September 8, 2015

Christian poets, writers, and ministry gifts

My decision to write a new post today came about as one godly thing led to another and another, which then led me!

First, God led some members of our Christian Poets and Writers group on Facebook to remind us this morning how our lives in Christ have a purpose and how God has a plan for each of us.

Another member said this is National Suicide Prevention Week, which connects with the theme of God’s plan and purpose, too, in that people who consider taking their own lives usually can see no plan, no purpose, and no reason for living.

Another member, whose post has been highlighted today on the Christian Poets & Writers blog, gave suggestions about ways to hear God’s word to us and, therefore, become more aware of a divine plan for our lives.

In addition to those leading factors, the reading for my next Bible Study group discusses the gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12 – gifts that inform, edify, and guide our Christian writing lives.

If you have no idea what ministry gifts you have, type “Ministry Gifts test” in the search box on the Internet, and you’ll get a variety of sites to visit. After you have responded to each question, you’ll get an assessment of your gifts, along with their ranking. That’s important to know because, unlike natural God-given talents, which might be used for your own pleasure and enjoyment, your ministry gifts have been given to you to help uplift and strengthen the church.

That needs highlighting:

The Holy Spirit gives each of us ministry gifts to build up, nurture, and encourage the whole Body of Christ.

You’ll want to do that locally, of course, as you serve and minister to your church family, but as a poet or writer, your ministry gifts will help to guide the type of writing you’re meant to do.

For example, if the Lord has given you a gift of teaching, you might be led to write nonfiction books, articles, or Bible study guides.

If God has given you a gift of encouragement and empathy for others, writing spiritual poems, devotionals, and children’s books could be just right for you. Or, perhaps, you'll show loving relationships, realistically, in a novel.

Regardless of your ministry gift and writing talent, these tips might help too:

• Believe God’s promise to you of gifts from the Holy Spirit. (See 1 Cor. 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4.)

• Pray for God to reveal your gifts and God’s unique plan for you.

• Expectantly await the results!

• Let the Bible, that “inner knowing” given to you by the Holy Spirit, and, often, the affirmation of Christian friends, lead you into God’s plan and purpose for you and your writing life in Christ.

© 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler. If you need prayer about this, post your request in the Comments below. If you need a fresh perspective or professional feedback on your poems, children’s picture books, devotionals, or book proposals for a minimal fee, visit the Critique & Contact page of Mary’s website.

August 28, 2015

Getting ready for Erika

Living in Florida, we’ve been through a few minor hurricanes since being in Biloxi during Camille a few decades ago, but regardless of a storm’s size or intensity, we’ve come to some conclusions:

• People with well water pumped by electricity should not have to brush their teeth with Pepsi. We now make sure we have plenty of bottled water to drink and a full sink for washing dishes, but for the latter, paper plates and throw-away cups are cause for praise.

• Gas pumps might be ready to power up your car, but they’re powerless and immobile without electricity.

• Downed power lines cut electricity to your house, but not to themselves. They’re perfectly willing to electrocute anyone who steps on them.

• Candles add a romantic glow to the dark, but only a well-designed candle holder will allow you to glow from room to room without giving your hand a hot wax treatment.

• We have batteries! big batteries, little batteries, batteries for flashlights and batteries for the otherwise-unused radio that might keep us in touch with storm reports and the world beyond debris.

• Canned goods and an old-fashioned can opener keep us fed, and a dry bag of charcoal grills up almost anything. Oh, and that humongous smoker the guys just had to have can now be used to cook up whatever is thawing in the freezer, using fuel from fallen branches.

• Garbage cans and yard chairs make amazing projectiles.

So stay safe! And thank God that Jesus gave us a prayer to pray at all times. For these times though, I love how He commanded the winds and water with words that bear repeating: “Peace! Be still!”

In Jesus’ Name, amen.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler

August 25, 2015

Writers to Read: Nine Names That Belong on Your Bookshelf

As Christian poets and writers, most of us have literary favorites who influenced our view of Christianity, the church, the world, and writing. Professor-pastor-writer Douglas Wilson discusses his favorites in his new book Writers to Read: Nine Names That Belong on Your Bookshelf, published by Crossway, who kindly sent me a copy to review.

In the Introduction, Wilson says, “A writer needs friends who simply benefit from knowing him, which is another way of saying that good writers need good readers.” Those of us who have been published know just how much we need good readers, but I’m especially taken with the idea that people I don’t know might benefit from having read my works! That thought might take us away from fretting about sales and reviews to a closer look at what we hope to accomplish in our Christian writing lives.

One of the things G.K. Chesterton accomplished was a prolific career that's already spanned generations of readers. However, Wilson began the first chapter with him because, chronologically, he comes first among these nine writers: G.K. Chesterton, H.L. Mencken, P.G. Wodehouse, T.S. Eliot, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Robert Capon, Marilyn Robinson, and Nathan Wilson.

In the opening chapter, the author quotes Chesterton, who wisely wrote: “There must always be a rich moral soil for any great aesthetic growth. The principle of art for art’s sake is a very good principle if it means that there is a vital distinction between the earth and the tree that has its roots in the earth, but it is a very bad principle if it means that the tree could grow just as well with its roots in the air.”

Having edited or critiqued many poems and manuscripts by other poets and writers, I see Chesterton’s statement as key to being authentic, down-to-earth, and well-grounded in reality rather than uprooted in a topsy-turvy effort to be heavenly.

The next chapter introduces us to H.L. Mencken, who “writes in such a way as to make anything an object of fascination. Whether it is soles of shoes that are like slabs of oak, or his own matronly figure, or hired girls built like airplane carriers…, Mencken is consistently, thoroughly interesting. Many Christians, under the influence of pietism, have come to believe that love, action, and gratitude must always be expressed in such smarmy ways as to ensure its thundering dullness. But in the hands of a gifted writer, the most astonishing connections can be made between this and that.”

As Wilson goes on to say:

“Christians can learn from Mencken in two ways. The first is by watching what he writes on any subject and imitating it. Those who want to be creative originals from scratch seldom are, and those who slavishly follow the recipe have a different problem, just as debilitating. Those who look carefully at the masters to learn and imitate soon find their own distinctive voice with their own contributions.

“The second way to learn is by reading and applying his observations about writers, writing, words, and so on.”

The third author under discussion is known for his Jeeves books – P.G. Wodehouse, whom Wilson describes as “a black-belt metaphor ninja” and one “whose comic metaphors can still teach us how all metaphors work, how the thing is done.” As Wilson puts it, “We need Wodehouse for a number of reasons, but one stands out. The besetting sin of many cranky, conservative Christian types is their inability to make any good point whatever without sounding shrill.”

Humor certainly smooths those sharp edges, enabling us to say what we want to say without sounding overly pious or judgmental. But, whether we’re apt to be humorous, metaphoric, or what, Wilson offers this sound advice: “If our words are weapons – and they are – then we need to train ourselves in the use of them.” Amen!

Since Wilson sensibly decided to discuss each of nine writers in their order of birth, T.S. Eliot – one of my first loves in poetry – comes fourth. If you’ve read his works too, you know the truth of Wilson’s assessment, “His poems are allusion-soaked, so much so that it is very hard to follow unless you are as well educated as he was…,” which I wasn’t! Since I often miss his connections, I’m relieved to hear that even a literary guru such as Wilson has similar issues. And that reminds me to reassure you that, if you didn’t have a clue about Prufrock in high school, try it again, and you’ll probably love it as I now do.

I was also interested to hear more about T.S. Eliot’s religious background, which began as a Unitarian in the U.S. However, when he later became an Englishman, Eliot was drawn to the Church of England. As Wilson says:

“Doctrinal differences aside, Eliot shares something in common with all Christian poets who deal with the permanent things, with the great issues. To be a Christian poet is to be shaped by the central Christian story, which is a story of death and resurrection.” And so, “Before his conversion, in The Wasteland and The Hollow Men Eliot did not see much hope, which is all to the good because without Christ, there is no hope. It is Christ or nothing.”

In the next highly interesting discussion, Wilson talks about the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, pointing out, “…if you put a work of fiction into the wrong category, a lot of confusion can result and, in this case, has” as the ever-popular Lord of the Rings is not allegory.” In fact, Tolkien himself said:

“I dislike Allegory – the conscious and intentional allegory – yet any attempt to explain the purport of the myth or fairy tale must use allegorical language.”

What Wilson realized is that “questions about art and technology are…closely related to the issue of magic. Some Christians have been troubled by the wizardry, but the whole point of magic is the manipulation of matter in order to acquire power, which is what an ordinary magician does…. But the world of The Lord of the Rings is the very reverse of this – the good guys there represent a photo negative of magic. The ring of power is the ultimate symbol of magic in the traditional sense, and the whole point of the book is to destroy it, resisting all temptations to use it.” Those of us who haven’t read the book or seen the movie will be glad to know that.

In the Narnia tales, C.S. Lewis takes a different tact as he seeks something Wilson called “numinous” before quoting Lewis in this passage from In The Weight of Glory:

“We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it…. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”

Yes! Until then, writing poetry gives a glimpse of this, especially when a line or musical phrase comes as a gift, like grace or God’s forgiveness. Similarly, reading the Bible and reading the inspired works of authors such as those Wilson chose for this book, not only inform our faith, but also our writing lives in Christ.

©2015, Mary Sayler, poet-author of 27 traditionally published books in all genres, aims to encourage other Christian Poets & Writers through blogs, writing resources, critiques, and e-books such as the Christian Writer’s Guide and Christian Poet's Guide to Writing Poetry..

Writers to Read: Nine Names That Belong on Your Bookshelf, paperback

August 6, 2015

Tips on titles

Sometimes a title will come to you before the poem or manuscript has been written. If not, these suggestions might help you to find an appropriate, appealing title to which every book, article, story, or poem is entitled.

• Being as brief and as clear as possible, state what your manuscript is about, then consider whether that description is title material. This will be more likely if you can condense the statement to 5 words or less.

• Think about a one-word symbol that might show your theme, purpose, and/or the larger picture you have in mind.

• Give time for thoughts to come. List every cliché, expression, pithy statement, and word play in line with your manuscript. Then change a word of two to make it fresh and, if fitting, add a touch of humor.

• Be playful, inventive, creative, surprising!

• More important than creativity, however, is honesty. Be “right on” in your final choice, so the text develops the main thought in the title, rather than refuting it.

Keep in mine, too, that the names of your manuscripts need to appeal to your potential readers, the first of whom may be an editor who sees the title and wants to read more – or not. For a “not” example, I once wrote a lively piece for children about homonyms, but my short article kept coming back with a rejection notice until I changed its name to “Ring Goes The Homophone.”

Like an aptly chosen word spoken at the right moment, a well-chosen title will serve you, your manuscript, and your readers well.

© 2010, ©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler has placed 27 titles with traditional and indie book publishers and over 1500 with magazines, journals, and e-zines.

July 4, 2015

WWll poem

Discharging Toggle Annie: Mediterranean Theatre, 25 March 1945
in honor of Horace E. Harwell

by Mary Harwell Sayler

On her last flight (my 7th mission) “Toggle Annie” took off slowly
over small gardens growing and new-green fields of barley, wheat, or rye.
Oxen stood still beside a rock-lined ditch formed well to keep good earth
from washing down the hill and wasting. Along a narrow road, a donkey
pulled a two-wheel cart then disappeared into the same descending blur
that held the floorless tent where our crew slept with no heat, no stove, and
no light but the candle we’d snuffed out before rising, rising with the sun.

Five miles up with my oxygen mask on, I hoped this mission would be a
milk run for “Toggle Annie.” The old ship had seen better days with 100
missions more than me and over 90 sorties, a sort of record for a B-24
Liberator also known as a “Box Car” -- a label that annoys me some.
(Nicknamed, the “Flying Fortress,” the B-17 gets better press.) Oh, well.
It doesn’t matter. All that matters is meeting up, on time, with our fighter
escort and not bailing out. Sometimes, I’ve had my doubts when we’ve
caught flak too close and heavy. Afterwards, I’ve been glad for those two
ounces of regulation whiskey used to regulate our nerves, but now? I don’t
know. Some days I hardly feel a thing but numbness when we’ve flown so
low we see too much to dream.

The children here have such hard faces.

Even in “Toggle Annie,” an oxygen mask can freeze up real quick
if you’re not careful to keep the condensation wiped. One mission
takes two cotton handkerchiefs, and wiping makes me woozy.

I do not ever want my face to get too hard.

On every mission, I think about my girls and how I miss them.
Sure hope “Toggle Annie” doesn’t miss her mark today! Wish I
had those Esso maps from home to pinpoint targets, but thing is,
I’d just as soon my wife not know how much we need them.

The hardest part is walking through a door from one life to another.
Flying’s not so hard, but some things you don’t think about. Like,
coming over on the cargo ship, I couldn’t use my electric razor
since it sent out waves the enemy might detect. Shaving with cold
water carried in a metal helmet doesn’t cut it! I wonder if my girls
will like my new mustache.

It’s hard not knowing if my family is okay.
The $218.80 a month, including flying pay,

won’t go far for them when I’m so far away.
I send all I can but keep a five and two tens
in my escape kit, just in case.

Some do go down. Some missions fail.

Some need money to buy a stranger’s help and food.
Worry does no good. I figure if flak gets close enough
to take me down, I’ll go down then, but not before.

Some do go down. Some freeze with fear. Some faces harden.

Flying this high is hard on everyone. At five miles up and thirty below
zero, a person can work for merely minutes and be exhausted for a while --
sometimes for nothing but frostbite if we’re forced back by too much flak.
One day, I saw a close-by crew go down in silver petals and bright flames.

Some do go down.

I hope this plane outlives its name as Liberator. Meant to carry 30-
caliber guns and nothing more, 50 makes us too tail-heavy. To lift
the weight, we have to bounce then place support beneath before
our tail-gunner’s hand can catch a wrong bounce, down. Timing is
everything. Like now -- we’ll do our job and lay this ship to rest,
one way or another.

We all could use a rest -- three missions in four days, each time on
a different, nameless plane except for good ole “Toggle Annie.”
She’s seen her days of drawing escorts, catching flak, and dropping
bombs, so she’s more than caught her quota of close calls.

I want to fly until I drop -- whatever it takes to stop this dad-burn war.
But hey! We did okay on today’s run -- 650 B-24’s and 17’s striking
airfields and tanks works. Took us eight hours and fifty-five minutes --
not bad for this old barge. A thousand hours logged -- quite a record,
Annie. You did swell. Tonight you’ll rest on solid ground while I’ll
sleep well on a nice firm cot, thanking God I’ve got a sweet-faced
wife and good life back at home. Tonight I’ll dream of daughters.

© 2002, 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. Poem originally appeared in the 2002 chapbook, Winning the Wars.

July 1, 2015

Poetic Power of Dyslexia

Most poets and writers draw on experience, personality, or the power of observation to find something fresh to say in their fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. If you do that in your writing too, great! Keep up the good work. However, the traits you think of as a disadvantage or even a handicap might be the ones that help you to develop your own voice or distinctive style. Take, for instance, dyslexia.

Like many poets and career freelance writers, I began writing as a young child but, in my case, backwards. One way or the other did not matter to me, but this stressed out my teacher so much, she made me stay after class on my very first day of school. For years I thought Mrs. Smith called Mother to come in, too, to see how sloppily I wrote as my left hand smudged the soft pencil across the lined paper in my notebook, but no. I had perfectly copied everything the teacher wrote on the blackboard (which actually was black then), and I had formed each letter of the alphabet correctly. I had just written everything on the blackboard backwards.

For fun, I still like to spell ippississiM in my head, and I must warn you not to even try to beat me at word games like Boggle or Wheel Of Fortune unless, of course, you’re also a bit dyslexic. Most of the time, though, inverting letters and scrambling words or thoughts has gotten me into trouble, especially when I’m tired. If someone happens to spew double-negatives then, I can almost guarantee my brain will not follow.

In writing poetry and poetic manuscripts, however, dyslexia can come in handy. Word scrambles often lead to word play, and scrambled thinking can connect this to that in a previously untried but true way. Such “mistakes” might add a note of humor to fiction or nonfiction too and, in some cases, bring about a fresh idea, insight, or observation.

For example, as a Christian writer I often write nonfiction articles and devotionals. In one short article I wrote for other Christian poets and writers, I talked about the importance of double-checking facts and speaking with a loving voice whenever we write in the name of Jesus. Since Christians pray in Jesus’ name, my point was to encourage that thought also as we write. However, instead of typing “in the name of Jesus,” I wrote, “in the amen of Jesus.” Same letters, you notice, just scrambled. When I finally noticed this myself, I thought, wow! That better said what I wanted to say anyway. i.e., Anything we write (or pray) in Jesus’ name needs Jesus’ amen or affirmation.

I certainly do not pray for my dyslexia to increase or for you to catch it! But I do pray that you use your talents and “flaws” well. I pray you begin to see your “mistakes” or “handicaps” or “shortcomings” or “disadvantages” as a means of making your writing distinctive, inimitable, and one of a kind. Do I hear an name?

©2010, ©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. If you need a fresh perspective on your poems, children’s picture books, or book proposals and one-on-one feedback for a minimal fee, visit the Contact & Critique page of Mary’s website.

June 16, 2015

Getting inspired by God

by Mary Harwell Sayler

I love You, Lord.
I love The Way
You write
right through my hands
to touch
unknown readers’ eyes,
and immediately,
they see!
They love you, Lord.

©2015, Mary Sayler, poet-author of 27 traditionally published books in all genres, aims to encourage other Christian Poets & Writers through blogs, writing resources, critiques, and e-books such as the Christian Writer’s Guide and Christian Poet's Guide to Writing Poetry.

June 2, 2015

From Gospel to prose poem

The Parable of the Sower
prose poem by Mary Harwell Sayler prayer-a-phrased from Gospel readings in Matthew 13:3-23; Mark 4:3-20; Luke 8:5-15

A farmer went out to sow,

and some say he was stupid or careless or wasteful with the seed, which he let fall all over the just and the unjust. Some of the seeds clung like stick-tights – hitchhiker seeds that stuck around for centuries until inspiring Swiss naturalist George de Mestral to invent Velcro – sticky seeds that produced weeds like burdock known for medicinal purposes and sometimes planted purposely as a vegetable to be eaten or treated like the sunflower family to which burdock belongs.

Some seed fell on hard ground

paths too often taken to be open to anything new. Some fell on stone, sliding off in rain or finding a crack to sink into then growing roots strong enough to split a rock, which isn’t easy.

Some of the seeds settled into nestling soil so good for growing that thorns liked it, too, and rose up – tall, crowded, dense, and as overwhelming as fear or worry and as brightly colored as almost anything urgent.

But some seeds found a fine place to light, take root, bear fruit, and feed you, me, the birds, and anyone else who’s hungry before sending out new seeds that the farmer went out to sow.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-author of 27 traditionally and indie published books in all genres has been focusing on connecting poetry and the poetic word of God as shown in this prose poem, originally published in the Spring 2013 issue of Penwood Review and included in the book of Bible-based poems, Outside Eden, published in 2014 by Kelsay Books.

May 25, 2015

poem for Pentecost

by Mary Harwell Sayler

Pentecost – the day I'd long awaited through
dust and ashes, Lenten dirges, and the veiled
face of the cross. For fifty days and nights,
filled with longing and white lilies, I considered
Pentecostal possibilities – new study group,
new hope – renewed awakenings from long ago.
I went to an unfamiliar place, feeling sent
to see, to wonder. What?

Is no proclamation prepared for me? Did God
forget the Upper Room where we would meet?

These feet have tiptoed lightly on carpeted aisles,
swayed and stumbled beneath the push of
expectations, uncertainty, and, yes, pride.

Do all chants sound the same? Is there
another name or tune or time for
tapping out discrepancies?
Without church
arms outstretched to bear the strain of my
offense, who will straighten this lurching
load? To regain a steady balance by myself
seems far too great a task – beyond all reach.

I stand on shaky ground with trembling
knees, sinking toward a ninety-degree
angle in which, most rightly, I sit or kneel.

Oh, God! How do I get out of this
uncomfortable position?
How do I admit –
even on Pentecost, when Holy Spirit
soars – I cannot fit myself to fly?

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-author of 27 traditionally published books in all genres, is on a mission to help other Christian Poets & Writers through blogs, writing resources, and e-books such as the Christian Writer’s Guide and Christian Poet's Guide to Writing Poetry.

May 18, 2015

How to write a book proposal

Before you take time to write a full-length book of fiction or nonfiction, you can save yourself time and worry by writing a book proposal. This will help you to think through your book, keep your writing on track, then propose your book in a professional manner to the editor of a traditional or indie book publishing company.

A previous article "Basic Steps for Writing & Marketing" will give you an idea of what to expect as you aim for traditional publishing markets, which the e-book, Christian Writer's Guide discusses too, along with everything else you need to get started as a freelance or assignment writer. Also, see "Outline or Synopsis" for information on preparing an outline for your nonfiction book or a synopsis for your novel.

In addition to an outline or synopsis, your book proposal package will include one to three chapters of your book, depending on the publisher’s preference as shown in their writers’ guidelines. You’ll also need to include a one-page cover letter and a book proposal sheet with headings relevant to your manuscript as shown below:


[Place your name and contact information across the top of each page as you would for a letterhead.]

Book Proposal for (name of the company that your research shows might be interested)

Title: (Check online bookstores to see if anyone else has used the title you want. Then place your catchy but relevant title here.)

Author: (Type your full name as you want it to appear on the manuscript.)

Theme: (For Christian writers, a favorite Bible verse such as Romans 8:28 can provide an excellent theme. Regardless of your choice, a theme and purpose will help you to keep your writing focused from beginning to end.)

Purpose: (An incomplete sentence or phrase with no punctuation usually works well here, for example, “to strengthen faith” or “to promote unity among Christians.”)

Genre: (Fiction, Nonfiction, or Poetry, but if fiction, add another heading entitled Setting.)

Book Summary (for nonfiction book or Story Line for fiction: Summarize the book in a sentence or two or a brief paragraph written to encourage an editor to read more.)

Audience (or Readership): (State here what group or age of readers you aim to reach. For instance, a nonfiction book might be aimed at pastors, youth workers, or general laity, whereas a children’s book might appeal to a 2 to 4-year span among toddlers, preschoolers, or school children, for example, 6 to 8 or 8 to 12.)

Length: (Put the expected number of double-spaced pages or the expected word count.)

Marketability (or Comparative Analysis): (Base this brief information on what you find as you research your topic and title in Internet bookstores. Provide any similar or competitive titles and publication dates. If you believe your idea will fill a unique need, say why.)

Platform (or Ideas for Promotion): (If you already have a following or have established an online presence in a blog, website, or profile page on the major social networks, include that information here.)

Author Bio (or About the Author): (Group prior publishing experiences by genre and/or age group. Briefly provide relevant information such as your education, research, teaching experience, or workshops you have led on your topic.)

© 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved

If you would like Mary’s feedback on your book proposal package before you send it to a traditional or indie book publishing company, visit the Contact & Critiques page of her website.


April 20, 2015

You can write devotionals!

Writing devotionals to uplift your readers can uplift your faith too!

Devote yourself! Begin with a commitment to devote quiet time each day to praying, Bible reading, and meditating on what God says to you and wants you to say to others.

Take note! Keep a notebook nearby to write down each inspired thought God puts on your mind. Also, a sturdy wide-margin Bible in your favorite translation will encourage you to interact with Holy Scripture and respond to the Holy Spirit as you pencil notes in the margins. Later, those notes can be developed into a devotional poem or article shaped to fit this typical pattern:

Title – For individual articles you plan to send to a devotional magazine, the title will usually be a short phrase or single key word. For a full-length, one-year book of devotionals, your title needs to reflect your 365-day theme and purpose such as Devoted to Marriage: Devoted to God. Each devotional would then use that day's date as the title.

Bible verse – After the title comes a Bible verse from which the entire devotional flows. If you’re writing for Catholic readers, the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) makes your best choice for quotes, but the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) and The Message, Catholic Edition can work too. For evangelical Christian readers, the main choices will be the New American Standard Bible (NASB), New International Version (NIV), English Standard Version (ESV), or New King James Version (NKJV.)

For interdenominational or ecumenical choices, consider the New Revised Standard Version, (NRSV) Common English Bible, or King James Version (KJV.) Since the KJV lives on and on in the public domain, you don't have to get a publisher's permission to quote large portions of that Bible. However, most translations let you use 250 verses without having to get permission from the publisher, and some permit up to 500 verses or more. To find out, look in the front matter of the edition you choose.

Text – With God and a biblical passage or verse to guide your writing, the main body of your devotional might be a poetic insight, a prayer, or a reflection on God's word. To help your readers fully enter that experience, avoid abstracts. Use active verbs and concrete nouns as you recall a true-to-life event in around 300 words that illustrate your chosen scripture. A “take-away” will also occur if your words, thoughts, and comparisons show your readers how to apply the Bible to their lives.

Prayer – In one or two sentences, a prayer ties together all of the above and helps your readers to seek God’s guidance as you've surely done!

Editorial guidance helps, too, as you follow a publisher's guidelines. If you know which publishing company you hope will accept your work, find their website and follow their writers’ guidelines. If you don’t know where to start, ask friends to save publications that use devotionals. Also, study the periodicals, books, and writers’ guidelines produced or sponsored by your church’s denominational headquarters.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler. This post originally appeared here in 2012 as “Writing devotionals.” If you need help with your devotionals, poems, children’s picture book, or book proposal, Mary offers professional feedback for a minimal fee.

April 16, 2015

How to deal with writer’s block

If you’re staring at your keyboard and would rather wipe it than type on it, this could be a sign of writer’s block. Will it last forever? No. Is there anything you can do about it? Sure.

It’s like being boxed between cars in a parallel parking space. Tight, but you have choices: You can wait until the owner of the other car comes along to free you. Or you can inch your vehicle by increments until you wiggle out.

Trying to think of something new to do might sound like an experiment in frustration when your thoughts already seem blah or singularly uninspired, but don't fret. Remember: Wiggle.

Do something different. If you can’t go anywhere, stand on a chair or stretch out on the floor, but get a fresh perspective. Look up and notice the texture of the ceiling. Look down. Describe your feet. Look around and notice the sound, smell, sight, taste, or feel of objects surrounding you every day. Munch your salad slowly and identify the flavors and textures. Compare. Listen to the hum of a washing machine, a fan, a furnace, an air conditioner, then fill in words that fit the beat.

Take a mini-vacation. Getting away from normal surroundings can help you to chip big chunks from a writer’s block even if just for an afternoon of vacating your premises. (Pun intended.) Use your writer’s block as the impetus for touring that museum in town you keep meaning to visit. Or go to a movie with sub-titles. Check out a library book of poems totally unlike anything you usually read or write. Pick up a travel magazine, and look at photographs of enticing places. Search for a video of a country you hope to visit or, better yet, one you would never dare to set a sandal inside.

Consider your interests and available options. Writer’s block is like a box every poet or writer steps into occasionally, but you don’t have to stay there. Even if you’re really boxed in, you have choices. Jump out. Find a different perspective on whatever is familiar, safe, or boring!

Mingle! Get around people. Go to a mall. Help out at a Christian service center. Attend a Bible study. Worship with a church you have never visited.

Take care of yourself. If none of the above appeals to you, lounge on the deck. Rock out on the porch. Pray for the Lord to speak to you even as you sleep. Take a nap.

[The original version of this article appeared here on March 5, 2010, entitled “Writer’s Block In A Box.”]

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-author of 27 traditionally published books in all genres, is on a mission to help other Christian Poets & Writers through blogs, writing resources, and e-books such as the Christian Writer’s Guide and Christian Poet's Guide to Writing Poetry.