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Site Changes Underway: Pardon our construction!

   Write2Ignite Conference is in the process of updating our website with the addition of e-store functions, in order to facilitate online payments for books, critique services, webinars, conferences, or other programs and products. In the process, we’ve discovered that our previous design templates appear to be incompatible with the e-commerce plugin. As we work through design adjustments, we know that our website appearance has changed temporarily in ways we didn’t design. Bear with us, please! And watch for future announcements about programming, resources, new bloggers, and our finished website and store design!

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Broadcasting with Purpose and Intent

Before I interned at South Carolina Public Radio, “intimate” and “people-oriented” were the last words I’d use to describe the broadcasting organization. My picture of public radio included stuffed shirts, pressed pants, and dull voices. All news reports were robotic, lacking the warm relatable touch humans can bring to stories.

Now, I’ve been wrong many times in my life before, but it’s rare I’m quite this wrong.

Public radio’s foundation is built on the community that serves as its audience. The reporters, programmers, and crew who toil day after day chasing the news dedicate themselves to providing their audience content that is informative, objective, and engaging. It takes an undeniable human touch to achieve such a goal. Through producing stories alongside the team at South Carolina Public Radio and receiving mentorship from News Director John Gasque, I learned how much work goes into ensuring the public radio broadcasts are transparent and relevant.

Interning at South Carolina Public Radio gave me a behind-the-scenes look at some of the daily challenges journalists face. Besides finding story concepts, it’s crucial that reporters’ stories be inclusive and nuanced. Failing to address the impact a story might have on often-neglected communities is inexcusable. Public broadcasting is a state- and donor-funded initiative intended to inform the public and be a source they can trust. Anything less would compromise the purpose of its existence.

Besides providing an appreciation for the importance of public broadcasting, working at South Carolina Public Radio gave me practical experience. First was a thorough explanation of the standards South Carolina Public Radio abides by. I learned the best ways to capture high-quality audio as well as take pictures with an HD [high-definition] camera. I found out what kind of human interest stories resonate with a  South Carolina audience and received tips on scripting said stories in a way that engaged them.

People have criticized internships for failing to provide opportunities to learn and instead supplying interns with an endless amount of busy work, but I was granted the opposite experience as an ETV Endowment intern. My supervisor made it clear that he treated all his interns like employees. I would be subject to the same standards as every other employee in the building. That precedent kept me focused on my work and helped me realize how interested the employees of South Carolina Public Radio were in giving me the best possible learning experience.

This internship gave me a new perspective on life in general. God calls those who believe in Him to be authentic. He asks them to be mindful and caring of others. South Carolina Public Radio aspires for integrity and compassion in daily reporting. In an age where journalism, and specifically news media, are constantly scrutinized, public radio perseveres in factually reporting the news to its audience, while being aware of the perspectives of their listeners. This balance is incredibly difficult to maintain, but my experience helped me realize how important it is. In an incredibly uncertain and chaotic world, public broadcasting’s mission to inform the public with purpose and intent is an imitable and admirable goal.

Connor Boulet’s favorite spot in the world is behind a microphone in a padded studio, warming up his vocal cords for an early afternoon broadcast. A broadcast media student at North Greenville University, Connor’s dream is to engage an audience through electrifying music and open conversation. In a world shifting towards new media, Connor recognizes the role radio plays in many people’s lives and wants with all his heart to be a part of that impact.

 

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How to Make Your Christian Fiction Stand Out

From Pexels by Suzy Hazelwood

As storytellers, we love to share what we’re passionate about, what concerns us, what plays out in our imaginations, and how they all come together in the real world. Many of us can’t help but include our love for Christ and our desire to bring His truth to the ones who need it the most. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get swallowed up in the typical Christian tropes that deems our words “cheesy, tired, and unrealistic.”

As a Christian fiction and nonfiction writer, I spend a lot of my time trying to bring my faith to life in a way that will both draw and minister to people. Here are my top 5 tips for how you can freshen up your faith-based writing to best cater to your Christian audience.

Put Your Character(s) in Unfamiliar Territory

Sometimes, we need to separate ourselves from what we know in order to come to new conclusions. Take your characters and put them in places that are unlike what you usually find in Christian themed stories. Church is only one example. There’s nothing wrong with church, but church can be a very comfortable way of expressing the power and love of God.

Ministering to people can take many forms and can happen in many places; take a chance and explore that. It could look like seclusion in a bunker underground, or a family boating trip, or in a spaceship. Once you’re in unfamiliar territory, you’ll have the reader’s attention quicker and they might just appreciate the different approach.

Hit Uncomfortable Topics

Nothing attracts attention like controversy. The world is filled with it, now more than ever. But BE CAREFUL! Don’t be afraid of cultural, political, and spiritual topics that make people squirm, but address them in love. It’s never good to bash someone over the head with your opinion, even if it’s backed up with the Bible. But you’re a creative writer! You can work through some of these conflicts creatively disguised for one simple purpose: to make people think.

It’s not your job as the writer to change minds or to force action. Your job is to first explore these topics creatively and provoke thought rather than to immediately turn the reader off with your beliefs screamed in the words of your story.

Minimize Christian Lingo

The Word of God is powerful, but we don’t want to overuse it so much that your story becomes preachy and boring. People don’t read to receive a sermon. They want to feel invited into a world, taken on a journey, and experience emotional connections. Address them like a normal person. You can still express the same truths, just recognize the popular phrases of the Christian culture, and tweak a little. Your work doesn’t have to be void of Jesus, the cross, or faith, but maybe downsize the words and phrases that your readers (assuming most are believers) are already familiar with. Give them something fresh to bite into and they might just go in for a second helping.

Handle Conversion with Care

Of course, we want our fictional friends to be “saved”! But, not everyone who hears the Gospel, will accept it. People reject it or sometimes feel unworthy of receiving it. People who start off as strong Christians fall away and maybe don’t come back. Your writing could explore all these stories even though they can be heartbreaking. If everyone finds God and gets saved in your writing, then it relies on the happy ending and falls into the predictable and not unique category. The key is to still provide hope. Because while we still have breath, we still have hope

Be Authentic

This is important and encapsulates all points. Sometimes, as Christians we tend to impose how we believe Christians should be on our characters. They come across very nice and friendly with few flaws. On the other extreme, sometimes Christian characters are the villain because of his or her legalism. Either case isn’t wrong, but practice humanizing characters, Christian and non-Christian.

Be real. We have ugly sides, we have bad habits, we don’t always treat people well. After all, we’re all sinners! Write how people actually speak. Feel how people actually feel. Vices and all.  Christianity isn’t always pretty, and the more we can portray our stories with that mindset, we can be more authentic with the joy and pain that comes with a life that’s intertwined with Jesus.

***

I truly believe that no moment compares to the beauty of the deepest part of your heart reaching out with the extended love of Jesus. I also believe that no adventure is greater than the one you walk hand in hand with The Father. You have the privilege to make that real for someone else.

I assure you, if you keep these tips into consideration when you sit down at the keyboard, you will catch someone’s attention and touch someone’s heart.

Do you have any helpful tips to add? I would love to hear them! Happy Writing!

Leah Jordan Meahl has recently joined the Write2Ignite blogging team. She has a degree in Writing and Theater, and has pursued both passions longer than she can remember. She loves to journey with new adult Christians through her blog at www.meahltime.com. In addition to publishing a few daily devotions and stories, she’s featured in the fiction and nonfiction anthologies of America’s Emerging Writers. She’s beyond thrilled and thankful to be sharing her debut novella The Threshold. In her spare time, you’ll find her with a song on her lips, a cat on her lap, and a cup of coffee in her hand. James 4:8

 

 

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What Write2Ignite Conferences Taught Me

My first attendance at a W2I Conference was in March of 2017.  I landed a scholarship which helped me enjoy the whole weekend. 

I brought a notebook of questions that God answered in every workshop I attended.  I still have that notebook with notes.  Reflecting on that wonderful weekend, I wonder, should I have been so surprised by how God showed up? I mean, as believers, we know God’s Word is truth and we can recount those scriptures that read, “Seek God’s Kingdom first and all these things will be added unto you.”  God does help us have the desires in our hearts as we live for Him.  The first thing I gleaned from this conference was a personal renewing of a desire to write about godly things for children and their families. 

CONNECTIONS

The second thing I learned about writing, and freelance writing in particular, is that people you meet at conferences can help change your life. Asking a question about poetry led me to meet with Brenda Covert during our one-on-one time.  Brenda introduced me to Union Gospel Press and she urged me to apply with them as they were open to new authors.  Months after submitting my application, I was offered an assignment.  They asked me to write devotions for singles.  So, I did.  Yes, this was a “paid and published” opportunity for me, a small step into a much larger world of writing and publishing.

RESOURCES

A third benefit is learning about various links, resources, and publications where I can continue to pursue writing projects. Currently, I have no assignments with a publisher, but I have been busy this summer entering writing contests and submitting poetry and short stories to magazines. I have been able to re-ignite my personal blog, and I have had some critiques done on a YA fantasy novel I ‘ve been writing for most of my life.  So my writing journey continues even to today.  Who knows what God may have for me around this corner of my life?

Diane Buie's pubs
Some of the magazines Diane Buie has been published in.

Diane Buie celebrated when she saw her articles in print. These included devotionals for children and pre schoolers; beginning with ages PreK up to  4th and 5th grades.  A few of the submissions to Union Gospel Press were Bible related games or activities to enhance faith development.


What about you: How have writing conferences impacted your writing or creativity?  How did attending this year’s W2I Conference in September change your life?  

 

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Grow Your Writing Skills — Part I

Photo by Lum3n.com from Pexels

In an effort to grow my copywriting skills, I took Ian Lurie’s LinkedIn Learning course “Learning to Write Marketing Copy.” He broke copywriting down into four easy steps: create a plan, free write, write your first draft, and polish your writing. While the course focused specifically on writing marketing copy, I’ve been able to apply his method to fiction writing, blog writing, and even journalism.

This week, I’d like to focus on the first step.

Create a Plan

Have you ever taken a composition and rhetoric class? My first semester of college, I took English 101, which taught me how to research, outline, and write research papers. Throughout my education, I used that model (research, outline, write) for most of my papers and assignments, big and small.

The first step in any writing project is to research or create a plan. While I used a more structured outline for planning academic papers, I’ve found that bulleted lists do the trick for most copywriting and fiction writing projects.

Know Your Audience

Lurie suggests first jotting down notes about your audience. In my work as a copywriter for Liberty University Marketing, I primarily write to Generation Z high school students. Understanding my audience’s needs is important to every email, postcard, and booklet I write.

If, for example, I’m working on a direct mail advertisement, I start by making a list of things I know are important to Gen Z students:

  • Sustainability
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Fiscal responsibility
  • Hands-on learning opportunities
Photo by Kaboompics from Pexels

And the list goes on. Once I have a list of Gen Z’s priorities, I can brainstorm ways our university can meet those needs. For example, I might write about Liberty’s energy-saving efforts and 40 percent recycling rate to address Gen Z’s interest in sustainability. 

Similarly, if you are writing fiction for children and young adults, it’s important to understand what’s important to them. In a session from Write2Ignite’s 2019 conference, author and presenter Edie Melson said that you need to be reading the current literature on the market. (i.e., If you want to write young adult fiction, you need to read young adult fiction.)

Reading young adult fiction or children’s books gives you an understanding of the types of stories that are popular, but it doesn’t tell you much about your audience. I suggest not only reading popular fiction for your target audience, but also researching your audience so you can understand what is important to them.

Make a List of Collateral Requested by the Client

Collateral is a marketing term used to describe the materials requested by a client for any given project. For example, if I’m working on some projects for College For A Weekend, Liberty’s four-day college visit, I might have 30-40 projects ranging from emails to class schedule booklets to temporary parking passes. However, I believe this step can easily be translated to fiction or even blog writing: make a list of key scenes/ideas.

Some authors write without an outline. They can just sit down and write their stories without any pre-planning. I’ve never been able to write without an outline, even if it’s only a few bullet points. But writing down the key scenes I want to include in my story or the main ideas I want to address in my blog post helps me get from one point to the next without running down a rabbit trail.

Note: An outline is not a binding agreement. You are not obligated to follow your outline once it’s written!

List the Styles that Will and Won’t Work for Your Audience

Now, this idea fascinated me. Until taking Lurie’s class, I didn’t really think about the style of writing I was using in my marketing pieces. But the more I thought about my audience, the more I realized that Gen Z doesn’t like being marketed to. So how am I supposed to market to Gen Z without them knowing they’re being marketed to? (Say that five times fast!) 

Through style.

Photo from Pexels

Most of my pieces are written in a teaching style. That is, they teach my audience about Liberty and then offer a call to action. (i.e., “Did you know you can receive $10,000 in awards and scholarships over four years just by submitting your refundable $250 Enrollment Deposit? We want to make college attainable for you; that’s why we offer generous scholarship packages and flexible payment plans. Don’t wait — submit your Enrollment Deposit today!”)

In creative writing, you need to choose the correct format for your writing — you need to know the purpose. In her session “Writing for the YA Audience” at the 2019 W2I conference, Melson reminded us that we shouldn’t be writing to tell young adults what to think. We should be writing to connect and entertain and then allow the audience to draw their own conclusions about the story, which may or may not be what we intended. 

While your audience may have different takeaways, you’ve given them a reading experience they are invested in rather than another textbook. It’s up to them to decide what to do with the material.

Tune-in on Dec. 5 for steps two and three, freewriting and writing your first draft!

About Emily

EmilyBabbitt is a promotional writer for Liberty University Marketing and specializes in residential undergraduate enrollment. She has done extensive research on Generation Z and has written for school-aged audiences in her work as a promotional writer and through contract work with Growing Leaders, Inc. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, taking photos, and cooking. You can learn more about her work by visiting her website, EmilyMarlene.com, or connecting with her on LinkedIn.

 

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The Value of a Writing Community

So you think you can sit alone in your room or your local coffee shop and hammer out a book on your laptop and call it done? Nope. You need a community of writers, and here’s why.

Accountability

Writing is hard. And because it’s hard, it’s easy to let it slide, especially if you’re the only one who knows you’re supposed to be writing. But if you’re part of a writing group or you post your writing goals on social media, you’ve suddenly got a lot more people breathing down your neck—I mean encouraging you to finish what you start. A goal no one knows about can be ignored and forgotten, but when you’ve got a community who won’t let you forget, that goal becomes a lot more concrete—and more likely to be accomplished.

Connections

Writing is usually a solitary action, but publishing—even self-publishing—takes a village. Building a writing community now helps so much with that. You need beta readers? Authors will gladly volunteer. Need an editor or a cover artist? Your writer friends can tell you how they found theirs or connect you to someone they know. Need help marketing? They’ll promote your work like crazy. Some might even interview you for their blogs or have you write a guest post for them. I once complimented a writer friend on her marketing plan, and she gave it to me to study and adapt. Gave. For free. Never underestimate the value of a writer connection.

Writing alone has its thrilling moments, but it can also be lonely and frustrating. Having a community to get you through the good times and the hard times can be invaluable. You can commiserate with each other’s frustrations and celebrate each other’s successes. You can be inspired by others and inspire them in turn. You can cheer each other on until you accomplish your dreams.

How to Build Your Writing Community

Now that you know why a writing community is so important, how do you build one? You might try joining a local writing group; a library or university in your area might have some suggestions. You can make even more writer friends online. Facebook is a great place to connect with writing groups. You can also curate your Twitter feed to be author-friendly by following lots of authors and engaging with hashtags like #amwriting, #WIPjoy, #AuthorConfession, #StorySocial, and many more (be sure to see how other authors are using those hashtags first so you can learn how and when to include them in your tweets). There’s also National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, when you can join together with other authors to hammer out a draft of a novel in one month—the official website, nanowrimo.org, provides lots of resources and forums where you can connect with others. Finally, you can make great connections in person you might never make otherwise by attending a writing conference like Write2Ignite, Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference, or Realm Makers.

Writing is a solitary act, but it’s not one you have to do alone (nor should you). Building a community is one of the most important steps you can take towards writing success

******

Award-winning author Jonathan King is a full time Library Assistant at North Greenville University. His literary experience ranges from editing The Mountain Laurel, NGU’s student literary publication, to writing short stories and plays, including two flash fiction pieces published by Splickety Havok. His short play Therapy received a Certificate of Merit from Columbia Scholastic Press Association, and another short play, Cuckoo in the Nest, received an honorable mention in the 2015 Writer’s Digest Writing competition. Jonathan loves peanut butter, superheroes, and anything combining the two.

 

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5 Things Journalism School Taught Me About Writing

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I graduated in May of 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and immediately transitioned into a career in marketing. I’m still learning the ropes of copywriting, but many of the principles I learned in journalism school apply to both copywriting and creative writing. I’d love to share some of those things with you.

Interviewing Strangers

One of the first skills I learned in journalism school was how to conduct interviews. In class, my professor had us practice interviewing each other before she sent us to the nearby computer lab to talk to other students — to strangers.

Approaching unsuspecting, and potentially unwilling, strangers was terrifying at first, but over time, the action became easier. By my sophomore year, I was excited to interview strangers.

I’m glad I learned to talk to people and ask good questions early on in my education because so much of the program was based on that discipline. Without interviewing skills, many of my news stories would have been lackluster because people are the heart of a story.

My senior year, I wrote a news story about Main Street Lynchburg, Va., receiving new water lines and electrical systems — not the most interesting story in the world.

But when I added quotes from a quirky barista known as “Coco” and an elderly camera shop owner who thinks the project is “experimenting with other people’s livelihoods,” the story took on a new dimension. 

Whether you’re writing a newspaper article or a work of fiction, talking to others will breathe life into your story.

Simplicity is the Key to Good Writing

Most news is written at an eighth-grade reading level. Journalists intentionally write at a lower reading level so news can be accessible to readers. When writing, journalists use simple sentences and words to get their points across. 

Similarly, in copywriting, we use plain English. When writing to a diverse audience, it is best to write plainly and simply because your readers may have different levels of education. (Am I the only one who read magazine ads as a kid?)

While fiction writers have a more specific audience, I still believe simple writing is the best writing because it doesn’t distract the reader from the story.

Transitions are Hard

Copies of the Liberty Champion displayed on my dorm room wall circa 2017

Both transitions in writing and transitions in life are difficult. 

Traditionally, journalists had to write as simple and short as possible to fit their stories into just a few column inches of the paper. That doesn’t matter as much now with the internet being the primary vehicle for news, but there still isn’t much room for transitions in journalistic writing. 

Academic writing is different than journalistic writing. It’s fluffier and lengthier and more formulaic. Every paragraph is supposed to be bookended with an introduction and a conclusion, and every section is bookended with introductory and conclusive paragraphs. And on it goes. 

Journalistic writing doesn’t have the time for paragraphs dedicated solely to transitioning from one thought to the next, so I learned snappy words to transition quickly from one subject to the next without giving my readers whiplash.

Similarly, I learned that transitions in life are difficult. (See how I used the word “similarly” to transition my thoughts?) 

Transitioning from being a high school student with an interest in creative writing to a journalism student dedicated to fact-based writing was difficult. At first, I felt like my creativity was being stifled because of the blandness of journalism compared to the freedom of creative writing.

But as my education progressed, the blandness transformed into a challenge, and I learned to write true stories creatively.

Again, I’m going through a transition from a journalism student to a copywriting professional. My creativity often runs dry because the copy I write is predetermined by my clients. I don’t get to choose my projects or conduct the research myself — it’s all provided. 

Yet I’m learning to incorporate creativity into direct mail pieces and monthly offer emails. And I’m beginning to realize that creativity is not unrestrained. It’s a tool I can apply to everything I write, whether it is client-provided content or a short story from my heart.

Writing is Easy. Editing is Hard.

I never had a hard time sitting down to write my first draft. After completing my research, transcribing my interviews, and framing an outline, the first draft flowed onto the page in a few minutes. 

Going back and editing is the hard part. Now, I don’t mean checking for grammatical errors. I mean cutting out unnecessary words and sentences, rearranging the flow of the story, and sometimes going back to the drawing board.

Usually, my first drafts ran long — around 1,200 words. At my college newspaper, we had a limit of 750 words per article so everything would fit into our 16-page paper. 

That meant I had to cut out about 450 words every week. That’s a big chunk of text (and work)!

The hard part of editing my own writing is admitting to myself that the first draft isn’t perfect. Over time I learned that a first draft isn’t supposed to be perfect!

Once I accept that my writing isn’t perfect the first time around, I can usually effectively cut out a few hundred words. Before submitting my work, I wait a day and reread the piece with “fresh eyes.”

Don’t Waste your Mistakes

You’re going to make mistakes at some point in your writing career, and that’s okay. Whether it’s misspelling a name or overlooking a grammatical error, know that you can learn from your mistakes.

During my time with the school’s newspaper, I made my fair share of mistakes. So I kept a document of my common mistakes on my computer. That way, I could refer back to it when writing my stories. 

I also worked as a copy editor for the school’s newspaper for two years, and during that time, I made some embarrassing mistakes (like overlooking a misspelling on the front page). Making a checklist of things to look for when reviewing your work (or others’ work) is a great way to cut down on mistakes and improve your writing and editing skills.

What have you learned on your writing journey? I’d love to hear about the lessons you’ve learned in the comments below!

 

About Emily

Photo by Jim Smith

EmilyBabbitt is a promotional writer for Liberty University Marketing and specializes in residential undergraduate enrollment. She has done extensive research on Generation Z and has written for school-aged audiences in her work as a promotional writer and through contract work with Growing Leaders, Inc. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, taking photos, and cooking. You can learn more about her work by visiting her website, EmilyMarlene.com, or connecting with her on LinkedIn.

 

Emily will be blogging for Write2Ignite on the first Thursday of every month. Her next post will be published on Nov. 7.