Let’s Get Tech-y: How to Create Style Tags

Hey you guys! I did a thing! I created a YouTube video on my very own YouTube channel that now has exactly ONE video!

It’s taken a while, but YES, YouTube!

In many of my previous tech-y posts, I’ve talked about how to work in Microsoft Word in order to prepare a manuscript to the industry standards. Agents and acquisitions editors are pleased when clients understand some of these basics and can put together a manuscript that has the key elements (as I noted in this post and various posts thereafter).

A feature of Microsoft Word that is somewhat unknown is style tagging. Word has a powerful way of either messing up your documents (despite your best-laid plans) or making them consistent and beautiful. You just need to know the process.

The purpose of this video came from my designer/typesetter friend who has been trying to explain to his clients why style tags are so necessary in the process of designing and typesetting books. He knows this is my wheelhouse, so he wrote and asked me to “please find a way to explain the why and how of style tagging!”

This can be helpful whether you’re a college student writing papers and trying to have consistent subheads or an author preparing your manuscript to be typeset.

(Note that this is sort of a step beyond what most people need to know. If you do all of the steps I’ve outlined in previous posts, you’ll be good to go.)

If, however, you’re considering self-publishing your book and creating it yourself, or if you hope to work in the publishing industry one day, understanding this part of the process of prepping manuscripts for typesetting (flowing the Word document into an InDesign program, for example), will show that you really know your stuff.

I teach style tagging to my Professional Writing students for that very reason.

And this process is much more complex than my previous posts where I could do screenshots; hence, the video. If this part of the process intrigues you, well here you go.

As I have time, I’ll go back through all of my tech-y posts and add an accompanying video.

Do you have any particular issues with Microsoft Word or with creating a manuscript that you have questions about? I’m happy to help, or at least try to find the answer for you. Let me know in the comments below, or write me through the contact form.

Let’s Get Tech-y: Ordering Your Front Matter

After you’ve created your title page, copyright page, and table of contents (as explained in the linked previous blog posts), you may have other pieces that you will need or want to include in the front matter. Here is Chicago Manual of Style’s order of front matter.

  • Title page (must have)
  • Copyright page (must have)
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents (standard in nonfiction; optional if fiction)
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments (if not part of the Preface or in the back matter)
  • Introduction (if not part of the text)
  • Prologue

In this article I want to focus on everything on this list except title page, copyright page, and table of contents.

Dedication

If you want to include a dedication, this should be placed after the copyright page and before the table of contents. Create a new page, then center the material vertically and horizontally. Choose your dedication carefully, and word it carefully. Remember that this is an honor to the person or people to whom you are dedicating your book and will remain as a memorial—even long after your book goes out of print. It can be touching or funny, but remember that it is also timeless. You aren’t required to include a dedication. This is totally up to you.

Foreword

A foreword (not a “forward”) is written by someone else. This person might be a celebrity or someone well known in the field about which you’re writing. This person tells your audience why your book is valuable and worth their time to read. It amounts to an endorsement.

Preface

A preface is written by you to acquaint your readers with some interesting information about you, how you came to write the book, or other interesting circumstances surrounding the book’s creation. This could also include information such as “How to Use This Book” if that is necessary. However, realize that many times your readers will skip both the foreword and the preface. Don’t give any significant issues regarding the content. If you need to do that, then do it in the introduction, or do an introduction instead of a preface.

Introduction

An introduction gets into the content of your book (and may be used instead of a preface). You want readers to read it because it sets them up for what is to come. If your potential reader is standing in the bookstore and has lifted your book from the shelf, he or she is going to look at the cover, read the back cover copy, and then open to the introduction. You want to explain to the reader exactly what the book is offering. The introduction should provide information that leads right into the first chapter.

Prologue

A prologue is similar to an introduction and can do the same thing as the introduction—except that if you have a prologue at the beginning, you also need an epilogue at the end. So think both ways: If you think your book will include an epilogue to provide information to the story after the official end of the book, then you’ll need to include a prologue in the front matter. The prologue and epilogue are like bookends.

Your editor will thank you if you take the time to both understand and create the front matter material in your manuscript. Stay tuned for more on creating your back matter.

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: 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.

Catching Up …

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.

Another school semester has passed.

At the end of September, I had the privilege of teaching at the Maranatha Christian Writers’ Conference and taking seven of my Professional Writing students along. It’s a joy to watch them network, meet authors they admire (like Travis Thrasher and Steven James), bond together as a group, and learn how to navigate a writers’ conference.

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Enjoying Lake Michigan!

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Meeting author Travis Thrasher (above) and Steven James (below).

 

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.)

museum

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.

ECPA
Enjoyed hearing from musician and author Andrew Peterson. His book, Adorning the Dark, will be a text in my senior capstone class this January.

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?

Where’s Your Foundation?

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).

bitumen waterproofing of the foundationMost 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.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?

The Challenge of Christian Writing and Publishing

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:

  1. 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;
  2. 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;
  3. 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.

Writers have a lot of power with their words.

And the world needs our very best.

 

The Splendid Work of Writing

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)

dubus

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.

 

Prepping for Life (Part 2)

“Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service.”

–Os Guinness, The Call

In a previous post, I told you about how our Professional Writing capstone class was kicking off with my 17 seniors. That was Part 1.

For Part 2, my students worked on the Flower Diagram from What Color Is Your Parachute? (I used the 2017 version). If you don’t know, the Flower Diagram is a self-inventory that helps individuals work through their own personal preferences in working style, environment, coworkers, location, and even stretching to what each person wants to accomplish in life. The students overwhelmingly found this exercise (which took us two class days, so seven hours) to be helpful in capturing in one spot a lot of scattered information about themselves. (We even built a preliminary budget on Excel docs!)

For another class, we talked about how to network — which basically means learning how to be a good listener. I then had each student write a 30-second elevator pitch to answer the question, “So tell me about yourself” (much as an interviewer might). They then did a “speed dating” exercise where they moved from one person to the next, spending three minutes sharing their pitch, listening to the other person’s pitch, and then conversing before the bell rang and they moved on to the next person and did it again.

Having to say the pitch and hone it over eight times helped them be ready for . . .

. . . mock interviews.

I gave the students a list of the most-asked questions, and a link to a website that would help them understand what employers are looking for when they ask these questions. I required the students to use their journals to write answers to each question, or at least to take notes as to what they would need to do to prepare for those questions.

Six professionals gave of their time to interview six students each. The students went in groups of three; each was interviewed while one of the other two kept time and both observers wrote assessments. After each interview, they all had five minutes to talk together about the good and the areas that need improvement, and then the groups moved to another interviewer to try again and improve.

Sort of helped with the jitters and to make the interviewing process a tiny bit less intimidating.

I really wanted this to be a practical class so that they are ready — resume polished, LinkedIn profile and portfolios ready, answers to interview questions prepped, all with a feeling of certainty that they understand themselves and their goals just a bit better.

But lest you think it was all fun and forms, stay tuned for Part 3.