Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Next Step by Nola Passmore

It was a fabulous conference.  You heard some amazing speakers, had lots of worthwhile conversations, got more ideas for your current work in progress and came home with a head ready to explode from all the input. In Monday's blog, I gave some suggestions for keeping your conference momentum once you're back home.  However, lets get a little more personal and interactive.  What will be your next step?  What is one specific thing you want to put into practice?  It could be something you heard in one of the sessions or it could have been the still small whisper of God you heard in a prayer time.  Let me share something unexpected I felt God leading me to do.

I've always loved poetry and have had more than 60 published in various magazines, journals and anthologies.  However, my dream is to one day have a published collection of my own.  That's a hard sell in Australia, where poetry isn't exactly at the forefront.  You'd be hard pressed to even find a poetry book in some bookstores.

One idea I've been working on is to have a collection based on Biblical characters, but with each poem written in the first-person so that they could double as performance pieces.  I need to write a lot more on that theme before I'll have enough for a collection, so the idea's been on the back burner for a while.  That is, until I went to Cameron Semmens' workshop on 'Fire! Your! Imagination!' at the recent Christian Writers' Conference. He encouraged us to spend a few minutes answering the 'What If?' question and I was intending to answer it with regard to the novel I'm currently writing.  However, God had other ideas.  As soon as I picked up my pen, I felt Him say 'Why don't you include a spoken word CD with the poetry collection?'  Huh?  Where did that come from?  I wasn't even thinking about my poetry collection.

As I reflected on that idea, and discussed it with a couple of trusted others, more ideas started to take shape.  A professional recording of the poems would show their potential as performance pieces. Maybe I could use voice actors.  Perhaps sound effects and music could be added.  Maybe the recordings themselves could even be used within a church service or Christian event.  I started to see the whole poetry project as a package, not just a book of poems. I still have a lot to do to make that idea work, but it's given me a new direction to try.

How about you?  For those who were at the conference, what was the one thing you felt inspired to do when you got home?  For those who weren't there, what has God impressed on you regarding your writing?  By sharing ideas, it not only 'puts legs' to some of those dreams, but also let's others know how to encourage you and pray for you.  It also helps us to be accountable.  At next year's conference, feel free to ask me how the poetry collection's going.  In the meantime,I'd love to hear about your dreams and how you're going to put them into practice.

Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 140 short pieces published, including devotionals, true stories, magazine articles, academic papers, poetry and short fiction.  She loves sharing what God has done in her life and encouraging others to do the same.  She and her husband Tim have their own freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish.  You can find her writing tips blog at their website:

Monday, 26 October 2015

Keeping Your Conference Momentum by Nola Passmore

I've just been to a wonderful Christian writers' conference in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria.  It was so much fun catching up with old friends, making new ones, and gaining valuable input on everything from sense of place in fiction to firing your imagination to stretchercise for writers.

I came home pumped, but tired.  Travelling and a hectic conference program can zap your energy. Home and work tasks can also pile up while you're away and it's easy to slip back into your regular routine and forget about writing.

Here are a few tips to help you keep your conference momentum once you're home from a conference.

Refresh – Give yourself a bit of grace and time to relax and refresh when you first arrive back. Your family and friends will be waiting to see you and you’ll have things to do. However, don’t use this as an opportunity to procrastinate. The purpose of recharging your batteries is to keep you plugged in.

Review – Go over your conference notes and handouts and mark up the sections you want to apply in your writing life. If there were sessions you missed, the presenters might be willing to email a copy of their notes.

Write – Get back into your writing as soon as possible. The conference may have sparked an idea you can explore or you may have a new way of approaching something you’re already working on. It doesn’t have to be a major project, but the sooner you ‘get back in the saddle’ and write, the easier it will be to apply the lessons you’ve learned.

Follow-up – Did you have an editing appointment? Then use the editor’s suggestions to improve your work. Did a publisher ask you to send a proposal or manuscript? Send it as soon as you can so that he or she will remember what you discussed and will see you’re serious about your writing. However, only send your best work. If you need more time to edit it, then take that time first.

Network – Does the group that organised the conference have a web presence? ‘Like’ their page or join their Facebook group so that you can get updates and keep in touch with people you met at the conference. If they’re not on social media, why not contact other attendees and start up your own online group? It’s not hard to set up a group on Yahoo or Facebook. Local writers’ groups can also keep you motivated and provide an avenue for you to encourage others. If there are no groups in your area, maybe you could start one. Networking doesn’t have to stop when the conference ends.

So what are you waiting for? Put those conference lessons into practice and you’ll have a pile of manuscripts in no time. Just be sure to spend more time on your writing than on social media.  What are your tips for keeping your conference momentum?  I'd love to hear your suggestions.

And thank you to the organising committee for a wonderful conference.  You all did a fabulous job - Susan Barnes, Jenny Glazebrook, Heather Monro, Anne Brown and Deb Porter (and all of your helpers).

(N.B. An earlier version of this post appeared on Nola's blog:

Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 140 short pieces published, including devotionals, true stories, magazine articles, academic papers, poetry and short fiction.  She loves sharing what God has done in her life and encouraging others to do the same.  She and her husband Tim have their own freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish.  You can find her writing tips blog at their website:  

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Writing for a non-Christian audience

Image courtesy of

Recently, I was taken to task by a fellow blogger and a number of her followers.  These good-hearted people objected to my blogging style, which doesn’t make my spirituality readily apparent to my readers. In other words, I don’t come straight out and say, ‘I’m a Christian’. Nor do I pepper my writing with scripture references or approach my topic, which is relationship abuse, from an identifiable Christian worldview.

My detractors felt I was being cowardly and urged me to boldly declare myself so that my readers, mostly lost and lonely souls, may be led to God. I disagreed … and still do.

Vivid in my memory is my own experience of enlightenment. Did I become a follower of Jesus in a millisecond? No. I did not. Did it happen because I communicated with Christians who shared the Word? Again … no. The truth is, I’d have run a mile in the opposite direction if I’d been approached by bible-wielding evangelists. Clearly, we must exercise extreme wisdom before blithely quoting scripture and pointing out the error of other people’s ways. 

‘A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; a time to be silent and a time to speak.’ Ecclesiastes 3:7

So what led me out of the darkness?

It was a simple, beautiful thing. God chose to send me my ‘Jesus in the flesh’ during a time of great grief and uncertainty. Not once did she mention His name, nor declare her faith. Instead, I was inexorably drawn to her warmth and calm, her poise and grace, her strength and her gentleness. Over time, perhaps eighteen months, I found myself wanting whatever it was she ‘had’. And so I laid my soul bare and asked her outright, telling her a little of my spiritual beginnings and my later walk on the wild side. She was as surprised as I was to find me ready, willing and waiting for Christ to enter my life and take the reigns. Yet she had led me to Him with her silent witness.

My blog needs to be a safe place for those damaged by intimate partner violence, whether it be physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or financial. Frequently, it is a combination of those facets, and those who land on my blog-step are invariably deeply traumatized. Long-term abuse, particularly (surprisingly) psychological abuse, leaves victims with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Such people are in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’, and highly likely to run a mile, just like me, if confronted by a more aggressive Christian approach. I’ve ‘been there’ and God has been faithful to allow me to use my circumstances for the greater good. The approach I adopt is one He has made clear to me. I wait until people ask, or otherwise indicate to me their readiness. I support a number of my followers through prayer and discussion of Christian principles, but rather than place these in public view, I keep them in the comments section or within private emails. 

‘… but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone WHO ASKS YOU to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence …’   1 Peter 3:15

Although we are instructed to not hide our lights under a bushel, we are also called to use discernment. Actions, after all, speak louder than our words.

Sometimes, Jesus Himself resorted to silence. 

‘But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, "I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God."’    Matthew 26:63

Occasionally, He also exhorted others to keep silent. In Mark 41, when Jesus heals a leper, he also sends him away with a strong warning.

‘See that you don’t tell this to anyone.'

When his command was disobeyed, problems ensued, forcing Jesus to leave town and continue his ministry elsewhere. Opening our mouths at the wrong time can have serious consequences and we shouldn’t take this responsibility lightly. We also need to consider James 1:27.

‘Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.’

In other words, what God finds acceptable is compassion in action, meeting needs where and when we perceive them. This is the primary purpose of my blog; to extend love, compassion, understanding, acceptance and support to those in emotional pain. It is not everyone’s calling, but it is mine.

(Footnote: Sadly, scripture is used by a sizeable percentage of Christian men, pastors included, to justify spousal abuse. The ‘submission’ Scriptures are trotted out ad nauseam as a means of control and oppression. Having worked in the mental health field, I have witnessed this first hand on too many occasions.)

Melinda Jensen
(If you receive a security warning when you click on the link, it is only because I run a wordpress blog that is hosted elsewhere so that I have my own unique domain name. I assure you it is secure and you can bypass the warning by following the appropriate steps outlined. Thank you for visiting.)

Melinda is a writer concerned with social justice, equality, the environment and most importantly, spirituality. She identifies as a follower of Jesus and prefers the label 'Christi-anarchist'. She has had some modest publishing credits - poetry published in two anthologies and short stories published in national magazines and anthologies. Her passion is writing for middle readers, using fantasy themes to educate young people about environmental and social issues. She has two such novels under construction.

Monday, 19 October 2015


Several of the characters that I am creating in my story writing are defined significantly by the crucible of their relationship with their Fathers. 
A pre-teen girl living on a drought stricken sheep property in northern New South Wales describes her memories of the dust, the smoke from fires and her Father’s sweat after saving her from disaster. An aboriginal boy admires his Dad who sacrifices his own comfort every day to do the long hard slog into town to work so his family is supported. Another character avoids any reference to his father because of the pain, grief, and sense of shame it causes.

To show the depth of these interactions I have had some fun with the phrases that these Dads used regularly. This brings insight into their lives, but especially the development of their children (my main characters). A poll of 2000 dads by Twentieth Century Fox Entertainment revealed the top 'dad phrases' – Cliche phrases like: 'I'm not going to tell you again!!!' ,  'Were you raised in a tent ? !' and 'Don't talk back to your mother', were classic ‘dadisms’. The top two phrases were money-related - being: 'Do you think I'm made of money' and 'Money doesn't grow on trees'. Next on the list was: 'When I was your age ...' The classic dad question of 'If you were told to jump of a cliff, would you?' was also included and 'They don't make them like they used to' finishing off the top ten.

What 'dadisms' did your own father use? 
What our Dads say shape our lives. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

When developing my characters I realised I needed to take their growth seriously by delving in to what their Dads had input into their lives.

Consider this story in the Gospels and what a father has to say:
Take a read of MARK 9:14–28; 30–32pp—Mt 17:14–19; 22,23; Lk 9:37–45
Jesus Heals a Boy Possessed by an Evil Spirit.

Think about the words of this boy’s Father. There is so much meaning in the father’s reply to Jesus, in v24. ‘I do believe, help my unbelief.’ A weak faith can still take hold of a strong Saviour. The Dad had made some mistakes – an example might be in recognising simply that this father had brought his son to Banias which was the centre of the occult. Interesting that the first words of this Father are (paraphrased) “Teacher I have a problem”. For dads this is often a silent cry for help. They are human. They are going to face human frailty. Our characters need to as well if our readers are going to connect with the narrative.  
It’s important that our characters seek help – the father asked the disciples to deal with the boy’s sickness. It’s important to show that previous attempts didn’t work. It’s important for our characters to be real about what they are going through- Be Honest and Authentic. It’s important to show that maybe they are willing to have another go, even with unexpectant perspectives.

The 2nd Word of this Father is “HELP!”
This might inform not just our writing but our own journeys as well. No matter what you are facing.  No matter what mistakes you have made. No matter what you have tried before. Bring it to Jesus. It’s a sign of strength to ask for help. This story helps us understand that it is okay to say that you are struggling with your belief.

The third words of this Father are effectively “I Believe, but I have trust issues”
Be real. Be honest. Be authentic.

Consider my paraphrase of the father’s words :
 1)  The 1st Words of the Father are “TEACHER I HAVE A PROBLEM”
 2)  The 2nd Word of the Father is “HELP” !
 3)  The Third Words of the Father are “I BELIEVE, BUT I HAVE TRUST ISSUES”

They are summed up in these six words in verse 24:
 ‘I do believe, help my unbelief.’

Just 6 words: expressive of a weak faith, a faltering and flickering faith.

 But a real faith, and a sincere faith. Even a weak faith can lay hold of a strong Saviour. This desperate man has put himself in precisely the position where he can receive Christ’s help. I am weak, but he is strong. The father pleads with Jesus, v22: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

The fact is that the sick boy at the centre of this narrative may never have known what his dad had said. But in this story we get to understand the boy by understanding what the dad had said and done. Let’s revisit the heart of this father.
  1)   I love my son and I want him better
  2) He’s been like this since he was little, and I’m over it.
  3)  I want the best for my son.
  4)  He’s my only son , He’s my life
  5) I’ve made mistakes but I want to fix it now
  6)  I can’t fix it on my own
  7)   I’ve been trying to get help
  8) Other things haven’t worked 
  9)    I’m struggling with my belief
 10) But Jesus you can do it !

And then we don’t hear from that father again.

We often only remember the dumb things, or the hurtful things our own fathers have said about us. There is sometimes another conversation going on though.
The statements of this father who made mistakes, and faltering quests for help are transformed by the presence of Jesus. Jesus’ questions and statements lead to the transformed boy. Despite the shortcomings of his father.

This means so much for our creative writing character developments; but it also means so much in reflecting our own, real character development.


Thursday, 15 October 2015

How to write faster and increase your writing output

Every night I cook dinner for my family.

Apart from the two nights I had away with my husband for our 20th anniversary a few months ago, I’ve been cooking dinner for my family every night for about the last 5,840 nights. And every night has gone roughly along the same lines; I spend ages working hard, chopping, preparing and cooking. I serve it up on the plate. We eat, and it’s gone in about 13 minutes flat.

So much time! So much effort! So much energy! And all to see it disappear with hardly another thought.

Writing is like cooking in many ways – it takes a long time to do. Like many of us, I’ve had times where I’ve agonized for three hours on just three paragraphs, getting it perfect.

“Would you read this?” we ask someone. “I’m just not sure about the second word in the fourth sentence, and the juxtaposition of evil and good in the third metaphor.”

Our reader takes a quick look and hands it back. “Yeah, looks okay to me.”

Chew, swallow, move on.

I’ve been mentoring a talented teenage writer for the past year over Skype. She writes, I read and comment, and she rewrites and improves. It’s a fun relationship.

A few months ago she got frustrated. “I’ve got all these ideas, and not much time, and because everything takes so long to do, I don’t end up finishing anything.”

I know the feeling. If only we had more time, we say. But the fact is that we don’t. Life crowds in and swallows up those precious writing hours. “It’s not going to change,” I told her. “The only way out of it is to learn to write quicker. You’ve got to produce more in a shorter time.”

Some writers will be horrified to hear this. “What about quality?” they will argue. “What about the second word in the fourth sentence and the juxtaposition of evil and good in the third metaphor? How can I write if the muse has not struck?”

Let me say this: learning to write more quickly, at the same or better level of quality, is possible. It’s possible in all other areas of life, so why not writing?

When I cook dinner, I’m a bit of a ditherer. The reason it takes me a long time is because half the time I’m still cleaning the kitchen from lunch time, or I’m checking facebook, or I’m making a shopping list. My mind is frequently very much elsewhere. I'm well known to be *that* mother who burns the dinner because she's still writing emails.

And then I watched Masterchef. Those guys produce three course banquets in less time than it takes me to cut up a bowl of salad. They think, they grab ingredients and they multitask so it works.  The whole dish comes together within the ridiculous time slot.

These people aren’t freaks of nature (although they obviously ended up with talents for food and flavour that I just don’t have.) What they’ve learned is how to organise themselves, how to manage tasks, and how to keep going and how to solve problems that pop up as they go.

They cook fast because they’ve learned how. And their quality doesn’t suffer.

We writers can write fast if we learn how. And our quality doesn’t have to suffer either.

Here’s how I’ve doubled my writing output over the past year.
1.       Set aside the time. Dedicate it entirely to writing.
2.       Turn off Facebook and all the other distractions.
3.       Have a good ergonomic setup so your body stays comfortable.
4.       Plan your writing before you start. I always know what I’ll be focusing on that day, with a reasonably detailed idea of where my piece is going (although I’m open to things the characters might do on their own)
5.       Tell your inner editor to sit down. Their turn comes later. It’s writing time right now. Editing comes after that. They can have a nap and relax.
6.       If you get to a bit you can’t write, don’t stop. Just bunny hop over it and go on to the next bit. You can come back later.
7.       Just write it. Accept that you’re not a bad writer, or a terrible person if you write a draft that’s not superb. A bad first draft is better than no first draft.
8.       Practice this at least twice a week for two months and see how much quicker you get.
9.       Set yourself a deadline to finish your draft and do the maths about how many writing sessions you’ll have, and how many words you’ll need to do to get there.

10.   Just do it. 

Cecily Paterson is the author of three novels for young teen girls, and an award-winning memoir, Love Tears & Autism. She is a freelance editor and writer and has just published the best-selling Meditations Bible colouring book by Lorien Atwood.

Monday, 12 October 2015

The Power of a Blank by Jo Wanmer

One colouring-in book and twelve felt pens. This simple creativity helped me relax as I sat with my granddaughter in a kids hospital ward. I love colours, shades and hues, the brighter the better. However even the brightest colour needs to be complemented by dark or light to bring impact.

I coloured today with only 12 shades...or so I thought. But I have a thirteenth colour. White. Or no colour. To leave an area blank defines the rest. It makes colour sharper, brighter.

White space is an important part of book presentation. Readers flick through assessing if it looks interesting and easily read. What they are noting is the balance between words and space. They are attracted by the space that isn't filled in. The same principle applies to blogs. No paragraphs? Lots of packed lines? It's hard to read and most won't attempt it.

Computer Desktop Encyclopaedia defines white space as any area on a document page that does not contain text or graphics. Writehood says, 'White space is the emptiness between characters, lines and paragraphs in an article or story.' Instinctively our eyes look for the next white space. The sentences we remember best are the ones closest to the gap. (

Lack of white space flags a slow and detailed manuscript. Readers expect lots of facts and little action. It's similar to my colouring in.  Too much bright colour is dead and boring without light or dark to bring it life.

So today as I painted my page, marvelling at the power of 'no colour,' I wondered about my writing. Is it enhanced by allowing some bits to remain uncoloured, leaving a space between scenes, or even in them, to add emphasis?

When Mary Hawkins, my first writing mentor, scrapped the first three chapters of my book, I was horrified and confused. 'But...but what about all that information and background?'

She was unsympathetic. 'The story starts here and so must the book.'

I began to understand that a page or two explaining the heartbreak of having to adopt kids could be reduced to one word - adopted. Those details were irrelevant to this part of my life. When authors omit selected details it allows the reader to overlay their own life experience and so the story is personally enhanced.

Likewise, the reader doesn't need to know every event between the gun being fired and the hospital scene, unless it is pivotal to the story. And a Bible quote, not essential to plot, is only a filler. It will detract from the overall clarity of the overall story.

Bible writers are masters of this writing technique. Luke tells us of a woman who led a sinful life. She came and washed Jesus feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. At the end of a quite detailed passage Jesus finishes with these words, Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgivenas her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little, loves little. (Luke 7:47 NIV)

The startling omission in this story relates to the woman's sin. Was she a thief, a murderer, a prostitute, an adulterer? The author doesn't say. Therefore any reader can relate and know that regardless of their sin, they too can be accepted.

Balance is key. Too much empty space leaves a picture, a page or a story bland and incomplete. Crowded detail swamps the clarity and focus of our work. Readers eyes tend to look toward the next action. If they become bogged in detail and lose the thread or point of the paragraph they jump ahead to - yes, you guessed it - the next white space.

In my current work in progress, there are a few scenes in danger of disappearing. Are they unnecessary fillers that muddy the story? Are there corners that would be better left blank and so draw focus to the main point?

What about you? Have you read this far? This piece of writing has passed the test if that is the case. I'd love to hear your comments about blank/white space.

Jo Wanmer Published her prize winning faction, Though the Bud be Bruised, in 2015. There are two other novels awaiting final editing.
She lives in the suburbs between Brisbane and the wonderful Sunshine Coast. Together with Steve, her husband, they run a business, help pastor a cutting edge church and pour love on eight grandchildren and their parents!
Jo's purpose is to inspire greatness in everyone she meets. Preaching the amazing love of God is her passion.