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.)