Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guess Blogger Kay Marshall Strom: Writing Secret Revealed!

Like Solomon, I've had to decide this week how to cut the baby in half. Lest you call the police, let me explain. I'm in the process of deciding who will make the cut for the Spring 2013 list at Abingdon Press: so many great books, so little room.

Since I need prayer time, some reading time, some listening time, I've decided to make this the last blog for the week and introduce you to another Abingdon author, Kay Marshall Strom, through one of her past blogs.

Kay had written 34 non-fiction books before her agent sent me her first novel proposal, a historical series titled Grace in Africa. You've already seen the first book in the series, The Call of Zulina, released last Fall.

The second book, Voyage of Promise, has just released and been selected for inclusion in Booklist's top ten Inspirational Fiction Books. It also will be featured in the November 15 issue of the American Library Association's Booklist Magazine.

I urge you to look for her books about the beginnings of the slave trade on your bookstore's shelf. Kay's passion is to end the slave trade today. Yes, the problem still plagues our world and has more than doubled since the late 1700s when this series takes place.

Now, here's Kay on her secret for writing . . .

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All the time, at writers’ conferences and on airplanes and just out doing my shopping, as soon as people find out I’m a writer, they want to pull me aside and whisper conspiratorially, “So, what’s the real secret to writing?”

Sigh! If there were one great secret, don’t you think it would be sold in a book for $99.98? Or presented at a one-day seminar for $599.99? Or at least written up on a blog?

Oh, right . . . that’s what I’m going to do right now on this blog.

Okay, here it is:

The secret to great writing . . .
is . . .

No, really. It’s true. Too many people spend the majority of their time talking about writing, reading books about writing, wishing they could write, dreaming about the writing life . . . you get the idea. But the fact is, writing is work, and to be a writer one must write and write and write some more.

That’s not to say that instruction doesn’t help. It most certainly does. Which is why, having made the point about actually writing, I want to go ahead and suggest these . . .

Six Rules For Great Writing

Kay Marshall Strom

1. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. It is true that short sentences and paragraphs feel comfortable while long ones feel threatening, and also that short ones give the feeling of something one can manage while long ones feel overwhelming, not to mention the fact that a shorter sentence is easier for readers to follow than a long, long, long confusing sentence in which they tend to get lost and wonder how it all started. Whew! Break up that sentence! When you have a longer sentence, follow it with a short one. And surround a long paragraph with shorter, punchier paragraphs.
2. Prefer the simple to the complex. The preponderance of didactic scriveners who lucubrate their discourse with rubbish is abominable. I know! You see what I mean, then? Often people argue with me on this point, insisting that their novel or whatever is aimed at an educated audience. Well, I am a college graduate. I’ve read plenty of college textbooks in my life. But I can assure you, it’s been a long old time since I’ve curled up in front of the fireplace on a rainy night with a cup of cocoa and a college textbook! Write to express rather than impress.

3. Show, don’t tell. Yep, you’ve heard this one before. But it’s so true. In movies and on TV, we can see what’s happening. But a book author must paint the pictures with words. You can do this with anecdotes, with good dialogue, by writing out a scene rather than just telling us it happened. ”Show, don’t tell” is important in both fiction and non-fiction.

4. Tie in with the readers’ experience. If your reader can’t comprehend what you are saying, you may as well not say it. Here is a good example: “BP must set aside $20 billion for those who suffered damage and loss in the horrendous oil spill.” Yes. Um-hmm. Here’s the problem: that word “billion” is constantly being thrown around, but it is outside our actual experience, so it means little to us. How much more effective if you tie it to something to which we can relate: A billion seconds ago, it was the year 1959. A billion minutes ago, Jesus walked on the earth. A billion hours ago, our ancestors lived in the stone age. Yikes!

5. Give your reader something to take away. Remember, you are writing for your reader, not for yourself. You may feel better for having poured out the agonies of your gall bladder surgery, for instance, but what is in it for the reader? Why not reshape your personal experience article to something like: “10 Ways to Help Your Loved One Recover” using your experience as background?

6. Write, write, and write some more! Keep on writing. Everyone gets better and better. No one gets worse and worse.

There you have it. The writer’s big secret!


To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.”
--Gertrude Stein

Find more inspiration from Kay Strom at her blog titled Kay's Words.  Here's the link:

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Please let me know how today’s blog has helped you. This becomes a two-way conversation when you post a comment. Often I jump back on the blog during the day and will answer your questions or respond to your comments. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor, and we’d love to hear from you so that we can learn from your experience. Let’s talk!


  1. Great tips, Kay! I appreciate a "take away" value not only in the book overall, but also tidbits in chapters along the way. On my chapter revision check list, I have a bullet point: Something that will make the reader say, "How true".

    May the Lord give wisdom, Barbara, in your task.

  2. Love the line "Write to express, not to impress." I'm reading a book right now that teeters between the two. The impressive writing yanks me out of the story. The expressive writing draws me deeper in. Thanks for the post, Barbara and Kay!

  3. A word of encouragement for those who write, write, write yet who are still waiting to publish. Over the past 15 years a novel I'd written came close but no cigar. Many, many times I felt so insignificant--I'd given my writing to God, applied butt-to-chair and learned to weather rejection with the best of them. On days when I'd started to believe publishing a novel wasn't going to happen, somehow I dragged myself to the keyboard. Then, at long last, an editor named Barbara Scott took an interest in my story. Fifteen years after it was begun, The Fence My Father Built released. Don't give up. Keep giving your work to God, every moment if necessary. Apply butt-to-chair when you feel the worst. Thanks, Kay and Barbara, for your support. Linda Clare

  4. Great case in point, Linda. Most "overnight successes" have stories of their twenty-year journeys to arrive at that place!

    Kay Strom

  5. This is one to copy off and read over and over. I have been hearing the words "express, not impress" repeatedly. It's so true. Thanks for this post and this blog. I continue to learn from the wisdom. And maybe someday mine will be the novel Barbara is mulling over to publish. :) It's in the editor's hands right now and I hope to learn even more when I get it back!

  6. Thanks for the tips. Loved Zulina and am looking forward to reading book 2!

  7. How true, Kay. I have my own "overnight success" story: 12 years in smoky newsrooms, writing short stories that were never published; my first novel written at 30 languishing in a drawer, and finally at the age of 45 (after applying my face to the floor and crying out to God), the impossible happened. Two novels were published. The next one failed to find a home, and I was back to ghostwriting, freelance editing, and writing gift books and devotionals as work-for-hire. After years of working as an editor and teaching at conferences and workshops, I've started writing again. Shhhhh. Don't tell anyone. Who knows what the Lord has in mind this time? :)

  8. Barbara,

    I really hate to nitpick, so I haven't said anything this whole time (I've been following you since your third post), but it's driving me a little crazy so I've got to get this off my chest: You're not using the word "blog" correctly.

    There, I've said it. Whew!

    You can ignore me if you want, but just getting this out there will make me feel a little better. So, pardon me while I take up space in your comments.

    A "blog" is a collection of articles, like a "diary" is the book that holds many entries. "Entry," "post," or "article" are all words that refer to the portion written that day.

    In your case, "Guess Blogger Kay Marshall Strom: Writing Secret Revealed!" is the entry (or post, or article). "The Roving Editor" is the blog.

    One doesn't say "here's my blog for the day" or "I mentioned her book in yesterday's blog." Otherwise it sounds like you're creating a new each day, instead of a new post in each day.

    Hope that clarifies things a bit. But if you feel I'm stepping on your toes, feel free to ignore me. :)

  9. Kay,

    What a joy it was to be in your class at Mount Hermon. The Lord has blessed you with a real passion for writing...and your writing students.

    May God continue to bless you mightily.

  10. Not a problem, April. Thank you for clarifying. I am definitely not a techie when it comes to a blog, or post. I think it's the difference in our ages. I was born in 1948; you were born in 1985. So I look to you to keep me straight and teach me the proper lingo. :) When I was your age, I worked in a newsroom that had just introduced electric typewriters. Yes, we were still typing on manuals until then, and I had never heard of a computer. But did you know I could type 65 wpm pounding on one of those manuals? No wonder I have arthritis in my hands! LOL If you ever write a novel about the 1950s, '60s, or '70s, I'm your woman. I offer myself as research material. I hope you'll comment more often. Blessings to you!

  11. I'm glad you're not offended. :)

    My parents are about ten years younger than you, and even they have their "we didn't have computers back then" stories. Makes me wonder what the world will be like 25 years from now. I'll be telling kids about those days when phones had to be held to the ear, instead of the tiny piece placed constantly inside the ear. And how you had to touch an actual screen about the size of a book (iPad) instead of do it all mentally thanks to some computer chip implanted into their brains at birth. ;)

    Will they even know what "the size of a book" means? I hope so!


  12. Thank you, Michael. See you at Mount Hermon next year?


  13. Great tips! Thanks so much, Kay!

    Barbara, wow, for 2013 already? I hope you have peace with whatever decisions you make. :-) Rita popped by my blog and said series are hot. If you ever need a blog topic, I'd love to hear about what Abingdon may be looking for in the fall of 2013. *grin*

  14. A very good framework to work within. My motto is, "When in doubt, take it out." I do have a JUNKYARD that I put things in. Spare parts and such. Sometimes I can use them and plug them in somewhere else at a later date.