If you have kids headed back to school soon, you can write prayers on your blog related to school – starting back, uncertainty regarding the pandemic, prayers for kids taking tests, and so much more. Just think about everything kids encounter during the school year, and you will have plenty of prayers to share on your blog that other school parents can pray.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.