Writer’s Block? Consider a Template

You sit down to write your blog post or speech, and your mind goes blank.

What do you do? Panic? Make a fresh cup of coffee? Take a walk outside? Or tie yourself to your desk chair, vowing not to get up until it’s finished?

We’ve all had these moments of frustration when the words refuse to come. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one.

Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then start on the first one.”

One way to do that is to use a template. Michael Hyatt suggests, “I create a template for any task I find myself doing repeatedly. So instead of reinventing the wheel every time, I do it once, save it as a template, and then reuse it.”

If you’ve every written a book proposal, you understand the value of a template. And you compose it in chunks, right? In fact, just typing the cover page is a helpful way to start; then, you go on to the next page.

I use templates as I compose teaching or speaking notes, as well as for some of my hard-to-write blog posts.

I start with an overall look at the topic.

  • Audience. I start by examining who I’m writing for, or who will be attending the event.
  • Felt need or problem. I examine not only what problem I’m addressing, but also what I want the audience to know and to do.
  • Main thought. For me, it’s often hard to reduce my message into one or two words. So, I attempt to summarize my message in one sentence to get my focus.
  • Scripture or reference. Since I write on nonfiction, Christian topics, I write out the main scripture or promise I want to share, or the authoritative source.

The next part of my template includes spaces for each section planned.

  • Opening statement or story. Here’s where I try to capture the attention of my audience with a quotation or an intriguing story.
  • My story. I connect with the topic, using an illustration from my own experiences.
  • Our story. I consider borrowing from other people or source that expresses how many reader will relate to the subject.
  • Resource. What does my primary resource say about this topic? This could be Bible reference or another authoritative source.
  • Your story. Now, I try to lead the reader to connect the topic with one of her own life stories.
  • Application. I encourage the audience to adopt some practical way to apply the message that might change their life.
  • Conclusion. What is the take-away? Write something the audience can remember—a clever quote, a power statement, or repeat what you just said in the post in a memorable way. I propose a premise, then reinforce it with strong, concluding words.

How do you handle those times when the words won’t come for your project?

I hope you will consider developing a template for those tasks you find yourself doing routinely, like blog posts or speaking notes.

And if all else fails, just take a walk or do anything to get your mind off your writing, and allow yourself to refocus on something pleasant or beautiful.

Then, go back to your desk, sit down, and just write!

Have templates helped you in your writing? If so, share a few examples with us.

 

10 Things Every Writer Should Remember

A few days ago, I actually thought it, I even dared to speak the words out loud to God. “Maybe I just need to quit.”

Things Every Writer Should RememberI was referring to writing.

But two things happened that set me straight — one I call a Divine encouragement, the other, a practical review.

In case you are interested in the motivational things that made up my practical review, I’ve listed them in a top ten format. None of these came to mind however, until my moment of Divine encouragement.

Early this year, for six busy weeks, I traveled across five states speaking, in addition to several in-between events in my home state. I enjoyed getting to meet many new people and personally share the messages I’m so passionate about.

Within two weeks of finishing my speaking circuit, my oldest son got married. But his joyous event was tainted by the flare up of a severe back injury. So much so, that he fell during his ceremony. It broke my mother’s heart to see him push through the pain and sweat through the rest of his vows, to determinedly marry our new daughter-in-love.

After a month and a few more falls, he had improved little, and was becoming frustrated. All medical efforts lacked real results. I took turns with other family members who stayed with him during the day, helplessly watching my son suffer, and feeling my writing hours slip away.

But something new was about to occur.

I woke up shortly after five in the morning to my husband’s groans. I asked, “Are you all right?”

When he said, “I don’t think so,” I popped off of my pillow on full alert.

I interrogated, “Do you have any other pain? Are you sweating? Do either of your arms hurt?”

“I took a shower, so I’m not sweating now,” he said. “And my left arm is sore, but I think I must have pulled something when I was carrying my boat batteries yesterday.”

I’d heard enough. “Get ready. We’re going to the hospital.”

On our way out the door, I gave him three baby aspirin. An attending physician later told me they could have saved his life.Inspirational Quotes

A heart cath revealed a 95% blockage in one artery, and 40% in another area. He’d had a heart attack. Thankfully, the two stents they immediately placed in him, along with a complete lifestyle transformation, have drastically improved his health. But the hits weren’t over.

Four days after his release, my genetic eye disease triggered, common after periods of heavy stress. For days, I couldn’t see clearly and all light felt excruciating. Watching TV, reading, or looking at a computer were impossibilities. All I could do was lay helplessly in bed, where I thought and prayed.

I confess to holding multiple pity parties, where fleeting thoughts of giving up on my writing career came and went. When I finally began to feel improvement in my body, but felt overwhelmed by how far behind I was, I spoke out loud, “Maybe I just need to quit.”

As I said it, I had no idea I would get a clear response so soon. God used her to provide Divine encouragement.

My cell phone rang. I recognized the name of a woman from an audience I had spoken to the month before. She was on the organizational team, and they had invited me and my fellow WordServe authors Karen Jordan and Kathryn Graves to bring our Untangled Conference to their city in September. I assumed this was her reason for calling. I was wrong.

“Hello,” I said.

Motivational Quotes“Oh, Anita. I’m so glad you answered. I had to call you. I just finished reading your book, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, and I have to tell you, it’s the best book I’ve ever read. I’m getting a copy and sending it to my sister tomorrow. So many people need this. Thank you so much for using your talents to write and speak.”

Only God had known my inner wrestlings before she called. The confusion bound in physical and emotional fatigue that pummeled my brain. Maybe you can identify.

If writing professionally were easy, more people would stick it out, but especially when life blindsides you, it can get tough. However, the hard days are what make us real people — realistic, relatable, and relevant.

As I think about it, aren’t those the qualities that make good writers flawed but great?

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.

The Magic of Collaborative Marketing for Writers

Zig Ziglar Motivational Quotes“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” Zig Ziglar, the ultimate motivator, knew that when we authentically and unselfishly support other people, great things happen. I’ve experienced the truth of this principle many times in my life, but especially recently, when I joined forces with two other WordServe authors.

Karen Jordan, Kathryn Graves, and myself decided to collaborate on writing a non-fiction book for women. By doing so, we discovered some surprising side benefits. We’ve found the magic of the collaborative process for writers improves marketing, increases our income potential, and adds a fun element to the author’s journey.

The pressures seems lighter, because we’re in it together.

Untangled A Women's ConfereneceOne of our most exciting accomplishments came from developing a women’s conference based on our book’s title and message. We outlined options for a one-day conference as well as a two-day event. We came up with a suggested ticket price and estimated income from the event based on a variety of attendance number ranges. We brainstormed ideas for other creative ways to support the Untangled Women’s Conference. And we reviewed different expense scenarios, weighing convenience against cost.

Then we formalized our thoughts.Untangled A Women's Conference

We created an Event Planner’s Kit to make it easier for churches and organizations to host Untangled. (I found it much more efficient and thorough to generate resources as a team versus what I might accomplish on my own.) We created a marketing flyer, and put it on our speaking tables at events, mentioned it in passing conversations, and posted it on social media. One of the most important actions we took was praying for and with each other.

We didn’t wait long before seeing results.

The response amazed us. Within a week, we had a conference scheduled and on the calendar in one state, while two other states began serious talks with us. Within three weeks, we had sent out four more conference kits to other states by request. Because of our collaborative marketing efforts, this coming fall/winter/spring should fill up fast with paid speaking gigs and greater book sales.

As we traverse this new world of collaborative marketing, we are learning many things. But the truth of Zig’s words is already evident — by helping each other through the collaborative process, we are all winning. This is what we can tell you so far:

8 Reasons the Magic of Collaborative Marketing for Writers Works:Collaboration Works

  • You build off of each other’s ideas — growing creative efforts.
  • You share the expenses, reducing costs for each individual.
  • You expand the message reach further than one individual can accomplish on their own.
  • Your mind moves from thinking of your efforts as self-promotion, to that of helping your fellow writer(s).
  • You enrich the lives of readers, event planners, and audiences by offering them a diverse experience through multiple voices.
  • You sell more books as an author by increasing your opportunities to speak and participate in other cooperative public events.
  • You feel more courageous to step out and try new things.
  • You have people to support and celebrate with, who really understand the emotional highs and lows of writing and marketing.

Have you collaborated with other WordServe authors? If so, what did you do, and how did it affect your book sales as well as your morale? Would you be interested in brainstorming and collaborating together?

7 Reasons To Consider a Study Group for Your Next Book Project

Image/karen jordan.net

In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one. (John Steinbeck)

 

Need help writing your next book proposal? Try this.

To help me with the research of my most recent nonfiction book proposal, I recruited a group of ladies at my church to walk through each chapter as I developed it. Since it’s been surprisingly helpful, I thought I’d share a few reasons to consider it.

  1. Helps with book launch. This group started meeting during my first book launch. I had just taken them through a study of my book, Words That Change Everything, this past fall. Each week they read a chapter of the book, downloading a copy of my RESTNotes as a guide for our weekly discussions. This meant I added every member to my mailing list, an important step in the platform-building process.
  2. Offers encouragement for book projects. After we finished the book study, the ladies asked me to lead them in another. I told them that I wanted to use material for a book that I’m currently working on. They happily agreed. In fact, they were excited to be part of the writing process with me.
  3. Produces insights from primary audience. Want to understand how to meet the needs of your audience? What better way to do this than to invite them into your writing process? I’ve learned invaluable insights from these wonderful ladies as we brainstormed questions and issues pertinent to my project.
  4. Keeps you on task and organized. Not only has the weekly agenda kept me on task with my book project, this study has been one of the most productive ideas I’ve ever employed as a writer. Each week, I prepared our session using a template that I developed for each chapter. And I did my outside research for each chapter with this class in mind.
  5. Supplies ongoing research in your absence. During the weeks I’ve been out of town for a speaking event or to help my grandkids, I recruited one of the class members to facilitate a discussion of some of the questions that we may have skipped in an earlier class.
  6. Meets fellowship needs of the group. When I returned from a recent speaking event, the group shared what an engaging experience they had getting to know each other even better, as they focused specifically on the questions I had prepared for them. I’ve also created a private Facebook group for our class to help us stay in touch and share insights on our topic with each other between meetings.
  7. Provides potential help with future projects. We still have a few weeks before we complete our current study. But several of the ladies have already asked me which book project we will use next. And I have several to choose from, since I’m working on a few personal and collaborative projects.

In his book On Writing Well, William Zinsser observed, “Ultimately every writer must follow the path that feels most comfortable.”

Right now, while I’m researching my next book proposal, using the help of a study group works for me. So, I want to offer this idea to you, because I love to share lessons I’ve learned and the stories that matter most to me.

Have you ever recruited a study group for one of your works in progress? If so, what did you glean from that experience? Any tips?

 

Watching and Waiting

Photo/KarenJordanI’ve learned a lot about waiting and watching as a writer. So, I wanted to share this excerpt from my book, Words That Change Everything, with you.

Waiting rooms can bring out the worst in me. Long periods of waiting produce all kinds of emotional red flags—from impatience and worry to full-blown panic attacks.

Reminders of past pain, traumas, and personal losses make our current trouble seem intolerable. The dark clouds roll in, and we ignore the light of spiritual truth.

I’ve been assigned to many waiting rooms, especially this past decade. And I don’t really like to wait; I’m very impatient for good news to arrive. But waiting does not have to be hopeless. We can find hope and resist worry when we know that God is listening to our cries for help.

The psalmist speaks of “waiting” in Psalm 40, and I particularly resonate with this line from The Message Bible.

I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened. He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip. (Ps. 40:1–2 The Message)

Jumping from one waiting room to the next—crisis after crisis—and trying to help others in their time of need, well-meaning supporters encouraged me to find relief from my stress, anxiety, and exhaustion.

When I asked for advice how to obtain their suggested rest, some offered me quick fixes and temporary solutions. But nothing provided the peace that I desperately needed until I leaned on God’s Word for help.

What are you waiting for today?

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

OneWord 2017: Hope for the New Year

Image/KarenJordanHave you chosen your “OneWord” for 2017?

Focus. I selected my initial “OneWord” after reading an inspiring post on  Lindsey Nobles’s blog in 2011. I decided on the word “focus” after wrestling with distractions.

Fearless. I decided on the word “fearless” the next year. I needed to defeat the spirit of fear and pursue my projects, plans, and dreams.

Essential. After skipping three years, the word “essential” surfaced in 2015. Struggling with my priorities, I needed to rethink what mattered most. Plus, I faced a book deadline. At the same time, my husband, Dan, retired.

BookCover/KJordanRelease. I didn’t select “OneWord” in 2016. Why? I concentrated on my first book, Words That Change Everything. So, I suppose my “OneWord” became “release,” since I focused on marketing my book.

Hope. Recently, I sensed “hope” should be my 2017 “OneWord.” I had lost my confidence as I faced my lack of experience in marketing my book. Plus, my husband acts like “every day is Saturday” since he retired.

When the Lord placed “hope” on my heart, I sense new direction and a renewed purpose for the future.

Choose hope. Do you feel hopeless about the future? Perhaps our recent presidential election left you disheartened.

God’s Word offers us this promise of hope after a difficult journey.

(We can) rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5 ESV)

Can you identify the reason for your hopelessness? If you need direction and clarity of purpose to overcome your discouragement and doubt, I challenge you to accept His gift of hope today.

Happy New Year!