June 29, 2018

To Enter or Not to Enter?

By Rachel Dylan

No matter what your genre, there seems to be a writing contest these days for everyone—unpublished and published authors alike. Today I’d like to talk a bit about contests for unpublished authors. I’m going to steal my own thunder and tell you that I am answering the “to enter or not to enter” question in the affirmative with a big and resounding, YES!

There are many great reasons to enter writing contests, and I’d like to outline a few of them here and talk about the benefits of contests.

1)      Fear—I think a lot of authors, myself included, have the initial fear of having someone else read and critique their work. The writing contest allows you to rip off the Band-Aid and have a stranger provide an opinion. Not only will their opinion be more objective than your friend or family member, but it will be an opinion—sometimes a strong one, or even a negative one. But having that experience is a crucial part of growing as an author. Which leads to point two.

2)      Feedback—Learning how to take feedback is an important part of being an author. Once you put your story out into the world, you will get lots of feedback, and not all of that feedback will be positive. Contests are a great way of learning how to take the feedback. Whether its readers, editors, agents, or other publishing industry contacts, getting accustomed to having someone provide an opinion and feedback on your work is invaluable. Which leads to the next point.

3)      Learning and Growing—It’s not just enough to take in the feedback, but what do you do with it? One of the things I learned from contests is to recognize certain blind spots I might have about my own writing. But it’s equally important to know when to stand your ground. Take the feedback, use what you can, and don’t internalize the negative comments. Remember that it is just one person’s opinion. It’s okay to have an emotional reaction to feedback, but it is so important to keep growing as an author to learn to accept criticism.

4)      Exposure—Yes, this is what most writers are seeking from entering the contest—getting your pages in front of an industry professional! Many contests have the final round judged by editors and agents who can discover you and your story. This exposure is a wonderful way to make contacts. Even if your current story isn’t for them, you never know the contacts and connections you will make for the future.

These are just some of the benefits of entering contests, and I hope it will encourage you to take the leap and put your work out there into the world.

Rachel Dylan was a litigator in one of Atlanta's most elite law firms for over eight years and now works as an attorney at one of the Big Three automobile manufacturers. She is the author of Deadly Proof and four Love Inspired Suspense novels and lives in Michigan with her husband. She is active on social media and you can visit her website at

June 28, 2018

Relighting the Flame of Your Ambition

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Most of us can remember that idea that hit us in the head like a swing from a baseball bat, that idea that struck us like lightening. That one idea that sent us on our way to chasing a dream reaching a goal and pursuing our perception of success. Then somewhere along the way the flame went out. It was overshadowed by other things which seemed to be of significant importance or our health or family concerns. But something seemed to douse the flame burning within us. Is it possible to rekindle that flame? I believe it is.

First we must realize our initial idea that hit us like a bolt of lightning was indeed true and correct. Your premonitions, instincts and gut feelings are usually 99% accurate. They are your subconscious coming to the surface in a more visible form. Second guessing those feelings will take you away from your destination, your success and your happiness. So do not second guess but instead return to those first thoughts and the realization of their accuracy.

Second refuse the naysayers. They may disguise themselves as concerned individuals in the form of friends and family. They will use words like afraid, worried and can’t. Examples: I’m afraid you will not succeed and will be disappointed. I’m worried for your well being. I just don’t think you can succeed. These are dead giveaways and will expose those people who themselves never did and never will and don’t want others to make them feel worse by succeeding. Avoid them and don’t listen to them. You must continue onward.

Third look for ways to rekindle the flame of your ambition.
·         You may want to make a list of things holding you back. Determine if it is simply a mental block and attack it.
·         Brainstorm these roadblocks with someone that you trust and is supportive.
·         If you find you are blocked by the ordinary mundane everyday practicality of being practical think outside the box. Get creative.
·          Hit the information highway and search out a path. Use the experience and wisdom of others.
·         Commit yourself to constant learning. Learn how to reap the knowledge of people that may have taken your path and were successful. If you are lucky you may develop a mentor.

All in all don’t settle for less. There is absolutely no reason to do so. Look back to that moment the idea struck you and use it as a reference point in all you do on your journey. The idea is there but action is needed. Don’t give in to anything but success. After all it is your idea, your dream and only you can see it come to fruition.              

June 27, 2018

When is it time to throw in the towel?

By Carol Guthrie Heilman

After a sleepless night, a writer bolted upright among scrambled sheets. She threw up her hands and yelled, “I quit!”

I can relate. My writing has come to a screeching halt more times than I care to admit.

Months after I submitted a brilliant synopsis and the first three chapters of a dazzling novel, I received a form rejection letter. What were they thinking?

After a month-long hissy fit, I took another look at my manuscript and slowly began to edit and rewrite. I attended writers’ conferences, joined a critique group, and kept writing. That novel has never seen the light of day, but it may someday. More importantly, my writings slowly improved. 

Newspapers and magazines began to accept some of my family stories.
One day my mother said, “We don’t have any secrets any more!” My daddy hugged me close and said, “When’s your next one coming out?” My writings had acquired an admirer. My first.

The process to perfect any writing skills took years before I had a book published. Whew! I had arrived, or so I thought. Then one day I received a scathing review. Cut to the core of my soul, I believed the angry, ugly words and again could not write. I shut myself down to escape the pain. The voices in my head convinced me I wouldn’t recover from what I saw as a humiliation. All that work for this? Besides, I was fast approaching old age. Did I really want the stress of being vulnerable to a pack of wolves? Yes, I had overreacted, but I had lost all logical thinking at this point.

Finally I reached the end of my rope, the end of myself.

I gave up . . .

Trying to control things I could not. Bad reviews might hurt for a short time, but now I try to learn from them and keep moving forward.

I gave up . . .

Allowing my fears of never being good enough to paralyze me until I couldn’t breathe, much less write.

And I gave up . . .

Thinking my work is better, or worse, than it is. Now I love revisions because they allow me to step back and see my writing again with new eyes. Re-vision.

Writers work hard and we dream and plan and dream some more about becoming successful in the eyes of the world. If that’s all we strive for, we will always fall short. We will never have enough good reviews, or book sales, or awards.   

I’m a natural born worrier, but when I fret and stew and agonize over any writing that is finished and out of my hands, I am not trusting God to use it for His purposes, not mine.

Sir Winston Churchill and Agnes Hopper—a senior, spunky protagonist in my books—have both been known to say: Never, never, never give up!

Great advice.

My writer friend who shouted “I quit” into the early morning darkness was not giving up on writing, though she had considered doing just that in times past. No, she had finally surrendered her work to the God of the Universe whose plans are to bless us, not to harm us, and to give us a future and a hope.

What about you? Have you ever closed your computer or laid down your pen and said, “I’m finished with this writing business.”

Writing can be hard, lonely, and heart wrenching at times. But you do not have to walk your pathway alone. Let us hear from you.
Carol Guthrie Heilman, a coal miner's daughter, married her high school sweetheart, a farmer's son. She began writing family stories, especially about her dad's Appalachian humor, for newspapers and magazines. One day her mother said, "We don't have any secrets any more!" Carol's book series, Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar and Agnes Hopper Bets on Murder, was inspired by her mother's spunky spirit and her dad's humor. She has recently moved, along with her husband of fifty-plus years, from the mountains of NC to Charleston, SC. They love to play cards, go antiquing, hike, and visit grandsons on the east and west coasts. Her social media links: Website:  Author Page: Facebook Twitter:

June 26, 2018

Getting in the Zone

By Gary Fearon

This weekend, the Mega Millions jackpot got up to 192 million dollars. As of this writing, no winner has been announced, but whenever the lottery rises to such an astronomical figure, this question gets passed around:

"What would you do if you won the lottery?"

I find it encouraging that whenever writers are asked that question, some of the first words out of their mouths are along the lines of, "I would write!" The luxury of having all the time in the world to indulge in their passion is every true writer's desire.

Certainly, paying off bills and traveling the globe get mentioned too, but the allure of writing to one's heart's content is the part of that fantasy that evokes the most enthusiasm. The windfall itself is merely a means to an end of getting to live the writer's life.

There's nothing surprising about the appeal of doing what we love. But we have all experienced that special joy known as being "in the zone". Everything is clicking, we're firing on all cylinders, and we lose ourselves in our creative expression to the point where we're skipping meals and wondering how it got to be three in the morning.

Some call this equivalent of the runner's high "the flow state", because inspiration flows effortlessly. How fitting that inspiration literally means to be filled with spirit.

This heightened level of performance can be practiced and mastered using several techniques, including these three time-tested methods:

Be present
Fully engage in what you're doing, moment by moment. Thoughts and anticipation about the final outcome, while fine motivations, are in the future. What you have control over is right now. Connect with the joy that is the journey.

Add a new element
A task that has become too familiar and routine invites boredom. By the same token, we are easily overwhelmed by too many new things at once. Approach each writing session by adding one small challenge that will stimulate growth.

Eliminate negativity
Negativity is the enemy of creativity, says David Lynch. Remove negative suggestions and influences, especially the worst crippler of all, self-doubt. Each creative session is a time for you to experiment free from fear and criticism.

Miles Davis had the right attitude, a mindset that helped him conjure the zone on cue. "I'm always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning ... Every day I find something creative to do with my life."

The odds of winning the Mega Millions are an unlikely 1 in 302,575.350. But the thrill of being in the zone can feel like winning the lottery. I hope you hit the jackpot every time you sit down to write.

June 25, 2018

Lessons from the Cello to the Writer – Part 2

By Chris Manion

Lessons the cello taught me that apply to my writing.

1.     Even though I knew nothing about playing it, I learned the cello with practice and a good teacher.

2.     When I practice the same scales week after week just to get through them, I make little progress. I must understand the relationship of each note to the next.

3.      I need to listen in a new way to discern when a note is on pitch. This takes time.

4.      I need to practice new pieces slowly at first. Zipping over the parts that give me trouble does not earn praise from my teacher.

5.      Cello strings need constant tweaking to stay in tune.

6.      I must make a commitment. If I don’t set a specific time for it, practice doesn’t happen.

7.      If I want to be good, I have to commit to practicing regularly. I want to be good.

Here’s how I’ve applied these lessons to my writing this year. To practice and find a good teacher, I’m attending another writers’ conference this month and will attend a fall writers retreat. I’ve committed myself as a writer on several blogs and formed a local chapter of Word Weavers to provide critique partners to help fine tune my work.

To understand the relationship of words to one another, each month I watch Left Behind author Jerry Jenkins’s live critique sessions. I also read a book on editing or writing to help me listen in a new way to what I’ve written, to write tighter and with less errors. I’m currently reading Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors by Kathy Ide. One of her bonuses: updates on the latest changes in CMOS (Chicago Manual of Style).

I’m a procrastinator. I skip parts that give me trouble. When I get stuck, I don’t finish an article or submit it for publication. A good critique partner or writing coach can help me through this. I need to swallow my pride and ask my partner for help more often.

After editing my writing, I print it out and read it aloud. Many tiny errors pop out on paper or to the ear that slip by on a computer screen. Ears hear the music in writing. Another practice: I wait and re-read it again, later.

My best time for writing is the morning, so I’ve set 6:00 – 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. – noon for writing hours. My brain feels drowsy after eating lunch, so I set my cello practice for 1:00 p.m.

If the energy from a butterfly flapping its wings can result in a tsunami (quantum physics says so), what transformative power we hold in our hands when we make music, or write, or do whatever God gave us talent to do. Let us do it now without another moment’s delay.

Like my cello, someone’s waiting and needs our words. Our talents are not meant to be buried.
Best-selling author Chris Manion is a conference and retreat speaker as well an award-winning catechist. Chris served as a coach and national leader in the direct selling industry for twenty-six years where she built a $20 million sales organization before retiring. Chris’s mission spotlights the oneness of all creation; her writing and talks encourage hearts to awaken to what their souls know but may have forgotten. Chris blogs at and God’s Patient Pursuit of My Soul can be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Social Media links:

June 22, 2018

Lessons from the Cello to the Writer – Part 1

By Chris Manion

She won’t speak unless I touch her. And lately, I’ve been avoiding touching her. I’m not sure why.

My cello sits in my music room and waits for me. An empty chair faces the music stand where the bow hangs. I abandoned my cello two years ago when I began the labor pains of birthing my first book. I couldn’t do both. The book demanded all my attention and effort. I think real babies are easier to birth than books.

It’s easy to project feelings onto my cello, but she’s too perfect to do anything but wait for me. She’s neither restless nor disappointed. My husband, God love him, simply sits in a chair and thumbs through emails when I’m running late. He makes no comments or sounds, knowing such actions won’t help. God’s like this, too. He waits with eternal patience for me to give him my time. Our readers wait.

My cello won’t speak unless I draw a bow across her beautiful body and make her strings cry out and sing. A writer’s work won’t speak until her fingers touch the keys, record button, or pen.
I think about my cello almost every day. I dust her. I walk past her. My mind dismisses my weak mantra of I’ve-got-to-get-back-to-playing as easily as a child dismisses a mother’s admonition. My commitment to play her hangs like wet laundry on the line, limp.

I think about my writing every day, too. But like thoughts of doing sit-ups after giving birth, unless I actually do some writing, those weak writing muscles will not tone up by themselves.

Until I abandoned my cello, I never understood why many writers complained about not being able to write. I get it now. The longer I stay away from playing my cello, the easier it is to forget the exhilaration of making music.

When I plant myself in the chair and start playing, the wood warms, the strings stretch, and my muscles remember what to do. Vibrations rumble against my chest, music opens in the air and magic begins. Something happens after I sit in my writing chair and begin a few sentences. Fresh words take off in new directions, opening in the air between my heart and mind.

Stay tuned for seven lessons my cello provided to my writing in Part 2.
Best-selling author Chris Manion is a conference and retreat speaker as well an award-winning catechist. Chris served as a coach and national leader in the direct selling industry for twenty-six years where she built a $20 million sales organization before retiring. Chris’s mission spotlights the oneness of all creation; her writing and talks encourage hearts to awaken to what their souls know but may have forgotten. Chris blogs at and God’s Patient Pursuit of My Soul can be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Social Media links: ht

June 21, 2018

Authors You Can Survive and Thrive After a Bad Review

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

I start by saying, I knew better. I advise authors not to post anything on their social media that could be perceived as controversial. Honestly, I didn’t think my post last Friday morning on Facebook was controversial, but in this current atmosphere of rudeness, some “friends” felt a need and their right to express their opinion and correct my viewpoint. My post didn’t ask for others’ opinions. It was merely a sharing of a news article with my thoughts.  

After deleting the original post I posted this, “Sooo, this morning, I made the mistake of voicing my feelings on a news story and after numerous comments escalating to being called names, I deleted the post and the increasingly attacking comments. Facebook is not a venue to share thoughts without being attacked for voicing one’s opinion. Put a fork
🍴in me, I’m done. What happened to respecting everyone’s opinion?” 

The post I deleted was only up for 48 minutes. The post above garnered over 84 supportive comments. I decided to turn my experience into a lesson for all authors. I sure learned something. 

Hear me again, keep your social media about your writing and your book. Think sales, sales and more sales. 

Fact. We live in a currently rude culture. As an author, you have to expect negative comments on your book. People love hiding behind their computers, giving their unfiltered opinions on the various venues social media provides. I recently had an author ask me if I had left a mediocre rating just because the reviewer’s online name had my first name. I assured the author it wasn’t me. As a staff member of Southern Writers Magazine, we are forbidden to review books. It’s unfortunate the author had suffered angst jumping to the wrong conclusion that I (someone who had been a beta reader of his book) might have left a mediocre Amazon review. Authors we have to know, gone are the days of “don’t say anything, unless you have something nice to say.” 

Reviews are subjective to how a person’s day is going. Sounds simple,- but it’s true. Was someone rude to them and they happened up on your book? Lucky you. Their review has nothing to do with YOU and everything to do with THEM. It makes them feel in control of their day and powerful with no consequences because they are hiding in cyberspace. I’ve often wondered when someone has left a bad review after they hit the send button if there is a rush of endorphins or if they feel any remorse in what they did to another person’s day. As an author taking anything but a glowing review to heart can be debilitating and can take its toll by you not wanting to write again. It hurts your heart and bruises your ego. You can’t let the “trolls” get you down. 

Bible Study teacher, Jennifer Rothschild, blogged Monday about seeing “something good in bad situations you’ve gotta look beyond your circumstance. You’ve gotta look through the 4:8 filter!” She was referring to Biblical scripture of  Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Jennifer goes on to say, “We can all spy something “good” or “lovely” or “true” by applying some 4:8 to whatever we face. We may not be able to remove the bad, but when we apply some 4:8, we will renew our minds. Everything changes when we decide to dwell on only what meets the 4:8 standard.”

In Danny Wallace book, F You Very Much, Understanding the Culture of Rudeness-and What We Can Do About It, quotes Dr. Amir Erez an expert in positivity and positive thinking. Erez says, “One of the reasons rudeness is so devastating is that it affects cognition. When people encounter rudeness they can’t think in the same way. We know now that it affects working memory. It’s used in reasoning, in decision making and in determining our behavior. That’s the part of the process where everything is happening. Planning, goal management, memory—pretty much everything is dependent on working memory.”

Authors need to try to ignore and resist lingering over reviews that are less than faltering. Develop a “lovable thick skin.” What do I mean by that? Tune out the voices outside of you. Put your ego, hurt by bad reviews, in the closet under the sweaters you never wear. You know those ugly Christmas sweaters. Bury that ego. Remember for some people it’s hard to find the good when they aren’t looking for it.

The only thing you need to think about is loving the voices that help you write your current writing project or start a new one. Stay on target for your next book and your career as an author. Does your work meet the 4:8 standard? Put things in perspective.  You’re living your dream, writing. 

I’m taking a big chance by asking this question. What do you think?

June 20, 2018

Method Writing-Live to Write, Not Write to Live

By Kena Sosa

It’s time to break the mold, writers. In the age of instant gratification, readers are no longer opening a book to only learn a version of events they may not ever experience, but to discover things they may experience one day on their own. We must live more so that our writing is spicy, breathes and grows. We must stop hiding behind that laptop, the spiral notebook and the safety of our own thoughts. Actors use method acting by absorbing, becoming and living their characters. It’s time we did the same.

Be a D.I.Y. enthusiast and do it yourself. If there is something you want to write about, do it first. If you are writing about a police officer, sign up for a free Citizen’s Police Academy. If you are writing about a scuba diver, sign up for a course. If your character is a paleontologist, sign up for a dig. Observe everyone and feel their reality. Live the life you want to write about.

People watch. Study people that influence your characters, not to copy them but to see how they work, how do those similar to your characters interact with others? What do they say and do? Interview people about their characteristics and jobs to get an insider’s perspective. You’ll need to assure them you are not writing about them, but are using the information only to build a more realistic character. If your interviewee is willing, try having an impromptu conversation with them about part of your plot or an event you’d like to write about. If you have mapped out some dialogue, ask them to do a read through like actors with a script. Get their perspective on the events and speech used. What would they say or do in that situation? If they aren’t up for it, have the conversation with your imaginary friend, yourself! Everyone talks to themselves in the car, so why not make it productive?

Method act like actors do. Leave your house and pretend to be your character. What places would they visit? What would they do? Be that character for a day and see how people react to you. If need be, conduct a social experiment. If you said you were lost, which people would stop to help you? Learn about others outside of your social circle through real interaction and observation.

If possible, find ways to travel on the cheap to the settings of your stories. Not all of your stories can be about the same place, can they? When you travel, settle down and try to identify with the locals.

Leave that comfort zone behind. I’m living it up developing my next story, not suffering writer’s block. Before you know it, all that stimulation, those new and invigorating wild thoughts, secrets, skills and passions will be ready to pour from your lips to the paper.
School librarian by day and writer by night, Kena Sosa adores words. She also loves playing the drums. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Our Lady of the Lake University and her master’s degree in bilingual education from Southern Methodist University. Her first children’s book, Rey Antonio and Rey Feo, was born of the celebration of her childhood in San Antonio. Her second book, Kindertransport: A Child’s Journey, is about the escape of children on the Kindertransport train just before the outbreak of World War II. Kena Sosa has lived in Japan and Mexico, but sharing stories with her two sons and other eager readers has been her favorite adventure yet!

June 19, 2018

8 Things Writers Can Learn from Mary Poppins

By Gary Fearon

Richard M. Sherman and his brother Robert B. Sherman may not be household names, but the story songs they wrote are beloved worldwide via Walt Disney films and parks, including what they considered their crowning glory, Mary Poppins. Along with their Oscar-winning score, the Shermans were key players in developing the story structure.

Last Tuesday, June 12th, was Richard M. Sherman's 90th birthday. In his honor, here are eight things all writers can learn from the prolific songwriting team Walt himself affectionately referred to as "the boys".

There are eight books in the Mary Poppins series. Scenes and concepts from different books were brought together to create a storyline for the classic 1964 screenplay. Are there any ideas you've  put aside that could find a new home in your latest work?

The magical English nanny had many colorful adventures, but Richard & Robert determined that these episodes had no character arcs and weren't enough to carry a story. They convinced Disney that Mary's employers should be distracted parents who rediscover the joy of childhood along with their children. Once a moral was chosen, the adventures took on a common purpose.

For Mary's signature song, the Shermans wanted to give her a clever proverb, like "An apple a day..." or "A stitch in time..."  The end result ("A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down") was inspired by Robert's young son, whose school had administered a polio vaccine placed on sugar cubes for easier consumption. You never know what phrase you write could become an instant classic.

In the books, Bert was only a minor character, a street artist known as The Match Man. He has much more prominence in the film, and his role as a chimney sweep was borrowed from a different character in the P.L. Travers series. Bert was given a presence and personality strong enough to be a companion for Mary Poppins. His equally charismatic signature song, "Chim Chim Chiree", won the 1965 Oscar for Best Original Song.

The Shermans moved the story from the depression-era 1930s to the more hopeful turn of the century. Setting the story in 1910 London also allowed them to develop one character into a suffragette. Speaking of whom...

Actress Glynnis Johns thought she had been cast to get the title role of Mary Poppins, only to learn that Julie Andrews had already been enlisted to play the title role. Walt appeased her by assuring her that the Shermans had written an especially great song just for her to sing. In truth, it wasn't even a thought up to that point. But Richard and Robert picked up the gauntlet and delivered a big and brassy number to give her lesser character a chance to shine.

The Shermans wrote 32 songs for possible inclusion in Mary Poppins, but only 14 were used when Walt declared the rest "unnecessary" for the story. Some were repurposed in later Disney features including Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Jungle Book.

The Sherman brothers avoided distractions like the plague. When it was time to write, they shut out the world around them to concentrate on the project at hand. 

In everything they wrote, Richard and Robert believed that story always comes first. By adopting that same focus, we can give our writing a little extra magic that is practically perfect in every way.