Archive for April, 2005

Need Inspiration? Get A Deadline

April 12, 2005

Over the last few days, my desk has been loaded with books. I’ve cleared off everything else on my desk (mostly) and have five different Bibles open to the same passage of Scripture.  Actually I’ve been using more than five with two more over my shoulder on a small table. It’s been a remarkable experience for me and I’m enjoying the writing project.

I’m part of a team who are writing some material for a new Bible project targeted for men. I’ve got some specific sections to write and turn into my editor.  I’ve been wondering at times how I can create all of this material. Then I return to the philosophy that I mentioned a few days ago—I’m doing what I can do. I’ll admit I’ve had to pour on the writing the last few days to meet the deadline for this particular project.

I did not procrastinate—a common practice among writers. They sit around and wait until they are near the deadline then get an adrenaline rush which pushes the project to completion.  While at times in the past, I have operated in this mode, it’s not the case with this particular project. It has been on the fast track from the beginning.

I will confess there is some drive that happens from a deadline. Whether you self-impose that deadline on your schedule or an editor imposes the deadline, it’s good for inspiration. There isn’t time to casually answer email, surf the Internet for news or any of a number of other worthwhile distractions. There is only time to get the material written and out the door for the deadline.

Magazine work is excellent in the deadline area. The deadlines are generally short and they push you to use your time efficiently, write tightly and meet the editor’s needs for excellent materials. In general, books involve longer deadlines. You can’t simply crank out 70,000 words over a few days. Well, you can but it would be a challenge for these words to be coherent and have any excellence. I’ve written a few of those types of books over the years—so I know first hand. Book writing is much more of a plodding type of approach to complete the task. Writers select a certain amount of words or pages to complete each day to meet their deadline. This type of system works well in fiction or nonfiction.

Over the last few days, I’m grateful for the time in the Scriptures. I’m going to return to it in a few minutes.  I want to tell one more story about perfect timing that happened over the last few days. My wife and I were in Colorado Springs on Friday and Saturday for some family business. It was a busy but good trip (no time for writing). The weather men were talking about a change in the weather—typical springtime in the Rocky Mountains. It was 65 degrees on Saturday afternoon when we left. That evening, the temperature dramatically dropped and some places in Colorado Springs received almost two feet of snow. I’m delighted to have escaped that experience since last August when we moved to Arizona.

During the next few days, I’m going to be hitting the keyboard for this deadline. Then I jump on an airplane and head for New York City and the American Society of Journalists and Authors meetings. I’m anticipating some excellent learning experiences.  I’m moderating a panel on collaboration and ghost writing next Saturday at the Grand Hyatt in New York City. Then next Sunday I head to Asheville, NC and the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. I’m looking forward to teaching a number of hours and meeting individually with writers. I’ll have my laptop on the road. As I can I anticipate trying to tell you more about the Writing Life. But some times there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

Be On The Move

April 10, 2005

I’ve got a book on my shelf of writing books which I purchased several years ago,  but haven’t read.  Before I tell you about this particular book, you should know that for the last twenty years, I’ve purchased many how-to writing books—and read them.  Usually I read a writing book each month.

When I read these books, I use my yellow hi-lighter for sentences that catch my attention. I make notes of ideas and concepts which I carry into my writing life.  I’m actively reading these types of books. Then I follow the advice in these books. Whenever I teach and speak at conferences (like next week), I recommend these books to other writers and I encourage them to get the books.  Also I’m an advocate for the Writer’s Digest Book Club and have purchased many books from this source.

Whenever I attend a writer’s conference, I make a point to go to their bookstore and look over the various offerings.  Often I will purchase books in this setting, then get these books on my reading schedule. Writers are readers.

Yet one of these books I never read. I’m always trying to figure out why I didn’t read a particular book. Often that choice has to do with the title, the back cover or the general contents.  I purchased Confessions Of Shameless Self Promoters by Debbie Allen because I was intrigued with the content about marketing and networking. The book includes stories from 68 Marketing Gurus (according to the cover).

It was the word “shameless” which put off my reading. Self-promotion is a part of the writing life.  I love what Jenna Glatzer writes in her article, “I’m Not Shameless” saying: “If you’re going to be a professional writer, you have to believe that self-promotion is not a controversial, emotional act that you must approach with embarrassment or with egotistical bravado. It’s just a simple job requirement. Plumbers learn how to unclog drains. You learn how to get people to read what you write.”

To get published, you have to be out there with your writing.  First, you have to learn your craft (then keep learning your craft) and try different types of writing. If you are stuck writing a long novel (fiction), then I suggest you try some shorter magazine articles. If you are mired in a nonfiction book proposal, then balance with some shorter magazine articles where you can find some success (publication) while you continue to move ahead with your longer project. Or maybe you need to put some of your writing energy toward a children’s book.  Find some people to critique your work before you get it out to editors and agents. Freelance writing can be learned—but you have to work at it.

Often I meet writers who have been writing for years. They have a drawer full of attempts but haven’t put their work out to an agent or a publishing house.  Your material will never be published if it remains in your file drawer. You have to be on the move in this business. It means meeting editors and other writers. Learn in the craft, then faithfully submitting your best possible effort.

Years ago, I heard the late Paul Little speak about finding direction for life—and it applies to writers as well. He said, “God can’t steer a parked car.” We have to be on the move.


Do What You Can

April 8, 2005

“How do you get it all done?” It’s a common question which writers, editors and others in this business of publishing. The real answer is something rarely discussed. Whether you are new to the business of writing or have been here a long time, you may feel overwhelmed about the possibilities and unsure which way to jump. Welcome to our world.

The possibilities for a writer are endless: fiction, nonfiction, magazine articles, children’s books, thank you letters, resume writing, etc. It’s a matter of selecting which type of writing is best for you. Then you focus on that writing area and produce the best possible material. It will take time, skill and talent along with developing relationships with editors before you work at it long enough and hard enough that you get published. It’s the journey that I’ve taken and many others before me (and after me). You can do it. It’s a matter of keeping at it.

No one gets it all done. At one time, I thought I could get it done working more hours in the editorial offices. I discovered that such effort was rewarded with more responsibility and more work. The long hours cut short my family time and exercise time and anything else that should have been in my life for balance. My weight ballooned 40 pounds and my waist and pants size grew.

Several years ago, I was sitting in the publication board meeting. I was prepared to present a number of book projects for the various members of the board to consider. Several of these projects has been pushed back to later meetings and I was determined to get my shot at the presentations. Yet I didn’t feel good. I was sweating (more than usual) and felt a bit flush. I had tightness in my chest. In general, I ignored everything and managed to present my books.

On the way home, I called my wife and she encouraged me to drive to the doctor’s office—which I did. They wouldn’t let me drive to the hospital but they took me in an ambulance. The doctors believed I was having a heart attack and treated me for one. I spent the night in the intensive care unit and was released the next day.

Thankfully I didn’t have a heart attack but I had an inflammation around the sack of my heart. More than anything I think my immune system had worn down and I was too stressed and pressured. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I made some changes since that experience. I’ve lost those 40 pounds. I’ve continued to watch my diet and regularly devote time to exercise.

Most of all, I try to be realistic with myself—and understand that I’m doing all I can do. Each day when I leave my office there is a lot that doesn’t happen. Emails unanswered. Manuscripts unread. Mail unanswered. Phone calls not made. Paperwork unfiled. Manuscripts not written. (You get the idea—lots of things not done).

My focus is moving forward. Am I moving forward? Is my writing growing? Am I continuing to learn more about the business of writing and the craft of writing? Am I taking a bit of time for my wife and family? Am I taking care of myself through diet and exercise and regular spiritual nourishment? Normally I can answer yes to these questions and walk out of my office with that certainty.

Each of us have to do what we can do—and let the rest go until another day.

In his amazing Sermon on the Mount, Jesus captured these thoughts. Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Sharpen Your Observation Skills

April 6, 2005

In a few days, I’m traveling again and I love to take a few quiet moments in the airport and people watch. Do you? It’s always fascinating and I can always learn something from the observation experience.

Throughout my work day as an editor and writer, I’m fairly isolated. I have my computer screen and my office environment. Otherwise it’s my own projects and not a great deal of interaction with others.

What are you writing? Fiction? Then you need to sharpen your observation skills and build those observations into your characters. 

During the last few days on, I added an article from Laura Backes, Editor of The Children’s Insider about the Secrets of Great Characters.  Part of her article says, “If you want to write convincing characters, I think it’s essential that you observe children of different ages close up. Make that children who aren’t your own; kids you can look at objectively. See how they interact, how they treat each other, how they treat the adults in their lives. Grown-ups have different purposes to kids at various ages, and the adult characters in your books should fill their appropriate roles. Each year of growth brings dramatic changes, and the division between boys and girls in social situations gets wider by the month. As a writer, you can’t simply increase the age of your characters by a year without reflecting numerous transformations that year brings.”

Laura’s words are true for the children’s writer—but also true for fiction and nonfiction. Whatever type of writing you are doing today—it will usually involve storytelling.  The great magazine writing involves telling a good story and showing a “character” or a person to the reader in your writing. It’s a challenge for each of us in our work as writers and editors. One key is to work at learning more each day and continuing to grow in your writing. 

I’ve got more to say about this aspect of storytelling—but it will have to wait until another day. Soon. 

Why I Care About Voice Recognition

April 5, 2005

As an editor and writer, I know the importance of using my hands. Day after day I pound the keyboard and sometimes I even wear out the keyboard. The letter E on my current keyboard is about to disappear (the most frequent letter in the English alphabet if you follow such trivia—so I’m not surprised).

What would I do if I had something like carpal tunnel or strained my hands so I couldn’t use them? It’s a question I considered since I make my living using my hands on the keyboard.

Several years ago I purchased and tried Dragon’s Naturally Speaking—I believe version five. You have to spend a bit of time “training” the software to your particular voice. I spent a number of hours on the project but it didn’t work well and I spent more time correcting the errors than it seemed worth it.

One of my colleagues in the American Society of Journalists and Authors spent more effort on the program and it’s been a life saver for him and the use of his hands.

During the last few weeks, I interviewed Frank Peretti–in preparation for the April 12th release of Monster–with a release of 400,000 copies from Thomas Nelson (WestBow). You can watch for my full-length piece about Frank on later this month.  For several years Frank had tendonitis and has taken all sorts of measures to compensate–including using Dragon’s Naturally Speaking–Version 8. He told me the latest version (8) is quite accurate for voice recognition software. He has to make little corrections from what he does with it. Frank speaks highly of this particular program and how it’s helped ease the tension on his hands.

Do I have the answer to my questions about voice recognition software and the importance for writers and editors?

Not yet but I’ll keep reading and keep my eyes open. From my writing life, I know one thing for certain—there is always more to learn.  If you grow complacent and figure you’ve “arrived” and learned everything there is to be learned—then be concerned—very concerned. It’s a dangerous path and I’ve watched a number of writers fall into it.

Love Those Editors

April 4, 2005

Weeks ago, I received permission from Broadman & Holman to use an excerpt on of Len and Carolyn Goss’s excellent book, The Little Style Guide to Great Christian Writing and Publishing. If you don’t know Len Goss, he’s the editorial director of trade and academic books at Broadman & Holman. I met Len when he was the Editorial Director at Crossway Books and before that Len was a Zondervan editor. He’s been in publishing for many years and worked with many different authors. The style guide is valuable on a number of fronts and a highly recommended book for any Christian writer.

Flipping through the book, I selected the section on the Editor-Author Relationship. One sentence stood out to me: “Trust is at the core of the editor-author relationship.”

I’ve had good and bad experiences as an editor and as an author. For example, last year I was editing an author’s manuscript which was full of sentence fragments and poorly constructed sentences–that had no flow from my perspective. I spent a ton of effort to make things understandable and clear–but the author accused me of messing with his style, being over 40 (yes) and generally too heavy handed (I was following the publisher’s instructions to me). He screamed loud enough that I was booted off the job (compensated for my work–but not used). The book is now out and I wish it well.

Many other times, the editor has lifted my prose to a new standard through their work. They have clarified sentences, improved verbs and many other functions.  As someone who has been in this business a while, whenever you go through it, I’d encourage several actions:

  • Don’t fight every single change. Pick and choose your battles carefully. It’s a sign of wisdom and cooperation and positions you as an author who understands the process.
  • Celebrate and appreciate the editor and their hard work on your prose. In general, it’s a thankless job to be an editor—yet the editor is the person who monitors the quality of the end product—and ultimately stands for the reader. Their work in quality control is critical to the overall successful result of the product.

I know firsthand when the editor/ author relationship works, it’s a beautiful experience. The two people work in harmony for the best possible product. Love your editor. It’s an important connection.

A Well-Lived Life

April 3, 2005

Like much of the world over the last few days, I’ve been watching the television news and focused on Rome. While I’m not Roman Catholic, I’ve deeply admired the life of Pope John Paul II.

This morning I read my local newspaper and the first several sentences struck me, “John Paul II, the voyager pope who helped conquer communism and transformed the papacy with charisma and vigor, died Saturday night after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease that became a lesson to the world in humble suffering. ‘Our most beloved Holy Father has returned to the house of the Father,’ Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, a senior Vatican official, told pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.”

As I’ve watched the images of the Pope’s life, I’ve reflected on his deep spirituality and his commitment to Christ—yet also to reaching out to people and touching the crowd. He was uniquely the people’s pope.

The experience has made me reflect a bit on my own writing life and what sort of legacy I want to leave behind. Whether we know it or not, each of us are building this legacy one day at a time. Like each of us, I have many different aspects of my life—daily follower of Jesus, husband, father, editor, writer and teacher.

Whether I am reading my Bible and praying or writing a magazine article or a section in a book proposal or a chapter of a book, my personal aim is to create excellence and clear communication. I’ve tried to reflect this quality of excellence in my children’s books or my role as an acquisitions editor. Also I’m attempting to show excellence in my Right Writing News publication. This past week, another issue went out—over 20 pages of great how-to writing material. It’s only available to subscribers.  When you subscribe, the welcome message provides the link to my back issues—and the price is right—free.

No one knows the time of life in their hands. It’s fleeting and can end in an instant.  The actual details of our life is in the hands of God. How do we make our legacy a well-lived life? It’s one day at a time. One of the deepest spiritual men that I’ve had the opportunity to meet is Billy Graham.  About fourteen years ago, I worked several years for Mr. Graham. For many years, his daily focus has been making each action to please Jesus.  When he’s been interviewed on Larry King, Mr. Graham has said his desire is to hear the Lord one day say to him, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into my rest.”

May each of us leave such a legacy with our writing life.  

Low-Tech Appreciation

April 1, 2005

It’s rare these days—and it will help you stand out to your editor or fellow writer.  It’s low-tech and only involves a few minutes of your time. I’m talking about sending notes of appreciation or thank-you.

When I speak at a writer’s conference, a few people will take the time and energy to send notes. They are greatly appreciated. Or occasionally I get a note—but it’s pretty rare for someone who sits on the editor side of the desk to feel appreciated.  If you take this stance, it will stand out—in a positive way. You may not get a single response from the editor—but they will remember you and the next time you are in contact, your submission will receive a more careful reading—at least it would from me.

As best-selling author Harvey Mackay writes, “As readers of my first book, “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive,” know, I’m big on the short note too. In fact, a lesson in that book details how beneficial the personal note can be. In sales, never underestimate the importance of the personal gesture, and right at the top of the list of effective personal gestures sits the handwritten note.”

If you ever feel stuck on how to express thanks, I recommend Instant Thank You Letters. Use this link to see my review.

I explore this concept in greater depth here. As my friend and best-selling author of great books on this topic, Florence Isaacs, writes in her article, “In this age of impersonal technology, of computers and recorded voices on telephones, the hand-written note makes a human connection. And not just to the recipient, but to the writer as well. It feels good to express your sincere thoughts. When you put pen to paper, very important feelings slip out, feelings that you might ordinarily keep to yourself. This is especially true with sentiments such as, “I love you,” or “You’re important to me,” that may seem embarrassing to actually say.”

It might be just the perfect boost to your writing life today—a simple, handwritten thank you note.