The Invisible One


Dixie Phillips

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

“He persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” Hebrews 11:27 (NIV)

This scripture has been a tremendous blessing to me and impacted my writing journey. In the life of every Christian writer, we keep pushing our pen because we have seen and been forever changed by the invisible One. As we look upon His face and spend time in His presence, we realize this truth—only those who see the invisible can do the impossible!

  • Where were you the first time you caught a glimpse of the invisible One?
  • When did you sense God calling you to write?
  • Do you remember the first time someone was ministered to by something you’ve written?

One of my favorite Old Testament Bible stories is Elisha and the floating axe-head. Do you remember how the axe-head slipped off the handle, fell into the deep water, and would have been gone forever, but a man of God prayed and miraculously the axe-head floated to the top.

Broken spirits are heavier than iron axe-heads, but when one tiny sliver of Calvary’s cross is inserted into a bleeding heart, the hemorrhaging stops and they rise with resurrection life and beat again. God wants to use your story to be that “tiny healing sliver” from Calvary’s cross.

Whether we are writing for children or adults, God wants to use our stories to change the world one soul at a time. Keep sowing those seeds and pushing your pen. Remember the invisible One is watching and if you listen you might hear Him clapping His nail-scarred hands just for you.

Editing the Beginning

by Tisha Martin, CES fiction editor, writer, writing coach and academic proofreader (read more about Tisha)

Pile of draftsWith my cursor at Chapter 1 in my WWII historical fiction novel, I hit Ctrl+Enter and sighed. Beginning a book all over again wasn’t what I had in mind. I liked this chapter. I mean, really liked it, even though everyone else said it wasn’t quite right. Forever, why? Why must I abandon these pages and start fresh, like erasing a favorite drawing of a flower because one petal is lopsided.

Two contests, a writing conference, and two agents later, my intuition solidified into a clear direction of where this chapter needed to begin. None of the critics’ comments were overly negative, and most of them enjoyed the few chapters I had submitted. But my first chapter lacked . . . heart, GPC (goal, problem, care), and solid reasons why things were happening the very moment the story began.


How many of you have revisited this elusive beginning, struggling to create a first chapter that pops! off the page?

I’ve always struggled to write beginnings. I’m sure I’m not the only one—and there are writers who dislike middles and endings too.

Who are these characters, what is their goal and problem, and why do you want readers to care?

In addition to Goal, Problem, and Care, here are three things I learned about editing the first chapter that helped me introduce the GPC:

  1. Introduce main characters and continuing action early in the first page.

    Your readers must have a reason to continue to the second and third page and eventually the last page in as few sittings as possible. Maybe your character is afraid to drive over a bridge but must because her boyfriend sent her on a scavenger hunt, or perhaps your character must capture a rattlesnake because his friend dared him. Your first page should pop! with action that includes a huge goal with a problem your main characters must overcome by the book’s end.

  2. Give your characters lively dialogue.

    You want your readers to laugh and relate with your characters. The old “How are you?” “I’m fine, how are you?” type of dialogue doesn’t work anymore.

  3. Don’t overwrite.

    Simple is always best. Make Strunk and White proud of you!

Simple writing is sometimes hard for me because I love to describe things; however, too much is not good and hurts your writing and may frustrate your readers. I love reading Anne of Green Gables, but I have a hard time staying engaged with the verbose descriptions; in Ms. Montgomery’s defense, her readers enjoyed lengthy descriptions. Today’s readers want a quick read they can enjoy.

After taking an honest and humble look at my first chapter based on the judges’ and agents’ comments, I’m glad I started over. I spent a few days pounding out a new first chapter, and it’s stronger because I’ve given my characters a goal to look forward to, a problem that stands in their way, and my readers something to care about.

Now, excuse me while I edit this post to ensure I’ve engaged you, helped you relate, and caused you to want to continue reading it.

Discussion: What is your article or WIP’s first chapter about? Can you describe it in Goal, Problem, and Care?

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing Services and Find Christian Links

Nostalgia-Inspired Writing


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

I took my daughter out for lunch to celebrate her new job. While we were at the mall, we popped into a video store that carried DVDs of all the old—and new—TV shows. Talk about a walk down Memory Lane. There were shows I’d long forgotten and those I remembered fondly—plus those at which I shake my head and wonder why I ever watched, but, as the saying goes, that’s another story.

After that we popped into a Laura Secord’s. French mint chocolates and chocolate bars. Jellied fruit slices. Butterscotch kiddy pops. Even a discussion with the clerk about Laura Secord Easter eggs. Talk about reawakening memories of my youth—and possibly adding a pound or two just through osmosis.

It’s funny what will stir “the warm fuzzies” inside us. And while they’re stirred, let’s use them to fuel our writing.

Try one or more of these ideas . . .

1. Think about your earliest memory and write a journal entry as if you were that child.

2. List the #1 thing for each sense that evokes happy memories (i.e.: the smell of warm chocolate chip cookies; the taste of maple walnut ice cream, etc.). Incorporate all of them into a short story.

3. Visit a video rental store and borrow a DVD of a TV show or movie you watched as a child. Before you watch it, describe it as you remember it. After you view it, write your current thoughts. (My husband and I got up in the wee hours of the morning to watch an episode of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” Believe me, we only did that once. [grin]) We have definitely been spoiled by advanced special effects, high-calibre scriptwriting, and excellent delivery by the actors—in many cases at least.

4. Search the Internet for pictures of toys from your childhood. When you come across one of your favorites, write a conversation between yourself and a young child who has never seen the toy.

5. Search YouTube for songs from your youth or your favorite musical artists from the era. Listen to one or more of these songs and use them to jumpstart a freewriting session.

6. Make a point-form list of your top ten happy memories. Use them to inspire a poem.

And if you’ve had a challenging past, memories can still spark your writing. Use even the difficult times to help you determine what nonfiction topics to write about. Use these times, too, to make your fiction characters three-dimensional. No matter how happy, no one’s past is completely carefree.

Why Write Biographies?

by Debra Smith, CES Editor (read more about Debra)

crazy student


Writing a book about a person’s life can be tedious, time-consuming, and fattening. Research may require countless hours on the Internet, searching archives, conducting interviews, fact checking, and securing permissions. However, research also allows you to explore, meet fascinating people, and perhaps inspire the next generation.

Getting started may be the biggest hurdle. Think about a biography you read as a child—what made it memorable? Does it influence who you are today? Publishers are sometimes open to biographies, even as they reject a flood of fictional stories. There is less competition because fewer writers have the time, interest, and research skills to do this job well.

So, who will you write about? You may already have an inspiring person in mind or just seeking to fill a niche. Perhaps an educational publisher has a series about inventors, and you have always wondered about who invented the microwave, Ziploc bag, or prosthetic limb. A writer hooked on history might research about their indentured-servant ancestors and discover a fascinating story. Whoever you choose as a subject, be sure you like that person—they will be with you for a long, long time.

Wary Writer Syndrome

by Dixie Phillips, Award Winning Children’s Author and CES Editor
Read more about Dixie.

From the time I was a little girl, I remember hearing adults speak about ways to encourage reluctant readers to fall in love with books. Times really haven’t changed much. People are still trying to inspire children to read.

Doubt and uncertaintyToday I’m not going to talk about reluctant readers, but a disorder that is just as crippling—Wary Writer Syndrome! My hope today is to inspire someone reading this post to pick up your pen and start writing the stories God has placed within you.

I’ve suffered from the dreaded Wary Writer Syndrome myself from time to time, and have met some of the most talented and amazing writers, who suddenly stop writing because they were plagued with this dreaded bug. Their writing dreams were snuffed out in an instant because they succumbed to Wary Writer Syndrome.

Whatever you do, don’t stop writing! The way to become a better writer is to write, rewrite, write again, and then write some more.

Wary Writer Syndrome is self-destructive and a type of self-sabotage. The battlefield is in our minds. Inferiority and insecurity, if left unchecked, have the power to end a writing career before it begins.

Here are a few tips to help you stay on the “write” track:

  • Pray and ask the Lord to enlarge your writing territory. Ask for His blessings as you sow seeds of hope in your stories. Then start writing the pieces as He directs and prepare for a harvest.
  • Don’t compare yourself with others. There will always be more talented writers and there will be less gifted ones. You’ll suffer with a deflated ego or an inflated one. It’s best to just be yourself and write from your heart the stories God has given you.
  • Keep honing your writing skills. Never lose a humble, teachable spirit. Remember our wise heavenly Father exalts the humble.
  • Prepare for publication. Develop as a writer and submit your best writing to publishers. There will come a day when all your “preparation” will meet “opportunity.” When that day comes, you will be ready and thankful you didn’t give up and succumb to Wary Writer Syndrome.

So what are you waiting for? Dust off the cobwebs from your favorite writing corner. Pick up your pen or fire up your computer and start writing today.


This post first appeared on Janet Sketchley’s blog, “Tenacity.”

Most of you are likely scratching your head.

What on Earth does that title me?

Well, those of you who are writers have likely heard of NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50K words in 30 days.

Crazy? Some may think so. But thousands of people all over the world are sharpening their pencils and limbering up their keyboarding fingers.

Although I have participated in the far more flexible Camp NaNo a number of times, I’ve never taken the plunge and actually signed up for NaNoWriMo. All that changed this year and I’m diving in.

Sh! Don’t tell anyone, but I hope to make significant progress on a story I’ve had in mind for a very long time. The point of the challenge is to write the first draft—or close to it—of a new novel during the month of November, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I really want to write My New Old Life.

So how can I set myself up to “win” NaNoWriMo? How can you set yourself up to achieve your goals—whatever they may be?

Learn from those who’ve gone before.

Although it may feel as if you’re alone, there are those who have gone before you, who know what you’re facing, be it an exciting new challenge or a heartbreaking situation.

I’m so thankful for those who have gone before, who know the pitfalls to avoid, who know how to plot a course (or a story), who know sometimes you just have to “feel the feels,” as the saying goes.

I would encourage you to learn from those with a positive attitude, who are further along on the journey. I have listened to some NaNoWriMo veterans on YouTube who shared great advice. I have also listened to some who share more about what went wrong. That’s not necessarily helpful or encouraging.

Plot out the journey—at least the highlights.

For the most part, I’m known as a pantser in writing circles. Come to think of it, I kind of live life that way as well.

I love paper planners and journals. They enable me to dream and pretend to be super organized. But I’m the kind of person who doesn’t mind getting to the end of the day not having checked everything off my To Do list. In fact, I can’t remember a time I actually accomplished everything I’d set out to do on any given day.

But when it comes to crazy big goals, like writing 50K words in a month, some plotting comes in handy. If I know the major plot points I want to hit in the story, it will keep me moving in the right direction.

And if we know the major points we want to hit along this journey called Life, we will have a better chance of achieving our goals as well.

Plan to succeed.

While it’s okay to participate in NaNoWriMo and write 30K, 20K, even a few hundred words—after all, it’s more than we had written at the beginning of November—it’s best to go in planning to win.

And that’s the way it is with other things in life as well.

I’ll never have a clean, organized home. So why bother trying? They’ll never hire me for that job. Why even apply? I’ll never be thin. Why bother eating healthy and exercising?

It’s so easy to give up before we even get started. Let’s set ourselves up to succeed instead and take one step at a time in the right direction.

Don’t give up when things don’t go as planned.

We all know that it doesn’t matter how carefully we schedule our day or plan our life’s course; things will always come up that have the potential to derail us all together.

While we may have to reconsider our plans and dreams, it doesn’t mean we have to abandon them altogether. We just have to be willing to reprioritize as needed, and, as Christians, we must believe the promise in Romans 8:28, that God is working everything out for our good.


Celebrate the victories, no matter how small.

Many NaNo participants set up a reward system for achieving word count goals during the month of November, the more words, the more extravagant the reward. This kind of system keeps some pressing on.

Whether or not you choose to reward yourself when you make progress toward your goals, it’s a good thing to celebrate in some way. Too often we become discouraged when we don’t achieve our ultimate goal, when we don’t cross off everything on our To Do list.

Let’s celebrate the “small” victories in our life—and in the lives of those around us.

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

9 Ideas to Gain Writing Inspiration While on Vacation

cruise-6Are you going away this summer?

My husband and I are heading out west for two weeks. And while we’re away, I’m sure to accumulate lots of inspiration for my writing.

My plans to do so might inspire you as well.

Take a book—or two or three.

I recently purchased the third book in Sandra Orchard’s Serena Jones Mystery series. It is a lighthearted mystery that I’m saving for the flight.

I will also be taking my Kindle, overflowing with unread and partially read volumes. I won’t be able to hike all the time. (grin)

Reading a variety of styles inspires our own writing. It appears the most successful writers are also voracious readers.

Keep your eyes open.

Inspiration surrounds us every day. However, most of us are too busy rushing from one thing to the next to the next. A vacation is the perfect opportunity to pay attention to those things that aren’t even on our radar the rest of the year.

Take photos.

While photos and videos make great mementos, they also serve as prompts for new writing projects. I intend to take both my camera and the camcorder I’m just learning to use.

People watch.

While our surroundings are bound to give us ideas for the location of future stories, people watching is sure to give us ideas for characters to populate those stories.


I’m not talking about straining to hear a clearly private conversation. But taking note of snippets of overheard conversation can fuel our imagination and enrich our written dialogue.

Take a deep breath.

Studies show that smell is the sense most closely linked to memory. Describing familiar scents in your writing gives you a closer link to your readers, something we all want.

Make note of the local cuisine.

Use it to flavor your writing. (Pun intended.)

Rejoice in setbacks.

Granted, most of us would prefer to live relatively conflict-free lives. However, conflict fuels story. With that in mind, try to view those inconveniences as fodder for your work.

Keep a notebook handy.

Of course, you may choose to use an app such as Evernote on your phone. Either way, don’t trust your memory to capture all those moments you don’t want to forget. Even a line or two can bring back the inspiration you felt.

These are only a handful of ideas. How do your travels inspire your writing?


Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

How Camping Improves Your Writing


Ever imagined writing the first draft of your novel in 30 days?

That’s the whole premise behind NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. In November, writers from all over the globe sign up to write 50,000 words in a single month. And many of them are successful.

Although I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo, I have attended Camp NaNo on a number of occasions. In fact, I’m in the midst of the July challenge now. Camp NaNo is a virtual experience that happens in April and July each year.

Unlike its namesake, Camp NaNoWriMo is not about writing 50,000 words—unless that’s the goal you set for yourself. Instead, you can choose from a few different goals: word count, time spent writing, etc. Plus, you’re free to write nonfiction if that’s what you’d prefer.

This month I’ve set a goal of 10,000 words. That should be easy to hit before July 20, when I head out on holidays with my hubby.

So why participate?


As I’ve mentioned, campers set their individual goal. Your homepage included a target and an arrow. As you enter your word count, the number of minutes you’ve spent writing, or whatever measure you’re using, the arrow moves toward the 100 percent ring. It’s fun to watch it move every time you make a new entry. But not only is it fun, it also motivates you to keep at it.


Writing can be lonely work. It’s just you and the screen (or the blank piece of paper). And if you’re one of the rare breed, as I am—an extrovert who writes—this community can provide some much needed human contact. Although it’s optional, I would encourage you to join a cabin. You can let the camp directors assign you to one or your friends can choose to camp together. The lady who is hosting my cabin this time round decided to create a Facebook group so we would get notified when one of us posts an update.


The Camp NaNo community is fun, it nurtures creativity and allows campers to be as social (or reclusive) as they choose. You can pop onto Twitter and join the word sprints (which is how I’m finishing this post). There are also write-ins you can participate in. If you’re stuck and don’t know what to write, the team suggests optional prompts to get those creative juices flowing.


Whether you join a cabin and report on your progress or whether you simply watch the arrow on your target move toward the 100 percent ring, the process will give you a sense of accountability. I’m finding this kind of accountability is helping me achieve the goals I set out for myself in a few areas: weight loss, decluttering, and writing.

Plus, it’s just plain fun.

From word sprints on Twitter to hanging out with your cabinmates to watching the arrow move toward the 100 percent ring. All of these are optional, but they add to the whole camp atmosphere.

Participation is free, but you can contribute funds so the organizers can keep improving the Camp NaNo experience. Plus, there is camp-related merchandise to purchase. Because I live in Canada, it makes the cost of shipping prohibitive. But if you live in the US, you may want to check out the camp store.

If you’re participating in Camp NaNo or have done so in the past, I’d love to hear about your experience. And whether you “win” or not, you’ll be that much closer to your writing goal.


Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

Oo, Shiny: How to Make Your Writing Shine

Make Writing Shine

This book first appeared on the InScribe pro blog on May 4, 2017.

Like most writers, I want my work to shine. I’m not particularly interested in awards or acclaim, but I do want it to be the best it can be.

And now for the disclaimer . . .

I want the first draft to burst forth sparkling like a perfectly cut diamond.

I know. I know. Not going to happen!

So what can we writers do to make sure that at least some of what glitters truly is gold?


Speaking of “oo, shiny”—I am easily distracted. How about you? While I am eclectically interested and eclectically involved, there comes a time to reign in those wandering thoughts and firmly affix the blinders.

No matter how many projects we have on the go, we can only work on one at any given moment. It will take a long time to get anything done if we don’t learn to ignore the distractions and focus on the work at hand.


Part of focusing is actually allowing our mind to wander within established parameters. These parameters must be narrow enough that we’re not thinking about what to have for dinner when we’re plotting our novel or outlining our nonfiction book. But they must be expansive enough to allow our creativity to take us places we never imagined going.


Plotters and pantsers alike (I am definitely the latter) must formulate a plan. While a plotter may know every twist and turn before they write “Chapter One,” even a pantser has to have a rough idea where they’re going.

And whether you formulate a plan for a specific writing project or simply set aside time for writing in your schedule, don’t neglect this important step. (Talking to myself here. Feel free to listen in.)


We have to make time to write. We have to arrange our lives in such a way that putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard isn’t always at the bottom of our list of priorities.

Not only must we make writing a priority, but we must also arrange our schedule in such a way that we have time to revise and rework our piece. This is the only way it will shine.

This leads to the last step . . .


Since our writing doesn’t burst forth brilliant and dazzling, we must fix it—sometimes over and over and over again.

We must do the best we can to make it shine, then enlist the help of others: beta readers, editors, proofreaders.

That vein of gold or hunk of transformed carbon bears little resemblance to the treasure it can become.

Are you willing to do the backbreaking work it takes to remove the treasure from the rock?

Are you willing to spend countless hours chipping away at the impurities and subjecting the raw material to almost unbearable temperatures?

Are you willing to polish until every visible smudge is removed?

Are you willing to ask for help once you’ve done all you can do?

If so, you will have a piece that dazzles.

Oo . . . shiny indeed!

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

Lessons Learned from the Great Declutter of 2017


Who knew joining Kathi Lipp’s clutter free challenge would impact more than the condition of my house?

As I rid my home of excess stuff—and believe me, there’s lots of it—the most amazing changes are taking place inside of me.

So what principles am I learning that will impact my writing and writing-related projects?

Narrow Your Focus

In the past, I have tried to get my household in order. I would tidy and clean a room only to become overwhelmed by all that remained to be done and would give up.

This time it’s different. The challenge is to toss or re-home a mere 10 items per day. I rarely stop at 10, but once that’s done, I gain a sense of accomplishment and can go on with my other responsibilities.

I’m learning to approach my writing and editing projects in the same way. I add fewer things to my daily schedule and choose one or two main projects for the week.

This has helped me gain a greater sense of accomplishment and you may find it does the same for you.

Ignore the Clock

My hubby and I have been married for almost 35 years. It has taken even longer than that to accumulate all the stuff in our home. I have to give myself a break when it comes to the process of decluttering.

And speaking of time …

It may be a throwback to those old ticking clocks that reminded us just how quickly time was passing. But even without that constant reminder, I find myself checking the time in the corner of my computer screen.

Even though I’ve pared down my To Do list, regularly checking the time reminds me that I’m not going to get everything done that I would like to on any given day.

I find, however, if I focus on the project rather than the clock, I have a much greater sense of accomplishment.

What about you? Does the clock motivate or discourage you?

Rejoice in Small Victories

With each box of books I take to the library, each bag of items I drop off at the thrift store, each bag I put at the curb on trash day, I feel lighter. The same is true of every cleared surface and every emptied corner.

I’ve learned to be satisfied with even those 10 items dealt with rather than focussing on the thousands I haven’t gotten to as of yet.

Do you want to write a series of books? Do you want to win Camp NaNoWriMo? Do you want to publish an ebook?

No matter what writing dreams you have, it all starts with that first chapter, that first paragraph, that first sentence.

And when you get it written, smile, rejoice in your accomplishment, and then get back at it.

To ensure that you stick with it until your project is done, schedule it into your planner—in pen.

Don’t Become Overwhelmed

I look to my left and see one of my catch-all rooms. I look to my right and see the laundry room bulging with items we rarely, if ever, even look at.

But do you know something?

They’re a little tidier than when I start this challenge.

If I considered how much I’ve still got to deal with, I could easily become overwhelmed.

When it comes to anything, including our writing, refusing to become overwhelmed ties in with rejoicing in the small victories. It also ties in with our focus.

When you can, focus on one project at a time.

If that isn’t possible, at least zero in on what you’re doing at any given moment. Devote yourself to it wholeheartedly. Fight the urge to think of all the things you’re not doing.

Stick with It

The current clutter free challenge ends with the close of Lent. However, I have promised myself that I will continue to get rid of at least 10 items per day until our home is the way we want it.

I have many writing and writing-related goals for the years to come.

The only way to achieve these goals is to stick with it for the long haul.

What goals do you have? What can you do today to achieve those goals? How can you ensure that you will persevere until you reach them?


Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor