Tag Archives | christian writing

Five Rules About Writing I (Sorta) Disagree With

The late novelist Somerset Maugham famously said: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” And yet the pundits (including me, sometimes) continually offer up the “rules” to good writing. Some of these rules are valid–such as “show, don’t tell;” though even that rule is flexible. Telling is sometimes the best way to move the story along. But there are other rules that I think are dubious at best and, when understood properly, can be broken. Let’s consider five of them. 1. “Write what you know.” How many times have we heard this one? Of course, writing what we know can be powerful, but so can writing what we don’t know. Many of us, in fact, write in order to find out things we don’t know. Not just factual things, but experiential things. I have never experienced the loss of a spouse through […]

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Advice I Wish I’d Been Given

I love blogging, I really do. But as I recently told my Facebook friends, sometimes I get blogger’s block. In response, Facebook friend Caitlin Muir suggested a great topic: “Write about advice you wish someone would have given you.” So, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and I’ll offer up five examples of what I wish I knew during the early years of my writing career. 1. We’ll start with college. Though this won’t apply to most of you who are in your post-college years, still it’s worth noting. I majored in English and minored in journalism. The English major was almost by default. The truth was, I didn’t have specific plans for a career, although, of course, I hoped to incorporate writing into whatever I eventually did for a living. The advice I wish I had been given is: Major in journalism. Since that’s not an option for […]

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The Marriage Between Story and Language

A good book is ultimately the result of a happy marriage between story and language. This is true both of fiction and non-fiction. In non-fiction, we might sometimes need to substitute the word “information” for “story.” (But not always. Many non-fiction books are also stories). When a manuscript is rejected, it’s often because the writer has failed on either the story level or the language level…or both. The story level is simply a matter of: is this really a story? Does it have interesting characters, a good plot, a sympathetic theme, and an appropriate setting? If we can think of the human body as a metaphor, the story is the skeleton on which the author must hang the flesh of language. Without a firm and reliable skeleton, even the best writing will amount to no more than page after page of words nicely strung together. At the language level, we’re […]

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I Love It When That Happens

As a follow-up to my recent I Hate It When That Happens blog, I now offer the promised balance to that rant. 1. I love it when I begin reading (with skepticism) a manuscript by an unknown author, only to discover a gem of a book and a very promising writer. Please make my day by being the next author to delight me in such a way. 2. I love it when one of the books I’ve written (or edited) results in a changed life and I find out about it. I was reminded of this two weeks ago when I was at a conference attended by a man who, without knowing who I was or where I worked, told me about a book that had truly changed his life. It was a book I had championed at Harvest House and edited. So very gratifying! I have a few cherished […]

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More on Writing in An Unpopular Genre

A few people have asked what genre I was referring to in my most recent blog (“Which Is It: A or B?”) when I was told by a well-respected agent in NYC that a genre I wanted to publish in was dead. I love old movies. TCM is one TV channel I cannot do without. I don’t, however, care much for contemporary movies. I’m not sure I can remember the last movie I saw in a theater. I suppose we go maybe once or twice a year. Part of my fascination with old movies extends to the history of movie-making in what many call Hollywood’s Golden Age: mostly the 1930s, 40s and 50s. So, on my bucket list for some time now has been the hope of helping a movie star from that era tell his or her story. Preferably a person whose story has a strong faith element. Some […]

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Writing as an Obsession

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this topic discussed before in our industry….so let’s give it a try. The topic is: Writing as an obsession…is it good or bad? What does it mean to be obsessed with one’s writing? Is an obsession God’s way of maximizing one’s talent or is it man’s way of clutching a God-given talent too tightly? What prompts this discussion is that I’ve had several encounters with the topic from various places in the past few days. Frankly, I don’t think I know any writers who are obsessed with their writing, but maybe they’re just not telling me if they are. First, let me address the response I know you all have to this question. YES, I understand that Christian writers are to be focused fully on Christ (I won’t use the word obsession. It doesn’t seem quite right). God is to have our full […]

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Two bits of advice and something about “voice”

Today I have two small bits of advice for writers, but first I want to answer Barb’s question about a writer’s voice. Barb writes, “I feel like it’s easy to engage with my class members when I teach and with friends when I write, but as soon as I start writing a book, I clam up. How can I take my teaching style and voice and transfer it to a non-fiction book?” I’m not sure the process is any different for non-fiction than fiction, but here’s my take on it. First, I’d say that in writing a book, the most important thing is to just get it written. Don’t worry about voice right now. Don’t allow yourself to clam up. If you’ve got something to say in print (and obviously you do or you wouldn’t be writing a book), then just spit it out. This is why there’s such a […]

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The “Secret”

Last week on Facebook I promised to reveal the one great secret to writing success. The reason I’ve delayed is that my website has undergone a facelift. I hope you like the new look and find it easier to read. There are also some new features on the sidebar to the right, including a way to subscribe. So now let’s talk about the “secret,” which, though easily stated, can be fodder for several more blog entries. At least that’s my expectation. So what exactly is this great secret? First, let’s talk about it as it relates to non-fiction, then we’ll look at how it relates to fiction. Simply put, great writing is writing that evokes in the reader a desired reaction. It causes the non-fiction reader to pause and inwardly gasp, At last, here’s someone who understands! All this time I thought I was the only one who thought this […]

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Looking Ahead to 2011 (And an Announcement!)

Two quick commercials before the good news. First, please take a look at my homepage and consider giving one of my books as a Christmas present to someone on your list this year. Promises to Keep: Daily Devotions for Men Seeking Integrity is great for any son, father, husband, brother, uncle or any other male on your list. My other books are also likely appropriate for someone you know. You can order from me, from Amazon, or from the publisher. The second commercial is primarily for fiction writers. Please read Brandilyn Collins’ excellent article here. Very, very useful information. Now, let’s talk about 2011. The present year is history. For both fiction and non-fiction writers, it’s time to look to the next twelve months—and PLAN! Here’s what I want you to do. Print out the list below and use it (with any necessary adaptations and additions) and post it somewhere […]

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Overcoming Discouragement

I’m sure I touched on dealing with setbacks and discouragement in my earlier series on How to Succeed as a Christian Writer, but today I want to revisit it for a minute. Not surprisingly, this is due to a bout with discouragement I had earlier this week. Yes, even after eight or so books, I still face discouragement. Not as often as I used to, praise the Lord, but every so often I still hear the inner voice that says, Pack it in, Nick. You’ve done all the writing God has for you. You’re at the end of your road. Enjoy life. You don’t need any more rejection. Maybe the voices in your head say slightly different things, but the result is the same: dejection and a sense that maybe you should take up bungee-jumping or macramé or something else that will prove more productive and less stressful (bungee-jumping certainly […]

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