10 how-tos for writing your story
by Christie Browning
I got the writing bug from my grandmother. She was a great story teller and loved to write stories about nature and our family. She could easily transport you to another place and time with her imagination and creativity. As much as I got this love of writing from her, I didn’t get the same sort of story-telling skill, and I found out real fast how much I enjoyed writing more instructional pieces, such as workbooks, Bible studies and so on. So when I felt God push me to write my personal story a lot of bells and alarms went off:
“God, I don’t think I can do this.”
“What if people think my story is boring?”
“I don’t know if I am comfortable sharing my life with complete strangers.”
“What if people look at me differently after they read it?”
“Are you sure this is what you want from me, God?”
I was so hesitant to write my story that I wrote three other books and countless other blogs before I ever got down to it.
The truth of the matter is, I am technically unqualified to write a book. I didn’t major in English in college. Heck, I didn’t even finish college. But… if you have a story you’ve got to share and you think writing a book is the way to do it, take heart! You don’t have to be a whiz kid to do it. Fellow author Lara Casey wrote, “For me, putting my story into words–all the messy parts included–has been an act of surrender. Maybe some people find great joy in the process of writing books. I am not one of them.” In my situation, I feel Lara’s pain! Maybe you do too!
But before I offer you 10 how-tos for writing your story, I want to prepare you for the emotional impact writing personal material can have on a heart. If it’s a calling brought on by God, you have to wrestle with your thoughts, and get a grip on what truth can help the reader, not necessarily a platform to shout your message, air your grievances, or prove your side of particular story. You start to have a dialogue with yourself and with God to relive some of those moments and to craft them in such a way that you aren’t replaying the victim, you’re just remembering what led to your victory.
As I wrote “rePeatedly reVised,” I spent several chapters typing with tears streaming down my cheeks and tissue piled up around my laptop. It’s sometimes emotionally ugly to unwrap the past, but from the tough stuff comes more victory and greater rewards. As those first books arrived on my door step, all neatly boxed and professionally printed, I cried different tears…they were tears of accomplishment and pride. I knew what I had to push through to get that book done. And even if only one person reads it, it was worth it to get the story on paper.
Let me encourage you to get the book done. Do the hard work, write the tough words, push through the fear and get it done. The sense of completion is off the charts amazing! Plus, I always know that blessings come after I follow God’s lead in obedience. So…
10 how-tos for writing your story:
#1: To begin, look within:
Before you sit down at the keyboard and open up a blank page, start with some conversations with you and yourself. Writing your story is personal, so it makes sense to begin by looking within and asking some personal questions:
Why do you want to write your story? Do you want to do this in a book format or a blog or even a video? It may appear that a book is the only medium you can use, but it really isn’t the case. Depending on what suits you, other mediums might be a better option. Videos are engaging and filled with visual appeal. Blogs are short and sweet but can be put together in a series. Books can be supported by these other mediums as well…just think outside the box before you automatically assume the book format is where its at.
What is your message? What do you want the take-away to be for your story? Yes, you want to share it, but how can it impact the reader? Do you want what you share to be helpful, encouraging, transformational, informational…this may seem like a basic question, but this question is everything. I struggled to really get clear on my reason when I started writing my book, “rePeatedly reVised.” I had a hard time thinking outside of just telling my story. But once I knew what that message and purpose was, I had freedom to write. A story told just to tell it is really self-serving. The more you can impact others with your message, the more readers will want to read it…and that’s the goal!
#2. Become a good student:
Reading great books is helpful to learn how to be a better writer and communicator, and many writers have excellent training resources! I became a good student and watched, listened and learned from other great writers. If you do just a little bit of internet research you can uncover a host of helpful sites, videos and tutorials to help you get going.
#3. Outline your book:
As much as we just want to sit down and start filling the page with words, it is so important to gather your key points in an outline. I know… I just sensed you eyes rolling in boredom, but don’t stop reading. Outlines don’t have to be the old-school versions you had to do for English class. When I write, I tend to brainstorm each writing point on an index card. Then, I separate the cards into chapters and start there. It changes sometimes as I move along, but it helps save my sanity as a writer. It also will ensure your reader has a clear story line to follow. Remember, it’s okay for the outline to evolve and change. What I started with at the beginning of my book process is nothing like what I finished with.
#4. Type your key points on the page first.
This is a great writing tip someone passed on to me: Type your key points for that chapter on the page before you start writing that chapter. This will help you keep your writing in line with your topics. It will keep you from wandering off on some side point that doesn’t fit. If you start writing and find that there’s a point you want to add or an idea that popped up, jot it on an index card and work it in after you’ve completed that chapter. You may find that it is better suited in another chapter completely, or you can work it into the existing chapter without compromising the content.
#5. Organize your thoughts.
Writing is a creative process and that means inspired ideas may come at times when you are not sitting in front of your laptop. It took months and months to write “rePeatedly reVised” once I was in the thick of it, but ideas would come while I was doing other things. I got in the habit of jotting those thoughts or ideas in my planner so I could grab it later when I was in writing mode. Sometimes I even kept index cards in my bag so I could just jot down the ideas on the cards and gather the new cards to mix in with the old ones once I was ready to tackle them. Whatever works for you is what works. So keep a journal, keep a notepad, voice record them, type them on your phone…whatever might be helpful for you. Just be prepared to have these great ideas at not-so-great moments in your day.
#6. Use helpful writing tools.
For publishing your book, Word is the preferred format. Whether your publisher wants it in Word or if you are going to upload it to an on-demand printer, this tends to be the easiest software option for the end product. However, when you are in writing mode, a typical book can be hundreds of pages and can prove daunting to manage in a Word program. Either consider breaking each of your chapters into Word files or us a program like Scrivener. Do a little research and find the right tools to help you navigate the many pages you’ll have. Also, consider some grammar helps such as Grammarly. This helps pick up misspelled words and grammar snafus that can boost your confidence as a writer. You can sign up for a free account and it checks your writing as you go.
#7. Use better word choices.
The more you write, the better you get at it. That’s certainly been the case for me. My background in journalism helped my cut through words that were just additional in a sentence and not necessarily adding any value to the sentence. Here are some words to avoid. There are always exceptions to these concepts, but it’s a good idea to try and pull out the words that aren’t carrying their weight. Sometimes more isn’t better….it’s just more!
#8. Invest in a style guide.
There are several books you can purchase that act as a reference guide for writing styles. You might need to know the common choice and correct style for writing numbers or spelling states or offering times of the day. These are just a few examples. A style guide will outline common '“rules” for a specific style of writing, so do a little research and find the one that’s right for you. Some guides may be about simple things like grammar and punctuation, or more substantive questions about citation, layout, or format. Some guides may also speak to style as it applies to content and voice. With a little internet research you can find a helpful resource.
#9. Voice may be best.
Sometimes it is helpful to speak your text rather than type it. Dragon dictation software is great for this need and is a free plugin on Google Docs. If you are using Scrivener, there’s a voice-to-text option there as well. When you are working through a challenging section, this can be a great alternative to get the words out, and go back and edit them later. Or if you’re like me, you can sometimes talk faster than you can type. It also helps to break up the monotony that sitting at your laptop can create.
#10. Read out loud.
Most writers are good about re-reading their work, however our minds have a way of inserting the words that might be wrong or missing…especially since you know what you meant to say. I find it is helpful to walk away from my work for a few days and then sit down and read the words out loud. This has been huge for me! When I do, I can hear what needs to be changed to make my message clearer. It can be helpful to read your words aloud to someone else too!
One last tip — don’t try to be perfect before getting to it. If you wait to have all the answers, know all the things and be the perfect writer, you’ll never get it done. Just get to it and follow your heart. If your message is clearly outlined and followed with genuine heart, you will reach the readers who need to hear from you most!