I’m a Writer, Not a Salesperson!

You’re a pastor. Or maybe an elder in your local church. You might be a stay-at-home mom or a teacher. But you’re probably not a professional salesperson. So now that you’ve written a book, it needs to be sold and you’re feeling a little squeamish. Why? Because it’s likely that your initial “customers” will be friends and family, and that feels awkward. You don’t want to be that friend or family member who is selling a product and making everyone feel obligated to buy it. And yet, you need the support and word-of-mouth marketing of your inner circle. So how do you sell your book to those closest to you without it getting all weird? Here are three ways:

Be confident

More than likely your book is the result of years worth of prayer, reflection, research and sustained effort. You’ve sacrificed time and money to produce the manuscript. You’ve edited, re-edited and re-edited again. You’ve agonized over words, commas and even deleted entire chapters. This book contains your highest thoughts and deepest revelations. It may even be the result of God’s call on your life. If so…be confident. Be proud. Be assured that your writing is amazing and will greatly benefit those who read it.  The temptation will be to say something like this,

Uncle Mike, I hate to be pushy, but it would really mean a lot to me if you would buy my book.

Instead, try this,

Uncle Mike, you know how I’ve always been passionate about worship? Well, I’ve finally written down all the things that God has taught me and I would love for you to read it. In fact, you mentioned recently that you had some misgivings about your church’s worship style. I think you might find some helpful advice in my book.

See, your book has value. Don’t be embarrassed about that. Imagine that you are hosting Christmas dinner for all your relatives. You carefully plan the menu and even practice the recipes. After some refining, the big day comes and you meticulously prepare all the dishes. As you set the food in front of your guests, do you apologize for it? No. You are excited for them to try it! You truly believe that this meal will bring them joy as well as nourishment. You should view your writing in the same way. As a gift and a blessing to those who read it.

Be helpful

Which tagline for a stain-remover would be most effective to a mom of young kids?

Five ways to remove baby food stains

or

Buy our stain remover!

Of course, it is the first one. Why? Because it offers a solution to that mom. How will your book help people? Will it provide encouragement to the depressed? Hope to the addict? Maybe it gives pastors’ wives the tools to keep their sanity. Or it educates on the history of the Jewish people. As you promote your book to friends and family, think of ways that it can help them and become a tool in their spiritual toolbox. This approach will take you much farther than simply constantly asking, “Will you please buy my book?”

Be authentic

If you weren’t a pushy salesperson before you wrote your book, please don’t become one now. We’ve all seen it. The acquaintance who suddenly becomes ultra-friendly only to lay on the sales pitch for some product or another.

Books… actually most products… are best sold through meaningful connections. In his bestselling book Your First 1000 Copies (a book we highly recommend), Tim Grahl states,

Let’s sum up what marketing is and should be.

Marketing isn’t sleazy car salesman tactics.

Marketing isn’t tricking people into buying.

Markting isn’t unethical.

Marketing isn’t intrusive self-promotion.

Marketing is two things: (1) creating lasting connections with people through (2) a focus on being relentlessly helpful.

Be confident. Be helpful. Be authentic. These three attributes will start you off on the right foot as you venture into the world of marketing.

At Certa Publishing, we believe that our authors’ books offer tremendous value and we stand ready to help you reach the readers that need the wisdom your book offers.

When More is More

Ramsay is the author of The Blog Tyrant, a popular blog about… well… blogging. In his recent post, How to Write More, he offers the following advice about long-format writing:

Usually people tell you that less is more.

But when it comes to blogging it’s fascinating to note that there are some scenarios where it’s pretty true to say that more is more. More words, more posts, more links, etc.

For example, one of the backbones of my blogging strategy for the past few years has been to create long form content that is at least 3,500 words long.

People like Neil Patel, Glen Allsopp, etc. regularly extol the benefits of writing longer posts – they are statistically more likely to get more shares, likes, links, and subscribers.

And while there is no point in posting more if the content is ordinary, it’s good to learn how to write more if it means you can create longer blog posts that solve more problems, rank well on Google, and form a solid basis for your blog’s long term success.

So, let’s take a look.

How to write more

Here are a few strategies, ideas, and tools that have helped me write more over the years. We’ll begin with the more theoretical tips and then get on to some practical methods.

1. Have a solid set of goals with a timeline

It is really hard to sit down to research and write super-long articles if you don’t have a reason to do it. Knowing your short and long term goals and setting them to a timeline makes an enormous difference.

I made this error for years and years and it wasn’t until my older sister asked me over dinner what my goals were for the year. I ummmed and aahhhhed for so long and went away feeling embarrassed enough that I decided to sit down and figure out exactly what I wanted to do that year.

As Jim Rohn says in a piece on goal setting:

Goals are no place to waffle. They are no place to be vague. Ambiguous goals produce ambiguous results. Incomplete goals produce incomplete futures.

2. Know exactly why you are doing it

I have personally found it crucial to have [clearly defined goals.] For some people it is because they want to get better at a skill, for others it might be making more money to support your family or perhaps even a charity. Whatever your motivation, it can help a lot if you isolate it, make it clear, and then recall it regularly.

Not only does this keep your writing focused and careful, it also helps to support you emotionally when you are having down days where the writing doesn’t flow or you feel like progress isn’t happening fast enough. If you can recall to mind the stakeholders of your progress then it puts a fire under your butt.

3. Read, read, read, read, read

If you talk to almost any writer, author, journalist, or blogger about what helps them be good at what they do I can guarantee that a large portion of them will tell you to read more.

A lot of fantastic things happen when you read – especially when you go outside your comfort zone and look at various sources. First of all, your mind opens up to new ideas. Secondly, you start to discover new ways to express those ideas with your writing. Thirdly, your writing happens with less difficulty because the tones and styles of those authors start to absorb into you.

If you are having a period of writer’s block then one of the best things you can do is take a few hours to read. Look around at the best blogs in your niche, but then go further to excellent long form sources like the New Yorker, WIRED,,… etc. and see if something sparks.

4. Find a place to write and go there… even if you can’t

Finding somewhere to write is extremely important. It doesn’t need to be National Library of the Czech Republic inspiring but it should be enough that it allows you to concentrate in the zone.

The most important thing, however, is that you actually go there and write. This is really easy for me to say – I don’t have kids or a “real” job to go to. And I imagine that if you’re a stay-at-home parent or someone trying to blog while raising a family then it could be extremely tricky. But it is also extremely important.

Try finding a cafe nearby or even a place in your house that is just for sitting and writing. Let your family know that for the time that you’re in there (it might only be 30 minutes a day) that you’re not to be disturbed. You can get a lot done in a short amount of time when it’s just one thing.

5. Start with an extraordinary headline and keep coming back to it

For me, it’s really important to have an excellent headline sorted before I start doing any of the actual content writing. This helps me to stay focused.

Actually, this was a tip I got from a lecturer in University who said that you should write your essay topic at the top of your screen and always have it in sight. Refer back to it again and again and it will help you stay on topic in every paragraph, sentence, etc. I found it useful and so applied it to… writing.

The thing to remember here is that once you figure out the perfect headline/title for your blog post you often find that the content writing flows a lot easier. You know what question your are trying to answer, problem you are trying to solve, etc. and as such everything feels very consistent.

At Certa, we highly encourage our authors to have a blog and keep it fresh with their thoughts, missives and book updates. Hopefully this advice from The Blog Tyrant will help to transform your blog into a place where you can interact with your readers and gain new ones.

Social Media: Going Beyond the Basics

It took you a while, but you’ve embraced social media. You’ve taken the plunge and established yourself on Twitter, Facebook and maybe even Instagram. You’re enjoying the feedback and extra exposure it’s giving you, and you’re seeing the value of the online interactions your work is receiving. But now you’re stuck. How do you take it to the next level? Now you’re back to feeling intimidated again. Never fear, we are here to help! Here’s a quick primer on the writer’s Big Three: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It doesn’t have to be as intimidating as you think.

Tweet like a pro

Twitter is mostly comprised of strangers having conversations. Weird, right? It’s true. So keep that in mind with your posts. Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes (a book we highly recommend), says,

Tweets work best as dialogue, because dialogue establishes rapport and encourages interaction. [However,] even though you might be talking to strangers on Twitter, you’re still talking to people. So write every tweet as you would speak it… to your girlfriend, boyfriend, significant other, dog, cat… or whoever…

Key strategies for Twitter

  • Don’t just pitch your wares. Instead, provide help, information and problem-solving.
  • Put a face on your business by giving your followers a glimpse into your personality and perspective. But be careful of being too personal.
  • Show that your story is apart of a larger movement. Maybe you write books about how you overcame addiction. Use Twitter to champion causes and groups that work in this area.
  • Make your English teacher proud. Just because Twitter is a brief platform doesn’t mean you should sacrifice spelling and grammar. It matters, no matter the platform.

Get the most out of Facebook

  • Photos are essential for Facebook. There are lots of great sources of images: your personal photos that relate to the topic, images you’ve used in your blog, your headshot and your book cover. Great images can also be found online, either through paid sites like BigStockPhoto.com or through several high-quality free stock photo sites like those listed here.
  • Facebook is free, but it isn’t. Thanks to a change in their algorithms, Facebook has made it difficult to reach your audience without paying to “boost” your ad. However, just a few dollars can go a long way. And then you can take advantage of Facebook’s massive amount of user data, which allows you to target your post to a specific audience (i.e. women ages 30-60 who are interested in Bible studies and attend a Christian church).

The key to sucess, then, is being very clear about who your potential customer is – to think niche, not number of likes. – Ann Handley

  • Post less but post more. In other words, keep your posts brief, but write them often. In order to begin engaging with you, your Facebook friends want to know that you will be there often and will respond quickly. Here’s the reaction you don’t want when you post on Facebook: “Oh, wow, I forgot about him!” Instead, you want this reaction: “Oh, wow, I love when he posts… let’s see what he wrote today.”

Be an Insta expert

As you likely know, Instagram is completely image-based. You simply snap a photo, pick a filter, write a caption and post. While there are many creative ways that writers can use Instagram, we suggest that you use consistency of style in your posts. Here are some ideas:

  • Offer a behind-the-scenes look at the writer life. Photos of your favorite coffee mug, writing spot or cat sprawled across your keyboard are perfect.
  • Post selfies with fans and colleagues at book signings, speaking engagements, etc. Be sure to tag the people in the photo to gain more exposure.
  • Use an app like Studio (iPhone or Android) to add quotes from your writing onto beautiful images, like the stock images we mentioned above.

Be sure to set up your account to automatically post your Instagram images to Facebook.

For more great ideas, head over to The Creative Penn’s post How to Use Instagram As An Author Plus 10 Ways to Grow Your Account Organically.

Using social media can be intimidating, but with a little experimenting, we know that you can not only become comfortable with it, but really begin to enjoy the interactions and exposure it brings.

At Certa, we believe our authors have incredibly important stories to tell and we are here to help you tell them, whether in a published book or a quick tweet. Let us know how we can help you today!

So, What is Your Book About?

It may sound like a simple question. But the following excerpt from a post by Rob Eagar, author of Sell Your Book Like Wildfire, illustrates how crucial your answer can be.
College football fans were treated to an amazing game a few years ago as Michigan State upset highly-ranked Wisconsin on the last play of regulation. As time expired, Michigan State’s quarterback threw a last-ditch, 44-yard, “Hail Mary” pass that was bobbled by two players until receiver, Keith Nichol, caught the ball and crossed the goal line.
Some people called the desperate play a “lucky” win, and it was certainly a rare situation. However, Keith made an interesting comment in the post-game celebration interview. He said that Michigan State practiced that exact kind of last-second desperation play every week. In fact, they practice it so much that they have a name for the play called, “The Rocket.”
What does a lucky, last-second catch in football have to do with marketing a book? There are times in life when you suddenly find yourself in a desperate “Hail Mary” situation. For example, you might randomly sit down next to an important person on the airplane. Someone may suddenly introduce you to a high-profile leader at a party. You may be asked to fill-in for a well-known speaker who cancels the day before. You might get asked to appear on a major radio or television show with little advance notice. Each of these situations has happened to several of my author clients.
The question is: are you prepared to handle those “Hail Mary” moments when they arise?
Don’t avoid the work and think you can just “wing it.” Instead, do you practice reciting the value of your book? Do you have a powerful speech ready to give on short notice? Do you rehearse your sound bites so that you could give an effective interview if a TV producer called tomorrow?
Sometimes, the biggest marketing opportunities appear unannounced. If you’re caught off guard, you won’t be in a position to maximize those occasions. That’s why it’s important to continually prepare for those situations. For example:
  • Memorize the key value statements for your book.
  • Rehearse answering media interview questions while driving in your car.
  • Practice a new speech out loud by yourself until you own the material.
After the big win, Michigan State’s football coach, Mark Dantonio, said, “We always tell our players that they have to be ready, because you never know when your time will come.” As an author, a major opportunity to market your book may be just around the corner. Will you be ready?
At Certa Publishing, we want our authors to be the most prepared in the business. We’d love to help you market your book. We can even assist you in crafting a great pitch for those “hail Mary” situations. Let us know how we can help!

Should You Really Write a Book?

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Did you see what he tweeted?

Did you watch her Instagram story?

Did you stream his podcast?

Did you watch their Facebook Live?

With so much flashy content available, it’s easy to wonder if there is still room for the printed book, and if anyone is still asking, Did you read her book?

You may feel that books are going the way of the dinosaur… or the CD player. And if so, is it really worth all the time and effort? In fact, you may be tempted to set aside your manuscript and focus exclusively on pithy tweets, profound blog posts and your Instagram account.

Our advice? No. Don’t give up on the printed word. And here’s why.

Books open doors

It isn’t often that a conference speaker is chosen based on her tweets. Few churches bring in workshop leaders due to their YouTube account. Organizations of substance want experts of substance. And nothing proves substance like a book.

In his article for Harvard Business Review, John Butman writes,

The book is the most widely-accepted credential at the largest number of content venues. “Has new book” is a standard, and often required, box to tick for the gatekeepers who control access to areas of the ideaplex you would most like to enter: lecture halls, television studios, boardrooms, media pages, special events, people’s minds.

Book establish credibility

In his article for Forbes, John Hall writes,

People look at you differently when you’ve published a book. They assume that if you’ve literally written the book on a topic, you know what you’re talking about. You’re a leading voice in your space, and they’ll defer to your insights over those shared by influencers who aren’t authors.

Any freelance writer can do some quick research and pump out a 750-word blog post about a topic. But not just anyone can write a 20-chapter book on a single topic, survive the editing process and have it published. Doing so says something about you. It says that…

  • You are passionate about the subject of the book.
  • You have made a commitment to thinking about and researching the topic, as well as seeking out other experts.
  • You felt the subject so salient that it was worthy of this effort on your part.

Michael S. Hyatt, former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, wrote the following in a recent blog post,

People work for years to land an important job or get a graduate degree. Both of these can be important steps in your career path, but neither provide the level of credibility that comes with having a book with your name on it. In our culture, this is still regarded as the ultimate proof of your mastery.

Books have longevity

Long after a live-streamed talk has faded from memory or a blog post has been overtaken by newer posts, a book remains. It remains on the pastor’s bookshelf, on the business man’s nightstand, or on the student’s Kindle. It sits on library shelves and families’ coffee tables. It is ever ready to be read again, referenced or gifted to a friend or colleague.

Yes, blog posts and Facebook accounts last forever (even if we wish otherwise!) but there is something more permanent about a printed book. It maintains a type of authoritative weight unmatched by its digital counterparts.

So pick up that manuscript again with a new appreciation for its importance. Tweet, post and stream all you want, but let the work of authoring a book remain your ultimate task.

At Certa Publishing, we are passionate about partnering with writers who are doing just that. We look forward to working with you in pursuit of this consequential achievement.

Beth Moore’s Advice for New Writers

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Beth Moore is something of a legend in Christian circles.  Her wit, wisdom and Southern charm have propelled her into the upper echelon of authors and speakers. Yet writing wasn’t always a part of Ms. Moore’s life, nor has she always been a confident author. In 2012 she wrote,

When I was 30 years old, the thought of the first [bible study] never occurred to me. After that one was finished and originally placed on a shelf, I didn’t imagine a second one.

So what advice does Beth Moore have for new writers? This excerpt from her article, To New Writers, With Love, offers a wonderful insight.

Writing a book will be harder than you think and take longer than you want. You very often will lose passion for the project somewhere in the middle of it and even sprint mentally in a mad blaze toward a new direction and new title. Expect it. It’s completely normal and, on occasion, projects really do need to be abandoned. Maybe God’s just not in it. Maybe it was better off as a blog post or a thought-worthy entry on Tumblr. Maybe we didn’t think it through and mistook it for a long-term project. It just wasn’t the right direction. We miss it sometimes. But, more often, the maddening ebb is part of the writing process that you must work and pray and cry and press through until the fire returns because, if you don’t? Well, if you don’t, you will start fifteen books and finish none of them. And, if you do, your blaze for the project will often boomerang with a satisfaction that plunges all the deeper because you fought the demon and won. In the immutable words of Hebrews 10:36, you need to persevere.

You have to factor in more than writing time. Decent writing requires much more time than it takes to actually type the sentences. Decent writing requires thinking and spinning and mulling and living and watching and listening and experiencing and reaching. These bring the strokes to the page that turn the transfer of information into true connection.

I meditate on all You have done; I ponder the work of Your hands. I stretch out my hands to You; my soul thirsts for You like a parched land. Psalm 143:5-6

Turn to the psalmists and trace with your fingertips the times they talk about meditating on God and His precepts, His ways, His acts, and the human condition with and without Him.  Study the contexts. See the results. The loss of such an art may be gradual but make no mistake. It will also be incalculable.

The NIV translates Jesus’ words in John 12:49 in terms that stand up on the page like a pop-up book for any believer hoping to communicate.

For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.

Panic only exacerbates inevitable waves of writer’s block. I don’t care how elementary and predictable this piece of advice is going to sound. When it happens – and it will – get up from your desk, down on the floor, tell God your struggle and pray for Him to move you past the block. Then, as you get up from the floor, thank Him for His kindness and mercy and complete dependability. The block may pass right away. It may not pass until the next day. Or week. Or month. But, if the project is from God, the boulder will most definitely tumble from the path and, when it does, you’ll know who kicked it. Appropriately, God wants us to credit Him with every victory. Hasten to it.

Do the work. Study. Prepare. Don’t have all of your research done by someone else. The discovery itself is often the gift.

God will most often take the message we’re writing and prove us genuine by hammering the themes relentlessly on the anvil of our souls. Does it say anything that I had to type the word “anvil” very slowly to keep from writing “advil.” Knowing how much time to allow on the manuscript due-date for a holy hammering is hard to navigate but, whenever it’s finished, it will be ten times the untested version. Oh, I know, I know. We all hope we’ve already lived the process in advance which is why we feel qualified to speak to it in book form but, from my experience, that’s a sweet dream.  If we sow to our flesh we’ll reap the flesh. Only if we go to the extra trouble to sow to the Spirit will we reap something of authentic, eternal spiritual value.

Submit to the angst of decent editing. That means we have to let our works and ourselves be critiqued. Criticized. Questioned. Challenged. A good editor can be a solid gold pain in the neck that we oughtn’t to want to trade for all the e-book space in the universe. Think of all we’ve gotten in trouble for saying, then think of all we could have said. Lord, help me. An editorial cut can sometimes swerve you right out of the path of a flatbed trailer full of fertilizer.

Perfectionism will snuff the flame. Period. Give it up. It’s cheating us out of hearing your genuine voice.

These are a few reasons why we may never read books by some of the greatest writers on the planet. Some are too narcissistic to take the criticism, too undisciplined to see it through the dry spells, or too committed to greatness to settle for publishing something good.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. We don’t have to strive for fabulous. Purely doing some good can be really great.

Ecclesiastes 12:12 says, Of making many books there is no end.

And I – more reader than writer – for one am glad.

Write on, sister or brother. Don’t wait for a publisher or a book deal. A true writer has to write even with no one to read. Scribble down rogue phrases and incomplete sentences as they come whether or not they seem strung together. Write on the backs of sales receipts or the palm of your other hand. Just write! That book is in there somewhere.

If it seems slow, wait for it. (Habakkuk 2:3)

And when it comes, may God speak.

At Certa Publishing we endeavor to equip our authors to excel at the divine work of writing.  Our recent highlights of renowned Christian authors, such as John Piper, Max Lucado, and now Beth Moore, are meant to offer you a behind-the-scenes look at how great writers write. We know that within our audience lies the potential for similar achievements and success in the Kingdom of God and we look forward to having a front row seat!

John Piper: Why I Write

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John Piper may be best known to you as a writer, or perhaps a theologian. And he is surely among the greats in both categories. However, you may not know that he is also an accomplished poet. In fact, he annually creates story poems centering on Biblical characters for his congregation each year for Advent. Piper’s works were recently published in a 13-volume set titled The Collected Works of John Piper, of which 140 pages are poems.

In tribute to this momentous publication, Piper penned a beautiful commentary on his love for poetry and writing as a whole, named Secretary of Thy Praise, which we have excerpted here. Be sure to continue to the end for his lovely poem I Write.

 

To Gaze on His Glory

Since not everyone revels in poetry, here’s a brief bit of prose to answer the same question, Why do I write so much? It’s a combination of my bent and God’s beauty. At about age 17, something happened. Before that, I avoided reading. After that, I’ve never stopped writing. Does that make sense? The best I can make of it is that, at about 17, I discovered that writing was a way of seeing that more than compensated for reading so slowly.

Hence, the bent. Now add to that, at about age 22, a supernova season of seeing God. I entered a world where the bent and the beauty became a catalytic combination of joyful energy. I have lived in that world for almost fifty years. Here’s a taste of how it works:

  • There is a greatness in the beauty of God. “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3). And all his works share in his greatness: “Great are the works of the Lord” (Psalm 111:2). I love to look at greatness. Since writing is a way of seeing, I write.
  • There is a wonder in the beauty of all God’s works and words. “Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14). Every heart craves wonder. Woe to me if I walk through a world of wonders and grumble about the humidity. Even the psalmist prays to see this: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). God answers this prayer for me through writing. So, I write.
  • There is depth in the beauty of all God’s thoughts. “How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!” (Psalm 92:5). God spare me from wading near the beach for fear of your depths. Few things have pushed me more regularly into the deeps than writing. So, I write.
  • There is a vast value in the beauty of God’s mind. “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:17). Life is a constant battle not to believe the devil’s portrait of this world as preferable to the preciousness of God. Writing about this treasure helps me see it. So, I write.
  • There is an endlessness in the beauty of God. It is inexhaustible, and will be, for all eternity. “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us . . . they are more than can be told” (Psalm 40:5). For those who have the capacity to see, there will be no boredom in the endless ages of the world to come. Writing has delivered me from many a fearful season of threatened boredom with life. So, I write.
  • There is a gladness in the beauty of God. And a gladness in finding it out. “You, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:4). “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2). How can we not make this study the happy work of a lifetime — and beyond. Nothing aids my study of God’s works like writing. So, I write.
  • There is a legacy in the beauty of God. There is nothing better to bequeath. “One generation shall commend your works to another” (Psalm 145:4). “Even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation” (Psalm 71:18). Writing is a proclamation that will be heard beyond the grave. So, I write.

To Praise His Splendor

Taped in front of me on my computer monitor are these lines from George Herbert. They express my sense of calling:

Of all the creatures both in sea and land Onely to Man thou hast made known thy wayes, And put the penne alone into his hand, And made him Secretarie of thy praise.

Secretarie of thy praise. I only wish I could have done it better. Perhaps in whatever time remains, his grace will make a more ready scribe.

I Write

Some travel where they’ve never been,
    Some trace the paths within,
Some peer into the depths, and grope,
    Some scan the skies, and hope.
They long to see, 
    If faint or bright.
      Since I agree, 
         I write.

Some study, marking ev’ry page,
    Some probe the ancient sage,
Some perch cross-legg’d and chants rehearse,
    Some through the night converse
To understand 
   And seize the light.
      I set my hand 
         To write.

Some eat at gourmet restaurants,
   Some mortify their wants,
Some blitz along the Autobahn,
   Some plod the marathon
To feel the zest, 
   Enjoy the height.
      I share the quest, 
         And write.

Some paint, some build, some act the play,
   Some draw, some spin the clay.
Some cook, some sew, and some compose,
   Some dream, and some propose,
All to create. 
   Ah, such delight!
      I bear the trait, 
         And write.

Some heal, some shield, some educate,
   Some sway the magistrate,
Some feed, some serve to make shalom,
   Some bring the stranger home.
They seek to love. 
   I too invite
      The cordial Dove, 
         And write.

Some sing, some leap, some lift their hands,
   Some bow and keep commands,
Some kneel, some sway, some close their eyes,
   Some lie prostrate, some rise.
And all to praise. 
   Is this my flight?
      Oh, all my days! 
         I write.

And may it be that someday we,
   In heaven, sinlessly,
At last may see, and understand,
   And feel, and put our hand
And spirit to create, and love,
   And praise. Then to the Dove,
All-powerful and pure and high,
   My prayer will be: That I,
With crowning skill 
   And perfect sight,
      Be summoned still 
         To write.

Does Piper’s poem ring true with you? Leave us a comment below and share what motivates you to write.

The Potter’s Tools: The Divine Work of Writing

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Imagine a half-finished sculpture on the artist’s table. Strewn about are various chisels, brushes and tools. Chunks of clay lie discarded on the floor. The master leans intently over the object, pressing it here and there with his hands, refining… cutting… scraping. Yet look at the delight in his eyes. Look at how his fingers dance to an unheard song, molding and shaping, with a sense of what will be.

We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Isaiah 64:8

You see, the Lord did not lay down His creative skills on the sixth day. He is still at work, forming and fashioning us into new creations. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:10).  You can be confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

Have you considered that the Lord may be using your role as a writer as one of his potter’s “tools?” But this work is uncomfortable. If you’ve been writing long enough, you’ve surely experienced the sting of rejection. Perhaps an editor has returned your work with more red ink than you thought possible. Maybe your manuscript has not been received with the praise you expected, or has even been panned or criticized by your friends, family or the public.

Scrape. Push. Cut. Do you feel the potter’s tools?

As believers, we have a choice in our response to the pain of His reshaping. Resist or submit. And James reminds that He responds accordingly. God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble (James 4:6).

What if we viewed writing as a new opportunity to submit to the potter’s work? Could we receive the editor’s remarks as a chance to grow and stretch? Can we hold our words with an open hand, allowing the Lord to refine them and infuse them with His voice? When we feel ready to quit, can we ask Him to help us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1)? What if we approached our mentors with a humble heart, asking for their constructive criticism, and appreciating their input?

Jeff Goins, bestselling author and blogger, suggests,

A good writer is humble. Regardless of skill, she is committed to seeing the writing process through to completion. No matter how grueling or hard, she will write. And she will get better…

This all begins with humility. Which really means a willingness to listen and change. To do the work and become a professional.

If you do this, if you take the time to make your work great by never settling for good enough, it will make all the difference. So start persevering today.

Let’s view our writing as more than work, more than a pastime, but as a divine process, a tool in the hand of the Master. Is there really any better place to be than on the table of the Potter?

The Very Normal Habits of Great Writers

04.16.17 very normal copyThe writer’s cabin. The oceanfront balcony. The serene lake-front dock. Is this where you imagine most great authors write? Are you putting off writing until you can make your escape, clear your calendar and clear your mind? If so, you’re not alone. In his post, The Writer’s Cabin is a Myth, bestselling author Jon Acuff writes,

Every writer secretly believes in the writer’s cabin.

In our heads we see a small isolated cabin in a quiet patch of woods. There’s a porch with a swing out front. We sit on that when we need a break from all the amazing words we’ve written inside. There’s not much behind that cabin door, just a humble table like Hemingway probably used, a chair our grandfather made by hand and some sort of way to gather our words. For some, it’s a stack of fresh, white paper and a favorite pen. Others see a typewriter that makes real clickity clack sounds with each brilliant word you capture. The days pile up as the pages do too and we emerge from this literary sabbatical with a book and a beard. (Unless you’re a lady, the beard is not nearly as cool in your story.)

I thought that would be my life when I became a full time writer.

Instead of waiting for serene moments and locations, Mr. Acuff suggests:

Write wherever you are.

Write in your car during your lunch break at work.

Write while you wait for your kids to finish gymnastics.

Write in any moment you can steal back from an already busy life.

I wrote my first book in a Burger King. It could not have been less cabin like.

Many writers also believe in the 30-minutes-a-day rule. No matter if inspiration strikes or not, they make a habit of writing for half an hour each day. Doing so creates a discipline, improves your skill and trains your mind to be more productive. In his post Why You Need to Write Everyday, Jeff Goins states,

Spending five hours on a Saturday writing isn’t nearly as valuable as spending 30 minutes a day every day of the week.

He quotes Jack Cheng who uses the analogy of physical training,

When mastery is the goal, spending an exorbitant number of hours in one sitting will likely lead to burnout. We don’t go to the gym expecting to put on 20 pounds of muscle in a single, day-long workout. Instead, we do several short workouts a week, spread out over months.

Do you think of writing as a daily discipline or an occasional indulgence? Re-orienting your approach could be just the thing you need to jumpstart a new project or accelerate your current one.

In response to the question, “Where is your favorite place to write?” Poet Taylor Mali offered this deadpan response,

[At] the top of our house, there’s an old cupola, and I watch the sunrise up there… and write my poems in longhand. I’m right-handed but I force myself to use my left hand, because I find it makes me more creative. And I write in Latin, because it forces the brain to work in new way – backwards, like Hebrew…

But, really Mali adds,

I just sit in front of my computer.

What are your very normal writing habits? Comment below and let us know!

Is This What You Really Meant to Say?

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In our last post, we told you to embrace the ugliness of the first draft. Whether this exercise was fun or grueling, we hope it propelled you further down your writing path. But don’t assume that the next step is to simply edit your way from a first draft to a final draft. No. Now it’s time to find your voice. Your tone. Your message. It’s time to answer the question, Is this what you really meant to say?

If today you emailed your first draft to 10 different writers to finish, do you think you would receive back 10 very similar works? Absolutely not. In fact, they might be almost unrecognizable from the original. Why? Because those writers will have applied their voice to the text, crafting it into something unique and exclusive to them.

So that’s the next step. But maybe you’re asking what is my voice? What makes it unique?  That’s where we turn for advice to national bestselling author Jeff Goins, and his article Ten Steps to Finding Your Voice. Goins writes,

Spending some time deliberating over voice is worth your attention and focus. Whether you blog for fun, write novels, craft poems, pencil melodies, or inspire people with your prose, it’s essential that you find your unique writing style.

If you struggle with getting people to read your writing or with staying consistent in your craft, you need to stop chasing numbers and productivity and reboot. It’s time to start finding and developing that voice of yours.

An Exercise for Finding Your Voice

Not sure where to start? No problem. Most of us need help understanding our voice. Here’s a short exercise that can help you — just follow these 10 steps:

  1. Describe yourself in three adjectives. Example: snarky, fun, and [ambitious] 
  2. Ask (and answer) the question: “Is this how I talk?”
  3. Imagine your ideal reader. Describe him in detail. Then, write to him, and only him. Example: My ideal reader is smart. He has a sense of humor, a short attention span, and is pretty savvy when it comes to technology and pop culture. He’s sarcastic and fun, but doesn’t like to waste time. And he loves pizza.
  4. Jot down at least five books, articles, or blogs you like to read. Spend some time examining them. How are they alike? How are they different? What about how they’re written intrigues you? Often what we admire is what we aspire to be. Example: Copyblogger, Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, Ernest Hemingway, and C.S. Lewis. I like these writers, because their writing is intelligent, pithy, and poignant.
  5. List your favorite artistic and cultural influences. Are you using these as references in your writing, or avoiding them, because you don’t think people would understand them. Example: I use some of my favorite bands’ music in my writing to teach deeper lessons.
  6. Ask other people: “What’s my voice? What do I sound like?” Take notes of the answers you get.
  7. Free-write. Just go nuts. Write in a way that’s most comfortable to you, without editing. Then go back and read it, asking yourself, “Do I publish stuff that sounds like this?”
  8. Read something you’ve recently written, and honestly ask yourself, “Is this something I would read?” If not, you must change your voice.
  9. Ask yourself: “Do I enjoy what I’m writing as I’m writing it?” If it feels like work, you may not be writing like yourself. (Caveat: Not every writer loves the act of writing, but it’s at least worth asking.)
  10. Pay attention to how you’re feeling. How do you feel before publishing? Afraid? Nervous? Worried? Good. You’re on the right track. If you’re completely calm, then you probably aren’t being vulnerable. Try writing something dangerous, something a little more you. Fear can be good. It motivates you to make your writing matter.

So we encourage you to take that ugly first draft and decide how to craft it into what you really meant to say. Your future readers are waiting!