Are You Stretching Yourself?

By Dave Fessenden

 
There are many times in my ministry as a Christian writer in which I feel like I’m becoming stagnant, like I’m writing with my eyes closed. When I feel that way, I try to counteract it by delving into a genre of writing with which I am unfamiliar. Though this is hard, it can be a great growing experience.
 

No, I don’t always come up with something publishable that way

, but that’s OK; the purpose of the exercise is not necessarily to produce great writing, but to retrain your writing muscles in a new way — to stretch yourself.
 
For me, the stretching often takes the form of switching from non-fiction to fiction. I’ve published three nonfiction books, dozens of articles and hundreds of newspaper stories. So I consider myself something of an expert in the nonfiction area. But when I switch from nonfiction to fiction, I’m really just a rank amateur; it’s good practice for me to wrestle with a short story or novel.
 
I was thinking for instance, of how we often use the passage about Jesus standing at the door and knocking (Rev. 3:20) in an evangelistic sense, calling people to open the door of their heart to the Lord. But the interesting thing is that John was writing to /Christians/! I wanted to write something about how we crowd our Lord out of our lives with so many selfish things that He has to knock on the door and ask to be let in. I was stuck on how to express it in nonfiction, so I switched to fiction, creating a flash fiction piece entitled “A Knock on the Door.” (Which points up another reason for stretching yourself into unfamiliar genres — it’s a sure-fire cure for writer’s block.)
 
Stretching myself is also good for my soul. Anytime I start thinking I’m pretty hot stuff, I just look at my fiction, and it knocks me down a peg or two. Humility is one of those virtues that only seems to come the hard way. When a piece of steel gets heated up, it turns a bright cherry red and glows proudly, but that’s the point at which the blacksmith dunks it into the water and returns it to its true color — a dull gray. It may seem cruel, but it’s the only way to temper the metal.
 

Be Specialized, But Not Petrified

 
Even when I stay in the nonfiction realm, I find that there are particular genres that I am less experienced at, and so it is helpful for me to delve into those areas once in a while, as a change of pace. Many of us get into a particular specialization in our writing, and that is a fine approach. But by all means, do something outside your expertise occasionally. Are you good at devotionals? Try your hand at a how-to article. Do you specialize in biographies? How about writing a Bible study?
 
It may also reveal a hidden talent for a certain type of writing that you never realized you had. Joy Jacobs was a devotional writer with a very poetic style. But she was also a counselor, with a strong burden for the problems of single women. Her publisher encouraged her to team up with an editor, Deborah Strubel, to write /Single, Whole and Holy/, a Christian living book that had a profound ministry in the lives of many women. And all because she dared to try something different.
 
So go ahead — stretch yourself. Step out in faith and let God teach you something new!

Never Give Up!

Writers and Illustrators belong to the Odd Duck Society

By
Fran Fernandez

 
 
When you’ve sent your manuscript the rounds and received rejection after rejection, don’t give up. Check it again, tighten it up, and then see if, perhaps, there’s another slant you could give for a different market.
 
Rejection is always a good time to remember the famous words of Winston Churchill, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never, in nothing, great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”*
 
I had sent an essay around seventeen times—and received seventeen rejections. I think writer’s insanity hit, and I decided—one more time. I took out the fact that I was a mother with children (which didn’t change the point of the essay at all) and tightened it up some.
The incident about which the essay was written had happened on a college campus, so instead of sending it to another woman’s magazine (if there was another left), I sent it to a Christian singles magazine.
 
It sold!
 
Even Pearl Buck’s, The Good Earth, went around over thirty times until a publisher picked it up. It became a best seller, and now is a classic.
 
Bryan Davis, the bestselling author of the Dragon in Our Midst series was told time and again that Christian fantasy doesn’t, and won’t sell, and “No thank you, we are not interested.” At the Montrose Christian Writers Conference in July, he showed his audience a big folder stuffed with rejection slips, which Bryan viewed as proof that he was writing. But, Bryan never gave up. Because he didn’t give up, he not only got a contract, his books are selling great worldwide, and going strong. Did you get Bryan’s title – bestselling author? You don’t become a bestselling author by quitting.
 
If you believe in your manuscript—don’t give up.
 
My first book, The Best Is Yet To Come, was published 26 years after I started to write. And I now have four proposals making the rounds—and until there is no place left to send them—I’ll keep on keeping on. Each time one comes back, I make some changes and send it out again. I believe one day each one will find a home. Meanwhile I keep honing my craft.
 
Hey, when each manuscript gets published it will be that much the better for my having tweaked them after each rejection.
 
In His precious Word, God tells us, Let us not grow weary while doing good (as in to keep on writing and sending around no matter how many rejections you receive), for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Galatians 6:9 NKJV)
 
It took from 1981 to 2007 until I got my first book contract and an agent. I now have in my hands a beautiful book and a wonderful agent. What if I had given up writing in March of 2007 and said, “Why bother?” What if I had decided not to go once again to Montrose? I would have missed what God had waiting for me, my Christmas in July that year.
 
Whatever God has put on your heart as a writer, illustrator, or artist, He will bring it to pass unless you give up. God will do it—just be patient. (Yes, patience. Now that’s the hard part).
Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass. (Psalm 37:4-54 NKJV)
 
Tyler Perry the Christian actor, writer, and producer knew God had given him a dream. Ninety days before selling his first play that took off, Perry had been living in his car and sleeping in a motel only when he had enough money. Because Perry didn’t give up and followed his God-dream, from 2007 to 2009 his personal earnings were 125 million dollars and growing. He was an African-American writer who was told he’d never make it. But with God, and Perry’s faith in his dream, he kept on writing and trusting God to bring it to pass.
Stir up your dream again to touch the world with your words. Get passionate about the ministry God has given you and don’t give up!
Looking forward to seeing your byline soon.
 
*Part of address given as Prime Minister of England on Oct. 29th 1941 at Harrow School

PUGS Tips for Odd Ducks

By: Kathy Ide

Words and punctuation marks are the tools of a writer’s trade. To be good writers and illustrators , we need to know how to use our tools effectively. While content is important, of course, proper Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling (what I call “PUGS”) can mean the difference between rejection and acceptance from a commercial publisher. It also reflects positively on you in your self-published works.

 
It’s important to use the industry-standard references. Book publishers (and many popular magazines) use The Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Newspaper and journalistic-style magazines use The Associated Press Stylebook and Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Christian publishers also use The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style. Be sure to get the most recent editions so you’re using what the publishers are using.

 
As a full-time freelance editor, I see a lot of PUGS errors. Here are a few of the most common ones I see in the manuscripts I edit. In parentheses after each heading, I’ll give the rule numbers or page numbers for the reference books so you can look up the rules if you want more details.

PUNCTUATION

1. Serial Commas

The “serial comma” is the comma that comes before a conjunction in a series of three or more elements (“his, hers, [comma here] and ours”).
For books, always use a comma before the conjunction. (CMS #6.19 and CWMS page 151.) For newspaper articles, leave out the serial comma unless doing so would cause confusion or ambiguity. (AP pages 329–330.)

2. Restrictive vs. nonrestrictive clauses

A word or phrase that restates a noun or pronoun in different words should be set off by commas. If the word or phrase identifies the noun more specifically, it should not be set off by commas.
For example: “My husband, Richard, took me out to dinner when I sold my first article.” But “My son Michael was born eight years after his brother.” From the context, you know I have more than one son, and “Michael” identifies which one is being referred to.

3. Capitalization of Family Relationships (CMS #8.39 and AP pages 91-92)

“Kinship names” (father, brother, etc.) are lowercased when used generically (“the youngest mother in the group”) or when preceded by a modifier (“my mom”). When used before a proper name, or alone in place of the name, kinship names are capitalized.

4. Terms of Endearment

Terms of affection (honey, sweetheart) are lowercased. (CMS #8.39 and CWMS page 112.)

5. Quotation Marks with Other Punctuation (CMS #6.8–6.9 and pages 344–345)

Closing quotation marks always come after a comma or period. For example:
Placement with question marks and exclamation points depends on whether the punctuation is part of the sentence as a whole or part of the quotation in particular. Examples:
Candy asked, “Do you know the way?”
How can we motivate teenagers who continually say, “I don’t care”?
Tiffany shouted, “Fire!”
I can’t believe he said, “Your story is boring”!

USAGE

1. any more/anymore

any more (adjective) means “any additional.”
“I don’t want to hear any more backtalk from you!”

anymore (adverb) means “any longer.”
“I don’t want to listen to you anymore.”

2. a while/awhile
a while (noun) means “a period of time.”
“Marilynn spent a while editing her manuscript.”

awhile (adverb) means “for a period of time.”
“Mallory asked me to stay awhile.”

GRAMMAR

Dangling Modifiers
When you start a sentence with a modifying word or phrase, the subject (usually the next thing in the sentence) is what must be modified by that word or phrase. A “dangling modifier” is a phrase that does not clearly and sensibly modify the appropriate word. For example, “Changing the oil every 3,000 miles, the Mustang seemed to run better.” A Mustang cannot change its own oil. So you’d want to rewrite that as something like, “Changing the oil every 3,000 miles, Sandra found she got much better gas mileage.”

SPELLING

acknowledgment (no e between the d and the g)
by-product
good-bye
mind-set

Incorporating the PUGS is important for writers and illustrators alike. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. For more, check out my book Polishing the PUGS: Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling. It’s available through my Web site, www.KathyIde.com.