Category: Helps for Writers

Holding and Writing What Gives You Life

ROCK_CHAPEL

If only we could get away for a while to some quiet, sacred place and find rest, renewal, and transformation. Surely, then, our writing, as well as our lives, could be revolutionized.

But our lives are so daily. Made up of moments piled on moments, experiences both planned and unexpected. Perhaps, though, your daily routine includes habits that you don’t even view as being a “spiritual exercises” but that are gradually giving you the perspective you crave. That was the case for me.

To speak or write effectively to others, in a way that reaches hearts as well as minds, we must speak and write from our hearts. But first we must get in touch with our own hearts. I’m going to share with you a way I found to do that.

Jesus said “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” If you want the words that flow out of your mouth or pen to be purposeful, meaningful, life-giving … then first tend to your  heart. How do we as writers tend to our hearts? In his book, Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together, Ed Cyzewski describes his practice of daily self-reflection that “grew into an essential exercise that also revolutionized my writing.”

I have experienced something similar. A few years ago I felt overwhelmed and pulled in various directions by duties, desires, and demands, and I felt a need for focus and clarity, an unbroken sense of the Lord’s presence, and a new release of creativity. At bedtime I began the practice of thinking over my day, and I focused my mind on the best thing that happened that day: the time during that day when I felt the most joy and life. I saw those moments as gifts and drifted to sleep embracing the gift God had given me that day:

  • a child’s laughter
  • sunlight dancing on a pond
  • flowers blooming in my garden
  • a surprise visit from a friend
  • the way the Lord spoke to me in a scripture and came close to me in prayer
  • the way the phrases, rhythms, and rhymes of a poem came together.

These moments I treasured in my heart; they gave me hope and a sense of anticipation for the next day, to see what the next day’s moments would bring.

Then I found a charming little book by Linn and Linn, Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, and I learned that what I was doing was a type of Christian spirituality taught by the Ignatians, called “the Examen.” You reflect prayerfully back on a day (or a week, a year) and ask, “What today gave me consolation and life?” You also may ask, “What took life from me, gave me a feeling of desolation?”

It is good for the soul to embrace and hold to the life-giving, consoling moments of our days. And over time, we can observe patterns and learn what we really should focus our energies on, because God indeed speaks to us through the experiences of our days; He wants us to experience His life and joy and consolation in a way that will flow out of us to others. By practicing the Examen you may even discover your unique gifts and calling.

As a Christian writer, this practice and the resulting insights indeed could revolutionize your writing. Rather than laboring to write something you think you ought to write, or that others seem to expect, write the form, subject, theme, and style that engages and expresses your heart as well as your mind, that fills you with consolation, hope, joy, help, and fulfillment. And most likely what you write will do the same for your readers.

(This post was first published two years ago.)

Colorado Christian Writers Conference

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The view of the Rocky Mountains from one of the buildings at Colorado Christian Writers Conference

Looking to attend a Writers Conference? Consider the wonderful setting, great staff and faculty, and nurturing atmosphere of the Colorado Christian Writers Conference May 17-20 in Estes Park, Colorado. It’s coming soon—next week, in fact. We’ll be there, meeting with prospective authors and teaching workshops. We’d like to meet you there.

A few other reasons to attend:

  • Marlene Bagnull is the director (You can listen to an interview with Marlene on blog talk radio, http://ow.ly/JI3lY )
  • Large Faculty of agents, editors, and authors
  • Four free 15-minute appointments with faculty of your choice (including Cathy Lawton of Cladach Publishing)
  • Fiction Clinic w/Tracie & Jim Peterson author 100+ books
  • Nonfiction Book Clinic with Craig Bubeck
  • Writing Powerful Narrative Nonfiction with Sherri Langton
  • Speakers’ Clinic with KPOF radio personality Roy Hanschke
  • Author interviews & booksigning Thursday evening
  • and many more …

Check it out: May 17-20, 2017 Colorado Christian Writers Conference. http://colorado.writehisanswer.com

A Checklist to Make Your Writing Shine

A marshy field in Colorado

This marshy field teems with life. When our car speeds by it, though, we don’t notice or experience the wildlife hidden in the grasses, wading in the mud, singing from the reeds. One day we stopped our car, rolled down windows; looked through binoculars; listened, felt, smelled; tasted the breezes. Myriads of bird life, colors, textures of fauna and flora brought the place alive to us. Good writing does that also: draws in the reader, reveals hidden things, opens possibilities.

I taught from the following list at a recent writers workshop. Afterwards, a couple of wide-eyed writers said to me, “You really want good writing.”

Well, yes, I do! The better-written a manuscript comes to me, the more I like it. Here at Cladach we may resonate with the premise and material of a nonfiction manuscript—we may like a novel’s characters and plot—so much that we are willing to devote the editing time needed to bring the writing quality and style up to these standards. We may ask an author to go back and re-write/revise/re-work a manuscript. Then we also do in-house macro editing, line editing, and copy editing. The following list gives most of the elements of style and “good writing” that we look for in a manuscript and strive for in the books we publish.

Here’s how to give your writing pizzazz so readers will want to invest in it, engage with it—be entertained, convinced, and inspired by what you say. Check your writing against this list to make sure it communicates as clearly and persuasively as possible.

 1.  Have you written from your heart as well as your mind? (If not, read this post. If yes, go on to the rest of the list.)

 2.  Write in the active voice. Choose strong, active verbs.

 3.  Write concretely, rather than abstractly. Show, don’t just tell. Appeal to all the senses.

 4.  In nonfiction as well as fiction, use storytelling as much as possible.

 5.  Stay in a definite, consistent POV. Through whose eyes is the reader seeing?

 6.  Hook the reader on the first page/ first paragraph/ first sentence/ first word.

 7.  Keep the reader’s attention as each word, each sentence, each paragraph, each chapter leads to the next.

 8.  Maintain a logical or chronological flow of thought or action. Use transitions when needed.

 9.  Strive for precision and conciseness. Cut extraneous/ repetitious words and phrases. Less is more.

10.  Give thought to word choices—consider subtleties, connotations, nuances; find the zing and zest of the right word.

11.  Vary sentence structure and length. Use periodic sentences often (as in these examples).

12.  Search for and remove troublesome words that hide like gremlins in your writing, words that are used compulsively but often aren’t needed. (Click here for my list.)

13.  Use your ear. Do the sentences flow well? In fiction, is that how people sound when they talk? Try reading your writing out loud.

Search, Find, Delete These Word Gremlins

“Front Yard Discovery,” a collage by Mark Fraley, from the book “Creation of Calm” © 2014

These troublesome words tend to hide like gremlins in our writing (especially in fiction, but also nonfiction).

We often use these words compulsively, but often they aren’t needed.

Remember, less is more. Conciseness makes better, stronger, clearer writing.

Do a search for—and delete unnecessary uses of—the following:

  • very
  • just
  • that
  • nice
  • interesting
  • look / looked (at)
  • like
  • then
  • begin / began / beginning
  • started / started to
  • take / took
  • seem / seemed

Were you surprised how many of these words showed up in your article, blog post, or book manuscript (especially a novel)?

Do you have other words on your personal list for keeping gremlins out of your polished drafts?

A Writer’s (Tongue-in-Cheek) Checklist

CCWC Editors and Agents Panel 2016

Here I am on a panel of book editors and agents at CCWC May 2016. We all look like we’re considering a serious question concerning Christian publishing. But plenty of light, humorous moments occurred at the conference also–and lots of encouragement.

One constantly-recurring theme for writers is that we must strive for clarity. To that end, at my workshop on “A Checklist for Writers” I shared my list of writing techniques. Then I offered this bonus “checklist” that uses tongue-in-cheek humor to help us avoid murky writing.
(This list comes from Professor Howard Culbertson at Southern Nazarene University, and I use it with his permission.)

  1. Don’t use no double negatives.

  2. About them sentence fragments.

  3. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

  4. Between you and I, case is important.

  5. Do not submit writing in email or cell phone text format — thx!

  6. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

  7. Use your apostrophe’s correctly. Omit the apostrophe when its not needed.

  8. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

  9. Of course, if any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

  10. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.

  11. A writer must not shift your point of view.

  12. Avoid clichés like the plague. They’re old hat. So, go around the barn at high noon to avoid clichés and colloquialisms.

  13. Do not be redundant and keep repeating yourself; do not use more words than necessary; eliminate the superfluous in your writing.

  14. One should NEVER generalize.

  15. Be more or less specific.

  16. And avoid starting sentences with a conjunction.

  17. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

  18. Don’t use commas, that are not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.

  19. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed. So, take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.

  20. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

  21. Be careful to use the write homonym.

  22. DO NOT use multiple exclamation points and all caps to EMPHASIZE a point!!!!!!!!

  23. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.

  24. Proofread your writing to see if you any words out.

A Mountain-top Experience for Christian Writers at CCWC

Mtn-CCWC-2013

If you are a Christian writer, I want to encourage you to attend the  Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference. This great conference is just two weeks away, but there is still time to register. I will be at this conference and I would love to meet you there.  You can come for 1, 2, 3, or 4 days. You can stay in beautiful YMCA of the Rockies or commute. Come if you can! Here’s more information from the conference director, Marlene Bagnull:

Colorado Christian Writers Conference

A note of encouragement from Marleen Bagnull, Director:

  • Do you ever doubt your abilities as a writer?
  • Have you almost given up on getting published in today’s competitive market?
  •  Do you hate the “slush pile” and wish you could talk to an editor one-on-one?
  • Are you secretly terrified of the idea of building a “platform”?
  • Do you feel like you’re all alone in your writing adventure/struggle?
  • Is it really worth hanging in there for the long haul?
  • Is there a desire burning in your heart to write words that will potentially lead others to Christ?

7 Top Reasons You Need to Come to the May 11-14 CCWC

  1. Master the craft of writing. Okay, no one will ever achieve that lofty goal. There’s always more to learn. But as one conferee said, the Colorado Christian Writers Conference is equivalent to a semester college course in writing. A faculty of 56 editors, agents, and authors will provide instruction for wannabe and advanced writers of fiction from Christian speculative to historical, point of view and voice to making a scene. Nonfiction writers will find help for writing Bible studies, memoirs, articles, and much more. With 59 workshops and 8 continuing sessions to choose from, there really is something for everyone.
  1. Learn how to sell your work to potential publishers or explore the how-to of indie publishing. Whether you’ve received more than your share of rejection slips or have yet to get your first, two of CCWC’s eight continuing sessions that will provide the answers you need are: “Indie Publishing Boot Camp” and “Writing a Winning Book Proposal.”
  1. Face to face opportunities to pitch your work to editors and agents. In today’s publishing world the only way to connect with many agents and editors is through meeting them at a conference. Those who register for Thursday through Saturday are entitled to FOUR 15-minute one-on-one appointments with the faculty of their choice. You’ll find lots of helpful info on how to prepare and make the best choices by clicking on One-on-One at http://colorado.writehisanswer.com.
  1. Learn the craft of marketing/promoting your published work. Yes, it’s a craft, and not one that comes naturally to most writers. I’ve often said that the reason I quit Girl Scouts was the stress of trying to sell cookies. Whether or not you enjoy marketing, though, you hold the key to the sales of your book. And the good news is that marketing can be learned. We have a track of six hour-long marketing workshops and a continuing session on “Thriving in Today’s Publishing World.”
  1. Friendships with other writers. Writers connect deeply with one another faster than I ever have in the chit-chat before and after Sunday-morning worship services. A key verse that I’ve sought to follow is 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Encourage each other to build each other up” (TLB). It happens every year at CCWC!
  1. Inspiration and encouragement to keep on keeping on. Louise Looney is well qualified to teach the workshop, “Still Climbing – Not Over the Hill.” Since turning 75, she has written four books.  Allen Arnold’s continuing session, “From Overwhelmed to Creative Breakthrough,” will provide a refreshing journey for anyone who feels disheartened. And, of course, we also offer eight inspiring keynote addresses and times of worship.
  1. And the Number 1 Reason to come to the Colorado Christian Writers Conference: Renew your faith and passion to “write His answer.” Each year Father meets us on the mountain and challenges and equips us to write about a God who is real, who is reachable, and who changes lives.

There’s still time to register and to request appointments. Housing is still available at the YMCA – Estes Park Center. Thanks to the Y’s spacious classrooms, none of the workshops or continuing sessions are filled. For much more info and secure online registration go to http://colorado.writehisanswer.com. If you need time payments or scholarship help, please ask. Email me at mbagnull@aol.com or call 484-991-8581.

Writing is good for spirit, soul, and mind

JournalWriting

Today I’m sharing a guest post written by a friend, a retired pastor who writes encouraging, daily meditations for his Facebook followers. This kind of writing takes discipline and a heart that is attuned both to the Lord and to people and their real needs.


Writing is good for spirit, soul, mind. I don’t mean texting or e-mailing. I mean paper, pencil, and eraser writing. Because it’s slow. You have to be thoughtful. There is time to choose words, create effective phrases, eliminate unnecessary words, refine thoughts, evaluate what you are saying.

Things written penetrate deeper, with more impact, and last longer. Proverbs 7:13 advises writing God’s wisdom and instruction deep within your heart. Hebrews 8:10 records God saying, “I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

I think it was my friend, Jim Copple, who said to write something every day. In writing, spirit, mind, and soul get to breathe deeply. A spark of thought grows into a flame, and I grow. Having lighted a candle, I may pass the little flame on to whomever may need or find it useful.

Write something every day. No, not a “to do list.” Write a prayer, a personal note, a journal entry, or even just random thoughts. Paper and pencil have advantages over lighted screens and keyboards. A writing, praying, thinking place in your home is also beneficial.

What could it hurt to give it a try?

~Larry Lewis

Larry Lewis and his wife, Frances

A Christian Writer’s “Wildly Unbalanced Life”

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I hear writers bemoan the demands and distractions in their days (including technology) and how hard it is for them to achieve balance in their lives. Perhaps you’ve felt that, too. You’re working at the computer and think you’ll just check Facebook for a few minutes. An hour later, you wonder where the time went. Or you hear the musical tone that tells you new emails or text messages have arrived on your cell phone. You were just about to focus in on the theme of a blog post you’re preparing to write. You touch your phone screen, read the text and one thing leads to another. Let’s see, where did that inspiration, that thought, that focus go?
Not to mention the many “oughts” that press constantly upon your consciousness: I ought to read more, pray more, call so-in-so, go shopping, attend those meetings, deep clean my house/office, sort through papers, watch those recommended movies, re-decorate my house, exercise more … while tweeting, blogging, posting, submitting copy to editors.
So, how do we achieve “balance”?
Or, is that even the right question?
I got help on this issue a few days ago when I attended the “Writers on the Rock” Christian writers conference in Lakewood, Colorado, as a workshop presenter. Happily, I had opportunity to go to a session taught by Allen Arnold of Ransomed Heart Ministries. “Balance isn’t the key,” he told us. “God wants us to write—not for him or about him—but with him. This leads to a wildly unbalanced life. Let other things fall away.”
Demonstrating his teaching, Allen presented a creative, God-breathed message that brought clarity to my mind and both piercing and encouragement to my heart. In fact, the heart was his theme.
“Infuse Your Creativity with Heart” was his topic. “Nothing great was ever achieved without great heart,” stated the workshop blurb in the conference program. “Yet writers often become disheartened, discouraged or overwhelmed” (that’s where I started this post, remember?) “and when they do, their stories slowly begin to die.” Allen’s workshop promised to tell us “how to discover the truer you, consecrate your creativity, and feast on hidden Spiritual Manna.” He delivered on that promise.
A tall man with a joyful smile and eyes that seem ready to laugh with you or cry with you according to your need and the Lord’s leading, he said, “God cares far more about the story you’re living than the story you’re writing. Live well. Then write well.”
Does living well mean keeping up with everything the world, and even the church, often tells us we should keep on top of and keep “in balance?”
“You can’t write a better story than you’re living,” Allen Arnold states. “Nothing is more important than how a story was born—what your heart is like at the time of writing. … Get in touch with the truer you. Remember you and your story have an enemy. … Your writing changes when it becomes about presence over productivity.”
If writing and connecting with readers to encourage them, lift their sights to Jesus, come alongside them, instruct them in the living Word, bring them hope through a well-told story, is what gives you life … then this may be what the Lord is calling you to do; and to live out this calling, you will have to let some other things fall away.
Tend to your heart. Then write and connect and live a “wildly unbalanced life” in—and flowing out from—the presence of Jesus.

Are You Ready to Publish a Book?

hat-3

Think that’s a glamorous hat? Think again. As a “boutique” (small, custom, picky) publisher, I wear this hat often, and at first glance it may seem to give power and appeal. Over time, though, it brings me to my knees.

With my acquisitions editor hat on I must make decisions to enter into contractual agreements with writers based on perceptions and best guesses. First impressions of an author or manuscript are subjective. I may like the person, writing, or idea based on personal preferences and interests or their persuasiveness and ability to engage me with their written expression.

If an author/book idea passes that first, subjective threshold, it must hold up under business scrutiny. Tough questions should be asked, analysis and forecasting applied. Is there enough demand for a book like this? If so, can we and the author reach the market for this book? Is it well written, engaging, and unique enough to compete with similar books? If it floats, is the author ready and able to sail with it? Is this project financially feasible? Does it really fit in Cladach’s niche of literary waters?

If we answer too many questions “No” or “We don’t know,” and this process shoots too many holes in the potential project, it will sink before it starts with us. What we don’t want is to prepare a book, like a boat, to launch upon a sea of published books and then watch it sink. This has happened.

With some projects we know that we are testing the waters and risking storms at sea, but we believe in an author or project so much that we are willing take the risks. If we do that too often, though, we cannot stay in business/ministry.

Some book projects we take on with excitement, but the sales peter out. Others catch wind in their sails and continue to sell week after week, month after month, year after year. With the benefit of hindsight I can see that the following factors make a difference:

  • What other titles has the author published? For instance, if her other titles are poorly-edited, self-published books, this author’s reputation is hurt and that hurts the sales of even the title that we have carefully edited.
  • How actively connected is the author with the book’s prospective audience—even before he is published?
  • Is there a waiting audience/demand for this book—even before it is published?
  • Does the author have an ongoing means of reaching that audience? And can Cladach also effectively reach them?
  • Is the author’s personal life—health, relationships, finances—in order?

In my mind this begs the question: “As a writer, when are you ready to have your book published?”

Writers who have something to say and long to be published authors, tend to become impatient. Your preparations to publish involve much more than finishing a manuscript and writing an effective book proposal. You need also to:

  • Find/identify/make connections with/get to know the audience for you and your book. (Start this ongoing process, in fact, even before you write the manuscript.)
  • Get your finances in order. It can cost $ to publish and market effectively, even when you publish with a traditional, (large, small, or micro) royalty publisher.
  • Resolve, as far as you can, personal issues. Working as a published author takes time, energy, commitment, and the support of people around you.

As my mother used to say, “Work as if everything depends on you. Pray as if everything depends upon the Lord.” In the final analysis it does. And that brings me to my knees in the uncertain but enticing waters of acquiring book rights and taking publishing risks.

Running the Race ~ Writing for the Lord

A line-up of Cladach authors

Cladach’s Talented and Dedicated Authors

What makes a good author?

A good author is someone who has a burning desire to communicate through written expression, will pay the price to learn the craft of writing, will apply themselves to the process of writing, and will always keep their readers in mind. A good Christian writer loves the Lord, loves words, and loves people.

They can clearly answer the reporter’s questions:

Who: They know for Whom and to whom they are writing.

What: They have a clear focus and plan for what they are writing.

Where: They have a place to write and regularly “apply the seat of their pants to the seat of the chair” with pencil in hand or hands on keyboard.

When: They have a regular time to write and also have learned to snatch the moments and ideas as they come.

Why: They know why they are writing. A writer’s motives may vary: money (dream on), fame (rare and elusive), satisfaction, to scratch the itch (they can’t not write),…  Or, they relate to what the Olympic runner, Eric Liddell ‘s character said in Chariots of Fire: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

If God has truly gifted these writers to write for Him, then their writings will give pleasure to readers also. From their writings readers will gain inspiration, courage, hope, understanding, insight, help.

These Christian writers have taken to heart Hebrews 12:1-2.

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