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I am starting a series for new writers based on the common mistakes most of us make as first timers. If you know someone who harbors a secret, or not so secret, passion for writing, please pass it on!

Common Writing Pitfalls #1

Mechanics and Style: Adverbs, Passive, Adjectives

  1. 1.      Passive voice (using was, is, has been, was verbs plus -ing) You can use passive sometimes to keep the flow and cadence going, but it’s better to make it an exception and not the rule.

Example: He was heading to the store. vs. He headed to the store.

Most of the time, you can pluck the was or is out and make the verb past tense.

Example: She was walking toward the tree. vs. She skipped toward the tree.

Not only do we need to fix the “was” but we needed a stronger verb to paint a better picture. Now we know she exuded happiness! She could have sauntered, strolled, paced, etc. Pick the verb that best describes the tone and mood you are trying to get across.

 2.    -ly adverbs. Adverbs distract and take away from the pace of the story. Replace weak verb/adverb combinations with one strong verb that sets your tone. If you absolutely have to use an adverb, like I just did, make sure it’s one among pages and pages of no adverbs.

Example: Gloria ran happily to her stash of candy buried in the backyard. vs. Gloria dashed toward her stash of candy in the backyard.

Using dashed, a strong verb, conveys her mood and means the same thing.

3.      Don’t overuse adjectives. Make your descriptions clear and concise without overload. Describe what you need to in a clean, precise manner.

 Example: “The hard, steel door slammed loudly behind me and I cringed in absolute fear as I stared at the wide, metal table in the lone, empty room.”

First look at all the adjectives—hard, steel, absolute, wide, metal, lone, empty. Then I have an adverb, and a few redundancies. Steel means hard. Lone means empty. If you slam something, it’s usually loud. If the room is truly empty, there would be not be a table. Also, it’s a long sentence and some of the punch gets lost in the wordiness.

Try this instead: The steel door slammed behind me, leaving me alone in the room. I stared at the metal table and cringed.

4.      Be clear and specific when you write  sentences and descriptions. Don’t use vague words such as it or things. Also, to build a stronger sense of setting, use specific nouns rather than general ones.

Example: She sat beneath the tree. vs. She slumped beneath the towering oak.

5.       Showing vs. Telling. I find this one of the hardest things to catch. Think of it as painting a detailed word picture without actually blurting out what’s going on. What does this mean?

Example: (Telling) “I love chocolate,” Mary said.

Now we know Mary likes chocolate. Big deal. How fun was that. You told us and we didn’t even have to visualize it in our minds. No painting of a word picture here.

Try this: (Showing) Mary scooped another chocolate candy from the dish and held it by her nose, breathed in the delicious smell, and popped it into her mouth.

 

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My Grandma Holding Me!

With a sigh, I drop into my favorite overstuffed chair and rest my cheek against the green tweed fabric. Leftover turkey, green beans, and mashed potatoes, brown with gravy, litter white plates scattered across the counter. The spicy aroma of warm pumpkin pie floats into the family room.

My boys tear through the room, flashing silver foam swords, my husband on their trail. He scoops them up and plops them down on the couch next to my sister and my grandpa.

“Turn the game up, I can’t hear the score.” My mom yells from the kitchen.

The dishwasher clicks on and I tune out the soft hum and close my eyes. Full of warmth and family, the day seems perfect. Yet, something is missing—the picture incomplete.

Grandma’s absence fills the room.

Grandma, Me, and Kyle (my oldest son)

The smooth scent of vanilla slides over me. A hand rests on my shoulder and I cover it with mine—trace the bumpy veins on loose, spongy skin. I open my eyes.

Grandma kneels beside my chair, dressed in her favorite outfit—blue sweater, matching pumps, and pearl clip-on earrings.

I bite my lip. She’s not supposed to be here.

A smile warms her face. “I just want you to know that I’m okay.”

“It’s not the same without you.” I squeeze her hand and lean my head against hers. “I miss your hugs.”

Her fingers comb through my hair. “I miss yours, too.”

“Mom made your pistachio salad. It was all wrong. She put in the nuts.”

With a laugh, she kisses my cheek.

A harsh buzz shatters the moment. Startled, I sit up in bed. My husband snores softly by my side. I hit snooze on the alarm and fall back against the pillow.

It had only been a dream.

And now it’s too late. Too late to tell her how much she meant to me. Too late to hug her and realize what I had.

My husband rolls over and rubs his eyes. When I take the time to think about it, there are so many things I’m grateful for—like when he takes out the garbage and scoops out the cat litter. He’s made dinner on my tired days more times than I can count.

I roll over and scoot down so I can face him. “I love you.”

With a sigh, he pulls me close. “I love you, too.”

My hand rests against the rough stubble of his cheek and I breathe him in. I want to live in this moment, be grateful for what I have right now.

“Thanks for putting away the laundry yesterday and coming home early to drive Maddy to church.”

Surprise lights his eyes and, after he stares at me for a moment, a huge smile lights his face. “You’re welcome.”

As he holds me, I think of my kids still asleep, under their covers. How many hugs have I pushed off, busy with the drive to finish this or that? How many times have I punished their bad choices and neglected to praise their good choices?

My devotional reading from early in the week drifts through my mind.

“And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful” (Colossians 3:15 NIV).

Thankfulness. Something I don’t spend much time pondering. It will take a conscious decision, some deliberate prioritizing, and major prayer to make a permanent attitude change. But it will be worth it. My grandma may be gone, but my husband and my kids are here.

After a soft kiss on my husband’s cheek, I climb out of bed to wake my kids up with a hug. I can’t wait to tell them how special I think they are!

I am working on building a new website.

Trying to get it up and going.

Not so much fun.

When I finally figure it all out, I will let you know!

I can’t believe it’s almost Thanksgiving! In light of that, I’ve been thinking about what I’m most grateful for. Yes, it’s sappy, but it’s the season. For me, taking stock of what I’m thankful for shifts my perspective and gives me plenty of warm fuzzies to keep me going after Thanksgiving ends.

Here’s my list. I’d love it if you would post a comment below and share your list as well.

1. God loves me no matter what. The most pure form of unconditional love out there. And it’s free!

2. My husband hasn’t run away screaming after cohabitating with me for over twenty years.

3. My kids <gasp> sometimes like to hang with me. And two of them are teenagers!

4. My mom, who lets me talk about my writing when no one else really cares. 🙂

5. All of my incredible and close friends. I mean, who has more best friends than fingers????

Mole-Ectomy

After a recent Mom’s Movie Night Out, I stood in the lobby catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while. Becky waited against the wall, alternating her gaze between my face and my arm.

“What?” I asked her.

She leaned forward and touched a small brown spot on my upper arm. “I think you need to come have that mole removed.”

Lesson number one—Never go to the movies with your doctor.

Lesson number two—Wear long sleeves if you do.

Shaving off my mole with a razor blade? Not my first choice activity. I shuddered. “I think it’s good. Let’s go out to eat instead.”

She raised her eyebrow. “Call my office Monday.”

All weekend I thought about that razor blade and cringed. I asked my husband to come with me and hold my hand. “I have to work,” he said. I told my kids. My son, who gives himself nightly injections, called me a big baby. My daughter offered to perform a musical to take my mind off the pain.

I decided to go alone.

Monday arrived and I sweated the creepy crawlies out in the waiting room reading Fit Pregnancy, even though the last time my belly swelled with child had been 2001. The nurse called my name and took me back to the room. She set out the equipment for my mole excavation.

My hands shook.

When she finally left, I eased back onto the crunchy white paper and closed my eyes. It’s no big deal, I told myself.

“Oops.” The nurse returned pushing a box on wheels. “Forgot this.”

“What is that?” I jerked up.

“It cauterizes the wound when she’s done.” She smiled and pulled the door shut.

What? My tiny mole hole would need to be cauterized? Like burned?

Just as I geared up to sneak out, Becky walked in. “Ready?”

“No, but go ahead. Just remember next time we get together, we have to do something fun that doesn’t involve you cutting or me crying.”

Just in case you worried about my mole—the procedure went fine. Turned out super doctor found another suspicious bugger on my back and I had a double molectomy. But true to her word, after numbing spray and Lidocaine, I didn’t feel a thing. I love you, Becky!

Sometimes anticipation feels worse than the actual event. I waste so much time and energy dreading things that may happen or things that aren’t half the big deal I’ve made them out to be.

Worst case scenario? Real life plays out exactly like my imagination pegged it. Counting the pre-worry anxiety, I’ve wasted double the time and energy fretting.

I think that’s why God tells me not to go there. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:25, 27, 34 NIV).

I can’t change the outcome of an event with worry. But I can drive myself crazy with the pain of dread. And I often do.

God has a much better use for my time than worry. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 NIV).

I think I lost a good twelve hours of my life dreading what turned out to be a non-event. I still may think twice about going to see another movie with Becky.

Or I maybe I’ll just wear a sweater.

I wrote another version of my original article, September, and it landed at Crosswalk today under their homeschool section! The link is below.

http://www.crosswalk.com/family/homeschool/encouragement/wrestling-to-get-back-into-school-mode.html

I am polishing a story for The Writer’s Digest 2011 short story contest this weekend. Six categories. Probably thousands of entries per category.

I am entering a shortened, and reworked, version of my young adult novel in the young adult category. A little fun. A little creepy. The story, not the entry process. Well, maybe the entry process. We shall see what happens.

Worst case scenario? I get a lot of material for my blog on self-esteem and rejection!

Have a great weekend!

In case you missed my toilet paper debaucle–it reprinted in The Christian Pulse last week!

By the way, still love those yoga pants. I’m just more careful when I wear them now!

Blog link: https://lafreeland.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/fatal-attraction/

http://thechristianpulse.com/2011/10/21/fatal-attraction/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TheChristianPulse+%28The+Christian+Pulse%29

Courting Catastrophe, a true story, won second place in last year’s NTCW Conference for Adult Novel/Short Story. My baby bump will be turning 18 in January!

The gun was small and black. It looked plastic.

 A party raged in the apartment next door—music blared, people laughed. Oblivious to the nightmare transpiring in my living room. My mind sprinted forward, sorting through the possibilities of how the next few minutes could play out, while my body melted into the couch, overloaded with the mental pictures my mind produced.

I should yell. Run. Do something.

Instead, I froze—acutely aware of each hammer of my heart, each prolonged breath. My hands slid down the soft terrycloth robe to cradle the small, round bump over my stomach.

Lord, please, protect this baby.

“Get on the floor!”

Kevin—if that really was his name—staggered forward, nothing like the man we’d chatted with this afternoon. His hand trembled, but at close range, he probably wouldn’t miss.

My husband, Pat, sat on my left and our friend, Judy, on my right. A TV mini-series played in the background. Next door, the music cranked up a notch, loud enough to drown out gunshots. Laughter floated through our screen door as people came and went from the party. If any of them came close enough, they would have a clear view. Of us. Of Kevin. Of the gun.

But no one did.

How long had Kevin been here? Minutes? Hours? Days?

Lord, please, protect this baby.

Pat moved off the couch to stand in front of me. Kevin lunged forward, smacking the gun against Pat’s head hard enough to send him to his knees. I slid off the couch beside him and locked my panicked eyes with his.

Kevin knelt, placed his knee on Pat’s neck and grabbed my left hand. Diamonds sparkled under the light and I understood why Kevin had come back.

My finger, already swollen from the pregnancy, throbbed in his rough grasp as he tried to wrench the ring over my knuckle. When it got stuck, he rocked back on his heels and shoved his glasses back up his nose. Sweat dotted his forehead.  He wiped his face against his shirt and pushed the gun into my cheek. It was cold and hard and didn’t feel at all like plastic.

“Please.” My voice shook as I held my hand up. “I can get it off.”

Kevin pulled the gun back a few inches and stared at me with unfocused large black pupils.

I licked my finger then twisted and pulled until the ring finally slipped free.

Kevin snatched it from my hand, stood and backed toward the door. Hesitated and shifted his feet. Brought the gun back up. “Down on the floor! Face first.”

Judy and I obeyed. Pat grabbed my hand and squeezed. Afraid to rest on my stomach, I rolled slightly to the side.

Why had we put the ad in the paper about the moving sale? Why had we let Kevin in our apartment hours earlier to look at our furniture?

We invited death to our door.

Would he kill Pat first and work his way down the line? What would it sound like? Would I feel it or just slip away? Would this baby be with me in Heaven right away?

Lord, please, protect this baby.  

There were so many things to wrestle out, but no time to work them through. Half curled into a fetal position, I waited, wanting it to be over.

Nothing happened.

I glanced up, careful not to move my head. Kevin rummaged through my purse, pocketed my wallet. I stared at his shoes—black sneakers, white laces, Nike stripes—watched him walk closer, the gun hanging at his side.

I closed my eyes again, entirely powerless to save my child.

Lord, please, protect this baby

The Nikes shuffled back a step. “Get up. Lock yourselves in the bathroom. Come out, you’re dead.”

Pat quickly pulled me up, pushing me into the bathroom, locking the door after all three of us were inside. I slumped onto the edge of the bathtub. Dizziness spun around my head and my legs went numb.

The screen door slammed and after a moment, Pat carefully turned the door handle and peeked out. Kevin had disappeared.

It was over.

Hours later, my heart had yet to settle into a regular beat. My stomach tightened and rolled. Tea wasn’t helping. Neither was rocking back and forth on the edge of Judy’s bed, but I was grateful she asked us to stay with her tonight. I was never going back into that apartment again.

Our seminary friend, Brent, sat in the rocking chair across the room.

“I’m not ever going back inside the apartment.” The teacup wavered in my hands. I put it down on the nightstand.

“It’s okay if you don’t.” Brent rocked a moment, his hands on his knees. “But later, when you can breathe again, remember that you weren’t alone tonight. Jesus was with you.”

“Was He?” I hadn’t felt Him there.

The rocking chair scraped along the floor as Brent dragged it closer to the bed. “He was. I’ll show you. Picture yourself back in your living room.”

I shook my head. “I can’t.”

Brent leaned forward and pulled my hands into his. “Close your eyes.”

After a few deep breaths, I closed my eyes. I was back in the apartment. I watched Kevin pull open the screen door, reach into his black jacket and pull out the gun.

My eyes snapped open. “It’s too real. I’m still there. I’m trying to forget this day, not relive it.”

“Close your eyes and look behind Kevin. Jesus is standing there—completely in control. He’s whispering in Kevin’s ear. ‘You can wave that gun around, but I won’t let you hurt them. They’re mine, not yours.’”

I closed my eyes and tried to see Jesus.

But all I saw was Kevin.

Six weeks later sun streamed through the glass window in our hotel room, bathing me in a rectangular glow. After stretching along the large, soft bed, I looked at the clock—9:00 am. Moving day was tomorrow.

These last six weeks, the hotel had been my safe haven—a gift from God, complete with maid service and a breakfast buffet. Miraculously, we were moving to Colorado! Pat received his transfer papers the day after the incident. As part of his relocation package, the company agreed to put us up in a hotel on this end of the move, rather than on the Colorado side. I hadn’t set foot in the apartment since that night.

Dressed in jeans and his favorite Packer’s sweatshirt, Pat stood by the bed. “We need to go back and get anything that’s important to you because the mover’s are putting our stuff into storage.”

I rolled away from him, burying my face in the pillow. “You pack.”

The bed dipped and his hand rested on my arm. “Lori, please. Just walk in, pick up what you want and then we’ll leave.”

I was safe here in the hotel. I didn’t want to go back.

Pat rubbed my back through the covers, leaned over, and kissed my neck. “Get dressed. Ride with me.”

I shook my head.

He whispered in my ear. “You can wait in the car and boss me around through the window.”

The mental picture made me smile. “Fine. But I’m not going in.”

Pat parked in front of the apartment, kissed my cheek, and disappeared through our front door. The police had never caught Kevin—I wasn’t sure they’d ever really looked for him—and in the back of my mind I wondered if he would come back. Suddenly, being in the car alone didn’t feel safe. I opened the door and heaved my pregnant body off the seat.

I only got as far as the sidewalk before I congealed on the concrete.

Birds sung. The sun shone. And sweat trickled down my back. Staring at the front door stole my breath. My hands flew to my belly. The baby kicked, pulling me out of paralysis.

My foot slid forward and pushed against the screen door. The TV remote lay on the floor where Judy dropped it. Pillows were piled on the couch. My slippers peeked out from under the glass end table. Everything was the same—as if we walked away and hadn’t come back—exactly like we had.

How many times had I begged that night—Lord, please protect this baby? And He had. But I was still afraid.

My ring finger tingled. It felt naked without my ring.

I inched forward and paused where Kevin had stood. What had he been thinking that night? Had he come here to rob and kill us and then changed his mind? Had there been a plan at all? Or was he too high to think anything through? What drove someone to do what he had done—meeting with us earlier, sharing about his fiancée, fabricating such an intricate story? Had there been any truth to his words?

My legs trembled. Before they gave out, I made it to the edge of the couch and closed my eyes. I could still see Kevin in front of the door—gun lifted, black jacket hanging open, greasy ponytail. My breathing quickened. I squeezed my hands into fists and thought about what Brent had said.

Jesus was standing behind Kevin. Jesus was the one in control.

And then suddenly I could see Him behind Kevin—glowing and full of power, filling the room with warmth and peace. Tears slid down my cheeks.

My hand flattened on the couch, the fabric soft against my palm. The other hand rested on my stomach.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

I erased Kevin from the picture and left Jesus standing there alone.

The fear wound into a tight little ball, growing smaller and smaller until it disappeared. “Thank you for protecting this baby.”

My eyes flew open and fell on the front door where the sun entered and brightened the room. Grateful for the baby’s life, all our lives, and for the peace in my heart, I smiled.

I pushed off the couch and went to help Pat pack in the bedroom.