Your 2023 Reading List

Whether you’re a newbie writer or a seasoned veteran, it’s always a good idea to keep learning about writing (the craft and the business) and improving your skills. If you’re looking for some new-to-you resources to dig into in the new year, you’ll want to peruse this list we’ve compiled for you. (Some of us will be taking each other’s suggestions!)

We asked several Evangelical Press Association freelancers for their favorite books and they were happy to share these. Some of them are specifically about writing. Others touch on related topics such as marketing or establishing good habits. In no particular order . . .

And here’s a podcast suggestion to jazz up the list:

One last suggestion (which we are not getting paid to make): The Evangelical Press Association has compiled a library of 78 on-demand video presentations from the virtual events and webinars held in recent years and will continue to add to this treasury in the years ahead. This is a valuable one-stop source of training from industry experts in writing, editing, design, photography, digital publishing, social media, professional development, and more. The catch? You need to be an EPA member to access the library, but Associate membership (i.e. if you’re not a publication) is only $80 a year. For the price of four or five of the books listed above, you get access to a great many resources and networking opportunities, including the monthly freelancers’ Zoom chat hosted by this blog’s editors! Learn more here.

What are your favorite resources for writers? Please share in the comments section.

Thanks to Ann Byle, Sommer Cunningham, Akosua Frempong, Chris Maxwell,
Patti Townley-Covert, and Terry White for their recommendations.

CFWN’s Top Tools & Tips (continued)

a collaboration by EPA freelancers

If you missed it, click here to see Part 1.

What are your favorite tools or resources as a freelance writer?

Lori Arnold: Otter AI transcription service has cut my transcription time by at least half. It’s pretty accurate for a multi-voice recognition system. You can also search keywords in the transcript. They offer a free basic package for individuals just starting out.

Akosua Frempong: My favorite tip came from Joyce Ellis during one of the EPA Freelancer Zoom calls and was  confirmed during another meeting by Jeff Friend. Joyce mentioned the Christian Writers’ Market Guide. I decided to subscribe to it and, through it, I got my first professional break in Christian freelance writing, writing for Peer! The guide provides essential information on the publications, including pay and, as Jeff mentioned, tips on how to get the editors’ attention. For me, as a freelance journalist and more specifically a Christian one, it’s been a beneficial tool.  

Stephen Clark: After trying and rejecting several journaling tools, I stumbled onto The Journal by DavidRM Software. This software offers much more than just journaling and is loaded with useful features that are intuitive and easy to use. You can create unlimited dated journals that allow you to create one entry per day. You can also create undated loose-leaf notebooks where each entry is just like adding a page to a binder. The notebook feature is great for organizing projects. For example, you can create a notebook titled “Articles” with each entry an article in progress. Navigating the journals and notebooks is very easy by way of tabs and file trees. You can rename the tabs at any time. Each notebook and journal can be set up with their own default font, color scheme, and passwords. Entries use formatting features similar to what you will find in Word as well as spell check, thesaurus, and auto-replace. You can cut and paste or insert text and graphics from other sources. You can search a single notebook or every journal and notebook for a word or phrase, and you can export the text (individual entries or batches) as RTF files.

Ann-Margret Hovsepian: These are my top three suggestions:

1. The Print Friendly browser extension button is the best and fastest way to print out (or save as a PDF) a web page in a readable format. You can click on any images or text you don’t want in your print-out.

2. The “Save” feature of Facebook is something I use a lot. If I see a link, quote, or idea that I want to hang on to for a future project, or just for my personal use, I save it. You can create “Collections” to organize the posts into categories.

3. I highly recommend signing up for Jane Friedman’s Electric Speed newsletter, which features helpful tools and resources and is sent out twice a month.

What is the best advice you would give other freelancer writers?

Jeff Friend: Never, never, never miss a deadline.

Ann Byle: I’ve learned these things along the Freelance Way:

1. Walk through the doors God opens. Whether the project works out or not, the exercise of moving forward without fear (or with a little bit of fear) is worth the effort.

2. Trust the process. We want the right lede, the right ending, the best story RIGHT NOW, but sometimes it takes a bit for those things to come. But they will come if you do your research, give yourself time to think, and relax. This also applies to starting a freelance writing career; you have to do your due diligence—put in the time and effort—to get started. 

3. Don’t hold things too tightly. Which is to say, your stories will be edited and the projects will go to someone else. Disappointing at times, but it’s part of the gig. 

Ann-Margret Hovsepian: Check out the five tips I shared last summer in this post: Freelancing 101. Also, here is my list of 4 Essential Qualities for Writers.

CFWN’s Top Tools & Tips

a collaboration by EPA freelancers

After a little break, we’re back! We asked several associate members of the Evangelical Press Association, some of whom are on our team of blog contributors, to share their best tips for successful freelancing. We got such great responses, we’re sharing the wealth in two separate posts. Here’s the first part, which is all about getting organized.

How do you keep track of deadlines and juggle multiple projects at the same time?

Randy Petersen: I have a calendar on my wall for deadlines and meetings. And I make a list every morning of my work for that day. I try to break big deadlines into shorter ones (e.g. one-third of the project by April 1.)

Ann-Margret Hovsepian: I use a large hard-bound spiral agenda (sorry, that’s Canadian for “planner”) with two-page monthly and weekly spreads and write down every deadline and task, adding sticky-notes in bright colors for anything I want to make sure I don’t forget. I’ve also been using Google Calendar to immediately block in appointments and meetings. I like that I can quickly access it on my phone to make sure I don’t double-book, and that I can use different colors for different types of commitments (e.g. red for professional meetings, dark blue for medical appointments, etc.)

Stephen Clark: There are three things I’ve used for years to manage my work:

1. Simple wall calendars. I always have two hanging side by side show the current month and the next month.

2. A small notebook. I make lists, write down ideas, take notes at meetings, and basically keep everything in the notebooks.

3. Technology. I use Google Calendar on the phone to manage deadlines and stay in synch with other devices.

How do you organize your ideas (and material) for future projects?

Stephen Clark: I always carry 3 x 5 cards to jot notes and collect them to scan later. Using the The Journal by DavidRM Software, I create tabs and files and add notes from time to time on various topics, and even paste in URLs to articles and other sources. And there’s always tabbed manila files neatly labelled and stored away in a file cabinet. I have sometimes maintained several files, each on a different topic, to collect clippings and notes on specific topics to pull from later. I’ve also kept one folder just for stuff that I found interesting. When I needed a fresh idea, I’d pull out this folder and just browse through it.

Ann-Margret Hovsepian: I used Evernote for a while and it’s got great features for organizing notes and saving online information (whether it’s an entire web page or just the bit you’ve highlighted on that page), with the ability to use keyword tags and much more. . . but I eventually felt overwhelmed by the task of creating folders and coming up with keywords and keeping everything organized, not to mention remembering to refer back to my notes. I find it much easier to keep a basket with colorful labeled file folders next to my desk and throwing bits of paper in there that I don’t have to hunt around for when I need them. (I’m intrigued by Stephen’s suggestion, though, and will be checking it out!)

How do you deal with information overload / digital clutter?

Randy Petersen: In research, I try not to find more than I need.When beginning a project, I may do a lot of background reading to learn about the subject. From that, I’ll develop my structure for the piece. Then I’ll have a sense of how many quotes I might need, and I find them. There’s considerable flexibility in this. Sometimes I find a quote that’s so good, it forces me to change my outline.

Stephen Clark: Ignore it. It will always be there. I use what I need and walk away from the rest. If it’s something on the internet, I can Google it later if I need it. If I can’t find a specific article or other piece of information I once read, I can always find newer resources that serve just as well. Even on my PC, it’s easy to search on files using remembered keywords and phrases. I’ll squirrel stuff away in various folders and then ignore it until I need it.

Watch for Part 2 on November 15. We’ll be telling you about our favourite tools and resources, as well as our best tips for freelancing.

Thin Ice and Rabbit Trails

by Stephen R. Clark

Have you ever been in a lively discussion when you realize that you’ve talked past what you know on the topic? Or else you took a conversational wrong turn with no clue how to get back to the main topic?

You’re on conversational thin ice or lost on a rabbit trail . . . and in good company with the Peanuts gang!

These same things happen in writing. When imagination or material runs thin, the temptation is to resort to embellishing with unnecessary words and repetition of ideas, or to wander off on a loosely related tangent.

To pad or divert: That becomes the question! Neither is a good choice.

In the song “The Book Report,” from the musical You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown*, the Peanuts gang is assigned a 100-word report on Peter Rabbit. Each chooses a different and legitimate approach for their report, but all get tripped up by some form of padding or diverting.

Opinion & Commentary

Lucy begins, “Peter Rabbit is this stupid book about this stupid rabbit who steals vegetables from other peoples’ gardens . . .” She counts 17 words. “Hmm. 83 to go.” She continues with a long and pointless list of vegetables, stopping now and then to count the words.

Lucy started what could have been a solid critique and opinion piece. Her opinion is valid, but now she needs to substantiate it and articulate her reasons for finding the book “stupid.”

What’s Lucy’s problem? Her focus is on the word count and not on the words or the content. Plus, she probably hasn’t bothered to assess why she thinks the book is stupid.

  • TIP #1: When writing opinion or commentary, think first! Know why you believe or feel the way you do. Research a bit to gather material to support your view.
  • TIP #2: When writing to a specified word count, instead of writing up to the count, write past it and then edit. Write until you have nothing left to say, then cut, trim, and rewrite to fit.

Comparing & Contrasting

Schroeder flounders, decides to compare and contrast, then gets diverted big time! “The name of the book about which this book report is about is Peter Rabbit which is about this rabbit. I found it very . . . I liked the part where . . . It was a . . . It reminded me of Robin Hood! And the part where Little John jumped from the rock to the Sheriff of Nottingham’s back. And then Robin and everyone swung from the trees, in a sudden surprise attack.”

Instead of taking elements of each story and explaining how they were similar or different by comparing and contrasting, Schroeder shares one scene about Robin Hood. The point was to provide further insight into the story of Peter Rabbit.

  • TIP #3: When comparing and contrasting, your main subject needs to be your main focus. Always point back to and make sure that your examples support your main focus.

Analysis & Exposition

Linus attempts to go deep, but it’s clearly a stretch: “In examining a book such as Peter Rabbit, it is important that the superficial characteristics of its deceptively simple plot should not be allowed to blind the reader to the more substantial fabric of its deeper motivations . . .”

  • TIP #4: Analysis and exposition aims to peel back the layers of your subject, rendering a complex topic more accessible. Why didn’t this work for Linus? The story was relatively simple to begin with. His method, while valid, wasn’t appropriate for the material.

Summary

All three failed to make any connection between the story and life, or practical application. In other words, showing why what they had to say was important to me and you. They also really didn’t seem to understand their subject! As is typical with book reports, too often the books being reported on have either not been read at all or read only in part.

  • TIP #5: Connect with your audience. Offer a practical application whenever possible.
  • TIP #6: Know something! You just can’t write about what you don’t know.

So how does Charlie Brown deal with the problem? The way many of us do: procrastination! “If I start writing now, when I’m not really rested, it could upset my thinking, which is no good at all. I’ll get a fresh start tomorrow, and it’s not due till Wednesday, so I’ll have all of Tuesday, unless something should happen.”

How can you avoid these pitfalls when writing? Know your material and be clear on what you want to say. Stay on track and on topic. Say what you want to say, then stop. Don’t over-complicate the simple or over-simplify the complicated. If you’re unsure about something, do more research. Never stray from the truth. And don’t procrastinate! The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be done.

* Lyrics for You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown were written by Clark Gesner

10 Tricks to Take Your Writing to the Next Level

by Patti Townley-Covert

While waiting for the literary agent to speak, my hands shook and my heart raced with nervous anticipation. It was my first writer’s conference, and since first grade I’d wanted to be a writer. With a stern face he looked down at my article, then at me.

“You have no style.” My heart sank as I sighed, and my shoulders drooped. Mr. Stobbe’s words killed the dream.

Wait. What? He wasn’t finished. “You have no style, but you can learn.”

Our meeting that day changed my life. For the next decade I attended writer’s conferences, read recommended books, and wrote, revising one article more than 30 times. But before being published in a magazine, it won an award. Then, my articles started appearing in national and international magazines. After editing numerous books by clients, this past year I finally published my own.

The tricks I’ve learned have not only made my writing better, they also make it more fun. These tips can do the same for you. Here’s ten ways to elevate your craft.

  1. With your first draft, just write. Do not edit as you go. Trying to do both simultaneously forces the creative right side of your brain to wrestle with the analytical left side. The result is torture. So, let your creativity fly unhindered while expressing your thoughts.
  2. Then, go back and replace passive voice with active wherever possible. Sometimes we need the vagueness of passive, but active verbs grab a reader’s attention.
  3. “Show” don’t “tell.” Weak: “she is walking this way carrying a gun.” Stronger: “she sauntered closer, a loaded pistol in her right hand.” Play with those verbs (and nouns, too!) to engage a reader in the scene. Think of a rough draft the way an artist might pencil sketch an image. Then, go put the color in making your writing as vibrant as possible while shading the nuances. For me, that’s when the fun begins.
  4. Eliminate wordiness. Tighten your prose by removing unnecessary words. Wherever possible use one word instead of two or more.  
  5. Use contractions. Instead of “I have” or “she will” using “I’ve” or “she’ll” makes writing less stilted, more conversational.
  6. Avoid redundancy. If you use a word like “coffin,” don’t repeat it in the next sentence or even the next paragraph. A good thesaurus offers a variation like “casket” instead.
  7. Eliminate clichés. Instead of “she ran faster than a speeding bullet,” think of something fresh. “She ran faster than a roadrunner chased by Wile E. Coyote.”
  8. Vary sentence and paragraph length. Short sentences or paragraphs increase tension. Longer ones slow a story down.
  9. Eliminate “I” as much as possible. Revise sentences that start with it. It’s easy to say “I this,” and “I that.” But even if it’s your story, readers want to know what’s in it for them. Avoiding “I” whenever possible strengthens your message.
  10. Always keep your reader in mind. Identify who you’re writing for and meet that target audience right where they are.

My best tip for life and writers is to never stop learning. Reading books, attending conferences, joining critique groups, and experimenting with words make the writing life one that can take us places beyond our wildest dreams.

Award-winning freelance writer and editor Patti Townley-Covert is the author of The Windblown Girl: A Memoir about Self, Sexuality, and Social Issues. Concern for young adults trying to escape life’s pain infused this page-turner with a message relevant for today. Patti has written numerous articles for publications such as Life Beautiful, Facts and Trends, and Decision.

Attribution Matters

by Carla Foote

Attribution is ascribing a work or remark to a particular person. With the popularity of pithy sayings on social media, it is tempting to quickly Google a list of quotes from a famous person, such as Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., or even Jesus.

However, these quickly “sourced” quotes are not always accurate. Here I have placed “sourced” in quotation marks to show sarcasm. Careful sourcing involves finding the original speech, book or other setting for the actual words being quoted. Google “sourcing” can involve a few clicks to find another person who says that a quote is accurate, even if the sources are not reputable or research-based. Simply noticing that many people attribute a particular phrase to a famous person doesn’t mean that person actually made the statement. Volume isn’t veracity in sourcing.

There are several ways that sloppy attribution of quotes can go wrong: Either the person didn’t actually say what is being credited to them, or they might not have said it in the way that it is being used in the shortened version.

While the internet can contribute to questionable attribution, it also makes the words of famous people accessible for research. I can actually listen to the “I Have A Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on August 28, 1963, to the people gathered for the March on Washington. Or I can read the text of Mahatma Gandhi’s “Quit India” speech from August 8, 1942.

The third Monday in January is a national holiday in the United States, honoring the January birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a civil rights leader who played a significant role in the fight for racial equality in the U.S. He was assassinated in 1968. As a preacher and a national leader, his writings and speeches are extensive. Quotes from Dr. King are indeed inspirational. But in the midst of sharing inspiration, accurate attributions are important.

In 2019, on the holiday celebrating Dr. King, I saw two instances of a quotation that I was curious about. The idea sounded good, but I hadn’t seen it attributed to Dr. King before, so I decided to dig in a little and verify the accuracy of this attribution.

The quote is: If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.

When I first read the quote, I have to admit that it sounded a bit like Mother Teresa to me. But that was based just on style, not any research. A quick Google search revealed several instances attributing this quote to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (one in a speech by the President of an Ivy League University). But a number of attributions were to Napoleon Hill, a new name to me.

So who actually said this first?

In the 1928 book, The Law of Success in Sixteen Lessons, Napoleon Hill said, “If you cannot do great things yourself, remember that you may do small things in a great way.” I found the actual book online and saw this quote on page 113.

It is possible that Dr. King quoted this phrase at some time during his many speeches and sermons. I did not do exhaustive research on all of his speeches and writing. Wikiquote is not a perfectly reliable source, however, it does catalog many specific quotes and their sources from books and speeches. Working backwards from Wikiquote, it is possible to find the actual source document for attribution. Searching the Wikiquote page for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not reveal the “small things” quote. But Wikiquote is not exhaustive.

Another good source of attributions is LibQuotes.com, whose motto is “Don’t quote it if you can’t source it.” In searching their site, they reference the “small things” quote as coming from Napoleon Hill. That’s how I found the name of Napoleon Hill’s book, and a few more clicks lead me to the actual text. Each quote on the website includes an “i” icon for more information and points to the original source. A writer or editor can then pursue the source document for verification.

Perhaps this work seems tedious, but attribution matters. And since the famous historical figures have plenty of strong, well-sourced material to choose from, if you want an inspirational meme for social media, pick something that is traceable to a reliable source!

Of course, beyond the issue of accuracy, there are a flurry of memes for particular holidays and events. In addition to considering the source for a quote, consider the context and your own voice. Are you pulling together a meme to join popular trends? Or is it core to your work and voice? But perhaps that’s another topic for a blog—to meme or not to meme?

In my research for this article, I found some interesting sources and articles on attribution and quotations.

  • Libquotes.com is a great site for finding sourced quotes. Start here when you are seeking attribution, or even just inspiration.
  • The Anatomy of a Fake Quotation – This article shows how on social media an introductory comment and a quote can start out as accurate, but when the words are reposted and blended together, the result can be inaccurate and spread quickly. 
  • 9 famous quotes that people get wrong – This is a humorous list of contexts that are often omitted when a short quote is pulled from a famous source. My disclaimer is that I am sharing this link but I did not research each of the particular examples given, although I am familiar with several of them.

Carla Foote is a freelance editor and writer based in Denver, Colorado. She is on the board of Magazine Training International and a member of the Evangelical Press Association. You can connect with her at fineprintedit.com.

Pen, Pencil, or Crayon?

by Stephen R. Clark

All writing is not equal. Nor should it be. Just as we can use various tools to write with, such as a pencil, ballpoint, fountain pen, crayon, or marker, these can also describe different types of writing to fit different needs.

Elements that play into defining need include your audience, the action you want them to take, the medium you will use, your budget, the timing involved, and the consequence of your message.

Before you start writing, be clear about what type of writing you need so you can pick the right style.

Pencil it in

We’ve all “penciled the date in” when making appointments. This implies the meeting is a throw-away or very tentative. It may or may not happen and the consequence either way is light.

The same is true for “pencil copy.” This is writing that needs to be done “quick and dirty.” The message needs to be shared, but it isn’t vital to national or your security, so you don’t need to sweat the style. Just write the facts in plain good English and be done with it.

For instance, a reminder notice of a meeting that includes a brief agenda. You want people to show up on time, at the right place, and have something to say. All they need are the basics; the rest they’ll get and contribute at the meeting.

Ink it with a Bic

When you put ink to paper, it’s time to get a bit more serious. But maybe not too serious. The writing in an informal company newsletter needs to be well done, but it’s not great literature. The same is true for meeting minutes, church bulletins, and sale flyers.

Write in a conversational style and make sure your facts and quotes are accurate. The information needs to be fresh and timely, not weighted with endless detail and complex sentences.

Wake up & smell the marker

When it’s time to get attention and make an impression, bring out the big fat stinky bold black marker! Be audacious and gutsy. Write in broad strokes and use outlandish, exciting language. Just like they do in those tacky, but effective, carpet and auto dealership commercials.

If there’s a critical deadline your audience needs to respond by, or truly urgent information they need to take to heart, don’t be timid. Write bold, write big, make some noise, and maybe even raise a little stink, but without being offensive.

Pass the crayons

Are you writing about something fun, inventive, or playful? Then get out the crayons! Keep the tone light and colorful. Draw your audience into the fun. Make them see and feel the joy. Write to the senses.

Your company has had a record sales month and it’s time to celebrate. Don’t send out stodgy engraved invitations. Tell them to come and enjoy a steamy hot cup of cocoa with marshmallows and freshly baked glazed donuts! Give them a taste of what to expect. Whet their curiosity.

Let the fountain pens flow

Weighty topics and momentous events call for fine writing. Put on the evening gown or the tux and pull out your best gold-nibbed fountain pen.

When it’s a speech to contributors, a sermon for Sunday morning, a book for the ages, or an article detailing the ethical lapses of a company, it’s time to take time and carefully craft your message.

You need to be attentive to each word and shape every phrase and paragraph with painstaking precision.

Here is where voice is most critical in writing. Your message must resonate and be sound not only in its logic, but also in its tone. Be memorable, lyrical, and quotable.

So, whaddya need?

You’ve got a message that needs delivering. Who is it for? What do you want them to do? How are you sending it? How much time and money do you have? How truly enduring is your message?

Answering these questions will help you determine how to craft the final product. Who knows? You may need a marker headline with a crayon opening followed by a finely written body. Mixing styles is fine if it meets your need and connects with your audience. When that happens, it’s all good.

Stop

The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day. . . you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.

Ernest Hemingway

Words of Wisdom

by William J. Petersen

When I was 20 years old, I decided to give freelance writing a try. Why not? I had been reading Sunday  school literature since I was six years old, and I understood that editors were crying out for children’s stories.

So I hastily compiled a list of six Sunday school papers aimed at kids 9 to 12 years old. Then I went to my typewriter (computers hadn’t been invented yet) and pounded out a story about a wanna-be baseball player named Herbie, who was afraid of getting hit by a baseball every time he came up to bat.

The story ended with Herbie coming up to bat in the last inning with the bases loaded. He got hit by a pitch to force in the winning run.

I decided to send the story to Scripture Press, because my church used Scripture Press materials. It was returned to me—rejected—within a week. I was disappointed, of course, and I thought the editor was stupid for turning down such a classic story for junior aged boys, but I had five other Sunday school papers on my list. If Scripture Press decided to turn down a classic, I would send it to one of their competitors!

I got my second rejection within a week, from the Free Methodists in Winona Lake, Indiana. So I sent my masterpiece to the Assemblies of   God in Springfield, Missouri—another rejection—and then on to the Nazarenes in Kansas City, and then to David C. Cook, at that time in Elgin, Illinois, and finally to a Baptist publisher.

Within six weeks, believe it or not, I had collected six rejection slips.

I was discouraged, yes, but I wasn’t quitting, though I had reached the end of my list. I thought of trying a few more denominational houses, but since I had written Herbie specifically  for the Scripture Press publication called My Counselor, I decided to give them a chance to redeem themselves. Maybe the  editor had a quarrel with the boss the first time. Or maybe he had an upset stomach, or maybe . . .

Well, within another ten days I received a letter from the editor of My Counselor. When I saw the envelope, I was sure it was another rejection.

I was wrong.

The editors had accepted “Herbie, the Ball-shy Wildcat”  for publication. It appeared in print the following year. And amazingly, every three   years during the next dozen years, the publication reprinted Herbie, and of course each time they sent me a little check as well ($15 for the first publication and $10 for each reprint).

Word of Wisdom Number One: It’s always too soon to quit.

Years later, when I was editorial director of a book publisher, a very discouraged lawyer and wannabe novelist submitted a manuscript that had been rejected 27 times. We accepted it and A Time to Kill  became a bestseller. Its author, John Grisham, became one of the best-known novelists of the past 50 years.

It’s always too soon to quit.

Branch Out

I’m not especially gifted in any particular area of writing. The flip-side of that is, I never knew what I couldn’t do until I tried. So I have tried a lot of different things: Gospel tracts, movie scripts, TV commercials, missionary biographies, Bible study curricula, quizzes, fiction, personality sketches, how-to’s, poetry, interviews, radio writing, daily devotionals, fund-raising letters, humor, writing for kids, you name it.

I am no Bible scholar, but I have written some very successful books on the lives of biblical characters, as well as curriculum for adult Bible study classes.

By trial and error I’ve learned that, despite my success with “Herbie,” I  don’t do fiction very well. But I’ve been trying to learn that craft, and managed to self-publish several unpublishable novels in my eighties.

While serving as a mentor for the Christian Writers Guild, I introduced students to all genres of writing. One writer was especially interested in fiction, but she had to go through the lessons on writing newspaper articles, how-to articles, devotionals and all kinds of things. She finally got the chance to develop her novel, but by then she’d had two non-fiction articles accepted by national publications and one magazine had invited her to do a regular column.

So you never know what doors the Lord might open for you.

Word of Wisdom Number Two: Take some risks. Branch out into new areas. Go outside your comfort zone. Don’t limit yourself to one writing genre.

Edit yourself

I’ll never forget Miss Fackler. She was my freshman writing teacher in college, and I was scared to death of her. No frog had ever  been dissected the way she cut apart my writing.

Oh, I had been accustomed to seeing red marks on my papers, showing  me where I had misspelled a word or used the wrong punctuation. But she asked questions: Why did you say this? Is that the best word to use?  Do you really need that paragraph? Can’t you say this in fewer words?

I dreaded her favorite expression: Superfluous.

But before long, I was asking some of those questions myself before I turned in my paper. In the process, I learned the importance of self-editing.

Now writing and editing are two different skills. I doubt if Miss Fackler ever had anything published, but in her role as teacher, she was a fine editor. And she taught me both skills.

You will be a better writer if you learn to edit your own work effectively.

Don’t edit as you write. Get your first draft down on paper or on the computer, and then you can edit.

Sometimes it helps to wait a few days before editing. Then, does it still make sense? Can you outline it now? One of the first things I do in self-editing is to look at the verbs and eliminate all the forms of “to be” that I can, replacing those dead verbs with action verbs. Then I look at sentences beginning with “There” and “It.”

Then I look at word-length, sentence length, paragraph length. I look at “ly” adverbs, impersonal pronouns. Use Anglo-Saxon words, not Latin compounds, wherever possible.

These cautions might paralyze you during the writing process. Write freely. But then go back later and prune your work to make it stronger.

Word of Wisdom Number three: Learn to be self-critical, to be your own editor. When you write, be warmly involved in your story. When you edit, be coolly detached.

William J. Petersen, father of CFWN editor Randy Petersen, passed away in January, 2021, at the age of 91. An editor at Eternity Magazine for thirty years, he also authored more than twenty books. These were notes for a talk at a writer’s conference a few years ago.