You Want It When?! The Value of Deadlines

Viewed one way, deadlines are a pain, a nuisance, a source of stress and frustration.

Viewed another way, however, they can be of great benefit, regardless of your job title, but especially if you are an editor or a writer.

We all have deadlines in life, many of them imposed on us by others, some self-imposed, and some that we impose upon others. Some deadlines are realistic, others are downright ridiculous, and a few are totally meaningless. The key is distinguishing one from the other and dealing with each appropriately.

As a student, I had to meet certain deadlines. Fees had to be paid by a certain date. Papers had to be turned in on time or suffer a reduction in grade.

As a teacher, I had to turn in my grades by a specified date and time and according to a prescribed format.

As an editor, I had to meet clients’ deadlines.

As an author, I have to meet certain of the publisher’s deadlines for editors, for art and design staff, for marketing personnel, etc.

When I was an editor for a major government contractor, however, I often had internal clients who demanded what I thought were unrealistic deadlines. Usually, however, upon discussing their projects in greater detail, I discovered that they really didn’t need those jobs back from me when they first said they did. They were padding the deadline for their own protection, giving themselves a buffer against unforeseen potential delays. Apparently, they had had problems with earlier editors not meeting their deadlines, so they built in that buffer to ensure that they met their own deadlines.

Further discussion revealed the real date when they needed to receive the completed edit from me. I called that their “drop-dead deadline.” Eventually, they learned that I took deadlines seriously and would always meet, or even beat, their ultimate deadline. After that, their deadlines became much more realistic.

For writers, deadlines, whether imposed by editors and publishers or self-imposed, can be a good thing. They prevent (or at least strongly discourage) procrastination. They provide direction and focus. They help one manage time by prioritizing projects. Met or beaten consistently, deadlines help one establish a reputation for reliability.

Short, or tight, deadlines can be tension-builders. When agreeing to any deadlines, be realistic. Don’t promise delivery too quickly. First, evaluate your schedule carefully. Build yourself a protective buffer of time to allow for those unforeseen problems that arise: a child’s (or your own) illness, an unplanned visit by a friend or relative, unexpected interruptions of all sorts (e.g., power outage, hard-drive crash, printer malfunction).

For me, it’s the long-range deadlines that can be a problem. (As I age, I tend to forget more, even if I write the deadline on my calendar and on my to-do list.) The farther off in time the deadline, the easier it is for me to procrastinate.

For example, one publisher contacts me early in the calendar year to line up article assignments for the upcoming school year. He sets deadlines for each of the two articles he wants me to write, one for the fall publication and the other for the spring issue. If I’m not careful, I’ll allow myself to get busy on other short-term projects and allow those long-range deadlines to creep up on me, causing me to rush my research and writing.

It’s far better to start early, allowing time for my research data to “percolate” before I begin writing. It also allows more time for rewriting, revising, and editing. And those tasks produce a far better end product than a hurry-up-and-meet-that-looming-deadline approach.

How does one deal with unrealistic deadlines?

First, avoid getting saddled with them to begin with.

Second, negotiate. Don’t take the first demanded date at face value. Find out the “absolutely-positively-must-be-there” deadline. Negotiate a mutually agreeable and realistic deadline.

Third, when negotiation still doesn’t produce a reasonable deadline, charge more. It’s amazing how an added “rush order” fee will help the client realize his real deadline!

Finally, the key is to establish a good reputation for meeting deadlines on time. How do you do that? By meeting your deadlines consistently. Then, in the rare occurrence when you can’t meet a deadline, clients will be more understanding. But be sure that missed deadlines are the rare exceptions rather than the rule. Shoot to meet (better yet, to beat) every deadline.

And the way to do that is to discipline yourself. Impose realistic deadlines on yourself, and meet them consistently. If you do, you’ll keep everyone happy and find yourself less stressed!

Benefits from Cleaning the Attic

“I need something from the attic,” my wife said to me the other morning as I was beginning my assault on the day’s crowded to-do list. “Could you pull down the ladder for me?”

Dutiful husband that I am, I complied, asking as I did so, “What do you need?”

“Oh, just a few things for my classroom. You do remember that we’re starting school soon,” she replied, as though she had not been reminding me of that fact all summer. Since the last day of the previous year, in fact. (You can take the teacher from the classroom, but you can’t get the classroom out of the teacher!)

Having pulled down the ladder, I returned to my work. An hour or so later, I suddenly missed my wife. I climbed the steps of the attic ladder to check on her.

“What’s taking you so long?”

“Oh, I just decided that while I’m up here I might as well clean up a bit. Here,” she said, sliding two boxes across the attic floor toward me. “You can help by shredding these old cancelled checks.”

I started to protest, but then I looked at the date on one check that was seeking to escape the box and its fate. Nineteen hundred ninety-one. (How long do the experts suggest one should keep old checks? Five years?)

What I at first thought might take an hour or so ended up taking most the rest of the day. I accomplished nothing on my packed to-do list.

As much as I hate throwing stuff away (not true garbage, like empty soup cans, mind you, but really valuable things, like books, especially books), I found that shredding those checks and cleaning up the attic offered some side benefits. One was the discovery of where all our money had gone in nearly three decades. (I should have bought stock in Walmart, and we surely ate a lot of pizza when the kids were growing up. I also now know how I built my library to the enrichment of Borders, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, McKay’s Used Books, and half a dozen other booksellers. And we won’t even think about how much I put into my model railroad layouts during those years!)

But tucked among the cancelled checks were other gems that sparked a flood of memories. Two of our daughters’ savings passbooks. (They were obviously learning well and applying lessons about working and developing a saving habit.) Closing papers on the purchase of our first house. A pediatrician’s bill. (And to think that we complained about the cost of health care back then!) A fading photo the realtor had taken of his sign in front of our first house when he listed it for sale before we moved to the South. Three of our girls and two of their playmates were crowded around the sign. (One of those playmates I recognized, but who was that other kid? Did she just decide to photo-bomb the shot? That term wasn’t used back then, but people somehow made it into other people’s photos anyway.)

Perhaps the memories conjured by those items had something to do with how long it took me to shred all those checks and other “stuff.” Or maybe it was the stack of old newspapers, all allegedly “of historical significance,” that my wife brought down from the attic while I was shredding.

“Go through these,” she said in her most teacher-like voice. “You don’t need to keep all of them.”

I flipped through the stack, glancing at the headlines. I witnessed history before my very eyes.

SOVIET UNION DECLARED DEAD

SNOWBOUND! (about a paralyzing storm that had hit East Tennessee in mid-March one year)

E. GERMANY CRACKS OPEN THE WALL

PRESIDENT CLINTON IMPEACHED

BUSH: GET OUT BY HIGH NOON (prelude to Operation Desert Storm)

BUSH, GORE IN NAIL-BITER (2000 presidential election)

NATIONAL TRAGEDY (9-11 terrorist attacks)

And then there was the 28-page special edition celebrating the national football championship won by the Tennessee Vols. How could I consign that historic document to the trash pile?!

I grimaced, sighed, and sadly threw the remaining two-thirds of the papers into the trash bag, including (not without great pain) the front page that exulted in UT’s come-from-behind, 35-34 win over Notre Dame.

Now my wife sees a cleaner, less-cluttered attic. The ceiling joists sigh with relief. And I see a plethora of possible writing ideas and memories. Maybe I did accomplish something that day after all. It just wasn’t on my to-do list.

Are you looking for writing ideas? Have you considered cleaning out your attic lately?

Disappointment Turns Into a Positive Conclusion

My wife and I recently took a short trip to relax and celebrate our wedding anniversary. We went to the Smoky Mountains, where we frequently took our girls camping when they were growing up. We especially were interested in driving the Cades Cove Loop after so many years away, hoping to see the wildlife for which the Loop is famous: bears, deer, turkeys, and maybe even elk, which were reintroduced in the park several years ago.

But we were in for a series of disappointments. No sooner had we turned onto Little River Road at the Sugarlands Visitors Center and headed toward the Cove than we saw the sign: Cades Cove Loop was closed to vehicle traffic on Wednesdays. It was Wednesday. The itinerary and schedule for our entire two-day visit was turned on its head. We salvaged part of the day’s activities by having our scheduled picnic lunch at Metcalf Bottoms, but our drive around the Loop would have to wait until Thursday.

So we returned to Sevierville via Pigeon Forge with all its traffic, which was surprisingly heavy in spite of the Covid restrictions, including wearing suffocating masks in 97-degree temps with 90 percent humidity. We tried to make the best of our topsy-turvy plans by stopping to play a round of putt-putt. Without a cap, I got sunburned even along the part in my hair.

Learning from the motel clerk that cars began lining up at the Loop entrance as early as 5:00 a.m., we rose early, before the continental breakfast or even the grab-and-go bags were ready, and headed back to the Cove. We kept a sharp lookout for wildlife once again, knowing that the critters would be apt to appear in the near-dawn dimness.

Arriving at the Cove a little before the 8:00 a.m. opening time, we found cars already lined up for a half mile or so. A few minutes later, the line of vehicles began to move at a snail’s pace as other visitors like us searched for wildlife. Other than a few crows, we again were disappointed. Our short vacation was fast drawing to a close, and we still had seen little wildlife except a few wild turkeys and those old crows.

We were topping the Gatlinburg Bypass when all that changed. The driver in front of us suddenly slammed on his brakes. A mother bear was ambling nonchalantly across the road as though she had all the time and not a worry in the world. She climbed over the timber guardrail and then turned and looked back toward the other side, finally placing her front paws on the guardrail and lifting herself upright as though to get a better look.

That’s when I saw a tiny, Teddy bear-sized cub scamper across the road, obviously frightened by the cars in both lanes but eager to get back to Mama’s side. Arriving safely beside her, the cub followed Mama Bear into the underbrush.

Our vacation wildlife search had not been in vain! (Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a focused photo of the big event.) But we were in for yet another pleasant discovery.

I had long heard about the Tennessee Museum of Aviation but had never had the opportunity to visit it. This time, we had planned it as part of our itinerary.

The museum is housed in a 50,000 square foot facility at the Gatlinburg-Sevierville Airport, 135 Air Museum Way, Sevierville, TN 37862. We saw no signs directing us to it other than a sign with a jet symbol and an arrow. We drove up a hill and a long, nondescript metal building and nearly to a chain-link fence separating the parking lot from the tarmac before we saw the unassuming entrance to the museum.

The entry fee of $12.75 per person seemed a bit steep for my wallet, but the senior discount brought that down to a more manageable $9.75. (Military veterans and active military personnel can visit for $8.75 with proper ID, and kids under 6 are free.)

Inside were numerous interesting displays of air history, from the pre-Wright Brothers era to the modern era, with a special emphasis on military flight from World War I to the Cold War and Gulf Wars. Several displays were devoted to the work of military chaplains. It was in this part of the museum that we met a docent who made our entire visit worthwhile. Being a fledgling docent myself, I am always eager to observe good docents in action and “pick their brains” about how they do things.

Jerry Hixson (photo courtesy of Tennessee Museum of Aviation) was a thin, slight, graying gentleman with a soft voice and calm demeanor. It didn’t take long to realize that he is both knowledgeable and eager to share with anyone willing and eager to learn. We chatted with him a good while before other guests entered the room, and we excused ourselves so he could greet them. We continued our self-guided tour.

About 35,000 square feet of the museum, well over half of its space, is the hangar where are displayed numerous full and partial planes of various sorts, from a P-47 Thunderbolt to an A-1H Skyraider to a MiG 17 and MiG 21 and other vintage aircraft. It’s not the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum, but it comes close.

But what made it most impressive was our docent. We were only a few exhibits into the tour of the planes in the hangar when Jerry, having finished with his other guests, tracked us down and resumed our conversation. In the process, I learned that he had spent three years in the Army, 4th Armored Division, as an aircraft mechanic. His knowledge of the aircraft on display (and others that weren’t) was extensive. He gave us an informative and entertaining personal tour of the rest of the displays, turning a self-guided tour into a truly memorable experience.

On our way out of the hanger, just before the door entering the gift shop, I paused at a wall decorated by numerous 8 x 10 portraits of people who had played instrumental roles in the operation of the museum. Whose photo should catch my eye right at the end? Jerry Hixson!

If you are ever in the Sevierville-Pigeon Forge area, you might not see a lot of wildlife, but you won’t go wrong visiting the Tennessee Museum of Aviation. Especially if you happen to run into Jerry Hixson serving as docent!

Announcing New Book Contract!

I have great news to share with you today, readers!

I just signed a contract with TouchPoint Press for publication of my book Evangelism and Expulsion: Missionary Work Among the Cherokees Until Removal!

Not sure what the release date will be, but the process toward that goal has begun! This is my third book with TouchPoint. My first work they published was Combat! Spiritual Lessons from Military History, released earlier this year. The second, Christ in Camp and Combat: Religious Work in the Confederate Armies, is due to begin the editorial process this December. And now comes my third!

If you purchased Combat! (or any of my other titles) through Amazon, I would appreciate your writing and posting a short review of it. Doing so will help with sales of not only that title but also potentially the next two works.

Stay tuned. I’ll try to keep you abreast of developments with both of the in-process books as they approach their release dates.

Dream!

One memory I have of Nannie Summers, my maternal grandmother, was her attitude toward dreams. I recall her saying that one should never tell anyone what he or she had dreamed lest it come true. As a child, I thought that odd because I often had good dreams that I wished would come true!

Another thing I remember about Nannie and dreams was how, when she heard of some tragedy that had befallen someone, she would remark, “I knew something bad was going to happen because I dreamed about muddy water the other night!”

I haven’t dreamed about muddy water lately (that I recall), but I have had several dreams about several family members (many of whom passed into eternity years ago), friends, and even some former students. In many such instances, I had not seen or even thought of them in a long time. In other cases, however, I had had some sort of contact with them. It’s funny how the unconscious, sleep-induced mind works that way.

One of my college psychology professors theorized that dreams were God’s way of removing from one’s mind the bad thoughts that had bombarded it throughout the waking hours. He offered no scientific or scripture evidence to support his claim, so I remain unconvinced, though his theory did give food for thought and discussion.

The Bible does, however, mention people’s dreams quite often. For example, Jacob dreamed at Bethel of a ladder reaching into heaven and angels ascending and descending on it (Gen. 28). And Joseph dreamed of how his brothers bowed down to him, and then he told them his dream, making him quite unpopular (Gen. 37). Later, he exhibited a God-given ability to interpret the dreams of others, including fellow prisoners and Pharaoh himself (Gen. 40-41). Then there was Daniel, who not only interpreted dreams that others recounted to him but also told them what they had dreamed after they had forgotten but were still emotionally affected by their dreams (Dan. 2). And there was the time that Pilate’s wife dreamed, and then warned her husband, that he should have nothing to do with the clamor of the Jewish religious leaders against Jesus before His crucifixion (Matt. 27).

But the dreams that most concern me are not those that occur during our sleep but those that our minds envision for our future, especially our writing dreams. Another term that might better describe it is goals.

Do you have dreams, or goals, for your writing? You should. Someone once quipped, “If you aim at nothing, you’re sure to hit it.” I’d rather have a target to shoot for. Better yet, I’d rather that target be clearly defined.

The prof who had the dream theory did teach me one valuable lesson regarding turning dreams into reality, and that was the importance of setting goals. Once I learned to apply that lesson, I found greater accomplishment with not only my writing but also a host of other responsibilities.

I developed the habit of evaluating my past activities at the end of each year and then setting goals for what I wanted to achieve in the coming year. But that task in itself was insufficient. I had to ensure that the goals I set were realistic, achievable. Next, I had to delineate specific steps by which I could turn the dreams into reality.

For example, if I expected to have a certain number of articles published in a given year, I would have to come up with viable ideas for articles. Then, I had to write at least the number of manuscripts that equaled the goal I had set. In reality, I had to write more than that because, the publishing world being what it is, some of those manuscripts would invariably be rejected for one reason or another. I had to take action to find markets to which I could submit my manuscripts. I had to edit, revise, and often rewrite for those specific markets. Although this usually did not achieve my dream goal, these various steps did help me achieve far more than I would have accomplished had I not set goals at all.

What dreams do you have for your writing? Are they realistic? What steps are you taking to turn them into reality?

Although it’s half a year from New Years’s, take time to make resolutions (dream dreams) for your writing. Then establish a step-by-step plan for achieving them. Remember the Chinese proverb: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Just don’t dream about muddy water! And be careful with whom you share those dreams!

Two Voices from the Past for Today

While my wife and I were visiting out-of-state relatives recently, one of our daughters was taking advantage of her public library’s provision of a free genealogical program to do some research on her ancestors. (Finally! I thought. Family history holds interest for her, if not yet for her siblings!) Nearly every day of our vacation, she e-mailed me to share new discoveries she was making.

In one such e-mail, she quoted from a letter that one relative had written to another. (I still haven’t figured out the precise blood connections of those people to me, or else I’ve forgotten it, but I assume that they were both my distant cousins, and the correspondents were themselves cousins of each other.)

Sometime in 1853, Daniel, a preacher, wrote to Polly and her father, Solomon. Daniel’s letter opened with his reply to a reference Polly had made in an earlier letter to him about an “affliction” she was suffering. He wrote,

[Y]our affliction doubtless proceeds from a kind and beneficent hand, and as such you ought to resign yourself submissively to the Will of Him who is the disposer of all events. You might also take courage and feel firmly assured that you are one of his beloved ones because it is that “The Lord loveth whome he chasteneth” and as this is the case you can still be thankful to God. . . . [I]t is but a very short time . . . until this mortality shall put on immortality and consequently, no deformity of person, but all will be perfection and beauty and Holliness [sic] but it is common and natural for all of us to complain and murmur at every slight visitation of the afflictive hand of Providence but we must try to quite [sic] “grumbling.”

This quotation make me think of how easy it is for those of us who live in the United States and enjoy its boundless benefits, all of which are bestowed on us by a merciful God, to find what is wrong and gripe about it rather than realizing the positive and trying to protect it. By every tool of measurement–economic, political, religious, medical, etc.–this country offers more to the individual than any other country on earth. That’s why people all over the world aspire to come here. You’ll find few among those living here who want to live anywhere else. Even those who declare loudly before an election that if the candidate they oppose wins, they’ll leave the country afterward never do. Deep inside, they know there is not better place.

That’s not to say that the USA is perfect. Far from it. But the poorest here are comparatively wealthy in contrast to those living in most other country on any continent of the world.

Rather than griping or going about destroying what we and others here do have, we should be thanking the good Lord for what we have and working to correct the wrongs, mend the flaws, and protect the freedoms. If we don’t, we’re apt to lose them all one day and awake to find ourselves with something really worth complaining about. But by then we might not even have the freedom to complain!

That brings me to the second quotation I discovered. Writing in 1962, almost 60 years ago (and before some of my readers were even born), Richard Weaver, a professor at the University of Chicago, wrote the following:

The past shows unvaryingly that when a people’s freedom disappears, it goes not with a bang, but in silence amid the comfort of being cared for. That is the dire peril in the present trend toward statism. If freedom is not found accompanied by a willingness to resist, and to reject favors, rather than to give up what is intangible but precarious, it will not long be found at all. (Emphasis added.)

What would Weaver think of Americans’ reactions to the events surrounding us in the present crises?

Do you find yourself, as I have myself, griping about (fill in the blank) and surrendering your freedoms, or are you thanking God for your blessings and working to preserve them? Are you looking to government, with its scandals and ulterior motives and constantly changing “truths,” to keep you comfortable and “cared for” and to protect you from everything? Or are you trusting in the God who said, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, . . . thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end”? (Jer. 29:11)

The Worst Writing Advice

In last week’s post, we considered some of the most helpful advice about writing. But, as I mentioned in that post, everyone is a critic, ready and more than willing to offer advice. Some of it is helpful, but much of it is anything but that. And much of that counsel is offered by people who are not writers, and some of it comes from those who are still working at the craft but have not yet been published. So how do they know what works? They only know what hasn’t worked for them. Let’s consider some of the worst such advice.

But first, we must preface ourselves. Much bad advice might have begun as good advice that, over time and with much overuse, became unbalanced. Beware of throwing the baby out with the bath water; strive for balance.

Another caveat is that we should beware of blindly accepting advice from “experts.” Even they can be wrong. (Don’t get me started on the Covid-19 panic!) As one such acknowledged writing expert, Ernest Hemingway, reminded us, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master” (emphasis added). So read the experts’ advice, but weigh it carefully. They might be wrong. Even Hemingway. Not everything he said about writing was uttered when he was stone-cold sober. And remember that he committed suicide.

Enough disclaimers. What bad advice have I received?

  1. Write only what you know.

If I followed this advice, I would have written precious little because I readily admit that I don’t know a lot about much of anything. None of us does. The amount of knowledge anyone has or can have about any subject is relative to not only what everyone else knows but also the total amount of knowledge in the universe. I might know a little about a subject that few others know, but there’s always going to be someone out there who knows more about it than I do. As Will Rogers quipped, “We’re all ignorant, just on different subjects.”

Although I have written about some things that I did know (e.g., my family history and my own experiences), some people know more about even those things than I know, and they have different perspectives on those events and facts. (My brother is always telling my kids versions of events we shared that are much different than my versions of those things!) Memories differ. Details get mixed up. We even sometimes “remember” things that didn’t even happen!

My greatest joy, however, has come from writing about things I did not know, things that piqued my curiosity and prodded me to research and learn new things. Then I wrote about what I had learned from the research. So write what you know, but also write about things that you don’t know but are learning.

2. Don’t use adverbs (or adjectives).

This is terrible advice because every part of speech exists for a reason, and as long as it is fulfilling its purpose in life, it’s good and useful. The source of this advice is the teacher who, in an attempt to prevent students from going overboard in the use of one particular part of speech, forbids its use. One teacher, perhaps, has encouraged students to be descriptive in their writing, so the student writers pile on the adjectives. The next teacher, appalled by such excess, lays down the law forbidding adjectives upon pain of death for violations.

The key is balance. There’s nothing wrong with any part of speech properly and judiciously used. Just use each part in moderation, only for its intended purpose, and when no other part of speech will do the job better. (And isn’t this principle of balance and moderation the key to most of life?)

3. Don’t use complex sentences.

This advice, followed too closely, produces an endless stream of short, choppy, uninteresting sentences that soon bore readers. “See Dick. See Jane. See Spot. See Spot run. Run, Spot, Run!”

There’s nothing wrong with short, simple sentences. But neither is there anything wrong with compound or even complex sentences. The key is variety. Moderation. Balance.

I once had a college history professor comment in her discussion of the student papers she was returning, “Don’t be Pauline in your writing like Mr. Peterson.” She was referring to my tendency to overuse complex sentences much like the Apostle Paul was wont to do in his biblical writings. Although there’s nothing wrong with complex sentences, her comment directed me back to the essential point of ensuring variety in my sentence structures.

Also, keep in mind the fact that we tend to write like what we read most. I read mostly academic nonfiction, so my writing tends toward a compound-complex sentence style. If you’re reading is Hardy Boy-type reading, you’ll tend to write like Franklin W. Dixon. The key is to recognize your natural tendencies and strive for variety in your writing.

4. Don’t use semicolons.

This bit of advice is similar to the prohibition against adjectives and adverbs. In my experience, the people who gave such advice did so, not because semicolons are bad, but because they did not know how properly to use them. They shied from using semicolons and thought everyone else should, too. That’s carrying it too far.

A semicolon has been described as being weaker than a period but stronger than a comma. It’s a brief hesitation that connects two thoughts, two independent clauses, without using a conjunction. Study their use. Learn how and when to use them. Then use them. In moderation, of course.

Those are just four of the many bits of bad advice for writers. Which others can you suggest? Share them in the comment box and tell us why you think it’s bad advice. Let’s learn from each other!

Advice that Helped My Writing

Someone once asked what pieces of advice have helped me most with my writing. After contemplating the question for a while, I think I’d have to give the following answer.

  1. “Make Every Word Count.”

This piece of advice emphasizes the need for precision in writing, choosing the exact word for the intended meaning and effect. Mark Twain’s comment comes to mind: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. It’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Use a thesaurus to help with this task. It will show you that even broad synonyms have various shades of meaning. Choose the exact word.

2. “When In Doubt, Cut It Out.”

Another version of this is “write tight.” This statement emphasizes the need for concision, brevity, and it amplifies the previous advice. If something can be said clearly in three paragraphs, why waste three pages to say it? If it can be communicated just as well in seven words, why pile on twenty? Work at not being verbose.

But be forewarned: writing tight is hard work. The shorter the text must be, the harder it is to write. But your writing will benefit from the effort.

3. “Finish the job.”

How many would-be authors produce worthy writing only to let it sit, unfinished, in a box somewhere? Either fear of rejection or perfectionism prevent them from letting their writing fly away in the act of submitting it for consideration. That’s the sure way never to be rejected–or published! This curt advice brings the writer to the point of decision.

Acknowledge that no piece of writing will ever be perfect. Just do your best and send it out into the world of publishers and see what happens. Then get busy working on another project. If it is returned, rejected, send it out again. And again and again if necessary. Be persistent.

4. Finally, “Ignore the Critics.”

And, believe me, everyone is a critic! People are always willing to offer advice and criticism. People who can’t write a simple, grammatically correct declarative sentence will offer all sorts of advice on how you should write or about what is wrong with your writing. Others will offer nothing more substantial than flattery. Ignore them both.

Just do the best you can, and let the chips fall where they will. That doesn’t mean you don’t learn and try to improve. It simply means that one shouldn’t obsess unduly over what others think.

This is why Jesse Stuart thought so little of his critics. His biographer, James Gifford, wrote, “He did not concern himself with ‘what the sophisticated think’ and neglected most notions of symbolism, conscious style, literary flair, and sometimes even grammar. For him, the most important aspect of communication was telling a good story, not tricks of phrasing or surprise endings.”

One criticism his critics often leveled at Stuart was that his works were “written without effort or economy.” In reality, that is not a liability but a benefit, a sign of good writing. Writing that seems just to flow effortlessly from a writer is actually the result of arduous work.

Looking back over these words of writing wisdom, I realized that each of the terms used (precision, concision, decision, and criticism) have the same root: cis. They all involve cutting. I’ll let you determine for yourself what that might mean for your own writing.

Now it’s your turn. What has been the best advice you’ve ever received for improving your own writing? Share it in the comments block.

 

Life’s Interruptions

Several events arrested my attention recently and made me think about the fact that our plans and expectations often are interrupted, altered by reality. You no doubt remember what Robert Burns said in his poem “To a Mouse”: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley.”

The first event occurred last Thursday afternoon as I was putting the final touches on my blog posting, which was to appear the next morning. Before I could post it, I suddenly had no internet service. The Friday blog post didn’t happen. (Did you miss it?)

It’s not too uncommon in our area for us to lose that connection for a few minutes, but this outage was unusual, lasting until the technician came and fixed the problem (a broken underground cable) Sunday afternoon. It made me realize just how dependent I have become on the internet for information, work, communication, etc. Suddenly, it seemed, everything I needed required the internet. Combined with the ongoing closure of the library’s archives room, my research and writing for the current project ground to a halt. I found myself growing anxious that I might miss an important e-mail from someone, my publisher, editors of magazines, friends, family, enemies!

Then there was the series of hospitalizations of several church friends. One went in for a “routine” heart catheterization and ended up having to have triple by-pass surgery. Another developed a fever and was admitted with a serious infection. Still another, a seemingly healthy man, taught our Sunday school class on Sunday and then found himself in the hospital with a stroke on Monday. As the mountaineers’ adage says, things happen in threes. And how those friends’ plans were interrupted!

And then a cousin passed away unexpectedly. She had been hospitalized after a bad car wreck. Broken ankles, broken wrists, broken ribs. But she seemed to be recovering and had been moved from ICU to a regular room and then to a rehab center. Then she developed complications. One day, her family sent out good news of recovery progress. The next morning, she was gone!

As finite human beings, we don’t understand such interruptions to our life plans, whether those are daily or long term. We must simply believe in faith that a sovereign God knows best and trust His plans for us. The Bible says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord” (Psa. 37:23). Implied in that statement is the truth that He also orders the stops (interruptions) in our lives. After all, “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28). Even death.

Only this morning, I read these words from Psalm 116:15 (Amplified Bible): “Precious (important and no light matter) in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”

Man plans. Some men scheme, laying plans for nefarious reasons. Others plan for good purposes. God can use both to accomplish His plans, and His plans always take priority over man’s. The psalmist said, “It is better to trust . . . in the Lord than to put confidence in man” (Psa. 118:8), even ourselves.

Sometimes our writing plans get interrupted, too. It could be something as simple as a frayed internet cable that disrupts our research. Or our publisher goes bottoms up. Or an editor goes back on a promise to print an article and offers us no kill fee. Or a nearby dam breaks, flooding the community (as recently happened in Midland, Michigan, where our daughter lives). Or a family emergency arises. Or we get sick. Or. . . . The list of possibilities is endless.

Whenever and however God interrupts our plans and schedules, we must look for His better plan. When the interruption is a foreboding thunderhead, we must look for the silver lining and, later, the rainbow. He sends interruptions for a purpose. We must find it and adjust our plans accordingly. And then, after we’ve dealt with the interruptions, we must, as the title of my brother’s book says, “Leave a well in the valley” https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Dale+Peterson+Leave+a+Well+in+the+Valley&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss for the benefit of others who may later experience similar interruptions.

What interruptions are you experiencing in your life? How are you dealing with them?