I have a guest post at Almost an Author today titled Publishing Dreams Can Come True. I share a bit about the immense obstacles one author overcame to write what’s now considered a beloved classic. I want to encourage authors (and others!) to pursue their dreams and overcome their own obstacles with God’s help. I hope you’ll check it out.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser is on just about every list of books recommended for writers. The subtitle, which I assume is not originally Zinsser’s and was added later, is “The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction.”
Zinsser lived from 1922-2015. He began as a journalist, later wrote for magazines, wrote books on a wide variety of topics, and then began to teach writing. That vast experience informs this book.
On Writing Well was published in 1976 and has been updated numerous times. My copy was published in 2016 with a 2006 introduction by Zinsser explaining the most recent update to include the computer era.
The first of the book’s four parts covers “Principles”: grammar, style, word usage, eliminating clutter, etc.
Part 2 deals with methods: the unity of the piece, the lead and ending, and various other aspects.
Part 3 discusses a variety of forms: the travel article, memoir, science and technology, sports, business, arts, humor. I might have been tempted to skip or at least skim through this section, as most of my writing doesn’t fit those categories. But I have a compulsion to read all of a book. And I am glad I did. A couple of the principles in this section are:
De-jargonize. Almost any field has its own vocabulary. One business hired Zinsser specifically to help them with communication, because even their engineers couldn’t understand each other any more. In one exercise, he had educators rewrite “Evaluative procedures for the objectives were also established based on acceptable criteria,” keeping in mind “clarity, simplicity, brevity, and humanity.” The best result: “At the end of the year we will evaluate our progress” (pp. 171-172).
Focus on the human element no matter what you’re writing about. He gave an example about race car driving, something I have zero interest in. But the piece grabbed me because it shared one person’s story rather than a detailed technical report.
Part 4 explores attitudes: developing confidence and your own style, etc. In one chapter in this section, he gives readers a window into his thought processes by taking them through a longer piece he wrote and discussing why he made the choices he did.
The “clarity, simplicity, brevity, and humanity” mentioned earlier are what the author calls his “four articles of faith” (p. 171). Those are his main themes, demonstrated by example time and again.
This book is chock-full of good instruction and tips. I have markings and sticky tabs on almost every other page. Here are a few of the standout quotes:
Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard (p. 9).
The race in writing is not to the swift but to the original (p. 34).
Every successful piece of nonfiction should leave the reader with one provocative thought he or she didn’t have before. Not two thoughts, or five—just one. So decide what single point you want to leave in the reader’s mind (p. 52).
Don’t annoy your readers by over-explaining—by telling them something they already know or can figure out. Try not to use words like “surprisingly,” “predictably,” and “of course,” which put a value on a fact before the reader encounters the fact (p. 91).
True wit, however, is rare, and a thousand barbed arrows fall at the feet of the archer for every one that flies (p. 194).
Don’t alter your voice to fit your subject. Develop one voice that readers will recognize when they hear it on the page (p. 231).
Now, if I could only keep all these wonderful helps in mind all the times I’m writing! I generally only read 3-4 pages at a time so I could process as I went. But I think this is a book I’ll need to reread often in the coming years.
Have you read On Writing Well? What was a major takeaway for you?
I mentioned this a few weeks ago on a Friday’s Fave Five after I was notified, but I just got official word recently.
I entered a Writer’s Digest contest and got an Honorable Mention in the Inspirational/Spiritual category! There were over 4,600 entries covering nine categories.
Writer’s Digest sent us these nifty little stickers:
A list of all the winners is here.
I am honored. Winning an Honorable Mention encourages me that I am growing in the right direction.
If you are interested in next year’s contest, more information is here.
You’re likely familiar with the phrase “preaching to the choir.” It comes up when one person is holding forth on some topic, and another responds, “Well, Bud, you’re preaching to the choir,” meaning, “I know what you’re saying and I agree with you.” The choir, behind the pastor both literally and figuratively, are probably the most familiar with what he has to say and the most in agreement with it.
I’ve seen Christian authors use this phrase to describe their desire to write for the general market rather than the Christian one. Why keep writing to people who are already believers, who already agree with what we’re saying, when we can use our words to help influence an unbeliever towards Christ?
Writing as a light to the lost is a worthy goal. Yet I wonder just how “general market” one can be and still have any light shine through. One author friend was told by two Christian publishing industry professionals that he’d have more success if he wrote for the general market and took the Christian content out of his latest manuscript. But how can one have any kind of Christian witness without Christian content? Perhaps the idea that readers will like a general book so much that they’ll look up the author, find out he or she is a Christian, and seek to know more about their faith. Or an author might write a few books in both markets, and fans from one will seek out the other.
Some do manage to share Christian truth even in general market books. Jan Karon’s Mitford books share an amazing amount of truth even though they’re not marketed as Christian fiction. Perhaps unbelievers accept her Christian content because her main character is a minister. Or perhaps her stories are just so enjoyable, people who don’t like the Christian aspect are willing to overlook it. C. S. Lewis’s Narnia tales are marketed as children’s books or fantasy, yet they have a Christian undertone veiled by symbolism. One trouble with that veil, though, is that some readers interpret meanings in vastly different ways than the author intended.
What happens with a lot of crossover fiction is that Christians complain that there is not enough Christian content while non-Christians complain that there is too much. One post cited criticism by non-Christians as one reason to remove Christian content from fiction. But some non-Christians will always object to any Christianity in a book, no matter how winsomely it’s expressed. Jesus said the world would hate the Christian message and its messengers. In the past, when a majority of American society had a somewhat God-fearing leaning, general Christian-sounding content was more tolerated. Not so in these postmodern days. Yet we don’t win the lost without sharing the truth. Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Some have also cited a smaller Christian market as a reason to go “general.” The Christian market will always be smaller than the general one. There are more people on the wide road than the narrow one, Jesus said. But that’s no reason to leave Christian fiction behind. Though many Christian writers would love to make best-seller lists, most don’t write for that purpose.
A Christian author might write a great general market book that manages to share light and truth that non-Christians will accept, or at least tolerate. But there are still reasons not to keep writing Christian fiction:
- To use God’s gifting. Both evangelism and shepherding/teaching are God’s good gifts (Ephesians 4:11). Neither is a lesser calling. Though we might be called primarily to evangelize or disciple, we’re to engage in both.
- To help Christians grow in Christlikeness. The purpose of God’s gifts is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). Christians are not perfect yet. Even though they agree and support the body of Christian truth, they’re all in various states of growth and maturity. Yes, we grow mainly from reading and hearing the Word of God. But Christian fiction helps flesh out truth. Many times I have been strengthened and encouraged in my own walk with the Lord by the journey of the characters in a Christian fiction book.
- To help Christians increase and abound. Wherever we are in our Christian walk, there’s still room for growth. Paul prayed that his readers’ “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9). Even though the Philippians were demonstrating their love, they needed to increase.
- To provide the missing element. Years ago in Why Read Christian Fiction, I commented that Christian fiction has the element missing from all other fiction: God, His truth, His ways. The best secular story may show literary redemption, a protagonist pulling himself up by his bootstraps and conquering the obstacles. Christian fiction depicts real life for a Christian in dependence on God.
- To help work through hard issues. Even mature Christians still wrestle with questions like suffering, seeming inequity, etc. Some who wouldn’t be inclined to read a nonfiction book on these subjects might appreciate a story with characters who ask the same questions they have.
- To remind of the truth. New Testament writers often encouraged people to remember the way God had brought them to Himself, the truth they had been taught, etc. Peter said, “I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder” (2 Peter 3:1).
- To help readers to be a light. As Christian readers grow and are encouraged spiritually, they will in turn shine the light of Christ in their spheres of influence. So those who write to other Christians are not wasting their light: they’re multiplying it. By strengthening other Christians, we’re helping God’s truth get out beyond our own reach.
- To evangelize. Even though Christian fiction might be directed “to the choir” who already knows the truth, there are professing Christians who have found that they were not really saved. And Christian fiction is sometimes accepted by non-Christians. Some of my own loved ones did not like to talk about spiritual issues, but they loved to read and would accept Christian novels I passed along. In one situation, Christian fiction laid a great deal of groundwork towards a person’s salvation.
It’s not wrong for a believer to write for the general market. Some are called to do that and have done so with great success. Most of us need to be more evangelistic in general. We can do everything—eat drink, and write—as unto the Lord. Some people would never willingly pick up Christian books, so if writers can convey truth without being blatant, that’s wonderful. The book of Esther is not fiction, though it is written in story form. It doesn’t mention the name of God, yet His fingerprints are all over the narrative. If Christians can write in a similar way, wonderful!
I would encourage those writing for the general market not to try to be like the world in order to win it. That never works. Jesus was a friend of sinners, but He did not join in their sin. The Bible talks about all kinds of sin, but doesn’t drag readers through the gutter. There’s no need to add objectionable elements in the name of realism.
I also encourage Christian writers not to forsake the Christian market just because it’s smaller or because they don’t think they can be as effective. For all the reasons I’ve mentioned and more, Christians can have a great ministry in Christian fiction.
Have you been ministered to through Christian fiction? I’d love for you to share about it in the comments.
(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Kingdom Bloggers, Tell His Story, Purposeful Faith, Global Blogging, Happy Now, Hearth and Soul, Tea and Word, Anchored Abode, Let’s Have Coffee, Worth Beyond Rubies, Recharge Wednesday, Porch Stories, Share a Link Wednesday, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith ‘n Friends, Booknificent)
Adam Blumer writes page-turning “meaningful suspense” novels. I loved his first two: Fatal Illusions and The Tenth Plague (linked to my reviews). His third novel, Kill Order, just released a few days ago. Here is the summary:
When he sleeps, the forgotten terrors of the past come alive.
Grammy-winning pianist Landon Jeffers’s brain cancer has given him only a few years to live. But when he sleeps, the forgotten terrors of his past torment him. When he wakes, shameful memories come rushing back. Desperate for answers, Jeffers discovers that a brain implant intended to treat his cancer is really a device to control him, forcing him to commit terrible crimes. Now he’s being manipulated by an evil crime syndicate and a crooked cop.
What if free will isn’t? What if your every move is predestined? If you kill, are you guilty of murder?
Intriguing, isn’t it? I’ve read the book and will be reviewing it next week, and I can assure you, it’s excellent! At the end of this post, I’ll let you know how you can enter to win a signed copy of the book.
Today I am welcoming Adam to Stray Thoughts to share a little about about himself, Kill Order, and writing.
Adam Blumer fixes other people’s books to pay the bills. He writes his own to explore creepy lighthouses and crime scenes. He is the author of three Christian suspense novels: Fatal Illusions (Meaningful Suspense Press); its sequel, The Tenth Plague (Kirkdale Press); and Kill Order (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas).
A print journalism major in college, he works full-time from home as a book editor after serving in editorial roles for more than twenty years. He lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with his wife, Kim, and his daughters, Laura and Julia. When he’s not working on his next thriller, he’s hiking in the woods, playing Minecraft with his daughters, or learning new chords on his guitar. He is committed to writing clean suspense that is free of profanity, vulgarity, and sexual content. He is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), the Christian Editor Network, and The Christian PEN. He works with literary agent Cyle Young of Hartline Literary Agency.
What gave you the inspiration to write Kill Order?
My dad, Larry, passed away from brain cancer in 2011, and several aspects of his cancer journey kicked off the initial story idea. One key detail involved a medical procedure; the doctors agreed to remove as much of my dad’s brain tumor as possible and replace it with medicinal wafers intended to fight the existing cancer. My mind began playing the what-if game. What if the doctor implanted something else, something that could monitor or even control my dad’s life? The story’s premise grew from there.
I noticed that your branding on your website is for “meaningful suspense.” What inspired you to write these kinds of thrillers and suspense novels? Also, could you please tell us what inspired your “clean fiction guarantee”?
I began reading Christian novels in junior high and soon gravitated to suspense. Back in the day, an inspirational thread was a staple in Christian fiction, and I believe a Christian novel can do more than simply entertain. These days many authors are leaning toward writing clean, moral stories but avoiding overt Christian content. I’m a believer that the inspirational content should stay (hence “meaningful suspense”). Books can encourage and even challenge readers’ thinking while taking them on a roller coaster of a ride. The “clean fiction guarantee” came about due to the rise of objectionable content in some Christian fiction. My fans were expressing disappointment to me due to content issues when they tried books by some Christian authors. I felt it was time to declare where I stood, and many readers have appreciated my guarantee.
When did you realize your calling to create words on paper to share with the world?
When I was a child, I began writing wildly imaginative pirate and fantasy stories. My first handwritten story was a fantastical tale about Captain Kidd’s spyglass. In high school, I also wrote and finished an unpublished novel called Down with the Ship. It’s such an Agatha Christie copycat that I laugh whenever I peruse it, but emulation is how a lot of authors get to be where they are today. Those were the early projects that inspired me to take novel writing seriously. When I won a high school award for creative writing, I wondered if God wanted to do more with my love for fiction. In college I won more writing awards, and though I studied journalism, I took as many creative writing courses as possible. God opened doors from there, and I’ve never lost my love for fiction writing.
If you could go back in time and give advice to your younger self, what would that be?
Writing the story is only half of the project. The other half is finding out what readers like to read, crafting the story for them by following publishing standards, and writing the story to the best of your ability. Then remember that publishers can take a very long time to decide whether they want your work. Don’t get discouraged. Just keep going and waiting.
Name your three biggest frustrations about the writing business.
- The amount of time each book requires from start to finish. Included in this is the long wait time from publishers.
- The continually changing rules in writing and publishing. Just when you think you know what publishers are looking for, your agent tells you something else.
- Book marketing. One cannot guarantee sales. I wish a book release was like the movie Field of Dreams. “Build it, and they will come.” If only it were that easy. There is almost an equal amount of work in just promoting the book.
On the flip side, what excites you the most about the creative process?
I get most excited about the creative process when a plot development I never saw coming unexpectedly presents itself, taking the story in a new but stronger direction. This epiphany has happened to me several times.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I have been blessed with a wonderful home office. Though I often like to write in other locations, this is by far my favorite place. I can close the door, shut out life’s distractions, pray, and become immersed in my story. Now and then, if I need a break, I can glance out the window and delight in God’s creation.
What are you reading at the moment, and who are a few of your favorite authors and why?
I’m currently enjoying Mind Games by Nancy Mehl. I especially enjoy a good thriller, whether Christian or secular. Some of my favorite authors are Steven James, Terri Blackstock, Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker, and Brandilyn Collins. I like how they weave story threads together and craft their scenes in ways that keeps the plot moving forward. Their books are great examples of what works in suspense writing. I learn so much simply by reading their novels.
What is the best part of your author’s life?
I love hearing from readers who went to work tired because they stayed up too late finishing one of my novels. If I kept them immersed in my story and entertained, that’s a score in my book.
Do you have any new writing projects on the horizon?
I’m almost finished with the first draft of the sequel to Kill Order and hope to have something ready for my agent sometime this fall.
Adam, thank you for stopping by and for giving us another great book. I am looking forward to the next one. Thank you, especially, for producing books that are not only well-written, but clean and meaningful.
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my writing life at your blog.
Where Readers Can Buy a Copy of Kill Order
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/kill-order-adam-blumer/1132572349?ean=9781645261865
Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas: https://www.shoplpc.com/product/kill-order/
Kindle E-book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07VRSPGMN/
How to Connect with Adam
Kill Order Paperback Giveaway:
You can enter for the opportunity to win a signed paperback copy of Kill Order here.
A couple of weeks ago I invited you to participate in a survey I was conducting about writers’ newsletters.
Some of you subscribe to me blog via email. Someone asked me privately if that was what I meant by a newsletter. No, when you subscribe to the blog, you get an email from WordPress each time I post with that post’s content. A newsletter is something in addition to that, with additional news or thoughts not posted on the blog (though it may contain links back to the blog as well.)
I’ve been told that some publishers put great stock in the size of one’s newsletter list. As a reader, I don’t subscribe to very many newsletters myself, from either bloggers or authors. So I wanted to discern how other readers felt about them in order to know whether I should start one as I finish my book.
31 people responded to my survey. Here are my questions and their answers:
1. Do you subscribe to newsletters from authors or bloggers? How many?
- Yes, a few: 17
- Yes, several: 5
- No: 8
2. If you don’t subscribe to any, why?
- I don’t want any more email: 12
- I already follow their blog or other social media: 8
- Not interested: 4
- Other: 4
3. What’s the ideal frequency of newsletters?
- Weekly: 5
- Monthly: 10
- Quarterly: 5
- A couple of times a year: 1
- Only when a new book is coming out: 6
- Other (please specify): 4
- not daily or only if you have a new book that you is on sale. Weekly or whatever makes sense to you.
- whenever the author feels the need
- None thank you
- Bi monthly
4. What do you like to see in newsletters? Check all that apply.
- News about upcoming publications: 16
- Chatty news about the author (family, travel, hobbies, activities, etc.): 12
- Interesting background information related to book: 16
- Sales: 3
- Bonus material: 11
- Quotes or reviews from other readers: 2
- Upcoming events (speaking events, book signings, etc.): 9
- What books the author is reading or recommends: 11
- None – would rather read this on blog: 10
- Other (please specify): 5
- I am glad to see this blog with info about your book/s as they happen.
- Summaries with links to make it easy to choose what you want to read.
- Material relevant to my interests. I don’t have time for a bunch of fluff.
I subscribe to a few newsletters from bloggers who have “subscriber freebies”, mostly homeschool materials. But I don’t generally read the email except to find the password to the subscriber page. I generally dislike getting extra email and prefer to read content from blogs I can subscribe to in Feedly.
- Giveaways (there should be some sort of perk for the reader)
5. What don’t you like about newsletters? Check all that apply.
- Too frequent: 20
- Too long: 15
- Too repetitive (sharing information already seen on blog or other media): 17
- Not enough information: 3
- Other (Please specify): 8
- dull colors; find some other color than gray for your background
- I don’t want to read a blogpost – I’d rather have the feeling of being an “insider” into their real life.
- Repeated items for sale. I don’t mind sales, but I don’t like to keep getting it in my inbox over and over. That’s annoying. Perhaps just a reminder that it is there if you want it, but not being pushy about it.
- Always trying to say me something (perhaps “sell” was meant?)
- I find them presumptuous.
When they are interesting I want to share them, it’s more difficult than sharing a blog post
- I don’t like a cluttered inbox. I prefer to control what I read.
- Too much bragging in general
6. Have you ever bought an author or blogger’s product directly from their newsletter or as a result of their newsletter?
- Frequently: 1
- Occasionally: 16
- Never: 14
7: What is your preferred way to hear from a blogger or author? Check all that apply.
- Newsletter: 11
- Blog: 24
- Facebook: 11
- Twitter: 4
- Instagram: 5
- Other (please specify): 2
- I use all of the above 🙂
- their website
8. How do you feel about a writer’s offer of free downloads, booklets, printables, prayer guides, etc., on their blog or newsletter?
- Great! I download lots: 4
- It depends on what it is. I download occasionally: 20
- Not interested: 5
- Other (please specify): 2
I like downloads as do others. But the danger for you is that people like free things and just because they take your free things, doesn’t mean they will take your paid for stuff. And if you give too much free too often, then there isn’t a reason to for me to buy your book.
I don’t prefer them. I feel they are gimmicky and I cringe at them.
9. Have you ever subscribed to a newsletter just to enter a contest and unsubscribed later?
- Yes, frequently: 5
- Yes, occasionally: 14
- No: 12
10. If your favorite writer has a blog and a newsletter, do you read both?
- Yes, I do for several writers: 3
- Yes, I do for a few: 15
- No, I only read their blog: 9
- No, I only read their newsletter: 3
First of all, thank you so much to those who responded! Your feedback is helpful and I really appreciate it! The survey was set up so that I have no idea who took it or who shared what responses, but I appreciate each one.
As you can see, opinions vary. People are pretty much agreed that they don’t want just sales flyers, a lot of repetition, or an excess of mail. Of course, if a writer has followers across several outlets, some of those followers will only follow on one. So some repetition is inevitable. That’s why I generally just choose one way to follow each writer.
But other preferences differ. Each blogger or author will have to experiment to see what his or her particular readers like, what they have time for as writers, etc.
I probably should have put more distinction between newsletters of bloggers and authors. But these days most publishers want authors to have a platform before submitting a manuscript, so a lot of book authors started out as bloggers.
I only subscribe to one blogger’s newsletter, because it’s part of a reading challenge. I prefer to keep email for correspondence. With email, there’s an understated urgency to handle or answer whatever it is. I prefer reading blogs through Feedly. Plus, so many bloggers’ newsletter share a list of their blog posts from the last week or month, which I’ve already seen.
I don’t subscribe to many authors’ newsletters, and I have unsubscribed to those that have arrived weekly or monthly. One that I subscribe to comes out quarterly. Most of the rest are occasional, just whenever there is an update (which is my preference.)
My favorite author blog has maybe ten authors, so each only posts once every other week. I read a few of them, so when the other authors that I don’t read post, I often still skim over their writing. This is where I find a lot of newsy posts, background information about books, personal details, etc.
So as a general rule, as a reader, I prefer blogs to newsletters. One respondent mentioned web sites: I should have included that as an option. I was equating blogs with web sites, but usually a blog is one part of an author’s web site. I only follow a couple on Facebook because the information there generally comes too often for me.
As a writer, well, I am still trying to decide what to do. I’ve thought about starting a newsletter with information about what I am writing, where I am in the process, how you can pray, if you’re so inclined. It would probably come out no more than quarterly unless there’s exciting news (like landing a contract! 🙂 ). On the other hand, I could just put that information on the blog.
Some good posts I’ve found on the subject:
- Author Newsletter vs. Author Blog: Five Reasons I Prefer a Blog, and Six Reasons You Might Not
- Newsletters and Discoverability
- 14 Content Ideas for Author Newsletters
I’d love to hear your thoughts about writer newsletters, either as a reader or a writer — or both! Please share in the comments.
While I am revising my first draft of my book, I am researching publishers, agents, and advice for writers.
One frequent piece of writerly advice is to have a newsletter. To clarify, a newsletter subscription list is different from an email subscription to a blog. Subscribing to a blog, like you can do from my sidebar, just means you get an email copy of a new blog post here. A newsletter can contain a variety of other information.
I’ve seen some agents place more importance on an author’s email list than anything else. The prevailing wisdom is that newsletter subscribers have voluntarily given you their email addresses and thus are the most interested in your book or blog.
This surprised me because I don’t subscribe to many newsletters myself. So I wanted to see how other readers felt. I created a survey at Survey Monkey about writer’s newsletters, and I’d like to invite you to take the survey. Please answer from the standpoint of a reader, not as a writer; what you like to receive and read, not what you’ve read writers ought to do.
I’ll keep the survey open for a week, then I’ll let you know the results in a future blog post.
Your participation will help me know whether this is something I should pursue. Thanks so much!
I’ve been writing almost as long as I have known how. My earliest writing went into letters, mostly to my grandmother, later to friends and cousins. In my pre-teen and early teen years I poured my heart out in journals, which I sadly did not keep. I wrote a few stories here and there, but most of my writing has been factual. I seem to process what I am thinking by writing it out, pulling one strand of thought out at a time and laying all the strands out to see how they fit.
In high school my speech teacher wrote for a neighborhood newspaper and advocated for me to write a regular column for our school. In early married and young mother years my main writing was directed to my mother-in-law to keep her up-to-date on her grandchildren 2,000 miles away. I had a few magazine articles published. In 2006 I started a blog and have loved having that outlet.
Once, while visiting my mother-in-law, I saw a little booklet produced by the ladies’ ministry of her church. It was mostly made of of news for the group, but had a place for devotional thoughts, poems, etc. I liked it so much, I brought a few samples home and showed them to my pastor. When I asked him if we could do something like that for the ladies of our church, he told me to go for it. I compiled a 12-16 page monthly booklet for our ladies there for 9 years. When we moved to TN, the pastor’s wife of our church there asked me about writing a ladies’ newsletter for our group. I showed her samples of what I had done in the past and asked what she thought. She liked the idea, and we discussed what changes we would like to make. I compiled a monthly ladies booklet for that church for over five years. I wrote about these booklets in more detail here.
Once in the first church I mentioned, our ladies meeting hosted an open discussion about devotions, quiet time reading the Bible and praying. Every lady who shared was not satisfied with her devotional life. Some had trouble getting a regular time established, Some had been reading for years, yet felt they could be getting more out of the Bible. Most struggled with distractions, sleepiness, and lack of motivation. I started a column in the newsletter to encourage ladies to maintain and make the most of their time in God’s Word.
I began to think that perhaps those devotional columns could be made into a book. I made an outline and did some preliminary work, but set it aside while raising my children and participating in various other ministries. In the meantime, I was a community guest columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel from October 2011-October 2012 and contributed to The Perennial Gen, Blessed But Stressed, and iBelieve.com.
In March of 2018 I had the unexpected opportunity to go to a writer’s conference. I had heard of writer’s conferences but had no real thought of trying to go to one. But I saw a notice for one in a town where I used to live, only three hours away. Since it was in a familiar place, that took away some of the angst about going there alone. But I did not think it would work out. We were taking care of my husband’s mother in our home, and I didn’t see how I could get away. I didn’t even mention it to my husband for a few days while I thought it over. When I finally did tell him, he encouraged me to go, and he would work around his mom’s care.
That conference showed me much that I didn’t know, but it jump-started my desire to actually complete this book. I’ve been making time to write in the midst of everything else going on as I am able. Though I started out with what I had previously written in the ladies’ booklet columns, I couldn’t just copy and paste those columns. I needed to revise, fill in gaps, smooth out overlapping information, and employ some of the writing techniques I’ve learned. My first draft is finished, and now I need to go back and edit and shape up each chapter.
I was able to attend a second conference this year and received a much more positive critique of my manuscript excerpt. Plus I won a couple of writing contests there. All of that encouraged me that I have grown and improved in my writing and spurred me on to continue writing, growing, and improving. I’m reading books and writing blogs to learn more about writing and publishing.
In many ways I regret that I did not start writing a book earlier. I’ve had the desire to write a book for some 30, maybe even 40 years. On the other hand, I think those years of writing a newsletter booklet and blog exercised my writing muscles. I don’t think I could write this current project without that background of writing regularly to encourage friends.
I have a few ideas for other books projects. I’m looking forward to exploring them after I finish this current project.
Thank you so much for your encouragement! When I first started a blog, I had no idea that I would make such dear friends online. I’ve enjoyed meeting a few of you in person. Some of us will probably never meet til heaven. You’ve blessed my life in more ways than I can tell.
Friday and Saturday were a whirlwind of activity as I had an opportunity to attend my second Carolina Christian Writer’s Conference. I had a wonderful time, and my head is still spinning, processing all I learned.
Karissa Culbreath was the keynote speaker. Wow! She was both sweet and dynamic, accomplished yet relatable.
As with last year, there were four different workshops times over the two days, with about half a dozen workshops to choose from each time. Most times I wanted to attend two or three, so it was hard to narrow down the choices. I wish they all could have been recorded. Topics ranged from how to find (make) time to write, how to navigate social media, fears, grammar and editing, writing for children and youth, writing for various markets, aspects of nonfiction and fiction writing, mastering Amazon – and multitudes more.
There was an informative panel discussion Friday night, an opportunity to split into different genre groups with a few of the faculty members on hand to answer questions, a “lightening learning” session where we went in small groups from table to table to hear five minutes of each speaker’s best or favorite tips, and an opportunity to eat lunch with one of the speakers.
We also had an opportunity to send in an outline and ten pages of a manuscript ahead of time for a critique and then to have a fifteen minute meeting with the person who critiqued us. Last year the manuscript was given to one of the speakers, and we didn’t know who until we got a notice of our meeting time with them. This year we got to choose which person we wanted to look at our manuscripts. We were also able to sign up ahead of time for a fifteen minute meeting with another of the faculty members. I got both of the people I requested for each of those (last year the person I asked for had no slots available). Then Friday morning we had the opportunity to sign up for another fifteen minute meeting. That person ended up having a different role than what I had thought, so in a sense we didn’t really fit each other’s needs. Still, she gave me a piece of key, valuable advice that’s going to have a big impact on how I shape my book, and I enjoyed the conversation.
Last year, some of you may remember, I’d had no plans to attend a conference, and I had never even heard of this one. When I did hear about it from an online friend, it was only 2-3 weeks before the conference. Since it was in the city where we used to live, that sparked more of an interest and a possibility to go since it was in a familiar place. But it was so soon, and we had my mother-in-law’s care, and I had not traveled alone nor attended anything like a conference in eons, etc., etc. But God worked it all out. I had a manuscript I’d started, but it was really in no shape to be seen. But it was all I had, so I pulled it out of mothballs with no time to shape it up and sent it in. The critique last year was pretty devastating, with not one positive note, leaving me thinking perhaps writing was just a pipe dream. But the critique was good in pointing out some glaring mistakes I was (obviously) unaware of, making me now acutely aware of them. And the rest of the conference encouraged me that all was not lost yet. Last year I also missed all of Saturday mornings events due to being sick in my hotel room.
This year, I started off feeling sick before I ever left. I ended up missing the very first explanatory session, but was able to attend the rest of it. Last year my nerves were taut with the newness of everything, being in circumstances I was unused to with a lot of strangers. It wasn’t until the last few hours then that I just relaxed and enjoyed the rest of it. This year, though nerves did flare up, I was more at ease and relaxed through the whole conference. I enjoyed a lot of good conversations with fellow conferees.
Last year, since the conference came up so suddenly, I just kind of went with the flow and had no idea what to ask. This year, after a year of more intense focus on my writing and reading writing blogs in the meantime, I came with two pages of typed questions. 🙂 I didn’t get all of them answered – I wished my fifteen minute sessions could have been thirty – and I added several more questions after the conference was over.
My critique session was as different as night and day than last year. Part of that was the different personalities of the critiquers. The lady I had last year was not unkind, but she was just more of a matter-of-fact personality. The lady I had this year was very sweet and encouraging. She did have some corrections and valuable editorial notes, but the whole tone of the critique was more uplifting. I was so thankful and encouraged for the growth God led me through since last year, and the hard critique last year was definitely one of His tools.
One new aspect of this year’s conference was contests. We had an opportunity to submit writing in any of several categories. If I remember correctly, I think we could enter as many times as we wanted, but there was a $20 fee for each entry which was then used to provide scholarships for people who needed financial help to attend. The fee was for a good purpose, but also served to limit how many entrees most of us could submit. As it happened, I won first place in the Devotional category.
And! EABooks sponsored a contest in which we could submit entries on the theme “Blessings in Disguise,” and they would choose 20-25 to be included in their book compilation. That would not only give us exposure and an opportunity to get our message out, but being actually published would increase our writing credentials. My entry was one of those chosen for the book.
(Special thanks to my new friend Tori for taking and sending me the last photo!)
Besides just being excited about winning anything, I am so encouraged. Though I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn, the positive critique and conversations and the contests all help me know growth has occurred and I’m heading in the right direction.
Last year I shared some of my takeaways from last year’s writer’s conference. Those were all reinforced. It will probably take me several days to process everything from this conference. But I would encourage you to attend a conference if you have any desire to write, especially for publication. You can get some of the information from blogs and books on writing. But the ability to ask questions, talk with people inbetween workshops, have lunch with a writer or editor, listen in on some of the more informal sessions like the genre groups and “lightning learning,” and especially the fifteen-minute meetings with the faculty are experiences you can’t get anywhere else.
For me as a first- and even a second-timer, it helped that the conference was small. It wasn’t quite so overwhelming that way. Many areas have one or two-day writer’s conferences. There’s a really big Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference not too far from me that I may try to make it so some day. But it’s five days, and therefore more expensive. And if my head is about to explode after two days, I don’t know what it would do with five. But there are also that many more writers, editors, and publishers to hear from and opportunities to interact and ask questions.
Now – back to regular life, laundry, and more writing.
(Sharing also with Literary Musing Monday)
Writing can be cathartic, healing, freeing. Writing helps me think. Writing is the best way I express myself.
But we often talk ourselves out of writing, don’t we?
Anything I could say has already been said by someone else.
Maybe. But each generation wants to hear from its peers as well as its ancestors. And no one else has our exact perspective or sphere of influence.
It’s scary to bare our souls to the general public. What if people laugh – when I didn’t mean to be funny? What if readers belittle and criticize my carefully measured words? Or, worse yet, what if my writing is ignored?
Writing requires a certain amount of vulnerability. But that vulnerability is what makes it good and keeps it from sounding canned and fake. That’s what invites readers in and helps them connect.
Writing is risky. Any of those scary scenarios might actually happen. No one will please everyone. Look for truth in any criticism. Learn from it. Use it to improve. Grow. Ignore haters. Keep going.
My writing isn’t good enough. So many others are much better writers.
There will always be people who write better than we do. There will always be room for improvement. But you know the only way to be a better writer in two, five, ten, twenty years? Start writing now.
Are any of us “enough” in the sense that at this very moment we have all the knowledge, skills, and experience we will ever need?
No. But we have enough to start.
To get there, we have to start here.
It’s in the process of writing, in making mistakes and learning from them, in exercising our writing muscles, that we improve. A baby learns to walk by taking one faltering step at a time. In the process, despite many falls, muscles strengthen, balance improves, sure steps increase until finally the baby is not only walking, but running. But walking never happens without those first shaky steps and many stumbles.
Take in: learn your craft, read books and blogs about writing, attend conferences, listen to speakers.
And step out. Go ahead. You can do it. Before long you’ll be running.