Eight Ways to Improve Your Craft

mm_words_smAre you a newbie or an experienced writer? Do you write fiction or nonfiction? Full-length manuscripts or short stories? Poetry or prose? Articles or blog posts?

No matter what you write or how experienced you are, there is always more to learn. Here are eight ways to improve your craft.

Follow Writers and Authors on Facebook and Twitter

I offer this advice with a grain of salt. It is easy to spend so much time on the social networks that you neglect your own writing. However, it is a great way to learn what other writers are up to, what books and blog posts they have published recently, and how you might want to engage your own readers when the time comes.

Read Blogs

Of course it makes sense to read blogs on the craft of writing, but it is also a great idea to read blogs posted by writers whose style you enjoy and/or who write about things that interest you. Reading posts that are well written can help as you seek to develop your own skills.

Reference Books and Market Guides

There are countless skills development books available.

I also advise buying one or more style guides, such as The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, The Chicago Manual of Style, and/or The Associated Press Stylebook.

Market guides are invaluable. Writer’s Digest publishes a wide variety every year.

“It is easy to go overboard when stocking your bookshelves,” says she who has done so both with physical books and ebooks.

My number one suggestion would be ask fellow writers for suggestions, read reviews, and purchase one book on each topic that interests you. After reading a book, you may want to repeat the process to buy another on the same topic.

Attend Conferences

Attending a writers’ conference can be intimidating, but it can be an amazing experience for many reasons. Here are just a few of those reasons:

  • Learn from keynote, seminar, and continuing class speakers
  • Rub shoulders with published authors
  • Meet editors, publishers, and agents (and possibly interest them in your project)
  • Make new friends
  • Go home supercharged to write

Submit According to Guidelines

Take the time to read the submission guidelines carefully—and follow them. A sure sign that you’re an amateur is to disregard these guidelines. Remember to behave professionally. It will go a long way.

Enter Writing Contests

If you don’t know where to start, simply type “Writing Contests” into your search engine. Some are free to enter. Others have an entry fee. The prizes offered are usually comparable to the fee. While it costs $30.00 to enter the Writer’s Digest contests, the prizes are well worth it.

On the other hand, contests with substantial prizes also attract many gifted writers. Your work really has to shine.

That said, there are many benefits to entering writing contests: working to specifications, meeting a deadline, following submission guidelines, to name a few. And who knows, you might win a prize and that will fuel your enthusiasm to continue writing and entering contests and/or submitting your work to paying markets.

Write, Just Write

Never, ever, ever think you have to know it all (or even know more than you do now) before you write regularly. Writing is a classic case of learning by doing. Schedule time to write and keep your appointment. Ideally, do so every day.

team.stephanie_120x140_2015Stephanie Nickel, CES Editor/Writer/Coach

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

Give Poetry a Chance

poetry-in-garden-web11Each year I participate in OctPoWriMo (October Poetry Writing Month). Participants write 31 poems in 31 days.

The wonderful thing about poetry is that in a few words, one can paint a picture and share his or her heart.

This post is by no means a scholarly look at poetry, but below I have listed four different types of poems and given an example of each.

Even if just for yourself, why not jump off the precipice and give poetry writing a shot. Who knows? You may just find yourself soaring.

Story Poem

Choose a subject or an event that is especially important to you. Capture the highlights and write them as a poem. Create line breaks for emphasis. Don’t worry about punctuation; sometimes it’s best to leave it out altogether. See which you think works best.

Help Them Soar

When they’re wandering in the valley,

Walk with them.

When they’re struggling up the mountain path,

Let your presence strengthen them.

When they stumble,

Offer them your hand.

When their eyes fill with tears,

Let yours be the shoulder they cry on.

When they need a listening ear,

Remember you have two.

When they need a word of encouragement,

Make it sincere and succinct.

When they’re victorious,

Cheer the loudest.

If they’re standing on the precipice ready to soar,

Offer to tandem jump with them.

If they’re looking for God – and even if they’re not,

Point them heavenward.

Haiku

A haiku has three brief lines, the first and third have five syllables, the second has seven.

New Day

New day lies ahead

Opportunities abound

Time to jump right in

Cinquain

Poetry is about self-expression. (My favorite season is autumn, as you’ll realize from the poem below.) Many times, a few carefully chosen words can hold a great deal of meaning. There are five lines in a cinquain. The first and fifth lines have two syllables, the second four, the third six, and the fourth eight.

Autumn Leaves

Leaves fall

Are blown around

Begging to be played in

Fill the air with wond’rous fragrance

Autumn

Rhyming Poem

When writing this kind of poem, there is more to be considered than what pairs of rhyming words you will use. It’s also important to include a steady metre, something that is easy to read and flows well. The best way to determine if you’ve done so is to read the poem aloud. If you falter over a line or a certain section, you may want to spend more time on it.

A rhyming poem with a sing-song lilt has a more playful feel. It is a fun choice if you’re writing about lighthearted subject matter. You can write a serious rhyming poem, but take care that it does not come off as frivolous.

Flitting Thoughts

My mind does flit

From thing to thing

Tugged about

As on a string.

I must do this

I must do that

And then I stop

To chit and chat.

Oh, read this blog

No, over here

Laugh for joy

Shed a tear.

I should read

And I should write

Or clean the house

It’s such a sight!

Make a call

Or maybe two

It’s some of what

I have to do.

But what works best

I’ve always found

Is take a breath

And calm the sound.

The voices calling

In my head

Must keep silent

As I’ve said.

I will focus

On one task

And get it done

How? you ask.

I’ll make my list

From a to z (zed)

In this way

I’ll clear my head.

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

Devotional Writing

Devotional LetterpressI’ve had many beginning writers ask me to give examples of some of the devotions I’ve written. So today’s blog will be dedicated to the subject of devotional writing.

When submitting a devotional piece, be sure to always follow submission guidelines! Most times the guidelines require a Scripture at the beginning of the devotional and a prayer at the end.

The Holy Spirit is always busy teaching us, so a lesson you learned in an everyday situation can soon become your next devotional. Here is one of my pieces. I hope it ministers to someone today.

 Sins of the Spirit

The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in.
Luke 15:28 NLT

 Lord, today I was hurt and angry. When the one who hurt me extended friendship, I responded coolly. I felt justified. After what she blurted out, I had a right to treat her that way. After all Your Word does teach the principle of “sowing and reaping.” She will reap what she’s sown with her unkind words! Right?

And You know, Lord, Your Word warns us about pride. She just oozes with her uppity ways. I haven’t done anything to deserve her cruel comments. In the long run, distancing myself will teach her a valuable lesson! Her behavior is unacceptable. I refuse to reward such dysfunction. After all, her attitude doesn’t bring honor to You. I certainly don’t want to enable her. I’ve settled it once and for all. I am right. No doubt about it. There is no need in discussing it further. I am positively . . . positively . . . positively miserable! Why am I in such unrest, Lord? How is it possible that I can I be right and yet be so wrong?

In the depths of my soul, I discern “I” am part of the problem. I open my Bible and read:

The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in.
Luke 15:28 NLT

 The Holy Spirit gives me a much needed diagnosis: “You are suffering from sins of the spirit.”

This is a spiritual malady that can render me powerless to love my friend. Many times manifestations can be masked and difficult to detect, but only for a short time. Eventually, everyone will notice my loveless heart. If I’m not given a biblical antidote of love and humility, the disease can spread to vital organs of my soul.

Have you ever been plagued with sins of the spirit?

Symptoms include

• Polite coolness when friendship is available

• Consumed with proving your point

• Touchiness, sensitivity

• Needing to persuade others to embrace your point of view

• Loving your opinions more than you love people

Forgive me, Lord. I’ll right my wrong. Life is too short for me to nurse this grudge. Help me not to be like the older brother and refuse a relationship. Help me respond in a way that brings glory and honor to You.


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

 

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

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.


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

Editing Is Psychological

 

by Tisha Martin, CES fiction editor, writer, writing coach, academic proofreader, and online marketing specialist (read more about Tisha)
[This blog post first appeared on Almost an Author, 4-22-18.]

Doubt and uncertainty

Editing is psychological.

Yes. That’s right. Psychological. I promise not to go too deep. Please keep reading. In editing our own manuscripts, we usually know what’s going on, who each character is, and how the story’s going to unfold. What we don’t expect is the sneaky errors that crop up. When we least expect it. When we’re about to hit send or publish, or worse yet, after we’ve sent our manuscript off to the publisher!

And what we don’t expect is that our eyes skip over what’s actually missing because our brains automatically interpret what’s there. Hence the psychological aspect of editing.

How do we fix this, or at least make it more manageable? Ah, well, let’s take a closer look at three common mistakes we all make in editing our writing.

Five Common Psychological Editing Mistakes

  1. Extra spaces between sentences.

Extra spaces are a pain, but professional editors loathe them. When editing your manuscript, double check that you don’t have two extra spaces between words or sentences. According to Chicago Manual of Style and nearly every publishing house, one space should appear between sentences. Not the long-standing two spaces. That’s old school. One space and done.

  1. Multiple characters on the first page.

Have you ever entered a room where everyone is talking at once? The noise just engulfs you, making it impossible to focus on any one conversation, much less hear yourself think. If you’re in that family of introverted writers, an experience like this is crippling sometimes.

Just like entering a room full of talking heads, if the first page of your manuscript has too many characters, your readers will want to throw the book at something, anything. Readers want to know who, what, and why when they read the first page.

Rule of thumb: To keep a reader, introduce at least two characters—the protagonist and an important secondary character—on the first page to get the story off on the right foot with your readers. You can add more characters as needed on the second and preceding pages, but please stick to simple on the first page. Your readers will thank you.

  1. Redundant phrases or repetitive words.

In the writing stage, you write whatever comes to your mind just to put words down on paper. And in the reading stage, you skip over these most common phrases you use in everyday speech. But in the editing stage, you don’t even notice these redundant phrases because you’re focused on characterization, plot, dialogue, or whatever you know you need to work on the most. With redundant phrases, you can usually delete one of the words and your sentence will breathe easier.

Hey, I’m preaching at myself here! The other day I was editing my own WIP and noticed with great horror that (take notice of the strikethrough, it isn’t necessary here!) I used “even” four times within four preceding paragraphs! I was so mortified that the words choked me, and I scrambled to revise my sentences.

Here are a few redundant phrases to watch out for:

  • Final outcome (outcome)
  • False pretense (pretense)
  • Absolutely certain (certain)
  • Completely finished (finished)
  • Sat down (sat)

Now, that wasn’t too hard, psychologically speaking, was it? It’s so easy to gloss over the obvious mistakes in our manuscripts. Therefore, taking that extra special effort (see what I did there?) to shore up the little issues that really make a difference in the long run—for you, your characters, your agent, your editor, your publisher, and for your readers. Not to mention your manuscript because it’s now a squeaky-clean product!

Join in the discussion!

Take a few minutes and ruminate. What are some editorial issues you fail to notice in your manuscript on first or second or final read-through?

Writing Book Reviews

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

Book reviewWhether you include book reviews on your blog or simply leave comments on sites such as Goodreads and Amazon, here are a few pointers about writing reviews that I hope will encourage the author and inform potential readers. The following ideas are directed mostly at fiction, but they can be applied to nonfiction as well.

Examine your motivation.

First, decide whether you’re writing a review primarily to help the author promote sales (the more authors I get to know personally, the more this becomes a reality for me) or if your aim is to inform readers why they should or shouldn’t read a particular book.

Put the positives up front.

No matter how you feel about a book, if at all possible, seek to write something positive before you go on to share what you see as the inadequacies of the work. (If the majority of my comments would be negative, I choose not to review the book in question.)

Be honest about the negatives.

Including positives is important, but you aren’t doing readers—or your reputation as a reviewer—any favors if you aren’t honest about a book’s shortcomings. Granted, your opinions may be 99 percent subjective, but that’s fine. That’s what people expect from reviews.

Be genuine. Even if the author is a personal friend, a review is not the same as back cover copy. It’s important to truly mean what you say in your reviews.

Be specific and qualify your statements. Some people care deeply about things like typos and grammatical errors. Others wouldn’t notice them even if they were pointed out. Some readers care more about the characters, others about the storyline. Instead of saying, “This is the worst book I’ve ever read,” say something like, “The story has a lot of potential, but I was distracted by the number of spelling mistakes throughout.”

Never, never, never include spoilers. If you wouldn’t want to know a specific detail before reading the book, don’t include it in your review. (If you’re one of those rare people who reads the last page first to see if you deem the book worth your time, don’t forget . . . most of the population does not read that way.)

So, how can you review a book without including at least one or two spoilers?

Be creative. I recently compared the second book in The Port Aster series with The Empire Strikes Back. I stated that the first book was a stand-alone, similar to Star Wars: A New Hope. However, the second left enough unanswered questions that there must, must, must be a third. (The author, Sandra Orchard, is working on it now. Whew!)

One final note . . .

Be prepared. Some reviews will virtually write themselves while others will take more work. I encourage you to have fun with the process. Written reviews are an extension of word-of-mouth, the means many people use to choose what to read next. There are those who now call reviewers “influencers.” Seek to wield your power wisely.


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

Focus!

Team.karen.sm
by Karen Burkett, Founder and Owner of Christian Editing Services and Find Christian Links

 

FocusOne great temptation when writing an article or a book is to try to say it all. There is so much we want to share, we don’t want to leave anything out.

Great way to hide our primary message. Also a great way to chase readers away.

I recommend that you prayerfully select your topic. Then the part of that topic you want to zero in on and what audience you want to address. Ask yourself, what do I want the reader to take from this? Then focus your outline and every part of your writing on your choices.

You may think . . . Well, this point wanders a bit from my topic but it’s so important. I want to share it! I need to share it! Don’t. Save it for another article, another book, when it is on target for your topic. Stay focused!

“Focus is the Feature of Effective Writing that answers the question ‘So What?’ An effective piece of writing establishes a single focus and sustains that focus throughout the piece. Just as a photographer needs to focus on a particular subject to produce a clear picture, a writer needs to focus on a single topic or main idea in order to produce an effective piece of writing” (Kathleen Cali).

Use the same approach with your blog. I recommend this article: “5 Reasons to Stay on Topic on Your Blog.”

Choose your topic. Choose your audience. Decide on desired take-aways. And focus.

The Invisible One

Team.Dixie-120-140

Dixie Phillips

by Dixie Phillips (http://www.christianeditingservices.com/dixie-phillips.html), 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.

Beginnings.

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