Hey Writer—The Good…

Hey Writer 04_2019Hey, writer—I know you’ve been working hard. You’re a little weary of the friends and family who give you quizzical looks while telling you writing isn’t really a job. The more direct word weapons sound like, “You can’t make any money being a writer unless your name is (fill in the blank).”

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
—Ernest Hemingway

The truth is, if you’re hardwired to write, it is a lot like bleeding. That’s the only reason anyone sticks with it. The wiring between the mind, heart, and page is made of long-running, soulish strands in a network buzzing with half-formed thoughts and phrases. Shiny ideas peek out of the rough, waiting to be threaded into a larger work.

Nothing is polished and perfect in the beginning. The draft never has perfection as a goal, and that’s exactly as it should be. The perfectionist will be stuck more often than not. (Ask me, the editor, how I know.) Every writer’s goal is to begin crafting the work, and it all begins with the first draft. They might be the most abstract or loosely constructed art form—or maybe the ugliest duckling ever hatched. It’s all about getting the words down, messy as they may be.

You’ve got one job in the draft: write all the words. Later you can evaluate the merit of the words, but not when you’re in the drafting mode.

When you’re ready, begin to self-edit. Think critically in this step but—heads up!—this stage may not be what you think. Streamline with a backspace or cut and paste good words that don’t work in a separate, safe space where they can germinate. Make changes in the manuscript that shape ideas, shore up the weak ones, and polish the content.

You may be tempted to focus on the negative. Don’t. You may easily find what’s wrong, but do you see what’s right? Do you know what you can build upon? This is the skill seasoned writers develop. They see the beginnings of greatness even in the rough.

Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. —Michelangelo

Writer, find the good! Turn the words over and over in your mind until you find rough diamonds waiting to be perfectly cut to fit their form. Like Michelangelo, your job is to free written words to fly from the page and make a difference in the world.

Are you doing it?

Here’s your assignment for today. Take three (3) minutes to share in the comments below. What are your working on? What is one strength of your work or a happy accident you’ve found in your manuscript? What is it you execute well in writing?

Writers need community. What if we started to encourage one another in our strengths…

Thanks for reading. I’m looking forward to the sharing and encouragement that will come.

~Jennifer

 

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Hey Writer—You Need an Editor


Hey Writer—You Need an Editor (Jennifer J Howe)Hey writer—you know publishers search for brilliant content, and you hope your pages float into the right inbox. Every writer imagines the words calling the editor’s name, connecting at the heart level, and practically casting a golden glow as they’re read. Maybe an orchestra score plays lightly in the office background. That’s every writer’s dream.

Writer, you need an editor.
Maybe you haven’t heard the editor’s a voice personally, but you know it’s an important one. If you work with a traditional publisher, you’re aware of the partnership and process. If you work with your choice of editors for self-publishing or polishing before sharing with a professional, you’ll establish a partnership on your own. Let’s focus on your personal editor selection process.

It might feel a little crazy to tell the editor anything other than “Yes, of course!” But content is personal. It may be specific to your skill or knowledge base, and that makes it tempting to say, “This is my content, and I’m stickin’ to it.” Your words may be crafted with creative purpose. You might want to cry at suggested revisions, or worse, take offense and defend every keystroke. Do all you can to respond well in the editing phase. Remembering a few things may ease the process.

You don’t know what you don’t know.
A number of things may escape your keen eye—from minor typos and grammatical errors to character and plot inconsistencies. Line editing and proofreading makes quick work of those. Repeated “offenses” indicate missing tools in the craft toolbox and point toward a need for new skills. Can you be open to someone offering guidance? She’s not a tutor, but use the editor’s skills to bolster yours.

Your editor wants you to be successful (especially when her professional reputation is on the line). If the working relationship is going to succeed, honesty and respect are not only expected but also welcomed. There are three keys to hearing and embracing honest feedback: maintaining a humble attitude, being genuinely curious, and keeping an open mind.

I can hear you asking with a bit of grit, “Jen, are you saying the editor is always right?” Let’s take always out of the equation. Consider the source (the editor’s skill set, experience, and position). Also consider your own.

Not all editors are the same.
Editors have varying skills and work-related passions. Professionals regularly invest time sharpening their skills. Beyond that, look for the following when choosing your editor:

  • The ethical editor partners with clients and content within her expertise. Hard-science dissertation material and poetry are different endeavors. Match the editor to the content. You may like someone, but her expertise may not fit the work.
  • The professional editor is clear on the requirements of the work: your needs, goals, and audience. She should clearly communicate the differences between developmental editing, line editing, and proofreading. The fees should reflect differences.
  • A skilled editor preserves your voice and style by minimizing influence in those areas if possible.
  • An honest editor is clear about two things: her ability to do the work and whether your deadline can be met. Look for documentation including a work proposal outlining the work agreement and payment options.

Know the professional you’re working with and any strengths or weaknesses in the partnership. Know the characters in the mix; hire the right person and personality for your needs. Keep the expectations clear and communication lines open.

Communication and feedback.
Communication should be honest, clear, and kind. When revisions are challenging, try a humble, truthful conversation with your editor. Questions go a long way here. Learn the whys behind suggestions and non-negotiables. You may need to improve your skills in order to write clean content. Be open to learning new things.

It’s a relationship.
Remember: relational connection between the writer and editor should precede correction. A good editor focuses on the person before the project. That wouldn’t alter the editorial skills, but it has to shape the dialogue and interpersonal skills. Find an editor who loves the people they serve, even when that involves truthful “tough love” in small doses.

The editor has a job to do.
A good editor balances the interests of the author and reader. The goal is quality content that accomplishes what it set out to do and delivers on its promises. Quality content is a win-win for the writer and reader. If you find the right editor, writer, you will meet or exceed your expectations for your work in progress.

As an editor, I help writers with their words. If my red pen “machete” has bushwhacking to do, it’s an effort to clear the way for a polished final draft. Sometimes suggestions are just that; other times, they aren’t. It’s helpful to know the difference. It’s best to highlight necessary revisions using truthful words with kindness and respect.

Writer, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do: share that message, tell that story, solve your reader’s problem, respond to the conviction that is misunderstood. When you’re ready to put your work out there, lean into the writer-editor relationship. The path to success is shared.

~Jennifer

Hey Writer—Handle with Care

Hey Writer: Handle with Care (jjhowe)Hey, writer! Your wordsmithing skills are strengthening. (Remember when a blank page made you sigh and stare at the ceiling? That’s less frequent now. Or if you start counting holes in ceiling tiles, you can break the pattern. Celebrate little victories!) The writing life is a challenge, but it’s also exciting. You’re crafting sentences now, and you know it. Still—there are things to think about.

It’s time to write with care.
By now you’ve got a reader in mind when you write. You know all about her, even see her face. What does your relationship feel like? Are you friends? Now write with her in mind. Choose words that communicate and connect, rather than overwhelm or confuse. If the relationship to your reader is caretaking, you might reach her with words that encourage or soothe her soul. If banter is your connection, you can still respect her stage of life, knowledge of the world, and her worldview. If she’s your nemesis, you may be crafting word weapons. (This is a challenge for me, and I do well to borrow Shakespeare’s words like I did here. It could be the difference between nuclear devastation fueled by unchecked emotion and precise targeting through borrowed words.)

Talk to your real, imaginary friend.
You’re writing to a reader, having a conversation on the page with an imaginary friend of your own invention—a clearly identified, very real reader. Now you’ve got a job to do.  Think about your work in these terms.

  • Hold her attention. If you make writing decisions centered purely on your own preference, she’ll sense that. If you’re not inviting her into the conversation or honoring her presence, it will be obvious. Invite your reader into your world of words prepared for her before she ever cracked the cover. If you’ve been thinking of her, she’ll know. She’ll feel welcome, like she belongs.
  • Move her along in your work. When she enters your writing world, be sure to gift her with a page-turner. Use language that’s easily understood, phrasing that reads naturally, and descriptions that serve her. If you choose to bog her down in difficult language, sentences that require two or three attempts, and heavy-handed details that are overwhelming or overdone, she may be done (long before you’d like!).
  • Genuinely impact her life. Leave her with all the benefits of your words. Choose well what you share—make your work a gift that keeps giving long after the final words. Has she met new friends? Visited new places? Grown in her knowledge or wisdom? Is her quality of life better for reading your words? Those are some goals.

It’s not about you.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it a hundred times (probably). A writer is an artist who births a beautiful “child” in the final draft, a child who might seem to be the darling who can do no wrong. A writer who never feels this way either has no genuine connection to the work or extreme insecurity in it (a topic for another day). The mature writer learns to love writing, wholeheartedly enjoying the process and avoiding self-indulgence for the sake of the reader. If a writer manages to balance the creativity and crafting with love for the reader, it’s a win-win. The writer writes, the reader reads, and the work’s fulfillment comes through the reader’s engagement.

Writer, handle your reader and words with care. Do that through skillful, thoughtful writing.

~Jennifer

Hey Writer—Tell the Editor “No.”

Hey Writer—Say "No" to the Editor (jjhowe)

Hey writer—I have a lovely friend I keep writerly accountability with and co-write with often. Her son was home from school, and that was the day I got some real gems for writing fodder. I think you’re going to love them.

One snapshot of conversation went a little like this:

“Mom, I don’t think you should change anything about your writing. Write the way you want to write. Sometimes you have to say ‘No’ to the editor.”

“You may be right. Sometimes you just have to say ‘No’ to the editor.”

We laughed, and then I thought about what he said. I’ve decided I agree.

And every writer gasped.

I’m curious what your response was when you read that. Did you mentally run down the road to form an argument? Did you feel a particular emotion? Your writing goals likely colored your perspective, and that makes sense.

What if I told you the best writers say “No!” more often than you think? One particular editor should hear that word often.

The Inner Editor
More often than not a voice offers running critical dialogue in the writer’s mind. It may be echoes of a high school English teacher correcting grammar and word usage, or it may sound like a family member saying, “Nothin’ new under the sun—the story’s been told a hundred different ways. Why tell it again?” I think the writer “ninja” with sharp editing skills hears her own voice.

Speak to the Voice
When you hear critical voices surrounding your writing—especially in the first draft—you have options. I think my favorite is “Shut. Up.” Dig deep and craft a strong response that fits your personality. You choose. Try this: “I’m getting words down, no matter what you say, Editor!” or “Bug off!” One of my favorites is “Ain’t nobody got time for this!” You could always borrow a Shakespearean insult: “I scorn you, scurvy companion.” ¹  And “More of your conversation would infect my brain.” ² Or “You are as a candle, the better burnt out.” ³

Whatever you do, speak to the voice before it stifles your creativity and productivity. Speak kindly and firmly in response, especially when the voice sounds like your own. But stand on your own two, writer. The inner editor needs to be silenced.

There’s Work to Do
Writer, words need to be written. In your early drafts they are not polished and perfect. Can you accept that? If you can’t allow the words to fall to the page as they may, you’ll stand in a drafting jungle, paralyzed. If you can, you’ll find your creativity and productivity increasing. Then slowly and carefully, you’ll develop self-editing skills over time in later drafts—your own red pen “machete”—to clear the way for a final draft.

Tell the editor “No!” Can you do it? Writer, which words will you choose for the dialogue between the two of you? I kind of hope someone chooses an insult.

Share the words you’ll use in the comments below.

~Jennifer

 


¹ William Shakespeare. Henry IV, Part II (Act 2, Scene 4).

² William Shakespeare. The Comedy of Errors (Act 2, Scene 1).

³ William Shakespeare. Henry IV Part II (Act 1, Scene 2).

 

Hey Writer—Highs, Lows, and the Everyday Flow

The Highs, Lows, and Everday Flows, jjhoweHey, Writer! I’ve got a question for you: What is big in your mind? When you answer the first time, just assume you need to ask several times to go deeper and mine the nugget of truth waiting for you. I tossed out casual answers the first two times, but found the revealing, transforming stuff when I gave the question the time it deserved.

Answering the Question
My first answer was words and word count—those were big in my mind. A writer writes, so words are artfully crafted and tallied. Without words to count I couldn’t call myself a writer. Writing must be about the words.

On the heels of that was readers and platform. It only made sense the words must have fifteen minutes of fame in front of a reader. A writer writes for an audience; that means readers, and publishers want lots of them. It’s all about the platform, or so I thought.

My third go-round landed at message. The message soars on wings of words with the wind of a reader supporting it. The words need a guiding message to hem them in and give them significance. The reader can only understand the words in a message that connects to their mind, heart, or story. The message is large and in charge.

Then Gut-level Honesty…
When I quietly leaned into vulnerability, I had different answers, answers that changed like the weather or depended on the day.

The highs and lows registered as big. A writer can find the highest highs and the lowest lows overwhelming.

This post went viral! Viral? That’s crazy-awesome. I wrote that. I’m crazy-awesome. I can’t wait to get the next installment published!

Four thousand words today? Amazing! I wrote every one of ’em. I’m so proud. I’m amazing!

Brian says my message matters. My message matters. My message matters. My message matters! My message matters! I’m on it!

The last post went viral.  *Checks stats for the 20th time.*  Zero views? Zero? I am nothing!

A negative word count? How does that happen? Another week of this, and I quit! I suck.

Who would read this? Nothing new under the sun, they say. Why bleed on the page if it’s already been said? This is pointless. It’ll never see the light of day.

Oof! Highs and lows could kill a writer. I know them because I’ve been there and done that. I can laugh (now) because I’ve seen the other side of every high and low. Neither lasts forever, and a writer does well to remember that. Enjoy the highs and know most of us don’t live in them. Guard your heart in the lows—and know most of us don’t live in them forever either.

Keep writing on the roller coaster of the writing life. Whatever you do, don’t let a snapshot along the way define your journey. I’ve found I’m not always applauded or amazing, and I’m not always a nobody writing nothing. Be encouraged! It’s a journey with lots of learning along the way.

The Everyday Flow
As a writer generates content, sometimes the words that flow reflect the big things in life. What’s big in your life? Is it the highlight reel of your everyday life (like most Facebook statuses)? Is it the lowlights that have been endlessly chasing you? When a writer captures the everyday flow of life, it can land in the carefully constructed positive perspective or the negative one.

Writer, may I challenge you? The highlight reel is fun. The lowlight reel is tough. If we major on one or the other, we have reel life, not real life. Life ebbs and flows; we move from one moment to another. We can write life authentically including ourselves in the scenes, but it takes some effort to avoid landing in a single reel of life. A reader may like reading about the ordinary, the mundane, the good-bad-and-ugly of it all. The same reader, sensing an unrealistic, plastic life, may decline to engage. Or, sensing there is no joy to be found, may choose to find some elsewhere.

What if a writer chose to describe real life, rather than reel life? It might be interesting for your reader to know there are highs, lows, and everyday flows. Keep things real and in proportion. Give it a shot!

Hey writer, what do you think? Do your emotions ride the highs and lows? Do you write about the reel life or real life? I’m curious. Share away!

~Jennifer

Relationship: the Seed We Need

Graphic: Relationship: the Seed We Need, Jennifer J HoweA tiny seed was placed in our souls when we were created. Each of us comes into the world with complete dependence on someone—someone bigger, stronger, wiser, and equipped to navigate the world. An infant can do nothing. She cannot feed, clean, or clothe herself. Every need must be met by a caring person. In a perfect world, that’s exactly what would happen. Newborn cries break through the busy, Care for me. Care for me-e-e! Many mamas and daddies get this so right every day.¹

Beloved friends, let us love one another; because love is from God; and everyone who loves has God as his Father and knows God. 1 John 4:7 CJB

This is how things should work, and the followers of Jesus should be really good at it. God loves us, so we love others, even the tiniest “others.” Every child should receive love and care. Needs should be met. Loving eye contact should be exchanged consistently. Oooos, Ahhhhs, and baby talk should be every child’s introduction to life.

But we live in this world, and there are problems. Women use the word choice as if the little one had no significance. New life collides with lifestyle. Parents sum up the value of a child in a four-letter word—W-A-N-T—and adjoining words matter. Are they more than anything? If it’s don’t that causes stress for the mama, no doubt. Studies indicate the baby experiences stress and the spectrum of emotion in the womb, and the effects can last.²

I’m reminded an imperfect world often leaves a gap. Stress in utero may have taken a toll. Parent-child connection might be like the San Andreas Fault, shaky and unpredictable. Eye contact may be tentative, angry, or absent. A newborn’s basic needs may go unmet. That’s all trauma to a little one. It’s heartbreaking.

But there is One who can and will fill any gap.

Can a mother forget the infant at her breast, walk away from the baby she bore? But even if mothers forget, I’d never forget you—never. Isaiah 49:15 MSG

The seed of connection is part of the creative plan of God. When we experience life in a contrary way, something deep within us cries out, “This isn’t right!” And it makes sense: we know when something is broken intuitively, even if we can’t put words to it. When people fail (and they do), the seed in our soul cries out for water and sunlight.

People, even mamas, may fail. God will not. He will never forget any of us because we are so precious to Him. One day we’ll need to explore where God is when it all goes wonky, but this isn’t that day. Today we focus on our unfailing, loving God. He offers perfect connection when the important threads of our lives are left in shreds.

If you are the one who comes from hard places, a less-than-loving introduction to life, He remembers you. If you are the one who comes from hard places and then impacted a little one in your choices, He remembers you. He wants to heal the broken places. He wants you to know that the first connection you need is to Him.

But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God. The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. John 1:12-14a CSB

The identity of a child changes. The brokenness is never erased, but the story is beautifully redeemed when He redeems you. Imagine: no longer defined by the hard places, no longer left to the trauma, no longer called the child from the broken home with no significance or blessing. You are His. That changes everything!

I’d love to hear your thoughts. I believe I’ll share posts of this nature as well as my “writing about writing” content. I hope you find the material to be helpful, something that serves you well, friend.

~Jennifer


¹ Make a Difference Monday | Taking A Closer Look at Connection: a TBRI Principle, October 31, 2018.

² Fetus to Mom: You’re Stressing Me Out!, October 31, 2018.

Hey Writer, It’s a Jungle Out There

Graphic: It's a jungle out there! (Jennifer J Howe)

Writer, you face a challenge in this tech-savvy age. A writer seeks a unique reader, and it can feel like trekking to find Dr. Livingstone on the African continent.

Readers are inundated with messages 24-7-365. Inboxes flood with the messages they want and the junk they don’t. Hundreds of messages add up in little red circle alerts on phones everywhere.

An unknown writer is a sapling trying to grab a ray of light in the jungle. It sounds daunting or impossible.

Roughly 7 1/2 billion people call this blue marble home. If technology reached a fraction of them, there would be audiences for everyone. A handful of writers reach millions and tens of millions. Still, no one corners the market on global population. What if you believed there are enough readers for everyone? What if a community filled with encouragement helped others on their journey to the audience they’re looking for? What if we amplified others’ good words for the good of others?

A writer could do that, but it doesn’t feel natural. Language like competition, rat race, and dog-eat-dog colors our perspective. They say it’s a jungle out there. The truth is, you writerly neighbors two trees over in the jungle have messages that could reach readers near you. Writers sit in a jungle saturated with messages.

What will you do with this reality?

A few words of advice—

Connect!
Remember my post about Connection with your reader? Here’s another facet: connect with writers, even those who write in your neck of the woods. Someone writes well in your genre? Read it. Has a similar message? Read it—knowing your message, voice, and style are different and matter. Share the good words with other writers if you dare.

Grow!
Every writer must develop. A sapling in the forest may take longer to develop than the one dropped in a sunshiny meadow, granted. Be the diligent writer who grows where you’re planted.

Growth can mean many things. You might work to identify your audience and niche in the jungle. You might grow an e-mail list. You might even outgrow a generic site to your own dot com. Or try these:

  • Leverage technology to learn your craft, increase confidence, and publicize work.
  • Learn new writing techniques and genres. Stretch yourself.
  • Learn conventions in order to produce clean content.
  • Learn to become your own editing critic before sharing your work.
  • Get into encouraging learning environments (conferences).

Don’t get so comfortable you forget to grow, and don’t forget to count the baby steps you take along the way.

Clear the way!
Writer, get out your machete. There’s work to be done, and you’ll have to clear your way.

  • Cut extra words. It takes time to know good ones, but cut, cut, cut! Experienced writers write all the words and keep the good ones. Create a “Right Words, Wrong Timing” space to save the darlings you might need.
  • Be precise and remove unrelated content. I wanted to highlight this point. The scope of a writing project is genre-driven and theme-related. Keep to a specific, centered argument.
  • Be healthy! An author easily establishes and maintains an unhealthy link to the work. Friend, you are not your words, thoughts, or message. The ideas are separate and distinct from your person. Don’t get caught up in anxiety, shame, or distress. Be you—a writer—who has words, thoughts, and a message to be refined and shared.

Write!
If a tree falls in the jungle and no one hears it… Do you wonder if your efforts lead to a view on the screen? It’s natural. If a sapling had thinking, I imagine it would dream of peeking through the canopy and wonder if it could ever happen. That’s a writer’s life. The seed of a message is watered by thoughts of the need for it, desire to share it, and encouraging validation.

The writer begins the journey in obscurity. Once upon a time, even the best authors created “masterpieces” only a mother could love. But the household names we know did two things:

  • They wrote often.
  • They never gave up.

Writing in private offers the freedom to say everything. Going public invites the task of pointed criticism and sharper editing. If you are famous in the industry and your book title is in smaller font than your name, you have to live up to that. That writer sits in an InstantPot ™ but that’s another post.

Writing in a quiet corner with a few people who know your name and love you enough to speak truth and encourage you in your way, that’s a beautiful space. (There’s something satisfying about coming full circle.)

Hey Writer—connect, grow, clear the way, and—whatever you do—write!

~Jennifer