A Pen and a Plan

A Guest Post by Andi Lehman

“We’ll never be perfect, but we can be faithful.”

I love this quote in Devotions from the Front Porch by Stacy Edwards. Just last weekend, members of our local Christian writers group lamented the lack of perfection in our collective writing. Looking back on our work, we all noticed things we could have improved. Even some of our traditionally published books contained errors. Yikes!

But we agreed that perfection is not the goal for Christian writers.

So, what is?

Faithfulness.

God’s Plan—My Pen

Our theme for this year’s MSCWC comes from Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Do we believe that?

When we acknowledge God’s authorship of our lives, we become authors who can write with abandon about life. We are free to learn and grow, make mistakes—even fail—and then learn and grow some more. He knows the plans He has for us.

Of course, we must be diligent to do our best work and proof, proof, proof before we attempt to submit or publish. We must follow submission guidelines and study our industry. We must learn to build strong platforms and to market our work.

But we don’t have to be perfect, only faithful.

Faithful Faces

The face of faithfulness exhibits the peace born of trust. We know God holds the future in His capable hands.

A faithful countenance reflects a spirit of obedience. We do the work and leave the outcome to God.

On this last week before we meet face-to-face in Collierville, I pray for two blessings on our conference.

1) May we all learn something new to help us improve at our craft.

2) May we all renew our faithfulness to the One who has called us to write.

The pens may be ours, but the plans for us are His.

Meet Andi

Andi Lehman holds a degree in communications from the University of Memphis and freelances in diverse markets. She enjoys writing devotionals and true stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. A popular wildlife speaker, Andi continues to work on a series of nature books for children. In 2016, Andi joined Tracy Crump as a traveling partner presenting Stirring the Pot, a workshop that teaches how to write for Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies. Andi serves as a staff member of Write Life Workshops, which offers webinars and workshops about writing and publishing.

Andi and Tracy’s Friday Session Workshop

Stirring the Pot: Writing for Chicken Soup for the Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul receives thousands of submissions but selects only 101 for each book. How can you increase the chances they’ll choose your story? Come learn what Chicken Soup wants, what they don’t want, and how you can stir up a winning Chicken Soup story.

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From a Song to a Book to a Blog to a Business

A Guest Post by Linda Fulkerson

My writing journey began with a song, which makes sense, because I was a Music Education major. I literally woke up one night and began scrawling down the words. The song shared the story of my life, a story of hope and reconciliation. I was a prodigal daughter, and God had shown me the way home many years before.

As this song sprang to life, I performed it at several local events and festivals. Without fail, at least one person would approach me and ask if the song was based upon a true story. Whenever I shared how God had given me the song, and that, yes, it was based upon my life, that person would typically wind up in tears, because they had a prodigal in their life who needed hope and reconciliation.

Soon after, my mother told me I had a responsibility to share my story in a way that could reach many more people. She said I needed to write a book. Writing a book can be a daunting task. Even with many books under my belt today, I still get a flutter in my stomach when I start with a blank page or screen.

I researched how to write a book. A friend of mine invited me to attend a workshop about writing one’s first book, so I went. My book was nonfiction, and this workshop was for fiction writers, but it introduced me to the wonderful world of writing workshops and conferences. I never knew such a world existed!

After my book was written and edited, I found a great agent who helped me firm up the manuscript. He spent a year shopping it and told me it was well-received by the publishers he’d pitched it to, but because it was a memoir and I was an unknown, no one was willing to take a risk. The time had come to dissolve our agent/author agreement. His parting advice to me was, “Go get famous. Then, try pitching your book again. Or you can always try self-publishing.”

That was in 2002, and self-publishing was a long, difficult and expensive path at that time. I was pretty naïve, so I asked him, “How does one get famous?” First, he suggested getting some speaking engagements. Then he asked if I’d ever heard of blogging. I had heard about it, but didn’t know much about it. By this time, I had a small network of writing friends. None of them know anything about blogging either. (How things have changed!)

Getting speaking engagements wasn’t too difficult, but there was still that other part of the “get famous” equation—Blogging. So, being half-research junkie and half-geek, I set out on a learn-how-to-blog quest.

Fast forward a few years. Now my author friends were calling me. Publishers and agents were telling them to start blogging. But again, few people knew much about it in the first decade of this century. By this time, I had taken many online courses about blogging and digital marketing from professional bloggers—not authors. These guys were making a living online. I learned a LOT about how to structure a website, what platform to use, search engine optimization, getting traffic to a website, and even how to monetize a blog.

I was spending a lot of time pacing around the house on a portable phone—before we had cell phones—explaining to my author friends about blogging. My husband finally said, “Why don’t you just write a blog about how to blog?” And I did. That was ten years ago. I no longer maintain that blog, but I kept it going about three years and learned a lot.

My expertise evolved from blog coach to digital marketing consultant to website builder and graphic designer. I’ve always been a do-it-yourselfer, so whenever I needed something done, I researched and tested until I figured it out.

Since 2003, I have built dozens of websites. I launched my own digital services company in 2013, and today I only take on clients who are authors, writers, or speakers. Throughout my career, I’ve developed a list of what I call “Must-Haves” for author/speaker websites. These items help ensure an author website is professional in appearance, that it complies with regulations, is secure, easy to update, and that it earns its keep as a marketing machine for the author’s books and/or services.

Meet Linda

Linda Fulkerson became interested in writing while working as a copy-editor and typesetter at a small-town weekly newspaper. She has since been published in several magazines and newspapers, including a two-year stint as a sports writer. Linda is the author of two novels and seven non-fiction books, four of which are coloring books for writers.

Her first book, The Prodigal Daughter (Petit Jean Press), was published in 2003. At that time, Linda was introduced to the world of book marketing and blogging. She soon became a blog coach and marketing consultant, launching the popular instructional blog, On Blogging Well.

While living in Texas, Linda was the online editor of the Killeen Daily Herald and director of digital services for the largest media group in Central Texas. Soon after returning to her home state of Arkansas in 2013, she started her own digital services company which focuses on helping authors, speakers, and small business owners develop an effective online presence.

She and her husband, Don, live on a ten-acre plot in central Arkansas. They have four adult children and eight grandchildren. When she’s not writing, Linda enjoys photography, travel, and spoiling her two dachshunds.

Linda speaks to small business owners and writers’ groups on a variety of marketing-related topics, such as blogging, social media management, and website development. To learn more about Linda, visit her website at LindaFulkerson.com.

Linda’s Workshop

15 Must-Haves for Author/Writer Websites

To be competitive, today’s authors must have a well-thought-out, professional-looking site that introduces agents, editors, and prospective book buyers to their writing.

However, while most authors and writers realize the need for a website, many are at a loss as to what to include when it comes to developing a site. Some website elements are nice to have. But others are essential.

This presentation will cover 15 must-haves for author/writer websites. Attendees will learn how to ensure his or her website is secure, compliant with government guidelines, competitive with search engines, engaging for readers, and that it builds one’s author platform, increasing the ability to sell books, products, and services.

“I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know”

A Guest Post by Victoria Duerstock

If you had told 2016-me that I would be presenting a workshop in 2019 at the exact same conference, I might have laughed at you. I was brand new to the writing industry, wondering if I could even attend a “writer’s conference” when I didn’t even call myself a writer – yet. I had attempted a proposal, and I had read enough to know that I had to build a “platform.” But I didn’t completely understand what that meant, either.

Thankfully, the Lord used the Mid-South Christian Writers Conference to be my first step on the journey that I find myself on today. From admitting in a one-on-one session to having only fifty-three Twitter followers, to realizing I didn’t know what I didn’t know, God used the writers and instructors to encourage and advise me. Without the welcoming atmosphere, open dialogue and encouragement, it’s entirely possible I might have given up before I had even really started.

During the last three years, I’ve learned from the best people I could find in the industry, studied the research, and worked to develop a platform that would help establish my identity for those future readers I hope to reach. Along the way, I’ve learned to teach what I learn to others and God has opened the door to additional opportunities to teach at conferences, in online courses, and during one-on-one coaching opportunities.

The Mid-South Christian Writers Conference will always hold a special place in my heart as the launching pad of an entirely new dream that God was developing in me. I’m excited to return this year and hope to see you there! I can’t wait to teach this workshop!

Meet Victoria

Fueled by coffee, Victoria Duerstock wears many hats. Wife and mom of three, she pursues multiple passions with verve and intensity. Victoria is excited to share what she has learned with other authors and writers so they can duplicate her success! From 53 Twitter followers to over 8,000 in 3 short years, and from 995 to over 50,000 Instagram followers across several accounts in just one year, she will share strategies and ideas that work.

After contributing to several devotional anthologies over the last few years, Victoria is delighted to share her newest project Heart & Home: Design Basics for Your Soul and Your Living Space, releasing April 16, 2019  with Abingdon Press. This short devotional presents 90 days of Scripture, personal application, prayer, and design tips into one full-color volume. Also releasing this year–September 17, 2019–and also with Abingdon Press is Heart & Home: Celebrating Joy in Our Living Space. Visit Victoria at http://www.victoriaduerstock.com,

Victoria’s Workshop

Building Platform 101

Victoria will share her top tips to begin building your platform to demonstrate understanding and success to an agent or editor. We will cover :

  • Social Media Platform Building : Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and more
  • Email List Building Tips
  • Proposal Tips to Beef Up Your Marketing Section

Microsoft Word: Taming the Bucking Bronc

A Guest Post by Rhonda Dragomir

Hunched over my keyboard, lights dimmed so as not to keep my husband awake, I type feverishly on my manuscript. It’s due tomorrow. Though it’s past midnight, I push ahead. If I finish, I’ll sleep better.

There. Perfect. One more review and I’ll let it rest until morning. But wait . . . where on earth did that weird line come from? I didn’t put it there!

Cursor at the end of the line, backspace, backspace. Nope, that didn’t work. Highlight, delete. Nope. The line smirks, determined to remain no matter what I do. Microsoft Word has done it again—rather than being my trusted steed in the writing rodeo, it turned into a bucking bronc and launched me into a pile of manure.

If you write, you probably use Microsoft Word, but sometimes it feels like Word uses you. I’d love to regain all the lost hours I’ve spent searching for a solution or a work-around to a frustrating glitch.

I’ve often had the unfortunate distinction of being the person in the office who knew the most about Word’s quirks. If I didn’t know how to solve the problem-of-the-day, my coworkers knew I would figure it out. I’m a resolute rider, and once I land in a pile of manure, I’m determined not to smell like that again.

One way to stay in the saddle is to customize Word with presets that benefit writing professionals. The default font should be Times New Roman in a 12-point size. However, most writers have clicked “set as default font” time after time, only to open a new document and find Calibri 11-point again! The secret is buried deep within the bronc’s psyche, and only a horse-whisperer can figure it out—or a determined manure-o-phobic like me. In my workshop at MSCWC, I’ll give you a golden lasso—a handout with step-by-step instructions for resetting the default font, margins, and line spacing on all documents.

Sometimes Word and I mosey along blissfully under blue skies. Everything formats beautifully, but storm clouds lurk on the horizon. I want to paste a piece of researched material from another document or the Internet into my manuscript. Highlight, copy, paste . . . splat. That’s the sound of my chaps hitting the muck. Word uses the formatting (fonts, colors, line spacing) of the original document, and my manuscript looks like a nag instead of a registered quarter horse. With just a few clicks, you can wrangle Word to match your preset document format when pasting.

You may not know Word will also do these nifty tricks:

  • Calculate and display your word count as you write
  • Save directly to the Cloud—every time
  • Auto-save your document at customized time increments
  • Estimate the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score of your manuscript
  • Find little words like “is” without also finding “antidisestablishmentarianism”

People sometimes ask, “Rhonda, how’d you get to be such an experienced Word wrangler?” The easy answer is that I can spell G-o-o-g-l-e. A better answer is that I just hate manure.

Meet Rhonda

Rhonda Dragomir is co-founder of the Dragomir Group in Wilmore, Kentucky, which offers services to businesses and writers. She has published works in Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies and Spark magazine. Rhonda has decades of experience as an administrative assistant and graphic designer, and she loves to share tips and tricks to increase productivity and professionalism in all forms of communication. Winner of several writing awards in both fiction and nonfiction, Rhonda invites you to visit her author website, rhondadragomir.com. In her one-on-one appointments, she will be happy to consult with you about your website design or work with you on formatting your manuscript.

Rhonda’s Workshop

Microsoft Word for Writing Wranglers

Microsoft Word (MS Word) is like a bronc, and sometimes writing wranglers get bucked off into a pile of manure! This workshop teaches skills in MS Word that will break the bronc into a working partner, saving you hours of time and making your writing stand out to agents and editors.

Early Bird Deadline Ending Soon

A Guest Post by Johnnie Alexander

Give yourself the best Valentine’s Day gift ever and sign up today for the Mid-South Christian Writers Conference!

You’ll save $10 by registering by Saturday, February 23, 2019. That’s the last day to take advantage of the Early Bird Special.

With the $10 you save, you can:

  • Buy a book in our bookstore.
  • Buy both you and me a cup of hot chocolate.
  • Start saving for the 2020 conference!

Visit the Registration Page for more info.

Meet Johnnie

Johnnie Alexander creates characters you want to meet and imagines stories you won’t forget. She writes contemporaries, historicals, and cozy mysteries, serves on the executive boards of Serious Writer, Inc. and the Mid-South Christian Writers Conference, co-hosts an online show called Writers Chat, and interviews inspirational authors for Novelists Unwind. She also teaches at writers conferences and for Serious Writer Academy. Connect with her at www.johnnie-alexander.com and other social media sites via https://linktr.ee/johnniealexndr.

Johnnie and Patricia’s Workshop

Creating Characters with Personality and Pizzazz!

To write an unforgettable story, create memorable characters then deepen their emotional connection to your readers. We’ll share ideas for developing well-rounded characters using techniques such as Myers-Briggs Personality Types and “channeling” your character’s inner life.

Trusting God With Your Story

A Guest Post by Brenda L. Yoder

We all have a story.

Inside the big story are many stories. It’s what we carry with us. It’s in our DNA, it’s our life experiences, who we’ve become, what we think, and how we see ourselves and the world.

It’s our history.

As a former history teacher, I see things through history, timelines, and personal stories. I process things by asking myself, “What can I learn from a particular experience?” Learning from life, stories, and history is, to me, one of the greatest gifts of humanity.

Your story is history. But as Christians, as children of the omnipotent, omnipresence, sovereign God, your story is not just happenstance.

It’s His Story. God’s story of your life that He ordained all your days before one of them came to be as Psalm 139 tells us.

Let me ask you a question—can you trust God with your story?

I know, you’re scared by that question. There are parts of your story you don’t ever want to revisit. There are parts of your future story you’re afraid to release into God’s hands. But let me tell you the truth:

You can trust God with your story.

There’s nothing you need to hide from Him. Psalm 139 says no matter where you go, no matter where you’ve been, He’s there. He hems you in, behind and before. God sets boundaries around your story.

Why is it important as writers that we honor our story and trust God with it?

Because our story is from where we write. For most of us, our story or parts of our story are what we write about, whether fiction or non-fiction. Our story shapes our perspective, our insight, our passions.

Let me ask you—can you trust God with how He wants to use your story as an influencer with words?

This is what makes Christian writers different from our secular colleagues. Though there’s equal skill, inspiration or creativity, the writer who has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ has the presence of the Holy Spirit in their life. And as you and I surrender our craft, our words, our story to Jesus Christ, He uses it for one purpose, and that is for His glory.

Isaiah 43:7 says God created all of us for His glory.

It’s that simple. What you and I write as a child of God, no matter what venue, has the capacity to reach people in ways you will never know through the power of the Holy Spirit. But it can only happen when we submit our story, our words, our dreams to our Heavenly Father for His glory.

It’s a humbling process. It’s risky. But it’s worth it.

My first published piece was something I didn’t intend to write. But an opportunity was offered to me and I risked putting words to a painful chapter of my story. That magazine article started my professional writing and speaking career.

When you honor your story, you honor God because you allow Him to use your story in whatever way He sees fit as a writer. You are an influencer in this culture with your words. When you merge your story with God’s calling on your life as a writer, you honor both your Creator and the story He’s created.

Here are three principles to learn from trusting God with your story:

  1. There’s healing when you trust God with your story. When you trust Him with your past, you also can trust him with your future—this includes the stories you write, opportunities, rejections, and success. When you write down your story, even if it’s in a journal, there’s healing. You honor both your story and God when you write it down.
  2. Learning about God from Scripture gives perspective to your story. Be in God’s Word while you’re penning your own story or writing project. Just as you learn from your story, you learn from God’s story in the Bible. Just as your experiences shape your writing perspective, learning about God’s character from His Word gives perspective to every area of your life, including your writing. As much as you need to read other authors, I urge you to read the Author of all life, words, and story.
  3. Obedience to God brings blessing. God may prompt you to write something which petrifies you, or He may refrain you from sharing something which may hurt you. He is not disconnected from your gift or calling as a writer. He is the Author of words. As a writer, your words influence. We must hold this knowledge as sacred in the hands of the Almighty. But there’s freedom, security, and safety when you obey God with your words.

God is the Author of your words and of your story. The more you trust Him with your story, each chapter, each line, each verse, the bolder your faith becomes. Why?

Faith is not being sure of what we know; it’s being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

You can trust God with your story. What is God calling you to do with your story in 2019?

Meet Brenda

Brenda L. Yoder is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, speaker, author, and life coach. Her new book, Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind was released by Herald Press in 2018.  She’s authored Balance, Busyness & Not Doing It All and has been featured in The Washington Post and two Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She writes nonfiction for several online magazines and has a mental health column in her local paper. Brenda specializes in faith, life, and family beyond the storybook image. A speaker for women’s groups and youth, she also trains pastors and church leaders on topics relating to faith and mental, behavioral, and emotional health. Brenda is a mom of four and wife of 29 years and lives on a farm in Indiana. You can connect with Brenda at brendayoder.com or on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Brenda’s Workshop

Non-Fiction 101: Everything You Might Need to Know and More

How do you write compelling non-fiction that connects with your audience? In this workshop, author Brenda L. Yoder equips participants with the tools needed to write great non-fiction that keeps readers coming back for more.

Know Your Character

A Guest Post by Vanessa Davis Griggs

During a conversation in the book of Job, God asked Satan, “From whence cometh thou?” Satan’s answer: “From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.” God then said, “Hast thou considered my servant Job?”

When God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and cry against it for their wickedness had come up before Him, Jonah didn’t want to, so he fled to Tarshish. After three days in the belly of a great fish, Jonah was told again to go to Nineveh; that time he complied.

When God gave His only begotten Son to die on the cross for our sins—Jesus, born of a woman (Son of God and Son of man)—God knew that no matter how difficult the task to come, how bitter the cup, Jesus would finish it.

When Mary Magdalene (and no, she was not a prostitute as has been widely and erroneously circulated throughout the Christian community) went that Sunday morning to the tomb where she’d “had a little talk with Jesus” after He arose, God was not surprised.

God knows all about us. God knows the character of His people.

I am an author of many novels. An author should have some idea—from the beginning—of their characters’ character and their likely reaction in a given setting or situation . I said likely reaction. There is still, of course, free will.

Many authors, in some way, record pertinent information about their characters: age, height, weight, race, education, jobs held, family, friends, Christian or not, idiosyncrasies, temperament, beliefs, disappointments, victories, etc. One reason is for future reference. What color are the character’s eyes? Hair? Any identifying marks? The list goes on; all the things which can and do affect a character and how they might respond in certain plots and subplots.

Writing down this information will also help a writer keep track later on. You wouldn’t want to give your character green eyes in the beginning of a story only with them to end up in the middle of the story sporting brown ones (sans contact lenses).

There are certain things the “creator . . . the author,” knows about their created characters. Things the author may like or not like about them. But the author knows them well enough to know what they’ll most likely do in certain situations.

Well, God knows what we’ll likely do—“Have you tried my servant Job?”—and as much as an author might like to make their characters do what they want, the way they want, or as timely as they’d prefer, the author . . . the creator allows them to be themselves and work it out.

Know your character.

May I have a “Word” with you? Those characters who commune with me consistently, I happen to know more intimately. Are you talking with your Creator? Do you spend time with the Lord?

I love when my characters do what they’ve been assigned to do. Are you doing what God has assigned you to do? Because don’t we, as God’s creations, each have our own individual assignment? Then let’s get to it! A great storyline is waiting to be written—the story of your life.

Excerpt from devotional May I Have A Word With You? by Vanessa Davis Griggs

Meet Vanessa

Vanessa Davis Griggs is a motivational speaker and the author of eighteen novels and one inspirational book of devotionals. She also contributed ten devotionals in Sisters in Faith Holy Bible published by Tyndale. A wife, mother of three, and grandmother of five, Vanessa believes we all come here with a purpose and she encourages everyone she meets to take flight and soar! Connect with Vanessa at www.VanessaDavisGriggs.com.

Vanessa’s Workshop

The smART of Writing

Whether fiction or nonfiction, there is an art in writing. Learn the art as you follow your dream of not only being published but of owning the process from start to finish.