Hey Writer—the Ugly “Stuckling

Hey, Writer—are you fighting through your planned writing time today? Fingers hover over the keyboard eager to generate word flow. Then long stares at the screen are punctuated by brief looks around the room and quick glances at customers coming and going at the hidey hole. The word count only shrinks as you edit words you had an hour ago. You’re tapping your foot more than the keys.Hey Writer—the Ugly "Stuckling"

Even if not today, it can be a battle any day.

What brings your writing to an ugly, screeching halt?
Consider the fear of failure and rejection. Writing puts the whole heart out there for all to read. Ideas are a target for criticism. If there’s an unhealthy connection to the work, then who becomes the target?

My worldview allows for God to work in and through everything in His time. He knows all things. If we invite Him into the process and trust Him—with the work, the pace, the release of fresh thoughts, the timing, with everything—what might happen?

Comparison is a killer in the writing process. Writers think of fresh ideas and shape them, scheming and planning and plotting to the end. But truth and reality exist, and that’s a problem:

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9 ESV

Suddenly the genre reveals all that millions created in an overwhelming body of literature. Paralysis sets in. The “competition” in the field is stiff. What new thing could possibly be said? What is a fresh idea anyway? Five minutes on a search engine proves a thought isn’t so original. Then what?

Surrender to and love His purpose for life. Striving and driving on our own steam has consequences. Do we want that? Better if it’s not us! Do we want to put that ugly, jealous, anxious art out there? Striving shows in the work. Peace, gentleness, and respect or anxiety and the fight-flight-freeze cycle—which creates the best work? What does excellent work require? Ask Him what He requires if you’re the curious, daring sort.

The Writing Process in Partnership
When we partner with God in work, we become sensitive to His voice saying go, wait, or stop. Standing and waiting is also serving God. There is something to be said for waiting.

I’m not talking about a frenetic pace of life that puts off creativity, a choice of location that leads to distraction, or perfectionism that shuts down the process. That’s not honest waiting; at best it’s unwise, at worst it’s shirking the work. We have to sit and do the work.

There are unique times when the words won’t come that are worth noticing. In His mercy, God creates growth and learning opportunities through rest. A good friend reminds me, ‘Sometimes you have to live a little more before you can write it,’ (whatever it is). She’s not wrong. Growth over time can temper or heal emotions, craft powerful scenes, or grant fresh perspective and creativity.

How to Partner with God
Keep in step with Him. Surrender all the dreams specifically to allow Him to work. Our best writing is created when God’s wisdom and heart take the lead; that generates very different content. Living life aligned with Him—especially in our work (creative fiction or non-)—changes everything. Comparison issues melt away. The message emerges, but leave it to Him to decide how and if it will be used. Let the message be worked in you first! Each has a part—the Author of faith and the author—and humility goes a long way.

Connection to the Lord yields supernatural power. Let Him craft words through you. Let Him infuse words with power (something better than conniving might twist into existence). His Spirit tempers and tames the big feelings, heals the brokenness, restores stolen things, and often turns the mess into a unique message to share. That’s redemption.

We can try to make things happen these days using the right networking, marketing, and crazy-insane effort. Or we can get close to God and let Him speak.

When we think we’ve heard some of His wisdom, we can ask our audience questions about their needs (a whole other partnership idea for a future post). Interviews and questionnaires are treasure chests full of possible direction and purpose, great ideas, and fuel for the road ahead. That audience feedback becomes part of the conversation, too.

Lastly, if you’re a little “stuckling,” try a writing prompt or stream of consciousness exercise to begin getting words down without judgment.

If you got this far, you deserve a standing O!

Here’s a 3-minute assignment:

  • Put your finger on what has you stalled right now. Give it a name.
  • List 1-3 things that need to happen for a breakthrough to occur.
  • List one thing you can do today that will begin to change the “ugly stuckling” into the graceful swan floating with peace and a clear head.

Want to make an action step real? Write it down! Feel like sharing? I’d love to know how your writing journey is going.

~Jennifer

 

 

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Hey Writer—the Bad…

April 22 2019_jjhHey, Writer—the last post in the series focused on the best parts of your writing. If you haven’t read it and taken the 3-minute challenge, go here.

Today we’re peeking at something challenging—the things we know need to be shored up or polished in our writing process. There are so many “moving parts” in the process when we take a closer look: showing and telling, the writer’s and characters’ voices, plot and subplots, writing style and conventions. It’s overwhelming if we get stuck in all of it.

Truth is, we don’t do all of writing skillfully; there’s room for growth in this craft. We will be more successful when we accept that truth and ourselves as we are in the writing process. Admitting we have room for improvement in the first and final drafts can be encouraging.

As an editor, I’ll list some of the common struggles I see.

  • Comma, comma, comma, comma, comma, chameleon
  • Conjunction junctions
  • Content spell-bound by uncommon terms
  • Flooding the work with adjectives and adverbs
  • Footnotes! Everybody footnote! (Citation styles can be tricky.)
  • Inconsistencies in plot, character traits, or minor details
  • Plodding storyline or subplots that distract
  • Regular use of lackluster words: being verbs and “that,” for example
  • Telling, rather than showing

You might see your nemesis in the list above, or you may already know the first thing you should address in your writing based on feedback. I always think it’s great to know where to start in my crafting and drafting growth.

The imperfections can be addressed in baby steps, but the first step is knowing where the attention is needed. Do you know? How would you find out? Try some of these:

  • Create or join a writer’s group or circle for the community and feedback
  • Consider a guild or larger learning community for writing resources
  • Find truthful and encouraging critical readers who know your genre
  • Study the areas mentioned repeatedly in the feedback
  • Study the craft to become your own best and fierce friend for self-editing
  • Find a skilled editor to help you with your words

Remember, this isn’t really the “bad” in our work but a growth opportunity. Writers write. Good writers are teachable, learn the craft, and master bits at a time.

Writer, own your place and space in the writing world. Your words and stories matter. Readers need what you have to say. Don’t shirk the work for the wrong reasons. Step into and grow into the role of writer. After all, you are one!

Here’s your quick 3-minute assignment for sharing below: think about a single growth area in your writing process. What is it? Brainstorm one or two steps you can take to strengthen your weakness. When will you step into this growth opportunity?

~Jennifer

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

 

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—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

Hey Writer, Connect with Your Reader

Hey Writer, Connect!Writing has a purpose: to be read. Think of it like a time capsule containing ideas, instruction, and emotion. When written thoughts are master-crafted, the brilliance of the work shines when a reader’s eyes find it.

Can I suggest you’re not just smithing words? A writer establishes a relationship. That’s what writing really is. It’s a beautiful relationship—a dance if you like—transcending time and distance on paper or paperless. The work is choreographed movement, and we’d have a tough time deciding who takes the lead. It’s a chicken-egg question, for sure: which came first, the writer’s thoughts or the reader in mind?

Connection
Writing in this century allows for immediate sharing or time to pass. The distance can be down the street or anywhere on the globe with translation! Technology has moved writing and publishing to a whole different level. (Makes me glad I wasn’t born in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago. Cuneiform, anyone?) Still the relationship is a connection—the writer sends an intellectual or emotional message, and the reader receives and engages with those ideas on an intellectual or emotional level. You have to love a meeting of the minds and a connection of the hearts.

Relational responsibility
That’s an intellectual definition up there, but it works. I think the writer is responsible for connection, not the reader, and I have thoughts.

Know your audience. This isn’t new, and maybe it’s been over-done. It’s critical, though. A writer forms the message with a reader in mind. The particulars are sifted through. Will gender, age, vocabulary, or length of the work play in? The smart writer knows if those things are important to the message, and the key factors become part of the relational choreography on the page.

Share the real you. A reader will engage differently when writing is academic (read: cold) and when it is a story with personal details (read: warm). Often the scientific research paper isn’t the place for your personal details. We know that. Where the writer runs into trouble is with a piece that “writes the author out of it.” It’s the difference between “You should _______” and “Can I share my experience with _______?” Done well, the story is captivating and convincing. The second choice has “Engagement” written all over it. Telling coldly and sharing warmly will be received differently. Decide how you’d like to reveal your heart and mind and how you’d like your reader to receive the message.

Have integrity. This means a few things in non-fiction writing.

Write honestly. Create non-fiction works that are truthful and sound in argument or character portrayal. Do your research for non-fiction works that require it.

Have intellectual integrity. This can be difficult. As a rule, our American culture reasons poorly. Logic is rarely taught. A good writer accepts when the argument falls flat. Either that work is re-worked, or it reveals the problems openly (read: not in the fine print).

Presentation matters. Passion about the message is good and right, but incorporating spin, hype, or inciting an audience with fake news is unkind. Choose passionate words well within your style. Consider using the best words stated positively rather than negatively.

In fiction, integrity flows through the work’s message with some of the elements above, but I think there’s more. Create a solid and meaningful plot. The characters and details should be consistent (think: world building or personal description). When confusion sets in a reader notices a misstep in the dance.

Share your heART. Don’t miss this. Share from the heart to your reader even when you’re tempted to lean into the brain academically. When you care deeply about the message, the writing process feels different to both the author and the reader. Writing is an art, and it is art. Imagine what might happen if that ten-page paper had a little more heart behind it. Poetry and creative writing leans into the heart very naturally. Writing blog posts about writing might not. Unless—

Love makes the words go ’round. Want your words to connect meaningfully, to have a full dance card with reader after reader engaging? It’s about the love, baby. Think about your reader. Do you know what she needs? Do you know the air she breathes, the vital source of life she’s seeking? Do you know her pains and sorrows, her joys and thrills? Write to those things because you care.

Love your reader. She’s waiting to experience your choreography in the work. Whatever you offer her, make sure you gift artfully crafted words of truth and integrity (fiction or non-) from your authentic heart. Let the work be motivated by love, to enrich her life, whether for inspiration, education, or her deep, soulish joy. It’s for her.

Connect deeply. Go change the world with your good words, writer!

~Jennifer