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Right Writing News, February 23, 2005, Issue #016
February 23, 2005

Welcome to the sixteenth issue. It highlights a best-selling author's writing life, numerous writing articles and some new links to check. This publication appears monthly. If you are reading this issue forwarded from someone, be sure and use the link below to get your own free subscription.
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Table of Contents

1)Tapped Into A Higher Power--Ken Wales By W. Terry Whalin

2) Insight In Between Right Writing News

3) Beating Procrastination By Benefiting From Bromides By Dennis E. Hensley, Ph.D.

4) Face Time By Robert Bittner

5) Outlining Your Script Or Story By Thomas B. Sawyer

6) Exploding Some Myths About Computing & Writers By Mark A. Kellner

7) The Practical Artist: Make Clients Love You By Kelly James-Enger

8) Valuable Skill Development: Write Devotionals By Cecil "Cec" Murphey

9) New Links to Check

Tapped Into a Higher Power –- Ken Wales

By W. Terry Whalin

Producer Ken Wales was in the middle of a power struggle with the CBS executives. For more than 19 years, Ken had pushed, worked and promoted to have the Christy story come to the Hollywood screen. The producer of The Party with Peter Sellers as well as the Golden Globe Winner and Emmy-nominated "John Steinbeck's ‘East of Eden,'" an eight-hour ABC-TV mini-series had been around the Hollywood community for a long time and knew firsthand how power is used.

In 1969, Ken was producing MGM's biggest picture, She Loves Me starring Julie Andrews and the film was suddenly cancelled--along with the film Christy, which MGM was producing down the hall. Yet God was working. Thirty-two million people had read Christy, the best-selling book and around 1975, Ken wondered what happened to the film project. He purchased a copy of the book and read all 500 pages in two days.

"I knew when I read it that, it would be my obsession. I just had to see it done," he explained. He phoned the best-selling author, Catherine Marshall. Immediately she interrupted Ken and said she had been praying that morning for someone to do something positive with her story. She saw Ken's phone call as an answer to her prayers and encouraged Ken to pursue the film rights.

During the next 11 years, MGM changed hands 18 times as Wales continually struggled with the different administrations at MGM contacting one executive after another. In the late 80s, he mortgaged his house and spent an enormous sum to secure the rights to Christy from MGM but without success. MGM did not want to let go of the blockbuster. It was simply too good. Finally Ken was able to gain some power to secure an option to purchase Christy. Each year, Wales had to come up with a great deal of money while looking for a studio to produce the film but he willingly took the risk. In 1990, he turned down an invitation from CBS to produce Christy as a television series.

"My vision was a feature film," he said. When CBS contacted him again in 1992, he reconsidered. Ken turned to Catherine Marshall's prayer of relinquishment, which challenges us to keep our dreams alive but let God's way cause it to happen. Wales said, "I was giving up my idea of making a film so that in God's greater good, more people would see it on TV than a feature film."

Now his dream was moving towards production but he was locked in a different power struggle with the network executives. They wanted to keep the film shoot near the studio so they could occasionally supervise the set and the budget. They pointed to their hit show Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman where the story was set in Colorado in the 1800s, and yet actually filmed in the Malibu, California. "A mountain is a mountain," they contended.

"Christy has many characters," Wales explained in a recent interview. "The Appalachian Hills is one of those characters by their design. The people lived in reclusive valleys and ‘hollers' and their lifestyle was a key part of the story."

Also the story is based on Psalm 121:1, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." For the executives, any mountain would work. Ken's co-producer had a different idea for the location. He wanted to cut the cost and shoot the scripts in North Carolina but Wales knew North Carolina wasn't the right location.

"The Great Smoky Mountains are unique with their layers of haze, the accents and the body language," Wales said. "I struggled and fought for the control of the authenticity. Besides the true story really happened in the Tennessee Great Smoky Mountains."

After more than 40 years as a producer, Ken felt like his credibility was on the line with the location decision. Actor William Holden has described Wales as "the best producer he had ever worked with" from their work together on Wild Rovers.

"When my by-line is on a film, the quality must be excellent," Wales said. "When you make short cuts, you wind up repairing things and it takes even longer and costs more."

The power struggle continued for several weeks. "Producers are paid to be correct and you can't make a lot of mistakes," Wales explained. "I always try to have three or four back-up plans and often I have to use one of those back-ups." As he prayed about it, he knew it must be filmed in Appalachia.

Ultimately Christy was shot in the mountains of Tennessee about twenty minutes from the Knoxville airport but where it looked like hundreds of miles in the mountains. "There are many aspects to a film such as easy access, which the producer must consider," Wales said. The actual location was two minutes from the local town, which provided great support for all the basic needs of the cast and crew.

"The audience revered Christy because it was authentic. The 1912 period was right on the nose," Wales said. He selected an excellent and talented staff including Academy-Award-winning Production Designer, Bill Creber, who has designed many films including the Planet of the Apes and The Greatest Story Ever Told. The clothes and the setting were perfect. "When you choose the very best people, it's what God wants us to do," Wales said.

The series premiered with a TV movie on Easter Sunday 1994 and over 42 million people tuned in. "I don't know exactly how many Christians were on the set of Christy; only God knows that. My task was to find the best and it's amazing how God changes lives in the process of telling the story," Wales said.

The series was a breakthrough in network television and the first time a main character, Christy, a young schoolteacher from North Carolina, did what she did because of her beliefs--her faith. "When Christy is discouraged and doesn't think she is making any progress and wants to leave, she prays and asks God for direction," Wales said.

While the series ran for barely two seasons on CBS, it has remained very popular in reruns and videos. Because of Christy's success it broke ground and made possible Touched By An Angel and Seventh Heaven.

Sadly, the show was cancelled in another show of power. "When the network changes presidents, the new president often cancels the hit shows of the previous president," Wales said. "He has to show his power regardless of his choices." Ironically this president served the shortest period in that network's history--nine months.

The son of a minister, Ken Wales has always had a solid faith in Jesus Christ. His father earned a degree from Yale Divinity School and "was deeply ecumenical and prayed that all to be one in Christ," Wales said. His mother was a public school teacher and a Sunday school teacher. "She exemplified God's great gift and talent to live according to Biblical precepts," Wales said. When Ken wanted to go into the arts, his loving parents encouraged him to become an actor. Wales started performing in theatre productions during high school and received the Glenn Ford Award for young actors, which allowed him to be mentored by the famous actor.

He received the first Walt Disney Scholarship to study at the University of Southern California's School of Cinema. "Walt paid my entire tuition for five years which was $5,000," Wales said with a grateful smile. Today the program runs about $36,000 a year and Ken is on the faculty of the School of Cinema.

While attending USC, Wales was under contract to MGM as an actor for feature films and television programs. He played Betty's boyfriend on Father Knows Best and acted in about 35 films. "My real interest was in creating project," Wales said. "Not due to an ego trip but because God is the source of our creative strength. The power or ability to transform thought into energy and cause something to be created is a positive experience."

After college, Ken began to work as associate producer and later producer with acclaimed director Blake Edwards. He was present when Blake met his wife, Julie Andrews. Then Wales was best man at their wedding and his father preformed the ceremony. Ken produced such films as The Tamarind Seed, with Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif; The Great Race with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis; and Revenge of the Pink Panther starring Peter Sellers. They became close friends and as Wales said, "Blake was amazed at how I could handle whatever challenge he gave me."

As a writer/director/producer, Edwards understandably wanted to maintain control over his films. "It was tough for him to give up that control," Wales said. "On several films, I was associate producer, when I was actually did the work of the producer." For seven years, Wales persisted--mostly because of his Christian perspective on life and his understanding that servanthood in his career was of prime importance.

"I explain to people that the Associate Producer is the only person who is willing to associate with the Producer," Wales said with a chuckle. "It's the willingness to be under another person's direction." This type of "servanthood" isn't being a doormat. "I really endeavored to enable good things to happen and sure enough, one day Blake said I should receive the credit."

As he looks at his current producer work in films, Wales says, "From a Christian perspective, my role is to be the team leader. Someone has to be in charge yet the key is how they take that authority and make the ultimate decisions. Some producers arbitrarily make everyone submit and it causes a real problem."

Admittedly some members of the Hollywood community jockey for the highest control and defeat the collaborative process. "Excellent filmmaking is collaborative and the decision making power is shared," Wales said. "The entire project is collaborative from the writer to the art director to the story designer to the cinematographer to the director to the actors to the producer."

Some producers make visible decisions in a loud manner so everyone knows who is in control. "This raw abuse of power is like an authoritative parent who says, "I don't care what you say but I'm telling you to do it,'" Wales said. "I prefer to do things with persuasion and encouragement to help the actors and others understand the ‘why.' It's better to catch flies with honey than vinegar."

Wales continues to mentor others in the Hollywood community and pass along the lessons he's learned from his years in film. Besides his regular teaching at USC, he's mentoring writers and young filmmakers. From his years of working with Blake Edwards, Wales is always grateful for someone willing to help him learn from his mistakes. "I was constantly growing and changing and learning from a compassionate master Blake Edwards," he said.

In Hollywood, Christians are distinguished because of their attitude of serving which is quite different in the power hungry industry. "I try to serve God by serving others," Wales said. In general, he's observed a suspicion from nonChristians about Christians.

"A Christian should have power and control over themselves and be in God's presence at all times as God influences their lives," Wales said. "In essence, the secular world says ‘you have something that I don't have.' It's important to approach relationships in the industry with love, compassion and respect. Hopefully, others will see our example and know that we walk with God."

Wales teaches his students, "Good films do not come out of lousy people so get your life together, set priorities, make good choices, and acknowledge that God has given each of us unique, special talents. Now watch your creativity soar!"

Ken Wales has learned how to serve others and gently wield the power of his office and he is well respected for it. "When you have God's presence in your decision making all the time, then God is a part of your life and you make better decisions. It's not about keeping control or power. When we make decisions with God at the center, we are the closest possible to making the right decision." Sage advice for anyone--whether in the Hollywood community or not.

W. Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as a magazine editor for Decision and In Other Words. His magazine articles have appeared in more than 50 publications including Writer's Digest and Christianity Today. Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books and his latest is Running On Ice (New Hope Publishers). See more about his writing at For more than 12 years Terry has been an ECPA Gold Medallion judge in the fiction category. He has written extensively about Christian fiction and reviewed numerous fiction books in publications such as CBA Marketplace and BookPage. He is the Fiction Acquisitions Editor for Howard Publishing. Read Terry's insight about The Writing Life. Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Scottsdale, Arizona.

© 2005 W. Terry Whalin

Regular Writing Insight In Between Right Writing News

By W. Terry Whalin

It happens several times a week. People will think about this newsletter and decide they haven't seen it in a while. So they return to and re-subscribe. I'm grateful for your continual and ongoing interest. I've cut the issues from bi-monthly to once a month. If you want to get some regular writing instruction in between. I recommend you make a regular habit of reading The Writing Life. I've been writing about different aspects of writing plus including links to additional information. One of the best ways to regularly read the information is to set up a free Yahoo account and add The Writing Life to the content of your news page.

Just use the button below:

The Writing Life

Beating Procrastination by Benefiting from Bromides

By Dennis E. Hensley, Ph.D.

Probably the first rule we had drilled into us by our writing instructors was to avoid clichés – those over-used, worn out, tired expressions heard so frequently in daily conversations. However, the only way an expression can become over-used is if it contains enough truth to warrant being repeated.

Knowing this, let's re-examine some of the "tried and true" clichés that relate to overcoming procrastination and managing time in order to find out how they might jump start our writing careers.

"Tide and time wait for no man." Magazines have ironclad lead times for their issues. If a publication's guidelines say that all Christmas articles must be submitted no later than August 15th, you'll have to hit that deadline or you'll lose that publication opportunity for another full year. Editors and deadlines wait for no man (or woman or child). Similarly, book publishers work on catalog seasons. If you plan to have your novel among a company's summer releases, you'll have to have everything done six months earlier (including the proofreading and correcting of galleys). Bookstore owners and readers wait for no idlers. So, hit your deadlines in all matters.

"Inch by inch anything's a cinch." Often we hesitate to start working on a large project because it seems overwhelming. But if we break the big job into smaller components, it will become more manageable. When it came time for me to research and write my 325 page doctoral dissertation, I panicked. However, when the chairman of my committee told me to break the dissertation into 12 chapters and then to divide each chapter into four feature-length subdivisions, I could see it would be no different from writing one magazine article per week. I could (and did) handle that. You can, too. Break your big project into smaller units.

"The longest journey begins with a single step." I determined when I was in my last year of high school that I wanted to make writing my career. In fact, I fantasized about cracking The New York Times "Best Seller List," writing Hollywood scripts, and hob-knobbing with members of the literati. In time (read that "decades"), all that came to pass. What I discovered along the way, however, was that there were no quantum career leaps. It all came one step at a time: college student…newspaper reporter…short story writer…soldier…graduate student…columnist…novelist…editor…screenwriter…college professor. The same is true of your career. So, step out. Today!

"He who hesitates is lost." Either by direct effort or mere fool luck, some plum writing assignments are going to fall into your lap from time to time. If you waste time worrying about whether or not you are ready to handle such assignments – enough education? enough experience? enough time? enough publishing savvy? – you'll talk yourself out of taking what might very well be your break-through gigs. Always say yes. To quote Woody Allen, "Eighty percent of success often is just showing up." Trust in your ability to learn as you earn. Go for it!

"Well begun is half done." Physicists talk about the power of inertia. A body in motion tends to remain in motion. Well, apply that to getting started on your writing project. Initiate momentum by assembling all of your tools: notes, pens, floppy disks and CDs, cup of java, file folders, taped interviews. Clear away any distractions (magazines, books, research unrelated to the project at hand). Divide the work project into a series of stages. Go to the word processor and power it up. You're half-way home already.

"The race does not always go to the swift." If you balk at starting a writing project because you know you are a plodder rather than a sprinter, take heart. Very often the writer who dashes off a first draft and then rushes it to an editor winds up getting it sent back for additional research, better fact-checking, and improved writing. You, however, may take a bit longer to prepare your manuscript, but the high quality end product will actually save you time overall. So, get started, work at your own pace, and take home the blue ribbon when you cross the finish line.

Consider this parting thought: Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, spent a lifetime assembling the Book of Proverbs. Ben Franklin collected all the known one-liners and clichés of his era when he wrote Poor Richard's Almanac. So…let a word to the wise be sufficient.

Dr. Dennis E. Hensley is the author of 44 books and more than 3,000 feature articles. He is a recipient of the Indiana University "Award for Teaching Excellence" and the "Dorothy Hamilton Memorial Writing Award." He has been a writer in residence or guest professor at more than 60 colleges and universities. He is a professor of English at Taylor University Fort Wayne, where he serves as director of the professional writing major and also the author of such writing books as How to Write What You Love and Make a Living at It (Random House) and Alpha Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours (Macmillan).

Face Time

By Robert Bittner

Robert McGarvey needed a little arm-twisting before he'd get on a plane to New York to meet his editor at Warner Books. The Los Angeles-based writer didn't see the point of flying 3,000 miles to get chummy, when he'd already ghostwritten one book for the company and believed that more work was in the offing. But his agent persisted. "Look, he really likes your work, and he wants to do some more stuff with you. Why don't you come meet him?" he told McGarvey.

McGarvey's glad he gave in. After the trip, "Warner gave me a multibook contract that was worth $30,000," he says. "My mantra is 'build relationships.' Meeting people in person is one way to start." He's now convinced that face time can transform any writer's career.

No matter where you live or what you write, you'll reap financial and professional benefits from meeting your editors face to face. Here's why.

You'll connect as people

"Putting a face with a name and/or voice can go a long way toward establishing an even better working relationship," says Alabama-based Judy Woodward Bates, a speaker and author of The Gospel Truth About Money Management (New Hope), who makes a point of meeting with her editors as often as possible.

Even busy editors welcome the opportunity to meet their writers. According to Leah Ingram, author of The Complete Guide for the Anxious Bride (New Page Books) and other books, "When I was editor at Moms on Call [a former special-interest magazine from Woman's Day], three writers who didn't live in New York made it a point to visit me. It was absolutely not an intrusion. Editors are very isolated, spending their days with their computers. To have flesh-and-blood come to your office is a nice change that makes the editor feel good."

Some writers worry that such meetings could work against them. They're apprehensive about being judged on their weight, age, clothing or appearance.

"There are two camps of writers," says Ingram. "One sees writing as a hobby; one treats it as a business. The fact is, face-to-face meetings can help grow your business. As an editor, it didn't matter to me how old or how heavy a writer was, what color her skin was or where she lived. What mattered was whether she had good ideas and could meet deadlines."

You'll gain insights

"When you meet your editors in person, you can ask silly questions like, 'Do you prefer first-person or third-person stories?' and get a better feel for what they're looking for in a query," says Virginia-based Sharon Cavileer, a magazine and newspaper freelancer who specializes in travel stories.

Cavileer tries to visit at least half of her editors regularly, and she always leaves the meetings with additional work. "Visiting editors has doubled the number of assignments I get," she says. "During our discussions, they might say, 'Gee, you know, I've never done anything on ____' or, 'Do you know anything about ____?' " Cavileer sees such comments as her opportunity to jump in and sell herself—and nab another assignment.

You'll reap lasting rewards

When I visited a Colorado-based book publisher I'd done freelance editing for, I hoped simply to solidify my relationship with a company that had recently undergone major changes in ownership and staff. While discussing with the publishers and editors the types of projects I enjoyed, the conversation led to an editing assignment they hadn't thought I'd be interested in—an assignment that paid four times more than any previous work I'd done for them.

That's not all. After a couple of hours, we started talking about the kinds of books I'd like to write. The editors liked five books I pitched, and I left the meeting knowing which ideas excited them most and exactly what they were looking for in a proposal. Six months later, I had a contract in hand for my fourth book, Your Perfect Job. Clearly, it was worth the nearly $1,000 in airfare for me to make this quick, two-day visit.

While meeting editors is likely to yield immediate positive results, it can also pay off in the long term as editors move on to positions at other publications. No matter where they might end up, when editors need writers, they tend to hire ones they've established a rapport with in the past.

You'll break down barriers

When should you meet your editors? The sooner the better. "If you've had minimal dialogue with an editor—even if it's just a personalized rejection—arrange a meeting. It can't hurt," Ingram says.

Consider the approach taken by Los Angeles freelancer Kathy Sena. When she's planning a trip to New York, she sends notes to a few editors a week or two in advance. "If it's an editor I haven't worked with before, I usually include my credits, a few clips and a letter of recommendation from another editor. If I have worked with the editor, I may suggest lunch or a quick trip to Starbucks."

Although Sena will do cold calls, she makes it a priority to connect with editors she's queried but not yet worked for. "Chances are, if your clips are good, you'll get at least a 10-minute 'show-me-what-you've-got' meeting," she says.

If you meet an editor at a writing conference, recognize that a brief introduction in this setting can't substitute for meeting at her office or at a coffee shop. Editors are besieged at conferences, so you'll be competing for their attention against other writers making pitches, colleagues catching up and networking, as well as the general information overload that occurs at these events. Your best chance for real discussion and a lasting relationship is to arrange to meet away from the conference setting. However, if you're attending a conference in your editor's city, use that as an excuse to request a personal meeting.

Before you go

As you plan your meeting strategy, keep the following do's and don'ts in mind:

• Do find out beforehand how much time the editor has to spend with you. The time frame indicates whether you should be prepared to pitch story ideas or just say hello.

• Do dress professionally. You need to make a good impression. Don't show up in sweats or jeans, even if you're meeting with an editor who specializes in fitness or adventure travel.

• Don't come bearing gifts. Most editors aren't allowed to accept gifts. Moreover, you'll probably come off looking desperate or naive.

• Do make the first move to pick up the check if you're meeting the editor over coffee or lunch. But don't argue if the editor picks up the tab. (See previous point about gifts.)

Of course, you could think up a dozen good reasons not to scrounge up the airfare or waste your time schlepping around some strange city just to meet editors on their own turf. But don't let these excuses keep you from advancing your career. According to freelancer Sena, "We're in a business that thrives on making and maintaining good relationships. A writer can't afford to pass up these great opportunities." And nothing will benefit you more than putting yourself on an editor's short list of writers who care enough about their work to get personal.

Robert Bittner is a full-time freelance writer specializing in books and magazine articles on a wide range of topics. His fourth book, a career guide for recent grads called Your Perfect Job is available now. Also recently he has been writing for a variety of publications, including: Chicago Tribune Magazine, USAirways' Attache, Ladies' Home Journal, PAGES, The Writer, Writer's Digest and others. You can learn more at his website:

© 2005 Robert Bittner.All rights reserved.. Used with Permission.

Outlining Your Script Or Story

By Thomas B. Sawyer

What is a Story Outline and How Does it Differ From a Synopsis or a Treatment?

A synopsis is generally defined as a one-to-four page narrative description of what happens in your story, told with some sizzle, since it will likely be used as a selling tool – to entice an agent, publisher, or producer to take a look at your manuscript.

A film treatment used to consist of twenty-to-forty or more pages of narrative. That seems to have changed. In Hollywood, where it is rumored that few people will (or can) read, and even fewer have attention spans longer than five minutes, treatments have become so brief that the line between them and synopses is blurred. I have had producers caution me that anything longer than four pages is death. Even for the purposes of selling the screen rights to a novel.

An outline is a different animal. As mentioned above, it's a scene-by-scene breakdown (continuity) of your story, written (basically) in narrative form. The length and amount of detail can vary, and style need not be a concern unless you plan to show it to others who might not "get" it. For TV and film scripts that are written on assignment (rather than on spec), the outline will invariably be read by producers and often by non-writers, such as studio or network executives, and should therefore be written with such exposure in mind. But if your outline is for your eyes only, the writing can be sketchier.

Because of my background in TV and my own comfort-level, spec or not, I still write my outlines in some detail. The outline for my novel, The Sixteenth Man, was 112 pages. Thus, for me, the outline for each scene of a movie or TV script might run a half a page to a page, double (or 1.5) spaced.

What Does a Story Outline Look Like?

Outlining can be rather daunting and, for those unfamiliar with the process, it may be difficult to imagine the form – not that there is a single, rigid style. To acquire a self-created example I suggest that you try a technique I've found both enlightening about the form and instructional about writing -- a method by which you can learn how good stories (and those not-so-good) are constructed. Even experienced writers, including professionals, may find it to be a few well-spent hours.

Rent or buy or borrow a videotape or DVD or other type of recording of one of your favorite movies or shows or miniseries (or one that is not a favorite, but was nonetheless an artistic or commercial success). View the first scene, punch Pause, and write three or four or five lines about what the scene was about. Then run the second scene, and repeat the process -- and so on and so on. It will take awhile, but by the time you're through, you will have an outline. You'll see what it looks like, know how it's supposed to read.

But more than that, you will have learned. A lot. You'll see what the writer was doing -- understand it on a fresh level. Which can be a revelation.

One More Plea (But Not the Last) On Behalf of Outlining
How the "Drudgery" of Writing Your Outline Will Turn Into Pleasure

While the high-wire act of writing a novel, play or screenplay without knowing your characters or where they – or your story – are going may be exhilarating, it can -- and often does -- result in the unfinished-manuscript-in-the-desk-drawer syndrome, with its accompanying discouragement and depression.

I don't know about you, but I am not into that type of risk of my time and efforts, nor do I recommend it for others.

Working from an outline will make you a better writer in a hurry.

Yes, I've heard the argument that – having outlined – the actual writing process then becomes one of "filling in the blanks." And the one about how the author sacrifices spontaneity. Or the potential for inspiration.


Did the great painters not work from sketches? Does anyone suppose Beethoven composed his Ninth Symphony without having a pretty solid idea of where he was going?

As mentioned, building your story in this way will give you control over your writing. You'll see the things that are working, and the things that aren't. The unities -- and the disunities. The flow. The repetitions. It is a lot easier to fix a story at the outline stage than it is after you've written -- and sweated -- 80,000 words, and find that on some intrinsic level it doesn't work. Or that you don't need that chapter, or this character. Or that you've gone off in a direction that works against your narrative.

Or, worst-case, once you start making changes -- the entire structure begins to collapse.

In TV we call that kind of after-the-fact phenomenon "pulling threads." A most-disheartening experience for a writer.

By outlining, you can avoid such disasters. Your outline is where you construct -- and more easily deconstruct and/or reconstruct -- your story.

Whether you work with file cards on a bulletin-board, or a computer program, or scribble on a legal pad, your outline will, for instance, enable you to look critically at each scene, each situation, to judge how it fits into the whole of your story -- the dynamic. You'll see how you've paced your story. Where it sags, where it needs help. You'll make discoveries about your characters. It will help you maintain balance -- and that so necessary objectivity, or "distance." If there isn't enough edge or angst or heat inherent in a scene or a setup or a chapter, you'll have a far better chance of recognizing it, being able to fix it, adding to your mix. If consecutive scenes are too much alike -- or too jarringly different, you'll see it. Is this scene too long, that one too short? Is there enough incident – stuff happening -- or too much? Are you maintaining your desired focus? Is there a hole in your plot? Is your story entertaining enough, compelling enough?

I'm convinced that with few exceptions, whatever reasons a writer gives for working without the net provided by an outline, what it really means is "I'm too lazy to work the kinks out of my story ahead of time."

Can successful novels, plays and movies be written that way? Sure. It's your call. But know this:

Outlining will help you and your writing – and it can save you from disaster. Viewing it another way – do you want to win – or lose? Are you willing to gamble your time on another uncompleted project? I'm not. In my own writing, assuming my story idea survives the outline stage, I finish what I start.

Excerpted from Fiction Writing Demystified: Techniques That Will Make You a More Successful Writer All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.


Novelist, screenwriter, playwright Thomas B. Sawyer was Head Writer/Producer-Showrunner of the hit series, Murder, She Wrote, for which he wrote 24 episodes. Tom has written 9 network TV pilots, 100 episodes, and has been Writer/Showrunner or Story Editor on 15 network series. He wrote, directed & produced the cult film comedy, Alice Goodbody, is co-librettist/lyricist of Jack, an opera about John F. Kennedy that has been performed to acclaim in the US and Europe. He is co-creator of Storybase software. The bestselling mystery/thriller, The Sixteenth Man, is his first novel. Both his latest book, Fiction Writing Demystified: Techniques That Will Make You a More Successful Writer, and Storybase are Writer's Digest Book Club Selections. His next thriller, No Place To Run, will be published in 2005. Mr. Sawyer has been nominated for an Edgar and an Emmy. Tom, his wife Holly, and cats live in Malibu, California. You can learn more at his website: or his site for writers:

Exploding Some Myths About Computing And Writers

By Mark A. Kellner

At the risk of over generalizing, there really are two kinds of people: those who love to tinker with computers, and those who want to get things done. If you're in the latter group – so am I, even though I have been known to tinker – then this article is for you. It's a no-nonsense guide to personal computer and writers, and living happily ever after.

More or less, that is: even the best computers in the world, my beloved Apple Macintoshes, will fail at some point or another. Things break down or get messed up in computing, sometimes very frequently (remember Windows 95?), sometimes less so (Linux , or Windows 2000), sometimes rarely (the aforementioned Macintosh).

Between the tinkerer and the accomplisher, between nirvana and neurosis, here are some hard facts – and friendly advice – that might make your writing life easier.

1) Computers aren't supposed to be hard work. Remember that. Unless you enjoy technology, getting your hands "under the hood" of software and hardware, you should consider a computer as nothing more than a tool: a word processor, bookkeeper, research assistant and perhaps a desktop publishing companion.

In other words, keep your ultimate purpose in mind. If your main task is to write, then get a system that'll let you do that: don't worry about editing digital movies or creating slide shows of your family tree. (You might, however, want to do either or both, in which case those "other" interests should be part of your computer-buying process.) But keep the main thing the main thing, as they say. Focus on your main task(s) and let those guide you.

2) Don't believe the hype. A $500 PC, with basic software, will be more than enough to write the Great American Novel, or a bunch of articles, or the recipes you want to include in your cookbook. A $3,000 super-duper PC (yes, they still sell some) will also be more than enough, but in this case, much, much more. You might want that "more," and you might someday need it, but don't let a salesperson, catalog, Web site, toll-free "friendly sales consultant" or your brother-in-law convince you that only the top end model will work.

A recent article in an annual writer's publication offered up the idea that computers running Microsoft Windows and those running the Mac OS (stet) aren't really all that compaible, and that if you want to work in the business world, you need a Windows machine. Nonsense: I've worked, daily, in the "Windows world" using a Mac for years, and I can't recall a time when I've had major file-sharing problems. And, I've worked with private companies, non-profit organizations, and publications as diverse as Christianity Today and Government Computer News. If you have a Mac, and are running Microsoft Word 2004 (or Word v.X [stet]), you can share files with Windows users all day long without problem. If you prefer a different Mac program, file sharing is still possible in many, many cases.

Get the computer you want and need, not the computer someone thinks you should have.

3) While a "basic" machine is good for most tasks, it doesn't hurt to "splurge" a little – if you can. You can run a Mac or PC with minimal amounts of Random Access Memory, known as RAM, but I prefer 256 MB as a minimum on each, with 512 MB as "optimal." The extra cost is worth it, up front, and the same applies to hard disk drives: a 40 GB drive is good, but 80 or 12 GB is much, much better.

The lesson: get what you can afford, but try to afford the most storage and memory. You'll be glad you did, since you'll have extra power and storage, forestalling the need to upgrade.

4) Software matters. Get a good word processor (for better or for worse, my money is on Microsoft Office; on Windows, WordPerfect 12, which can exchange files with Office, is a good runner up) and learn how to use it. A "Dummies" book is usually a reliable guide, and easier than the manuals. Also get a good program for e-mail and for Internet surfing (Thunderbird and Firefox, both free at, for Windows, Mac and Linux users, are excellent choices).

And, please, get a good utility program – anti-virus software, firewall, spam blocker – and use it and update it regularly. It'll save you oceans of grief.

5) You may not want – or need – to become a computer expert, but at least learn enough to handle your own problems. Again, those "Dummies" books are very well done (I know; I wrote "WordPerfect for Macs For Dummies®" in 1995) and they're edited to exacting standards. A little study will pay off for you, I promise.

6) Let's go back to point number one: Computers aren't supposed to be hard work. You can use a computer, get your work done, and move on with other projects, so long as you determine to stay in charge of the machine. Keep it simple, keep it safe (remember to get that anti-virus software and use it), and you should end up with a pleasant experience.

A 30-year veteran of print publication, Mark Kellner is one of America's leading technology journalists. He brings to the subject more than 15 years of experience in writing hundreds of articles about computers, telecommunications and technology. Additionally, Christianity Today named Mark one of the "50 Leading Evangelicals Under 40" in 1996. On January 11, 1999, Christianity Today published Mark's major news article on the Year 2000 computer problem titled, "Y2K: A Secular Apocalypse." Harold Shaw Publishers, Wheaton, IL, released his third book, Y2K - Apocalypse or Opportunity in March 1999. Since 1991, Mark has written the weekly "On Computers" column for The Washington Times daily newspaper. Knight-Ridder distributes the column nationally, and it also appears on, a leading Web site. Mark's website is located at:

© 2005 Mark Kellner. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

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The Practical Artist: Make Clients Love You

By Kelly James-Enger

I've read a lot of books on freelancing, most of which focus on the practical aspects of the business like developing a writing niche and stepping up to higher-paying markets. Yet many ignore one of the most essential aspects of successful freelancing. It's the willingness to go beyond what editors and clients require you to do to make their jobs easier.

For example, I just interviewed a cake decorator for a trade magazine story. She'd recently been featured in another story in the magazine, but they'd run the wrong photo. The person in the picture wasn't her.

Hey, I had nothing to do this. It wasn't my problem. Some writers might have ignored the situation. Instead, I apologized on behalf of the publication, and told her I'd let my editor know. After the interview, I called my editor and explained the situation, suggesting that we use a photo of the woman and her cakes to accompany my story on cake trends.

My editor agreed, and thanked her for letting her know about the mistake. I called the decorator back to tell her the magazine would be in touch—and this time I promised, she would be in the magazine. She was happy, I was happy, and my editor was happy.

I didn't have to take this extra step. But I realized I could probably fix what had happened to this woman, and make the publication look good as well. It also helps me build a relationship with an editor who is new to me—and good relationships are critical to success in this business.

How else can you go the extra mile with a client or editor?

Turn stories in early. When you beat a deadline, you give your editor some unexpected breathing room. Trust me, they like this!

Suggest story ideas—even if you don't write them. I don't do short pieces anymore, but when I come across new studies that would make good FOB, or “front of book,” material, I pass along the information to my editor. It takes only a few seconds, and I know she appreciates it.

Compliment her when you can. When I get a contributor's copy, I always scan my article for any editorial changes. If the edits strengthened the piece (and they usually do), I'll send a quick note thanking her and telling her the final version looked great. Editors like to receive praise just like writers do.

Keep her up to speed. Several of my editors freelance as well, and I share contact names and industry gossip when I touch base with them. Writers may have access to info through the grapevine editors are unaware of.

Put yourself in her shoes. Say you're an editor who's turned in a story only to have it slashed to ribbons by your boss. Now you must make your boss happy. Would you rather work with a writer who complains about revisions or listens carefully and agrees to revise the story? That's an easy call.

Stop thinking of your clients as merely the people who sign your checks, and consider how you can make their lives easier. I promise it will pay off with more work in the long run.
Freelance journalist Kelly James-Enger is the author of Six-Figure Freelancing (Random House Reference, 2005) and Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (The Writer Books, 2003.) She can be reached through her website at:

© 2005 Kelly James-Enger. Used with Permission.

Valuable Skill Development: Write Devotionals

By Cecil Murphey

"I experience more than I understand," a friend said, attributing that statement to John Calvin. I would add, "And we understand those experiences when we reflect on them." One way to reflect on them is to write about them in what we call the devotional format.

Writing devotionals, however, is more than understanding our experiences. It's also an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to use our life experiences to touch others so they can perceive divine grace at work.

Writing about our lives pushes us to reflect on events and determine their significance for us and for our readers. We give readers courage, hope, and the inspiration to say, "Yes, I can overcome my problems."

Devotionals that appear in These Days, Upper Room, Open Windows, and Our Daily are short pieces of about 200 words. Don't think only of magazines. I've written about twenty books that are devotional in nature, but only eight of them carry the word Devotions as part of the title. My latest book, Committed but Flawed: Finding New Ways to Grow Spiritually (AMG Publishers, 2004), isn't a devotional book, but the chapters are short, each ends with a prayer, and many readers use them for devotional reading.


The personal dimension is central to this kind of writing. It is based on experience—personal or third person. The personal dimension means readers need to identify with the material. The experience has to be different enough that it's not one we've read fifty times. They may be fairly ordinary events from which we have learned an invaluable lesson. From that experience, we show the universal aspects. The deeper we can look inward, the greater our universal impact and the more readers identify with us.

Devotionals aren't sermons on paper, lectures, essays, and certainly not authoritarian explanations on how to live. Instead, the short mediations enable readers to connect their lives with God. As people reflect and see divine interventions, they can more fully grasp God at work.

With only 200 words (about two pages, double-spaced), we can't expect to delve into deep truths. We can, however, suggest ways for readers to examine their commitment to God.

How to Write the Devotional Articles

Until we tackle them, we don't realize how difficult devotional articles are to write. In the 1980s, I wrote devotionals for a variety of magazines. They don't pay much ($10 to $25), but I loved the discipline. I couldn't use extra words, limp phrases, or repetitions. Every word had to justify itself. I often started with 600 words and had to delete two-thirds of the text and still retain the heart of the material. I loved the discipline.

Who Reads Devotionals?

We aim for Christians who will spend up to five minutes to get their inspirational jolt for the day. Some have criticized them for spending so little time. I've responded with, "Be thankful they want to spend any time on spiritual issues."

Devotional Formats

This is formula writing, but we have latitude within the guidelines. We can choose to write in first person or third. We build around an anecdote from which we draw a spiritual lesson: retell a Bible story, a familiar phrase, motto, synopsis of a story or poem to expand, or comment on a misstatement. I once wrote a series of devotionals about words children heard incorrectly. One of them was the child who prayed to Howard (as in "Howard be thy name.")

They aren't clever stories with a Bible verse tacked on. Instead, we seek to integrate stories that make Scripture more alive. We choose topics with which readers identify—often small, everyday happenings. One series in These Days was about the small things that irritated the writer. In the series of seven, she ended each reading by showing that small irritants are symptomatic of many bigger issues we tend to ignore.

We strive to make the message relevant. We can talk about an experience in World War II or an event from the War of 1812, but they must have meaning for today. A good friend wrote a devotional article centered on The Count of Monte Cristo. He showed that although revenge inflames us to action, only love satisfies.

Perhaps I don't need to write this, but devotionals are true stories. They stress emotions and human reactions. It's the principle expressed in 1 John 1:3 "We declare to you what we have seen and heard…" (NRSV).

Too often writers want to preach, but devotionals usually carry a sharing tone. Think of two friends talking and one says, "I'd like to tell you an invaluable lesson I learned last week." That's the tone.

Lack of preaching also means we avoid words that demand or lay guilt on readers such as should, ought, and must. We steer away from absolutes such as always, ever, and never.

How to Write Them

First, look at the requirements of each devotional publisher. Do they taken electronic submissions? only hard copy? Some publishers use the Lectionary, or they select a biblical book for an entire issue. Some use only the NRSV. The rule: Follow their guidelines. (You can find guidelines online, by contacting the publisher, or in Sally Stuart's Christian Writers' Market Guide.

Second, have a single focus—one idea. Here's the method I use when I'm not sure. I ask myself, "What one noun best describes the material?" Is it forgiveness? compassion? commitment? That word is the focus. Then I ask, "Have I written anything that detracts from that single theme?" That's when I delete extraneous words.

Third, have a takeaway value. Every devotional needs to answer this question: "So what?"

Benefits to Writers

This is a good place to make first sales. It’s an opportunity to polish writings skills, and it reinforces our commitment to send in material regularly. Some of us work for months or years on larger projects and we need small successes to encourage us. We can write devotionals in a relatively short time.

Cecil ("Cec") Murphey has written, co-written, or ghostwritten more than 90 books, both fiction and nonfiction. His Gifted Hands, the autobiography of Dr. Ben Carson, has now sold nearly two million copies since its publication in 1990. He ghosted Franklin Graham's autobiography, Rebel With a Cause, which won an ECPA Gold Medallion. Reader's Digest magazine condensed I Choose to Stay: A Black Teacher Refuses to Desert the Inner City (Kensington) and Disney has optioned it for film as"The Mighty Bishops." Kinetic Pictures has optioned 90 Minutes in Heaven, written for Don Piper(Revell). His recent books include When Someone You Love Has Alzheimer's (Beacon Hill) and Committed but Flawed: Finding New Ways to Grow Spiritually (AMG). You can learn more about Cec at his website located at:

© 2005 Cecil Murphey. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

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