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WRITE: Words with Friends: Becky Harling

Because I work as an author, collaborative writer, and editor, I have many friends in the publishing industry. That’s why I no longer publish reviews on bookseller sites. Here on my own blog, however, I can review the books I choose and then share my personal connection with their authors. That’s how my “Words with Friends” blog feature began. Today, I’m interviewing author, pastor’s wife, and speaker Becky Harling, author of The 30-Day Praise Challenge. I know Becky because we’ve communicated often via email by virtue of our membership in two professional organizations: AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) and CAN (Christian Authors Network). The two of us have never met in person, but we hope to connect at an AWSA Convention sometime soon!  Let’s get going with today’s interview. Becky, I know that your own journey into praise began in an unusual way. Can you tell us about it? This greatest adventure of my life began thirteen years ago, hours after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Scared and stressed at the thought of a double mastectomy; worried about my kids and whether I would be alive to finish raising them; anxious and paralyzed over the thought of a year full of treatments; I decided to fast, pray, and beg God for healing. But when I told my mentor about my plan, she had another idea. She challenged me to, “Try spending 20 minutes praising God for five days.” At the time I thought, “What a bizarre idea! I have just been diagnosed with cancer. The last thing I feel like doing is praising God. Shouldn’t I fast, pray and beg God for healing? Wouldn’t it be hypocritical to praise God when I don’t feel thankful?” I’m sure many of us understand how hard it can be to praise God when the circumstances seem less than praiseworthy. Did you accept your friend’s challenge? After wrestling with my doubts, I decided to give praise a shot. After all, what did I have to lose? The first day, I got down on my knees early in the morning and turned on praise music. I remember praying, “God, I’m here to praise you for 20 minutes. Don’t know how I’m gonna do that, but if you’ll help me I’ll try.” The Holy Spirit was more than willing to help. He began to prompt my thinking with reasons to praise God. I praised God the Father for being almighty and faithful. I praised Jesus Christ for loving me and being my victor. After my first day of praise, I decided to continue. Some mornings, I praised my way through the alphabet, worshipping God for all His different characteristics. Some mornings, I let...

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WRITE: Frequently Made Errors #2–Too Much Backstory

This mini-series addresses common errors writers make. I should have added in my previous FME post that all these represent errors I have made—and may still make at times. But the reason I share them is because when I edit others’ work, I often see similar problems from different writers. That’s why I call them FMEs or “Frequently Made Errors.” TOO MUCH BACKSTORY can occur in either fiction or nonfiction. All my published work is nonfiction (unless you count some poetry from years ago), so I would call nonfiction my area of expertise. But I do know that in fiction, backstory means the story before the story. Novice fiction writers face the temptation to give too much background information too soon. Almost any fiction instructor urges wannabe novelists to tell the story they intend to tell and allow the characters’ past to unfold alongside it. This same backstory problem can occur with nonfiction as well. The author of a recent manuscript I critiqued began his book by telling why he was qualified to write it. He explained to his readers what they could expect and what he hoped they would learn. He told about the ways his journey had blessed him and how he hoped it would, in turn, bless them. Do you see the problem? If you managed to read all the last paragraph, you did better than most people would have done with his manuscript. The advice I gave this aspiring author used the same words I referenced for wannabe novelists: just tell the story. Don’t tell us how you or why you came to write the book. Don’t tell us how wonderful it is. Tell the story. Share the principles. Give us background information along the way if need be, but don’t put your reader to sleep. Backstory doesn’t keep readers reading. Telling the story does. When you make a new friend, do you find out everything about him or her at your first meeting? Do you automatically ask about childhood experiences, likes and dislikes, or intimate details of work and family life? Of course not. You let the information unfold naturally in the context of your relationship. If it helps, think of your writing as a relationship with your readers. Don’t break up before you begin. You came to your manuscript to tell a story or teach a truth. Stick with your primary purpose, and leave the backstory in the background—right where it...

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