I talk with a lot of novelists here, but today we’re going to chat with a Bible teacher because I love learning about all kinds of writing. If you’re interested in writing Bible studies (or other instructional books), today is your day, and Shadia is your girl!
Thank you so much for being here! What do you write? How did you pick your genre?
I write women’s Bible studies that center on “messy” stories in the Bible that are often overlooked or even avoided. I am drawn to these stories because I can relate to them. But with each one, I also want to know what I have been missing, and what fresh insights will I discover about God through the story? For example, my latest Bible study centers on Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah, who disguised herself as a prostitute and slept with her father-in-law. Talk about messy! She took risks, and God used her actions to alter the trajectory of human history!
At the same time, Tamar’s story gives me hope. I look at her story and think: if God can step into kind of mess and turn it into something beautiful, He can certainly help me get through whatever I’m dealing with.
What’s the most difficult part of writing your genre? How do you work through those challenges?
Usually, the hardest part is when God asks me to share something difficult from my own experiences. As a Bible teacher, I love studying God’s Word and writing studies that encourage readers to really dig deep into their Bibles. But when God taps me on the shoulder and essentially says, “Let’s make it personal,”that’s sometimes hard. And yet, those stories are often what God uses to help the reader connect to me as the author, so that they feel like we are journeying through our stories together.
How long does it take you to: write a bible study? Edit it? Finalize it?
I typically structure my Bible studies to be divided into 6 or 7 weeks (however, because the studies are in-depth, I often recommend readers double that time to get the most they can out of them). I usually spend one and a half to two weeks writing each day of homework, including editing and rewrites. Once a full week of study is drafted, I’ll then reread the full week several times and make additional edits. Once I’m satisfied, I send the week (chapter) to my team of five beta readers for their input/suggestions/feedback, after which I’ll make even more changes. Each study takes an average of 14 to 16 months total before it’s ready to send to the publisher.
Which was harder to write: the first book or the following books?
The first Bible study was definitely the hardest. When I wrote my first in-depth Bible study on Hagar, I had to think through and create many structural elements to organize the days and weeks of the study in a way that was both functional and appealing to the readers. A study that is merely academic is not always interesting, so I added special features to the structure, such as Pause to Ponder sections for personal reflection and Your Turn sections for personal application. These types of structural elements became the template for the next studies.
I’ll never forget the first developmental edit I received back from my publisher. The publisher asked me to cut 10,000 words from the last two weeks of the study. The editor explained that readers would be unprepared to suddenly discover the last weeks required more work. I realized he was right, but ouch! Ten thousand words was hard! (Believe me, I never made that mistake again.)
How do you prepare to write your books?
I actually created a 10-step form to help me outline my Bible studies before I write a single word. The form guides me (or any writer) through a series of steps whereby I brainstorm answers to specific questions.
For example, my first step is to list the primary and secondary themes for the study. That may sound simple, but having a topic in mind for the study is different from identifying the primary themes of the study. I include questions on the form to help me narrow down the key themes. Step two is to brainstorm the main takeaway for the reader (this is something you envision will appear on the back cover of the printed book). There are 10 detailed steps in all. Several will take days to brainstorm and complete, but once I complete all of the steps, I have everything I need to begin writing.
I’ve taught these 10-steps at writers conferences, and the workshop is now available on my website if that’s something your readers might be interested in.
What advice do you have for new authors?
Wherever you are in your writing ministry, before you go any further, gather a prayer team to support and encourage you. Writing is HARD for anyone, but for the Christian, you also contend with an enemy who will stop at nothing to keep your words from ministering to others. Schedule monthly prayer meetings at home or on Zoom. Communicate with your prayer team regularly via email, so that they can print your prayers and praises and pray for you.
Writing is not only hard, but it’s a solitary experience. Staying in touch with a committed circle of prayer warriors and sharing your struggles – and triumphs – in your writing journey (or in ministry in general) will provide a strong foundation of support and much needed encouragement.
What does your revision process look like?
I like to physically print the pages and go through them word by word with a simple red pen. First, I’ll read it silently and look for breaks in the flow, questions that aren’t clear, or anything else where I see room for improvement. After that edit, I’ll type in the changes, print the pages again, and grab the red pen.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Several times.
Once I have a working draft that I’m satisfied with, I’ll print it out again; only this time, I read it out loud all the way through. I may pause briefly to make some quick notes, but my aim is to read it straight through to hear the flow and rhythm of the study. Finally, I’ll read it again silently and make further edits until I believe it is as good as it can be.
But I’m not finished. Then, I sleep on it and re-read it the next day (or a few days later). God usually shows me ways it can be improved even more. After those changes, I send it to my beta readers along with a document I put together called a “chapter evaluation form” and wait to read their suggestions, which always help to make the manuscript even better. After all, God describes his church as “one body; many parts.” We cannot do this alone!
Shadia Hrichi is a passionate Bible teacher, author, and speaker who stirs the hearts and minds of her audience through personal story, illustration, and her unwavering confidence in the authority of God’s Word. She holds a master’s in biblical and theological studies as well as a master’s in criminal justice. Shadia is the author of several Bible studies, including TAMAR, HAGAR, LEGION, and WORTHY OF LOVE, and is the recipient of the 2022 WCCW “God’s Word is Alive” Award.
In addition to writing and teaching, Shadia leads Online Bible Studies, and provides coaching for writers, theological review of manuscripts, and online workshops. Visit her Just For Writers page for details. Currently residing in northern California, Shadia often speaks at churches, conferences, women’s retreats, and loves to join women’s Bible study groups on Zoom. Each week, she makes it her aim to head to the beach for “a date with Jesus.” Visit https://www.shadiahrichi.com