Focused and Flexible

sign-36417_150Focused and flexible. These two words are becoming very important in every area of my life.

I am eclectically-interested and have lots on my To Do list. I’m sure it’s the same with you. If I’m always looking ahead to the next thing on the list (or popping over to my email and Facebook accounts), I cannot give the task at hand adequate attention. It won’t be the best it can be.

This is one reason I love my lists. I don’t have to worry about forgetting something important. Plus, if I arrange my list in order of priority, I can work from the top to the bottom, knowing, if I don’t get everything done, at least those things that were most pressing are the first things to get scratched off the list.

When my mind is at rest, I can dive into the responsibility I’m pursuing right this minute.

And yet . . .

An important text may come through. A phone call I shouldn’t ignore. Or an unforeseeable but unavoidable change in plans. That’s when the flexibility kicks in.

One day, for example, I looked forward to working in a quiet house to make a huge dent in my list. And then . . . first thing in the morning, I got 1) a request for transportation and 2) an invitation for lunch. I could have said no, but spending time with this young friend was good for both of us. (And lunch was tasty too.)

Not everything that comes along should derail or postpone our plans, but there are times we need to be flexible as well as focused.

When you set aside time for your writing, how can you tell if you should forge ahead or allow a request to alter your plans?

Here is a series of questions to ask before making a decision:

  1. Can you fulfill the request at a later time? If so, keep to your writing schedule.
  2. Can someone else do what has been asked of you? If so, give them the opportunity to do so.
  3. Is it a matter of conditioning to answer the doorbell, the telephone, the buzz on your cell phone that indicates you have a new email? If so, it may take time, but it’s good to view these distractions as “the urgent” that impinges upon “the important,” as Stephen Covey puts it.
  4. Are you simply following the White Rabbit down yet another rabbit hole? Sometimes it’s best to steer clear of fuzzy distractions.
  5. Is it a genuine emergency? If so, then, of course, walk away from your writing.
  6. Is a family member or friend facing a crisis? If so and there is something you can do—even lend a listening ear—do so without hesitation.
  7. Has an even more exciting writing opportunity presented itself? If so, you may want to designate the time to a different project.
  8. Is your daughter turning 25 the next day and you have to choose between writing and making her favorite dessert? If so, crack those eggs and beat that cake batter. (Wait! That would be me. My “baby” hit the quarter century mark this past Saturday.)

How do you achieve the balance between focus and flexibility?


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by Stephanie Nickel , CES Editor, Writer, Coach, and Critique Specialist 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com 

A Step in the Write Direction

So you feel God is calling you to write for little ones, but you aren’t exactly sure where you should begin. Nothing is more rewarding than “sowing seeds” of God’s love in the hearts of children.

If you enjoy writing short character-building stories for children, the Christian magazine and e-zine market is a wonderful place for new writers to get their break. The possibilities are there, but you can’t get published if you don’t submit. Polish up your best stories and submit them for a children’s devotional magazine or a Sunday school take-home paper. While you are waiting to hear back from the editor, keep writing. Remember the best way to improve your writing is to write.

Sometimes writing an entire story can be overwhelming for the new writer. Don’t despair. Fillers, short pieces that fill in the gaps, are a good way to hone your writing craft. Some Christian magazines are looking for fillers that offer interesting tidbits of information that relate to the theme of the article.

Don’t be fooled by the small size of fillers. It takes more skill to write less in a concise manner. Many Christian magazines for children are looking for the following types of fillers:

  • jokes
  • poems
  • prayers
  • recipes
  • craft ideas
  • games or quizzes
  • seasonal recitations, especially for Christmas and Easter

One year I concentrated on writing fillers for a publisher that sent them out with church bulletins. The churches who purchased their bulletins also received several sheets of fillers they could choose to print in their bulletins. I was paid a minimum of $30 per filler and most of the time more if it was a longer poem.

Be sure to follow the writer’s guidelines. That is always a step in the “write” direction.

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by Dixie Phillips, CES Editor, Writing Coach, Award-Winning Children’s Author and Songwriter 

 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

Giving Dimensions to Your Fiction Characters

四季Please note that I live in the Great White North. The seasons and their corresponding emotions are reflective of life along the 49th parallel. The emotions, however, can be applied to your characters no matter where you place them, geographically speaking. If the cause of their mood is related to the season, be sure they are in a location that experiences that particular season at the specified time of the year. (Your protagonist may be depressed during Christmas in Australia, for instance, but it will not be because of mounds of snow.)

And speaking of snow . . .

How does the cold weather affect your state of mind? Do you find yourself thinking too much, over-analyzing your life? Do you jump aboard the emotional roller-coaster?

This time of year can lead to everything from low grade depression to full-blown S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

Does the cold weather affect your protagonist? Would it add a new dimension to the story if it did?

Signs of Spring

And as March approaches, so does the promise of spring—my hubby’s favorite season. He loves to watch the trees come to life and keeps me posted as the buds become more prominent and finally burst into leaves. I admit spring never caught my attention until he pointed this out. And I do love it when tulips and crocuses push through the last of the snow.

Maybe one of your characters feels the same.

Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

As summer approaches, many people’s minds turn to rest and relaxation, kicking back at the beach, and going on vacation. Personally, I’m not a fan of sweltering hot days, but that’s just me.

How does your antagonist feel about summer? If it’s relevant to the story, be sure to let readers know—by showing rather than telling, of course.

An Explosion of Color

Can you tell which season is my favorite? I love the smells, the sounds, and the sights of autumn. The nip in the air. The promise of new beginnings. The call to grab my camera and go for a photo walk. It likely goes back to my childhood, but it’s hard to remember back that far (grin).

Maybe that pile of leaves in the neighbor’s yard beckons your character to revisit their childhood. Do they succumb? If so, what comes of it?

These and many other possibilities present themselves to give your story a whole new dimension—and maybe even take you along a storyline you hadn’t imagined. And, if nothing else, you will know your characters better and that will shine through your writing.

Enjoy the journey, my writing friends!


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by Stephanie Nickel , CES Editor, Writer, Coach, and Critique Specialist 

 

 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com 

I-N-S-P-I-R-E: Seven Secrets for Success in Selling Devotionals

inspireMost writers have discovered there isn’t a lack of talent in our field today, but sometimes there seems to be a lack of inspiration. Throughout the stresses of life, who among us can’t use more nourishing soul food? This is a great day to be a writer and good news for those of us who love to write inspirational pieces. According to my research, there are hundreds of opportunities for devotional writers. A single piece doesn’t pay much, but the savvy writer realizes the financial potential of inspirational writing tucked in with regular writing assignments.

Here is a simple acrostic to help you increase your sales as a devotional writer.

I-N-S-P-I-R-E

 I—Investigate writers guidelines before submitting to these markets. You will have a better chance to sell your pieces if you follow their instructions.

N—Never give up. Keep writing from the Father’s heart. When you do, people will stop and take notice. Of course, you must sit often on the Father’s lap to write from His heart. Don’t neglect time with Him.

S—Submit often. You can’t be published if you aren’t submitting material on a regular basis. Set realistic goals and submit something every month.

P—Pray about your writing and proofread your material carefully. Send your best material. Remember you are representing the King. Ask Him to help you write in a way that leaves eternal footprints in the souls of your readers.

I—Identify your audience. If you are writing a devotional about raising children as a single mom, don’t submit it to a senior citizens magazine. Know who you are writing for.

R—Rally the troops. Attend writing workshops. Take creative writing classes. Hone your skills and get to know other writers. Keep those creative juices flowing. Many times God places writers together to write for Him. Don’t be too proud to let other writers speak into your life. Leave your ego at the door. The best stories aren’t written. They are rewritten.

E—Expect your devotionals to find a home. Don’t be discouraged by rejection slips. If your material is well written and you’ve done your homework, publishers will take notice. Be patient. It may take time, but eventually all your pieces will find a home if you are diligent and follow these helpful hints.

Above all, stay inspired. To be an inspirational writer, you must be oozing with creativity. The best devotional authors discover God in everyday life.


 

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by Dixie Phillips, CES Editor, Writing Coach, Award-Winning Children’s Author and Songwriter 
 

 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com 

Make Time to Write

ideaUnless you write for a living, you may wonder how on earth you will ever find the time to write. And even if you earn an income from one type of writing, you may want to venture into another style or genre.

The truth is you will never find the time, but you can make it.

Here are 10 ways to do just that:

  1. Set your alarm back a half hour and use that time to write. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by all the other things calling your name even before you get out of bed.
  2. Instead of watching TV after the children are settled in for the night, sit down with a pen and paper or in front of your computer and write for an hour.
  3. Keep a notebook by your bed. If a wonderful idea strikes you as you’re nodding off or when you first awaken, write it down. You may think you’ll remember it, but you may not.
  4. Keep another notebook with you at all times. A snippet of conversation, an observation, even a fleeting thought can serve as inspiration for your writing. (I’ve had a character’s name rattling around in my head for the longest time.)
  5. Back to the idea of conversation . . . You may want to keep a separate notebook for quotes you come across that grab your attention. (Years ago, I bought my son a pair of army boots. They really were too big, but he wanted them and this mama wanted to make him happy. At church the following Sunday, one of our older friends asked, “Hey, Boots, where are you taking that boy?” I’ve never forgotten the quote, though until recently, I didn’t know how I would use the question as inspiration for my writing.)
  6. Instead of surfing the Net, texting, or reading one of the many e-books on your phone (if you’re anything like me), use those found minutes to jot down ideas in your notebook . . . or on your phone. You may even want to write a line or two for that story that’s beginning to take shape. Those moments will add up—and so will the ideas.
  7. If you’re stuck, why not search YouTube for instrumental music that doesn’t bring lyrics to mind? Use it to fuel your writing.
  8. Grab your camera—or your smartphone—and go for a walk. Snap lots of pictures. Some of them may serve as inspiration for future writing projects.
  9. Are you interested in writing for children? Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) is simply amazing. Each day of November, you can read posts by professionals in the industry. And your only commitment? To come up with 30 ideas for picture books during the month. Plus, you’ll have several chances to win amazing prizes.
  10. Sign up for October Poetry Writing Month (OctPoWriMo)—even if you’re not a poet. It’s a wonderful way to make yourself write 31 poems in 31 days.

How do you make yourself write?


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by Stephanie Nickel , CES Editor, Writer, Coach, and Critique Specialist 
 

 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

Wondering What to Write?

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
– Isaiah 61:10 NIV

dress-upHow many times have we debated what to wear for an important occasion?

Sometimes I face the same dilemma with writing. Instead of my usual, “What shall I wear today?”  I find myself staring blankly at my computer screen. “What shall I write?”

Some days I find myself running laps around the dreaded “writer’s block.” And there is this question: “Should I waste valuable time on writing about that?”

Just like we are careful what we wear, we also want to be careful in what we write.  God’s Word instructs us to dress with care inwardly.

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
– Colossians 3:12-14 MSG

As we clothe ourselves with biblical character traits, we will write with

  • Compassion
  • Kindness
  • Humility
  • Gentleness
  • Patience

Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we have a purpose and passion for what and why we write. Our writing will bless those around us.

You’ll have to excuse me. I have to decide what I’m going to wear for our grandson’s second birthday party.


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by Dixie Phillips, CES Editor, Writing Coach, Award-Winning Children’s Author and Songwriter 

 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com 

Time Travel

Pocket watch with starfish in the sand on the beach

When someone says, “historical fiction,” what comes to mind? How about researching an event from days gone by? Does this fill you with curiosity and anticipation? Or does the very thought of it make you yawn.

Here are six ideas to try even if history isn’t “your thing.”

  1. Do a little digging into your family history until you come across an interesting character you would like to learn more about. And then dig some more.
  2. Look into the history of your hometown. Record details you find captivating. Use these to write a piece for the local paper or as a springboard for a short story.
  3. Imagine yourself without modern day conveniences. Write a journal entry as if you were an earlier settler to your area. Do sufficient research to get the facts right.
  4. Is there a destination you’ve always wanted to visit? Virtually all have a rich history. Since you are beginning from a point of interest, studying their history should be more intriguing.
  5. What do you love besides writing? Fine art? Architecture? Photography? Choose something that interests you and do some research into its beginnings.
  6. Still not interested in ancient history—or even what happened in the 1800s? Consider the significant changes you’ve seen in your lifetime and try your hand at a creative nonfiction piece (a true story that incorporates setting, dialogue, and conflict as you would read in a work of fiction).

And now, it’s time to hop into your time machine and head off for the future. Even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, there are ways to approach the future that may very well spark your interest. Give at least one of these ideas a try in the week ahead.

  1. Let’s start by taking a small leap forward. Write a journal entry as if it were 10 years in the future.
  2. Look ahead and imagine your great, great grandchildren. What do you think their world will look like?
  3. So much has happened in the last century. It’s mind-boggling. Now picture yourself as a 22nd century reporter. You’re sent to cover the inventor of the most recent technological advancement. Write out that interview. Remember to cover the who, what, when, where, and why of the story.
  4. Imagine that because of overcrowding, you have to choose to live on Mars or under the sea. Which would you choose and why? Write in as much detail as you can.
  5. So, since we mentioned sci-fi, why not turn our gaze to the heavens? Write two pieces, a fantastical piece of what it would be like to encounter aliens and a piece in which you simply share your thoughts and feelings about seeing the heavens from deep space minus the alien lifeforms.
  6. If you’re so inclined, write a dystopian short story. (This isn’t my preferred genre, so perhaps I should give it a try to expand my writing horizons.)

We’d love to hear which of these ideas you used as writing prompts. Did they give you a new view of the past or the future? How so?


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by Stephanie Nickel , CES Editor, Writer, Coach, and Critique Specialist 

 

 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com 

Keep Writing for the King

Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were delicate, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance. Now Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.”

And Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man. Stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.
Genesis 29:16-20 NKJV

Have you ever felt like the unwanted on or the unattractive one? Leah did. By birth, she was Rachel’s older sister, and by her father’s trickery and deceit, she was Jacob’s first wife. Can you imagine what she must have felt like when Jacob looked at her and realized she wasn’t Rachel, the one he was deeply in love with and had worked seven years for? I’m sure the rejection she felt stung to the bone.

God loved Leah and had a plan and destiny for her life. She bore Jacob six sons and one daughter. Levi was one of the boys born to Leah and Jacob. The priestly tribe came from this lineage. Judah was another son born to Leah and Jacob. King David came from the lineage of Judah—and so did Jesus Christ.

cropped-write5.jpgYour Father has a plan for you, too. You might feel others can write better and are having more success in their writing endeavors than you. Stay faithful. Keep writing. Don’t compare yourself with someone else. Be authentic. Be transparent. Be the one God created you to be. God has a destiny for you and your writing. You never know where He will send your stories. Keep writing for the King.


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by Dixie Phillips, CES Editor, Writing Coach, Award-Winning Children’s Author and Songwriter 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com 

8 Sources of Inspiration

Birth of IDEA. Concept background.Because of my eclectic interests, I rarely encounter writer’s block, but I do love the fact that inspiration for our writing is all around us.

Here are eight sources you may or may not have considered:

Conversation

Whether you are involved in a conversation or simply happen to overhear it, a word or a phrase may stick with you. Jot it down in that ever-present notebook . . . you know, the one you carry at all times.

Dreams

You know that long-lasting joy or heaviness that can hang over you when you wake up from a dream—even if you don’t remember the details? Try to evoke strong emotion in your readers that will stick with them long after they forget your words.

And, of course, a scene or spoken phrase from a dream may also act as inspiration for your writing.

Thoughts while Drifting Off

You know those moments when your thoughts take flight? Those thoughts are not quite linear and may head off on bizarre tangents. Why not let yourself drift for a while and then record some of your thoughts in the notebook you keep by your bed.

Old Photos

I love old photos, even if I have no personal connection with the subjects. Thumb through some old black and white pics and see what stories begin to stir in you.

New Photos

Even if you don’t consider yourself a photographer, grab your camera (or your smartphone) and head out for a photo walk. Just snap away . . . anything that captures your attention. When you get home, go through the pictures and see what ideas come to mind. Life is different when seen through the lens.

Online Memes

You may love them or find them exceedingly annoying, but take a look at the pictures people post online that include an inspirational, funny, or sarcastic saying. One or more of them may jump off the page at you and stir your creativity.

Days Gone By

Ever been standing in a store and heard a song that took you back to your youth? Ever seen children at the park and thought, “Hey, I used to play that when I was growing up”? Take a walk down memory lane and see what inspiration presents itself.

Favorite Movie or Book Characters

It is commonly referred to as fan fiction—and you have to be especially careful about copyright restrictions if you plan to publish it—but it can be a lot of fun basing a story on one of your favorite characters. If nothing else, it will give you practice writing fiction and that’s a very good thing.

Where do you get inspiration when the well seems dry? We’d love to hear from you.


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by Stephanie Nickel , CES Editor, Writer, Coach, and Critique Specialist 

 

 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com 

The Power of the Written Word

The day before what would have been my maternal grandmother’s 100th birthday, I spotted an old letter crammed in the back of a dresser drawer.

Senior writes a testament“Wow! This letter is over 30 years old,” I gasped when I saw the postmark. “And it’s from Grandma!”

I plucked the three-page letter from the tattered envelope and began reading. Immediately tears trickled down my cheeks.

                Dear little Dixie,
                I love you more than you’ll ever know . . . 

Discovering Grandma’s letter reminded me of the power of the written word, whether a simple note or professional manuscript. Our words have power to impact the reader and keep memories alive.

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking every time we write, it has to be something profound, but I’ve discovered more often God uses the everyday experiences of life to minister to others.

I want to share a piece I wrote about my paternal grandmother’s death. I never dreamed my “common” experience of losing a grandmother would resonate in the souls of so many, but it did, and I have had numerous requests for reprints.

Never underestimate “your” story. God may just use it to heal the brokenhearted and your words could touch a generation your eyes may never see. Keep writing.

_____________

Mable

The move from a spacious home to a small, one-bedroom apartment was devastating to Grandma Eleanor. Devastating, but necessary, because of a terminal inflammatory breast cancer diagnosis.

In her apartment complex, other women who were experiencing the same pain she was—terminal illness, limited income, loss of spouse to death or a nursing home—surrounded her. A remnant of these women formed a weekly Bible study. Grandma became a faithful member. This band of women became kindred spirits as they prayed for one another and comforted one another from God’s Word.

It became apparent by fall Grandma would not be with us much longer. Her spirit was strong, but her body grew weaker. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, she had to be hospitalized. The cancer had metastasized to her lungs and colon.

Word spread quickly among her little Bible study group that Eleanor was dying. Some had seen the ambulance take her away. Loving cards and concerned phone calls began pouring in.

Wednesday morning a knock came to her Hospice room.

“Mable, how did you get here?” Grandma asked.

“Took a cab, Eleanor. I just had to.” Mable tiptoed to Grandma’s bedside with a brown grocery sack in her arms. “It’s cold outside, but it was warm in the cab!”

“Oh Mable, you shouldn’t have come out in this bitter cold.”

“I had to, Eleanor! Christmas is coming. I wanted you to have your Christmas card and the gift I made for you! It’s all right here in my bag.” Mable rummaged through her grocery sack, pulled out a bright red envelope, and tore it open. “Let me read it to you.”

Mable cleared her throat and continued,

               “What can I give Him poor as I am?
                If I were a shepherd, I’d give Him a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I’d do my part,
I know what I’ll give Him,
All of my heart!”

Tears glistened in Grandma’s eyes. “Thank you, Mable.”

“That’s not all, Eleanor. There’s more! Christmas is coming! I just wanted you to have your Christmas present a little early this year.” Mable pulled out a small package topped with a recycled bow.

Grandma was too weak to open her gift. Mable handed it to me. I gently tore the paper off the box and opened the lid. Peering back at me was a teddy bear holding a lacy parasol.

“Yep, it’s true, Eleanor! Christmas is coming, and I just had to give you your present a little early this year.” Mable reached for Grandma’s hand.

“Mable, thank you for being my friend this past year. You tell our little group good-bye for me. Thank them for all their prayers. Tell them I’ll be spending Christmas with Jesus this year.”

Tears trickled down Mable’s face and fell on her quivering lips.

“I love you, Eleanor!”

“And I love you!” Grandma replied.

Mable collapsed in my arms and wept.

After Mable left, I stood beside Grandma’s deathbed. I placed the little teddy bear on the table. I realized Grandma’s “home-going” would be soon. I looked at the teddy bear holding the lacy parasol and reread Mable’s Christmas card, “What can I give Him poor as I am?”

I realized that I had just witnessed these verses lived out before my eyes. A loving friend with meager means had given her very best. She even celebrated Christmas before Thanksgiving knowing my Grandmother wouldn’t live to see Christmas this side of heaven.

I closed my eyes and silently thanked God for giving me such a wonderful grandmother, and for giving my grandmother such a wonderful friend.

Grandma went home to be with Jesus two days after Mable’s visit. She did just what she said she would. She celebrated Christmas with Jesus!


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by Dixie Phillips, CES Editor, Writing Coach, Award-Winning Children’s Author and Songwriter

 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com