Keep Your Eyes Open

I want to encourage all you writers to keep your eyes open and your notebook handy. Young man with lensYou never know where and when inspiration will strike. A sunset. A snippet of conversation. Something you read.

Here are some suggestions on how to capture those moments:

  1. Keep a small notebook handy to record those things that strike you. If you carry a cell phone that has a camera, snap a picture of a visual that inspires you. (Be careful not to take pictures of identifiable property or strangers without permission.)
  2. Not sure if you should record something? Do it! Better to have several ideas you never use than forget that one you wish you could remember.
  3. Don’t worry if you have no idea how you will include what grabs your attention in your writing. When my son was in his mid-teens, he wanted a pair of army boots. Being the silly mom that I am, I bought him a pair that were several sizes too large, thinking maybe, just maybe, he might grow into them. He wore them to church shortly after that only to be asked by a dear, elderly friend of ours, “Hey, boots, where are you taking that boy?” I love it! Have I ever used it except in this kind of context? No, but I’m sure I will. It was just too priceless to forget.
  4. Pay particular attention to situations, places, and people you would normally walk right past without noticing. Writers—and all creatives—must learn to see beyond their normal range of vision.
  5. Remember to take your notebook and your camera on business trips, vacations, walks around the neighborhood. The funny thing about inspiration is that it can strike when you least expect it. Cliché as that sounds, it’s true. The more you train yourself to see it, the more inspiration will be ev-ery-where.
  6. Periodically, leaf through your notebook and your photos. You never know when something will strike you afresh and inspire your fingers to fly over the keyboard.

What inspires your writing? How do you keep track of those flashes of inspiration?

by Stephanie Nickel , CES Editor, Writer, Coach, and Critique Specialist

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Learn More, Write More

by Stephanie Nickel (previously posted on Monday Motivation on 9/8/14)

Our church leadership recently approved a subscription to RightNow Media. Each congregant with access to the Internet has been invited to create an account and dive into the wealth of teaching that is available. I have attended our church for over 30 years, yet this might be the greatest gift they’ve ever given me.

Young hipster guy with beard and earphones watching videos on a digital e-reader tabletWhile there are additional resources available—some free, some for a nominal charge—listening to the videos provides a wealth of knowledge in and of itself.

I have learned from well-known authors and speakers—and those I hadn’t encountered before. Each evening, my husband and I have begun listening to videos of particular interest to him. (He is more a historical documentary buff than I am.)

But what does this have to do with my writing?

Well, I am working (or should be) on a devotional book based on the gospel of John. I’ve given it the working title “If You Love Me.” In it, I am examining the commands of Jesus and what they mean to us today.

As I explore RightNow Media, I am finding several teachings based on the book of John that are enriching my perspective—and will, I trust, enrich the writing itself.

While I would never label myself a researcher, I love this opportunity to discover riches so readily available. Yesterday, I got the mental picture of standing in the proverbial treasure chamber we so often see in action adventure movies. All around me are radiant gems and sparkling gold. And guess what—the walls aren’t even closing in on me. I don’t have to make a run for it. I can marvel in the riches. I have access to treasure that will change my life—and my writing—forever.

How about you? Where do you find that wealth that inspires and enriches your writing?

Keep an eye out because it might appear when you least expect it, when you’re not even looking for it.

Stephanie Nickel, CES Editor, Writer, Coach

Grandma Holtz’s Apron

by Dixie Phillips, CES Editor, Writing Coach, Award-Winning Children’s Author and Songwriter

I will never forget a treasured gift I received from my paternal grandmother over fifty years ago. I was barely three, but I still can envision in my mind’s eye how Grandma watched with anticipation as I opened a package and pulled out a red gingham checked apron she had sewn for me.

The single pocket on the front was solid red cotton, cut out and sewn in the shape of a baby carriage with two large buttons for wheels. A white chain stitch was embroidered and topped off with a flat pearl button for the carriage handle. What made the apron the perfect gift for a girly-girl like me was the itty-bitty plastic doll with blinking eyes tucked inside the carriage pocket.

Grandma believed in learning life skills early. My tiny hands were taught to set and clear the table. Baking cookies was also part of my early childhood training. Grandma would Gingerbread menset me on a chair that faced the kitchen counter of the old farmhouse, tie my gingham apron around my tiny waist, and my cooking lessons would begin. We would bake all kinds of delicious cookies. Grandpa loved smelling the tantalizing aroma of cinnamon and gingerbread that wafted through the whole house. My job was to put the red hots and raisins on the gingerbread man’s tummy and face. When all the baking was done, Grandma would fold my apron and put it in a cabinet drawer. Then I would crawl up in her lap and listen as she read The Gingerbread Man.

In 1997, Grandma was diagnosed with terminal inflammatory breast cancer. I wondered how I would go on without her daily presence in my life. As the time for her departure grew near, we spoke often of favorite family memories. I mentioned the gingham apron. She smiled and said, “Life’s simple treasures are always the best.”

Even though I knew Grandma was in heaven, I suffered with agonizing grief when she died. I found comfort in the old hymns about heaven and God’s Word. And for some strange reason, whenever I examined the familiar gingham apron, my grieving soul was soothed.

I have a special drawer in my kitchen for the precious heirloom. On days I feel I’m losing eternal perspective I take it from its hiding place. Its symbolism helps keep me grounded. Every inch of it resonates my godly grandmother’s life. The three buttons are still securely fastened even after fifty years—so like Grandma. She was always predictable and dependable. The decorative chain stitch represents Grandma’s keen ability to keep all of our family linked together no matter what life tossed our way. And the little baby tucked in the pocket symbolizes a little girl God has kept safe and sheltered from life’s howling winds because of my grandmother’s prayers fifty years ago. Even though the apron no longer fits around my ballooning waist, it fits around my heart just fine.

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One Day at a Time

by Stephanie Nickel , CES Editor, Writer, Coach, and Critique Specialist

When I look around—and within—I realize it is a very human thing to look to the future.

When I sell my first article . . .

When I find a publisher for my book . . .

When I sign on with an agent . . .

When the workday is over . . .

When the weekend gets here . . .

When I finally get away on vacation . . .

Making plans isn’t wrong. Thinking ahead isn’t wrong. Looking to the future isn’t wrong.

But . . .

TodayWe are only assured of today.

Yesterday is gone. Hopefully we can learn from it and move forward, but it’s gone.

Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. If there’s one thing the uncertainty of personal struggles and global turmoil have shown us, it’s the truth of this statement.

I realize, so far, this post has been “a downer,” but that’s not my intention. When I was writing in my journal today, I posed a series of questions like this one: How can I keep my eyes on the Author and Finisher of my faith TODAY?

Let’s focus on today and go from there.

What writing project do you want to work on today?

Set a time to do so and keep the appointment.

What market for your work do you want to research today?

Even if you don’t have a market guide, there are countless resources online. Explore at least one of them today.

What small change will inspire you to write more today?

Make the change and move forward.

What “urgent” thing on your To Do list can you put off until tomorrow so you can be more productive as a writer today?

Scratch the item off your list and rewrite it on tomorrow’s.

What one thing you especially enjoy can you do today?

Don’t make excuses; just do it.

What one thing can you do to make the day special for someone else?

Include this on your schedule and do it. (Remember even the smallest kindness can make someone’s day.)

We mustn’t ignore the heartache and atrocities going on all around us, but sometimes we must take a step back. What can you do to distance yourself from the pain today—and thereby, be better able to take action in the future? (As a writer, don’t underestimate the power of writing to a government official, the editor at a major newspaper, or the readers of your blog. You never know who will read what you’ve written and change the world.)

Take a step back today. Take a deep breath. Determine what good you can do right this minute—and do it.


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God Winks

by Dixie Phillips, CES Editor, Writing Coach, Award-Winning Children’s Author and Songwriter

Journaling is one way to keep precious memories alive. Another way is to jot down simple stories of everyday family life. Today I will share one of our family’s stories with you. Enjoy.


Grandma Eleanor was the stabilizing force in my life for as long as I can remember. Her wisdom and common sense echoed in the depths of my soul, long after she passed away. After her death, it seemed the grief would come in waves and cast shades of suffocating bereavement throughout my day. I would always find comfort in the Scriptures and consolation in the old hymns about heaven. But one day as our family was embarking on a new adventure, I was stung by this painful reality—Grandma Eleanor wouldn’t be part of our family’s joyous celebration.

Rebekah, the first of our four children to be married, was to be united in holy matrimony on August 9, 2008. As we were making wedding preparations, I discovered a treasured picture of Grandma Eleanor cradling our newborn Beka in her arms. Hot tears slipped down my cheeks.

“Oh, Grandma, I wish you could be here. You were always so practical,” I whimpered. “You would know exactly how many pounds of strawberries and bananas we need for the chocolate fountain.”

Vector image of an fox design on white backgroundRebekah and I had tried to think of a theme for her wedding and decided since she was marrying Zacharia David Fox, “The Fox Tale Begins” would fit the bill. We had hunted for tiny, imitation foxtails, hoping to make adorable bookmarks with the foxtails and our witty slogan attached. We planned to give them as wedding favors to our guests, but we weren’t having any luck. We gave up and chose an entirely different theme.

I couldn’t stop staring at the picture of my grandmother. “Oh, Grandma, you would be so proud of Beka and Zac. They love the Lord and have surrendered their lives to His work,” I whispered. Suddenly a verse from Hebrews smoldered in my heart.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Hebrews 12:1 NIV

A small box caught my eye. I remembered when Grandma Eleanor had died my father had given me a box that held a few of her knick-knacks. Inside the cardboard box was a tiny package with a soiled Martha Washington one and one-half cent stamp loosely fastened in the right corner and a faded label addressed to Mrs. Eleanor Holtz. I lifted the lid off and gasped when I saw a tiny foxtail attached to a white leather bookmark etched with a gold imprint of a fox.

It was a “God wink” for me and brought such comfort to my grieving soul. As my fingers traced the soft foxtail, I pondered the delightful, heavenly gift. Could it be that Grandma Eleanor was a member of that great cloud of witnesses? Could she be cheering us on? Is it possible that she would be present at her great-granddaughter’s wedding?

I may never know this side of heaven the answers to my questions, but this one thing I know—the Holy Spirit takes great pleasure in comforting grieving hearts. So I will dry my wet eyes and rejoice as our family’s Fox tale begins!

Always Learning

by Stephanie Nickel , CES Editor, Writer, Coach, and Critique Specialist

Learn“But I graduated years ago.”

We may think our education has come to an end when we graduate from high school or college. However, that’s not the case.

Ongoing—if not formal—learning is an important part of life.

When asked to edit the prospectus for a friend’s proposed Ph.D. thesis, I had to purchase the newest edition of Kate Turabian’s classic reference book. (I owned a copy 30 or so years ago and that was probably the last time I’d looked at it.)

Even today, I have almost a dozen reference books close at hand. When editing, I often come across something I think I know. If I’m not certain, it’s best to grab one of my resources and double check. It solidifies the information in my mind and makes me a better editor—and writer.

So, how can you continue to learn on your writing journey?

1. The most obvious way is to take an online course or see what your local night school has to offer. (This is, of course, if you aren’t already in school.)

2. Your local bookstore likely has shelves and shelves of reference works. Why not treat yourself to a new one and work your way through it? You may prefer to do so a little at a time. I wouldn’t suggest curling up with a cup of tea and settling in to read The Chicago Manual of Style for the evening—unless, of course, that’s something you would enjoy. (You may be surprised at what I find good reading.)

3. When you come across something in a published article or book that you think is incorrect, do some research. The rules do change from time to time, but don’t assume you’re wrong (or right) without doing the legwork. (I remember reading The Berenstain Bears to my three when they were young. It took me a long time to accept that one could begin a sentence with and and but. It’s still something I’m aware of—and avoid unless there’s a very good reason not to.)

4. Visit skills development websites and peruse the information you find there. Be aware that the rules are slightly different from one country to the next. American grammar rules differ from British rules. Canadian rules seem to be a combination of the two. You may be tempted to ask, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

5. As I mentioned earlier, the English language is in a constant state of flux. According to Ammon Shea, author of Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation (a book I very much want to read), “A language that does not change is a dead language.”

And lastly . . .

6. Write. Write. And write some more. All the while, seek to incorporate the new things you’re learning. Practice may not make perfect, but it does make better—much better.


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The Power of the Written Word

by Dixie Phillips (http://www.christianeditingservices.com/dixie-phillips.html), CES Editor, Writing Coach, Award-Winning Children’s Author and Song Writer

Words have power on wooden words blocks.The day before what would have been my maternal grandmother’s 100th birthday, I spotted an old letter crammed in the back of a dresser drawer.

“Wow! This letter is over 30 years old,” I gasped when I saw the postmark. “And it’s from Grandma!”

I plucked the three-page letter from the tattered envelope and began reading. Immediately tears trickled down my cheeks.

                Dear little Dixie,
                I love you more than you’ll ever know . . . 

Discovering Grandma’s letter reminded me of the power of the written word, whether a simple note or professional manuscript. Our words have power to impact the reader and keep memories alive.

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking every time we write, it has to be something profound, but I’ve discovered more often God uses the everyday experiences of life to minister to others.

I want to share a piece I wrote about my paternal grandmother’s death. I never dreamed my “common” experience of losing a grandmother would resonate in the souls of so many, but it did, and I have had numerous requests for reprints.

Never underestimate “your” story. God may just use it to heal the brokenhearted and your words could touch a generation your eyes may never see. Keep writing.


Mable

The move from a spacious home to a small, one-bedroom apartment was devastating to Grandma Eleanor. Devastating, but necessary, because of a terminal inflammatory breast cancer diagnosis.

In her apartment complex, other women who were experiencing the same pain she was—terminal illness, limited income, loss of spouse to death or a nursing home—surrounded her. A remnant of these women formed a weekly Bible study. Grandma became a faithful member. This band of women became kindred spirits as they prayed for one another and comforted one another from God’s Word.

It became apparent by fall Grandma would not be with us much longer. Her spirit was strong, but her body grew weaker. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, she had to be hospitalized. The cancer had metastasized to her lungs and colon.

Word spread quickly among her little Bible study group that Eleanor was dying. Some had seen the ambulance take her away. Loving cards and concerned phone calls began pouring in.

Wednesday morning a knock came to her Hospice room.

“Mable, how did you get here?” Grandma asked.

“Took a cab, Eleanor. I just had to.” Mable tiptoed to Grandma’s bedside with a brown grocery sack in her arms. “It’s cold outside, but it was warm in the cab!”

“Oh, Mable, you shouldn’t have come out in this bitter cold.”

“I had to, Eleanor! Christmas is coming. I wanted you to have your Christmas card and the gift I made for you! It’s all right here in my bag.” Mable rummaged through her grocery sack, pulled out a bright red envelope, and tore it open. “Let me read it to you.”

Mable cleared her throat and continued,

“What can I give Him poor as I am?
 If I were a shepherd, I’d give Him a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I’d do my part,
I know what I’ll give Him,
All of my heart!”
(“What Can I Give Him? by Christina Georgina Rossetti) 

Tears glistened in Grandma’s eyes. “Thank you, Mable.”

“That’s not all, Eleanor. There’s more! Christmas is coming! I just wanted you to have your Christmas present a little early this year.” Mable pulled out a small package topped with a recycled bow.

Grandma was too weak to open her gift. Mable handed it to me. I gently tore the paper off the box and opened the lid. Peering back at me was a teddy bear holding a lacy parasol.

“Yep, it’s true, Eleanor! Christmas is coming, and I just had to give you your present a little early this year.” Mable reached for Grandma’s hand.

“Mable, thank you for being my friend this past year. You tell our little group good-bye for me. Thank them for all their prayers. Tell them I’ll be spending Christmas with Jesus this year.”

Tears trickled down Mable’s face and fell on her quivering lips.

“I love you, Eleanor!”

“And I love you!” Grandma replied.

Mable collapsed in my arms and wept.

After Mable left, I stood beside Grandma’s deathbed. I placed the little teddy bear on the table. I realized Grandma’s “home-going” would be soon. I looked at the teddy bear holding the lacy parasol and reread Mable’s Christmas card, “What can I give Him poor as I am?”

I realized that I had just witnessed these verses lived out before my eyes. A loving friend with meager means had given her very best. She even celebrated Christmas before Thanksgiving knowing my Grandmother wouldn’t live to see Christmas this side of heaven.

I closed my eyes and silently thanked God for giving me such a wonderful grandmother, and for giving my grandmother such a wonderful friend.

Grandma went home to be with Jesus two days after Mable’s visit. She did just what she said she would. She celebrated Christmas with Jesus!


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Editing Is Psychological

 

by Tisha Martin, CES fiction editor, writer, writing coach, academic proofreader, and online marketing specialist (read more about Tisha)
[This blog post first appeared on Almost an Author, 4-22-18.]

Doubt and uncertainty

Editing is psychological.

Yes. That’s right. Psychological. I promise not to go too deep. Please keep reading. In editing our own manuscripts, we usually know what’s going on, who each character is, and how the story’s going to unfold. What we don’t expect is the sneaky errors that crop up. When we least expect it. When we’re about to hit send or publish, or worse yet, after we’ve sent our manuscript off to the publisher!

And what we don’t expect is that our eyes skip over what’s actually missing because our brains automatically interpret what’s there. Hence the psychological aspect of editing.

How do we fix this, or at least make it more manageable? Ah, well, let’s take a closer look at three common mistakes we all make in editing our writing.

Five Common Psychological Editing Mistakes

  1. Extra spaces between sentences.

Extra spaces are a pain, but professional editors loathe them. When editing your manuscript, double check that you don’t have two extra spaces between words or sentences. According to Chicago Manual of Style and nearly every publishing house, one space should appear between sentences. Not the long-standing two spaces. That’s old school. One space and done.

  1. Multiple characters on the first page.

Have you ever entered a room where everyone is talking at once? The noise just engulfs you, making it impossible to focus on any one conversation, much less hear yourself think. If you’re in that family of introverted writers, an experience like this is crippling sometimes.

Just like entering a room full of talking heads, if the first page of your manuscript has too many characters, your readers will want to throw the book at something, anything. Readers want to know who, what, and why when they read the first page.

Rule of thumb: To keep a reader, introduce at least two characters—the protagonist and an important secondary character—on the first page to get the story off on the right foot with your readers. You can add more characters as needed on the second and preceding pages, but please stick to simple on the first page. Your readers will thank you.

  1. Redundant phrases or repetitive words.

In the writing stage, you write whatever comes to your mind just to put words down on paper. And in the reading stage, you skip over these most common phrases you use in everyday speech. But in the editing stage, you don’t even notice these redundant phrases because you’re focused on characterization, plot, dialogue, or whatever you know you need to work on the most. With redundant phrases, you can usually delete one of the words and your sentence will breathe easier.

Hey, I’m preaching at myself here! The other day I was editing my own WIP and noticed with great horror that (take notice of the strikethrough, it isn’t necessary here!) I used “even” four times within four preceding paragraphs! I was so mortified that the words choked me, and I scrambled to revise my sentences.

Here are a few redundant phrases to watch out for:

  • Final outcome (outcome)
  • False pretense (pretense)
  • Absolutely certain (certain)
  • Completely finished (finished)
  • Sat down (sat)

Now, that wasn’t too hard, psychologically speaking, was it? It’s so easy to gloss over the obvious mistakes in our manuscripts. Therefore, taking that extra special effort (see what I did there?) to shore up the little issues that really make a difference in the long run—for you, your characters, your agent, your editor, your publisher, and for your readers. Not to mention your manuscript because it’s now a squeaky-clean product!

Join in the discussion!

Take a few minutes and ruminate. What are some editorial issues you fail to notice in your manuscript on first or second or final read-through?

Writing Book Reviews

by Stephanie Nickel , CES Editor, Writer, Coach, and Critique Specialist

Book reviewWhether you include book reviews on your blog or simply leave comments on sites such as Goodreads and Amazon, here are a few pointers about writing reviews that I hope will encourage the author and inform potential readers. The following ideas are directed mostly at fiction, but they can be applied to nonfiction as well.

Examine your motivation.

First, decide whether you’re writing a review primarily to help the author promote sales (the more authors I get to know personally, the more this becomes a reality for me) or if your aim is to inform readers why they should or shouldn’t read a particular book.

Put the positives up front.

No matter how you feel about a book, if at all possible, seek to write something positive before you go on to share what you see as the inadequacies of the work. (If the majority of my comments would be negative, I choose not to review the book in question.)

Be honest about the negatives.

Including positives is important, but you aren’t doing readers—or your reputation as a reviewer—any favors if you aren’t honest about a book’s shortcomings. Granted, your opinions may be 99 percent subjective, but that’s fine. That’s what people expect from reviews.

Be genuine. Even if the author is a personal friend, a review is not the same as back cover copy. It’s important to truly mean what you say in your reviews.

Be specific and qualify your statements. Some people care deeply about things like typos and grammatical errors. Others wouldn’t notice them even if they were pointed out. Some readers care more about the characters, others about the storyline. Instead of saying, “This is the worst book I’ve ever read,” say something like, “The story has a lot of potential, but I was distracted by the number of spelling mistakes throughout.”

Never, never, never include spoilers. If you wouldn’t want to know a specific detail before reading the book, don’t include it in your review. (If you’re one of those rare people who reads the last page first to see if you deem the book worth your time, don’t forget . . . most of the population does not read that way.)

So, how can you review a book without including at least one or two spoilers?

Be creative. I recently compared the second book in The Port Aster series with The Empire Strikes Back. I stated that the first book was a stand-alone, similar to Star Wars: A New Hope. However, the second left enough unanswered questions that there must, must, must be a third. (The author, Sandra Orchard, is working on it now. Whew!)

One final note . . .

Be prepared. Some reviews will virtually write themselves while others will take more work. I encourage you to have fun with the process. Written reviews are an extension of word-of-mouth, the means many people use to choose what to read next. There are those who now call reviewers “influencers.” Seek to wield your power wisely.


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Focus!

Team.karen.sm
by Karen Burkett, Founder and Owner of Christian Editing Services and Find Christian Links

 

FocusOne great temptation when writing an article or a book is to try to say it all. There is so much we want to share, we don’t want to leave anything out.

Great way to hide our primary message. Also a great way to chase readers away.

I recommend that you prayerfully select your topic. Then the part of that topic you want to zero in on and what audience you want to address. Ask yourself, what do I want the reader to take from this? Then focus your outline and every part of your writing on your choices.

You may think . . . Well, this point wanders a bit from my topic but it’s so important. I want to share it! I need to share it! Don’t. Save it for another article, another book, when it is on target for your topic. Stay focused!

“Focus is the Feature of Effective Writing that answers the question ‘So What?’ An effective piece of writing establishes a single focus and sustains that focus throughout the piece. Just as a photographer needs to focus on a particular subject to produce a clear picture, a writer needs to focus on a single topic or main idea in order to produce an effective piece of writing” (Kathleen Cali).

Use the same approach with your blog. I recommend this article: “5 Reasons to Stay on Topic on Your Blog.”

Choose your topic. Choose your audience. Decide on desired take-aways. And focus.