Writing for the Soul: Instruction and Advice from an Extraordinary Writing Life by Jerry B. Jenkins is part memoir as well as instruction, advice, and tips about writing. But even the biographical parts are written to share what he learned.
Jenkins started out working for a newspaper writing for the sports section while he was still in high school. His goal was to write for the Chicago Tribune until a message at camp about surrendering his all to the Lord led him to do just that. A job editing a Sunday School paper for Scripture Press under a tough editor caused him to hone his skills. An interview led to his first book, a biography. Many of his next books were biographies or “as told to” stories. Then he branched into fiction. Left Behind, the book for which he is probably most well known, was his 125th book.
In Writing for the Soul, Jenkins covers everything from his family policy, motives and tools for writing, discovering what to write and your audience, characters, plot, perspective, and much more. Some of the chapters end with a question and answer section. Interspersed through the chapters are smaller sections covering topics ranging from working with celebrities to the need for humility to internal dialogue of characters. In a paper book, these might have been sidebars: in the Kindle version I read, they were paragraphs withing the chapter but set off by dividing lines.
In-between chapters, Jenkins shares experiences with some of the people whose biographies he has written, from Meadowlark Lemon and other sports figures to musician B. J. Thomas to Billy Graham.
I especially appreciated the sections on making inspirational writing not sound “preachy.”
As you can imagine, I have myriads of quotations marked in this book. Just a few:
Know where your audience is coming from, imagine someone you know or know of who fits in that audience, and pretend you’re writing to that person alone (p. 5, Kindle version).
What’s your passion? Your strength? What field do you really know? Write about it. Fashion a short story, write a poem, interview a leader in the field, or work on a novel. Put yourself and your interests into it (p. 11).
Big doors turn on small hinges (p. 13).
The most attractive quality in a person is humility. Sometimes money and fame will come whether or not you expect or seek them. But if you become enamored with the trappings of success, they become your passion. You need to return to your first love . . . Don’t let success or pressure change you. If you become a success, stick with what got you there (p. 38).
Choice words in precise order bear power unmatched by amplified images and sound and technical magic (p. 54).
Don’t confuse inspiration with initiative. Initiative solves your procrastination problem and pulls you through writer’s block. Inspiration gives you something worth writing about (p. 57).
Variety still keeps the batteries fresh (p. 71).
The stuff that comes easy takes the most rewriting. And the stuff that comes hard reads the easiest (p. 194).
This book was first published in 2006, and my copy was updated in 2012. Just a couple of places seem a little out of date, like working with cassette tapes for interviews (unless people still do that. I’d assume most recording is done digitally now).
He also doesn’t have much esteem for self-published books, thinking the goal of self-publishing is to be picked up by a major publisher. But self-publishing has increased exponentially in the last few years and garners much more respect now than when the first self-published books came across as “homemade” and unprofessional. I wonder if his views have changed on that.
But the majority of his advice is timeless, and I gained much from it.
(This book would work for either the memoir or arts category of the Nonfiction Reader Challenge.)