"Writing for the Soul," Jerry B. Jenkins

Pros: Inspirational, frank, entertaining, refreshing
Cons: Perhaps slightly rambling
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of F+W Publications/Writer’s Digest Books
Visit Jerry Jenkins’ website

Jerry B. Jenkins is the well-known author of the “Left Behind” novels–the explosive best-selling works of Christian fiction that took the nation by surprise–and “Writing for the Soul” is his take on inspirational writing as a career and calling.

To be perfectly up front about where I’m coming from, I haven’t read the “Left Behind” novels and I’m not religious, nor do I tend to read much in the way of inspirational writing. Perhaps this will make it clear that when I say “Writing for the Soul” is a lovely and enjoyable read that could teach any up-and-coming writer a thing or two, I’m not speaking as a fan or simply agreeing with Jenkins’ religious ideals–I’m speaking as a reader and writer who has had the privilege to review dozens of books on writing.

Jenkins’ religious convictions certainly permeate his manuscript; he is unashamed of his beliefs, and his desire to share them with others is the result of a moving personal journey that he also shares within these pages. However, Jenkins also possesses a wry, thoughtful tone and a realistic outlook on life that prevents this outreach from pushing or preaching. I never felt excluded in any way as a non-believer, nor did I feel that Jenkins’ advice and words had no relevance to me and my experience. I can’t speak for everyone obviously, but my feeling is that this book would be perfectly useful and interesting to folks of any religion (or none at all).

“Writing for the Soul” is part memoir and part instruction to would-be writers. Much of the instruction is relevant to writers aiming for any market, while some pertains specifically to inspirational or religious writing. The book occasionally strays a little close to rambling back and forth between these focuses for my taste, but I think it’s such a close call that this will rely more on the individual reader’s preferences and mood. I felt this more toward the beginning of the book; by the end I simply enjoyed the gentle back-and-forth of the stories, insights, and suggestions. This is a relaxing, enjoyable read, perfect for a chilly Autumn evening.

Jerry Jenkins is much more than the author of the “Left Behind” novels, although you’d hardly know that to hear people talk about him these days! He has authored many books (fiction and non-), and has extensive experience as an editor and publisher. It is this latter experience that makes his advice particularly insightful and useful to would-be authors. He understands the common mistakes that would-be authors of inspirational material tend to make (such as being overtly preachy!) and offers pointed advice to help them avoid such pitfalls. As a non-religious reader I particularly found myself nodding at his advice; the kinds of things he advises against are exactly the sorts of writing that put me off when I read inspirational material. The fact that I found his book so enjoyable, and frankly uplifting, merely proves his point.

He talks about nuts-and-bolts stuff (using cliffhangers, and how that both has and hasn’t worked in his own material), using research to aid in the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief, plotting, point of view, and more. As I said earlier, it’s something of a memoir’s-eye view, heavily colored by his own experiences and opinions, rather than a dry instructional book. The most interesting material however, and the material most different from that in other books, is that aimed at inspirational writers (as the title of the book might indicate). Whether you want to know what really annoys the editors at inspirational publishing houses (right down to some of the inside jokes they toss around) or if there’s a place for coarse language in inspirational fiction, it’s in here somewhere.

Whether you want to know more about Jerry Jenkins the best-selling author or Jerry Jenkins the Christian, learn about breaking into the inspirational market, or become a better writer in general, “Writing for the Soul” makes a wonderful read. If you’re looking for an uplifting account of a life that balances hard work and sacrifice with conviction and focus, “Writing for the Soul” could certainly inspire you.

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