Tag: Communicating

Full Circle: Capturing Imaginations, Hearts and Minds

 

A Checklist to Make Your Writing Shine

A marshy field in Colorado

This marshy field teems with life. When our car speeds by it, though, we don’t notice or experience the wildlife hidden in the grasses, wading in the mud, singing from the reeds. One day we stopped our car, rolled down windows; looked through binoculars; listened, felt, smelled; tasted the breezes. Myriads of bird life, colors, textures of fauna and flora brought the place alive to us. Good writing does that also: draws in the reader, reveals hidden things, opens possibilities.

I taught from the following list at a recent writers workshop. Afterwards, a couple of wide-eyed writers said to me, “You really want good writing.”

Well, yes, I do! The better-written a manuscript comes to me, the more I like it. Here at Cladach we may resonate with the premise and material of a nonfiction manuscript—we may like a novel’s characters and plot—so much that we are willing to devote the editing time needed to bring the writing quality and style up to these standards. We may ask an author to go back and re-write/revise/re-work a manuscript. Then we also do in-house macro editing, line editing, and copy editing. The following list gives most of the elements of style and “good writing” that we look for in a manuscript and strive for in the books we publish.

Here’s how to give your writing pizzazz so readers will want to invest in it, engage with it—be entertained, convinced, and inspired by what you say. Check your writing against this list to make sure it communicates as clearly and persuasively as possible.

 1.  Have you written from your heart as well as your mind? (If not, read this post. If yes, go on to the rest of the list.)

 2.  Write in the active voice. Choose strong, active verbs.

 3.  Write concretely, rather than abstractly. Show, don’t just tell. Appeal to all the senses.

 4.  In nonfiction as well as fiction, use storytelling as much as possible.

 5.  Stay in a definite, consistent POV. Through whose eyes is the reader seeing?

 6.  Hook the reader on the first page/ first paragraph/ first sentence/ first word.

 7.  Keep the reader’s attention as each word, each sentence, each paragraph, each chapter leads to the next.

 8.  Maintain a logical or chronological flow of thought or action. Use transitions when needed.

 9.  Strive for precision and conciseness. Cut extraneous/ repetitious words and phrases. Less is more.

10.  Give thought to word choices—consider subtleties, connotations, nuances; find the zing and zest of the right word.

11.  Vary sentence structure and length. Use periodic sentences often (as in these examples).

12.  Search for and remove troublesome words that hide like gremlins in your writing, words that are used compulsively but often aren’t needed. (Click here for my list.)

13.  Use your ear. Do the sentences flow well? In fiction, is that how people sound when they talk? Try reading your writing out loud.

Search, Find, Delete These Word Gremlins

“Front Yard Discovery,” a collage by Mark Fraley, from the book “Creation of Calm” © 2014

These troublesome words tend to hide like gremlins in our writing (especially in fiction, but also nonfiction).

We often use these words compulsively, but often they aren’t needed.

Remember, less is more. Conciseness makes better, stronger, clearer writing.

Do a search for—and delete unnecessary uses of—the following:

  • very
  • just
  • that
  • nice
  • interesting
  • look / looked (at)
  • like
  • then
  • begin / began / beginning
  • started / started to
  • take / took
  • seem / seemed

Were you surprised how many of these words showed up in your article, blog post, or book manuscript (especially a novel)?

Do you have other words on your personal list for keeping gremlins out of your polished drafts?

A Writer’s (Tongue-in-Cheek) Checklist

CCWC Editors and Agents Panel 2016

Are editors always this long-faced? 🙂 Maybe we have all seen too many proposals and manuscripts with these errors in them. (See the list below.) In this photo, I’m sitting in the middle of a panel of book editors and agents at CCWC May 2016. We’re all considering a serious question posed by a conferee. But plenty of light, humorous moments occurred at the conference also–and lots of encouragement and inspiration, as well.

One constantly-recurring theme for writers is that we must strive for clarity. To that end, at my workshop on “A Checklist for Writers” I shared my list of writing techniques. Then I offered this bonus “checklist” that uses tongue-in-cheek humor to help us avoid murky writing.
(This list comes from Professor Howard Culbertson at Southern Nazarene University, and I use it with his permission.)

  1. Don’t use no double negatives.

  2. About them sentence fragments.

  3. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

  4. Between you and I, case is important.

  5. Do not submit writing in email or cell phone text format — thx!

  6. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

  7. Use your apostrophe’s correctly. Omit the apostrophe when its not needed.

  8. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

  9. Of course, if any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

  10. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.

  11. A writer must not shift your point of view.

  12. Avoid clichés like the plague. They’re old hat. So, go around the barn at high noon to avoid clichés and colloquialisms.

  13. Do not be redundant and keep repeating yourself; do not use more words than necessary; eliminate the superfluous in your writing.

  14. One should NEVER generalize.

  15. Be more or less specific.

  16. And avoid starting sentences with a conjunction.

  17. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

  18. Don’t use commas, that are not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.

  19. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed. So, take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.

  20. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

  21. Be careful to use the write homonym.

  22. DO NOT use multiple exclamation points and all caps to EMPHASIZE a point!!!!!!!!

  23. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.

  24. Proofread your writing to see if you any words out.

Changing Direction

   Paris-hotel-near-Eiffel-Tow

We finished our salads and chocolate mousse at the corner cafe and, after a merci beaucoup to the waiter, stepped across the old street of Paris. We had come to France to visit our missionary son and we had an opportunity to be sightseers in Paris. On our first full day in the city of lights, we had decided to walk from our tiny hotel near the Eiffel Tower, find a place to eat lunch, then head toward the River Seine. We stood at the open corner of a small park, examining our map. Finding our location on the map, we turned toward the direction of the river (we thought).

Before we could take a step in that direction, a small, middle-aged French lady appeared at our side. Perhaps she was a Parisian housewife out shopping for the day’s bread and vegetables (earlier we had seen narrow streets lined with open-air markets of fresh produce and flowers) though she wasn’t carrying anything. She wore a simple, colorful dress and a cardigan sweater missing a button. She smiled, her eyes twinkled, and she said something in French. We didn’t know how to respond, so she reached for our map. Somewhat startled, we handed it to her. She examined it for a moment then pointed to something on the map. We looked.

“Yes, the river. That’s where we want to go,” I said in English, as we all still faced down the street.

Even as I spoke, the helpful little madame, still clutching our map, turned 180 degrees, stretched forward her arm, and decisively pointed in the opposite direction. We laughed with slight embarrassment, and with genuine gratitude we practiced our merci again. The lady returned the map to my husband, and she was gone. The memory of her smiling eyes has lingered with me.

I don’t know how far we would have walked before we realized we were going the wrong way, but I’m sure our day would have turned out differently. The special surprises we found along our walk that day wouldn’t have happened.

Paris-streets

Every morning, as Christ followers, we pray and ask the Lord to guide us through the day. Then we start out going in the direction that seems right, whether in business, ministry, relationships, or activities. If the Lord sends someone or something to get our attention and point us in a different direction, we need to leave our own ideas, turn around, and go the other way. Later, we’ll be glad we did.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body.” (Proverbs 3:5-8)

Periodic Sentences

Colorado Marsh

How does the writer effectively pull in the reader, take hold of his hand, and keep him reading? How does a writer achieve her goal of changing her reader’s thinking, of painting pictures in his mind that give pleasure, insight, and hope? The writer’s success depends largely on how she arranges her words in sentences.

In my previous post I mentioned periodic sentences. This sentence-writing technique places the most important, impactful words at the end. This arrangement is effective for two reasons: 1) The last words you read or hear are the ones you remember best. 2) When the entire sentence leads up to those final words, the reader doesn’t want to stop reading. He anticipates; his mind and emotions engage;  he wants to find out where this is leading.

In each of the following pairs of sentences, the first sentence gives you the punch words at the beginning, and the second sentence saves until last the juicy words.

♦     ♦     ♦     ♦

Did he notice the teeming wildlife—snapdragons, butterflies, cottontails, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds—when he looked out across the meadow?

When he looked out across the meadow, did he notice the teeming wildlife: snapdragons, butterflies, cottontails, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds?

 

Eating is his favorite activity and snickerdoodles are his favorite food.

He says his favorite activity is eating, and he especially enjoys snickerdoodles.

 

We got big, pink snow cones and we rode the merry-go-round when Grandma took us to town.

Grandma took us to town to get big, pink snow cones and ride the merry-go-round.

 

Driving a fire truck is what I’ve always wanted to do.

All my life I’ve wanted to drive a fire truck.

 

We heard the computer keys clicking so we knew she was working in the next room.

We knew she was working in the next room because we could hear the computer keys clicking.

 

We drank our last ounce of water before we had climbed up the mountain halfway.

Halfway up the mountain we drank our last ounce of water.

 

Come to the Father when life makes no sense, and you don’t know what to do.

When life makes no sense, and you don’t know what to do, come to the Father.

 

I assume you mean “Suggested Retail Price” when you say “SRP.”

I assume “SRP” means “Suggested Retail Price.”

 

Feeling his arm around me gives me more consolation than anything else.

Nothing gives me more consolation than feeling his arm around me.

 

I’d spend a week in Paris with you if I could have anything I wanted in the whole world.

If I could have anything I wanted in the whole world, I’d spend a week in Paris with you.

 

I love you, Lord, for who you are and for all you’ve done for me.

For who you are—and for all you’ve done for me—I love you, Lord.

 

Listen with the ears of your heart when you listen.

When you listen, listen with the ears of your heart.

 

Keep an open heart when you say your prayers.

When you say your prayers, keep an open heart.

 

Are you already consciously using periodic sentences? Do you think your writing would improve if you consider each sentence with your reader in mind, and rearrange words?

For the Love of Words and the Living Word

If you’re a word person, as I am, then perhaps you also have “a love affair with words.” You use words, but take care not to abuse them. You like to play with words, but you also take them seriously. You cherish them, listen to them, pray over them, respect them, have faith in them, and you know when to release them.

Words are a writer’s tools, the building blocks of our stories, articles, blog posts, tweets and books. Words have power. With words we instruct, entertain, woo, influence, write and speak.

God spoke the world into being. Jesus is the Word become flesh. Spoken words matter. Written words matter. Every word matters. They matter because they enable us to see the unseen, to know the unknowable, to grasp the undreamed of.

The well-chosen correctly-used, creatively-connected, ingeniously-employed word has power. If your words fit that description, and they are prayed over, respected, understood—then these words may form a piece of writing that is Christ-infused, Christ-honoring, and Christ-giving to a person and a world that needs the living Word.

Everything I Need to Know About Publishing I Learned from my Preacher Father

My father, G.H. Cummings, preaching on the radio as a young man

The preacher and his family. I’m the older sister there.

G.H. Cummings in 2009

My dad and me in a “selfie” shortly before his passing.

Practically being raised on a church pew helped set me on a literary path. We sang with gusto the gospel song, “Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace; tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.” During my growing-up years as my father’s daughter, watching him and my mother minister in many churches, I learned:

The potency and potential of words in a book.

In those days in church we were people of two books: the Bible and the hymnal. Every church service began and ended with opening that wondrous, heavy book, often holding it so the person next to you could share it. The hymnal united us as we joined our voices in lilting melodies and straightforward harmonies accompanied by my mother’s lively piano playing, often eliciting “amens” of blessing. All the symbols to help us make music together resided on the pages of that book, all the words to elicit such response, blended in heart-stirring, mind-engaging, and soul-satisfying rhythm, sense and rhyme.

In every meeting the Bible was also opened—and revered. The congregation stoond for “the reading of the Word.” With a reverent, sonorous, unctuous voice, the preacher read a passage from the Bible, then exhorted from its inexhaustible storehouse of truth, wisdom, and life application. I saw evangelists hold their big, black, leather Bibles aloft in one large hand while exclaiming something like, “The Word of God is alive! It is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing enough to reveal your sin.” And I quaked. But I also learned, quite young, that real comfort could be experienced from those pages. No mere words on paper. But alive! Jumping off the page and into the mind and heart of the reader or the listener. Quickening!

The joy of writing, printing, and disseminating words on paper.

I watched my preacher father as he typed the church bulletin—and perhaps a newsletter—during the week on his old black typewriter (I loved the clicking of the keys and the how the little hammers hit the paper, resulting in words appearing and forming themselves into sentences that said something and that people would read and use to plan their week). On Saturday Daddy would crank out maybe two-hundred copies with his mimeograph machine. I can still smell the ink and hear the sheets of paper swoosh round the rollers and shoot out onto the pile of materials ready to be folded and stacked, then handed out and read—to inform and influence—to be published!

The importance of getting the word out.

Twice a year our churches held extended revival services with an itinerant evangelist, and, in preparation, Daddy would mimeograph a flyer about the upcoming week of meetings. I remember a few times when he paid my sister and me 5¢ each per city block to take the flyers door-to-door and invite people to the services (though “city block” doesn’t quite describe neighborhoods in these rural towns surrounded by farms). My sister and I learned the importance of overcoming our trepidation, knocking on doors, and getting out the word (much like the publicity side of book publishing).

The value of reading and sharing books.

We had few toys and TV (which we got when I was about 11) was our only “tech” entertainment. But always there were books. Books lined the shelves in my father’s study. He took my sister and me to the public library regularly, encouraging us to browse and check out books that interested us. My sister read every horse book she could find, especially those by Walter Farley. I read all the Louisa May Alcott books. And when we brought books home from school or library, our mother often read them, too, and we all enjoyed discussing together the stories. In fact, my sister and I always told each other the stories we read. As a result, I felt I’d read the Black Stallion books even though I never did. And she knew the characters and plots in Little Women and Under the Lilacs even though she didn’t read them. She didn’t have to. That ability to vicariously experience the stories really helped, because there were so many more books to discover! (A side note: When I was a girl I’d hear people argue their point in conversation by saying, “I know it’s true. I read it in a book!” Whether people were readers or not, I observed that most had a sort of reverential awe of books.)

The importance of knowing your readers, your audience, your market.

My father made it a practice to call on his flock in their homes regularly and also to be there whenever trouble hit a family. He would stop by their businesses, farms, and work places for a friendly chat. When he stood in the pulpit to preach on Sunday, he knew those people. He knew their families, their joys and sorrows, the challenges they faced. He also knew their interests, their hobbies, what made them laugh or cry.

How to recruit, train, and encourage workers.

The work and mission of the church needed people of all abilities and ages (and still does). I saw discernment in operation, encouragement expressed, and responsibilities entrusted. Organizing, scheduling, holding meetings were necessary. But loving God and loving people mattered most. Whether or not I heard that expressed in so many words, I definitely “caught” the mindset. As a publisher I want to see sales and increase distribution. I want well-edited and designed books, I want engaged authors, reliable print providers, and enthusiastic book reviewers. I want customers to buy our books. But most of all I want to experience God’s presence in all we do. I want to always remember that, as a Christian publisher, what we publish truly is “glad tidings.”