All roads don’t lead to publication, but there are many paths to get there, and Janet McHenry has traveled many of them! Today she’s going to tell us about her writing journey and share some tips and ideas with us.
Thank you so much for being here! Let’s start with what you write: how did you pick your genre?
Some might call me an agent’s nightmare. While I primarily focus on nonfiction (Christian living, devotional books, gift books, Bible studies), I also have written board books for children, first chapter books, YA mysteries, and a cozy mystery—a total of 24 traditionally published books. I simply write as God leads me. My focus in the last 20 years or so has been on prayer.
Wow! That’s quite diverse. How long does it take you to write a book?
Writing a book doesn’t take me that long—usually three months or less—because I already have a detailed outline and a good sense of where the book is going. Because I mostly write nonfiction, I only create one or two chapters for the proposal. When I get a contract, then I finish it quickly—usually early.
If you’ve written multiple books, which was harder: the first book or the following books?
I’ve written two series for children—a first chapter book series of six books and a girls’ mystery series of three books. Those were challenging because I had the sense that the readers expected something bigger and more dramatic with each successive book. For example, instead of one villain in the final girls’ mystery (Mystery at the Old Stamp Mill), I created three. No reader has ever told me she guessed the solution. That makes me smile!
What’s your favorite book on writing? What do you like about it?
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is my favorite book on writing. I have a little oval picture frame with her advice in it: “one thing.” A book should be about one, focused thing, Lamott teaches, but her expression also reminds me that my work can also just be about one thing at a time. I tell myself to just finish the one thing I’ve listed in my bullet journal. Then when it’s checked off, I tackle the next one thing. It’s a profound but simple concept that keeps me from feeling overwhelmed.
That’s great advice. Thanks for the reminder.
What’s your favorite writers conference? What do you like about it?
My favorite writers conference has been the one at the Mt. Hermon Conference Center in Mt. Hermon, California. I’ve probably attended it 20 or more times; I’ve lost count. It was there I learned to write, found lifelong writing friends, and met my agent and many editors in the industry. The teaching has been superb over the years, plus the conference center is in the middle of the redwoods near Santa Cruz—a bit of heaven on earth. While the 50th and last conference was in 2019, Inspire Writers has taken the baton to continue a writers conference that will look very much the same, and I’m excited that I will be teaching there again in 2022.
What’s your writing day like?
I start with devotional studies in the morning, which lead me to create a meme from my reading in the Bible that I then share across various social media platforms. After answering email and doing other marketing work and shorter writing assignments, I then shift to my bigger writing tasks after lunch. Sometimes I write into the evenings if I’m inspired or if I’m simply determined to get something done.
How do you combat writer’s block?
I read through the Bible each year. Daily I find ideas to inspire my writing. In fact, I blog daily about something I’ve read. When people ask me what inspires my writing, I say, “The Bible.”
How did you find/pick your agent? What tips do you have for others looking for an agent?
My agent and I were friends before she became an agent, so I’m actually one of Janet Grant’s first five clients. For those looking for an agent, I highly suggest going to writers conferences to meet with them in person and genuinely be interested in them as human beings. Worry less about impressing someone; just be genuine and share your life’s mission/vision and passion. If you don’t know what that is, figure it out before you pitch to an agent or start writing.
How did you find your freelance editor? How would you describe the experience?
For four of my books I worked with a freelance editor hired by WaterBrook Press. Liz Heaney truly taught me to write nonfiction Christian living books. I had decent ideas, but she made me work hard and dig more deeply into content creation. She would continually tell me to “Explain this more,” and to come up with fresh ideas, as opposed to merely reworking others’ thoughts from other books.
Great tips! How do you self-edit your manuscript?
I am an editor myself, so I edit as I write. I can’t help it. I’m not one of those writers who can just pour thousands of words onto pages. The internal editor won’t let me spew unorganized thoughts down onto the screen. Part of that self-editing process actually occurs before I write, because I work from a detailed outline. I also re-read the prior day’s writing before I continue writing, editing and adding new thoughts. Then I’ll go through the whole book before I send it off to my editor. It’s usually pretty clean by then…and should be, as I’m a former high school English teacher and newspaper journalist.
What does your revision process look like?
For me, the revision process starts with the feedback from my editor. I simply work through the book, page by page, making the requested changes. After 35 years of writing, revisions aren’t as painful for me as they were when I started writing. In fact, the last three books had very few edits needed. I couldn’t say this 20 years ago though; in 2004, I had a book that the editor completely rejected. I had to start from scratch and write another book entirely. However, the editor was right, and the book is one of my faves now: PrayerStreaming: Staying in Touch with God All Day Long.
Thank you so much for being here and sharing your tips with us!
Janet McHenry is a national speaker and the author of 24 books—six on prayer, including the bestselling PrayerWalk (now 20 years in print) and her newest, The Complete Guide to the Prayers of Jesus. A former high school English teacher, she and her husband Craig live in the Sierra Valley, where he is a rancher and where they raised their four children. She has been featured in national magazines such as Health, Woman’s Day, and First for her prayerwalking practices. The Sierra County CA coordinator for the National Day of Prayer, Janet also leads the prayer ministries at The Bridge Church in Reno.
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Facebook groups: Bible Girls 2021, The Safe Place Prayer Group, The Walking Club