Christmas Greetings from Our Team

We appreciate each reader who follows, reads, comments on, and shares our blog posts. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas in a few days, four of our writers would like to share some thoughts with you. Enjoy!

Christmas Drama

by Randy Petersen

For a decade and a half, I wrote a new Christmas drama for my church each year. I loved doing this, but it became a huge challenge to find an angle we hadn’t tried before. Allegory? Been there. A zany innkeeper? Yep. Time travel? Every which way.

An approach we began to use exclusively was the modern-world story in which characters encountered and internalized the Christmas story in some way. This was a challenge too, because I always wanted to avoid a hokey conversion scene. I found that incremental changes in a situation or relationship carried more power. Two estranged sisters beginning to talk again. A prodigal daughter with an illegitimate child being welcomed home for Christmas dinner.

As a Christian communicator, you’ve probably wrestled with this too, or something like it. The Greatest Story Ever Told has been told many times. We don’t need to improve on it, but we do need to bring it home. How does the miracle of Christmas apply to the Worst Year Ever Lived (at least in the 21st century)?

It’s an honor to share this assignment with you, my freelancing colleagues. So as we go through this season and into a new year, let our creativity flow, our imaginations bursting forth with innovation, our hearts brimming with empathy, our minds honed to extreme clarity. May the miracle of Christmas invigorate our language as we find new ways to bring glory to God in the Highest.

Treat Yourself to the Joy of Writing

by Ann Byle

The holiday season can wreak havoc on your writing schedule, what with all the present buying and wrapping, decorating, making food for special meals, and gathering with friends and family in person or virtually. On the other hand, it can be a lonely time for those whose family is gone or far away.

Whatever kind of season you experience, finding time and space to write can be an oasis of calm in a fraught season. Search out those half hours of time to calm your heart and mind and write a few paragraphs. If time is all you have, start a project you’ve only dreamt of so far. Treat yourself to the joy of writing this holiday season in small pieces or days at a time. Writing time is never wasted and is the best gift ever.

My plan? Write when I can amid lots of activity, write when I have no other choice except to go bonkers, and write with joy and intention. And look forward to Ordinary Time when things settle back down sometime in January. May joy and peace be your companions this holiday season.

The Message

by Stephen R. Clark                                                                                                                   

The season speaks to us, a secret signaled incessantly in blinking lights and garland flags of pine and tinsel. Green with hope and red with joy, the message turns our thoughts outside our own needs, desires, and wants.

Trees suddenly grow indoors, decorated with memories, bearing the fruits of love and time. Gilded and ribboned packages magically appear under these incongruous evergreens—expectations and dreams captured in cardboard boxes.

At night, the air aglow with star shine on the snow, whisps of angel songs drift white and pure straight into our hearts. We gather inside our homes around hearths ablaze, warmed by goodwill and God’s grace. On the mantle, the story of Christ’s birth is played out in a motionless menagerie, objects of simplicity and awe.

Through eyes of innocence, we look past the nascent Nativity, just beyond the horizon of the season, where the new year waits poised with promise. The Message of the season fells fear of the future as the immanence of Christ’s presence is again heralded by the world.

Childlike, we are reborn, our voices and souls caroling the Gift of the Ages, in whom we live, and move, and have our being. It’s Christmas. Emmanuel is come. Maranatha!

If You Were a Christmas Carol, Which One Would You Be?

by Ann-Margret Hovsepian

As you listen to the same carols over and over (and over and over) again this season, try this: Ask yourself which titles best describe your life. What message does your life— and, by extension, your writing—send out to those who are listening? Here are several examples to get you started.

  • What Child Is This? — Is Jesus unknown to you? Are you seeking Him?
  • Do You Hear What I Hear? — Are you so intently focussed on what God is saying to you that you are eager for others to hear Him as well?
  • Come Thou Long Expected Jesus — Do you desire to be close to Jesus? Do you tell Him so?
  • Silent Night — Are you able to be quiet and reflective of God’s gift or is your holiday full of noise and activity?
  • How Great Our Joy — Does your relationship with Jesus fill your life with great joy?
  • Go Tell It on the Mountain — What’s the message you send out to people at Christmas? That you’re excited and stressed about all your festivities and preparations, or that the birth and life of Jesus is the best gift you’ve ever received?

This Christmas, just as these songs proclaim the good news of Jesus’ birth, may our lives of joy, peace, and love do the same.

Highlight Reel

by Ann-Margret Hovsepian

A couple of years ago, this blog was just a gleam in our eye (which sometimes made me wonder if I needed to clean my glasses yet again) so it’s exciting to look back over the last year of activity on the Christian Freelance Writers Network blog. We weren’t sure whether it would take off and now we’ve already got material lined up for our readers for the next few months, so we’re not even close to running out of posts to share with you!

Some of you are new to this blog, so you may have missed the earlier posts. Today, to celebrate CFWN’s first anniversary, I’m going to highlight several posts you shouldn’t miss (or might want to revisit). Click on the titles to read the posts.

In no particular order…

The Best Way to Be Creative (It Involves Coffee) by Anita K. Palmer

As writers we tend to work in isolation. An original idea, though, most often does not come in a lightbulb moment. No “eureka!” Good ideas need a community.

5 Tips to Enrich Your Pitch by Randy Petersen

Is our breadth keeping us from finding a successful niche? Is our desire to be everything to everyone keeping us from being anything to anyone?

Three Essential Qualities by Jen Taggart

Having cerebral palsy has helped me to develop empathy, problem-solving skills, and humor. These three qualities are essential for anyone to have, especially a freelancer.

Pursue Excellence, Not Perfection by Ann-Margret Hovsepian

When we breathe God into the things we create and produce—when we do what we do with love and humility and generosity—we raise them from the level of “good” to “very good.”

5 Questions to Ask Before You Challenge Your Editor by Michael Foust

Imagine, for a moment, that your story is a triage unit, and you’re determining which patients need the most help.

Is Writing a Spiritual Gift? by Joyce K. Ellis

Just as some pastor-teachers use their gift in large congregations, others at racetracks, and others in children’s work, some of us use ours in print.

Ten “Its” for Writing Well by Stephen R. Clark

For many, writing well in a compressed period of time seems impossible. But you can write quickly and write well. 

Thank you for following our blog! We’d love it if you shared it with your writing friends, students, and groups.

P.S. To find more writing and freelancing tips, use the “Categories” or “Past Posts” lists on the right to access our archives.

Filtering Feedback

by Randy Petersen

About a year ago I attended the reading of a new play. It was a rather small affair—just three actors, three other friends, and the playwright.

I was the playwright.

While I hoped for affirmation, I needed information. Does the piece hold their interest for its full ninety minutes? Does it lag? Have I unreeled the plot in a pleasant way, providing the right amount of detail when it’s needed? Do they seem to care about the characters? Do they laugh at the jokes? Do they gasp at the surprises? Is there suspense?

A playwriting professor of mine once said that, during play readings, he watches people’s butts—not in a perverse way, but to see if they’re restless, squirming. This tells him what parts of his play need editing. People will always say they like your play, but their butts don’t lie.

Talkback

Yet there’s always a conversation after a play reading, whether there are seven in the room or seventy. The questions and comments in that time can be very helpful. Or not. The best comments are “I statements.” The worst are along the lines of “Here’s how you should fix your play.”

For instance, one of the actors in my play reading felt her character didn’t have enough reason to go to the place where the climactic scene occurred. She was worried about her husband’s safety, but why? In the script, I hadn’t given her enough reason to worry, and so it seemed contrived. I found it enormously helpful to know that the actor didn’t have what she needed for that big scene.

On the other hand, a couple of others suggested adding a new scene that would clearly show how crazy another character was. I thanked them and jotted down the idea, but I have no intention of doing it. I don’t want that character to come across as “clearly crazy.” In fact, their suggestion pushed me in the opposite direction. It let me know I needed to shore up the reasonable ambiguity of that character.

I’ve attended other readings where the questioners just wanted to display their own brilliance. This happens rather often. I remember one such feedback session where a college kid was going on and on about how the playwright should have told the story—a nationally produced playwright, by the way, whose meekness in that moment was earning some kind of eternal reward. Everyone in the room recognized that this kid was just trying to impress his date, who sat cringing beside him.

What We Need

And that brings me to the point of this musing. All writers need feedback. But we also need to be wise in choosing which responders to heed. Ignore the ones who just want to seem smart. Look for those who understand what you’re trying to do and will help you do that. You might even need to train them a bit—don’t rewrite it for me; do tell me how it affected you; don’t be nice at the expense of honesty; do tell me what parts of the piece didn’t make sense.

If you’re dealing with friends or relatives, you’ll probably need to give them explicit permission to be critical—and then respond graciously to their criticism.

What do you need most from the feedback you seek? Affirmation or information? If it’s info you need, then get it and use it—as you see fit. You don’t need to please others by taking their suggestions. Learn what you can from their responses, but then recraft the piece you want to write.

All writers need feedback. But we also need to be wise in choosing which responders to heed.

Time to Fly

by Lisa A. Crayton

One day

That two-word phrase has tanked many Christian writers’ hopes of publishing. While we wait for one day—a day that does not exist on any calendar—we languish in dreams deferred and wallow in regret because oneday we did not take to heart Ecclesiastes 3:1 and submit work for publication or query a dream market.

That famous verse speaks of beginnings and endings. It often reminds me of my first forays into freelance writing. I had quit my corporate job, acting on what I believed was God’s instruction to become “a Christian writer.”

I did not fully understand what that meant. I did know it meant stepping out of my comfort zone and pursuing writing that draws readers into closer relationship with Jesus Christ. It also meant writing for publication, a process that takes words from my heart—and, sometimes, my journals—and placing them before editors who can bring them before audiences small and large. 

I failed miserably in those early days, but I knew that on some Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, if I kept perfecting my craft, querying, and submitting my work for publication, I would realize my dream of being a Christian writer. I was right!

Writing is only one aspect of yielding our words for God’s use. Publishing is the other. One of the greatest barriers to publishing is the reluctance that prevents us from seeing beyond our creativity and marketing efforts to the end results: lives changed. 

Reluctance almost made me miss the opportunity to strengthen the faith of a childhood friend about a decade ago. I was a scheduled member of the faculty of an out-of-state Christian writers’ conference. As the Saturday before the event neared, I kept dithering about my attendance and toyed with cancelling my appearance, but God kept reminding me of Ecclesiastes 3:1. There’s a time for everything. It was time to fly.

Struggling with indecision fueled by reluctance I went to church on Sunday. My pastor’s sermon was “Time to Fly.” When he announced the title, I chuckled, knowing God was secretly sending me a message to stick with my plans.

I flew out the next day. I soon realized God had another purpose for my visit to California. Because of the time zones, I had to stay an extra night after the event. That evening I met with first-ever best friend and her sister. We had a delightful time reconnecting after more than two decades of not seeing each other. For years we had promised to one day visit each other but never did. 

Before they left my hotel room in the wee hours of the morning, I prayed for them, asking God to bless them. A short time later, my friend shared she had recommitted her life to Christ thanks, in part, to my visit. Speaking with her, I understood Ecclesiastes 3:1 more than ever before. I’d wanted to stay home, but I had to fly so that another soul could reconnect with God. 

One day does not exist. For Christian writers to achieve our goals—and God’s ultimate plans for our writing—we must overcome self-placed barriers to publication.  Sure, there’s a worldwide pandemic. Sure, it’s hard to focus because of local, national, and international happenings. Yet, perhaps more than ever, God is saying, “It’s time to fly.”

 It’s time to toss aside one day thinking and commit to writing, and releasing our work on a given Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Only then can we fully realize God’s greater plans for our creativity. Only then can potential readers receive much-needed encouragement, hope, and peace during and after the pandemic.

Lisa A. Crayton is an editor, award-winning freelance writer and multi-published author, including 15 nonfiction books for kids/teens. She loves helping writers, and challenging them to achieve their goals and dreams! Connect with her on Facebook.

The Well-seasoned Writer

by Rachel Dawn Hayes, guest contributor

I’ve had three seasons of freelancing during my career—the first was in 2007. That’s when I thought I would soon relocate to a cabin, drive a Grand Wagoneer, wear oversized sweaters, and quickly endear myself to the motley cast of characters inhabiting my mountain town. Instead, I continued living in my parents’ house and barely paid my bills. I had a sweet VW Jetta, though.

Fast forward to 2015. In preparation for starting our family, my husband and I made the decision for me to begin working for myself so I could stay home with our children. (Other mothers/parents, hold your laughter, please.)

It went so well the second time around. I tapped into the network I’d built over my nine-year career in communications—a network that included editors, agency folk, and business owners—and, amazingly, built a profitable business. The difference between 2015 and 2007? EXPERIENCE—experience that bred confidence and connections.

At the end of my first year, my husband and I took a celebratory trip to Ireland—paid for out of my earnings. I got pregnant a few months after that and somehow met my deadlines while spending enormous chunks of time with my head in the toilet or curled up on the couch clutching a box of saltines. My daughter was born in December 2016. She was two weeks early, which meant I filed my final story of the year in the middle of the night while leaking amniotic fluid and forwarded revisions from a source to my editor the next day from my hospital bed. I took a glorious three months of maternity leave and then jumped back into writing in the spring of 2017. “Jumped” is a generous term, though. My return to working while juggling the care of a three-month-old infant was more like the awkward stumbling of a newborn fawn.

Some days it went well, and others, not so much. To my surprise, Lily did not consult my Outlook calendar when planning her nap schedule. She woke up early and upset one afternoon ahead of a phone interview with a source who had proven to be elusive—I wasn’t rescheduling. I placed Lily in her battery-operated bouncer, put in my earbuds, and opened a new document on my laptop for notes. I switched on the bouncer and nothing happened. Its batteries were toast. Then my phone rang—that elusive source was punctual! I took a deep breath, put my computer on my lap, started bouncing Lily with my foot, and answered the phone. Afterwards, I felt a sisterhood with my pioneering ancestors. I had accomplished the modern equivalent of rocking a cradle while darning socks or churning butter.

As Lily grew older and slept less, it was evident that our setup wasn’t going to work. I couldn’t get through story time at the library without thinking about my deadlines, and I couldn’t write or conduct phone interviews without worrying about Lily waking up too soon or remembering that I didn’t thaw meat for dinner. We’re going out, honey! I wasn’t doing either job well, in my opinion, and I wasn’t earning enough money to justify bringing in help. Thankfully, our family’s financial security was not dependent on my writing income and, after a few months of debate and struggle with myself, I decided to take my leave from freelancing and focus on my family.

I have now entered my third season of freelancing—writing for the purpose of building a platform to hopefully publish a book. I wrote my memoir last year while my daughter was at preschool two mornings a week. Since COVID and school closures, I now write at five in the morning. Our coffee budget reflects this. I am writing for free—something I had never done before because it was a cardinal rule of career writing that you “never write for free.” I don’t know who made that rule, but they weren’t trying to get a book published. The absence of invoices has been liberating, though. By nature of promoting my book I am writing about topics I’m passionate and enthusiastic about—there’s no way I’d be up at this hour if that weren’t so—and I am getting to share my story more than I tell the stories of others. Writing has always brought me joy, but in this particular phase it is feeding my soul in a new way. I crave it and choose “putting my butt in the chair” over reading, watching TV, or sleeping in.

I like this season best, even it means I go to bed with the chickens to make it happen.

View More: http://sabrinanicole.pass.us/rachelandjoel

Rachel Dawn Hayes is a mom, wife, writer, speaker, and Native Texan, who is passionate about sharing her story of pregnancy and fertility loss to encourage and edify other women. She has completed a memoir about her experiences and hopes to publish in 2021. Rachel is also an EPA associate member.

Three Essential Qualities

by Jen Taggart, guest contributor

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” said the German philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to reflect in a Toastmasters International speech about how having cerebral palsy has helped me to develop empathy, problem-solving skills, and humor. These three qualities are essential for anyone to have, especially a freelancer.

1. Empathy

Cerebral palsy has caused me to grow in my empathy for those who are struggling and those who are simply different.

When I was on a trip with my youth group in New Jersey to repair houses after Hurricane Sandy, the owner of the house my team helped repair was a wheelchair user. I saw a little bit of myself in the owner. As a high school kid, this was the first time I remember helping another person with a disability. It caused me to reflect on moments when I felt helpless and had someone to help me. It was very empowering. I decided after that trip that I wanted to live a life of purpose and be someone who makes a difference in the world. My empathy for those who are struggling has driven me to do communications work for various nonprofits and ministries and take classes to become a grant writer for nonprofit organizations.

As a person with a visible disability, it is easy to feel judged and stereotyped, and this causes me to empathize with those who are different. I would never want to be completely defined by my disability. When I interview and write about people from different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, other disabilities and life circumstances, I try my best to let them tell their own life stories. I refuse to put people into boxes based on my own or my readers’ preconceptions. Each person is a unique individual created in the image of God.

2. Problem-Solving Skills 

When you have a disability, you learn how to do things differently, whether using a J-Hook to open a can of soup or a toaster oven to bake cookies.

When you are a freelancer, you also learn to do things differently. Instead of going to an office, I use my older brother’s now-empty bedroom as an office. Sometimes I have trouble getting hold of one source for a journalism article, and need to contact another source, ask for the information via email, or glean it from somewhere else completely. Don’t even get me started on finding or creating photos, graphics, or videos to accompany my stories!

Many times, with cerebral palsy, I need to try multiple accommodations to see what works. As a freelancer, I’ve had to try many different options as well. I’ve tried journalism, digital marketing, proofreading and editing, and grant writing to see what I enjoy and can make a living doing. As a relatively new freelancer, I’m not ashamed to admit that I am still experimenting and exploring.

3. Humor

When you live with a disability, you have to have a sense of humor. If you’ve seen the movie “Toy Story,” you’ll remember The Claw. The Claw is the deity-like figure in the crane game at Pizza Planet that the plush space aliens worship. Ever since I was in elementary school, my brothers and I would call my right hand The Claw.

When you are a freelancer, you also need a sense of humor. Rejection emails, typos, missed deadlines can make you laugh or cry. Take life too seriously as a person with a disability, a freelancer, or anyone, and you’ll drive yourself insane.

Above all else, being a person with cerebral palsy and being a freelancer have both given me grit. My life does not follow an easy formula as a person with a disability, a freelancer or as a person living in a fallen world. There never seems to be a simple answer to my problems, or clear roadmap to reaching my goals. No matter what your own challenges are, I’m sure you feel the same way.

Still, as freelancers, we somehow always manage to use our God-given creativity to find a way forward.

Jen Taggart is a freelancer writer in Strongsville, Ohio, and an EPA associate member.

Working from Home: Advice from the Experts

compiled by Ann Byle

Those new to working from home can learn much from those who have been doing so for years. In this post, freelance writers who are associate members of the Evangelical Press Association offer their best advice for those who have moved their work home. This is the first in what we hope will be a series of resources.

Set Up Shop

  • Allocate space for work. Allocated space is a tax advantage for freelancers. For those temporarily working from home, a distinct work space allows you to “get” to work and to “leave” work at the end of the day.
  • Work space can be an unused bedroom, a table facing a window, the end of a hallway, the little-used dining room table. Make sure there is a nearby wall plug, writing utensils, note paper, task lighting, and a storage tray/box.
  • If you must share work space, designate specific hours for each person and a place (drawer or box) for each person’s work-related materials.

Manage Your Time

  • Create structure for your days with regular start and end times, break times, and lunchtimes. Answer work emails only during work hours. Avoid erratic work hours or all-hours workdays. When work is done, walk away.
  • Limit the number of personal phone calls and appointments during your work day, or “herd” them into breaktimes.
  • Educate family and pets to respect your work schedule and space. No interruptions during calls; work space is not Lego/craft/fort space. Crate the dog, shut the door, put on headphones if necessary.
  • Create a to-do list every day and cross off what you have accomplished. These acts help you remember tasks and see what you’ve done.
  • Work for several hours, then take a break. Nobody can work six hours straight.
  • Be flexible. Working early in the morning or later in the afternoon or evening can give you family time in the middle of the day when it is most needed.

Be Kind to Yourself

  • Family events, sick pets, unproductive days happen. Start over tomorrow.

To download a printable sheet with these tips, click here, and please share this post with colleagues and friends who are struggling to adapt to working from home.

 

Speak. . . what?

 

At the end of King Lear, one character laments:

“The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”

How many philosophical debates has this passage sparked? When circumstances cause grief, should we react emotionally or rationally? How are we, as Christian writers, to use our words?

We’d love to hear how you’re coping with the current pandemic, particularly with regard to your writing. How do you decide whether you speak what you feel or what you ought to say? Please leave a comment below.

Be sure to check this spot again next Tuesday. Randy will share some more thoughts on what to do when our words have trouble flowing in times like these.

 


Don’t miss: The Benefits of Being a Freelancer in a COVID-19 World

The Benefits of Being a Freelancer in a COVID-19 World

by Ann Byle

While the world reels thanks to a microscopic virus, we freelancers are in our element. Nobody is questioning our life choices anymore. In fact, we are about to become the experts on how to balance work and home. The benefits are legion.

  1. The learning curve doesn’t exist. We figured this out long ago, so there’s no need to learn how to balance work and family. Been there, done that.
  2. Introverts are no longer weird. Now that so many people are working from home, the world may finally get it. We like working this way, and that’s okay. As Jim Reeves sang, “Welcome to my world, won’t you come on in?” As long as you practice social distancing.
  3. Our workspace is already set up. We’ve got our home office well organized, whether it’s a dedicated room, a corner, space under the stairs, or the recliner chair. We’ve got writing utensils, paper, space for a hot beverage, chargers, and dark chocolate all set.
  4. We can do phone interviews with ease. We’ve been calling folks for interviews for years, so it’s no big deal to pick up the phone and talk, not text.
  5. Email as a professional tool is old news. Freelancers have been emailing interview requests, professional communications, and queries to editors for as long as we’ve been working. Nothing new here.
  6. Interruptions won’t kill us. Working from home can be an exercise in overcoming interruptions, but we’re used to it whether from humans or animals. We simply move on and keep writing.
  7. We can provide excellent content without interruption. Our work continues because content is still king. While our editors may be moving home, they still need the content we provide in a timely manner. We’ve done so for years and that’s not about to stop.

While our worlds may not have changed that much, let us keep others and their needs in our hearts and prayers.

 

 

 

Enlarge the Circle

If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is. Who am I? What right have I to speak? Who will listen to me if I do? You’re a human being, with a unique story to tell, and you have every right. If you speak with passion, many of us will listen. We need stories to live, all of us. We live by story. Yours enlarges the circle.

Richard Rhodes