Embrace Growth – Guest USA Today Bestseller Colleen Coble

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

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I’m delighted to have USA Today bestseller Colleen Coble as my guest on TKZ. Colleen is an award-winning author with over 2 million books in print and she writes heartfelt and suspenseful romantic mysteries. I’m enjoying her latest Twilight at Blueberry Barrens and I’m a big fan. NYT bestseller Brenda Novak has given it high praise and Publishers Weekly gave Colleen a prized starred reviewPlease help me welcome her to TKZ.

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You know the best thing about writing? You never arrive. There is always something you can improve on. Writing isn’t static, and it’s thrilling to know a better, bigger book can be yours to create. So how do we embrace the process of change in our books? Here’s what works for me.

1. Determine what drives your writing:
I think we all figure out fairly soon where we belong in the landscape of the writing world, and what type of story grabs us and doesn’t let go. Part of the evolution of my brand of romantic mystery involved embracing who I was as a writer and letting that strengthen each new book. Readers often tell me I’m way too friendly and outgoing to write about murder. I think they believe only brooding, unsmiling people can write about something so dark. They miss what drives me to write what I write—justice. I look around the world and see no justice, but I can make sure justice prevails in my novels.

Why do you write? The biggest, strongest stories involve something very personal to you. Depending on your personality, it can be cathartic or daunting to let your characters deal with an issue that’s been challenging to you, but it’s always worth it. Put down your guard and let the reader in. Writing should never just be your job. That’s a trap that career novelists can fall into, but the next novel should always be because you have something to say not because you have a deadline!

2. Figure out your strengths:
Don’t assume your strengths are as strong as they can get. An expert at pacing? Flex your fingers and keep the reader up all night. Good at integrating setting into the plot? You can immerse the reader even better with the next book. Great at characterization? You can build an even more compelling character in the next book. The status quo is never enough for the next book. Strive for something bigger and more compelling.

3. Pinpoint your weaknesses:
We all have areas where we are weak. My timelines can get fuzzy, and because I’m a seat of the pants writer, the train can get derailed. But even a pantser like me can get better at thinking through key turning points that lead to a stronger book. There are great writing resources out there to help you with your weaknesses.

This blog and others like it are great resources. There are tons of helpful writing books out there to help shore up where you’re weak. Jim Bell is a long time friend, and his book, Write Your Novel From the Middle, literally transformed my writing even though I’d written well over 50 novels by the time I read it. Never stop learning how to write better. Study up on how other authors do it well. When I wanted to write more suspenseful books, I read excellent suspense like my friend, Jordan Dane’s. I literally devour every book by an author I think I can learn from.

4. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
I remember when chick lit was all the rage. My buddy, Kristen Billerbeck, wrote a chapter to show a friend what it looked like. When I read that first chapter, I knew she’d found her real voice in first person/present tense, even though she’d written over 20 novels by that time. Let your voice evolve and strengthen as you gain more confidence in your ability.

I decided to do more points of view in Twilight at Blueberry Barrens, and I think it worked to build the suspense. After trying something, you can always go back to the way it was if it didn’t work for you.

Discussion:
How has your writing evolved from book to book?

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Best-selling author Colleen Coble’s novels have won or finaled in awards ranging from the Best Books of Indiana, the ACFW Carol Award, the Romance Writers of America RITA, the Holt Medallion, the Daphne du Maurier, National Readers’ Choice, and the Booksellers Best. She has over 2 million books in print and writes romantic mysteries because she loves to see justice prevail. Colleen is CEO of American Christian Fiction Writers. She lives with her husband Dave in Indiana.

http://colleencoble.com
https://www.facebook.com/colleencoblebooks/
https://twitter.com/colleencoble

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18 thoughts on “Embrace Growth – Guest USA Today Bestseller Colleen Coble

  1. Ah, great to see my bud Colleen here. Hey, kid! I love what you said at the top:

    You know the best thing about writing? You never arrive. There is always something you can improve on.

    That’s the ticket, to embrace that challenge, to love it. Not, “Sheesh, you know the worst thing about writing? You never arrive…” Believe me, the difference in attitude will show up in the writing.

    Thanks for the good word.

    • Thanks, Jimbo! You know me well, Pollyanna that I am. LOL I dance when I get an editorial letter!

      Right this minute I’m using Knockout Novel to figure out my next novel.

  2. I loved that line too:

    “You know the best thing about writing? You never arrive. There is always something you can improve on.”

    My version of that is saying “my best book is always my next one.” It’s exciting to push yourself to succeed & with each new project, you get another shot at trying something new. I like being on the slightly uncomfortable edge of wondering whether I’m up for a new challenge because when I find my way through the challenge, I gain confidence to try more.

    At the Chicago Museum of Art, I toured a Matisse collection & marveled at his lifelong obsession with how light plays on different settings, like countless haystacks or water lillies. I remember crying at his search for perfection that was impossible to attain. Now with my writing, I see his obsession wasn”t sad at all. It was a joyous & continual exploration of passion.

  3. Welcome, Colleen! I remember discovering chick lit for the first time years ago. I’d written a number of ya mysteries under contract, but was searching to develop my own voice. I kept bombing out and sounded flat and bitter when I tried to write in “dark” mode. Then one day I picked up a book by Kate White, and heard that snarky, self deprecating tone of chick lit cozies. I knew instantly that I could write like that. But until I picked up that book, I’d literally never heard of the words “cozy” or “chick lit”. (Doing a bit of genre research could have saved me a lot of wheel spinning!)

  4. Terrific post, Colleen. Sincerely enjoyed it! As I read your suggestion to build a more compelling character, an idea for deepening the protagonist of my current project leaped into my thoughts. Had to set aside TKZ for a moment to file away that inspiration!

    Blessings to you! And I appreciate your fun & humble spirit despite so many victories!

  5. Welcome Colleen and thanks for the great post! My writing is always evolving but I also know that what I love is writing anything that has a historical bent – from adult historical mysteries to alternate histories for YA and Middle Grade. A couple of years ago I questioned this and wondered if I should try to write something contemporary but I soon discovered that’s not where my passion lies. I’m at my happiest when delving into the history, immersing myself in the sights, smells, food and fashion of the era and then letting my stories spring from there. With each new book there is definitely a change in voice and style – which I enjoy exploring.

    • Clare, I think we instinctively figure out what works for us. I cut my writing teeth on historicals, but even back then, I had to have some suspense going on. Sometimes I miss the research it takes for historicals and decide to write one, but it’s never as seamless for me. We always know where our passions lie!

  6. Questions for Colleen – I notice you are CEO of American Christian Fiction Writers. Your books usually have a subtle thread that’s faith-based without being overt or heavy handed in drawing conclusions. It’s an intellectual approach to faith that allows the reader to relate to the theme without being hit over the head with an obvious message.

    Questions – What are your thoughts on incorporating faith-based themes into your writing? Do you plan out this aspect?

    For TKZers – I would highly recommend Colleen’s books. She builds a rich inviting world filled with strong characters in an intriguing mystery/suspense plot. Any faith-based threads only add depth to her stories. Feel good books.

  7. Great question, Jordan! I really don’t plan that out. I always mean to, but it never pans out that way. My characters end up dealing with something that surprises me. Dratted creatures anyway! LOL My characters end up turning my initial idea on its head and going deeper than I really want to. That’s part of being real in fiction, letting our own struggles through.

    When I was writing Twilight at Blueberry Barrens, I intended for Kate to struggle with childlessness, then voila, she’d find out the doctors were wrong. I couldn’t do it because it wasn’t real. Sometimes we have disappointments in life, real grindingly painful ways we feel we’ve failed. They make us question who we are and whether we are worthy of anything good. That ended up being Kate’s struggle, and it’s one I’ve felt myself. Writing is such a process for me, almost groping my way there in the dark when it comes to the nuances of the theme. My characters end up telling me what they need. It’s crazy! But then again, that’s what makes it fun. 🙂

    I never want to preach to readers. I just try to be real, and many of us struggle with topics of faith.

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