The Summer of Success

Facing a crossroads at the moment—what step to take next and all that. I’m not all angsty over it, but I have been thinking a lot about the late Donna Summer lately, as a result.

Donna Summer? The Queen of Disco?

First of all, thinking about Donna Summer is not new for me. I’ve had a long time interest in her career and in the singer, herself. I’ve even been known to be a defender of Summer (she’s so much more than disco), because I think her talent was far overshadowed by her persona and by the Super Storm known as Disco that came in and tried, unsuccessfully, to obliterate the Rock and Roll shoreline.

Variety defined her career

Still, I’m more interested in Summer’s genre-hopping than in her music, per se. For instance, did you know she was nominated for 17 Grammy Awards in eight different categories (sort of like fiction genres)? Further, did you know she won five times in four different categories—twice in Inspirational? That’s right, Inspirational. The singer of 1975s 17-minute+ disco moan-fest, “Love To Love You, Baby,” won two Grammy Awards for Best Inspirational song (1984 and 1985).

Conventional wisdom is to not genre hop in the publishing world. There’s greater freedom in music (Linda Ronstadt also played the field, musically). But in publishing, writers are often advised that if they start in romance (or speculative or historical or suspense) then they should stay in romance (or speculative or historical or suspense).

But, I must have a little Donna Summer in me because I don’t want to be constrained in that way. Before we get all crazy, let’s remember that no one is knocking down my door for my next book—or, for that matter, my first book.

But—again—we can look to the diva for guidance. Because “conventional wisdom” isn’t called “conventional-sort-of-good-advice,” you know?

Summer made her mark in one genre—disco. It was the red-hot genre of the time and she rode that horse for all it was worth.

But when the horse started to get hobbled, she made the smart move of wrapping up that era with a Greatest Hits collection, changing record labels, and then came roaring back in 1980 with a rock-pop disc without even a whiff of disco, The Wanderer. And a song from that project earned her one of her Grammy nominations.

What are the lessons for a writer?

  1. Do your homework. Summer worked in Germany and Europe in various touring companies of shows like “Hair” and “Godspell” before connecting with Giorgio Moroder for her first major album, Love To Love You Baby.
  2. Establish yourself as an excellent writer of (choose one: romance/historical/suspense/other) and then, like Summer, work your butt off to make your mark. She released seven disco albums from 1975 to 1979—that’s four years—three of them in a row were blockbuster double albums.
  3. Keep your nose to the ground and your face forward. If you pay attention to the market and publishing trends, you’ll know when it’s time to change genres. If you’re a big enough success, you’ll get your opportunity. When you do, show the same quality, perseverance, and dedication to craft that got you where you are.

That’s the way to build a Hall of Fame career (Summer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013) and do all the things you want to do.

Summer died May 17, 2012, at age 63. At her death (from cancer) she was working on two albums simultaneously—a collection of standards and a new dance music collection.

For the record, Summer’s Grammy wins were for:

  1. Best R&B Female Performance, 1979, for “Last Dance.”
  2. Best Rock Female Performance, 1980, for “Hot Stuff.”
  3. Best Inspirational Performance, 1984, for “He’s A Rebel.”
  4. Best Inspirational Performance, 1985, for “Forgive Me.”
  5. Best Dance Music Performance, 1998, for “Carry On.”

Additionally, she was nominated four times for Best Pop Vocal, twice for Best R&B Vocal, twice for best Rock Vocal, once for Album of the Year, once for Best Disco Vocal, once for Best Inspirational, and once for Best Dance Music.

Not a bad career.

Your turn: So, do you have a little Donna Summer in you?

Mike-9Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as the editor of CHEFS Mix Blog for CHEFS Catalog he is enjoying his playground. Previous playgrounds include being the Managing Editor of the magazine ACFW Journal and the ezine Afictionado for seven years. He also plays with words as a freelance editor and has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, worked in corporate communications, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Originally posted on Novel Rocket

Quote It! Brian Tracy

brian_tracy-standing
“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” 

–Brian Tracy, Chairman and CEO of Brian Tracy International, a company specializing in the training and development of individuals and organizations.

__________________________________________________

Writers, we know what Tracy says is true. But sometimes the fear of feeling awkward–or of having someone read what we’ve written–keeps us firmly in our comfort zone of “me and my writing friends.”

But God did not save you for a life of comfort, but rather for a life of risk. What are you willing to risk to allow God to use you?

RonieKendigSpeaking of something new: Come back on Tuesday for the debut of a new feature here at Writing On The Fine Line. We’ve talked a lot about what editors (primarily me) think about editing, but on Tuesday my friend, and author, Ronie Kendig, shares her experience with editing and editors.

It’s very interesting–and there will be a great giveaway you won’t want to miss!

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor here at WritingOnTheFineLine.com, where he often takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Spring Cleaning? 10 Tips for Writers

I know it’s only February, but in my office that’s when I start thinking about Spring Cleaning. Why so early? Because I hate the process, even though it is vital to the smooth operation of my freelance editing business. If I don’t start early to think and plan for it, procrastination will win the day. So, maybe you’re like me? Here are 10 tips to clean out the cobwebs in your writing:

10. Keep it Simple You have many ongoing writing projects. Prioritize and be realistic.

9. Break it Down Do you need to brainstorm a new story? Have you left a protagonist dangling? Do you have a percolating editing project? Break your tasks into chunks. One week, brainstorm. The next week, rescue your protag. Then edit.

See the other eight tips at Novel Rocket!

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor here at WritingOnTheFineLine.com, where he often takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Goals Can Get You There

Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, is one of my favorite books.

An exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat perfectly illustrates the importance of goal setting. Alice asks:

“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”

smiling_catThe cat replies, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

“I don’t much care where—”

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

“—so long as I get somewhere.”

Here at Writing On The Fine Line, we recognize the value of goal-setting. We’re here to help you get to where you want to go as a writer. Whether you want to polish your manuscript for a contest or to snag an editor’s or agent’s attention—or all of the above—the editorial services offered here can help you take that important next step.

But I’m not just an editor—I also write. I have goals for my writing and my editing in 2013:

  1. Revise my current manuscript and research the next.
  2. Start writing my new manuscript.
  3. Read The Art of War for Writers and one other craft book.
  4. Deepen my relationships with God, family, friends.
  5. Increase the traffic here at WritingOnTheFineLine.com.

What are your resolutions—goals, if you prefer—for the coming year? Share them here or join the conversation today at my post on Novel Rocket.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor right here at WritingOnTheFineLine.com, where he often takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Feeling Like Stretch Armstrong

The Web is full of admonitions to stretch before working out or engaging in any kind of exercise. Why? The plusses are many:

  • Stretching helps prevent injuries.
  • It keeps your muscles in good working order.
  • Tight muscles are less capable.
  • It just makes you feel good.

Plus, if you stretch first you’re less likely to have to listen to your wife laugh (under her breath, of course) while you’re on the chiropractor’s table.

And who hasn’t enjoyed a good shoulder stretch after hours of hammering away at the keyboard?

Writing stretches

Lately, I’ve been doing some serious stretching in my writing/editing life. For just over a year, I’ve served as the editor for a new print magazine for American Christian Fiction Writers, the ACFW Journal.

We have a great team pulling this together (and we’re having a great time, too), but I am being stretched, particularly in the areas of organization and time management. As we enter our second year, even more stretching will be required.

Which, since I’ve also launched a freelance editing business (right here at WritingOnTheFineLine.com) and have just started doing some editing for one of my favorite publishing houses, is adding to my feeling like Stretch Armstrong.

I have to plan, write, and schedule three posts a week for this blog, under a set of (self-imposed) guidelines—stretching me, again, in the area of organization.

Since organization is definitely a weakness of mine (I don’t really even know how to use Excel, but I’m learning), this has all been a great experience. It will definitely lead to me learning how to better use my time.

Strength in weakness

In II Corinthians, Paul writes about how he had asked the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh, only to have Jesus tell him, “My grace is enough to cover and sustain you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then says to his readers, “So ask me about my thorn, inquire about my weaknesses, and I will gladly go on and on–I would rather stake my claim in these and have the power of the Anointed One at home within me. I am at peace and even take pleasure in any weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and afflictions for the sake of the Anointed because when I am at my weakest, He makes me strong” (II Corinthians 12:9-10, The Voice).

What about you? In what areas are you being stretched this year? What weaknesses are you being forced to face? And how will that both benefit you and further the cause of Christ?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Optimistic Voices

With the American Christian Fiction Writers conference just around the corner, I am reminded of The Wizard of Oz. Like almost every child who grew up in the 1960s and 70s, I never missed the opportunity to watch that movie on TV. It was shown annually for almost three decades.

Begin the journey here

As a result, the movie is a part of who I am in a way no other movie ever has been or likely ever will be. The structure of the film (three acts, with a disturbance and two doorways of no return) and the model character arc observed in Dorothy (moving from discontentment to contentment) have affected me deeply. In a real way, the movie marks the beginning of my journey as a writer and storyteller.

So, I’m watching the film the other day and feel a holy nudge. It seems I still have something to learn from Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and even the Wicked Witch of the East.

My witch=The pitch

I am terrified by the idea of pitching my novel to an editor or agent—“I’ll get you my pretty, and your little book, too!” I suspect one of the main differences between published and unpublished authors is that those who are published have overcome the fear.

But, as Dorothy and gang finally approach the Emerald City—the seeming culmination of her quest—they are greeted by a chorus of “Optimistic Voices.”

You’re out of the woods
You’re out of the dark
You’re out of the night
Step into the sun, step into the light

All of this merrymaking is going on and I’m thinking about my pitch. I do not feel “out of the woods.” But after the movie was over, I piece together a few thoughts.

Dorothy had her friends’ help

Surround yourself with friends

Dorothy wouldn’t have arrived in the Emerald City without her friends. They protected her and gave her the courage to ease on down, ease on down, down her road. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my friends and critique partners who did the same for me.

Dorothy faced risks—and overcame them

Dorothy didn’t arrive in the Emerald City without surviving a few hazards.

  • She lived through a tornado. (My life has certainly swirled around me lately as I’ve looked for a new job and opened a new freelance editing business here at WritingOnTheFineLine.com.)
  • Sour apple trees threw fruit at her. (I’ve eaten my share of sour grapes.)
  • Someone (Cowardly Lion) who at first seemed an enemy became a friend. (Don’t get me started.)
  • Exhaustion nearly did her in until another friend (Glinda) helped her become clear-headed again. (I credit the Holy Spirit with my current clear mind regarding my writing.)

Dorothy’s end goal wasn’t the Emerald City

Though it was a grand entry, Dorothy didn’t find what she was looking for—the way home—in the city. Instead, she was forced to face, and conquer, the Wicked Witch.

And here we are, back at the nut of the problem. Facing one’s fears.

Like Dorothy, I’m finding my experiences, though tough and at times frightening, have taught me I do have resources within me I’ve yet to tap—and I don’t need ruby slippers to access them. Oh, I may run between the turrets a bit yet, but when I can no longer run I’ll find the gumption to douse the witch.

Before the flying monkeys come to haul me off to face my fear, I’m going to listen to those optimistic voices of my friends and family once more—and I’m going to redouble my efforts to fight my fears.

Hold onto your breath
Hold onto your heart
Hold onto your hope
March up to the gate
And bid it open. Open!

What help do you need to get to whatever “home” is in your publishing journey?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Are You A Productive Sheep?

“Accountability breeds response-ability.”

—Stephen R. Covey

I fear accountability. There, I’ve said it. I need it; but I avoid it.

It hasn’t always been so. Early in my time at Bethel College (Indiana), I was invited to join a group called the Writers’ Accountability Network (WAN). You can still see me and the group here.

Members of WAN began each month by sharing their goals for the next four weeks. At the end of that time, we all reported on our success—and where we didn’t quite measure up. In between, we encouraged each other.

I’ve never completed so much writing! In fact, while a member of that group I wrote the first draft of my novel.

What happened?

As I took on more responsibilities professionally—a good thing—I soon found myself over-committed—a bad thing—and left the group.

I’ve worked on the novel sporadically since then, never with the intensity and commitment of those days.

What I’ve learned is I need accountability to be productive. As Proverbs 27:17 tells us: “You use steel to sharpen steel, and one friend sharpens another” (The Message). That was the benefit WAN provided.

I needed to make changes. I needed to embrace, again, the power of being a good sheep. Here’s how I do it. Maybe it will help you.

Setting boundaries

The biblical idea of Jesus as our shepherd and us as His sheep has always resonated with me. I have sheepy tendencies. In WAN, we were all sheep within the same pen. The fences (goal-setting, accountability, encouragement, and reporting) helped us be good sheep together.

These are the fences I’ve built now to get back some of that accountability.

  • Fence 1—Television: I can’t give up it up entirely, but I can cut back by at least an hour or two a week. (Can’t give up Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy—that’s good writer TV!)
  • Fence 2—Social media: It’s time to wrestle my e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter addictions to the ground. There’s an important place for social media, but too much of any good thing can be a problem.
  • Fence 3—Mornings: While in WAN I got up early to write for an hour before reporting to my job—and it worked. I completed the first draft. I need to repair the holes in this fence.
  • Fence 4—Accountability: This is the gate to my sheep pen. I need writing partners, other sheep, who will make sure I do what I say I’m going to do—and who’ll cut me no slack when I don’t.

Speaking of accountability: Who are you accountable to? If no one, would you consider an accountability partner?

Next Tuesday: One of my favorite authors, Michael Dellosso, will step Into The Edit with me. Don’t miss it!

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line