Welcome to the Writing Corner! In our office is a framed reminder of our purpose: “Write these things for the future so that people who are not yet born will praise the Lord” (Ps. 102:18). Each day, we ask the Lord to show us how to do just that.
Max Lucado is honored that you would look to him for advice about sharing your creative gifts.
In this corner you’ll find Max’s personal reflections on the writing process, some specific suggestions on getting started, and a resource list for writers. We hope the materials in this section will help and encourage you in your creative journey.
UpWords is a ministry, not a publishing house. Since our calling is to support Max’s teaching and writing ministry, we can’t publish your book, review your proposal, or recommend agents, publishers, or editors. Regretfully, we are unable to answer individual questions about your project.
Max certainly understands your motivation and, if you’ve been having a tough time getting publishers interested in your work, he also understands that struggle. He’s been there! Multiple publishers declined his early attempts at publishing.
But God had a plan for Max’s gift, and God has something in mind for yours, too. The plan may be for you to be published or for you to share your gift within your sphere of influence. It may be that your gift could be best used within your church, friends, family, organization.
Our prayers are with you as you seek God’s leading in the use of your creative gifts.
Karen Hill, Exec. Editor for Max Lucado
The Write Stuff
By Max Lucado
In our office we receive many questions about writing: how to write, when to write, who can publish, who can edit. Not a week passes that we don’t receive a question about writing. So I wrote down a few thoughts. Hope you find them helpful.
We like to envision him as an old man with young eyes, wild hair, and a raging quill. He wrote by the light of a lamp in the lee of a shack with the fury of a prophet. His pen could scarcely keep pace with his thoughts. A revealing of Jesus, the Messiah. God gave it to make plain to his servants what is about to happen. He published and delivered it by Angel to his servant John. And John told everything he saw: God’s Word—the witness of Jesus Christ!
How blessed the reader! How blessed the hearers and keepers of these oracle words, all the words written in this book! (Rev. 1:1–3 msg).
The old apostle paused only to catch his breath and dip his pen. He stood only to gaze through an open window into the just-opened heavens. If he closed his eyes, it was only to rummage through his treasure chest of words for the one that fit the vision of an often-crowned Christ or a blood-dipped robe. No lazy verbs, no vanilla adjectives. This gate glistened with pearls, and streets spoke of gold. This was God’s revelation. John was God’s revealer. So John wrote.
So did Paul. Yet Paul wrote, not because of heavenly action, but because of congregational angst. Titus needed direction; the Ephesians needed assurance. Timothy struggled, the Corinthians squabbled, and the Galatians waffled. So Paul wrote them.
How he made music with his words. He turned epistles into concert hall sheet music. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1 NKJV).
It’s as if he dipped his pen in honey. He could sound like a poet in the seventh heaven. He could also sound like a pastor on Monday morning. Tired, frustrated. Beginning sentences and not finishing them. Starting a second thought before he completed the first. Throwing out ideas in lumps instead of lyrics. But that was okay. He wasn’t writing the Bible. He was writing to Philemon. He wasn’t crafting epistles; he was solving problems. Paul didn’t write for the ages; he wrote for the churches. He wrote for souls.
So did Luke. Remember the early words of his gospel?
“Since I have investigated all the reports in close detail, starting from the story’s beginning, I decided to write it all out for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can know beyond the shadow of a doubt the reliability of what you were taught.” (Luke 1:3–4 MSG)
We wonder who Theophilus was and where Theophilus lived and if Theophilus found it unusual to receive a two-volume letter. We wonder what convinced Luke to rivet himself to his wooden chair near a shuttered window long enough to write a gospel. What prompted Dr. Luke to exchange his scalpel for the pen, the crowds for the quiet corner?
When did he perceive his assignment as a kingdom scribe?
We wonder because we’ve wondered if God would use us to do the same. We know a Theophilus or two. We’ve seen the confusion in Ephesus and heard of the troubles in Crete. And we’ve felt the sands of Patmos beneath our feet, its fire within our hearts. And we’ve written: articles, blogs, books, stories. Not like Luke, Paul, and John. But not unlike them either. We’ve had our moments of inspiration. Sandwiched between hours of perspiration, for sure. But we’ve had our moments—mystical moments of pounding heart and pounding keyboard. We’ve felt the wind at our backs and sensed a holy hand guiding ours. We, as our Creator, have beheld our creations and declared, “It’s good.” (Or at least, “It’s not so bad.”) And we have asked: Is this our call? Our assignment? To use words to shape souls?
I first ventured such a question beneath the balmy skies of Miami, Florida. I was a rookie minister in 1979. The church where I served published a weekly bulletin. Many pastors dread such assignments, but I came to cherish it. Tuesday evenings became my notebook date night. I would retreat with pad and pen and sit until something happened. Once a week I went into labor and delivered an idea. Is there any sweeter moment than the writing of the final sentence?
Actually there is. The appreciation thereof. When eighty-year-old Edith Hayes thanked me in the church foyer for my article on prayer. When Joe the boat builder gave copies to his crew. When the pastor from California urged me to write for publication. I smiled for days. It’s one thing to write. It’s quite another to be read.
I came to believe this much: good words are worth the work. Well-written words can change a life. Words go where we never go. Africa. Australia. Indonesia. My daughter was in Bangalore, India, last summer and saw my books in the display window of a shop.
Written words go to places you’ll never go. . . . and descend to depths you’ll never know.
The readers invite the author to a private moment. They clear the calendar, find a corner, flip on the lamp, turn off the television, pour the tea, pull on the wrap, silence the dog, shoo the kids. They set the table, pull out the chair, and invite you, “Come, talk to me for a moment.”
So accept the invitation. We need your writing. Pick up the pens left by Paul, John, and Luke, and write for the souls. They show us how. For example, they always delivered the bread. Have you noticed? They wrote with their lives first. They lived the message before they scribed it. John was under fire for his faith. “. . . was in the isle that is called Patmos” (Rev.1:9 KJV).
Exiled for his passion. Rome locked him up because they couldn’t shut him up. And Paul? He did his writing and thinking about God in the middle and muddle of the world. On a boat crossing the sea or in a prison cell chained to a guard. Luke, it seems, had two loves, Jesus and Theophilus. And he wrote fiftytwo chapters in hopes that the latter would meet the former. They didn’t inhabit ivory towers or quarantine themselves in a world of unasked questions. “You know . . . in what manner I always lived among you,” Paul said (Acts 20:18 NKJV). Before he wrote about Christ, he lived Christ. He responded to a real world with real words. Let’s do the same.
Let your life be your first draft. Shouldn’t Christian writers be Christian writers?
Love grumpy neighbors. Feed hungry people. Help a struggling church. Pay your bills, your dues, and attention to your spouse. You’ll never write better than you live. Live with integrity.
And when it’s time to write, write with clarity. Good writing reflects clear thinking. Here’s a tip: Cherish clarity. Make it your aim to summarize the entire book in one sentence. Distill the message into a phrase, and protect it. Stand guard. Defy interlopers. No paragraph gets to play unless it contributes to the message of the book.
Follow the example of John. Jesus worked many other miracles for his disciples, and not all of them are written in this book. But these are written so that you will put your faith in Jesus ( John 20:30–31 CEV).
John self-edited. He auditioned his stories to fit the manuscript. He littered his floor with edited paragraphs. Good writers do this. They tap the Delete button and distill the writing.
They bare-bones and bare-knuckle it. They cut the fat and keep the fact. Concise (but not cute). Clear (but not shallow). Enough (but not too much). Make every word earn its place on the page. Not just once or twice, but many times. Sentences can be like just-caught fish—spunky today and stinky tomorrow.
Reread until you’ve thrown out all the stinkers. Rewrite until you have either a masterpiece or an angry publisher. Revise as long as you can. “God’s words are pure words, pure silver words refined seven times in the fires of his word-kiln” (Psalm 12:6 MSG).
Ernest Hemingway espoused rewriting: “I rise at first light . . . and I start by rereading and editing everything I have written to the point I left off. That way I go through a book I’m writing several hundred times . . . Most writers slough off the toughest but most important part of their trade—editing their stuff, honing it and honing it until it gets an edge like the bullfighter’s estoque, the killing sword.” Describing A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway said, “I had rewritten the ending thirty-nine times in manuscript and . . . worked it over thirty times in proof, trying to get it right.”
I find it helps to read the work out loud. First to myself, then to anyone who is kind enough to listen. I vary the locations of the reading. What sounds good in the study must sound good on the porch. What sounds good to me must sound good to my editors. Sure, editing hurts. So does a trip to the dentist. But someone needs to find the cavities.
Let editors do their job. Release your grip on the manuscript. A little red ink won’t hurt you. A lot of red ink might save you. My most recent manuscript was returned to me sunburned in red. It bled like raw steak. Of its fourteen chapters, thirteen needed an overhaul. I was depressed for a week. Yet the book is better because of the editors.
And isn’t that our aim? The best book possible? We need good books. We need your best book. The single . . . the lonely pastor . . . the stressed missionary— we need you to give them your best words. We need you to write.
Intending to write is not writing. Researching is not writing. Telling people you want to write is not writing. Writing is writing. Peter De Vries said, “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”
A framed quote greets me each time I sit at my desk. “You wanna write? Put your butt in that chair and sit there a long, long time.” Writing is not glamorous work.
But it is a noble work. A valued work. A worthwhile work. A holy work. “How many a man,” asked Thoreau, “has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!”
May you write such books, give birth to new eras. May you see the heavens like John, love the churches like Paul, and touch the souls like Luke. May you pick up their pens and write for the soul.
“HOW CAN I GET MY BOOK PUBLISHED?”
You’ve always wanted to write a book. Or you’ve written a book and you want to take it out of the bottom drawer and share it with others. Or your church bulletin articles really seem to connect with readers. Perhaps you enjoy writing encouraging notes to friends and relatives. Then friends begin saying, “You write so well, you should write a book!” Or, you’ve had a unique experience, and people say to you, “You should write a book about this!”
That kind of encouragement is priceless. But where do you go from there? How do you get a publisher interested in your writing? Do you really have a unique story to tell? Is your writing marketable?
These suggestions are sent with the prayer that your gift of creativity will enrich your heart and that God may use your writing to encourage others. But remember that, even if your book isn’t published, you can be useful in the Kingdom by sharing your gift of writing as an encouragement to others. That is a valuable ministry.
Advice to Writers:
- First, do a personal inventory of your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Would a brush-up course help? Most junior colleges offer adult education classes in the evenings or on week-ends on writing and editing. These can be helpful in reviewing the fundamentals; some schools offer short courses in publishing. If possible, ask a teacher or professional for an objective appraisal of your efforts.
- Find a writers group. Most communities have writers guilds or writers leagues. Not only are these groups valuable as a networking tool, but they also offer feedback on your work. If there’s not one in your area, think about starting one. Talk to your friends: you may be surprised to find that you know several “closet” writers.
- Watch your local paper or ask the Chamber of Commerce for writers’ conferences and special events scheduled for your area. Often large cities bring in editors and publishing representatives for one- or two-day conferences open to the public. Some offer opportunities to visit with publishers’ representatives and others, for a fee, will evaluate your work.
- Study the Writers Market. It’s available at most bookstores and libraries (though libraries usually don’t have the latest edition). This directory of publishers (books and magazines) gives you some necessary information: addresses, phone numbers, acquisition editors’ names (double-check these–they change often), and they tell you which publishers will accept unsolicited material. For additional resources, see the bibliography at the end of this section.
- When you get ready to submit, try the smaller publishing houses first. Most larger houses don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts or work from unpublished authors. Some smaller publishers are more open. Call first, to determine the current policy and submission guidelines (you’ll save yourself time and expense).
- Submit articles to Christian magazines. This helps establish your credibility. Study the magazine first: what is their general approach? who is their audience? what length article do they typically publish? Put yourself in the shoes of the audience: what kind of information would you expect this magazine to provide? Why would you buy this magazine in the first place? What do you have to say that fits this magazine?
- Do not ask family or friends to critique your work. Rarely can they give objective, qualified analysis. Their advice is usually tempered with sensitivity to your feelings. Improving your skills can happen only with honest feedback.
- Write (or paint or compose) every day. Don’t wait for someone to show some interest in your work. Daily creativity helps you find your voice and determine your own style. Don’t try to imitate someone else’s style: create your own
- Write from your heart. Don’t try to fit the current market. Listen to what God is saying to you. He’s your best publishing guide.
- Study frequently and deeply. Mine the Word. If you truly feel led to publish inspirational messages, study is the first requirement. Christian writing without substantial study is a message without substance.
- Read. Creativity begins when the imagination is stimulated.
Many publishing companies have imprints that specialize in self-publishing. If that’s a direction you are considering, you might find helpful the free self-publishing guide provided by Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson & Zondervan Publishing. Click here for: Download link
COMMON QUESTIONS ON WRITING
The nature of the writing process: where do the ideas originate? How do the ideas become books? What is the role of writing in ministry? These are some of the questions frequently asked author-minister Max Lucado. Here are some of his comments on writing and publishing.
“Writing is a powerful medium,” says Max, “because it’s personal. It often reaches people at a vulnerable time in their lives. If somebody comes to a church to hear me speak, he may be there because he wants to be, or he may be there because someone talked him into coming. But if an individual reads a book of mine, he has gone through the necessary steps to purchase or borrow the book. He has paid a price for this kind of communication. I am at my best in print—the effect of a book does not depend on the author’s mood; it depends on the reader’s openness to encouragement or teaching.”
“There’s nothing easy about writing. If someone says, “Max writing is easy for me,” I immediately suspect the quality of the writing. Writing is easy, but good writing is tough.”
About the writing process: “I am a preacher before I’m a writer. My writing comes out of my sermons. If I write a book on a topic, it’s because I thought my church needed to hear it. Then, after it’s written, the manuscript goes through several edits before it’s sent to the publisher.”
About beginning to write: Though he always enjoyed writing, he began to write in earnest while on the mission field in Brazil. His prayer life also deepened while he was part of a church planting mission there. “When you’re on the mission field, there’s often no one else to talk to but the Lord. One’s prayer life is bound to deepen there.
About dealing with rejection as a writer: Max wrote seventeen query letters before receiving a positive response from a publisher.
About balancing the demands of writing, preaching, radio, and public speaking: “I like the quote, ‘Control your gift of writing. Don’t let your gift control you.’”
WRITING WITH ILLUSTRATIONS
Illustrations, stories, and parables can be useful in clarifying your point or theme.
A. How are illustrations used? To set up, to support, or to restate your point.
- To set up. When used as a set-up, your intent is to “light bulb” the reader. You’re grabbing the reader’s attention by an intriguing, entertaining, or compelling story. When done well, you’ve hooked the reader.
- To support. After your initial entry into the topic, theme, or point, you can pause briefly to clarify or support your message through an illustration. Key here is transition: get into and out of the illustration smoothly, so the flow feels natural to the reader.
- To restate. Often an illustration is an effective way to bring home your point.
II. Keys to effective use of an illustration:
- Get a good fit. Choose the best illustration. Don’t assume that your story about being chased by a bear can be manipulated to fit any point. Manipulative writing is all too easy to spot.
- Write it well. Standard rules apply: Write tight. Don’t over write. Make sure connection to theme is clear. Show, don’t tell.
- Give it the “wow” test. Is it unique? If you were reading it for the first time, would it hold your attention or would your mind drift? Objectivity is your best friend when evaluating use of an illustration.
What are the primary sources of illustrations?
It’s essential to choose well. Draw illustrations drawn from:
- personal experience
- experience of friends, family, associates
- historical event or character
- current events, people, places
- your own creative illustrations: fable, allegory, parable
What are the categories of illustrations?
Good illustrative writing requires a keen sense of what works. A general rule of thumb is this: an illustration must strike a universal chord with the reader. If the information is too detailed or targeted to a small audience, your reader will lose interest.
Ask yourself: Will my reader be interested, informed, or inspired by my story? What’s unique about the experience? Where’s the universal connection that will capture my reader’s attention?
Be objective: Review the illustration in the context of your chapter or article. Does it fit? Is it significant? Does it read well? Does it read like filler? Are my transitions smooth? Did I show what happened or did I simply tell? Is it written tightly? Is there some “deadwood” (unnecessary words) I can cut to tighten the writing?
RESOURCES FOR PROSPECTIVE WRITERS
Writing for the Soul, Jerry B. Jenkins, Writer’s Digest Books, 2006. Here are some helpful links:
Good source on writing and blogging: www.michaelhyatt.com
Stein on Writing, Sol Stein, St. Martin’s Press, 1995.
How to Grow a Novel, Sol Stein, St. Martin’s Press, 1999.
Christian Writers’ Market Guide 2014, Jerry B. Jenkins, Tyndale, 2014
The Elements of Style, William Strunk and E. B. White, 4th Edition, Pearson Publishing, 1999.
A Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, Bob Hudson and Shelley Townsend, Zondervan, 1988.
Effective Magazine Writing, Roger Palms, Harold Shaw Publishers, 2000.
How to Write What You Love, Dennis Hensley, Harold Shaw Publishers, 2001.
Eats Shoots and Leaves, Lynne Truss, Gotham Books, 2004.
Books About Writers and the Writing Process:
Writing the River, Luci Shaw, Pinon Press, 1994. Book of poems dealing primarily with the gift of writing.
Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle, North Point Press, 1980. Reflections on the gift of creativity.
A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle, Harper Collins, 1972. Personal journey of one of America’s premier authors.
The Writing Life, Annie Dillard.