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How Religious Does It Have to Be?
by Kathryn Lay

I’ve had nearly 1400 articles, essays, stories, and books published in all types of magazines and anthologies, but a large majority have been for religious publications. Yet, I’m not a deep theological thinker who can delve into issues and topics with a PHD of theology behind me.

I’m an average person with average situations, experiences, ups and downs, hope and dreams. But I’ve written for Discipleship Journal, Decision (Billy Graham’s magazine), Today’s Christian Woman, Christian Parenting Today, lots of Sunday School papers, Guideposts and Guideposts anthologies, devotional booklets and anthologies, and more.

But the things I write about begin most of all with things that happen to me, little and big things that change my life in little and big ways, events or situations that happen over a long period of time (infertility, job hunting, cancer) or in a short time (a prayer answered, a dollar returned by an honest woman, a last goodbye from my dying mother).

In “It’s Me, It’s Me” which was published in Celebrate Dad anthology of inspirational stories, I used a simple game that my husband and daughter played when she was young where he talked about the person he loved had blonde hair and she’d answer back, “I have blonde hair”. He’d continue with the person he loved loved animals and was good at gymnastics and so on. Finally, it came to a point to where she shouted, “It’s me you love, Daddy. It’s me!” I took this to talk about how I had difficulty understanding God’s love because of my own father’s ways, but how watching my husband be a father helped me see God as father in a different way.

In “A Simple Prayer”, which has sold over a dozen times to magazines and anthologies, I showed a time when my daughter prayed to see a frog one evening at bedtime. A frog came to our garage that evening and I used this to talk about my own frustration with feeling as if my prayers for help weren’t being answered and my daughter’s faith strengthening my own.

In “Paralyzed”, published in Soul Matters For The Heart anthology and several take-home papers, I talked about a time when my husband woke up one morning with one side of his face paralyzed with Bell’s Palsy. During this time, he was job hunting. He saw how potential employers reacted when they saw his droopy face, his eye patch, his slurred speech. In spite of his college-educated resume with several good positions listed, they seemed uncomfortable and he was unable to find a job during those 3 months the disease lasted. I used this situation to talk about how we judge people

How do you write essays for a religious publication without having to delve deeply into spiritual issues?

1. Keep a personal experience journal. Write down things that happen to you daily, big or small, that might be inspirational, encouraging, informative, make you smile or cry. Write down what happened, but also how you felt and what you might have learned. You may not have a ‘punch line’ or point to make until you think about it awhile, or until the event comes to its final ending, but write it down while you are still fresh about it. During a recent bout with cancer and chemotherapy, I kept a journal of the many things people did for me or that I learned through different experiences. Within a few months, I had sold four upbeat pieces to religious magazines and anthologies about this time in my life.

2. Find a spiritual or moral take-away message. It doesn’t have to be huge, just one thing that brings in a spiritual point. In “A Friend to All” that was published in a Guideposts Book of essays about animals, I wrote about how my daughter was so good at getting the trust of animals. I used four quick anecdotes of various times she’s coaxed and cared for wild animals. My message was how God has given her a gift with animals who are afraid, as well as other children on the outer edges of groups. I mentioned God three times throughout the piece, but it was mainly about my daughter’s gift.

3. Study a variety of religious publications, especially anthologies and Sunday School take-home papers, where essays are the mainstay. Look at both the big, and sometimes very brief incidences that writers have turned into stories that will mean something to the reader.

When writing essays for the religious market, it’s easy to take an everyday occurrence and give it a spiritual twist or find the obvious spiritual point and make sales, encourage others, and find the story behind your own stories.

© Copyright 2007, Kathryn Lay

Kathryn Lay is the author of 26 books for children, over 2000 articles, essays and stories for children and adults and the book from AWOC.COM Publishing, The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer. Check out her website at www.kathrynlay.com and email through rlay15@aol.com

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