7 Wonderful Ways to Avoid Writing

Just Write

Here’s a list of things that can keep us from writing. You’ll notice that these aren’t “time-wasters.” In fact, they’re necessary, but they can become excuses for not writing.

Books, Blog Posts, and Podcasts

My shelves, both physical and virtual, are bowing under the weight of unread volumes—many of them on the craft of writing.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of blogs and podcasts for writers and we could spend the rest of our live reading and listening. But all the know-how in the world won’t get our words on paper (or the computer).

It’s best to write while improving our craft, not after we’ve learned everything there is to know because that’s never going to happen.


Times of refreshing and doing nothing aren’t bad, but rarely will we find the motivation to write while plopped in front of the TV or nodding off in a hammock chair.

I’ve found the more I write, the more energized I become. That’s rarely the case when I’m watching television or sitting in my backyard, though it is lovely thanks to my hubby’s hard work.

I encourage you to limit downtime and honestly evaluate whether it actually makes you more productive.


I’ve heard recently of a couple of writers, friends of mine, who forget to eat. Let’s just say I can’t imagine that.

Eating small, nutritious meals throughout the day is a good thing. So is keeping water and healthy snacks close at hand while we write. But most of us know what it’s like to be distracted by food. Why not grab a snack after you’ve written x number of words rather than before?


As a former personal trainer, I know the many benefits of regular physical exercise and I’m an advocate of making it part of your daily routine.

I would encourage you to schedule cardio and resistance exercises into your week. I would even encourage you to take breaks from your writing to stretch, get up and move around, do a little chair dancing, whatever.

But don’t allow a commitment to exercise to take you away from your commitment to write. It should, instead, enhance it.

Family Time

Time with family is crucial. They should never feel as if we would rather be back at our computer than spending time with them.

As much as possible, it’s best to work our writing around time with family. This may mean sacrifice on our part (less downtime, less sleep, less pleasure reading, etc.), but our family deserves our loving attention.

The temptation is not to make these sacrifices, but if our writing is important, we will make time for it.


I rarely use this as an excuse not to write. Actually, I rarely use this as an excuse for anything, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a possibility.

I’m not saying you have to let the dishes pile up or wait until your carpet gets “crunchy,” but if you write from home, you do have to avoid distraction. There is always something that needs to be done—especially around my house.

You may have to take your laptop or your notebook and pen out of the house to a spot where you won’t be tempted to grab the vacuum. I’ve heard this is a real thing for some people.

Volunteer Responsibilities

This can be a toughy. And unless you write full-time, people may not understand why you can’t take on a certain volunteer project. But if your writing is to be a priority, you have to know that it’s okay to say no.

In her book The Best Yes, Lysa TerKeurst discusses how to identify why we say yes when we shouldn’t and how to overcome this tendency. If we don’t say no, we won’t have the time or the energy to dive in when our “best yes” opportunity comes along.

I also love what Robert Benson says in Dancing on the Head of a Pen: “Any writer worth his ink stains can think of a small army of things to keep him from writing. If he does not have enough imagination to invent the excuses necessary to keep him from writing, he likely does not have enough imagination to write a book.”

Now go and use your imagination to fuel your writing.


Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

Branding and Re-branding Yourself by Steph Beth Nickel

old typewriter

This post first appeared on InScribe Writers Online. 

Ask These Questions

What can you see yourself writing about five years from now? Ten years from now?

What is the overarching theme of your writing? What fires you up? What can’t you stop talking—and writing—about?

How do you want to be known? Close to home and out in cyberspace?

If you can narrow your focus in these areas, you just may have found your theme, your tagline, your brand.

Narrow Your Focus

The name of my blog was originally “Steph’s Eclectic Interests.” That should give you an indication of how not focused I am. A dear friend and fellow writer said, “Each blog you post is focused on a single topic.” Talk about gracious!

A few years back, another dear friend said my tagline should be “Riding Shotgun.” And although I gave her a funny look when she said it, when she explained her reasoning, I was humbled and honoured. Because I “come alongside” others and assist them, she thought “Riding Shotgun” would be descriptive of that.

Not being a country music fan (don’t hate me), I never did go with her suggestion, but I don’t suppose I’ll ever forget it.

Like so many other people, I’m what I call “stupid busy.” It isn’t that I don’t like what I do—to the contrary. But it is long past time that I had a singular focus. And just a few days ago, I found it. <bouncing up and down, clapping>

A lot of factors came together to make it happen.

On June 25, I attended the Saturday sessions at the Write Canada conference. There, Belinda Burston stopped me to take my picture. Brenda J. Wood joined me in the shot. And I’m ever so glad she did! That picture is now plastered across the Web. It’s one of those shots that makes me grin—me with my newly dyed burgundy hair and Brenda with her flowered hat. (Who says writers are a stuffy, serious lot?)

That picture was a significant contributing factor to what followed. And late Thursday night, a tagline popped into my head. It was perfect: “To Nurture & Inspire.” I headed off to Dreamland flying high.

I spent the best parts of Friday re-branding myself online. I had to find the right background (thank you, pixabay.com), the right font and the right graphic (thank you, picmonkey.com).

Follow These Quick Tips

So, to close, I’d like to recommend six quick tips for branding (or re-branding) yourself:

  1. Pray. As Christians, it’s amazing to think that God cares about every detail of our life.
  1. Keep an eye out. You never know when inspiration is going to strike. Re-branding myself wasn’t on my To Do list last week, but one thing led to another and then another, and finally, “Poof!”
  1. Get creative. Explore sites like Pixabay and PicMonkey. Let your Inner Creative out to play. It’s amazing how much fun you can have. I admit that I’m more of a “pantser” when it comes to these kinds of endeavours. However, if you like to be more deliberate in your planning, you can find how-to YouTube videos on just about any subject.
  1. Know when it’s time to hire a pro. You may not have the time or the know-how to create your own brand. However, you will want to work hands-on with whomever you hire. You want to be able to say, “If I could have done it on my own, this is exactly what I would have done.”
  1. Your brand isn’t forever. At least it doesn’t have to be. If your focus narrows or changes, even if you just get tired of it, it’s alright to rework it. Don’t get me wrong; if you’re well-established, it may take some time for your readers to adjust, but I would venture a guess that most of them will.

And …

  1. Enjoy yourself. Even if your message is a serious one, I believe there’s something satisfying about choosing a profile picture and tagline as well as colours and graphics that are an extension of your message—and further, an extension of yourself.

Do you have a brand? Are you pleased with it or is it time for some revamping?


Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor


Should IThe original version of this post appeared on “Tenacity,” Janet Sketchley’s blog.

Oo, shiny!

That’s how I often feel when I hear of a new opportunity. You too?

I have what I refer to as the Butterfly Syndrome. I love to flit from one thing to the next to the next and then back to the first thing. While I don’t think it will ever be my approach, I do admire people who are able to stick with a single task until it is completed before moving on to the next. There are definite advantages to this approach.

But since I have several interests (and am easily distracted), potential opportunities come at me from all sides. I am learning s-l-o-w-l-y that I can’t pursue them all—as much as I’d like to.

Add to my natural tendencies the fact that I’m a Christian and don’t want to miss an opportunity God brings my way and I’m off and running … figuratively speaking. The joke that says, “If I’m running, it’s because something or someone is chasing me” pretty much describes me.

But even as Christians, we don’t have to say yes to every opportunity, every request. (For more on this, I highly recommend Lysa TerKuerst’s book The Best Yes. She guides readers through the whys and wherefores of identifying when they should say no so they’ll be ready to give their best yes.)


Now, I believe there should be a progression in every Christian’s life, every writer’s life. Many of us, when presented with a new opportunity, think—or even say, “Oh, I could never do that.” (At least this is the case if we’re not busy flitting about, trying our hand at everything that comes along.)


As we learn more, we may come to the realization that just maybe we could write whatever it is. I’ve found myself thinking, “I could do that? Cool!” Hopefully, there comes a time when we realize we’ve learned enough to at least try our hand at a new writing project, and beyond that, that God has equipped us to do things we never imagined possible. This is an exhilarating mindset. And it’s very in-keeping with my “oo, shiny” attitude.


Not that long ago, the Lord brought me to a new realization. It may seem self-evident. And I wouldn’t blame you if you said, “Well, d’uh!” although I know you’re much too polite to do so. The final step in this three-step progression is this: when someone asks us to do something or we become aware of an interesting opportunity, we should … wait for it … we should ask, “Lord, is this something You want me to do? And if so, what should I set aside in order to do it to the best of my ability?”

I’m still learning Step 3. But it really is even more exciting than the second step. After all, knowing God will give me wisdom and direction and will guide me step-by-step … now that is truly amazing.

Will I always flit from one thing to the next? Most likely. But with God’s help, I will try to stay in the same corner of the garden—at least for a little while. Care to join me?


Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor


DowntimeThis post first appeared on Janet Sketchley’s blog, Tenacity, on April 29, 2016

I’m filling in for our church administrator while she’s on maternity leave. For 30 hours each week, I can’t work uninterrupted on writing or editing. I can’t tend to my volunteer responsibilities. I can’t work around the house—Wait! Scratch that. That wouldn’t be how I spent the majority of those 30 hours anyway.

Since coming to work at the church mid-February—which, for the most part, I really enjoy, by the way—I’ve been somewhat overwhelmed by my To Do list. Granted, the Lord had previously been teaching me how to focus on the Now (this very moment), but until recently, it hadn’t been an undeniably necessity for my mental wellbeing.


I’ve been a list-maker for as long as I can remember, but these days, I guarantee if I don’t write something down, it’s highly unlikely that it’s going to happen. In the past I haven’t cared if I put too much on my list. I would just move it to the next day. But no more! I have to be realistic about what I can accomplish, especially between 3:00 and 11:00/12:00 at night.

It didn’t take me long to realize there was no way I could keep up the frantic pace without paying a high price. In fact, I became short-tempered with friends and family members if they even suggested I take on something else—even something simple. Beyond that, I found myself annoyed for no apparent reason. Not good.


Slowly, I began to give myself permission to take time away from my responsibilities to regroup. I would watch a movie with my hubby, play a game of Scrabble (which I won, by the way), even go away for a sisters’ weekend with NO computer access. Woohoo!

And beyond any of that, I was so busy doing good things that I was neglecting the best thing: time with God. I have slowly begun to again study the Word for the exclusive purpose of drawing closer to the Lord. I still need to devote more time to prayer, but that will come.

And while I was driving the two-and-a-half hours to my sister’s, I popped in a couple of new contemporary Christian music worship DVDs, refused to watch the clock, and simply worshiped all the way there. It was glorious.


This weekend, my writers’ group, which has been meeting for over a decade, is going on our first ever writers’ retreat. That designation is valid because we are all writers. However, from what I’ve heard from the other ladies, it would be better to call it a writing-reading-crafting-napping-walking on the beach retreat. In other words, we all need downtime. I’m sure we will accomplish a lot of writing, but I don’t think that will be the most important aspect of the weekend.

As some of you know, I am an extrovert—on steroids (figuratively speaking). I have found myself desperately needing uninterrupted alone / quiet time. So not me! I am actually hoping we have a No Chat policy for certain hours of the day while on our retreat. I just want to focus on my reading and my writing. I know if I’m not deliberate about this, I’ll chat far too much.

So how about you? What do you do to get refreshed?


Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

Off to Camp

NostalgiaI’m going to camp in April . . . Camp NaNoWriMo that is.

While NaNoWriMo participants are expected to write 50,000+ words during the month of November, campers get to set their own word count goal. This year my aim is to write 15,000 words in April. Despite my crazy busy schedule, I believe this is a doable goal.

It will help greatly that my writers’ group, Women Writing for Christ, is heading to a cottage for three days at the end of April. Although we’ve been meeting regularly for over a decade, this will be our first writers’ retreat . . . and it’s going to be a.ma.zing!

There are many advantages of signing up for Camp NaNo. Here are just a few of them:

  1. Regular encouragement from those who run the challenge
  2. The energy that comes from participating in a writing community
  3. Decreased inclination to put off writing (After all, you have a word count goal to hit.)
  4. Progress made visible (Camp NaNo uses a picture of an archery target. The arrow moves closer to the middle every time you enter your word count. Plus, they use graphs as well.)
  5. The option of joining a virtual cabin (Share encouragement and virtual s’mores with cabin mates of your choosing or the camp directors’.)
  6. Make new friends—and perhaps connect with new readers for your work
  7. Discover new favorite writers
  8. Hang out with fellow campers on social media sites
  9. Participate in live “write-ins” for an even more tangible sense of community
  10. A “button” to display on your blog
  11. Camp NaNoWriMo merchandise (Though purchasing merchandise isn’t mandatory, it helps keep the challenge going year after year.)
  12. Challenge yourself and encourage your fellow writers to do the same

So . . . will I be seeing you at camp in April? Why not sign up today?

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

Are You Taking On Too Much?

Business Man RunningThis post first appeared on Janet Sketchley’s blog on Friday, February 26, 2016.

I usually have my post to Janet well ahead of the deadline, but not this month. In fact, I needed a nudge—even though I had a reminder in my day planner. Sometimes that just isn’t enough.

I have recently started covering for our church administrator while she’s on maternity leave. I enjoy the job, but it does leave me scrambling because of the other responsibilities I am also juggling.

This post may very well be a case of “do what I say, not what I do,” but here goes.

Just how can we determine if we should take on any given task? Here are six ways you may want to consider the next time someone asks, “Oh, could you . . .”

Pray About It

If you’re a Christian this may seem self-evident, but how many times do we take on something without asking the Lord for wisdom? We can’t do all the things that are asked of us—not even all the good things.

Evaluate the Task

How long will it take? Does it fit naturally into our schedule? Will we have to set aside something that should remain a priority? Will it hinder our ability to fulfill our current tasks effectively? Will it steal the downtime that is crucial to our mental and emotional well-being?

Give Something Up

I once heard a speaker say she never took on a new task without setting aside one she was already doing. Talk about self-control! I can’t see myself doing this—at least not yet.

Remember . . . No Is Not a Bad Word

Some of us have difficulty saying no when we’re asked to do something. We don’t want to let the other person down. We don’t want to miss an opportunity God has for us. This is another key reason we need to pray before we take on a task. God promises to give wisdom to those who ask. Plus, He will give us the ability to graciously decline if that’s what’s necessary. We must remember, too, that it is His responsibility to deal with how the other person responds. We shouldn’t buckle under pressure if we are confident God has not called us to a specific task—at least not at this time.

Consult Your Spouse or a Trusted Friend

If it’s going to put a strain on the relationship with our spouse, it’s likely best to beg off. I have such an easygoing hubby sometimes I don’t think to ask him what he things of such and such a decision. He is always gracious and never makes me feel bad about making up my own mind, but I really should keep him in the loop . . . and not always after the fact. And whether we’re married or not, a trusted friend can often give us a perspective we can’t see because we’re just too close to the situation.

Finally . . . Pray Some More

Sometimes we take on something and it’s good for a season, but we just keep doing it even after that season is over. Praying over our schedule regularly is a good habit to get into. As I’ve often said, no matter how much I love my lists, the only To Do list that really matters is the one God has prepared for me. And the only way to discover what’s on that list is to dig into His Word and pray—lots!

So . . . are you taking on too much? Why not review these pointers and make changes to your To Do list as needed. I just may have to do the same.


Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

Broaden Your Reading Horizons

bookstore2_squareAre all the books in your To Be Read pile in the same genre or on the same topic? I encourage you to read across a wide range. It’s amazing where we, as writers, find inspiration. At times, we even learn what not to do by reading something that has been published.

As you likely know, I’m eclectically interested. The same holds true of what I like to read.

Currently, I am actively reading a dozen books. (I know, I know . . . I’m kind of crazy that way.)

And speaking of crazy, the first book I’ll mention is Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. We’re reading this for our small group study at church. I was thrilled to find four of Chan’s books on Kindle for the price of one.

What happens when God gets hold of a former gang member and white supremacist? Well, He just may pave the way for said individual to visit the death camps in Germany and the poverty stricken in Africa. Mind-boggling! Is there anything too difficult for the Lord? You can read answers to these and other questions in Michael Bull Roberts’ Beyond the Hate.

I rarely pre-order a book, but this one I did. If you write for the CBA (and even if you don’t), you may recognize some of the contributing authors to Writing Success: among them, Karen Ball, James Scott Bell, Mary DeMuth, Tricia Goyer, and Susan May Warren. This book overflows with invaluable information for novice and experienced writers alike.

With my 2016 fitness goals in mind, I’m working my way through Fit for Faith by Kimberley Payne. Payne includes basic info, workouts, exercise descriptions, charts for the reader to fill out, and more.

Humble, Hungry, Hustle by Brad Lomenick is the most unique leadership book I’ve ever read. I admit when I think of books in this category, I think “dry.” This book blows that preconceived notion out of the water. I’m really enjoying it.

Do I say yes too often. <averts eyes and hums> The Best Yes by Lysa TerKuerst helps readers consider why they say yes when they shouldn’t. It equips them to say no in order to prepare for “the best yes.” The author is authentic and genuine and uses examples from her own life. I love that. I highly recommend this book as well.

Although my worldview is far different from the author’s, I am reading Wild Women, Wild Voices by Judy Reeves for an online book club and it challenges me to consider how to express my individuality on the page. And it’s never a bad thing to learn to respectfully express one’s differences of opinions. If we don’t allow emotion to rule the day, we can gain a lot from an insightful debate.

Andrew Gillmore is the son of longtime family friends. I was thrilled to offer him encouragement about publishing his first book. (It turns out he has it pretty much figured out. His book, The Red Fish Project, is quickly rising through the ranks on Amazon.) This is an honest look at living abroad. If you’re offended by certain topics and the occasional use of “colorful language,” you may not want to read The Red Fish Project. But I’m finding it extremely insightful.

My reading list also includes several novels.

During a recent trip to my local library, I found Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer’s book Between the Lines. It’s unique. It’s fabulous. It’s delightful. Can you tell I like this YA novel about fairy tale characters whose lives are completely different when the book is closed? There’s a second book in the series too. I must add it to my 2016 To Be Read list.

Do you fear the day when gathering with other Christians means you’re breaking the law? When you may be accused of crimes you didn’t commit? When you may be hauled off for interrogation? Sara Davison does a wonderful job in her book The End Begins of revealing what things could be like, all the while offering hope through a spunky protagonist who is not afraid to speak her mind.

Have you ever started watching a movie you didn’t really want to keep watching but you couldn’t help it? Yeah, that’s this book, Eyes Wide Open by Ted Dekker. It’s as if I’m trapped in the psych ward with the main characters. I feel desperate and claustrophobic just thinking about it. But that’s probably a good thing. Talk about being drawn into the story!

From the beginning I knew The Language of Sparrows by Rachel Phifer was going to be unique. It drew me in. This is one of those books that makes me think, “I wish I had more time to read.” How can a mother help when her daughter doesn’t fit in? When she fears her daughter has inherited her late husband’s mental health issues? When her daughter begins to spend time with a solitary older man?

My 2016 list keeps growing and growing. As the saying goes, “So many books, so little time.”

What’s on your To Be Read list? (That may be a loaded question. It just may make my list far longer.)

Happy Reading

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

Achieve Your Writing Resolutions

lightstock_150776_medium_user_6214500Here are four writing goals and six suggestions to achieve each:

Make Writing a Regular Part of the Day

  1. Set aside specific time each day to write and place it in your planner. Keep your appointment as you would any other.
  2. Write even when you don’t feel like it. The point is to write every day, not necessarily write well every day. The more you practice, the better you’ll get.
  3. Explain to your family and friends that writing is important to you and ask them to be considerate of your scheduled writing time. They may or may not understand, but hopefully they’ll respect your decision.
  4. Develop a ritual for your writing time. Perhaps you need a cup of your favorite beverage at hand. Maybe you want to begin your session by reading an inspiration quote or writing prompt. Maybe you want to have music playing. When you discover what works for you, stick with it.
  5. If you’re working on a longer piece, you may find it helpful to go back and read a few paragraphs from the day before. This can serve as a springboard for your new writing. Resist the temptation to use writing time as editing time. You’ll have time to polish your work after your get the first draft together.
  6. If you miss a day or two, forgive yourself. If you need to tweak your schedule, do so. But don’t give up on the idea of writing every day—or as many days each week as is reasonable for you.

Develop Writing Skills

  1. Follow skills development blogs and YouTube channels.
  2. Treat yourself to a new skills development book.
  3. Connect with other writers via social media and exchange information about what you’re learning.
  4. Consider attending a one-day workshop or writers’ conference this year.
  5. Remember to incorporate what you’re learning as you go.
  6. Crazy as it sounds, just write. Usually the more we write, the better at it we get.

Blog Regularly

  1. Zero in on your target audience. If you try to write for too broad an audience, it’s unlikely to “hit home” for anyone.
  2. Sign up with a blog host if you haven’t already. (I’m a huge fan of WordPress.) Purchase [your name] [dot] com from a company such as namecheap [dot] com (It’s easier for people to find you online if you use your own name. Because stephanienickel [dot] com was taken, I write as Steph Beth Nickel.) You can always have a clever tagline to let visitors know what your site is all about.
  3. Decide on an achievable goal. When I began blogging, I posted daily, but I am no longer able to do so. Now I post three times per week on my blog and once per week on my website. (I pulled eight blogs together at stephseclecticinterests [dot] wordpress [dot] com before starting stephbethnickel [dot] com)
  4. Create a backlog of posts so new material “goes live” on schedule even if you don’t have time to write any given week. The most important thing is to show up consistently. (I’ve come to love the “schedule” feature of WordPress and other blogging hosts.) Otherwise, it’s difficult to reach new readers and keep your current readers engaged.
  5. Consider inviting guest bloggers to post on your site from time to time. Of course, it’s important to approach bloggers who write for your target audience. It’s also important to approach those who will benefit from reaching out to your audience. For example, if you have 500 followers, it’s best not to approach a blogger with tens of thousands of followers.
  6. Study other blogs. Develop your skills. Then offer to write guest posts for other bloggers. If they turn down your offer, graciously accept their decision and approach someone else.

Get Published in 2016

  1. Write, polish, and self-edit your piece / book. Test it out on critique partners and / or beta readers. Get it professionally edited and proofread. You want to have something that is ready to share with readers.
  2. Consider getting an agent if you have written a novel or book-length nonfiction work. This can be a long, arduous process, but if you have completed the suggestions in #1, it will be more likely. Be very careful to thoroughly research the agent(s) you want to contact. If they require payment before they sell your work to a publisher, run don’t walk in the opposite direction. Reputable agents get paid when you get paid.
  3. Put together a detailed book proposal to interest potential agents and / or publishers.
  4. Research potential publishers. If you are going to approach publishers without an agent, you must know if they accept direct contact from the author (unsolicited submissions) and exactly what they publish. It makes no sense to approach a children’s publishing house with your inspirational historical novel for adults for example.
  5. If you’re considering self-publishing, a great option for shorter works—even for full-length works if you have a fairly extensive following, you will want to do your research. There are countless considerations, including the financial aspects when publishing with a company based in a different country.
  6. And one of the most important aspects of any worthwhile endeavor: Be persistent. Rejection is part of the process. If you want to write, produce the best work you can and, as the proverb goes, get up more often than you are knocked down.

We’d love to hear about your writing resolutions for 2016.


Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

12 Ways to Make the Write Resolution

The New Year is rapidly approaching and many of us will soon be setting our goals (aka resolutions) for 2016. Where is writing on your list? If you are reading this post, it’s likely close to the top.

Here are a dozen writing and writing-related goals you may want to include and tips on how to do so:

  1. Be on the lookout for inspiration.

Some people record ideas, snippets of conversation, random words and phrases, etc. in a notebook or on their electronic device. Make it a habit to do so. Don’t simply trust your memory; it’s amazing how quickly “that perfect idea” can vanish.

  1. Set up your writer’s nook.

What do you need around you when you write? Pictures of your family? A shelf of skills development books? A cozy corner with a comfortable chair, your journal, and a stash of gel pens? A clutter-free desk with only your laptop and a cup of your favorite beverage? The busyness of a crowded coffee shop? Create your perfect space and if at all possible, don’t do anything besides writing and writing-related tasks there.

  1. Enlist your support system.

If others take your writing seriously, you are more likely to as well. Explain to your family that you are going to set aside time every day (at least Monday through Friday) to write. Ask them to give you your space, only interrupting if it’s something that legitimately can’t wait. And from your end of things, don’t answer emails, the telephone, or the door during your writing time.

  1. Write every day.

Set aside a specific time every day to write and record the time in your planner and / or set an alarm on your cell phone to remind you—at least until it’s a habit.

  1. Set a specific writing goal.

Do you want to write a new blog post each week? A short ebook or novella for publication online every two to six months? A full-length novel or nonfiction book for print within the year? Break each task into bite-sized pieces and set deadlines for each piece.

  1. Read skills development books.

Read up-to-date books on general writing topics and on specifics that are of interest to you. You may want to read a new book every month or two. For most of us, that would be an achievable goal. Don’t forget to incorporate the skills you are reading about into your work.

  1. Read other books as well.

It’s amazing what you can learn about good writing just by reading a variety of books in a variety of genres. Read with a notebook on hand so you can record words / phrases / sentences that appeal to you. Jot down thoughts about what makes the writing amazing—or terrible. Learning opportunities are all around us.

  1. Enter writing contests regularly.

Entering contests is a great skills development exercise—even if you never win. You learn about writing with specific guidelines in mind. You learn about submitting on a deadline. There are countless contests you can research online. Just a word of caution . . . be sure that the contest sponsor is reputable.

  1. Join an online writing challenge.

I participate in OctPoWriMo (October Poetry Writing Month) and PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) each year. In October I write 31 poems and in November I come up with 30 ideas for picture books. I often attend Camp NaNoWriMo once or twice a year but have never participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), though I would like to do so one of these years. You can learn about these and other challenges online. Just type “writing challenge” into your search engine and see what catches your attention.

  1. Attend a writers’ conference or one-day workshop.

From skills development to networking . . . from inspiration to feeling understood . . . there’s nothing quite like hanging out with other writers and industry pros. Don’t feel intimidated. No matter how far along the path, every writer has more to learn. And every writer was a newbie at some point.

  1. Join or start a writers’ group.

I had the privilege of being one of the original four members of Women Writing for Christ. Over a decade later, we still meet monthly (except in the winter) and share the adventure of writing. We each write in different genres and for different audiences, but it is a wonderful opportunity to encourage one another. It’s a highlight of my month.

  1. Be patient with yourself.

Remember it takes time to develop new habits. Add one or two new goals each month. It’s much easier than trying to incorporate everything all at once.

Have a Most Blessed Christmas and a New Year overflowing with rich and abundant blessings!


Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

And the Award Goes to . . .

Stephanie Nickel and Deb Willows

Several years ago I connected with Paralympian Deb Willows. Deb had long wanted to write her story. She had written a number of shorter pieces, but an entire manuscript was just too much to type by mouth.

Deb had been praying that God would send along a Christian woman who could help her tell her story—and God chose to introduce us through a mutual friend. (And I learned about creative nonfiction through another friend.) Isn’t it amazing how the Lord works these things out?

When I met Deb, I was working as a personal trainer and didn’t have much time to devote to writing. When I asked her about a deadline, she said, “Anytime within the next ten years.” (Just a hint . . . it’s probably best not to give an author ten years to complete a project; she just might take you up on it.) While it didn’t take quite a decade to get from first draft to published book, it did take several years.

When Larry Willard of Castle Quay Books offered to publish Living Beyond My Circumstances, we were thrilled. After the typical back and forth and some unexpected delays, the book was released in January 2015.

When the shortlist came out for The Word Awards 2015, I admit I checked and double checked to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. But there it was: Deb’s memoir, which she insists on calling “our book,” under the Life Stories category. When we’d chat before the awards gala, she would tease me, saying, “It’s still there.”

Deb is a gem, definitely one of my heroes. To me, the friendship that developed is one of the greatest privileges of this whole project. And it was also a privilege to attend the gala with Deb, her folks, and two of her dear friends. As the saying goes, “It really was an honour just to be nominated.”

And it blew us away when we heard this excerpt, which meant we had won in our category:

“See what my daughter won?”

The patrons looked up from their Big Macs and McNuggets to see what all the fuss was about. We were in New York and earlier that day I’d set a world record swimming the 25m freestyle. My dad was grinning from ear to ear. And while my cheeks were burning, I was too. Even the cashier got in on the fun.

“Would it be okay if I took the medal to the kitchen so the rest of the staff can see it?”

“Sure,” I said.

When I’d graduated from high school, I prayed, “God, please don’t let me lead a boring life.” Was I in for an amazing adventure!

Deb has lived a remarkable life—and continues to do so. She considers cerebral palsy only “a slight setback.” She has been involved in many firsts and has had many dreams come true. Writing her memoirs and winning the award are the two most recent. Living Beyond My Circumstances is a book for anyone who wants to “go for the gold.”

And by the way, we are getting together at the end of October to discuss writing a follow-up book.

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor