Writing From The Heart

– by Louise Ragin


Writing for me is another form of expressing my emotions, my faith, my thoughts, challenges, accomplishments, aspirations, and my being.


I am generally a calm, quiet, reserved, low key person who enjoys pleasant surroundings, people and activities around me. I enjoy surroundings at this time of years when I see the beginning of spring.  The leaves in the trees beginning to show their various multi colored and mixture of sizes, small and large.


I see how they grow together and complement each other. I enjoy seeing the sturdiness of the trees that have been planted so many years ago and are still standing tall and sturdy.  The birds flying all around them, the squirrels climbing up and down hiding their findings of nourishment from the ground.


I enjoy seeing the sun shining down on me and others, peeking through the array of trees.  My emotions are to celebrate and embrace every moment of all the things that I see and appreciate today that I sometimes may have taken for granted.


As I prepared to write this article, I had no idea of what to write about. I looked at the pad I was about to write on and all I could see were blank pieces of paper.   Again I questioned, what should I write about?  My response was, write something from your heart.


My emotions started me to write about how thankful I am to have this opportunity to express some positive emotions that I am so thankful for seeing, feeling, understanding, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting the elements of life.  I can see the landscape of the beautiful display is greenery. I can smell the fragrance of the flowers as they blossom.


I can hear the birds chirping their songs of delight as they fly above communicating with each other. I can feel the different textures of the leaves and flowers. I can appreciate all these wonders of God and how unique nature is.


Writing is a challenge but when I write from my heart I share my uniqueness with others in the hope that it will inspire and be a blessing to those who read it.


Journal writing is something I have been doing for many years.  It is not only relaxing but it helps me to de-stress. It helps to develop and build and examine my writing skills, and my accomplishments, what is positive or negative in my life.


I am blessed to minister to senior citizens at my church.  They have such a rich history, legacy that has been overlooked and may be forgotten if it is not recorded or written now while they can still remember.  I encourage them to share and write about their experiences in their life.


During Black History, Month, we celebrate at the church. One of the activities are to have each senior citizen tell their story about growing up in their place of origin which may be in the South, North, Africa, Jamaica, Haiti or wherever it may be.  They all have a story to tell from their childhood to this day.  They share where they lived, their siblings, their marriage, their children, their grandchildren, and their occupation.


After hearing their many stories, I suggested that they begin to write their stories in a  booklet I provide for them.  There was some initial hesitation and reluctance at first, but with my coxing they began to overcome their anxiety. I encourage them to write from the heart. Telling their story and putting it in writing has now became an outlet for them to express themselves. They shared the schools they attended, how they walked to the schools that were miles away from their homes. They expressed how dedicated they were to their family and their church.


They experienced discrimination practices throughout their lives. They honor their Christian journey based on their family teachings.  All these memories are still very vivid in their minds and serve as a coping, healing mechanism that brings them comfort.


I have suggested to our senior citizens that they take the time to write as many of their historical journeys as they can remember and share them with their families and friends. Their children would then have first-hand account of who they are.


I know how challenging it is to write about oneself because you have to look within and bring to the surface many things that may have been suppressed. I know from my experience, writing has become a healing process.  I have developed my writing skills by writing from my heart.  My hope is to share with others what I have learned by my experiences, the themes that have evolved, the self-development that appears, the formation of my written voice. I use my skills of listening and observation to gather information for writing from the heart.  This leads to getting to know more about myself, the culture and society I live in.


I’m still exploring and celebrating each day of life.  I anticipate all the stories that are waiting to be written. I enjoy writing.  It is no longer something that I dread.  I have learned to express myself through my inner voice. I choose to share my inner voice with others and I am rewarded by accomplishing something that is real and matters to me and hopefully to others, because it comes from the heart.



The Nudge of the Muse

– by Donique McIntosh


I tend to write when I feel moved by something I’ve seen or heard. In other words, I write when I’ve found my muse or inspiration. For most of my writing life, this approach has served me well. Articles and poems have emerged from this muse-inspired approach. However, when I was preparing to write my dissertation, scores of people suggested that that approach to writing would not serve me well in writing a dissertation. I was advised to write daily without the prompting of anything but a desire to progress toward a completed dissertation.

I was skeptical at first, I admit, about their advice. I had questions. How could I just get up everyday and write? Would my creative juices flow? Would they take all day to flow? Had I been doing this “all wrong” all these years? What sense do I make of the muse? Is she a myth?

Skepticism buckled firmly in my mind’s backseat, I decided to try their suggestions. I got up everyday and wrote. Some days I wrote pages and pages. Other days I barely put five words together. But I wrote. I wrote in the mornings, I wrote in between meetings, on trains, and I wrote after my workday had ended. To my surprise, I was able to do what I’d previously relegated to needing to be inspired to do. I wrote my dissertation in six months.

I finished writing the dissertation years ago but there’s still a part of me that has questions about the writing process. Not to be ignored, skepticism periodically asks if the advice I’d been given about writing daily without inspiration only applies to academic writing. I can go for long periods of time without wanting or needing to write and then something happens, and I feel like I need to write about it. It’s as if writing is the only way to address it.

I use the gym at my apartment complex almost daily and usually in the mornings. It’s a short quiet walk from my apartment to the clubhouse where the gym is housed. One day early last week as I walked over to the clubhouse, I couldn’t help but notice a car parked in a spot reserved for people with disabilities. While it’s uncommon for that space to be occupied, that wasn’t why I was drawn to the car. The first thing I noticed was that there were two sets of shoes sitting just under the passenger’s side front door. I thought it odd that these two sets of shoes were there. I wondered why somebody or two somebodies had left their shoes outside their car. And then I realized that the car I’d assumed was empty was, in fact, occupied by two people sleeping in the front seats.

I walked past the car and into the clubhouse, disturbed. I was disturbed by all the thoughts and feelings I was having about the car and its inhabitants. I wondered who they were and what circumstances had led them to that parking lot. I felt relieved, to some extent, that they felt like the lot in my complex was a safe place to rest for the night. I speculated that they might be homeless or people traveling who didn’t have money for a hotel. That led me to think about poverty and homelessness and my role as a Christian in addressing classism and housing insecurity. For days afterward, I thought about the pair in the car, but I didn’t sit down and write anything as I typically would.

I arrived in New Orleans for a conference a few days ago. On the shuttle ride from the airport to the hotel I’m staying at, I looked out the window to take in the sights of a city I hadn’t visited in a while. Along a stretch of a main street, there were tents set up and people appeared to be living there. I heard the woman across from me remark about how “unfortunate” it was that the people were living there in the tents. I sensed a bit of anger in her tone, too. It didn’t seem to stem from the oppression that had led or contributed to the housing insecurity, but rather from a sense that the people had chosen to sleep out on the street in a tent when they had a lot of other viable options from which to choose. Her anger grew as she looked to the left side and saw a camp with tents set up across the street that was twice the size of the one we were passing on the right.

I was aware of my feelings as well. I was angry about her response and angry about a lack of affordable housing for people in New Orleans and in other cities across the country. I was angry about poverty. I was uncomfortable, as I typically am, with seeing human need so clearly on display. And I was uncomfortable about riding past the need as if I had just witnessed something mundane or humane or just. And it wasn’t lost on me that this was happening only a few days after seeing the two people asleep in a car just a few feet away from where I sleep. I thought again of the muse.

I thought again about writing about poverty and housing insecurity. While I could choose to see these incidents as unrelated or as part and parcel of what it means to live in cities, I choose to see them as related. They’re linked to my call as a Christian. My call as a Christian is to notice, just as Jesus noticed blind Bartimaeus on the side of the road in the gospel of Mark. Not only did Jesus notice him, but he interrupted his plans to tend to Bartimaeus. Without the nudge of the muse to call my attention to these injustices, I’m not sure I’d be thinking about my role in addressing poverty and housing insecurity today. Maybe my skepticism was warranted. Maybe the muse is a sacred tool.             

Inspired to Un-inspire – by Carol Lynn Patterson

How Writing Helped One Man Set His Sights on Reversing the Devastating Effects of the Streets


Ralph Burgess’ story could have ended like so many reported tales of wasted talents of young Black men in metro-urban America. Growing up in Irvington, New Jersey, Burgess found inspiration in writing during an elementary school visit by the late writer/poet Amiri Baraka. Later his creative juices were stimulated by the legacy of Langston Hughes during his college days at Lincoln University.

During a semester break Burgess returned home to witness his former high school classmates making money via drug sales and couldn’t resist the temptation to join them. “I was a gross underachiever,” Burgess told me over the phone. “I dropped out of college, sold crack part time and worked full time as a bank manager for two years.”

During the third year of his new career Burgess broke the fourth crack commandment – never get high on your own supply. “I became curious and tried the product after observing that the majority of my clients were well respected, intelligent individuals.”

The downfall wasn’t immediate, things dissolved in stages for Burgess before enough was enough. “I functioned as an addict for a year and a half. I maintained my job, and started a family. As my addiction worsened, my life fell apart. I had lost my job, my car, my house and was relying heavily on the love of family. Only on the verge of losing them did I decide to fight back.”

The former sinking addict turned successful entrepreneur said his determination not to lose his family initially carried him along the recovery journey. As his struggle intensified, he began to rely on the power of prayer to kick his crack habit.

“During one of the darkest days, God instructed me to write.” It was then that Burgess penned his first novel, Coping through the Eyes of Lance Davis. He called this a major personal accomplishment. “That was the first time I finished anything as an adult. I matured late like many of the other men in my neighborhood. The completion of this poorly written novel was my rite of passage into adulthood.”

For the next five years Burgess wrote in the library four nights a week and ignored those in the background mocking his dream to become a writer. During his time in the main branch of the Newark Public Library, Burgess met historian Charles Cummings and their relationship grew into that of budding writer and seasoned mentor.

“Charles told me whether you had majored in English or Creative Writing, the degree would have only helped to ensure that your writing would be clean. You can’t major in creativity. One either has it or not. You have it, Ralph.”

Those encouraging and empowering words motivated Burgess more than any sermon or passage of scripture had to that point. As Burgess and Cummings continued to work together perfecting the young writer’s content creation process, life didn’t stand still for Burgess.

“I was laid off twice in the span of 18 months, and realized that I had to figure a way to become financially independent to provide for my family. So, I took a leap of faith and started Burgess Publishing & Trading, LLC.”

Armed with the direct approach of getting in front of check writers and securing funds as quickly as possible, Burgess took aim at school systems struggling with high dropout rates, bullying and gang activity. “In our first book, The Learning Adventures of Cool Calvin, the title character is a metro-urban Black boy who shows readers that there is nothing cooler than doing the right things: excelling academically and obeying the rules in school, which extends to obeying the law in society.”

When asked if Calvin’s civil obedience was an attempt to reverse the alarmingly increasing school-to-prison pipeline statistics, Burgess answered in the affirmative and explained, “The second book, No Bandanas for Me: Staying Gang Free, also aims at reversing the ill effects of the streets on youth of color.

Through these two projects, Burgess’ fictional characters – Calvin and his Latina friend Rosa – are influencing youth in such metro-urban school districts as New York City, Rochester and Newark, NJ. Eventually he hopes to see a reduction in the dropout rate, a decrease in gang-related activity and an increase in metro-urban youth setting and attaining their goals of higher education and vocational skills. Most importantly, the aim of Burgess Publishing and Trading, LLC is to get youth of color to realize that “it’s cool to succeed in school.”


Stay Healthy

Prayer and other spiritual disciplines can help creativity simply because they are helping the interior life stay healthy.

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

An Interview with Acquiring Editors – Part 3

– by Angela Scheff


What’s your biggest hurdle in publishing the projects you love?


SMITH: Tastes are subjective, so while a particular book might be a passion project for me, it becomes my responsibility to spark the same passion in my publishing team and sales force. This is a creative challenge and a good one to have, but I am reminded often that everyone has their own unique tastes and they don’t always align. For the projects that instantly click with our team, we can accomplish great things together. For the projects that receive mixed reactions, it requires more work and creativity to gain necessary support.


ALLEN: Other publishers. We work in a stable industry amidst fine folk who are employed by other publishing houses. For the most part we all know a good book when we see it, and we’re willing to compete aggressively to get it.


WONG: Platform. It is increasingly important for authors to come with a somewhat developed personal platform that publishers can come alongside and amplify. Often when I’m feeling torn between my personal passion for a project and my responsibility to the company, platform is somewhere in there as a factor. That’s not to say that we don’t, every now and then, make exceptions, but they are, at the end of the day, exceptions to the rule.


What do you wish potential authors knew about your job?


SMITH: We are for you more than you know! At Zondervan, we have a fairly intensive review process comprised of three team meetings: editorial, marketing, and sales. It’s my job to tailor each presentation to each audience, so these three teams are essentially the first real customers of your book. I need their support to make a solid book offer! So I view my role as a champion for your project, even though you will never see most of this behind-the-scenes process. Before a potential author and I ever have a phone call or meeting, there is a significant amount of discussion, planning, editing, and presentations that happen on behalf of their book.


We are certainly selective and not every project is the right fit, and I know this can be discouraging to aspiring writers. We do not enjoy turning down projects and are quite familiar with being turned down by authors ourselves. But if you are word person, I am cheering you on. Every time I meet a prospective author, or open a new proposal attachment, this is not an imposition—I am hoping to be wowed by a voice, an idea, or a story that the world needs to hear.


ALLEN: I would want authors to know that my job is to publish books that have a real chance in the marketplace. If we as a publisher fail to do this, we will cease to exist. Generally publishing pros are not selective because they’re mean. (Some of us probably are mean, but I doubt that’s what drives our selectivity.) We’re selective because we need to be to survive in this industry, let alone thrive in it.


Publishing is two parts art and one part business, but the business part is definitely there. And so I want potential authors to know that effort and ingenuity really matter. Desire matters. And desire that goes to work—the work of developing a great concept, the work of building a substantial platform, the work of crafting compelling writing—matters even more.


WONG: As the acquiring editor, I am your frontline champion from acquisitions through publication. Whenever I point out an area that needs strengthening or clarifying, from concept to structure to positioning to title discussions and beyond, it’s because I want to give your book its best shot at success. Often, I am navigating the concerns of various parties on the publishing end of things—marketing, publicity, sales, retailers, etc.—so I’m not making suggestions or asking you to rethink things on a whim. There is much more behind what I ask you to consider than you might be aware of on the surface. So if I’m asking tough questions and making suggestions to you at proposal stage, I’m investing in you already.


Thank you so much, Stephanie, Chad, and Jessica, for sharing your expertise and heart with your authors and our readers!

Why Social Media Matters for Spiritual Writers

As an author or author-to-be, social media is VERY important to you for many great reasons:


First and most importantly, that is where your audience is!

  • Jesse James was famously asked “Why did you rob the bank?” His response: “Because that’s where the money is.”

Social media has immense reach:

  • Over 1.1 billion daily active users on Facebook
  • Over 310 million monthly active users on Twitter

Publishers care (a great deal!) about the size, engagement and breadth of your platform

  • Key criteria for author selection
  • You may not get a book deal without a meaningful platform

Social media is made for content

  • Writers produce content; this is made for you!
  • It is an important opportunity to define your own unique brand (Messaging, Color selection, Picture selection, Tone, Focus, etc.)

It is an amazing way to be found or “discovered”

  • High degree of targeting is possible
  • Cost effective
  • Author discoverability used to be primarily bookstore browsing; now it is online browsing

Social media removes the gatekeeper; now you enjoy a direct connection to your audience

  • No one decides other than the end consumer
  • Frequent opportunities for engagement and relationship building
  • Target who you want
  • No delay

It is a great testing ground

  • Get feedback on your ideas
  • Try things out / experiment
  • Try partnerships

Remember, “if you’re not online, you don’t exist!”


An Interview with Acquiring Editors – Part 2

– byAngela Scheff


This week we’re going to discuss what they specifically look for in proposals.


How many proposals do you review on average in a month? What percentage do you actually publish?


SMITH: Since the majority of proposals come my way via agents, I (intentionally!) don’t receive volumes of unsolicited proposals. Over a month I might review 15 or so proposals and I might take on 3-5 of those to shepherd through our review process. Our rule of thumb at Zondervan is that if you’re not passionate about it, if you have to think twice about it, it’s probably a pass. You hear so much about the nuts and bolts of concept, platform, marketing viability, etc., but the importance of a team’s passion for a book is not to be underestimated! So you can bet that the proposals we do take to pub board and the ones we are actively championing.


ALLEN: Counting only proposals I personally receive, I review at least 10 proposals per month, many more than that if you count those I review via my editorial colleagues. My personal goal is to acquire and publish 15 books per year. The division I head up is shooting for about 60 new books per year; altogether we review (I’m estimating) at least 400 proposals a year.


WONG: It varies depending on the time of year. In the busy seasons, I’m reviewing approximately 15 proposals each month. In the slower seasons, it’s closer to 10. We end up publishing just about 10 percent of those proposals on average.


What are the key things you look for in a proposal in order to keep reading?


SMITH:  One of my favorite questions to ask authors is: What is the boldest statement your book has to make? I call this the angle—it’s fresh, counter-intuitive, even a little provocative—and generates that double-take reaction which is of every importance to stand out among the many books on the shelves today. The more specific, the better. When I see a strong angle playing center stage in a proposal, when the author doesn’t make me go hunting for it, you have my full attention. And my day is made.


Like all readers, I’m looking to be moved. As immersed in content as I am, I’m not immune to it! A stellar story, a sentence I can’t help but underline, an idea from your proposal that shifts my perspective and I want to tell my husband about over dinner—that’s what makes me want to keep reading. It’s the fresh factor, which I’m convinced only comes about when a writer is willing to dig in and do the work.


Another thing I love to see is a writer who knows and owns their voice, which comes through practice and the decision to stop imitating even their favorite writers. Whether that voice is sassy and side-eyed or poignant and poetic or something else entirely, it’s a beautiful thing to behold when an author writes out of their uniqueness with confidence.


ALLEN: Concept, platform, writing.


A great concept is fresh in some way and meets a real need readers have.


Platform is an author’s ability to help us get the word out about their book.


Good writing keeps me reading even when I have a thousand other things to do.


WONG: There are three main components: (1) a fresh, compelling concept that will make readers think, “Yes, I need this book!” (2) thoughtful writing with a distinctive voice that draws readers in, and (3) a platform the publisher can creatively leverage in collaboration with the author for a strong book launch.


What are some of the things you see in a proposal that immediately make you turn it down?


SMITH: Generalized and overblown statements that show an author hasn’t done their research. For example, “There’s never been a book on this topic before!” when I can point to several recent examples. A missing angle or a concept that feels underdeveloped. Too many “I” statements in the writing and a lacking effort to write inclusively and invitationally toward the reader. This is even more important for memoirs which we get so many proposals for: if you are writing for yourself, that’s important and not to be discounted, but it’s not ready for proposal status until you begin to write to serve your readers. It’s easy to spot a proposal that has not yet evolved out of that initial catharsis stage.


ALLEN: Unoriginality, fiction, and lack of platform.


WONG: Muddled thinking and lack of polish. I’m often looking for the proposal to demonstrate clarity of thought, because even if you have the most compelling concept, if you can’t communicate it clearly, it’s that much harder to reach readers who must understand and be drawn in enough to buy the book in the first place. In terms of polish, I would hope that the proposal would be clear of mistakes, would not demonstrate a lack of understanding of the market, or have too much missing standard material. All of this highlights to me that you have not done your homework to put your best foot forward.


Thank you so much, Stephanie, Chad, and Jessica, for sharing your expertise and heart with your authors and our readers!

The Final Mystery and the Final Power of Words

IF LITERATURE IS a metaphor for the writer’s experience, a mirror in which that experience is at least partially reflected, it is at the same time a mirror in which the reader can also see his or her experience reflected in a new and potentially transforming way. This is what it is like to search for God in a world where cruelty and pain hide God, Dostoevski says-“How like a winter hath my absence been from thee”; how like seeing a poor woman in a dream with a starving child at her breast; how like Father Zossima kneeling down at the feet of Dmitri Karamazov because he sees that great suffering is in store for him and because he knows, as John Donne did, that suffering is holy. And you and I, his readers, come away from our reading with no more proof of the existence or nonexistence of God than we had before, with no particular moral or message to frame on the wall, but empowered by a new sense of the depths of love and pity and hope that is transmitted to us through Dostoevski’s powerful words.

Words written fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, can have as much of this power today as ever they had it then to come alive for us and in us and to make us more alive within ourselves. That, I suppose, is the final mystery as well as the final power of words: that not even across great distances of time and space do they ever lose their capacity for becoming incarnate. And when these words tell of virtue and nobility, when they move us closer to that truth and gentleness of spirit by which we become fully human, the reading of them is sacramental; and a library is as holy a place as any temple is holy because through the words which are treasured in it the Word itself becomes flesh again and again and dwells among us and within us, full of grace and truth.

– Frederick Buechner; originally published in A Room Called Remember

5 Ethical Ways to Increase Your Social Proof

We use social proof as a shortcut in our real-world decision making every day. Things seem easier to buy when others validate that it’s a smart option. Social proof is powerful in situations where people don’t have the facts they need to make an informed decision. To help resolve uncertainty, people look for clues in their environment to help them determine their best guess at “truth.” They assume the actions of others reflect the correct behavior for them, too.


Here are 5 ethical ways to “prime the pump” on social proof and improve the perceived credibility of your content:


  1. Promote your content “As seen on …”: Have you been quoted or featured on a well-known blog, newspaper, or television show? Don’t keep it a secret.


  1. Request endorsements


  1. As your friends and family to Like or Follow you


  1. Collect and highlight testimonials and reviews


  1. Collect kudos tweets: When people tweet nice things about you, start saving them as a “favorite” tweet. Then you can link to the list of nice recommendations as an entire stream of public, published social validation, as in “Don’t take my word for it, click here to see what others are saying about my (book, blog, podcast …).”


– from “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer

Top-Shelf Books

The writers of these top-shelf books are my teachers, the ones I turn to in order to learn how to write. They are the people whose work has shaped not only my writing but my thinking and my spirit. They have no idea they have done such a thing to me, save the one I met twenty years ago and with whom I exchange letters on occasion.


Some of those top-shelf books are on writing, though only a few of them. Others are autobiographies whose pages describe the joy and the cost of living the life of a writer. A handful are collections of essays or volumes of poetry. There are a few novels there too, one or two of them perfectly written, at least by my lights.


Any writer should have a shelf of such books. He need not read the writers I read. But he should never forget that we are all going to write under the influence of someone. Better for him if those writers are better than most. At the very least they should be the ones who make him want to lie down and take deep breaths before taking up his pen. Those are the books that will make him live, and write, more intensely. Reading anything less will not help him grow as a writer.


A direct relationship exists between the caliber of the writing you read and the caliber of the writing you make.

 – by Robert Benson, “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”


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