Got Writer’s Block?

pencil-918449_640It happens to all of us at one time or another. If you’re anything like me, you probably tend to experience “feast or famine” when it comes to putting words onto a page or screen. At times it is hard for my now middle-aged hands to keep up with my brain; and other times, it is frustrating to these same hands to have little, if any, words I can string into sentences that make sense.

If the season I’m in permits me to do so, I use the down times to invest in my own personal growth. I study. I read. I observe. I take notes. I connect with others. This helps me in several ways, but this one way is what motivates me most:

It allows my brain to rest and receive. As writers, we offer so much output that we need to be careful to prevent our own well from drying up. Without investing in our own personal growth and development through relational and educational resources, we minimize our own effectiveness in what we share through our writing.

Most of the time, though, I have some kind of deadline–whether for an event where I’ll be speaking, a blog post I’m writing, a class I’m teaching, or a book I’m authoring. It’s in these situations that I find this one tip helps me get over writer’s block.

The Power of Story

For me, it helps if I can quiet the noise in my inner world long enough to allow a story to come to my mind. It might be a story I’ve read or a story I’ve lived. Either way, there is much to be said about how story inspires.

Consider the following:

“We may live our lives in prose, but it is poetry that we live for. A compelling story can evolve into a narrative that inspires a shared sense of mission. That, in turn can lead to a long and great legacy. That’s the power of story…

As Geoff Colvin explains in his new book, Humans Are Underrated, we are wired for interpersonal connections and put more stock in ideas that result from personal contact than from hard data. Essentially, we internalize stories much better than we do facts.

As proof he points to research that examined expert testimony in a court case. The study found that jurors considered experts that had a personal clinical experience far more credible than those that merely offered an analysis of the relevant facts, even if they were shown that a data driven approach is more accurate. In other words, the jurors needed a story.

Stories are emotional and we are more likely to remember and react to them.”

(For the entire article, written by Greg Satell for, please click here.)

So, if you find yourself struggling with writer’s block, find a quiet place, or do something with your hands that you don’t have to think much through (chores around the house help me), and allow the story to inspire your writing.

As you share the story with your readers, there’s a good chance you’ll connect with them on a personal level in a way that facts alone–regardless of how powerful those facts may be–could never do.

Consider what Curt Thompson, MD has to say in his book, Anatomy of the Soul, in regard to story:

“When we tell our stories or listen to another person’s story, our left and right modes of processing integrate. This is why simply reading The Ten Commandments as a list of dos and don’ts has so little efficacy…Isolating commands for right living apart from their storied context is at best neurologically non-integrating and, at worst, disintegrating. This is why telling our stories is so important.”

Your story is powerful. Refuse to listen to the negative voices inside your own head that tell you differently. There are a whole ‘lotta someones out there who need what only you have the experience to offer. 

Writing about Thanksgiving and Food


If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes … (Matthew 6:25 MSG).

Food, food, food! Why does everyone make such a big fuss about food during the holidays? I’m always focused on food! Either I’m overeating, dieting, or trying to feed someone else. I can’t remember one day of my life that I didn’t focus on food at some point.

So, how can my worries about food help my spiritual focus? Over the years, I’ve discovered that my hyperfocus on food is often a warning sign for a much deeper problem than just trying to meet my physical needs.

Needs. While we were seminary students, I first learned how my own worry about food could actually motivate me to seek deeper spiritual insights.

At seminary, we lived on a much lower income than most of our family and friends. Often we didn’t have enough money for the food we needed for our family.

Miracles. God used that problem to capture my attention, and I saw Him provide in miraculous ways for some of my friends. Groceries would be left on their doorsteps. Money for food would arrive in the mail. Or they would discover some random source of free food, like day-old bread or vegetables discarded from the grocery’s produce department.

Tips. Intrigued by my friends’ stories, I began to ask to God to help me find ways to deal with our food needs. And I discovered many tips for stretching my food budget with recipe ideas and coupons. My friends and I found that we could all stretch our food budgets by sharing our resources. When we gathered together for a meal, each family would bring their menu contributions.

Manna and quail. In Exodus 16:4, “God said to Moses, ‘I’m going to rain bread down from the skies for you. The people will go out and gather each day’s ration. I’m going to test them to see if they’ll live according to my Teaching or not’” (MSG).

I joked about identifying with the Israelites in the wilderness as God provided manna and quail for them to eat. But as I experienced God providing for my own family, like He did for His children in the Old Testament, I searched for more answers to my everyday problems in the Bible.

Traditions. Before my seminary days, I never thought about asking God to provide for my family’s needs, especially our food. Yes, we taught our children to express their thanks before our meals. But my prayer of thanks usually came after I had purchased groceries and prepared our meals.

So, I examined our mealtime prayers and Thanksgiving blessings. Could they simply be a family or religious tradition? Had I ever offered my mealtime prayers with a heartfelt gratitude for God’s blessings?

Diets. I still struggle with worry and my spiritual focus on food from time to time. Even now, as I try to eat a healthier diet, I realize that I must stop and ask God for direction every day–sometimes moment-by-moment–as I seek answers to my problems and needs.

As I prepare to enter into this season of Thanksgiving once again, I pray that I will remember this promise from God’s Word.

… The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:5-7 NIV)

What stories about food come to mind as you prepare for this Thanksgiving season? Have you recorded them?

When is it Good to Indie Publish?

When I first began going to writers conferences around 2003, vanity publishing (where you pay someone to produce your book) was considered only a dire writer’s avenue to get his poorly written manuscript to the public. These novels were not given any credit by publishing gatekeepers (such as editors, agents and book reviewers.)

PublishVanity publishing morphed into several forms to what is now the indie industry. There are still vanity publishers who will take your money and produce your book. However, indie publishing is where the author becomes publisher– hiring freelance people for all facets of book production but they remain in control of their product.

Over a decade later and the attitude surrounding indie publishing has changed a lot. Though some still hold the above attitude, it is diminishing, and self-publishing is no longer considered the last nail in a writer-wanting-to-be-an-author coffin.

A few years ago, I attended a talk given by well respected literary agent Rachelle Gardner, a self-published author herself whose book highlights traditional vs self-publishing. She gave a talk touting some of the benefits of pursuing self-publishing and in some instances considered it a bonus to an author’s career.

What?!? Yes, that screeching sound was both my feet hitting the brake pedal.

The dizzying pace of these changing attitudes in publishing can leave an author scratching his/her head.

Personally, I’ve seen several close friends pursue indie publishing and have moderate success. By this I mean they earned back the money they invested in preparing the manuscript (for editing, the book cover and interior design) and perhaps have earned a couple of thousand dollars. A smaller minority had great success and went on to further get traditional publishing contracts.

What I’ve determined is that there is a good time and place to consider indie publishing as an author, and here are some of those situations to consider.

1. You have a polished manuscript but it can’t find a home with a publisher. First, I want to qualify what I mean by a polished manuscript. This is much, much more than finishing a rough draft that your mother and friends slobber over. They’re not good book critics because they love you and don’t want to hurt your feelings. It means that it’s been professionally edited, at least twenty people outside of family (and are familiar with books, genre, and good writing) love it, and maybe your agent even shopped it around but it couldn’t find a home. An even better indicator of this caliber of manuscript is that it has finaled in a well-respected writing contest like the Genesis Contest sponsored by ACFW. It takes six to ten years to learn the writing craft and a couple of written books under your belt to fit this definition.

2. There will be a delay in books releasing between your traditional publishing contracts. What I’ve heard and read is that it also takes six to ten years to build a readership. During that time frame, it’s wise to have a book releasing no longer than once a year. Some authors do more—some do less but you want a predictable stream of novels to keep readers’ interest piqued.

3. You are a control freak. Creatives like control over their product. Publishing is not that way. It is a collaborative effort so some of what you love about your creation is going to change. Some people enjoy all aspects of the book publishing process and want to have final say over every aspect—going strictly with their vision. Self-publishing is the best venue for the author to maintain total control. You also have to front all the cost and carry the entire burden as well for marketing and distribution.

4. You want to maintain your rights. When you sign a traditional publishing contract, your book is no longer really yours—in a sense. The publisher owns it in certain formats (maybe even all formats) and most often times will have clauses in your contract on other avenues they have the option to pursue—like hard cover large print rights. Some authors don’t want to give this up but then, as in the above, you’ll also be the one to try and negotiate selling the rights in different formats if you choose.

5. You want to write in other genres. Most often, an agent and traditional publisher are going to encourage you to stick with one genre but few authors I know really want to do that for their entire writing career. These might be good novels to self-publish under a pen name. Even this attitude is changing as well. Many authors I know are writing in multiple genres using the same name and don’t seem to be suffering for it.

6. You want to build volume more quickly to increase income. The flip side of building a readership is how much material you have to offer. When my first novel released, if the reader loved it, there was nothing else for them to read. Now, if they love any one of my books—they have at least two others to choose from. The more books you have, the more options a reader will have to choose and buy another book of yours to read—thus increasing your potential earning income.

What do you think? Have you indie published? Did you consider a success? Would you do it again?

This blog post first appeared at Novel Rocket. Hope you’ll check their blog out!

Three Things I Wish I Would Have Known When I Started Writing

I still remember sitting in that very first session at my first writer’s conference. Nervous. Insecure. Excited. Then the instructor shared that dreaded statistic. It wasn’t good news.

“About one percent of writers succeed in getting published. Because most give up and drop out of the race.”

I felt liking running out of the room into the brisk autumn air. But instead of following my instincts, I stayed — and made a vow to become one of the one percent. I tell that story here.

Extra ExtraSeven years later, I can report good news. I have two published books, First Hired, Last Fired: How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market by Leafwood Publishing, and Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over by Barbour Publishing. A third, (one I was hired to write for someone else), will release in the spring of 2016, a new proposal is on the market, and I’ve contributed in two others. No one is more surprised than me.

Sometimes I still shake my head and give myself a pinch. Am I really a professional author and speaker now? Those dreams I journaled, those goals I put in black and white — are they truly my reality? Why, yes, they are.

It’s hard to believe only a few short years ago I seriously began to pursue my most secret desire. When I started this journey, I didn’t believe in my abilities. If I had, I wouldn’t have waited so long to get serious.

  1. What you have to contribute is just as valuable as what anyone else has to offer. Trust God’s call to write more than you trust your fears and comparisons. Dare to believe.
  2. Do something in regard to writing every day, (except your Sabbath). Research, blog, write articles, outline new proposals, brainstorm titles, interview someone, whatever it is, make sure that six days a week you are making forward motion in your writing career. But don’t discount any of it. Sometimes you will feel as if you didn’t accomplish anything because you didn’t type words into your computer, but if you conducted a new interview, or outlined a proposal, you were productive in your writing. So quit beating yourself up!
  3. Analyze all of the things you learned in past career fields, much of it will transfer to your writing career. I’m amazed at how my background in banking, accounting, marketing, and even manufacturing have given me insights and understanding about the business of professional writing. Nothing is wasted — including the time you spent doing those things. Don’t begrudge your past, express gratitude for its benefits.

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverEach day that passes I become more comfortable in my own writing skin. I realize what I am compelled to put on a page can really help others. For instance, we’re now in the most depressing three months of the year, November through January. Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over will make an ideal gift for those who don’t know what to get someone suffering from anxiety, grief, PTSD, or depression. I can now make that statement with confidence, whereas three years ago, I wouldn’t have dared.

I guess what it all drills down to is something we hear many times as authors. It takes perseverance, tenacity, and determination to make it. If I could go back to the beginning of my career, I would encourage my newbie self to keep on keeping on every day. And there’s one particular thing I would add. I’d lean in close, cup my hand over her ear, and then I would whisper, “Never give up, buttercup. In the end, you’re going to make it. You become one of the one.”

Writing and Publishing for a Purpose

John Merritt: Writing and Publishing for a PurposeYEAH!!! There were times when I never thought my book would actually be on bookstore shelves or available online as it is today! It’s been a long and sometimes arduous journey to get Don’t Blink in print. Now that it is, I hope and pray that God will use this book for the purpose intended—to inspire Christians to live life to the fullest, and as a gift to our non-Christian friends who could use a different perspective on what the Christian life looks like.

It’s been said that there’s a book inside each one of us. And while this is no doubt true, the big question is: Will anybody read it? I wondered that of my own book. And how do you know if people are reading it and benefiting from it? Ah, this is where social media provides some answers.

I’ve been transparent about my lack of passion for social media—especially my own! And yet, I am finding that this is not only where you get honest feedback but also transparent testimony of the effectiveness (or not) of what you are putting out there. In fact, reading some comments about Don’t Blink on the internet has provided confirmation that God is using this in ways that I had hoped and prayed for.

Here’s an example: After reading the first five chapters of your book, I have to say thank you for rekindling my sense of adventure! I have been dreading writing my company mission statement and personal bio, etc, for my website. You reminded me of my passion for life and to just go for it, with Jesus by my side! What could be better? I think I was getting a little stagnant or complacent. What an invigorating breath of Christ-filled air! After reading “Don’t Blink” poolside this hot afternoon, I dove in for a swim and it was GOOD TO BE ALIVE! I plan on purchasing copies for my father and my friends. Thank you!

I’ve been asked why I wrote a book, and responses like this provide the answer. I knew going into this project that 80% of men don’t read books. While my book has both a female and male audience in mind, I wanted men to find the book readable. So each of the 23 chapter starts with a captivating short story followed by a down-to-earth, real-life application. Seems like the book is keeping the short male attention span engaged—and I love that!

To all of you who have read or plan to read Don’t Blink: The Life You Won’t Want to Miss I thank you. And remember, I wrote it with your non-Christian friend in mind—so please share it. Would make a nice gift for someone you care about this holiday season that is almost upon us.

God’s best to you!


How to find your best influencers

Jan and Ron vertThe longer I’m in the writing business, the more I appreciate the importance of influencers in helping me build my audience and increase sales. What’s tricky for many writers, however, is figuring out just who and where those influencers can be found.

Unfortunately, after eight years and eight books of being a published author, I still don’t have a magic formula for identifying and recruiting those valuable assets for my marketing efforts. All I can offer you is my own experience and insights, so here goes:

  1. It’s great to have known experts or writers give you an endorsement for your book, but unless they are truly excited about your book and independently give it exposure in their own networks, the endorsement is just nice copy for your back cover, and won’t produce momentum in sales. Those experts are busy with their own marketing and projects, and the truth is, they give endorsements widely as a courtesy, rather than out of commitment to your publicity goals.
  2. The best influencers have a stake in your sales. Although my books sell around the world, my strongest sales come from a local gift shop because the store owner enjoys my books so much, she talks them up to customers and regularly features them in store promotional materials. Because of her enthusiasm, I’ve had more press coverage in local media than I could procure by my own efforts and a consistently growing word-of-mouth readership. As an influencer, she’s one of my best!
  3. You need to continually cultivate relationships with potential influencers. This means reaching out via social networking and/or physically traveling to meet people in your field of interest who might find your books of value in their own professional goals. To market my girl-meets-dog memoir, I make a point of connecting with animal rescue groups/animal humane societies online, and when possible, I attend their conferences/events as a vendor. I often give free copies to keynote speakers or other passionate animal lovers I meet, in hopes they will read and enjoy the book so much, they will mention it to others. Yes, this is basically a hit-or-miss method, but so far, I’ve always made a few excellent contacts and found one or two awesome influencers at such events. It’s well worth my time and money to break into a new group of potential reader-buyers.
  4. Connect with bloggers with big audiences in your target market and ask to send them a copy of your book in return for a review. Offer them additional copies to use as giveaways when they publish a review of your book, or whenever they might have a contest going on. Doing this gives you a reach well beyond your own social networks and local geographic area. I’ve met several significant influencers in this way, and they continue to give me promotional value with each new book.

What tips do you have for identifying and recruiting influencers for your marketing efforts?

A Writing and Publishing Journey

So John, tell me about the writing of your book. How long did it take? What did you learn about publishing? What was the most enjoyable and most the difficult part of the process?

Pastor John Merritt, Discover. The Writing Journey

I’ve been asked questions like these numerous times in recent months. And since my first book, Don’t Blink, ready to be released in November (EBook is already available)—I thought I’d share what I loved and what I did not love about becoming an author (things you may consider if you have thoughts of becoming an author yourself).

What I loved: The actual writing of the book that took place during a six month sabbatical. I’ve always enjoyed writing, telling a story and making biblical application out of real life experiences. What I didn’t know was that writing the book was the easy part—let me tell you about the hard part.

Don’t Blink is for procrastinators, dreamers, and would-be adventurers who wish to grab hold of life this day, knowing there are no guarantees about someday. From Alaska to Argentina to the Amazon―in situations ranging from dangerous to humorous―John Merritt takes you on a daring pilgrimage revealing what living in the moment looks like. John demolishes the notion that once you become a Christian your freedoms are gone and your fun is done. Life is an extraordinary adventure elevated to audacious heights when God is leading the charge.

Don’t Blink is for procrastinators, dreamers, and would-be adventurers who wish to grab hold of life this day, knowing there are no guarantees about someday. From Alaska to Argentina to the Amazon―in situations ranging from dangerous to humorous―John Merritt takes you on a daring pilgrimage revealing what living in the moment looks like. John demolishes the notion that once you become a Christian your freedoms are gone and your fun is done. Life is an extraordinary adventure elevated to audacious heights when God is leading the charge.

What I didn’t love: The first thing I didn’t love was when I was advised to hire a professional editor who proceeded to get out her electronic red pen and essentially let me know how unaccomplished my writing was. In the end I was thankful for her coaching because the result was her finally telling me, “John, you’ve found your writers voice.” But that required many tedious rewrites that took longer than the initial draft.

A second thing I didn’t love was the realization that unless I was able to find an agent willing to represent my project I had no chance of getting a publishing house to even consider my work. Finding Alice Crider (then with WordServe, now with Cook) was a God-send and was not easy. (Note: Because of the difficulty in getting an agent to represent you, self-publishing is sometimes your best option.)

A third thing I didn’t love is the months it took for my agent to find a publisher who was interested in my book (took an entire year). There are many reasons why a publisher says no to a writer but the main one is market share. Publishers are in the business of selling books, and if you are not able to prove that you have a large audience who will buy lots of books, it really doesn’t matter how good your content is.

A final thing I don’t love is all the marketing of the book I must personally do because no one else is going to do it (not even most publishers these days). Because I’m not good at social media I’ve employed a person who I’m greatly indebted to (Leah Apineru with Impact Author Services, Colorado Springs) who built and maintains my website and posts my blogs. But I’ve always hated self-promotion and leaning on my friends to get the word out—sorry!

Why I wrote it: Given that being a published author is much more difficult than I ever imagined, why did I hang in there and spend lots of my own dollars in order to get my book out there? Simply because I think it will help Christians like yourself discover that God has an adventure designed just for you that will elevate your life each day. And what elevates the purpose of the book for me is if people like yourself find the book to be a good one to pass along to your non-Christian friends who could use a different perspective of the Christian life. If the publishing of “Don’t Blink” results in spiritual explorers becoming followers of Jesus then all that I didn’t love about publishing will be worth it!

John Merritt's Don't Blink TribeToward that end, I’m looking for friends who share that same passion and will help me by reading the book and then sharing it with your friends and family members. Currently Don’t Blink is available in EBook form through Amazon, Kindle, iBookstore and Barnes & Noble Nook. The paperback is due to be released November 10 and you can pre-order a book now. If you would like to learn more about joining the tribe, email:

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Thanks everyone!