Friday, June 26, 2009

Further or farther

Further or farther?

A travel guide offers: "10 tips for trips: How to make money go farther"
A Los Angeles Times travel article is headlined: "Tips to make your budget go farther for less"
A Continental Airlines ad promises: "Make your money go farther."

An error or a play on words? I think it's a clever bit of marketing, even if many consumers don't pick up on it.

Your story

G.K. Chesterton wrote: "With every step of our lives we enter into the middle of some story which we are certain to misunderstand." True, but solving the mystery is a powerful motivator. A strong aid for authors in writing stories is recognizing their own stories.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Oscar Wilde: "Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."

Discovering and becoming your true, inner self is fraught with risk. Society affirms conformity. Your place in the culture is determined by the uniform you wear and the language you speak. If it is original it doesn't fit any of the available boxes and people don't know how to interact with you. We have all been conditioned to categorize. And we learn to interact with categories, not individuals. It's safer to accept the limits of our own category than to venture out, to follow our heart.

I generally try to steer clear of politics and theology on this blog, but today's an exception. I have observed that the more individual believers become like Christ, the less they become like one another. That is, the more we discover the unique nature God has endowed us with, the more liberated we become from the constraints of society's boxes. Of course, becoming like Christ is distinct — and sometimes the polar opposite — of becoming more religious. We have all observed the choreography of popular religion, which is the antithesis of freedom in Christ. But I won't risk stepping on any toes by saying anything more about that.

I believe we create — paint, sculpt, build, sing, play, dance, design, write — as an expression of our nature, which is in the image of our Creator. That's true whether we acknowledge the Creator or not. Creativity is at the heart of God's nature. And we reflect His nature in our own creative expression. It is a central part of what separates us from the rest of creation.

It follows logically, then, that the more we find that unique inner voice, the more original will be our artisitc expression. But the more original the expression, the less likely the culture will be to affirm it.

Angela Monet: "Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music."

Still, an original piece — art, music, literature — that is truly honest touches the heart of the open listener or reader or observer. At a subconscious level, we distinguish the authentic from the pretentious. The audience that recognizes the authentic expression shares the joy of the creator in discovering himself, his "nature of God," in his work.

Recognize the danger. Then risk it anyway.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Deadlines can be a curse ...

Bill Walsh: A harsh reality of newspaper editing is that the deadlines don't allow for the polish that you expect in books or even magazines.

... a blessing ...

Emile Zola: One forges one's style on the terrible anvil of daily deadlines.
Harry Shearer: I am one of those people who thrive on deadlines. Nothing brings on inspiration more readily than desperation.
Val Kilmer: Without deadlines and restrictions, I just tend to become preoccupied with other things.

... or restrictions to ignore.

Sarah McLachlan: Deadlines are meant to be broken. And I just keep breaking them.
Douglas Adams: I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

Some writers are frozen, immobilized by deadlines. Others need deadlines to get their creative juices flowing. A pastor used to call me at midnight or later on a Saturday night to ask if I had any sermon ideas. I've never been a pastor — why was he asking me? I was more stressed over his sermons than he was. One time he STARTED on a wedding sermon two hours before the wedding, while intermittently entertaining guests of the wedding party in his house, a parsonage next to the church. He clearly thrived on deadlines.

I used to be quite a procrastinator, but as I get older I can't stomach the pressure. Now I generally write editorials a couple of days in advance. That gives me an extra day or two to polish them before publication. But, as a result, I'm sometimes criticized for overworking a piece and for writing long. The risk of reworking something too much is that the writing can lose the fluid quality of the first writing.

If you are motivated by deadlines but aren't yet getting published, impose deadlines on yourself. Write them down. Tell your spouse. That might provide the little bit of pressure you need to strike the keys.

Friday, June 12, 2009


The first book Dave Sargent ever read was his own.
Sargent, a prolific children's book author, went through school without ever learning to read. In the military he was diagnosed with inverted-mirrored vision, or severe dyslexia. He finally learned to read at age 20.
A successful entrepreneur, he didn't start writing until he was nearly 50. Because of his dyslexia, he wrote his first books with giant letters on a writing tablet. He has more than 300 books in publication.

And your excuse for not writing ...?

Thursday, June 4, 2009


I told you about the letter writers who don't bother to rewrite from their orginal draft and leave it to us to decipher their scribblings. I have observed over the years that the worse the writing, the more demanding the writers. The letter writers who hand over the most embarrassing pieces are the most likely to insist that we publish it "exactly like it is," with no editing. When I owned a small weekly, I sometimes granted their wish, taking devilish delight, I confess, in allowing them to sound so stupid in a public forum. But as a rule we clean up letters, correcting minor errors, deleting repetition, cutting the superfluous.

Authors also rewrite, sometimes multiple times. Shelby Foote is the one exception I know about. Foote, who wrote his books in longhand, seldom altered a word from the first draft. He never used a computer or even a typewriter. And he had enough clout with the publisher that he was one of the few authors whose work was immune from alteration by book editors.

He is the rare exception. James Patterson rewrites two to seven times. Many, probably most, authors pitch more of their writing than they keep.

Recommendation: Write the first draft quickly to capture the rhythm and flow. Don't rewrite right away (unless you are, like me, writing on a daily deadline and have no choice). Writing coach Daphne Gray-Grant, author of "8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better," writes: "Self-editing requires tincture of time. If you want to judge how much rewriting your work requires, you need some distance from it. Take a break."

For some that break might be hours, for others it might be weeks, or even months. For letter writers, I always suggest that they sleep on it one night and reread it the next day before submitting it.
When you rewrite, do so carefully to fix the flaws without compromising the flow.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Why & When

Why write? How about to capture the passion before it dissolves in time?
Charles Frazier (author of "Cold Mountain" and "Thirteen Moons"):
"So of course time is necessary. But nevertheless damn painful, for it transforms all the pieces of your life — joy and sorrow, youth and age, love and hate, terror and bliss — from fire into smoke rising up the air and dissipating on a breeze."

When should you write? Stephen King writes in the morning. As did Shelby Foote. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote late at night. Those two periods of the day seem to be the most common. Afternoon and evening, on the other hand, seem to be when writers live their lives.

And here's a suggestion from Elmer Kelton (author of "The Time It Never Rained" and "The Good Old Boys"):
"I just write whenever I can."

Can't find the time? Hogwash. Not many writers can afford a Walden Pond experience. Waiting for the right circumstances before you begin is only an excuse. If you want to write, write.