My Writing Journey


I’ve been writing almost as long as I have known how. My earliest writing went into letters, mostly to my grandmother, later to friends and cousins. In my pre-teen and early teen years I poured my heart out in journals, which I sadly did not keep. I wrote a few stories here and there, but most of my writing has been factual. I seem to process what I am thinking by writing it out, pulling one strand of thought out at a time and laying all the strands out to see how they fit.

In high school my speech teacher wrote for a neighborhood newspaper and advocated for me to write a regular column for our school. In early married and young mother years my main writing was directed to my mother-in-law to keep her up-to-date on her grandchildren 2,000 miles away. I had a few magazine articles published. In 2006 I started a blog and have loved having that outlet.

Once, while visiting my mother-in-law, I saw a little booklet produced by the ladies’ ministry of her church. It was mostly made of of news for the group, but had a place for devotional thoughts, poems, etc. I liked it so much, I brought a few samples home and showed them to my pastor. When I asked him if we could do something like that for the ladies of our church, he told me to go for it. I compiled a 12-16 page monthly booklet for our ladies there for 9 years. When we moved to TN, the pastor’s wife of our church there asked me about writing a ladies’ newsletter for our group. I showed her samples of what I had done in the past and asked what she thought. She liked the idea, and we discussed what changes we would like to make. I compiled a monthly ladies booklet for that church for over five years. I wrote about these booklets in more detail here.

Once in the first church I mentioned, our ladies meeting hosted an open discussion about devotions, quiet time reading the Bible and praying. Every lady who shared was not satisfied with her devotional life. Some had trouble getting a regular time established, Some had been reading for years, yet felt they could be getting more out of the Bible. Most struggled with distractions, sleepiness, and lack of motivation. I started a column in the newsletter to encourage ladies to maintain and make the most of their time in God’s Word.

I began to think that perhaps those devotional columns could be made into a book. I made an outline and did some preliminary work, but set it aside while raising my children and participating in various other ministries. In the meantime, I was a community guest columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel from October 2011-October 2012 and contributed to The Perennial Gen, Blessed But Stressed, and

In March of 2018 I had the unexpected opportunity to go to a writer’s conference. I had heard of writer’s conferences but had no real thought of trying to go to one. But I saw a notice for one in a town where I used to live, only three hours away. Since it was in a familiar place, that took away some of the angst about going there alone. But I did not think it would work out. We were taking care of my husband’s mother in our home, and I didn’t see how I could get away. I didn’t even mention it to my husband for a few days while I thought it over. When I finally did tell him, he encouraged me to go, and he would work around his mom’s care.

That conference showed me much that I didn’t know, but it jump-started my desire to actually complete this book. I’ve been making time to write in the midst of everything else going on as I am able. Though I started out with what I had previously written in the ladies’ booklet columns, I couldn’t just copy and paste those columns. I needed to revise, fill in gaps, smooth out overlapping information, and employ some of the writing techniques I’ve learned. My first draft is finished, and now I need to go back and edit and shape up each chapter.

I was able to attend a second conference this year and received a much more positive critique of my manuscript excerpt. Plus I won a couple of writing contests there. All of that encouraged me that I have grown and improved in my writing and spurred me on to continue writing, growing, and improving. I’m reading books and writing blogs to learn more about writing and publishing.

In many ways I regret that I did not start writing a book earlier. I’ve had the desire to write a book for some 30, maybe even 40 years. On the other hand, I think those years of writing a newsletter booklet and blog exercised my writing muscles. I don’t think I could write this current project without that background of writing regularly to encourage friends.

I have a few ideas for other books projects. I’m looking forward to exploring them after I finish this current project.

Thank you so much for your encouragement! When I first started a blog, I had no idea that I would make such dear friends online. I’ve enjoyed meeting a few of you in person. Some of us will probably never meet til heaven. You’ve blessed my life in more ways than I can tell.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Booknificent)


My Second Writer’s Conference

Friday and Saturday were  a whirlwind of activity as I had an opportunity to attend my second Carolina Christian Writer’s Conference. I had a wonderful time, and my head is still spinning, processing all I learned.

Karissa Culbreath was the keynote speaker. Wow! She was both sweet and dynamic, accomplished yet relatable.

As with last year, there were four different workshops times over the two days, with about half a dozen workshops to choose from each time. Most times I wanted to attend two or three, so it was hard to narrow down the choices. I wish they all could have been recorded. Topics ranged from how to find (make) time to write, how to navigate social media, fears, grammar and editing, writing for children and youth, writing for various markets, aspects of nonfiction and fiction writing, mastering Amazon – and multitudes more.

There was an informative panel discussion Friday night, an opportunity to split into different genre groups with a few of the faculty members on hand to answer questions, a “lightening learning” session where we went in small groups from table to table to hear five minutes of each speaker’s best or favorite tips, and an opportunity to eat lunch with one of the speakers.

We also had an opportunity to send in an outline and ten pages of a manuscript ahead of time for a critique and then to have a fifteen minute meeting with the person who critiqued us. Last year the manuscript was given to one of the speakers, and we didn’t know who until we got a notice of our meeting time with them. This year we got to choose which person we wanted to look at our manuscripts. We were also able to sign up ahead of time for a fifteen minute meeting with another of the faculty members. I got both of the people I requested for each of those (last year the person I asked for had no slots available). Then Friday morning we had the opportunity to sign up for another fifteen minute meeting. That person ended up having a different role than what I had thought, so in a sense we didn’t really fit each other’s needs. Still, she gave me a piece of key, valuable advice that’s going to have a big impact on how I shape my book, and I enjoyed the conversation.

Last year, some of you may remember, I’d had no plans to attend a conference, and I had never even heard of this one. When I did hear about it from an online friend, it was only 2-3 weeks before the conference. Since it was in the city where we used to live, that sparked more of an interest and a possibility to go since it was in a familiar place. But it was so soon, and we had my mother-in-law’s care, and I had not traveled alone nor attended anything like a conference in eons, etc., etc. But God worked it all out. I had a manuscript I’d started, but it was really in no shape to be seen. But it was all I had, so I pulled it out of mothballs with no time to shape it up and sent it in. The critique last year was pretty devastating, with not one positive note, leaving me thinking perhaps writing was just a pipe dream. But the critique was good in pointing out some glaring mistakes I was (obviously) unaware of, making me now acutely aware of them. And the rest of the conference encouraged me that all was not lost yet. Last year I also missed all of Saturday mornings events due to being sick in my hotel room.

This year, I started off feeling sick before I ever left. I ended up missing the very first explanatory session, but was able to attend the rest of it. Last year my nerves were taut with the newness of everything, being in circumstances I was unused to with a lot of strangers. It wasn’t until the last few hours then that I just relaxed and enjoyed the rest of it. This year, though nerves did flare up, I was more at ease and relaxed through the whole conference. I enjoyed a lot of good conversations with fellow conferees.

Last year, since the conference came up so suddenly, I just kind of went with the flow and had no idea what to ask. This year, after a year of more intense focus on my writing and reading writing blogs in the meantime, I came with two pages of typed questions. 🙂 I didn’t get all of them answered – I wished my fifteen minute sessions could have been thirty – and I added several more questions after the conference was over.

My critique session was as different as night and day than last year. Part of that was the different personalities of the critiquers. The lady I had last year was not unkind, but she was just more of a matter-of-fact personality. The lady I had this year was very sweet and encouraging. She did have some corrections and valuable editorial notes, but the whole tone of the critique was more uplifting. I was so thankful and encouraged for the growth God led me through since last year, and the hard critique last year was definitely one of His tools.

One new aspect of this year’s conference was contests. We had an opportunity to submit writing in any of several categories. If I remember correctly, I think we could enter as many times as we wanted, but there was a $20 fee for each entry which was then used to provide scholarships for people who needed financial help to attend. The fee was for a good purpose, but also served to limit how many entrees most of us could submit. As it happened, I won first place in the Devotional category.


And! EABooks sponsored a contest in which we could submit entries on the theme “Blessings in Disguise,” and they would choose 20-25 to be included in their book compilation. That would not only give us exposure and an opportunity to get our message out, but being actually published would increase our writing credentials. My entry was one of those chosen for the book.



(Special thanks to my new friend Tori for taking and sending me the last photo!)

Besides just being excited about winning anything, I am so encouraged. Though I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn, the positive critique and conversations and the contests all help me know growth has occurred and I’m heading in the right direction.

Last year I shared some of my takeaways from last year’s writer’s conference. Those were all reinforced. It will probably take me several days to process everything from this conference. But I would encourage you to attend a conference if you have any desire to write, especially for publication. You can get some of the information from blogs and books on writing. But the ability to ask questions, talk with people inbetween workshops, have lunch with a writer or editor, listen in on some of the more informal sessions like the genre groups and “lightning learning,” and especially the fifteen-minute meetings with the faculty are experiences you can’t get anywhere else.

For me as a first- and even a second-timer, it helped that the conference was small. It wasn’t quite so overwhelming that way. Many areas have one or two-day writer’s conferences. There’s a really big Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference not too far from me that I may try to make it so some day. But it’s five days, and therefore more expensive. And if my head is about to explode after two days, I don’t know what it would do with five. But there are also that many more writers, editors, and publishers to hear from and opportunities to interact and ask questions.

Now – back to regular life, laundry, and more writing.

(Sharing also with Literary Musing Monday)


Writing Contest: You Are Enough

I am participating in the Writing Contest: You Are Enough, hosted by Positive Writer. The following is my entry.

Writing can be cathartic, healing, freeing. Writing helps me think. Writing is the best way I express myself.

You, too?

But we often talk ourselves out of writing, don’t we?

Anything I could say has already been said by someone else.

Maybe. But each generation wants to hear from its peers as well as its ancestors. And no one else has our exact perspective or sphere of influence.

It’s scary to bare our souls to the general public. What if people laugh – when I didn’t mean to be funny? What if readers belittle and criticize my carefully measured words? Or, worse yet, what if my writing is ignored?

Writing requires a certain amount of vulnerability. But that vulnerability is what makes it good and keeps it from sounding canned and fake. That’s what invites readers in and helps them connect.

Writing is risky. Any of those scary scenarios might actually happen. No one will please everyone. Look for truth in any criticism. Learn from it. Use it to improve. Grow. Ignore haters. Keep going.

My writing isn’t good enough. So many others are much better writers.

There will always be people who write better than we do. There will always be room for improvement. But you know the only way to be a better writer in two, five, ten, twenty years? Start writing now.

Are any of us “enough” in the sense that at this very moment we have all the knowledge, skills, and experience we will ever need?

No. But we have enough to start.

To get there, we have to start here.

It’s in the process of writing, in making mistakes and learning from them, in exercising our writing muscles, that we improve. A baby learns to walk by taking one faltering step at a time. In the process, despite many falls, muscles strengthen, balance improves, sure steps increase until finally the baby is not only walking, but running. But walking never happens without those first shaky steps and many stumbles.

Take in: learn your craft, read books and blogs about writing, attend conferences, listen to speakers.

And step out. Go ahead. You can do it. Before long you’ll be running.


Writing thoughts and questions

The writer’s conference I attended last March became a catalyst to take my writing off the back burner and make it a priority. I had a list of ideas for further writing, but one topic most on my heart and the most developed so far: encouraging women to read the Bible and dealing with some of the problems (distractions, busy schedules, etc.) that keep us from God’s Word. Different sources I’ve consulted say that a non-fiction book should total somewhere between 30,000-50,000 words. I have 24,000 so far!

One of my biggest writing roadblocks was making time. Every piece of writing advice I have seen says to make a schedule to write and keep your writing time sacred. But that just doesn’t work in my situation with caring for my mother-in-law at home, having caregivers and hospice people coming in and out (never knowing quite when some of them will be here), having a son working at home and taking online classes at home, and a husband who started working some days from home just about the time I decided to focus on writing. I was distressed for a while, but I knew that if God wanted me to write now, He’d help me find or make a way. Finally the idea came to focus on my writing as much as possible when my husband is away from home and then to spend the time he is here working on my household tasks. Even though this schedule isn’t the same each week. it has helped me make more progress with less stress than the hit or miss style I was working under before.

Several weeks ago I submitted a guest post to a particular site. The site owner sent back several helpful editorial suggestions. Sometimes writing just flows, and sometimes almost every word is a struggle. This was one of the latter times. I spent more than two weeks of my available writing time revising. The end result was immensely better than what I had sent originally sent in, but I was discouraged that the process was so laborious and took so much time. If a 1,000-word blog post took that much time, how long is it going to take me to finish a book? Around that time I came across a blog post on What 20 Famous Authors Had to Say About Rewriting. A couple of samples that most spoke to me:

Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it. ~Michael Crichton

More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina. ~John Irving

I have rewritten–often several times–every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers. ~Vladimir Nabokov

Those and other sources I read encouraged me that rewriting is just a part of the process.

I’ve had moments of thinking, “I love this! I want to do more!” and other moments of, “What was I thinking? Who am I kidding?” But, from what I have read, those roller coaster feelings are pretty normal.

I had also started following some blogs and Twitter accounts for writers. While they were helpful in many ways, I got discouraged after a while reading every single day “Here are 20 things you MUST do or you’ll never be a successful writer.” So I cut back on some of those. There is still a lot I need to learn, but I am taking it in smaller doses and working on a bit at a time. I’ve started a Pinterest board for articles and memes about writing.

I’ve also been wrestling with some of the following issues:

  • What name to use. There is already an author by my name who writes on water birth (something I know nothing about). Should I just use my name and trust that readers won’t mix us up? Or should I include my middle or maiden name or initial? I asked Facebook friends, and no one cared for the middle initial, but they were split pretty evenly between adding my middle or maiden name. I’m not crazy about using a three-word name, but it might be best.
  • Everything I read says an author needs an online presence, a platform, before submitting a manuscript for publication. Publishers want to make sure you have something of an audience already. At some point I’ll make a separate author Facebook page, and I will probably use my Twitter account as is, since I don’t use it for much now except linking blog posts. But I wonder if I should create a new blog or use this one. On one hand, though this blog isn’t viral by any means, I do have some readers. I’d hate to start over with a new blog. On the other hand, when I started blogging, blogs were more informal and neighborly. I love my little hodgepodge blog, but I wonder if a “professional” blog would work better for an author platform. I would probably still keep this as a personal blog.
  • What should I do about book reviews? I write them because I love talking about what I have read and want to share these books with others, who hopefully will love them, too. And while I am not nitpicky or hypercritical, I want to be honest if a book contain problems (mainly bad language, risque scenes, or iffy theology, but sometimes poor writing). Some of you have told me that you buy books based on my reviews, so I want to be especially careful that I am not steering anyone into problem areas without at least a heads-up. But would it seem unprofessional as a writer to criticize another author’s work? I once read a particular new book based on the recommendation of a favorite author, and the writing was some of the worst I had encountered. I felt I had been deceived and wondered if all authors recommended each other’s books unreservedly. I couldn’t honestly do that, but maybe the solution is just not to mention the books I have problems with.   If I kept this as a personal blog, I would probably continue with book reviews as I do them now. If I transformed this into a writer blog, I might create a separate book review blog.
  • For tax purposes, do writers file as self-employed, or do they form a company (an LLC, my husband suggests, but I have only a vague idea what that even is. One more thing to learn…)
  • If I “crowdsource” and ask for opinions or ideas on a blog or Facebook page, and I use one of the ideas suggested, do I owe the person who suggested it anything other than a mention in the book’s acknowledgements? For instance, the title I had always wanted to use for this book has been used by someone else recently. The editor who critiqued the few pages of my manuscript at the writer’s conference did not like the alternate title I came up with. I’ve jotted down some other ideas, but nothing really grabs me yet. I’d love to get some feedback, but if I ask for it in a public way, I’m not sure what the implications are. Perhaps if I present it as a contest, and offer the winner a free copy of the book (or something), that would be sufficient?
  • If you quote from someone’s blog, do you need to ask them first, or just attribute them properly?
  • What about those quotes all over the Internet from famous people that you can’t find a source for? They’re just recorded in lists of quotes, but further searching doesn’t reveal an original source. Can they be referred to just as “as quoted by C. H. Spurgeon” on this site?
  • I’d love to find a critique group of not just new writers in the same boat I am, but with experienced authors as well. A couple of authors who were at the writer’s conference are involved in Word Weavers, and they have a local branch. So that might be a possibility, though there is a fee. Both the critique at the writer’s conference and the editorial suggestions I mentioned in regard to my guest post have shown me how valuable it is to have a more experienced person’s eyes to take a look at my writing and provide feedback.

So those are some of the “behind the scenes” thoughts and issues I’ve been grappling with on the writer’s front. Some answers I can probably find with a little more research; others I just need to ponder a while. If you have any thoughts about anything I’ve written here, I’d love to hear them!

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

A Writer’s Survival Kit

When I got back from the writer’s conference I attended, a dear friend who had prayed for me while I was there, while I traveled, and especially while I was sick there, gave me this Writer’s Survival Kit. I thought it was such a sweet, thoughtful and clever idea, and I wanted to share it with you.






I loved all of it, but I think the stress relief is my favorite. 🙂

Takeaways From a Writer’s Conference

Last week I told you about attending the Carolina Christian Writer’s Conference. This week I want to share some specifics I learned.

Writers make time to write. I was astonished to learn how incredibly busy everyone was. Each writer had several irons in the fire: family, books, multiple organizations, blogs, newsletters, and more. No one is luxuriating at a resort with nothing to do but write. Michelle Cox shared in the Lightning Learning sessions that she writes in 25-minute increments, a manageable goal. In addition, getting up and doing something else for a few minutes keeps writers from developing physical problems from sitting at the computer too long. Larry Leech told of one woman homeschooling several children who wrote for ten minutes at the top of every hour during the school day. If this is something God wants me to do, He will give me wisdom to discern how to make the time.

Writers learn. Writers are expected to know how to self-edit, format according to preferred standards, understand point of view, and myriad other aspects of writing long before they submit a manuscript for publication. Not knowing these things is seen as lazy, so I need to research, self-educate, soak up and glean all I can about the craft of writing.

Writers read. Most writers are readers, but writers are encouraged to read for more than pleasure. Nancy Lohr with Journeyforth suggested reading about the craft of writing, reading to see how other writers put together their work and what techniques they employ, reading books in one’s own field of interest, reading fiction even as a nonfiction writer. Craig von Buseck and Les Stobbe encouraged reading books like the one we want to write, both to see what’s already out there and to find our own unique approach.

Writers start small. Many of the speakers emphasized that writers rarely publish a book right off the bat with no previous writing experience. We were encouraged to start with writing articles, newsletters, blogs, etc., which will help us gain experience, write for an audience and receive feedback, work with deadlines and specifications, etc.

Writers are teachable. Candy Arrington emphasized the need for writers to be teachable and flexible. She and others encouraged joining a critique group so we can help each other with our blind spots, mistakes, clarity, etc.

Writers have a target audience in mind. Writing to our target audience keeps our writing focused. In addition, publishers want to know the target audience for marketing purposes. Sarah Bolme helped me clarify that my target audience does not have to be a certain age group: it just has to be the people who would have a particular interest in or need for my subject matter. “Adult women” is not a narrow enough target.

Since coming home from the conference, I started following a few of the speakers on Twitter to keep receiving tips and information. I also started reading:

The Write Conversation blog by Edie Melson. Edie is one of the coordinators for the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference. She was one of the speakers for the Carolina Christian Writer’s Conference, but, unfortunately, I didn’t get to attend any of her sessions. Her blog is considered one of the top writing blogs, and I have already learned a lot from it.

Writer’s Write.

Writing and Editing.

Have you attended a writer’s conference? What was your best takeaway from it? What other sources do you read to keep inspired or to hone your writing skills?

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday)

My First Writer’s Conference

I mentioned in Friday’s post an adventure. I spent Friday and Saturday at the Carolina Christian Writer’s Conference!

I had read about writer’s conferences, but attending one was a distant dream. I had never heard of this particular one until Mary mentioned it in a Facebook group we’re both in. I was surprised to see that the conference would take place in a city where I had lived for twelve years. That would take away the anxiety of traveling by myself to a strange new place. Plus it was just overnight, not several days. It seemed smaller than some of the others I had heard about, which would not be so overwhelming as some of the bigger ones. I didn’t think we’d be able to work around my mother-in-law’s care so that I could attend, but my husband said he could be home, and he encouraged me to go. So I did!

Authors, editors, and publisher representatives made up the faculty who presented the workshops. I had read one of the authors, heard of one other, and knew one of the publisher representatives years ago when she was on staff at my sons’ school, but everyone else was new to me. I came away with many of the faculty’s books added to my TBR list.

Four workshops divided into eight sessions each, covering topics like a writer’s social platform, managing time to write, self-editing, storytelling, plot, character arc, book proposals, publishing, and so much more. I wish I could have attended the majority of them! The one most beneficial to me was Craig von Buseck‘s “Fiction Techniques in Nonfiction Writing.” He explained that even though nonfiction informs, persuades, and inspires, it must also entertain or engage the reader, or else the reader will put it down. My writing sometimes tends to be “Just the facts, ma’am,” which might work for a Wikipedia article, but not a book. I gained both ideas and inspiration from Craig’s workshop for fleshing out my writing.

Todd Starnes was the enjoyable keynote speaker, and two panels covered editors’ pet peeves and publishing trends. Friday night after the last session we all divided into genre groups with faculty members available to answer questions.

A “Lightening Learning” session was both fun and informative. All of the faculty were stationed at various tables, and conferees went in small groups from table to table, changing tables at the blow of a whistle. Each faculty member had three minutes to share their favorite writing tip. Though all the tips were beneficial, one faculty member gave me a great idea for narrowing down my target audience.

We had an opportunity to submit an outline and the first ten pages of a manuscript for a critique before the conference, and during the conference we had a fifteen-minute appointment with the person who critiqued our work. That was a humbling experience, but then that was somewhat expected. We can’t improve our writing until we see what we’re doing wrong.

We also had the opportunity to sign up to meet with a faculty member for at least one 15-minute session just to ask questions, share our project and get feedback, etc.

Before the conference when I was trying to determine whether to spend the time, money, and emotional energy to go, I looked over the workshop topics and thought, “You know, I could read about most of this in books or online.” And though that’s true, and though I am sure I will read more, the conference sessions helped distill some of these topics down to their most important essence. Besides all the information and inspiration, one of the biggest takeaways from the conference was encouragement. It’s hard sometimes to know when or how to bring up writing in everyday conversation, but at a writer’s conference, everyone asks what you’re working on, and no one thinks you’re silly or self-promotional. Plus, at an event like this, editors and publishers are encouraging and instructive. They know we don’t know everything we need to and they’re there to help. But once you submit a manuscript to them, you’re down to business, and they expect you to know the ropes. Meeting a variety of editors and publishers gives you some sources to pursue when you do get ready for those steps. It was also encouraging to meeting others at various stages of the writing journey.

And since this was a Christian conference, two of the themes that continually emerged were prayer and responsibility. We need to seek God at every step in the writing process and ask others to intercede for us. And we need to remember that all we do is by His power and grace and for Him. If writing is a calling, we’re responsible to obey God’s call, and if it is a gift, we’re responsible to develop it for His glory.

One other plus for me was meeting Mary Hill at Maryandering Creatively! I have been participating in her Literary Musing Monday for some time now, so it was great to meet in person.

Before the conference Mary had also pointed me to Edie Melson’s The Write Conversation. Her sidebar contains a wealth of information about preparing for a writer’s conference, an invaluable help to me. Edie was also on the conference faculty, and I was sorry to miss her sessions. But I’m delighted to find her site and glean the information there.

I had let a couple of you know privately that I was going and asked for prayer: thank you! I had not traveled by myself since I had to drive from Spartanburg to Knoxville to house-hunt before our move here almost eight years ago (and since college days before that!) I am not a good traveler anyway. During the trip as well as before and after, I kept thinking, “I can’t believe I am doing this!” Excitement battled with fear, anxiety, and even dread at some points, but excitement won out, and God gave me peace. Everything about the trip itself went well: God kept me safe on the road and in parking lots. I spent all of Saturday morning sick in the hotel room, and I was sorry to miss those sessions. I had considered going home once I felt well enough to drive. My dear husband offered to drive up with my son so that he could drive me home and my son could drive his car back, but I didn’t think that would be necessary. I texted a friend to request prayer. I’m so thankful that I felt well enough to attend the Saturday afternoon sessions, as those were the best of the conference for me.

I also enjoyed just the aspect of getting away from everyday responsibilities for a while, and the quiet hotel room provided a counterbalance to all the new experiences and being with so many people. I’m so thankful to my husband for not only allowing me and providing for me to attend but encouraging me to and taking care of things at home while I was gone. It’s not easy being the sole caregiver for his mom, so I appreciate his being willing to do that for a few days.

My emotions definitely hit highs (“Maybe I really can finish a book!”) and lows (What was I thinking?!“) But I came away from the conference challenged and encouraged to move writing from the back burner. I have a lot of work to do, but I gained some good ideas, more direction, and more awareness of what needs to be weeded out. I tend to be wordy (in case you haven’t noticed… 🙂 ), so I need to tighten up in some areas and flesh concepts out in others. My head is still spinning and I am still processing much of what I learned.

If you enjoy writing, I’d encourage you attend a writer’s conference! I am already hoping to attend next year.

Special thanks go to Linda Gilden for organizing everything, for her patience with this newbie, and especially for her warm and encouraging tone in everything she did. Thanks to all the team who helped everything go so smoothly! Great job!

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Faith on Fire)

“Edgy” Christian Fiction


“Edgy” Christian fiction is becoming an increasingly hot topic among authors and readers. Those for it contend that stories need to be realistic for people living in the real world with bigger problems than the color of the church carpet. Opponents say that Christian fiction, of all places, should be a safe haven from objectionable elements in literature.

I think, as do many I know, that we should take our cues from this as well as every facet of life from the Bible. Yes, the Bible is different from a novel, but even in our novels we can operate within its parameters.

There are certainly edgy people in the Bible: harlots, polygamists, thieves, liars, evil kings, adulterers, murderers, zealots, and so on. And edgy situations abound: a man rapes his half-sister and in return is murdered by his brother; a man cuts up his murdered and abused concubine in pieces and sends her out to the various tribes of Israel to drum up support for revenge; a woman seduces a young, naive man; a king sees a woman bathing and takes her to himself though they are both married, then arranges to have her husband killed in battle; a woman has been married five times and is living with a sixth man.

But nowhere in the Bible are any of these situations written in a way to entice people to sinful thoughts in the reading of them. Profane men are shown to be such without spewing profanity. Sexual sin is portrayed in ways to show how it came about and how the people were tempted, but not in enough detail to cause arousal in the reader. Violent scenes are not written with gratuitous detail.

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in an unsaved family with a father who used bad words (in three different languages! It was humiliating and embarrassing as a child when I said something at a Hispanic neighbor’s house only to find out it was an offensive word. Thankfully I don’t remember what it was.) So it doesn’t necessarily shock me when I hear people say those words. But when I read them, they float around in my head, and I don’t want them there.

Novels will by their nature share more descriptive detail than a Biblical narrative. Good authors know how to draw a reader into a scene and make them feel and experience what the characters do. But that is the very reason Christian authors need to be so careful with sexual or violent scenes. We need to take responsibility for the fact that we’re putting thoughts, images, and ideas in people’s minds and make sure they’re not the kind that lead the reader into a lustful or lurid state.

I don’t object to edgy people or situations in books, depending on how they are handled. I can understand a person is foul-mouthed without hearing the words. I can understand a person succumbing to sexual temptation without details of bodily form and feeling. I can appreciate a violent scene, such as a murder in a crime drama or a battle scene, without descriptors like eyes bugging out, blood spattering, etc.

In addition to how such scenes and people are described and what images those descriptions put in our heads, another factor is how the situation is treated in the novel. For instance, in searching for something in my blog recently I came across a forgotten book review for a story that included a suicide. That happens, so it’s not in itself an objectionable situation in a Christian book. But in this particular novel, it was treated as the only thing the character could do, and more than that, right and sacrificial and even heroic, when Biblically it is never regarded that way. “Thou shalt not kill” certainly applies to one’s own life as well as others. There is a difference between taking a bullet for someone and aiming that bullet at yourself. Suicide is the ultimate taking of your own life into your own hands and the ultimate lack of faith in God to handle one’s life circumstances as He sees fit. There were Bible people who wanted to die, but they left the actual process to the Lord. Suicide is a tragedy, and I can understand its happening in a story, but I think it’s wrong for a Christian book to condone it or present it as a good thing. Similarly, the tone, consequences, and character responses to profanity, sexual sin, and violence can convey that those things are not right without devolving into preachiness and judgmentalism.

I think it actually takes a great deal more talent to portray certain scenes without going into unnecessary specifics. One of the most violent scenes I ever witnessed on film just showed the victim’s feet, kicking at first and then lying still. No blood, no gore, but the effect was chilling. “Less is more” applies in a number of these areas.

I do want to encourage Christian authors that readers don’t want insipid, plain vanilla plots and we do want authentic, full-bodied, real characters and believable circumstances. I know it’s hard sometimes to know where the line is, but it’s possible to write great and realistic Christian fiction without crossing it. I know; I’ve read it. And I’d love to read more.

Related posts:

Why Read? Why Read Fiction? Why Read Christian Fiction?
The Language of Christians
Sexuality in Christian Fiction
The Gospel and Christian Fiction

(Linking with Thought-provoking Thursday) and Literary Musing Monday)







Our Church Ladies’ Booklet

Last week when I mentioned the blessing of having a chunk of uninterrupted time in which to work on our church ladies’ booklet, someone asked in the comments what kinds of things I include in it. As I started answering and my answer became longer than I intended, I thought maybe I’d expand it into a blog post. I’m always a little wary of doing things like this – I know Scripture says we’re not to make a “show” of what we do for the Lord. But I enjoy seeing and reading about other people’s ministries, and I don’t ever suspect them of having wrong motives in sharing it. So I mean this in the same vein.

The booklet started several years ago when visiting my in-laws in another state. My m-i-l had a few copies of a booklet her ladies group did. I really liked it, asked if I could take a couple of copies, showed it to my pastor back in SC, and asked if I could do something similar for our ladies. He wanted a preview of the first one I did, and after checking it out said to go ahead. I did one for almost ten years there. Then when we moved to TN, after being here a couple of years, our pastor’s wife asked me if I’d like to compile a ladies’ newsletter for our church here. I showed her what I had done before and asked her what features she would like in it, and I have been doing that booklet for almost 4 years now.

The booklets in each of those places has been slightly different. The one at my mother-in-law’s church dealt mainly with group news and activities, with a few inspirational poems or paragraphs here and there. These days with e-mail notifications that can get to everyone so easily and explain details fully and in a timely manner, there is less need of “group news” in a booklet or newsletter that only comes out once a month. But sometimes it’s good for that kind of thing. They also included recipes, tips, birthdays, anniversaries, and even a “classified” section for selling or seeking items. I’ve been hesitant to include birthdays and anniversaries in our current booklet for fear of hurting someone’s feelings by accidentally leaving them out.  But if you have a way to keep on top of that, especially with new people coming in, that could work well.


Ladies booklets from my mother-in-law’s church

I’ve written here before of how missionary biographies have blessed me. One former church whose ladies’ group had officers had a lending library for the ladies’ group, and the librarian used to tell about one or two of the books each month. So I incorporated that idea into the ladies’ booklets I have done, and each month have either a brief biographical overview of a missionary’s life or an excerpt or scene from their lives. I call that section “Those Who Have Gone Before.” I used some of those for the 31 Days of Missionary Stories and 31 Days of Inspirational Biography here on the blog.

In one of our ladies meetings at our church in SC, we had an open discussion about spending time in God’s Word. The fact that we all had various struggles with doing so – either making the time, or avoiding distractions, or getting into a rut, or engaging with the text vs. just running our eyes over the page, etc. – led me to start a column in the booklet called “Women of the Word.” Sometimes it’s encouragement in one of those areas, sometimes it’s a devotional or a result of my own Bible study, sometimes it’s an excerpt from a book or blog post along those lines. I’ve kept this and the “Those Who Have Gone Before” column in the booklet for our church here in TN as well.

After a few years of doing this in SC, I began to think we could use some encouragement along Titus 2 lines about our roles, responsibilities, and character as Christian women, so I started a column called “Christian Womanhood.” Some of the columns there dealt with marriage, motherhood, homemaking, etc. I haven’t kept that as a regular column in the TN booklet, but I do include some articles along those lines as I have space and feel led.

A big section of the SC booklets were correspondence. Our group sent out care packages for many years to missionaries (before it got too expensive to be feasible) and college students from our church, and we put the thank you notes we received from them in the booklet so that all the ladies could see them. The ladies group here doesn’t send out packages, so we don’t have that correspondence.

In SC I was asked/strongly urged to include a “helpful hints” section. I tried to get the ladies to contribute to this, but with little response (I think we all felt like we needed tips more than we felt we had any to share), so after I exhausted my own small repertoire, I had to go searching for that kind of thing in other newsletters, books, etc. Nowadays with Pinterest and Google, that kind of thing is so easily accessible that I only rarely include anything along those lines in the current booklet I do.

Usually on the first page I include a poem or quote about the season, the month, or an upcoming holiday…though I don’t usually have this much clip art. 🙂



When I started doing the TN booklet, we had a “question of the month” that I would ask in one booklet, and then ladies e-mailed me their answers throughout the month, and I compiled them in the next month’s booklet and then asked a new question. Some of the questions used were, “What’s your favorite household tip?”, “What characteristic did you most appreciate about your mother?” (in connection with Mother’s Day), favorite Christmas ornament, fall tradition, something bad in your life that God used for good, openings you’ve found helpful in witnessing, etc. I really enjoyed getting to know the other ladies better in this way, but after a while, the response petered out, so I discontinued it.

At the request of our pastor’s wife here, we included a section where we “interviewed” one or two ladies a month. I sent out a questionnaire asking about were they grew up, how they came to TN,  how they came to know the Lord, where they went to school and what they studied, how they met their husband (if married), their children’s names and ages (if they have any), and then some fun questions, like their ideal vacation or day off, favorite restaurant meal, etc. This was originally designed to introduce new ladies to the group, but after a while we decided to include all the ladies, because of course the new ladies don’t know these things about the rest of us – and we don’t even know them about each other. This has been one of my favorite sections of the booklet.

I also started out trying to include a similar questionnaire about the wives of missionaries we support, but only a half dozen or so responded. I am assuming they were just too busy, understandably, or perhaps they were wary of sharing information with someone they didn’t know, though I tried to reference our church and pastor’s name. One year I emailed them about how Christmas was celebrated in their area, and we got quite a bit of response to that. That was fun to put together. I try to periodically put something in as a reminder to pray for them.

And lastly, I include a page of humorous items. Because what’s life without humor. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine,” after all (Proverbs 17:22).


I “fill in” the empty spaces with poems or quotes. I have been collecting poems, quotes, jokes, anecdotes, etc., on all these subjects, ever since I started the first booklet, so I’ve got tons of files now. One of my biggest challenges is trying to keep track of what I have used before so I don’t repeat myself

Since I did the booklet for ten years in SC and have had a blog for almost ten years, naturally I draw on a lot of that material for the booklet I do now in TN. But I do edit, update, or revise it as needed. And sometimes I do write something totally new for this booklet – which usually eventually shows up in the blog. 🙂 Sometimes I end up compiling things I have read in books rather than writing anything of my own. I do try to pray before starting each month for the Lord’s guidance and direction in what to include and how to say it.

I use Microsoft Publisher to do these because the screen is laid out like the finished book will be. I do it in what they call the 1/2-letter size, meaning one sheet of computer paper, in landscape or sideways position, is 4 pages in the booklet, so your number of pages will be in multiples of 4. The finished booklet is 8 1/2″ by 5 1/2″. That seemed best to me so it could be easily tucked in one’s Bible, though I have seen other newsletters on 8 1/2 by 11″ sheets stapled at the left corner. I also like that with Publisher I can put a text box or photo box wherever I want them and move them around at will without having to figure out how to “wrap” the text around it. Before I started using Publisher, I used Microsoft Works (way back when!), but I had to print out each section and literally cut and paste the paper sections where each should go and then copy and paste the text on the computer so it all worked out right. Very tedious. Thankfully my oldest son had a copy of Publisher from the church because he did the youth group’s web site at the time, so I could also use it for the booklet. Years later either he or my husband bought me my very own updated copy of Publisher. You could probably also do this in a PDF file – I’ve just figured out how to convert my Publisher file to a PDF but otherwise I have no experience with PDFs. The ladies’ booklet at my m-i-l’s church was 8 pages; the one at my SC church could run from 12-20 depending on what all I included. The one I do now I keep to 12 pages.

I used to do the cover of the booklet with decorative computer paper from one of the office stores until the numbers we were printing exceeded the number of papers in the package. Then I started using frames, borders,  and clip art included in Publisher. Then I expanded by finding free clip art online. I had a few CDs of clip art but some were hard to use.

Ladies Booklets from our former church

Ladies Booklets from our former church

Lately, though, I’ve switched to a full page picture – I think it looks a bit more contemporary. I usually search online for free wallpaper pertaining to the season or holiday of the upcoming month – wallpaper because it’s a bigger photo, and stretching a small photo to try to fit the page doesn’t always work. I always have to crop the bigger photo to fit, but that works out better than stretching a smaller one.

Current ladies booklets

Current ladies booklets

So….I think that is probably much more than you ever wanted to know about our ladies’ booklets. 🙂 I very much enjoy doing it. Sometimes I wonder how in the word l I ever got the privilege to do so or why anyone would read anything I have to say. 🙂 The couple of years in between leaving SC and getting settled here in TN when I wasn’t writing or compiling one, it was nice in a way not to have to think about it, but I sorely missed it as well, and I was very glad to be asked to do it again.

If you are interested in starting something like this for the ladies at your church, I think the first step would be to talk with the coordinator of your ladies’ group, if your church has one, and your pastor, about what you’d like to include, the format you’d like, etc. At our former church, there was a printer which would fold and staple the booklets, but we had to be selective in how much color we used. At our current church, a printer is used and there is no restriction about color (I’ve asked several times, especially when switching to a full page color cover), but we have to fold and staple them manually. You’ll have to work out the logistics of whether your church can print these. I have no idea about how much it would cost to take them to Office Max or Kinko’s or some place like that, but if your church doesn’t have a printer or copier that can print something like this, and you have money in your budget to take them somewhere to print, that might be an option.

To sum up the types of things you could possibly include:

Member testimonies
Biographies of Christians “gone before”
Group news, calendar of events
Helpful hints or tips
Thank you notes
Missionary information
Poems, quotes about the season, holiday, Christian life, missionaries, womanhood, etc.
Birthdays and anniversaries
“Interviews” or “Getting to know you” section
Funnies 🙂

Depending on how big you want the booklet to be, you probably can’t use all of these, and you may change along the way as you see what works, what people have interest in, etc.

There used to be a site online that had missionary biographies that could be printed out as bulletin inserts that I used sometimes for the missionary biography section, but the url I have for those does not work any more. I found the text of a couple of them at, like this one on Ida Scudder and this one on Anne Bradstreet (not a missionary, but a believer of note).

One word of caution: just because something is online doesn’t mean it’s free to copy. If it doesn’t specifically say you can use it, it’s best to ask. I’ve never had anyone tell me no when I have asked if I could use something online for a church ladies’ newsletter. And of course always attribute anything like that to its source.

We’ve always made these books available and about all the ladies of the church, not just whatever group meets together. But your ladies’ group will probably be reflected in your booklet. For instance, the ladies’ group of our former church was much more focused on our missionaries than the group in our current church (not that the church neglects our missionaries – our news of and ministry to them is just handled in a different way), so that emphasis showed up in the booklet. Of the ladies’ groups in the various churches I have been a part of, some are very seriously “all business,” some are more casual and social, so that will be reflected in your booklet as well. You might have various people contribute to various sections: I think the lady who took over this booklet from our former church after I left does that.  Personally I find it easier to compile it myself – the times I’ve had others doing parts of it, there was some tension with getting things back in time, etc. I’m not opposed to making it a group effort rather than a personal one, but so far it has just worked out the way it has. We do have some group contribution through the questionnaires and used to through the “question of the month” section. I would be wary of making it an “open mic” kind of set-up, because you have people at various stages of Christian maturity in any group, and it might cause hurt feelings or worse to have to tell someone why you can’t use what they contributed or why you have to correct it.

I’d love to know if your church ladies’ group does any kind of newsletter, what you include, what programs you use, etc.

Sharing With Literacy Musing Mondays.

31 Days With Elisabeth Elliot: Writing By Faith


Elisabeth Elliot2

Today I am just taking excerpts from a chapter titled “One Difference Between Me and Sparrows” from Elisabeth’s book Love Has a Price Tag. It has always meant a lot to me as an aspiring writer:

The Bible says the just shall live by faith. The “just” is not a special category of specially gifted or inspired saints. It is the people whose hearts are turned toward God. The people who know that their own righteousness doesn’t count for much and who therefore have accepted God’s. I belong in that category. Therefore the rule for me is the rule for all the rest: live by faith. So I have been pondering, up here in this quiet room, what it means for a writer to live by faith. It was easy enough to come up with some things it doesn’t mean. It does not mean that my intellect need not be hard at work. It does not mean that I trust God to do my work for me, any more than for a housewife to live by faith means she expects God to do her dishes or make her beds. It does not mean that I have a corner on inspiration that Norman Mailer, say, or Truman Capote don’t claim. (I don’t know whether Mr. Mailer or Mr. Capote live by faith–I haven’t come across any comments by either on the subject.)

The great prophets of the Old Testament lived by faith, but they were certainly divinely inspired. Does this mean that God alone and not they, too–was responsible for the work they did? Even though they were acted upon in a special sense by the Spirit of God as I don’t ever expect to be acted upon, they had to pay a price. Each of them had to make the individual commitment when he was called, and to offer up then and there his own plans and hopes (and surely his reputation) in order that his personality, his temperament, his intellect, his peculiar gifts and experience might be the instruments through which the Spirit did his work, or the console upon which he played. All this, even though I am no prophet, I must take seriously.

But there is one other thing that living by faith does not mean. This is the thing that makes me furrow my brow and sigh, because I can’t help wishing that it did mean this. If in fact I have sided with the “just,” if I am willing to work as hard as I can, if I arrange things physically to contribute to the highest concentration and if I discipline myself to sit down at the typewriter for X number of hours per day (even when the fresh perfume of the balsams comes through the windows, calling me to the woods; even when the lake glitters in the sunshine and says, “Come on!”), may I then expect that what I turn out will stop the world, bring the public panting to the bookstores, shine as the brightness of the firmament?

I may not. There are no promises to cover anything of the kind.

…And here’s comfort. Abel’s name is listed in the Hall of Fame of Hebrews 11. Like the others in that list (and a motley assortment it is), he is there for one thing, and only one thing: the exercise of faith. The demonstration of his faith was his offering. The thing that made his offering acceptable while Cain’s was unacceptable was faith. Faith did not guarantee the “success” of the sacrifice. In human terms it was no help at all. Abel ended up dead as a result of it. But the manner in which he offered his gift–“by faith”–made it, the Bible says, “a more excellent sacrifice” than Cain’s, and qualified him for the roster of Hebrews.

For me, then, for whom writing happens to be the task, living by faith means several things.

It means accepting the task from God…Here is a thing to be done. It appears to be a thing to be done by me, so I’ll do it, and I’ll do it for God.

It means coming at the task trustingly. That’s the way Abel brought his sacrifice, I’m sure. Not with fear, not with a false humility that it wasn’t “good enough.” What would ever be good enough, when it comes right down to it? “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” All that distinguishes one thing from another is the manner of its offering. I must remember that the God to whom I bring it has promised to receive. That’s all I need to know.

It means doing the job with courage to face the consequences. I might, of course, write a bestseller. Most of us feel we could handle that kind of consequence. (God knows we couldn’t, and doesn’t suffer us to be tempted above that we are able.) On the other hand, I might fail. Abel was murdered. Jeremiah was dropped into a pit of slime. John the Baptist got his head chopped off. These were much worse fates than being delivered into the hands of one’s literary critics… Is the faith that gives me the courage I need based on former literary success? Not for a moment. For each time I sit down to begin a new book I’m aware that I may have used up my allotment of creativity. It’s another kind of faith I need, faith in God.

It means giving it everything I’ve got. Now I have to acknowledge that I’ve never done this. I’ve never finished any job in my life and been able to survey it proudly and say, “Look at that! I certainly did my best that time!” I look at the job and say, “Why didn’t I do such and such? This really ought to be done over.” But “giving it everything I’ve got” is my goal. I cannot claim to be living by faith unless I’m living in obedience. Even the miracles Jesus performed were contingent on somebody’s obedience, on somebody’s doing some little thing such as filling up water pots, stretching out a hand, giving up a lunch. The work I do needs to be transformed. I know that very well. But there has to be something there to be transformed. It’s my responsibility to see that it’s there.

See all the posts in this series here.