Self-Discovery

Birth of IDEA. Concept background.Most—if not all—of us have “ah ha” moments in life, moments when we learn something new about ourselves.

But do our characters?

These moments need to be part of not only the hero’s journey but also the other main characters’ in our works of fiction as.

Let’s use that as our springboard this week.

  1. Introduce your main character to a sibling he didn’t know existed. What does your character learn about himself in the process?
  2. When a grouchy old woman responds kindly to a homeless man, she goes on a journey of self-discovery to find out why. What does she learn about herself?
  3. The child in your story is afraid of bright lights. He asks his older sister about it and she tells him a story about a time he was a toddler. What does she say?
  4. A recently released convict comes across her grandmother’s diary. The young woman had no idea about her family’s past. What does she learn about them—and herself?
  5. Tormented since he began Kindergarten, a high school sophomore moves to a new town and has a fresh start. What does he learn about himself on the first day of class?

And for you fantasy writers . . .

  1. Your human antagonist awakens to find herself surrounded by aliens. Her only hope of figuring out what is going on . . . the man she came to kill.

Take your time and think through each situation. It’s easy to fall into cliché responses. Instead, be careful to make each discovery believable. Set the scene carefully, thoughtfully. Your characters have to have a legitimate reason why they say and do things, especially those that seem out of character.


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

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

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

The Power of Prayer

I have one more “Gramma” story I want to share with you today. I pray this true testimony of God’s touch on my grandmother’s life will strum on your heartstrings and jump start you to document your family’s amazing story.

screenshot_2014-06-07-13-02-49-1My grandmother had only a fifth grade education, but she graduated valedictorian from the University of Adversity. She was the firstborn child of alcoholic parents. Some of the trauma she endured left gaping holes in her soul. Her deep inner pain caused her to cry out to God as a young wife and mother, and she discovered the power in prayer.

As a young child, I realized God had given my Grandma mountain-moving faith. When she prayed, God showed up. There is one memory etched in my mind’s eye I’d like to share with you today.

My mother, Bonnie, was Grandma’s second child. She suffered with bouts of severe depression and had to be hospitalized on numerous occasions. After another suicide attempt, our family was summoned to the emergency room. Grandma quickly found a place to pray. She wasn’t gone very long and had an unusual bounce in her step when she returned. “The Lord spoke to me today. He told me Bonnie will live and not die. She is going to play her violin for Jesus in church one day.”

I didn’t say anything aloud, but thoughts were buzzing in my eleven-year-old head. But Grandma, how will Mom ever play her violin in church when she doesn’t even attend church?

My thoughts were interrupted by the doctor’s stern voice. “I think we saved her this time, but one of these times she will get the job done. You need to prepare yourselves for what’s ahead.”

Grandma, who was usually mild-mannered and polite, bolted from her chair. Pointing her crooked finger in his chest, she barked, “Now you listen to me, Doc. My girl is not going to die, but live and play her violin for Jesus in church.”

An awkward silence enveloped the room. The doctor shook his head and made a hasty exit. “Religious nut! Mental illness must run in the family.”

Mom’s depression increased and there were more hospitalizations and suicide attempts. I often heard my grandmother reminding the Lord, “You promised I would see her play the violin for You.”

When I was sixteen, my mother met a retired pastor’s wife who had battled crippling depression. This woman took a keen interest in my mother and tenderly led her into a loving relationship with Jesus.

Mom became a faithful member of a Bible-believing church. One Saturday she announced, “I’ve been invited to play my violin for special music in church.”

Grandma let out a victory yelp and danced a jig. “I’m sitting on the front pew.”

I have been in full-time ministry for thirty-seven years. I’ve learned much from Bible college and ministry experiences, but it was watching my grandmother’s life that taught me the most about the power of prayer. She gave me a sample, a living example, of how an ordinary woman with a simple faith in an extraordinary God can move mountains.

Grandma resides in heaven, but my precious mother is still living. She will soon be eighty-seven and on special occasions still plays her violin for Jesus.


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

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing Services and Find Christian Links
Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Serene. Peaceful. Relaxed.

Who wouldn’t want a life marked by these adjectives?

And yet . . .

When we’re writing fiction, these same adjectives just may put our readers to sleep.

This week let’s apply a few tips for keeping readers engaged and flipping those pages.

  1. First, write a short short (a complete story) or a fictional scene of 500-1000 words. Fill it with kind and loving characters relating to one another with empathy and compassion. And, of course, drop them in the middle of an idyllic setting.
  2. Rewrite the same story and introduce a crotchety—or even dangerous—antagonist. Caucasian Man Scowling Portrtait(Feel free to convert one of the characters you already included.) Watch how the interactions, even between the other characters, take on a new dimension.
  3. Rewrite Version #2. This time either transport your characters to a far less idyllic setting or introduce a natural or manmade disaster that will threaten the setting and the characters (i.e. the protagonist’s dream home burns down or a severe thunderstorm leaves the characters—or some of the characters—stranded).
  4. Focus on one of the characters—perhaps the protagonist—and “roughen up the edges.” Give the character an annoying habit or a trigger that sets him or her off . . . or some other facet that makes him or her more believable, more human.
  5. Now revisit your antagonist’s personality. Is there something you can introduce to make him or her a more sympathetic character? Don’t tone down the threat; just allow readers to understand the character a little more.
  6. Even in a very short story, there should be some form of character arc, a hero’s journey as it were. Does the protagonist change in any way? Does he or she have to make a significant decision that will change the path he or she is following? If you are writing a scene rather than a complete story, are you setting up an arc for your character? Rewrite your piece again with this in mind.

If you’ve gone through these steps, your story will be much different than it was at first. You will begin to understand what it’s like for fiction writers to write, rewrite, and rewrite again. The first draft of any novel is usually far different from the book that hits the shelves. It requires patience, willingness to learn, and more hours than many of us realize. But in the end it makes our stories more engaging, more exciting, more gripping. Now, what writer wouldn’t want that?


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

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing Services and Find Christian Links 
Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

Get in Your “Write” Mind

And then God answered: “Write this.
Write what you see.
Write it out in big block letters
so that it can be read on the run.”
Habakkuk 2:2 MSG

Holy SpiritOn my past blogs, I have shared samples of some of the stories I have written for my family. After my grandmothers’ passing, I realized much of their legacy would be lost if someone didn’t document their stories. The great-great-grandbabies being born now might never know how our family came to Christ. I wanted to document as much of it as I could.

I’d like to point out that you don’t have to be a Karen Kingsbury to write your family’s story. Just start writing. Don’t dwell too much on proper language mechanics. Just get your story on paper. There are people with large gifts of writing who can help you bring your story to life. The main thing is for you to dust off your keyboard or pick up your pen and get busy writing. Your family will thank you.

After a loved one has died, I’ve never heard adult children say, “They wrote down too many things. I don’t have time to read all the stories they jotted down.” But I have heard many of them say, “Oh, I wish I would have had my grandmother write down that funny story or favorite recipe. Man, I’d give anything to ask Grandma about that!”

You have a story and even possibly a book inside you. Don’t listen to anyone or anything that tries to insinuate you are not smart enough! Time is marching on. Soon it will be too late. Begin today. Your family will be very thankful for the gift you’ve left for them. Get in your “write” mind today.

I would like to share my great-grandmother’s testimony with you. Six generations have been influenced for Jesus because of her choice to follow Christ. One woman, one choice, and six generations! Amazing, isn’t it? I hope you enjoy the story of my great-grandmother Ada Stillion.

One Woman, One Choice, Six Generations

Ada poured the last few drops of the bottle of rubbing alcohol into her cup of coffee. Taking a big gulp, she growled at her husband, “Ed, we’re out of moonshine, and I’ve used the last of my rubbing alcohol to stop these tremors!”

Edward hissed back, “Addie, you best get on down to your brother Mel’s house and get us some more brew. We’re low on cash, and if we could do some bootlegging, it might help get us caught up.”

Ada’s brother lived in Metropolis, Illinois, eight hours away from the small town in Iowa where Ada’s family lived. Every few months Ada and her daughter, Nettie, would take a trip to load up on some of Kentucky’s white lightning. They would bring some home and sell most of it to their kinfolks, who were slaves to whiskey too, but this trip God had something else planned for forty-five-year-old Ada Stillion, something that would change her life forever.

“Mel, it’s so good to see you!” Ada cooed as she hugged her older brother.

“Ada!” Mel exclaimed. “So much has happened to my family since we last saw you.”

“You got any good whiskey?” Ada asked. “I’m spitting cotton. Let’s sit down and have a stiff drink and then you can tell me all about it.”

“Addie, I don’t drink anymore.” Mel shook his head. “You’ll find no whiskey in our house! I’ve met Jesus!”

Ada shot back, “Are you trying to tell me that you done got religion?”

“No, Addie! I met Jesus.” Mel reached for his sister’s hand. “Tonight we’re having revival meetings at our church. Oh, Addie, you’ve just got to come. I have found what we’ve been searching for.”

“Church? You want me to go to church?” Ada’s eyebrows stood at attention. “I ain’t never been to church in my life!”

Nettie stiffened and poked her elbow in Ada’s side. “Ma and me are going to Kentucky tonight. We’ve got some important business to tend to. Don’t we, Ma?”

Mel’s moist eyes met Ada’s. “Please come. You’ll find what we’ve been looking for our whole lives.”

“Well, I guess going to one church service ain’t gonna kill us,” Ada chuckled. “What time should we be ready?”

“Seven o’clock sharp!” Mel let out a whoop. . . .

“Listen to that beautiful singing!” Ada motioned for Nettie to sit on the back pew. “Have you ever heard such singing?”

Nettie snarled, “Don’t know why they are singing about blood. That’s kind of gory, don’t you think, Ma?”

Ada pressed her finger to her lips. “Shhhhh. Listen!”

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the Blood of Jesus!
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the Blood of Jesus!

Ada sat mesmerized by what she heard and felt.

After the singing a minister stood behind the pulpit. “We all are sinners and need a Savior.”

Ada had flashbacks of her daughters and how alcohol had robbed them of a decent childhood.

The pastor invited all who wanted their sins forgiven to come forward and kneel at the altar. Ada stood to her feet, walked down the aisle, and knelt at the altar. The minister prayed with her and then asked her if she would like to pray.

Tears poured down Ada’s cheeks. She called out to God for the first time in her life. “Lord, forgive me of my sins and make me worthy to be called mother.”

When Ada stood to her feet, she knew she was a new creature in Christ. Old things had passed away and all things were new!

“Nettie, we aren’t going to Kentucky to buy any whiskey!” The trip to Kentucky was canceled. Ada never touched another drop of liquor the rest of her days. She lived to be ninety-two years old and shared her salvation experience with anyone who would listen.

Ada Stillion was my great-grandmother. Her decision to follow Christ has impacted six generations. She followed Christ. Her daughter accepted Jesus. Her granddaughter invited the Lord into her heart. Her great-granddaughter committed her life to Jesus. Her great-great-granddaughter dedicated her heart and life to the Lord, and even Ada’s great-great-great granddaughter has given her life to Christ.

Great-Grandmother could have left our family a legacy of alcoholism and abuse; instead she left us a legacy of God’s amazing love. God answered her prayer and made her worthy to be called Mother. In fact, He made her a spiritual mother of many.


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

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

10 Easy Steps to Avoid Writing

How can you avoid writing? Try these 10 easy steps!

  1. woman in doubtDream about all the books, blog posts, and articles you want to write.
  2. Constantly build your library and read, read, read some more.
  3. Pursue everything interesting that comes your way.
  4. Justify that extra half hour of sleep in the morning and kicking back in the evening. After all, you need your rest.
  5. Ask yourself repeatedly, “Does the world really need another book? Do I have anything worthwhile to say that hasn’t been said a million times before?”
  6. Convince yourself that you wouldn’t want to see your byline on a newspaper or magazine article or your name on the cover of a book if you were truly humble.
  7. Fill your day with all those urgent things that call your name.
  8. Let each day unfold come what may.
  9. Bee-bop around your social networks. You wouldn’t want to miss anything.
  10. Remember tomorrow is a new day.

Actually, there is nothing wrong with any of these things . . . if we let them serve as springboards for our writing.

Dreaming about what to write is our pre-planning stage. We just can’t get stuck there.

Stephen King has been quoted as saying, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Reading is good, both nonfiction and fiction. We just can’t read so much that we don’t take the time to write.

Being eclectically interested and knowing that amazing things have come my way from a variety of sources makes me inclined to flit around like a butterfly. However, we all have to buckle down and write knowing we just might miss something along the way, but that’s okay.

Getting sufficient sleep is extremely important. However, we won’t just find the time to write if it isn’t our day job. We will have to make the time.

Years ago, I read that no one will say something exactly like I will. We each have a unique perspective and a unique “voice.” Plus, it’s important to remember how many times we’ve read or heard the same thing, but there comes that time when it really hits home. You may be the one to write something in just the way your reader needs to hear it.

It’s important to do whatever we do to the best of our ability—even writing. Sometimes we will be acknowledged for our achievement. This often opens doors to even more opportunities, and that’s not a bad thing. More open doors for our writing means more readers reached.

Stephen Covey referred to the urgent and the important. The ringing landline. The chiming cell phone. The Facebook message. These are among the urgent things that call us away from what is truly important. If our writing is important, we must let our calls go to voicemail, silence our cell phone, and set aside specific times to check emails and social media—and stick to those times.

Not every day will unfold the way we plan, but we do need a plan. Somewhere between scheduling every waking minute and scheduling none is the right balance. And in that balance, we must include our writing projects—not just writerly pursuits, actual writing.

There are countless great writing blogs out there in cyber space and countless writers with whom we can connect. It’s always incredible when a favorite author actually answers our email, but if they didn’t sign out for significant portions of the day, they wouldn’t get anything written—and neither will we.

Procrastination can rob us of so much that is truly important. However, at the end of the day when we haven’t accomplished all we’d like, it is a very good thing to remember that, indeed, tomorrow is another day.

All the best for all your tomorrows.


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

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

Moses Was a Basket Case

Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile.”
Exodus 1:22 NIV

mosesI love the biblical account of an infant boy named Moses. Satan conjured up a plan to kill him, but God was watching over the little guy. Jehovah gave Moses’ mother a creative plan to save her baby’s life. She built a basket made out of bulrushes and coated it with pitch.

When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she
could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
Exodus 2:2-4 NIV

Even though Moses was a “basket case,” he grew into a mighty man of God and was handpicked by Jehovah to deliver the Israelites from the land of bondage.

My husband and I have been in fulltime ministry for more than 30 years. We have seen firsthand the enemy sabotage ministries in their infancy. We’ve stood in the gap with those God has called for a heavenly assignment and rejoiced with those who fulfill their divine destiny, but our hearts have broken when we watched others allow the wicked one to snuff out a brand new ministry God had called them to.

I would like to speak directly to those of you who sense the Lord is calling you to “birth” a new ministry, whether it is writing, singing, pastoring, or something else the Lord has laid on your heart.

  • Always ask God for wisdom as you begin this new chapter in your life.
  • Never lean on your own understanding. It doesn’t matter how smart and experienced you may think you are, in your natural fleshly nature you are no match for the devil.
  • Never be shocked by the enemy’s tactics. Remember his goal is to kill the newborn ministry.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have 
life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10 NIV

Don’t let the enemy destroy what God is birthing in your life and ministry. Remember the story of Moses. May God use you to lead souls out of bondage.


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

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

Keep Your Eyes Open

I want to encourage all you writers to keep your eyes open and your notebook handy. Young man with lensYou never know where and when inspiration will strike. A sunset. A snippet of conversation. Something you read.

Here are some suggestions on how to capture those moments:

  1. Keep a small notebook handy to record those things that strike you. If you carry a cell phone that has a camera, snap a picture of a visual that inspires you. (Be careful not to take pictures of identifiable property or strangers without permission.)
  2. Not sure if you should record something? Do it! Better to have several ideas you never use than forget that one you wish you could remember.
  3. Don’t worry if you have no idea how you will include what grabs your attention in your writing. When my son was in his mid-teens, he wanted a pair of army boots. Being the silly mom that I am, I bought him a pair that were several sizes too large, thinking maybe, just maybe, he might grow into them. He wore them to church shortly after that only to be asked by a dear, elderly friend of ours, “Hey, boots, where are you taking that boy?” I love it! Have I ever used it except in this kind of context? No, but I’m sure I will. It was just too priceless to forget.
  4. Pay particular attention to situations, places, and people you would normally walk right past without noticing. Writers—and all creatives—must learn to see beyond their normal range of vision.
  5. Remember to take your notebook and your camera on business trips, vacations, walks around the neighborhood. The funny thing about inspiration is that it can strike when you least expect it. Cliché as that sounds, it’s true. The more you train yourself to see it, the more inspiration will be ev-ery-where.
  6. Periodically, leaf through your notebook and your photos. You never know when something will strike you afresh and inspire your fingers to fly over the keyboard.

What inspires your writing? How do you keep track of those flashes of inspiration?

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

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

Learn More, Write More

by Stephanie Nickel (previously posted on Monday Motivation on 9/8/14)

Our church leadership recently approved a subscription to RightNow Media. Each congregant with access to the Internet has been invited to create an account and dive into the wealth of teaching that is available. I have attended our church for over 30 years, yet this might be the greatest gift they’ve ever given me.

Young hipster guy with beard and earphones watching videos on a digital e-reader tabletWhile there are additional resources available—some free, some for a nominal charge—listening to the videos provides a wealth of knowledge in and of itself.

I have learned from well-known authors and speakers—and those I hadn’t encountered before. Each evening, my husband and I have begun listening to videos of particular interest to him. (He is more a historical documentary buff than I am.)

But what does this have to do with my writing?

Well, I am working (or should be) on a devotional book based on the gospel of John. I’ve given it the working title “If You Love Me.” In it, I am examining the commands of Jesus and what they mean to us today.

As I explore RightNow Media, I am finding several teachings based on the book of John that are enriching my perspective—and will, I trust, enrich the writing itself.

While I would never label myself a researcher, I love this opportunity to discover riches so readily available. Yesterday, I got the mental picture of standing in the proverbial treasure chamber we so often see in action adventure movies. All around me are radiant gems and sparkling gold. And guess what—the walls aren’t even closing in on me. I don’t have to make a run for it. I can marvel in the riches. I have access to treasure that will change my life—and my writing—forever.

How about you? Where do you find that wealth that inspires and enriches your writing?

Keep an eye out because it might appear when you least expect it, when you’re not even looking for it.

Stephanie Nickel, CES Editor, Writer, Coach

Grandma Holtz’s Apron

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

I will never forget a treasured gift I received from my paternal grandmother over fifty years ago. I was barely three, but I still can envision in my mind’s eye how Grandma watched with anticipation as I opened a package and pulled out a red gingham checked apron she had sewn for me.

The single pocket on the front was solid red cotton, cut out and sewn in the shape of a baby carriage with two large buttons for wheels. A white chain stitch was embroidered and topped off with a flat pearl button for the carriage handle. What made the apron the perfect gift for a girly-girl like me was the itty-bitty plastic doll with blinking eyes tucked inside the carriage pocket.

Grandma believed in learning life skills early. My tiny hands were taught to set and clear the table. Baking cookies was also part of my early childhood training. Grandma would Gingerbread menset me on a chair that faced the kitchen counter of the old farmhouse, tie my gingham apron around my tiny waist, and my cooking lessons would begin. We would bake all kinds of delicious cookies. Grandpa loved smelling the tantalizing aroma of cinnamon and gingerbread that wafted through the whole house. My job was to put the red hots and raisins on the gingerbread man’s tummy and face. When all the baking was done, Grandma would fold my apron and put it in a cabinet drawer. Then I would crawl up in her lap and listen as she read The Gingerbread Man.

In 1997, Grandma was diagnosed with terminal inflammatory breast cancer. I wondered how I would go on without her daily presence in my life. As the time for her departure grew near, we spoke often of favorite family memories. I mentioned the gingham apron. She smiled and said, “Life’s simple treasures are always the best.”

Even though I knew Grandma was in heaven, I suffered with agonizing grief when she died. I found comfort in the old hymns about heaven and God’s Word. And for some strange reason, whenever I examined the familiar gingham apron, my grieving soul was soothed.

I have a special drawer in my kitchen for the precious heirloom. On days I feel I’m losing eternal perspective I take it from its hiding place. Its symbolism helps keep me grounded. Every inch of it resonates my godly grandmother’s life. The three buttons are still securely fastened even after fifty years—so like Grandma. She was always predictable and dependable. The decorative chain stitch represents Grandma’s keen ability to keep all of our family linked together no matter what life tossed our way. And the little baby tucked in the pocket symbolizes a little girl God has kept safe and sheltered from life’s howling winds because of my grandmother’s prayers fifty years ago. Even though the apron no longer fits around my ballooning waist, it fits around my heart just fine.

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One Day at a Time

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

When I look around—and within—I realize it is a very human thing to look to the future.

When I sell my first article . . .

When I find a publisher for my book . . .

When I sign on with an agent . . .

When the workday is over . . .

When the weekend gets here . . .

When I finally get away on vacation . . .

Making plans isn’t wrong. Thinking ahead isn’t wrong. Looking to the future isn’t wrong.

But . . .

TodayWe are only assured of today.

Yesterday is gone. Hopefully we can learn from it and move forward, but it’s gone.

Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. If there’s one thing the uncertainty of personal struggles and global turmoil have shown us, it’s the truth of this statement.

I realize, so far, this post has been “a downer,” but that’s not my intention. When I was writing in my journal today, I posed a series of questions like this one: How can I keep my eyes on the Author and Finisher of my faith TODAY?

Let’s focus on today and go from there.

What writing project do you want to work on today?

Set a time to do so and keep the appointment.

What market for your work do you want to research today?

Even if you don’t have a market guide, there are countless resources online. Explore at least one of them today.

What small change will inspire you to write more today?

Make the change and move forward.

What “urgent” thing on your To Do list can you put off until tomorrow so you can be more productive as a writer today?

Scratch the item off your list and rewrite it on tomorrow’s.

What one thing you especially enjoy can you do today?

Don’t make excuses; just do it.

What one thing can you do to make the day special for someone else?

Include this on your schedule and do it. (Remember even the smallest kindness can make someone’s day.)

We mustn’t ignore the heartache and atrocities going on all around us, but sometimes we must take a step back. What can you do to distance yourself from the pain today—and thereby, be better able to take action in the future? (As a writer, don’t underestimate the power of writing to a government official, the editor at a major newspaper, or the readers of your blog. You never know who will read what you’ve written and change the world.)

Take a step back today. Take a deep breath. Determine what good you can do right this minute—and do it.


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