Author Talk (Part 2)

At the recent authors forum in which I participated, the moderator asked us several thought-provoking questions. I summarized my responses to two of those questions (What influenced you to write? and What has been your greatest joy in writing?). In today’s post, I’ll answer two more of those questions.

1. Where do you get ideas for writing?

In a word, LIFE. Experience. What happens to or around me. That’s a virtual–no, an actual–cornucopia of possibilities. I might overhear a piece of conversation, someone’s observation, a quip, etc., and it sets me to thinking about and developing it into an article. Or perhaps there’s a subject I know nothing or little about, and I begin to research it. And then I develop an urge to share what I’ve learned with others. Since I’m not a big talker, the natural medium for such sharing is the written word. One of my daughters gave me a mug on which is printed a summary of my idea mill: “I am a writer. Anything you say or do may be used in a story.”

2. Why have you not entered genres like drama, fiction, or poetry?

A rule of thumb is that one tends to write what he most often reads. I read primarily nonfiction. Within nonfiction, I read mostly historical, educational, or biblical topics, so that’s what I tend to write. Knowing the need to read widely, I do try to read fiction occasionally. In fact, I have an annual goal of reading at least one novel–not that I always achieve that goal!

Truth be told, I have dabbled at fiction and poetry, and the results have been dismal. I also dreamed of playing major league baseball but got no farther than being a cow-pasture pitcher. (I didn’t even have a sandlot to play ball on when I was a kid.) I’ll stick to what I know and continue to work at improving what little talent I have in that area of writing.

If you weren’t able to attend the author’s forum and be one of the people who asked questions from the floor, perhaps you have one you’d like me to answer. If so, contact me, and I’ll try to answer it in a future post.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

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Author Talk (Part 1)

Last Friday, I participated in an authors forum, or “talk,” during which the moderator asked seven or eight questions of the three of us who were on the platform. For the benefit of any readers who were unable to attend and might be interested in knowing my responses, I’m summarizing two of them here and will address two others in a later post.

  1. What influenced you to write?

The initial impetus was my frustration as a second-year teacher with students who were unwilling to exert an effort to learn. As a form of therapy, I vented my frustrations on paper. After getting home from a particularly trying day in the classroom, I wrote of the problems I faced and then read the results to my wife. After I had done that repeatedly for several weeks, my wife tired of hearing it. She said, “Either submit it to someone for publication or–whatever! Just don’t read it to me again!” That hurt my pride and challenged me to submit it to The Freeman, the flagship publication of the Foundation for Economic Education. Much to my surprise, the editor accepted and published it as “Help Wanted: Laborers.” More recently, my first book, Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries, was the result of a desire to know about the subject and the inaccessibility of information on it. The most recently published book on the subject was written more than 70 years ago, and I thought that it was time that more recent findings were pubLished in one source. The publisher, McFarland, agreed. (I wish that more readers would, too!)

2. What has been your greatest joy in writing?

It’s always good to find a check in the mail and to see one’s byline on a book cover or magazine article. But I must admit that my greatest joy in writing has been learning that something I have written has been a blessing or help to someone. To hear someone say, “I really enjoyed that article” or “I learned something from your work” or “That really encouraged me just when I needed it most” makes all the research and writing efforts worthwhile. One particular incident especially encouraged me. I was walking back to my office when I was a textbook author, and I happened past a young Korean college student who was eating her lunch al fresco. Just as I passed her, she glanced up and said, “Hello, Mr. Peterson.” Surprised that she knew my name, I stopped, turned around, and returned her greeting. “How do you know my name?” I asked. She explained that she long had wanted to be a teacher, and one of her high school teachers had read all of my articles that had been in Journal for Christian Educators, translating them for her until she could read them in English for herself. Such encouragement, and the prospect of helping some other young teachers, led to another of my books, Teacher.

Next time: Answers to the questions Where do you get ideas? and Why have you not entered genres like drama, fiction, or poetry?

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Mile Markers

We’ve all passed them on the interstate. They’re ubiquitous. We can’t miss them, but we seldom notice them. We note them only when we’re in trouble and might need to refer to one to direct help to our location. We’re just too involved in our journey to notice them more than then.

I’m referring to those narrow, vertical green signs along the shoulder called mile markers.

Today, this post is sort of a mile marker for me. It’s not much of a mile marker to many bloggers who have been at this longer than I have. Maybe I’m just a late bloomer.

Be that as it may and for what it’s worth, this marks my 200th blog post since I began this blog on September 4, 2015. Much like what happens when I’m driving, I happened to glance to the shoulder during my writing journey and noticed this mile marker. It flashes past and becomes history as soon as I hit the “publish” button. Then the journey goes on as though the marker never existed. But for a brief moment, it made me reflect.

Why Did I Begin Blogging?

I had read and heard the “experts” say that every author must have a blog to gain “credibility,” to build and expand a “platform,” and to “brand” himself or herself. (Hmm. Doesn’t branding involve getting burned?!) I had only days earlier signed my first book contract with McFarland for Governing the Confederacy. (Only they changed my title to Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries, which I thought was too long and ponderous and uninteresting for an effective title. But they were the “experts,” so that’s how it hit the market.)

I’ve never been much of a salesman, especially when it involves promoting myself, so even the baby step of starting a blog stretched me well beyond my comfort zone. I’m still uncomfortable doing so.

Has My Blog Achieved Its Purposes, Accomplished Its Goals?

I don’t know, but probably not if measured by the standards of those who presume to know. And judging from the successful blogs I read, I’d have to agree. I’ve gotten a few “likes” and fewer comments, and I have a couple of faithful followers. (They’re usually the ones who comment.) I have no idea whether it has led directly or indirectly to any book sales.

Judging by the number of readers, most “experts” would say that my blog is a failure. Agents, editors, and publishers want to see a lot of followers and shares. They judge the size of an author’s market by those magic numbers. Without them, they won’t consider the author’s works, no matter how well written or timely. Or, if they do, they won’t devote a lot of time or money marketing them.

The Positive Benefits

But my blog has accomplished a couple of things. First, it has forced me to write regularly, according to a self-imposed schedule. That is a big part of my journey. I determined (based on what the “experts” said) to post something twice a week, every Tuesday and Friday. Those self-imposed deadlines, the mile markers along the writing roadway, forced me to come up with things to write about. I don’t know if readers have found my subjects to be interesting, but those subjects interested me–at least at the time I wrote about them.

Most of my topics have related to historical events or historic characters. Sometimes they were about writing, editing, or publishing. Sometimes about educational issues. In a few instances, I’ve even forced myself to post something about my articles or books. And I’ve learned, unsurprisingly, that it’s much easier and more natural to write about those other topics than about myself or my writing products.

Second, writing a twice-weekly blog has forced me to plan. I can’t wait until the last minute and then just throw something together. Oh, I’ve posted a few things serendipitously, such as quotations that struck me during my reading or when something unexpected happened or came to my attention. When “the muse” spoke to me most clearly, however, was when I had a planned schedule, a prepared list of topics, each tied to a specific date that just happened to coincide with a Tuesday or a Friday. These were the items on the itinerary of my journey. Once posted, each became another mile marker passed, little noticed and insignificant.

The “experts” would probably say that I’m being too transparent here. But I’m just telling it like it is.

Mile marker 200 is now behind me. MM201 is approaching. I don’t know how many more such mile markers I have to pass during my journey. No one but God knows when or where one’s journey will end at one’s final destination. I only know that I must keep “driving” on my journey. I must write. I don’t know how many people are following me; I know that a lot of people are ahead of me, and a lot of people are passing me, progressing faster in their writing careers. But I just know that I must write regardless of numbers. That’s my calling. I’ll leave the numbers, the results–the “likes,” the “shares,” the “followers,” the sales–with God. After all, He is the only Judge of true success.

In yesterday’s sermon, our pastor hit the nail on the head and offered this food for thought: If glory goes to you, it’s not going to God.

Soli gloria Deo!

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

 

Lessons Learned: Writing

For the last 36 years (since my first article was published in 1981), I have been learning the art and craft of writing and the “tricks of the trade” of publishing. To paraphrase a certain insurance company, I’ve learned a lot (much of it the hard way) because I’ve seen and experienced a lot. And I’m still learning. Perhaps you can relate to some of the things I’ve learned. Here are a few of them but by no means all of them.

  1. Study the markets before you submit. When the first article I ever submitted was accepted and published and I got that check in the mail, I was hooked. I began cranking out article manuscripts right and left and submitting them so often that the postal clerks and I were almost best buds. But then reality struck: I began finding more rejections than junk mail in my mailbox. That’s when I realized that something was wrong. I wasn’t studying the markets and tailoring my submissions accordingly. When I began to do so, the acceptances became to creep in. Even some articles that had earlier been rejected found a home and were published.
  2. Rejection is not personal (usually). Publications have needs and guidelines, and those needs change over time. Sometimes the changes are seasonal. Sometimes they are topical. And sometimes they are philosophical. When the rejection reads, “Doesn’t meet our needs at this time,” we should take it at face value. In a few instances, however, maybe you and the editor just don’t hit it off. Or your writing isn’t quite up to the bar that publication has set. But those instances should be rare. Even if the rejection IS personal, move on. There are other publications and editors out there who want and need what you write. Forget the bad experience and create good ones elsewhere.
  3. Editors change. This point goes along with the previous item. Editors tend to move around a lot. If you have a good working relationship with an editor, work to stay on good terms with him or her. But realize that one day–sometimes sooner, sometimes later–that editor will move on. Be ready for the new editor and brace yourself for rejection–then move on. I once worked with the same editor at the same publication for nearly 25 years. He published almost everything I submitted. But he eventually retired. His replacement rejected everything I submitted. My writing hadn’t changed. The editor did. I submitted my work elsewhere, telling myself that he and the publication’s readers, not I, were the losers.
  4. Not everyone will rejoice at your successes. People are funny. One day, someone will cheer you in your writing efforts, but as soon as your work is published, he or she suddenly becomes sullen and silent or begins to find fault with your writing. I think it’s the result of a big lump of envy and a dash of jealousy that prompts the change. If you’re excited about your writing success, I hope others will be, too. But don’t count on it.
  5. Be faithful to your calling. If God has called you to write, realize that He does not use the same measuring stick for success that people use. He rewards faithfulness in performance, not outward results. This truth is hard to swallow when you’re getting rejection slips, but faithful persistence promises and pays an ultimate reward. Keep at it. All in God’s time and in His medium of exchange, you’ll see success.

What have you learned from your writing experiences? Care to share them? I look forward to reading them.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Unfinished Business

For a number of years, every time my wife and I traveled to Florida to visit her parents, as we turned into their street, we passed an unfinished house. The concrete slab had been poured and the walls erected years before. But the structure had no roof and no interior walls. The stereotypical South Florida vegetation had nearly swallowed the structure.

Just last weekend, during our visit to North Carolina to see three of our four daughters, we passed a similar sight. The footers of a home had been poured and the blocks of the foundation had been laid. The sill plates had even been attached. And then construction had halted, and vegetation was beginning to encroach over the unfinished structure.

I don’t know the reasons for the unfinished jobs. Maybe the people ran out of money. Maybe they changed their minds. Maybe they even died without heirs to finish the work. Who knows which of myriad reasons fit these instances. All we know is that people started jobs that they did not finish.

As I contemplated these scenes, I felt a little guilty because I have myself started so many projects that I didn’t complete. Some of them I never should have started in the first place. Others, however, I should have seen through to completion. I think, especially, of writing projects that I began with gung-ho enthusiasm only to see them falter and then end up stuck, uncompleted and unsubmitted, in a box somewhere.

Dr. Bob Jones Sr. used to repeatedly tell the students attending his college, “Finish the job!” I need to apply that mantra to my writing (among other things). How about you? I’m sure that I’m not the only writer who has experienced this problem of unfinished work.

Why do we not finish our projects? For some of us, it’s procrastination. We get sidetracked by other things and end up losing our enthusiasm for the project that we started with such gusto. For others of us, it’s perfectionism. We keep tinkering and tampering with our words, our organization, or some other aspect of our writing, and never getting around to finishing and submitting it. And sometimes it’s our petrifying and paralyzing fear of rejection that stops us in our tracks. We are so afraid of having our work criticized and rejected that we let it sit and rot rather than submit it and let the chips fall where they may.

The cure for procrastination is determination. Just make up our minds to do it! And then follow through with action! For our perfectionist tendencies, we must admit that nothing that anyone (especially not us) writes will be perfect. Even at our dead-level best, we will still have flaws in our writing. When I worked as a textbook author, I was amazed at how the authors, editors, proofreaders, and others involved in the publishing process could go over text, photos, and illustrations with a fine-toothed comb time after time after time–and still the end product contained flaws. At first, I was appalled and embarrassed by such mistakes that slipped through. But then I realized that perfection was impossible and decided that the best thing was just to do my best and let things work themselves out. The sun would come out again tomorrow. The world would not end.

The fear of rejection and criticism, however, is harder to deal with. Some people seem to take great pleasure in searching out and then reporting to everyone who is willing to listen the errors in the work of others. We must get over the fear of what other people think and just do our job, knowing that it will not be perfect, that it will contain flaws and errors.

Easier said than done, I know. But the alternative is even worse. We will never finish any job as long as we fear what others think of it. As I sometimes look back over the hundreds of written products that I’ve created since I began writing for publication in 1981, I find myself cringing at the errors I made and thinking of how I should have written them. But then I realize that had I not tried, had I not done my best and submitted my work such as it was, I would never have had anything published. I’d still be a wannabe rather than a published author. And that’s when I’m glad that I stifled my inner critic and ignored the naysayers and critics (or as Spiro Agnew called them, the nabobs of negativity). And when confronted by their criticism, I thought, Well, at least I got something published. What do they have to show for all their criticism? What have they produced that is worthwhile?

So if you, like I, feel badly about your unfinished projects, don’t just wallow in self-pity; do something about it. Finish the job! Select just one of those unfinished tasks and tackle it, determined to get it done. Do your dead-level best, but get it done. And let the chips fall where they may. You’ll certainly achieve a whole lot more than if you do nothing. And later you’ll be able to look back and be glad you saw it through to completion.

Now please excuse me. I have some unfinished business to attend!

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Books by this author, all available in paperback and Kindle versions at http://www.amazon.com:

Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries

Look Unto the Hills: Stories of Growing Up in Rural East Tennessee

Teacher: Teaching and Being Taught (essays in Christian education)

The Positive Power of a Mentor

Dr. Walter Fremont, the late educator who motivated me for my teaching career, once said during a class lecture that no one should write a book until he was at least 50 years old. He opined that until one reached that chronological age he had not lived or learned enough to write an authoritative book.

His life’s ministry was sharing with others, especially aspiring teachers, the wisdom and knowledge that he had gained so that they could, in turn, minister to still others. He exuded a positive attitude, a can-do spirit that was infectious. And that was what first-year (and even veteran) teachers needed even more than they needed materials and methods and curriculum development classes. It was what would keep many of them going when they had reached the point at which they were ready to give up and change careers.

True to his own stated belief, Dr. Fremont’s first published book came when he was 56 years old. He went on to write four more books, and they all dealt in some way with education and family living.

When Dr. Fremont was 62 and seemingly at the apex of his phenomenal and inspiring career, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Doctors gave him two to five years to live. But they didn’t know Dr. Fremont or the God he served.

Dr. Fremont continued to serve as dean of a university school of education for four years. Then he continued teaching for another year. He finally retired, but not to rust. Not Dr. Fremont. Not Dr. Positive Faith Attitude. No, he spent the next fifteen years working from a hospital room, authoring four more books between 1986 and 2002. In 2007, he finally succumbed to the disease that the doctors had thought would take him in two to five years. His God gave him 82 years during which to serve Him. And right up until the end, his life continued to bless and teach others. His life is proof of Jesse Stuart’s assertion that a teacher is immortal, living on for years through his or her students. And I was blessed to be one of Dr. Fremont’s students.

I was perhaps a slow learner in school, and I didn’t publish my first book (I’m trying to be positive by using that phrase “first book” and to assume that I will have others someday!) until I was beyond Dr. Fremont’s 50-years-old cutoff point and past even his own 56 by several years. But once published, I was inspired and motivated to keep writing. In fact, I have several books in the works. Whenever I get stuck or bogged down with one, I can turn to another, so that I always have something to work on.

But sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get beyond that one book. Can I do it again? By nature a melancholy person, I begin to doubt. But then I think of Dr. Fremont and how his most productive publishing years came after the doctors had essentially written him off. But God was not finished with him, and his work continues to influence people for good.

I don’t know how many years I have remaining in which to write. Who does? I might go in my sleep some night. Or my time might come in an accident on my way to pick up my son-in-law at the airport this very night. Or at some unknown (to me) future date to a dread disease–heart attack, cancer, whatever. That makes me want to live and work today as though it were my last. I want to do what I can with the time I have. And I pray that, like Dr. Fremont, I might have been able in the process to be a blessing to someone else.

May this be the prayer of each one of us. May we be faithful in the work we have while it is called today. May we be ready when we are called home to give an account of our life and be able to do so with joy. Until then, let’s keep serving!

How Many Words Are Left?

The other morning, while I was toiling through my regular routine on the treadmill and struggling with arthritis-pained knees, toes, and wrists, I found myself looking at the bookcase on the opposite wall. There, on the top shelf, were several anthologies and other books that include some of my own writings.

That set me to thinking of how many articles I’ve written. Those thoughts made me realize that I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words over the years since the first article I ever submitted was published back in 1981. One thought led to another.

Behind me, I remembered the huge notebook filled with tear sheets of my published articles. (I say remembered because I didn’t turn to look at it. I once learned a painful lesson about trying to turn around and run backwards on a moving treadmill, and I’m not fool enough to repeat that session!)

As I continued my morning run, warm (very warm!) and dry on a cool, rainy day, I wondered how many words I still have in me. Because we are each given a set amount of time in this life, and, knowing that we, like David, should pray that God would “teach us to number our days” (Psa. 90:12), it seems only natural that we should also ask Him to teach us to calculate our production in whatever our field of service might be. In my own case, it was first in teaching and now in writing and editing. So I wonder how many more words I have left in me to write.

Do I have another book left in me? Perhaps a couple? None? How many more articles are in me?

The question is not how many more writing ideas I have left in me. Those are a dime a dozen; they’re in every direction I look and in everything I read, see, and do. (And even if my idea well did happen to run dry, myriad people are more than happy to volunteer their ideas that they think I should write about!) The issue is how many of my  ideas I will actually be able to express in words fit for public consumption. Correction: it’s actually how many of those words will editors find acceptable to share with their readers. Without editors willing to buy and publish my words, no number of written words will amount to anything. To make a difference, there must be willing editors and willing readers. And that is the rub.

My mind was racing faster than my feet. The pace of the treadmill decreased, but the incline increased dramatically. As I huffed, puffed, and perspired, I asked myself the next logical questions: What will my last written words be? And will anything I’ve written have made any difference?

I know how I read. Whenever I pick up a magazine or newspaper, I skim and scan. Seeing an interesting title or headline, I might read the lead paragraph. If my attention is not immediately arrested, however, I move on to something else. I don’t have time to waste. As the librarian’s t-shirt read, “So many books, so little time.”

I probably read more than the average person, but I rarely read a complete article unless it really grabs me. If it does, I might even print or photocopy it for possible later use.

But most readers skim and scan even more loosely than I do. And we all forget so quickly. Someone once said that yesterday’s newspaper is good only for wrapping fish or lining a birdcage. Today, we don’t even wrap fish in newspaper, so its value is even less.

Can you name even one article that has made a lasting difference in your life? On the spur of the moment, I can think of only one, an article titled “The Tyranny of the Urgent” (about how we allow urgent demands to crowd out the truly important things of life), but I can’t remember its author’s name or which publication it was in.

Today, we suffer information overload, and we forget so much more quickly and easily. Can any words really take root in our lives to the point of making a lasting difference? Will any of the words that I write make any difference to anyone else?

Only one author’s words have the infallible promise that they will live eternally and make a lasting impression and difference in their readers’ lives, and those are God’s. He said, “My word . . . shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).

If written, my words might not get published. If published, they might not be read. If read, they might not be remembered or make any difference in anyone’s life. But it’s nonetheless my responsibility to write them, whether many or few. What happens to them after that is beyond my control. As Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson said, “Duty is mine; consequences are God’s.”

Jesse Stuart, another writer-teacher, encouraged fellow writers to persevere:

And if men thwart you, take no heed.

If men hate you, have no care.

Sing your song.

Dream your Dream.

Hope your hope.

Pray your prayer.

So I write. I don’t know how many words I have left in me, just as I don’t know how much longer my life will last. But I simply do what God has called me to do and leave the results with Him.

Fulfilling Resolutions One Step at a Time

img_0823Someone once said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

Well, I’ve taken that first step (actually several steps) on that long journey of fulfilling one of my perennial resolutions: to read several books that will improve (1) my spiritual condition, (2) my historical knowledge, and (3) my writing abilities.

For the first of the three categories, I’ve been studying the section of Alexander Maclaren’s book Expositions of Holy Scripture dealing with the epistles of Peter. In the second category, I finally got around to reading–and finishing–David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers, a book that had long been on my to-read-when-I-get-around-to-it list. (What struck me most about their quest to fly is that whereas other aeronauts expected the government to foot their bills for experimentation, the Wrights paid for everything from their own pockets and were therefore frugal in their expenditures.)

As for the third category, I’ve completed both Writers on Writing (Mynhardt, ed.) and Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. And I’ve begun a book that has surprised me because I actually am enjoying it despite the fact that I began it thinking that I wouldn’t. It is Writing for the Soul by Jerry Jenkins (he of Left Behind fame). It’s as much the story of his own development as a writer as it is a self-help for writers. Jenkins has written more than 150 books (many people have never even read that many), the first 90 of them without the benefit of an agent, so I think he knows how it’s done. Therefore, what he says about writing is worth serious consideration.

Here are ten gems that I’ve uncovered so far. I know they’ll help me; perhaps you’ll find them helpful too.

  • “The only way to write a book is with seat in chair.”
  • “Maintain your priorities and your writing will benefit.”
  • “[N]o writer ever arrives.”
  • “[P]ublishing has to be a byproduct of your writing, not the end goal.”
  • “Neither author nor publisher has much say or control over how many books sell. What you can control is how you write your next book. Work to your potential and let the results go.”
  • “[I]f you plan to make a life of writing, you must stand for something, have a carefully considered and lived-out worldview.”
  • “Write because you believe in something.”
  • “Allow yourself to be moved, and write what moves you.”
  • “We can’t write for other people’s souls unless ours are healthy.”
  • “[B]e your own toughest critic.”

It’s important to begin well. But it’s also important to persevere throughout the race and to finish well. That journey of a thousand miles that I’ve begun with those first few steps won’t end well unless I keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’m hoping and praying that I’ll do so throughout this year. But right now that next step is to put my seat into the chair and resume my writing!

Catch Me If You Can!

img_0823Those of us who read a lot (and maybe even some of you who don’t) tend to be critical of writers and editors whose products contain typos or other errors. We sometimes get a chuckle (or maybe even a full belly laugh) at their expense from the unintentional humorous things that sometimes result from such errors.

For example, perhaps you’ve heard about the hapless headline writer and his (or her) editor who allowed the following blooper to slip through and get onto the front page of the newspaper: MAN HELPS DOG BITE VICTIM. (The missing hyphen between dog and bite gave the headline an unintended and, though humorous, misleading twist.)

I’ve been on all three sides of such editorial oopsies, having read such mistakes, having written some of them, and having missed them as an editor. So I can both laugh at and enjoy them and yet commiserate and empathize with those who make them.

When I was an author for a major Christian textbook publisher, I was amazed by how often “obvious” errors slipped through the various editorial sentries that we had in place and got printed. We had a virtual army of watchful pickets and guards against such intruders’ attacking the quality of our products–authors, editors, proofreaders, etc.–and yet the buggers still got through.

It happens because we’re all human. Try as we might to be detail oriented and to catch errors both big and small, we’re still sometimes their victims. As an author, I had read and reread the same material so much during the research, writing, editing, and proofing stages of the publication process that my mind automatically and subconsciously supplied missing letters, words, punctuation, etc. It refused to acknowledge repeated words. When my work went to the editors, all of whom were meticulous, detail-conscious, and well-qualified professionals, even they missed some things. Similarly with the proofreaders. Sometimes compositors or even illustrators caught some errors, although that wasn’t even their responsibility, because they had a distance from the text that allowed them to spot such things.

What amazes me about the publishing world is not so much the fact that errors often slip through unnoticed until the readers point them out, but rather that we are able to catch so many of them. But readers don’t call or write to tell us how many errors we didn’t allow to get past our watchful eyes.

find-editors-mistake-1I said all of that to preface an error that I recently found in the November 2016 issue of Editor & Publisher. It was in the accompanying quarter-page advertisement. See if you can find it.

In case you didn’t catch it (the print is a little small), I’ve circled it in the second photo.

find-editors-mistake-2

This editorial oversight is no big deal in the vast scheme of universal history, but it does matter because quality matters. And if we writers and editors expect quality anywhere, it’s in publications that focus on publishing, writing, and editing.

No, I won’t call or write to E&P to point out their oversight or cancel my subscription in self-righteous protest of editorial laxness, but this example is a reminder to me that even the “big guys,” the movers and shakers in our industry, sometimes make mistakes. Some of the mistakes, like this one, are no big deal, but others can cost big bucks and perhaps even jobs.

It is also a reminder that I, as a professing Christian, should be even more vigilant about the quality of my own work. The Bible teaches me that I should do my best in everything I do, that I should do it heartily, as unto my Lord and not only for fellow humans who might read what I write. I am to “give of my best to the Master.” He gave His best, His own Son, for me; giving Him my best in return should be a given.

Yet, even the best that I do will still fall short of perfection because I am only human. That awareness should make me less hasty in condemning the mistakes of others. Whenever I point my index finger at an editorial oopsie made by someone else, whether writer or editor, I should remember that my other three fingers are pointing back at the errors of omission and commission in my own work.

So let’s get a good laugh together at the honest but inadvertent mistakes that we and others make. But let’s also learn from them and be sure to examine ourselves and the quality of our own work to ensure that it’s the very best we can make it for our Master.

[Now I will sit back and wait for all of you eagle-eyed editor types to email me with a list of all the mistakes you’ve found in this blog post!]

 

Watch for It!

emperornortonBe on the lookout for the December 2016 issue of True West when it hits the newsstands. It includes an article about a little-known fact about the government of the United States. Titled “Emperor of the United States,” it’s by yours truly.