Freedom Isn’t Free: Thank You, Veterans

I’ve posted this very similar post every Veteran’s Day over the last cycle of elections. It seems fitting that this special day to honor those who have served our country in the military comes right around the time that we elect those who lead us. And it seems fitting when those very elections have been so contentious. I’d like to step back and take a moment to think about elections and freedom.

This day means a lot to me because I get to honor my father, Col. USAF Ret. Philip Chaffee, who served 25 years in the military, trained pilots in the T-38 and other trainers, flew F-4 Phantoms in service to his country in Viet Nam, and taught me what it means to love my country (yes, my imperfect country). I get to honor numerous relatives, friends, folks who sit at breakfast beside me and my husband in the local diner, proudly wearing their veteran caps, and men and women I don’t know whose pictures are proudly displayed on banners in numerous small towns as their “Hometown Heroes.” It’s a way to honor my mom and all the military spouses and their families.

I thank you.

I’m here to thank you who swore to protect our freedoms. I’m here to thank you who, answerable to your commander-in-chief (for anyone who might not know, that’s the president of the United States), do what you are called to do. I’m here to honor you who take that job seriously, who are compassionate when you need to be and deadly when you need to be. I’m here to thank you who fight for freedom.

I wish that more people understood the sacrifices you make—in families separated for long stretches and, when not separated, 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 and, too often in this day and age, for little respect.

You make these sacrifices because you believe in America.

This is what I thank you for. Too many people just don’t seem to understand that freedom isn’t free. It has to be protected.

My dad is the coolest.

Let’s not let it go. Let’s be careful to be worthy of the sacrifices these people have made and make every day to protect our nation “from enemies foreign and domestic.” On this day we honor those who have served; on Memorial Day we honor those who have died in military service.

The best way we can honor our veterans is to handle carefully and respectfully — and dare I say, in awe of — the amazing gift of freedom. When we see it being chipped away, we need to fight back. We are a strong nation because we are a free people.

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 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.

Being able to express ourselves is the very essence of freedom.

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.

It’s what the Founding Fathers did. It’s what helped build a country that has been unmatched around the world.

Thank you, veterans. We will attempt to honor your lives and sacrifices.

Guidelines for Quoting Bible Material: Part 2

As noted in Part 1 of this topic, quoting material from the Bible (and indeed any source) can be tricky. Editors need to be sticklers when it comes to sacred texts (and indeed, with any quoted material).

I offered 5 guidelines in Part 1. Here are 6 more guidelines when quoting (and then copyediting) material from the Bible.

(6) Watch your punctuation.

In addition to the quotation marks noted in Part 1, watch for other types of punctuation. The style for typing a verse within the text of a manuscript is generally quotation followed by punctuation. Notice in the following example that there is no punctuation at the end of the verse itself; instead, the period follows the close parenthesis of the reference.

“In the beginning the Word already existed” (John 1:1 NLT).

If your verse ends in a question mark or exclamation point, put that inside the close quote and put a period after the close parenthesis.

“Who has a claim against me that I must pay?” (Job 41:11 NIV).

“And Abraham said to God, ‘If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!’” (Genesis 17:18 NIV).

Notice in the Genesis verse that I had to add the open and close quotation marks around the entire verse, which means I had to put single quotations marks around Abraham’s words. The exclamation point stays, and the period is placed after the close parenthesis.

However, note that when you have a text in a block, the punctuation closes out the block with the reference without punctuation following.

You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me! (Psalm 139:16–18 NLT)

(7) Watch how you use ellipses.

Most publishers are fine with quoting a portion of a verse without ellipses at the beginning or the end. That is, if you’re talking about Jesus and what he said, and you want to drop off the “Jesus said” at the beginning of the verse and just quote what he said, you don’t need to include ellipses to indicate that you dropped the words “Jesus said.” The same often goes if you’re quoting just the first part and not the end; you don’t necessarily have to include the ellipses trailing at the end. Of course, you must use ellipses if you’re dropping material from the middle of the verse, or dropping a verse from a series of verses, to indicate that material is missing.

However, I would advise you to make these kind of changes carefully. Always remember that you’re working with God’s Word. Be respectful of it for its own sake and for the sake of your readers. Be careful not to cause contextual problems with ellipses. Make sure that you are letting the verse say what it says, without causing confusion by dropping out parts of it.

(8) Follow consistency in references.

While it’s important to know what to do with the Bible book name throughout your references, you will need to make several other consistency decisions as well—or you might ask your publisher how they want you to do it by requesting their style guide. (You can also get advice from The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style.) This attention to consistency may seem like overkill, but trust me, if you make these decisions early on and are consistent, your manuscript will make so much more sense to an editor and ultimately to your readers. For instance, in the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, you’ll find an alphabetized text that includes extensive word lists of Christian terms and suggested spellings and capitalizations, along with every other question you might have and want to look up (for example, “Clerical titles and clerical positions” and how to use them is in the section for the letter C).

If you’re going to be quoting several verses from the same chapter (say, you’re discussing the story of Daniel in the lions’ den and your readers know you’re in Daniel 6, but throughout the coming pages you’re working your way through different verses), decide how to handle each reference. It might look awkward to put the full book name or even the abbreviated book name and chapter in each reference after each quote. Maybe opt for saying (verse 6) and (verse 7) and (verses 8–9), or maybe even (v. 6) and (v. 7) and (vv. 8–9). Or maybe keep just the chapter without the book name (6:6), (6:7), (6:8–9). The most important consideration is clarity for your readers.

(9) Let readers know if you are using emphasis.

Perhaps you want to emphasize a portion of a verse you’re quoting. Do that by putting it in italics, but let your readers know that the emphasis is yours. (This rule is true for quoting from anything anywhere, not just Scripture.) After the reference, say something like “italics mine” or “emphasis mine.” If you want to focus on the word patience in these verses about the fruit of the Spirit, do this: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23 NLT, emphasis mine).

(10) Use brackets to indicate added material.

As we’ve established, quoting from anywhere is sacrosanct. Leave the quote exactly as it is rendered—and this rule is obviously extremely important in Scripture. But sometimes, you’re quoting and must give your readers some context. Indicate that you are editing the direct quote by putting the edited material in brackets.

For example, quoting Genesis 45:25, “So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan” (NIV). You might need to explain who “they” refers to. Revise the verse to explain who “they” is by replacing the word and putting the referent in brackets, as follows: “So [Joseph’s brothers] went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan.”

Don’t use parentheses, because parentheses could be part of the quote. The brackets make it clear that you have added the material.

(11) Stay true to the Bible version.

Take care to always use the place and people names as rendered in the version you’re using. For example: Is that son of Saul named Ishbosheth or Ish-bosheth or Ish-Bosheth or Ish Bosheth? It’s actually all of them, depending on the Bible version. 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.

Did the Israelites wander for 40 years in the “desert” or in the “wilderness”? Depends. In some Bible versions, place names are rendered as two words, others hyphenate, others just run them together, and capitalizations vary: Baal Peor, Baalpeor, Baal-peor, or even Baal of Peor.

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. So in some cases God is Him, His, Himself; in others, him, his, himself.

Even if a publisher’s style guide says not to capitalize deity pronouns, if in that same book you quote from a Bible text that does capitalize those pronouns, then always quote the Bible text as it is.

I know it seems like a lot, but, as with anything, the more you do it the easier it will become.

When quoting anything from printed material, always be exact, always give the source, always double check yourself.

After all, if someone quotes you, you would want it to be your exact words.

Guidelines for Quoting Bible Material: Part 1

Because I worked in Christian publishing for many years, I have learned a thing or two about copyediting and proofreading quotations of Scripture.

Authors have a tendency — no matter how careful they are — to inadvertently misquote the words of a verse, miss punctuation, or (often) give the wrong reference.

That’s where careful copyediting and proofreading comes in. (This post will focus on the technical details; it goes without saying that you as copy editor will want to make sure that your author is quoting the verse in context and correctly handling the word of truth, as noted in 2 Timothy 2:15.)

Some authors decide that they will quote just from one version of Scripture throughout their self-help book or devotional; others want to use a variety of versions. All versions read differently, and these authors may want to change up and quote different versions just because of the way it renders a passage. If you’re an author, please always tell your editor what version of the Bible you’re quoting.

If your author has quoted from only one version throughout the manuscript, there is no need to give the Bible version after all of the references. The line on the copyright page stating that “All Scripture quotations are taken from …” is sufficient. However, if the author at one point decided to quote from another version—even just one verse—at that verse reference the author will need to note the version, and then you as copy editor need to make sure that the correct copyright clause for that Bible version has been added to the copyright page.

Some publishers follow the Bible quoting and sourcing guidelines in the Chicago Manual of Style, others follow The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style.  In addition, all Christian publishers have their own style guides for how to abbreviate Bible book names (Deut., or Deu., or Dt.), how to write references (hyphen, comma or en-dash between verse spans), and the capitalizations of various scriptural words (temple or Temple; rapture or Rapture). Some publishers use the lowercase letters a or b to indicate in the reference that the author is using the first or second part of a verse (Psalm 139:14a); others don’t do that. If you are editing for a particular publisher, ask for their style guide. If not, make your decisions at this point and note them on your style sheet so that you’ll be consistent.

Over the years, I’ve gathered up a list of items important to remember when quoting from or otherwise using Scripture in writing. Following are the first five of ten key rules for quoting and sourcing Scripture (the other five will be in the next blog post).

(1) Know what version(s) you’re using—and quote it correctly.

“Be careful, for writing books is endless” (Ecclesiastes 12:12, NLT).

“Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12, NIV).

“There’s no end to the publishing of books” (Ecclesiastes 12:12 MSG).

Follow the various style guides or the style guide from the publisher for the details; barring that, be consistent. Use your style sheet to make note of how you write the references (1:3, 4 or 1:3-4 or 1:3–4) and whether you’re writing Bible book names out in full or abbreviating them (and how you abbreviate them). The moral of the story is, be consistent.

By far the most important key to quoting Scripture is to quote it accurately. I can’t stress enough: Read the verses carefully, word by word. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen typos in quoted verses … well, I’d have a lot of nickels. And if the author has copied verses from Bible Gateway or some other electronic Bible, still double check it. Do a comparison read, a phrase at a time—read aloud and read the punctuation as well. If you’re working with an electronic Bible, minimize both screens so that you can see the document and see the electronic page at the same time. That makes it much easier than trying to flip back and forth between screens.

(2) Be sure that “Lord” or “God” is small caps where appropriate.

Throughout the Old Testament (and in the New Testament when it’s quoting the Old), the word Lord will be rendered as LORD, with the “ORD” as small caps and, in a few cases, GOD is that way as well. (Note that my WordPress program isn’t allowing me to make those small caps, but take a look in your Old Testament and you’ll see what I mean.) When you see Lord in small caps, you’re seeing the translators using this special formatting to show that the word is the Hebrew word for the name of God, YHWH or Yahweh, as opposed to other names of God (Elohim or Adonai, for example). It is important that when you quote Bible verses that have small caps, you include those small caps.

If you’re not seeing a verse quoted with the small caps and it should be, you can quickly create small capitals by highlighting the “ord” (make sure that you start with the letters in lower case) and then pressing Control + Shift + K. You can also highlight the three letters, navigate to the Home ribbon and Font tab with the dropdown to open up the Font menu, and then click on the box for “Small caps.” Mac users, do Command + Shift + K.

(3) Don’t worry about italics.

Some Old Testament texts italicize words that have been added for readability in English but are not technically in their source texts. You may not see these on the electronic Bibles, but if you’re copying from your Bible, you may see various words italicized. Unless the words are italicized for other purposes (for example, in the New Testament where Jesus speaking in Aramaic), then don’t worry about copying the italics. Most publisher style guides specify not to do that.

For example, Genesis 1:10 in the King James Version reads, “And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called the Seas: and God saw that it was good.” Notice the italics on “land” and “it was.” When you copy this verse into your manuscript, you don’t need to italicize those words. (However, note that you do need to maintain the capital letters beginning Earth and Seas.)

However, if you’re quoting Jesus as here in Matthew 27:46 in the New International Version (2011): “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?‘ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’),” then preserve the italics because this verse is following the rule of putting foreign language words in italics.

(4) Use quotation marks accurately.

Generally, when you’re going to quote a verse, you will put it in quotation marks, as here, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). However, if you’re quoting a passage with more than five lines, generally you’ll put that in a block, so then you will not use open and close quotes (this line-count rule applies to quoting any kind of block text—not only Scripture). For example:

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. (Romans 5:3–6 NLT)

If you’re running a quoted Scripture verse into your text that has a quote within it, you will need to change the double quotes to single quotes, such as, “Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’” (John 14:6 NLT). Notice that since I had to enclose the quote in quotation marks to quote it here in this paragraph, I needed to change the original double quotation marks around Jesus’ words to single quotation marks. Also, if you need to capitalize a letter at the beginning or lower case a letter because you’re folding the quote into a sentence you wrote, do so.

The exception is when you do a block (as above). Since there are no open or close quotes around a block of text, any internal quotation marks will remain as in the original.

(5) Don’t include verse numbers.

When you’re quoting more than one verse, either running into your text or in a block quote, you don’t need to include the verse numbers at each verse. These verse numbers may carry over from electronic Bible software if you copy a block of material, so be sure to remove them.

“Versification” refers to those Bibles where each verse starts in a new paragraph; that is, the verses are not run together to create paragraphs. When you’re copying from such Bibles, you do not need to keep the verses separate. That is simply a stylistic decision made by the Bible publisher. For your purposes when quoting, run the material together into one paragraph.

The same rule applies to quoting poetry in Scripture. You can preserve the poetic lines or type the poetry into paragraph form. Also note that when presenting poetry together into paragraph lines, you may need to lowercase some letters. The text may have capital letters at the beginning of each new line or verse, but when run together, these would be incorrect. Fix the capitalization to match sentence case.

I know! There’s a lot to keep track of!

So that gets us started! We need to be very careful as we work with material that quotes Scripture. Watch for rules 6-10 in an upcoming post.

Even Editors Need Editors

Here she is. All 332 pages of her. I told you about this book contract and, well, after some weeks of imposter syndrome and some constant worry about if I could actually write this book … well. Ta-da.

The working title is Pathway to Publication. I’m still trying on some subtitles, such as “A publishing professional turned college prof leads the way” or “guides you.” Not sure yet. But we have a little time to hone that part.

The writing process has not been easy. I look at these pages and honestly am astounded.

But it wasn’t done alone. It took a team of people to help me get to this point (and I’m not even at the publisher yet!).

A dear publishing friend helped me see beyond the “this has already been written a million times” dilemma to look instead at my personal perspective on this publishing process. She helped me see that I could write this from the college professor angle — so the book is shaped by the college classes I teach in Professional Writing and is very hands-on, including worksheets to help readers go from the theoretical to the practical. (Thank you, Kim.)

Another publishing friend recommended that I revise my website to focus on the teaching angle and build on that. (Thank you, Rhonda.)

My sister has been talking to me about preparations for her thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail next year. The more she talked, the more I discovered a hook I could hang this book on — preparing for the months on the AT could be compared to preparing a book for publication. That metaphor helped me lay out the chapters. (Thank you, Carol.)

A former student who now has a business helping authors promote their books will help me create a pre-publication marketing strategy. (Thank you, Jori.)

A high schooler I met at our writers conference teen track, who is new to the publishing process, is reading some chapters to help me know if I’m answering her questions. (Thank you, Eliana.)

A current student and another writer friend are reading to see if I’m staying true to the content and my voice, writing clearly, and speaking in the right way to my target audience. (Thank you, Anna and Dave.)

And, finally, yet another student who has started his own freelance editing business just completed an astounding copyedit of the manuscript. He caught me in my wordiness and in my tics. He smoothed and refined and questioned and commented. And, as I taught him in editing class, he remembered to offer a few positive comments as well. And boy, did I need them! (Thank you, Kipp.)

And I’m thankful to the many publishing professionals I’ve learned from across my almost forty years in the industry. Their wisdom guided this book. I’ve added their titles to a recommended books list and quoted several of them throughout. Instead of feeling like “this is just another book on the same topic,” I simply feel humbled to add my voice to the many others who have a passion to help writers.

All of this to say, we writers need folks around us — some with publishing advice, some with writing advice, some with editorial skill, some with marketing skill, some acting as the target audience readers — to bring out the best in our manuscripts.

I still have a week to go with this pile of paper before it goes off to the publisher. That’s why I printed it. I always need to see it on physical paper to highlight and mark the final changes I need to make.

Then, of course, the editor at the publisher will tear it apart — but I already know that. I teach about this. (Thank you, Bold Vision Books.)

I’m ready. After all, even editors need editors.

Even Thomas Jefferson Had Editors

Happy July 4th, everyone! Independence Day. This is one of my favorite holidays. I do love our country so much and, while we certainly have had and continue to have our problems, we are a great country with a great heritage.

Which is why the picnics and parades and fireworks on July 4.

As I write this on July 2, it was on July 2, 1776, that the Continental Congress formally declared independence. It was two days later, on July 4, that the Congress approved the final text of the Declaration.

It had taken a few weeks and several versions to get there.

Apparently, the 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson was known for having a way with words in his writing (you never know when and for what your writing skills might be called upon!). On June 11, Jefferson, along with four others, was commissioned to draft a statement justifying the colonies’ break from Great Britain — a Declaration of Independence. The Committee of Five included Jefferson (VA), Benjamin Franklin (PA), John Adams (MA), Robert Livingston (NY), and Roger Sherman (CT). Jefferson wrote the first draft, then Franklin and Adams acted as first readers, making some corrections that Jefferson incorporated before the Declaration was presented to the Continental Congress for approval.

The process of consideration and revision of Jefferson’s declaration (including Adams’ and Franklin’s corrections) continued on July 3 and into the late morning of July 4, during which Congress deleted and revised some one-fifth of its text. … The delegates made no changes to that key preamble, however, and the basic document remained Jefferson’s words. Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence later on the Fourth of July.

Source: History: Writing of Declaration of Independence

What was that one-fifth of the text that was revised or deleted? Constitutionfacts.com gives a little info:

Jefferson was quite unhappy about some of the edits made to his original draft of the Declaration of Independence. He had originally included language condemning the British promotion of the slave trade (even though Jefferson himself was a slave owner). This criticism of the slave trade was removed in spite of Jefferson’s objections.

Source: Constitutionfacts.com/Declaration of Independence

In addition, the Congress made 86 other changes before finally adopting the approximately 1,320-word Declaration.

Jefferson later wrote about the process in 1823:

… the other members of the committee “unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draught [sic]. I consented; I drew it; but before I reported it to the committee I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections. … I then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the Congress.”

Source: National Archives: America’s Founding Documents

The National Archives site quoted above goes on to explain, “Jefferson’s rough draft, however, with changes made by Franklin and Adams, as well as Jefferson’s own notes of changes by the Congress, is housed at the Library of Congress.”

This is every writer and editor’s dream. To see the actual text and edits of any great work. Well, we can take a look courtesy of the Library of Congress website, listed under “The Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress,” and titled, “Thomas Jefferson, June 1776, Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence.”

Screenshot of source: Library of Congress website, https://www.loc.gov/resource/mtj1.001_0545_0548/

In this link are photos of four hand-written pages with scratch outs and rewrites. You can see, for example, on page 1, how the words “a people” were changed to “one people.” You can see that the next entire line is scratched out, replaced with what did become the final words, “… dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume …” And the first line of the next paragraph, to me one of the most beautifully written in all of literature, appears to have been edited several times to get it just right: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Note that “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” remained unedited.

Who knows what discussions occurred as those Continental Congress delegates edited by committee over those two days in 1776? (And if you’ve ever sat in on a meeting where an entire group is attempting to edit a document, you know how frustrating that can be.) Why did they make certain cuts? What were the compromises? Why didn’t they understand freedom truly for ALL people? What subtle wording changes occurred? Indeed, Robert Livingston, one of the Committee of Five, did not ultimately sign the Declaration, believing it was too soon to declare independence.

But on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress finalized the document, then on August 2, 1776, 56 men signed it, knowing that they were putting their lives literally on the line by doing so. This group of men, as imperfect as they were, believed in freedom. They had the vision to create a nation with founding principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — and the documents they created formed our United States of America.

Odd fact: Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Continental Congress’s approval of the Declaration of Independence.

So celebrate today! Wave your flag and thank the founders of the Declaration of Independence for their vision. It laid the foundation that we should continue to cherish, even as we as a nation have been adjusting and changing over the last 246 years. Let us celebrate our freedom.

Sources:

The Franklin Institute: Benjamin Franklin and the Declaration of Independence)

History: Writing of Declaration of Independence

National Archives: America’s Founding Documents

Thomas Jefferson, June 1776, Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence

Writers Need Thick Skin, Part 1: Dealing with Rejection

I tell my students this all the time: “You want to be a writer? You want to get published? You want to get your writing into the hands of readers? Then develop a thick skin.”

Sounds tough, I know. But it’s 100 percent true.

And this theme is a key element of my upcoming book, which has no title yet but is right now affectionately called, “So you’ve finished your manuscript? You want to get published? Here is everything you need to know, prepare, do, and plan for.” I know, too long. But that’s basically what it’s about.

And there’s a whole chapter on the idea of having a thick skin. Because writers need it.

We need it before we get published, and we need it after (which I will discuss in a later post as Part 2).

First, the BEFORE. Anyone who has been writing and submitting for more than a week has discovered that rejection is simply a part of the process. Writers need thick skin to be ready to handle those inevitable rounds of rejection and maintain personal mental health. No matter how many years you’ve been at it, no matter how many pieces you have or have not published, those four simple words “not right for us” hit right in the gut.

Every. Time.

Why does it hurt so much? Well, as a much-rejected writer, I believe it just comes down to how much of ourselves we put into every piece we write and how rejection feels like a rejection of us personally. Whether it’s a literary story, or a transparent memoir, or a how-to on keeping houseplants alive, we worked hard and put ourselves out there. So it is always with great fear and trembling that we send out the piece or the query or the proposal and anxiously await the response.

We fear that someone out there will laugh uproariously at our audacity to think we can write and that anyone would publish us, show it around so everyone else laughs at our expense, and then reply with the terse email, “Not right for us.”

Courtesy of memebetter.com meme generator (which I love!). Grumpy cat photo and meme created by Tabatha Bundesen.

Can I offer up a few facts to help keep those rejections in perspective?

However, first, I’m going to assume that you are a careful writer and researcher, that others have read and critiqued your work, that you’ve revised and revised to make it the best you can deliver. That is my assumption. (Please don’t be one of those writers who tries to send off the first draft or who dares to think that “God gave me the words” so therefore it’s perfect as is.) Good, solid writing takes time and care.

Beyond that, here are some thoughts from my own (and many others’) experiences:

  • Everyone gets rejected. Every single famous author started out right where you are — wallowing in the misery of the “not right for us.” If you don’t believe me, here’s an article about best-selling books that were initially rejected (often many times).
  • You have to understand how many pieces these editors are seeing every single day. Sometimes hundreds. You have a lot of competition when there are a couple hundred submissions for a single spot in a magazine, or when there are hundreds of book proposals for perhaps five publication slots at an imprint of your genre for the next publication season. So don’t take it personally.
  • It could be that, although your piece or proposal is stellar, someone got in right before you with something very similar. And yours gets rejected. There’s no way you could know that.
  • Acceptance is very subjective. The gatekeeper reading your query or literary piece or proposal needs to “feel it.” They need to resonate with your topic or your voice. And if they don’t, then it will be rejected. Not because you’re a terrible writer, but simply because this particular editor just didn’t have that gut reaction. And there’s no way you can control that.
  • Rejection is about the piece, the query, the proposal — it is not a rejection of you as a person or as a writer (no matter how much it feels that way).

So how can you handle rejection? Here are a few more thoughts:

  • Allow yourself to feel bad for a bit. It does hurt. (Give yourself a day to wallow, if needed. But no negative self-talk. Remember, it’s not a rejection of you.)
  • Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go back to your tracking system for the next place to submit. (You do have a tracking system, don’t you? If not, create one. Make a list of all the places you want to submit to on something like an Excel doc. More on that in a later post — oh, and also in my upcoming book. <just a teaser>). What I mean is that on such a list you can now mark down that XX publication or publisher rejected it, so now turn around and send it to YY. Of course you’ll have to revise your piece, and double check submission guidelines and word counts, but get it out there again. If you really believe in it, keep trying at other places. You might hit right at the moment when they DO need just your piece and the editor DOES resonate with it.
  • You could even take an optimistic approach, like this writer, on why you should aim for 100 rejections a year (pardon the swear word in the article — but the point is valid). The basic premise is that the more you’re submitting, yes, the more you’ll get rejected, but by the law of averages, it also means the more chances you’re giving yourself to eventually be published.
  • Stay classy, don’t burn bridges with any editor or publisher, and thicken that skin.

You writers out there who have experienced rejection, how do you handle it and keep your writing sanity?

Proud of my grads

So excuse me while I get a little verklempt.

It happens to me every year, around May, you know … graduation. Every year, another set of students in whom I’ve invested for four years whatever knowledge I have to share, whatever words of wisdom I have to offer, and whatever encouragement I have to pour out on them — every year, another batch of them leaves. I wrote about this feeling back in 2015, about my annual heartache, and it has followed me every year since then.

Seriously, it feels like it did when I had to let my kids go. We parents know what it’s like to launch our children. To watch them drive away to that new job, or to hand them off in marriage, or to stand by and hold our breath as they learn the joys and frustrations of adulting.

I know these aren’t my kids, but they have definitely become a part of my life and the letting go still hurts my heart.

The Professional Writing 2022 seniors from Taylor University (oh, and me).

But here’s the deal. These folks are really special to me. They entered the Professional Writing program just as I was taking it over in the wake of some unexpected changes. They stuck with me. They offered thoughts and advice and encouragement as we worked to update the program to better prepare them (and future ProWrites) to successfully leave college and enter the work force.

And here’s another deal: They’re doing it! Four of them already have jobs in their field! I mean, job jobs. Jobs they have trained for. One of them is going on to graduate school for an MFA. The others are in interview processes that will land them shortly, I have no doubt.

They are ready.

I’m happy, I’m sad. I’m letting them go knowing that indeed that’s what I’m here for. To bring them in, train them as best I can, and send them on their way to whatever God has for them.

Seriously. I have the best job in the world.

Blessings to you Ellie, Kipp, Zach, Grant, Tarah, Alyssa, Katie, Lindsey. Go with God.

Finding Your Writing Rhythm

I’ve been thinking about my writing rhythm as I’m working feverishly to meet my book deadline (mid-May). First was getting past my imposter syndrome that plagued the early writing.

Now is, you know . . . finishing the actual book.

In mid February, when the spring semester began and I worked up my weekly class schedule, I thought I would take advantage of a free hour here and there during my work days between classes to keep the momentum going. “One hour of writing,” I boldly declared to myself in the box on the weekly printed schedule.

It has yet to happen.

There is too much else needing my instant attention in those in-between hours — whether it’s emails or grading or prep for the next class or students wanting to meet or just plain taking a breather. (As a card-carrying introvert, being “on” all day long is exhausting. Sometimes I just need to recharge in my quiet office before venturing back out in front of the classroom.)

I’ve discovered that I just can’t work on my book in those in-between hours. It takes too much for me to get going, and then, once I get going, I don’t want to stop and then have to pick up later. A single hour just isn’t enough. But give me an entire Sunday afternoon or give me a free day during our college’s spring break, and I can write for five or six hours before looking up and realizing I should go get something to eat.

Allie Pleiter (creator of The Chunky Method — check it out, it’s cool!) would call me a “big chunk writer.” There are “little chunk writers,” those folks who can pick up and write in the cracks of time between other events. Some of my students fall into that category. In the few minutes between classes, they write. Others are like me and need to find a place and a time where uninterrupted hours allow for uninterrupted flow.

Indeed, famous writers past and present have very different types of rhythms. This article, The Daily Routine of 20 Famous Writers (and How You Can Use Them to Succeed) by Mayo Oshin, offers up the routines of twenty of them. Stephen King tries to write six pages a day, while John Steinbeck strove for one a day. Ernest Hemingway, Susan Sontag, and Maya Angelou wrote in the mornings (it seems that for many of them, mornings are key). Ray Bradbury wrote one short story a week, figuring that, with the law of averages, at least one out of 52 would have to be good. Mark Twain wrote all day from after breakfast until dinnertime. Charles Dickens always took a three-hour midday walk.

Some need music; some need silence (I’m a silence worker). Some write at the same time in the same spot every day. Some are compulsive about page or word count, others not so much.

The point is, no rhythm is right or wrong — you just need to find yours. And granted, I’m guessing you’re not making your living writing, so you probably have to work your writing time around job and family responsibilities. It’s a challenge.

Yes, it’s a challenge, but it will be worth it!

My senior capstone students are currently reading Andrew Peterson’s excellent book Adorning the Dark (if you haven’t read it, please do!). He writes, “If you wait until the conditions are perfect, you’ll never write a thing” (p. 40). And all of them resonated with that statement. (And, if they think it’s tough now while in college …).

So if you’re going to make your writing life work, you need to figure out a rhythm that works for your life right now in this season. Even then, a few months from now, your life routine may change and you’ll need to readjust. But figure out something that will work for you now.

  • Decide if you can make use of small chunks of time or you need long chunks of uninterrupted time.
  • Consider the time when you’re most productive (and have time to put into writing). If you’re a morning big chunk writer with a full-time job, maybe you’ll have to use Saturday mornings. If you’re a morning small chunk writer, maybe getting up a bit earlier and putting in an hour each morning will work for you.
  • Determine if you can work amidst chaos (will the kitchen table work while folks are moving around you, or a local coffee shop?) or if you need quiet. If you need a quiet space, can you set up a work table in a large closet, or the garage, or an attic? Is there a space you can set aside where you can work?
  • Can you do chaos but with earplugs or earphones? Does music help or hinder?

Find out what works for you. Just because someone says to write X number of words or pages a day doesn’t mean YOU have to do that. But if you’re going to keep moving ahead with your writing, you’ll have to find a rhythm that works best for you.

If you’ve found your writing rhythm, what does that look like? Share in the comments below.

3 Questions for Imposter Syndrome

I feel it (almost) every day. “Imposter Syndrome.”

Defining terms:

An imposter, a fraud. Someone who pretends to be someone else in order to deceive.

A syndrome, a group of symptoms that occur together creating some kind of abnormality. Over at the U of Utah Health site, it says, “A disease usually has a defining cause, distinguishing symptoms and treatments. A syndrome, on the other hand, is a group of symptoms that might not always have a definite cause.”

Put together, one feels like a fraud because of some undefined group of symptoms with no definite cause.

The full definition, as noted by Psychology Today, is:

People who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them. 

It looks like me asking such questions:

“What am I doing teaching at a college? I never trained for this! Everyone else on faculty is so much more [academic, interesting, challenging, capable, professional, creative] than I am.”

“What am I doing writing a book about publishing? Everything has already been written. How can I possibly add anything new to the mix? All the other authors [are better writers, have deeper knowledge, have stronger writing voices, can promote their books better, are already on the circuit, are more fun to be around].”

Then basically choose any other task or role, and I’ll find a way to feel like either I shouldn’t try to do it or shouldn’t be there if I am doing it … because, you know, someone else could do it so much better.

I’m not alone. Again according to Psychology Today, 70 percent of adults may experience this at least once in their lifetime. But my imposter syndrome is less about me feeling undeserving of accolades or awards (don’t currently have any to speak of); instead, it’s more about me feeling like I’m merely acting a part and, yes, someone at some point is going to find out I’m not as competent as I pretend to be and they’ll call me out.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Ever feel like that?

I don’t want to feel like an imposter, even as I humbly acknowledge my shortcomings in so many areas. So I’ve learned to ask myself three questions because, as a Christian, I look not just within but outside myself as well, to my heavenly Father, for help in dealing with this negative thinking and self-doubt.

(1) Did God call me to this job or give me this opportunity?

(2) Have I sensed his clear guidance and peace in pursuing it?

(3) Do I continue to sense his presence — whether things are going smoothly or not?

If I can say yes to these questions, then I can look imposter syndrome in the face and calmly explain that I am NOT a fraud. I am not perfect, I’m still learning, I’m still striving to improve, but I’m not going to let imposter syndrome cause me to do less than my best or refuse to take risks or try new opportunities. I won’t let it stifle me or God’s plan for my life.

(Well, at least I’m going to keep trying …)

What’s that verse we all love? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV). When Christ is giving me strength to do a task he has clearly called me to, then who am I to feel like I’m just an imposter?

Have you ever been inflicted by imposter syndrome? What has helped you through it? Share in the comments!

To the Old Man Working at Starbucks

You sort of stand out. Most Starbucks employees are pink-haired, nose-ringed youngsters happy to have a first job that isn’t sitting behind a desk. I can say this because my daughter used to work as a shift-manager at a Starbucks right out of college. She was not pink-haired and nose-ringed, but she was young and happy to have a job that wasn’t behind a desk. She loved that job, although a marriage and three daughters later, she has moved on to—you guessed it—a job behind a desk.

But you, sir, you’re tall and grey-haired with glasses. You’re very distinguished looking. You have on the green apron and the headset. I’m at the cash register getting my chai and watching you heat up my blueberry scone. You’re staring into the microwave window as the scone circles. There’s a lag in the activity, a rare quiet moment for you in the day of busy baristas. You’re looking in that window, but you’re not seeing anything.

Image courtesy of Annie’s Eats, Flickr

Why are you here amongst these young bouncy extroverts? Do you have this job because you have to or because you want to?

Is this a job to get you out of the house because a beloved wife passed away and being alone at home all day is just too much?

Is this a job to give you some money because social security just isn’t enough to live on?

Did you get hammered in the stock market? Did your mortgage get under water? Is the economy taking such a hit on you that you have to be here taking latté orders with a shot of this or that?

I’m sorry. I want to come around the counter and give you a hug.

I want to tell you it’s okay that it takes you a little longer to get my drink or to heat my scone. I want to tell the flurry of baristas to just slow down a little.

After all, I bet you have a story to tell. Are you a veteran? What have you seen?

Were you at the top of your game—a CEO or an academic?

Were you a solid and loyal employee for a company that repaid you by downsizing or moving away?

Why are you here?

I could ask but I just think that would be rude. But I want to hear your story.

Why are you here?

And then I think about how I’m suddenly seeing so many older people in jobs where they shouldn’t be—at the checkout line at Walmart, handing me my burger through the McDonald’s window, mopping the floor in the grocery store.

All of them are someone’s mom or dad, someone’s grandpa or grandma. What if you were my dad? What if an impatient punk lit into him for taking an extra ten seconds to gather his thoughts and count the right change? I’d wanna punch that kid.

I really hope you aren’t doing this because you have to, but I suspect that isn’t the case. I wish the economy wasn’t tanking and COVID wasn’t turning everything upside-down.

Sir, I’m not sure why you’re here. I don’t know what circumstances led you to put on the green apron and headset and heat up my scone for me.

But I appreciate you. Whatever your story is, I appreciate you.