That Story

by Chris Maxwell

We love writing stories people remember. 

A scene of the ocean as waves rush ashore in rhythm. A view of winter with snow covering the streets and a fireplace warming a family. A glance at a grin from bride and groom while they declare vows. 

What an honor to write those stories, to take people places through paper and screens, to guide eyes and minds into an encounter. Information and statistics help prove our cases. Quotes from trusted sources justify our arguments. But stories stick. They illustrate application. They offer an experience, an invitation, an opportunity.

Stories can shock us as the sad stat sheet turns into an example of a family grieving at the funeral home. Stories can motivate us to pursue more information about ways to rescue people who can’t find a method to pay for medication. Stories can lure us toward laughter as the grandparents tell stories of pictures in a photo album to their grandchildren at Christmas. 

In our tribe of Christian writers, we often create stories which we hope will offer encouragement. Even as we honestly reveal the conflict of our narratives, our beliefs bring a breath of reassurance.

We must be cautious, however, not to rush too quickly to the redemptive conclusion. The pain along the way has value. The greatest story ever told isn’t just about a resurrection. Crucifixion comes first. Blood is shed. Breathing stops. A crying Savior mumbles His meditative prayer from what, for us, is Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Before Resurrection Sunday comes Good Friday. And Jesus wants us to remember that story. 

He had gathered with His followers the previous week. They, as they often did and as we often do, ate together. He served bread and wine, declaring to them a tradition to begin, a story to tell, an encounter to experience. “Do this,” He said, “and remember me.”

Before we hurry to another submission or another assignment, let us hear Him. Let us listen as He says, “This is My body.” Let us pay attention to the ancient dialogue as He says, “This is my blood.”

Imagine us in the story and at the table. Not given instructions from our Teacher about better writing or proper grammar or future goals. But given bread to taste and wine to drink. Given words to receive rather than submit. Given nourishment for ourselves before hurrying it to another editor on our list of potential clients. 

Today, choose to be the client. The one loved. The one in the story. Dwell on the week, on the Thursday dinner, on a Friday we call Good, on a Saturday so silent. Stay there a while in that story. Stay there a while and be in the story. 

Slowly, very slowly, work your way to the Resurrection. Remind yourself, “He is risen.” Repeat and you reflect on your own life as someone loved by Him not matter how must or how often or how well you write, “He is risen indeed.”

We will write more stories. We will see them in print and online. We will receive payments. We will smile.

We will also receive rejections. By editors on our articles. By people on ourselves.

But today, step aside from the lists and the goals and the dreams. On purpose, refuse to be so driven. Remember. Remember His death. Remember His death for you.

Stay in that story. The death of your Savior.

Stay in that story. The Resurrection of your Lord.

Stay, remaining away just a while from the demands and the ambitions. Stay, with the story we believe is great. Stay, with the meaning of the bread and wine, of the cross and blood, of the death and Resurrection, of the ancient story and how we are transformed today.

Before we hurry to another submission or another assignment, let us hear Him.

Chris Maxwell served 19 years as lead pastor in Orlando, Florida, after five years of youth ministry. He’s now in his 15th year as Campus Pastor and Director of Spiritual Life at Emmanuel College. He speaks in churches, conventions, and schools, and is the author of ten books, including Pause With Jesus, Underwater, and a slow and sudden God: 40 years of wonder. His latest book is his 2nd collection of poems—embracing now: pain, joy, healing, living.

Be a Window

Gifted authors are fundamentally people who have seen something others have missed and enable us to grasp and appreciate this new way of seeing things in and through their writings. The best writers are not self-promoting narcissists who demand that we look at them, but those who invite us to look through them at what they have seen, so that we too might share in their experiences. They are windows to something that is greater. Those who have seen this before us thus stand to one side so that we might see where they are pointing rather than be distracted by them.

Alister E. McGrath, Mere Discipleship, p. 48

Which Work Is Which?

by Randy Petersen

In my early days as a freelancer, I would try to keep a tally of how much money I earned each day. If I had a 2,000 word article to write for $200, and I wrote 500 words one day, that was $50 to my credit. I set up certain goals for each week and each month.

It wasn’t a bad way to ensure that I was actually making a living as a writer, but over the years I’ve learned to see my work differently.

Let’s say I start a week with a dozen important work-related things to do. Just how important are they? As I plan my days, it might help to ask certain questions that define the efforts in different ways.

Is this work I’m getting paid for? This is the simplest category, and naturally it would get a high priority.

Do I need to do this in order to get work in the future? If you spend all your time on work-in-hand, you may finish it and have nothing to do. Proposals, polishing a resume, tinkering with your website, even schmoozing with editors—all of this is valuable work that may keep the workload steady.

Does this task help me learn a new skill or subject that will help me with future work? Many of us old-timers need a crash course in modern technology. It’s hard to invest precious work-time learning about websites or social media, but that’s probably a great investment.

Does this help me organize my work? Various tools are available to help with, say, billing, communication, presentation, or research. Each one requires some time to learn, and some time to transition from an old way of doing things.

Am I building community with colleagues? It’s hard to quantify the value of networking, but it could be huge—in terms of connections made, work acquired, or expertise shared. (By the way, that’s what I’m doing right now. It’s what the CFWN is all about.)

Am I donating this work to a church or charity? You might choose to exclude this from your normal “working hours,” but it’s important to consider your volunteer work in the total account of what you do.

Is this creative work that feeds my soul? I write plays. Maybe you compose songs or poetry, or you might have a novel in the works. A privileged few make money from these artistic endeavors. The rest of us find other satisfaction in it. If this is not income-producing, it’s wise to carve out some “off hours” to do it. But don’t squeeze it out of your schedule entirely. You need this type of writing to refresh the writing you do for money.

So what?

If you love to schedule things, you might map out a week with time for all these things. In a 40-hour work week, it’s not unreasonable to spend only 20-25 hours on paid work. The rest of that time is not wasted—it’s invested in your freelance career.

This should also inform the way we estimate work time and charge for our services. Maybe you could get this 50-hour job done in one week—if you neglected all these other things necessary for your business and sanity. But more reasonably, you should take two weeks for that, and get paid accordingly. Like lawyers and doctors, you need a billable rate that supports your whole business and not just the time you spend composing copy.

In my early years of freelancing, I’d often feel frustrated at the end of a day. “I’ve been working hard for hours, but my calculations show I’ve only earned a pittance.”  Granted, freelance writing is not the most lucrative profession, especially when you’re just starting out, but understanding the different types of work might help you think and talk about it differently. And that might help you develop a more well-rounded sense of your whole business.

Have Fun When You Write

Just sit down and write your book.

I know that sounds painfully simple, but you’d be surprised how many people want to write a book but never do. So just “doing it” is 80 percent of the battle.

Have fun when you write. Don’t worry about how it turns out. Lose yourself in your sentences. Enjoy the tapping sound of the keyboard. Success is not not your reward. Your life is your reward. The book is merely evidence of your wonderful life.

Sean Dietrich

Eliminate Weak Writing

by Ann-Margret Hovsepian

In my February 16 post, Five (Plus One) Tips for Flawless Copy, I suggested not doing any copy editing until a first draft is completely written. Once you’ve got all your material and have checked all your facts, you’re ready to go through your manuscript more slowly and carefully, checking for basic punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes, but also looking for less obvious but common problems writers often trip over.

Hunt down and eliminate words or phrases that are. . .

Meaningless

Instead of “At this point in time,” say “now.” You can almost always delete these words: really, very, actually, suddenly, and currently.

I’ve started to reduce my use of the word “that” but be careful about omitting it completely. Sometimes the word  is necessary for the rhythm or logic of a sentence.

Redundant and superfluous (see what I did there?)

This should be, you know, blatantly obvious but, sadly, it isn’t. Avoid overstatements such as “catastrophic disaster,” “close proximity,” and “plan in advance.” Another cringe-worthy example is “free gift.” Isn’t a gift, by definition, free? All novels are fiction. All surprises are unexpected.

Also be careful when phrasing actions. For example, “He shrugged his shoulders” or “He nodded his head.” Only shoulders can shrug and only heads can nod.

Ambiguous

“Child killers should be locked up.” Are you talking about children who kill or people who kill children? Reading your work back to yourself s-l-o-w-l-y will help you catch phrasing that might be awkward or easily misinterpreted.

Lacklustre (particularly verbs)

In Words Fail Me, Patricia T. O’Connor writes: “Find an interesting verb and the rest of the sentence will practically take care of itself.” Avoid these:

  • Passive verbs – Instead of “That car was bought by Janice,” write “Janice bought that car.”
  • Equating verbs – Instead of “This action is a denial of human rights,” write “This action denies human rights.”
  • “Making” verbs – Instead of “That experience made me a stronger person,” write “That experience strengthened me.”
  • Verbs that need nouns – Instead of “He gained entrance,” write “He entered.”
  • Verbs that need adverbs – Instead of “He ran quickly,” write “He sprinted.”
  • Verbs that make dialogue awkward – It’s not a rule that you can’t replace “said” with a verb that encapsulates a character’s full response (for example: “I’m glad to hear that,” she smiled.) but don’t overdo it. Use “said” whenever possible because it fades into the background and doesn’t jar the reader.

Descriptive instead of declarative

Every writer has heard it: Show, don’t tell. Sometimes a reminder helps. Show a character’s emotions by his actions instead of telling the reader how he feels or relying on adjectives. Instead of “Roger was very, very angry,” say, “Roger slammed his palm onto the table. The coffee mug fell off the edge and shattered. He didn’t notice.”

Good writing is as much about the words you take out as the words you put in.

What are some other tips you’d add to this list? Please comment below!