Revision Is Not Editing

Not to blame our English teachers—I was one—but most of our rotten assumptions about revision originated early, with a teacher’s red pen. Remember your first ventures onto the page? Chances are they were met not with questions, conversation, or imaginative prodding but with corrections. When our early readers reacted to spelling rather than content, they taught us that content is static. When they assigned a grade to our work, they taught us that others’ judgments determine the value of our thoughts. The occasional request for revision usually meant a chance to fix mistakes.

This is why people think revision means correcting typos, considering word choice, or restructuring sentences. As a result revision seems dull, mechanical, and perfectionistic. All the fun—the buzz of invention—is over.

But that isn’t revision; that’s editing. By addressing the text’s surface rather than probing the depths of content and craft, our early teachers taught us to attend to the mechanics of language at the expense of substance. That heaviness we sometimes feel toward a rough draft, as though the words are carved in stone, is the unfortunate result of these early lessons. We can’t imagine why a draft should change, or how.


from “Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice” by @Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew @Skinner House

5 Reasons why a writer of color should certainly attend the Publishing in Color conference

by Natarsha Sanders

I had the opportunity to attend the Publishing in Color conference sponsored by Writing for Your Life. I chose to attend this conference because I am a writer and I wanted to meet other writers of color. You should attend too. Here’s why:

  1. Build relationships with other writers.

It has been well said that writers are introverts. So, the idea of being in a room full of other introverts with a shared interest should put the introverted writer at ease. This small, intimate setting is ideal for you to glean. No worries about awkward attempts to start and/or maintain a conversation. However, you just might find someone with whom you want to exchange ideas and maintain contact. I certainly did.

  1. Learn how to hone in on your craft.

Your comfortable place in writing that allows you to offer your absolute best: words, sentences, prose, poems, articles, devotions, curricula. Niche. To whom are you writing? Audience. You will be strategically and systematically guided through various exercises designed to lead you to your niche and your audience. I certainly was.

  1. Gain access to industry experts.

Publishers, agents, and authors. Oh my! Have you ever attended a conference at which you had to wait in line for hours to get an autograph? Ask a question? Take a picture? Purchase material? Well, that will not happen at the Publishing in Color conference. Professionals with multiple decades of experience in the writing industry are at the conference to present on their area of expertise. They answer all the questions. I certainly got answers.

  1. Scholarships available.

There are scholarships available to offset the cost of registration for conference attendees. You need only apply. The conference conveners are so committed to helping writers of color find our voice and platform that they will help us get to the conference. I certainly appreciate it.

  1. Engage in one-on-one conversations.

Again. Industry experts showed up just for you. No really, they came to have individual conversations with you because they are interested in your work. At the Publishing in Color Conference you have the unique opportunity to engage in conversations that specifically address your needs. So, for the introvert who still does not want to ask a question out loud in a room of introverts, you get to ask your question in your individual session. This all happens at no additional cost! Catch? Certainly not.


Planning a Launch

The first thing anyone planning a launch has to do is sit down and take inventory of everything they have at their disposal that might be used to get this product in people’s hands.  Stuff like:

  • Relationships (personal, professional, familial, or otherwise)
  • Media contacts
  • Research or information from past launches of similar products (what worked, what didn’t, what to do, what not to do)
  • Favors they’re owed
  • Potential advertising budget
  • Resources or allies (“This blogger is really passionate about [insert some theme or connection related to what you’re launching].”)

It is essential to take the time to sit down and make a list of everything you have and are willing to bring to bear on the marketing of a project. Aside from racking your own brain, one of my favorite strategies to kick off this process is simply to ask your world.


– Ryan Holiday, “Perennial Seller”


Seek First God’s Kingdom


from “Adorning the Dark” by Andrew Peterson


I recently had a good, long phone conversation with a singer-songwriter about that grand old subject, Getting Started in the Music Business. He’s recorded an album but hasn’t yet taken the leap into full-time music and was asking me for some advice on the matter.

The problem is, I don’t know what kind of practical career advice to give, because what worked in my case might not (and probably won’t) work for you. I loved a pretty girl in college. I also loved to make music. I was freaking out because I thought I had to choose between her and the songs, until late one night my old friend Adam said, “If God wants you to play music, dummy, you’ll play music whether you’re married or not.” So I married the girl.

You don’t need a record contract to serve God with your gifts. You don’t need to move to Nashville. You just need to stay where you are, play wherever you can, and keep your eyes peeled. You never know what might happen. One of the most fortuitous meetings in my life (my old buddy Gabe Scott) happened because I said yes to a 3:00 a.m., $40 gig at a junior high all-nighter. Gabe and I have been making music together now for more than twenty years.

But in the end, what did I do? I moved to Nashville. I got a record contract. It wasn’t because I was some wildly successful indie bard, but because one guy heard my songs and believed in them enough to let me open for his band. What on earth do I know? The doors open. Walk through them.

The best thing you can do is to keep your nose to the grindstone, to remember that it takes a lot of work to hone your gift into something useful, and that you have to learn to enjoy the work—especially the parts you don’t enjoy. Maybe that’s the answer to a successful career. But I know far too many hard-working, gifted singer-songwriters or authors who work their fingers to the bone and still have to moonlight at a restaurant to make ends meet. Every waiter in Nashville has a demo in their back pocket, just in case. Me, I waited tables at the Olive Garden for three months before suddenly finding myself on a tour bus wondering how in the world that happened.

So do you wait tables? Sure. Do you make the demo CD? Maybe, but don’t bother carrying it around. Do you work hard at your craft? Definitely. Do you move? Quit your day job? Marry the girl? Borrow the start-up funds? Sign the deal?

Here’s what I know in a nutshell: Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be added unto you. Early on, I didn’t always seek God’s kingdom first, and Lord knows his righteousness was only on my mind for a minute or two a day max (I think I’m up to three, maybe four minutes now). That simple Scripture draws into sharp focus the only thing that will satisfy us in our desperate seeking for what it is that we think we want. We may want something harmless, but if it’s out of place, if it comes before the right thing, then what’s benign becomes malignant. We want the wrong thing.

So boil it all down. Chop off the fat. Get rid of the pet lizard, because you can’t afford to feed it anyway. Wrench your heart away from all the things you think you need for your supposed financial security, your social status. Set fire to your expectations, your rights, and even your dreams. When all that is gone, it will be clear that the only thing you ever really had was this wild and Holy Spirit that whirls about inside you, urging you to follow where his wind blows.

Written in Blood


The following meditation is from a talk on the occasion of the presentation of the Whiting Writers’ awards:


I WISH THAT I had told my writing students to give some thought to what they wanted their books to make happen inside the people who read them, and I also wish that I had told them what Red Smith said about writing although I suppose it is possible that he hadn’t gotten around to saying it yet . . . What Red Smith said was more or less this: “Writing is really quite simple; all you have to do is sit down at your typewriter and open a vein”—another hematological image. From the writer’s vein into the reader’s vein: for better or worse a transfusion.


I couldn’t agree with Red Smith more. For my money anyway, the only books worth reading are books written in blood. . .


Write about what you really care about is what he is saying. Write about what truly matters to you—not just things to catch the eye of the world but things to touch the quick of the world the way they have touched you to the quick, which is why you are writing about them. Write not just with wit and eloquence and style and relevance but with passion. Then the things that your books make happen will be things worth happening—things that make the people who read them a little more passionate themselves for their pains, by which I mean a little more alive, a little wiser, a little more beautiful, a little more open and understanding, in short a little more human. I believe that those are the best things that books can make happen to people, and we could all make a list of the particular books that have made them happen to us.


– by Frederick Buechner; Originally published in The Clown in the Belfry and later in Listening to Your Life


To make the most of our time on earth

If, as people commonly say today, our brief lives are simply “the dash between the two dates on our gravestones,” what hope is there of investing that brief dash with significance? There are truths that no one can answer for us. We must each face them alone. Our own mortality is one of them. How challenging to stand and ask as Tolstoy asked himself, “What will come of my entire life? . . . Is there any meaning in my life that will not be annihilated by the inevitability of death which awaits me?” And how terrible to come close to the end of life and have to say with

Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich, “What if my whole life has been wrong?”

In short, our human challenge is to make the most of our time on earth and to know how to do it. Time and space are the warp and woof of the reality in which we live our brief lives as humans, but they are different. When Alexander the Great asked Diogenes if there was anything he could do for him, the flinty old philosopher answered famously, “Stand out of my light!” We can occupy part of space exclusively and block someone else’s access, but no one occupies time exclusively. Time is our “commons,” the open and shared ground for all who are alive at any moment to enjoy together.

More importantly, we humans can conquer space, and we do so easily and routinely with our bulldozers, our cranes, our smart phones, our jets, and all the shiny achievements of our technological civilization. But we cannot conquer time. Time does not lie still before us like space, for it is within us as well as around us, and it is never stationary. It moves, and in one direction only—onwards and unstoppable. In the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, philosopher and rabbi, “Man transcends space, and time transcends man.”

Importantly too, the comparative ease of our conquest of the world of physical space disguises a vital fact: our conquests of space are always at the expense of using up time. We are spending our time even if we twiddle our thumbs and do nothing, and energetic activism does not solve the problem. We can build “bigger and bigger barns” or bigger and bigger empires, whether political or commercial, but there is always a day or a night when life ends, and then, as Jesus of Nazareth warned, “your soul is required of you” (Lk 12:20). Which means that the time we have spent in doing anything is the real cost and the proper key to assessing whether we have gained or lost and the effort has been worthwhile. However effortless-seeming our accomplishments, we always pay for them at the expense of our greatest challenge and the most insoluble mystery of our lives—time. “What does it profit a man,” Jesus also declared, “to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mk 8:36).


Taken from Carpe Diem Redeemed by Os Guinness. Copyright (c) 2019 by Os Guinness. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

The Jury of Twelve

While I wandered my way through my favorite sections of my favorite bookstore one evening, a voice over the public-address system announced that the acclaimed southern novelist Doris Betts was about to read from and answer questions about her new book. I confess to knowing little about her or her work. But the woman to whom I am married and her book club friends—a dozen or so of the smartest women I have ever known, by the way—rave about her. So I wandered over to the place where famous writers read in the hope this not-nearly-as-famous writer might learn a new trick to make him better at the craft.


After Ms. Betts read from her book, she took questions from the audience. Most of the questions were about characters and plot lines from previous books, questions asked by people who had been reading her novels for years. I kept listening because she was such a delight to listen to.


At some point I began to lose concentration. Probably I was surreptitiously glancing around the store to see if any of my books happened to be visible on the shelves, hoping that maybe even one or two might be face out, and so I did not hear the next question. But Ms. Betts’s answer came to me as clear as a bell. And a door of some sort opened for me.


Ms. Betts said that when she writes, she writes for a jury of twelve. It was an entirely new notion for me. She went on to say that some of the same people are always in the jury. At least one of her parents is always there, because she wants to please them. Permanent seats are marked for an old friend or two as well. She fills the remainder of the seats in the jury with specific people she wants to hear this particular story—a neighbor, a friend, a teacher, another writer, a reader who wrote her a letter, a character from a previous novel who was modeled after someone she knows. Then she writes the book to them and for them. Maybe even at them on some days, if I may bear witness from my own experience.


– from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen” by Robert Benson


How Important Are My Title and Subtitle On My Book Proposal?

– by Christopher Ferebee


You know the old adage, “Never judge a book by its cover.” But all surveys on this topic point to the fact that book buyers do, in fact, do this. In a physical setting, the average buyer’s first impression is the cover, followed quickly by the title and subtitle, then they typically turn the book over and read the back cover copy, and if they’re still interested, they’ll open the book and look at the table of contents.


The digital space is causing somewhat of a shift, but in a way that is making a book’s title all the more important. The thumbnail size of your cover in most digital shopping spaces is too small for the artwork to significantly influence buying decisions. This moves your title and subtitle to the top of the list.


Typically, your book proposal is not going to include a cover for obvious reasons. But in my experience, acquisitions editors go through a pretty similar review process. This means your title and subtitle are paramount.


Your title and subtitle are the lenses your prospective agent or editor puts on and sees the rest of your proposal through.


One way to think of your title and subtitle is your book’s promise and premise. You are communicating right up front what the main take away from the book will be for your reader, and how you will deliver on that promise. The same is true in your proposal. The remainder of your proposal will be evaluated based on how well you are delivering on the promise and premise in your title and subtitle.


Now, having said all of this, I’d recommend holding your title and subtitle lightly. They often change from proposal to publication. But do not let this knowledge excuse your work on this. You want to come up with the very best title and subtitle you can because of the impact it will have on the evaluation of the rest of your proposal.


The above applies to non-fiction. Fiction is a different animal. I’m not aware of any real hard and fast rules in fiction titling other than you want something compelling. You want to engage the emotion of the reader in some visceral way, and this is an art form. But when it comes to non-fiction, I also often get questions about more obscure titles. What about successful books like Blue Like Jazz or Velvet Elvis? All I can tell you is, sometimes they work, most of the time they don’t. Unless you are an established author with a ready audience waiting for your next work, you need to broadcast clearly what your book is about, and your title and subtitle are where you do that.


When the Muse Shows Up

I have noticed over the years that when the Muse finally shows up, I am usually wandering around.


Wandering through the books I read over and over, I stumble upon an interesting notion, and the next few days and weeks are spent thinking of what draws me to that notion, and then words begin to come.


Wandering through my old journals—I try to read one or two of them each year while on retreat—I am reminded of a forgotten bit of my life, and the once-lost story finds a home.


Wandering the sidewalks in our neighborhood or through the park a few blocks away opens up a way of seeing something I never noticed before, and a bit of light appears in the dark of what I am trying to write.


“To remain silent and alone is to be open to influences that are crowded out of an occupied life,” writes Peter France in his book aptly named Hermits. Wandering around alone, in the absence of other voices, helps me find what I have to say, or at least what I have to say today. Tomorrow will be another day.


I rarely trust the Muse to show up on her own. I worry she has better things to do, better writers to inspire.


I do have complete faith that the best way to be found by her is to wander around, both literally and figuratively. If necessary, put the top down. Take a stroll through the park. Open up a book of quotes. Thumb through your journals.


If she is going to show up for me, it will be somewhere on the road between Horse Creek and Medicine Bow, between my house and the park, in the midst of the dance I do with the fountain pen on the page.


It will be when I am wandering, when I am following my nose.


– from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen” by Robert Benson



What’s a Platform?

In my definition, a platform is the combination of the tools, relationships, access, and audience that you have to bear on spreading your creative work – not just once, but over the course of a career.  So a platform is your social media and the stage you stand on, but it also includes your friends, your body of work, the community your work exists in, the media outlets and influencers who appreciate what you do, your email list, the trust you’ve built, your sources of income, and countless other assets. A platform is what you cultivate and grow not just through your creative work, but for your creative work, whatever it may be.


– Ryan Holiday, “Perennial Seller”


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