How to Use Math, Science, and the Power of Commitment—and Personal Vendettas—to Move Your Writing Forward – Part 2


– an excerpt from Allison Hodgson

So you get started, but you realize right away you need to do research first. Of course! Family stories can only take you so far; you have to soak in the atmosphere, get all the historical details just right.

And while you’re at it, maybe you should explore the publishing business. You know your novel/memoir—your epic—is sure to be a hit, so there’s no time like the present to calculate how soon you can quit your job and whether you’re going to be able to buy ocean-side property or just lakefront.

Oh dear. Oh dear.

Maybe you know all about the publishing game. You learned long ago a platform isn’t just a tiny stage, and if you’re going to get published, you better build one. You have to start a blog. Ugh! Even the name is ugly, but you know you have to do it. So you set up your website and now you’re just trying to write a stinking post so you can get to the real meat of your transcendent-sweeping-gonna-be-a-blockbuster…whatever-sort-of book TBD…whenever you finally get around to writing it.

Or maybe, if you’re being perfectly honest, you’re feeling a little stuck too. Well, you’ve come to the right place.

When I first got serious about writing I didn’t even have an idea. Okay, I actually had tons of them, but no clear beginning. What I did have was three little kids I was educating at home and a wonderful husband who had the bad habit of leaving the country for weeks at a time for work. I had every excuse in the world not to write, but not writing had become an ache, an almost physical pain. I knew I had to find a way to make writing a part of my daily life and if I didn’t, I would always regret it. But I had no clue where to start.

Commitment is a powerful thing. You don’t have to know how you’re going to do something to decide to do it. Have you made a commitment to write? If you haven’t already, do it right now. We’ll figure out the details later.

Revision is a Spiritual Practice

– from “Living Revision” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew


“You can fall in love with your first draft,” the poet and memoirist Jorie Miller likes to say, “but don’t marry it.” We enter mature and lasting relationships with creative work through revision. Like any healthy commitment, revision demands of us practices that commonly make us groan: balancing the joy of spontaneity and inspiration with the efficacy of restraint and discipline. Attaching ourselves wholeheartedly to the work while also holding it lightly. Exercising humility. Listening deeply. Seeking what’s true and naming it as best we can. Facing the full range of our humanity, from utterly broken to fabulously beautiful. Being willing to grow. Practicing patience, discernment, compassion. Revision requires inner work and thus is a spiritual practice. Through revision’s grueling demands and absorbing joys, we come more alive.

Most people don’t want to make this effort because they don’t realize revision is the work of learning to love. Love isn’t just a feeling; it’s an act of will, consent, and surrender. Love takes time. Love is what brings us and our writing to fruition.

The 3 Core Elements of Personal Branding

Everything you say online—and everything you don’t say—contributes to the story about you that plays in people’s heads. While everyone has a personal brand, not everybody has a Heroic Brand that can put content sharing on auto-pilot. And Chris Brogan has a Heroic Brand. Here’s the connection between his powerful online persona and content ignition, in his own words:

“Some people share content just because they believe in you and what you stand for. I believe there are three core elements of personal branding, at least for me, and they are very intertwined and related. “First, I’m exactly who I am no matter if you talk with me online, offline, in the lobby of a hotel, or before/during/after my time on stage. I think that an integrated (and true to life) persona is vital. People can no longer get away with being someone they’re not. It just doesn’t work. At least not for long.

“Second, I believe that connecting with others and serving them is one of the most important parts of personal branding. That’s a mistake most people make. Your brand isn’t exactly about you. It’s about how others experience you. So I work hard to connect, to respond, to be available, and to show people I’m just like them for the most part.

“Finally, personal branding and connecting with people is about making information portable enough that others can make it their own. I say two or three things over and over: Give your ideas handles (meaning, make it easy for others to take the ideas with them). Everything I do is steal-enabled (as much as I dislike plagiarism, I love when people take my ideas and run with them—with a little credit). Brevity and simplicity are gold (most often, people try to convolute their ideas to make them seem more important than they are). To be simple is to be more open and honest.”


– from “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer – posted 3/3/17

Open Ourselves

– from “Living Revision” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

If our goal is to move our readers, Robert Frost suggests we open ourselves to tears and surprise. If our goal is to come more alive, deepening our humanity and sharpening our understanding of our world, writing well enough to move an audience can take us there. Either way, revision is the path.

9 Ways that Marketing (Should) Differ for Spiritual Writers

Many spiritual writers are reluctant to “market themselves” because either they feel like they are boasting, or because they are introverts.  I encourage you to think of it from a different perspective: if you truly believe you have something useful to offer the rest of world, the only way anyone will ever know about it is if you let them know!  Here 9 recommendations for how to market in a way that is (hopefully) consistent with your spirituality:

  1. Be modest and humble; not boastful
  • Avoid coming across as a know-it-all
  • Avoid telling others what to think
  • Describe what you’ve experienced and what it means to you
  • Don’t be pushy
  • Don’t be sensational or exaggerate
  • Praise others
  1. Avoid being viewed as being too commercial
  • Don’t overload with posts promoting your book
  • Don’t overload with posts promoting your speaking events
  • Instead, feed your audience what they want: your nourishing content
  1. Professional, not too personal
  • Don’t discuss what you ate, where you vacationed, how great your children are
  • Exception: telling a personal story that relates to your bigger point
  1. Not too frequent; not too noisy
  • Example suggestions: Facebook posts once a day; Twitter tweets 2 or 3 per day; more Twitter retweets than Facebook shares
  1. Engage kindly
  • Be overly gracious
  • Not too argumentative
  1. Be artistic
  • Typical expectation for a writer
  1. Be balanced
  • Not too negative
  • Not too positive
  • Emotions are fine as long as you keep them under control
  1. Partner frequently
  • With authors who are similar to you in terms of writing, career stage
  • With writing groups
  • With churches
  • With organizations
  • With online forums, blogs, etc.
  1. But above all, you MUST be true to who you are

Feel free to contact us with your questions!

How to Use Math, Science, and the Power of Commitment—and Personal Vendettas—to Move Your Writing Forward – Part 1

– an excerpt from Allison Hodgson


I don’t want to write this chapter.

I’m sorry to have to tell you this—it’s nothing personal—it’s just that lately, I’ve been feeling the tiniest bit stuck, and on the best days I don’t always like to write.

For the longest time I thought I had a fundamental flaw, being a writer who doesn’t really enjoy writing, until I came across a quote by English playwright and novelist Dodie Smith who is most famous for the novel, then play, and eventual movie, The One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

Smith began writing plays in the 1930s and was an almost immediate success. After the Second World War she began her first novel, I Capture the Castle. It took her three years to complete. Smith wrote: “I write with great misery but am even more miserable when not writing—though I do enjoy thinking about writing and thinking about having written; it is the time in between that gets me down.”

I about cried when I read that. I had never had anyone express so exactly, or honestly, my conflicted feelings about writing.

Here’s the thing I have since learned: no matter your level of experience— whether you’re just starting out or embarking on your hundredth book—for most writers, writing is a lot of hard work.

Writing to Live

– by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson


Acclaimed author Toni Morrison took ownership of her words. She rejected the perceived need for African Americans to respond to the “white gaze” or the white oppressor. She said, “What is the world like if he’s not there? . . . There was this free space opened up by refusing to respond every minute to . . . somebody else’s gaze.”

I have pondered this same idea. I’ve wondered: Why did the words of white men have prominent placement in my university and seminary classrooms? Why is the white male’s perspective—especially regarding history—the primary perspective that I received growing up in school? Why is the white male voice and experience dominating every Christian arena from journalism to publishing, from conferences to nonprofits, from the academy to pulpits, even in our multiethnic churches? The white male and his voice is not superior. Without this clear public service announcement, we will remain stuck in our old ways.

In his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James Cone wrestles with his Christian faith and white supremacy, and what that tension means for black people:

In earlier reflections on the Christian faith and white supremacy, I had focused on the social evils of slavery and segregation. How could whites confess and live the Christian faith and also impose three-and-a-half centuries of slavery and segregation upon black people? Self-interest and power corrupted their understanding of the Christian gospel. How could powerless blacks endure and resist the brutality of white supremacy in nearly every aspect of their lives and still keep their sanity? I concluded that an immanent presence of a transcendent revelation, confirming for blacks that they were more than what whites said about them, gave them an inner spiritual strength to cope with anything that came their way. I wrote because words were my weapons to resist, to affirm black humanity, and to defend it.

I read this as I began work on this book. I read Cone because I wanted to, and also because I wanted my book to be saturated in the voices, words, and experiences of black people. And it was Cone, not any of the white men I read in seminary, who stood out among the faithful witnesses who helped me engage with this tension of race and the church.

Thank you, Sir. I’ve come to understand that for me writing is a spiritual discipline, a therapy of sorts. It is one of the ways that I communicate with God. Over the past few years I’ve committed to writing my way to freedom, casting a new vision, planning and strategizing a way of living and being as a disciple of Christ in a fallen world—a disciple who is fully black, fully women, fully known, fully loved, and fully empowered by the Holy Spirit. Every day, I choose to live free!

I don’t just write for myself. I use my pen, or mostly the keys of my laptop, as a weapon of war—to resist, to affirm our common humanity, and to defend it. I write for communities who are downtrodden and in desperate need of the liberation that only God can provide. I write for people whose conscience tells them that something is not right but in humility can confess that they don’t know what to do about all the brokenness. I write for people who long to embrace the love of Jesus but are perplexed by the hypocrisy of his church. I write for the people who are committed to figuring it out together.

What if we all learned a new way, and what if we were not afraid? What if we truly lived redeemed?



*Taken from A Sojourner’s Truth by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Copyright (c) 2018 by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.


Getting the Most Out of a Writers’ Conference


– by Brian Allain

Many attendees of our writers’ conferences have asked for advice on how they can get the most out the writers’ conferences they attend.  Here is a handy checklist full of ideas for you to use. If you have any suggestions, let us know!


Before the conference

  • Research the industry professionals speaking
    • For each publishing house rep: What types of books do they publish? (including genres/topics/authors) What types of books do they not publish? Who are the authors they’ve recently published? Are their books similar to yours? How does yours fit? Or not? What questions would you like to ask them?
    • For each agent: What types of authors/books do they represent? Are they looking for new authors to represent? Which publishing houses have they sold to? Are their other authors similar to you? What questions would you like to ask them?
  • Research the authors speaking
    • What books have they written? Are any similar to yours? What kinds of questions would you like to ask them?
  • See if any of your writer friends are also attending
    • It is always helpful to have a friend to bounce ideas with
  • Watch for social media posts and emails from the conference organizers in order to learn more about the speakers
  • Prepare yourself
    • Know who you are and what you are looking for
    • Have your elevator pitch ready
      • It should vary a little, depending on who you’re speaking with
      • Practice your pitch with a friend or two
      • “You need to be prepared to answer questions. Think through specific questions someone might have about your project. Some obvious questions you should be able to respond to: Are there other books similar to yours already in the market? If so, what is your unique contribution to the topic? What other writing have you done similar to this? Have you built an audience and is this the type of work they’d expect from you?” – agent Chris Ferebee
    • Design a one-pager
      • “… an easy-to-read and cleanly styled document with your name, contact information, a short bio, the title of your work, a 2-3 sentence hook, and 5-6 paragraph description of your main thesis or idea” – agent Chris Ferebee
    • Get business cards printed
    • Know what matters most to you
  • Construct your priority list of people to meet
  • Understand what types of sign-ups are required for specific parts of the conference, and understand how they work
  • Plan your schedule for the conference
  • Contact the conference organizers to get their suggestions


At the conference

  • Get there early (allow for bad traffic), get oriented, and meet people
  • Dive in, and don’t check out – pay attention! Be present.
  • Be humble, patient, and courteous
    • No one likes to speak with someone who is boastful / snooty / condescending / pushy / monopolizes a conversation / etc.
    • Abide by our Code of Conduct
    • Dress professionally
  • Be there to learn
    • Write things down. A conference tends to be a whirlwind, and it is easy to forget some of what you’ve heard and learned, so jot things down as you go.
  • Be active on social media during the conference, using the conference hashtag or handle
  • Make sure you meet with the people you’ve prioritized
    • Don’t forget to make a good first impression; err on the side of politeness, not pushiness
    • Ask questions; if time allows, ask them about their work before telling them about yours
    • “If your opening ice breaker is a statement about why you are excited to meet with this person because you know they work with a specific author or have published a specific book or set of books that are similar to you or what you’re working on, you’ll have their undivided attention.”  – agent Chris Ferebee
    • Get their business card, and give them yours
    • Generally speaking, hand them a one-pager or a business card, not a manuscript or a book
    • Once you’ve met them, don’t keep after them; no stalking
  • Meet as many new people as you can, and be ready to be surprised – you never know who you will meet that will end up being very important, perhaps in an unexpected way
    • But don’t start the conversation by pitching your book; instead ask questions and learn about the other person
    • This is a great opportunity to meet other authors who have similar interests
    • You may learn about a local writers group you can join
    • You may start a new relationship that becomes extremely valuable in the future
    • Don’t be afraid to request an introduction to someone who you would like to meet
    • “At my first conference, I met my future agent, found an editor and made new writer friends. At my most recent conferences, I’ve found it rewarding to teach workshops, moderate panels and reconnect with friends.” – Carol Van Den Hende
  • Get to know the conference organizers
  • Be prepared to change


After the conference

  • Follow up with the people you met
    • Wait until a couple of days after the conference, but don’t wait more than a week
    • Send a thank you note to the conference organizer and to others you met. You never know how it might help you.
  • Don’t get depressed; know that, for most people, there is a natural letdown from the “high” you were on during the conference
  • Use this opportunity to blog about what you learned at the conference. Don’t forget to tag the conference organizer in your posts on social media 🙂
  • Expert conference-goers know that it’s a good idea to return to the same conferences regularly. It’s the best way to establish meaningful, long-term relationships.
  • The conference might be a business expense for you; don’t forget to save your receipts for tax time.
  • Finally, from Sarah Arthur: “‘Here is the world,’ Frederick Buechner said: ‘beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.’ Write that world. Write those beautiful and terrible things. Write the fear, the courage. Write as if you could salve the hunger, quench the thirst, part light from darkness.”

How to Start Writing

– by Amy Julia Becker

(and check out Amy Julia’s new book here)


I have friends who say that writers should never tell too much about the next book we want to write. These friends tell me studies show that if I tell my story out loud, my brain will think I’ve written it already, as if forming the words with my mouth is the same as typing them into the computer and releasing them for the world to see. I’m sure some social scientist has demonstrated the truth of this point, but it doesn’t hold true for me. In fact, one of the ways I figure out what I’m writing about is by asking myself what I’m talking about, and the best way for me to know how to enter into a book is by asking myself how I tell other people about that book.


My most recent book covers my entire life, from childhood through adolescence, college, early marriage, childrearing, up to the present. At the same time, it is a book about a specific topic, the privilege of whiteness and wealth and ability. For a long time, I held all the components of the story, but I didn’t know the order in which to tell them. I didn’t know where to start.


At first, I tried a story from the summer of 2016, when Philando Castile was shot by a police officer the same week that my 96-year old grandfather died. But the contrast didn’t really work and the story was too polarizing. It didn’t welcome a reader in.


So then I tried going back to the beginning, to my own childhood and stories of the small-town South in the early 1980s. That chapter painted a lovely portrait, but it felt very far away and long ago. The words came through as the experiences of a small child rather than as a story told from the perspective of the present day.


I tried two other approaches, and neither of those worked either.


I finally stopped to wonder how I told other people about the book I was writing. When I talked about it, I didn’t start with Philando Castile. I didn’t start with my childhood. I started with the topic—privilege—and with my fear about how my thoughts would be received.


The book now has an introduction that begins with the eye twitch I developed while writing. It starts with my fear, a fear I imagine many readers share as they approach a polarizing topic.


For me, talking about a book in conversation often gives me the way in to the topic in writing. It  shows me how to welcome a reader into the story. So if it helps you, talk about your writing. Your first chapter might just become an invitation to come into your home and sit at the kitchen table and sit and talk a while.



Get in touch!