Using a Writing Roadmap

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Steven Covey once offered the advice to begin with the end in mind. Knowing where you are going is the key to success not only in business and in life, but also in writing. The first step for a student to learn in writing is thinking through the main idea he or she wants to convey and then determining the key points that develop that idea. This approach not only works for a simple essay or speech, but also for a manuscript for a new book.

Know your starting point: Just as a student should be able to state the main idea of an essay in one sentence, an author benefits from communicating the purpose for a new book in an overview. You often see a polished version of an overview taken from a book proposal on the back cover of a book. This overview is usually about seven sentences, arranged in one or two paragraphs. Think of the overview as much more than an abstract. The overview should go beyond summarizing the key message of the book to piquing reader interest.

Plan the rest stops along the way: At the beginning of manuscript preparation, you probably will have have a clear idea of what you want to say in the first few chapters, but only a vague understanding of the direction of the rest of the book. For your book proposal, you will need a chapter outline, which can provide direction for your writing, but consider what rest stops you will visit on your journey from the introduction to conclusion of your book. For a fiction book, these rest stops are the important events in your overall plot. For a nonfiction book, these rest stops are key ideas that develop your theme. Planning these rest stops in your writing roadmap will help you drive your writing forward.   Knowing you need to reach the next point in the development of your ideas will keep you from becoming sidetracked and adding good, but extraneous, information to your manuscript. If you link a certain expected word count to each rest stop, you also have a tool for planning your writing progress in order to meet a publisher’s manuscript deadline.

Arrive at your destination: You probably will come up with some great ideas while writing your manuscript that go beyond the material outlined in your book proposal. Wonderful! You might be able to incorporate some of these ideas along the way, but others may need to be saved for an additional book. Honor Steven Covey by keeping the intended conclusion of your book in mind as you finish each chapter. Make sure your readers arrive at your desired destination when they finish the last page of your book. Did your book fulfill the mission you envisioned? Did you support your ideas sufficiently? Did your words fly like an arrow and hit the bullseye? While you do not not need to tie up every loose end, do your final paragraphs provide a satisfying conclusion? Let your writing roadmap guide you to where you want to go.

How do you map out your writing project? 

 

 

White Space

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt. 6: 34 NIV)

Where do I begin? Do I work on one of these book proposals? Do I need to write another blog post? Do I have a speaking event scheduled this month? Do I need to work on my website?

I didn’t know where to start! And I thought, Enough!

At first, I thought my confusion might be a response to the stress. Soon, I realized that I needed God’s help. I needed some white space!

As a writer, I know the importance of white space—the empty space in every document, in the margins and between the words, graphs, and pictures.

The wise use of this white space can vastly improve communicating the writer’s message. And a lack of white space makes the page seem too busy, cluttered, and difficult to read. Yet too much white space produces an incomplete appearance.

White Space of Life

As I planned my use of time and resources, I concluded that the same important rules apply to the white space in all areas of my life.

If I fill every minute of the day with activities, work, and conversation, I become too preoccupied with unproductive distractions. But too much inactivity can rob me of my self-worth and credibility.

How do we determine the amount of white space in our lives? Never underestimate the power of organization, calendars, and spring-cleaning!

Can we discern how much white space to build into our lives? Those who know us best and love us unconditionally can offer healthy opinions. But seek an advisor with extreme caution— you may need to endure unsolicited criticism.

White Space of Grace

Never underestimate the power of God’s Word as you manage the white space in your schedule and decisions.

Jesus promised, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16: 12– 13 NIV).

As I prayed for direction, I remembered other encouraging words: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me— put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4: 9 NIV).

I also recalled the story in the Bible of another weak, tormented soul who discovered the sufficiency of God’s grace. Like me, the apostle Paul begged God to take away his problems. But God responded with surprising direction: “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness” (2 Cor. 12: 9 The Message).

The Bible offers important advice about letting go and moving forward:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3: 12– 14 NIV)

Where do you need some white space in your life? I hope this excerpt from my book, Words That Change Everything, speaks to your need for some white space.

Karen Jordan. Words that Change Everything. Copyright © 2016 by Karen Jordan. Used by permission of Leafwood Publishers, an imprint of Abilene Christian University Press.

7 Great Inspirational Quotes for Writers

Never write at allMaybe you can relate to days like I’ve had. Where you need a dose of inspiration to get you moving — or a swift kick in the fingers. When this happens, I’m grateful for quick, motivational, and uplifting thoughts from other experienced writers.

Maybe the following inspirational quotes will propel you to action, when you feel like shutting down.

  1. “As Kandinsky says, “Everything starts with a dot.” Sometimes the hardest thing in writing a story is where to start. You don’t need to have a great idea, you just have to put pen to paper. Start with a bad idea, start with the wrong direction, start with a character you don’t like, something positive will come out of it.” – Marion Deuchars, illustrator and author of Let’s Make Some Great Art
  2. “Remember that writing things down makes them real; that it is nearly impossible to hate anyone whose story you know; and, most of all, that even in our post-postmodern era, writing has a moral purpose. With 26 shapes arranged in varying patterns, we can tell every story known to mankind, and make up all the new ones – indeed, we can do so in most of the world’s known tongues. If you can give language to experiences previously starved for it, you can make the world a better place.” – Andrew Solomon, acclaimed psychologist and author of Far & Away
  3. writing-quote-j-k-rowling“First drafts are always horrible and ugly. Don’t worry about that – it’s the same for everyone. Just remember that the first draft is as bad as the book is ever going to be, and if you keep redrafting, one day you will look at your horrible book and realise that you’ve turned it into something actually quite beautiful.” – Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike series
  4. “Growing up I believed only certain people were allowed to write books – namely, fancy literary heirs who had gone to the right school and university. Not people like me. But of course, anyone can write a book. And anyone should, so that we have more diversity of voices in publishing.” – Julie Mayhew, author of Mother Tongue and others
  5. “Always keep a notebook and pen by your bedside. No matter how much you convince yourself you’ll remember that brilliant idea in the morning, you really won’t. Write it down because sleep has a way of giving you ideas and then stealing them right back.” – Swapna Haddow, author of the Dave Pigeon series
  6. Write what others can't say“Write what you want to know more about — the teacher always learns more than the student. Become passionate about the stories you tell and the people you are writing about. Finish your writing day with something that makes you want to know what happens next. Give yourself periods of rest — mental breaks sharpen the mind. And keep writing, especially when you don’t feel like it.” — Anita Agers Brooks, author of Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over and other titles
  7. “You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” — Jodi Picoult author of My Sister’s Keeper

What are some of your favorite writing quotes? What motivates you as a writer?

“I Want to Write a Book…”

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Occasionally I’ll connect with someone who’s itchy to write. Maybe he wants to start a blog. Maybe she wants to write a book. And this potential writer is itchy to take the right next-steps to do this.

Maybe you’re that potential writer.

Without yet knowing you or your story, here’s what’s in my heart for you and other eager potential writers…

Write

Start. Begin. String words together. Gather your sentences into a meaningful whole.

It’s estimated that 81% of Americans feel they have a book in them and should write it. I don’t know the stat for people who go on to actually write them. I feel fairly confident guessing it’s not 81%.

So by sitting down at your laptop and writing, you’re well on your way.

The thing that makes any legit is…writing.

Work at Your Craft

The best writers work at their craft. There are a number of good ways to do that:

  • Attend a writer’s conference.Writer’s conferences offer great workshops to help you improve your writing. And they often offer opps to network with writers, editors, publishers, and agents. (Here’s a good listing of Christian writer’s conferences, if that’s your bag.) I’m not a conference junkie, but I do believe that there are a host of rich resources available at most writers’ conferences.
  • Join a writer’s group. Gather with writers in your area. Meet face to face to share and critique one another’s work. Or, find an online critique group. Others’ feedback—noticing strengths and offering areas for improvement—is extremely valuable in growing as a writer.

 Before You Publish…Publish

If you’re anything like me, you may secretly hope and believe that the first draft of the book that’s in your heart will become a New York Times bestseller.

Psychological professionals call this “magical thinking.”

If you’re serious about writing, begin to develop an audience.

  • Guest post on a friend’s blog.
  • Start your own blog.
  • Pitch articles to online magazines.
  • Enter a contest.

Though it can be tempting to want to dazzle audiences with that first book, either traditionally published or self-published, there’s a lot to be learned on the journey. Good writing is worth the wait.

Don’t rush.

But do start.

Writing About Suffering

One recent evening, a friend told me about her stepmother’s stage 4 cancer, asking for advice on ways to help her. The next morning, I received word another friend was killed in a car wreck. That evening, a different friend’s granddaughter’s baby was admitted to the hospital in an unresponsive state following a seizure. It was an emotional 24 hours. But one reason these friends talked to me about their issues is that they’ve walked with me through my own.

Lessons Learned

Have you ever noticed that when you’re about to write or teach a spiritual lesson, you walk through circumstances that make you confront your own handling of said spiritual lesson? It happens to me almost every week. I teach a weekly Bible study class and I promise you, whatever the lesson is about, I faced it during the previous week!

There is a good reason for this. It’s called authenticity. Nobody wants to listen to a Pollyanna who has never gone through tough circumstances preach about how to handle them. We all know this, but still it can be so easy to spout platitudes or quote Scriptures that seem to say everything will turn out okay.

The Right Approach

What is the right way to approach writing about suffering? Telling your personal story is a good place to start. Every one of us has faced some level of trauma or grief or physical suffering at some point in our lives. When we dare to talk about our deep hurts, it opens our readers’ hearts to hear the rest of our message because they feel a connection to us. We become real when we become vulnerable.

Reward

Therein lies the rub, as they say. It is terrifying to bare your soul to strangers. I submit to you that it may be the most difficult thing you ever do. It may also be the most rewarding thing you ever do. When I share my struggles with those I teach, an inner tension releases that I previously didn’t even know existed. And the connections I make with my class members are priceless. A bond is created that allows for more receptivity on their part.

Respect

I need to add a caveat here. Some things cannot be shared in a public forum. When there are other people involved who might be hurt or embarrassed, we must keep the situation private. We might be able to refer to it in generic terms, but we can in no way include anything that would identify them. The only exception would be if prior permission is granted.

Transparent Honesty

Readers don’t sit in a classroom with us each week and we’ll never know or hear about most of them. But they will listen to us when they read our message and learn the truth we’ve shared when they know we aren’t just spouting words–that we have lived the truth of what we say.

Do you have a message to share that involves difficulty or suffering? How ready are you to be transparent with your readers?

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5 Things Aspiring Writers Might Be Surprised to Know

Your DreamsI remember when my pulse quickened and my heart thumped at the thought of “making it” as a writer. The first time I gingerly brushed the soft cover of my first book, flicked through its pristine pages, I felt awed. The young girl inside of me, who’d always dreamed of seeing her name on a book, shed a happy tear.

Now that I’ve succeeded in publishing multiple books, with more on the way, I’ve found myself in a reflective mood. Recently, I pondered some of the more surprising things publishing success has taught me — boiling them down to my top five.

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5. Your need to learn will never diminish. Culture shifts, technology advances, headline focuses, and global changes necessitate a writer’s dedication to ongoing education. Solid research and investigation are bedrock pieces in the foundation of any great written work. New information equals fresh content. 

4. Fear will not subside — although fear can change as your writing career progresses. Early on, many aspiring writers fall prey to the paralysis of fear, while professionals know that fear can prove a driving motivator. When you consider the greater loss of missing potential success, the emotion of fear propels you to action. If you fail to try, your failure is guaranteed. 

best thing you don't write3. The writing life is not a solitary endeavor. It takes a team to successfully publish. Critique groups, writing peers, or advance readers help us delve deeper into our subject matter, and pick up on flaws we often miss. Agents, publishers, and editors polish our projects and help promote them to reach a bigger audience. Readers become fans who sometimes become friends — if we are so blessed.

A wise writer intentionally and consistently builds their audience. When much in the world changes, one thing does not: word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing machine.

2. Story, whether written in the entirety of a book, or a short paragraph to example a point, draws readers deeper into your world. Few people appreciate being talked at, while most love being drawn into a good story. Whether they author novels or non-fiction, the skillful writer paints pictures with their words.

1. Human curiosity is king. Write cliff-hangers, page-turners, and chapter-leads to keep your reader wanting more. As you resolve or answer each inquisitive sentence you craft, replace it with another, until ultimately, you tie it all together at the end. A satisfying conclusion after creating ongoing curiosity makes a reader say, “I wish this book hadn’t ended.”

Motivational MantraI’m still working on all of these areas in my own writing, and anticipate the need to keep them in mind until the day I type my very last word. I don’t simply want to write, I want to use my words well.

Most writers I know would agree — we start out writing for ourselves — until we discover the real gift is in writing for others. The dream we live is the dream we share.

Entering Through the Back Door

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The two-story farmhouse where I grew up had a back door that faced west. Visitors and family members entering the house through that door found themselves in the mud room, where boots could be removed to leave puddles on the linoleum and coats could be hung in what was aptly named The Coat Closet. (Note: Minnesota Norwegians aren’t known for complicated labels.)

Before my parents remodeled, the front entrance consisted of four cement steps that opened into the room known as the Play Room. (See previous comment about Norwegians.) Within that room’s walls my sisters and I orchestrated fashion shows for our Barbies and my brother and I fought wars with little green army men. The piano and various other musical instruments took up residence in that corner of the house, giving an entirely different meaning to the word play as we dutifully plunked out thirty minutes until a ringing alarm released us.

One house. Two doors. I have no memory of ever entering the house through the front door. The front door was used only by people who didn’t know us: delivery services and door-to-door salesmen. 

For those who knew us–neighbors, friends, relatives and family–they all used the back door. Perhaps because the kitchen–the heart of the home–was the next room after you hung up your coat. The back door was the fastest way to getting a cup of coffee and a little lunch, which in a farming community had nothing to do with “little.”

Recently, I taught a writing workshop to participants who wanted to record their cancer stories. As a seven-year breast cancer survivor, I understand the value of capturing a difficult story on paper and sharing it with others. I also knew that unburying the deep parts of a cancer journey can be difficult. Memories are often stuffed as patients have had to deal with the chaos of living in the overwhelming now. It is sometimes difficult to bring those stories out into the light of day.

The class began with the typical questions:

  1. What day were you told that you had cancer?
  2. What was your diagnosis?
  3. What treatment plan did your doctor recommend?

People shared the facts, the analytical details. Breast cancer. Skin cancer. A parent with three cancers. Chemo. Radiation. The participants shared important details, but the questions were lacking. The inquiries didn’t invite the telling of a story, the intimate details of a life. 

Rather, the class invited others into the front door. A place for strangers.

For the second round of writing, I read a story from my journal about a day I was swimming laps at the gym after my diagnosis, a day I decided that I was going to beat the woman swimming next to me to the wall. She didn’t even know it was a competition, but on that day I decided that cancer would not win. I talked to the class about the smell of the chlorine. The feel of the water on my skin. The exaltation of touching my fingers to the wall.

Then I said, “We all have those moments when we decide that cancer will not win. I want to know about yours. Maybe it was wearing a certain outfit to treatment. Maybe it was going religiously to chemo. Maybe it was doing something that was physically challenging. Tell me about a time when you determined that cancer would not win.”

People picked up pencils or typed on their laptops. One man told about wearing purple–the color for cancer survivors–to treatment. A woman told a story about putting on lipstick and a wig to feel beautiful. Another told about training to run a marathon. 

One by one, people shared hard things, but with smiles on their faces. In the midst of a difficult diagnosis, at that moment in their story, they were victorious. 

I realized something important. By asking a question tied to an emotion, I invited people into the heart of their story, a task, we, as writers, attempt to do every day. We don’t spout facts and figures about relationships, conflicts, and belief systems.

No, we pick up our pencils and we invite people to enter through the back door, where they can hang up their coats and leave their boots to leave puddles on the linoleum.

Lynne Hartke’s first book: Under a Desert Sky: Redefining Hope, Beauty and Faith in the Hardest Places is coming out with Revell/Baker in May 2017. She blogs at http://www.lynnehartke.com.