Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Writing for Guideposts by B.J. Taylor

Last week on Writer’s Journey Wednesday, B.J. Taylor shared tips on making a writer’s group work. She joins us again today to talk about writing for Guideposts. Welcome, B.J.!

Writing for Guideposts

Writing for Guideposts had been my dream for 20 years, ever since I began reading the small-enough-to-tuck-in-your-purse magazine filled with inspirational stories. I pulled it out in doctor’s offices, at the car wash, even when getting a pedicure. One time I dropped it in the water swirling around my feet and had to call customer service to get a new one.

I wanted to be in that magazine! So I crafted an entry for the Guideposts Writers Workshop. They run a contest every other year (2010 is a contest year) and ask for stories written in first-person. Hundreds submit, and they choose 15 people to come to Rye, New York. They whisk you there for five days of intensive training, all expenses paid.

Here are some of the things I have learned since winning a spot in that Writers Workshop in 2004:

Study the Magazine There is no better way to learn what a magazine wants than by reading what they publish. Check out the Table of Contents. Notice the headings above the story title? See if your manuscript can fit into one of those and study different issues with stories like that.

Show, Don’t Tell I can’t emphasize this enough. Can a reader visualize your story? Can she “see” the events happening through well-crafted scenes? Can he feel the drama as you describe an intense event? Consider the five senses and put as many into your story as possible using the techniques of show, don’t tell.

Conflict and Change There must be conflict, otherwise, why would the reader keep reading? The story must contain struggles that lead the reader down a path toward change and resolution.

Length Does Matter Focus on one specific event. Tailor your manuscript to 1500 words. For an entry into the contest, they allow you a bit more, but try to write tight.

Wrap it Up With a Shiny Bow Take a look at the endings of published stories. There is usually a turnaround just before a satisfying, and often cheerful, ending. Many times there is a takeaway that resonates with the reader. She feels good after reading your story, and often has a shift in attitude or a new way of thinking.

Get Help From Others Have someone who subscribes to Guideposts read your entry. Does it sound like a story Guideposts would publish? Run it by your critique group members and listen to their feedback.

FYI: Watch for an upcoming issue of Guideposts for details on this year’s contest. And if you attend the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference this March, come to my class. I’ll divulge even more nuggets of wisdom to help you create a winning Guideposts story. Best wishes, and don’t give up! It took me eight years before getting accepted. :-)

B.J. Taylor is an award-winning author and a special correspondent/writer for Guideposts and Angels on Earth. Her publication credits include contributions to John Gray’s Mars and Venus in Love, twenty stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and many other magazines and newspapers including Writer’s Digest, Romantic Homes, Victorian Homes, and Lexus. She was chosen as one of 15 writers invited to attend Guideposts Writer’s Workshop in Rye, New York in October, 2004, and is a faculty member at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference where she speaks on writing inspirational stories. B.J. belongs to three writers’ groups: two face-to-face and one online. She is working on her second novel in a three-book series, which is all about dogs and the people who love them (B.J. calls it dog-lit). She lives in Southern California with her husband, dog Rex, cats Red, Diamond and Bear, and a Beta fish named Fish Face.

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  1. Enjoyed the post, B.J. I just got a permission request from Elizabeth Gold for a story to be in their Christmas book this Fall. I have written a lot for the book division, and for Angels on Earth.

  2. Congratulations,Renie! That's quite an accomplishment. I'll watch for your byline. Keep on writing (and submitting). Best, B.J.

  3. I entered the contest this year and have been holding out hope that I might be one of those chosen. Will they publish the names of the winners? Perhaps they have and I missed it?

    1. Jess, 2014 is another contest year and I hope you are submitting again. It took me eight years before I was accepted, so please do not give up. (P.S. I submitted the same story, just tweaked it and made it better each time!) Best wishes!

  4. Jess, they just released the names of the winners on their blog. Here's the link:

  5. I entered this contest also. I thought that my story was inspirational but I guess the editors didn't. It was about a vision I had of my mother after her death and how it helped me from feeling guilt about how I sometimes treated her in my youth.

    Maybe they didn't believe the story was reak, but it was true.

    1. Lorraine, 2014 is another contest year. Rework that story for "Angels on Earth" (the sister magazine to Guideposts). It might have a better chance there. Either way, the story should contain all of the elements talked about above. And hey, don't give up! It doesn't always happen the first time around...keep trying!
      Best, B.J.

  6. Don't throw away your story just because it didn't win. There's a reason God laid that story on your heart and you may be able to use it in another venue. For example, there are many online devotional sites looking for submissions. is one of those sites. Here's a link to their writing guidelines:

    1. Angie,
      So very true! And Chicken Soup for the Soul loves inspirational stories as well. Another note: 2014 is another contest year for the Guideposts Writers Workshop. Keep submitting...don't give up!
      Best regards,


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