The Power of the Personal Story

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In a mid-sized church in middle America, a pastor begins his sermon on the suffering of Christ. He describes the heartache of the garden, the betrayal of the disciples and the ultimate anguish of the crucifixion. Throughout the message the congregation listens politely, throwing up an occasional “amen,” or nodding in agreement. But then a certain phrase catches their ears.

Let me tell you a story.

Intuitively the audience perks up, leans in, and focuses.

The pastor begins to tell about the recent deaths in his family and his wife’s family. He tells of a day where the grief was so great, he sought out a solitary spot near a lake to simply “sit and cry.” But then he recounts how an elderly woman spoke to him and reminded him of God’s love. This brought great encouragement and reminded him that God was near, even in his suffering.

From this personal story, the pastor transitions back into the Gospel story, reminding the audience that their suffering his suffering is not unfamiliar to Christ and that we can find comfort in His ultimate victory and triumph over death. Emboldened by his own experience, the pastor speaks with an extra dose of passion and an increased amount of compassion. He has lived what he is preaching. And the message rings true.

As the service concludes, there is a palpable sense in the air that today was different. Most cannot pin it down exactly, but all know that this was a message they will not soon forget.

So what was the difference?

The pastor’s personal story and willingness to be vulnerable.

You see, with enough training and practice, anyone can stand before a congregation and preach a message. Likewise, with enough training and practice, anyone can write a book.

It is those who are willing to infuse their preaching or writing with their personal story that will really make a difference. Cognitive scientist Roger Schank says, “Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories.”

Let’s take an honest look at your writing. Let’s look past the extensive research and facts. Past the scriptural interpretation. Past the data-driven information. Does your book include your personal story?

There is a reason you are writing on your topic. You have a personal connection to that topic somehow and so your book should be infused with your stories. Doing so invites the reader to perk up, lean in, and focus, just like our congregation above. And like our pastor’s message, your book will be infused with a certain boldness and effectiveness that would be lacking if written by someone who had not lived your story.

Your readers may not be able to pin it down exactly, but they will know it is a message they will not soon forget. And that is the power of the personal story.

 

 

 

 

How Well Do You Know Your Reader?

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This author just gets me.

How would you like to read that in an email or Amazon review? There would be nothing better! But what does that mean for an author to “get” the reader? How is that achieved?

Let’s think through an example. Brooke is in her mid-thirties and she’s mothered three beautiful girls through the newborn and toddler phases. Through trial and triumph, she has learned the tricks of getting babies to sleep through the night. This must be shared! she thinks. And so the book begins.

At first glance, this seems like a great beginning. Brooke has lived through the ultimate research experiment – her own daughters. She’s seen success – they sleep through the night. And she’s willing to share her story – the book.

And yet, we believe Brooke is still missing a key component: empathy.

Sure, she has her personal experience. But this isn’t an autobiography. It’s a parenting book, which will be read by all types of people. People very different from Brooke. Different in culture, age, upbringing, parenting style, and needs. Before she types the first word, Brooke needs to find a way to empathize with her potential readers. And to do this, she must get to know them.

In her bestselling book Everybody Writes, Ann Handley quotes Johnathon Colman of Facebook:

It’s hard to have real empathy for people’s experiences if we don’t really get to know the people themselves. Not just in aggregate… I mean the real deal: actually talking with them. Or, better still: listening to them.

So how would Brooke go about getting to know the people who need her book? The same way any author on any topic can. Here are a few ideas:

  • Start in your personal life. Who do you know who might need your book? Look within your company, family, church and community groups. Ask if you can grab coffee with these potential readers and be ready to listen to their personal experiences.
  • Go online. Social media groups are an excellent source for finding like-minded individuals. Are you writing about geriatric fitness? There are groups for that! Are you writing about debt-free living? There are groups for that too! Join a few of these and simply observe. What are the common struggles and experiences you see there? What types of resources are most often recommended and requested?
  • Read book reviews. Single out a few successful books similar to yours and read their Amazon reviews. You’ll be amazed at how much personal information is shared there! Try to zero in on why those books meant so much to the readers who love them. Look for common themes.

Here’s the hardest part of this empathy journey. You may find that your book’s core themes aren’t as relevant to potential readers as you thought. Thinking of our fictional writer, Brooke… she may find that it isn’t scientific data about REM cycles that really moves her readers, but instead encouraging testimonials. On the converse, she may discover that new parents are skeptical of testimonials and are instead seeking proven, documented scientific research in this area. Now that she is armed with this knowledge, she would be wise to adjust her writing in order to better serve her audience.

Ms. Handley goes on to quote Nadia Eghbal, co-owner of Feast, an online cooking school:

Your customers don’t buy your product to do your company a favor. They’re doing it because your product makes their lives better. So if you want to sell something, you need to explain how you’re helping them.

And there is the key. Empathizing with the reader and keeping their needs foremost in your mind as you write.

At Certa Publishing, we are confident that our authors have tremendous potential to offer much-needed resources to a world in need. We want nothing more than to partner with you to create a book that shares truth and offers real hope and help to those who need it. Contact us today to see how we can help you make this happen.

 

The Greatest Story That Almost Wasn’t Told

 

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Many of us have grandfathers and great grandfathers who served in a war. From Korea to Normandy to Hanoi, they lived, fought and struggled on our behalf. Yet far too many of us know far too little of their stories. If someone asked you to recount the details of your forefather’s service, how much could you retell? Sadly in most families, the narrative of these aged warriors are passing away as they do. How terribly sad.

Thankfully our digital age allows us to recover a portion of these stories through online public records and services like Ancestry.com. Most families have an aunt, grandma or cousin who’ve taken on the noble duty of discovering and preserving their history, both recent and ancient. Yet, despite their best efforts, there are precious details that will never be uncovered. Many stories have gone to the grave with our ancestors.

Now think for a moment if the same had happened to the story of the resurrection. What if the Gospel writers had never picked up their pens to describe that glorious morning? It’s easy to imagine that this great narrative might have taken a similar course as that of our families’ histories. Sure, an oral record would have remained for a few generations. Yes, there would have been some faithful members of Jesus’ lineage who would have attempted to preserve a few relics and write down a few meaningful anecdotes. But like the details of your great grandfather’s purple heart or of your grandmother’s service with the Red Cross, much would have faded away with time.

For this reason, we should all be immensely grateful to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the others who took the time to created a detailed account of what happened that fateful morning. They certainly had plenty of reasons not to write. Chief among them is the persecution that was occurring during the likely time of the Gospel writing. The infamous Roman emperor Nero was particularly cruel to the emerging church and his reign overlaps the timeframe when most, if not all of the Gospels were being written. History records that a devastating fire broke out in Rome in AD 64, which is now named the Great Fire of Rome. Countless residences, structures, and temples were burned as the fire raged for over a week. Several trusted historians, such as Pliny the Elder, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio blame Nero for intentionally setting the fire. Nero, in turn, blamed the Christians and used the opportunity to maliciously persecute the fledgling religion. In his book Nero, Edward Champlain states that during this time Christians were “being thrown to the beasts, crucified, and being burned alive.”1 Yes, this is the type of environment that many first century writers found themselves in. One can’t help but contrast their writing environment to our own. How many of us have put off our writing because Starbucks was too crowded or we wanted another hour of sleep? Our excuses surely pale in comparison!

With this context in mind, our gratitude to these brave men must surely increase. This Easter morning as we join our congregation to read the story of Jesus’ resurrection, let us take a moment to appreciate the courage and commitment of their authors. It is due to their valiant efforts that the greatest story ever told is still being told. And for this, we must be forever grateful!

As you pursue your writing goals this week, we hope that you will reflect on the stories you want to tell. No, the stories the Lord wants to tell. The ones he wants preserved for generations. These stories matter and your time and sacrifice to write them are worth the effort.


1 Edward Champlin, Nero, (Harvard University Press, 2005), 77.

3 Prolific Christian Authors Answer Your Writing Questions

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If you could sit down with your favorite Christian authors, what questions would you ask? Today we’ve gathered the advice from three industry greats in order to spur you on in your writing journey.

How do I build a platform?

Lysa Terkeurst is one of Christian writing’s biggest names. Her newest book It’s Not lysa-sidebarSupposed to Be This Way, is having a profound impact because of its brutal honesty and transparency. Lysa wrote this book in the midst of her husband’s infidelity and her cancer diagnosis.

In a recent blog post, Lysa Terkeurst answered the question of “How do I build a platform?”

Usually, a platform created by the authors own hard work has to come before the book. Now, there are exceptions to this. Sometimes, a writer’s idea is so fantastic that the publisher feels there is a market for the book based on the title and subject matter alone. But most of the time someone who wants to be an author needs to lay some groundwork first. Here are some things you can do to help build a platform:

* Pray and ask God what message might be inside of you that is something you feel passionate about and that could add value to other people’s lives.

* Look for opportunities to share this message in both the spoken and written form.

* Start in your own home church. Talk with your pastor and or women’s ministry leader about what is stirring in your heart and how you might be used to fill a need in your church.

* If your message is Biblical in nature- lead a Bible study in your home for your friends and neighbors.

* Build your blog. Shannon over at Rocks in My Dryer has some great advice on this here.

* Be willing to invest in going to conference that can help clarify your calling and give you the tools you need for speaking and or writing.

* Don’t get discouraged about starting small. I started small. Very small. But over time small can grow. For me, writing and speaking has been a whole lot more about what God needed to do in me rather than through me. He would never let the size of my opportunity be bigger than what my spiritual maturity could handle. And I praise Him for that.

* Each day, ask for your assignment from God. Today, your assignment might not look like it is accomplishing much toward your goal of writing a book. But if you ask God and follow His lead, His assignment is the exact right thing for you. I’ve said it and lived it for years— “God’s shortest route to His richest blessing is paved with one obedience decision after another.”

How do I balance writing and family obligations?

Priscilla Shirer may be one of Christiandom’s highest grossing PriscillaShirer-C-400x600authors and speakers, but she still struggles to balance work and family life like any other writer. In a recent interview on CBN, Ms. Shirer details an experience with God that eased the tension between writing and family obligations:

“You know, balancing this crazy life is just like every other mother,” Priscilla explains. “It is a continuous matter of prayer, a continuous matter of pulling my hair out and going, ah! Lord…what did I get into this? How do I balance this? That is just life — that is just the nature of every mom’s life I am sure — just trying to keep it all balanced.”

Priscilla says she will never forget one morning when God displayed his faithfulness and ability to balance her life.

“I was pregnant with my second son at the time, Jackson was 18 months. At the time a very demanding, too demanding travel schedule to be honest…,” Jackson admits. “And to be honest, I was shedding a tear or two. I was looking at life, saying…this is not working. How am I going to be able to handle all of this?”

“And just as I was crying out to the Lord, the sun came up…the birds starting singing, the flowers were opening up, dew was on the grass. I just kind of saw the world come to life, and as clear as a bell, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Priscilla, if I can handle all of this…don’t you think I can take care of your life too?’ And I will never forget…God promised He would balance my life for me.”

How can I maintain my writing integrity, especially if I am in ministry?

Prolific writer Eugene Peterson will always be best known for writing The Message, a Eugene Peterson.  Courtesy photobeloved Bible paraphrase. Peterson was also a Presbyterian pastor for much of his life and a true theologian. Writing integrity was of paramount importance to Peterson, which he explained in an interview with The Gospel Coalition:

Good writers are people who pay attention to language, are interested in telling the truth, and are in some ways finding themselves inoculated against the fads of what will sell, what will please. Good literature almost always goes against the grain of the culture: interpreting it, subtly criticizing it, maybe not polemically. Pastors are right in the center of deceit and corruption and bad use of language. We have a commitment to use words accurately and honestly.

Good writing does not come easy; it takes a lot of discipline, a lot of self-criticism. A lot of people in my position want to know how to write, and after talking to them for a while I realize, “You don’t want to write, you want to get published; you’re not willing to go through the disciplines, the rejections.” Rejections are often compliments, because we’re not writing for popular taste or the stuff that just titillates people, what makes them feel good or bad or whatever. Propaganda is the worst kind of writing; there’s almost something pornographic about it. It just dehumanizes what’s going on, and we’re just filled with it right now politically, so I think of the importance of poets and novelists, because I think of poets as the high priests of the language. No poet writes in order to get published, not in America, so anybody who takes the path of poetry is going a lonely way and a not lucrative way.

It’s hard to be a good novelist in America because of all the Stephen Kings. There are good novelists and great novelists, but I think for pastors their training isn’t how to use their imagination like novelists in the sense that they see the narrative connection of everything, how everything fits into the story. So if our imagination isn’t trained to see these connections, relationships, and the way words work to bring out truth rather than just facts, we are just giving lectures from the pulpit, moralisms in a counseling place. It’s a great responsibility, I think, to learn to use words rightly. Pastors don’t realize how much we owe to our congregations, to the public, to learn how to use words rightly and skillfully and truthfully.

At Certa Publishing, we want nothing more than to see our authors develop and thrive in their craft. What other questions do you need to be answered? Contact us today to find out how we can help you grow as a writer.

Why you should (and should not) write a memoir

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You should write a book!

Have you ever thought of publishing your story?

Wow, other people should really hear what you’ve been through.

Have you heard these words? Perhaps you’ve survived cancer, divorce, or the death of a child. Or maybe you’ve stepped out of poverty into prosperity. Out of depression into a life of happiness. If so, then someone has likely insisted that you write a book.

But should you? Should you really?

Yes.

And no.

Allow us to offer some advice from established authors who know a thing or two about the world of publishing:

1. Don’t write because you think it is the only way to tell your story

Christian author Nancy Guthrie offers this counsel in her post People say I should write a book. Should I?

I think the biggest question is this: Is writing a book the only, the best, or the most natural way for you to be a good steward of this experience so that God might use it in the lives of others?   It is for a few people. For others, there are other ways that are a far better fit with their personality, their strengths, and the opportunities presented to them.

2. Don’t write your story if the rejection will deepen your pain

Again we look to Ms. Guthrie:

When the book is about loved ones who have died, we want to extend their lives and give meaning to their deaths by seeing their story in print, so when a publisher isn’t interested, it can feel like another death, and certainly another deep disappointment, a sense that we have failed in extending their impact.

3. Do write your story once you are a proficient memoir writer

Simply having a story to tell does not mean that you are equipped to tell it through the written word. Writing is a gift and talent that is separate from your life-changing experience. Only those who have become proficient as memoir writers should attempt to get their story published.

Literary agent Rachel Gardner offers this advice in her post Telling Your Personal Story:

Create a reading plan for yourself. Set a goal for the next year or so of reading at least 20 good memoirs and 5 books about writing memoir.

Begin to craft your book. After you’ve spent months (or years) writing down the stories of your life and learning about the craft of memoir, you’ll be ready to start putting those stories together and creating a cohesive manuscript — your memoir. That may take many more months. You’ll want to get feedback on it from some readers, perhaps join a critique group, and do as many revisions as necessary to make your memoir shine.

4. Do write your story once you are in a healthy place

While it may be cathartic to write a memoir as a form of therapy, doing so will not produce the caliber of writing needed to get published.

Ange de Lumiere, who works as a book coach, advises:

When I wrote the book about my father dying, I did expect to be taken back to the emotions that I felt when he was given one month to live. But I was grateful that I had done a lot of work on myself so that it was not too painful.

I wasn’t writing for the sake of sharing my pain; I had a message to share, which is that death is not the end. My book’s purpose is to show that there is another way to see death and to start a revolution in the way we approach it. So it is very important to be clear about the purpose of your memoir and to allow yourself to be vulnerable and authentic.

The truth is that there is much more to writing a memoir than many would imagine. At Certa Publishing, we endeavor to prepare our authors to navigate the unique struggles of each genre. If you are considering putting your story on paper, we would be happy to come alongside you in the process. Contact us today.

Just the Basics: 3 simple rules about writing

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You’ll find plenty of “secrets to success” on the internet geared toward writers. But the truth is that there are a few fundamental principles that most successful authors stick to. Writer Jeff Goins recently shared his 3 Important Lessons on Writing, which are simple on the surface, but really do form the foundation of an enduring writing career. Enjoy this excerpt:

Great writing requires great ideas

All great ideas start out as terrible ideas. The job of a writer is to constantly capture ideas, refine them, and deciding which ones will see the light of day.

Someone recently asked me how much of my writing sees the light of day. At one point, it was probably close to 100%. These days, it’s more like 20%. The older you get, the more critical you get—of yourself, of others, of everything.

Writing is a process of searching for the right idea and not stopping until you find it. Ira Glass once said of his show This American Life that the hardest part of telling a good story is finding one. Why is This American Life one of the most popular podcasts in the world? Because they are relentlessly seeking the best ideas and throwing out the average ones.

Malcolm Gladwell has said something similar about his own writing and how he tirelessly searches for the right story or the perfect piece of research to illustrate the point he’s trying to make.

Don’t settle for average ideas. Great books and articles and blog posts come from great ideas.

Writing is manual labor

Recently, while coaching a client who’s working on a book, she shared that she was behind her word count goal, clocking in at 17,000 words when she should really be closer to 25,000. I told her no problem. This is how it goes.

Inspiration tends to happen in fits and starts. It’s a bit of a crap shoot sometimes. One day, you turn on the faucet and all that comes out is a steady drip. The next day, it’s like a fire hydrant exploded. Your job is to go to the sink every day and turn the handle.

That’s writing. It’s an effort. It’s a job. We don’t control the inspiration.

At the end of the day, writing is just good old-fashioned blue-collar work. You sit down and you write until you’re done. You show up at the factory in your coveralls, punch your clock, and stand at the assembly line doing your work until the day is done.

Some days, you may write only a few hundred words. Other days, you may write thousands. It doesn’t matter. Don’t try to figure out the mystery of the process. Don’t try to squeeze all the productivity you can get out of a single writing moment. It won’t work.

Those efforts tend to do more harm than good on creative work. Just trust the process. Show up, do the work, and trust that something good is emerging.

So when you do show up, what does that look like?

I don’t know a serious professional writer who doesn’t have some kind of routine, at least when they’re on deadline—which, for a serious professional writer is almost always.

What is a routine?

It’s simple:

  • Pick a place to write in every day
  • Pick a time to write every day
  • Pick an amount of time to write every day

That’s it. It could be your kitchen table at 9:00 a.m. for thirty minutes. Do that every day—or at least more often than not—and you’ve got yourself a writing routine.

Everything is marketing

As a writer, everything you do is marketing.

Marketing is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the professional writing life. Marketing is not the mere promotion of your work. As Ryan Holiday says, you should constantly be sharing your message wherever you can, and ever so often come out with a new book. That’s marketing. It’s constantly talking about the work you’re doing and occasionally selling something.

People should never wonder what you’re about. They should never not know what you’re up to, creatively. That doesn’t mean there can’t be mystery. It just means your job is to live your message, to embody it.

Your message is your best marketing asset. Talk about it with anyone and everyone as often as possible without being annoying.

Get feedback wherever you can, because the best way to validate your message is by sharing it. People will naturally tell you what they think. And if they don’t, their silence is a message in itself.

As you are working on a book, you should constantly be talking about that topic, getting feedback, testing ideas, and so forth.

At Certa Publishing, we couldn’t agree more with these simple rules for writing. Do you have any to add? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

5 creative (and slightly ridiculous) ways to deal with writer’s block

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Writer’s block happens to the best of writers. While there are plenty of traditional ways to deal with it, we thought we’d focus on a few you might not have thought of. In fact, we were inspired by Dennis Upper, a psychologist from the 1970’s, who managed his writer’s block by submitting a practically empty academic paper to the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, who then published it, if only for its comedic value. We appreciated the reviewer comments in the footnote, which read:

I have studied this manuscript very carefully with lemon juice and X-rays and have not detected a single flaw in either design or writing style. I suggest it be published without revision. Clearly it is the most concise manuscript I have ever seen.

Who knew that even learned psychologists suffered from writer’s block (or that academic publication editors had such a sense of humor?)

While we don’t advise that you submit an empty manuscript to your publisher, we have brought together a few ideas that might help.

1. Do something mindless

Paint a room. Mow the yard. Take a shower. Weed the garden. Pick any task that you can do without much mental focus. You’ll be amazed at how well your thoughts flow during this time. In fact, this is why “Shower Thoughts” has an entire subreddit, where members can post the epiphanies they have while bathing.

But there is one condition. This task mustn’t involve screens of any kind. Your brain needs the space to wander without the “blinging” of notifications or temptation to check the score of the game.

2. Read someone else’s writing

Stop writing and start reading. (Hey, that sounds a lot like the title of our recent blog post!) Yes, a great way to get past writer’s block is to stop writing and read someone else’s work. Which authors do you most want to emulate? Pick up a copy of their work. Read just enough that you are reminded of their style, syntax, flow, and timing. This exercise will inspire you and perhaps remind you of what you are working towards.

3. Call your mom

When you were first inspired to write your book, who did you tell? Was it your mom, a co-worker or best friend? Who did you sit down with and gush out your story idea to? Who did you first confide in that you were going to embark on this crazy journey of writing? Call that person. Ask them to remind you of what you said in those moments.

Ask:

  • Why did I want to write this book?
  • Who did I think it would help or delight?
  • What made me take the first step?
  • What was my inspiration?

Hearing your own words and thoughts from someone else can be very enlightening. You’ll be surprised how much the work of writing has caused you to forget the why of writing.

4. Read your own writing

Dig up your old journals. Find those ancient blog posts. Re-read emails you’ve sent (well, the long, letter-type ones). As you do this, pay attention to what you like about your writing. Perhaps it is your conversational style. Or maybe you’re witty in just the right places, or you have a way with a story.

Whatever it is that you like about your own writing, try it out in your current work. Look for ways to be more conversational or witty or narrative. Let your own strengths pull their weight.

5. Do some mind mapping

Sounds a bit painful, doesn’t it? Well, never fear. This one is simple. So simple that it works. Just take a piece of paper and write your topic in the center (the topic that you are struggling to write about). Then as fast as you can, surround that topic with everything you can think of about it, no matter how mundane or ridiculous.

For example, if the topic is childhood sleep habits, your surrounding words might include:

  • bed
  • bedtimes
  • stuffed animal
  • dark room
  • night terrors
  • bedwetting
  • bedtime stories
  • schedule
  • consistency
  • health concerns
  • REM
  • Circadian rhythm
  • Diet

Now that you have these sub-topics on the paper, you can begin surrounding each of them with their own associations, and so on and so forth.

While you may not write about everything you put on your mind map, it is a great way of quickly getting scattered ideas out of your head and onto paper.

Of course there are apps that do this as well. The Sweet Setup recently posted about several apps that might be helpful and they also have a great example on their page.

At Certa Publishing, we understand that writers get stuck. We love to talk on the phone, grab coffee, or Skype to help get your pen flowing or your keyboard clicking away again. Contact us today to see how we can help.

 

Should Pastors be Writers?

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If we asked you why pastors should not write books, you could probably quickly rattle off some reasons. Distractions, temptation to seek fame, etc. However, have you considered why pastors should write? This was the very theme of a recent Gospel Coalition interview with pastor and author Anthony Carter, which we have excerpted here:

It’s no secret: pastors like books. We read them, we quote them, we give them away. After all, the foundation for our entire ministry is the written Word of God himself. Take away that book and we have no ministry.

But what about the writing of books? How should pastors think about putting words on paper for publication? Anthony Carter, lead pastor of East Point Church in Georgia, has written, co-authored, and contributed to a number of books, including most recently Blood Work.  Carter warns against the desire for attention and the distraction that writing can take away from pastoral ministry but also encourages pastors to pursue writing and publishing if they can.

Should a pastor write? Is writing a valid part of pastoral ministry, or does it distract us from the people we’re called to care for? 

Carter_PX_webAll pastors are writers. For me, writing is just an extension of preaching ministry. Every week I write a sermon. All preachers do. Whether you write a full manuscript during sermon preparation or not, writing is indispensable to good preaching. Therefore, it is not a distraction; it is what all preachers do. Nevertheless, if the pastor pursues it apart from the pastoral ministry, then it could be a distraction and become a source of pride.

A young pastor comes to you wanting to be a published writer. What advice do you give him? How should a pastor evaluate and pursue a call to write?

All pastors should seek to get published. The process of writing and being published is a great learning experience. It causes you to think about how you communicate outside of sermonic sound bites and gives you another venue through which you can communicate to the congregation. So I would encourage the young pastor to write.

However, I would caution him against thinking more highly of his writing than he should. As I said, consider writing as an extension of the pastoral calling, and be contented if no one but people in your local congregation read your book. After all, you have been called to the local flock, not the world. If my congregation reads and is encouraged by what I write, I should consider myself blessed.

Writing for publication brings a measure of national attention. How does a published pastor resist temptations to pride and cultivate humility?  

Actually, most books get published with little to no national attention. If you write for national attention, you are writing for the wrong reasons. I would encourage any pastor to remember and take to heart this sobering reality: Most people won’t even know that you have published a book, and the rest won’t care.

In his book Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue, Andreas Köstenberger says, “Writing never just happens. If you are called to write, you must actively plan for it and doggedly persevere in it.” Take us into your writing routine. How do you actively plan for and doggedly persevere in the writing task?  

I write sermons practically every week. This is the bulk of my writing, and where my writing is primarily concentrated. Writing books or blogs is more a fruit of the preaching ministry than anything else. Consequently, I plan my writing like I plan my sermons. First, I start with an idea that grabs my attention. If I am not interested in what I am writing, I doubt others will be either. Second, I outline my thoughts with the end in mind. What do I want people to take away from this article or book? Then I develop the outline seeking to get myself, and subsequently my readers, to that end. Third, I set aside time where I can spend on the deliberate exercise of writing. Like anything else, writing takes discipline. Discipline is time and effort.

Are there any practices or disciplines that have helped you develop skill as a writer?  

I don’t know how much skill I have as a writer. I am sure many would say not much, and I would tend to agree. However, I find that I write better when I read good writing. Good reading is the best discipline I know for being a good writer. In fact, when I read good writers, it does two things: one, I am reminded of how weak my writing is and, two, I am encouraged to try and write better.

What do you think? Do you agree with Pastor Carter’s thoughts on the subject? Comment below to let us know.

At Certa Publishing, we have helped many, many pastors become authors. In fact, we would consider this one of our specialties. Contact us today to find out how to get started on your writing journey.

Stop Writing & Start Reading

Stop writing

We don’t have to tell you that the digital world we live in doesn’t lend itself well to reading books. Especially good books. You know those. The type that you have to chew on slowly. That sometimes require a dictionary or even a concordance. The books that hold weight and substance. The books that make a lasting change in your life.

Instead, we consume tweets, Instagram quotes, 700-word blog posts (like this!), easy reading self-help books, and beguiling fiction that are offered to us in a limitless buffet.

Laura Miller of Slate describes the trend this way:

Books are the intellectual equivalent of slow food; you know it’s better for you and tastes better, too, but you’re too rushed and frantic to care as you white-knuckle it through an avalanche of push alerts.

If we aren’t proactive, we may find those “slow food” books harder and harder to read and easier and easier to neglect.

As you can imagine, we find this trend disturbing for the general population. However, we find it exceptionally disturbing when writers only consume that which is easy. There is a tremendous benefit in doing the work of reading well. And yes, it can be work. Choosing C.S. Lewis over Danielle Steele is tough. Picking up Chesterton instead of the latest Fox News host’s release is hard. However, we believe you will see the benefit—not only in the knowledge you will gain—but in your writing as well.

Karen Swallow Prior, an English professor at Liberty University in Virginia, recently authored On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books, a book extolling the virtues of… well… reading well.  In a recent interview with Christianity Today, Mrs. Prior explains how choosing good books can actually cultivate virtue in our lives:

Reading good literature well is in itself a practice of virtue. Literary art—as opposed to words strung together to communicate facts and information—requires the exercise of the imagination, the practice of patience, the delay of gratification, and the sustaining of attention and intellectual rigor.

These are all activities that build character in ways in which mindlessly scrolling through a Twitter or Facebook timeline cannot. So simply the way we read literature in contrast to other kinds of reading cultivates virtue. Additionally, what we read contributes to virtue when we read timeless works that convey universal human experiences that transcend time, place, and social position.

In the book, I show how we can learn about diligence from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, patience from Jane Austen’s Persuasion, justice from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities—and much more.

So why does good reading create good writing? Here are 3 ways:

1. Imitation brings improvement

Raise your hand if you took music lessons as a kid. Now, thinking back to the early years of lessons, how often did your instructor ask you to compose your own piece of music? Probably never, right? Instead, you were given the great pieces of music to learn, practice, and eventually master. If you did reach the level of creating your own work, you were only able to do so because of the time you had spent with these great compositions.

Reading good writers has the same effect. We notice the vocabulary choices, the way the narrative is structured, how the emotions are evoked. And often these observations happen almost unconsciously (lest you think you must now read with a notebook and pen at the ready to take notes). No. As you ingest quality writing, your own work will naturally begin to imitate it.

2. Good books expand your perspective

No matter how hard you try, your book can only contain as much perspective as you possess as the author. It’s hard to write about public education if you were homeschooled or to write about the vegetarian lifestyle if bacon is your best friend. Good reading is a great way to broaden your horizons and “experience” life through the eyes of others. What is public education really like? How is it different than the stereotypes you may hold? What really motivates the vegetarian to choose that lifestyle? Reading opens the door on cultures, lifestyles, socio-economic situations, and upbringings, allowing you to write with confidence and clarity on these subjects.

3. A healthy diet is cleansing

Most of us have struggled through the first few weeks of a diet, as our body adjusts to healthier food and detoxes from the junk it is sorely missing. But then we reach the other side where we think, “I feel so much better! Why didn’t I do this a long time ago?”

Why do we feel better? Because our bodies are now being fueled instead of stymied. We are giving our system what it needs to perform at top efficiency.

Reading well does the same for our writing minds. It brings us back to what is true, virtuous and timeless. Karen Swallow Prior advises:

It is the challenge [of good books] that makes reading them so rewarding. They do more than kill time or amuse for a few moments. The best books linger in our minds and souls for days or even years.

For a while we may miss the hot takes and Facebook posts that used to occupy our reading time, but it won’t be long until we find our minds stimulated and our pens inspired.

At Certa Publishing, we want nothing more than to see our writers stimulated and inspired. How can we help you? Contact us today.

 

Opening the door on the hard parts of your story

opening the door

Which of these sentences impacts you more?

Children who witness domestic abuse suffer for years with anxiety.

Even 20 years later, my heart races when I recall the sound of his heavy footsteps in the hall, his hurled insults slurred by alcohol and my mother’s pleading for him to please, please leave her alone.

Both sentences carry the same theme. But the second carries the weight.

What is the difference? Vulnerability.

All writers must make this choice. Will you be brutally honest and open with your reader, allowing your own experience to become a character in the book? Or will you write from a distance, holding the reader at arm’s length?

We believe that your ability to be vulnerable with your readers is one of the key indicators of the success and impact of your book.

What holds you back?

1. People will judge me

You’re right. They will. People who have never met you in person will read your book and make certain assumptions about you, which you will likely never have the chance to correct.

However, we believe this is a risk worth taking if it means that your story offers a message of hope and healing to those who would otherwise not hear it.

In his post for Reader’s Digest, Chuck Sambuchino wrote,

I think as writers sometimes we’re afraid to let people know that we feel as deeply as we do. We’re tempted to write half-truths in the fear of being judged.

In fact, Mr. Sambuchino advises that the fear you feel in your gut is actually a good thing:

When what you’re writing scares you, it’s usually a sign that you’re being real. When you start to worry about what others will think, that is the writing that will affect people the most. The only way to achieve that is by going to your most vulnerable places.

2.  My story will be too difficult or downbeat

The complete Gospel story is good news. This can lead us to think that all of our writing should be cheerful, peppy, and bright. However, the Gospel story is full of shadows, tragedy, and momentary defeats. We would cheapen it if we left out the hard parts like the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas’ betrayal, or the burial of our Lord. It is these hard parts that set the stage for the redemptive power of Christ. Thank goodness the New Testament writers didn’t whitewash the story of Jesus’ life!

In the same way, your story contains hard parts. To gloss over or minimize them is to rob the reader of the true sense of what God has done for you. Your reader is not reading your book for the glossy, shiny moments. They want to know how you walked through the valleys, navigated the obstacles, and stayed the course amid the crashing waves.

In his article The Key to Whole-Hearted Writing: Embrace Vulnerability, Grant Faulkner says,

Life is so mysterious, nuanced, ineffable—equally disturbing as it is beautiful—so I decided it was my duty as a writer to be brave enough to risk ridicule in order to bring my truths to light. Why write a sanitized version of life?

The ultimate example

Few writers have bared their soul like one of the writers of the book of Psalms, David. Whether he was being chased by King Saul, in anguish over the death of his son, or wallowing in the shame of his sin, David left it all on the page.

Consider this excerpt from Psalm 44 as David addresses God:

But now you have rejected and humbled us;
    you no longer go out with our armies. 

You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
    and have scattered us among the nations.

You sold your people for a pittance,
    gaining nothing from their sale.

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
    Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.

Why do you hide your face
    and forget our misery and oppression?

We like the way The Message paraphrases the last two sections:

Get up, God! Are you going to sleep all day?
    Wake up! Don’t you care what happens to us?

Why do you bury your face in the pillow?
    Why pretend things are just fine with us?

Clearly, David’s writing is as open and honest as it can be and yet the Bible tells us that God considered him a “man after God’s own heart.”

Here at Certa Publishing, we encourage you to follow in the footsteps of the Psalmist. Be honest. Be open. Tell the hard parts. And watch the Lord use your story to provide hope, healing, and encouragement to a hurting world.

Are your worried that your manuscript tells too little, or perhaps too much? We would love to look it over for you. Contact us today.