Self-aware writing

Posted by ginagp on September 17th, 2012 under Uncategorized  •  Comments Off

A recent article by editors from the Matador Network, an online community for aspiring travel writers, discusses the complex topic of how writers can inadvertently portray themselves narcissistically in their writing. I think this could apply to those of us who write about a personal mission trip or other mission experience, as well

David Miller, the author of this piece, warns about the potential for one to write about a cross-cultural experience in a self-absorbed way, possibly shutting out the reader from sharing vicariously in the experience.

Miller makes a good observation:

Self-effacement is basically “getting out of the way” of the narration. As opposed to trying to make the narrator the center of the action, and especially his / her exploits sound “heroic,” the self-effacing narrator downplays what he or she does, instead focusing outward.

When you start to write about your mission experience, consider how you position yourself as the narrator in your story, and how you can describe what you saw and did and learned in a way to invite readers into this experience with you, rather than making yourself the center of the story.

Read the article here.

We need each other

Posted by ginagp on June 1st, 2012 under Mission Magazine, Uncategorized  •  Comments Off

A lot of this blog (ironically not updated recently) has been devoted to communication through writing and media. A Skype chat I was just having with someone else involved in communication media got me thinking about the underlying implications of our communications efforts.

Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes people involved in church ministry aren’t so good at replying to e-mails or returning phone calls. I’ve been on both sides of this (the one pestering someone to call me back, and the one getting reminders to answer an forgotten email), so I know full well that 95% of the time, lack of communication between colleagues is the result of being overworked, understaffed and totally overwhelmed.

So I’m not here to rant about email and phone courtesy. What I’m thinking about is the message that is implicitly sent when we, as God’s people, take special effort to communicate in our day-to-day ministries, whether that’s a simple e-mail thread or whether it’s crafting an article about how God has utterly transformed someone’s life in Christ.

That message is, plain and simple: We need each other.

The Apostle Paul couldn’t have chosen a more eloquent metaphor to describe this than comparing God’s people to the human body. The body is made up of interconnected, interdependent parts that together — and only together — work in a beautifully synchronized collaboration to become one whole.

If only one part of the body goes out of sync with the whole, illness spreads through the body. The first signal that something is not right is usually pain — pain that is felt throughout the body. And the body begins to function less effectively; all the parts are diminished, unable to completely fulfill their roles when one part is not working smoothly with the rest.

Those who study the human body even a little will understand that all parts of the body are in constant communication. Signals are flowing along nerves faster than we can comprehend, passing along important messages and ensuring the whole body is functioning together.

God’s people are called the Body of Christ. Through Christ’s Lordship and the presence of the Holy Spirit, we are all one, in one mission, acting in tandem not only to carry out this mission but to ensure the health and healing of any diseased parts of our body.

There are two types of communication, then, which should be constantly at work among us.

There is the everyday communication between members of the body in which we share our lives together — our burdens, our joys, our worries, our griefs, our prayers, our victories. This is how we function healthfully as the body.

I would argue that communicating, in the sense of media, is another way. When we take the time to collect the stories of people in whom God has been at work, and we pass those along through the body, we are essentially saying: We need each other. We need to share with one another what God is doing among us, how He is making us new creations in Christ Jesus, how He is redeeming us from death, from fear, from sickness, from bondage, liberating us into new life with Him.

The opposite is just as true. When we forget to testify to God’s work in us — when we fail or neglect to pass along these stories for the benefit and encouragement of others, we are implicitly saying that we don’t need each other. That we can make it in isolation, and that we have nothing to offer other members of the body. When we fail to give glory to God by telling far and wide what He has done, we block communication of these important messages to other parts of the body. We behave as if we are independent, self-sufficient.

We do need each other. Communication is key to keeping the Body alive.

Sparking a human connection

Posted by ginagp on July 8th, 2011 under Uncategorized  •  1 Comment

Check out this amazing example of feature writing. By beginning narratively with the story of an individual woman, a Dalit in India, the writer is able to explain the broader, more abstract trend of spreading Christianity in India.

The author begins by creating an emotional connection between the reader and this woman. This emotional connection successfully carries the reader into the more conceptual terrain of what is called a “trend story” — an article that explains about a new trend in culture, religion, politics or the like. In this case, it’s a story about the trend of spreading Christianity in Hindu-majority India.

If there’s a ministry, strategy, program or trend you’d like to write about, consider finding an individual involved in it who has an interesting story to illustrate the concept. Then your readers are intrigued enough to be willing to dive into the facts, statistics and information.

Expert “quoting”

Posted by ginagp on July 5th, 2011 under Mission Magazine  •  Comments Off

Still don’t believe me that it’s better to just stick with “says” and “said” when attributing a quote to someone who said it?

Check out this writing advice on how not to look “ridiculous” with creative quoting.

The author makes a good point:

So often, writers worry that they’ve used “said” or “says” too much and they go looking for a substitute word. The author clearly wants to convey emotion here, but “beams” doesn’t seem believable. It’s just not a word we use in daily speech.

Here’s my earlier post on why not to vary from using “said” in your articles.

Painting a portrait

Posted by ginagp on June 28th, 2011 under Uncategorized  •  Comments Off

I really enjoyed how the writer painted a beautiful and very personal portrait of singer Dido in this skillfully woven profile.

Reading well-written profiles like this one can be great inspiration for different and creative ways to write about people.

If you find an interesting person to write about, try to get them to sit down with you over a leisurely coffee or tea. Then really take your time drawing out the life story. Gather all the intriguing details, quirky personality traits, hopes and dreams, disappointments, and how they think they got where they are. Then talk to a few people who know them very well for additional confirmation that the subject is how he or she has portrayed themself. Their friends and loved ones can add fascinating insights, impressions and anecdotes to give depth and highlights to the profile.

People love to read about other people. So go out and get those people stories. Everyone has one.


Posted by ginagp on June 28th, 2011 under Uncategorized  •  1 Comment

I loved this paragraph from this article, What is ‘Narrative,’ Anyway? on

“Stories have characters, settings, themes, conflicts, plots with climaxes and resolutions. Storytellers don’t give away the story in the first paragraph the way news writers do. Instead they set up a situation, using suspense or the introduction of a compelling character to keep the reader turning pages. Rather than put the least important information at the end, the storyteller waits until the end to give the reader a ‘big payoff’ — a surprise, a twist, a consummation.”

Changing directions

Posted by ginagp on June 22nd, 2011 under Mission Magazine  •  Comments Off

Sometimes, when you go to interview someone about an article you want to write, in the course of the interview you realize that the story isn’t exactly what you thought it was. Maybe the part you started out being interested in turned out to be pretty boring compared to something else the person is telling you. Or maybe through the clarifications the person gives you, you realize you had some wrong assumptions about the story.

That’s OK. A good tactic is to follow where the story leads, even if it goes in an unexpected direction. You can still come back with a good article, it just might be a little different than you anticipated.

For instance, my colleague called up a missionary in Croatia to write a follow-up to a previous article on how students are helping in ministry there. During the interview, she learned that the missionary had recently filed paperwork with the government to register the denomination’s first non-governmental association in the country. Suddenly, she was holding breaking news that she had no idea about before the call. That became the main story, and the student learning program was made into a sidebar.

Don’t be afraid to let the interview and the story guide you, rather than being tempted to pursue your original idea even when it’s not taking shape or is less important than new things you’re finding out.

Distrust, the fatal blow

Posted by ginagp on June 7th, 2011 under Mission Magazine  •  Comments Off

Let’s cut to the chase. You have a good article, but you need a few quotes in there. So, you jot down a few of your own thoughts or reactions, put the quote marks around them and then add your name afterward. “That was easy,” you think to yourself.

Well, it may have been a bit too easy.

In the practice of journalism, it is considered unethical for a writer who is developing an objective article to influence the content, especially through including his or her own thoughts and opinions as a quote. It’s all about trust.

Here’s why:

1. The reader is expecting an article writer to conduct thorough research. If the reader notices that the quotes are coming from the same person who wrote the article, the reader will assume the writer was too lazy to interview other people.

2. The reader, who assumes the author didn’t bother to interview anyone, will wonder what other people would have had to say if only the author had taken time to talk to them and write down their insights.

3. At worst, the reader may feel the author is artificially bending the story to reflect his or her own viewpoints, rather than remaining objective and including the variety of perspectives of the other people who were involved in the events which the article is about. This creates a level of distrust between reader and writer. Distrust is the fatal blow to a writer’s credibility with readers. If you don’t earn trust, no one cares what you write anymore; they assume they can’t believe you or that you are holding back part of the information.

It is essential that a writer conduct a minimum of two interviews for every article. Three is good. Four is great. Depending on the complexity of the topic or event, more may be helpful.

Go back and read prior posts on quotes and interviews. Here are two more on interviews: post 1 and post 2.

Bachelor’s or bachelors degree?

Posted by ginagp on March 21st, 2011 under Uncategorized  •  1 Comment

Ever wondered how to capitalize and punctuate the various education degrees one can have after her or his name?

I have.

Finally found a helpful page about that here:

Good luck!

Following style guides

Posted by ginagp on March 15th, 2011 under Uncategorized  •  Comments Off

For those who do much writing in the publishing world, it is no surprise to learn that there are such things as “style guides.”

Each publication and genre of publishing follows different guidelines that help to keep the writing consistent. Some follow Chicago Style; others following MLA. Those in journalism follow the Associated Press, or AP, style.

Style guides help to establish consistency throughout a publication. For instance, when writing about a page on the Internet, should you write “Web site,” “website” or “web site”? Should you capitalize or lowercase “Internet”? When should “church” be capitalized, and when should it not? Is “evangelical” an adjective or a noun?

For things in the English language that may not be treated the same way by everyone, a style guide can help a publication make decisions about how to treat various terms and then remain consistent throughout each article, as well as throughout the entire publication and from issue to issue.

To find some helpful tips on ways to be consistent in capitalization, spelling or terminology, check out this website for religion writers: Click on “Religion Stylebook.”

The introductory page explains what you’ll find in their collection. Then you can begin searching terms and words by letter in their alphabetical listing.