“Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.”Jane Yolen
by Ann-Margret Hovsepian
Writing is a craft and, like any other skill, we must learn it well and get better at it. Natural talent and creativity play a part, but if we want people to take our writing seriously and if we want to get published, we must also pursue excellence in our craft.
Note that excellence and perfection are not the same thing. They say (whoever “they” are) that perfect is the enemy of good. I agree. The burdensome drive to achieve perfection can prevent us from completing a task or project adequately well.
In many cases, doing a good job is all that is required of us, and is also acceptable because the completion of the task is more important than its quality. For example, if your daughter is running late for school and her hair is a mess, it makes more sense to pull it into a half-decent ponytail than to take the time to meticulously French braid it. If your boss needs the minutes of the last board meeting on his desk now, you may not want to choose that particular moment to make sure all the bullet points are perfectly lined up and that you aren’t missing any commas.
Genesis tells us that, for five days, God call His handiwork “good” but, when He created man and breathed life into him through his nostrils, He called it “very good.” What made the difference? Was it because humans are vastly superior to everything else God made? I believe it goes deeper than our mere physical form and function. The key distinction in the way God made Adam and Eve was this: He breathed life into them. He gave them not only bodies, but souls. Like God, in whose image we were created, we are spiritual beings.
I see this as a model for us to follow in whatever we do: our jobs, our ministries, our hobbies, our relationships. When we breathe God into the things we create and produce—when we do what we do with love and humility and generosity—we raise them from the level of “good” to “very good.” (Notice that God did not call His creation of man “perfect” but “very good.” Only He is perfect.)
The Bible gives us clues on how to pursue excellence:
- “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. . . Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:17 and 23).
- “If anyone speaks, he should speak as one conveying the words of God. If anyone serves, he should serve with the strength God supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11).
- “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Perfect may be the enemy of good, but very good is much better than good. This means I don’t have to kill myself trying to be the best but I am responsible for being my best. You and I have been entrusted with skills and talents we must be good stewards of.
When we breathe God into the things we create and produce—when we do what we do with love and humility and generosity—we raise them from the level of “good” to “very good.”Tweet
Your first duty to the reader is to make sense. Everything else—eloquence, beautiful images, catchy phrases, melodic and rhythmic language—comes later, if at all. I’m all for artistry, but it’s better to write something homely and clear than something lovely and unintelligible.Paticia T. O’Connor, Words Fail Me (Harcourt Brace, 1999)
by Randy Petersen
I have no words. For a writer, that’s a strange place to be. Maybe you’re feeling something similar.
This is no “writer’s block.” We know all about those cerebral deserts. Channel some bad Hemingway, laugh about it, and you can usually write your way out.
But there’s no laughing now. Just a deep sadness over injustice. Frustration that we have not changed things more. Despair over the human condition—fighting injustice with more injustice. Fear that I’ll write the wrong thing.
I cling to the belief that there is power in a word fitly spoken, or written. The pen should be mightier than the sword, shouldn’t it? But right now I’ve got nothing.
Except for you, my comrades in communication. Except for this.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God.
A prophet gathered all of God’s requirements into this triptych (Micah 6:8), and it matches the current crisis well. Let’s start with humility. If only everybody would think as I think, we wouldn’t have these problems! Oops. When we start directing traffic, we’ll get run over.
Mercy is a huge word it takes a lifetime to understand and even longer to practice. Let me suggest that it operates best on a small scale, in your personal relationships. How can we invest our lives in the people we know, people who are just as imperfect as we are?
And in this time we’re all being confronted with matters of justice. This quickly gets into societal structures and systemic issues. Are we, intentionally or not, abetting injustice? What can we do about that?
We writers will not change the world, except when we do. We can carry on the work we’ve always done—nudging hearts, shining the light on truth, suggesting redemptive scenarios people might not have imagined yet. We’re just wordsmiths, and yet language might be the lever that budges the planet into a different orbit.
Listen to the Holy Spirit’s whispers. Invest in relationships. Investigate injustice, even if you don’t like what you find. And keep writing.
by Jen Taggart, guest contributor
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” said the German philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to reflect in a Toastmasters International speech about how having cerebral palsy has helped me to develop empathy, problem-solving skills, and humor. These three qualities are essential for anyone to have, especially a freelancer.
Cerebral palsy has caused me to grow in my empathy for those who are struggling and those who are simply different.
When I was on a trip with my youth group in New Jersey to repair houses after Hurricane Sandy, the owner of the house my team helped repair was a wheelchair user. I saw a little bit of myself in the owner. As a high school kid, this was the first time I remember helping another person with a disability. It caused me to reflect on moments when I felt helpless and had someone to help me. It was very empowering. I decided after that trip that I wanted to live a life of purpose and be someone who makes a difference in the world. My empathy for those who are struggling has driven me to do communications work for various nonprofits and ministries and take classes to become a grant writer for nonprofit organizations.
As a person with a visible disability, it is easy to feel judged and stereotyped, and this causes me to empathize with those who are different. I would never want to be completely defined by my disability. When I interview and write about people from different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, other disabilities and life circumstances, I try my best to let them tell their own life stories. I refuse to put people into boxes based on my own or my readers’ preconceptions. Each person is a unique individual created in the image of God.
2. Problem-Solving Skills
When you have a disability, you learn how to do things differently, whether using a J-Hook to open a can of soup or a toaster oven to bake cookies.
When you are a freelancer, you also learn to do things differently. Instead of going to an office, I use my older brother’s now-empty bedroom as an office. Sometimes I have trouble getting hold of one source for a journalism article, and need to contact another source, ask for the information via email, or glean it from somewhere else completely. Don’t even get me started on finding or creating photos, graphics, or videos to accompany my stories!
Many times, with cerebral palsy, I need to try multiple accommodations to see what works. As a freelancer, I’ve had to try many different options as well. I’ve tried journalism, digital marketing, proofreading and editing, and grant writing to see what I enjoy and can make a living doing. As a relatively new freelancer, I’m not ashamed to admit that I am still experimenting and exploring.
When you live with a disability, you have to have a sense of humor. If you’ve seen the movie “Toy Story,” you’ll remember The Claw. The Claw is the deity-like figure in the crane game at Pizza Planet that the plush space aliens worship. Ever since I was in elementary school, my brothers and I would call my right hand The Claw.
When you are a freelancer, you also need a sense of humor. Rejection emails, typos, missed deadlines can make you laugh or cry. Take life too seriously as a person with a disability, a freelancer, or anyone, and you’ll drive yourself insane.
Above all else, being a person with cerebral palsy and being a freelancer have both given me grit. My life does not follow an easy formula as a person with a disability, a freelancer or as a person living in a fallen world. There never seems to be a simple answer to my problems, or clear roadmap to reaching my goals. No matter what your own challenges are, I’m sure you feel the same way.
Still, as freelancers, we somehow always manage to use our God-given creativity to find a way forward.
Jen Taggart is a freelancer writer in Strongsville, Ohio, and an EPA associate member.