Point at Things

When you write, you should pretend that you, the writer, see something in the world that’s interesting, that you are directing the attention of your reader to that thing in the world, and that you are doing so by means of conversation.

Steven Pinker

Step 1: Wonder at something.

Step 2: Invite others to wonder with you.

Point at things, say, “whoa,” and elaborate.

Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist

Five (Plus One) Tips for Flawless Copy

by Ann-Margret Hovsepian

If you want to play the trombone professionally, you need to work at it. If you want to cut hair, make furniture, or sell insurance, you need to learn how.

Writing is a craft that, like any other, you must learn well and get better at. Yes, natural talent and creativity play a part, but if you want people to take your writing seriously, pursue excellence.

Here are my top tips for submitting a polished manuscript every time.

1. Get it on the page.

When you bake a cake, you dump all the ingredients in first. You don’t start to decorate the cake until it’s baked and cooled down.

In the same way, resist the urge to copy edit until after your piece is completely written. You may need to refine the content as you go, but don’t waste time correcting sentences or paragraphs you might later delete. (In fact, if you aren’t close to deadline, let your writing sit for a while. Putting some distance between yourself and what you just wrote can give you perspective.)

You can’t edit what you haven’t written, so put your first burst of energy into writing. Get it all down, as much as possible, even if it sounds lousy. Once it’s all on the page, you can start to clean it up.

2. Relax your grip.

When you’re ready to edit, put aside any affection you have for your manuscript. Don’t keep a sentence or paragraph just because you think it’s brilliant or it took you hours to write. If it doesn’t fit in, take it out. Read your work with the eyes and ears of a stranger.

3. Fact-check.

Fact check and then double-check your fact-checking. Editors don’t like finding out they published wrong information. Save everyone embarrassment and frustration by checking numbers, geography, name spellings, titles, dates, and references.

4. Watch sentence and paragraph lengths.

The energy of a written piece is often directly related to the length of its sentences and paragraphs.  So if you’re dozing off while proofreading, consider those factors.

If a sentence takes up more than two lines of type, shorten it. It should not contain more than one idea. Express the central idea first. If necessary, use separate sentences to include other significant points. Same thing with paragraphs: Make your most important point at the beginning of the paragraph.

The traditional approach is one theme per paragraph. That’s generally a good idea but sometimes a new paragraph can emphasize a point in the previous one, it can indicate a change in time or place, or simply break up text that is getting too dense.

Paragraphs are visual punctuation. Your paragraphs should not look bigger than a hamburger. On average, look at 100 to 200 words, but sprinkle in shorter or longer ones as necessary, which helps avoid monotony and making the reader’s eyes glaze over. For example, opening and concluding paragraphs might be shorter, and topics that need serious and in-depth discussion might be longer.

5. Crosscheck before take-off.

Read through your story one last time while comparing it to the details laid out in your assignment or contract. Tie up loose ends, submit your manuscript to God and then submit it to your editor. (On time!)

Remember that these five tips won’t make up for copy that’s shoddy. I’ll talk about eliminating weak writing (that’s the “plus one” promised in the title) in my next post (on March 2).

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Perseverance

I do not think there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.

– John D. Rockefeller

Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success.

– Biz Stone, Twitter co-founder

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.

2 Peter 1:5-7

Sometimes You Have to Say No

by Randy Petersen

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. A major Christian publishing company was offering me thousands of dollars to write a curriculum series. I had done a good amount of curriculum before, but this rate was more than double what I usually received. Hallelujah! For a making-ends-meet freelancer, this was a gift from on high.

A speaker had created some video teaching sessions, and the company wanted me to create Bible study lessons around them. I was confident in my ability to do this, but there was one problem. When I read over the transcripts of the videos, I completely disagreed with what the speaker was saying.

This wasn’t a minor theological quibble. I had a major problem with the whole thing. It appeared he was pushing a particular political viewpoint and applying Scripture to it irresponsibly. I questioned whether churches should be spending their Bible study time on this propaganda. I certainly didn’t want to help make that happen.

So I called the editor and regretfully backed out of the project. And I threw out my list of all the things I was going to buy with that money.

You Get What You’re Paid for

Earlier in my career I had another job I considered high-paying at the time: a brochure for some Christian ministry. It only took me a few hours to write, though the payment was enough for a week of work. And just when I started to count my blessings, I got a call. They wanted a rewrite. Then another rewrite. Then another. I wasn’t quite getting what they wanted, though they weren’t quite sure what that was.

I ended up giving them that week of work, and then some.

A similar situation occurred this year, though in a much more positive vein. I got a huge project that was expected to take two months, though it paid enough for six. I loved this work, but it was hard. As we dug in, my editor, his boss, and I all realized that the task was far greater than expected. It actually took—you guessed it—six months.

From these and other experiences. I’ve drawn a basic principle of freelancing: You get what you’re paid for. That is, the actual work will expand to match the amount you’re paid.

Sure, there are exceptions, and those are sweet. But a good rule derives from that principle: Don’t take a job just for the money. If you have problems with the people you’ll be working for, the content you’re asked to create, or how it’s going to be used, don’t let money sway you. Pay attention to those problems.

Of course Jesus challenged us not to let money be our master, but in addition to that, I offer the Rule of Expanding Obligation. That high-paying assignment is likely to exact a payment from you—in terms of extra work, frazzled relationships, even lost sleep.

If it’s a task that brings you joy, wonderful! Throw yourself into it, even if it takes longer than you expect. But if the paycheck is the most enticing thing about the assignment, beware. You pay for what you’re paid for.