I sit here at my desk with my laptop, trying to speed up the rate at which I can process the wonderful weekend I just had. I need to blog about it, but it’s hard because then I have to admit that it’s over, when really I want it to live on. And perhaps it does, in memory and impact.


I helped organize a writer’s retreat for homeschool authors at a sweet little vacation house I’ve known for years. The owners, dear friends of mine, were thrilled to allow the ten of us young Christian writers to stay for the weekend and have all the writing fellowship we could cram into those not-quite 48 hours.


Surrounded by a beautiful property, complete with a valley vista, a peaceful river, and end-of-season bluebonnets, we had a marvelous time. We grew closer to one another as friends and encouraged each other to use our writing to glorify God. We had morning and evening devotions and discussions; lectures on different aspects of writing; opportunities to work uninterrupted on our WIPs (aka, write-ins) and to read aloud pieces of our stories; and games that word nerds love. 
Photo Credit: V. Kathie Ardnek

I’m so grateful that God brought each of the young women here. Published and unpublished, with amazing abilities and passion, each unique but sharing many traits and interests. I know the encouragement and refreshing I received will be a long-lasting fuel to my writing, as will the friendships I made and cultivated.

If you’ve never been on a writing retreat with others, I can’t recommend it highly enough! After arriving on Friday afternoon, we played an icebreaker game. Our first writing activity was a write-in. I’ve never participated in one before, and I was a little doubtful that I’d be able to concentrate with others writing in the same room. But I loved it! For an hour, the clickety-clack of typing and the presence of all these writers making progress on their stories spurred me to do the same. It’s beneficial peer pressure.


We finished in time to watch the golden sunset from the cliff over the valley. Then, late into the night, we played a hilarious game called Bring Your Own Book. Each player chooses a book (novels work best) and tries to find punchy quotes that match a particular prompt. Everyone takes turns being the judge for each prompt and selects the person he or she thinks has the best line. It’s become one of my favorite games.


We ended that night and began the next morning with writing-related devotions that I wrote, followed by discussion and singing hymns. We had talented singers in the group. Saturday was a day of sharing knowledge and ideas and reading aloud our projects. I talked about editing; Sarah spoke on knowing your audience and having the courage to reach them with God’s message; Claire answered our medical questions for accuracy in our fiction; Grace gave us a bunch of great tips on writing a series; and Deborah read a superb essay by Stephen Lawhead on being Christian fiction writers. 
The authors’ published books. Photo Credit: V. Kathie Ardnek

It was enriching and fun to get a taste of everyone’s writing talent as we read aloud and discussed each other’s work. Also on Saturday, we walked down to the river in the valley, played Scattergories, and shared about books that have inspired us. Ending the night and beginning Sunday morning with devotionals and hymns was just what we needed to cap off a meaningful retreat. We went to a restaurant for a farewell breakfast and one by one said goodbye as each departed for home.

Yes, this retreat will have a lasting impact on me. Everyone was so passionate about their writing and using it for God’s glory. I was reminded of why I write. The nature around us infused peace and joy. But the fellowship and encouragement was the best part of all.
https://deborahocarroll.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/original-tag-writerly-spring-cleaning-challenge/

Spring is my favorite season, and where I live, most of the trees have burst out in brilliant green and wildflowers are peppering the thick grass with color. I really should be working on spring cleaning my actual house . . . but Deborah O’Carroll’s blog tag is far more fun! She created this challenge and tagged me.


Rules:

1. Link back to the person who tagged you

2. Share the picture

3. Answer the questions (naturally…) or even pick and choose which ones you answer

3.5 Tag 3 other writers and inform them that you tagged them


Questions:

1. Dust-Bunnies and Plot-Bunnies: Reorganize Your Writing Goals (Or Make New Ones)

In my first post of the year, I listed a few goals. They haven’t changed much, but at least one of them is getting more concrete: publishing my retelling of “The Bremen-Town Musicians.” (I really should set a calendar date for that, but that calendar has to be very forgiving if I do.) The other goals – working on my longer novels and exploring short story ideas – are a little nebulous, but I poke at them now and then. I do have two new goals: 1) finishing the first draft of another animal fairy-tale retelling (any guesses as to what it is?) and 2) getting as much as I can out of the Colorado Christian Writers Conference in May (so excited about going!).


2. Which Stage Are You At?

Everyone’s writing (and spring-cleaning) processes are different, and at different stages. Pick the one that most applies to you and tell us where you are in your writing process!

a. Remodeling layouts (planning the story)

b. Painting the walls in colorful hues (writing)

c. Polishing the windows and scrubbing the floors and putting flowers in the vases (editing)

d. Blueprints (not to the cleaning or remodeling yet . . . just drawing up plans for the very beginning inklings of a story)

e. Some combination of those things (cleaning out a closet)


I pick b – painting the walls. Most of my editing is done with the Bremen-town musicians story (that’s going to have an official title soon, I promise!), so I’m having fun writing my newer stories, particularly the Six Cousins novel set in Prince Edward Island and the other fairy-tale retelling.


3. Treasure from the Back of the Closet: Snippet Love

How about some snippets from my children’s story “The Bremen-Town Musicians”? These contain each of the main characters: Etzel the donkey, Jäger the dog, Katarina the cat, and Rüdiger the rooster.


Etzel the donkey just couldn’t face walking to the mill this morning. His knees and back ached as if the heavy sacks of grain or flour he often carried were already on his back. His master, Herr Hoffmann, stood at the doorway to the shack, clucking his tongue like an angry woodpecker.

Ach!Are you coming or not, you insolent, lazy beast?”


The sun had reached its peak about an hour ago and was slipping now. Its blinding warmth lay like a blanket on Etzel’s back, as if tucking him in for sleep. Ah, it was like sunning in the pasture; he ambled so rhythmically he felt he was standing still. It had been too long since he had walked this far without aching from a burden. When they first started out together, Jäger had gone from tree to tree, rejoicing in the freedom of new sights and smells; but now he kept a steady pace beside Etzel.


Instead, the cat gave a tremendous sneeze and cough, spraying water all over Jäger, who leaped back and fell into the stream as if he’d been shot. “It—it—it’s alive!”

The cat raised a bleary-eyed head, blinking at Etzel and Jäger with a green, filmy gaze. It coughed again, delicately this time, and ran the tip of its pink tongue around the edge of its mouth. “Of course I’m alive, Dummkopf. I’m a cat, aren’t I?”


Who’d have thought a rooster was so smart!” Jäger exclaimed. “You talk smarter than Etzel; I almost can’t understand you.”

Thank you, my good fellow. I merely quote the wisest of them all, the great animal storyteller, Aesop himself.” Rüdiger’s red crest stood high and his gold, green, and brown feathers puffed out, swelling his size.


If you want to do this, consider yourself tagged and please let me know! You can visit Deborah’s original post for more information on the challenge.

I hope you had a great Labor Day! For me, I was able to make progress on a story, which adds a special shine to any day in my estimation. 

The Real Green Gables

Since I last posted, I’ve resettled into a writing routine (as of right now!). What am I working on? A third Marielle novel, this one set on Prince Edward Island. (By the by, exactly one year ago today I arrived on P.E.I. to begin my own adventure there.) I don’t want to share many details too soon because details tend to be fickle and whimsical, but for now, the novel is going well. I know I should be optimistic, but, honestly, I’m holding my breath about how its progress will continue, because for the several months that I’ve had this idea and begun working on it, it evaded my interest and enthusiasm.

Surely you’ve also felt completely unmotivated about working on a project that you know you should be excited about. Days and weeks go by, and you’re feeling more and more unhappy about being “forced” to do it until you just want to slide it off your plate into the trashcan. That was me with this novel. Friends had made some suggestions that added to the plot, and I thought I was set. I began to peck at it but couldn’t manage much, especially on the days I did my editing jobs. I realized this couldn’t go on – either I’d have to get serious about it or drop it altogether. I went with the former because I knew there needed to be a third Marielle installment. And now, several weeks later, it’s captured my heart and I love writing it.

How did I get to that point? If you’re trying to overcome reluctance to work on one of your own projects, writing or otherwise, maybe something here might help:

– After hours of editing, I couldn’t stand to be on the computer anymore once I was done for the night. So I pulled out a good old-fashioned notebook and handwrote a few pages. It was slow, but at least it was progress, and a change of place and position loosened up my creativity.
– Tweaking what I’d already written to match the new plot ideas gave me a context for picking up where I left off after a long absence.
– Photos fed my visual-hungry brain and reminded me why I love Prince Edward Island.
– Research answered some questions and helped me craft atmosphere and details.
– Reminiscing about my own P.E.I. trip gave me inspiration for characters and settings.
– Poetry made me fall in love with words and imagery all over again, and writing tips made me want to try them out on my own creative work.
– Reading some of L. M. Montgomery’s beautiful writing (the P.E.I. author of Anne of Green Gables) inspired me more than anything else – after all, she is the person who ignited my work-in-progress in the first place.

So the next time I feel stuck, I hope can remember to take the time to search for inspiration to fill up my dry well. If we have nothing to draw from, how can we keep producing?

What do you do when you feel stuck?

Christian indie author Kendra E. Ardnek is hosting an exciting online writers’ conference from March 20-24. It looks fantastic – packed with guest posts (aka, speakers), videos, games, Q&A, contests, and other events that everyone can enjoy from home. I know what it’s like to wish you could go to an in-person writers’ conference, but end up prevented by cost and distance . . . this convention is designed for people just like that! 

The bulk of the events will be held on Kendra’s blog. Hop over to this page on her blog for more information about all the planned activities and to see how you can participate. There’s even a writing contest where you could win a book cover!

If you set yearly goals, doesn’t it sometimes seem like it takes all of January to grasp just what they are and where you’d like to go in the year ahead? Several weeks into the new year, I finally feel like I know my writing goals for 2017. 

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Goal number one I’ve actually known for a while now: publish my 1930s Sense and Sensibility retelling, Suit and Suitability. Thankfully, it’s temporarily out of my hands now and in the beta-reader domain! (I appreciate these people so much!) I hope to post a few articles on the 1930s era leading up to my release, and I can’t wait to be able to announce the actual publication date. The whole Vintage Jane Austen series should be debuting in the coming months.

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Goal number two is something I haven’t even hinted at until now. In the midst of editing S&S last year, I desperately needed to exercise different writing muscles now and then: creativity, whimsicality, simplicity . . . and so I pulled up a backburner idea and wrote a fairytale retelling. Have you ever heard of the Grimm Brothers’ “Bremen Town Musicians”? Four old farm animals have outlived their useful years and, with their lives now threatened, leave their homes to be musicians in the fine town of Bremen, Germany. I had so much fun spinning this story I’ve always loved into a short children’s novel. I’m editing it now, and Lord willing if all goes well, it should be published later this year. In a future post I’ll share more!

Ivana Ebel


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Goal number three is to write another Six Cousins novel. The one I’ve begun, however, is focused on Marielle and her mom instead of all the cousins. (Though Reanna has recently informed me, in her quiet manner, that she would love to be included; since she never asks for much, she’ll probably get her way.) It takes place on Prince Edward Island (I made sure to record my P.E.I. impressions while I was there in September!) and should be much shorter than the other two. I’m happy to be writing about Marielle again and exploring how she’s grown, as well as revisiting this beautiful island in my imagination.

So those are my writing goals for 2017 so far! In the coming months, I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about each of them. What are your goals, writing or otherwise, for this year?