If you’re writing nonfiction, you will definitely need a Table of Contents (TOC). If your book is fiction, you may or may not include one.
You can prepare a TOC a couple of ways. While Microsoft Word does offer an automated feature, it can be a bit cumbersome to use if you don’t understand how to add style tags and use them on chapter titles. (I will be making a video on style tags next, and will also then show how to build a TOC this way.)
For now, if you want to not be overly tech-y and still get the job done without jumping back and forth in your manuscript, you can make use of the “Split Screen” feature. After the copyright page (or the dedication page if you included one), insert a page break, start at the top line and type “Contents” or “Table of Contents.” Insert a return. Place your cursor where you want to type the next entry that appears in the book (such as Acknowledgements, Introduction, Prologue, or Chapter 1, along with the name of the chapter if it has one).
Now you need to split the screen. Navigate to the “View” tab. On that ribbon, you’ll see a button about halfway across that says “Split.” If you click that, a bar will appear that splits your screen.
The split screen allows you to scroll in one part of the screen while leaving the other part in place. Thus, you can keep the TOC page intact to keep typing and adding to while you scroll through your manuscript, stopping at each chapter and including the chapter title. This also helps make sure your TOC matches the actual titles in the manuscript itself. (I can’t begin to tell you how many times these don’t match in books I’ve proofread.)
So keep the top window intact and viewing the TOC page, while you use the bottom window to scroll through the document. Scroll to the start of the first item that should go in your TOC (as I have below, Acknowledgements). Type the title into your TOC. Start the next line in the TOC, and drop to the bottom screen and continue to scroll until you have included all the front matter pieces and all the chapters. Also include any back matter pieces (such as an Index, Bibliography, etc.).
When you’re finished, hit that same button (which now says “Remove Split”), and the split will disappear.
You can include the page numbers from the manuscript in your TOC as you go, or you can include only the chapter titles. (Realize that page numbers really mean nothing because when the book is typeset, the page numbers will need to be readjusted to match the actual book pages.) But if you want your manuscript TOC to reflect the page numbers in the manuscript, just include the numbers from each page right after each TOC entry. Place your cursor in the bottom half of the screen, then read which page number you’re on by looking at the bottom left. This will tell you which page. In the photo below, the bottom half of the screen is page 10, so I put the number 10 in my TOC page beside that chapter name. (You have to be sure that your cursor is in that bottom half of the screen to give you the correct page number.)
There you have it! After your TOC is completed, do another page break before the next page (which would be the first entry in your TOC) and you’re good to go.
Watch next time for an understanding of the various other front matter pieces you can include and the differences among them. And watch for notification of the style tagging video, soon to come!
(This article, without visuals, originally appeared in The Christian Communicator magazine.)
I am recently inspired by a book that I randomly picked up in a dusty resale shop in Marion, Indiana. You know how it goes — at least if you’re a reader or writer — the first stop is in the back where castoffs unsold at garage sales or lugged from overflowing home libraries rest precariously on makeshift bookshelves or in unorganized piles.
I’m usually looking for classics, memoirs, or books about writing, although our own overflowing bookshelves force me to try to be selective. But that day, I found a treasure. In Season and Outis a book by John Leax, my writing professor from Houghton College, whom I’ve written about before. A bonus is that the lovely illustrations are by a dear family friend, Roselyn Danner, now in heaven.
The book is simple, beautiful, lyrical. Divided into four seasons beginning with summer, the entries are dated and chronicle Dr. Leax’s woodcutting, vegetable gardening, teaching, and small town living. This passage, in particular, resonated with me:
Last night while walking Poon, I suddenly realized I had walked past nine houses within one quarter mile and did not know the occupants of any of them. I can rationalize my ignorance. The generation gap accounts for part of it, most of the houses are occupied by elderly couples or widows who keep to themselves. The cultural gap figures in it too; college English profs are not easily assimilated into the daily life of a small rural town. And the inevitable knowledge gap between old and new residents finishes it off; I’ve only been in this town nine years — I’ll never possess the local knowledge of those who go back generations.
(In Season and Out, Zondervan, 1985, p. 41)
My husband and I take a twilight walk. We’ve been in this tiny country town for almost exactly three years, slowly remodeling our 110-year-old house. We don’t know most of the 986 occupants of Swayzee. Fortunately, we do know most of our direct neighbors along our street, but any conversation quickly uncovers the truth that no matter how long we live here, we will always be newcomers who will “never possess the local knowledge of those who go back generations.” Folks here grew up together, went to school together, and lived around one another as they married, had children, worked, and grew older.
As much as I love our small town, I mourn the boarded-up and vacant buildings, the cafe someone bought to remodel and never finished, the houses unkempt or uncared for, the closed-up hardware store still full of supplies, the empty downtown building that fell (literally fell) because of neglect. At one time, this was a vibrant town — now the biggest news is that we watch a field outside of town slowly transform into a Dollar General.
But there is splendor here, splendor in the ordinary. The open fields, the sunsets, people’s care for one another, the annual rummage sales, the tractor day parade, the parks, the elementary school kids lugging their backpacks, the fresh wind bringing the scent of a new harvest.
Dr. Leax’s book inspired me to spend my summer writing about my small town, our butterfly gardens, our slow remodeling progress, our attempt at growing vegetables, my preparation for fall classes — all of which he touches on. I want to celebrate my very ordinary life, capturing its splendor as best I can.
I am not trying to get this published. I am writing to sharpen my skills and voice, to keep doing what I teach my students to do.
I owe it to my old prof, forty years later. Once again, Dr. Leax, thank you for your inspiration.
As I noted in this previous post, the key must-haves in your manuscript include your title page, your copyright page, and your Table of Contents (standard in nonfiction; optional in fiction). That previous post covered creating your title page; now let’s talk about creating the copyright page.
If it doesn’t, navigate to the Insert tab, and on the far right of that ribbon is the Symbol button. Click on the down arrow. That will open a series of possible symbols. (you can actually see that the copyright symbol for me is right there on the second row. I could just click and it would insert).
If you don’t see the copyright symbol there, click on More Symbols. That will bring up another couple menus. Click on Special Characters, and then the copyright symbol.
After you have entered that symbol, put the current year and your name, like this:
One quick note: Don’t put this information on the cover or title page. It is understood in the industry that the very fact that you created this piece protects it with copyright. You need not worry about someone stealing your work if you don’t put a copyright symbol on the cover page (in fact, if you DO put it there, you’re going to look like an amateur—like you don’t really understand the industry. Don’t do that).
Instead, I’m having you create this copyright page for your manuscript because the publishing house will add it anyway, but you can add the material for the sources you used.
For example, on this copyright page you include the copyright lines of material from which you have (or obtained) permission to quote or use artwork or illustrations (this could be any number of sources depending on what you’re writing). Often, for Christian writers, this may include Bible versions. And while you don’t need to request permission to quote verses from Bibles, you still need to include the copyright lines of all the Bible versions you quote throughout the text.
As you wrote your document, you kept track of your source(s) for Bible verses—that is, what Bible version you were quoting from (you did, didn’t you?). Perhaps you just typed the verses from your well-worn Bible. Or maybe you quoted from several different Bible versions because you liked the nuances of the way various versions translate your key verses.
For the copyright lines for your copyright page, look at the copyright page in the Bible from which you’re quoting. For example, in my New Living Translation, it says: “When the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, is quoted, one of the following credit lines must appear on the copyright page or title page of the work.” Then follow three options. The first is used if all of the verses you quoted were from the New Living Translation. In this case, the NLT says to write the following on your copyright page:
If the NLT is your default and the only version you used, you would type the above exact line onto your copyright page.
Perhaps the NLT was the main one you used, but you sprinkled in a couple other versions, such as the King James Version. In that case, you do need to make sure that KJV is noted at that reference. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1 KJV), and on your copyright page, you will choose this line from that NLT copyright page:
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from . . . (etc.)
and then you’ll also include a copyright line from the KJV Bible.
Scripture quotations marked KJV are taken from the King James Version . . . (etc., with the copyright line from your Bible)
If you used a variety of versions, make sure that after every reference throughout your entire manuscript that you note the Bible version—for example: (Genesis 1:1 NIV) and (Romans 5:8 NLT) and (Philippians 1:5 KJV). Then, on the copyright page, you need to include the copyright lines as noted on the copyright page of each Bible.
If you’re using a source such as Bible Gateway for your Bible verses, note that the copyright line for any version you choose is given to you, as here:
If you use other Bible software, look around for the copyright information on the Bible versions.
After you have put in the copyright material for Bible versions, also include some standard information such as this:
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is for your manuscript submission. When your book is published, the publisher will take care of adding their boilerplate copyright page information, their Library of Congress information, the printing numbers, etc. You just need to provide these basics.
If you’re self-publishing, you need to include this page as part of your book. Here are a couple of article links to help you create a copyright page when self publishing. Here’s a how-to guide and another guide with helpful info.
Great work! Next we’ll talk about creating your TOC (Table of Contents).
(This article, without visuals, originally appeared in The Christian Communicator magazine, May-June 2018.)
Part of delivering a pristine manuscript is to make sure all the pieces are in place. This includes your book’s front and back matter. Whether you’re delivering your book to an editor or preparing to self-publish it, make sure all of the front and back matter (referring to material that comes before and after the text itself) is included and in the correct order.
In case you wondered, there is a certain order for all those pieces as determined by the Chicago Manual of Style. You generally won’t have all of these items in your front matter. The only two you must have are the title page and copyright page. A nonfiction book will generally also need a table of contents; you may or may not have that in a fiction book.
Front matter can include:
Title page (must have)
Copyright page (must have)
Table of Contents (standard in nonfiction; optional in fiction)
Acknowledgments (if not part of the Preface or in the back matter)
Introduction (if not part of the text)
In this article I want focus on the first piece of the front matter—the title page.
Creating your title page
If you so desire, you can use one of the Cover Page options that Microsoft Word gives you. Click at the start of your manuscript, probably at your first chapter number or title (if you haven’t done any of the front matter yet–in any case, at the very top of your manuscript), and click Insert on the ribbon, then the dropdown arrow in the top far left corner that says Cover Page.
This will open up a window of several design options for the cover page of your manuscript. Scroll to see all of them. Keep in mind that some of these are created to be for academic papers or for other purposes. Don’t be overly fancy. And it’s best not to use one that has a lot of deep color (such as the full page of blue or black) because if your manuscript is being printed by various readers, using all that ink makes them annoyed. (Just sayin’.) When you click on one, that design of the cover page will be inserted. You can then add your title and name.
You can also just do this old school and very simply without using one of the templates. Go to the top of your manuscript and hit Insert and then Blank Page (the Blank Page option appears right below that Cover Page option in the visual above). You can then type in your title and your name by just visually centering the material vertically (go to your View tab and in the Zoom menu click on One Page so you can see the entire page). You can then do return-return-return to scoot the title down to be basically near the center of the page. (I know I told you not to do this between chapters in this earlier post, but since this is the title page and nothing will come before it, it’s okay.)
If your title and name are appearing flush left on your page, you want them to be centered, so use the centering button (Home ribbon, Paragraph menu) to center your lines horizontally. You can see there that you have buttons for flush left, centered, flush right, and justified (meaning straight edges both left and right). Highlight the words on this page, then click on the centering button to center everything horizontally. You can play with your returns to make sure all of the material looks good when you see it in single page view.
On the title page, include your title, subtitle, and your name (as you want them to appear). Do not type a copyright symbol with your name on the cover page; it is not necessary to “protect yourself,” and you’ll look amateurish if you include it.
If you are submitting to an agent or a publisher, look carefully at their submission guidelines. They may ask that you also include your address and other contact information on the title page as well. Be sure to follow whatever guidelines they give you.
Next time, we’ll talk about other pieces of the front matter.
(This article, without visuals, originally appeared in The Christian Communicator magazine, May-June 2018.)
The next piece from our bulleted list of creating solid manuscript submissions (see the post here) to send to publishers is to put a page break between chapters (and everywhere that you need to start a new page). Fortunately, Microsoft Word makes this easy.
First of all, here’s what not to do. DON’T get to the end of your page or chapter and then do return-return-return-return-return (etc.) until you get to a new page. If you turn on the Show/Hide button, it will look like this. And if you would continue to do those returns until that chapter 2 finally jumps to the next page, then you’re doing it wrong. (Sorry not sorry.)
A key problem is that those returns will stay in place and, if you continue to edit the section above, those returns will then end up wreaking havoc on the rest of your manuscript. Instead, let’s do it the easy way, creating a page break that stays in place, no matter how much material you add or remove above it.
Position your cursor in front of the words that should be moved to a new page (in the case of my example, at the numeral 2). You can do one of two things:
You can simply push Ctrl + Enter and that will insert a page break.
OR you can go to the Insert tab and then click on the Page Break button.
Now you have a nice clean break between chapters. To see what this actually looks like, turn on the Show/Hide button again (on the Home tab), then go to the View tab and click on Draft. (You may or may not see that column that I have to the left. That’s a discussion for another day.) Most likely you’ll have just the main page where you’re typing, and you’ll see that there are none of those returns showing up; instead, you can see the clearly marked Page Break.
Now, if you were to go back and remove or add material from above the break, the break will stay in place, always separating that next chapter.
Do this between every chapter and every time that you need to start a new page in your manuscript.
If you need to remove a page break, just position your cursor at the break and push Delete.
Stay tuned next time when we’ll use the Page Break command and get our front matter created!
It’s a difficult habit to break. If you learned to type on a typewriter (as I did), you were taught to put a double space between sentences. Now, however, that’s incorrect and will be problematic when you send in that submission. Editors expect that you won’t do this.
Why did we (ahem, old folks) learn to do it this way? Well, letters on typewriters are monospaced, meaning that every letter takes up the same amount of space or width in a word (like the Courier font you still have as an option on your computer). Thus, a “w” takes up the same amount of space as an “i.” This made it very difficult to then distinguish between sentences on a typewritten page. With the advent of some electric typewriters and especially computers came proportional type, which means that a “w” takes up more horizontal space than an “i.” With proportional spacing, it’s easier to distinguish between sentences. Hence, a single space is now sufficient.
However, I have excellent news for you! You don’t have to retrain that ingrained habit. You can simply fix your manuscript after the fact and before you submit.
So don’t stress. Go ahead and type those double spaces to your heart’s content. Here’s how to fix it.
After you’re finished, go back to the beginning and set your cursor there. Then, on the Home ribbon, in the Paragraph section, click the Show/Hide button (it looks like a backward P). This will show hidden characters like paragraph returns, tabs, and spaces (every space will appear as a dot). You can see below the two dots between each sentence, showing the double spaces between sentences.
You don’t have to go through and individually fix every single location. Instead, let’s do it all at once. Here’s how:
On the Home tab, in the Editing section, click on the Replace button. This will bring up the dialogue box. All you need to do is put your cursor in the Find What line and type in two spaces (you won’t see anything except your cursor will move over). Then place your cursor in the Replace With line and type in one space. Then click Replace All.
You’ll get another dialogue box that tells you how many double spaces were changed to single spaces. If you have a long manuscript and an ingrained habit, you may have it report thousands. For good measure, you might click OK and then click the Replace All button again. (If you randomly had triple spaces anywhere, you’ll need one more pass to clean it all up.) Keep going until there are 0 replacements.
When I do any editing, my first task (after taking the manuscript and moving it onto my template, as noted in an earlier post) is to run this quick fix to clean up those double spaces.
For good measure, I use this same technique to find and replace all the quotation marks and apostrophes so that they are all smart (curly) and not straight (again, this is part of the industry standard). Just put a quotation mark in the Find What space and a quotation mark in the Replace With space and Replace all. Do the same with apostrophes.
This quick cleanup takes just a few seconds and helps bring your manuscript up to expected industry standards.
I’ve been watching Twitter feeds in the #writingcommunity hashtag and seeing lots of folks post that 2021 is the year they will finally submit — to magazines or literary magazines or a book publisher. I say, YAY. GO FOR IT! You pour yourself into those words and you have something to say into the world.
In order to do that, you’ll need to submit to gatekeepers at these various publications. Let’s make sure you do everything you can to get read! Following are a few tips as you make 2021 your year for submitting!
1. Follow the submission guidelines.
I can’t stress this enough. Read those submission guidelines — don’t just send off your piece. Not following the guidelines will assure that your submission will be rejected before it’s even read. Remember that editors and agents receive hundreds of submissions. They will immediately toss or delete anything that isn’t submitted per the guidelines.
You can find submissions guidelines on most publication or publisher websites (same for literary agents). You might need to scroll to the fine print at the bottom of the home page, or locate the contact page, but generally they will be there. You can also find information in Writer’s Market (or Christian Writer’s Market Guide if you’re writing for the Christian market).
For instance, if you’re going to submit to Grit magazine, navigate to their submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. Here’s the link as an example. Notice on the Grit submissions page that it tells you:
what they publish and what they don’t
the fact that you can’t send anything unsolicited; you must send a query letter first
where and how to send the query (even what to put in the subject line of your email)
how to write your submission (even how the first paragraph should read)
how NOT to write your submission
that you must submit through their website
That basic information will get you a long way toward getting your piece in front of an editor’s eyes. Of course, you still need to write well, have a compelling piece, and fit the editor’s desires or needs (which, of course, you have no idea about necessarily). But you could have all of that but will lose the opportunity if you don’t follow the submission guidelines to the letter. So make that a resolution!
2. Proofread your submission and have someone else (who knows what they’re doing) proofread as well.
Have your proofreader double check your submission along with the submission guidelines. (They might see something you missed.) Make it a joint effort. Don’t be in such a hurry to meet your goals of submitting that you hurt yourself. And proofreading by yourself is never a good idea. You’ve read the piece so many times your mind will automatically correct words or fill in missing words. I have previously noted some tips and tricks to help you proofread.
3. Don’t take rejection personally.
You’re going to get rejection letters. The more you submit, the more you’ll get rejected. That’s just the way it is. But also, the more you submit, the more opportunity you have to get published. It might help to do as this writer did and actually set a goal for rejections — the point being, of course, that eventually out of all those submissions will come publication. Sort of takes the sting out of it . . . a little . . .
4. Keep good records of your submissions.
Do this now if you haven’t already. Create a document or an Excel sheet or some kind of system whereby you track where you send what. Trust me, over time, you’ll forget. Whether you’re writing articles or seeking an agent/publisher for your book, you want to capture:
the name of the publication/publisher/agent
submission guidelines general information
title of the article/book you queried (or sent)
date sent (so that if it says they’ll respond in one month, you know when that month has elapsed and you can follow up)
In addition, you can keep a running list of various places that you want to query. In my Freelancing class (in the Professional Writing program at Taylor University), where we focus on writing articles, the students create a tracking system listing at least 10 possible magazines they can submit to, a separate page for literary magazines, and then another page with their various article ideas or WIPs captured. If they hope to one day get a book published, a new page can begin to capture potential agents or book publishers for the genre of their book. For every piece they write, they have to write an accompanying query letter, and then actually send three of those letters during the semester. Learning to have the discipline of creating solid query letters, tracking where they’re sent, and having a list of potential publications means that they can keep writing.
For example, you send out the query, you receive a rejection. Instead of letting that stop you, you go to your tracking list and mark down the rejection (so you don’t accidentally send the same query to them again). Then you look on your list for another publication that might like that same article or that article with a slightly different slant or focus or word count. You revise your query letter and send it to that publication. I know some writers who have such a system that, when a rejection arrives, they have that same article pitched somewhere else within 24 hours.
The same goes for book publishers. Find the agents and publishers that accept what you’re writing, create a solid query to them, and send it on. When a rejection arrives, move on to someone else.
The point is, keep going, dear #writingcommunity. Make 2021 your year!
Do them once, and they will appear on every page. The magic of Microsoft Word makes it fairly simple to add page numbers — but there’s always something that could be confusing.
Last week you created a template. Open that template and give it a title. Push “Save As” and then decide where on your computer you want to save it and the name of the piece you’re writing. OR simply open your work in progress (WIP) that doesn’t have page numbers on it.
Now, let’s insert page numbers.
(1) Navigate to the Insert tab. Look across to the Header & Footer box.
(2) Click the dropdown arrow beside “Page Number.”
(3) At the first dropdown box, you can choose the placement of the page number. You can click where you want the page number to be—top or bottom of the page. For our purposes, choose Top of Page. That then will open up another menu that will allow you to choose where at the top of the page you want the number to appear — top left, top center, top right. Again, for our purposes, click on the top right choice. (There are dozens of other options you’re welcome to play with; for now, I’m sticking with the basics.)
(4) Voila! Once you click it, a header will appear on every page with a page number.
Perhaps you want to include more information in the header besides just the page number.
(1) Click into the header area with your cursor beside the page number. Now you can simply type in other information such as your name or the title, which will then appear on every subsequent page. When you are working with numbers that are flush right, as here, put your cursor beside the number and type. The letters will work their way to the left.
Note: Follow submission guidelines for where you submit. Various publishers ask for various renderings of page numbers and what information they want in headers or footers. They usually have submission guidelines on their websites. If you’re not sure, at least include your last name and page numbers in the headers or footers on your manuscript.
Now to answer some reader questions:
I tried to format page numbers with my name/book title/page number at the top right. Each time the page number got bumped to the line below my name/book title. And then the title page ended up with a 0 on it, not what I wanted at all.
How to fix page numbers moving down to a separate line
Let’s deal with the first question about why the page number got bumped. I think it has to do with a tab setting. Click into your header. If you see a tab setting right there in the center, grab it and slide it off to your left (or right depending on where you’re putting your page numbers). You should then have the space across the entire header. My guess is that your name/book title/page number is quite long. It was going past that tab, and thus bumping the page number to the next line. If that doesn’t answer your question about that, let me know.
How to remove a page number from the title page
Now let’s deal with the title page having a 0 on it. If your document has a title page, you don’t want a number on it at all, and page number 1 should actually be your second page. So we want to do something different with the first page. This gets a little complex, so bear with me.
(1) First, you’re going to need to make a section break (not just a page break) between the title page and the first page of your manuscript. If you already have a page break there, remove it so that your copy runs right below your title.
See below that I have run chapter 1 into my title page. Now I need to separate the title page from my chapter 1 with a different kind of break. With my cursor set right before the word “Chapter,” I then click on the Layout tab, then Breaks. Under Section Breaks, click Next Page.
My title page is now on its own page with Chapter 1 starting on a new page. But the header is still appearing on my title page along with the page number 1, so here’s what to do:
(2) Now make sure you click with your cursor into the header section on the title page (or footer if that’s where your page numbers are). Then click on the Design tab and put a click in the box labeled Different First Page. (Note that Show Document Text is already clicked; leave it as is.)
The header on your first page will disappear, but page 2 still says page 2. Let’s fix that so it will be page 1.
(3) Click with your cursor into the header area on page 2. Then go to the Insert tab, back over to Page Numbers, then click Format Page Numbers. It will give you another dialog box.
In the Page Number Format dialog box, you’ll see a section called Page numbering, and then a bullet that says Start at. Click that bullet and put a number 1 in the box, then say okay.
The header on page 2 should now read page 1, and there should be no longer a header on your title page.
Your document may have a lot more complexity, and this is simply a way to set page numbers and separate out a title page.
As always, let me know if you have questions and I’ll research the answers. More to come!
But there comes a time when all writers have to understand that those carefully wrought words need to show up in a well-formatted manuscript, set to industry standards. And this is where things can become very frustrating.
So I’m here to show you how, along with a little help from other editor friends. I’m going to begin a series of posts to help you deal with some of those technical parts of prepping your manuscript–one step at a time.
Longtime author and editor Andy Scheer (andyscheer.com) one day posted on Facebook how thrilled he was to receive a correctly formatted manuscript. I dropped him a note to ask, from his perspective, what constituted a manuscript that is “formatted correctly.” Here’s the list he sent me. The manuscript should be:
Manuscript is .doc or .docx
12-pt Times New Roman
No extra space between paragraphs
Paragraphs indented—but NOT with tabs or spacing
No double spaces between sentences
Page headers with page numbers
Page break between chapters
Front matter completed (title page, copyright page, table of contents if needed)
Copyright page includes copyright info for all Bible versions quoted, especially the default Bible translation
In coming weeks, I’m going to walk through each of these bullet points individually. I’ll help out with the basics and offer some technical tips, screen shots, and more. BUT FIRST, we can deal with several of those issues by creating a template that you use as your base for every piece of writing you plan to submit. So let’s start there. (Note that the following uses a PC; if you have a Mac, stay tuned. I’ll work to get the information you need as we go.)
How to Build Your Template
Having a template that has all of the settings you need already embedded will be a huge help to you. (Just FYI that this is technically simply a blank Word document, but it will have embedded in it all of the settings you need to create a perfectly formatted document and save you trying to redo it every time.)
The following the instructions will walk you through the steps in Microsoft Word. Doing that, you will create a template that will give you the first 6 bullets above: the .doc or .docx extension, 12-pt Times New Roman, double-spaced copy with no extra space between paragraphs, no extra space between paragraphs, 1-inch margins, and indents not with tabs or all those spaces.
(1) Open a new blank Word document. (2) It mostly likely defaults to one-inch margins, but to check, click on the “Layout” button to give you that ribbon. On the far left is a button called “Margins.” Click it. You should see a “Normal” setting that defaults to all one-inch margins. If that is not clicked, click it.
(3) Now go back to the Home tab to give you that ribbon. Above the “Styles,” box, you’ll see a series of styles that are common to this document. You’ll probably see Normal and some various heading styles. Most everything you type will default to the style called “Normal,” so let’s make sure that “Normal” is the normal that we want for our template. Click on the little down arrow at the bottom right of the Styles box that will drop down a menu of styles (your menu may look different from mine, but you should be able to find Normal).
Locate Normal, click on the down arrow to its right, then click Modify.
This will open a dialog box with lots of options. (4) About halfway down on the left, you’ll see “Formatting.” Make sure that the first box says Times New Roman and the second box says 12. If they don’t, click on the dropdown arrow and choose those options.
(5) Next, below that, you’ll see buttons with lines in them. The first set on the left is giving you the options to have your copy flush left and ragged right, centered, flush right, or justified (straight on both sides). You want to choose the first button for flush left and ragged right. (6) The next three buttons show lines really close (single spacing), sort of close (1.5 spacing), and far apart (double spacing). You want to click on the third button for double spacing.
Wait, you’re not done yet! Let’s deal with the other issues:
(7) In that same box, bottom left is a button that says “Format.” Push it, and then click on “Paragraph.” Yet another dialog box pops up!
(8) In this box, halfway down on the right side, you’ll see the word “Special.” In the box should be the words “First line.” If not (it probably says “None”), click on the dropdown arrow and choose “First line.” In the box beside that, you can set how far the indent should be. It’s probably best to put .5 there. This will automatically indent your new paragraphs so you don’t have to add a tab each time. (9) Keep going, there are a few more boxes on the left below that under “Spacing” with “Before” and “After” choices. Make sure that those read 0. (The default often has 10 in the After slot, which is creating extra space between the paragraphs. You want it to say 0—so change it. And don’t use “Auto.”) (10) Since you already set this to double spacing on the previous menu, you should see the word “Double” under “Line Spacing.” (11) Now click OK. This will take you back to that previous dialog box. Do one more thing here to seal the deal and help you not have to do this again:
(12) At the very bottom, right above that format button, are a couple of choices. Put a dot in the circle that says “New documents based on this template.” Now click OK. (13) This will take you back to your blank document. Now do a “Save As” and save this document as your own personal template for doing all of your writing. Calling it “Mytemplate” should work. Store it on your desktop and you’ll always have a template ready to go when inspiration strikes. So now you have:
Manuscript is .doc or .docx
12-pt Times New Roman
No extra space between paragraphs
Paragraphs indented—but NOT with tabs or spacing
Every time you start a new book or a new story, open this template, do another “Save As” to save that piece of writing with whatever title you want to give it. That way you’ll always preserve the settings you created in your template and won’t have to redo them every time for every piece of writing.
We’ll continue our tech-y talks in coming weeks to help make sure you’re submitting your documents the way the publishers want them.
If you have some other tech-y questions, write them below and I’ll see what I can help you with in future posts.
I’m guessing that the Bible is probably one of the world’s most misunderstood books. It’s also one of the most owned but unread books. How many people sitting in the pews of our churches, or claiming the Christian faith, or attending Christian universities have read through the entire Bible, let alone taken time to truly study it? How many read it daily as the source of guidance and inspiration it is? How many truly see it as God’s words spoken to us?
Too many in our “enlightened” world look upon this ancient book as nothing more than that — an ancient book for a time and a place long before we all came along and now know better how to live our lives (*sarcasm*).
This book — this singular book — holds the key to a life well lived and a secure eternity (as I noted in this post). Yet so many sit idly on bookshelves gathering dust as we spend our hours scrolling through the latest Facebook argument or watching movies on our phones. Yet life’s answers are nowhere else. Indeed, media and social media most often leave us empty and confused, even angry. Maybe a warm-hearted video of baby elephants will lighten the mood momentarily, but it will not bring answers to the dilemmas of life.
The Bible can and will. But it must be read, read carefully, studied and understood with guidance from Christian scholars who also believe in its truth (and not merely the latest blogger with the biggest fan base), and then respected as sacred Scripture — God’s Word speaking to the individual through the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s love letter to the human race.
Yes, perhaps that all sounds a little mystical, and in actuality, it is. It’s spiritual power, beyond our comprehension, something we can’t rein in and explain. It’s faith.
The Bible is losing ground in many places (see Barna research from 2013), being seen as nothing more than a book written by men and having no bearing on life today.
Other bloggers tell me that to see God’s Word as speaking to me is nothing more than “Western narcissism.”
It’s not narcissistic for me to daily go to God’s Word in prayer and seek what He’s saying to me. It’s what He wants me to do. The Word of God, written by people and compiled by people was not a people-driven enterprise. If I truly believe in the all-powerful God, then I also believe that Scripture came together exactly as He planned and that it is still “living and active” in our world and in my world. (And wow, is this becoming an increasingly unpopular opinion!)
It is a complex book with a simple message: God’s great love for us all. When we can grasp that unfathomable kind of love, when we have faith that is “the substance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen,” when we get out of our own way, when we come with faith as children, we discover Truth with a capital T that helps us begin to make sense of a complex world.
God speaks, and He speaks through His Word given to us. We would do well to blow any dust off that sacred book and dig in.
I did that several months ago. I had managed to let my own Bible gather dust or go missing from Sunday to Sunday (there’s something very convicting about not being able to locate your Bible before church on a Sunday morning). Now, I’m back in. Reading a little a day. Whether I’m in a glorious psalm or the depths of Leviticus, I’m sitting with God and His sacred love story to me.
It helps me refocus, regain my perspective, and rest in Him. No matter what happens in my world, I am called to bring His love and peace and joy to every situation. I am called to be His hands and feet. I am called on this particular pilgrim’s path, called to do what I’m specifically made for.
And so are you, fellow pilgrim.
That journey of simple steps, of daily service to Him, adds up to a life that will glorify Him and only Him.
I simply want to one day hear Him say, “Well done.”
It’s a brand new school year and a brand new way of thinking and teaching. If I thought that going completely online with my classes last March was a challenge, I’m now trying to teach in masks. Below are pics of me trying these various masks and the pros and cons of each.
I’m only a few days in and already trying to determine what’s going to work for me. I started with the standard mask that I’ve been wearing into stores since March.
I purchased some nicer, heavier-duty masks that I thought would be healthier by maybe screening out those germy germs better …
Received this cute one with cats on it from my sister. (Does anyone else find it odd that these masks are now fashion statements?)
Received this one from our department chair who felt it would be especially appropriate for me.
Got hold of this one because … well … school spirit.
But still, the issue became that I really like to smile at my students. It’s bad enough that I’m looking at masks and eyes and receiving very little feedback visually. It seems worse that they can’t get any kind of visual feedback from me. So I have now opted for this:
So, why choose the one mask with the most cons? Well, I feel like the ability to offer some kind of visual feedback to my students is very important — hair, spit, echoes, itchy nose, and all.
Around campus, I’ve seen masks of various materials, colors, and styles. We are indeed making these into statements to try to reflect a bit about ourselves, even … ahem … behind the mask.
What about you? How are you dealing with the masking situation and what are you doing to make your masks reflect you?
I truly tried. I had a list. I had a schedule. I had good intentions. I was going to GET STUFF DONE.
Write some articles. Work with writing prompts. Submit. Start a more vigorous exercise program. Learn InDesign and Google Analytics. Write some letters.
Instead, you know what I did? Not that.
I rested. I slept. I read books. I spent more time in God’s Word. My husband and I spent many hours deciding on paint colors for our three rebuilt rooms. I cheered him on as he painted all those rooms (I offered to help, but he knows my shoulder problems would only be made worse). We brought some furniture to replace what was destroyed in the fire. We bought a dining room set at a garage sale. We planted and maintained our gardens.
But, honestly, I feel like I accomplished nothing.
I frustrate myself so often. What is it that makes me create lists and check off the little tasks (buy coffee) but let the bigger ideas, the longer-term items (finish that creative nonfiction article) go from week to week in my schedule book, carried over as if I can do so indefinitely?
What makes those writing tasks so hard for me?
Some if it is rejection. Some of it is imposter-syndrome. Some of it is being just plain tired. I could blame the pandemic and all of the stress of online teaching this past spring. I could blame the pandemic for lack of personal contact with many of the people I love most. I could blame the worries over the many issues bombarding our world today and how my brain is tired trying to navigate them. I could blame our house rebuild that has dragged on because of scheduling issues with various contractors. I could blame my age.
OR I could just let it go and say it’s okay. I did what I did and it was all good. Time with books and in God’s Word and resting were probably what I most needed considering everything else going on in my life and in our world.
Yeah, I think I’ll go with that.
I’m a Type A personality who always feels the need to “be accomplishing something.” Everything I do needs to be something I can check off a list or post on Goodreads or have something to show for it. My writing so often doesn’t. It sits on my computer because no one else should ever see it. Or I took the chance to send it out and get rejected.
Maybe I need to add “take a nap” and “get a rejection letter” and “write X number of terrible pages” to my daily to-do list.
That’s actually not a bad idea. I could at least trick my brain into thinking I’m accomplishing something. I already know that rejections and terrible pages are the stuff of good writing (well, probably naps as well).
It’s been since March, the 18th to be exact, when our classrooms went dark, when tearful goodbyes were said (especially by seniors), when all of the faculty at Taylor University looked around at first with a sense of odd horror. Spring break had begun three days early, and that gave us about 12 days to pivot and move all our classes to an online format.
Since I live a half hour from campus and have good internet, I decided to teach from home. So I vacated as well, packing up files and books and planners. We still live in half a house, so I spent a day of spring break clearing out boxes that were stored on our upstairs landing and creating a desk space for myself. Getting physically organized helped me get emotionally and mentally organized.
I have to say, by the time I posted final grades on May 26, I was exhausted. And I know I’m not alone. I know my fellow faculty and students were exhausted as well.
To all of you out there — students, parents, teachers — I salute you. This was weird, but we did it the best we could. I know it wasn’t easy; it was downright difficult.
Here are 6 things I learned about myself during this time:
1. I really do enjoy the classroom and interaction with my students — and this is a God-thing.
Ask me 15 years ago about where I’d be today, I never never never would have put myself at the front of a classroom talking for a career. I’m an introvert. I don’t talk in groups. I don’t like having attention on me. Yet here I am. God can work in mysterious ways.
2. Despite my insecurity, I can do tough things with lots of support and lots of prayer.
Even though I’ve taught online classes before, this was obviously a new challenge. Syllabi had already been carefully prepared, group projects planned, assignments set. The challenge was repurposing the rest of the semester to make sense to my students while still allowing for the learning outcomes I hoped to achieve. I started with the hoped-for outcomes and worked backward — determining how to revise assignments, changing group projects to individual ones, making the needed teaching videos, and creating benchmarks of smaller pieces to keep everyone on track in the larger assignments. Taylor worked hard to support us in every possible way, and this was an encouragement. Oh, and I prayed … a lot.
3. Sometimes difficulty forces improvement.
A few times my class adjustments showed me improvements that I want to carry into my regular classes. That’s a good thing.
4. I’m not very tech savvy, so I opted for K.I.S.S. and that was okay.
“Keep it simple, stupid” was my mantra. So many of my fellow faculty had great ideas and apps and programs they shared in our private Facebook group. After feeling overwhelmed and techno-phobic, I realized I just needed to do what I felt comfortable doing. I did have our Blackboard specialist help me learn how to record videos and share my screen so I could do some lectures. Zoom worked great, but I used it mostly for one-on-one advising appointments. The simpler, the better, which gave me a lot less stress. But at the same time …
5. I need to invest time in training to use the tools at my disposal.
Our university uses Blackboard and it’s a pretty powerful program, but I realized this spring that I’ve only scratched the surface. I struggled with grading columns and discussion boards. I’m sure I can make use of other features if I know about them. I intend to get some training this fall.
6. Nothing beats clear organization and expectations.
My students appreciated my daily checklists of assignments. Laying out each day’s work and clearly listing due dates in red helped them keep up (and, seriously, it helped me just as much). Adjusting expectations helped as well — some students had difficulty with internet reliability or broadband strength (especially if siblings were also doing school and/or parents were working); others struggled with a variety of home situations. As crazy as college life can be, there’s a schedule to everything that helps keep life on track. Judging by the fact that my students were turning in work on time (mostly) and seemed to understand what I wanted from them means I maybe did something right!
Yes, it’s over, but who’s to say when something unexpected will hit us again? I hope I learned a few things to make the next transition easier.
Whatever you’ve been doing these last couple months, what have you learned about yourself?
Last week’s post about surviving as a virtual college student offered some basic info for many students heading home to finish their semester. I (and all my colleagues at Taylor University and teachers pretty much everywhere) have been trying to comfort students and rework courses so we can deliver the desired learning outcomes in an online format.
Then I came across a post on Facebook by Lori Heinrichs Cahill. I don’t yet know the source of this material (indeed it may be her), but it’s so helpful that I want to repost much of it. If this is coming from another source, as soon as I know if there is an origin beyond Ms. Cahill, I will happily add that source here.
And, also happily, there are … wait for it … 6 tips! The advice here is really only going to be workable if (1) your student does what I’ve suggested in the previous blog about creating a schedule and being in the school mindset, and if (2) parents and their student(s) figure this out together. Start the communication now and figure this out together now. Trust me. There will be a whole lot less stress later if you lay the groundwork now and then adjust along the way over the coming weeks.
So here you go with credit to the original author (and additional comments from me in purple):
A message from a faculty member to parents of students now doing college from home:
Many of us are navigating new terrain beginning this week, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts as we move forward.
1. Your student is not home for break, and don’t treat it as such.
Your student is still carrying a full course load and class schedule. They may have a class scheduled during your normal family dinnertime. They are not going to be able to supervise younger siblings all day. They may not be available to drop off groceries for Grandma. That’s not to say they shouldn’t help with things around the house. . . . But make sure that you are making requests when they are truly available and respect their schedule.
[Author’s note: While some teachers will be allowing students to do their own work at their own pace (hence, the need for them to create a schedule that forces them to do the credit-hours-worth of work each week), some teachers will be creating a few classes that will require students to log in at the same time for a virtual class. It is going to be vital that your student be able to do this–both in terms of schedule and in terms of capability. Many Internet services are offering help during this time of great need. Check with your provider.]
2. Realize that they are under A LOT of stress.
We are entering the most stressful time of the semester with final projects, papers, and course material that is at its peak difficulty. We are asking them to navigate new online systems that they may not have used before. On top of that they have been displaced from their normal routine, their social interactions, their campus resources, etc. Many of them (especially seniors) are grieving the loss of anticipated spring performances, sporting events, and campus activities that they have been working toward all semester/year. Some of them have lost the opportunity to say goodbye to their senior friends.
3. Make sure they have the resources they need to be successful.
To the best of your ability, make sure they have a place to work where the rest of the family knows to leave them alone. Do they have the computer/Internet connection they need to do their work? Have they retrieved all of the necessary textbooks, notes, etc. from their dorm room? If that’s not feasible, have them check with their professor about online access to the text. Many publishers are providing free Ebook access during the pandemic.
4. Remember, they are not in high school anymore.
They do not need you to remind them when they have assignments due, and you don’t need to tell them when they should start studying for the next exam or writing that paper that is due tonight. They are adults and fully capable of managing their workload.
[Author’s note: But as is mentioned above, they are indeed grieving, feeling confused, and worried. We’ve been through a lot in our lives (our grandparents remember rationing during WWII, our parents remember the draft during the Vietnam War, we remember 9/11). Our kids don’t have a way to process this since they’ve never experienced anything like this. They might need a little bit of encouragement. You know your young person. Help out as needed and be available, but don’t be a helicopter parent.]
5. Just a warning, college students have really weird working and sleep schedules.
It is not uncommon for them to schedule a meeting with team members at 9 or 10 pm, and prime study time for most is after dark. Just let them do what works for them and remind them to shut the lights off when they finally do go to sleep.
[Author’s note: They may still be working on group projects that will require them to work together on some form of group communication platform (if your broadband can handle it). This may mean some late nights. Let them do what they need to do when they need to do it.]
6. Discourage them from getting together with local college and old high school friends.
. . . Reassure them that in a few weeks, when the coronavirus cases start to decline, they will be able to go out and do things with friends. For now, stay home as much as possible. And (I never thought I’d say this) encourage social interaction through the phone that’s always attached to their hands for the immediate future.
Most of all, enjoy having your kids back under your roof for a while.
P.S. Remind them to be kind to their professors. Most of us have had a week or less to completely revise our classes, assignments, and assessments to an online platform. We are using technology that we have never used or never used in this way. Many of us also have children home from college, school, or daycare — or elderly parents that we are concerned about. We will do our absolute best to provide your students with the quality education they deserve, but we will make some mistakes and some things we try are going to fall flat. Be patient, we’ll get through it together.
[Author’s note: Amen and amen.]
I’d love to hear from you. What are you doing to help make this transition work for your college student?
With the current closing and moving to online classes of many schools and universities (including mine), I’ve realized the challenge that many of my students will be facing and want to offer some pieces of advice.
(1) Remember that you’re still “in school”
As you head away from campus — whether you’re going home or elsewhere or staying on campus due to other travel restrictions — your mind will shift into “break” mode. It will take some mental gymnastics to force yourself to realize that isn’t the case. Just because you’re changing your venue doesn’t mean you’re not in school anymore.
It’s a location shift, not a vocation shift.
And since for our school, spring break begins early, and then we’re back to virtual school, then a couple days off for Easter break, and then potentially still online (if things don’t change in the next two weeks), everyone will need to mentally shift at least twice.
Tell yourself that as soon as the next “in school” date rolls around: I am not on break! Then tell yourself again after the next break when school is again on your own. I am not on break!
(2) Make sure you pack everything you need
At my school, the students are packing up to leave on Tuesday; I realize many of you at other schools are already gone from your campus. If you’re still in packing mode, remember that this time, you need to take all class materials. Spend a few moments at your desk thinking about what you normally carry to class each day and the materials you’ve been collecting all semester —
folder with handouts
Do this for each class and pack these up to take with you.
(3) Create a schedule
It’s not going to be easy to maintain a study schedule when you don’t have to arrive at classes at certain times. Depending on how your prof sets up the online learning class, you may be on your own. If you’re required to log in at certain times, set your phone alarm to remind you. In any case, for all your classes, create a schedule and stick to it.
For your 3-credit classes, you’re in class for 3 hours a week and you have homework for at least that many hours.
Create a weekly schedule — if it helps, plan to work during the same time that you would be in class anyway. For your 9:00 class, set aside Monday-Wednesday-Friday at 9:00 and sit down to work on your class assignments.
If that doesn’t work or if you need to work around your family’s schedule to find quiet study time, do so, but find those needed hours somewhere.
Remember that you usually sat in class at that time and then did homework, so set aside another couple of hours during your week (at least) to work on those class assignments.
Give your family that schedule so they’ll understand your need to not be interrupted (see point #4).
(4) Find a quiet spot to work & limit distractions
Again, this is the concept of not being in “break” mode. Make your family aware that siblings can’t be interrupting nonstop; you’re trying to simulate school because you need to keep up with homework. (You may run into the same problem with interruptions at school, so whatever you do there should work at home.)
Wherever your work spot is (and it may well be the kitchen table!), you’ll need to be especially focused. Younger siblings may be home as well with their own school closings. You’re going to be tempted to do what you normally do on break, so it’s going to take focus and discipline to keep up with your classes (see points #1 and #2).
(5) Work ahead & beyond
Realize how many hours you spend on campus going to and from class, goofing off in the dorms, spending time at meals. All of that time is now yours. Don’t waste it. Now is the time to make headway on that end-of-the-year project, do some extra reading or practicing, or get a handle on that one concept that you’ve been struggling with all semester.
Use the online resources your university library offers. If you’ve not been in the habit of online research (beyond Google), now is the time to experience what your school library has to offer through their online portal.
(6) Keep calm
Don’t let this semester get away from you or fall apart because you’re not planning well during this enforced online learning time. This is all part of the adulting you’ll soon be doing. Life often throws curve balls, and you’ll need to adjust and keep moving.
Stay calm. Be organized. Take advantage of the opportunities these coming weeks may offer in terms of revised schedules, time with family, or extra time to do the things you already love.
Sitting here typing away on my laptop has become second nature. There are moments, however, when I fondly recall my old Smith-Corona typewriter. What a treat it was to carry it to college in its snazzy case — my first electric typewriter. Toggle the on button, listen for the whir, insert bright white paper, roll down to an inch from the top margin. And type.
The force needed to push the keys on my old manual typewriter gave way to easier tapping. But alas, errors had to be either carefully erased with a clean eraser or whited out with the ever-present bottle of appropriately named Wite-Out or with Liquid Paper. (Fun fact: Did you know Liquid Paper was invented by Bette Nesmith Graham, mother of Mike Nesmith — member of 1960s band The Monkees?) I loved to use “onion-skin” paper because it was so much easier to erase — the surface just didn’t hold the ink as well. Teachers hated it because it also made the papers extremely difficult to read. (As a college prof now always reading printed papers, I publicly apologize to all my own college profs who suffered through such papers from me!)
Ribbons would run out and need to be replaced, causing your paper to appear in two tones. Not paying attention could cause you to type for several words with nothing appearing on the page. Not paying attention might also cause you to type right off the bottom of the sheet of paper, which meant either retyping the page or slathering Wite-Out across the entire bottom of the sheet of paper and blowing on it until it would (eventually) dry. Same thing with making sure you heard the ding at the right margin and reached up to push the carriage back to start the next line.
Some days, when I’m writing and backspacing with ease on my laptop (no clumsy erasers or Wite-Out bottles in sight), when I’m moving paragraphs around and changing my mind only to move them somewhere else, I think how different my college papers would have been with this amazing machine instead of my clunky Smith-Corona. Would I have done a final revision, knowing I should move a new paragraph to the beginning but also knowing that would mean retyping the entire paper? I’m sure, too often, the pages were just left as they were because it would have been far too much trouble and too time-consuming to retype.
Which also gives me awe for the likes of Hemingway and, indeed, those classic writers, who worked by hand and on manual typewriters. Hemingway once told The Paris Review that he rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms 39 times. Whether he did this on a notepad or on a trusty typewriter, I honestly am amazed at picturing him yanking the paper out of the typewriter, scrolling in a new piece, taking a drag on a cigarette, and trying again and again and again until he was satisfied.
All of this makes me happy to report that typewriters are apparently making a comeback. Young people have always had screens and easy-to-push keys. I wonder if they are finding some kind of tangible joy in the feel of a typewriter and getting one that “fits” them individually — has the right angles, the right tension, even the right lines and color.
I have a couple of old typewriters that merely decorate my office, although my 11-year-old grandson is fascinated and attempts to type against the ancient ribbon each time he visits.
Now I’m thinking I need to clean it up, try to find a usable ribbon, and work my hand and wrist muscles a bit.
Nah. Writing is hard enough. But I still admire Hemingway.
Those of you readers who typed on typewriters, what do you miss (or not)?
Back in June of 2015, I wrote a post about how excited I was to teach a class in our Professional Writing major called The Writer’s Craft. As it turns out, I’m teaching the same class again this spring semester, five years later. I have enjoyed recasting this class with some new writing to explore, new pedagogies to try, and five more years of teaching confidence under my belt.
As I noted in the earlier post, this class does not look at the why of a piece of writing. Instead, we focus on the mechanics, the how, the craft. What words does the writer use? How are those words making this piece sing? What about sentence structure? Paragraphing? How is this dialogue telling us the story without telling us the story? We’re still using some tried and true greats (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck), but I’ve added a few titles still classic but not as old (Tim O’Brien, E. B. White, John Updike, Flannery O’ Connor), along with diversity (Joy Harjo, Jame McBride, and a few names I’m still researching), plus some YA and fantasy genre pieces (also still researching).
Seriously, the class is planned, but in the short time frame between closing out J-term capstone class and beginning the spring semester (3 days), I found myself with a few TBDs on the reading schedule that I’ll fill in as we go along.
The essence of the class is what Prose calls “close reading.” Usually when we read for pleasure, we skim along, anxious to discover who falls in love, or whodunit, or how to solve that problem the book promises to solve.
With close reading, however, we linger over the words. The students receive printed copies of the pieces they’ll be “close reading” so they can write all over them — commenting, highlighting, underlining, circling. This kind of reading helps us to read, as Prose says,
. . . more analytically, conscious of style, of diction, of how sentences were formed and information was being conveyed, how the writer was structuring a plot, creating characters, employing detail and dialogue. . . . I discovered that writing, like reading, was done one word at a time, one punctuation mark at a time. It required what a friend calls ‘putting very word on trial for its life.’
As writers, our currency is the words we string together. We write our first drafts and then go back and revise, putting every word on trial, forcing it to explain why it should stay, removing or replacing it if the case isn’t made — if the lyricism or characterization or structure or foreshadowing requires something else.
As we read these masterful writers, we stand in awe at how they make look so simple a scene that we know required dozens of small perfect choices.
And even as I continue to journal Scripture, close reading is causing me to slow down on familiar passages and read them more carefully, seeing them anew.
In our busy culture with quick social media posts and constant bombardment of words, it’s almost a relief to be forced to slow down and delight in the world an author so carefully crafted for us.
Try a little close reading. It’ll do you good.
What’s your favorite book that has delighted and astounded you with its writing?
The Bible is a funny book. Imagine if publishers today were trying to consider various books of the Bible on their own terms and whether or not to publish them:
Gospel of John: “Really too much like three other books already on the market. And a bit too esoteric compared to the biographical and chronological approaches of the others.”
Hosea: “While we like the titillating back story of the wife turned prostitute, the author simply doesn’t finish the plot arc and tie up her story. And the female character’s name is ‘Gomer.’ We can’t take that seriously.”
Revelation: “The style of writing in this book fits well into our spec fic line, but the author is insistent that this is not fiction. We feel that he has spent way too much time alone on that island and thus takes his writing too seriously. Could publish if he’s willing to put it in our fiction line.”
Speaking of the book of Revelation:
I am enjoying my experiment with the Scripture engagement plan of journaling Scripture, as I described in my last post. I used the Christmas story in Luke 2, and then moved on the Matthew 1 to read about Joseph and the magi and Herod (who subsequently sent soldiers to kill the little ones in Bethlehem–a horror story if there ever was one).
I’m going to spend the next couple of days in Revelation 12, which tells the same story. The woman (nation) giving birth to the male child (Messiah), the dragon (Satan) waiting to destroy the male child (as Satan used Herod), chasing the child and the nation attempting to destroy both (all of history bears this out).
Fascinating. I wonder what God has for me as I journal these passages . . .
But then, what’s next? I’m still stuck with the same problem of “what to read now.” And I’ve been-there-done-that with the through-the-Bible-in-a-year plans. But now I’ve found something new. Again at Bible Gateway, you can choose any of several reading plans. This time, I want to do a Bible reading plan that takes me through the Bible chronologically.
I signed up for a free account at Bible Gateway so I can have the daily reading delivered to my email box. The “what to read” question is answered with the added highlight of studying God’s Word in a different way. I can spend time journaling through these passages. I’m excited to pair my Cultural Backgrounds Bible with reading Scripture chronologically.
And as I read, I can check off my reading and the program will keep up with me. Perhaps I want to take a couple of days on a passage. Perhaps I miss some days (and I will). All is not lost . . . I can just pick it up the next time and finish when I finish. Start when I want (as in now) and finish when I want (as in, whenever–maybe a year, probably not).
So what about you? With the new year approaching, many of us have plans to “be more consistent” or “try to do better.” What will you be doing to stay in God’s Word (and stay in love with God’s Word)?
And while you’re at it, what might be a current publisher response to a book of the Bible?
I have a strange problem. As much as I love God’s Word and as important as I know it is for me in my daily life (and as much as I talk and write about that), I have struggled with my daily quiet time with God.
Here’s the thing. I’ve been deep in the Bible for almost thirty years, daily editing notes or articles or devotionals for various types of study and devotional Bibles. I have read it in its entirety over and over and over. So when I want to have a quiet time, I don’t know where to start without feeling like I’m on the clock and editing. When I try various devotional books thinking I’ll get some new insights, I’m frankly bored by them.
Maybe you’ve been a Christian for a long time. Maybe you, like me, are trying to find a way to come to Scripture with fresh eyes and open heart without feeling the same-old same-old that too often blinds us.
Then I have a treat for you, something I just discovered that I want to share.
It’s called “Scripture Engagement,” and it’s over at the BibleGateway website in a section created by the Christian Educational Ministries faculty and students at Taylor University.
As I learned more about these many types of Scripture engagement, I discovered some new ways to “engage” with God’s Word. The link for Scripture Engagement gives an overview of 14 types of Scripture engagement techniques, and then sublinks guide you to various helps and videos that show you how to incorporate that new kind of Scripture engagement into your own quiet time. Many of them are good for individual study; some will work with group study.
I am starting with the Scripture engagement practice of “Journaling Scripture.” I watched the accompanying video, taking notes in my new notebook where I want to capture my thoughts as I experiment with these various types of engagement. I read all the tips and helps; I wrote down the questions and thoughts where I should focus. Basically, Journaling Scripture means to read a passage and begin by asking God, “What do you have for me today?” Then write:
verses that stand out
questions that arise
truths to hold onto
personal action steps
praises, prayers, confession
It’s a time to listen to God speak to me through His Word and a time for me to write what I sense God is saying to me.
I’m a student at heart, and so I really want to study the passage for a bit more depth. So when I read the passage for the day, I also read the study notes in both my Life Application Study Bible and my brand-new Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Reading these helps me keep that “wow” factor alive as I learn something new or relearn something I forgot. Then I begin the process of journaling, sitting quietly, and seeking God. As the pages in my journal slowly fill with my handwritten thoughts, I get a sense of God and I engaging together.
To get into the Christmas spirit in our decidedly un-Christmasy situation, I read Luke 2 and Matthew 1. I studied about Bethlehem (where Rachel is buried, Gen. 35:19; the story in the book of Ruth takes place; David was anointed, 1 Sam. 16; Micah prophesied as Jesus’ birthplace, Micah 5:2). I read the notes. I thought about Mary and Joseph basically putting their reputations on the line for their entire lives by their willingness to obey God’s call. I imagined the long trip to Bethlehem. I asked God,
“Why do you seem to do everything the hard way?”
“Why does obedience so often lead to difficulty?”
And those questions led me to much introspection about God’s working in my own life. Several pages’ worth, actually.
I encourage you to try Journaling as a method of Scripture engagement. And stay with me as I experiment with this and a few others in the weeks to come.
Like me, you might find a brand new way to listen to God.
From the fire at the end of August to our now sadly undecorated and still unfinished restoration that will not happen before Christmas (we’re living in two rooms and a kitchen), life has managed to be an adventure.
October found my husband and me visiting Washington D.C. Highlights included the Library of Congress, seeing the Gutenburg Bible, all the wonderful monuments, and meeting up with several dear high school friends I haven’t seen in over 40 years.
But the main reason for visiting was to attend a celebration at the Museum of the Bible honoring the release of the third edition of the Life Application Study Bible. (Read more about the event here.)
Thirty years ago, this group (pictured above) worked together on what would become the bestselling study Bible of all time (I discussed the process here.) We didn’t know then that God would use our prayerful labors to sell 20 million copies so far of the Life Application Study Bible. I am humbled to have worked with this group and appreciate the honors we received on the evening of October 16 as the pioneers on the project, now also celebrating those who completed work on the third edition of this Bible that has been updated for a new generation. We so enjoyed hearing from special speakers Ed Stetzer (director of the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton) and Dr. Barry Black (chaplain of the US Senate). It was a wonderful evening of celebration of the power of God’s Word.
Finally, in November, Tom and I drove to Nashville to attend the meeting of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. I recently became a member of this group, knowing that in my teaching about publishing, I need to stay on the cutting edge of the industry. Was fun to see a former student, Amy Green, publicist at Bethany House, who helped to plan the Christy awards celebration.
Now I’m prepping for final exams and papers and decidedly NOT decorating for Christmas. But we’ll get in the spirit. I’m looking forward to sharing how I’m working on that. Stay tuned!
How was fall for you? What are you doing to get into the holiday spirit?
When the complete Life Application Study Bible in The Living Bible paraphrase came out around 1988 (as I discussed last week in this post), I worked on other Bible versions of the LASB by revising every ancillary feature to match that version. We began in The Living Bible, then did the King James Version, the New King James Version, Revised Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, New International Version, New American Standard, and Holman Christian Standard.
Seven years, approximately a translation a year. The life application concept was such a massive success and such a new approach to a study Bible that suddenly every publisher wanted it. (In the world of Bible publishing, there are public domain texts, such as some versions of the King James Version, and then pretty much every heavy-hitting Bible publisher owns its own—pays to have it created or purchases one. That way, they can create various kinds of study and devotional Bibles without having to pay royalties to another publisher.) Those publishers wanted to be able to sell the LASB in their own translation.
What that meant was that someone needed to go through all of the ancillary material and make it match the wording of the new Bible version text. During those seven years, I would receive the default original version of all of the Bible notes (thousands of them) and features (map copy, chart copy, people profile notes, book introductions) and a Bible (not electronic, just a book) with the new version. The base files of all that material came to me on 5-1/4-inch floppy disks. I would insert the disk in my computer, open Genesis and begin to work. Wherever we quoted Scripture, I had to look it up and make it match the new version. At times, place names or people names would be treated differently: Is that son of Saul named Ishbosheth or Ish-bosheth or Ish-Bosheth or Ish Bosheth (it’s actually all of them, depending on which Bible version).
Eventually I learned to watch for key words that might be different (NIV says the Israelites wandered in the “desert”; most other versions say “wilderness”). Some versions have John the Baptist’s mother spelled with a z “Elizabeth,” some with an s “Elisabeth”; some have his father as Zechariah and some as Zacharias. In some, Esther is married to King Ahasuerus; in others, King Xerxes. This is not an issue of error; it’s an issue of translation and sources and Greek and Hebrew—and I suppose, whatever the translation committee eventually agreed upon. And then, of course, some versions include upper-case deity pronouns (such as the NKJV) and some do not. For those that did, every single reference to God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit as a he or a him or a himself or a his had to be tracked down and fixed with a capital H.
I went through the Bible several times over the course of those seven years. A couple of years later, Tyndale House set aside their popular but often-questioned Living Bible paraphrase for an actual translation done by teams of scholars. This became the New Living Translation, and, of course, Tyndale wanted their signature study Bible to be available in this new Bible text. And who do you think they contacted for that work?
Well, it was me. What a privilege it has been to read and reread Scripture and these notes across all these years.
I’m in love with this book. Reading start to finish over and over has given me appreciation for the big picture of God’s salvation from creation to the promise of His return in the future.
It’s all about my heart’s desire to help others to fall in love with God’s Word. Because when we do that, we’ll read it and we’ll begin to understand God’s great plan for us all.
I have been privileged to be involved in some amazing publishing projects over the course of my thirty-plus years in the industry. But for sure one of my favorites and most life-impacting was in the early 1980s: a partnership between Tyndale House Publishers and Youth for Christ (where I worked) to create a brand-new kind of study Bible.
What became The Life Application Study Bible involved thousands of hours and dozens of people and lots of meetings and lots of writing. Our purpose was to go beyond what most study Bibles of the day were doing, which was to offer a lot of information but little insight, a lot of esoteric and theological thinking but no real-world application. We wanted to create a Bible that gave information and insight but then also took the person from that to the “so what?” question. We wanted to help Bible readers understand what various verses and passages meant for their lives.
The partnership with Tyndale was marrying Ken Taylor’s Living Bible text (which had made such a difference in my life, as I noted in a previous post) with our vision for Bible notes (which would do the same thing). We wanted to focus on application. If some etymology or philosophy or theology were needed for understanding, we would make the explanations simple and succinct. Our focus was to make sure every note helped guide the reader to answer the question personally, “I just read this in Scripture. So what? What does that mean for my life?”
So we began work. A group of five of us kept our regular jobs at Youth for Christ, but each day several hours were set aside when we gathered in the conference room. We would stay late, sometimes come in on Saturdays. With the conference room table piled high with commentaries and Bible dictionaries, we’d begin the day’s work. One person got us started with a question working verse by verse, section by section, and everyone else dove into the commentaries and other Bible helps to read about various passages and knotty issues and then summarize them in an understandable way. My job was to sit at the end of the table, take notes on what they said (I was writing on note cards—gosh, a laptop would have been nice!), create a readable Bible note, and read it back to them. We’d edit until it felt right, and then the card would be set aside and go to the next question.
Sometimes whole teams of people joined us and were assigned to various sections of Scripture to do the same thing.
For instance, a note in a typical study Bible for John 3:16 says something like this:
3:16 God so loved the world: God’s love is not restricted to any one nation or to any spiritual elite. World here may also include all of creation (see Rom. 8:19-22; Col. 1:20).
In our Life Application Study Bible, the note at this verse says the following:
3:16 The entire gospel comes to a focus in this verse. God’s love is not static or self-centered; it reaches out and draws others in. Here God sets the pattern of true love, the basis for all love relationships—when you love someone dearly, you are willing to give freely to the point of self-sacrifice. God paid dearly with the life of his Son, the highest price he could pay. Jesus accepted our punishment, paid the price for our sins, and then offered us the new life that he had bought for us. When we share the gospel with others, our love must be like Jesus’—willingly giving up our own comfort and security so that others might join us in receiving God’s love.
We sat around the tables, read the verses, read various commentaries’ comments on those verses, talked, discussed, argued a little bit, laughed, and ultimately tried to write a note on the note cards that explained to any reader somewhat unfamiliar with Scripture what the text says and, beyond that, what it means. What does it mean to take Scripture and apply it to life?
Now obviously, there are many interpretations of Scripture—from very liberal to very conservative. We tried to stay mostly “evangelical,” meaning centrist and mainstream, with our applications. When various opinions needed to be noted, we included them (for example, explaining the four main views of the end times in the notes in the book of Revelation). The applications do not tell readers what to do but instead attempt to help readers think about how Scripture is more than just words on a page; it’s meant to be lived.
My job after each of our marathon sessions was to take those note cards and type the contents into the brand new Digital computer purchased for our office just for this purpose. It had a black screen with orange lettering. I entered the notes in canonical order and then would print each Bible book’s material out on the wide paper with the holes on each side—the obnoxious holes that wouldn’t always stay on their little spindles as the paper jerked through the printer line by line, often jamming. These hard copies then went through a series of editorial passes by the head editorial team, then came back to me to enter changes. (Often with markings showing the hard work—a red splotch with the apologetic explanation, “Sorry, ketchup from my hamburger” or a brown circle, “My coffee mug leaked a bit.”)
As I entered the changes, if an edit was located far down in the file, I’d hit search and then go get a cup of coffee. By the time I got back, the computer might have finally found the note I wanted.
This process went on for a couple of busy years (66 Bible books, 1,189 chapters). In the end, we came up with an amazing product—totally and completely new in the marketplace, something never seen before.
And the privilege I had to work my way through all of Scripture with such deep study and application focus just made me fall in love that much more with God’s Word.
Scripture matters. Scripture must absolutely be the foundation and the focus for every believer’s life. It speaks. It applies to every situation, to every life.
In fact, Tyndale has just released the third edition of this best-selling Bible (along with Zondervan, who released it in the NIV). Read the news release here.
What’s a favorite verse that has made a difference in your life?
I was fortunate to grow up in a Christian home with parents who nurtured my faith, answered my questions, located churches in our many stations along my dad’s military career, and ultimately sent me to a Christian college.
Perhaps I was sheltered — I didn’t have a lot of doubts about my faith. I trusted God’s Word. I let it and my faith in its truth ground me through the tumultuous junior high and high school years. I know that looking into God’s Word and understanding the depth and breadth of my faith kept me from decisions that would have negatively impacted my life. I trusted its promises, knowing that I was a child of God, saved by my Savior.
Somewhere during high school I got a copy ofa New Testament in the brand-new Living Bible paraphrase called Blueprint for Living! (complete with exclamation point!). When I was freed from my King James Version and could read Scripture in words I understood, God’s words to me began to make sense, the promises came alive, Jesus became more real.
Was I still confused sometimes? Of course. Do I now, 44 years later, understand the Bible completely? Of course not. But I understood the power of the book in my hands and how it had changed the world and could change me. In the words I had underlined in this very Bible comes an invitation I love to this day:
For whatever God says to us is full of living power: it is sharper than the sharpest dagger, cutting swift and deep into our innermost thoughts and desires with all their parts, exposing us for what we really are.
He knows about everyone, everywhere. Everything about us is bare and wide open to the all-seeing eyes of our living God.; nothing can be hidden from Him to whom we must explain all that we have done.
But Jesus the Son of God is our great High Priest who has gone to heaven itself to help us; therefore let us never stop trusting Him.
This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses since He had the same temptations we do , though He never once gave way to them and sinned.
So let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive His mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need.
–Hebrews 4:12-16, The Living Bible
The gold Eurofest ’75 sticker on the inside was from a youth conference I attended in the summer of 1975, just before my senior year of high school, with thousands of Christians from all over Europe. Held in Brussels, Belgium, this event gave me Billy Graham speaking in the evenings and Luis Palau in the mornings, with small group meetings of students in between. In the front of my notebook I wrote the names of the people in my group: Manima from Portugal; Katie from Colerhine, Northern Ireland; Richard from Bangor, Northern Ireland; and Janelle from Peoria, Illinois; plus me, who had traveled from Bonn, Germany.
This conference also gave me the moment that I understood that Jesus had to make a difference in every aspect of my life. He needed to be not just my Savior but also my Lord. As I sat in the stadium with thousands of Christian high schoolers from all over the world (in the section where the translators gave us English; everyone had to sit in a designated area where they could hear the speakers’ words translated in their languages), I understood and fully committed myself to following Him.
The letter in the front of our notebook explains the purpose of the conference: “God’s master plan for our lives is to become like Jesus.” This is still the master plan for my life. And in my imperfect way, I awaken every day hoping to honor Him.
So there’s my testimony. It’s not earth-shattering. Perhaps it sounds lame to some. Maybe people see me as deluded in my simple faith in God’s Word. Yet it is what it is. This is me. Simple faith, yet the outworking is incredibly complex in our broken world. More thinking on that in coming weeks.
In the meantime, my little Blueprint for Living! has been just that for me. I’ve moved on to different translations and study Bibles, but this book has been a blueprint for building a life that I hope honors my Lord. Every day I need to go “boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive His mercy and to find grace to help me in my times of need.”
Share your faith story with me. When did Scripture come alive for you?
As a Christian publishing professional, editor, writer, and now faculty member teaching Professional Writing, I have been considering my responsibility to my students about their responsibility as Christian writers.
The first concern, as noted in this post, is that my students stand firmly on the foundation of their faith. From the first day of the 101 class to the last day of capstone, I want to help them understand that they must stand on solid foundational truths that will undergird their writing (and, by extension, their lives).
Most of my students have a foundation of faith that drew them to Taylor University. Most are Christians but with a wide variety of perspectives on doctrines, social issues, and politics. There is room for all of those perspectives in my classroom, but I always want to draw them back to where we all agree: belief in Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior. Scripture is pretty basic: “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 NLT). We have our theologies and our beliefs and our opinions, but it really comes down to that.
So where do they land? Where is their faith, personally? Much of this exploration occurs outside of my classroom in other classes, at chapel, in their small groups in the dorms, and just in living lives as college students. I want them to wrestle with these questions so that as they take the classes across the Professional Writing curriculum, they stand on a foundation as they think critically about how their faith matters in their lives and how it affects their writing.
It matters because their faith matters first and foremost. They don’t know if their words will ever get published into the world, but they do have a responsibility to write where they are called to write. They must not make their reason for being or their standard of success tied to getting published—that should never be the “be all and end all” for any writer. Far more important is their obedience to God wherever He places them and whatever words He gives them. Their relationship with God trumps anything else in life—it trumps every success and every failure, for it is ultimately what matters most.
I encourage them to pay attention in the Biblical Literature classes, to explore Scripture in small group studies, to read the Bible all the way through, to listen to God in a quiet time (in whatever way that looks to them). I want them to understand how God’s Word is “alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT) and how Scripture needs to be a daily “lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105 KJV). I want them to love the Bible.
So then, what it means to be a Christian is to have foundational belief and, I would add, to seek in individual, faulty ways to live and act on those foundations through a daily personal walk with Jesus. It means staying in Scripture and prayer so as to always walk closely with the Father. This doesn’t mean that all Christians will believe the same, act the same, apply those foundations the same, or carry that faith into the world in the same way. We are each working out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). But still, the biblical faith foundation is vital.
Christian writers must be marinated in Scripture, in prayer, and in a daily walk with Jesus.
That’s the foundation we must have.
Christian writer friends, how do you keep your faith fresh and alive?
It’s been an interesting challenge, this past school year, as I’ve taken on new classes (translate—learn what I need to teach and then figure out how to teach it) and gotten out of my comfort zone.
But it has forced me to do some deep thinking about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what really matters.
Why do I teach writing and publishing?
What do I really want my students to know?
In the past few months, three things have become more clear to me. For the Christian writers who come through the Professional Writing major at Taylor University, I am committed to them graduating with the following understandings:
as Christians, I want them stand strong on the foundations of their faith, understanding that Scripture and their faith impacts every aspect of their lives; I want them to fall in love with God’s Word and see its power for the rest of their lives;
as writers, I want them to understand that their love for and ability with words is a calling and a gift from the Caller that they should and must continue to hone and improve;
as Christian writers, I want them to comprehend the power of those words and their responsibility to God for how they use their giftedness with words, especially as they seek to publish those words into the world.
How can my faith intersect my discipline as I teach the Professional Writing curriculum? How can I—a Christian publishing professional, editor, writer, and faculty member—bring these fundamental truths into our program? How can I bookend my students’ learning from their 101 introductory class to their final capstone class with these truths that matter?
It feels like a very heavy load.
But down deep in my soul, I sense that this is vital. This is more important than anything else I can do.
It is incumbent on Christian publishing professionals—whether authors or editors or publishers or marketers or bloggers or social media experts or agents—to deliver material that is well written, winsome, true, biblical, and honors Jesus Christ.
In a recent discussion, one of these Christian publishing professionals told me, “Too much of Christian writing is either preachy or saccharine. We need to bring wisdom, winsome words, and truth from our foundation into our writing.”
But what does that even mean anymore? The world is so deeply divided. Even among Christians there is so much division we sometimes act like a circular firing squad. I wonder how we can impact our world for good. How can we disagree about living out our faith (our politics, our work lives, our theological beliefs) but do so in a winsome and respectful way? How can we engage the questions so important in our culture, even as we disagree, while still being able to help others find what we have discovered in the foundations of our faith? In the end, that foundational piece is going to be all that matters to us anyway.
How do I guide my students to these understandings—even as we learn good writing and style tagging and editing and platform building and how to do a book proposal?
How do I guide them—even as we look for truth in Scripture and perhaps disagree on many other areas?
How do I help us all “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” and work out our writing and publishing lives in the same way?
There’s a lot to unpack here, and I invite you to join me both as I prayerfully seek God’s guidance and express my thoughts in the blog. I invite you to comment with your own thoughts and ideas as I think this is a big conversation worth having.
I’ve been reading the essays of author Andre Dubus, considered a master of the short form. In his book, Meditations from a Movable Chair(New York: Vintage, 1999), Dubus writes an essay called “First Books” and offers this encouragement to writers:
An older writer knows what a younger one has not yet learned. What is demanding and fulfilling is writing a single word, trying to write le mot juste, as Flaubert said; writing several of them, which become a sentence. When a writer does that, day after day, working alone with little encouragement, often with discouragement flowing in the writer’s blood, and with an occasional rush of excitement that empties oneself, so that the self is for minutes longer in harmony with eternal astonishments and visions of truth, right there on the page on the desk, and when a writer does this work steadily enough to complete a manuscript long enough to be a book, the treasure is on the desk. If the manuscript itself, mailed out to the world, where other truths prevail, is never published, the writer will suffer bitterness, sorrow, anger, and more dangerously despair, convinced that the work is not worthy, so not worth those days at the desk. But the writer who endures and keeps working will finally know that writing the book was something hard and glorious, for at the desk a writer must try to be free of prejudice, meanness of spirit, pettiness, and hatred; strive to be a better human being than the writer normally is, and to do this through concentration on a single word, and then another, and another, and another. This is splendid work, as worthy and demanding as any, and the will and resilience to do it are good for the writer’s soul. If the work is not published, or is published for little money and less public attention, it remains a spiritual, mental, and physical achievement; and if, in public, it is the widow’s mite, it is also, like the widow, more blessed. (162-63)
Writers, we must endure. We must keep working knowing that the words we write are worth it . . . it being the process, the “splendid” work, the worthy and demanding work.
No one said it would be easy. No one said it would be a sure path to fame and fortune. But as writers, we must be true to ourselves, to our giftedness and our calling. We must reach and try and write and rewrite and reach again because it matters.
If we’re true to our giftedness, then we will continue to write — no matter whether published or not, read or not. It is the “widow’s mite” that we offer up, and we are blessed.
While a few men in the early centuries tried to build what would be called early dictionaries (including Samuel Johnson in 1755), these trials would be eclipsed by the proposal in 1857 for a “big dictionary” that was to be an “inventory of the language.” This proposed dictionary would be “the history of the life span of each and every word” that appeared in the English language (104). This dictionary would chart the life of each word, recording its first mention in literature, then subsequent usages, “for every word, a passage quoted from literature that showed where each word was used first” (105). It would then show how the meanings of the word changed across the years — in some cases, across the centuries.
After some fits and starts and times when the very idea of this task seemed impossible (no computers!), Professor James A. H. Murray of the London Public School Mill Hill and member of the London Philological Society was chosen to take on the task of editor and find a way to complete the work. After getting Oxford Publishers on board, the project continued in earnest in 1879.
Murray’s first step was to recruit an army of English-speaking volunteers who would read books and gather words and quotations. The call for volunteers went out in flyers across Great Britain, the British colonies, and America. As people volunteered, Murray mailed them the following, which amounts to a style sheet of guidelines for these researchers:
The quotations, said the editor’s first page, were to be written on half sheets of writing paper. The target word — the “catchword,” as Murray liked to call it — was to be written at the top left. The crucial date of the quotation should be written just below it, then the name of the author and title of the cited book, the page number, and finally, the full text of the sentence being quoted. …
Murray’s rules were clear and unambiguous: Every word was a possible catchword. Volunteers should try to find a quotation for each and every word in a book. They should perhaps concentrate their efforts on words that struck them as rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar, or used in a peculiar way, but they should also look assiduously for ordinary words as well, providing that the sentence that included it said something about the use or meaning of the word. (134-35)
The volunteers began working — sending their slips of paper by the thousands every day. A first editor read to see if the slip was legible and had all the required elements; a second editor sorted the slips into alphabetical order. A third editor then divided the words into parts of speech (the same word being used as a noun, verb, adjective, etc.). A fourth editor began to “subdivide the meanings into the various shades it had enjoyed over its life [and] . . . make a first stab at writing that most crucial feature of most dictionaries — the definition” (151). The plan was to have “at least one sentence from the literature of each century in which the word was used” (152). Murray did the final edits of the definition, chose the best quotations, and determined the word’s pronunciation.
These new dictionaries were published alphabetically in sets. Portions of A – B appeared in 1885; another portion of B in 1887; the book comprising the letter C appeared in 1897 and was dedicated to Queen Victoria in her jubilee year.
The Oxford English Dictionary was officially completed in 1928, taking 70 years, resulting in 12 volumes with 414,825 words defined and 1,827,306 illustrative quotations. Sadly, Murray died in 1915 and did not live to see the completion of the work to which he gave so much of his life — practically living in the Scriptorium at Oxford University, placing slips of paper into over a thousand pigeonholes on banks of shelves specially built to sort words. A supplement was published in 1933, and four supplements came out between 1972 and 1986. In 1989, the computer aided in creating a second edition of the OED.
The OED website now boasts “over 600,000 words over a thousand years.” The “big dictionary” is now updated on a quarterly basis, revising existing entries and adding new words and senses of words.
Current principal editor of new words, David Martin, explains that 600 new words have been added in the latest update — new words and phrases such as crowd-surfer, Debbie Downer, facepalm, hashtag (as a verb), and TGIF.
And just who was the madman in the title of Winchester’s book? He was one of the most prolific of Murray’s word-seeking volunteers. You’ll want to read the book for all of those details!
In the meantime, grab the nearest dictionary — you probably don’t own an OED, but you probably have a dictionary of some sort. Revel in the plethora of information therein about every single word.
And be thankful for this great editor James Murray and the thousands of little slips of paper that got the whole thing started.
<Note from author: I wrote this in 2016, reposted in 2017, and am sharing again on Veterans Day 2020. As of this date, November 11, 2020, our nation is struggling with an undecided election because of allegations of voter fraud. We all should care so much about this that any kind of fraud is unacceptable–whether we’re on the winning side or not. If we cannot trust our voting system, we are destroying the very foundation of our nation and the freedom that our veterans fought for and our military protects. To me, that’s what matters most.>
Today is Veterans Day. Today we honor the men and women who are part of our American military.
I know that so many people wish that we just didn’t need you—that there were no wars to be fought. That we could all just get along.
One day, yes. But that’s a description of heaven. That’s not what we have here on this imperfect planet. Have there been unjust wars? Yes. Have wars been fought for stupid reasons? Yes. Is war terrible? Yes.
We could get into a big discussion about that here. But I’m not going to.
I’m also not here to talk about the merits of various wars. I’m not here to honor or condemn any particular commander-in-chief.
I’m here to thank the men and women who swore to protect our freedoms. I’m here to thank the men and women who, answerable to their commander-in-chief (for anyone who might not know, that’s the president of the United States), do what they are called to do. I’m here to honor the men and women who take that job seriously, who are compassionate when they need to be and deadly when they need to be. I’m here to thank the people who fight for freedom.
I wish that we didn’t need you, that everyone in the world could just get along. Unfortunately, that is just not a reality. The best way to preserve freedom is for our country to have a strong enough military that says, “Don’t mess with us.” You who go into harm’s way to help preserve that freedom, who protect us, who help the rest of the world know that to mess with us is to bring the greatest nation in the world down on them—thank you.
I wish that more people understood the sacrifices you make—in families separated for long stretches and, when not separated, in families uprooted and moved to new places; in facing enemy fire; in PTSD and things you can’t unsee when you close your eyes to sleep; in doing all of this for pathetic pay.
You make these sacrifices because you believe in America.
We just came out of a very divisive election. The country is split. But you know what? That’s what voting is all about. Some win; some lose. I have cried my eyes out over a few elections; I’ve sighed with relief at others. To those of you out there protesting that the new president is not yours, look around for two seconds and realize that you are allowed to do this. You are allowed to feel this way. No one’s going to put you in jail for your opinion (unless you start doing something illegal). You live in the greatest country in the world. You’re FREE!
And here’s the bottom line: One election cannot destroy a free people.
Take a look at our history to see what we’ve survived.
This is what you thank a veteran for. Too many people just don’t seem to understand that freedom isn’t free. It has to be protected.
But here’s the other side of the coin. With freedom comes a huge amount of responsibility. We’re free—but not to hurt one another. Not to make fun of one another. Not to badmouth those who disagree with us. We’re free to express opinions, but we must always do so respectfully, realizing that the person across from us with a very different opinion came to that opinion in his or her own reasoned way just as we did.
Has America had some very bad policies? Oh yeah. Have some presidents made some really bad decisions? Heck yes. Does America have some really big problems to work on? You bet.
But it has always been that way. Always. No country is perfect just as no person is perfect. We are all fallible and the best we can do is, when we see a problem, decide that we need to fix it. And we start to figure out how to do that.
We need all of the voices in the conversation—but there is no conversation if everyone is offended or upset or name-calling. The way we get to the best decisions is when we sit down and hear one another.
And for everyone upset about this election, realize that for the rest of your life, you’ll win some, you’ll lose some. Also, realize that most voters look at a way larger picture and take into account way more things—especially those of us who are older and try to look at the office and the nation and the future, which are way bigger than a single man or woman. And take a quick look at history. This country swings back and forth between Democrat and Republican presidents and Congress. If we don’t like what we have, we are able to vote them out next time around.
That’s what you thank a vet for. Helping preserve that freedom for the last 240 years.
Many of the greatest changes that happened in our country have not been top-down decisions from a president. That’s the genius of our system of government—a system people have fought and died for. Change happens when FREE people voice their opinions and work for change and vote in the lawmakers who could make the changes happen. In at least one case in particular, we fought a horrifying war on our own soil because of those differing opinions.
And if those lawmakers don’t win? Then stand strong on your principles, keep your respectful voice being heard, and keep working for the change you feel needs to happen.
Thank a vet for that.
Thank a vet that we are still a free country where we can have vastly different opinions and live together, work together, serve together, worship together.
The best way we can honor our veterans is being worthy of their sacrifices.
So instead of letting our opinions divide us, instead of being angry that there are actually people who think differently than we do, why don’t we instead find ways to make positive change—in our personal lives, in our families, in our communities and workplaces, in our world? Why don’t we now take a deep breath, listen to one another, learn from one another, understand the very deep feelings on both sides, and work together to make whatever needs to be improved better?
Our country has made a lot of mistakes, but I can say without hesitation that the United States is the greatest country in the world. But FREEDOM is a privilege that must be handled with great appreciation and great care. We have come a long way. We still have a long way to go. We will always have a long way to go. There will always be huge new problems to face. But we won’t face them down by refusing to listen to one another or refusing to learn from our own history.
Today, I thank my Uncle Howard (who has passed away) for his sacrifice in World War II, and I thank my dad, who bravely flew a hundred missions over North Vietnam and faced enemy fire.
Thank you, Dad, for serving our country. Thank you, Mom, for providing a haven wherever we moved, for making each new house a home.
So why should you thank a vet? Because these men and women sacrifice for an ideal—the ideal of freedom.
So you can be FREE.
Thank you, veterans, for serving and preserving this great country. May the rest of us learn from your example.