Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ten Seeds a Writer Should Sow

By Andrea Merrell

Every farmer and gardener knows that in order to harvest a certain crop, he or she must plant the right seeds. Planting the wrong seeds would be foolish, but not planting any seeds at all would be a disaster.

You might be wondering what this has to do with being a writer.  Just like there are natural laws in effect—like the law of gravity—there are spiritual laws that govern our Christian walk, determining how we fulfill our purpose and God-given destiny. One of the most important is the law of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7).

I’ve heard it said that what you are today is a result of what you’ve been believing and confessing (sowing) for the past five years. If this is true, then what you want to become in five years will depend on the seeds you sow now.

To make it more practical, if I want love, friendship, and encouragement from others, those are the seeds I must plant. When I plant seeds of hate, indifference, and criticism, those are the things I will harvest. Not only do we reap what we sow, the Bible says we receive the same portion, whether it’s a spoonful or a bushel basket.  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Luke 6:38 NIV).’’

As we talked about in my last post, I just recently returned from a large conference where I met a multitude of new writers, bringing back memories from my own first experience. I can vividly remember the seeds I tried to sow before I was ready. My pitch was not polished and my proposal not ready. My one-sheet looked like my ten-year-old granddaughter designed it, and I made my own business cards. My three-inch notebook was so organized I couldn’t find anything. Being focused on making a good impression and getting a contract created missed opportunities to network, make new friends, learn the craft, and encourage others who were just as nervous as I was.

The Bible tells us to sow seeds of kindness. This is easy to forget when we’re focused on our own agenda. The best way to achieve our goals is by pouring into the lives of others. To live generously. To tithe our time and our talents, as well as our finances.

When we “delight in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4), He promises to give us the “desires of our heart.” He abundantly grants those desires when we invest our time in helping others. Everyone needs approval and acceptance, and that’s a gift we can freely give.

Here are ten seeds we can regularly sow:

  • Develop a relationship with other writers either face to face or through social media.
  • Pray for others when needs arise, and let them know you’re praying for them.
  • Encourage others when they’re struggling with a project or just received a rejection.
  • Rejoice with others when they win a contest, sign a contract, acquire an agent, receive an award, or have a five-star review on Amazon. 
  • Share your talents. You might be a graphic artist, have an eye for detail, or love marketing. If someone can benefit from your expertise, don’t hesitate to bless them.
  • Find someone to mentor. We’re all at different stages in our writing career, and we all had to start somewhere. Everyone needs others to help them succeed (just like we did). The Bible says that “two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:9 KJV). The Message translation puts it this way: “It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps. But if there’s no one to help, tough!
  • Look for the best in others. Encourage them. Don’t offer shallow flattery; give them genuine, heartfelt praise.
  • Be a trustworthy friend and confidant.
  • Don’t just sow query letters, proposals, and contest entries. Sow love and kindness into the lives of others, and watch what God will do.  
  • When you do sow query letters, proposals, and contest entries, make sure they are as clean and professional as possible. 

I’m much further ahead now than five years ago, but I’m still on that journey with a long way to go. The seeds I sow from this point forward will not only determine my destination, but the joy and fulfillment I experience along the way.

What seeds are you planting? We would love to hear your suggestions.

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/koko-tewan.)


Monday, June 12, 2017

Ten Things You Should Never Say to an Editor

By Denise Loock

Hiring an editor is wise. But you’ll waste the money you’ve invested if you’re unwilling to accept an editor’s advice. Here are ten things you may want to say to an editor but shouldn’t.

1. No one will notice. No one cares. If you’ve ever noticed a misspelled word or a misplaced comma in a newspaper or on a billboard, you care about accuracy. More than that, though, God cares. He loves excellence. In fact, He demands excellence. Colossians 3:23-25 says, “Don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God. … The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work” (MSG). Ouch. God never excuses “shoddy work.”

2. My friend, an English teacher, told me this was correct. I taught English for 29 years before I became an editor. The differences between English-teacher style and publication style are many. Get the right resources. Here are three: The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, fourth edition (CWMS); Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors; The Associated Press Stylebook.

3. How will readers get my point if I don’t use italics, all-caps, and exclamation points? Make your words work. Don’t glitz them up with fancy fonts and superfluous punctuation. “The craft of writing involves arranging words and phrases in such a way as to emphasize the important points without depending on typographic peculiarities” (CWMS 77).“Typographic peculiarities” attempt to mask mediocrity with gaudiness. Don’t insult your reader with such shenanigans.

4. Max Lucado does it that way. According to his website, Lucado has sold 92 million books. Yes, he’s successful. But if God wanted another Max Lucado, He would clone him. Be your best self. Find your voice.

5. This is God’s message. I can’t change it. Yes the Holy Spirit impresses on us a message. He reveals fresh meanings and applications in Scripture. But He also uses traditional means of education. Paul’s letters are filled with post-resurrection connections to Old Testament Scriptures. Revealed by the Holy Spirit, yes. But Paul had studied the Hebrew Scriptures thoroughly. He learned under Gamaliel, the most respected rabbi of that era (Acts 5:34; 22:3). Messages need refinement. So do messengers. Just ask Paul.

6. That’s the way I talk (or blog.)  The CWMS devotes three pages to the difference between blog style and book style. It covers topics such as tone, structure, transitions, repetition, and references. Learn the rules of good writing and practice them in everything you write.

7. I like it the way it is.  Stubbornness is the twin of arrogance. Everyone makes mistakes—writers and editors. But wait at least 24 hours before insisting, “I won’t change it.” Pray about it. In The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer says of the student: “And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.” Wise words.

8. But I love that song (book, speaker). We all have favorite books, speakers, and songs. But that doesn’t mean we insert lyrics, paragraphs, and illustrations from those sources in our books or blogs. Find a fresher way to say it that reflects your experiences, your environment, your interests.

9. I saw it somewhere on the Internet (heard it at church, at a conference, on TV).
Documentation is essential. If you don’t know the source, don’t use it. Misquotes and wrong attributions permeate the Internet. Avoid using brainyquote.com and goodreads.com/quotes. And never depend on Wikipedia. Respect the sources you admire enough to read the original version of their words.

10. It could mean that, couldn’t it? Use Scripture accurately and appropriately. Context is everything. Don’t mix fiction with fact. Even if you’re using only one verse, study the context, read a few commentaries, and pray about it.  Research Scriptures as thoroughly as other citations. Plant 2 Timothy 2:15 in your heart and “correctly handle the word of truth” (NIV).

Remember, an editor is your friend. Editors want your manuscript to be the best it can be. Editing is a humbling career. Writing is a humbling career. Neither writers nor editors are infallible. But we both can strive for excellence and make our heavenly Father proud.

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Master Isolated Images, Denise Loock, and Google Photos.)


Denise Loock is a writer, editor, and speaker. She is the former editor for The Journey Christian Newspaper, which reaches over 60,000 online and print readers. As an assistant editor, she helps Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas produce high quality, engaging inspirational books. She accepts freelance editing projects too. Contact her at info@digdeeperdevotions.com.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Time Management Tips for Writers

by Alycia W. Morales     @AlyciaMorales

Life has a way of taking over, and it always seems to be my writing that suffers. For the past few years, I've been working as a freelance editor—and a very busy one at that. Between the editing and busyness four kids entail, I've let my writing dreams take a shelf. No longer. Based on what I've been taught over the past seven years, I'm setting a schedule and sticking to it. Here are a few of those tips:

7 Time Management Tips for Writers {Click to Tweet}

1. Start your morning with God. I don't know about you, but if I skip my morning quiet time with the Lord, things don't go very well the rest of the day. It may not be evident in the events of the day, but I can always tell my stress levels are up and my patience levels are down. I need that time with the Lord to gain the peace only He can provide. Other benefits to quiet time with Father? Reassurance of His love. Direction. Healing. Freedom. Creativity. Just to name a few...

2. Half an hour of social media first. As writers, we're assured we need a platform. Social media and blogging are two ways to help build that platform. After your quiet time, spend half an hour scheduling your social media posts across sites for the day. Use HootSuite and preschedule those posts so you don't have to be tempted back to Facebook or Instagram until you've gotten your day's work finished. What to share? Quotes. Memes. Links to pertinent information for your audience. Questions to get your audience sharing. Interesting facts. Something interesting to you or about you that will pull your audience closer to you. And remember the golden rule: 5 posts that promote someone else to every 1 post that promotes you.

3. Find your golden hours. Every creative person has a certain time of day they are most creative. When's yours? Mine happens to be mid-morning until early afternoon. It's definitely not after 6:00 PM when I can no longer put two sentences together. Know your creative golden hours and do your writing then.

4. Schedule the other tasks around that time. I'm an editor and, as of this year, a ghostwriter. I have clients lined up through the end of 2017. I will work on their projects around those golden hours when I'll be writing my own novels or blogging.

5. Make one day a week the day you run errands for your household. I know that Fridays tend to be the days I am out and about getting groceries, taking care of household business, etc. So, I plan to work four days a week, Monday through Thursday, and spend Friday taking care of everything else. I spend the day working the weekly household budget, paying bills, grocery shopping, dropping bags to the thrift shop, and anything else that needs accomplishing.

6. Pick a day of the month to dedicate to appointments for your household. My doctor isn't in the office one afternoon every month. That's his dedicated day for dentist appointments, doctor appointments, etc. Granted, kids will get sick or break bones any day of the week, but if you know you have annual checkups and cleanings coming up, pick one day a month to schedule these. That will allow you to stick to your schedule and not be running 50 directions all week.

7. Let everyone who typically interrupts your schedule (family, friends, church family) know that you are running a business and cannot be interrupted anymore. Turn the ringer off on your phone or set text messages to Do Not Disturb and get to work. If you're going to make an income, you need regular office hours just like any other businessman or woman. It's time to set healthy boundaries and minimize interruptions.

I hope these tips will help you! Now, I'm off to set my schedule in motion and let my household know I have a job to do. If you have any tips you'd like to add, please feel free to share them in the comments below. We look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Writers Conferences Are Like a Box of Chocolates

By Andrea Merrell

Expectations. We all have them—some realistic and achievable, others not so much.

Merriam-Webster online defines expect this way: to await, suppose, or think; to anticipate or look forward to the coming or occurrence of; to consider probable or certain; to consider reasonable, due, or necessary; to consider bound in duty or obligated.

That’s a whole lot of wishing and hoping.

I just returned from the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference (BRMCWC) in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. With over 500 people in attendance, it was a privilege and honor to be part of the faculty. Teaching classes and interacting with conferees at appointments, meals, and free time gave me the opportunity to observe attitudes in action. For many of these conferees—especially first-timers—expectations ran the gamut from “God’s about to make me a super star” to “what in the world am I doing here?”

When attending my first conference as a newbie, I was clueless. My friend and roomie (also a newbie) and I had no idea what to do before we arrived, while we were there, and even after we left, but we knew we were supposed to be there. Armed with faux courage, we were both convinced we would come home with an agent, a contract, and a bunch of “attagirls … you are an amazing writer and just what we’ve been looking for.”

Sad to say, that’s not exactly what happened. Actually, that’s not anything close to what happened. Speaking for myself, I wasn’t ready.

They say you don’t know what you don’t know. An acute awareness of how much I didn’t know (and needed to learn) came home with me, packed securely in my luggage—along with a fistful of business cards, bookmarks, handouts, class notes, and an abundance of wise advice. Overwhelming? Yes, but as I applied myself and attended this same conference (along with others) year after year, God’s plan for my life unfolded. Looking back over the past ten years, I can clearly see His hand in every aspect of my writing career—even in the dreaded rejection letters. Every step became part of the learning process as God opened the right doors and closed the wrong ones, taught me to keep my eyes on Him instead of others, and prepared me for the wonderful journey He had prepared for me. The key factor was—and is—trust.

This past week, I had the pleasure of speaking with so many precious individuals who have words burning in their heart that need to be written. Some were confident, while others were shy and hesitant. A few were confused and frustrated because they didn’t know what to expect, who to talk with, and which classes to attend. My advice to them was simple: “Put away your expectations and allow God to do what He wants to do. Believe for divine appointments, divine connections, and divine favor. Take one step at a time, and make the most of every opportunity that comes your way. You are not here by accident, but by design.”

God’s plans are almost always bigger than our own, and He will bless us in the most unusual and unexpected ways. I’ve learned that at a conference, the person I meet in the hallway who needs a hug and a word of encouragement might be the very reason God has me there.

Attending conferences is essential to our writing journey. But success is in the eye of the beholder. Yes, we all long for an agent, a contract, and an attagirl (or attaboy). But let’s not neglect the process of learning the basics and honing our craft. Becoming a good writer is a process, not an event.

Most importantly, don't forget to step outside your comfort zone and meet people. Forging friendships is how you build your network. I'm very thankful for lessons learned over the years and the many opportunities that have come my way, but some of the greatest gifts are all the incredible people I’ve met and the life-long friendships that have been created.

So, what about you? If you’re not getting the desired results, maybe it’s time to change your expectations. To quote Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” We could say the same thing about a conference. You never know what you’re going to “get,” but when you’re trusting in God, you can be sure it will be a blessing and another step in the right direction.

Has God blessed you in ways you least expected? We would love for you to share with us and our readers.

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Pansa/David Castillo Dominici.)


Monday, May 15, 2017

Don't Bury Your Gift

By Andrea Merrell

Writing can be a tough business, especially when working with deadlines, keeping up with blog posts, and coming up with fresh ideas. Even attending workshops and conferences can be a challenge—financially, emotionally, and physically. As writers, we sometimes work under strict time restraints, family obligations, and physical limitations.

So … why do we do it?

For most of us, it’s a God-given calling. We write because He has placed the gift within us. I like to say, “I write because I can’t not write.” Not a great way to say it, but it expresses the reality of this unique calling. I would be completely miserable and unfulfilled if unable to express my thoughts, ideas, stories, and characters on paper.

Because I spend so many hours at the computer, I deal with neck, back, and shoulder issues. These problems have been severe at times, resulting in doctor appointments, chiropractic care, massage therapy, testing, medication, and time away from the computer. But lately, I’ve talked with many other writers who have to push through because of severe physical limitations. Their stories have been very inspiring, making me realize I don’t have much to complain about.

On the other hand, I’ve known a few writers with an amazing gift who gave it up because they had so many obstacles to overcome.

Why would someone with such a special gift decide to bury it? I think there are several reasons, and they all have to do with fear.

Fear of Rejection
Everyone deals with this to a degree, but to some it can be crippling. It might be the very thing that keeps you from submitting your manuscript to an agent, editor, or publisher. One lady told me she was terrified to let her words “out of the nest.”

Fear of Not Being Good Enough
Perhaps you’re intimidated by other writing professionals, and this keeps you from attending workshops and conferences where you can network and polish your skills. One of the worst things we can do as writers—or anything else for that matter—is compare ourselves to others. God has called and uniquely gifted you to do what no one else can do.

Fear of the Unknown
This one could encompass a multitude of reasons we bury our gift. For me, my vision has always been an issue. Seven years ago, I had a corneal transplant and cataract surgery in my right eye, putting me out of commission as both a writer and editor for several weeks and making my work difficult for months. Now, I’m facing the same surgery in my left eye later this year. Even though the outcome is unknown, my faith, hope, and trust is in the One who enables me to do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13 NKJV). The Message puts it this way: Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.

Pastor and author Bob Gass says:

Paul told the Philippians, “Keep on growing in knowledge and understanding (Philippians1:9 NLT). And he told Timothy, “Be sure to use the abilities God has given you … put them to work … kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you (1 Timothy 4:14-15 TLB). When you don’t exercise your muscles, they weaken and atrophy, and when you don’t utilize the skills God gave you, the same thing happens. Don’t be afraid. Put your gifts and abilities to work, and they’ll become enlarged and developed through practice. With study, feedback, and practice, a good teacher can become a better teacher, and in time grow to be a great teacher.

Whatever God has called and equipped you to do, don’t ever let fear derail you my making you hide or walk away from your gift. Don’t be like the unwise servant who buried his talent in the ground.

Are there certain fears that hold you back? We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/adamr/Stuart Miles.)