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Let the Little Children Come

We’re naturally drawn to the power of a good story. It starts at a young age, doesn’t it?

Jack and Jill and other nursery rhymes.

Aesop’s Fables and fairy tales.

Frights around a campfire and happily-ever-after bedtime stories.

Jesus understood the power of a story. He spoke truth, then illustrated it with parables—earthly stories with heavenly meanings. He drew people to the Father through word pictures His listeners could recognize and relate to.

He was happiest when people understood His message (think of the Roman centurion in Matthew 8:10 who exhibited more faith than any Israelite Jesus met). He was disappointed when they didn’t get it (John 14:9, NIV: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?”).

We catch glimpses of both His joy and disappointment when we offer our stories too. Whether in a picture book or a chapter book, we tell a story using words our readers can relate to. We do it because the motive for our writing is not just to entertain, it’s to accomplish an eternal purpose.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14, NIV).

Children - 150ef2c32012fDon’t underestimate your audience. And don’t allow others—including other writers—to disparage your written contributions as being any less valuable than those in other genres. Children are important to Jesus, so they must be important to us.

Children are also important to us for another reason:

“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’” (Matthew 18:2–5, NIV).

Children show us how to go to the Father. We need them to demonstrate what it means to have childlike faith. To trust without wavering. To love as we have been loved.

Write so that the children may come. As you do, come as a child as well.

***

Ava Pennington is a writer, Bible teacher, and speaker. Her newest book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is endorsed by Precepts founder Kay Arthur. Additionally, Ava is co-author of Faith Basics for Kids. The first two books in the series are Do You Love Me More? and Will I See You Today? She has also written numerous articles for magazines such as Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse, Today’s Christian Woman, Power for Living, and Called.

In addition to her writing, Ava also teaches a weekly Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class. She is a passionate speaker and teacher and delights in challenging audiences with the truth of God’s Word in relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit her at AvaWrites.com.

 

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Finding the Elusive Balance

One of the things I hear a lot of writers talk about is the balance between family life and career. In the countless interviews I’ve given through the years, the question of how I juggle the needs of my family with the demands of my writing career often comes up. Balance seems elusive. Parents can carry around a lot of guilt—especially if the kids claim that your “job” is more important than they are.

I’m still carving out my right balance. Recently, I was asked to think about what my perfect day would look like. That sure got the gears turning. Here’s what I would like to see Monday through Friday:

5:45 a.m.—Prayer

6:00—Workout

6:30—Get ready for the day

7:00—Drive kids to school

7:30—Breakfast

7:45—Read and respond to emails

8:00—Write for an hour

9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.—Real-estate appointments

2:15—Pick up the girls from the bus stop

2:30 to 5:00—Household chores

5:00—Make lunches for tomorrow

5:30—Make supper

6:30 to 9:00—Family time

9:30—Reading time

10:00—Bedtime

As of right now, my days rarely look like this. Writing this out and posting it in my office, however, shows what I’m striving for. Just like I have health and fitness goals and post workouts and recipes online to keep me focused on those goals, having this list staring me in the face each morning motivates me to find that balance. There might be days that everything doesn’t fall into place. The unexpected can happen at any time. But having a plan and doing your best to stick to it certainly gets you farther than leaving it all up to chance.

Do you struggle with finding the right balance between your family life and writing career? What would your perfect day look like? Would writing out your perfect day and posting it in your writing space be helpful? What tips can you share for finding that balance?

 

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What Do You Pray for Your Writing?

What do you pray for your writing? You might think that’s a silly question. Of course we pray for our writing. But what, exactly, are we praying for?

If we’re honest, our prayers are often centered on requests for favor with agents and publishers. Book contracts, large advances, and strong sales top our lists. Although these aren’t bad things to desire, here are some other things we could and should be praying for.

God’s glory

Everything we do, we do in Jesus’s name (Colossians 3:17) and for His glory (I Corinthians 10:31). This includes our writing, whether we’re writing for the Christian or secular market. It’s not about us. It’s not even about our readers. It’s about bringing glory to the Living Word, the One who gave us the ability to communicate through written words. Let’s be intentional about praying for His glory!

Our own spiritual growth

Even though our writing isn’t about us, we’re still part of the process. I teach a weekly Bible study class. People often express wonder at the amount of preparation required to teach the class. But I don’t consider it work because I benefit from my study as much, if not more, than the class members do. If I’m not growing spiritually, I can’t be an effective teacher. It’s the same with my writing. I can’t draw water from an empty well. Whatever we write, let’s ask the Lord to fill our spiritual wells with His creativity, wisdom, and insight as we grow in our dependence on Him.

Our readers’ spiritual growth

We write our stories, poems, songs, and plays to benefit our readers. However, while our target audience may be children, our readers also include parents, teachers, and other adults. It’s often an adult who purchases our works, and in the case of younger children, it’s an adult who reads to them. Are you praying that lives—both of children and adults—will be changed and blessed as people read the words you write?

Timing

We belong to El Olam—the Eternal God. Although He created time, He’s not bound by it. That’s sometimes difficult to remember because we are finite beings who are bound by time. We’re especially sensitive to the passage of time when we’re in the middle of a project and struggling with writer’s block or when we’re waiting for the response to a submission. But God is sovereign and His timing is perfect. Will you use your times of waiting to trust God for His perfect timing?

Rejections

Years ago, I had a great idea for a series of children’s picture books. But although everyone I spoke to loved the concept, not one agent or acquisitions editor said yes to the project. After several years, I wondered whether I should just file the idea and move on.

Then I met a terrific children’s author who agreed to partner with me for the series. She applied her rhythm and rhyme abilities to the existing manuscripts and made them sing. (Thanks, Crystal Bowman!) The project was picked up by a children’s publisher soon after our collaboration. I’m so grateful for the early rejections because my initial drafts didn’t have the polish that the published books have.

There’s nothing wrong with praying for commercial success for our writing. But something’s terribly wrong if that’s our only focus. Our heavenly Father continuously works to conform us to the image of His Son. If we want to look like Jesus, we need to share His priorities.

Now it’s your turn. What other topics can we pray for in relation to our writing?

 ***

© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography
Martin Alan Grivjack Photography

Ava Pennington is a writer, Bible teacher, and speaker. Her book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is endorsed by Precepts founder Kay Arthur. She has also written numerous articles for magazines such as ClubhouseToday’s Christian WomanPower for Living, and Called. In addition to her writing, Ava teaches a weekly Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class of 300 women. She is a passionate speaker and teacher and delights in challenging audiences with the truth of God’s Word in relevant, enjoyable presentations. Ava and Russ have been married for 40 years and live in southeast Florida. For more information, visit her at AvaWrites.com.

 

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Read What You Write

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ~ Stephen King

I don’t like the horror genre (it gives me nightmares), so I’m not a fan of Stephen King. But when he’s right, he’s right.

Romance writers read romance. Science fiction writers read sci-fi. Historical novelists read historical fiction. And children’s writers read children’s books.

You may have heard the illustration describing how Treasury agents are trained to detect counterfeit money. The illustration explains that Treasury agents study genuine money until they are familiar with the smallest details. They are taught to recognize characteristics such as the feel of the paper, color, background patterns, and watermarks. After in-depth study of the real thing, counterfeit money will be obvious.

What does counterfeit money have to do with writing for children?

Many writers who wouldn’t attempt to write for adults think writing for children is easy. After all, they reason, how difficult could it be for a college-educated adult to write a thirty-two-page book for a six-year-old?

Truth is, it’s extremely difficult. Even more so than writing for adults. Children’s writers must communicate their subject using age-appropriate vocabulary. They must write in a way that will hold the child’s interest, because children have short attention spans and fickle interests.

Writing in rhyme requires more than the ability to match similar-sounding vowels. It requires the ability to rhyme words without sacrificing the essence of what we wish to communicate and without forcing the rhyme.

The children’s author also needs to understand meter. Writing in rhythm is not just about counting syllables. We need to recognize the difference between various meter patterns, too.

Creating excellent children’s writing means refusing to take shortcuts. Children’s writers must hone their craft as much as those who write for adults. We start by reading the genre we wish to write, whether it’s board books, picture books, beginning reader books, or chapter books.

Writing for children may be difficult, but it has its rewards, too. You and I have the opportunity to change the way a child thinks and behaves. We can entertain and instruct. We can communicate joy and wonder. We can write a book that a child will someday read to his children. Through the power of the written word, we can create memories that will last a lifetime.

Read what you want to write. Then go write it.

What children’s books have influenced your writing? Tell us about them in the comments!

***

© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography
Martin Alan Grivjack Photography

Ava Pennington is a writer, Bible teacher, and speaker. Her most recent book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is endorsed by Precepts founder Kay Arthur. Additionally, Ava is co-author of Faith Basics for Kids. The first two books in the series are Do You Love Me More? and Will I See You Today? She has also written numerous articles for magazines such as Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse, Today’s Christian Woman, Power for Living, and Called.

In addition to her writing, Ava also teaches a weekly Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class. She is a passionate speaker and teacher and delights in challenging audiences with the truth of God’s word in relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit her at AvaWrites.com.

 

 

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Is Writing the Impossible Mission?

Is Writing the Impossible Mission Write2Ignite

Writing conference season is in full swing. Conferences are such exciting times-filled with renewed relationships, new friendships, and countless dreams. Mixed in with the dreams, however, are less appealing realities. Changing markets, a depressed economy, and the small percent of manuscripts that see publication, not to mention agents, queries, verb tense, and point-of-view all present roadblocks to the path we once felt sure we were called to take. We find ourselves asking, “Is writing the impossible mission?”

I love watching the old television show Mission: Impossible starring Peter Graves. The heroes, the suspense, the music. Round any corner and find adventure and intrigue. Who among us hasn’t secretly pictured ourselves as the dashing Jim Phelps or Cinnamon Carter?

Then we ask ourselves: how can I ever hope to compare? An elite handful of men and women called on to save the world. What chance do I have of being one of them?

But there is another team of men and women called to be part of this impossible mission. Their roles are less glamorous, but no less vital. The couriers. In almost every episode, someone was called on to deliver the message. Without them, the heroes would have never learned what they were called to do.

Come to think of it, isn’t that what we as writers are called to do: deliver the message and help people learn what they are called to do? Our television couriers were entrusted with vital information. They received the call and delivered the message as they went about their daily routines. They were trusted to ensure that the right person received it, and they diligently watched for the person for whom the message was intended.

As Christian writers, we are called on to be trustworthy bearers of the best news ever shared with humanity. We are often called as we carry out our daily routines, and we are seldom called to abandon our daily life. We must vigilantly watch for whom we are called to minister to and share the message with them, no matter who they are or how they arrive.

There is one other thing I’ve noticed about those couriers. For every mission, a unique courier with a unique ability to deliver the message was chosen. The people called were as unique as the missions themselves.

Is writing the impossible mission? I suppose it depends on what part you want to play. If you are looking to be among the elite, to live a life full of suspense and glamour, perhaps it is. But if you are looking to be a part of delivering the best message the world has ever heard, God is always looking for more couriers.

Are you available?

Bonnie-Rose-Hudson-200x200Bonnie Rose Hudson lives in central Pennsylvania. Along with spending time with her family and writing, making kids smile is her favorite thing to do. Her heart’s desire is for every child to feel the love of God and know how special they are to Him. She loves creating curriculum and working for SchoolhouseTeachers.com, the curriculum arm of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, as the site’s executive editor. At TOS, she found a place where her love of God and history combine with her love of writing to bring encouraging, educational, and entertaining material to students and their families. She would love for you to visit WriteBonnieRose.com to discover how you can write for the homeschool market.

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Daniel Blackaby’s Earthshaking Confession

Daniel BlackabyI have a serious confession to make.

Ready for it?

Promise you won’t tell anyone?

Okay, here it is . . . I’m a fake author.

You see, I get asked all the time: “What does it take to be a writer?” People think that because I’ve published several books I’m a somehow a guru in all things writing, guiding inspiring novelists along the beaten trail to find the secret “author success” formula at the end of the rainbow. The problem is, I’m not even sure I’m a real author myself!

When you think of an “author,” what do you see? A man with a knee-length gray beard in a secluded mountain cottage surrounded by nothing but paper, a pen, and the mystifying wonders of nature? Someone who gleefully arranges his alphabet soup into compound sentences? Speaks in Shakespearian English? Reads War and Peace to relax in the bathtub? The problem is that I’m none of these things (seriously, my cheeks grow less hair than a naked mole rat).

Exhibit A: I currently sit in a La-Z-Boy recliner with my laptop propped atop a flimsy TV-table “desk.” To my right, littering my makeshift bookshelf/side-table is an empty can of Red Bull and several crumpled granola bar wrappers left from the days I was too distracted (read: slothful) to cook lunch. There’s also a bottle of extra-strength lavender Febreze to combat the potent stench wafting from the one-eyed dog at my feet. The rancid mutt and I daily engage in a cosmic battle for noise supremacy between my European heavy-metal and his grating snoring. In short, my life falls miserably short of the standards to be a “real author.”

My complications started early on. In 5th grade, my lowest mark was in English, prompting my teacher to conclude that my “responses reflect difficulties in understanding and interpreting literature.” When I reached college, I thought my fortunes had changed . . . at least I did until my first advanced grammar exam was returned with the words “Boo Hiss!” scribbled on top in thick red ink. Later that semester I would find an earnest note pinned to my midterm reminding me “English majors must achieve at least an C in the course.” My loathsome grades highlighted what I already knew: I’m an atrocious speller and can’t comprehend the correct grammatical use of commas if my life (or college graduation) depended on it!

Wait, but aren’t you supposed to be an author? Exactly! Are you beginning to understand my dilemma? Can you imagine the pandemonium that would transpire if the world caught on to my ruse and realized that all along I’ve only been a fake author?

By now you must be wondering how a fraud like me managed to dupe this blog into letting me contribute a post on writing. Well, here’s the most bizarre part of the whole story: amid all these monumental shortcomings, I’ve somehow managed to write 5 published books, exceed 25,000 sales, receive several nominations for year-end book awards, and have my work featured at some of the largest book conferences across the country, all before my 29th birthday! Wait, what!? Pretty crazy, isn’t it? Wondering how such a blatant “fake author” achieved all that? The answer is simple—I wrote.

It’s inescapably clear that I will never be the world’s premier technical writer. In fact, I had dozens of peers at school with oodles more talent than me. I’m also certain I will never sit atop the totem pole for creativity. I’ve had several aspiring writers share ideas that blew my own shabby concepts out of the water and sent them plunging to the dark depths of Davy-Jones’ Locker. However, the one thing I have done that far too many aspiring writers do not do is actually write.

You may be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world in grammar and possess mind-blowing fresh ideas, but if you never put words on paper, none of it matters. Sometimes we become so preoccupied with what we must look, act, or be like to become a “real author” that we neglect the single most important task that all writers must do—write. The reality is that for every Steven King, J.R.R. Tolkien, or J. R. Rowling, there are thousands of “fake authors” just like me. So don’t sweat it if you don’t live in a mountain cabin or know the function of an ambitransitive verb. So what if other people try and tell you will never succeed as a writer. None of those reasons can stop you from putting words on paper. Do that, and you never know all the crazy places it could take you. If a “fake author” like me can do it, what’s stopping you? Hope to see you at the Write2Ignite Conference in April!

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What Does It Mean to Write for the Homeschool Market?

What Does It Mean to Write for the Homeschool Market

We’ve talked a lot this year about creating materials with the homeschool market in mind, so it’s important that we know whom that market represents. If we’re going to visualize our ideal reader, there are some things we need to understand. One of the common misconceptions about homeschooling is that it’s done only on the fringes and that a very small number of families choose to educate at home. That was true in past decades, but not any longer. According to Dr. Brian D. Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute, “There were an estimated 1.73 to 2.35 million children (in grades K to 12) home educated during the spring of 2010.”1 That’s a lot of families that you can reach with your material! Take a look at a few fast facts:

  • The homeschool market is currently a billion-dollar industry.2
  • Homeschooling has seen an average yearly growth of between 2 and 8 percent over the last several years.3
  • Homeschool enrollment is outpacing traditional school enrollment by seven times as many new students.4
  • On average, $400 to $599 is spent annually on each homeschooled student.5
  • 68.1 percent of homeschool families have three or more children.6

Christian publishers, as well as general market publishers, are taking notice:

  • In August, 2013, Zondervan released the Homeschool Mom’s Bible.7
  • YWAM Publishing has released unit studies and curriculum guides (2001–present) to complement its popular Christian Heroes Then and Now series by Janet and Geoff Benge as well as their Heroes of History series and Heroes of History for Young Readers series.
  • Christian Book Distributors has dedicated a section of its website to homeschool resources and sends out dedicated e-blasts and catalogs targeting homeschooling customers each year.
  • In 2000, Random House debuted a companion series of nonfiction study guides to the popular Magic Tree House books titled the Magic Tree House Fact Tracker series.

When you reach out to one homeschooler, you also connect with his or her friends, family, and homeschooling support groups. Homeschoolers love to share news about great resources. Consider that a Google search of homeschooling blogs returned over 2,000 matches from Weebly, over 38,000 matches from WordPress, and more than 79,000 matches from Blogger.8

And the growth of homeschooling doesn’t stop at the US border.

  • Canada: An estimated 60,000-80,000 homeschoolers in 2006 has risen to approximately 100,000 today9
  • Australia: An estimated 20,000 homeschooling and distance education students in 1995 has risen to approximately 30,000 families in 201210

Writing for the homeschool market is:

  • Connection
  • An extremely rewarding ministry
  • Fun

Equally important as understanding what writing for the homeschool market is is understanding what it’s usually not:

  • A fast way to self-publish and make lots of money
  • An easy market to break into (it’s just as hard as any other market)
  • Writing to a homogenous group of people who all share the same dreams, goals, and core beliefs

Homeschoolers are just as diverse as the broader children’s market. They each have specific sets of values, expectations, and goals. So who homeschools?

Who Homeschools?

There’s no one mold that all homeschooling families fit into. Research shows that people from varied ethnic and religious backgrounds are choosing the homeschooling option. According to Dr. Brian D. Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute, “A demographically wide variety of people homeschool—these are atheists, Christians, and Mormons; conservatives, libertarians, and liberals; low-, middle-, and high-income families; black, Hispanic, and white.” In addition, Dr. Ray states that “homeschooling is quickly growing in popularity among minorities. About 15% of homeschool families are non-white/nonHispanic (i.e., not white/Anglo).”11

Families are choosing to homeschool for many different reasons. For some, it’s the desire to shape curriculum and teaching style to each child’s needs. Others have observed that home-educated students typically outperform public-school students on standardized test scores. Some families choose to home educate to share their beliefs and values with their kids and to strengthen family bonds. For others, it’s the concern over things such as drugs, violence, and bullying.12

The key to remember when you’re writing for homeschoolers is to know whom you want to reach. It’s virtually impossible to write for everyone. As it is in writing for the broader children’s market, so it is in the homeschool market. You must know your purpose, your audience, and your call.

Whom are you writing for? Who is your ideal reader, and how are you meeting his or her needs? Please share with us in the comments!

  1. www.nheri.org/research/research-facts-on-homeschooling.html.
  2. www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/09/14/sunday/main4447823.shtml.
  3. www.nheri.org/research/research-facts-on-homeschooling.html.
  4. www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/06/07/Report-Growth-in-Homeschooling-Outpacing-Public-Schools. See also nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=91 and nces.ed.gov/programs/projections/projections2020/tables/table_02.asp.
  5. www.nheri.org/research/nheri-news/homeschooling-across-america-academic-achievement-and-demographic-characteristics.html
  6. Ibid.
  7. zondervan.com/9780310431473.
  8. Research performed May 17, 2013.
  9. www.hslda.ca/assets/pdf/summary-final.pdf and correspondence with Member Services, HSLDA Canada, September 6, 2013
  10. learninfreedom.org/homeschool_growth.html and www.hslda.org/hs/international/Australia/default.asp
  11. www.nheri.org/research/research-facts-on-homeschooling.html.
  12. Ibid.

Bonnie-Rose-Hudson-200x200Bonnie Rose Hudson lives in central Pennsylvania. Along with spending time with her family and writing, making kids smile is her favorite thing to do. Her heart’s desire is for every child to feel the love of God and know how special they are to Him. She loves creating curriculum and working for SchoolhouseTeachers.com, the curriculum arm of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, as the site’s executive editor. At TOS, she found a place where her love of God and history combine with her love of writing to bring encouraging, educational, and entertaining material to students and their families. She would love for you to visit WriteBonnieRose.com to discover how you can write for the homeschool market.