Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Dec
30
2013

Top 10 Posts of 2013

This was a great year in blogging with a 75% increase in traffic. I thank each and every read who passed through and hope my words, in some small way, helped you grow closer to Jesus. I blogged about a lot of different things this year, mostly whatever ideas came to my mind, mostly at the intersection of faith and ministry and culture. Here were the top ten blogs, ranked by order of pageviews:

1) 5 Things Every Daughter Needs to Hear From Her Dad

This idea came to me on a Sunday evening after a long day of ministry. Not sure exactly what sparked it, but I had no idea how huge it would be. Essentially I shared a list of things daughters need to hear from their fathers. As a father of three, these are things I try to practice on a regular basis.

2) 5 Things Every Son Needs to Hear from His Dad

This came on the heals of the above post. I had some parents wonder why I didn’t mention boys. So this is one for fathers of boys. Along with three daughters, I also have a son. Seems boys and girls have different needs, different “love languages” and so this one struck a chord as well. Like the above list, these are things I try to practice with my own son regularly.

3) How to Build Community In Your Church

This was a blog written, not to pastors or church leaders, but to the members. We often put too much of the responsibility for fostering community on the leaders with little expectation from church members. But it takes everyone giving and receiving in order for us to live out the gospel as Christ’s local body of believers.

4) Why Going to Church on Sunday is an Act of War

I was a bit melodramatic on this one, but I wanted to make a point that the simple act of getting out of bed and going to a Bible-believing, Christ-proclaiming church on Sunday is a more world-changing, revolutionary concept than you might imagine. Praising the name of Christ in your corner of the word is a powerful and bold statement.

5) 5 People We Should Pray For, Even If We Don’t Want To

I tried to think of the most despised groups of people in society, the folks that everyone agrees are worth mocking and despising. Of course you could create a much longer list or much different list than mine, but this did provoke some good discussion.

6) 5 Ways Adult Children Can Honor Their Parents

So, I was into lists in 2013. Well, here is a subject we don’t often discuss: how adult followers of Christ can honor and respect their parents. This is a really tricky and difficult subject. I hope I navigated the tensions well.

7) 5 Hard Truths for Parents

This post was born out of both my role as a pastor in a church with young families and my own role as a father of young children. There are some hard truths we need to accept about our children and about ourselves if we are going to create gospel communities in our homes.

8) 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Being a Dad

I wrote this post in May of 2012, but it still got some good traffic. It’s easily the most read of any blog I created. In this blog I talk about the realities of fatherhood that are just foreign to those who don’t have children.

9) 5 Reflections on My First Year in Seminary

I was surprised at how the traffic this post generated. Apparently more people were interested in my first year of seminary than I realized. This post has reflections on seminary life, going to school as an older student, and how seminary and ministry intersect.

10) 5 Reasons We Don’t Share Our Faith

So why don’t Christians share the gospel? There are reasons beyond the simple causes like apathy or fear. There are theological reasons. This post was both personal and pastoral.

 

 

Nov
26
2013

Mark Buchanan’s Writing Rhythm

Mark Buchanan is one of my favorite authors. He’s a pastor, a teacher, and a man who can really turn a phrase. I had the chance to interview Mark last week for Leadership Journal. One of the questions I asked was this:

What is your writing rhythm? Are you an early morning writer, a late-night writer?

I write almost everything I produce—books, blogs, or articles—in a 4–5 hour block every Friday. I awake around 6:30 AM. I exercise, shower, eat, make coffee, read 2 chapters of Scripture and a few pages each of theology and history. Then, around 9 AM, I fire up the computer, and buckle down. I usually write until 2:00 PM (with a brief lunch break around 12:30). I try to finish shorter magazine pieces (under 1000 words) in a single sitting. Longer pieces, in two. When I”m working on a book, I don”t grant myself permission to leave until I’ve produced a minimum of 1500 words. Most trade books are 65,000 words. At the rate of 1500 words a week, I need 43 weeks to complete a book—roughly 10 months.I do, however, block out two to three 5 day writing blitzes when I’m moving toward a book deadline—at least one just to write, two if needed, and one just to edit the complete manuscript. For the writing marathons, I write 12-14 hours each day, and require of myself a minimum of 4000 words a day—so I can write roughly a third of a book in one 5-day block. In the editing marathon, I typically edit about 10 hours a day.

Read the entire interview here:

Aug
20
2013

On Writing: “Strap Yourself to a Desk and Grind.”

I enjoy good sportswriters, mainly because I absolutely love sports, but also because I think sportswriting is among the best writing on the planet. Guys like Thomas Lake at SI, Bill Simmons, Rick Reilly, Gene Wojciechowski and the Grantland guys at ESPN, Jason Whitlock at Fox Sports, David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune–these guys are among my favorites and there are many more I read.

Sportswriters have to write quickly, on deadline, and have to write in a very tight fashion. They write for a very critical crowd: passionate sports fans. They have to be serious and funny and creative all at the same time, all without being too cute. Even if you don’t like sports (and if so, I’ll get on my knees and pray for your soul), you might appreciate sportswriting for the sheer value and quality of the writing.

Which leads me to a quote I heard on an edition of the Bill Simmons podcast. He was interviewing Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports (who is now moving to ESPN) about the nature of writing, his career, and getting published. Whitlock said a phrase that I think every aspiring writer/blogger/author needs to hear. He said that good writers succeed because they “strap themselves to a desk and grind.” In other words, good writers work hard at regularly, daily, grinding out content, working on their craft, laboring often in obscurity until they are good enough to be noticed.

This is a really, really good principle for today’s generation of writers. We live in an age of instant fame. And while sometimes something you write may go viral and make you instantly famous, mostly the way to success is to just work hard at producing good content while nobody is looking. The best sportswriters in America started somewhere obscure, in a small town grinding out columns about the local bowling league or something. The people whose work is being read, heard, digested are the ones who were willing to “strap themselves to a desk and grind.” There are no shortcuts to real, lasting, genuine success.

There is a connection here to Scripture. God has sovereignly bestowed on each of us good gifts and talents. It’s part of the Creation mandate to use our gifts to create things, to produce good work. We should work hard, not simply as an angle to fame and fortune, but because we take pride in our work. We want to do things well, to the glory of God. And any success we experience should come as the fruit of our labors. So let’s get busy and write well and put aside fleeting dreams of quick and easy fame.

*I feel I need a disclaimer here to say that I don’t always agree with all the content from guys like Simmons and Whitlock. Sometimes sports guys can be provocative. Christians should be discerning, picking the fruit from the rest.

Jul
26
2013

Fruit from Deep Brokenness

For my weekly Leadership Journal interview, I chat with Mary Demuth, a good friend. She’s a gifted author and speaker. Mary has a way of speaking from her own personal pain and brokenness into the lives of others in a unique way.

I asked her about this:

Your own story of sexual abuse has been catalyst for some of your writing and blogging. How hard was it to begin telling your story?

Initially, I shared my story in my late teens to garner attention, so, oddly, I wasn’t scared. In my twenties I naively assumed I’d been healed, so I kept the story locked away. In my thirties, my life exploded in pain, and I had no desire to share that with the world. God used that decade to heal me further and birth in me a desire to see that past pain as a platform to help others be set gloriously free. So now? I find it a huge privilege to tell my story, almost as if it’s sacred ground when I share it. I see folks set free. It’s humbling. God is so very good to let me see fruit from my own deep brokenness.

Read the entire interview here:

Jun
14
2013

The Story Overtook Me

Today for my Leadership Journal interview, I spoke with Rebekah Lyons, cofounder of Q Ideas and the author of a new book, Freefall to Fly. In this book she shares her personal struggles with anxiety, depression, and tensions between motherhood and ministry. I asked her about the writing process and she told me this:

This story overtook me. I never intended to write a book, but it was an earnest effort to get it down, for my own healing and processing. The week I began writing, I realized this wasn’t a story of my anxiety or spiral, but God’s story of redemption and rescue. The best advice I received early on was, “Don’t hold back.”I didn’t unearth how much my story would resonate with others until I started hearing feedback in the early stages. It seemed everyone shared angst over someone they loved struggling with the same thing—especially within the church.

You can read the entire interview here:

Apr
24
2013

7 Steps to Get Started Writing

I have a lot of people who are interested in launching a writing career, but don’t know how to get started. It seems a bit overwhelming. So I decided to try and write a post with seven sort of first-steps on writing. I hope this helps those who feel this call.

1) Take a Long View. This is less of a practical step and more of a vision thing. But I think it’s importnat to not get too caught up, right away, in that big book project or thinking that you’re going to make a ton of money so you can retire. You need to think of writing less as a way to make money (which in the future can happen, at least in a side-business kind of way) and more of a calling to communicate and use your gifts to lift people. Don’t take an all-or-nothing approach with the idea that “God told me to write this ONE book and if it doesn’t get published, that publishing house isn’t following God.” Take the long view and think of it as a progressive development of your gifts and your platform. Ok, with that out of the way, some practical steps:

2) Start a Blog. It used to be that to get started writing, you needed to get published somewhere, some kind of byline. Otherwise, where would you have an outlet to publish your stuff? Not anymore. I still think its important to get started writing in a various outlets (see step 3 below), however the internet has flattened the publishing world in that you can begin to write right away. My advice is to create a blog using a free service like WordPress or Blogspot and establish a regular rhythm of writing. Set a reasonable schedule for yourself, perhaps two to three times a week, and commit to it. It’s important for you to start writing even when you have an audience of nobody. You need to find your voice and work those writing muscles. Starting a blog is not as scary as it seems. I highly recommend Michael Hyatt’s book, Platform and his website to get going. One word of caution: don’t think you have to do everything Mike recommends right away with your blog (He says this as much). Just get your blog going, figure out a theme for your writing, and start writing. Don’t spend all your time with gizmos and gadgets and sacrifice your time writing. 

3) Start publishing in smaller markets. Besides getting a regular blog schedule going, it’s important for you to start getting published in other publications. This is important for several reasons. First, it helps get used to working with an editor and being edited. Second, working on a deadline forces you to produce something. Third, it establishes some credits for future work. Editors at publications and book publishers like to see you’ve been published elsewhere. My advice is to start small. Do yourself a favor and invest in The Christian Writer’s Market Guide. This book is filled with hundreds, if not thousands of big and small Christian publications needing articles. There are lots of opportunities with publications such as Sunday School take-home curricula, denominational papers, niche Christian magazines, Christian websites, devotional magazines, etc. And here’s a really cool thing. Let’s say you have an idea. You can spin that idea in a variety of ways depending on the needs of the publication you’re pursuing. This is a great, great way to break into publishing and establish a bit of a name for yourself and to get used to writing professionally.The best way to query these publications is usually with a short email pitching your idea (though you’ll want to pay attention to the guidelines in the Market Guide or on their website). I also encourage you to begin pursuing guest posts on popular blogs in the area where you’d like to write. Unlike most print publications, blogs typically don’t pay in dollars, but they pay in traffic and exposure for your own blog and help you establish a reputation. Jeff Goins has a great blog on how to write a good guest post here. Typically the more popular blogs will have a section outlining their guidelines for guest posts. If there isn’t one, then you’ll simply want to email the proprietor and pitch your idea in a short email.

4) Get some professional training. I highly recommend you get some professional training and feedback on your writing. If you can afford it, I highly recommend attending a good Christian writer’s conference. The Christian Writer’s Market Guide should have a list of the popular conferences. I’ve attended and spoke at a number of them. If you’re in the Chicago area, I can’t recommend Write to Publish any higher. Others around the country are ones like Glorietta, ACFW, Write His Answer, and others. There are also one-day conferences. Really, Google “christian writer’s conferences.” Now, some words of advice. Not all of these are the same. I would look at the faculty teaching and the classes–does it fit what you want to do? And are do the faculty have substantial publishing credits? Also, see if there are editors attending and if they give time. This is one of the key benefits of attending a conference–you get to meet editors and build relationships that can sustain your writing career. If you can’t attend a conference due to costs, travel, etc, there are other options. I recommend taking a short course such as Jeff Goins’ Tribe Writers course. It’s relatively inexpensive and is packed with good stuff. Also, Mary DeMuth has some great resources as well. My writing mentor, Cecil Murphey has a terrific website with some really good, practical writing stuff. You want to grow in your craft. You want to improve.

5) Network. Writing can be a solitary calling–you and the laptop, so you need to work hard to find a community of writers who can strengthen you. You also need to build relationships with people in publishing. Relationships are everything. I highly recommend you join a Christian writer’s group either in your area or online. This is also why attending a conference is good as well. A few pieces of advice: Never burn bridges. Christian publishing is a small, small world. Editors move around. They talk. So if you become known as a prima dona or someone with very think skin when it comes to your work, well, you’ll have a harder time getting published. Never publicly bash editors or writers. Never gossip about editors to other editors, etc. You should do this, not only for your future career, but because you are a Christian called to “love one another.”

6) Get active on social media. I mentioned this last because there is a temptation to get active on social media without actually putting in the grunt work of writing. Don’t do this. Start writing and commit to some kind of schedule or deadline. But, I will say this, in this day and age, it’s vital to build a platform via social media. And here’s how to use it. You’ll want to use your social media accounts to leverage your writing. I typically use Bufferapp to send people to my blog posts. I also do this to send folks to my writing on other sites and, when a book comes out, to send them to my book. A tip here. I’ve found that using Buffer to schedule a “tweetable” quote from your work seems to work better at driving traffic than simply tweeting something like, “New blog . . . .” Another tip: find a few networks that work for you and use them regularly. You can’t employ every network. Twitter and Facebook work for me, but I’m going to explore using Pinterest this summer (and thereby sacrifice my mancard).

7) Read a lot. Good writers are active readers. Reading helps stimulate creative ideas and it also fills your well. Nourish your soul with good books from a variety of genres. I also recommend you take in content in other ways, such as sermon podcasts, online videos, etc. But you must regularly, regularly add to your creative reservoir.

Apr
09
2013

My 5 Rules of Writing

I’ve been working with words, in one way or another, since I was in high-school and it has been work with words that has formed the majority of my adult working life, both as a writer, editor and now in my role as a pastor. Writing is one of my loves and one of the few things I think I can do reasonably well, though I’m a long, long way from good.

Lots of people ask me what my “method” is for writing. I haven’t given much thought about it, but perhaps it’s worth a blog post. So here are my five rules of writing, if you are interested:

1) Don’t despise small things. Most people start with a book idea, the magnum opus of their lives. But if you start with that, your book won’t be very good. Better to start with small projects for lesser-known publications. Do this for two reasons: 1) To cut your teeth writing and get experience and 2) to build a resume of credits. Magazine editors and book publishers like to see that you’ve been published before. Blogging is starting to flatten that a bit. Still, it’s important to start blogging when only your mother and your wife reads what you write.

2) Above all, keep writing. The best way to get better at writing is to . . . well, write. So to piggyback off of #1, start writing when you’re a nobody and keep writing when you have no audience. For almost 8 years I wrote in total obscurity for a Christian organization, managing their publications, converting sermons into devotionals, articles, and books. This, as I look back, was one of the most important seasons of my life. It taught me to write fast and to produce something.

3) Be editable. Hold your words and ideas loosely. I recently had someone tell me their first draft was ready for publishing. This was the first draft of anything they’d ever written before. It’s not ready for publication. It needs a trained eye, some seasoning, some polishing. The best writing is collaborative. That is to say that you write the very best you can at that moment (a lesson Cecil Murphey taught me) and then allow others to heavily criticize it and edit it. Those red marks are not your enemy, but your best friend. If you’ve read a good book recently that inspired you its because the author had a few unseen eyes polish it. Be grateful for editors. This is God’s way of keeping you humble. In the immortal words of one of my editors, “You’re not Hemingway, so you need an editor.” Yes, yes. The older you get, the more you will actually seek out good editors to look at your stuff. I have two or three folks who do this for major book projects.

4) Find your voice. The thing about writing and getting more and more experience writing–is that you find your voice. Don’t strive to be the next ______. To quote Jon Acuff, that slot is already taken. Be you. And your voice will mature and grow as you mature and grow. Fill up your soul with good reading, life experiences, faith, and love. Drink deeply from a variety of sources and allow your ideas to be shaped and formed. This, more than anything, will make your writing sparkle and grow and inspire. The words I wrote as a young college student probably would inspire nobody now, mainly because I was writing from a position of perceived knowledge, but had not endured any of the real rhythms of life in a fallen world.

5) Find your own method. Some more disciplined writers get up every day at 5 am and crank out 5,000 words, regardless if they have a project. For many years I beat myself up, thinking that needed to be me. Then I realized that this just doesn’t work for me. I’m a deadline guy. I need a deadline to produce. So what I do is continually seek new projects and new ideas which give me new deadlines. Blogging makes this a bit more challenging, however, I’ve committed myself to two or three blogs a week. What’s really cool about this is that I simply write a blog whenever I’m inspired with a short idea that won’t be suitable for an article or a chapter. Then I just sit down and write it and schedule it. So this blog here came right before I was to work on a chapter. I scheduled it to post today. Interestingly, I don’t have a set time that works best for me. I can write at night, in the morning, late at night. Typically with a book project, I do this: I sit down for a large chunk of time and do the writing and I write until I absolutely can’t write anymore. Then I put it to rest for a few days and go back and start editing and then start writing again. Works for me.

A few other thoughts on finding my own method. I tend to work best with music on. For some that distracts. For me, it inspires. I have a hymns playlist that really gets me in the mood for deep reflection. Another key thing for me, is to have a pad of paper handy to write down key thoughts for that chapter or book–to sort of frame a loose outline. For some unexplainable reason, a pen in my hand and paper is better for capturing first seed thoughts. For a while I felt bad that perhaps I should have a more digital tool for this–Evernote or something. But then I remembered that it’s really okay to use a pen and paper. Sometimes digital tools make life more complicated. Lastly, I tend to like to do a bunch of research first, online or in books, and mark it up and organize it before I do my chapter (I do this with my sermons as well). Then I print out the online stuff. I know I could easily just read it online, but again, something about paper and pen here that serves well. I do use Evernote for online articles–just to have one place to keep them for going back and doing footnotes. By the way, I hate footnoting, I hate this work, but it’s important and publishers really keep you on your toes about sources. And as a reader I enjoy being able to see the sources for folks in their books. Still, I hate footnoting. Cool feature of Heaven, btw? No footnoting.

Jan
22
2013

Writing, like anything worth doing, takes work . . . and love

I’m often asked by beginning writers how to “get started” in writing. How to get published. How to get that book on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. They assume I’m an expert, which I’m most assuredly not.

Nonetheless, I have been writing for a while and here is my advice: Writing takes talent, yes, but is mostly the combination of a lot of work and a little love.

I remember when I first got out of college and dreamt of being a writer. I had dreamy notions of a cabin in the mountains or a house by the beach. I’d listen to my favorite music and pound out thousands of words of beautiful prose every single day. I’d have publishers lining up outside my door and I’d be doing book tours, morning television, and would be an evangelical bestselling book hero.

The real world of writing, I’ve learned in the intervening years, is much, much different. I don’t say this to discourage, but to make writers aware of the work it will take to see their words good enough to be in print, which is to say, good enough to inspire.

Writing does take skill, a certain giftedness from God. And there is a rush when you are in the “writing flow” and pounding out words from heart to head to keyboard. Yes, those moments are exhilarating  when you know you are doing the very thing you were put on earth to do. I feel this way, sometimes, about preaching and studying.

But like any other skill, any other endeavor worth doing, writing is mostly work. By work I mean that you write a lot. You write often. You write when you don’t feel like it. You write really bad stuff to get to the good stuff. You write things about subjects you don’t want to write on to get your foot in the door or to get some income. And you learn along the way that you’re not writing to be famous or rich (there are much easier avenues to those fleeting goals), but you write because you can’t not write.

You must love to write if you are to endure. There are many many people who really say they want to publish a book, start a blog, become a columnist. Hundreds and thousands of these kinds of people. But there are few who love it enough to sit down beyond the keyboard at ten o’clock at night, when normal people are sleeping or watching Sportscenter or another episode of West Wing. In other words, real writers just start writing. They write and write and write. And at the end of their lives they will look up and realize they have created a body of work they can be proud of.

So I guess my best advice on writing is to work at it. Don’t fall for shortcuts that promise to get your words in print right now. Yes, you can easily self-publish a book tomorrow on Amazon.com. But will it be good and inspirational and weighty if you skip the rejections and the editing and the rewriting that the publishing process forces you to endure?

I don’t think so.