Monday, October 23, 2017

Don't Take Your Gift for Granted

By Andrea Merrell
Helen Keller once said, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

I recently underwent a corneal transplant which resulted in using only one eye for a couple of weeks, then not seeing clearly for several more. When my vision finally began to improve, it was necessary to stick with my old glasses for at least three months until my vision “settled.” Needless to say, it was not an easy task.

Not a good scenario for a writer and editor who spends most of her time on the computer.

A week after my surgery, my friend Cindy Sproles underwent a serious surgery of her own where they literally drilled a hole in her skull to correct a hearing problem. After the surgery, her hearing in that ear was only about 10 percent. She had to wait, as I did, for healing to occur.

Not a good scenario for someone who works part-time, leads a ministry, serves as a managing editor for a publishing company, and teaches at writers’ conferences.

A few weeks after our surgeries, Cindy asked how I was doing. She said, “I can see and you can hear. Together, we make a whole person.” Funny story, but it made me think about how easy it is to take what we have for granted.

The truth is God has given each of us gifts. Writers have the ability to craft stories and pen words that will touch the hearts of readers. Editors have an eye for detail and structure and can help polish the prose of writers. Some have the gift of a listening ear, while others possess the ability to encourage those who are struggling. Within the writing and publishing industry, there are many gifts: marketing and promotion, design, teaching, mentoring, managing projects, social media, putting together workshops and conferences, and a host of behind-the-scene projects and activities.

The Bible tells us we are one body in Christ Jesus (Romans 12:5 NKJV).  In verse 15, we’re told to be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep (NLT). All the parts of His body are connected, and each part depends on the other. That means our gifts are to be used and shared with each other.

Many times, we fail to look at our gifts as we should. We might feel entitled, take them for granted, or push them aside, planning to use them tomorrow.

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells the story of three servants who were given talents, or gifts, according to their individual ability. Two handled theirs correctly while the third man buried his. In the end, not only did he lose it, it was given to one of the others who used his as expected.

After two eye surgeries, I will never take my sight for granted. I’m sure Cindy would say the same about her hearing. In the same way, I never want to take the gifts God has given me as a writer for granted. He gives to us so that we might expand His kingdom, bring glory to Him, and bless others. When we bury our gifts—whether from fear, timidity, or procrastination—we rob ourselves and others of God’s blessings. When we use what He has given us to the best of our ability and invest in the lives of others, we bring honor and glory to the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17 NIV).

Writer, what is your gift? Maybe you have many. Whether you excel at writing devotions, crafting exciting novels, creating interesting blog posts, giving encouraging critiques, or praying for others, look for ways to use your gifts to bless the body of Christ, and never take them for granted.

Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop (2 Corinthians 9:6 NLT).

Can you share a time when you’ve used your gift/gifts to bless others? We would love to hear from you.

Photos courtesy of ( Miles and adamr.)


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 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 Miles and Google images.)