Friday, January 30, 2015

Devotions: Little Bites of Soul Food

(c) Can Stock Photo
Devotions are wonderful little bites of food for the soul. Many Christians thrive on these spiritual snacks. I’m one of them. I love starting the day with an inspirational thought, a word of encouragement, a hand of hope to help me up and over the cares of life. They’re short, and usually pretty simply laid out. But I have discovered that a lot of Christian writers do not feel capable of writing devotions.

Why? They’re afraid they can’t. Because they’re not ministers or public speakers, and perhaps because they’re so often told not to write in a “preachy” manner, many shy away from writing that contains a specific message relating to Christianity.

If you love devotions, I encourage you to give writing them a try. I love writing devotions. They have the power to uplift a downtrodden Christian. They can provide a dose of strength to someone who’s going through a period of spiritual weakness. They offer a down-to-earth look at subjects all Christians can benefit from.

That said, not everyone can or should write devotions. But if you feel called to encourage, or love to brighten dark days for your Christian brothers and sisters, perhaps you should pray about whether writing devotions is something you can do for God.

I would encourage anyone who wants to give it a try, to do so prayerfully and with a sincere heart. Words have the power to heal…but also to kill. They can encourage…or they can knock down and out. They’re capable of great good…and intense evil. Devotions should not be considered a means of personal gain or glory. They’re a ministry, and should be respected as such. It’s all about reaching souls and touching hearts.

The Upper Room Daily Devotional Guide says a devotion “connects real events of daily life with the ongoing activity of God.” It’s just “one believer sharing with another an insight or struggle about what it means to live faithfully.”

If you’d like to delve into the world of devotions, maybe the following pointers will help you get started.

1. Pray about it. Truly seek God’s wisdom and guidance as you write. Let Him dictate the point, and offer yourself as his transcriptionist.

2. Read devotions. If you’re a writer, you’ve been told repeatedly that “if you don’t read, you can’t write.” It’s true, and it works the same with devotions as it would if you were writing a novel. If you want to write devotions, read devotions.

3. Use real occurrences in your life that made you think of a particular biblical event or specific verse of scripture. If you find yourself thinking, “That reminds me of (whatever), in the Bible,” you’ve probably found an opportunity to touch others with the same insight God revealed to you. Have you ever experienced some little life event and then thought, “That’s just like Jesus!”? Well…there ya go. Use that happenstance to create a devotion that shows Jesus to others.

4. Keep it brief. Depending on where the devotion will be published, it could contain as few as 200 or as many as 500 words. Remember, these are spiritual snacks, not feasts. So do your homework and seek out the writer’s guidelines for your target publication.

5. Illustrate only one point for each devotion. Brevity demands it, but it’s also far more effective than trying to cover multiple thoughts in one very short piece of material.

6. Don’t preach. Yes, that’s true even in devotion writing. Your words should inspire deeper thought or enlightenment, but not come across as “a command from the throne of God.” An article in Writer’s Conference Guidelines says this: “You can't stand above the reader's level and wag your finger at him. … You must stand on eye level with the reader. Sharing your flaws is a better communication tool than sharing your perfections.” Words like “you must,” “we have to,” “we cannot,” “you should not,” are not good choices.

7. Constantly bear in mind your purpose, which should be to bring a reader to a closer relationship with God, and a deeper interaction with His Word. You are not there to condemn, convict, or judge, but to uplift and encourage.

8. Acknowledge your sources. If you quote from another source, as I did above from The Upper Room and Writers Conference Guidelines, be sure to include a link or a caption or a footnote—something that identifies where you obtained your material. That’s basic honesty and integrity.

9. Identify the Bible version you’re using for each devotional scripture.

10. Stick to a format. Even devotions require a beginning, middle and end. The beginning is almost always a verse of scripture, followed by your actual devotion, which states your general points and illustrates any lesson you may have learned and want to share with readers. Keep it concise and to the point. No room for rabbit trails. The ending can be a summary (the final takeaway you’d like to leave with your audience) or a prayer…or both. Again, this will depend on your market. Follow their writer’s guidelines, as guidelines are as varied as are the life lessons to be obtained in devotionals.

11.  Relax and let God use you. Your life experiences can bless, strengthen and encourage fellow Christians. What better reward could you ask for?

(c) January 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Paula Mowery: A Healthy Author is a Productive Author

Over the last several months the topic of health has weighed on my mind. Maybe you can relate to several hours of sitting in a desk chair writing and editing. Some of my favorite writing blogs and even writing craft books have addressed this unhealthy practice. I finally decided to take all of the information and suggestions to develop a plan for myself. 

The result of following this plan has not only made me more healthy but more productive. For example, I have made progress on my WIP and not experienced my normal story blocks. Because I set a timer, when the buzzer sounds, I stop writing and make a few short notes in the margin. This allows me to immediately jump back into the story during my next writing session. I make progress in all areas that I need to spend time on each day.

So, how about you? Do you need to become a healthier author? Start by listing the tasks you need to accomplish each day. Rank these in order of importance. Establish a time period for each task. I wouldn’t suggest longer than 45 minutes. Now, in between each task add in 10 to 15 minutes of movement or exercise. After your exercise interval is complete, sit down and begin your next working interval.

Here is a basic plan:
  • 30 minutes Bible reading and study
  • 10 minutes exercise
  • 45 minutes Write on WIP
  • 10 minutes exercise
  • 30 minutes Social media
  • 10 minutes exercise
  • 45 minutes Editing for contracted authors
  • 10 minutes Pilates
Because of church activities and weekend family activities, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday differ. I will modify to fit my schedule on those days. However, Sunday is my day to totally get away to honor the Sabbath.

Has anyone else implemented a plan? I would love for you to leave a comment and share. You never know how you might inspire someone else to become a more healthy and productive author.

About Paula:

Paula Mowery is a published author, acquisitions editor, and speaker. Her first two published works were The Blessing Seer and Be the Blessing from Pelican Book Group. Both are women’s fiction, and their themes have been the topics of speaking engagements. Be the Blessing won the Selah Award in 2014 in the novella category. In November of 2013, her first romance released in the anthology, Brave New Century, from Prism Book Group. This book went to number five on Amazon’s bestseller category, historical Christian romance. Legacy and Love is her first solo romance.

Paula is a pastor’s wife and mom to a college student. She homeschooled her daughter through all twelve years, and they both lived to tell about it. Before educating her daughter at home, she was an English teacher in public school.

You can follow Paula on Facebook. Learn more about Paula on her blog or enjoy her monthly columns on Christian Online Magazine. You can also check out her blog for Christian writers.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Janet K. Brown: Dialogue - It's Not Just Talk

Here is my diagnosis for making dialogue dynamic:

D  Different Goals
The best dialogue comes when two characters desire different goals from the conversation. This increases the tension.

Interview your characters
Find out how they would answer certain questions even if the questions aren’t posed in your manuscript. This deepens your knowledge of a character’s reaction.

A  Action
Fiction and non-fiction are similar to stage plays. Dialogue is more than words. We need gestures, body language, even moments of silence to set the stage.

L  Listen to your characters talk
Each character should have a distinctive manner, so readers recognize the speech without putting the name to the line of talk. Educated/use slang? Pet names? Recurrent phrases?

O  Out loud reading
Prose and poetry have meter in common. When you read your work out loud, does it have rhythm, cadence, and energy? Is it missing a word or is it three words too long? You can only tell by reading it out loud.

G Go along with the story
Dialogue should fit your story—does it show tension when applicable? Does it fit the mood—teasing & light or dark and heavy? The shorter the piece, the more important to inject a sense of time and place.

U  Use of dialogue
Dialogue only has three uses.
1.  Move the story along.
2.  Intensify characterization
3.  Both
If none of these apply, take out the dialogue.

E  Eliminate words
Dialogue should be concise. Eliminating words that we’ve slaved over and think are beautiful is hard,but sometimes necessary to strengthen.
One part of speech to eliminate almost totally is…
     Adverbs—like almost totally.
Beats or tags? Which is best?
          Beats = gestures/body language
          Tags  = he said
Sometimes using neither is best.

Summary advice to helping your dialogue:
1.  Read every day from your favorite writers- both in your
 chosen genre and in other genres.
2.  Periodically read or reread a writing craft book or take        an online course.

3.  Write something every day even if you delete and restart.

About Janet K. Brown:

Janet K. Brown lives in Wichita Falls, Texas with her husband, Charles. Writing became her second career after retirement from medical coding.

Worth Her Weight will be the author’s debut inspirational women’s fiction, but it makes a perfect companion to her recently released, Divine Dining: 365 Devotions to Guide You to Healthier Weight and Abundant Wellness. Both books encompass her passion for diet, fitness, and God’s Word.

Worth Her Weight marks Brown’s third book. Who knew she had a penchant for teens and ghosts? She released her debut novel, an inspirational young adult, Victoria and the Ghost, in July, 2012.

Janet and her husband love to travel with their RV, visit their three daughters, two sons-in-law and three perfect grandchildren, and work in their church. Find her on her website, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

About Worth Her Weight:

How can a woman who gives to everyone but herself accept God’s love and healing when she believes she’s fat, unworthy, and unfixable? Can she be Worth Her Weight?

LACEY CHANDLER helps her mother, her sister, her friend, and then she binges on food and wonders is there really a God?

BETTY CHANDLER hates being handicapped and useless, so she lashes out at the daughter that helps, and the God who doesn’t seem to care.

TOBY WHEELER loves being police chief in Wharton Rock, but when the devil invades the small town, he can’t release control.

Is God enough in Wharton Rock?

This inspirational women’s fiction is AVAILABLE NOW.

Pen-L Publishing


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Stephanie Prichard: Metaphors - How and Why to Use Them

How many times does God use metaphors in the Bible? I don’t know that anyone has ever counted them, but I’d guess the amount is close to the number of the stars. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get my point. He uses them a lot. And as writers, so should we.

Why? Because metaphors carry wallop. They convert a mere word or phrase into something larger—something all-encompassing that incorporates all kinds of images in one quick package. Like the difference between looking at a landscape painting versus opening the window and hearing the birds, smelling the pine trees, feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin, bubbling with joy in your soul—all that in addition to what your sight takes in.

Yep, that’s what metaphors do. Mental … sensual … kinetic … emotional impact, all as fast as the snap of your fingers.

Two examples for illustration: “He had too much paperwork to do” versus “He was drowning in paperwork.” Drowning—how’s that for mental, sensual, kinetic, and emotional impact in one simple word?

The second example: John the Baptist points to Jesus, and instead of saying, “Behold! Our Savior!” he says, “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Whamo!—the whole history of the Jews and God’s promise wrapped up into one breath-taking metaphor!

So how should we as writers use metaphors? Assuming they’re well-done (I’ve seen some doozies, and have no doubt written a few myself), here are three basic guidelines to ground you.

First, use them sparingly. Your novel is different from poetry and Scripture, which can appropriately and effectively stack metaphors like bricks. Instead, use one metaphor per page at the most. This allows them to be savored. If they pile up on top of each other, they lose their impact and become commonplace, perhaps even ridiculous. I love metaphors, and my critique partner has to keep slapping my hand to keep me to a reasonable limit.

Second, don’t mix them. “I smell a rat but I’ll nip him in the bud.” Eeeek! Stick to one image and its components. Better is “I smell a rat but I’ll cut off its tail” … or “set up a trap”… or “poison its cheese.” Whatever, keep the image ratty.

Third is one that might take some thinking: Make the metaphor appropriate for the point-of-view character expressing it. A man is unlikely to think girly metaphors; a child is unlikely to think adult metaphors.

To illustrate this, I’ll use examples from my novel, Stranded:

Jake is a Marine Corps reservist, so I often use military metaphors for him.
     Adrenaline landed a grenade in every muscle and nerve.

Eve is a federal prosecutor, so courtroom components make up many of her metaphors. Here’s my favorite one:
     She was well acquainted with misery. What was the courtroom, anyway, but a Dumpster filled with damaged and soiled lives that she—like an over-dressed bag lady—sorted through for scraps of justice? And she knew happiness too—it was the court’s constant victim, always stabbed in the back.

Crystal is an eleven-year-old, which challenges me to find metaphors suitable to her age. I sigh when my crit partner asks the question, “Would an eleven-year-old think like this?”
     The coolness invaded her, sucking on her body heat like she was a popsicle.

Betty is sixty-nine; her health, frail.
     Betty choked back a sob. Someone was coming for them. The gaping mouth of the ocean wouldn’t swallow them after all.

With all four characters, I often incorporate metaphors that suit the setting—a large jungle island dotted with beaches and dominated by a volcano.
     Jake could count his ribs protruding like row after row of sand dunes in the fleshless skin of his chest. How many days had he gone without eating?

When you read the Bible, keep an eye out for metaphors and learn from the beautiful artistry of God’s hand. Here’s one of my favorites from Psalm 59:14, 15, that describes David’s enemies:
     At evening they return, They growl like a dog, And go all around the city. They wander up and down for food, And howl if they are not satisfied.

God loves metaphors. So do readers. Two good reasons for us to use them!


Stephanie is an army brat who lived in many countries around the world and loved it. She met her husband at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where she majored in English/Literature. She and Don have lived in Indianapolis, IN, for forty years, and in retirement have turned to co-authoring novels now that their three children are busy raising a beautiful crop of grandchildren for them.

About Stranded:

All Marine Corps reservist Jake Chalmers wants is to give his dying wife a last, romantic cruise to the Philippines. Unable to save her in a mass murder aboard ship, he washes ashore a jungle island, where he discovers three other survivors. Heartbroken that he failed to save his wife, he is determined not to fail these helpless castaways.

Federal prosecutor Eve Eriksson rescues a young girl and her elderly great-aunt from the same ship. They badly need Jake's survival skills, but why is he so maddeningly careful? She needs to hurry home to nail a significant career trial. And, please, before Jake learns her secret that she's responsible for his wife's death.

Stranded: A Novel is available on Amazon for only $2.99.

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