What If…

How do you come up with your ideas?

I recently shared lunch with a dear writing friend. The talk turned to our works in progress.

“How do you come up with your ideas?” she asked.

I have no problem coming up with ideas. My mind is constantly running amuck. Many writers are not as fortunate. So where do ideas come from? Here are a couple of things you can do generate ideas, or take the beginnings you have to a new depth.

What If…

I15384997 - what if 3d text surrounded by question marks. part of a series.n Conflict & Suspense by James Scott Bell, he talks about playing the “What if…” game. Take any event, anywhere you are, any thing you are doing and ask, What if. My friend and I did this as we sat looking out the window of the restaurant.

·      What if one of the cars out there on the street is carrying a cache of weapons on the way to an old employer’s office?

·      What if someone put a bomb in one of the cars?

·      What if there was a man on the way to break up with his fiancé?

·      What if one car was full of balloons and supplies to set up for a surprise party?

·      What if someone was driving their newborn home from the hospital?

·      What if a scientist had a time machine that was jostled by a pothole, and triggered so he drove his car in to 1385?

James Scott Bell talked about seeing a billboard of a woman getting sunscreen put on her legs. Here are some of his what ifs:

·      What if the man applying the lotion was sent to assassinate her, but he’s fallen in love?

·      What if they are having an affair?

·      What if it isn’t lotion but something that will turn her into a half woman/half squid?


What if is a lot of fun and can generate many possible plot lines to play with later.


Make it worse

This comes from a class another great writing friend took from Donald Maass author of Writing the Breakout Novel. You have the beginning of an idea. How can you build on it, and take it from an idea to a full novel?

Go back to the what if about the man driving to break up with his girlfriend.

·      Make it worse.

He has a terminal illness and doesn’t want to leave her as a widow before their first anniversary.

·      Make it worse.

After he as crushed her with the break up, he realizes how very much he needs her, but there is no going back.

·      Make it worse.

He is abducted by an alien life form who cures him so he can save their planet from destruction.

·      Make it worse.

In order to save the planet he has to battle a creature, save a princess, and marry her. But he still loves the woman he left behind on earth.

These are some fun ways to get the creative juices flowing. Have fun. Play alone or get some writing friends together and play as a group. There will be no end to the possibilities and your “To be Written” file may soon be larger than mine.

What if …

We all had too many stories to complete for God’s glory to keep working at anything but writing?

Michelle Janene Murray blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind most days. She published Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015, helps edit the Inspire anthologies, and is working to expand her personal press to publish other authors.

How to Write for Chicken Soup for the Soul

An Author Interview with Heidi Gaul

heidi-gaul-author-photo-2016Chicken Soup for the Soul has been sharing inspirational and motivational stories for over twenty years. More than 250 compilations have been translated into 43 languages, with over 110 million books sold in the US and Canada and over 500 million sold worldwide.

With about a dozen new titles being added to their list yearly, the Chicken Soup team welcomes writers to submit their stories or poems. They’re open to unsolicited submissions and have recently extended deadlines for a few of their upcoming compilations.

Though Heidi Gaul is not an employee or an official representative of Chicken Soup for the Soul, she has had eight stories published in different themed Chicken Soup books. Her work has also been published in The Upper Room and will be included in Every Day with Jesus, a Guidepost devotional book scheduled for release in 2017.

Please help me welcome Heidi as she shares personal tips that could help writers improve their chances of having their stories accepted for publication in future Chicken Soup for the Soul books.


Thanks for joining us, Heidi. In which Chicken Soup for the Soul books have your stories been published?

heidi-gaul-finding-my-faith-chicken-soup-book-coverMy stories are included in Finding My Faith, Angels Among Us, Touched By An Angel, Dreams and Premonitions, The Cat Did What?, My Very Good, Very Bad Cat, I Can’t Believe My Dog Did That!, and Thanks To My Mom. My favorites would have to be Finding My Faith and Thanks to My Mom.


What elements make stories or poems a good fit for Chicken Soup for the Soul?

Every story published by Chicken Soup for the Soul editors must be true, and must involve the writer, as opposed to being a story retold through the writer. Chicken Soup stories should relate one event or occurrence in a way that will draw in the reader, making them laugh, cry, or even get chills. The reader needs to not only feel empathy for the characters in the story, they need to trust the writer enough to feel themselves a part of the story.


How can writers benefit from submitting to compilation books like Chicken Soup for the Soul?

Because Chicken Soup for the Soul has such a large audience, it offers vast name recognition for its writers. With so many stories being submitted for every title, being included in the 101 stories they finally select is an honor. Plus, it’s a great avenue for inviting others to visit your website.


How can writers prepare themselves for submitting to a Chicken Soup book?

It’s critical to follow the guidelines. I usually print a copy of the specific story angles they’re searching for, and keep it handy, mulling over the key points for a few days. I want to understand the audience the editors are targeting, and submit a story that fits. We all have plenty of memories, but they might not align with the editor’s needs. If that’s the case, no matter how well the story is written, it won’t be accepted.


Please share your top tips for writers who want to become a part of the Chicken Soup family.

(1) Begin your piece with an action or some dialogue to set the pace.

(2) Don’t be afraid to offer as much of yourself onto the page as possible. Twelve hundred words are all you have to enrich the reader’s day. Make each word count.

(3) Take advantage of sensory detail to ground the scene.

(4) Write your first draft, then edit like crazy. Check every adjective and adverb, and if they aren’t important to the story’s tone, pull them.

The writing has to be clean—professionalism needs to be evident through tight word usage as well as your ability to take your readers to an emotional place you’ve created for them.


heidi-gaul-chicken-soup-thanks-to-my-mom-book-coverWhat should writers consider when submitting devotions, stories, or poems with Christian elements?

Chicken Soup for the Soul is not specifically a Christian publication, but more of a bridge. The books focus on an optimistic, healing perspective. When my Christian viewpoint is vital to a story, or a quote made by a Christian luminary strengthens it, I include it. But inserting a sermon or sharing a preachy message that doesn’t tie in will guarantee rejection.

And by the way, those pithy quotes prefacing each story? They are selected by the editors—the author merely okays them.


What can writers expect after they submit to Chicken Soup for the Soul?

I always tell people that they won’t hear from Chicken Soup until they’ve forgotten they even submitted. And sadly, if your story isn’t one that’s chosen, Chicken Soup won’t notify you at all, due to the number of submissions they receive.


What happens after Chicken Soup for the Soul accepts your story for publication?

First, you’ll be notified if your work is under consideration, and again later if it is accepted into the final line-up. If your story is chosen, you’ll be paid in a timely fashion and will be given several copies of the book that includes your story. In addition, you’ll receive a periodic newsletter from them—Chicken Soup for the Soul makes you feel like part of a family.


What do you consider the most difficult part of the submission process?

Pressing “submit.” And the second hardest part would be concentrating your story to a size fitting the guidelines while maintaining enough emotional swing.


heidi-gaul-chicken-soup-very-good-very-bad-cat-book-coverWhat is the most rewarding part of being a member of the Chicken Soup family?

Knowing one made the cut into a top-notch, wholesome line of anthologies—it’s not easy. Another blessing is when readers contact you, praising your story, and you know you touched their heart. That’s a wonderful connection.


What are some creative ways writers can share their books with readers after their work is published in a Chicken Soup book?

Chicken Soup provides each author with so many free books, I often sell the surplus. I’ve enjoyed success with marketing at writer’s conferences, online through social media, and at privately owned book stores. I love to do giveaways, and my readers have fun signing up for my newsletter in order to participate in them. (Spoiler Alert: There will be a giveaway announcement at the end of this interview!)


What final words of encouragement would you like to offer writers as they consider writing and submitting to this prestigious publication?

(1) The strength of a publisher like Chicken Soup for the Soul is great, and deserves respect. Many companies don’t reflect the light as well as they do.

(2) Your gift of writing is one of the most powerful means available for spreading the Word, and when finessed with subtlety and skill it will reach many.

(3) If you don’t already see your reader as a loved one with whom you’re sharing a life event, think again. They are counting on you to enrich their day—warming their hearts, bringing a smile to their face or a tear to their eye. So, what are you waiting for?


heidi-gaul-chicken-soup-book-coverThank you for sharing your insight with the Inspire family, Heidi. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the giveaway opportunity you mentioned.

Thank you for inviting me. It’s been a lot of fun!

Although I’ll be interacting with readers in the comment section of this blog post, I’d like to invite you to visit my website. Look around. Sign up for my quarterly newsletter, if you’d like. I do a drawing for a free Chicken Soup book with every 25 new names.


I’m on my way to sign up now, Heidi.


To encourage Heidi or ask her more questions about submitting to Chicken Soup for the Soul, please leave a comment below. You can also connect with her on her website and through her Facebook Author Page, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Click HERE to check out the current themes and submission deadlines for upcoming Chicken Soup books, to carefully review the guidelines, and to submit your story.

Please let us know if you submit a story to Chicken Soup for the Soul and if your story has been selected for publication in a Chicken Soup book. We’re looking forward to celebrating with you.


Author Photo 2016 - INSPIRE ThumbnailXochitl (soh-cheel) E. Dixon encourages women and teens to embrace God’s grace and grow deeper in their personal relationships with Christ and others. Her devotions will be featured in Our Daily Bread, starting in 2017. She’s been published in The Upper Room, ENCOUNTER, and Devo ‘Zine magazines, as well as in Inspire’s Victory, Promise, Forgiveness, and Joy anthologies.


When a Writer is Ready for an Agent

An Interview with Nick Harrison

nick-harrison-2016-author-photo-full-sizeNick Harrison has inspired readers toward magnificent Christian living for over two decades through his devotional writings in Magnificent Prayer, Power in the Promises, His Victorious Indwelling, and Promises to Keep: Daily Devotions for Men of Integrity.

His newest release One-Minute Prayers® for Dads will be released on April 1, 2017.

After guiding authors through their writing journeys as a senior editor at Harvest House for over 15 years, this accomplished writer and seasoned editor entered the industry as a Wordserve literary agent in November 2015.

As he builds his client list, Nick continues to invest in upcoming writers through his writing blog and by teaching at various writing conferences.

Please help me welcome Nick Harrison as he shares his wisdom and insight with writers who are considering seeking agent representation.


Thanks for joining us, Nick. As you’re settling into the exciting world of agents, please share how a writer can recognize a good agent.

A good agent will take an interest not just in your work, but in your writing career and in you as a person. It may take a while to find the right agent, but it’s worth the search. You want someone who “gets” what you want to accomplish as a writer. Don’t settle for less.


What must novelists do before they are ready to seriously pursue an agent?

A few years ago I would have said to simply finish a truly great story in novel form. But now I’m finding that many fiction publishers are requiring the same “platform” they require for non-fiction authors.  Now you no longer must write the story, you must demonstrate you can help find the market for the book.


What should nonfiction writers do before they consider submitting their proposals to an agent?

See what other clients the agent represents. If the agent doesn’t represent other writers in your non-fiction genre, there must be a reason. Either they don’t care for that genre or they don’t believe they can sell that genre to a publisher.

Ask your author friends for recommendations. Above all, go to at least one writer’s conference a year and meet agents in person. Talk to them and find out what they represent.

Of course, too, a good non-fiction author will have his or her platform in place and thus be able to demonstrate how the book can reach the intended market through the author’s efforts.


What should writers consider when interviewing agents to determine if they are a good match?

Many good agents have blogs. Read their blogs, look at their client list, and meet them in person. It’s kind of like dating. Your first or second agent contact may not be the right one. Keep looking, prayerfully.


When would you recommend writers to seriously pursue an agent?

It depends. If the book truly has great potential, the author should contact a good agent as he or she begins the book. This is when the author has some very timely story with national exposure possible. For instance, an Olympic Gold Medalist who wants to write his or her story needs an agent right away.  Most writers, though, need to finish the book (fiction) or complete a strong book proposal with three sample chapters. I prefer the first three chapters.


When would you encourage a writer to hold off on seeking an agent?

Another good reason for attending a writer’s conference is to gauge the interest in the book you want to write. If you query editors and agents at a conference and get zero interest, you need to rethink your book and possibly drop the idea altogether. Fiction writers should finish the book or at least get well past the halfway mark before looking for an agent.


In what circumstances would a writer be better off without an agent?

Really, the only case I can think of is if the author plans to be a one-book author and has a publisher already eager to publish the book. Even then an agent can be helpful, though both publishers and agents are far more interested in authors who will continue to write than they are in one book authors. Of course, self-publishing authors may prefer not to use an agent.


When, if ever, would it be wise for a new author to accept a contract from a publisher without being represented by an agent?

I would advise an author who has an interested publisher, but does not want to sign on with an agent, to at least hire an agent for a one-time fee to look over the contract.  First authors are a risk for a publisher. Sometimes an agent can negotiate better terms, but not always.


When would it be appropriate for that author to seek an agent with future books?

When they’re ready to establish themselves as a career writer. An agent is extremely valuable in helping an author with career planning.


If there are more than one agents interested in representing a writer, what should the writer consider when making a decision on who to work with?

Ask which agent is a good fit. Not just which will get me the most money, but which agent cares about me as a writer and wants to see me succeed. As I said above, it’s kind of like dating.


What should writers look for as warning signs when researching agents or agencies?

No author should pay an agent for fees to read his or her work. A freelance editor does that. Ask around. Ask some of the agent’s clients about their working relationship.


nick-harrison-book-cover-one-minute-prayers-for-dads-april-2017What final word of encouragement would you like to offer writers who are considering seeking agent representation?

Keep looking for the right fit and stick with that agent as long as they continue to understand your goals.


Thanks for joining us and congratulations on your upcoming release, available for pre-order now, One-Minute Prayers® for Dads, Nick. 


ASK AN AGENT: Nick has graciously agreed to answer a few questions for us in the comment section. Please ask general questions in a positive way and stick to the topic of writers seeking agents. This is NOT an opportunity to pitch book ideas to Nick.



Author Photo 2016 - INSPIRE ThumbnailXochitl (soh-cheel) E. Dixon encourages women and teens to embrace God’s grace and grow deeper in their personal relationships with God and others. Her devotions will be featured in Our Daily Bread, starting in 2017. She’s been published in The Upper Room, ENCOUNTER, and Devo ‘Zine magazines, as well as in Inspire’s Victory, Promise, and Forgiveness anthologies.

A Real Writer

I’ve been writing my whole life, but I didn’t feel like a real writer.

karen fosterIf people asked, “What do you do?” I’d tell them I’m a mom, a substitute teacher, a volunteer jail chaplain. Anything, but a writer. After all, they might ask what novels I’d written, or assume I earned a steady income as a freelance writer.

Never mind that I’d been writing stories from the time I could hold a pencil. Or that I spent several years as a newspaper journalist. I never showed people my portfolio filled with published first-person stories and Christian devotions. Never asked people to read my blog.

Compelled to write, but reluctant to admit I’m a writer.

Perhaps if writing had been my vocation instead of a hobby, I would have advertised the fact. Instead, I remained mute, and allowed my writing to wax and wane while I raised my children. And I prayed that one day, I’d become a real writer.

While other writers talked about “God’s calling,” I resorted to plucking flower petals for a sign. “God wants me to be a writer. God doesn’t want me to write. God wants…”

Then one day, a real author told me. “If God equipped you to write, then you must use your gift for whatever means. Now, say it out loud—I’m a writer.”

I glanced around and whispered. “I’m…a…writer.”

“Say the words like you mean them.”

“I’m A Writer.”

“Now, go write.”

That moment freed me to write, attend writers conferences, and join Inspire. I experienced a measure of success, but the melancholy thought lingered—am I a real writer?

What’s real?

Does a real writer have to pen a novel? Reach a quota of published manuscripts? Have a large platform? Become a well-known name?

In The Velveteen Rabbit, Skin Horse says, “Becoming real happens when a child loves…really loves you.”

By that criteria, the God of the universe really loves me. He calls me His own. Proclaiming truth—who I am in Christ—is my real identity. Writing is what I get to do.

— Karen Foster

Karen Foster loves to write, speak, and blog about the intimate satisfaction that only God can bring. Otherwise, Karen’s nose is in a book or she’s using her green thumb in the garden. KarenFosterMinistry.com.