Tuesday, October 10, 2017

How to Write a Captivating First Paragraph

Today we welcome Katy Kauffman as our guest blogger.

By Katy Kauffman

I normally don’t buy a book unless the first paragraph wows me. Do you?

A captivating first paragraph draws readers into your world of ideas and principles, stories and lessons. Whether you’re writing a memoir, a devotional, a Bible study, a Christian living book, or any other kind of nonfiction book, craft a first paragraph that wows readers and makes them want to step into your “world.” Here’s how.

Write tight.
Don’t bog your readers down with too much detail in the first paragraph. This is your chance to open the door that looks into your world of ideas. Don’t make the door too heavy to budge.

Show, don’t tell.
Don’t tell them that they need your book—share a story that illustrates why they do. Or give an alarming statistic. Include a picture of the people you’re writing about. Let your readers “see” with their mind’s eye why they need to keep reading your book.

Be an artist.
As you paint a picture of why potential readers should buy your book, use the best colors. Pick vibrant words to make your point. Use bold strokes to get their attention when needed, and finish the paragraph with subtle movements to keep them reading. Don’t give away everything in the first paragraph, but gently point them to the next one. Keep them moving through your world of illustrations and ideas.

Engage the mind, and touch the heart.
When people consider buying a nonfiction book, they are probably wanting to deepen their knowledge of a particular subject. So engage their brains. But don’t forget to engage their hearts. People are often motivated to action because they sympathize with a need, hate an injustice, worry about a problem, or love a cause. Connect with their minds and their hearts as you introduce your subject. You will probably need your whole first page to do this, but get started in the first paragraph as you share a story, give an alarming statistic, or ask a thought-provoking question.

Use the most effective voice.
What voice, or style of writing, best suits your purposes? If you’re seeking to warn, find the wording that acts as a wake-up call to the reader. If your purpose is to encourage, write as though you are speaking to a friend. If you’re sharing a story to begin your book, be the narrator that peers into the lives of the people you’re describing and unfolds the plot layer by layer. Choose the right voice that will appeal to your target audience and will effectively deliver your message.

Which of these 5 elements would you like to see in a book’s first paragraph? Which appeals the most to you? Share in the comments below, and happy writing. 

A captivating first paragraph—never write a book without it!

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/David Castillo Dominici and nanetus.)


Katy Kauffman is an award-winning author, an editor of
Refresh Bible Study Magazine, and a co-founder of Lighthouse Bible Studies. She has taught the Bible to women and teens, and her Bible studies focus on winning life’s spiritual battles. Katy is a regular contributor to the Write Conversation and to two websites for young women. Connect with her at her blog, Life with God, and on Facebook

Monday, October 2, 2017

Square Peg ... Round Hole

By Andrea Merrell

We’ve all heard it said … you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole. Unless, of course, you intend to shave off the edges, totally changing the attributes and character of the peg.

Every one of us has our heroes, our mentors, and those we want to emulate. And we all want to fit in. But sometimes—instead of learning and gaining inspiration from those we idolize—we try to become just like them instead of who God created us to be. We can get so caught up in what God is doing in others that we totally miss what He’s trying to do in us.

The truth is we’re all called by God for a purpose. Here are some wise words by pastor and author Bob Gass:

God knows what you were born to be and provided everything you’d need to fulfill your life’s purpose. God sanctified and set you apart. He fixed it so you wouldn’t fit in and designed you so you couldn’t rest any place He didn’t want you to be. He intended for you to wander and feel lost until you found Him. That’s why you’re uncomfortable in certain places and around certain people. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, you won’t fit in because God has set you apart for Himself. Man can ordain, but only God can foreordain. Stop worrying about who does or does not recognize your gifts.

Still not convinced? Here’s another quote by John Mason:

Each person has been custom-made by God the Creator. Each of us has a unique and personal call on our lives … to be our own selves and not copies of other people.

Writer, you have been called by God, and your journey is as special and precious as you are. Embrace your uniqueness. You have a story that no one else can tell. You have thoughts, feelings, experiences, and wisdom that are yours alone. Commit your gifts, talents, and abilities to God, and watch how He uses them—in your life, for His glory, and to bless others. You never know how powerful your words can be until you place them in the Creator’s hands.

Be ready at all times to follow God’s lead, not just in your writing, but in everything you do. Be like the prophet Jeremiah. God told him, “Go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!  (Jeremiah 1:7-8 NLT) He also told Jeremiah in verse five, "I knew you ... I sanctified you ... I ordained you."

God's way is always best. If you’re a square peg, don’t even think about trying to fit in that round hole. Keep learning, growing, and moving forward until you find that sweet spot God designed just for you. It will be a perfect fit.

What about you? Have you found that sweet spot? We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles and Google images.)


Monday, September 18, 2017

The Benefits of Walking in God's Favor

By Andrea Merrell

I often tell people that one single word from God can change the entire course of your life. Another writer says that one moment of God’s favor will do more for you than a lifetime of striving. There are many benefits to walking in God's favor.

Are you striving in your writing career? According to Merriam Webster Online, striving can mean “devoting serious effort or energy” … or “to struggle in opposition.”

Maybe you feel there’s never enough time. Maybe there are too many obstacles standing in your way. Or perhaps you feel invisible, discouraged by rejection and missed opportunities.

We hear it said that when God closes a door, He will open another one … or even a window. Too many times, we stand at that closed door and try to open it with a chainsaw or stick of dynamite.

It’s also said that when God opens a door, no man can close it. We see proof of that in Revelation 3:8: Now see what I’ve done. I’ve opened a door before you that no one can slam shut (MSG). The key for us is being in tune with Him, following His lead, and walking boldly and confidently through the doors He opens. It all boils down to attitude and expectations. What are you expecting God to do? Or maybe you’re not expecting anything from Him, thinking you have to succeed all on your own.

Another thing I tell writers is to believe God for divine appointments, divine connections, and divine favor. When we do, we are putting the proverbial ball squarely back in God’s court. And He never loses.

Listen to what pastor and author Bob Gass has to say: "As you walk in God’s favor, doors of opportunity open, the right people are drawn to you, and you discover ideas, strategies, and resources in the most unexpected places. Like changing the direction of a moving stream, God can change people’s hearts and give you favor with those who might otherwise reject or overlook you."

The Bible tells us God is not a “respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34 KJV). In other words, God does not play favorites. What He does for one, He is ready and willing to do for all. That’s not to say our gifts, talents, abilities, calling, purpose, and destiny are all the same. What it does mean is that His Word is true, and He responds to those who believe and act on it—in faith.

Just look at the story of Ruth. She went from being a poor widow to becoming the wife of a wealthy nobleman. Esther transitioned from an unknown Jewish girl to a queen and saved her people from annihilation. There are many other stories in the Bible where God’s favor rested upon people who trusted in Him.

If you feel invisible or insignificant, know that God sees you right where you are. He is intimately acquainted with you and has a wonderful plan and purpose for your life. Change your thinking and your expectations. God desires to bless you—and your writing—in ways (and through other people) that you can’t even imagine.

Begin each day thanking God for opening the right doors of opportunity for you. And pray for favor. Several years ago, I heard a pastor say “Lord, I thank you that I am surrounded with favor like a hedge, like a shield, like a wall of fire.” That’s what I call walking in the favor and blessings of God.

What about you? Have you experienced God’s favor in your writing? We would love to hear your story.

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles/phanlop88.)


Monday, September 11, 2017

Following the Call to Write

by Diana Sharples     @DianaSharples

There was a rush of inspiration and a thrill of hope when I first felt called to write for Jesus. I'd been writing my whole life, but suddenly I had a sense of "this is it!" After all, if God is with me, who can be against me. Right?

The problem is this feeling is born in the human heart. Yes, I felt a calling, and over the years since, the Lord has reminded me that I have been called. But like a newborn baby that needs time to learn to walk, the calling was just the beginning of my journey. I had a lot of work to do before I could see any rewards.

It was hard work and demanded a lot of time, dedication, and financial resources. I experienced the sting of harsh criticisms and the disappointment of vaguely worded rejections. I went through times when the market for my genre dried up and no one would even look at my work. I asked God what He was doing. If I was truly "called," why were all the doors closing? Even after getting published, I struggled with marketing - a job I was completely unprepared for. Over the years, I have doubted my calling, wondering if what I felt in that initial rush was my own desires, not God's will. During those times, the Lord always brought some comfort, some encouragement, some new inspiration.

But He never took away the hard work.

Recently, someone asked me what my idea of success was and suggested that I shouldn't be focusing on publication and marketing. Rather, I should be writing only for God, for my audience of One, for whatever He was trying to show me in the process. I've heard this mantra before, but not exactly used for sound Scriptural purposes. It's used to console the writer who is struggling, or even in a patronizing manner when a writer might not have developed the "chops" he or she needs for publication. It's also false consolation that suggests a writer doesn't need to struggle for excellence, but just the act of writing something is enough.

Think about this. Would we ever tell a person called to, say, dentistry that he shouldn't go to college or work toward a thriving practice because pulling teeth in his garage for Jesus is enough? Would we ever give this kind of advice to people in any other industry?

And who are we to say what plans God has for another person?

This doesn't mean that every person who feels compelled by God to put words on a page will be published or become a bestseller. It certainly doesn't mean the doors of opportunity will fly open and the world will embrace our Holy Spirit-inspired brilliance the moment we put it out there.

I believe that writing - or pulling teeth, or raising kids, or entering the ministry - for our audience of One means becoming a partner with Him on a journey toward excellence. Scripture often refers to a process of purification in somewhat violent terms: removing the dross from the silver, burning the chaff from the wheat, being thrown and molded on a potter's wheel. The journey God has put me on has involved years of "purification" that likely won't be fully accomplished this side of heaven ... and for that I am grateful. He has sustained me as I've struggled to become a better writer and when fluctuations in the industry made things look bleak. I'm not silver yet. There's still a lot of chaff. My pot is rather lopsided. But I've learned to love the journey, the whole process of becoming something more than I was a year ago, and much more than I was when I started. And if publication is what God has planned for me, then striving for it is my part of the deal. Until such time as He removes the desire from my heart and the ability to write from my soul, I am partnered with Him on a task He prepared for me, and not one step of the journey is wasted.

Diana Sharples holds a degree in art from the Atlanta College of Art, and has produced award-winning illustrations. As a writer, she has penned many novels, currently focusing on contemporary young adult fiction. Her debut novel, Running Lean, was published in 2013 by Zondervan/Blink, a division of Harper Collins. Two more novels are slated for 2018, the sequel to Running Lean, tentatively titled Running Strong, and the first novel in a new YA series with mystery elements, tentatively titled Finding Hero.

Diana is a wife and mom, a follower of Jesus Christ, and an avid motorcycle rider. To find out more about Diana, visit her website at http://www.dianasharples.com/.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Your 6-Week Prep Plan for NaNoWriMo

by Alycia W. Morales     @AlyciaMorales

It's nearly the middle of September, and I'm basking in all things fall. Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Cozy sweaters. Cooler mornings (and some cooler afternoons). Leaves turning all sorts of brilliant colors. NaNoWriMo...

Wait a minute! NaNoWriMo??!!!?? Is it that time already? Yes, yes it is.

Will you #NaNoWriMo ? A 6-Week Prep Plan via @AlyciaMorales {Click to Tweet}

If you haven't heard of NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it's held annually in November. Sign up to write the first draft of your novel in the month of November. At 50,000 words from November 1 - November 30, you're a winner!

Scared? Don't be. It's not as spooky as it seems. Just as it is with any marathon, preparation will be key. So here's a 6-Week Prep Plan for NaNoWriMo:

Week One: Meet your characters. Who are those funny people dancing around inside your head? Take week one to get to know them. Draw/Pin/Write out a character sketch. Figure out who your key players are. Protagonist. Antagonist. Hero. Villain. Now you know who you're starting with.

Week Two: Create your world. Where on earth or other world is your story taking place? Let the setting tell you something about the plot. How will your characters interact with their surroundings? What do the flowers smell like? What does the ground feel like between the characters' toes? Think about the world and Draw/Pin/Write it.

Week Three: Give your character a hard time. What issue is your character going to struggle with? What's the main conflict of the story? How will this impact the characters' lives? Start to think about your main character's arc. How will your character change throughout the novel? And who or what will trigger that change?

Week Four: Lay out your plot. Even if you're a panster, it's a good idea to have some idea of where your story is going. Especially since you only have 30 days to write it. What story do you want to tell? What story do your characters want to live out? If nothing else, at least write a paragraph about the story you'd like to tell. Like a back-cover blurb.

Week Five: Schedule your writing time. It's so easy to let life get in the way of our writing, especially as the holidays approach. Pull out your calendar and set a specific amount of time you're going to write each day. NaNoWriMo suggests you write a minimum of 1,667 words per day if you want to hit the 50,000 mark in 30 days. Let your friends and family members and any other distractions know you won't be available until you've hit your magic word count each day.

Week Six: Get ready! If you haven't already, sign up for NaNoWriMo at their site. Be sure to follow their instructions so you know how to update your word counts, find buddies, and more. At the same time, let your writer friends know you're participating. It's great to have someone who can hold you accountable to finishing your novel!

What other NaNoWriMo prep tips do you have? We'd love to hear them in the comments below!

If you'd like to be my NaNoWriMo buddy, I'm AlyciaMorales on the NaNo site. To add a buddy, go to the top right corner of the NaNoWriMo page and click on the Search button. Under search, be sure the circle before Authors is selected. Type in the name of the person you're looking for and hit return (or search). When the authors appear, scroll to find the one you're looking for and click on their name. Find the "Add as Buddy" words and click on them (right corner of author description). Your buddy should be added! :)