Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Writers-in-training--Carol Brinneman

Twenty years in Africa. Sixteen years of waiting on God for healing. Other life challenges. I needed an outlet to praise my Creator. To my great surprise, about eight years ago, He called me to write.

I was always able to write good, grammatically correct sentences, using correct punctuation. That was a start, but I soon discovered that excellent writing would demand much more.

It all began when I read subtitles in a prayer letter written by a witty colleague: “Bald man meets bald eagle” and “Eighty-one-year-old woman delivers seven.” What fun! With that, plus realizing how many boring letters I regularly received, I determined to find or produce writing that readers could not throw thoughtlessly into the trash.

In the following years, my writing passed through editing by four women writers. They “corrected” it, teaching me principles sentence by sentence. Because I knew they wrote well themselves, I trusted them. I knew all that “critical” red ink came from hearts that loved me.

You can learn much from books, magazines, and the Web about writing, that’s for sure. But finding a talented friend to nitpick your work can greatly speed your progress. Not just any friend will really do. Even a college English professor might not be the best editor for you. Find someone who knows the business. Who has been trained well. Who will tell you the truth, pointing out specifics.

Some aspiring writers, who obviously have talent, are loath to let anyone touch their precious creations. They think an editor might ruin their “style.” They are greatly mistaken! Two such writers said to me, “Thanks, but no thanks” after I edited only one article apiece.

In contrast, some beginner writers I am mentoring showed great improvement within a few, short months. They gladly accept and understand that—for now—they’re in learning mode. I edited an article for an old friend, applying as much kindness as I could. She cried. Bummer. But the next time, when I hesitated, she promised she would “act like an adult.” And learn from the experience. And be glad for it.

For gifted writers, the potential for pride can be great. One wise woman writer advised me: “All we write belongs to God, and He will use it as He wishes.” I printed out the Latin phrase she mentioned, OMNIA PRO DEO (All for God), and beautifully framed it. It sits in my office so I won’t ever forget.

If you want to become a good, even excellent, writer, you will need personal attention, be willing to listen, to learn, and maintain a humble attitude while moving toward your goal. Yeah, it was tough for me in the beginning. But I decided to set a goal of producing a piece in which no editor could find even one, tiny word to critique. And eventually, wow, it happened. God is good.

And, oh, those subtitles? Annie’s aged British father had spied an American bald eagle for the first time, and her mother helped deliver seven kittens.

Writers-in-training: Receive the "gift of red ink"!

Are you ready to launch your brilliant writing career? Here's your chance to receive the professional encouragement (and scrutiny) you have been hoping for. Carol is offering blog followers a FREE EDIT on any written piece you have been working on. (Let's keep it to article length, please no book manuscripts!)

With this gift, perhaps you will even get inspired to write an article on the WOTH Editor’s requested theme for 2010: friendships that have made a difference on the field.

Please submit your article, with a brief bio of yourself, in a WORD document (Times New Roman font, 12-point, black, double-spaced, if at all possible) to editor@womenoftheharvest.com with a mention, “free edit.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

ENCORE For Carol Ghattas: Writing Newsletters

One of our blog readers asked Carol: "I was wondering if she could talk about writing newsletters. Writing newsletters is one of the things I need to do, and do, but also one thing that I struggle with the most." Carol graciously responded.

Writing a good newsletter is crucial to help the church (and here I'm referring to both your local church and individual supports/churches at large) feel engaged and a part of what God is accomplishing through you as "their" missionary. Remembering this fact--that you are not just called by God but "sent" by a group of believers, will help you to keep your newsletters focused, for the church is your target audience in writing.

If your goal is understood, the writing will come easier. So what do you want to accomplish through this letter? Think of the following points and their results:

1. Let the church know God is at work where you are -- so that they will rejoice and praise Him.

2. Share how you have been part of what God has done -- so they will rejoice to see that God is really using you and praise Him for it.

3. Share the challenges/struggles in accomplishing the tasks God has given you -- so they will be in prayer for you and/or your target people.

4. Share how God is at work in your personal life -- so that they will pray for you and your family's needs.

So, I think it's clear to see that your newsletter's main goal is to move the church to pray more fervently for you, your task, your people group and your family. Once they pray, they will be more engaged and ready to give; they will help out in a tangible way; and they will warmly receive you and minister to you when you return to their loving arms.

How can I do all of this in one letter?

For me, personally, it has not been easy. My letters used to be 2-4 pages of long paragraphs! That worked well for the older ladies in my church, but as years went by and my readership changed, I had to change as well.
  • I think now about how people read newspapers and magazines. We look at the headlines and prefer to read shorter articles.
  • Though it's hard, I try to find one or two good stories to share that have happened since my last letter.
  • By the end of the story, I may highlight the word "pray" to show them there is something for them to do as a result of this event. I can also list prayer requests at the end of the letter. Either way works.
  • It is important to read over your last letter before beginning a new one. If you asked for prayer in April, share the answer in July. The church needs to know that their prayers matter.
  • Also, if you can include one or two pictures, that is very helpful. Giving visual insight into your country of service opens the world up to your church.
  • If you have just recently moved to a new place of service, use your first letter to just describe the area.

Remember my blog about the senses--help your church to see, hear, smell, taste and feel the area around you.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Being a Scribe for Others--Carol Ghattas

Let me share with you a little about my own story. Being able to serve alongside my Egyptian-American husband for the past 20 years has given me the privilege of seeing the world not only through a typical American lens but through the Arab one as well, as he has helped me understand culture in a much deeper fashion. Not only am I blessed because of Raouf's guidance in understanding, but I've been blessed to be the partner of an amazing evangelist and communicator.

Because I have seen many exciting things through Raouf's work, I became aware of the importance of sharing that with others. Our goal in ministry was to multiply ourselves--through discipleship, mentoring and training. We cannot do that only one-on-one, so I felt led by the Lord to write down the principles and techniques I saw Raouf use in order for others to benefit from them. This led me to begin writing a church planting and evangelism newsletter, which I did monthly over the course of two years.

Through this I saw a way the Lord could use my ability to write to encourage the Body and build workers. From this came papers on various subjects for the local church and larger body of workers. Then, with the title Raouf gave me, Lust Under the Veil was birthed as my first novel. Though fiction, I have been able to weave many of the real-life experiences we've had on the field as well as some of Raouf's evangelistic techniques into the stories, allowing us to multiply ourselves and the Lord's work in a creative form.

Perhaps you are an introvert like me, who lives or works with a "Paul, the extroverted Evangelist." Just as the Apostle Paul used scribes to write his letters to the churches, is the Lord calling you to serve as a scribe for your husband, co-worker, or ministry?

While the Lord has used me to disciple Muslim-background believers, host countless visitors and a house-church, along with raising two boys on the field, I still find some of my greatest moments of fulfillment in writing--knowing that an article or book can reach people I may never meet. Being able to use your gifts to share with others about a husband or co-worker's ministry is a wonderful way to be partners in God's work. When we recognize our differing gifts and appreciate them as such, both partners can be encouraged and used more fully to His glory.

If they talk--you write! If you talk--then let them write! Whatever you do, get it down on paper that the acts of God will be remembered!

[Editor's Note: This is Carol's final post. Thank you, Carol! I loved how the Lord brought you to this blog.]

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Importance of Your Senses--Carol Ghattas

I have grown into writing over the years and have learned several things along the way. In writing books which tell a story, it is important to describe the environment in which the story takes place. This means you need to be able to share the sights, smells and sounds of the place to the reader. As you live in your neighborhood, begin to take notice of the things around you.

For instance, in Egypt we have people that come around the neighborhood every day shouting "ruba beckia." They are asking people to give them their old stuff so they can then resell it later. They have a unique cry, and their presence is such a part of everyday life, they would have to be included in any story about Egypt. Things like this are important to notice and remember as you begin to write.

A good rule of thumb is to write as if your reader will never experience the people or country you're sharing with them in the story; this will help you to be more deliberate in describing the details of each scene.

Another important factor in writing stories is language. The way people communicate with each other is unique, and even if you are writing in English, you will want to capture their use of vocabulary and sentence structure. One thing that caught my attention early in my life overseas was the way Arabs referred to family.

For instance, when a person is talking with his sister about their mother, he doesn't say, "my or our mother"; he says "your mother did so and so." He always refers to his own mother as the other person's, not his. I never got a good reason for this -- just that it was the way it was done. I tried to capture that in the conversations between characters in my book. We have to listen to the people around us, if our books are going to be realistic.

In general, writing takes work! I never had training in how to write fiction, but I've adapted since the beginning. The first book, I just sat and wrote. The story came out on its own. The second book, I thought more about what I wanted to include in the book and made an outline. I finished it in a much shorter time. The third book took a lot of research as I dealt with areas I was not necessarily submerged in through our ministry. I knew how the book should end before I knew how it should start.

For me, however, writing is not as difficult as "rewriting." The editing process is painful, because you have to step back and look at the whole thing objectively, which is not easy as a writer, but is worth it in order to have a more effective product.

I want to encourage you to use your senses to prepare a data bank of the world about which you want to write, then see where it takes you!

"A Glimpse of Your World" WRITING CHALLENGE: In the comment section, write a description (using all your senses) of the place where you are sitting, right now, reading this post. Try to keep to 100 words.


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