Simple Steps to Writing Success

WomanWritingID-100110284Looking back over my writing career these past 25+ years, I think I did a few things right. Not big things like majoring in journalism or doing an internship at a publishing house. Both of those things would have been wonderful, but unfortunately I didn’t have those opportunities.

I attribute my modest success as a writer to simple things my parents modeled for me.

  • I didn’t let the odds get me down. I knew I wanted to write, and I was going to give it my best effort, no matter what. No matter what people told me about how few people got their books in print, I made up my mind to do the best best I could and see where it took me.
  • I studied the craft. I learned the rules and when to break them. I studied and recognize that I’ll always need to study. If I want to be a writer, I will need to learn more about the many things I still don’t know.
  • I listened to my heart. I wrote from the places in life where God was teaching me. I watched where He was moving in my life and tried to join Him there. This meant writing about pain and disappointment and failure and not following the typical path most writers take. My writing covers a wide range of topics, from fiction to nonfiction to academic books to Christian living books to devotionals. And I’ve loved writing all of them and been blessed to partner with amazing publishers for all of them.
  • I committed to learn. Intelligent people understand that they can learn from anyone. I’m always impressed with seasoned authors who go to writer’s conferences and attend seminars that are presented by writers with far less experience than themselves. Why would they do this? Because they’re listening for something fresh and new. They have the heart of an avid, willing learner. Be open to critique, to editorial feedback, to the wisdom of those in the industry.
  • I refused to quit. I’m still learning and experimenting with new genres. I was always working to absorb new knowledge about my craft. Successful writers must be self-motivated learners. ALL writers experience rejection, which is simply an opportunity to reevaluate, rewrite, and resubmit (unless the writing stinks). But don’t stop writing!
  • i gave back out of gratitude. Many people poured into my life as a writer. But beyond that, God gave me the opportunity to become a full time, stay-at-home writer. The reality of that truth will always overwhelm me. No bit of knowledge or ability or skill that I possess is my own–it all belongs to God. It’s been my privilege to sow into the lives of other authors through conferences and one-on-one mentoring. I hope to continue to do this and encourage other authors to do the same and “pay it forward” by investing in the lives of future writers.

 We can trust God to direct us to success through the simple steps of life.

We don’t have to strive to achieve “greatness.” We don’t have to worry that we’ll somehow “miss” His will.

We only have to be faithful today, to listen for His voice today.

Then to walk in day-by-day obedience.

This is what true success looks like.

It’s that simple.


Six Habits to Stir Your Writing Creativity

WomanWritingID-100110284Like me, you may think you’re not a particularly creative person. But thinking of yourself as a “have not” in itself can stunt your creative efforts. Instead, think in terms of ways you can stir the creative juices we’re all born with.

Creativity is often a matter of work and discipline more than innate ability. 

Try developing some of the following habits to stir your writing creativity.

Habit #1. Reject the “Yeah, but…” mentality.

Allowing yourself to say “Yeah, but I’m really not …” is really an excuse for stepping away from the task and giving up. It’s refusing to offer an honest effort before you even begin. Instead, refuse to shut down, and change the phrase to “Yeah, and I’m going to …” These words confirm you commitment to the task and the value of your efforts.

Habit #2. Brainstorm with other writers. 

Ask for ideas from other writers. Get together over lunch or during a brief teleconference. Interaction with others can stimulate new ideas and bring fresh perspectives to your thinking.

A 2015 study by researchers at Rice University backs a similar concept. Researchers evaluated sales representatives at a pharmaceutical company in China. Those with wide networks of contacts devised more creative solutions to sales and marketing challenges.

Habit #3. Give yourself freedom. 

Don’t forget to take breaks and relax. Take time to read and make your spiritual life a priority. Your best research comes from listening and learning from your surroundings. Creativity allows you to say yes to new forms of expression and learning. Learn a new skill or pursue a talent. Finish an educational degree or take culinary classes. Give yourself freedom to be creative and express the spirit of wonder God created inside us.

Habit #4. Reward your efforts, even if you see them as failures.

Leslie Ehm, president at Toronto creativity training firm Combustion, defines creativity as “combining previously uncombined thoughts and ideas to create new thoughts and ideas.” We are a culture that has become overly focused on “right” answers. However,

Creativity is a process and not an outcome.

Therefore, we need to reward ourselves for our creative efforts, not the outcome of our efforts. We must dare to risk and learn to see the value in creativity itself.

Habit #5. Always be working on new writing projects.

Focus on projects that flow from your life and your passions. Keep five or six idea files going at a time, and build them as ideas occur or as you have inspiration to write. As you walk through life, look for relevant or ancillary information you believe could be useful and add those notes. Authors call this process “composting.” Allow this composting process to continue and for ideas to germinate and grow until you feel the time comes to begin actual organization and writing. You may also want to include perspectives from other authors, experts, or contributors.

Habit #6. Don’t quit.

Building your creative muscles won’t happen overnight. Ask another author to encourage you, or find a partner or two who can serve as partners in creativity.


What about YOU? What suggestions can you share for stimulating your creativity as a writer?

Follow the Tribe

If you’re a writer and you haven’t heard of Jeff Goins and Tribe Writers, I suggest you check out Jeff’s terrific blog, as well as his mentoring through Tribe Writers. He’s the best of the best and offers insight and wisdom for writers that most of us work decades to acquire.

Check him out. Sign up for his newsletter. And sign up for Tribe Writers. And no, I don’t know Jeff personally. The only benefit I receive from promoting him is knowing that writers will be equipped by a great guy who’s highly successful as a writer and blogger and wants to pass on what he’s learned.

How cool is that?

How to Break into a Publisher’s Office

Today’s guest post comes from Jim Watson. He is the author/contributor to over 30 books and over two thousand articles and acquisitions editor for Wesleyan Publishing House. Jim also serves as an instructor at Taylor University  and minister of communications at The River Community Church.
“Whether I succeed or fail in those jobs, I know that my identity is secure in being an unconditionally loved child of God.”
SlushPileIt is hard “breaking into” the writing market, but not impossible. One problem is supply and demand. There are simply more articles being written than the market can bear. (About 1 percent of articles and book proposals submitted to publishers are actually printed.) But you can break through if you will work at the craft of writing:
1. Read. Read. Read. Read “how to” books on writing at your public library. My book, Communicate to Change Lives is available by calling Wesley Press at 1-800-4-WESLEY or ordering at It includes advice on the proper form and etiquette for submitting manuscripts. Also read books that contain good writing such as Annie Dilliard, Madeline L’Engle, and C. S. Lewis, and Philip Yancey.
2. Take a course at a nearby college or university. You’ll receive the kind of feed-back and critique that is so necessary.
3. Attend one of the regional or national writing conferences. “It’s not what you know, but who you know” in writing also! Conferences allow you to show your writing samples to some of the top magazine and book editors in the country. Plus the workshops are invaluable.
4. Join a writer’s club or critique group. Your public library should know the active groups in your area. You’ll receive helpful critiques and encouragement.
5. Research what the market is buying. Writer’s Market (Writers Digest Books, annual), which is available at most public libraries, lists hundreds of markets. Always send for a writer’s guide and sample copy before submitting. Magazines are much easier to break into. In fact, I’d suggest you do not attempt a book until you’ve established a good publishing track record in magazines.
6. Don’t quit your day job! If you want to make money, become a greeter at Wal-Mart rather than a writer. Fewer than 5 percent of writers actually make a living at it. Writing offers great satisfaction, but little money.
7. Most of all, be persistent as well as patient. Persistent because the majority of your (and my) articles and proposals will be returned. But, because I’m persistent I’ve had over 1,470 articles and fourteen books published–in spite of hundreds of rejection slips. And be patient. Most magazines take up to three months to respond; books up to six months. Editors, unfortunately, are too busy to be able to tell you why they can’t use your material, so don’t ask. I realize that is frustrating–to new and old writers! And remember, it takes ten years to become an overnight success!
Jim is an award-winning author of 16 books and over 2,000 articles. He’s an editor with Wesleyan Publishing House and ACW Press. Read more at
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Writing Tips: The Difference between Dialogue and Conversation


One of the marks of a novice writer is poorly written dialogue. Dialogue is not conversation.

“But why?” Philomena asked.

“Here’s why,” the author replied.

The purpose of dialogue is to move the story along–to advance the plot, reveal character, or to give the reader important information. 

So here’s an example. Read it and decide if it fulfills the above criteria.

“What are you doing?” Ted asked.

“I’m reading a book,” Jill answered.

“Oh. Are you enjoying it?”

“Not really. It’s boring.” Jill closed the book and laid it on the table beside her.

Now read the same scene, written differently.

“Wasting time reading again, I see. Do you ever do anything else?” Ted gestured toward the book in Jill’s hands.

“Some people read to escape.” Jill closed the book and laid it on the table beside her. “Maybe you’ll figure it out some day if you ever manage to stop thinking about yourself for a millisecond.”

So…do you catch my drift? The first example is conversation. The second is dialogue.

Here are a few simple tips for writing effective dialogue:

  1. Re-read the exchanges between characters in your novel. If they sound like conversation, delete or rewrite them.
  2. Avoid having characters answer questions directly. Answer questions with questions or by being evasive or creating banter.
  3. Listen to how people talk and reflect natural speech patterns–clipped phrases, single words, interruptions, etc.
  4. Don’t use dialogue as an information dump (exposition). Reveal backstory creatively and incrementally. We don’t typically sit down and tell people our life story in one fell swoop.
  5. Go easy on dialogue tags. Let the writing shine. The reader knows who is speaking when from paragraphing and needs few actual tags.
  6. Learn how to punctuate dialogue correctly. The rules can be confusing.

Writing great dialogue takes skill. Become a student of the craft by reading, watching television and movies, and studying conversation among people. Then practice, practice, practice until each character in your novel can be identified by their own distinctive voice.

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Gleanings: Wisdom from The Guild about Writing Fears


I belong to a local writer’s group here in Grand Rapids, MI, called The Guild. We’re not part of Jerry Jenkins’ nationally recognized Guild. We’re just a handful of writing sisters who are knit together at the heart and soul.

 Almost every day you’ll find us encouraging one another online about our lives and our writing. This morning we all dumped out our fears and asked each other to pray and pray big.

 I confessed my fear of tackling a new genre: historical fiction. Another Guilder mentioned fear of a character not revealing himself. Someone else mentioned fear that the work they’d invested in a big story wouldn’t pan out. The list continued as we dumped out new fears and old. Some that had stalked us for years.

 Then a voice arose from within our group and cast out her wisdom for the day–the voice of award-winning historical fiction author Tracy Groot. Be blessed, friends. It would just be wrong for me not to share some of these pearls with you once in a while.

 “One thing I think may help us all is action. It doesn’t really matter what we do, as long as it has to do with the project. Open the laptop and get started.

 “‘Bum glue’ is what one famous writer told another when he was asked his secret to productivity.

 “Yesterday I told my fear about my character not revealing himself to [my husband] Jack. I wanted to model this character on a few characters I love from other works I’d read or movies I’d seen. But I didn’t like my character yet.

 “’Well, what is it you like about those characters,’ Jack asked me?

 “When I hesitated, he said, ‘They’re loveable, right, despite their idiosyncrasies? Make your character lovable.

 “Bam. There it was. All because I talked about my fear to Jack. And yesterday I had a pretty good writing day. I put the name ‘Loveable’ on my character and he came alive. I wrote almost a thousand words, which is a pretty good writing day for me.”

 Thank you for the wisdom, Tracy Groot.

 Are you struggling with fear as a writer?

1.     Name your fear. (Be sure to name it to someone who will understand.)

2.     Get in the chair.

3.     Apply bum glue.

4.     Be willing to write junk (one of my mother’s favorite “special” words during her Alzheimer’s years. I will not share the others.)

“Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action.” –Benjamin Disraeli.

You can do whatever God has called you to do. Just keep moving, and you’ll figure it out on the run. (Thanks, Trace.)

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You can find Christy Award-winning author Tracy Groot at

Join the Guild for their next Breathe Christian Writer’s Conference this coming October.

What Writing My First Novel Taught Me

My thanks to Donna Winters for inviting me to guest blog for her at Great Lakes Romances. Visit her blog to find great books by Michigan authors.

*   *   *

Hallie stuck her head of tangled red curls around a corner of my mind when I was twenty-two years old. She was just fifteen, and for the next ten years she refused to leave me alone until I finally sat down and told her story in my first contemporary Christian novel, Hallie’s Heart and the sequel, Morningsong.

Hallie blames herself for the drowning death of her little sister. She accuses God of being a monster who watches his children suffer. After struggling for two years with her guilt, she steals her father’s Harley and heads off to the scene of the tragedy–her Aunt Mona’s Lake Michigan beach house to face her demons. What unfolds is her story of confronting God in the rubble of her guilt, anger, and feelings of abandonment.

Why did I write Hallie’s Heart and the sequel Morningsong?

I grew up in Muskegon, Michigan, alone the Lake Michigan shoreline. I wanted to write a novel that incorporated places and experiences that had influenced my life. The book is set, in part, on the grounds of Maranatha Bible conference and in other locations in the West Michigan area, such as the Cocoa Cottage bed and breakfast.

I was attacked by a serial rapist when I was nineteen years old. I wanted to write a book that honestly confronted questions about God’s goodness and sovereignty in tension with our suffering.

What would you like readers to take away from your book?

God is good, all the time–no matter what circumstances look like to us. Life is hard and sometimes just plain awful, but God’s love never fails, and his goodness never changes.

What did you learn writing Hallie’s Heart?

This book was my opportunity to ask God tough questions about my own abuse and horrible circumstances my dearest family members had struggled through. I found hope and strength through my characters. I learned it’s okay to question God and bring him our anger. That’s not something I was allowed to do when I was growing up and that I felt I was allowed to do even as a young adult Christian.

I also learned that faith often grows in the darkness and the silence, when we may not sense the presence of God at all.

What was your favorite scene in the book?

Hallie's Heart cover smallerIn one critical scene in the book, Hallie and her Aunt Mona are having an argument on the breakwater at Pere Marquette Park in Muskegon as a storm comes in. This key scene changes the course of the book. And I found that at the end of the chapter, I’d written a scene totally different from what I’d planned. Sometimes your characters simply take on a life of their own and surprise you.

What’s the toughest test you’ve faced as a writer?

Although I write fiction, I also write nonfiction. My writing always flows from my own conflicts and personal and spiritual growth. I’m a consultant on post-traumatic stress disorder. This means that my “research” has included painful trauma and PTSD treatment for a number of kinds of traumatic experiences. I’d rather do research that takes me to the south of France, but I love knowing that my writing has impact. Check out In June Love Letters from the Edge: Meditations for Those Suffering from Brokenness, Trauma, and the Pain of Life will be release with Kregel Publishers. I wrote this book with my best friend and colleague Wanda Sanchez.

Where do you write?

Typically, in my living room. Our house is small. I do have an office, but it’s crowded with bookshelves and office equipment. I prefer sitting in my living room so I can look out the front window at the bird feeder and the horses across the street.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hallie’s Heart won the Christy Award for contemporary Christian fiction. I’m the author of ten books and co-author of a number of others. I served as managing editor for the Hope in the Mourning grief Bible (Zondervan 2013) and contributed to the Holy Bible Mosaic (Tyndale), as a contributing editor to David Jeremiah’s study Bible What It Says, What It Means, What It Means for You.

I’m a co-founder of two Christian writer’s conferences: the Breathe Christian Writer’s Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Cedar Falls Christian Writer’s Workshop in Cedar Falls, Iowa. I’m also an expert consultant for, writing to an audience of two million caregivers across the nation.

I have two adult children and live with my husband Dan in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. shellyI can often be found in the nation’s prisons speaking to women with Daughters of Destiny women’s prison ministry with my friend and colleague Wanda Sanchez or consulting on post-traumatic stress disorder as the co-founder of

I’m also a proud Harley-riding grandma in search of the nation’s best cupcake and looking for the next place to tell someone about my great God.