Every Book Starts with a Sentence

(In light of our She Speaks Conference happening this week, I thought a blog post on how to write a book might be helpful! Be sure to read the whole post for a free gift we’re offering.)

One of the most common things people share with me when they find out I’m an author is that they want to write a book. And I believe they should.

Not everyone will be published but having your thoughts, life lessons, and creative stories captured in a place outside your mind is good. I would treasure one page of wisdom written by my great grandmother. But all her words died with her. And I feel that tragic loss in deep places that ache for her godly wisdom.

So, if you feel inspired to write – write.

If not a whole book, one page.

If not a whole page, one sentence.

No time spent recording God’s activity in your life is ever wasted.

But if you do feel called to write a book, how does one do this? Where do you begin?

For me a book usually begins with me paying attention to three things:

* A string of life lessons I’m learning that have a common theme.
* Conversations I have with others where they bring up this same theme.
* A deep conviction that God wants me to park my brain and my heart on this topic for a good long while.

Then I put these initial thoughts about the theme of the book through a filter of questions:

* Is there an audience (beyond just my mom and my best friend) interested in this theme?
* What problem are these audience members having for which my book could be a possible solution?
* Do I have some fresh, unique, and reliable answers to share that meet the felt need of this group of people?
* Have I struggled enough with this theme to be authentically relatable as I write about it?
* Have I made enough progress in this area to handle the material in a responsible and biblical way?

I use these questions to help me hone the concept of my book. And it’s usually in this pondering and questioning of the concept of a possible book that 75% of my possible book ideas die. Because if I can’t make it work in the concept phase of a book, I won’t stay interested enough in this topic to write 60,000 words.

And heaven help the reader of a book whose author has lost interest in their own material 20,000 words in. Have you ever read a book that started off great but then started boring the mess out of you? Me too. It’s disappointing. And it’s usually because the author didn’t hone their concept enough before jumping into writing the book.

Once the concept is fully explored, it’s time to develop the content.

I start with the word count and chapter count. A typical non-fiction book for me is about 60,000 words. I personally like shorter chapters that are pretty consistent in length. So, if my chapters are going to be around 5,000 words… I will need 12 chapters.

As I look at what these 12 chapters will be, I draw a circle with 12 spokes coming out of it. In the circle I write the “focus sentence” of my book. A focus sentence is that one statement that encapsulates the value I want my reader to get from this message.

Note, I didn’t say that I write what the book is about. Nope. I write a sentence that reminds me exactly what my reader will get from this message. For example, for my book Unglued, my focus sentence was:

“This book will help a reader make imperfect progress with their reactions and therefore their relationships as they know with confidence how to better handle conflict.”

Then I start writing possible chapter ideas that stay very true to this pure focus. I use key words from my focus sentence to seed my chapter ideas and keep me “focused.”


Then I start writing. With a sentence. And then another. And another.

And as I write these sentences that form chapters, that eventually form a book, I remember each sentence matters. It’s my responsibility to write sentences that are authentic and inspired and true and well crafted. Not English class perfect. More conversational. With threads of personality that clearly demonstrate a consistent voice my readers have come to expect from me.

These sentences, they matter. After all, it’s not often whole books but rather sentences tucked within chapters that change people’s lives.

And at the end of the day, that’s why I sit at my computer and tap these keys for hours at a time. I love untangling thoughts that might possibly be used by God to help another.

It’s a process, this book writing thing. It’s hard and messy and crazy time-consuming. But what a wondrous thing to have words that live on beyond us. Sentences that linger and continue to inspire. Yes, please.

Now, here’s the fun surprise… you can join me LIVE from the Proverbs 31 Ministries She Speaks Conference for my opening keynote this Friday, July 24 at 9:30am EST! Here’s how you do it:

1) Download our new app, First 5, on your mobile device. You can find out how at www.First5.org.
2) Open the app and tune in on Friday to watch the live stream through First 5.

It’s really that easy! Oh, I just can’t wait to have you with us. And if you think of it, say a little prayer for me. As many times as I speak to people, I still get that queasy, nervous, bite-my-fingernails-to-the-nub feeling before going on stage! For real.

Thank you! Now, go write your heart out.


How to Read the Bible in a New Way

I loved God. I was serving in ministry. I was doing all the right stuff but I felt distant and parched.

I’d been reading the Bible because that’s what Jesus-following girls do. But I was tired of reading my same go-to Scriptures over and over. I wanted more. I wanted to dive deeper. I wanted the Bible to make sense and make a difference in how I lived my life.

I was desperate for a fresh experience with God and His Word.

If you can relate to feeling the deep ache of wanting more for your spiritual life, watch the video below…

(If you’re viewing this post in an email, click here to watch the video.)

Pre-order your Experience Guide today for our study of John and get it for a special price of $13! The 21-day study begins July 27. Click here to purchase your Experience Guide.

I can’t wait to take this journey with you!


What Are You Missing?

A few summers ago, my son, Mark, was working at a family camp. While the mountains were breathtaking, the friends were plentiful, and the food was every teenager’s dream, he missed home. Not horribly – but just enough to tug on the vulnerable places of his heart.

I knew he needed some sweet comfort from home. So, I packaged up some things he needed and a few things that I simply knew would make him happy and sent my gift of love.

After a few days, I kept wondering when I’d get a text message from him with smiles and thank you’s and “wow – you’re the best mom ever.” A girl can dream right?

But no text message came.

Each day that went by I got more and more frustrated by his lack of acknowledgement of my gift. Then I started to wonder if he’d ever even received it. So, I had Art, my non-emotional husband, call because he could simply ask, “Did you get the package from mom?”

And Mark simply said, “Oh yeah, I did get a box from mom but I haven’t opened it yet.”

Hunh? Who gets a gift of love packaged up and sent to them and doesn’t even take the time to open it?

But the Holy Spirit has been showing me that sometimes I do the exact same thing to the Lord. Ouch. You can read more of my post over at (in)courage today here.