Two Ways to Improve Your Writing

There are two ways you can improve your writing in 2006.

1. Pray about finding a mentor.

This is not always easy, though. When I lived in the Seattle area, I met a real-live author. I asked if we could meet for coffee. We did. But the relationship never took off as I’d hoped. Eventually I moved to Texas. We spent two years in Palestine (very cross-cultural for my husband and me-it prepared us for France!) and then we moved to Dallas so my husband could attend seminary. We started looking for churches. One Sunday, we attended a church near our home (we ended up attending a few months, but then relocating to another church). On that first Sunday, they had a potluck and invited us to eat with them. Seated next to me was a very nice gal. We started talking. Turns out she edited Kindred Spirit, Dallas Seminary’s magazine. And she wrote NF. And fiction.

“I’ve always wanted to write,” I told her. I shared how I’d written newsletters for various churches.

“My passion is to help new writers,” she said. “Why don’t you send me some of your stuff?”
I did. And trembled.

Weeks went by. I gnawed my fingernails. Fretted away my minutes.

Eventually, she got back to me. “You definitely have promise,” she said. She told me about my penchant for too many adjectives and adverbs. She revised my first query letter. She screamed with me when I sold an article to Marriage Partnership (my first sale). She helped me redirect my first novel-the novel that eventually landed me an agent, and then a slew of sales. She’s become one of my very best friends, all because I sat next to a stranger at a potluck.

So, to find a writing mentor, I guess I would say this: PRAY. Ask God to do something amazing. When I tried to find one, it didn’t work out. When I didn’t, one came, wrapped in the perfect package. My career has everything to do with a patient writing mentor who took time to bless me.

2. Locate a critique group:

I would highly recommend finding one locally where real, live people critique on paper. If you can’t find one, do what my friend Leslie Wilson did: created her own. I joined her group in Rockwall, Texas (Rockwall Christian Writers Group). Coupled with knowing my mentor, being with other writers REALLY REALLY REALLY helped me improve in my craft. Leslie had done so much research on writing and the CBA marketplace. She showed me her proposals when I had to write mine for the first time (nonfiction). She told me what it meant to find an agent and how to go about it. And having the monthly critique of others helped me to hone my craft.

After a while, Leslie and fellow member D’Ann Mateer and I decided we needed more time to critique, with longer pieces and more consistency. So, we created what is now called LIFE SENTENCE. Every week we met to go over each other’s stuff. And we do it now via SKYPE phone and email every Wednesday.

I’ve started a critique group here in France for secular English writers. It’s a great outlet for me, particularly because I am teaching.

Attending a real, live critique group accomplishes two things.

  1. You learn the art of weathering (and heeding) criticism. If you hear the same thing over and over, chances are it’s time to improve that area of writing.
  2. Reading other people’s work and hearing what other writers have to say about it helps you learn through osmosis.

So, there you have it. Pray for a mentor; find a local critique group. Both will dramatically help you on your road to honing the craft.

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