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Writing Tips

from Lois Walfrid Johnson

I want to become a writer. What should I do?

Read. Read. Read. Not junk, but good stuff. What you read will shape you. Ask yourself, What do I want to give to my reader? How can I contribute to a reader's life?
How can I encourage and help someone who reads my work?

Write. Write. Write. Listen to people who can help you improve. Then write some more.

Think about how your teachers help you improve your writing. Learn from their suggestions. When you have the opportunity, take good writing classes through schools, colleges, universities, online courses, and writers conferences. If you don't understand why a teacher consistently corrects one aspect of your writing, find out.

If you're older and live near a good Christian writer's group, see if there's a critique group you can join.

Pay attention to what kind of writing you like to do most. Who are the authors you admire? What do you learn from their style of writing? Do you prefer writing stories or personal experience articles? Do you like writing true stories about what people do or would you rather write imaginary stories? Do you like writing a news article or a feature? When I first started writing, I wasn't sure about what I liked best. I tried several kinds of things until I knew what I was best at doing.

Notice this: How do the authors you love help you love reading? What's a special characteristic of what they offer? For example, I especially like to put cliffhangers at every chapter. I end a chapter at an exciting point in the hope that my readers will want to keep reading. I especially like writing historical novels because they can offer both excitement and nostalgia, along with a sense of "They lived through a difficult time. So can I."

Do you have any tips for developing characters? I feel like I'm friends with the people in your stories, but I know that means that you must have put tons of time into making those characters into real people. How do you do it?

With my major characters, such as Kate, Anders, and Erik in the Northwoods novels and Libby, Caleb, and Jordan in the Riverboat Adventures, I ask myself, "What does this character want? Then, "How can I say no?" That way my characters get really motivated and conflict develops.

I also try to develop characters that have both strong and weak character qualities. If a strong quality goes too far it can become a weak characteristic. For instance, Jordan is so courageous that at times he can be too brave, and it borders on recklessness.

How do you get the ideas for your books?

Sometimes I'm with family or friends and we start talking about something. I find some detail or some idea interesting and want to know more about it. When I know the direction that interests me, I start researching and that generates more ideas. Often I get my best ideas when I'm taking a break. I especially like cycling. When I get stuck and don't know how to keep on with what I'm writing, it helps to take a quick walk down the road. As one of my writing teachers told me, "I walk to a certain tree and usually by the time I get there I have the idea I need."

Most important of all: I ask the Lord to give me ideas. He does.

I want to be a writer, but where can I get published?

It depends on your age and experience and how much you've worked at writing. Where are you in your schooling? Seek out good writing courses. Keep improving your writing. Understand the importance of timing.

The most important thing is not getting published but learning to write. If you're still in school you might find a magazine that accepts writing from young people your age. Or perhaps you can write for a group at your school or church. One girl told me she wrote short articles in her local home-schooling newsletter. A number of students have published their own newsletters or magazines, and they're GREAT!

Here's another idea: You'll learn a lot about writing by reading good books, then writing reviews. It helps you think through what you like about a book and then what you'd like to include in your own writing. Recently I discovered a girl named Jessica who reviewed two of my books, Escape into the Night and Race for Freedom, online. Not only is she accurate. She also creates interest in a novel and doesn't spoil the secrets in a story by giving away cliffhangers or too much information. She's already a great reviewer, and I hope that she continues writing. Christianbook.com offers a good opportunity for readers to write reviews. Be accurate so people can trust what you say. Be fair. Be enthusiastic. Give a specific reason why you like a book. And don't forget that your church newsletter may need someone to review books for young people your age.

All these ideas can offer you great experience in writing to fulfill a certain need. That's what you want to learn to do. But remember—look for the right timing about getting published. It's important to understand the right sequence in your writing. Have fun with it. Learn and grow. And publication can come at the right time.

I'm older and I've really worked at writing. What about me? Where can I get published?

Look for Writer's Market in your favorite bookstore or the reference section of your public library. Sally Stuart's Christan Writers' Market Guide is also available in some stores or check out her website: www.stuartmarket.com. Because the information changes so often, both of these books are published annually. Before submitting anything be sure you're read publisher samples, know what they want, and submit only your very best work.

Is being an author hard work?

Yes, it can be very hard work. I like to begin every day by having devotions—reading the Bible and praying. That helps me get started, and often my best ideas come out of that time. When writing goes well I'm so delighted and think I wouldn't want to do anything else on earth.

Sum it up. Put your thoughts about writing as a vocation in just a few words. Ask yourself, What are my motives for writing?

Write because you cannot help but write. Write because you want to help people through your words.


Lois Walfrid Johnson - Wikipedia