the change rest our eyes and our wrists, it’s good for our general well-being.
In an online article titled “Why Your Chair Is Killing You, and What You Can Do About It,” Dr. Joseph Mercola writes that “sitting is in and of itself a root problem of many of our chronic health problems… The evidence is overwhelming at this point—10,000 studies and growing—that prolonged sitting is devastating to your health. It actively promotes dozens of chronic diseases, including overweight and type 2 diabetes. As a general guideline, if you’ve been sitting for an hour, you’ve sat too long.” http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/09/28/dangers-prolonged-sitting.aspx#!
If you’re like me, you need reminders to stop in the midst of projects and move. I set my phone alarm for 25 minutes (when I remember!), do a few stretches and sit back down. In the summer, I take my laptop to the patio, where I can check the sky now and then—and take gardening and yardwork breaks. Watering, pruning and plucking all involve movement.
When possible, go for a walk or a hike. Michael Pirrone, in an online article entitled “What Hiking Does to the Brain is Pretty Amazing,” writes about the benefits of hiking. “According to a study published last July in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a 90-minute walk through a natural environment had a huge positive impact on participants. In a survey taken afterward, those people who took the natural walk showed far lower levels of brooding, or obsessive worry.”
Psychologists also found that “after a four-day-long hike in the wilderness, with no access to technology, participants scored a whopping 50% higher on a test known as RAT, or Remote Associates Test. It’s a simple way of measuring the creative potential in people.” Hiking increases our focus and our creativity, improves our memories (which I obviously need!) and reduces memory loss. You can read the entire article at http://www.wimp.com/what-hiking-does-to-the-brain-is-pretty-amazing/
Writers unite! Let’s get off our duffs and move our muscles. And while we’re returning blood flow to our chair-weary legs, we must remember to look up!
At the forefront of that wind of change is the fact I’m actually writing a blog post, ha. But even if I haven’t written many blogs lately, I have been writing. Book #3 in the Winds series, Winds of Change, is now with beta readers and will soon be available for purchase in ebook and print formats. Just so you know, early buyers will get a really good deal.
Launch team members can get an even better deal. Send me an email at email@example.com if you’d like to join the launch team and receive a free pre-release electronic version of Winds of Change. All I ask in return is that you share release news with your social media contacts (and anyone else who likes to read) plus leave an honest review on Amazon (and other online book sites, if you’re so inclined).
Here are a few paragraphs from the first chapter of Winds of Change to wet your appetite.
Seated on the edge of the bathtub, bare feet planted on the warm wood floor, Kate Duncan bent over her knees and began to brush her long hair. Stroke after stroke, she brushed from the nape of her neck downward toward the floor, something she did almost every night.
Her mother had told her years ago a hundred strokes a day would distribute the natural oils in her hair and make it shine. So that’s what she did before bed. She didn’t always remember to count, but most evenings, she remembered to brush.
Sometimes she thought about her sweet mama while she brushed, determined not to let what memories she had fade. Other times, she thought about her father and her brother, who’d both died along with her mother in a car accident when Kate was eight. Sometimes she thought of the years she wandered Pittsburg streets without a dime—or a hairbrush—to her name. Occasionally, she thought of her prison days, when brushing her hair during a quiet moment was a rare luxury.
More often, she talked with her husband, Mike. Tonight, they were discussing an outing with the kids from Freedom House, the children’s home she and Mike’s mom, Laura, had established on their Wyoming ranch several months ago. Kate wanted to treat the children to a fun day in Cheyenne, and she needed another adult to help her keep track of them. Chin on her knee, she said, “It would just be one day, Mike. I’m not asking for the whole weekend.” She’d originally hoped to add a couple camping days to the outing. But when no adults were available to accompany her and the kids, she’d scaled her plans down to one day.
Mike, who was brushing his teeth, didn’t respond until he’d rinsed his mouth. “Kate…” She heard him run water over the toothbrush and tap it on the sink to knock out the excess.
“Kate,” he repeated, “you know the only time I can even think of getting away is in the middle of the week. Did you forget this is a guest ranch and that Saturday is our busiest day? Guests will be coming and going, like usual. We have trail rides, bison tours, fishing trips and classes scheduled all day long.”
She made a face she knew he couldn’t see and kept brushing. No matter what she asked him to do, the ranch came first. “That’s why you have employees.”
“This is the beginning of summer, the beginning of the guest season, and we have a slew of first-time workers. I need to hang around to make sure everything runs smoothly.” She heard him blow air between his lips. “One of the new hires from town wore tennis shoes today instead of boots and, of course, stepped in a gopher hole. Did a number on his ankle. He’ll be out of commission a couple weeks, at best.”
“You could put Clint in charge.”
“You know he oversees the working side of the WP and doesn’t have much to do with the guest side.”
Kate loved the Whispering Pines. Their guest ranch was beautiful and welcoming. And she loved that Mike loved his work. But his hands-on management style controlled their lives. She didn’t have enough fingers to count the plans that had been ruined by sick cows, runaway horses and natural disasters, like last week’s self-combusting haystack, not to mention guests and their emergencies. And then there was his pride and joy, his bison herd…
She pushed her dark curtain of hair aside to look at him. “Eight or nine hours. That’s all I’m asking. Surely you could find someone to cover such a short time.”
Mike pulled his t-shirt over his head, threw it in the hamper and left the room. Hands clasped behind his head, he stretched as he walked from the bathroom to the bedroom. Like a magnet, a familiar tug pulled at Kate’s heart, drawing her to him.
She sat up, combing her hair back with her fingers, and watched him balance on the end of the bed and pull off his socks, one at a time. Her husband was as good-looking as the day they met…and just as stubborn.
Finished with her hair, she dropped the brush into a drawer, turned off the bathroom light and walked into the dark bedroom. Mike was already in bed, but before she joined him, she opened the window all the way. She loved to snuggle with him beneath warm quilts while crisp mountain breezes swirled around them.
Like every night, he was waiting for her to slide into his arms, her back against his chest. He kissed her neck. “I love you, Mrs. Duncan.”
Kate squirmed around to kiss him on the lips. “I love you, too, sweetheart.” She touched his jaw. “Will you at least think about Saturday?”
He grunted, and she could feel his muscles tense. “Don’t you ever think about anything or anybody but those kids?”
Kate frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
He untangled himself from her and rolled over. “It’s late. We can talk about it tomorrow.”