The Lectionary Companion: An Inspirational Tool for Christian Writers

As a Christian writer, you have no shortage of inspiration available to you. Through prayer, Bible reading, worship, and enjoying God’s presence in nature or in Christian fellowship, not to mention looking at all the names of God, all the testimonies of what He has done, and all the needs lifted up to Him, you have an endless supply of topics to write about.

Sometimes the inspiration is so vast and deep, you may need help to find a simple starting point. Your first starting point should always be prayer and allowing God to lead you. Sometimes it also helps to pray over specific writing prompts.

Here is a good resource that can help you in this process: Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary (published in three volumes, A, B, and C), Paul Scott Wilson, editor.

While the book’s title may not sound very inspiring, the book gives simple yet vivid themes, imagery, and hands-on application and description for weekly groupings of Bible verses. I’ve found this book to be helpful in coming up with ideas for Christian writing.

What is the Revised Common Lectionary?

The book is a companion to the Revised Common Lectionary, which is a weekly grouping of Bible verses that follows the Christian calendar and is used as a reference by many churches. Beginning with the first Sunday of Advent, the lectionary goes all the way through the Christian year. Many churches use the lectionary for their Bible readings, and many pastors write their sermons based on the lectionary scriptures.

The Revised Common Lectionary rotates every year:

Year A = 2019-2020

Year B = 2020-2021

Year C = 2021-2022

Then back to A again, and the cycle repeats.

The Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary has three volumes: Preaching Year A, B, and C. These volumes correspond to the rotation described above.

How the Lectionary Companion Can Inspire Christian Writers

These guides are not just for preachers. They provide wonderful inspiration for Christian writers too, based on a year’s worth of Bible reading and weekly themes.

As a writer, you can use the Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary to write about any of the lectionary verses. You don’t need to write seasonally or for that particular preaching year. Writers on a budget may not want to purchase all three volumes, and that’s okay. Just choose one and it will give you plenty of inspiration for your writing.

If you do decide to use the lectionary companion as a seasonal guide for a particular year (A, B, or C), it may give you an opportunity to write devotionals for your church. If your church follows the Revised Common Lectionary, as many denominations do, your devotionals would add to the biblical experience. Even if your church doesn’t follow the lectionary, you would still be inviting readers to experience the Christian calendar through scripture.

Each week, the lectionary brings together four scripture passages spanning Old and New Testament. As a writer, you can choose one passage to focus on, or prayerfully see how the passages come together and write from that convergence.

The lectionary companion can inspire your writing in many ways. You might be inspired to write on the main theme highlighted in the companion guide. Or you might pick up on one of the theological questions that arise from the readings that week, discussed in the companion guide.

The lectionary companion also gives tangible descriptions and images for pastoral and ethical issues. These can often inspire writing that applies scripture in daily life. The companion also connects the Gospel reading to the bigger biblical narrative, and that connection can also inspire your writing.

You might decide to write one piece based on the lectionary readings for one week. Or you might choose a particular week and write several pieces, perhaps a week-long devotional collection that covers 6 or 7 days and explores the week’s theme more in-depth or from many angles.

Example of Topics for Christian Writers: Second Sunday of Advent

Let’s look at an example to see how the lectionary companion might inspire Christian writing. This example will be from Preaching Year A, second Sunday of Advent (Dec 8, 2019). The readings are Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12.

For that week, the Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary, Preaching Year A, discusses themes of justice, hope, and peace.

Here are some topics you might write about for that theme, inspired by the lectionary companion:

  • How Jesus helps those who are oppressed.
  • How does the Holy Spirit bring justice, or peace, or hope?
  • What are the characteristics of the Holy Spirit? How do you know you’re seeing Him in action?
  • Testimony of when the Holy Spirit brought you into peace or gave you hope.
  • Letter of encouragement to someone who needs the Holy Spirit to meet them in their deepest needs.
  • How does hope give us glimpses of God’s kingdom in the midst of a suffering world?
  • How is biblical hope different from worldly hope or from specific concrete outcomes?
  • Who is Jesus as the Prince of Peace?
  • What kind of Peace does Jesus bring? How does it differ from the world’s peace? What are some examples of this contrast?
  • How does Jesus lead us to befriend one another? What are some specific illustrations?
  • What limits do we put on our hope? What does it mean to expect hope beyond those human limits? Testimony of a time when your idea of hope was expanded. When you were willing to stretch your hope, how did God change your heart?
  • How do we recognize the peace of Christ?
  • How does the peace of Christ differ from earthly peace? What are some examples of this contrast?
  • How do we move deeper into the peace Jesus offers? Helpful tips. Or what kind of story might illustrate this process?
  • Where does the world tempt us with its definition of peace, leading us away from the peace of Christ?
  • What wounding in us causes us to be tempted toward the world’s peace and away from the peace of Christ?
  • How do Isaiah and Paul (in the scripture verses above) suggest we (as individuals or as a church) move deeper into justice, hope, and peace?
  • How does our church relate to people who feel like outcasts or misfits? What would Isaiah or Paul say about it?
  • What do we need to repent of to see greater justice, hope, and peace in our midst?
  • How do we renew our hope?
  • What is the hope Jesus calls us to?

Those are just a few of the topics you might be inspired to write about after reading the lectionary companion for the second Sunday of Advent. If you dig deeper in prayer, you’ll have even more ideas and/or you can drill down further into one of these topics. Each week has new scriptures, new themes, and lots of inspiration for Christian writers.

Always Begin with Prayer

As always, read the scriptures and the lectionary companion prayerfully. See what God highlights for you, what stands out to you or speaks to your heart the most. Pray about which topic to work on next. Then present that topic to the Lord and let Him inspire you for how to approach it. There are so many different ways to write about each topic. Different angles, different readers, different testimonies, different types of writing. Your way will be as unique as you are in this moment.

As you grow in your Christian writing life, you will find many sources of inspiration. The Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary is just one helpful source that I have enjoyed using. It can help you find themes, images, and tangible questions and applications from the lectionary readings. Of course, remember your Bible readings should always begin and end with prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit.

Writing While Growing: Some Tips for Christian Writers

A friend and I were talking this weekend about Christian writing. Our conversation touched on a common concern of Christian writers, the concern of writing something that will lead someone astray. I have often told writers (and prayer ministers) that as long as you have that healthy concern, I am not worried about you. You are likely to be diligent and discerning, bringing everything before God and asking for feedback from trusted individuals before you publish anything. You will also be more humble in your writing, acknowledging what you don’t know and inviting your readers to explore along with you as you grow together. That is a healthy approach to writing.

The problem is that sometimes this healthy concern expands into paralyzing fear, and nothing ever gets written. The question “When do I know enough to write about it?” never finds its answer. Readers miss out because you were ready and you had something helpful to share, but fear kept you from publishing.

The conversation with my friend went more in-depth about this concern, and I would like to share some of what we touched on, in case it helps another writer with similar questions.

Sometimes Growth Means Re-Editing at a Later Date

My friend had observed how sometimes people write and publish their perspective on a Christian-related topic, assuming they have done their research. Then at a later date, after continued research and growth, they change their perspective. Should they have written that first piece or waited until they learned more? Of course, every situation is unique, so it’s hard to answer that question in general. But here goes my attempt.

Here is one example that came immediately to mind. This weekend, I re-edited one of my blog articles I wrote 7 years ago about centering prayer. Recently, I have discovered that some of the books I’ve read about centering prayer have been confusing for readers who are new to the topic. So I don’t want to refer to those books in a basic blog article. I went back to edit and remove the book references. If I had time to give a thorough background teaching, I might have left the book references in. But really the article was about spending quiet time with God. It wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive teaching about centering prayer. So I removed the reference to the books and republished the blog post with just the centering prayer reflections I had shared.

That’s an example of how we can write something where we are at in the moment, and then re-edit it later as we grow, learn, and discuss. In September 2012 when I first published that blog post, I was actively engaged in dialogue with those books for my own learning. I was also being taught about centering prayer in two separate venues: in seminary and in a ministry internship. So I had a deep contextual understanding (historical teaching, experiential training) of centering prayer. The books made sense to me, and I was able to take the meat and spit out the bones. But it wasn’t until I engaged those topics in a wider audience that I realized those books are not for newbies. If I didn’t plan to share the entire training in that blog post (would have been a book, not a blog article!), then I needed to not make reference to those particular books.

The Challenges for Readers and Writers

The reason for my concern is, as my friend mentioned in our conversation, unfortunately many people will read something and take it in at surface level without praying about it, asking questions, or digging deeper. Unfortunately many people who read Christian online content aren’t taught about accountability, even though the Bible reminds us of wisdom and safety in a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6). But many people aren’t taught that. Ideally when someone reads an article written by someone they don’t know, and it hits them sideways, they should go to people they trust and get their feedback. And also take it to God for His guidance. But so many people aren’t taught to do that. And if they know the author personally, then ideally they should ask the author first to explain. That not only helps the reader find clarity but might also help the author rewrite to clarify. So that is one of the challenges on the reader’s side.

On the writer’s side, often we write from the season we are in. And where else can (or should) we write from? We have to write from where we are sitting at the time. Otherwise we will never write. Then later, we experience growth, and maybe that shapes our perspective in ways that the reader can see the growth in our writing over time. Think about an author you have read for many years. I’ll bet you can literally see that author’s spiritual growth and life experiences shape the things she writes. In most situations, this growth will be gradual and will tend to move more deeply in the same direction. But in other cases we, as writers, may do an about face and realize something we said earlier does not line up with where our spiritual growth has brought us.

Ideally we will remember things we wrote earlier. If something needs to be edited or updated, we should go back and either change it or write a note updating it (or possibly delete it), or we can even create a new edition of a book with a new introduction explaining the changes. The reason for doing this is that the meat of the book is still valid, but we want to add a new perspective or context based on what we have learned over the years.

Sometimes an author has to just say they have changed their view, especially when it’s a sea change. And they need to be transparent and public about this. If they are influential or have a big following, they need to say it out loud and publicly. A prominent author that I read did that recently. He did a complete about face on a writing practice he had promoted for years. He publicly wrote a letter to his readers and told them he had changed and why he had changed.

For my own example, I originally wrote a guide to devotional writing. I wrote it 13 years ago, and 99% of it is still correct. But I no longer believe that a writer should write a devotional every day. I can’t even believe I said that, let alone believed it. That was before I had any inner healing. I hadn’t learned how to rest, to just “be,” and to let God order the rhythm of my day. If I were still in the writing community I was with at that time, I would issue a public correction of that guide. But that community no longer exists. So I simply took the guide off my website. Maybe one day I will have time to change the guidelines and republish them. But for now, they are just removed from my website because I no longer want to say anything remotely like that to a writer. Instead I spent the summer telling my online writing group why I haven’t been writing lately and why it is okay if they are having the same experience.

Writers Are Always Growing

We are always in a growing process spiritually. As Christian writers, we have the responsibility to do due diligence and make sure what we write lines up with scripture and God’s nature at the time when we are writing a particular piece, whether it be an article or a book. We need to be sure to ask for feedback on our work (before we publish) from trusted individuals who have a clearly demonstrated close walk with the Lord. This step is especially important in the age of blogging and self-publishing, where we lack the traditional layers of feedback that we would have found in working with Christian publishing houses. We also have the responsibility to follow spiritual health and growth practices like accountability, inner healing, and spending time with God and in His Word.

But we are always going to be growing. So we may, to the best of our understanding, write something that rings true at the time. But later we change our understanding and rewrite it from a place of growth. And ideally we help our readers see that transition where necessary, especially with a major about face.

We are accountable for the words we write – not just at the moment, but long after they are in print. While we are not responsible for someone’s response to our words, we do need to be aware of what we have spoken and repent when we realize our words may have been amiss. If we wrote and published something in the past, and now we realize that we were wrong, we ask and receive forgiveness. We ask God to help those who may have been confused by our words. That’s all part of growing up in Christ. And we take whatever steps are needed to publicly correct or remove those words so they don’t affect others. We’re like teenagers growing up under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We make mistakes. We learn. We repent (means a complete change of heart in a new direction, i.e., the direction of God). We take responsibility for what we have published in the past to the best of our ability and ask God what we need to do to make it right. We don’t engage in self-destruction by beating ourselves up. And we move on as God leads us. We write again.

As writers, we engage in a two-way interaction with readers. The reader also has the responsibility to use discernment, feedback, clarification, and accountability rather than just taking things in superficially. If something doesn’t sit right, the reader needs to look into it or take the meat and spit out the bones. So both the reader and writer share responsibility for how a piece is written and consumed, always taking things before God and getting wise counsel on both ends of the process.

As writers, we are also avid readers (or should be). So, we need to remember this responsibility when we are in reader mode as well. And as reader-writers, we need to be careful not to judge the authors we read for the mistakes they make. Not only does the Bible tell us not to judge others (Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 2:1-3), but also in the ways we judge other writers, we might end up reaping those judgments in possibly greater proportion in our own writing (Galatians 6:7-9, Hosea 8:7). We need to read responsibly and stay accountable for the words we consume as readers. When we read something that seems amiss, we need to realize it could just as easily be us writing that way. We are called to forgive that writer for their mistakes, as we would hope others would do for us (Luke 6:31-36). Reading the heartfelt words of other writers is a privilege that comes with a reminder to stay humble in our writing.

No Fear

As long as we do our due diligence in our writing, we don’t need to be bound up by fear that would prevent us from publishing where we are in the moment. If we have done our best to use discernment and to be sure our work lines up with God and His Word, and if we have sought healthy and trustworthy feedback, we don’t need to be afraid to publish our work. We are always growing. If we wait till we have completely grown, we will never publish anything. (See my article “When It’s Time to Hit ‘Publish.’”) And people will miss out on the blessing of the writing we could have shared with them.

People read things from where they are spiritually at that time. So a writer who has just gone through a stage of growth may be writing for someone just going through that stage, and who better to write it? Further down the road they might both be in a different place. But the writer can trust that God used that written piece to encourage that reader at that particular point in time.

Limits, and What to Do with Them

I do think also a writer has to know her limits. If there is a part of the Bible she doesn’t understand, maybe she needs to write about something more familiar to her. She might need to spend a season growing in that area she doesn’t understand, before writing about it. But she shouldn’t be afraid to embrace that area of growth and step into it.

The writer may say, “I should just forget about that passage. It’s too hard for me.” But if God prompted it, that’s a great invitation to learn and grow. She shouldn’t just dismiss it as “out of reach.” Maybe she has a helpful perspective for sharing it with readers, and maybe that’s why she should be writing about it. The writer’s personal and unique life experiences might give her the right approach to share that scripture passage in a way that will resonate with certain readers. If the writer is willing to learn and grow, she may be writing about that passage before long in ways that surprise her.

Or maybe that particular Bible passage is not for her to write about but for her own personal growth instead. It also might be a stepping stone that will lead to writing about something else altogether.

No matter what, if she feels prompted by God, she shouldn’t dismiss it. I never thought I could write about Exodus 32-34 (or any passage from Exodus for that matter) until I took the time to immerse myself in Inductive Bible Study of that passage. I would have thought it was impossible for me to understand. But if I hadn’t worked through it, I would have missed the rich teaching and truths in that passage that are so helpful for intercessors in understanding how God responds to our intercession.

Granted, the writer who moves forward with a passage that is difficult for her does need to take the time to understand it first, at least enough for what she will be writing about. This is where the use of reliable, trustworthy commentaries can be helpful. Also, the writer should know (or get to know) some pastors or Spirit-led teachers that can help give feedback and perspective. It’s helpful to have several such people to ask questions of (wisdom and safety in a multitude of counselors, Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6) and be sure they come from different life perspectives.

Seek Feedback from Trusted Individuals with a Variety of Life Perspectives

I once had a pastor disagree with how I wrote about a particular Bible story. So I quit writing about that topic. Later I talked with other pastors who agreed with my perspective. What I realized was that the first pastor I asked about it was a happily married man. He didn’t see things from the perspective of a woman who had been through an abusive marriage. He didn’t understand the dynamics that come with that experience.

In the story I wrote, my emphasis was on how my personal anger (although certainly understandable and even partly righteous anger) had turned into bitter, long-term anger that continued to hurt me. This anger would have led me to cause further abuse if I hadn’t allowed God to heal me. My anger certainly did lead me to many more years of self-abuse. That wasn’t something the pastor could relate to. I believe he thought I was being unmerciful toward people who have been abused (in his defense, he didn’t know I had been abused). In reality, I was talking about the long-term damage that continues to affect a person long after they have been removed from the situation of abuse – the pain that comes with long-term bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, and self-hatred. Often that damage has far worse consequences over time than the initial abuse, no matter how violent that abuse had been. We often do far deeper damage to ourselves than anyone else ever could. (I am the poster child for that, and I thank God for my healing.) The story I wrote ultimately showed how both abuser and abused person needed to seek Jesus’ healing at the cross.

It’s unfortunate that I stopped writing about those topics at that time. I would have written from a fresh perspective on it that might have resonated with people going through or recovering from abuse. I was remiss in not seeking out other pastors to talk to, instead of just listening to one person’s opinion. I failed to recognize that he didn’t have the life experience to see where I was going with the story I was writing. I also neglected to push back and discuss it further with him. That last point, had I done it, might have led to a fruitful discussion where he could have helped me see how to write it more clearly, and it also might have helped him grow in his understanding of his parishioners who were struggling with abuse. If not, the discussion might have led me to see why he couldn’t understand, so that I wouldn’t have dismissed a potential calling to write and publish on the internet for readers who were struggling with abuse.

Not All of Your Readers Are Christian

Whether we write on the internet or write books or articles for magazines, many of our readers may not be Christian. That is all the more reason for us to do our due diligence as writers and communicate clearly when we have experienced growth that changes or clarifies something we wrote – or in some cases to remove it or take it out of print if we are concerned it would lead someone astray.

At the same time, when we are writing pieces about spiritual growth for Christian readers, we don’t have the time or space to include everything that someone would need to understand if they are not Christian or if they are a new Christian. They are not our intended audience for that article or that book. The church needs to provide that growth and understanding for them. So we need to point them in the direction of a healthy church.

This is a reminder that we, as writers, should offer (in our books, on our websites, etc.) an invitation to pray for salvation, an actual prayer of salvation, and encouragement for that person to find a good church (and explain what that looks like). I try to include a salvation prayer and encouragement to find a healthy church in each of my books. But as I write this, I realize I don’t have such a prayer on my website or my blog. That will be the next section I add on my website.

Do Write

To sum up, I think it’s important that writers do their best to bring due diligence into their writing, to be sure it’s in line with God’s Word and His nature, and to get feedback and wisdom from multiple and trusted perspectives. I also think writers need to be diligent about their continued spiritual growth, inner healing, Bible study, prayer, accountability, and intentional quiet time with God.

Additionally, I think writers have a responsibility to be aware of what they have published in the past. When they experience a major change in perspective through a season of growth, they should make those new insights publicly available for their readers, either by publishing a new book edition with a new intro or republishing an article with a new intro. If that’s not possible – e.g., if a publishing company won’t let them – then at least they can share their insights publicly by writing a new article or delivering a podcast that informs their readers of their new perspective.

At the same time, I believe readers need to take responsibility for how they take in and respond to what they read, similar to those things mentioned above – accountability, wisdom from a multitude of counselors, their own Bible study and spiritual growth, and asking the author to clarify when they have questions. I think this is how God designed us to be in the body of Christ. And how wonderful if a piece of writing can inspire and remind us to practice these spiritual disciplines and ways of fellowship and accountability in the body of Christ.

If you are a Christian writer, let God lead you in all that you write. Practice spiritual health, growth, and discernment. Ask trusted people for feedback on your writing. Stay accountable and humble.

But do write. Do not be afraid. Trust the Holy Spirit to prompt you and help you. So many readers will be blessed.

Don’t Let Commentaries Slow Your Christian Writing

When I teach Christian writing classes, I emphasize the importance of Bible study. Christian writers have an incredible privilege of inspiring and encouraging readers to draw closer to God and to dig deeper into His Word. That means writers need to know the Bible and have a solid foundation for presenting scripture in their writing.

This doesn’t mean a devotional writer needs to be a scholar of biblical texts. But there are some basics that anyone writing about scripture needs to practice. One of these is the use of reliable biblical commentaries.

When I mention commentaries, a creative writer may sigh and think, There goes the inspiration or There goes the fun or even There goes the Holy Spirit. I get it. I often have the same response. But learning how to use reliable commentaries in minimal ways is important for Christian writers. And the use of commentaries does not need to slow or make tedious our inspirational writing.

I am creating this article as an encouragement to Christian inspirational writers on the importance of using commentaries and some simple and interesting ways to do so.

Why Should We Use Commentaries in Our Christian Writing?

As Christian writers, we need to look at reliable commentaries. Through our writing, we are expressing our voice in Christian community. We need to converse with others in the community over time and space. That need to engage in dialogue is also why we check more than one commentary and see where we find overlap, consensus, or disagreement. I recommend always consulting at least two commentaries to enhance our understanding of a particular Bible passage.

In our writing, we are pointing our readers to God’s Word. We need to understand the weight of doing that. We want to be sure we are presenting scripture in a way that reflects our own dialogue with Christian community, so we are presenting to the reader as a representative of that community. We’re all in this together.

We need to take some effort to grow in our understanding of scripture over the course of our writing lives. The Holy Spirit leads us as we search the depths of scripture. Commentaries offer a good aid along the way.

Our own wounding can cause us to skew the way we understand a Bible verse. Commentaries can help us sort it through and see more clearly.

The enemy loves to mess with Christian writers, telling us one or more of the following: our understanding of scripture is wrong or not good enough; we don’t have the biblical foundation to write about scripture; or we’re going to lead readers astray. The enemy wants to stop us from writing because he knows how powerfully God will use our writing. By consulting reliable commentaries, we will be able to discern and dismiss the lies of the enemy.

When we love scripture, as most Christian writers do, a good, trustworthy commentary can also provide insights that deepen our understanding of a Bible passage. That experience is something to treasure and appreciate. Good commentaries should add joy to the inspirational process of our Christian writing.

Some Tips for Using Commentaries with Ease

Consider your use of commentaries as part of your ongoing long-term biblical growth as a writer. Don’t let it slow your writing. Let your exploration of God’s Word (a lifelong process for all of us) continue to shape your writing as you go along. Start with where you are right now. Take it as God leads. He will guide you for sure!

1. When you start working with a Bible verse, don’t go to the commentaries right away. Begin with your own prayerful work with the Holy Spirit. Don’t consult commentaries until after you have done your own study of the Bible verse and surrounding passages. You want God to work the scriptures into your heart first. Then use the commentaries for confirmation and to shed light on additional layers to explore later.

2. Find your go-to source of commentaries now, so it doesn’t become a big deal each time. It is worth the up-front investment of time to line up the commentaries you will use as a writer. Start with your church. Does your church have a library? Ask your pastor for suggestions on how to find good, reliable commentaries. (Sadly, not all commentaries are trustworthy, so seek advice from your pastor.)

Do you have a college nearby with online databases? Many local colleges give free public access to databases, and many of those databases contain biblical commentaries. Some school library databases also have free online access to full-text articles that may focus on particular biblical passages. You can often search by chapter and verse. I recommend peer-reviewed articles as the most reliable. Talk to your local college reference librarian for help. They will be glad you’ve asked.

Commentaries can be expensive to buy, but keep your eyes on your favorite publishers. Sometimes they run sales on commentaries, and you will often find good discounts on e-book versions. If you enjoy working with a particular book of the Bible, it might be worth it to buy a good commentary focusing on that book.

Do you have fellow Christian writers in your church or community? Maybe create your own co-op for commentaries. Each person buys one, and then you share with each other.

If you invest the time up front to find good sources of commentaries, you will save time down the road when you are ready to consult those commentaries. You will know exactly where to go each time.

3. Start with Bible verses you know well. One of the best ways to get your feet wet with using commentaries is to start with Bible verses you already know. When you know the meaning of a verse really well, the use of a commentary won’t bring a huge learning curve. It will simply confirm what you already know. That’s one of the easiest ways to get used to looking at commentaries.

A commentary brings you into dialogue with Christian community regarding the interpretation of a Bible verse. For some of the more commonly referenced Bible verses, you have already lived out that dialogue in Christian community. You know the interpretation of that verse and can be confident of how you are sharing it with your readers.

When I chose the Bible verse for my devotional, “Firelight,” I was very certain the core message in my devotional expressed at least part of the meaning of that verse. Why? Because I’ve heard that verse taught, preached, sung, and lived out over my entire life. I had already experienced conversation about the verse in Christian community.

So, start with Bible verses you have heard taught and discussed many times. Verses you know well. Then see how the commentaries reaffirm what you already know. That’s a great way to get used to using commentaries.

4. Start by reading just a few paragraphs from a commentary. For devotional writing and many other inspirational writing projects, you will most likely focus on one Bible verse at a time. You don’t need to read a huge portion of a commentary, just the part that covers your verse. You can read more, of course, but don’t let that cause you to put your writing project on hold. Take baby steps and grow from there. Take a quick peek at the commentaries and keep writing.

5. When you start out, you will notice how much the commentary agrees with your own understanding of your Bible verse. That shouldn’t surprise you because you know God’s Word. That’s really all you need to do: just confirm your understanding of that verse with reliable sources. It’s great if you want to explore further and discover where the commentary offers new insights. If you have a really good commentary, you may find that enjoyable. But you don’t need to do that at the start. Simply confirm: “Yep. We agree!”

6. Remember Bible verses will often have layers and nuances of meaning. If you are writing devotionals, your message will be very focused. You will just be looking at one aspect of the Bible verse you are writing about. You can skim the commentary, looking for your particular focus, and skip all the other aspects the commentary covers. That way you won’t get overwhelmed by all the layers of meaning.

When you are starting out as a Christian inspirational writer, keep it simple. Take one step, then another. With each step, you will move more deeply into your journey of Christian writing. Before long, commentaries will become a simple and natural part of prayerful preparation for your writing.

 

On Writing Testimonies that Mention Others

Lately I’ve been helping some of my ministry colleagues edit their testimonies, especially of inner healing and forgiveness. One question I’ve been asked often is, “How do you tell your story of healing in a way that honors the people you have had to forgive?”

That’s one of the biggest challenges in sharing a testimony. It’s not easy. But I have learned it can be done.

Here is one thing that helps me as I’m writing about healing and forgiveness regarding other people: I try to keep the focus on me. One of the pioneers of inner healing, John Sandford, taught that we are responsible for our sinful reactions to what others did (good or bad).

If I’m writing about childhood neglect or trauma, I’m not going to make my parents the focus. I won’t talk about what they might have done wrong. Instead, as I am writing, I’m going to focus on the ways I reacted to the circumstances, how my own reactions affected me, and how I sought God for my healing.

When people read about my healing, they don’t need to know what happened. Most readers will relate it to their own circumstances anyway, so the less detail, the better.

Childhood wounding can occur from genuine abuse or neglect. It can also occur from a child’s perceptions of parents’ behavior. Perhaps a parent did nothing overtly wrong but simply was unable to meet what the child needed or wanted. The child sees that as hurtful, even though the parent might have been loving.

Our healing is about our own reactions, not about what our parents did or didn’t do. It is possible to keep the focus largely on ourselves as we write about how God has healed us.

That’s how I approached my book I Choose Life. I talk about my sinful reactions to my parents and husband. The focus is not on them. It’s on me. The reader doesn’t need to know any more than that.

There may be certain difficult parts of our testimonies that need to be shared. If I am writing a book or a blog post to help women recovering from abuse, I will need to share that I have recovered from abuse. I will also need to let them see, through my writing, that I understand what they are going through.

Notice how the focus, again, is on my own experience, not on the person who was abusive toward me. I am trying to share enough to identify with my readers in their pain, without bringing into the story the person who hurt me. The focus becomes my hurt and what Jesus did to heal me.

If I am writing about my personal healing from generational sin, I’m going to have to name the sin that has been passed down in the family line. But I’m not going to name names or specific ways that people (other than myself) participated in that sin.

One of the biggest challenges was an article I wrote recently, “Honor Is Not the Same as Tolerance,” about how my mother struggled with bitterness, and how I never honored her by helping to lift that off of her. In my case, it is somewhat easier to write about my parents because neither one is living. But there are individuals – family and friends – who will read these articles and who knew my parents. So I still want to honor my parents’ memories. Not only that, but I always want to talk about my parents in honoring ways.

So I was careful how I described my mom’s participation with bitterness. Again, I kept the focus more on myself: how I dishonored her, and how in healing, I learned how to rightly honor her. Even so, I asked a trusted friend to read the article before I published it. She confirmed that my writing honored my mom.

Why go to all the trouble of writing about these challenging situations? Because I believe that God can use our healing testimonies to heal others. Having worked with mothers, wives, sisters, daughters at a men’s addiction recovery center, I know it’s important to share the testimony that enabling is not the same as honoring. I also know it’s important to help women see how bitterness undermines their well-being – and how subtle it is, and how it often stems from wounding in a sensitive heart. So it was worth it to me to write and publish the article about my relationship with my mom, if it could help someone else.

As I mentioned, my parents aren’t living. That makes my challenge a little less than for someone whose parents are alive. If you are writing about a situation that affects living family members, and if you are in active relationship with those people, put yourself in each person’s heart. Imagine what they will feel when they read your healing testimony in print – especially as it relates to issues of their past.

It doesn’t matter that you have left out their names and identifying information, or even changed the details. They will still know they are reading about something that involved them. That can create a feeling of being very exposed, even when it’s in the past and healed. Hearing something spoken and seeing it in print are two very different experiences. It is hard to see our sins immortalized in print.

I recommend that you sit down and talk with them about what you are writing. Tell them when and where you will publish it. Help them to know what they will see when they read it. Also help them understand why you are writing this – as a testimony of how God brought healing, with the hope that this testimony will help others.

Again, this sort of conversation is only in situations where you are in a current and active relationship. If you have been freed from an abusive situation, please do not go back there. Find a place in your community that offers safe, professional help.

For some testimonies, it may be necessary to use a pseudonym or to publish the story as fiction. I have edited life stories and coached authors in both of those situations, and they were able to convey to readers the hope and power of their testimonies, without concern that readers would identify their families or other living people.

Even so, their families might recognize their own circumstances that led to the development of that testimony, even when told with a pseudonym or as a fictional narrative. So the authors honored their families by speaking with them prior to publication and explaining why they wrote the stories to help people. They also honored their children (those who were old enough) by helping them understand the genuine circumstances of the authors’ own lives that led to those testimonies.

It is especially important to have those conversations when a work is fictionalized. Fictional characters do not and should not reflect living people, and fictional story plots are developed in ways that do not mirror the true story that inspired the fictional one. So it’s doubly important that you talk to people in your life who might otherwise think you have created fictional characters to represent them.

Above all, pray and ask God to help you in writing difficult testimonies. If God puts it on your heart to share, don’t shy away from it. The benefits to others will be worth it. He will make a way for you.

 

 

 

5 Self-Editing Tips for Christian Writers

Every written, published piece is a reflection of several different processes: writing, several rounds (and types) of editing, proofreading, formatting, and publishing. Often we think of the whole process as “writing a piece,” but it’s important to look at those individual steps of the process. All must be done well in order to delight the reader with the finished piece.

While many types of editing go into producing a finished piece, today I want to look at simple self-editing steps. If you are writing an article or a devotional for your blog, you might not go through as many editing stages as you would for a book. But you at least want to take some simple self-editing steps to be sure your piece is polished for your readers. The same goes for preparing a manuscript for a professional editor to read. If you are working with an editor, you want to self-edit first, and give that editor the best piece you can.

Following are five self-editing tips for the Christian writer – and you will want to begin each round of editing with prayer, inviting the Holy Spirit to guide you through the process.

1. Remove the word “that.”

“That” is a word we tend to overuse in writing because it helps us think and make connections. While “that” may be part of your mental process in writing, your reader doesn’t need to see it. Each time your reader sees “that,” it breaks up the flow of the piece. You want your reader to immerse herself in your writing and engage the story, the testimony, the wisdom you are sharing – not focus on the words, especially empty words like “that.”

Go ahead and write “that” in your first draft. You should never edit yourself while you are writing the first draft, otherwise you will block the flow from heart to paper. But after you complete your first draft, spend your first round of editing eliminating “that.” And yes, occasionally you really will need to use “that” for the meaning of the sentence. But “that” will happen about 5% of the time. Most instances of the word “that” can be removed without affecting the meaning of your sentences.

2. Remove or limit your use of adverbs.

I realized I had an “adverb problem” when a friend, who is not a native speaker of English, read a chapter I had written. She pointed to a sentence: “The boat cut sharply through the water.” With brow furrowed, she said, “Doesn’t it mean the same thing? Sharply and cut?” She had a point.

Most of the adverbs we write are not needed by our readers. If our verbs are strong to begin with, they don’t need boosting. The verb “cut” is very descriptive for a moving boat. It creates imagery of water parting with sharp edges. No need to add “sharply.” When we over-describe, it weakens the imagery formed in our readers’ minds.

Again, it’s okay to write adverbs into your first draft. The first draft is all about getting the word imagery from heart to paper. But when you self-edit, make one round focused on “marking up” your adverbs. If you edit with a printed draft, circle the adverbs. If you use a computer, use the built-in highlighter to mark the adverbs. The reason for doing this is that you may want to leave a few of them in for color or texture. But first, circle or mark them all. Then cut about 95%. Leave a strategic few – and know exactly why you have chosen to leave those few.

3. Remove or minimize your use of exclamation marks.

When overused, exclamation marks have the opposite effect of what you intend. An exclamation mark minimizes the impact of a sentence. The more you use them, the less emphatic your writing will be.

Instead, create impact through your choice of words and sentence structure. Use strong verbs. Create atmosphere through succinct descriptive phrases and action. Vary sentence length to build tension. Let your reader be moved by the sentence without the need for an exclamation mark.

To test this out, write a paragraph about an exciting event. Make two copies. On the first copy, add an exclamation mark to the end of each sentence. On the second copy, be sure every sentence ends with just a period (unless it needs a question mark). Put the two paragraphs aside for a few days. Then go back and read them. Pay attention to how you react to the exclamation marks. Which version sounds better? Which is more impactful? Why?

You can still use exclamation marks in your writing. But use them sparingly. Be sure you have a very good reason when you use one.

4. Read out loud and listen for awkward-sounding phrases or anything that makes you stumble or trip.

It’s a phenomenon of the human eyes and brain, but when we write something and spend time tweaking it, our brain tends to smooth over things as we read it back to ourselves. It’s hard to tell, just by re-reading your own work, whether or not it will sound smooth to your readers.

It will help if you do the following:

Put it aside for a day or two. Then read it to yourself out loud. Listen for any awkwardness. Then ask someone else to read it out loud to you. Make a note of where they stumble in their reading (ask them to put a quick mark on that place). Also make a note or what sounds awkward to you when you hear it. And make a note of what doesn’t come across the way you intended. Go back and edit those places. Then read them out loud again until it sounds right.

5. Read with all five of your senses.

A powerful piece creates a sense of texture. Your readers can engage your written piece with all five senses. This doesn’t always come through in your initial writing process. Most often, texture comes through editing.

Consider reading through your piece five different times. Each time, focus on one of your senses. What can you hear? How can you bring more “hearing” into the piece. What can you smell? How can you heighten the piece so your reader will come away with a certain fragrance? If you describe an object, can your readers feel it? Days after they finished reading your piece, so they feel as if they really touched that object?

Weaving the five senses into your writing is not something you want to overdo. You should choose a few effective places to bring sensory texture. As you edit, you will see the most ideal places to engage your readers’ sense of sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing. A little effort spent on a few such places will give greater impact to your piece.

Self-editing takes time. It should be done in several rounds, not all at once. For each round, decide what you will look for and work on. One round might be for removing adverbs. Another round might be to develop the sense of smell. Take the time to shape your written piece. It will make all the difference for your reader.

Even so, part of editing is knowing when you are done. A piece can be perfected infinitely more than it needs to be. Take several rounds to shape your work for optimal impact. But then, decide to be done. Publish your piece and share it. That’s why you wrote it, after all.

Bonus Exercise

This exercise might help you practice editing. On Sunday, I published a portion of a letter I wrote while serving as a visiting lecturer in Russia 21 years ago. This letter was handwritten and unedited. I published the text “as is” to preserve authenticity. But it’s a goldmine of all the things I would want to eliminate through self-editing.

I hadn’t taken any writing or editing classes when I wrote this letter – that will be obvious when you read it. I started my writing/editing career the following year. When I returned home from Russia, I had so much to write about that I dove into learning the craft.

Take a look at the first letter, and see what stands out from the above self-editing tips (especially tips 1-4). You will find a lot! You can add to the above list my overuse of semi-colons.

The letter will open in a new page, so you can refer back to the tips on this page while you are reading the letter. Portions of the letter will be published in four parts over the next few Sundays, so you will have several opportunities to practice.

 

My Formatting Checklist for Self-Publishing Your Book

I’m in the middle of formatting two books for self-publishing – one for a client and one for myself. I thought I would share my formatting checklist while it’s fresh in mind. It’s the details that can make the difference between a “published” book and a professional-looking book.

I have a long history of self-publishing experience, and I am particular about how things are done. It’s possible to take shortcuts, but I don’t recommend it. Creating a book is a lot of work. Don’t drop the ball when it comes to the final stages of formatting your book. You deserve the best!

The following checklist is my minimum to create the quality book I desire. Fortunately, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing has made this much easier and more affordable than when I first started out 15 years ago.

1. Title Page

Be sure your book begins with a Title Page, which contains simply your title, sub-title (if any), and author name, all centered in the page and spaced appropriately. Just list your name. Do not use “By” (on your Title Page or on your book cover), as that will be the first sign of an amateur publication. Your Title Page should be a right-facing page, i.e., on the right side if the book were open.

2. Copyright Page 

The Copyright Page is the very next page, which would be a left-facing page on the reverse side of your Title Page. Space all the way to the bottom of the page and include your copyright text. Center your text. I keep mine very simple:

Copyright © 2018 Janet Lynn Eriksson

All rights reserved.

[Scripture copyright info, if relevant]

ISBN: xxxxxxxxxx

ISBN-13: xxx-xxxxxxxxxx

Unless you want to be your own publisher and purchase your own series of ISBNs, Kindle Direct Publishing (and probably most self-publishing services) will give you a free ISBN. For Kindle e-books, an ISBN isn’t even required.

Where you see (above) “scripture copyright info,” please be aware that if you quote from the Bible, you need to list the copyright info for the particular translation(s) you have used. Visit the website of your Bible translation(s) and you will find a copyright “blurb” that you can insert into your book. You will also find on their website what your limitations are. In other words, your Bible quotes cannot exceed a certain percentage of the total word count of your book.

Note that on Word, you can make the copyright symbol simply by writing (c) and then hitting “Enter.”

3. Dedication 

The Dedication is a page that comes after the Copyright Page, and it should be a right-facing page. Write a short dedication in the center of the page – ideally just a few words and no more than a few lines. The Dedication is optional – only if you want to include it.

4. Table of Contents

The Table of Contents comes next, and again this is a right-facing page. At the beginning of your book, you will have several of these right-facing pages. This means you will need to leave a blank left-facing page in between each right-facing page. If in doubt, stop by your local bookstore and look at how this is done in different books. Be sure you are looking at books from reputable publishers, as they will have produced a book with correct formatting.

Your Table of Contents should make it easy for readers to navigate the chapters of your book. You might include main chapters as well as larger divisions like “Part I” and “Part II.” But don’t get too cumbersome. If you have a lot of sub-titles within your chapters, it’s not necessarily helpful to include this in the Table of Contents. Think about your reader and keep it simple.

I edited and formatted a book for one client whose book contained several hundred one-minute reflections, each on a different page. While I would love to have included a Table of Contents, it would have been 20+ pages long. That’s too much. So his readers have to search a bit to find a particular reflection.

If you are creating a Kindle e-book, it would be helpful to use an actively linking Table of Contents format (such as the one that comes with Word) so that your readers can click on the link and be taken directly to that page. Kindle is very hard to navigate if the Table of Contents does not include active links.

5. Acknowledgments 

Your Acknowledgments (be sure you spell it right, I always have to triple check!) comes next and is also a right-facing page. This page is optional. Many people enjoy the opportunity to thank those who have helped and inspired them in preparing their book. If you don’t want to include this page, that is okay too.

If you plan to write mostly Kindle books (with less emphasis on print books), you might want to skip this page. Kindle readers often prefer to dive straight into the meat of the book. Kindle gives your readers a free preview of a certain number of pages. Reading this preview is often the key that helps readers decide to purchase your Kindle book. They start reading, get caught up in your story, and they want to keep going. When you include a lot of acknowledgments and other preliminary info, this takes up many of the free preview pages. Your readers will get less exposure to the meat of your book, and they might even give up and stop reading the preview.

That being said, it’s your book! You’ve worked hard to write it, and you deserve to include whatever sections you would like. Set it up in a way that pleases you.

6. Introductory Insertions

After the Acknowledgments, you can jump straight into your first chapter if you want. Or you can include a brief introduction or some type of lead-in note. For example, in one of my books I included a separate page that contained the scripture verse (written out in the center of the page) that was the theme of the book. These types of introductory material are all optional. If you choose to include them, be sure they are right-facing pages.

Please be aware that most readers skip introductions. If you can do without an Introduction (and make your back cover copy and Amazon book description do the heavy lifting), then go ahead and dive right into the content of your book. If you still feel that your book needs an Introduction, I strongly encourage you not to label it as “Introduction,” especially if it’s important material that your reader needs to be aware of before beginning to read the book. When the word “Introduction” appears, readers skip!

If you need to include introductory material, just include the content – with no label. You can write an entire introductory section before Chapter 1, with no label, and readers will probably read it, thinking it is a prologue of sorts (but don’t call it Prologue, or they will skip it). Just let the material sit there on its own, and your readers will probably read it, thinking the book has already started. Or you can simply repackage your introductory material and call it Chapter 1.

7. Chapter Titles and Sub-Titles

You will want to format your Chapter Titles and Chapter Sub-Titles using a larger style “heading.” Depending on the formatting software you use, you might have options available to select for this.

If you are using Word, you can use a style heading and sub-heading. This will also help you create active links in your Table of Contents (Word formatting helps you choose what types of headings or sub-headings you want to include in your Table of Contents). I have found it helpful to use a different type of formatting for pages (such as the Acknowledgments and About the Author pages) that I don’t want to appear in my Table of Contents. I only want my chapter titles to appear in the Table of Contents, so those are the only ones where I will use actual style headings.

You can also insert “separators” – such as three asterisks or three diamonds or some other symbol that you select – to break up long content within a chapter. Or use more sub-titles or sub-headings (but be aware that your Table of Contents will probably pick these up automatically unless you set them up manually).

If you want, you can also style your first paragraphs of each chapter (and first letter of each opening paragraph) differently. Look at different samples of published books to see how this is done.

I prefer that each chapter begins on a right-facing page. Chapter One (or introductory page, if you go that route) should begin with page number 1, which means all right-facing Chapter Titles should be on odd-numbered pages. Some publishers do not follow this standard (I know paper is expensive), but it makes for a cleaner and more professional-looking appearance. If you have larger divisions in your book, such as “Part I” and “Part II,” they would also get their own right-facing page.

It is your choice whether you want to write “Chapter One” before the title of the chapter. You can skip that and just write the title itself, or you can write the numeral 1 followed by the title. If your chapters don’t have titles, just write 1, 2, 3, or One, Two, Three. Novels (fiction) usually have just numbers. For non-fiction books, chapter titles help readers know what to expect from each chapter.

8. Fonts, Line Spacing, and Indentations

Your font selection for your chapter content should be easy to read. Think about your reader. What will be the easiest font to keep your reader turning the pages? Some writers prefer serif fonts (like Times New Roman) and others prefer fonts without serifs (like Arial). Likewise, readers have their own preferences. Resist the temptation to use a font (such as a slim cursive font) that looks beautiful to you, but that your readers will find almost illegible or difficult to read.

Personally I use Garamond size 13 font, and I use a multiple 1.1 spacing between lines. I decided on this after many years of experimenting. Ultimately I chose what is easiest on my (52-year-old) eyes. It is not large print, but it is bigger than regular print. I can actually read it while wearing my (otherwise dysfunctional) trifocals.

You don’t want too much spacing between lines, but you want enough that it looks professionally published. I studied a lot of different published book formats before deciding on the line spacing I use now.

Ultimately you have to choose what makes you happy and what you think your readers can navigate easily. Study professionally published books from reputable publishing houses. Try out different options. Share samples with people and ask for their feedback on ease of reading.

Keep in mind that the larger your font size, the more pages your printed book will have. This is not an issue for Kindle, but if you want to offer a paperback version of your book, more pages means the cost of the book will be higher for your readers. Find a happy medium.

Also, your book will look much more professional and be easier to read if you use full justification. The world will not end if you leave your paragraphs on left justification (I did that for one book – not intentionally, I simply forgot, and it was fine). But it just looks a lot better if you use full justification.

While some writers may prefer the block format of paragraphs (such as the format I’m using on this blog article), your book will look more professionally produced if you indent your paragraphs. (It is a stylistic choice, and you can choose what works best for you.) If you do indent, be sure to use an indentation spacing that is appropriate for published books. This is not the typical five-space default tab indent that you find on most Word documents. It is more like a two-space indent, and it looks more professional.

9. Headers and Page Numbers

Before you format your book, I recommend that you study samples of professionally published books to see how they use their Headers. Many of them will show the author’s name on the left Header and the book title on the right header. Others use different variations. Some are in all upper case, while others are not. The font, ideally, should match your page content, and you might need to change the default if you are using Word.

Page Numbers either appear in the upper corners or at the bottom center of the page. If you are new to self-publishing, I recommend looking at what is standard in your genre before choosing your Header and Page Number format. Who are the top traditional publishing houses in your genre? Check their books and see how they set up their Headers and Page Numbers.

Ideally, these Headers and Page Numbers should appear only on content pages, not on blank pages or preliminary pages (like the Dedication Page, etc.). This requires the use of section breaks. To be honest, this is one place where I compromise my standards. Word section breaks are not as friendly as I would like them to be. I rarely have the patience to deal with them. While my Headers and Page Numbers do not appear until my first chapter, they do appear on blank pages between chapters, and I would prefer that they didn’t. (I think I managed to achieve that with only a few books, and it was a frustrating process.) It’s something I have learned to live with.

10. Trim Size and Gutters

You need to format your book based on your chosen Trim Size (the size of your printed book page). I typically use 6 x 9 for non-fiction books, although with some clients I have used 5 1/2 x 8 1/2. Your format also needs to account for the Gutters. The Gutters are the larger space that you need on the inside margin of a page where it will be caught up in the book’s binding. Keep in mind when you open a book, there is a part of the page in the center, near the binding, that you can’t see or read. An extra-long margin is needed for that Gutter, and the Gutter alternates from left to right as you move through the book.

I self-publish with Kindle Direct Publishing, and they provide a free downloadable template for formatting the book according to Trim Size and including Gutter margins. (They even have one template that includes all of the preliminary pages discussed above.) I highly recommend using some type of pre-formatted template whenever possible. In the old days, the early days of self-publishing, I had to do all of this manually, and it was a lot of extra work. Templates and formatting software help tremendously.

11. About the Author

Your book should end with your About the Author page. It should also be a right-facing page. The content should be formatted just as you have done throughout the chapters of your book, with paragraph indents as needed and full justification. Some templates try to center this content, but I disagree with that format. As always, check samples of professionally published books to find the style you prefer.

Include a short bio of what you want your readers to know about you as the author of this book. If you write multiple books, your author bio can change to reflect different genres. It should be relevant to the readers of that book. You can write your author bio in first or third person.

Include your website, if you have one, or some way for your readers to contact you, if you would like to hear from them. You might want to set up a separate email account for this to minimize spam on your regular email account.

You can include your photo. If your photo is on the back cover of your book, you don’t need to include it again on  your author page, unless you just want to. I know many writers who are reluctant to include their photos. Let me encourage you to please share your photo with your readers. They want to see who you are. It helps them to identify with you.

As you write more books over the years, your bio will no doubt change. It is not necessary to go back and update your originally published bios. People grow and change, and readers are aware of that. However, if you want readers of all your books to have your latest contact information, you might consider going back and updating your old published bios. It may or may not be worth the effort, and only you can decide. If you have an active author website with an email newsletter subscription, along with actively updated author pages on places like Amazon and Goodreads, your readers should be able to find you and keep up with your latest publications.

12. Index

Not every book needs an index, but it’s important to be aware of this option and make the right decision. I have edited and formatted books for various business professionals where an index was important for their readers. Word makes this very easy. The index function allows you to select your words for your index, and then Word will automatically scan your book and compile an index.

Learn from Studying the Professional Publishers

The above is my checklist on book formatting. There is a lot of detail involved, but once you go through this process a few times, it will seem second-nature. Admittedly, formatting is my least favorite part of the book preparation process. But it’s necessary, and it is worth the effort when you see your book in print. As you go along, you will find ways to make the process easier for yourself.

My biggest recommendation, as I have mentioned throughout this article, is that you study books that have been published by the best publishing houses. Figure out what makes their appearance work so well. Mimic what you see.

While I am a big fan of self-publishing, I was trained in traditional publishing. I believe all of us who are self-published can learn a lot from those publishing houses that have been producing high-quality books for such a long time. I don’t have their budget, and I know my books will not look like theirs. But I want to do the best I can with what I have. So I still set my standards to theirs and do my best to meet those standards in whatever ways my budget and time will allow.

My Experience with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing

As I have also mentioned, Kindle Direct Publishing has made this process so much easier. I have downloaded the free “Kindle Create Add-In for Microsoft Word,” and this has alleviated many of my formatting struggles. I do need to give a disclaimer – This software is still in beta, and it has made my Word program a little buggy sometimes, even when I am not using the add-in. However, because I intend to do a lot of Kindle publishing, I’m willing to put up with the bugs. Others may not be quite as willing.

At the very least, you can download Kindle’s free template. I’ve made adjustments to my copy of the template over the years, but I still use that basic template for all of my Kindle Direct Publishing books.

When I tell people I publish with Kindle Direct Publishing, the first thing they ask is, “How much does it cost?” Actually, it doesn’t have to cost anything except the percentage they take out of your book sales price. I literally have put no money into this process, and I receive royalty payments like any other published author when my books sell.

There are certainly areas where you can invest if you have the budget. It’s nice, for example, to hire a professional artist to create a customized book cover. That was always one of my priorities when I had the funds. Maybe it will become a priority again some day. For now, I am content to use the free online “cover creator” provided by Kindle Direct Publishing.

You can also invest in hiring an editor and a proofreader (these should be two different people, and my article “Are You Ready for an Editor?” explains why). I used to hire out for those services as well, and today I offer editing services to self-published authors. But when those kinds of services become a luxury, you can still write and publish your book. You can ask people you know to read over your manuscript and give you feedback on areas they found hard to understand, or places where they would have liked to see more details.

My fifth book is about to come out on Amazon, and I have not put anything into the book other than my time in writing it. Granted, I am an experienced writer and editor. But my point is this: the process of self-publishing doesn’t have to cost anything except your time. If you have a story or message to share (and as a Christian writer, you do!), I would encourage you not to let anything stand in your way of sharing it.

The Best Way to Write Your Book Is Your Way

Many people have asked me the best way to put together a book. I’m talking here about non-fiction books. (Fictional novels are different. Story structure is a whole different art.)

The beauty of book writing is that your book will be as unique as you are. And wouldn’t your readers be sad if it wasn’t? There is no right or wrong way to create your book. The best way is the way that works for you. You need to find your way to bring your words to life for your readers.

And the same thing I teach about all writing applies for book writing as well: Get your heart on paper first, in whatever way you can. All the rest is editing. If you see yourself writing a book, you need to find the best way to get your heart on paper, and then shape the material from there.

Books are like puzzles (except you don’t have the nice picture on the box). You create a book by first creating each puzzle piece. Then you figure out how they link together.

Here are several very different ways of putting books together that are followed by various non-fiction book authors. Maybe these will inspire you. But resist the urge to mold yourself to a particular way. You have to discover what works for you – and God will help you with all of this.

1. Create an Outline

For those who think in a very logical and orderly way, sometimes it’s easiest to start with an outline. The outline might change as you go along, but it gives you a way to get your thoughts on paper. You might list a few topics, and treat each one like a shorter piece of writing – maybe like an article or a journal entry. And just write what you want to say about that topic. When you finish responding to each topic in your outline, you will already have the basis of your book. You can then tweak and shape to your heart’s content. But you’ll have something to work with.

2. Write from Your Heart

For those who prefer not to outline, just write from your heart about the subject of your book. Get everything out that you want to say. Then read through it and label paragraphs with relevant topics. You will start to see topics in common, or themes and threads emerge. The puzzle pieces will start to take shape, and you will see how they fit together into a book.

3. Brainstorm Your Ideas

If you prefer a combination of free-writing with a little outlining, you can try brainstorming about all your ideas on a particular subject. Instead of writing paragraphs, just list your ideas as bullet points. Once you’ve exhausted all your ideas on the subject, look through your bullet points and group items that are related. Those can be the roots of your chapters.

You might even realize that you have more than one book on the subject, and those bullet point topics will help you narrow down your first book. Sometimes brainstorming is the most helpful way to discover which specific topics you are most passionate about concerning your book’s subject. It might surprise you!

4. Talk into a Voice Recorder

Sometimes it’s easiest to talk into a voice recorder. At one time, I ghostwrote a novel for a client, based on his life story. Once we had mapped out the scenes, I literally “talked” the scenes into the voice recorder. This helped the characters and scenes come alive for me. (It was fun!) I then transcribed the voice recordings and molded and edited the material into what would become the finished book.

5. Write for Your Blog

Another way to create a book is to blog on a particular subject. Take time to label each blog post with the most relevant categories and tags. (You should do this anyway; it will help people find your blog on search engines.) After you’ve written a number of posts, search by category and see what you’ve written. You might find a way to combine those into a book. It doesn’t matter that your blog posts are already published. That just means more people will be ready and eager to read your book.

(Keep in mind that I focus on self-publishing. If you plan to publish your book with a traditional publishing house, they have different legalities for using blog posts. You will do best to check with them before you start blogging. Traditional publishers also have requirements for completing outlines, sample chapters, and book proposals in advance. If that’s your path, you need to learn as much as possible about how it works before you ever start planning and writing. The best Christian source for learning about this, in my experience, is Jerry Jenkins.)

6. Compile Your Written Articles

Right now, I am editing and consulting on a book for a writer. It is a compilation of previously written articles. To organize the chapters, I started going through each article, one by one, deciding on an appropriate topic label (a label that was specific to the topic, yet general enough to include other articles). I wrote each topic label on a separate document, and beneath each label I typed the article title. As I read through more articles, I reached a point where 10 labels was enough, and the rest of the articles fell under one of those categories.

At the end of this process, I had a list of 10 chapter titles and a list of about 5-8 articles in each chapter. Perfect! I rearranged the chapter titles in a sequence that made sense. And under each chapter title, I rearranged the order of that chapter’s articles in a way that would best engage readers.

7. Answer Questions or Record Your Teachings

I’ve learned of several writers who create books by answering questions. I took this same approach years ago, in which I wrote a book entirely based on questions people had asked me. I’m working with another writer who is anointed for teaching. She has recorded her teachings (including her answers to student questions) and those teachings will become the basis of one or more books. I’ve learned of other writers who record video teachings on YouTube and then compile the transcripts and summaries into a book. This also gets them a following who will be eager to buy their book.

Remember – the best way to write your book is the way that will work for you. It’s a matter of getting your heart onto the page. You can mold and shape and edit from there. But you have to get your heart on paper first, in whatever way it takes. There might be one way that works for you, or if you’re like me you might use different ways for different projects. Try things out. Experiment. See what works best for you and your next book.

 

 

Are Your Ready for an Editor?

I love editing as much as I love writing. Writing is throwing the clay on the potter’s wheel. Editing is everything that happens afterward.

When you put your heart on the written page as a first draft, that’s writing. As you begin to work through your writing, adding words here, subtracting words there, enhancing imagery, drawing out subtle meaning, bringing scenes to life, tying themes together – all of that is editing. The writer does most of that himself or herself.

Layer upon layer of editing is what makes a finished piece of writing seem effortless. Editing adds texture, color, brilliance, and depth. Editing is a creative process just like writing. Yet, it honors, treasures, and keeps intact all that the writer has imparted up to that moment. Editing is a wonderful art. A good editor loves to encourage writers and to fall in love with their stories.

As you look for an editing service to help you polish your manuscript, you will find two kinds: substantive editing and line editing.

Substantive editing comes first in the process. In a substantive edit, the editor looks at the content and structure: Are all the pieces in place? Should parts of the work be rearranged? What is missing? Where can the strengths be strengthened even more? How can we bring the weak areas into their full promise?

When you submit your manuscript for a substantive edit, it must be as complete and polished as possible. A substantive edit is not a substitute for the work that you, the writer need to do. When an editor begins to work on a substantive edit of your manuscript, he or she should be reading your best work to that point.

Line editing comes next, after the manuscript is structurally sound and is close to publishable. In line editing, the editor looks to polish the style and grammar, so your writing flows more easily and produces greater impact. Not only will the editor smooth out the grammar; he or she will also create variations in sentence length and structure, to enhance the rhythm of your content.

It is important to note that line editing is not the same as proofreading. While a good editor is careful to review his or her work, a line edited manuscript should never be considered final. A proofreader, who has never seen the manuscript, needs to look at it with a fresh eye. This is because, as you read a manuscript multiple times, your eyes and brain will actually “correct” mistakes. You can be looking at a typo but your brain will see it as “correct.”

A proofreader does not edit or make suggestions. Your proofreader works strictly to proofread the final copy and moves through it word by word. That should be the last step that happens before you submit a manuscript for publication.

A good editor is part of your team. The editor should pay close attention, and with great respect, to the work you have crafted. The editor’s job is not to alter, but rather to polish that treasure so it shines. A good editor will not try to make your manuscript his or hers, but rather the very best version of yours.

That being said, it is also the editor’s job to draw your best work out of you, and that is not always easy for a writer to take. A good editor will be respectful and caring, but will also be tough and thorough. He or she will hold your manuscript to the highest standard and will expect much from you as a writer.

It is hard for a writer to have the structure of his or her manuscript questioned, or to have precious words crossed out. You need to be ready; don’t submit your work for editing if you’re not.

If you are not ready for this level of editing … if you need help with shorter pieces … or if you need guidance as you take your first steps in writing, you may want to consider a coaching or critiquing service for writers instead. Those are often a better starting place for new writers.

I hope these tidbits have helped as your manuscript moves closer to the editing stage. Remember: the first layers of editing begin with you, the writer. You may go through several rounds of self-editing before it is time to bring in an editor.

Be inspired, and keep writing. People are waiting to read what you have to share.