It’s a difficult habit to break. If you learned to type on a typewriter (as I did), you were taught to put a double space between sentences. Now, however, that’s incorrect and will be problematic when you send in that submission. Editors expect that you won’t do this.
Why did we (ahem, old folks) learn to do it this way? Well, letters on typewriters are monospaced, meaning that every letter takes up the same amount of space or width in a word (like the Courier font you still have as an option on your computer). Thus, a “w” takes up the same amount of space as an “i.” This made it very difficult to then distinguish between sentences on a typewritten page. With the advent of some electric typewriters and especially computers came proportional type, which means that a “w” takes up more horizontal space than an “i.” With proportional spacing, it’s easier to distinguish between sentences. Hence, a single space is now sufficient.
However, I have excellent news for you! You don’t have to retrain that ingrained habit. You can simply fix your manuscript after the fact and before you submit.
So don’t stress. Go ahead and type those double spaces to your heart’s content. Here’s how to fix it.
After you’re finished, go back to the beginning and set your cursor there. Then, on the Home ribbon, in the Paragraph section, click the Show/Hide button (it looks like a backward P). This will show hidden characters like paragraph returns, tabs, and spaces (every space will appear as a dot). You can see below the two dots between each sentence, showing the double spaces between sentences.
You don’t have to go through and individually fix every single location. Instead, let’s do it all at once. Here’s how:
On the Home tab, in the Editing section, click on the Replace button. This will bring up the dialogue box. All you need to do is put your cursor in the Find What line and type in two spaces (you won’t see anything except your cursor will move over). Then place your cursor in the Replace With line and type in one space. Then click Replace All.
You’ll get another dialogue box that tells you how many double spaces were changed to single spaces. If you have a long manuscript and an ingrained habit, you may have it report thousands. For good measure, you might click OK and then click the Replace All button again. (If you randomly had triple spaces anywhere, you’ll need one more pass to clean it all up.) Keep going until there are 0 replacements.
When I do any editing, my first task (after taking the manuscript and moving it onto my template, as noted in an earlier post) is to run this quick fix to clean up those double spaces.
For good measure, I use this same technique to find and replace all the quotation marks and apostrophes so that they are all smart (curly) and not straight (again, this is part of the industry standard). Just put a quotation mark in the Find What space and a quotation mark in the Replace With space and Replace all. Do the same with apostrophes.
This quick cleanup takes just a few seconds and helps bring your manuscript up to expected industry standards.
I’ve been watching Twitter feeds in the #writingcommunity hashtag and seeing lots of folks post that 2021 is the year they will finally submit — to magazines or literary magazines or a book publisher. I say, YAY. GO FOR IT! You pour yourself into those words and you have something to say into the world.
In order to do that, you’ll need to submit to gatekeepers at these various publications. Let’s make sure you do everything you can to get read! Following are a few tips as you make 2021 your year for submitting!
1. Follow the submission guidelines.
I can’t stress this enough. Read those submission guidelines — don’t just send off your piece. Not following the guidelines will assure that your submission will be rejected before it’s even read. Remember that editors and agents receive hundreds of submissions. They will immediately toss or delete anything that isn’t submitted per the guidelines.
You can find submissions guidelines on most publication or publisher websites (same for literary agents). You might need to scroll to the fine print at the bottom of the home page, or locate the contact page, but generally they will be there. You can also find information in Writer’s Market (or Christian Writer’s Market Guide if you’re writing for the Christian market).
For instance, if you’re going to submit to Grit magazine, navigate to their submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. Here’s the link as an example. Notice on the Grit submissions page that it tells you:
what they publish and what they don’t
the fact that you can’t send anything unsolicited; you must send a query letter first
where and how to send the query (even what to put in the subject line of your email)
how to write your submission (even how the first paragraph should read)
how NOT to write your submission
that you must submit through their website
That basic information will get you a long way toward getting your piece in front of an editor’s eyes. Of course, you still need to write well, have a compelling piece, and fit the editor’s desires or needs (which, of course, you have no idea about necessarily). But you could have all of that but will lose the opportunity if you don’t follow the submission guidelines to the letter. So make that a resolution!
2. Proofread your submission and have someone else (who knows what they’re doing) proofread as well.
Have your proofreader double check your submission along with the submission guidelines. (They might see something you missed.) Make it a joint effort. Don’t be in such a hurry to meet your goals of submitting that you hurt yourself. And proofreading by yourself is never a good idea. You’ve read the piece so many times your mind will automatically correct words or fill in missing words. I have previously noted some tips and tricks to help you proofread.
3. Don’t take rejection personally.
You’re going to get rejection letters. The more you submit, the more you’ll get rejected. That’s just the way it is. But also, the more you submit, the more opportunity you have to get published. It might help to do as this writer did and actually set a goal for rejections — the point being, of course, that eventually out of all those submissions will come publication. Sort of takes the sting out of it . . . a little . . .
4. Keep good records of your submissions.
Do this now if you haven’t already. Create a document or an Excel sheet or some kind of system whereby you track where you send what. Trust me, over time, you’ll forget. Whether you’re writing articles or seeking an agent/publisher for your book, you want to capture:
the name of the publication/publisher/agent
submission guidelines general information
title of the article/book you queried (or sent)
date sent (so that if it says they’ll respond in one month, you know when that month has elapsed and you can follow up)
In addition, you can keep a running list of various places that you want to query. In my Freelancing class (in the Professional Writing program at Taylor University), where we focus on writing articles, the students create a tracking system listing at least 10 possible magazines they can submit to, a separate page for literary magazines, and then another page with their various article ideas or WIPs captured. If they hope to one day get a book published, a new page can begin to capture potential agents or book publishers for the genre of their book. For every piece they write, they have to write an accompanying query letter, and then actually send three of those letters during the semester. Learning to have the discipline of creating solid query letters, tracking where they’re sent, and having a list of potential publications means that they can keep writing.
For example, you send out the query, you receive a rejection. Instead of letting that stop you, you go to your tracking list and mark down the rejection (so you don’t accidentally send the same query to them again). Then you look on your list for another publication that might like that same article or that article with a slightly different slant or focus or word count. You revise your query letter and send it to that publication. I know some writers who have such a system that, when a rejection arrives, they have that same article pitched somewhere else within 24 hours.
The same goes for book publishers. Find the agents and publishers that accept what you’re writing, create a solid query to them, and send it on. When a rejection arrives, move on to someone else.
The point is, keep going, dear #writingcommunity. Make 2021 your year!
Do them once, and they will appear on every page. The magic of Microsoft Word makes it fairly simple to add page numbers — but there’s always something that could be confusing.
Last week you created a template. Open that template and give it a title. Push “Save As” and then decide where on your computer you want to save it and the name of the piece you’re writing. OR simply open your work in progress (WIP) that doesn’t have page numbers on it.
Now, let’s insert page numbers.
(1) Navigate to the Insert tab. Look across to the Header & Footer box.
(2) Click the dropdown arrow beside “Page Number.”
(3) At the first dropdown box, you can choose the placement of the page number. You can click where you want the page number to be—top or bottom of the page. For our purposes, choose Top of Page. That then will open up another menu that will allow you to choose where at the top of the page you want the number to appear — top left, top center, top right. Again, for our purposes, click on the top right choice. (There are dozens of other options you’re welcome to play with; for now, I’m sticking with the basics.)
(4) Voila! Once you click it, a header will appear on every page with a page number.
Perhaps you want to include more information in the header besides just the page number.
(1) Click into the header area with your cursor beside the page number. Now you can simply type in other information such as your name or the title, which will then appear on every subsequent page. When you are working with numbers that are flush right, as here, put your cursor beside the number and type. The letters will work their way to the left.
Note: Follow submission guidelines for where you submit. Various publishers ask for various renderings of page numbers and what information they want in headers or footers. They usually have submission guidelines on their websites. If you’re not sure, at least include your last name and page numbers in the headers or footers on your manuscript.
Now to answer some reader questions:
I tried to format page numbers with my name/book title/page number at the top right. Each time the page number got bumped to the line below my name/book title. And then the title page ended up with a 0 on it, not what I wanted at all.
How to fix page numbers moving down to a separate line
Let’s deal with the first question about why the page number got bumped. I think it has to do with a tab setting. Click into your header. If you see a tab setting right there in the center, grab it and slide it off to your left (or right depending on where you’re putting your page numbers). You should then have the space across the entire header. My guess is that your name/book title/page number is quite long. It was going past that tab, and thus bumping the page number to the next line. If that doesn’t answer your question about that, let me know.
How to remove a page number from the title page
Now let’s deal with the title page having a 0 on it. If your document has a title page, you don’t want a number on it at all, and page number 1 should actually be your second page. So we want to do something different with the first page. This gets a little complex, so bear with me.
(1) First, you’re going to need to make a section break (not just a page break) between the title page and the first page of your manuscript. If you already have a page break there, remove it so that your copy runs right below your title.
See below that I have run chapter 1 into my title page. Now I need to separate the title page from my chapter 1 with a different kind of break. With my cursor set right before the word “Chapter,” I then click on the Layout tab, then Breaks. Under Section Breaks, click Next Page.
My title page is now on its own page with Chapter 1 starting on a new page. But the header is still appearing on my title page along with the page number 1, so here’s what to do:
(2) Now make sure you click with your cursor into the header section on the title page (or footer if that’s where your page numbers are). Then click on the Design tab and put a click in the box labeled Different First Page. (Note that Show Document Text is already clicked; leave it as is.)
The header on your first page will disappear, but page 2 still says page 2. Let’s fix that so it will be page 1.
(3) Click with your cursor into the header area on page 2. Then go to the Insert tab, back over to Page Numbers, then click Format Page Numbers. It will give you another dialog box.
In the Page Number Format dialog box, you’ll see a section called Page numbering, and then a bullet that says Start at. Click that bullet and put a number 1 in the box, then say okay.
The header on page 2 should now read page 1, and there should be no longer a header on your title page.
Your document may have a lot more complexity, and this is simply a way to set page numbers and separate out a title page.
As always, let me know if you have questions and I’ll research the answers. More to come!
But there comes a time when all writers have to understand that those carefully wrought words need to show up in a well-formatted manuscript, set to industry standards. And this is where things can become very frustrating.
So I’m here to show you how, along with a little help from other editor friends. I’m going to begin a series of posts to help you deal with some of those technical parts of prepping your manuscript–one step at a time.
Longtime author and editor Andy Scheer (andyscheer.com) one day posted on Facebook how thrilled he was to receive a correctly formatted manuscript. I dropped him a note to ask, from his perspective, what constituted a manuscript that is “formatted correctly.” Here’s the list he sent me. The manuscript should be:
Manuscript is .doc or .docx
12-pt Times New Roman
No extra space between paragraphs
Paragraphs indented—but NOT with tabs or spacing
No double spaces between sentences
Page headers with page numbers
Page break between chapters
Front matter completed (title page, copyright page, table of contents if needed)
Copyright page includes copyright info for all Bible versions quoted, especially the default Bible translation
In coming weeks, I’m going to walk through each of these bullet points individually. I’ll help out with the basics and offer some technical tips, screen shots, and more. BUT FIRST, we can deal with several of those issues by creating a template that you use as your base for every piece of writing you plan to submit. So let’s start there. (Note that the following uses a PC; if you have a Mac, stay tuned. I’ll work to get the information you need as we go.)
How to Build Your Template
Having a template that has all of the settings you need already embedded will be a huge help to you. (Just FYI that this is technically simply a blank Word document, but it will have embedded in it all of the settings you need to create a perfectly formatted document and save you trying to redo it every time.)
The following the instructions will walk you through the steps in Microsoft Word. Doing that, you will create a template that will give you the first 6 bullets above: the .doc or .docx extension, 12-pt Times New Roman, double-spaced copy with no extra space between paragraphs, no extra space between paragraphs, 1-inch margins, and indents not with tabs or all those spaces.
(1) Open a new blank Word document. (2) It mostly likely defaults to one-inch margins, but to check, click on the “Layout” button to give you that ribbon. On the far left is a button called “Margins.” Click it. You should see a “Normal” setting that defaults to all one-inch margins. If that is not clicked, click it.
(3) Now go back to the Home tab to give you that ribbon. Above the “Styles,” box, you’ll see a series of styles that are common to this document. You’ll probably see Normal and some various heading styles. Most everything you type will default to the style called “Normal,” so let’s make sure that “Normal” is the normal that we want for our template. Click on the little down arrow at the bottom right of the Styles box that will drop down a menu of styles (your menu may look different from mine, but you should be able to find Normal).
Locate Normal, click on the down arrow to its right, then click Modify.
This will open a dialog box with lots of options. (4) About halfway down on the left, you’ll see “Formatting.” Make sure that the first box says Times New Roman and the second box says 12. If they don’t, click on the dropdown arrow and choose those options.
(5) Next, below that, you’ll see buttons with lines in them. The first set on the left is giving you the options to have your copy flush left and ragged right, centered, flush right, or justified (straight on both sides). You want to choose the first button for flush left and ragged right. (6) The next three buttons show lines really close (single spacing), sort of close (1.5 spacing), and far apart (double spacing). You want to click on the third button for double spacing.
Wait, you’re not done yet! Let’s deal with the other issues:
(7) In that same box, bottom left is a button that says “Format.” Push it, and then click on “Paragraph.” Yet another dialog box pops up!
(8) In this box, halfway down on the right side, you’ll see the word “Special.” In the box should be the words “First line.” If not (it probably says “None”), click on the dropdown arrow and choose “First line.” In the box beside that, you can set how far the indent should be. It’s probably best to put .5 there. This will automatically indent your new paragraphs so you don’t have to add a tab each time. (9) Keep going, there are a few more boxes on the left below that under “Spacing” with “Before” and “After” choices. Make sure that those read 0. (The default often has 10 in the After slot, which is creating extra space between the paragraphs. You want it to say 0—so change it. And don’t use “Auto.”) (10) Since you already set this to double spacing on the previous menu, you should see the word “Double” under “Line Spacing.” (11) Now click OK. This will take you back to that previous dialog box. Do one more thing here to seal the deal and help you not have to do this again:
(12) At the very bottom, right above that format button, are a couple of choices. Put a dot in the circle that says “New documents based on this template.” Now click OK. (13) This will take you back to your blank document. Now do a “Save As” and save this document as your own personal template for doing all of your writing. Calling it “Mytemplate” should work. Store it on your desktop and you’ll always have a template ready to go when inspiration strikes. So now you have:
Manuscript is .doc or .docx
12-pt Times New Roman
No extra space between paragraphs
Paragraphs indented—but NOT with tabs or spacing
Every time you start a new book or a new story, open this template, do another “Save As” to save that piece of writing with whatever title you want to give it. That way you’ll always preserve the settings you created in your template and won’t have to redo them every time for every piece of writing.
We’ll continue our tech-y talks in coming weeks to help make sure you’re submitting your documents the way the publishers want them.
If you have some other tech-y questions, write them below and I’ll see what I can help you with in future posts.
It’s a brand new school year and a brand new way of thinking and teaching. If I thought that going completely online with my classes last March was a challenge, I’m now trying to teach in masks. Below are pics of me trying these various masks and the pros and cons of each.
I’m only a few days in and already trying to determine what’s going to work for me. I started with the standard mask that I’ve been wearing into stores since March.
I purchased some nicer, heavier-duty masks that I thought would be healthier by maybe screening out those germy germs better …
Received this cute one with cats on it from my sister. (Does anyone else find it odd that these masks are now fashion statements?)
Received this one from our department chair who felt it would be especially appropriate for me.
Got hold of this one because … well … school spirit.
But still, the issue became that I really like to smile at my students. It’s bad enough that I’m looking at masks and eyes and receiving very little feedback visually. It seems worse that they can’t get any kind of visual feedback from me. So I have now opted for this:
So, why choose the one mask with the most cons? Well, I feel like the ability to offer some kind of visual feedback to my students is very important — hair, spit, echoes, itchy nose, and all.
Around campus, I’ve seen masks of various materials, colors, and styles. We are indeed making these into statements to try to reflect a bit about ourselves, even … ahem … behind the mask.
What about you? How are you dealing with the masking situation and what are you doing to make your masks reflect you?
It’s been since March, the 18th to be exact, when our classrooms went dark, when tearful goodbyes were said (especially by seniors), when all of the faculty at Taylor University looked around at first with a sense of odd horror. Spring break had begun three days early, and that gave us about 12 days to pivot and move all our classes to an online format.
Since I live a half hour from campus and have good internet, I decided to teach from home. So I vacated as well, packing up files and books and planners. We still live in half a house, so I spent a day of spring break clearing out boxes that were stored on our upstairs landing and creating a desk space for myself. Getting physically organized helped me get emotionally and mentally organized.
I have to say, by the time I posted final grades on May 26, I was exhausted. And I know I’m not alone. I know my fellow faculty and students were exhausted as well.
To all of you out there — students, parents, teachers — I salute you. This was weird, but we did it the best we could. I know it wasn’t easy; it was downright difficult.
Here are 6 things I learned about myself during this time:
1. I really do enjoy the classroom and interaction with my students — and this is a God-thing.
Ask me 15 years ago about where I’d be today, I never never never would have put myself at the front of a classroom talking for a career. I’m an introvert. I don’t talk in groups. I don’t like having attention on me. Yet here I am. God can work in mysterious ways.
2. Despite my insecurity, I can do tough things with lots of support and lots of prayer.
Even though I’ve taught online classes before, this was obviously a new challenge. Syllabi had already been carefully prepared, group projects planned, assignments set. The challenge was repurposing the rest of the semester to make sense to my students while still allowing for the learning outcomes I hoped to achieve. I started with the hoped-for outcomes and worked backward — determining how to revise assignments, changing group projects to individual ones, making the needed teaching videos, and creating benchmarks of smaller pieces to keep everyone on track in the larger assignments. Taylor worked hard to support us in every possible way, and this was an encouragement. Oh, and I prayed … a lot.
3. Sometimes difficulty forces improvement.
A few times my class adjustments showed me improvements that I want to carry into my regular classes. That’s a good thing.
4. I’m not very tech savvy, so I opted for K.I.S.S. and that was okay.
“Keep it simple, stupid” was my mantra. So many of my fellow faculty had great ideas and apps and programs they shared in our private Facebook group. After feeling overwhelmed and techno-phobic, I realized I just needed to do what I felt comfortable doing. I did have our Blackboard specialist help me learn how to record videos and share my screen so I could do some lectures. Zoom worked great, but I used it mostly for one-on-one advising appointments. The simpler, the better, which gave me a lot less stress. But at the same time …
5. I need to invest time in training to use the tools at my disposal.
Our university uses Blackboard and it’s a pretty powerful program, but I realized this spring that I’ve only scratched the surface. I struggled with grading columns and discussion boards. I’m sure I can make use of other features if I know about them. I intend to get some training this fall.
6. Nothing beats clear organization and expectations.
My students appreciated my daily checklists of assignments. Laying out each day’s work and clearly listing due dates in red helped them keep up (and, seriously, it helped me just as much). Adjusting expectations helped as well — some students had difficulty with internet reliability or broadband strength (especially if siblings were also doing school and/or parents were working); others struggled with a variety of home situations. As crazy as college life can be, there’s a schedule to everything that helps keep life on track. Judging by the fact that my students were turning in work on time (mostly) and seemed to understand what I wanted from them means I maybe did something right!
Yes, it’s over, but who’s to say when something unexpected will hit us again? I hope I learned a few things to make the next transition easier.
Whatever you’ve been doing these last couple months, what have you learned about yourself?
Back in June of 2015, I wrote a post about how excited I was to teach a class in our Professional Writing major called The Writer’s Craft. As it turns out, I’m teaching the same class again this spring semester, five years later. I have enjoyed recasting this class with some new writing to explore, new pedagogies to try, and five more years of teaching confidence under my belt.
As I noted in the earlier post, this class does not look at the why of a piece of writing. Instead, we focus on the mechanics, the how, the craft. What words does the writer use? How are those words making this piece sing? What about sentence structure? Paragraphing? How is this dialogue telling us the story without telling us the story? We’re still using some tried and true greats (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck), but I’ve added a few titles still classic but not as old (Tim O’Brien, E. B. White, John Updike, Flannery O’ Connor), along with diversity (Joy Harjo, Jame McBride, and a few names I’m still researching), plus some YA and fantasy genre pieces (also still researching).
Seriously, the class is planned, but in the short time frame between closing out J-term capstone class and beginning the spring semester (3 days), I found myself with a few TBDs on the reading schedule that I’ll fill in as we go along.
The essence of the class is what Prose calls “close reading.” Usually when we read for pleasure, we skim along, anxious to discover who falls in love, or whodunit, or how to solve that problem the book promises to solve.
With close reading, however, we linger over the words. The students receive printed copies of the pieces they’ll be “close reading” so they can write all over them — commenting, highlighting, underlining, circling. This kind of reading helps us to read, as Prose says,
. . . more analytically, conscious of style, of diction, of how sentences were formed and information was being conveyed, how the writer was structuring a plot, creating characters, employing detail and dialogue. . . . I discovered that writing, like reading, was done one word at a time, one punctuation mark at a time. It required what a friend calls ‘putting very word on trial for its life.’
As writers, our currency is the words we string together. We write our first drafts and then go back and revise, putting every word on trial, forcing it to explain why it should stay, removing or replacing it if the case isn’t made — if the lyricism or characterization or structure or foreshadowing requires something else.
As we read these masterful writers, we stand in awe at how they make look so simple a scene that we know required dozens of small perfect choices.
And even as I continue to journal Scripture, close reading is causing me to slow down on familiar passages and read them more carefully, seeing them anew.
In our busy culture with quick social media posts and constant bombardment of words, it’s almost a relief to be forced to slow down and delight in the world an author so carefully crafted for us.
Try a little close reading. It’ll do you good.
What’s your favorite book that has delighted and astounded you with its writing?
From the fire at the end of August to our now sadly undecorated and still unfinished restoration that will not happen before Christmas (we’re living in two rooms and a kitchen), life has managed to be an adventure.
October found my husband and me visiting Washington D.C. Highlights included the Library of Congress, seeing the Gutenburg Bible, all the wonderful monuments, and meeting up with several dear high school friends I haven’t seen in over 40 years.
But the main reason for visiting was to attend a celebration at the Museum of the Bible honoring the release of the third edition of the Life Application Study Bible. (Read more about the event here.)
Thirty years ago, this group (pictured above) worked together on what would become the bestselling study Bible of all time (I discussed the process here.) We didn’t know then that God would use our prayerful labors to sell 20 million copies so far of the Life Application Study Bible. I am humbled to have worked with this group and appreciate the honors we received on the evening of October 16 as the pioneers on the project, now also celebrating those who completed work on the third edition of this Bible that has been updated for a new generation. We so enjoyed hearing from special speakers Ed Stetzer (director of the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton) and Dr. Barry Black (chaplain of the US Senate). It was a wonderful evening of celebration of the power of God’s Word.
Finally, in November, Tom and I drove to Nashville to attend the meeting of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. I recently became a member of this group, knowing that in my teaching about publishing, I need to stay on the cutting edge of the industry. Was fun to see a former student, Amy Green, publicist at Bethany House, who helped to plan the Christy awards celebration.
Now I’m prepping for final exams and papers and decidedly NOT decorating for Christmas. But we’ll get in the spirit. I’m looking forward to sharing how I’m working on that. Stay tuned!
How was fall for you? What are you doing to get into the holiday spirit?
It’s been an interesting challenge, this past school year, as I’ve taken on new classes (translate—learn what I need to teach and then figure out how to teach it) and gotten out of my comfort zone.
But it has forced me to do some deep thinking about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what really matters.
Why do I teach writing and publishing?
What do I really want my students to know?
In the past few months, three things have become more clear to me. For the Christian writers who come through the Professional Writing major at Taylor University, I am committed to them graduating with the following understandings:
as Christians, I want them stand strong on the foundations of their faith, understanding that Scripture and their faith impacts every aspect of their lives; I want them to fall in love with God’s Word and see its power for the rest of their lives;
as writers, I want them to understand that their love for and ability with words is a calling and a gift from the Caller that they should and must continue to hone and improve;
as Christian writers, I want them to comprehend the power of those words and their responsibility to God for how they use their giftedness with words, especially as they seek to publish those words into the world.
How can my faith intersect my discipline as I teach the Professional Writing curriculum? How can I—a Christian publishing professional, editor, writer, and faculty member—bring these fundamental truths into our program? How can I bookend my students’ learning from their 101 introductory class to their final capstone class with these truths that matter?
It feels like a very heavy load.
But down deep in my soul, I sense that this is vital. This is more important than anything else I can do.
It is incumbent on Christian publishing professionals—whether authors or editors or publishers or marketers or bloggers or social media experts or agents—to deliver material that is well written, winsome, true, biblical, and honors Jesus Christ.
In a recent discussion, one of these Christian publishing professionals told me, “Too much of Christian writing is either preachy or saccharine. We need to bring wisdom, winsome words, and truth from our foundation into our writing.”
But what does that even mean anymore? The world is so deeply divided. Even among Christians there is so much division we sometimes act like a circular firing squad. I wonder how we can impact our world for good. How can we disagree about living out our faith (our politics, our work lives, our theological beliefs) but do so in a winsome and respectful way? How can we engage the questions so important in our culture, even as we disagree, while still being able to help others find what we have discovered in the foundations of our faith? In the end, that foundational piece is going to be all that matters to us anyway.
How do I guide my students to these understandings—even as we learn good writing and style tagging and editing and platform building and how to do a book proposal?
How do I guide them—even as we look for truth in Scripture and perhaps disagree on many other areas?
How do I help us all “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” and work out our writing and publishing lives in the same way?
There’s a lot to unpack here, and I invite you to join me both as I prayerfully seek God’s guidance and express my thoughts in the blog. I invite you to comment with your own thoughts and ideas as I think this is a big conversation worth having.
I’ve been reading the essays of author Andre Dubus, considered a master of the short form. In his book, Meditations from a Movable Chair(New York: Vintage, 1999), Dubus writes an essay called “First Books” and offers this encouragement to writers:
An older writer knows what a younger one has not yet learned. What is demanding and fulfilling is writing a single word, trying to write le mot juste, as Flaubert said; writing several of them, which become a sentence. When a writer does that, day after day, working alone with little encouragement, often with discouragement flowing in the writer’s blood, and with an occasional rush of excitement that empties oneself, so that the self is for minutes longer in harmony with eternal astonishments and visions of truth, right there on the page on the desk, and when a writer does this work steadily enough to complete a manuscript long enough to be a book, the treasure is on the desk. If the manuscript itself, mailed out to the world, where other truths prevail, is never published, the writer will suffer bitterness, sorrow, anger, and more dangerously despair, convinced that the work is not worthy, so not worth those days at the desk. But the writer who endures and keeps working will finally know that writing the book was something hard and glorious, for at the desk a writer must try to be free of prejudice, meanness of spirit, pettiness, and hatred; strive to be a better human being than the writer normally is, and to do this through concentration on a single word, and then another, and another, and another. This is splendid work, as worthy and demanding as any, and the will and resilience to do it are good for the writer’s soul. If the work is not published, or is published for little money and less public attention, it remains a spiritual, mental, and physical achievement; and if, in public, it is the widow’s mite, it is also, like the widow, more blessed. (162-63)
Writers, we must endure. We must keep working knowing that the words we write are worth it . . . it being the process, the “splendid” work, the worthy and demanding work.
No one said it would be easy. No one said it would be a sure path to fame and fortune. But as writers, we must be true to ourselves, to our giftedness and our calling. We must reach and try and write and rewrite and reach again because it matters.
If we’re true to our giftedness, then we will continue to write — no matter whether published or not, read or not. It is the “widow’s mite” that we offer up, and we are blessed.