The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. **Mark Twain

Monday, January 21, 2008

Holly Miller, author and editor

I was not sincere about a writing career until I met Holly Miller. She is genuine in her love for writing and authentic in her encouragement for other writers. She has given me the best gift of all..."the desire to be my best as a writer and the call to get busy, now!"

It is my great pleasure to have Holly Miller as our first interview. I know you will appreciate her thoughts as much as I do.

Holly G. Miller is senior editor of The Saturday Evening Post, author of 14 books and professional in residence at Anderson University. She has won writing awards from the Associated Press, Evangelical Press Association, Society of American Travel Writers, Midwest Travel Writers Association, Women in Communication and Society of Professional Journalists.

As a freelancer magazine writer she has had more than 3,000 articles published. Last year her published interviews included conversations with Sally Field, Suzanne Somers, Judge Judy, Tony Bennett, Dr. Oz and Bob Newhart.

Holly is currently under contract to write a second edition of her magazine-writing book “Feature and Magazine Writing: Action, Angle and Anecdote” with co-author David Sumner.

I've read her book and it's a must if you want to write for magazines.

Just Write: How did you get started in your career?

Holly: I was a journalism major in college, and after graduation I took a job as a police/political reporter for my hometown daily newspaper. Whenever I got an assignment that I thought might be of interest to a larger audience I rewrote it and tried to market it. My first major break came when I interviewed humorist Erma Bombeck. We ran it in our newspaper, the Associated Press picked it up (it later won an AP writing award) and then I rewrote the interview for Writer’s Digest magazine.

Just Write: Were you published immediately?

Holly: The first thing I wrote was a silly first-person experience piece. Amazingly, it sold (I’ll never forget receiving the check for $100!). I decided that freelancing was a piece of cake.

Just Write: Do you have any rejection letters?

Holly: Yes! After I sold my first piece, I changed my mind about freelancing being a piece of cake. It was TWO YEARS before my next sale!

Just Write: What went through your mind the moment you received the good news that you had sold your first piece of writing?

Holly: I must have spent that $100 check a million times in my head. Should I invest it? Buy something sensible? Frame it? Splurge on something to wear that would be so wild that everyone would remark about it?( That would give me an opening to say, “Oh, I bought this with my latest freelance check.”) In the end the $100 went toward a new set of tires. So much for daydreaming!

Just Write: In the beginning of your career did you ever think the publishing industry was bigger than your talents or abilities?

Holly: Sure, every writer is plagued with feelings of inadequacy. Every rejection letter brings a new wave of insecurity.

Just Write: How do you deal with those feelings?

Holly: I go through a series of emotions when my work is turned down: First, I want to quit writing, toss my computer in the trash, and take up ceramics. Second, I get angry—how could an editor reject something that I worked soooooo hard to produce? Finally, I move into my “I’ll show ‘em” phase. That’s when I get fired up and go back to work.

Just Write: Most conferences stress that we all have a voice. What do you believe are the characteristics of the influential voice destined to produce change?

Holly: Each year I judge a national writing contest sponsored by the Evangelical Press Association. All entries have been published, so the writers aren’t newcomers. What sets a winner apart from the rest of the field is often the voice. Some writers have the confidence to tackle provocative topics head-on; they develop a style that isn’t like everyone else’s; they go beyond just clear writing and move all the way to inspired writing. They are willing to take risks.

Just Write: Juggling personal priorities and writing goals can be difficult for most new writers. It’s even worse when day jobs and small children are involved. How do you set your priorities?

Holly: When I was starting out I didn’t get a lot of sleep! I would work very late at night when the house was finally quiet. Then I would be up early to get everyone off to work/school. Sometimes I worked in snatches—20 minutes here or there. A writer doesn’t FIND time to write, she MAKES time to write.

Just Write: Denny Boltinghouse of Simon & Schuster-Howard Books told a class at a conference that he was not there to sign contracts; he was there to make friends. New writers have a hard time seeing editors as neighbors and friends. Do you like to hear from people you meet?

Holly: I like a writer who hands me her/his card, tells me his areas of specialization and says, “If you ever have an assignment in my neck of the woods, please call.”

Just Write: What is the #1 personal mental trait you would like to see all new writers develop?

Holly: Writers have to be inquisitive. They have to be interested in EVERYTHING and know how to ask good questions to learn more. The term “life-long learner” may be a cliché, but the concept is solid. I get very frustrated with Christian writers who say they don’t read newspapers, watch TV news, go to films or read current books. I believe you have to know the world you want to change.

Just Write: What is your favorite book and/or magazine?

Holly: I’m a news junkie, so I probably like Newsweek and The New Yorker best. As for books, I loved “Bel Canto” and “Mr. Timothy.” Currently I’m reading “No Ordinary Time,” a biography of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during the war years.

Just Write: What is your favorite Bible verse?

Holly: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” (Eccl. 3:1)

Just Write: Have you ever been discouraged with your career?

Holly: Rarely have I felt discouraged. Like all writers, I have good days and not-so-good ones. But I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I feel sorry for people who say, “If I had it to do over, I would….” I’d be a writer.

Just Write: New writers may look confident on the outside but inside they wonder if they have what it takes. Our inner turmoil is the most discouraging thing we face. What overall piece of advice would you like to share with them?

Holly: Writing is hard work. Writing is a business. If you truly want to write for a living, set aside your doubts and jump in. At the end of every day ask yourself, “What did I learn today that I didn’t know yesterday?” Make sure you always have an answer to that question.

Thank you Holly. Thank you for your dedication to your own skill and for sharing your advice with us. May God bless you today.

It is always inspiring to hear that successful writers like Holly Miller walked the same sleepless road we are on now. I urge you to purchase her book and get excited about your career. After all...I'm just waiting for the day when I can interview you.

God loves you and has called you to write,


Monday, January 14, 2008

Christian Writers' Market Guide

It's that time of year again! Christmas is over and the last few decorations are finally in their box. The article that's been rolling around in your head is ready to splash onto the page.

After a hard day of dancing with words you push back in your chair, wiggle your toes, stretch your arms to the sky and let out a satisfying sigh..."At last, it's done. And it's good."

Your eyes fall on the tattered Christian Writers' Market Guide for 2007. "I'll be glad to get the new one. This one is barely hanging on."

If you are a new writer and you are looking for that first sale, Sally Stuart's Christian Writer's Market Guide is a must. For seasoned writers, it is our writing Bible. I won't go into all the reasons why it is a must can find that out on any of those other "let me tell you how to sell your stuff" sites.

For me, the book represents HOPE. Anytime I get discouraged I go for a swim in a new section of the book. I immerse myself in the fact that there are hundreds of places I can contact.

"See there Debbie, it's not over! There are still plenty of places to send your article. Get busy Gal! Get with it. Until everyone in this book has said no, you can still make it!"

To get Sally's book, you can use the following link. If you like, you can visit her website at

Thanks Sally for all your hard work and for the "HOPE" you give.

God loves you and has called you to write,


Monday, January 7, 2008

Joining God's Army

What is your morning routine? Once I pry my eyes open, I stumble down the steps to make coffee. I'm not really awake until the 5th sip. I make a bowl of cereal and then sit down to catch up on the news. Later in the day I check back every so often to see what's going on in the world.

Yesterday I caught a quick sound bite about an atheist movement. Today I googled "American Atheist". There were 2,150,000 results. I couldn't believe the stories of their determination. They have shopping sites where you can buy things like Anti-religious t-shirts and heathen (their words not mine) mugs. No wonder there have been so many lawsuits and personal attacks. They want to rid America of any and all religious ties. Their Christmas motto is "Atheist are the reason there's reason." Their bumber sticker boasts, "Atheism - there's no substitute for being right."

Lately I've felt under attack. Not just on a global level, but on a personal level as well. The big bad wolf seems to be knocking close to home and it's more than intimidating. Perhaps now I know why. There is a movement to strip this country of our freedom of religion.

I went to my knees. I am convinced that the Christian Faith is facing it's biggest fight yet. I have enjoyed the religious freedom in this country and losing it isn't something I want to live through. I asked God to show me His will for me during this time.

I thought about all the things I could do to fight for my religious freedom. Everything I thought about had consequences. If I joined a march - we could be stopped or jeered or even physically attacked. In some places if I stood in a pulpit and spoke strongly against evil, I could be sued. Many churches are facing lawsuits because they took a stand on sin. If I expressed my feelings to a co-worker I could be sued or even arrested. We all know the consequences of sharing the gospel in public. The week-end headlines boasted about a woman who was kicked off a bus for reading the Bible to her daughter. I read another account where a person going door to door witnessing was beaten. We aren't even allowed to discipline our children in public.

Fear gripped my heart. I prayed for people who are athetist but are my friend. I prayed for the division that may be looming ahead. I prayed for my own timid heart. What can I do to stop this horrible trend? What is the best thing to do? Should I just keep quiet, attend church and pray for our country? Once again I asked God to show me His will.

What is the one priceless freedom that so far has not been stopped? Writing - The printed word - freedom of expression - freedom of the press. This country does not burn or ban books.

Individuals or groups might ban books - but the government does not. Thank God we still have a governmental policy that freedom of the press must be preserved. We may not be able to preach it from a pulpit, but writing it in a book can't be stopped. We may not sell a lot of books and we may be attacked verbally on a talk show, but printing will continue. Lawsuits may try to stop the printing presses, but most of the time printing continues - and controversy even increases sales. Even better - Atheist can't open the door to book banning because we would also be allowed to ban their material.

"The Pen is mightier than the sword." Not only is it unstoppable, it is powerful. Reading changes hearts. Reading gets inside you and haunts you. Reading changes lives.
It seems to me that if a person wants to change the world, he should write.

Write with conviction.

Write with purpose.

Write as if the future depends on your words.

As I closed my eyes to pray again all I could see was this great army of men and women. An army carrying only one tool....the printed word. As we write fiction and non-fiction we change this world one reader at a time. We open his heart just a crack so God's light can shine in. The next writer widens the crack and the next and the next.

Once this great army forms we can change the world. Don't you agree? Send me an e-mail and let me know how you feel.

Will you join God's army and help spread the gospel through your written words?

He's waiting....

God loves you and has called you to write,


Marlene Bagnull

Marlene Bagnull is a wonderful writer and speaker. I attended a conference with her several years ago. I could list her accomplishments but take my word for it...she's great.

She has written a wonderful book for the soul of a writer. Write His Answer addresses all the mental hoops writers insist on jumping through. It's a treasured Bible study for Christian Writers.

I love the first quote in the book. It's from Habakkuk 2:2. "And the Lord said to me, Write my answer on a billboard, large and clear, so that anyone can read it at a glance and rush to tell the others."

I love the holidays and I love doing things for my family. But during such a busy time it's easy to lose sight of what we do. Somewhere in the casseroles and wrapping paper I forget that I've been called. I forget that God has given me a voice and a message.

We must NEVER forget. We must strive to keep that billboard foremost in our minds. We are called!

I can't write what God has laid on your heart. He needs your voice and your experiences to touch people that are "like" you. And guess what, you can't write for me. My slant is totally different from you. We are all part of an army that God needs to carry out his will.
Please pray with me....

"Dear God, help me today to remember why you called me to write. Help me not to stress over the marketing and the technical side of writing.

Help me instead to open my mind and see individual faces of people that you want me to help. Let me see the struggling mother, the discouraged father, the hurting teen, the burnt out pastor. Give me a word for them. Let my head and my hands be yours as you bring encouragement and peace to those people.

While I need to do my very best, remind me that I have been called. Remind me that it will not be easy, but you will be there with me. Remind me that I serve you first. Let my words be your words destined to help a hurting world.

I love you Lord....Amen"

God loves you and has called you to write,


Hot Flash Fear

I'm 57 years old. I'm very secure in my life. I have a great family who loves me and is proud of my writing. I'm confident of the advice I give during lectures and classes. I'm confident of the counseling advice I give to clients.

If you are younger you may not identify with hot flashes. Eventually it's a life process all women experience. We should look at hot flashes as a badge of honor stating that we've made it through the wonderful life cycle of child bearing. Maybe we should even be celebrating our success.

It's hard to celebrate the sneaky surprise of an attack. Annoying hot flashes can come at the most inappropriate times. Just the other day I had a very important appointment. I was presenting my ideas, looking great and commanding the attention of everyone around me. As if hit by a sneaky sniper, my face turned red, my forehead began it's sprinkler routine and I thought I would suffocate on the spot. Embarrassment is a mild word for how I felt. I was rescued by another woman in the group who began her own hot flash routine.

In order to sound "cool" I've started calling my hot flash session "power surges". Somehow it seems like I'm in control if I call it a power surge.

I wish I could experience "power surges" with my writing. There are times when I have a great idea and it seems to be rolling through my fingers and onto the screen with lighting speed. Out of the corner of my mind comes a hot flash of fear. In no way could I ever express it as a beneficial power surge. It attacks without cause and continues to attack until I have to stop and return fire.

"What makes you think you are a good writer?"

"This topic is too big for you."

"No one will want to read this."

"You are neglecting your family to write something that won't sell."

"You are wasting your time."

"You remember the submissions editors show in conference classes as what not to do? This submission will be shown next year. You will be laughed at as not knowing what you are doing."

If you've received even one rejection letter or had one person verbally say, "It's good...but..." Then you have probably experienced Hot Flash Fear.

So how can we return fire?

1. Move away from the computer or where ever you are writing. You won't be wasting time. Just take a few minutes to pray and ask God for strength. Getting away from the computer will reset your thinking.

2. Force your mind to think on the good returns you've had. Think about the people who love your writing. Think about the people who have given you great reviews or who have published your work.

3. If you are just starting out and the good returns are few, list the ways you have improved and see your work as a time-line toward success. No one would fuss at a freshman at college because he couldn't do senior work. Don't let yourself be attacked because you are a freshman with plenty to learn.

4. Take a moment and re-read your favorite passage. Just a few lines that have made you proud will let your sub-conscious know that you have potential.

5. Re-commit your writing to God. Ask Him to lead and guide you as you work. Ask Him to open your mind and help you to be a better editor.

Now get back to work. This world needs your voice and needs to hear what you have to say.

God loves you and has called you to write,