#TellHisStory Guest Writer: Tyndale’s Sarah Atkinson

February 19, 2013 | 13 comments

During 2013, dozens of talented writers are joining me to cheer you on in your storytelling. These guest-writers will share a few helpful words with you right here every Tuesday night, to encourage you as you #TellHisStory. (Come back after midnight Wednesday to link up your God Story by clicking here. From now through Easter, we’re considering “The Lenten Journey,” though you are free to share ANY story that God lays on your heart.)

And now, I’m delighted to introduce you to the amazing Sarah Atkinson from Tyndale Momentum, the company publishing my book.

Meet Sarah.

“It can be tempting to disown the past only to celebrate the present self. What a fool I was! (But how clever I am now to see it.) And all the while the reader knows that previous selves are not so easily discarded.”
—Kidder/Todd, Good Prose

In writing about the Christian walk, we are always writing of transformation. We’re telling the truth about who we were before Christ and what God has done in us since. Yet in telling your story, consider whether you may be “disowning the past” at the expense of your voice by:

Overcompensating. “I was SO bad then. I’ll tell you about the things I did, but I’m not proud of them. In fact, I’m going to say that in every anecdote.” Here, the author is telling me about, not showing me, transformation. This interrupts the narrative flow and pulls me out of the moment.

Trying too hard to make the “previous self” comical. I love writers who are witty, but when stories are overly exaggerated, it can make an author sound like he or she was simply a clueless idiot before coming to Christ…when the truth is presumably a little more complicated than that.

Self-styling. We all know how to tell stories about how bad we were while making our present selves look good (But how clever I am now to see it). It’s possible to construct a present self who is just likeably messed-up enough that readers will know you’re not perfect (I sometimes go to the store in my pajamas!) while carefully sidestepping real authenticity.

Celebrate transformation in your life—but remember your “previous self” as you write. Would your words now have been helpful to her then? Or might you be discarding her too easily?

Sarah Atkinson is Senior Acquisitions
Editor for Tyndale Momentum, a nonfiction imprint of Tyndale House Publishers.
Find her on Twitter (@sclairatkinson)
or visit www.tyndalemomentum.com.


by | February 19, 2013 | 13 comments


  1. dukeslee

    Sarah, What a joy to have you here. You are so wise and have already been a tremendous encouragement in my writing journey.

    You know, I have found myself guilty of falling into all three of these traps at times. I will be asking myself this question: “Would your words now have been helpful to her then?” Thank you for that.

  2. Michele {A Life Surrendered}

    I do have a lot to learn. I love this practical advice. I need more of it. Thank you for opening your space, Jennifer, and thank you for your wisdom, Sarah.

    • dukeslee

      I have a lot to learn, too, Michele … And that’s part of the spirit of these writers’ tips. As writers, we’re ever-learning and changing. My writing continues to evolve.

  3. Denise J. Hughes

    I’ve been guilty of disowning my past, trying to forget it altogether. But it’s part of His redemption in my life. And these words by Sarah are so good to be thinking about, especially now as I write my story for the first time. I want to focus less on me ~ whether I’m talking about “me back then” or “me right now” ~ and focus more on Christ’s faithfulness and how He was with me even in the darkest moments.

    Thank you, Jennifer, for inviting others to tell His story.

    • dukeslee

      Cheering you on, Denise. I will be following your story. I confess: I didn’t get to as many #TellHisStory blogs last week as I would have liked, because I was working a few kinks out on this end. But I’m carving out time tomorrow to make some visits. I’m eager to follow your story all the way through.

      I’m working on my post tonight, and even as I write this little essay, I’m trying to remember Sarah’s words. It’s so easy to slip into self-styling.

  4. arrangedbygod

    I have tried very hard to adhere to these ideas when telling my story. One has to really be willing to be filtered by the Lord when telling hard stories, to make sure eyes point to God. Thank you, Sarah.

    • arrangedbygod

      I should say these guidelines are the main reason there are weeks between my posts! Trying to get the guile out of my words seems to take me awhile. ~Shannon

      • dukeslee

        Shannon … I hear you, truly. Seriously though? I post anyway. Because I’d truly never publish a thing if I was really satisfied. I tend to second-guess almost every.single.thing that I write. Is this normal? GAH!

  5. Michelle DeRusha

    Sarah, it’s so great to see you here! And your advice is spot-on. I know I fall prey to all three of these traps – I think it’s easy to do, especially in memoir writing. But your question is key: would your words now be helpful to your previous self back then? You’ve got me thinking about that, girl!

    {Jennifer, thanks for featuring Sarah here! xxoo}

  6. Dolly@Soulstops

    Thank you, Sarah…I will try to remember whether what I write is helpful to my “previous self”…I struggle to share my story without implicating others…Thank you, Jennifer 🙂

  7. Elise Daly Parker

    Excellent writing workshop. So want to remember the me who was. Thank you!

  8. bluecottonmemory

    The writing teacher in my loves “shop” talk – and how to write real and better. “not showing me, transformation” – If I had had a stamp that said “Show! Don’t Tell” – I would have saved buckets of ink! Billy Graham said that if you want to change someone’s life, tell a story. Last weekend, one of my younger sons friends was sent away by his mother. Instead of telling her it was a poor decision – I told her my story of my son that I refused to send away, kick out and love through the challenge. Her son’s on his way home now:) I love your writing advice. It makes me wish I were teaching again


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