4 Tips for Every Writer

by Jamie Lapeyrolerie

On one of her blogs, Musings of Jamie, Random House editor Jamie Lapeyrolerie described her writing path, which began with a story she wrote as a child about a fantastical sea creature and has included several columns and blogs. Jamie gave us permission to share this excerpt with you, which highlights four great tips for writers of any genre or format.

Tip #1 – You can completely refocus what you want to write on. I most definitely have. Some were for a season (like book reviews), some were trial and error (I started countless “series” on my She Laughs With Dignity blog only to write two posts). Life, passion, and time can all shift what you want to do. There are helpful ways to transition, but don’t fear it either. You might lose readers (I have and that’s totally okay!), but it’s more important that you are enjoying what you’re writing on (especially if it’s a hobby!).

Tip #2 – Don’t discount the writing jobs you take that aren’t your favorite. Every type of writing I did shaped the writer I am today. Even the small jobs after college like newsletters and interviews for my church denomination headquarters gave me professional experience I could add to a resume. And with each completed job I grew in my confidence that I was still very much building as a recent college graduate in my early 20s. Blogging about weddings when I was a wedding photographer helped me to keep writing.

Tip #3 – You don’t have to share everything you write. Today, it’s all about content creation, content creation, content creation. I’ve fallen into this trap numerous times. But don’t feel like you always have to share what you write. There have been articles that I really loved, but only wrote for myself to help me process something I was going through or because I wanted to get some writing time in. 

Tip #4 – Take a break. When my book blog was at its height, I was blogging daily (M-F). I look back now and think HOW?! When I got my new job and moved to Colorado, I realized I didn’t have the same time, energy, or desire (it helped that my now full time job was all about books) and so I slowly started blogging less. I finished my commitments (of blog reviews) and then stopped for a while. There wasn’t an announcement or anything fancy like that, but it was what I needed at the time, so I did. Having that space and time was refreshing and gave me the space to think about next steps and what I wanted my writing to look like moving forward. 

Whatever journey you’re on (could be the arts, could be a completely different field, could be something you hope to keep a hobby), I hope it fills you up, inspires you, and that you can use it to encourage others. 

Read Jamie’s full blog post here. You can also connect with her on Instagram.

Ten Pages of Nothing

Sometimes you get a line, a phrase, sometimes you’re crying, or it’s the curve of a chair that hurts you and you don’t know why, or sometimes you just want to write a poem, and you don’t know what it’s about. I will fool around on a typewriter. It might take me ten pages of nothing, of terrible writing, and then I’ll get a line, and I’ll think, “That’s what I mean!” What you’re doing is hunting for what you mean, what you’re trying to say. You don’t know when you start.

Anne Sexton, American poet (1928 – 1972)

2023 Convention Highlights

While this blog isn’t an official publication of the Evangelical Press Association, most of our writers are EPA members. Several of us attended the 2023 convention in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, this past April. Here are some highlights of our time together, as well as a few thoughts on why EPA is valuable to us.

What We Learned

Joyce Ellis: I was amazed at the number of editors who were actively “looking for” freelancers this year—many more than in the past. Perhaps it’s the downsizing of staff, the fact that they don’t have to pay freelancers as much (considering benefits), or maybe we’re just getting more visibility. Whatever the reason, I believe these are great times to be freelancing, and we need to knock confidently but wisely on any doors that seem even slightly ajar for us. (I’m preaching to myself and whoever else needs to hear this.) 

By confidently, I mean that we need to trust that the God who gifted us is not pleased when we give in to our insecurities—so many freelancers have them—but follow where He leads. Case in point, Moses.

By wisely, I mean that we really need to study a magazine and make sure what we want to send them actually fits their style and needs. Case in point, Paul’s fitting his message to the audience.

Ann Byle: I was challenged by Keith Hammonds’ workshop “Hope with Teeth: Bringing Solutions Journalism into your Reporting.” It’s easy to report on the wrongs, but it’s a challenge to also offer ways to right those wrongs. I want to do that in my journalism work. I was also challenged by a number of the workshops on social media strategy and personal branding. This area is hard for me, as it is for many, but I was encouraged to realize that it’s possible and even a doable task.

Stephen R. Clark: In the sessions with Bob Smietana (“Reorganized Religion: The Reshaping of the American Church”) and Theresa Lynn Sidebotham (“Reporting on Misconduct Allegations and Findings Issues and Constraints”), as well as in the Plenary Forum with Naghmeh Abedini Panahi and Mariam Ibraheem (“Overcoming Domestic Abuse and Religious Oppression”), it is clear that pain and change is rampaging through American organized religion (aka, the church). Churches are facing truly new and daunting challenges. The same old same old won’t hold even a little any longer. As responsible writers, we need to educate ourselves on the issues being faced, and ensure that we are writing honestly in ways that can help churches move forward. Yes, we need to exhibit kindness and love, but not at the expense of truth and justice. What we write about, report on, and how we do this must aim at advancing the gospel of Jesus to bring healing and unity.

Ann-Margret Hovsepian: Ann Byle didn’t know I was going to write this but my favourite workshop this year was hers: “Articles to Books.” She gave us simple guidelines for listing our assests (such as old content, our subscribers list, years of research, interviews, and our own stories) and then brainstorming ways to repurpose them. I’ve been writing for nearly 30 years so Ann’s suggestions excited me. There is so much potential for future projects that don’t need me to start with a blank page!

Chris Maxwell: Much of the information inspired me to continue doing what I am already doing. 

What We Enjoyed

Ann Byle: The convention was enjoyable in so many ways. Networking is always a big part of EPA, and this year was no different. I was able to connect with old friends and meet new friends in our freelance community. It’s always good to talk with fellow freelancers about writing and the freelance life we’ve all chosen to lead. Another highlight was the workshops. I learned something or was challenged by all that I attended. Also, Sight and Sound. I’m still processing the mind-boggling presentation “Moses.”

Stephen R. Clark: One of the highlights of being at the convention happened at Friday’s lunch. I happened to be sitting next to a person who works for an AG publication, Influence Magazine. His name was Steve. He asked me what year I graduated from Evangel College . When I told him he asked me if I knew Mike Lopez. Just before I answered, I noticed his last name on his name tag. He was Mike’s brother (who also later attended EC)! Mike and I were in the same dorm at EC and Mike was notorious for wandering the halls day and night playing “Stairway to Heaven” on his guitar. He was a good friend. We were both in the Chicago area in the 1980s and he and his wife babysat my son once or twice. Sadly, Mike passed away about 17 years ago. But it was really great chatting with his brother Steve and reminiscing about our days at EC. What’s also interesting is that I had just recently been thinking about Mike and what a fun guy he was. Small world!

Ann-Margret Hovsepian: The people I’ve gotten to know through EPA over the last two decades have become my third family (after my biological and church families) so, as much as I benefit from the workshops and am blessed by the speakers or worship, and as fun as the outings often are, the great big helping of icing on the cake is the fellowship. This year we met quite a few new freelancers (or people interested in freelancing) and it brought me joy to see their eyes light up as they made connections and discovered new possibilities.

Chris Maxwell: Conversations with writers and editors. Many have become friends to me through the years. The services, the sessions, the meals: Everything was enjoyable.

Why EPA?

Ann Byle: There are so few places that Christian freelance writers can gather to commiserate, network, learn, and make connections for future writing work. EPA offers all of those things. The conference also opens up new opportunities for writing jobs and collaborations, as well as learning from fellow freelancers about their writing lives, challenges, and triumphs.

Ann-Margret Hovsepian: For years I said (and was quoted as saying): “I can’t afford not to go to EPA.” I’ve been a member of EPA for 20 years (and now a member of the board for one) and there is no way I could have written for so many wonderful publications if not for the connections I made with editors (and my first literary agent!) at the annual convention, especially in the earlier years when I didn’t know anyone yet and didn’t really know what I was doing. The low cost of membership and even the high cost of attending the convention (keeping in mind that it’s more expensive for me as a Canadian with travel and the exchange rate) have had an unbeatable return on investment.

Chris Maxwell:  The EPA Convention is a wonderful place to meet people in the Christian writing world, to build relationships, to have conversations about article ideas, and to receive more writing assignments. 

Speak the Unspeakable Stuff

We write to expose the unexposed. If there is a door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must. Otherwise, you’ll just be rearranging furniture in rooms you’ve already been in. Most human beings are dedicated to keeping that one door shut. But the writer’s job is to see what’s behind it, to speak the bleak unspeakable stuff, and to turn the unspeakable into words—not just any words but if we can, into rhythm and blues.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on the Writing Life

Small Chunks, Big Projects

by Ann Byle

Freelance writers have a well-developed deadline muscle. We can whip out a news brief, short news story, or blog post pretty quickly and without an all-out panic attack at the thought of meeting a deadline.

We know how to collate an interview, background facts, and new information to create an 1,100-word piece. We can interview people without stress, discern that one piece of information the article needs, and can find the lede in the midst of all the details.

Yet writing something longer that 2,000 words? Heart palpitations, sweaty palms, deep breathing, and a remarkable resistance to starting. I felt these exact things when it came time to write Chicken Scratch: Lessons on Living Creatively from a Flock of Hens (Broadleaf, May). I clucked and delayed, fiddled around, procrastinated, and generally made myself miserable with thoughts about how much work writing a book was going to be.

Then I sat on my vent (which is chicken language for bottom), and starting writing. Lesson learned. Just start. If you’re planning to or dreaming about doing a larger book project, here are several suggestions for getting started and staying on track.

  1. Outline first. This may go against the grain for those who believe outlines are of the devil, but knowing where you’re going is a huge help when the project seems too big. I had created a chapter outline for Chicken Scratch to include in the book proposal, which helped me greatly to move forward with the book. I didn’t always stick to it religiously, but it was enough of a scaffolding to keep me moving and out of the chaos of not knowing where to go next.
  2. Know your Anne Lamott. In her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Lamott describes a time her brother needed to complete in one night a project on birds he’d had three months to do. His dad said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” The same principle applies to a writer moving from shorter pieces to longer books. Paragraph by paragraph, section by section, chapter by chapter. Looking at a project as one big whole can stop you in your tracks, but seeing it in small pieces—bird by bird—can keep you going.
  3. Trust the process. More than once I thought of Chicken Scratch as a big, confusing pile of mush. I couldn’t see the way through to a completed book. But over the years as a freelance writer, I learned to trust the process in small articles. I learned to trust that the interviews, facts, details, and research would coalesce into a readable piece. This same trust applies to books, too. Yes, I had to create a process (with help from Kid 1, who is a process person and the Left-Brain Chicken in Chicken Scratch) to help me organize the many details. And yes, I trusted the process and the process trusted me back.
  4. Create a process. You can trust the process only so far as you create a process that works. If your process is printing your notes, cutting them into pieces and rearranging on your kitchen table, so be it (I have a friend doing this very thing right now). My novelist friends use colored note cards for each scene based on which character is leading that scene—allowing them to see who has more scenes, when scenes need to be repositioned, etc. For Chicken Scratch, I used different-colored note cards divided into source books, people interviewed, quotations, resources listed, Left-Brain Chicken details, Egg-tivities, and chapter overview. I kept track of all the different pieces of each chapter in a cool box complete with dividers. A bit old school, yes. Who cares anyway? Do what works for you whether it’s colored note cards, sticky notes on a wall, or a project managing platform such as Trello, Scrivener, or Asana.
  5. Set deadlines. Give yourself a week to complete a chapter, an hour to research that detail, an afternoon to write and edit that section, until next Tuesday to set up interviews with five sources. Lots of small deadlines add up to meeting that self-imposed deadline to finish your book or longer assignment, or that publisher-imposed deadline to turn it in. 

We freelancers know that deadlines are in place for a reason. We meet those deadlines so a piece of writing can go out into the world via a magazine, website, blog, newspaper, or book. The same techniques apply to small and large projects, so flex those deadline muscles, think big, and get writing.

Ann Byle has been a freelance writer for 25 years. She writes for Publishers Weekly and Grand Rapids Magazine and has written for Christian Retailing, Inspire and more. She has cowritten or written several books including When Angels Fight with Leslie King and the ebook The Joy of Working at Home with fellow EPA freelancers, The Baker Book House Story, and Christian Publishing 101. Her newest book is Chicken Scratch: Lessons on Living Creatively from a Flock of Hens.

Writing in Riddles

by Randy Petersen

“The desire to write grows with writing.”

That quote is attributed to the Reformation-era scholar Erasmus, though I’ve been unable to hunt down the source. But I found a few other gems from this witty writer.

In his book Adages, Erasmus referred to “those who make a point of speaking obscurely, and in riddles; or those who out of inexperience or a superstitious veneration for unknown words write in such a complicated way that they need a prophet rather than a reader.”

I recognize my younger self in those lines. Sometimes it’s painful to reread stuff I wrote in college.

Erasmus also cites a Greek writer mentioned by Aristotle, saying his “obscurity arose from an ambiguous arrangement of words, since it was uncertain whether the word in question belonged to what went before or to what followed after.”

Why Christian Writers Write: A Meditation

by Stephen R. Clark

Writing is a painful, sublime joy. I think only writers will understand this.

Madeleine L’Engle declares, “The artist cannot hold back; it is impossible, because writing, or any other discipline of art, involves participation in suffering, in the ills and the occasional stabbing joys that come from being part of the human drama.”

The call of writing for writers is both blessing and curse.

A popular quote about writing, and one I’ve used often, is attributed to Gene Fowler: “Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

I’m not sure how it relates, but it’s intriguing to me that before he became a journalist, Fowler was a taxidermist.

He gets it right on the painful side of writing. Especially when faced with deadlines that reset relentlessly as they do in the newspaper business. Fowler worked on papers in Denver and New York before launching into books and later screenwriting.

The imagery, of course, conjures up Jesus praying and sweating drops of blood in Gethsemane. He is called to a daunting task yet, perhaps, is there an out? No, just as there really is no escape other than writing for a writer.

It’s funny how a writer’s head can be filled with perfect sentences and paragraphs on a topic, but when sitting down to put them on paper or pixels, chaos and randomness breaks out! The thoughts and the words tacked to them scatter into incoherence and have to be wrestled and wrangled onto the page.

It’s exhausting! But a rewarding compulsion.

Novelist and essayist Anna Quindlen counters Fowler’s thought stating, “Sometimes writing is a chore, for sure, but sometimes it is an uncontrollable urge and the antidote to pain.”

Those of us who are writers understand that “uncontrollable urge.” I’ve experienced it often when, because of the daily requirements of life and duty, I’ve been unable to find the time to sit and write. Ideas are always bouncing around in my head like bubbles in a shaken soda bottle. The words pressing to get out.

A friend of mine who is a writer and professor of English, Danny Anderson, lamented on Facebook once, “Was finally able to write something. Yes it probably sucks, but it still felt good to get it out. I find that my best writing tends to be things that only I could write – the downside to that is that it’s probably only me that cares about it in the first place. Oh well.”

All the common emotions that haunt a writer are in his lament. Satisfaction in finally writing. Fear that it’s crap. Delight in getting it out. Doubt that anyone else will like it. Taken all together, his post expresses the pain and joy, the frustration and exhilaration that is writing.

“I know of nothing more thrilling than the arrival of a good idea for a story,” declares Pulitzer winning author Tracy Kidder. I agree, but this is also when the pressure starts to build. The idea strikes, you know it’s a good one, and now you have to deal with it.

The reality is that not everyone can breathe life into words and bring writing alive on the page. Maybe this is the connection to taxidermy. Anyone can stuff a dead animal, but it takes real talent and skill to end up with something that looks realistic — as if it’s actually still living ready to take off. When this happens in writing, the joy one feels is euphoric.

In her poem, “”Holy, holy,” Marge Piercey captures this feeling.

…. From time to time

usually but not always when writing

something would seize me, bear me

up and out of myself as in an eagle’s

talons. I’d almost forget to breathe.

It was never for long. I’d return

shocked, my mind on fire, a rushing

in me, a coming together, clarity.

I know when I’m finally able to get traction on an idea, tame the various components, and herd the thoughts coherently onto the page, it is as if my mind is on fire, and my heart. Poet Seamus Heaney agrees, explaining, “I’ve always associated the moment of writing with a moment of lift, of joy, of unexpected reward.”

There is pleasure in the physical and mystical act of writing, the invisible motion of plucking those just right words out of the ether and placing them perfectly on the page.

John Steinbeck said, “I write because I like to write. I find joy in the texture and tone and rhythm of words. It is a satisfaction like that which follows good and shared love.” Yes, indeed.

Besides the joy and pain, for those of us gifted with this marvelous affliction, writing is something we need to do out of obedience.

Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame was a missionary and a runner. He said, “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

He also advised, “If, in the quiet of your heart, you feel something should be done, stop and consider whether it is in line with the character and teaching of Jesus. If so, obey that impulse to do it, and in doing so you will find it was God guiding you.”

For a writer who is also a Christian, writing is something that should be done, must be done. What we write about is weighed to determine if it is indeed “in line with the character and teaching of Jesus.” And when all aligns — calling, idea, desire, and gift — the outcome is spurred by the Holy Spirit in us, a mighty rushing wind of pain and joy, release and redemption.

We write because that’s how He made us. And it is good.

In his poem, “The Trouble With Poetry,” Billy Collins reveals,

But mostly poetry fills me

with the urge to write poetry,

to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame

to appear at the tip of my pencil.

And so, we who are writers, go through our days, in darkness and in light, waiting for that little flame, not just to appear at the tip of our pencil, but to ignite our hearts and minds with the next thing we are being tasked to share. Article, story, poem, testimony, whatever it is God is nudging us to bring into being and put out there in the world to declare His glory and advance His kingdom.

This is why we write.

Pick Your Battles (with Editors)

If you gain a reputation as a constant complainer, you may forgo future writing opportunities with that publisher, who might look for a different writer who is more manageable. Are you are willing to cut those ties? If not, it might be best to swallow your pride in order to build a relationship. Then, after you’ve written additional stories and gained the editor’s trust, you can speak up more often.

Michael Foust

Read Michael’s full article here: “5 Questions to Ask Before Challenging Your Editor.

Love Letters

by Randy Petersen

If you’re looking here for inside tips on the writing business, you might be disappointed, but you shouldn’t be. I’m recommending a tool for Christian writing that’s absolutely essential.

Not a tech gadget. It won’t correct your spelling or grammar or theology. (I am intrigued, however, by the idea of a Theolo-check feature, where a balloon pops up, saying, “This sentence seems dangerously antinomian.”)

But no, it doesn’t even feel right to call this a “tool” for writing—though without it all your lovely prose will have the subtlety of a clanging gong. Maybe we could call it a program or process or principle, or something else beginning with P.

All I know is, it’s a must-have for Christian writers. Without it, you might as well highlight everything in your portfolio and hit Delete.

Priority. That’s the word I was looking for. It’s far more important than all the tips and tricks, themes and schemes, project-getters, deadline-setters, and detail-vetters. The Christian writer who doesn’t have this, according to one renowned expert, is “nothing.”

No need for further suspense—since you surely figured it out about 100 words ago. What is this indispensable tool/principle/priority?


You know that, but it’s incredibly easy to forget. Especially these days, when words become weapons. Christians feel embattled. We have so much to fight for, and even more to fight against, it seems. Shouldn’t we use our way with words to show our enemies how wrong they are?

Well, no. Whatever our “ministry of reconciliation” is (2 Corinthians 5:18), it surely involves more wooing than weaponry. Shouldn’t our conversation, spoken or written, be “full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:4)? Might our facility with language actually help to turn enemies into friends?

The Most Important Thing

I can hear you yawning. News flash: Christian blog comes out in favor of “love”!  So what else is new? Love has long been on the short list of highly valued Christian principles, along with truth, faith, holiness, humility, and so on.

But love is not just one of the virtues, it’s the top priority for those who follow Jesus. By my count, there are eight New Testament passages that clearly put love in that highest-priority position. Look for yourself. You might find only six, or maybe twelve. But the language is consistent: love isn’t only good, it’s the most important thing.

What’s the most important commandment in the Law? Well, two, actually, says Jesus—love God and love your neighbor. At the Last Supper, Jesus gives his disciples a “new commandment.” This will be the distinguishing mark of his team: love. Paul keeps saying that love is the fulfillment of the law, and there’s that amazing thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. Without love, we’re toast. Faith and hope, as great as they are, can’t hold a candle to love.

So how can we, as Christian writers, show love to God, to our neighbors, and even to our enemies?

That’s the question to ask. Not, How will I build my platform? Or, What’s the best way to outline an award-winning article? Or, Should I capitalize pronouns for deity? These are all part of the work we do, but the most important thing is love. How will we show love in our work?

The Ephesian Season

The book of Revelation begins with a report card for seven congregations. As you might expect, the church of Ephesus—founded by Paul, shepherded by Timothy, possibly counseled by John—gets pretty good grades for their “hard work” and “perseverance.” They stood up for God’s truth against false teachers. All good.

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4).

The embattled believers fought valiantly in tough times, but they left the most important thing behind. I wonder if we’re in a similar time now, an Ephesian season, if you will. We’re fighting tenaciously for truth and survival, but what are we neglecting?

We mustn’t let love become a casualty of our skirmishes. Let’s use our literary gifts to show and share love. Let’s put forth that first-mentioned fruit of the Spirit every time we put our fingertips on that keyboard, wooing our readers, both friends and enemies, and glorifying our passionate God.

Will you join me in the prayer Paul offered for those Ephesian believers? “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).