Let’s Get Tech-y: Creating Your Title Page

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)
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents (standard in nonfiction; optional in fiction)
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • 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.)

Let’s Get Tech-y: Adding Page Breaks

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!

Let’s Get Tech-y: Removing Double Spaces between Sentences

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.

Questions? Feel free to contact me!

Submitting in 2021: Get It Done!

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)
  • word counts
  • where and how to send your submission

Or check out the submission guidelines for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books here. Notice again:

  • 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
  • website link
  • 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!

Let’s Get Tech-y: Adding Page Numbers to Your Manuscript

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!

Let’s Get Tech-y: Formatting Your Manuscript

I write on this blog often about the joys and pains of writing–of just getting those words on the pages. I also write often about editing those words (in fact, I wrote a book about it). I also teach it in the Professional Writing major at Taylor University.

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
  • Double-spaced copy
  • No extra space between paragraphs
  • 1-inch margins
  • 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
  • Double-spaced copy
  • No extra space between paragraphs
  • 1-inch margins
  • 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.

In Love with God’s Word: Because It’s a Love Letter

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.

quote scripture

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.”

6 Masks I’ve Worn This Week: Pros & Cons

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.

Pros: Lightweight and easy to wear, easy to speak through. Cons: Soooo boring.

I purchased some nicer, heavier-duty masks that I thought would be healthier by maybe screening out those germy germs better …

Pros: Heavier duty (keep germs out better?). Cons: These pull on my ears and begin to give me a headache during an hour of teaching.

Received this cute one with cats on it from my sister. (Does anyone else find it odd that these masks are now fashion statements?)

mask-2
Pros: So cute! And so appropriate.
Cons: Kept slipping down as I talked and needed to constantly readjust. Best for wearing when I’m not going to be doing a lot of talking.

Received this one from our department chair who felt it would be especially appropriate for me.

mask-1
Pros: Yay for a grammar mask! Cons: Kept getting caught in my mouth as I talked. Best for silently correctly people’s grammar.

Got hold of this one because … well … school spirit.

mask-3
Pros: School colors, school logo. Comfy. Cons: As with most of the other masks, a bit of a fogging issue on my glasses.

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:

mask
Pros: I can smile at my students and they can see it. Cons: I look like a welder. It messes up my hair. When I speak, it goes straight into my own ears so I feel like I’m in an echo chamber. Beware of a sneeze or spit. Can’t wave my hands a lot. Can’t scratch my nose or eyes. Oh, and I can’t take a drink with it on, unless I have a loooong straw.

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?

Good Old Summertime: Or Why I Got Nothing Done and I’m Okay with It

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.

Painting, painting, painting.
Butterfly garden in its third year. Mostly perennials, a few annuals.

I freelanced on a manuscript style tagging job. I ran our Taylor University Professional Writers’ Conference again — only virtually this time, with great help from my Taylor University IT friend and fellow writer and editor T.R. Knight, who managed our Zoom conference with great skill and patience.

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).

And I’m okay with that.

6 Things I Learned Being an Online Prof

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.

desk

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!

nano30a

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?