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Reader's Corner: Read to write

Sometimes I’m asked how I got into writing; or how someone could get started writing. I’ll be up front; I’m not an expert. I haven’t published a book—although I’m working on some ideas—and I’m still learning as I go. I do, however, seem to be able to distill information into manageable lengths and key points that people can follow and enjoy, so I’m happy to share some thoughts.


I have a B.A. degree in English; in addition to proper usage, I learned tricks like hiding necessary but unpleasant information in a subordinate clause. My key takeaway from my degree, though, is the amount of reading I did to earn it. I don’t think I’d be writing for the Globe, the Assemblies of God News, and other media, had I not learned the power of the written word through reading. If grammar class wasn’t your thing, you can improve your usage and technique by reading. And when reading, I am reminded that effective writers wield considerable influence—a good or a bad thing, considering audiences these days may or not know how to read critically.  


My earliest memories involve reading or being read to. Prior to my mother’s death when I was four years old, she was physically unable to do much with me except sit and read. My sister read to me to keep me quiet in hospital waiting rooms, and taught me to figure out words for myself. By the time I was five, I could read really cool stuff, such as names of dog and horse breeds pictured in my aunt’s World Book encyclopedia.


During elementary school, I learned the power of story as teachers read Laura Ingalls Wilder or Beverly Cleary aloud after recess and we looked forward eagerly to the next chapter. By high school, I had read enough classic literature and quality nonfiction to emulate effective writing styles, and I actually looked forward to essay assignments. (I know, geeky, right?) I enjoyed creating effective arguments (and still do).


As I read, I observed. What techniques held my attention, even for mundane information? How did writers create suspense or turn simple occurrences into life lessons? Joining a college Bible study led to my lifelong habit of having a notebook handy for questions and ideas. Working at the Assemblies of God national offices, writing promo content for U.S. Missions, I asked myself, “What would inspire me to pray for this ministry or donate financially?”


These habits created a natural transition to freelancing for the AG when elderly parent issues made full-time work no longer an option. Researching ministries and events, I look for elements that will resonate with readers. I try to do the same for Globe features. Can I help readers feel like they know the owner when they call a business? I try to be present in the moment; even if it’s a boring moment, you just never know.


For devotional writing, I’ve realized many people’s journeys are similar to mine—they aren’t theologians, but they want the Bible to inform their daily lives. So, I just write from my study notes, sometimes referring to other writers or commentators I’ve found helpful. And as I work on my book about the Greatest Generation, I find myself trying story techniques I’ve found compelling over the years. As we grow older, we must harness the power of story to preserve legacy and inspire new generations.


So, for those who asked, my advice if you want to write is to read. Observe. Make notes. Practice techniques you find compelling. Read to your kids and grandkids, and select quality material. Know that your words can enlighten or influence others. Your story is powerful, and you are the only one who can tell it.

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