Thursday, May 17, 2018

Writing Lessons from a Baseball Mom: Savor the Moments

My initiation into the world of sports began thirty-five years ago when my oldest son ventured into the world of t-ball. As each brother reached the grand old age of four, he joined the ranks of youth baseball teams. I admit that sitting on uncomfortable bleachers for hours was no picnic, but some of my best “Mommy” memories  spring from those  balmy evenings in June as I cheered my little boys to victory.

With May's arrival, we leapt into all things baseball. Visiting the baseball card shop. Practices. Washing uniforms. Games. Washing uniforms. Junk food. I even sold an article to a magazine extolling the agony and the ecstasy of a six-inning Little League game.

We instituted baseball traditions at home. The season opened with our favorite videos. The Sandlot was an annual must-watch, and my husband rediscovered his childhood favorite, It Happens Every Spring. To gain relief from hotdogs and nacho dinners fresh from the concession stand, I could be counted on to bring the boys’ favorite sub sandwiches to their games. By the time, the youngest was in high school, those subs had won the distinction of a home run meal for the team between doubleheaders.

Years passed. The oldest boy developed a successful high school sports career in swimming. The next son reluctantly said goodbye to the game when he entered the premed program at his university. With one child left in baseball, I cherished every inning. We were able to attend games through all of his college years and beyond as he followed his dream to become a high school coach.

My boys will tell you that I never truly learned baseball. (“It’s not a hit, Mom. He only made contact with the ball.”) In one sense, they’re right. My sports lingo  is filled with malapropisms, but I’ve learned a lot about baseball and life while raising my sons. 

PleaseGodpleaseGodpleaseGod, don’t let him strike out. PleaseGodpleaseGodpleaseGod, help him to pitch over the plate. Not every one of those prayers was answered with a yes from the Almighty. Through God’s grace, my boys and I learned how to handle the success of RBIs and sacrifice bunts, as well as how to endure the humiliation of fielding errors and hitting the batter with a wild pitch.

My years as a baseball mom have trained me for writing as a second career. Where baseball consumed our leisure time every spring, I now spend my retirement hours every day either writing or learning some facet of writing. Instead of baseball games, I attend conferences, and I’ve gained a wonderful, new pool of friendships through those meetings and through ACFW.

I’ll work and rework a sentence until it sparkles with the exact meaning I desire, which leaves me with the satisfaction of making it safely to first base. Seasons pass, and I’m delighted at each new activity I try—entering contests, adding short stories and blogs to my noveling efforts, and serving in writers’ organizations. 

PleaseGodpleaseGodpleaseGod, may this editor love my book. PleaseGodpleaseGodpleaseGod, help me pitch this story perfectly. Again, I don’t get a yes from my heavenly Father all the time. I receive a lot of rejections, and He’s given me the strength to keep writing, keep learning. I also see His hand in my life as He provides mentors and helps me develop the craft. 

I possess a wealth of family memories from our seasons in baseball. In twenty years, I’ll own a treasure trove of writing memories. Positive or negative, each is to be cherished.

Savor the moments. In family. In work. In writing. In life.

Linda Sammaritan writes realistic fiction, mostly for kids ages ten to fourteen. She is currently working on a middle grade trilogy, World Without Sound, based on her own experiences growing up with a deaf sister.
Linda had always figured she’d teach middle-graders until school authorities presented her with a retirement wheelchair at the overripe age of eighty-five. However, God changed those plans when He gave her a growing passion for writing fiction. In May of 2016, she blew goodbye kisses to her students and dedicated her work hours to learning the craft. She still visits the school and teaches creative writing workshops.


Where Linda can be found on the web:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Character Sketches

by Jean Kavich Bloom

When I edit a novel, I rarely have character sketches to help guide me—either because few authors build them, at least in any detail, or because I don’t ask for them. Instead I build them myself as I edit, which is, I think, a good idea. That’s how I best spot physical description discrepancies, such as the most common of them all: random eye or hair color changes. Sometimes back stories can take a wrong turn too. Someone’s new single status is the result of divorce, but then we learn they're widowed. 

Obviously, I recommend authors create character sketches, either before they write or as they write, and refer to them when they're editing their own work. But I'm also thinking about them in a new way.

When considering my own stop-and-go efforts at writing fiction in the last several years (and I do love fiction; novels are my favorite editing projects), I’ve concluded that writing character-driven stories would best suit me. Those are the stories I most enjoy reading, and one of my favorite novelists is Anne Tyler, whose quirky characters not only entertain me, but make me think.

Am I now writing, then, a character-driven story? No. I’m not. I’m not even doing research. But I have started developing sketches for characters who speak to me and I think could speak to a reader. They are pretend people who have not yet decided if and how they will interact. but who I think might tell me their story, might already know where we’re destined to go together, and might have an idea how their stories need to be told.

Advice abounds on how to write and the wisdom of writing character sketches (I liked this article), but I haven’t found any pointed recommendation for this type of approach. I just know I feel good about it, and I’ve come to think of that kind of feeling as a green arrow from God: Yes, try that. See what you discover. You might be surprised.

I also think of this approach as one more way to create, to be creative. And if this approach results in my starting to write a character-driven short story or novel anytime soon, I’ll let you know.

Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer for Christian publishers and ministries (Bloom in Words Editorial Services), with more than thirty years of experience in the book publishing world. Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she sometimes posts articles about the writing life. She is also a regular contributor to The Glorious Table, a blog for women of all ages. Her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, have three children (plus two who married in) and five grandchildren.

photo credit:

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Writing Prompts

I was an early habituĂ© of the Internet. By the time AOL bought out Netscape (November 1998), I was already circulating a dozen or more e-mails every day and had joined three online discussion groups. Imagine my elation when I won a contest sponsored by AOL’s new fiction writers group! I did it by turning a writing prompt into a 1,000-word Western short-short. The prize was a month’s paid subscription to AOL. (Yes, those were the days we paid a monthly subscription fee for Internet services like Netscape and AOL. I told you I was an old-timer.) I haven’t written another piece of Western fiction before or since. The story prompt took me in that direction, and it was a refreshing change of pace.

A writing prompt is a brief idea expressed in a phrase or a single sentence, which becomes a springboard to an entire story you can write. Here are a few benefits of using story prompts:

  • Thinking outside your narrative box. Like my winning entry for AOL, a story you write from someone else’s prompt is likely to take you to a time, place, and genre that you wouldn’t normally choose. 
  •  Priming your creativity. You may be pleasantly surprised to see how quickly a story coalesces around a story prompt. If you’re suffering writer’s block with your major work-in-progress, this exercise may get the creative juices flowing again.
  • Sharpening your mental focus. Astronomers see a cosmic object more clearly by looking beside it rather than straight at it, because the retina of the human eye becomes worn at the focal point. When you take a break from a major project to write a short story from a prompt, you may see the major project more clearly.
Writing prompts are all around you. Books such as The Amazing Story Generator, by Jay Sacher (Chronicle Books: 2012) and The Writer’s Toolbox, by Jamie Cat Callan (Chronicle Books: 2007) contain tools to create thousands of random story prompts. You can do the same thing with a newspaper or magazine. Just take the subject from one article and the predicate from another article to create a new situation for your prompt. Here are some I compiled from this month’s issue of the AARP Magazine:

  • Your eight-year-old grandson brings you a basket of overripe grapes salvaged from a dumpster.
  • A fifty-something pastor blacks out from a brain aneurysm while exercising at the gym.
  • An aspiring comedienne loses her job after writing a protest letter to her hometown paper.

If you feel “stuck,” take a prompt and write a 1,000-word story. See what happens.

Joe Allison has been a member of the Indiana chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN. His non-fiction books include Setting Goals That Count and Swords and Whetstones.