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Sunday, 18 August 2019

School Reports for Writers by Georgie Tennant


When I was at school, I used to look forward to the end of the summer term and the handing out of crisp, brown envelopes to the class. ‘For the Parent or Guardian of …’ the important-looking lettering declared.  You guessed it – I was the classic ‘goody-two-shoes, polish-my-halo,’ student, who couldn’t wait to run home, hand over the envelope to the eager addressees and await my reward.  When I finished Primary School, my much-loved teacher wrote a poem about me (as I was already a keen poet, even then), to accompany my report – it delighted and thrilled me that she would take the time to do so and I can still remember parts of it now. 


I’m sure there were many others who, conversely, longed to throw theirs in the nearest bin and hope their parents were never any the wiser.  I can remember my own dismay when, horror-of-horrors, I was given a ‘C’ for achievement in art in the second year juniors.  Looking at my artistic ‘talents’ now, I am surprised I even reached those lofty heights.

Receiving my own sons’ school reports, these days, is usually a cause for celebration, too – though much is copied and pasted and much less personal than it used to be – evidenced when my oldest son’s teacher mentioned that he takes great care with the presentation of his homework and spellings– hmmmm…I think he might have got the wrong child there – mine is destined to be a doctor with his spidery scrawl!

All this got me thinking about school reports – what would my school report look like for my writing, so far this year?  I decided to have a bit of fun and give it a go:

Georgie started the year with enthusiasm, setting herself some sensible and well-thought-through goals.  She should be congratulated in successfully realising some of her aims, although her motivation waned in the latter half of the year.

Whilst Georgie prides herself in being organised, and this could be an asset to her writing, she often fritters this skill away in other areas – planning holidays, birthday gifts, meals out, and how-to-feed-everyone-as-well-as-do-the-swimming-run, instead of getting down to the hard task of writing.

Georgie is proud of her progress with technology, although it is still not an area of great strength.  She is fond of demonstrating her aptitude with PowerPoint animations and her ability to ‘sort columns’ in Excel, but her blog could do with some serious updating.  Perhaps she would benefit from using a search engine to find relevant articles to help her with this, instead of spending time on social media.

When Georgie does write, she needs to have greater confidence in herself.  Her work is well-received by those who read it; she must become less focused on the numerical reach of her audience.  Perhaps she could consider reducing how many times per minute she refreshes Blogger, after publishing a blog post, to 7 times per minute.

Georgie works well under pressure and responds to deadlines.  She is slowly learning to plan in work that doesn’t have an imminent deadline, but this is an area she needs to work on.  She likes immediate feedback and responds well to praise but must learn to look at the bigger picture and learn the longer-term joy of delayed gratification.

Overall, Georgie has grown as a writer this year and I look forward to following her progress in future years.

Effort: B
Use of technology: C
Positive Mental Attitude: C
Working to deadlines: A
Perseverance: B
Long-Term Thinking: D
Avoiding time-wasting: D

In writing it, I found myself wanting to be critical…silly…sarcastic.  I wanted to mimic the voice of the teacher who wants better for her student but is conservative with the praise and gives only veiled encouragements.  The process of writing it, perhaps, is interesting in what it reveals – about my own image of myself as a writer and how quickly critical I can be of myself – as, indeed, we all can.

I think it is an interesting exercise – and one we can bring before God, prayerfully, asking HIM what HE might write instead.  We all have targets, aims and goals and we all berate ourselves for falling short.  But let’s celebrate our progress and be encouraged – I’m quite sure that God’s annual summary report for our writing would be quite different from our own.

Georgie Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 11 and 8 who keep her exceptionally busy. She writes for the ACW ‘Christian Writer’ magazine occasionally, and is a contributor to the ACW-Published ‘New Life: Reflections for Lent,’ and ‘Merry Christmas, Everyone: A festive feast of stories, poems and reflections.’ She writes the ‘Thought for the Week’ for the local newspaper from time to time and also muses about life and loss on her blog: www.somepoemsbygeorgie.blogspot.co.uk

Saturday, 17 August 2019

The twists and turns of the writing journey by Claire Musters


It is so interesting to see how our writing journeys can so often go in a direction we were not expecting.

For example, I have written quite a few books for publishers that I edit regularly for. They already knew me and I was writing for series that were already established, so I suppose it was a ‘safe bet’ for them.

Getting my own book, Taking Off the Mask, published was another matter. I may have known and worked with the majority of Christian publishers over the years but suddenly I was not such a safe bet. 

Regular feedback consisted of: ‘You are a great writer, we love the idea but it’s not quite right for our list’ and/or ‘You aren’t established enough/you don’t have a big enough following/you don’t speak at big festivals’.

Fast forward four years – my book baby has been in existence for a year and a half, and I’m really enjoying the speaking that I now do regularly.

I have a publisher who is behind me, wants to publish more books with me and go on my writing journey with me, which I know is such a blessing in today’s publishing climate.

But…I have just signed a book contract for a book I wasn’t expecting to write…yet.

I’ve had ideas forming in my brain for a while – things that I know I’m being prompted to write. But when I spoke with my publisher it was the book on marriage, which I felt should be written with my husband rather than just me, that they wanted next.

The timing is slightly odd – he’s almost at the end of a sabbatical, which was already planned out before the book was agreed upon. So, apart from brainstorming the chapter titles and possible contents for each, there has been no writing done yet and he’ll be going back to a lot of work, especially as we are planning a church plant next year (he's the senior pastor of our church).

I was a little hesitant due to this (not wanting to be left holding our book baby as it were). Then I realised the rush of negative thoughts, such as ‘How will we fit this in?’, ‘What do we have to say that hasn’t already been said?’, ‘Do we have enough material for a book?’, ‘Are we strong enough to do this?’ really were just different guises of the usual writerly panic and self-doubt that can cripple before the writing begins.

So, as you can see above, I did sign the contract. And, after the summer holidays with our children, we will be knuckling down to prayer, planning and writing – together. I certainly never thought that would happen! ;)

What about you – how has your writing taken unexpected turns over the years?

Claire is a freelance writer, speaker and editor, mum to two gorgeous children, pastor’s wife and worship leader. Her books include Taking off the mask: daring to be the person God created you to be, Cover to Cover: Ezekiel A prophet for all times, Cover to Cover: 1–3 John Walking in the truth, Cover to Cover: David: A man after God's own heart, Insight Into Managing Conflict, Insight Into Self-acceptance and Insight Into Burnout. Her latest edition to the Insight Guides series, An Insight into Shame, was published in May. She also writes Bible study notes and magazine articles. To find out more about her, please visit www.clairemusters.com  and @CMusters on Twitter. 

Friday, 16 August 2019

The Power of Try - by Liz Carter



A couple of weeks back I was at the New Wine festival, soaking up God, great teaching, a little sunshine and a lot of rain. One of the things that impacted me most about the week was the morning Bible studies led by Jordan Seng, who is the lead pastor of Bluewater Church in Hawaii. (For those who were there - give me a loud CHIHU!) He was speaking on discipleship and a life of faith, and offered the idea that 'faith' is spelt T-R-Y.

Now at first I thought this seemed a tad formulaic, taking the passion and the mystery out of faith. But the more I reflected on it, the more it made sense. It's simple, really - if we try and do things, things happen. And sometimes don't. But if we never try, then nothing happens. So what's the better way? Jordan was speaking in terms of praying for people, of praying for God's miraculous interventions as well as more generally, and said their church had taken this on as a kind of ministry value - let's just go for it. Let's just try. What can happen? Either it doesn't change things or it does, and when it does - wow! He shared many stories of prayer transforming events and people. Do we believe Jesus is who he says he is? Then let's use 'try' in our daily faith lives.

On further reflection, I saw how this applies to our writing lives, too, and is subject to the same kind of positives and negatives. When we step out in our faith lives and try, things might happen, and we also might face disappointment and despondency. When we try with our writing, things might happen, and we also might get rejections and criticism. But the overriding factor here is that when we don't try, we're not going to have anything much happen at all. When we don't pitch that book, or have a go at self-publishing, or enter competitions, our words might get dusty, hiding away in computer files or notebooks. And that would be a shame.

But with both faith and writing, trying means taking a risk. It means getting to the cliff edge and jumping off, hoping your parachute will work. It means taking a leap into the unknown and risking landing awkwardly, or worse. Sometimes it feels easier to take the try away and let life happen around us, thinking 'perhaps one day.' I certainly do that, particularly with my fiction stuff.

Sometimes it feels easier to take the try away and let life happen around us, thinking 'perhaps one day.'

The great thing about try, though, is that it sometimes yields results. Sometimes immense, incredible, astonishing results, where people get healed and books get published. Sometimes smaller, almost intangible results, where people get hold of a new kind of peace and blogposts get commented on and loved. The question is, I suppose, are we willing to take the risk of try? Are we willing to put our writing out there for all to see, to query that agent (or twentieth agent?) To let the world see the gift God has given to us - even if it hurts a little?

Rejection smarts. Criticism can cut sharp. But then there's the rush of knowing your writing has impacted someone, somewhere, in a positive way, and the try is suddenly worth it.

Similarly, in faith matters, disappointment hurts. When God doesn't seem to come through, it's so difficult to keep persevering. But then there's the rush when we see God impact lives, transform situations and fill people with that peace beyond understanding. And the try is suddenly worth it.

Today I'd love to encourage us all to embrace a life of try, in faith and in writing, which so often cross over. 

Today I'd love to encourage us all to embrace a life of try, in faith and in writing, which so often cross over. To take a step into the unknown, prepared for the hurt and expectant for the hope. May you seize hold of God's promises, of knowing that in everything God works to the good, even in darkness. May you be assured of God working in and through your writing and hearing your deepest cries in prayer, and launch yourself into trying once again...

Liz Carter is a writer and blogger from Shropshire. She likes to write about painful times and how God can be found in the midst. Her first book, Catching Contentment (IVP) explores how searching for God in the darkness can bring treasure even in a life of long-term illness.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Writing from the Heart by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt



Yesterday I had a lovely encounter just outside my back door with a grasshopper (pictured), who decided to jump on me and then sit close by, chirruping away. Weirdly, the same afternoon, my husband was on his work break sitting in a cake shop with a cup of coffee, and was accosted by a beautiful young cricket. It sat on his arm and let him scoop it gently in his hand whilst he escorted it back outside, and it seemed rather reluctant to leave him.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the tension we hold as Christian writers between what we imagine the world wants us to write, what will sell, what fits the brief, the stable, the house, that we want to work for and what is on our heart to write. Also, the tension between what we love to write and what we think the world needs to hear.

Maybe these tiny creatures were reminding Rowan and I (Rowan is a wonderful poet) to sing our songs, and to take heed of the still small voice, or conscience that is guiding us within. After all, it is hard to see a cricket and not think of Pinocchio’s companion Jiminy, who was trying to be a moral compass for someone new at being human.

A grasshopper’s song may not be music to every ear, but it is all he or she knows how to play. It is authentic. In the same way, we can only truly make music as authors if we are writing from the heart. I’ve lost count of the number of theological books I’ve set down because they were too cold, too focussed on intellect. Of course, it is great to be erudite and learned, and share that knowledge with others. But without heart mixed in, it is often in danger of becoming an ego trip.

I think this is why people have loved recent writers and teachers like Rachel Held Evans (a great loss), Brene Brown, Francis Chan, Brennan Manning and Sarah Bessey. They are (or were) not afraid to be vulnerable and authentic. Their voices are clear and from the heart, whilst at the same time showing biblical wisdom, knowledge and insight.

Most of all, they don’t write to sell books, they write to sing their songs. The gospel, the love of God comes across loud and clear in their writing, precisely because that is what they care about. They tell their own stories, or those of others, with compassion, and they understand that writing theology is a reaching out to connect, not a projection exercise to make them look good.

God’s wisdom is always so much greater than ours, and this was shown me very starkly at the beginning of this year, when that gentle whisper prompted me to submit the one book I was completely certain no publisher would ever take on, since it is a mystical piece, to a large house in the USA. I was so confident of it being rejected that I was completely honest and vulnerable in my covering letter.

It got taken on. I am still reeling in shock a few months later, but, here is my encouragement to you. If it is on your heart to write, write it. Have faith that God can work through that integrity. That Spirit can show up in vulnerability, in openness. Listen to the cricket (or indeed grasshopper) on your shoulder, and not to the harsh world of artificial lights and its obsessions with branding and platform. Those things are secondary. Heart comes first.



Keren Dibbens-Wyatt is a disabled writer and artist with a passion for poetry, mysticism, story and colour. Her writing features regularly on spiritual blogs and in literary journals. Her full-length publications include Garden of God’s Heart and Whale Song: Choosing Life with Jonah. She has a new book coming out with Paraclete Press in 2020. Keren lives in South East England and is mainly housebound by her illness.
Photograph ©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

HISTORICAL INSPIRATION by Liz Manning



What do you do for inspiration for pieces when you haven’t been given a theme? Do ideas come easily or is it an uphill slog? 


Personally, with my blog, I work better to a set structure, like the Five Minute Friday word prompts or the Jesse Tree Advent series I set for myself. Then there was the year long discipline I gave myself to write about one blessing a week, as much a spiritual discipline as anything for a jar-half-empty person like me.


When I started on the morethanwriters blog, I planned to use the date as my prompt. That first month – 14th February – was easy. I thought March would be straightforward too – my grandmother’s birthday – but I strayed from the discipline I had set myself and only now do I find myself returning to it.


So what have been the significant events of this date in history? It’s a varied and fascinating list:


2017 Parliamentary citizenship scandal in Australia after the Deputy PM is revealed to be a New Zealand citizen (Could I write about our true citizenship as Christians?)


2016 Gold medals in the Rio Olympics for Andy Murray, Justin Rose, and Usain Bolt (What about the sporting references in Paul’s letters exhorting us to excellence and stamina?)


1994 Hubble telescope photographs Uranus with rings (The glories of creation?)


1979 Rainbow seen in North Wales for 3 hours duration (God’s promises still relevant today?)


1971 Bahrain proclaims independence after 110 years of British rule (A story from my father’s RAF posting here in the 1940s?)


1960 UN peace-keeping troops deployed to the Republic of Congo (Something from my short term mission experience in neighbouring Rwanda?)


1945 V-J Day, Japan surrenders, ending WWII (The spiritual battle we fight, Jesus’ ultimate victory, or the notion of spiritual surrender to God?)


1908 The first beauty contest is held in Folkestone. (Esther – the Biblical beauty queen, the new Miss England a trained doctor, prompt thoughts on how we use our talents and opportunities)


1880 Construction of Cologne Cathedral completed after it began in 1248 - largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe (This is the standout for me. 632 years in the making, an epic work of collaboration and teamwork, but what a result. It must be an encouragement to keep going when we feel stuck or can’t see over the horizon, that God’s plans will reach their completion)


1585 Queen Elizabeth I of England refuses sovereignty of Netherlands (How do we decide whether to accept opportunities offered us or not?)


1457 Oldest known exactly dated printed book, c 3 years after Gutenberg (Happy 562nd Birthday to books!)


1040 King Duncan I of Scotland killed in battle against his cousin and rival Macbeth, not murdered in his sleep as in Shakespeare's play.  (The writer’s potential to manipulate truth and change reputations, e.g. American WWII movies?)


Well, that might keep me going for August for the next few years on this blog! But what’s prompting or inspiring you at the moment?





Liz Manning fits writing around being an Occupational Therapist, BB captain, wife, and mum to two adult sons. Or perhaps it's the other way round. She blogs regularly at https://thestufflifeismadeofblog.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, 13 August 2019


Writing to Deadlines

By Rosemary Johnson

Typescript of A La Recherche Du
Temps Perdu by Marcel Proust


I nearly forgot to write this post.  Bit tied up at the moment.  I’m having to reschedule my writing, and my life generally, because of I'm entering The Novel for three competitions this summer and they all have serious deadlines.  Well scary!

I finished writing The Novel a year ago and I’m now editing it.  The Curtis Brown First Novel Prize (1 August) I’ve already submitted to: they wanted only a synopsis and 10,000 words.  I'm ready for the Page 100 Competition (Louise Walters Books) (29 August) because I’ve already edited up to page 156.  However, I would also like to enter the HWA & Sharpe Books Unpublished Novel Award (30 September) and they want… deep breath… the whole novel.  All 96,000 words of it. 

Editing shouldn’t be such a big deal, should it?  Especially as this will be edit number four and for this iteration I'm able to use beta-readers’ feedback.  Well, I’m afraid it is, partly because I always want to tweak (my problem) and I also find errors which I can’t believe I’ve never spotted before.  I like to read my work aloud, which takes time but is a good way of highlighting omitted words (my besetting sin) and any awkward dialogue or phrasing.  Additionally, of course, I have other commitments, including two holidays, and I won’t be able to edit on holiday. 

Sooo… I’ve set myself a schedule.  For all non-holiday days, my target is to edit two chapters per day (each chapter is roughly 2000 words long), come what may.  This involves a realistic assessment each day of other commitments: I didn’t go to church yesterday – naughty girl.  To be honest, finishing the editing will be an enormous relief because I'm ready to move on and I would really like to attempt NanoWriMo this November – more deadlines.  50,000 during month of November. 

I’m about to start Chapter 21 and the last one is Chapter 49.  Wish me luck.  I'll be back editing as soon as I finish this post.

Rosemary Johnson has had many short stories published, in print and online, amongst other places, Cafe Lit, The Copperfield Review and 101 Words.  She has also contributed to Together magazine.  In real life, she is a retired IT lecturer, living in Suffolk with her husband and cat.  Her cat supports her writing by sitting on her keyboard and deleting large portions of text.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Five tips for a good editorial relationship, by Deborah Jenkins

Probably a last resort with editors particularly if they're publishing your novel. But never say never...

This year, I've been working with four different editors and thought it might be helpful to share some tips I've picked up along the way. Please don't be impressed. These are not editors for four different novels I've been writing (I wish). One works for an educational magazine. Two are at different publishers of text books. The fourth is a Christian publishing company for whom I write devotionals.
But the things I've learned would pretty much apply to any of them.

In the beginning, I naively thought that working from home would be much easier in terms of relating to colleagues -  avoiding misunderstandings, making assumptions, managing power play (both mine and other people's but mainly other people's naturally!) Actually, it's much harder. Remote relationships - by email etc - need to be nurtured and worked at even more, in my opinion, because facial expressions, voice tone etc are not there to ease communication. So it's worth taking time to get the relationship with your editor off to a good start.

Here are my top five tips: -

1. Be clear 
For shorter pieces such as the educational articles I write, there is no contract. The contract is effectively your email so it's important you are really clear about what you think you are being asked to do and what the terms are. Editors are (obviously) busy people with lots of projects on the go and they might think they've told you something obvious when they haven't. Ask lots of questions to find out exactly what the project involves so you are sure you have the skills and the time for it.

Also, remember to ask for clarification about things like word count and payment. I know we Brits find this latter one hard but it's part of being business-like and avoids misunderstandings. I once assumed the educational magazine would pay me their usual sum for a blog post. However, I failed to clarify this beforehand and found out later there was a standard payment of £50 for blog posts, much less than I had been getting. It taught me a lesson.
I always ask this question towards the end of my email convo with a commissioning editor (I don't want them to think I'm in it for the money!) saying something like, "May I please ask what the word count and payment would be for this?"

With longer jobs, such as the textbooks and devotionals, I have signed contracts. A lot of people recommend joining the Society of Authors so they cam help you check these. I think this is a good idea although I must admit I haven't got round to it. But I've always had my contracts checked by someone who knows what she's doing. This is important. I am about to sign a new contract which had two quite significant errors in it and has to be rewritten.

So you've been commissioned. You have the brief. How do you continue this exciting new relationship?

2. Be friendly
Sometimes the commissioning editor continues to work with you. Sometimes someone else takes over. Whoever it is, your editor is your new boss but you may not physically meet. I have only been to three actual meetings with editors in fourteen years of free-lancing but I correspond a lot with them by email, and occasionally take part in conference calls. Although we may never meet personally, I still need to work at building a relationship.

Some editors want to preface their emails by chatting a bit about life in general. Some are business-like but reserved and get to the point quickly. Take the lead from your editor. This may seem obvious but if they conclude with 'Best wishes' generally reply with something similar. (One Christian editor always finished with 'In His Loving Grip'. Apologies if anyone does this but it didn't work for me!). If we've been having an email conversation on and off all day and the editor has progressed to one or two liners without a Dear Deborah and a Best, I do the same.

3. Be assertive
In the early days I was so grateful to be commissioned for anything, that I saw editors as a little less than gods (all-knowing, all-seeing and infinitely wise). I was far too nervous to chase them up if I was promised something by a certain time and it didn't arrive. But if I am to do my job properly - write my bit by the agreed deadline and to the accepted brief - I need my editor to do his/hers.

If I have been promised the draft manuscript back by Tuesday with edited comments and questions for me to respond to, I have a right to expect it back on that day. I may have put aside Wednesday and Thursday to do the work so if not, it's fine to politely remind my editor she said I would have it by then. If  writers don't complete their work to the agreed standard or format, editors will hold them to account so it's not unreasonable to expect them to keep their side of things too (and most do).

Think of it this way - in a sense, you are partners, working together to get a project off the ground. You need each other.

4. Be polite
Some years ago, I fell out with an editor about an article. The brief had been quite complicated and a bit obscure so I was required to do a lot of research. It was also a difficult time personally with a stressful teaching job, teens sitting exams and a husband training for a new career (to say nothing of the menopause). I worked hard on the first draft, putting in way more hours than I should have done, and sent it in. It came back a few days later with so many changes requested that it was practically a different article. I was furious, but gritted my teeth (while comfort eating and ranting at anyone who would listen) and reworked it.

After about a week, it came back again with more changes required. The changes effectively meant it would be only marginally different from the first draft I'd sent in. I had had a terrible day at school and was apoplectic. I wrote the editor an icy email with copied and pasted chunks from both the original brief and the changed one, annotated in furious red and in the scariest font I could find (Arial Black or something).

Nothing for about a week. Then, I received an apologetic email from my editor. It turned out the article was being sponsored and it was the sponsor who kept changing its mind. Also the editor had just  had a baby and had been away at a funeral in Spain. I felt terrible. Not that it was wrong to email her my concerns, with copies of the brief, and she could have let me know what was going on.

But the point is I could have been nicer. It reminds me of that saying Everyone you meet is fighting a  battle you know nothing about. Be kind always. 
I am supposed to carry God's light after all. I apologised. We are now good friends.

5. Be communicative
It goes without saying that you should absolutely meet deadlines, reply promptly to emails (or send a holding one) and be ready for conference calls on time (unless there's a good reason not to be). But I've learned it's important to keep in touch, let editors know how things are going and ask them how it's going their end. We all appreciate being kept in the picture.

Generally, I would rather stab myself in the eye than miss a deadline but I've learned that life does not always respect my eyesight. Most editors I've worked with say they are happy to discuss extending deadlines if they are given enough notice. What they hate is when someone springs it on them at the last minute. However, sometimes this is unavoidable. My father died earlier this year so I had to email one editor and explain, at very short notice, that I would not be able to meet my deadline. He was, of course, understanding and extended it.

Editors should keep in touch too and if they don't, I've learned to check up on them as well. One long-term project I was involved in, along with another writer, appeared to go dead. We'd sent in some of our work but the editor made no contact for about six months. We were both busy with other projects so we left it. The project went over deadline and we still heard nothing.

Then suddenly we received emails wanting workbooks written and sent in over a period of about three weeks. This kind of thing is not acceptable. I and my co author wrote in (politely but firmly) and said so. Fortunately, the situation was resolved without rancour.  But it taught me a lesson - when I don't hear from an editor on an on-going project, I need to email and ask where things are at. When should I expect to hear from him? When is the new deadline? What is the new time-frame for finishing the whole project?

If you have anything to add regarding the editorial relationship - as a writer or an editor - please do below. I wish I'd known earlier what I know now. It would have saved me a lot of pain.

Click on the link to see the novella on amazon

Deborah Jenkins is a freelance writer and teacher, who has written articles, text books, devotional notes and short stories. She has completed a novella, The Evenness of Things, available as an Amazon e-book and is currently working on a full length novel. Deborah loves hats, trees and small children. After years overseas with her family, who are now grown up, she lives in East Sussex with her husband, a Baptist minister, and a cat called Oliver.