Tell a Friend  

About the Author:

With a tender heart, a drive for learning and a gift for sharing, Margaret brings her years of experience as a licensed professional counselor and a woman of faith to all her writings. Her insights and biblical understanding bring home principles we all can use - no matter the circumstances we are in.


Writing Coach Corner

Goals - Are You Game?

By Margaret Cook, M.Ed., Licensed Professional Counselor, Life Coach


One way to set writing goals is to play games. Let’s play a little game right now. Get a piece of paper and a pen. Write down a number between 1 and 12. For example, I will select four (4). Now using that number, write down that many numbers between 1 and 12. Using my example, I will need to pick and write down four numbers. As an example, I will pick 2, 4, 6, and 8. Wasn’t that fun? It is always good to do something a little different. (We will use these numbers later in the article).

Why write? If you are reading this, it is possible that you are a writer. God gives gifts to people and then uses the gifts to shape who we are and uses us to influence the people and the world around us.

Gifted? Yes, you are. I may have a specialty in working with “gifted” adults. They come to coaching and sometimes counseling with a level of confusion about being a little different. The difference is often a reflection of some wonderful treasure God placed in that person or has cultivated in their life. We don’t easily find out how to live with the expression of our gifts unless we do a little introspection and enlist the help of a few “guidance counselors.” Coaching is a great venue for gifted adults.

This column is another invitation to write. God never rests from inviting us to grow in our relationship to Him, so why would a Christian Writing Coach miss any opportunity to invite you to write? This website is a result of many prayers. You share in a ministry when you write an article, give out cards to other writers and readers and when you take the time to read and give feedback. I hope you see that using your gifts can be fun.

Last year you were working on developing consistent writing habits. This year, you can take your writing to a new level by using those numbers you just picked to establish your writing goals. Let the first number be the number of articles you will agree to send to NSOF, and let the second number be the months you will send them. In my example, I would send four articles. I would send one in February 2008, April 2008, June 2007 and August 2007. If everyone who reads this column will play the game, we will have a monthly newsletter with plenty of articles and new copy on the website every month. We may even be able to collaborate on more writing projects and compile some writing for publication. Will you start writing by sending a commitment email to the NSOF Editor with your two winning numbers? We will look forward to hearing from a record number of readers who are joining us in ministry with a commitment of articles. Let the games begin!

A Review of Last Year's Writers Corner Columns:

In addition to celebrating spring, this is a great time to celebrate the first year of the Next-Step-of-Faith newsletter.

Blessings to all of the faithful readers and especially each of you who have been contributing articles.

Over the last year, we have shared 10 coaching columns for writers. It was fun to have a monthly assignment to encourage a group of people pursuing a high calling. I have enjoyed hearing from some of you. Will you take a minute and write three things*** you enjoyed about the first year of this newsletter?

As you plan your writing career, determine to have a periodic check-up and review your progress. It will help you stay on track and it can inspire you to set new goals so you can reach the Next Step. You may want to join us in doing an annual review of your own. Take stock of what you have written in the past twelve months. Then set goals for the next week, month and year. The clearer your goals, the easier it is to measure your success.

Here are a few excerpts form the Writer’s Coach columns of the last year:
(To read entire articles, check the "By Writers" Page.)

May 2006

Notice the word PRACTICE? That is the tip of the month. Set aside a time each week when you will practice writing. Create a time that you can keep. When developing a new life habit, you want to be able to incorporate this into your routine so that you will be able to regularly engage in your new skill.

Set a goal and keep it between now and the next newsletter. Consider pairing it with something else you do – maybe it is 30 minutes while the sheets are in the dryer once a week. If your life is overbooked, start with ten minutes two or three times a week and try to pair it with something you love to do already.

June 2006

Here are three ways that you can build your writing skill through correspondence:

  1. Start a correspondence with someone you love and write to him or her at least once a month.
  2. Write a letter to God every week. This could be a Sunday activity for 10 - 15 minutes.
  3. Pick one event from your life each month for one year. Each month, write about that event to a specific person. For instance, the first week you might write to your significant other, the second week a parent or elderly relative, the third week a child you know and the fourth week a friend. Pay close attention to how the story changes for the audience. The more different the people are that you write to, the better this helps you re-write the story. Experiment with stories that evoke different emotions.

Write some that are funny, some that are sad, or write about things past vs. present. (You can even write fiction or science fiction. The goal is to practice writing to the audience.) Keep these printed in a binder and take a look at them every 3 - 6 months. You will see how your writing skills are improving. Some of those stories might also turn into articles for the Next-Step-of-Faith Newsletter.

July 2006

Writing is a discipline, a habit and a gift. Set aside a time and a purpose for your writing and then build your writing practice into your life.

You may also want to become aware of the ways that you become more engaged in writing or situations that stimulate your writing process.

Select your space and customize it for efficiency and inspiration. Put a favorite photograph near, have a scented candle, put your books for writing at hand and anything else that will make the space work. The more senses you involve the more powerful the learning and creative process will be for a writer.

August 2006

Journal writing is an excellent way to strengthen your writing skills and create material for articles, books, publication or presentation. Sometimes a sentence or two will do the trick, and there are the days when words spill across the pages like water rushes in the first heavy rain following a drought.

The journal is an “un-edited” writing that helps the writer translate life and experience into the medium of words. In the next column, we will talk about the editing process. The columns so far are ways to encourage you to incorporate writing into your life and relationships. Initially it is important to expand your writing practice and opportunities and a journal is a wonderful method.

Find a way to journal your own journey of life. Write daily or weekly for the best opportunity and adapt a method that will work for you. Journal in a notebook or on the computer, but the more you write the better writer you become. Open your heart to the page and you will never be the same. The land is refreshed in the first rain after the drought, but so much of the water runs off because the ground is so parched at the onset. Keep writing something so that your heart and page will be ready always for the rain.

October 2006

Take a few moments and look over ten things you have written. This can involve letters, journal entries, poems or any writing you generated in your practice. Read the ten items in the morning and go about your day.

When you have a chance at the end of the day, re-read the ten pieces and ask yourself:

  1. Which one evokes the most emotion or energy?
  2. Is there one that I thought of periodically throughout the day?
  3. Am I excited about sharing one of these with someone, and if so who?

Ready, set, rank! Quickly number the pieces from one to ten in terms of the most interesting or vibrant.

Tomorrow you will read two articles on the Next-Step-of-Faith website and think about that audience. If you are planning to write something for another publication, read two articles in the target publication the next day. Take a few notes about the audience that will read your article based on what you read in the publication (age, gender, interests, lifestyle, etc.).

Begin revising your “top” piece for the publication you are targeting. Keep the audience in mind and remember that the emotional energy will draw the reader to your story. No one can tell your story like you can. But, tell your story in a way that the audience will relate to it and feel that they have a part in the story too.

Ten Tips for Good Writing

  1. Be specific – not general.
  2. Use Active voice.
  3. Avoid cliché’s.
  4. Have a point – and make every sentence work toward it.
  5. Use shorter sentences rather than longer phrasing.
  6. Make sure you clearly have a beginning, middle and end. Pay attention to the transitions from one sentence to the next and between paragraphs.
  7. Read your writing carefully to proof, set it aside for a while and read it again. Read it out loud and have someone else read it.
  8. USE the spell check and grammar check of your word processor. You have to proofread in addition to that to catch all of the possible errors.
  9. Know your sources for quotes and cite them accurately. (You may need to follow a particular style of doing this. Most publishers will have guidelines that indicate what style manual to use.)
  10. Think of your audience and make your writing interesting to the reader.

Look it up! If you need help with a few basics, here are free places to consult.

Team up with others if you need help editing and correcting common errors. You will learn how to spot your own weaknesses and you can learn to correct them. Consider forming a writers group, or using a coach.

November 2006

So go ahead, pick a strategy or two, and create a steady diet of putting a few words down. Then set a schedule for your regular appointments. Consider articles like check-ups. Do not wait until something “big” happens to write. Send an article once a year – or four times a year would be even better! Everyone is busy, but seeing your words in print and bringing your journal to an audience can do you a world of good as a writer. Having a good “diet” of writing habits is an excellent lifestyle for health. Add a little regular exercise and you will improve your health as a writer. Make a schedule of regular appointments or deadlines for turning in articles for publication. The publications will affirm your health and reinforce your choices to live the life of writing.

December 2006

One way to get started or to generate new ideas when you get stuck is to engage in a creative process. What gets your words flowing? Get ready to write your next article by trying this pre-writing exercise to warm up and create insights that can be included in your Next-Step-of-Faith article. This exercise is called “clustering.” You take a word or idea and put it on a page in a circle. Then you “brainstorm” related ideas around the thought you started with on the page. Each of the related words you generate can also spin into new relationships and ideas that center around the themes you are generating – hence, the term clustering. The writer can generate clusters of ideas that multiply off of each other and generate creative ideas that can be incorporated into the writing.

Take a blank piece of paper, get something to write with and try this today. Start with a word or idea that excites you. Maybe you would like the word “Christmas” or “Advent.”

Use the exercise to stimulate your creativity and don’t evaluate the ideas as you generate them. Let the ideas surprise you – like opening the packages under your Christmas tree. Work until your ideas stop coming and know that when you are finished, you can pick and choose what to include in your writing. Next month’s article will be about outlining and how you can organize the information you generate from this non-linear method of exploring themes to include in your writing.

January 2007

Outlining can be a pre-writing activity, but it can also be an invaluable writing tool throughout the writing process – including at the end. Think of a good outline as equivalent to a strong spine and a good skeletal structure for your body. What would your body be like if bones were missing, or your spine was not straight and able to support the rest of your frame?

Being a writer for publication moves you from meandering on the page, to taking more control of the writing process to assure a level of productivity. If you hope to make a living at this craft, you will want your time to be profitable. The most important writing tool for this is outlining.

As with every writing skill, the more you practice this, the better you get at outlining. If you want to improve your productivity and profitability of writing, work on outlining your pieces and using the outlining process to shape the time you spend on a work.

February 2007

In writing a short story or a novel, you will benefit from using multiple outlines.

Character outlines are especially helpful because they can give you a one-page reference point for identifying your character. Outline as many aspects of the characters before you start writing, and everything will be easier to develop as you write.

Develop an outline that covers the setting and special features you want to include. This can also include information about places and times. The better outline you can create, the easier it will be for you to picture the setting in your mind. Try dreaming up the details when you are doing something routine in your life.

Building an outline of the plot is one of the best ways to be sure you can engage the reader in the story. The plot outline will literally let you plot the course of the story from the introduction that draws the reader into the action and holds their attention and engagement until the last word. This outline can include some of your essential details and the transitions that allow you to weave the threads of the story together. Pay attention to how good writers craft the plot. Try making a plot outline of your favorite story you have enjoyed by a writer that you believe is really gifted. Taking a story apart this way can help you see how to build a story of your own.

March 2007

Planning is a key to productivity, but it sometimes seems counter intuitive for CREATIVE people. This column is encouragement to get creative in how you understand and utilize your own writing process. Learning what will work for you is a valuable investment of your time and energy. If you know what helps you, you can reliably do the things that move your writing projects along well. Take time to look through writing books and some of the internet resources on Creative Writing.

Sometimes I hear writers complain that traditional outlining is too linear and does not fuel creativity. The recent Internet resource lists help introduce you to graphical maps/organizers and tools that are a great way to be creative in the pre-writing process.

April 2007

When is your game season as a writer? Are you on a year-long writing schedule, or do you seem to have a seasonal style? How do you stay in shape during your off season and how do you gear up to do your best throughout your writing season?

Use this analogy to create a writing schedule for yourself. Engage in a variety of conditioning exercises and ways to bring new energy to your game. Having a team of other writers can make you more effective in reaching your audience and being published. Coaching makes a difference because a coach is able to offer a more objective investment in your success. Coaching can bring out the best and sustain winning momentum.

Some people play baseball for fun and exercise. Some become professionals and devote themselves to the discipline of being in shape, identifying areas that need work and playing in the game at a level that allows them to stay on the team. Are you writing for the fun of it, or are you preparing to write professionally? There is a difference in how you prepare when you plan to write professionally. Discipline, conditioning and knowing the process that lets you produce the optimal results will set you apart as a professional writer.

Five steps for getting in the game of writing:

  1. Have a regular routine for writing. Know the seasons of your sport.
  2. Make a commitment to revising and continuously improving your writing and learning/practicing writing skills.
  3. Seek feedback. Share your writing with various people to learn more about improving your game.
  4. Keep score. Find ways to evaluate how well you are doing and how much better you are getting.
  5. Love the game so you will play with all of your heart. Look forward to your writing experiences and make them fun.

*** Go to the prior newsletters and re-read the articles and use the links to become more familiar with ways to improve your writing process. Take a few minutes and send the three things you enjoyed about the NSOF newsletter in the first year of publication. Send the list to: NSOF Editor .

Keep writing and keep reading!


Copyright © June 2, 2007 – Margaret Cook. All rights reserved.
Permission to use or duplicate this article is available by contacting the author at


Back to Articles Main Page : : : : Back to Articles Sorted By Writer : : : : Back to Articles Sorted by Title

Copyright © 2009 - Next-Step-of Faith and its Content Providers. All Rights Reserved.
Website Design by Next-Step-Up Communications