“Beret Man”

When I begin to write a book, writing my daily word count with my fountain pen in my hand, following one sentence with the next, struggling to find the tone and feel and thread of a book, trying to discover what might be discovered at the end of the line of words, I am Beret Man.

 

In those early days of writing a new book, the heady days, the days when I feel as though I am an actual artist, going to work wearing such a stylish chapeau is in order.

 

The first trick is to keep the artist working.

 

When I have my beret on, I do not look back at the work as I write. If I criticize and edit and point out the flaws too soon, I can dampen my spirit and discourage myself before I have a chance to discover what it turns out I am trying to make.

 

I already know better than anyone that much of what Beret Man writes at this stage will reveal itself to be not good enough to be read by anyone. But many of the holes the new book has can be fixed later. Right now nothing can be allowed to get in the way of this new thing.

 

I do not bother Beret Man with the hard work of craftsmanship required to turn a pile of scribbling into a book that someone might want to read. The time for rewriting will come soon enough but not until the man in the beret has finished.

 

“Writing anything,” as Gordon Lightfoot once observed about the art he made brilliantly for so many years, “is a fragile magic at best.” He and Mr. Updike may or may not have known each other, but they were clearly on the same page.

 

Criticize the man in the beret too often or too soon or too harshly in the beginning, and he will put down his pen, afraid and discouraged and hesitant. It is right to leave him alone a bit, let him believe the work is golden.

 

Soon enough the truth will be apparent.

 

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

 

Wildly Controversial

Erring on the side of audaciousness – trying to grab the customer by the throat – is partly why a lot of the projects we are talking about were wildly controversial and, in some cases, deeply upsetting when they launched. Think of Orson Welles combining fact and fiction in his famous radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds – in that moment he was reinventing entertainment and deeply scaring people at the same time.  Think of Matisse’s Blue Nude being burned in effigy in 1913. (Today you can buy a print of it at Walmart.) Think of D. H. Lawrence’s novels banned for their obscenity. Think of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which invented a new genre of nonfiction – people were incensed; was it real or not? Think of the technology that is subject to protests and reactive legislation – from Airbnb to Uber. Eventually, they become a part of our daily lives, but at first there is something deeply shocking and forceful to them. “Either you’re controversial,” as the perpetually controversial writer Elizabeth Wurtzel advises creatives, “or nothing at all is happening.”

 

– from “Perennial Seller” by Ryan Holiday

 

After the Conference – How to Determine Your Brand and Platform

by Angela Enos

 

I attended my first Writing for Your Life conference in June 2019. In addition to making new friends, I was inspired by other writers and taught by knowledgeable speakers.  My weekend also included an encouraging one-on-one with a literary agent that left me dancing in the streets.  And now…nothing left but to build a platform.  My head was spinning with a tidal wave of ideas during my three-hour drive home.

The next morning as I sat at my home computer, those ideas began to overwhelm me.   I quickly realized that this was going to be work, hard work.  Hard work, yes; impossible, no.

If you have attended a writer’s conference, I am rather confident that you have experienced some of the same highs and lows that I have described above.  Now, what is your next step?

The conference left me with a treasure chest full of information, newly formed ideas and, the challenge of building a platform.  I decided to accept the task at hand.  Now, how do I create and build a platform?

Allow me to offer the following springboard.

It is time to contemplate what you might have to offer on social media.  What will be your specific platform and how will you take that first plunge?  Time to grab a pencil with a large eraser or, sit at your computer, willing to cut and paste, and answer the following questions.

  1. This is, perhaps, the same first question you asked yourself before writing a manuscript. What information do I have to share?  In what area(s) am I knowledgeable?  In what arena can I be accepted as skilled and proficient?  What am I passionate about?
  2. What are your talents?  What are your strengths?  Are you a good speaker?  Are you comfortable on camera? Perhaps a vlog?  Or, are you more of an introvert, no crowds or camera for you?  A blog is more your style.
  3. What are people looking for on social media?   Where is there an open niche, a need?  Write some questions that you believe are most commonly Googled in your area of expertise and experience.
  4. Lastly, how can I combine my knowledge and talent to produce something that meets that need, something that encourages people to tune in because they are receiving the desired information they have been looking for?

For the next few days I sat at my computer, typed feverously; cut, pasted, and deleted. After days of brainstorming, I birthed my platform, Prayers for Life, a free online prayer school.  You see, I love being in front of people, I am comfortable teaching God’s Word, and people are always coming to me for prayer, even asking me to write them a prayer.  My platform:  videography, teaching, and prayer.

What’s yours?  Commence the brainstorming and take the plunge.

 

Angela Enos is a retired youth pastor and children’s pastor; now author, speaker, and the founder of Prayers for Life, an innovative online prayer school designed to bring power and victory to God’s people.  Angela produces a weekly 10-minute teaching video, a bi-weekly electronic Newsletter, and supplemental videos and inspirational postings.  Check out Angela’s website, YouTube channel, and Facebook page for further details and to view her life-changing videos.

Website: www.angelaenoslive.com

Revising Ourselves

 
Change, on the page as in life, does not happen when we’re stubborn and clingy. Revision asks that we cast the small world we’ve created in words—and all it represents within our being—in entirely new light. As we learn to revise, we gain skills in listening, letting go, creating, communicating, enduring, and trusting our intuition. Our voice gets stronger. We honor the fullness of our creative impulses. We claim our stories despite their brokenness. We own our authority; we become authors. The changes we need to make in our text are miniscule compared with the changes revision demands of our hearts.
 
Good as this sounds, it’s also scary. “When we feel resistance in any form, it’s because we haven’t fully committed to seeing what’s true,” writes Rosanne Bane, creativity coach and author. “We want to be thoughtless so life can be fraughtless. We want to avert our eyes.” But self-deception hinders spiritual growth, and readers know when stories don’t ring true or when a voice isn’t authentic. Revision means drilling down to the hot core of our subject and bringing that burning substance to light. We have to face the truth, and this changes us.
 
No wonder we resist revision! Real creativity summons us to become more fully ourselves.
 
 
from “Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew Skinner House

In the Beginning

from “Adorning the Dark” by Andrew Peterson

 

You mumble a phrase. It’s gibberish, but it suggests a melody. You’ve gotten melodies in your head before, but this one feels different, like it’s made of something stronger and older. You notice this because you’re able to repeat it, and you like it, and you sing it again and again, enough times that you pull out your phone and record it. As soon as you get it down, you forget about it and move on.

Skip ahead a few days. Now you have your guitar in your lap. Fear and self-doubt are taunting ghosts at either shoulder. You try to find some combination of chords that doesn’t sound like everything else you’ve ever played, or everything everyone else has ever played. But after twenty minutes you’re sick of yourself and your guitar and the weather and your lack of talent. Then with a thrill of hope you remember that voicemail message you left yourself in the moment of mumbled inspiration. You listen to the voicemail, and you’re disappointed. It’s not terrible, but it’s missing whatever magic it had before. With nothing else to do, you try and find the chords that the mumbling melody wants. You play it through on the guitar a few times in standard tuning, key of G—the same four chords you learned when you were in eighth grade. Then you capo it up and try it with a different voicing. You happen upon a little pull-off with your index finger, a slightly different way of playing the same old chord. That sparks a melody that suits the gibberish a little better, and like a dying man in the desert who discovers a cactus, you get just enough juice to keep crawling. “O God,” you pray, “I’m so small and the universe is so big. What can I possibly say? What can I add to this explosion of glory? My mind is slow and unsteady, my heart is twisted and tired, my hands are smudged with sin. I have nothing—nothing—to offer.”

Write about that.

“What do you mean?”

Write about your smallness. Write about your sin, your heart, your inability to say anything worth saying. Watch what happens.

And so, with a deep breath, you strum the chords again, quieting the inner taunts, the self-mockery. And you sing something that feels somehow like an echo of the music and the murky waters you’re wallowing in and the words you mumbled several days ago. Then, after hours and days of the same miserable slog, something happens that you cannot explain: you realize you have a song. Behold, there is something new under the sun.

Writing about writing is precarious. On one hand it could be terribly self-indulgent, while on the other it could be terribly boring—both of which are cardinal sins when it comes to the written word. I spent way too much money on books about writing before Reed Arvin, a record producer-turned-novelist, told me, “Trash all those books about writing. Just sit down and write the darn book.” (Only he didn’t say “darn.”) I didn’t throw all the books away, but I did stop reading them. There are a few that did me some good, and even fewer that did more than offer up pointers on writing—they taught me to think about the creative act as a kind of worship, as a way to be human.

Since we were made to glorify God, worship happens when someone is doing exactly what he or she was made to do. I ask myself when I feel God’s pleasure, in the Eric Liddell sense, and it happens—seldom, to be sure, but it happens—when I’ve just broken through to a song after hours of effort, days of thinking, months of circling the song like an airplane low on fuel, searching desperately for the runway. Then I feel my own pleasure, too, a runner’s high, a rush of adrenaline. I literally tremble. There is no proper response but gratitude. The spark of the idea was hope; the work that led to the song was faith; the completion of the song leads to worship, because in that startling moment of clarity when the song exists in time and history and takes up narrative space in the story of the world,—a space that had been empty, unwritten, unknown by all who are subject to time—then it is obvious (and humbling) that a great mystery is at play.

I hope it’s clear that I’m not talking about the quality (or lack thereof) of the song itself. That’s irrelevant. The point is, time is unfolding like a scroll, and we’re letters on the parchment, helping to make up the words that tell the story. Each of us is a character, in both senses of the word. At times, characters become aware that they’re part of a story, and that brings the realization that, first, there is an author, and second, they are not him.

This realization is good and proper, and leads into the courts of praise, if not the throne room itself.

I wish I were a contemplative like Merton. I wish I could order my thoughts and follow them to their ends. I wish I could track an idea to its logical or illogical conclusion the way C. S. Lewis did. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I can’t learn without doing; I won’t know the story until I write it down. As long as the idea stays in the conceptual realm it withers.

 

Learning the Wrong Lesson from Feedback

 

 by John Backman

Never would I expect an offer of unsolicited feedback on a contest submission, but that’s what I found in my emailbox one morning. Apparently the reviewers had liked my essay—a lot—but felt it wasn’t ready for further consideration, and the editor wrote to ask if she should forward their comments. Would you say no? Me neither.

As it turned out, the comments were excellent: highlighting the sections I should keep, where the essay went awry, what its best form would be. I wrote the editor, thanked her profusely, and applied the advice to my essay, with wonderful results.

And then I made a mistake, because I’d learned the wrong lesson from their criticism.

In a nutshell, my essays want to be like my hair—an overall style with messy bits sticking out—and the reviewers suggested more polish. Somehow, in polishing this one essay, some part of my brain decided that all future essays should have the same polish. In other words, I should become a different writer to meet the market. Self-doubt crept in, and the writing slowed to a crawl.

After a few weeks of struggle, I stumbled across one of my older, messier essays. It reminded me how my prose thrived amid the quasi-controlled chaos. More than that, it reminded me of the joy I felt writing it. There had to be a way to start with that joy, let each essay determine how much “polish” it needed, and proceed accordingly. Once on that path, the joy returned, so did the energy, and the prose flowed again.

For the moral of this story, I can’t do better than the well-known quote attributed to Mark Twain. “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it and stop there, lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again and that is well, but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.” 

Let us seize the day

Those with the greatest view of time are those best able to use and enjoy the time they have. Life is short, but we are called to rise to our full potential, making the most of it and seizing each day. Within the biblical view of time and history, life offers meaning and opens prospects whose significance far outstrips its shortness. Time is more than cyclical, and its linear progression forms a story in which we come to play a significant and responsible part. History is singular and we are significant, so all that we are and all that we do is consequential. We leave our marks upon the face of time, and our efforts are not in vain. The world has gone wrong, evil and injustice are everywhere, but God invites us to be coauthors of our own lives and partners with him in the wider global reconciliation, repair, and restoration that are underway. So as we strive for freedom and justice in human affairs, we care for our neighbors as well as ourselves. The hope of all that is coming gives strength to what we are doing, just as what we are doing will be a sign of all that we believe is coming.

 

Our little lives may be incomplete, our grandest visions may be unfulfilled, and our best actions may seem no more than small and inconsequential. But for people of faith who are visionary “dreamers of the day,” our actions into time always look beyond the horizon of history to that great day when the widespread ruins of all the recurring versions of the City of Man will be eclipsed by the splendor of the City of God.

 

In the meantime, let us seize the day, this day and every day, and seize the day fully, confidently and hopefully—but not as self-celebrating, grandstanding mini-gods on the earth. Let us seize the day humbly as we walk before God, endeavoring to read the signs of the times, seeking always to serve God’s purposes in our generation, and working together with all who place their hope in the great messianic Day of the Lord that is coming.

 

Taken from Carpe Diem Redeemed by Os Guinness. Copyright (c) 2019 by Os Guinness. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. https://www.ivpress.com/carpe-diem-redeemed

What Added Value Items Should You Include in Your Book Proposal?

– by Jana Burson

 

Beyond all the standard sections that need to be included (Title/subtitleSynopsisTable of Contents and Chapter Summaries, Sample ChaptersPlatform) there are some added value items writers can include to enhance their overall proposal.

They are:
* A designed proposal
* Photographs
* Author video

Oftentimes, we work with our clients to have their proposals designed once the content has been finalized. This allows for a visually pleasing document to be sent to publishing houses for consideration, rather than a plain text document. Editors receive stacks upon stacks of proposals and a designed proposal stands out from the crowd. It’s also another way for an author to showcase their overall style or brand and personality.

Including an author photo personalizes the content even further and allows for an editor to put a face with the content. If you also have an active speaking platform, or perhaps you lead a small group, or you do one-on-one coaching … including additional photos of you in action in your element will add even more depth to your platform.

And last, but not least, when it makes sense and the author has the ability, they can include a short (never more than 2 minutes) video where they share their heart behind the book. This provides yet one more way for an editor to connect with the author and suddenly they become more than just a name or an image on a page.

Living By Lists

I list a lot. And I’m not alone. In the course of many kitchen-table conversations, I’ve discovered that we keep lists for a variety of reasons. People make lists to get organized, to plan the day, to set priorities, to clarify “pros” and “cons” as they make decisions, to explore their feelings, to dispel mental fog, to articulate goals, to identify their deepest hopes and purposes.

 

What I’ve also discovered about lists is that every time I make one, I learn something. Things come up. Sometimes it seems that the less I plan or try to foresee what might belong on a list, the more I find out. So I just start in: “Things to do before the weekend”; “Possible blog topics”; “People to get back to”; “Nagging anxieties”; “Things I’m grateful for.” Even if the heading seems rather ho-hum (“Things to do”) or borders on cliché (“Things to be grateful for”), the process brings surprises.

 

If I stay with it long enough to get beyond the obvious (buy the groceries, return the phone call, check e mail, get the oil changed . . .), something not so obvious occurs, and the list shifts from “list” to something more: take a walk by the river with no phone; pick up protein bars to keep in the car for homeless people; write to a grandchild about his science project. And I discover not only what I think I need to do, but what I want to do, what I’ve avoided doing, and what I don’t do because I don’t really want to.

– from “Make a List” by Marilyn McEntyre

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