Saturday, April 4, 2020

Barbara Brown Taylor on the Essentials


When Barbara Brown Taylor spoke at the Wild Goose Arts Festival in North Carolina last July, she identified several essential ingredients of the writing life. Although she is a best-selling writer of Christian nonfiction, I believe her recommendations apply even more to writers of Christian fiction. You’ll find a video of her presentation on YouTube under the title, “Best Practices for New Writers,” but here’s the gist of it. Taylor says every writer needs these things to write most effectively:

A Habit. “For me, a habit means first of all an established place for writing so that when I walk through the door, I start salivating,” she said. It usually means you have a particular time for writing, though some of us can write anytime in odd snatches of time, which means we need to be ready to take advantages of those “found” moments. Your writing habit also involves a medium that you find easiest and most familiar for writing, whether it be a notepad, a computer, or something else. It involves a focus on what you need to write in your daily writing experience—a certain number of words, for example.

A Community. This is an accountability partner (or a small group of partners) who meets with you online or face-to-face to discuss the work you’re doing, give you honest feedback, and share what they write today as well. These are seldom open groups because you need confidentiality to share honest critiques of one another’s work. A Sufi woman is part of Taylor’s accountability community, and she will often question Christian clich├ęs that appear in her work. Her husband is another. He is brutally honest about what Taylor writes on a particular day, and might say, “That’s interesting, but not compelling.”

An Audience. Visualize the person you’re writing for. How do they react as they read what you’ve written today? Taylor says, “For a long time, I wrote for people initiated into Christian language and liturgical life. When I started writing a book titled, Leaving Church, I had a different audience in mind: non-church people or churched people who were frightened to enter churches for various reasons. I started changing my language with that book. So your audience changes, but having a clear focus on the type of people you want to read your book helps to assure that you will.”

A Wound. “Part of my practice is knowing what I’m struggling with,” Taylor says. “What problems come up in my life often enough that I could be in community with other people about them? Someone with a spiritual wound asks questions like, ‘Where is God? Does God play favorites?’ and so on. A shared wound keeps me engaged in a book, and I hope it will keep my reader engaged as well.”

A Voice. This is a very particular choice for the writer.  “What is my point of view going to be?” Taylor asks. “Scholarly? Intimate? Inspirational?” How she positions herself depends largely on what audience she’s writing for. For example, one critic says that the poet Mary Oliver writes primarily from her scars and not from her raw wounds, which affects her style as well as her point of view. What level of education does your audience have? At what stage of life do they find themselves? All of these questions determine the voice you will choose for your work in progress.

A Lineage. Every time she sits down to write, Taylor calls to mind other writers who made her want to become a writer. “I call them the Council of Elders,” she says. “Who made me want to write, and continues to make me want to write well?”

A Guiding Spirit. Secular writers might call this their Muse, but we call it the Holy Spirit. “I believe it’s always important to invite the Holy Spirit into my writing,” Taylor says. This may take the form of a simple prayer: “Help me!” Or it may be a fairly detailed conversation that confesses the writer's need of the Spirit for each day's work. However a writer expresses it, she depends upon a Power beyond her own abilities. Elizabeth Gilbert sometimes says to the Spirit, “If I’m not writing well today, that’s not entirely my fault. I showed up. Now get in here and help me.” Taylor says she expects the Spirit to inspire her work and, when she encounters a block, she believes the Spirit may be warning her that she’s headed in the wrong direction.


Joe Allison writes both fiction and nonfiction, and has been a member of the Indiana chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN, with his wife Maribeth and daughter Heather.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Do I Have a Witness? The Testimony of Our Words

As writers, we influence people with our words. Not all of us in ACFW write Christian novels, but we do write clean novels, and our characters reflect Christian qualities. Many of us have blogs or websites. Whatever we place on those pages testifies to who we are and to who Christ is in our lives.

I used to worry that I wasn't a good Christian witness. Some people can say, "Jesus is the only way," and draw people into a great conversation. If I say that exact phrase, I come off as arrogant. But I've discovered an exciting aspect of the writer's life. While I may not have a gift for evangelism, my characters testify for me.

Once I started writing Christian stories, I needed someone else's eyes on my words. Was I any good? I couldn't find a Christian group, but a local meet-up got together weekly. It ended up a beautiful opportunity to witness. These  writers who don't know Jesus have to read the words in my submission. They may disagree with the character's opinions, but they don't feel attacked. Yet, they have heard my testimony through story. They gain insight into one Christian's view of her faith.

Many of these men and women hold a more cynical worldview than mine. Some are atheists and let me know they're hostile to my "religion." They question my characters' behaviors, believing no one can be kind to their enemies. Or no one could face such a situation with tranquility. At the same time they chastise me if my characters fall down on the job and do something nasty to someone else. "And you call that Stefania character a Christian?" they say. "Christians are not supposed to act like that."

THERE is my opportunity to explain a tidbit of Christianity in a few short sentences. "Christians aren't perfect, guys. Stefania loves Jesus, but she's still human. She has trouble trusting God with certain situations. Later in the book she'll do better."

If you aren't part of a secular critique group, I highly recommend it. Yes, you will be out of your comfort zone. Yes, some of Satan's darts will be thrown at you. But you have your shield of faith and your sword of the Spirit and all your other armor. You have the love of Christ in your heart and that love can shine through to some hurting individuals.

Do I have a witness?

 Linda Sammaritan writes realistic fiction, mostly for kids ages ten to fourteen. She is currently working on a middle grade trilogy, World Without Sound, based on her own experiences growing up with a deaf sister.

Linda had always figured she’d teach middle-graders until school authorities presented her with a retirement wheelchair at the overripe age of eighty-five. However, God changed those plans when He gave her a growing passion for writing fiction. In May of 2016, she blew goodbye kisses to her students and dedicated her work hours to learning the craft.
A wife, mother of three, grandmother to seven, Linda regales the youngest grandchildren with “Nona Stories,” tales of her childhood. Maybe one day those stories will be in picture books!
Where Linda can be found on the web:








Wednesday, March 11, 2020

When Life's Not Convenient

I hate inconveniences. Of any kind. I like things to be handy and efficient, to function the way they’re supposed to function. And I have a fond affection for neat and orderly as well. The mere thought of disruptions to the convenient, normal establishment riles my senses. Things like a missing remote control, an appliance that takes twice as long to complete its task, the continually malfunctioning dog-perimeter-boundary system that had me running home at all times of the day to round up the dog. And then there’s the woes associated with remodeling. The no-toilet-for-a-day situation, the no-shower-for-a-week scenario, the gutted-to-replace-everything kitchen. Which happens to be our current reality.   

For years we’ve put a major kitchen remodel on the back burner. A job loss, unpredictable income, and I will admit, a complete inability to fathom how we would survive a project of such mega proportions kept the remodel on the back burner. But a growing impatience with the functionality of my kitchen, and yes, the inconveniences it poses, won out over the fear of remodeling inconvenience.

Friends offered advice of varying levels of helpfulness. 

“Put meals ahead in the freezer.” Helpful.

“You can always wash dishes in the bathtub.” Not helpful.

“You’ll have a good excuse to eat out.” Okay . . . sure.

“Next year at this time, it will all be over.” Soooooooooooo not helpful! This guy’s lucky to have escaped with his life.


"Hey, where's the ice cream scoop?" 

We chose a gradual demolition timeline that would leave us with a partially functioning kitchen until the very last minute. My idea, to minimize the inconvenience, of course. The men assisting us with this monumental undertaking went along with the idea, grudgingly at first, but eventually agreed to the wisdom therein.

So far, I’ve survived. Oh, there have been days I felt completely undone and even depressed. But for the most part, it hasn’t been that bad. We’ve continued the tradition of Tuesday Night Family Dinner, resorting to take-out only once so far. Meals have taken longer to prepare, but we’ve not succumbed to the eating-out temptation too often, nor have we gone hungry. 

What I thought I could not handle has become a challenge from which to learn patience and flexibility. I’m thinking of getting t-shirts made to memorialize the “Great Kitchen Remodel of 2020.” But since the project has not reached completion, I’d better put a pin in that idea.

While I’ve managed to cook and maintain our home despite a mountain of inconveniences, I’ve not managed to resume progress on finishing the third and final book in my YA series. When life hit us with a series of blows last fall, I allowed myself to take a break. I really had no choice as so many other things begged for my attention. But when things calmed down after the new year launched, I promised I’d get back to it. Reminding myself that I’d planned/hoped to complete this book by the end of March, I knew I had to get crackin’.

Still, week after week brought nothing but a stream of rationalizations followed by more promises. Vows that as soon as this or that was resolved or finished, I’d seriously get back to work. I planned specifically to get started a couple of times, even earmarked a few hours as book-number-three time. But each time, something interrupted and spilled into that set-aside time. And nothing book-number-three-related happened at all.

It dawned on me that I’ve been waiting for it to be convenient to plunge back into Preston and Maggie’s YA world. Waiting “to feel like it” or to have my plate completely cleared of any other concerns. Better yet to have an entire, uninterrupted day to immerse myself in their story. Hey, why not several days away from the daily grind, maybe in a hotel like I squeezed in a couple of times in years past.

While that sounds positively dreamy, it’s not likely to happen. Hello . . . In the middle of a kitchen remodel, remember? With paint colors and faux finish techniques to finalize, a tricky ceiling to prime and paint, a pantry revamping that looks different to every person involved in the project. And the list goes on.

Only one thing is for sure. The book will not be finished by the end of March. The setback last fall was beyond my control, but I owe it to myself to finish this series. Readers are waiting for the conclusion to Preston and Maggie’s story. We both deserve to see this series completed.

But I need help. So, I’m asking for your best tips on getting back to a set-aside project. On how to write through the inconveniences life throws at us. Seriously, leave your best bets in the comments below.

Beth immerses herself in the world of YA via substitute teaching, by connecting with the teenage staff and patrons at the fast food joint where she claims the back booth as her office, and by reading YA fiction.

She's a "cheerleader" for saving sex for marriage and an even bigger supporter of "renewed waiting" because it's never too late to make wiser, healthier choices. She welcomes questions and topic suggestions for the “Waiting Matters … Because YOU Matter” blog that inspired the Waiting Matters series. 

Check out her Choices Matter series that follows Preston and Maggie as they navigate the choppy waters of high school, guy/girl relationships, and sex.Beth is also active in the adoption community where she writes and speaks about her experiences as a "foundling" who located her birth parents and is enjoying making up for lost time with her biological family.

Connect with her at BethSteury.com for all the news on upcoming releases. Find her on Facebook at BethSteury, Author; on Twitter @Beth_Steury; and on Instagram and Goodreads. She loves to hear from readers! Write to her at waitingmatters@gmail.com.






Saturday, March 7, 2020

A Flicker of Lightning


Hope is in short supply. Some thought that the dramatic growth of knowledge and wealth that marked the dawn of the twenty-first century would give us a new birth of hope, but no. Anxiety and despair are the prevailing attitudes of our day.

Daily news headlines confirm this. We see it in the faces of people we encounter every day. Their conversations describe lives of futility and despair, fatalism and cynicism, in a world overcast with fear.

If you say this is nothing new, you would be right. Generations have longed for hope. The question is, can we help them find it?

The late John Gardner, who taught creative writing at Binghamton University, admitted that most fiction writers don't. “For the most part our artists do not struggle—as artists have traditionally struggled—toward a vision of how things ought to be or what has gone wrong; they do not provide us with the flicker of lightning that shows us where we are,” he wrote. “Either they pointlessly waste our time, saying and doing nothing, or they celebrate ugliness and futility, scoffing at good” (Gardner, On Moral Fiction, 16).

Seldom can we write a story that shines a floodlight of truth upon the human condition; perhaps once in a generation does a master storyteller do that. But even “a flicker of lightning” can help our readers find their way. This is why our world needs faithful Christian fiction writers, more than ever.


Joe Allison writes both fiction and nonfiction, and has been a member of the Indiana chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN, with his wife Maribeth and daughter Heather.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The After Story Curbside Debrief

In today's post, I describe a short, but simple exercise to help you edit for the desired impact your story can have on your audience.

In my current profession, we have a self-assessment procedure that we do walking out of every retailer store visit. During this "Curbside Debrief, " we ask ourselves these 5 questions after walking out of the most recent store:

  1. What did I do well and how would I know?
  2. What didn't I do well?
  3. What will I always do?
  4. What will I never do again?
  5. Did I leave the store better than I found it?
This is a great self-assessment that can be morphed into many different applications. I would postulate that you could apply this to either your rough draft, finished article, manuscript, or short story. Once you complete that process, go back and then write in another color ink what you wish it would have said (assuming you wished it had said something different). The differences can help you tune in on where you might want to do some edits.

Just a short and simple exercise that can have a much larger impact on your writing.

Did you leave your audience better than you "found" them? :)