Monday, November 23, 2020

Two Words that Hamper a Writer’s Gratitude

 By Joshua J. Masters

 

This is the season of gratitude, a time when authors snuggle up by the fire with their laptops and remind themselves to be thankful for edits and difficult critiques because, as unpleasant as they may be, they make us better writers.

For Christian authors, it’s impossible for our work to have lasting impact if it’s born from bitterness or pride. Gratitude is the nonnegotiable starting point for serving God in our craft.

How many of us have stopped writing in the middle of a sentence, agonizing in our quest for the perfect word? We understand the importance and the power of using the right words. But many of us consistently overuse two words that are the enemy of gratitude and stunt our growth as followers of Christ—two words we should remove from our vocabulary if we want to write with a grateful heart. Those words are have to.


“I have to work on my book.”
“I have to edit my first chapter.”
“I have to prepare for that writing conference.”
“I have to read my Bible.”
“I have to go watch my kid play a tree in a fourth-grade production of Winter Celebrations and grumble about how it used to be called The Christmas Extravaganza.”
 

Most of the time we say, “I have to,” we should actually be saying, “I get to…” or “I choose to...”

If we’re honest, there aren’t that many true have to situations in our lives. But using that phrase reveals our attitude toward our writing, our relationships, and the circumstances of our lives.


I GET TO…

The blessings we count as burdens in our writing life are not have to moments, they’re our get to moments. Remembering that is a great way to change our attitude, which leads to deeper personal contentment and a more fulfilling career as a writer.

Yes, sometimes the good things in our lives can be inconvenient, but we should avoid using the words “I have to” or the so-called inconvenient will transform into bitterness. Instead, we should use the words “I get to.”

“I get to work on the book God has given me.”
“I get to edit the first chapter God gave me.”
“I get to prepare for that writing conference God is allowing me to go experience.”
“I get to read my Bible and build my relationship with God.”
“I get to see my child play the actual rock in their annual Plymouth Rock pageant.”

 See the difference? When we perceive our blessings as obligations, we stop being thankful. That impacts our spiritual growth and our writing, but when we reframe our words to reflect a heart of gratitude, our chores feel more like a life purpose.

I CHOOSE TO…

There’s another way we misuse those two forbidden words. We use them to cover the unhealthy (or at the very least, unproductive) choices we make, the things that impede our writing career and threaten our relationships. Those moments are rarely I have to decisions either. They’re I choose to decisions.

We prefer to say, “I have to,” because it justifies our behavior. We can feel better about a lack of productivity if we frame it as a cosmic happenstance rather than our own choices, but most of the time we’re misleading ourselves.


It’s not, “I have to watch Grey’s Anatomy and then I’ll get to my writing.”

It’s, “I choose to watch Grey’s Anatomy instead of writing.”


It’s not, “I have to go out with my friends. I’ll edit this weekend.”

It’s, “I’m choosing to go out with my friends. The editing can wait.”


It’s not, “I have to hit my word count. I don’t have time to read the Bible and pray today.”

It’s, “I’m choosing to make my writing a bigger priority than my quiet time with God.”


Some of those choices may be appropriate occasionally, but be honest about them. Don’t trick yourself into believing you’re at the mercy of circumstance when you’re really making a choice.


I HAVE TO…

There are real have to circumstances in our lives, and we should honor them. When the phone rings in the middle of the night and you rush to the ICU because there’s been an accident, that’s a have to situation. But don’t minimize those moments by applying the words to something trivial like watching a television drama.

Saying the words, “I have to,” is usually a crutch. We use them to undermine the blessings in our lives and avoid taking responsibility for our less-than-healthy decisions.

But if we want to grow in Christ, live a life of gratitude, and find meaning in the gift He’s given us to write, we must embrace our blessings and take responsibility for our choices.

If God called you to be a writer, He wants to do incredible things in your life. He wants to reveal His encouraging truth in and through you. We partner best with God when we’re willing to be as truthful as possible in that relationship too.

Stop saying, “I have to,” when you should use the more honest, “I get to,” or “I choose to.”

Then watch how God transforms both your perspective and your writing. Gratitude begins with the words we use so choose the words you say as carefully as the ones you write.


(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net, David Castillo Dominici, and Stuart Miles.)


Joshua J. Masters is a pastor, author, and speaker. He’s been featured on CBN Television, HIS Radio, and the Light Radio Network. Josh is the author of the Serious Writer Book of the Decade finalist,  American Psalms: Prayers for the Christian Patriot and is a contributing author for Feed Your Soul with the Word of God. Josh has also worked as an actor and crew member in the film industry (SAG/AFTRA) and continues to have a passion for film. He lives with his wife, Gina, and Franklin the Pup outside Greenville, South Carolina where he serves as a speaking and care pastor.

Josh would love to connect with you on his website, https://www.joshuajmasters.com or engage with you on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.



 

 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Don’t Lose Your Reader


By Andrea Merrell

The conversation with my husband was going well until I switched gears in the middle. I knew exactly what I was talking about and the point I was trying to make. He had no clue. As I went back to the original subject, he was still stuck on my temporary rabbit trail. His expression clearly said, “You lost me.”

The problem was waffle vs. spaghetti. While my thoughts traveled all over the place like a plate of spaghetti, his were stuck in the last box of his waffle brain. 

To better explain, a woman’s mind resembles a plate of spaghetti. Just as each piece of pasta touches or intertwines with the others, so does a woman’s thoughts. Because of this, she can jump from one subject to an entirely unrelated one and back, with five rabbit trails in between, and never miss a beat. Men have a hard time keeping up. To women, it’s normal. It’s the way we’re wired. To men, it's exhausting.

As Bill and Pam Farrel put it in their book Men Are Like Waffles—Women Are Like Spaghetti:

The typical man lives in one box at a time and one box only. When a man is at work, he is at work. When he is in the garage tinkering around, he is in the garage tinkering. When he is watching TV, he is simply watching TV. That is why he looks as though he is in a trance and can ignore everything else going on around him.


It can be the same for our readers—whether men or women, waffles or spaghetti—especially in fiction. We know our story well. We know what’s going on, who’s who, and what’s going to happen. We are well acquainted with our characters. We know their thoughts, habits, fears, and quirks. Not so with our readers. We have to paint the picture for them so they don’t get lost.

We can lose our readers in a number of ways:

  • Too much backstory
  • Telling, not showing
  • Events not unfolding in chronological order
  • Dialogue issues (no speaker beats or tags)
  • POV issues (point of view)

We need to write in such a way that our readers can follow, understand, and remember. This is why critique groups, beta readers, and editors are so important. They can easily spot problems in our story that we can’t see.

As an example, I’ve had beta readers tell me that something my protagonist did or said seemed out of character for her. Or that I should flesh-out my characters more. They needed to know more about them. Sometimes I had to ratchet up the conflict or stop taking rabbit trails that led them away from the story. One of the best pieces of advice was avoiding too much backstory.

As an editor, one of the biggest problems I see in manuscripts is POV not being established immediately in a chapter or scene. When I have to read several paragraphs before I know whose head I’m in, it pulls me out of the story. The same thing happens when I don’t know who is speaking.


All these problems can be easily fixed as we learn, grow, and perfect our skills. So whether you have a spaghetti or waffle brain, make sure your words unfold in such a way that you never lose your reader.






(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net, num_skyman, and Suat Eman.)






Monday, October 26, 2020

Is Your Writing W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L?

 

By Katy Kauffman

 

“Wonderful” sticks to the heart as much as it does to the mind. Memories of fun-filled travels, time with family and friends, and special moments make a home within us forever. Books can do that too.

Wonderful happens when a book speaks to us about a heartfelt need, when it answers a plaguing question or solves a challenging problem, when it refreshes ours spirits and reminds us that hope is alive and God is with us.

Use this acronym as a checklist to make your writing even more wonderful.


W – Write from the heart.

 

Let the words flow from within. Bring out the life experiences that have shaped you, and share in your nonfiction book or novel the lessons that have influenced who you are and how you live. Write from a passion for your subject and a compassion for your readers.

 

O – Organize your thoughts into a straight line.

 

A meandering walk in the woods is inviting on a bright, sunny day. But a book that meanders through unrelated or semi-related thoughts will bring gloomy clouds and send a reader packing. Don’t make it hard on your reader to follow your flow of thought.  

 

N – Never save the best for last.

 

Give your reader a reason to read every chapter. Even the preface. I put brownies in the lead-in of my preface, and my friends haven’t forgotten it. While most books may put their best principles or scenes at the end, spread your best material throughout the book, so that every page is turned and every line is read.  

 

D – Develop an encouraging voice.

 

Some of the most captivating books I’ve read had the conversational voice of a friend. As the authors shared insights and stories from their lives, I felt like I was getting to know them, and that developed trust. Talk to the reader as to an encouraging friend, not a nagging one.

 

E – Edit distractions and detours.

 

The oomph factor dramatically increases in any book when the author whittles away distracting paragraphs and unnecessary detours. Editors and agents will love a book that stays on track, and so will readers.

 

R – Read your writing aloud before submitting it.

 

I wish I had done this for two of my books, but fortunately I could edit the book after I read the proof. If you’re shy about reading your work in front of others, cozy up in a chair in an isolated room, and read your book aloud. You’re more likely to catch missing words or typos than if you only read the book silently.

 

F – Fill your reader’s heart with takeaway.

 

This puts the wonder in wonderful. What can the reader take away from your book that will stay with them long after they’ve read it? If you’re writing Christian living books or Bible studies, make sure each of your chapters is filled with a takeaway that helps readers walk closer to God. If you’re writing devotions, use the main point of your story or illustration in your ending paragraphs. If you’re crafting a work of fiction, create characters and struggles that readers can relate to and learn from. Perhaps the story will reveal a missing piece of life’s puzzle and bring them wisdom, hope, or freedom.

 

U – Use words that deliver punch, zip, and wow.

 

Don’t just look at a word, but “listen” to it. When you say it to yourself, do you hear blah or hurrah? Choose words that grab the reader’s attention—vivid nouns and verbs that describe an idea, a scene, or an action you want the reader to take.  

 

How do your words sound to your inner reader’s ear? Do they stir you to action or put you to sleep? Polish your wonderful factor by infusing your writing with picturesque words and the best phrasing. Choose wording that evokes an emotional response from your reader.     

 

L – Launch the reader’s interest with an intriguing title.

 

Create an attention-grabbing title that makes potential readers stop and investigate. Launch their interest by using a slant from your book in your title. Can you build on a word picture from your book, like gardening, running, or painting? Is there some call to action that is a common thread in every chapter? Using your book’s slant in your title will help it to stand out from others like it and more readily grab readers’ attention.  

 

What makes a book absolutely wonderful to you? Tell us about those wonder-working qualities in the comments below, and keep your writing wonderful!


(Photo courtesy of photos-public-domain.com.) 


TWEETABLE

Katy Kauffman via @KatyKauffman28 explains how to make our writing W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L. (Click to tweet.)

 

 

Katy Kauffman is an award-winning author, an editor of Refresh Bible Study Magazine, and a co-founder of Lighthouse Bible Studies. She loves connecting with writers and working alongside them in compilations, such as Feed Your Soul with the Word of God, Collection 1 which is a 2020 Selah Awards finalist. She recently started The Lighthouse Connection, a monthly writers’ newsletter including writing tips, inspiration to write, and news of submission opportunities.

 

In addition to online magazines, Katy’s writing can be found at CBN.com, thoughts-about-God.com, and three blogs on writing. She loves to spend time with family and friends, take acrylic painting classes online, and do yard work in the morning sun. Connect with her at her blog, Winning the Victory, and on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Kill All the Adjectives

By Denise Loock

 

One Mark Twain quote that pops up at almost every writers’ conference I attend is “when you catch an adjective, kill it.” Seasoned writers pass on this wisdom because less-experienced writers often consider a plethora of adjectives a sign of masterful description. For example: John was mesmerized by the daffodil-yellow polka-dot dress Allison wore, which flattered her willowy figure and her wavy chestnut-brown shoulder-length hair.


Let’s be clear. No one thinks like that, and no one talks like that either. But the other extreme—no adjectives—isn’t a wise choice either. In fact, Mark Twain himself clarified his position on adjectives: “No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.”[1]


And that’s what writers need to master—the appropriate use of adjectives. Here are four guidelines for using adjectives that add value, not clutter, to a sentence.


  • Adjectives modify words, which means they limit or qualify meaning. Use an adjective to add specificity (exhaust pipe) or to tell us something significant about a character (bloodshot eyes). Don’t use them to add degree or emphasis (long pipe; serious illness).


  • One memorable adjective is usually more effective than two or three forgettable ones, which is why Twain advised writers to keep adjectives “wide apart.” Consider this sentence from Leif Enger’s novel Virgil Wander: “At the foot of the city pier stood a threadbare stranger.”[2] Enger uses two adjectives. City tells us both the location of the pier and its type. You could argue that city is an unnecessary adjective, especially if the author has established setting elsewhere. But threadbare—that piques our interest, doesn’t it?


  • You don’t have to use uncommon adjectives to impress readers. Familiar is often better. Here’s another Enger sentence: “He had a hundred merry crinkles at his eyes and a long-haul sadness in his shoulders.” The author tells us a lot of this character’s story in one sentence, doesn’t he? And the three adjectives he uses—hundred, merry, and long-haul—are simple yet powerful. No scholarly vocabulary necessary.

 

  • Effective nouns and verbs will reduce the need to use adjectives. Another sentence from Enger: “His face seemed to collapse, then refill.” Similarly, comparisons and contrasts reduce the need for adjectives. You don’t need to insert poor to convey poverty: Other boys talked about their newest Xbox game. Jonas had never seen an Xbox.

Twain himself didn’t always follow his adjective advice. No writer does, so don’t beat yourself up. Here’s a sentence from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: “When Tom reached the little isolated frame school-house, he strode in briskly, with the manner of one who had come with all honest speed.” Judge the adjectives he used with school-house. Which ones would you eliminate?


Bottom line: use a deft hand with adjectives. As Twain said elsewhere, “As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.”[3] Chances are, the more striking you do, the more effective the remaining adjectives will be.

 


[1] “Letter to D. W. Bowser,” 20 March 1880, twainquotes.com.

[2]  Leif Enger, Virgil Wander (New York: Grove Press, 2018), 8–9, 100.

[3]  from Pudd’nhead Wilson, epigraph for Chapter XI.


(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and 89 Studio.)


TWEETABLE

Denise Loock via @DLoock gives advice on using a deft hand with adjectives. (Click to tweet.)


Denise Loock is a writer, editor, and speaker. She is the editor for The Journey Christian Newspaper, which reaches over 60,000 online and print readers. As an assistant editor, she helps Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas produce high quality, engaging inspirational books. She accepts freelance editing projects too. Contact her at denise@journeychristiannews.com or info@digdeeperdevotions.com

 





Monday, September 28, 2020

Time to Revise Your Manuscript

 By Henry McLaughlin


Writer, we’re coming toward the end of preparing our manuscript for submission or self-publishing. What now?

Revise—Again

It’s time to write the third draft. Or maybe yours is a higher number. Doesn’t matter how many drafts you make to get to this point. My award-winning novel, Journey to Riverbend, went through eight drafts before winning its award. And then it went through one more draft through the publisher.

The key to revising is recognizing, as Jerry B. Jenkins puts it, when all we’re doing is changing it, we’re not making it better. 

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for knowing when we’ve reached this point. The moment comes as a realization after prayer and working with others, we trust we’ve done the best we can. And we trust God to do the rest.

This revision is when we incorporate the comments and feedback from our beta readers into the manuscript.

Please don’t see this as merely tweaking. We enter this revision with a commitment to rewrite as much as we need to. This is where we kill any darlings that escaped the earlier drafts. We tighten our writing, cutting extraneous words—yes, we’ll still find them. And cutting or tightening scenes, chapters, characters, and anything else that hinders our story.

The first thing to do is read all the comments and answers from our beta readers. When we see criticism, we need to remember—we asked for it. They took the time and made the effort to help us. We need to respect that by giving close attention to their efforts. Identify areas where the beta readers agree on something. If two out of three of my readers tell me there’s a problem in a specific area, I fix it. If I’m still not sure, I may ask them to re-read such a section to clarify that I got it.

Helpful Resources

Self-editing is not something we do in a vacuum. We have critique groups and beta readers to help us. We also have the expertise of other authors and editors. There are conferences, workshops, and webinars.  

And there are books. The best things about books is they’re always available at our desk in print or e-book. I prefer print for highlighting and margin notes. And their batteries don’t give out when I need them most. 

Three I recommend are:

  • Revision and Self-Editing for Publication (2nd Edition) by James Scott Bell. Writer’s Digest, 2012. This book gives excellent tools and advice for taking our first draft to finished manuscript worthy of publishing.

  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers [2nd Edition) by Renni Browne and Dave King. Harper Collins, 2004. In this book two professional editors teach writers how to apply editing techniques to turn their manuscripts. A valuable resource that never seems dated.

  • Troubleshooting Your Novel by Steven James. Writer’s Digest, 2016. This book provides practical instruction that targets the problem areas and weak spots in our stories.

What other resources have you found helpful in self-editing your work?

After we complete this process, we’ve probably done all we can to prepare our manuscript. But I would argue we’re not done yet. In my next post, we’ll talk about hiring a professional editor. 


(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stuart Miles.)


TWEETABLE

Henry McLaughlin via @RiverBendSagas gives us tips on when and how to revise our manuscript. (Click to tweet.)


Tagged as “one to watch” by Publishers Weekly, award-winning author Henry McLaughlin takes his readers on adventures into the hearts and souls of his characters as they battle inner conflicts while seeking to bring restoration and justice in a dark world. His writing explores these themes of restoration, reconciliation, and redemption.

Besides his writing, Henry treasures working with other writers and helping them on their own writing journeys. He is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. He regularly teaches at conferences and workshops, leads writing groups, edits, and mentors and coaches.

Visit him at http://www.henrymclaughlin.org.



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