Monday, September 9, 2019

Five Questions for Reviewing Your Train of Thought

By Katy Kauffman

With time, I have become a better train conductor. Instead of jumping the rails to explore lush, green forests or majestic mountain peaks, I am better able to keep my train of thought on its intended course. Have you ever thought of yourself—a writer—as a train conductor?
Words are our cars, and chapters are our trains. We may not wear the nostalgic conductor’s hat, but our thinking caps fit snugly in place. That may be the problem. In the broad expanse of ideas and sentences and experiences, we have to chart our course. What points do we need to make? Which ones do we need to leave out? Our necessary writer’s tool (dare I say the word?)—an outline—acts as our track. The track grows as we add illustrations, insights, or examples to make our point. The danger comes when our exuberance for sharing what we know runs off track and into the thicket.

Oh, it may not look like a thicket to us. But our readers will find themselves traveling through briars and underbrush if we decide to jump the track. They may appreciate the extra leg of the journey, tucked safely inside our train. But they will start to wonder why their conductor added a few stops before the destination. We never want to confuse or disappoint our readers. We want them to travel with us again through worlds of truth or imagination.

So how do we ensure that they will buy our train ticket and ride with us again? By delivering what we’ve promised. By arriving at our destination at the end of the book and making every stop until we get there as enjoyable, informative, and encouraging as possible.

Here are five questions to ask yourself about every chapter, paragraph, and sentence in your book. These questions also work for shorter rides, such as articles and blog posts. Once you have poured out your heart on paper, put on your conductor’s hat and examine closely your train of thought. Streamline your writing by evaluating the “track.”

  1. Does my train of thought travel from Point A (the beginning of my chapter or article) to Point B (the end of it) in a straight line, or have I meandered off course?
  2. Have I included stories, statistics, or quotes that illustrate my point, or are some not as relevant as others?
  3.  Can I cut out any paragraphs, sentences, or single words, and my message is still clear?
  4.  Have I inserted anything that’s precious to me but unnecessary to my overall point? 
  5. Do I arrive at my destination “on time,” or do I have any delays and detours?

Our goal as writers is to arrive at our destination—the end of our work—leaving our readers feeling as if they have had an adventure worth remembering and taking to heart. Guide them all the way through your message of truth by using the most effective route—don’t let your train of thought jump the track.

What do you do to help yourself stay on track in your writing? Share your tips and ideas with us in the comments below.

(Photos courtesy of


Katy Kauffman is an award-winning author, an editor of Refresh Bible Study Magazine, and a co-founder of Lighthouse Bible Studies. Her first compilation, Breaking the Chains: Strategies for Overcoming Spiritual Bondage, won a 2018 Selah finalist award. Her next compilation, Heart Renovation: A Construction Guide to Godly Character, was a 2019 Selah finalist and Director’s Choice finalist. Katy’s writing can be found at,,, two blogs on writing, in online magazines, and on devotional blogs. She loves spending time with family and friends, making jewelry, and hunting for the best donuts. Connect with her at her blog, The Scrapbooked Bible Study, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Whatcha Gonna Do When the Well Runs Dry, Honey?

By Yolanda Smith

Whatcha Gonna Do when the Well Runs Dry, Honey?

I’ll admit it—this blog post was due, and I had nuthin’. Sometimes my well of ideas runs dry. My lack of material is not due to stupidity. At least, I hope that’s not the case. This problem usually manifests when I’m full of conflicting and competing responsibilities (back-to-school, anyone?), and they take over my brain, siphoning the creativity faster than a gas thief. What’s a writer to do?

Sit on the Bank and Cry, Cry, Cry
Tears are my default when things aren’t going write right. I used to be ashamed of my tears, doing everything within my power to stop the flow. That’s never worked well for me, so my second option was to hide the blubbering as best I could. That remained true for many years, until I realized God gave me tears as a gift, and I stopped holding back. These days a hearty sob is no crying shame. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, tired, or out of sorts, a good bawl cleanses my soul and is the closest thing I have to a reset button.

Yonder Comes a Man with a Sack on His Back
We know the source of all creativity, right? He’s in sight, and He’s headed our way. He’s the living water, ready to slake our thirst if we’re willing to sit at His feet and drink deeply of all He offers. He can fill our wagon, our well, and our water bottles with whatever we need most. Often, we don’t even know what to ask for, but He knows what we need, and He’s got a sack full of supplies. But it’s our job to pay attention—and notice His presence.

Got More Crawdads than He Can Pack
God has a bottomless reservoir of creativity available. There’s no promise as to the measure He will share with us, but we won’t be worse for the asking. He invites us to remember every good and perfect gift comes from Him.

You Get a Line, I’ll Get a Pole, Honey
Wouldn’t it be odd if, while pulling out a good folk song or ballad and whistling a jaunty tune, we actually get a line? And one line leads to another line, and a nibble turns to a catch. Soon, we’re fishing in the deep waters of creativity once again. Or writing a full blog post. Wow!

We’ll Go Down to the Crawdad Hole
Make sure to invite others along the journey with you. Sometimes when the well is dry the best way to prime the pump is share what you already know with someone who is a little behind you on the road. Everything feels ho-hum until we begin recounting what we’ve learned along the way, and it refuels our passion to keep learning and trying.

Honey, Baby, Mine
At the center of why we write is the gift of words, and the gift of an audience. We are called to serve people with and through the words we share, giving away our ideas and experiences as a way to love our audience well.

What do you do when you run out of ideas? Where do you turn for inspiration? We’d love for you to share your best ideas with us in the comments.

(Photos courtesy of, Sira Anamwong, and Aleks Melnik.)


Writer, when the inspiration and ideas run dry, turn to the Source of all creativity. God’s reservoir is bottomless and never runs dry. via @canitbeyolanda (Click to tweet.)

Yolanda Smith enjoys life in the foothills of North Carolina. In a “Yours, Mine & Ours” spin, she and her husband are parents to a combined total of twelve children and grandparents to a growing number of littles. Yolanda serves on her church’s worship team, works as a freelance editor, is a guest speaker at various churches, and writes in the cracks of life. She is currently working on her first novel featuring historical Appalachian fiction. A former member of a legalistic, cultish church, Yolanda is passionate about helping people find freedom in Christ. She is also enthusiastic about reading good books and correcting bad grammar.

You can find Yolanda on the Internet at:

Monday, August 26, 2019

When the Road to Publication Seems Blocked

By Andrea Merrell

The road to publication can be a long, arduous journey. While many press on ahead and overcome the obstacles and setbacks, others lag behind wondering if they’ll ever make it. They might even wonder if it’s worth the price they have to pay. I’ve seen a few give up and walk away from their dream and passion.

Let’s face it, rejection can be difficult. And criticism—even given constructively—is no picnic. And the waiting can be torture. Watching others rise to the top can make us envious and cause us to question our own talents and abilities. We begin to doubt ourselves and focus on our weaknesses, wondering if we even have what it takes.

When that discouragement sets in, we are faced with the decision to quit or keep moving forward, trusting the One who empowers us to do whatever He has called us to do. God has a plan for us, and His timing is always perfect. Take to heart these words by Sarah Young in Jesus Calling:

My plan for your life is unfolding before you. Sometimes the road you are traveling seems blocked, or it opens up so painfully slowly that you must hold yourself back. Then, when the time is right, the way before you suddenly clears—through no effort of your own. What you have longed for and worked for I present to you freely, as pure gift.

Do not fear your weakness, for it is the stage on which My Power and Glory perform most brilliantly. As you persevere along the path I have prepared for you, depending on My strength to sustain you, expect to see miracles. Miracles are not always visible to the naked eye, but those who live by faith can see them clearly. ~Jesus

If God has given you the gift of words, trust Him to open the right doors of opportunity in His perfect timing. While you’re in the waiting stage, do whatever you can to hone your skills. Take a class. Attend a conference. Join or start a critique group. Study books on the craft of writing. Start a blog. Update your blog. Enter a contest. Submit a magazine article. Write a devotion and submit it to (that’s where I got my start).

Whatever you do, don’t quit. Keep writing for the Lord, and remember the words of Jeremiah 29:11: I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for (MSG).

How have you overcome obstacles and conquered discouragement on your own road to publication? We would love to hear from you.

(Photo courtesy of and Stuart Miles.)


Monday, August 12, 2019

12 Tips for the Best Writing Life Ever

By Edie Melson @EdieMelson

The writer’s life isn’t an easy one. So much of what we create comes from some place deep inside ourselves. Giving that way can be exhausting, not to mention frustrating, when we feel empty.

The good news is that there are things we can do to help ourselves. I’ve come to learn that we either set ourselves up for success or we set ourselves up for failure. This week, I’ll share some of the writing and blogging hacks that every successful writer needs to know.

12 Things Every Writer Needs to Remember

1. Writing is a mind game—and our minds play tricks on us. When we’re in a good mood, we have confidence. When something goes wrong, that confidence melts away. Successful writers don’t base their confidence on emotions. 

2. Speak kindly to yourself. Along with the attitude comes the way we treat ourselves. We talk junk to ourselves in ways that we would never talk to someone else. Decide right now to stop. Speak words of encouragement to yourself and you’ll speed the path to success.

3. Take care of yourself physically. Writing isn’t just hard because of the mind games. It’s hard on our bodies. Just sitting all day has shown to cause horrible health problems. Take time to get the exercise you need and fuel your body with healthy food and plenty of water.

4. Schedule some rest and relaxation. I’m not necessarily talking about napping, although that's not a bad idea. Writing regularly is important, but so is time away. Take a drive, plan lunch out with a friend, whatever helps you relax. 

5. Follow a regular writing schedule. Notice I said regular—not normal. You may only be able to write late at night, or early in the morning. Or you may only be able to write on the weekends. Whatever works for you is fine—as long as you do it regularly.

6. Surround yourself with other writers who have the same commitment. This is so important. If you surround yourself with others who aren’t serious about writing or those you constantly have to shore up and encourage, you’ll wear yourself out. Find people who are committed to finish well, no matter what life problems crop up.

7. Set goals that you can track and measure. If you can’t tell how close you are to a goal, it’s pretty frustrating, so make sure the goals you have are ones where you can track the progress. For example, set a goal to send out so many queries or proposals or attend so many conferences. Don’t make getting a publishing contract the goal. You really don’t have any control over a publisher saying yes or no. BUT you can write the book, send out the queries, and get everything in place for when it does happen.

8. Invest in your dream. You have the right to follow your heart. Don’t let anyone say you don’t. But don’t be your own worst enemy. Invest time, effort, and money in making your publishing goals a reality.

9. Learn how to take critique. Writers seem to range from one extreme to the other. We either think everything we write is perfect and better than anything out there. Or we think everything we write is junk. We have no perspective. Find others you respect and listen to what they have to say about your writing. Improve where you need to, and relish the parts that truly are great.

10. Read regularly. I know that none of us has the time, but successful writers (those who are growing in their craft) know it’s vital to take the time. Read regularly, read deeply, and read widely.

11. Never go anywhere without a notebook. That notebook might be a note-taking app on your mobile device, but never be without a way to record ideas. Inspiration ALWAYS strikes at inconvenient times. Don’t get caught without a way to capture an elusive idea.

12. Keep writing, no matter what. Yes, life happens. But no matter what rough time you’re going through, keep writing. You might be able to put away the formal projects when a crisis hits, but keep writing something—a journal, a poem, a prayer. 

These are the things that help me keep moving forward, no matter what. I’d love for you to add to the list.

Edie Melson is a woman of faith with ink-stained fingers observing life through the lens of her camera. No matter whether she’s talking to writers, entrepreneurs, or readers, her first advice is always “Find your voice, live your story.” As an author, blogger, and speaker she’s encouraged and challenged audiences across the country and around the world. Her numerous books reflect her passion to help others develop the strength of their God-given gifts and apply them to their lives. Connect with her on her 
website, through FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Soul Care for Writers
Our lives are busier each day, and the margin we have available for recovery and peace is shrinking. Edie Melson helps you find Soul Care solutions using devotions and prayers and opportunities for creative expression. She has learned that sensory involvement deepens our relationship with the Father and gives rest to our weary souls. She will teach you to tap into your creativity. Reconnect with God using your tactile creativity. Warning! This book may become dog-eared and stained. Draw in it. Experiment with your creative passions. Learn the healing power of play. Allow God’s power to flow through creativity. Soul Care for Writers will become your heart treasure.

(Photos courtesy of Miles and Edie Melson.)


The writer’s life isn’t an easy one. Learn from @EdieMelson some important writing and blogging hacks that every successful writer needs to know. (Click to tweet.)

Monday, August 5, 2019

You Might Be a Writer If …

By Yolanda Smith

You Might Be a Writer If …
  • You’re an introvert.
  • You feel a compulsion to write every single day.
  • You drink more than five cups of coffee per day.
  • You listen to epic movie soundtracks while you write.
  • You are a prolific outliner.
  • Your favorite books are On Writing by Stephen King, and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
  • Your office attire is your favorite set of pajamas.
  • You wrote your first story in fourth grade.
  • Your favorite social activities are critique meetings and writers’ conferences.
  • You nerd out on grammar studies.
  • You sort your M&M’s and Skittles by color.
  • You wash your light and dark laundry together.
  • You only shower every third Tuesday of the month.

Are you a writer, or aren’t you? Do you give weight to lists like this, or do they drive you crazy?

Perhaps you saw yourself in the beginning of the list and got excited. “Yes, I must be a writer,” you said. But I’m sure I lost you somewhere in the middle. If not the middle, then you definitely stopped nodding your head by the end … I hope.

A Sense of Belonging
Folks who compile lists like this have one goal in mind: to lend a sense of belonging and connection. Those of us who read these lists hope to catch a glimpse of ourselves among the identifying traits. Then we feel justified in pulling up a log and seating ourselves by the fires of our kindred tribe. If we agree with fifty or sixty percent of them, it brings a sense of validation or secures us a spot in the camp. We get to buy the t-shirt.

But what if the reverse is true? What if you read a writerly list and the waters are murky? You don’t see a clear reflection staring back at you. Does that mean you’re not a true writer? That you don’t belong?

What if you are an extrovert who writes novels while wearing a tiara and standing on one leg? Sounds a little weird, but owning a weird card might still get you a pass through the door of Ye Olde Scribes Club. What if you don’t write for three weeks, then spend a long weekend binge-writing a Bible study? Maybe you consume seven glasses of milk and a bowl of pretzels with mustard during your writing sessions. How much can you veer off the trodden path before you no longer belong?

When I first became a writer and stumbled across “You might be a writer if” list, I was hopeful I’d find myself among the rank and file. Instead, I felt doubtful, guilty, and excluded. I only met some of the criteria. Perhaps I don't have it in me after all, I told myself. I’m an extrovert. I don’t listen to music when I write. I shower on the third Tuesday AND Thursday of every month.
Okay, I also shower all the other days of the month.

We are Writers Because We Write
We face enough doubt without “helpful” lists heaping extra upon our shoulders. We are writers because we write. That is our solitary, unifying thread.

One of my mentors and I discussed the topic of writership recently, and she asked (and I’m paraphrasing), “When is an artist an artist? Is it when they sell a painting? Must their art be critically acclaimed? Or are they an artist because they create art?”

We live in an individualistic society where unique traits are celebrated. In the writing world, it’s our individual strengths, personalities, styles, and quirks that make our writing sing. And those strengths and style variations, and even our weaknesses, stem from an individualistic approach to what makes each of us tick.

Christ secured our place by the fire. Whether we write because He called us, or we plunk down our words as a fun hobby, we are writers. It doesn’t matter if we possess buckets of talent or grow in our craft by sheer determination. Panster or plotter, binge-writer or daily discipline—give weight to your own voice and do what works for you. Writing is the one true thing that makes us writers. It is enough. Pull up a log.

(Photos courtesy of Miles/artur84.)