Meet 2017 Best of the Best Runner-Up Jan Ackerson

Jan Ackerson is one of the best-known members of FaithWriters – for her writing lessons on the FaithWriters forums and for being a FaithWriters-approved editor for fiction. But it is her Writing Challenge entries that may have given her the most attention. She has had a total of five entries recognized in FaithWriters’ Writing Challenge Best of the Best over the years – the most recent, second place with  her lovely piece “More Beautiful.” Read along as Jan shares tips on writing a great title, how her writing has changed over the years, and her passion for FaithWriters and the Writing Challenge.

JOANNE SHER: Congratulations on being Best of the Best runner up. What was your reaction when you found out your piece was among the winners?

JAN ACKERSON: To be honest, after reading Ann’s Relinquishment (note – see her Best of the Best interview) just before BoB would be announced, I was more eager to see the announcement to see if that story took a well-deserved first place. Anything I might win after that was gravy, and I was delighted for my dear friend. I will say that More Beautiful wasn’t one that I expected to rise to the top, and it made me shrug a bit.

JOANNE: Well, I hope you know it didn’t make ME shrug (or the judges!) I have always enjoyed your title choices for your challenge pieces (they are generally a HUGE struggle for me). How do you come up with your titles? Which comes first generally – the story or the title? Any tips for the rest of us in finding just the right title?

JAN: For me, the title is definitely the last thing. Once the piece is written, I read through it a time or two specifically with the purpose of finding a phrase that I can take verbatim from one of the sentences. I like a title to have strong and interesting words, but not to give away anything significant that I’d rather the readers get as they make their way through the story. I avoid anything that’s not original to my story—no familiar phrases or clichés, nothing that’s already the title of something else.

If I can’t find just the right phrase within the story, I’ll try to think of something that’s in the same mood and voice as the story.  That’s harder to do, and sometimes I really agonize, if that’s the case.

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Meet 2017 Best of the Best Winner Ann Grover

Ann Grover is one of the most faithful (and one of my very favorite) contributors to the FaithWriters Writing Challenge. And this year, her entry for the Relax topic, “Relinquishment,” was the highest ranking story of the entire Writing Challenge year, making her the FaithWriters Best of the Best (for the second time) for 2017. Read along as Ann shares about her writing process, her upcoming retirement, and why she sometimes uses a scythe to cut her lawn.

JOANNE SHER: First of all, congratulation on your Best of the Best win (again)! What was your reaction when you found out you won 2017’s Best of the Best?

ANN GROVER: I checked FaithWriters on June 30, on the off chance the BoB might have already been announced. We were going to a rodeo early in the morning of July 1, and I knew I would be out of signal range all day. So it was a surprise to see the BoB already posted, but I was more surprised that “Relinquishment” was the chosen story. I had struggled with submitting it, for I feared it was off-topic and that it would stir up negative emotions in readers. It is probably the least favourite of all my submissions this year.

JOANNE: Wow – I never would have guessed. You had a total of fifteen first place challenge entries this year. That is pretty amazing. What keeps you entering? Do you have a “secret,” if you will, for placing so well so consistently?

ANN: Why do I keep entering? Good question. I think I continue to enter because FW is a safe place to practice. I can experiment with different voices and tenses, genres and styles. I take comments very seriously, maybe too much so, but after I get over any initial defensiveness, I do try to weave any suggestions into future works. I also keep entering so that I don’t “lose touch” with that side of me, to keep honed, while I keep putting off finishing my WIP, a novel.

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Congratulations to the 2017 Best of the Best!

After twelve months of Writing Challenge topics and entries, we had our forty contenders for the 2017 Best of the Best award.

The annual Best of the Best awards are announced July 1 each year, and the awards go to the three highest rated Editors’ Choice winners for the previous twelve months. First place gets $100, second place $50, and third place $25.

Congratulations to our three awesome winners:

1st Place: Relinquishment by Ann Grover (Relax Challenge)

2nd place: More Beautiful by Jan Ackerson (Accidents Will Happen challenge)

3rd place: I Will Walk on Water by Amy Gaudette (Entertainment challenge)

The countdown to next year’s Best of the Best awards begins with the new Challenge quarter, starting July 6. You have to be in the Challenge to be in the running.

Watch for interviews with the winners in the near future!

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The Writing Challenge Needs You :)

When was the last time you entered the FaithWriters Writing Challenge?

That long, eh? Maybe it’s time to jump back in. diving

What is the Writing Challenge, you ask? If you are a platinum or gold member, you are more than welcome to write an entry, between 150 and 750 words, with a Christian worldview, with the topic as the focus of your piece. (If you are a silver member, you have a total of four opportunities to enter the challenge to try it out over your time as a FaithWriters member) But don’t wait TOO long. This week’s topic – RELAX – ends on Thursday, June 15 at 11am ET (when the challenge will go on a break).

Once the topic is closed, you can check out other entries to read and comment on – and a week from Thursday, winners will be announced, with the top three entries overall considered for publication in a future FaithWriters anthology.

The thing is…numbers are down for entries. We would LOVE to have more folks participate in this fabulous opportunity to practice writing to a topic, word count and deadline, and the fellowship that comes along with it. So, stretch your writing muscles and give the Writing Challenge a try (or a retry). You won’t be sorry!

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“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana

“A forgetful heart soon becomes a foolish heart.” Rev. Karl Pike (former senior pastor at Good News Baptist Church)

Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.’  Numbers 15:38-40 NIV

You can find the word “remember” in God’s Word more than 300 times. Usually, that kind of repetition means it’s important. And I have to believe that is the case for this particular sentiment.

There’s lots of different kinds of remembering mentioned in the Bible, but today I want to talk about just one. I’ll save my thoughts on what God remembers – and doesn’t remember – for another time. Today, I’m pondering His people’s need to remember.

Today is Memorial Day here in the United States. It’s a day to remember those who fought for our freedom. Those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the well-being of those not yet born – for our country.

I have friends who take this holiday extremely personally. They have lost someone near and dear to them in war. They do not need to be reminded to set time aside to honor the fallen. To them, I’d venture to say that every day is Memorial Day. But still, I am sure it warms their hearts to see others set the time aside to remember – even if it is only one day a year.

It seems that we, as humans, need reminders like these – physical “hints” can bring important things to mind that we might otherwise forget. The Israelites wore tassels on the corners of their garments to help them remember God’s law. They celebrated Passover to remember their deliverance from Egypt. We have countless holidays to help us remember everything from administrative professionals to fathers to our first president.

But there is Someone even more deserving of our remembrance. And everything around us and in us can be a cue to recall the sacrifice He made. He created the heavens and the earth. He gave us everything we have. He hand-crafted us – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And, when He wanted us to come close, and our sin repelled Him, He gave all that blackness to His Son, who took it upon Himself, and died on the cross to set us free from it.

I don’t need a holiday to remember He who made the ultimate sacrifice so I could be free in Christ. At least not all the time. (admit it – you act like He didn’t sometimes, dontcha?) But I’m glad there are plenty of them anyhow.

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Organization: Ridiculously Easy

Organization: Ridiculously Easy

By Randy Ingermanson

We all know people who seem to sail through life. They always have it together. When things go right (which is most of the time), they’re always working productively or playing hard or flossing their teeth. When things go wrong (which seems to be rare), they surf right over those glitches and carry on. I think we all secretly despise those people. They seem to have their lives on autopilot, never struggling. That’s not fair.

My hunch is that these people actually do struggle, but we just don’t see it. They put in serious effort, but they put in their effort in a different way than most of us do. These annoying people put their effort into creating good habits. I wrote about the habit of making habits in this column in January. Since then, I’ve had some new thoughts on it. If you missed that column, you might want to read it now. If you’ve forgotten it, you might want to review it on this page.

It takes some serious effort to build a habit. Once you’ve got a good solid habit going, you don’t have to put in much will-power to keep it going. The habit keeps going under its own steam. You just maintain it. You appear to be coasting. The conventional wisdom is that it takes 21 days to get a habit running under its own steam. But that only works if you can actually get through those 21 days. And it’s easy to sabotage that startup effort by trying too hard.

Let’s look at an example to see what can go wrong.

You decide you’re going to get back in shape. Back when you were younger, you used to run five miles per day. You can do that again, right? Sure you can. So you get your exercise gear all together, you set your alarm, and you wake up tomorrow all charged and ready to go.

On Day 1, you leap out of bed the instant the alarm goes off. You suit up, you warm up, and you get rolling. The first mile is a little slow. The second mile is a little slower. Somewhere in the third mile, something pops in your knee. You limp back home, thinking that you’re not 18 anymore. You ice your knee. You get cleaned up. And you dial back your expectations to 2 miles per day for tomorrow.

Tomorrow morning when the alarm goes off, every muscle in your body is sore. Your knee still hurts. And you decide you’d better give yourself a recovery day. You wind up in recovery for three weeks, and finally your knee feels better. Then you either repeat the whole thing, or else you give up.

What went wrong?

What went wrong was that you put two hard things together in the same place. It’s hard to instantly raise your daily mileage by five miles. It’s also hard to form a habit. If you want to form a habit of daily exercise, DON’T start out with a hard workout. Start out with one that’s ridiculously easy. Maybe you decide you’re going to walk half a mile every day. You can do that in ten minutes. You can do that every day. You could do way more than that, OF COURSE, because it’s ridiculously easy. But don’t.

Do a ridiculously easy workout until your habit is firmly in place. Why? Because you’re doing something else that’s already hard—you’re using your will-power to build a habit. That’s very hard. Don’t make it harder on yourself. Make it ridiculously easy to do it every day. When you do that, you WILL do it every day. You may feel stupid for “only” doing such a little bit. Don’t. You’re not being stupid. You’re being smart. You’re exercising your will-power to get yourself in the groove.

After a few weeks (hopefully 21 days, but this is probably highly variable), you’ll find that you’ve built a habit. It’s a habit you enjoy because, after all, it’s ridiculously easy. You do it every single day because, really and truly, it’s ridiculously easy. Once that habit’s solidly in place, ramp it up. Not a lot. Ramp it up a little. If you were walking half a mile a day, boost that to walking three quarters of a mile. Or jog the last eighth of a mile at an easy pace. Or whatever. And stick to that new regime for a ridiculously long time. Maybe a week. Maybe two.

Life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Habits that you build now that you keep in place for the next thirty or forty years will give you ridiculously great benefits. You may know writers who put in eight or ten or twelve hours of writing, seven days per week. You may feel horrible because that’s not you. It’s not me, either. It’s not most writers. But there’s got to be some level of writing that’s ridiculously easy for you. Maybe it’s ten minutes a day (if you like a time quota). Maybe it’s 100 words a day (if you like a word quota).

Find your level that’s ridiculously easy. Make it a habit to do that on a set schedule—five or six or seven days a week. Without fail. No excuses. (And why would you make an excuse to skip a ridiculously easy thing that you enjoy doing?) When the habit’s solidly in place, ramp it up just a bit, but still keep it ridiculously easy. Then ramp it up again. And again. As time goes on, your definition of “ridiculously easy” will increase.

Thirty or forty years from now, you’ll look back on a long career in which you produced an amazing amount. You may never be one of those obnoxious people who sail through life without a struggle. So if you’re going to struggle, put your effort into the things that matter. Building a daily writing habit is a thing that matters.

Even if it’s ridiculously easy.


This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 16,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it,
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The Critique Circle – Give AND Get Feedback!

Did you know that FaithWriters has an area especially for folks who need an extra eye for their writing? The Critique Circle is a place where you can help others improve their writing, and have them help you too! And any help you get or receive can only be seen by the writer (so no concerns about people seeing what people point out to you)

If you want your writing to be the best it can be, having “fresh eyes” look at it, and give feedback, is important, and almost always beneficial. People of many writing levels (from newbies to FW-approved editors to everything in between) provide critiques in the critique circle in exchange for critiques of their own work.

The system works best, of course, when critiques are detailed and thoughtful – but you don’t have to be an expert to be helpful. Did you get confused at a certain point in the reading? Did you notice missing punctuation? Would the story be more compelling with more detail? Anyone can help, and the critique circle is a great place for that.

Everyone starts out with a free critique – and after that, you get a credit for each critique you give to others, allowing you the opportunity to submit another piece for critique. This peer critique area is a great place for you to get some extra polish and suggestions on your poem, article, story, script, or anything else you might want extra opinions on.

It’s always best to have an “extra set of eyes” on your writing, and what better place to do it than at the Critique Circle?

The critique circle is open to FaithWriters Gold and Platinum members. To become a Gold or Platinum member, click here

Have you used the critique circle? What value do you see from giving and getting critiques on your work?

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Motivation and Inspiration

Motivation and Inspiration

by Joanne Sher

Both of the above, it seems, have been lacking in me over the past little bit writing-wise (at least as they relate to the projects I really need to be working on). It is, in a word, frustrating.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one out there who is unmotivated – whether it’s about writing or something else. So, to that end, I’m planning to share some encouragement right here in this post, in the hopes that it will bring motivation AND inspiration to anyone who needs it – myself included. And if YOU have anything to add, please share it in the comments!

Let’s start with a bit of Scripture – shall we?

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

And how about a quote or two?

When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Putting off an easy thing makes it hard. Putting off a hard thing makes it impossible. ~George Claude Lorimer

If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. ~Toni Morrison

I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ - Muhammad Ali

“A writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.” Junot Diaz

What is your favorite motivational quote or scripture? Please share in the comments!
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Congratulations to the Winter 2017 Quarterly Challenge Winners!

A HUGE congratulations to EVERYONE who entered the FaithWriters Writing Challenge this past quarter.  Just by submitting an entry, you are a winner. But some pieces rise even higher than that to place – while others go even higher than that.

And that is what the quarterly awards are meant to recognize. The highest scoring entry in EACH LEVEL over each entire ten-week quarter is recognized. This past quarter  had a variety of topics, and these four entries (one from each level) came out on top. Be sure to check them out!

LEVEL ONE: All Circuits are Busy by Linda Morgan (Busy Topic)

LEVEL TWO: The Day by Robert McFaddin (Back to Basics Challenge)

LEVEL THREE: She Had a Moose by Phillip Cimei (Fragile Challenge)

LEVEL FOUR: A Whisper of Raspberries by Jan Ackerson (Jam Challenge)

The Writing Challenge starts up again on Thursday, April 6, with a new quarter of topics. Be sure to enter!

Congratulations, Linda, Robert, Phillip, and Jan!

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Eat Your Broccoli

Eat Your Broccoli

Focus, balance, and your to-do list

By Randy Ingermanson

Over the last few months, I’ve gotten control over my insane To Do List. I described how I did that in February. The key element is to use a trusted system where all your tasks and projects are organized. If you know that your entire life is managed in one trusted system, you never have to worry about forgetting things.

Of course, once you have that trusted system in place, you need to categorize all tasks in two ways:

  1. How important is this task?
  2. How urgent is this task?

Life management experts are constantly harping on the need to focus on the Important, rather than the merely Urgent.  The Important things are the ones that make your life cool, fun, exciting, profitable, or all of the above.  The Urgent things are the ones that need to be done now, now, now.  Things that are both Important and Urgent are the things you should do first. Things that are neither Important or Urgent can be left for “maybe someday.” And yeah, those are probably never going to happen, so eventually you will quietly scratch them off your list because you just don’t care about them, and you don’t care that you don’t care. The trick is scheduling the things that are Important but not Urgent, and the things that are Urgent but not Important.

This year, my key word has been “Focus”. I’ve learned how to focus on the very few things in my life that are Important. And that’s good. That’s wonderful, in fact. I feel like I’m going great guns on the two things in my life that are both fun and profitable. Huge progress. Yippee.

The problem is that over the last few months, I got hyper-focused. Yeah, sure, I’ve made incredible progress on the Important stuff (which also happens to be the fun stuff). But I’ve started to let slide the merely Urgent stuff (which generally is the not-fun stuff.) As you can guess, this meant that the boring Urgent things in my life began piling up. I had them all neatly listed in my trusted system. I just wasn’t doing them. Because I was working on Important stuff.

That would all be fine, but there’s a reason these things are called Urgent. The more of them that stack up, the more stress you feel. I finally realized that Focus is all very well, but there can be too much of a good thing. So this month I’m working at keeping things balanced a bit better. The Urgent things in life are a bit like broccoli. You know you should do them. You just don’t want to.  (That’s not the case with Important things. Important things, by definition, are the things you really want to do. They’re either fun or profitable or both.) So that’s the diagnosis: I wasn’t “eating my broccoli.” What’s the solution?

I talked to my mastermind group about this, and we came with an action plan:

  1. I allocate time every day to “eat my broccoli”. Meaning I commit to spending a certain number of hours that day to doing things I hate doing. The rule is that every morning, the first task I do is assign the number of hours for these tasks. Then I have to spend that many hours working on them. (Breaks are allowed. As I noted last month, breaks are good for you. Very good. When doing these tasks, I’m allowed to take lots of breaks.)
  2. One of my friends in my mastermind group emails me every day to make sure I met my commitment for that day. (Thanks to Lacy for keeping me accountable.) I probably won’t need her help for very long. Pretty soon, “eating my broccoli” will be a habit. But right now, it’s good to have a virtual mom who makes sure I do.

As one way to take the sting out of “eating my broccoli,” I assigned this category a new name: “Total World Domination.” This is of course a brazen lie. These things don’t have anything to do with conquering the world. But it’s just a little easier to schedule one hour of “Total World Domination” than to schedule one hour of “Boring Stuff I Don’t Like Doing.” If you disagree, I’ll send you a cruise missile.


Answer these questions honestly:

  1. Are you keeping up with the “eating your broccoli” tasks in life?
  2. Did you lie when you answered #1?

If you need a little help in eating your broccoli, here are the three steps you can take to start moving in that direction.

  1. First thing every day, make a hard commitment to a certain amount of total time which you’ll spend knocking down your list of those horrible, boring, necessary things in your life.
  2. Never cheat. If you say you’re going to do 4 hours, then do 4 hours. By the way, starting out the first day committing to 4 hours is really dumb. I won’t tell you how I discovered this. Commit to something, but make it something you can achieve without feeling the urge to put your head under the lawn mower.
  3. Ask somebody to check up on you every day to see if you ate your broccoli.

Focus is good. Balance is better.


This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 15,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it,
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