Writing from the Heart (Part 7)

“Written words change lives” because reading gives each individual reader a chance to digest what the author is saying. The author’s words become part of each reader as they formulate their own opinion on the topic.

In a personal experience article, the story line becomes the vehicle to relate the message you want to convey to your readers. This is true in nonfiction books and novels also. It may be a moral lesson, an ethical issue, or a religious truth. You want to provide insight and instruction for your readers. They must own their own belief system and values to live by. Relating to a story results from having the humanness come through with which the readers can identify.

Today’s writing is moving from the didactic to the anecdotal. If you are writing current social issues articles, make sure you include personal experience stories in these articles as vignettes. Personal experience stories also add a new dimension to nonfiction books, helping readers to better identify with your message.

Writing from the Heart (Part 6)

When you write, picture one individual in your mind—someone you want to touch with that particular message at that point in time. When I was writing the stories for Rest Stops for Single Moms I pictured a different single mom in my mind with each devotional. Each one was written specifically for one woman. Yet many who have read the book feel that I am speaking directly to them. That’s because many single moms have experienced the incidents described in the vignettes.

Make your readers laugh. Make your readers cry. Instead of causing your characters to cry, create tears in your reader’s eyes. Here is the beginning of a story from Rest Stops for Single Moms. Any empty nesters?

The Apron Strings

[Starts with a quote] There are only two lasting things we can give our children. One is roots, the other, wings. –Author Unknown

One of the most difficult times for me as a mother was allowing my oldest son to go away to college. When he graduated from high school, I wrote him the following letter:

Dear Richard,

Today is your high school graduation. I have spent the last eighteen years teaching and guiding you. Now it is time to let you go and to allow you to choose your own way.

As you were growing up, I shared your victories and defeats. I cheered at your swim meets and applauded at your cello concerts. I watched a skinny, freckle-faced blonde boy change into a handsome, six-foot-three muscular young man.

As a mother, the hardest job for me is to let go—to allow our roles to change. I worked hard at being your mother, and now I want to enjoy being your friend. As a token of my feelings and my confidence in you, I’m enclosing my apron strings in this letter. They are cut off from my apron to symbolize your total freedom.

Yet, you know that I will be only a phone call away. I want to continue to share your life, to hear about your experiences, to be there when you need me. The difference is that now you are in the driver’s seat, and I’m the passenger.

I believe in you, and I love you very much. Congratulations, Son!

All my love,


He cried when he read that letter, and our roles really did change.

Writing from the Heart (Part 5)

We don’t have to undergo an exact experience in order to write about it, but we need to feel passionately about our subject. We can use a similar emotional response within ourselves to evoke a reaction in our readers. If God hasn’t touched you on a particular subject, you aren’t going to touch your readers. Write from your experiences. Write about what is around you—the everyday occurrences. Be aware of interesting details or parallels in life. Write from your heart.

For an example, I will use my book, Too Soon to Say Goodbye: Healing and Hope for Suicide Victims and Survivors I wrote it with the same two co-authors who coauthored Wounded by Words with me. Karen’s son committed suicide, and Jeenie deals with suicide survivors in her practice as a marriage and family therapist. No one close to me has taken their own life, but I have several friends whose sons have, and it is a subject I feel passionately about, so I feel comfortable writing about the subject. We used stories of many people who have been touched by the suicide of a loved one, or who had contemplated suicide at one time. Many of the stories are written under pseudonyms. It was the hardest book to write of the more than 30 I have written.


Writing from the Heart (Part 4)

Here is an example of how I made myself vulnerable in a story from my book, Wounded by Words, titled “The Accident.”

“Richard, what happened?” I gasped as the front door opened, and my oldest son walked in. His head was bleeding, and he had a petrified look on his face.

His brother Mike followed and said, “If you think he looks bad, wait until you see the car!”

“I don’t care about the car. I care about you two. What happened?” I asked again.

“We dropped off a couple of the guys after water polo practice. Dave was hanging out the window, so I reached over and pulled him back in,” said Richard.

“And the car rolled forward and hit a tree,” added Mike. “Richard had unfastened his seatbelt, so when the car stopped, he hit the windshield. I think he did more damage to the car than the tree did.”

I saw that the cut on Richard’s forehead was minor, so I cleaned it up and put a Band-Aid on it. “Do you hurt anywhere? Do you feel dizzy?”

“My neck hurts,” Richard said, rubbing the back of his neck.”

“We’d better get that checked out at the emergency room,” I said. I opened the front door and looked at the car. The front window was shattered. “Oh, no! We probably shouldn’t drive that car. I’ll call Dad at work. It’s 7:00 P.M. Surely he can come home and take us to the hospital.”

I dialed my husband’s office number. When he answered I said, “Richard’s been in a car accident. His head broke the windshield, and his neck is injured.” My voice sounded on the edge of hysteria. “He drove home after the accident, but I’m afraid to drive him to the hospital with the windshield broken. Can you please come home right away and take us?”

“No, I’m in a business meeting,” was his curt reply.“We really need you to drive us to the hospital!” I pleaded.

“I said no! You deal with it!” he shouted. Then he hung up on me.

Acid churned in my stomach, but I said in a resigned voice, “Come on, Richard. I’ll take you to the emergency room.” Fighting back tears, I slowly drove the damaged station wagon to the hospital, which thankfully was nearby.

I was careful to use Richard’s words, to run the story by him, and to ask his permission to publish it.

Writing from the Heart (Part 3)

Next, to get in touch with your readers and touch their hearts, you need to be willing to step out in faith and share yourself. Be open and honest in your writing and willing to reveal your innermost thoughts. I’ll warn you—it will make you transparent and vulnerable.

You need to be willing to take a risk. Don’t be afraid to be honest with your audience. Look at stories in the Bible: David, Joseph, and Paul, for example. We know of their weaknesses as well as their strengths by the accounts told of them. People cannot relate to someone who is not vulnerable. Be careful not to make your characters (real or imaginary) too perfect. On the other hand, don’t air your dirty laundry or anyone else’s. If your material is sensitive, you might consider writing under a pseudonym.

We can help others through our shortcomings, our mistakes, and our failures. We can share the lessons we’ve learned. We can say, “I don’t walk in your shoes, but this is what I’ve been through, and this is how I coped.” We must appear real to our audience to be of value to them. This is what I try to do in all my writing. In my book, Wounded by Words, I made myself vulnerable and showed how I had been verbally abused as did one of my co-authors. Our third co-author is a family therapist who provides counseling and encouragement in the book to those wounded by words. We also gathered many other people’s stories to add credibility to the book.

Writing from the Heart (Part 2)

The tips and techniques I will give for writing from the heart will work for articles, personal experience stories, devotionals, and even fiction. I use all these techniques in my nonfiction books also.

Now, how do we write from the heart?

First, be in tune with your audience. To write effectively you need to spend time talking to your audience and understanding their needs. It helps to be actively involved with them in church groups or wherever they are.

For a year I was editor of a children’s magazine, Trails ‘N’ Treasures, and I also taught Sunday school for eight years. Plus, I have a build in critique staff of 12 grandchildren. I carefully listen to their opinions. We can’t write what we want them to read; we have to write what appeals to them, or they won’t read it.

For example: When I was writing an early reader book, I wrote: “The monkey reached for the rope.” My granddaughter stopped me and said, “Grandma, ‘reached for’ is boring! The monkey ‘grabbed’ the rope.” She was right. “Grabbed” made it sound much more exciting.

We need to: Stop. Listen. And then Write!

Writing from the Heart (Part 1)

This is Part 1 of a nine part series on Writing from the Heart.

We can only write what God lays on our hearts if we write in His strength, rather than our own. When we open our mouths, pick up a pen, or type on our computers and let words flow, it allows other individuals to gain a glimpse into our souls. Hopefully, they will find God’s love there, because often, we are the only contact people will have with Him. We should always pray before we begin writing, so that we will be in tune with God’s will.

Let me quote 2 Corinthians 3:3 from the Tyndale Living Bible that speaks of Writing from the Heart. “They can see that you are a letter from Christ, written by us. It is not a letter written with pen and ink, but by the Spirit of the living God, not one carved on stone, but in human hearts.”

To be effective, our writing must be carved on our own hearts in order for us to reach the hearts of our audience.


Rights (Part 3)

Rights (Part 3)

If you sell “all rights” to your manuscript, then the publisher owns your work, and you cannot print it elsewhere without getting written permission from them. Try not to sell all rights if possible unless you are signing a work-for-hire contract. You normally receive a flat fee for these, and the publisher retains all rights, and the copyright is in the name of the publishing house. Sometimes your financial state may dictate that it would be worthwhile to do some pay-for-hire work. Once you turn in the completed work, you are normally paid in full within 30 days.

“Book rights,” however, are different from other rights. When you sign a contract to write a book, the document is normally 12-14 pages, and the publisher holds your rights on that book as long as it stays in print. You may only use the amount of material that falls under “Fair Use” when quoting material from your own books. If you want to excerpt articles or stories though from one of your books in print, normally the legal department of your publishing house will give you permission. After all, the publicity is good for the publishing house. As I previously mentioned, if you are selling an article or story to be included in someone else’s book, I’d recommend selling one-time rights.

This concludes the series on ‘Rights.”


Rights (Part 2)

If your article or story has not been published, I recommend you sell “first rights,” rather than simultaneous rights. Many editors will not show interest if you are shot gunning your material to a number of publications at once when the piece has never been published. Plus, you will usually be paid more for first rights.

However, once your article is published for the first time, by all means feel free to sell “reprint rights,” sometimes called second rights, on it. You will probably earn a third to a half as much for reprint rights. Nevertheless reprint rights are an excellent way to earn extra money by selling your manuscripts over and over.

“One-time rights” give a publisher the opportunity to print your material one time. Use this terminology when selling a piece for a book compilation since books take a long time to come out in print. In the meantime, you can resell reprint rights on the piece. Also, one-time rights may be confusing to the editor, who may wonder whether or not your material has been published before. As a result you may be paid a lower amount than first rights would be given. Also, you can offer one-time rights to publications in other countries, particularly in the Third World, on material for which you own the copyright.

Rights (Part 1)

Rights are different than copyright. Be careful not to confuse them. When you sell “First Rights” to a publication, you are offering one-time rights to publish your material before you send it to another publication. Sometimes these are called First North American Rights, which includes the U.S. and Canada, or First North American Serial Rights if it is a serial publication.

Once your manuscript is printed by the publication to which you sold First Rights, you may then sell “Reprint Rights,” often called second rights. When you sell Reprint Rights, your duplicate manuscripts can be sent out simultaneously to many different publications. Try to avoid selling to two publications with overlapping audiences, however, such as two periodicals or take-home papers published by the same company or denomination.

When you sell First Rights or Reprint Rights, you still own the rights to that work. After it is printed, the rights revert back to you. Selling reprint rights doesn’t affect your rights in any way. Someday you may want to put that material in a book.