Monday, October 26, 2020

Is Your Writing W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L?

 

By Katy Kauffman

 

“Wonderful” sticks to the heart as much as it does to the mind. Memories of fun-filled travels, time with family and friends, and special moments make a home within us forever. Books can do that too.

Wonderful happens when a book speaks to us about a heartfelt need, when it answers a plaguing question or solves a challenging problem, when it refreshes ours spirits and reminds us that hope is alive and God is with us.

Use this acronym as a checklist to make your writing even more wonderful.


W – Write from the heart.

 

Let the words flow from within. Bring out the life experiences that have shaped you, and share in your nonfiction book or novel the lessons that have influenced who you are and how you live. Write from a passion for your subject and a compassion for your readers.

 

O – Organize your thoughts into a straight line.

 

A meandering walk in the woods is inviting on a bright, sunny day. But a book that meanders through unrelated or semi-related thoughts will bring gloomy clouds and send a reader packing. Don’t make it hard on your reader to follow your flow of thought.  

 

N – Never save the best for last.

 

Give your reader a reason to read every chapter. Even the preface. I put brownies in the lead-in of my preface, and my friends haven’t forgotten it. While most books may put their best principles or scenes at the end, spread your best material throughout the book, so that every page is turned and every line is read.  

 

D – Develop an encouraging voice.

 

Some of the most captivating books I’ve read had the conversational voice of a friend. As the authors shared insights and stories from their lives, I felt like I was getting to know them, and that developed trust. Talk to the reader as to an encouraging friend, not a nagging one.

 

E – Edit distractions and detours.

 

The oomph factor dramatically increases in any book when the author whittles away distracting paragraphs and unnecessary detours. Editors and agents will love a book that stays on track, and so will readers.

 

R – Read your writing aloud before submitting it.

 

I wish I had done this for two of my books, but fortunately I could edit the book after I read the proof. If you’re shy about reading your work in front of others, cozy up in a chair in an isolated room, and read your book aloud. You’re more likely to catch missing words or typos than if you only read the book silently.

 

F – Fill your reader’s heart with takeaway.

 

This puts the wonder in wonderful. What can the reader take away from your book that will stay with them long after they’ve read it? If you’re writing Christian living books or Bible studies, make sure each of your chapters is filled with a takeaway that helps readers walk closer to God. If you’re writing devotions, use the main point of your story or illustration in your ending paragraphs. If you’re crafting a work of fiction, create characters and struggles that readers can relate to and learn from. Perhaps the story will reveal a missing piece of life’s puzzle and bring them wisdom, hope, or freedom.

 

U – Use words that deliver punch, zip, and wow.

 

Don’t just look at a word, but “listen” to it. When you say it to yourself, do you hear blah or hurrah? Choose words that grab the reader’s attention—vivid nouns and verbs that describe an idea, a scene, or an action you want the reader to take.  

 

How do your words sound to your inner reader’s ear? Do they stir you to action or put you to sleep? Polish your wonderful factor by infusing your writing with picturesque words and the best phrasing. Choose wording that evokes an emotional response from your reader.     

 

L – Launch the reader’s interest with an intriguing title.

 

Create an attention-grabbing title that makes potential readers stop and investigate. Launch their interest by using a slant from your book in your title. Can you build on a word picture from your book, like gardening, running, or painting? Is there some call to action that is a common thread in every chapter? Using your book’s slant in your title will help it to stand out from others like it and more readily grab readers’ attention.  

 

What makes a book absolutely wonderful to you? Tell us about those wonder-working qualities in the comments below, and keep your writing wonderful!


(Photo courtesy of photos-public-domain.com.) 


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Katy Kauffman via @KatyKauffman28 explains how to make our writing W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L. (Click to tweet.)

 

 

Katy Kauffman is an award-winning author, an editor of Refresh Bible Study Magazine, and a co-founder of Lighthouse Bible Studies. She loves connecting with writers and working alongside them in compilations, such as Feed Your Soul with the Word of God, Collection 1 which is a 2020 Selah Awards finalist. She recently started The Lighthouse Connection, a monthly writers’ newsletter including writing tips, inspiration to write, and news of submission opportunities.

 

In addition to online magazines, Katy’s writing can be found at CBN.com, thoughts-about-God.com, and three blogs on writing. She loves to spend time with family and friends, take acrylic painting classes online, and do yard work in the morning sun. Connect with her at her blog, Winning the Victory, and on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Kill All the Adjectives

By Denise Loock

 

One Mark Twain quote that pops up at almost every writers’ conference I attend is “when you catch an adjective, kill it.” Seasoned writers pass on this wisdom because less-experienced writers often consider a plethora of adjectives a sign of masterful description. For example: John was mesmerized by the daffodil-yellow polka-dot dress Allison wore, which flattered her willowy figure and her wavy chestnut-brown shoulder-length hair.


Let’s be clear. No one thinks like that, and no one talks like that either. But the other extreme—no adjectives—isn’t a wise choice either. In fact, Mark Twain himself clarified his position on adjectives: “No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.”[1]


And that’s what writers need to master—the appropriate use of adjectives. Here are four guidelines for using adjectives that add value, not clutter, to a sentence.


  • Adjectives modify words, which means they limit or qualify meaning. Use an adjective to add specificity (exhaust pipe) or to tell us something significant about a character (bloodshot eyes). Don’t use them to add degree or emphasis (long pipe; serious illness).


  • One memorable adjective is usually more effective than two or three forgettable ones, which is why Twain advised writers to keep adjectives “wide apart.” Consider this sentence from Leif Enger’s novel Virgil Wander: “At the foot of the city pier stood a threadbare stranger.”[2] Enger uses two adjectives. City tells us both the location of the pier and its type. You could argue that city is an unnecessary adjective, especially if the author has established setting elsewhere. But threadbare—that piques our interest, doesn’t it?


  • You don’t have to use uncommon adjectives to impress readers. Familiar is often better. Here’s another Enger sentence: “He had a hundred merry crinkles at his eyes and a long-haul sadness in his shoulders.” The author tells us a lot of this character’s story in one sentence, doesn’t he? And the three adjectives he uses—hundred, merry, and long-haul—are simple yet powerful. No scholarly vocabulary necessary.

 

  • Effective nouns and verbs will reduce the need to use adjectives. Another sentence from Enger: “His face seemed to collapse, then refill.” Similarly, comparisons and contrasts reduce the need for adjectives. You don’t need to insert poor to convey poverty: Other boys talked about their newest Xbox game. Jonas had never seen an Xbox.

Twain himself didn’t always follow his adjective advice. No writer does, so don’t beat yourself up. Here’s a sentence from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: “When Tom reached the little isolated frame school-house, he strode in briskly, with the manner of one who had come with all honest speed.” Judge the adjectives he used with school-house. Which ones would you eliminate?


Bottom line: use a deft hand with adjectives. As Twain said elsewhere, “As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.”[3] Chances are, the more striking you do, the more effective the remaining adjectives will be.

 


[1] “Letter to D. W. Bowser,” 20 March 1880, twainquotes.com.

[2]  Leif Enger, Virgil Wander (New York: Grove Press, 2018), 8–9, 100.

[3]  from Pudd’nhead Wilson, epigraph for Chapter XI.


(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and 89 Studio.)


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Denise Loock via @DLoock gives advice on using a deft hand with adjectives. (Click to tweet.)


Denise Loock is a writer, editor, and speaker. She is the 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 denise@journeychristiannews.com or info@digdeeperdevotions.com

 





Monday, September 28, 2020

Time to Revise Your Manuscript

 By Henry McLaughlin


Writer, we’re coming toward the end of preparing our manuscript for submission or self-publishing. What now?

Revise—Again

It’s time to write the third draft. Or maybe yours is a higher number. Doesn’t matter how many drafts you make to get to this point. My award-winning novel, Journey to Riverbend, went through eight drafts before winning its award. And then it went through one more draft through the publisher.

The key to revising is recognizing, as Jerry B. Jenkins puts it, when all we’re doing is changing it, we’re not making it better. 

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for knowing when we’ve reached this point. The moment comes as a realization after prayer and working with others, we trust we’ve done the best we can. And we trust God to do the rest.

This revision is when we incorporate the comments and feedback from our beta readers into the manuscript.

Please don’t see this as merely tweaking. We enter this revision with a commitment to rewrite as much as we need to. This is where we kill any darlings that escaped the earlier drafts. We tighten our writing, cutting extraneous words—yes, we’ll still find them. And cutting or tightening scenes, chapters, characters, and anything else that hinders our story.

The first thing to do is read all the comments and answers from our beta readers. When we see criticism, we need to remember—we asked for it. They took the time and made the effort to help us. We need to respect that by giving close attention to their efforts. Identify areas where the beta readers agree on something. If two out of three of my readers tell me there’s a problem in a specific area, I fix it. If I’m still not sure, I may ask them to re-read such a section to clarify that I got it.

Helpful Resources

Self-editing is not something we do in a vacuum. We have critique groups and beta readers to help us. We also have the expertise of other authors and editors. There are conferences, workshops, and webinars.  

And there are books. The best things about books is they’re always available at our desk in print or e-book. I prefer print for highlighting and margin notes. And their batteries don’t give out when I need them most. 

Three I recommend are:

  • Revision and Self-Editing for Publication (2nd Edition) by James Scott Bell. Writer’s Digest, 2012. This book gives excellent tools and advice for taking our first draft to finished manuscript worthy of publishing.

  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers [2nd Edition) by Renni Browne and Dave King. Harper Collins, 2004. In this book two professional editors teach writers how to apply editing techniques to turn their manuscripts. A valuable resource that never seems dated.

  • Troubleshooting Your Novel by Steven James. Writer’s Digest, 2016. This book provides practical instruction that targets the problem areas and weak spots in our stories.

What other resources have you found helpful in self-editing your work?

After we complete this process, we’ve probably done all we can to prepare our manuscript. But I would argue we’re not done yet. In my next post, we’ll talk about hiring a professional editor. 


(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stuart Miles.)


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Henry McLaughlin via @RiverBendSagas gives us tips on when and how to revise our manuscript. (Click to tweet.)


Tagged as “one to watch” by Publishers Weekly, award-winning author Henry McLaughlin takes his readers on adventures into the hearts and souls of his characters as they battle inner conflicts while seeking to bring restoration and justice in a dark world. His writing explores these themes of restoration, reconciliation, and redemption.

Besides his writing, Henry treasures working with other writers and helping them on their own writing journeys. He is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. He regularly teaches at conferences and workshops, leads writing groups, edits, and mentors and coaches.

Visit him at http://www.henrymclaughlin.org.



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Monday, September 14, 2020

The Secret to Being a Confident Christian Writer


By Emily Golus

In my nearly 20 years of participating in Christian writing conferences and critique groups, I’ve noticed two types of Christian writers:
  • Those for whom writing is a hobby, job, ministry, and/or passion.
  • Those for whom being a writer is the whole reason they exist.

    That second category may sound good. If that’s not dedication, what is? But in my observation, going “all-in” on being a writer—making it a key part of your identity—is a recipe for anxiety and personal crisis.

What Being a “Christian writer” Isn’t

A Christian may feel that God is calling him to be a writer, and that can be wonderful. But sometimes that vocational calling takes on a deceptive significance. Writing is no longer an activity this Christian does, but the essence of who he is—perhaps, in his mind, the very reason God created him.

And then when something an “all-in” writer creates gets a negative review, or a rejection letter, or is simply ignored—she’ll be more than disappointed. She’ll be shaken to her very core.

How could God allow this? Does she not have enough faith? What justification does she have to exist if she failed at the one thing that makes her life count?

When Your Writing Doesn’t Actually Matter

Let me share the truth that ended my own spiral of anxiety and doubt:

Your writing can be meaningful to others, 
but your writing does not give YOU meaning. 
Only Jesus can do that.

Listen, Christ didn’t die for you because you had the potential to be a great writer. He did it because He is kind (Ephesians 2:7-9). He wanted YOU, even in your flaws. You have nothing to offer back—not on that divine scale—that makes you a strategic choice for His kingdom (1 Corinthians 1:26-30).

You matter because the God of the universe loves you. He is so delighted about your rescue that He sings over you (Zephaniah 3:17). You matter to Him, end of story. There’s nothing you can do to add onto that.

Let the power of that roll over you like ocean waves. Let its peace sink into your bones.

What It Really Means to be a Christian Writer

Now, with that in mind, do you want to write? Great! You can be a Christian—with all that security and peace in place—who also enjoys the writing process.

And here’s the paradox: When you don’t take your writing so seriously—when your self-worth doesn’t ride on it—you become a better writer. The stakes are lower, and suddenly you’re free to be more daring and creative.

Experiment. Try hard things. Learn from negative feedback. If you fail, shake it off and try again.

If you enjoy the creative journey, that itself is a bonus gift from God. If you end up having success—hey, another bonus. If not, there’s nothing to be worried about, because your performance as a writer doesn’t change your significance one bit.

You’re free, writing friends. Enjoy the adventure.

(Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels and Stuart Miles from FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

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Emily Golus has been dreaming up fantasy worlds since before she could write her name. A New England transplant now living in the Deep South, she is fascinated by culture and the way it shapes how individuals see the world. Golus aims to create stories that engage, inspire, and reassure readers that the small choices of everyday life matter.

Her first novel, Escape to Vindor, debuted in 2017 and won the Selah Award for young adult fiction. Its sequel, Mists of Paracosmia, released in April 2019.

Golus lives in Upstate South Carolina with her woodworking husband, an awkward cat, and the world's most talkative toddler.

You can keep up with Vindor news at WorldofVindor.com and EmilyGolusBooks.com, or find her on Instagram as WorldOfVindor.

Monday, September 7, 2020

What Might Have Been


By Andrea Merrell

Sometimes I wonder where I would be today if I had ignored the words of someone who told me over twenty years ago that it was time to “get to writing.” Or if I had failed to make that all-important phone call ten years later to someone who gave me great advice about my writing journey. A woman who would become a mentor and a good friend.

What would have happened had I not submitted that first devotion? Would I have had the courage to submit my first article and then a short story? What if I had been too afraid to pitch my first book or attend my first critique group and writing conference?

The what ifs are endless, but so are the possibilities.

When God gives us gifts, we should never be afraid or reluctant to use them. In fact, the Bible says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10 NIV). One writer says, “When God gives you a gift, He give you the grace, guts, and grit to use it.” But even though He equips us, we have to step out in faith and do the work.

What is it you’re struggling with? Fill in the blanks:

  • I want to go to a writers’ conference but________________
  • I’m ready to submit my proposal but ___________________
  • I know I need an agent but _______________________________
  • She asked to see my first three chapters but ___________
  • There’s a contest I would love to enter but _____________
  • I’ve been thinking about blogging but ___________________

Whatever God has put in your heart, go for it. Will everything you try work out? Probably not. But that’s how you learn and grow. You can’t reap a harvest without first sowing the seed.

Don’t wait for the perfect time or the perfect opportunity. Take the opportunities that come your way. You never know what God might have in store just for you.

As John Greenleaf Whittier said, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: it might have been.”


(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stuart Miles.)


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