Writing a Spiritual Legacy

Have you ever thought about writing a spiritual legacy?

A special kind of journal, your spiritual legacy is a gift you can give to your children, grandchildren, other family members, young people you mentor, and friends.

Your spiritual legacy shares your spiritual journey in a very short, simple format: things God has done in your life, favorite Bible verses, spiritual wisdom and encouragement you would like to share.

It’s like a scrapbook with words – and pictures can be added as well. You can even incorporate the written pages of your spiritual legacy into a larger scrapbook about your journey with God.

You can write and share a spiritual legacy at any stage of life. Imagine your children growing up and having their own kids, and then reading the spiritual legacy you wrote when you were a young parent. Imagine your grandchildren and great grandchildren also reading your spiritual legacy when they become new parents. What a blessing!

Think about other milestones of life, like starting your first career, or turning 40, or entering retirement. You can create a spiritual legacy at any stage. As you get older, put your spiritual legacies all together and reflect on your ongoing journey with God through every stage of life.

A lot of people wait until later in life to write their memoirs. Hindsight can certainly be valuable for sharing wisdom through memories. But with a spiritual legacy, you will also bless your family by writing in the moment when things are happening. Then look back later and see how you have grown. Let your kids and their kids experience your journey written live, as it unfolds.

To help you get started with your spiritual legacy, I have created a spiritual legacy journal available on Amazon. This book gives you a different journal prompt and Bible verse on each page to help you write your spiritual legacy. The rest of the page is blank for you to fill in your thoughts, memories, wisdom, prayers, and blessings for those who will read it.

If you are a writer, you can help other people write their spiritual legacies as well.

Write a Prayer

Today’s post is a lesson from my free online intro course for Christian writers: Begin Your Christian Writing Adventure!

Dear Lord, thank You for helping us to grow as writers. We ask that You will guide us, so that Your heart will shine through each word we write. In Jesus’ name. Amen

In the last lesson, we talked about how your writing starts from your relationship with God. Your writing also begins with prayer. Prayer is simply conversation with God – and that’s exactly what you did in the last lesson. Your letter to God was a prayer.

All of your writing should be bathed in prayer. Pray before you write. Write from a prayerful spirit. Take breaks during your writing time to pray. Talk to God as you write. Ask Him any questions you have, or share your concerns with Him. Don’t wait – stop and talk with Him as concerns come up. Listen for His wisdom. He knows exactly how to help you. Then close each writing session with prayer.

As you pray through your writing, not only will this help you as a writer (and as a person). Your prayerful writing will also invite the Holy Spirit to move through your words. God will touch readers in ways you can’t begin to expect. Think about the last time God affected you through a piece of writing. He will do the same for others through the words He inspires in you.

I’ve had readers share with me that a certain word or phrase spoke directly to their heart. Some of these were phrases I didn’t even remember writing. But God knew what they needed to hear. He helped me write the words, crafted for people I didn’t even know. He reached through those words to touch their hearts in unique ways that I could never have done. The key was prayer.

In addition to writing with a prayerful heart, you can also allow God to use the writing gift He has given you to write prayers for people. It may be an email to someone in need; a prayer offered on a blog or in a magazine for a specific type of situation; or a collection of prayers in a book.

Your church might enjoy having prayers written on the website or social media pages, in the newsletter, or in the Sunday bulletin. I used to lead a writing ministry at a church. Together, we created responsive prayers for different occasions. As a prayer leader, I was also asked to write sample prayers for healing. And I enjoyed writing short prayers for different seasons in the church newsletter and daily news emails.

In whatever ways God leads you, you can write prayers that will help people.

Today is your chance to get started with prayer writing. Here is today’s writing exercise:

Write a prayer.

It can be a prayer for someone you are praying for right now. Or a prayer for something you are going through. You might think of a situation and write a prayer for someone in that situation. It might be a prayer for a friend who is ill … for a child about to take a test at school … for a new believer to share thanks with Jesus. Ask God to lead you, and pray before you start to write.

Remember not to edit yourself – just write. Write from your heart, prayerfully.

When you finish, you may simply want to read your prayer out loud to God. If your prayer is for a particular person, you might want to email it or write it in a prayer card to mail to that person, if that seems appropriate and if the Lord leads. If you have a blog, and if your prayer is for a general or common situation (i.e., not for a particular person), you might want to share your prayer so other readers can pray that prayer too, for their own situations.

Or the prayer you write may just stay between you and God. There’s no pressure to share with others. Only if you want to.

P.S. After you finish writing your own prayer, turn to John 17:20-26 and be blessed by the prayer Jesus prayed for you when He walked on this earth.

If you would like more lessons like this one, my free, self-paced, online course Begin Your Christian Writing Adventure is waiting for you. The course includes feedback on your final course project. And the course is Free! Come on in.

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.

 

 

 

Writing a Multi-Topic Blog

A fellow Christian author asked me how she could help her website visitors navigate the different topics on her blog. That’s a great question, and it’s one I have grappled with for years. I too have a multi-topic blog.

What Is a Multi-Topic Blog?

What I’m referring to here is a blog that has one overarching and unifying theme, but with distinct topics. For example, my overall blog is about growing in relationship with God. But I cover distinct topics such as Inner Healing, Christian Writing, and Biblical Hebrew. Those topics are connected in one way, but different in many others. That’s what I mean by a multi-topic blog.

I’m not referring to two separate subject areas which should have two separate blogs. For example, if I were interested in trail hiking and do-it-yourself plumbing repair, I wouldn’t combine those into one blog. They are two different subject areas. However, if I were interested in do-it-yourself kitchen repair, plumbing, carpet repair, fencing and siding, those could potentially go into a multi-topic blog, unified by the larger subject of “do-it-yourself home repair.”

Disadvantage? Or Advantage?

Now that I’ve clarified what I do (and don’t) mean by a multi-topic blog, let’s look at a key disadvantage and a major advantage of a multi-topic blog.

The disadvantage is that readers interested in just one topic might not want to subscribe to the blog. Someone interested in Biblical Hebrew might not be interested in Christian writing, and vice versa.

The advantage is that readers who are interested in all the topics I cover can find everything in one place. Previously (and much to the chagrin of my writing coaches, I might add), I had different blogs for different topics. It was hard for readers to find me and keep up with new posts, and it was exhausting to manage all those blogs.

How to Help Readers Navigate Your Multi-Topic Blog

As I told my author friend, here are some ways to combine all your (subject-related) topics on one blog and help readers navigate:

  • Make good use of categories, so it is easy for readers to search your blog by topic and sub-topic.
  • Create a page on your website for each topic. Do a category search of your own blog and copy the link of that category page. Place that link on the relevant topic page and call it “[Topic] Articles.” (Look at my pages on this website, and you will see where I have done that.)
  • If you have an email newsletter that you send out to readers, consider creating a separate newsletter for each main topic. That requires extra work, but not as much work as running separate topical blogs.

Those are a few simple ways you can write a multi-topic blog and help readers find the topics that interest them.

If you are not sure how to start out, talk to a few of your friends who are interested in the topics you write about. Ask how they would feel if all those topics are combined in one place. Also, look for examples of blogs that combine different topics. See how they help their readers navigate the different topics.

While it may take some time for you to decide what to do, don’t let that be a barrier to starting your blog. The important thing is to write and share. You can make adjustments as you go along – which is exactly what I have done for years. Happy blogging!

 

 

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.

 

The Writer’s Prayer Life

Prayer is a key part of the writing process. We should seek God regularly for what He would have us write. We need to begin and end our writing time and writing projects with prayer. We should remain prayerful as we write. Ideally every word we write should be bathed in prayer. But that’s just part of the prayer life of the writer.

Here are five ways that will enrich our writer’s prayer life:

1. Daily conversation with God – As we spend time each day growing in relationship with God, we will experience a daily process of transformation. That process is about our life, not our writing, but it will shape our writing and give us a new excitement for the things God calls us to write.

2. Seeking God for inner healing – Again, this is part of our transformation, and we should do this whether or not we are writers. But the benefits will be clear to us and our readers. Imagine how different our writing will sound when we have found peace or forgiveness in an area where we have struggled with bitterness. Imagine the testimony through which the Holy Spirit can impart peace to those who read our words of God’s healing.

3. Lectio divina – This meditation on scripture that has been practiced for centuries in the monasteries can benefit the prayer life of the writer. We just need to be sure we are engaging the process as God’s kids, not as writers. While we can (and should) engage in lectio divina as part of our preparation to write about scripture, we also need to take time for ourselves to immerse in scripture with no writing agenda. A time to just be with God in His Word. As the Word of God comes alive in us, He will shape our writing.

4. Centering prayer – This spiritual discipline, also practiced in monasteries, is devoted to simply sitting quietly in God’s presence. Just being with Him. During this time with God, we are not aware of anything God is doing. We are simply present with Him, focused on Him, and filled with His presence. Not talking, not listening, just being. This time spent with God will shape our whole day. And the next time we sit down to write, we will see that God has been (and is) with us.

5. Soaking in God’s presence – God is always with us. But the world is also very distracting. It is life-sustaining to take time and intentionally soak in God’s presence. Just breathe Him in and revel in who He is. This may look different for each of us on any given day. It might be taking a walk and enjoying nature, listening to music, playing with animals, reading an uplifting book, or enjoying a meal with friends. If we ask the Lord, He will prompt us for what He knows we need that day. Our writing will reflect what we have soaked in.

Those are just five (of many!) ways to engage a life of prayer as a writer. We need to remember that we are not simply practicing these ways for the sake of our writing. The life of prayer is vital to our spiritual growth and well-being as God’s kids. But a healthy prayer life will also affect our writing and will impart God’s peace to our readers.

Re-Dedicate Your Writing Life to God

It’s that time of year when people make New Year’s resolutions. Some folks mark this transition by taking quiet time to reflect and listen for God’s direction for the new year. Whatever way you choose to acknowledge this seasonal change, this is a great opportunity to re-dedicate your writing life and gifts to God.

When God calls you as a writer, it is important to stay in the flow of His Spirit:

  • Worshiping God with your whole heart, mind, body, and spirit.
  • Devoting prayer time on a regular basis to talk with God about how He would have you use your writing gifts.
  • Spending quiet time in God’s presence so He can transform you – this will affect your writing and your message, and more importantly He will transform your life.
  • Studying and meditating on God’s Word, so His Word will remain fresh in your spirit.
  • Submitting your writing gifts to God and surrendering yourself to His plans for you as a writer (and as His kid).
  • Remembering to re-dedicate your writing life and gifts to God on a regular basis.

All of this takes ongoing commitment and intentional practice. It doesn’t matter how surrendered you were when you started out as a writer for God. As time goes on and life takes its toll, it is so easy and tempting to shift gears. Despite that you started by the Spirit, you end up writing and planning by your own strength. You may not even notice it. It just creeps in.

When you write in your own strength, you miss God’s best for you. For example, you don’t want to be stuck in a past mode of writing, if that’s not where God is calling you in this new season. That’s why it’s important to re-dedicate your writing life to God and re-surrender yourself and your writing gifts on a regular basis.

While re-dedicating your writing life and gifts to God is a practice you can and should follow throughout the year, this time of New Year celebration is a wonderful time to practice this re-dedication.

It is always best to let the Holy Spirit lead you in your prayer time. But this prayer might help you get started.

Dear God,

Thank You so much for calling me as a writer. I am humbly grateful for the privilege of writing and sharing words so that people will be encouraged, challenged, inspired, and drawn closer to You. I invite You to keep working in my heart, so the words I write will be shaped by Your love and truth.

Lord, I want to stay present with You in each season. I want to flow with Your Spirit, and I want to follow Your very best plan for me as a writer. Help me to stay present with You as I write. Help me to be fully present in the current season with You. I ask You to mold and shape me as a writer and as your child each day in the ways You know are best.

Lord, I don’t want to write in my own strength. I want You to lead me. Please cleanse me of any ways I have been writing in my own strength. I invite Your Spirit to lead me in all that I do, including the privilege of writing. I lay my writing gifts at Your feet and ask that You cleanse them, renew them, and restore them to me in the ways You intend for me to use them.

Help me always to write from a place of resting in Your Spirit. Thank You for Your amazing love.

In Jesus’ name. Amen

Editing for a Small Word Count

A friend asked me to edit a 200-word letter that was going to be published. The max allowed was 100 words. Yikes! This was even more difficult because the letter reflected a family’s congratulations to their graduating student. Who wants to cut a family’s words chosen carefully for their loved one?

Is it possible to cut from 200 words to 100 and be coherent? Yes. Does it have the same “sound” as the original letter? Sort of, but not entirely. Short is short. A letter of 100 words doesn’t allow the same degree of personality as a 200-word letter. It’s not ideal. (It made me sad.)

But it’s doable. The person who will read it doesn’t know what she missed. So it won’t be sad for the loved one. Just sad for those who have to watch their sentiments be cut in half. And sad for you, the editor, who doesn’t want to cut their words.

If you find yourself faced with a challenge like this, here are several steps you can take – some easier, some painful.

(1) First, get rid of expendable words – adverbs, and “that.” This will take out a good chunk and bring the word count way down. Then you’ll see what you’re really dealing with. In my example, this step reduced the word count from 200 to 175. That’s where the serious editing begins.

(2) The next step is to consolidate. Do you see places where you can remove “and” or “then” and use a comma or semi-colon instead?

Do two words mean the same thing? Can you choose one without losing the sentiment? Can you find a different word that covers both? Sometimes changing the order of phrases in a sentence can help reduce repetition. Keep a lookout also for a sentence that elaborates unnecessarily on a previous sentence.

Are there phrases that can be condensed? Some prepositional phrases have extra words that sound wonderful, but the same meaning can be captured with one or two words – an adjective with a noun, or a stronger noun by itself.

Be careful here not to lose the voice and the meaning intended by the person who wrote the piece. Choose what would have sounded natural to the writer. If several lengthy phrases capture the writer’s voice and style, maybe condense a few and leave one intact. It’s worth leaving in a few extra words to maintain the original flavor. Pick your spots throughout the piece to keep that flow. Make harder sacrifices in other places.

Editing is painstaking work because you can’t just do it your way and you can’t just cut to cut. You have to honor and maintain the writer’s voice. Sometimes that means keeping an extra word or two and finding some other way to shorten the piece. Don’t take shortcuts. Honor your writer.

Here’s a way to stretch this stage a bit more – are there two phrases that say essentially the same thing? Can they be combined, or can one phrase speak for the other? Again, keep your ear attuned to the writer’s voice and sentiment. But if you can consolidate two (or more) phrases into one, your word count will plummet.

The more choices you make at these early stages, the fewer difficult choices you will have to make later. For my project, this step brought the word count from 175 to 145.

(3) After this, it gets harder. You’ll have to make some tradeoffs. Remember the principle of “show, don’t tell”? Which sentences are “showing” and which are “telling”? Which sentences are working the hardest to express what the writer wants to say? Can you expand them slightly to capture or express the idea from a weaker sentence?

Make the strongest sentences do the work, and find one or two weaker sentences to eliminate – carefully, lovingly. Don’t rush this stage. These are hard cuts. Treat them as such. Value and savor each word until you know for sure that one can take the weight of the other. I went through this step twice, bringing the word count from 145 to 122.

(4) It’s tough when you have made every change you think you can make, and you are still 22 words over. At this point, you have to make hard decisions. You have to remove a sentence or two, or maybe a few words from a few phrases. This part is tough because instead of cleaning up and consolidating, you are taking away some of the core content.

Until now, you have kept the writer in mind, trying to preserve his or her voice and sentiments as much as possible. From this point on, you will need to focus on the reader, the recipient.

Which parts will deliver, to the reader or recipient, the strongest impact of the original piece? Is there a sentence or two you can remove and keep that impact? Does the piece include a phrase that the reader will assume, without having to read it?

Hopefully that is where you will make your final cuts. It wasn’t the case for me. This stage got me to 107 words. Close, but not quite.

(5) In this next (and hopefully final) stage of editing, read through the piece several times again. Focus on the heart of the message. Which words can you sacrifice and still keep that heart? This got me to 101 words, and then I took one more out. Believe it or not, that last word was the hardest cut of all.

In the end, I was able to deliver a 100-word piece. I wished more space were available. While the piece was still intact and delivered the same message with some of the original writing style, it was like seeing a really short haircut on someone whose hair had just grown into its perfect style.

Imagine my joy and surprise when I learned two days later that the family was given more space for this piece: 175 words! It seemed like a luxury. I went back to the beginning, made the first round of cuts again, and left the rest the way it was. I was thrilled that they got to publish their letter very close to the original.

You may not get that luxury. Just do the best you can with the word count you are given. And know this – the writer will appreciate your efforts. If you give each stage the care it deserves, your final edited piece will have preserved more of the original than the writer thought possible.

Keep in mind that those hard cuts and tradeoffs you made toward the end can still be reclaimed by the writer. So those heavier decisions don’t have to fall entirely on your shoulders. Once you give the writer a version at the final word count, he or she can tweak some more, adding things back in and making different trades.

The key is that you have given your writer something to work with “at word count.” That’s a whole lot easier to tweak than having to work with content twice as long as it’s allowed to be.

 

Have You Thought about Writing Responsive Readings?

Does your church ever use “responsive readings” in your worship services?

If you’ve grown up in a liturgical tradition, you know immediately what responsive readings are. If you are from a church tradition that doesn’t use much liturgy, you might not be familiar with this.

As a writer, creating responsive readings is one way you can help your church (and others) to increase participation in the worship service.

Regardless of your tradition, responsive readings can be a wonderful way to encourage people to respond to God’s presence and to the scriptures.

Responsive Readings Invite our Response to God

A responsive reading (also known as an antiphonal reading, where two or more voices respond back and forth) involves all the people in the church reading out loud together in response to a scripture or to something a leader says or prays.

Responsive readings mean that each person participates in the worship service and responds to God together. Responding is an important function of worship, and we often miss those opportunities. Worship becomes passive, where we just sit and listen or watch.

With a responsive reading, we all become part of the response to God. Whenever we actively participate in worship and respond to God’s presence, we open our hearts for His response to us.

Different Ways to Experience Responsive Readings

There are many ways to experience responsive readings. Some traditions take a passage of scripture, like a Psalm, and highlight which lines people will read out loud. This is often done where the worship leader reads a line, and then the congregation reads a line, and this goes back and forth.

The responsive readings I enjoy the most are the ones where different sections of the congregation read back and forth to each other. For example, the left side of the sanctuary might read one line out loud, then the middle section reads another, and then the right section reads another. At other times, it might be the men reading one line and then the women reading another.

The responsive reading isn’t just passively done. The congregation actively reads the words to each other, and they really focus on the action of speaking these things out loud in a dialogue. The readings might include a refrain or closing lines that all people read together.

The global church has a rich tradition and history of responsive readings. You might be delighted to find responsive readings that have been used historically in your church tradition. I have also enjoyed in my seminary classes when professors have used responsive readings from many different cultures around the world. A quick search for “responsive readings” on the internet shows many examples to choose from.

Writing Responsive Readings

But that’s just the beginning. As a writer, you can play a role in creating responsive readings that help people become active participants in the worship experience and learn how to respond to God.

Some writers create blogs where they supply responsive readings that anyone can download and use. Or you might simply ask your pastor or worship leader if they would like for you to write a responsive reading for a particular occasion.

An Example of Lenten Encounters

One year during Lent, our pastor was highlighting a different biblical person each week, with the theme of “Lenten Encounters.” We were invited to see ourselves in each part of the biblical story, and also to discover how those biblical persons responded to God.

Our pastor invited our church writing group to create a responsive reading. Using the theme of weekly “encounters,” we added a couplet to the responsive reading every week. The new couplet reminded us of the biblical person we had encountered the previous week.

We started out with our foundational responsive reading, which talked about the encounters we hoped to have during our Lenten season. The second week, we added a couplet about (for example) Peter, who we had encountered the week before. The words of the couplet reminded us of Peter’s particular response to God. The next week, we added (for example) Blind Bartimaeus, who we had encountered the previous week. And so on.

As we moved through the Lenten season, we continued to include the couplets from previous weeks. So we continued to remember and acknowledge what we had discovered with each biblical person. Each week, the responsive reading (which was printed in the bulletin) grew a little longer.

When we reached Palm Sunday, the focus shifted to our own response to God. We added a final couplet looking forward to our ongoing encounters with Christ.

That is just one example. The possibilities are endless. Writing responsive readings is a very creative task for a writer or group of writers who want to help people experience and participate in the worship service in a very unique way.

Do You Feel Called to Write Responsive Readings?

If this is something you feel called to try out, begin with prayer and ask God for His guidance. Then do a simple online search for “responsive readings” and look through the many types of examples. Don’t forget to look for responsive readings that might have been used in earlier times in church history. And look for responsive readings that have been created in cultures around the world that are different from  your own. The global and historical church has such a rich tradition to experience.

Then, with God’s leading, either begin to create responsive readings for your blog, or ask your pastor if your church might be able to use a responsive reading that you or a group of writers in your church would create especially for the church. You can even create these for your own family in worshiping and praying together at home.

In whichever ways you choose to write responsive readings, you will discover that this is an amazing experience. Writing responsive readings will also remind you of your own daily responses to God.

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.