Tag Archives: Jeff Gerke

Advice I’d Give a Newbie Writer

Following the biweekly series of writing-related posts on Ruth L. Snyder’s blog hop, here are my thoughts for new writers:


You are a writer. Don’t wait until you have something published to call yourself one. We tend to be afraid others will laugh at us or think we’re being pretentious, but the truth is, if you write, you’re a writer. Owning that facet of your identity, and giving yourself permission to be that part of who you are, is a step forward, and if you don’t take your writing seriously, no one else will.

You’re not just a writer, though. Don’t neglect the other areas of your life, even if this one’s the most fun.


Take regular time to write. Little bits will add up. If you want to stick with this long-term, learn to write when the muse is silent and when you’d rather be doing anything else. Writing is work.

Keep writing. When you finish a project to the best of your ability, write something else. Don’t tie your hopes to one thing.

Remember the difference between writing for personal expression and writing for readers. They’re both valuable, but if you want others to read your work you need to revise with their interests in mind.

If you decide to self-publish, do the research first. And hold yourself accountable to produce a quality product, including cover art and editing. Don’t sabotage what you’ve written by packaging it poorly.


Get to know other writers online or in person. Learn from their experiences and their mistakes. These are the people who will encourage and understand you, and you’ll do the same for them. Help other writers, with no agenda. Some of it will come back to you anyway. My favourite online writers’ organizations: The Word Guild, InScribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship, American Christian Fiction Writers.

Connect with other writers, attend conferences if you can. Be teachable, and don’t turn getting published into an idol. Enjoy the journey, and remember that anything worth doing will take time and practice. If you’re good today, imagine how much better your writing will be after you’ve put in your “apprenticeship”.

On conferences: don’t wait until you’ve “earned” the right to be there. The sooner you go, the less bad habits you’ll have to un-learn later. And the more writing friendships and contacts you’ll develop. My favourite conference: Write Canada. Choose a conference based on location but also based on faculty and course options. If you can’t get to one, there are online offerings like WANA International, and many conferences offer mp3s or CDs of their teaching sessions.


As well as conferences, check out books and blogs on writing. A few books I’ve reviewed and recommend: You Are A Writer by Jeff Goins; The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction by Jeff Gerke; Unleash the Writer Within by Cecil Murphey. Blogs I find helpful: How to Write a Story by Valerie Comer; Write With Excellence by N.J. Lindquist; The Seekers (group blog). There are, of course, many more resources. Feel free to leave your favourites in the comments! 


Do your very best. Don’t let fear of imperfection keep you from sharing your work, but remember to make that work shine as brightly as you can. Serve the art. Don’t be careless with it. This goes double if you’re a Christian. Yes, God may have given you the idea. But He gave you the task of presenting it well. He can use poor writing, but good writing gets into the hands of many more people who He may want to touch with it.

The only way to know you won’t succeed is to quit, so persevere.


I mention this last, but if you’re a Christian it actually needs to come first: pray. If God has gifted you to write, He will make a way to use what you write. It may not be what you have in mind, nor on your timetable, but His way is best. Follow His leading, even if it’s into areas of writing that aren’t your top choice. He knows where this will go, long-term.

To read what other writers are saying about this, follow the blog hop: Just click on the image below.

Blog hop for writers

Writing Tools I Use

Why did I abandon mechanical pencils for pens? pen and notes

When I first started writing, I had a thing for mechanical pencils (only the .5mm ones… I was a purist). And I learned to print very small, to cram all the words I could onto a bit of scrap paper.

Perhaps you’ve figured out why I don’t do that anymore… something about trying to see those faint pencil-scratchings while using both hands to type what I’ve written.

Miniscule pen-scratchings, however, are still visible, progressive lenses notwithstanding.

These days, even my first draft is usually done at the keyboard, but devotional notes often come during my morning quiet time with God, and sometimes I write reviews or other blog posts in waiting rooms and such.

On to today’s post: Writing tools. Not resources, because that’s a different post altogether.

Fiction tools, to be specific, because I need more of those.

  • Pen and paper. I don’t leave home without it 🙂
  • Computer, printer, internet, email, Google etc. And backup. Flash drives, dvds, Dropbox for off-site storage.
  • How to Find Your Story and Character Creation for the Plot-First Novelist, both from Jeff Gerke. These are interactive worksheets, so I call them tools instead of resources. I bought them together in the Writer’s Foundation Bundle. What I like about these is they walk me through the discovery process and help me think deeper than I might otherwise go.
  • Microsoft OneNote. Those closest to me have heard me rave about the features of this amazing product. I have a OneNote “binder” for online writing and one for each of my novels including the works-in-progress.
  • Scrivener. I’m new to this tool, using it as I revise Secrets and Lies, but as soon as I saw the first video tutorial I was a fan. (Find Scrivener here)
  • Microsoft Excel. I confess I forgot this one until I read NJ Lindquist’s post on writing tools. I don’t use Excel a lot, but as well as keeping track of writing expenses and income for Revenue Canada, I keep a master list of character names in an Excel file. I can sort by first name, last name and by story. That saves me from having too many names beginning with the same letter. Doesn’t help with the more subtle similarities… part of my revisions to Secrets and Lies will be the re-naming of a few individuals. At present there are characters named Hill, Stairs, LaMontagne (the mountain) and Cliff. Wonder what my subconscious was up to with all that!
  • binder and highlighted textHighlighters, pens and binder. Margie Lawson’s online course, Empowering Character Emotions, taught me the basics of her EDITS system, so when it’s final-draft time I print the manuscript and colour-code it to see what still needs work.
  • A program called Klok (I use the free version) that lets me track my time. It helps keep me accountable to actually work, and it lets me see where I’m putting my time. (Find Klok here)

pry bar
These are the tools I use. If you’re a writer, what about you?

Bonus tool: my absolute favourite non-writerly tool, which I am now honour-bound to include in a novel (and I think I know where… she rubs her hands and cackles with glee) → → →

Reader or writer, if you’re interested in writerly tools, click the blog hop image and you’ll find other posts on the same topic.

Blog hop for writers

Picks from 2011

I’m borrowing this idea from Laura Davis at Interviews and Reviews, and picking my favourites from what I’ve reviewed in 2011:


Most life-changing (tie, listed in order I read them):

Most fun:

Most laugh-inducing:

Best dramatic novel:

Most personally helpful writing how-to:


Favourite album of the year (tie, listed in order I heard them):

Friday Friends: Ginny Jaques, author of Zinovy’s Journey

Ginny Jaques is a Canadian author whose debut novel, Zinovy’s Journey, released in October 2011. I first read the opening of an earlier draft of the story in an online contest put on by Marcher Lord Press. Readers were the judges, and the winner got published. I don’t remember who won, but I was disappointed when this story about a guy named Zinovy didn’t make it. I really liked the author’s style.

Janet: Welcome, Ginny, and thanks for taking time to join us. I don’t remember how we eventually connected, but I’m glad we did—and glad Zinovy’s full story is now available.

Ginny: I don’t remember when we first met either. It’s funny how you meet people in situations that you don’t know are going to be significant, so you don’t mark the date on your calendar! I know it was through the Marcher Lord Press contest Jeff sponsored in 2009.

Janet: Tell us a bit about Zinovy’s Journey.

Ginny: Zinovy’s Journey is a speculative novel about a Russian cosmonaut who is preparing to shuttle down to Cape Canaveral from an international space station when the earth below is destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. He’s used to being in charge of his life, but now he’s caught in circumstances that are totally beyond his control. The book chronicles his journey toward acceptance of the truth that he cannot be his own god, and the realization that there’s Someone else, who’s been walking beside him all the time, who is much better qualified to fill that position in his life.

Janet: Where did the story idea come from?

Ginny: The idea came out of one of those “What if. . .?” questions that sometimes send writers off on interesting journeys. I thought, what if, when Jesus comes back to establish His kingdom on earth, there are people away from the world at the time? What would they see, from wherever they were? What would they do? The opening conflict, and the beginnings of a plot scheme developed naturally from that point on.

Janet: Was the Marcher Lord Press contest the manuscript’s first exposure?

Ginny: Yes, the MLP contest was Zinovy’s first exposure. I’d pitched the manuscript to a few editors before, but Jeff was the first one who really listened and expressed an interest in the idea. I had scheduled an appointment with him at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Denver, mainly to get advice about who else I might approach. He’d just introduced the MLP contest, and invited me to submit. It was the beginning of the boost I needed to go for publication.

Janet: You chose to self-publish Zinovy’s Journey, with skilled advisers at every step of the way. What sorts of things would have gone wrong if you’d tried it on your own?

Ginny: I honestly wouldn’t have been able to do this on my own. There were just too many things I didn’t know. I knew some things I’d need, like a book cover, and typesetting, but I had no idea where to begin looking for them. Jeff Gerke was encouraging about the manuscript from the start, and he kind of fell into the position of my self-publishing consultant. I’d e-mail him with questions and he’d send back the answers, along with encouragement to go ahead and try things myself. He was literally a God-send.

Janet: I think the biggest danger of self-publishing is not knowing what questions to ask. Well, second-biggest. The biggest is thinking one’s work is perfect as-is and deciding one doesn’t need an editor. You successfully avoided both. Having gone this route, do you expect to do the same with your next novel? There will be a next one, right?

Ginny: Yes, you’re right. If you know the questions, you can find the answers, but if you don’t even know the questions you’re stuck. But it’s gotten easier to self-publish knowledgeably, even since last year when I began this project. There’s so much information out there now.

As for the “perfect as-is” manuscript, it doesn’t take much probing to discover that your work isn’t perfect. If you can’t see it, there will always be people eager to show you!

And about a next novel, no, I don’t have plans. I’m still recovering from this one.

Janet: Recovering. I hear you. What got you started writing?

Ginny: Actually, it was this story that got me started. Unlike other authors, I’ve never had a driving ambition to be a writer. Writing is such hard work, and I’m not highly motivated to do hard work! I would never have done this if the story hadn’t just insisted that I tell it. I’m ashamed to say that, but it’s the truth.

Janet: Writing is definitely something where you have to be motivated or you’ll never get to the end of the first draft. Okay, I’m going to ask a question I personally hate answering. Feel free to pass. What’s the novel’s theme? Or what one key thing do you want readers to take away when they’re done?

Ginny: The theme. Hmm. There are several, but the central one probably has to do with personal freedom—the freedom God grants us to choose our own eternal destiny. We can’t control our circumstances, but I do believe we are in control of how we respond to them—how we allow ourselves to see God in them. I want readers to come away from the story realizing that they have the option of responding to God’s love, and that the choices they make regarding this opportunity are of eternal significance.

Janet: May they see the choice and choose carefully! I know the novel’s just released, but what has reader response been like so far?

Ginny: Reader response has been encouraging. Surprisingly so. I’m pleased that people of both genders and all ages have reacted positively to the book. Even people who are not religious appreciate the story, which pleases me even more. It’s a Christian story, bottom line, but non-Christians have always been my target audience.

Janet: Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?

Ginny: I’ve always loved the song, “Trust and Obey.” I think it totally sums up the way we should live our lives. It’s the way I’ve tried to walk on this writing journey, just taking one step of faith at a time. I don’t think there is any other way this book could have happened.

Janet: What do you like best about the writing life?

Ginny: Tee hee. See comments above, under what got me started! The thing I like best about the writing life is when the manuscript is done and I can quit. It’s kind of like banging your head against the wall. More positively, I suppose, it’s the sense of satisfaction you get from the finished product. And a chance to curl up with someone else’s good book instead of having to work on your own.

Janet: Ah. “It feels so good when you stop.” I get it. What do your family think of your writing?

Ginny: My family has always been supportive of my writing, but it’s been tough love. They are my most honest critics. It’s probably a good thing that none of them read the whole thing before it was published. I might still be revising! My husband has been very patient with the process, and he fed and clothed me while I wrote. I couldn’t have done it without him.

Janet: Writers are told to read widely and voraciously. I think that’s one of the perks of the deal. What are you reading these days?

Ginny: I read a variety of books. When I’m writing, I try to read authors whose writing styles I admire, because I tend to mimic the style of the writing I’m reading. But now that I’m through writing, I can play around a bit. I just finished Decision Points, George Bush’s autobiography. I wanted to get his perspective on his presidency and it was a great read. Right now I’m reading Helen of Troy, a historical novel written by Margaret George, a delightful writer I met at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference in October. I’ve got a stack of books by my bed and I’m working my way down.

Janet: What do you like to do to get away from it all?

Ginny: I love to go to places that are warm and sunny. We usually go to Los Angeles in the spring to visit relatives, and I soak up the sounds and sights and smells of California. I’m originally a California girl, so the nostalgia is an added bonus.

Janet: What’s the most surprising/fun/zany/scary thing you’ve ever done?

Ginny: I honestly never have done anything surprising/fun/zany or scary, other than self-publish this book. Unless you count spending 20 years as a high school substitute teacher. That might qualify. I’m actually a very boring person. I suppose it’s not very good marketing to say that. Zinovy is much more interesting than I am, though.

Janet: That’s probably true of most writers. We’re alive, but our characters are a bit larger than life. Who wants to read about “normal”? And as a writer, I think taking on the whole independent publishing thing is pretty scary. [Substitute teaching sounds downright terrifying to me. I remember some of my classmates!] I’m curious what prompted a female Canadian author to choose a Russian man as her protagonist. Zinovy’s story could be anyone’s story, from anywhere, and we’re so overloaded with North American protagonists. He makes a refreshing change.

Ginny: I chose a Russian male to be the main character in the novel because I wanted someone who had no Christian background. It intrigued me to think how strange the new world would seem to someone who had no concept of the Kingdom of God. I figured a Russian KGB assassin would be about as far away from that kingdom as anyone could get. I’ve also never really seen myself as a Canadian writer. I’ve lived half my life in the U.S. and half in Canada, so I have more of an international perspective. That worked well for this novel. I agree that Zinovy is really everyman/everywoman. We all are on a heroic journey, looking for God, whether we know it’s Him we’re hungry for or not, and that kind of journey isn’t restricted to national boundaries.

Janet: Thanks so much for taking time to let us get to know you a bit, Ginny. May the LORD continue to bless you and make you a blessing to others—in every area of your life. And may He use Zinovy’s Journey to get many readers thinking about their own life choices.

Ginny: God bless you too, Janet. You’re a gift, and I’m so glad God gave me your friendship.

Janet: Someday we will yet meet in person!


Zinovy's Journey cover art

When the world ends…
Zinovy’s journey begins.

To view the trailer for Zinovy’s Journey or to read a sample chapter, visit the Zinovy’s Journey website. And here’s a link to my review of Zinovy’s Journey.

To learn more about Ginny Jaques, visit her at Something About the Joy and Something About the Writing Journey.

Review: The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction, by Jeff Gerke

The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction cover artThe Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction, by Jeff Gerke (Marcher Lord Press, 2009)

This book is subtitled “The complete guide to finding your story, honing your skills, and glorifying God in your novel,” and it lives up to what it promises.

The material is divided into three sections: The Spiritual Heart of Writing Christian Fiction; Strategizing Yourself, Strategizing Your Fiction; and Writing Your Novel. The third section fills half the book and provides a comprehensive overview of the craft.

The writing and strategizing material is mostly aimed at beginners. These two sections cover characters, show and tell, point of view, description and dialogue. As we learn, we’ll want other books on the craft to give advanced teaching, but this is a great place to start, filled with practical instruction.

But this is not just a book for beginners. The first 40 pages offer something I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else in writing-focused books.

Jeff Gerke asks some penetrating questions before getting into the “how” of writing. Whose approval are we writing for, at the deepest level? God’s or man’s? Will publication—or a best-seller—provide what we need for contentment? What’s our calling as Christian novelists?

This part of the book justified the purchase price, and it’s something I’ll come back to again and again. I think it applies to writers of all stages of experience.

For new writers, another key benefit in this opening section is Jeff’s up-front warning that not all writing teachers agree. Instead of trying to reinvent ourselves to match each one’s view, we need to listen, learn, and then discern what works best for our own stories. Knowing this can prevent severe confusion.

Jeff himself recommends taking up to the first half of a novel before moving into the second act of a three-act structure. Traditionally this mark is closer to the one-third mark, which fits better for me. But he likes prologues when many don’t, and I’m  happy to agree there!

The book’s spiritual grounding, big-picture strategizing and techniques will benefit Christians no matter what their fiction genre. For those writing for the Christian market, there are genre-specific tips and advice, including options on conveying profanity without being banned from the Christian bookstore.

The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction is an essential book for the Christian writer’s library. It’s clear, easy to understand and put into practice, and there’s enough humour to make it a fun read.

[Review copy from my personal library. Review originally appeared in FellowScript, August 2011.]