Marji Laine

I Love a Good Mystery!


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Steps to Gold Medal Writing

2012 London Olympic Logo

Though I hardly ever watch television, I’ve been glued to it for the past few days enjoying the Olympics. I end up with a plethora of emotions while I watch. But high on that list is the total wonder at how the athletes pour everything they have into their task. They train, practice, and participate in competitions in order to build their strength and hone their talent.

Not unlike a writer’s journey.

Training is as essential to writing as to sports. The women that I’m watching weren’t born in a backbend … probably. They learned the skills they needed to accomplish the given tasks and it started with simple somersaults. Writing, likewise, takes education – basics.

My training consists of books, online classes, and critique groups. I’ve devoured texts about plotting, characterizations, word-painting, even social media and website designing. I flag pages and make highlights. I pull out my WIPs and practice what the books suggest. I do the homework for the online classes and observe the homework of others so I can learn from their successes and mistakes. And I’ve learned tons from the critique groups that I participate in. Full of both published and pre-published writers, these groups have taught me not only how to write, but also how to read what I’ve written with a reader’s eye. Priceless.

Practice for the athletes is like a full-time job. Spending hours in their field going through drill after drill to develop muscle memory.

Writing practice doesn’t require drills per se, but it does require writing. My work will only get better if I do the drafting and then follow through with the rewriting and revisions. The president of our Dallas-Fort Worth Chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers, Janice Olson, explains it this way at our meetings:

We are writers; that means we write.

That simple. So I too make this a second full-time job. (Home-schooling my three girls is the first.) I spend every spare minute at my computer, limiting my social time, though that’s part of my career, and just writing. Head back, eyes closed, typing away.

Participation for the athletes comprises their goals. Stepping through the ranks of successes at competition, the performance is always key.

That’s where writing differs. In my opinion, the writing (practice) is key. And I think a lot of would-be published writers would agree with me. See our participation means sending out query letters and proposals and hoping for manuscript requests. I know I shied away from that part of the process, except for one shy email, for a solid year. My story wasn’t ready, I kept telling myself and everyone around me.

But how can I know my writing is ready if I don’t get it up on that diving board and give it a little push? Sending the stories, articles, proposals out to agents or editors provides writers with the feedback, like a cheering crowd, that lets them know that they can do this.

So I’ve started pushing my latest novel off the diving board. (I highly recommend taking the plunge!) So far with pretty favorable results, and who can say what may come? At the very least, I will certainly learn another step to this wonderful career I have.

With the right training, tons of practice, and a little courage a writer can win gold. Click here to tweet this.

Your turn: What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far in your writing journey?


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Practice

I’m so pleased to have met Staci Stallings online at an author connection site she created. This is one amazing lady! Wears so many hats, I can’t keep up. (Though I doubt she would wear the fruit bowl from yesterday’s post! However, I could be wrong about that.) She has graciously agreed to share her perspectives at Faith-Driven Fiction. 

Very few of us can pick up a complex task and ace it the first time we try it. Take typing. In all the years I taught it, I never had a single student sit down at the keyboard and type 60-70 words a minute their first time.

Not long ago a writing friend of mine asked me to explain how I learned to write. I told her, “I wrote.” To which she replied, “Well, yeah, but I mean how did you LEARN to write.” Again I said, “I wrote.” Journals, poems, short stories, articles, news stories, feature stories, novels. If it involved putting words together on paper, I did it.

It sounds simple but terribly time consuming. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if there was just a formula you could give someone? Anyone new at anything wants to be able to do it like a pro the first time out. We all want to be able to play the guitar like Keith Urban or basketball like Lebron James.  But the reality is that even Keith Urban didn’t play that way the first time he picked up a guitar. Same with Mr. James. Sure, they had some innate talent, but what they had more than that was enough desire to do it well, that they were willing to do what is in everybody’s grasp—practice.

The first time I learned this rule, I was in fifth grade. The girls in my hometown were famous statewide because they made it to and won the State Championships regularly in basketball. So, we all got to learn basketball whether we wanted to or not. Now, fortunately I was from a very small school, so our coach in the fifth grade was the same coach who steered the high school teams to these State Championships. I will forever be grateful for what I learned from him. In short, I learned the value of practice.

Dirk Nowitzki, Anthony Carter, Chris "Birdman" Andersen
We didn’t start by shooting at the goal. No, we started by learning where to put our hands on the basketball and where to put our feet on the floor. We “shot” with no ball at least a few hundred times at the beginning of each practice session. Then we practiced shooting an actual basketball into the air. Then we shot to each other. And when I say practice, I mean just that. Thousands of times set your hands, set your feet, down, up, follow through in the air—to your partner who then went through the same procedure.

In the high school ranks, the girls on the team were required to make 2,000 free throws before the season began. At the time it seemed excessive. Now I understand. When you stand on that line and make 2,000 free throws and then make countless more during practices, by the time you step on that line with a gym-full of people yelling at you and the game on the line, your body knows what to do automatically.

Ask any good pianist, typist, cook, designer, soccer player… Ask anyone who is at the top of any game how they got there, and you will hear one refrain over and over even if it only echoes in their statements:  They practiced. They came before everyone else, they concentrated on learning to do each step not just right but perfectly while the actual practice was going, and they stayed after regular practice to work more. Top students spend hours reading and studying. Their success is no mystery. They practice.

And the lesson transfers so easily to every area of our lives. Want to be more patient?  Practice patience in the small situations so you’ll be ready in the big situations. Want to be a better friend? Practice it. Want your kids to say “Please” and “Thank you”? Then they must practice it.

That’s the key. It may take 2,000 times, but if the desire is there, proficiency will follow. I can’t play basketball to save my life (too afraid of the other players on the court), but I can shoot the most beautiful set-shot and the most beautiful jump shot you’ve ever seen. Why?

Because I practiced.

(©2005 Staci Stallings)

What a great lesson. And if you read my Time Management post this week, you’ll know it’s incredibly timely for me! But we won’t go into that! 

Your turn: What situation are you in, or were you in, that required the kind of committed practice that Staci talks about?

Staci Stallings is a Contemporary Christian author and the founder of Grace & Faith Author Connection. Check out Staci’s brand new release…

  Houston firefighter, Jeff Taylor is a fireman’s fireman. No situation is too dangerous to keep him sidelined if lives are on the line. However, when control freak Lisa Matheson falls for him, she quickly realizes she can’t control Jeff or the death wish he seems to have…

 To Protect & Serve
The Courage Series, Book 1

To save other’s lives, they will risk their own

Buy it on Amazon Kindle
Buy it on Barnes & Noble Nook:

“To Protect and Serve will hold you prisoner to its pages until the final one is turned. Prepare to cry, laugh, wish, love and maybe even cry again as you become enveloped in the hopes and feelings of Lisa and Jeff.”

-Cindy Reiger