Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Editing and proofreading a book you can be proud of

Why don’t we catch those errors before we hit “publish” and send it out into the world?

“Gestalt psychologists were the first to discover that our minds tend to see things not as they are, but as our minds think they should be,” writes Debra Hart May in Proofreading Plain and Simple.

“The implications of this phenomenon for proofreading are enormous. Artist and author Carolyn Bloomer, in her book, Principles of Visual Perception, tells us ‘. . . Your mental “correcting” tends to tune out the very errors you are looking for. . . .’”

Read that again. If we grasp that “our minds tend to see things not as they are, but as our minds think they should be,” and that “mental ‘correcting’ tends to tune out the very errors you are looking for,” we’ll be more committed to watching for that tendency in our own editing and proofreading.

Writers can find help from books, blogs, classes, writing workshops, and critique partners. (There’s a difference between editing and proofreading. Learn more at Leah McClellan’s post, What’s the difference between editing and proofreading?)

Melissa Donovan at Writing Forward offers twenty-one tips in Do-It-Yourself Proofreading and Editing Tips. Each point is important but let me call your attention to point 16: “Start building a collection of grammar books and writing resources so when you do run into questions (and you will), you have access to reliable and credible answers.” I say Amen! to that! Also, ask other skilled writers which books they recommend.

Related to that is Melissa’s point 21: “Make it your business to develop good grammar skills. Read up on grammar or subscribe to a blog that publishes grammar posts (like this one) to stay up to date on proper grammar.” Amen! to that, too.

Nowadays we have more resources at our fingertips than in the past. For example, if you use Microsoft 365, you’ll see “Editor” near the top right of your screen. Click on that for feedback on spelling, grammar, clarity, conciseness, formality, punctuation, and vocabulary.

Also, I highly recommend using “Read Aloud” (Microsoft Office 365 under the Review tab). Pay close attention while you listen. You might be surprised at how many mistakes your ears catch that your eyes miss.

I also use the free version of Grammarly for online writing (emails, blog posts, Facebook).

Perhaps you’re like me: I’m always amazed at how I fail to notice overused words. Because of my blind spot, I depend on Wordcounter to point them out to me. It does what its name implies: it lists how many times I’ve used a given word. I use the Thesaurus (under the Review tab) to choose different words.

Melissa Donovan also has a comprehensive list so click on this link to take in her rich resource. You might want to print it for a handy reference.

And below, I’ll share additional tips with you:

  • When you think your manuscript is nearly ready for publication, take a break from it. Don’t think about it. If possible, wait a week before you set eyes on it again. If that’s not realistic, work on something else for a while—empty the dishwasher, take a walk, make a phone call. Afterward, you’ll be better at spotting areas that need attention: grammatical errors, misspelled words, punctuation errors, etc.
  • Print your manuscript. Eyes see mistakes on a printed page that they miss on a computer screen.
  • Move away from your writing area to read your printed document—in a different room, a park, your back yard, a coffee shop, or at the beach. 

Here are more tips from Debra Hart May’s Proofreading Plain and Simple:

  • Print a [vertically-oriented] portrait document in landscape (or horizontal) mode.
  • Print in a larger or less familiar font. (But choose a serif font . . . [because] they are easier to read.)
  • Work in small time increments—15-20 minutes at a time.
  • Take regular breaks to stretch, rest your eyes, and mentally engage from the task.

Editing and proofreading can be tedious tasks,
but they are a super-important part of writing and publishing.
If you do them well (hiring experts if necessary),
you can publish a quality book.
Don’t settle for anything less!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Your memoir’s value to readers: Recognizing their story in yours

Our stories all overlap and mingle like searchlights in the dark. . . . writes Frederick BuechnerMy story and your story are all part of each other. . . . All our stories are in the end one story, one vast story about being human, being together, being here.

And he asks what every memoirist must ask: Does [my] story point beyond itself? Does it mean something? (The Clown in the Belfry)

The memoirist must be able to answer Yes.

You see, its tempting to think a memoir is all about you but, at some point in your writing, take a high, wide look from above. For your readerssake, identify your storys universal principles, truths, struggles, quests, and values.

Why? Because when your experience exemplifies universals, readers recognize their story in yours. 

A good memoir always connects the reader's heart with a deeper truth, writes Jeff GoinsMemoir is about something that is bigger than you. It's about a part of life we can all connect to.

Human lives overlap. We all hover within universal human emotions, conditions, and happenings. We all experience joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures, courage and cowardice. We all have chosen wisely as well as foolishly. We are proud of certain moments and ashamed of others. 

Readers, like all of us, feel alone in their wobbly efforts, false starts, dead ends, and meandering lives. One reader might think she's the only one longing to find love or acceptance or success. For another reader, personal transformation hurts and its easy for a man to assume he's along in worrying through times of change. Another reader might be struggling to overcome fear.

When readers pick up your memoir, whether they realize it or not they want to see where their lives intersect with yours. They want to relate to you. Within your story, readers can discover they aren't alone: Theyll recognize themselves in your story when you write about issues that concern them, when your story is about more than you. They want to learn from you and apply what you learned to their own lives. Your job, then, is to look for ways your story resonates with all of us.

This is an example of what I mean: “During my intense grieving moments, other people’s stories gave me words to describe the ache that was indescribable. They gave me hope that a new day would dawn, and I would not be stuck in the black forever.” (Dana Goodman, author, In the Cleft: Joy Comes in the Mourning)

In that way, memoirists have the privilege of being what Anaïs Nin calls “the guides and mapmakers.

Within your story, look for universal principles and truths about honor, tenacity, valor, generosity, kindness, commitment, self-discipline, sympathy, integrity—the list could go on and on.

Stories need takeaways, gifts you offer readers, those “A-ha” moments when the lights come on, when they identify and apply your life’s lessons to their own lives.

Your memoir’s universal appeal and takeaways
can spark defining moments in your readers
inspiring them to take action, opening for them new opportunities—
and leaving them changed for the better.
As a memoirist, you have the privilege of lighting their way.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

For those who are discouraged, disenchanted, or derailed

Has your writing suffered during the coronavirus pandemic?

Mine has. Life seems surrounded by fog. I feel numb. My brain is distracted. I’m feeling stuck. The little I succeed in writing takes more effort than usual.

Your writing and mine can get disrupted for various reasons. It happens to all of us.

We get:
  • discouraged
  • weary
  • confused
  • stumped
  • disenchanted
  • derailed

If those words describe you, Mick Silva’s message can lift you up.

“. . .  Trying to live as a WORD-saturated writer is hard,” he says. “Working to reclaim, recall, and re-establish truth, love, justice, and mercy is incredibly draining.”

Then he cuts right to the chase: If we Christian writers want to complete and publish our books, we must overcome the lies we tell ourselves.

In The 6 Spiritual Lies Derailing Your Writing Process, Mick lists what we allow to hinder us:

  • Who do you think you are?
  • You can’t handle this/You’re not ready for this.
  • You’re too _____ (Fill in the blank: uneducated . . . damaged . . . busy . . . ).
  • You’re wasting your time.
  • You’re all alone.
  • You have nothing . . . . [or] It’s been done before.

Stand up to those lies. Replace your discouragement with Mick’s encouragement:

“ . . . Writing is a holy, sacred ground. You’ve been called to help your brothers and sisters in the faith.”


“An unfinished manuscript cannot change lives.
Even a finished one cannot minister in a drawer
or filing cabinet.

Only in published form
can a book go where you and I will never go,
to people we will never meet.

Only in published form
can a book make a difference in eternity.”

(Lee Roddy, quoted in Marlene Bagnull’s Write His Answer)

Lloyd Ogilvie penned this prayer and I hope it will help you focus on your higher purpose and keep writing:

“What will people learn from me about how to deal with difficulties, how to have courage in problems, and how to express joy when circumstances are frustrating? What will others learn about Your peace and hope?” (Quiet Moments with God)

Don’t miss Mick Silva’s post,

He challenges us to face our fears,
fight against the lies we tell ourselves,
and trust God more.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Your memoir: Finding beauty in your broken pieces

“Lord, make me a godly man. Lord, mold me into a woman after your own heart. . . . But don’t let it hurt too much.

Have you ever prayed such prayers?

I do. All the time. Every day I pray for God to give me and my husband and kids and grandkids a soft, easy life. A life protected from difficulties.

 But Chuck’s words zing me: They tell me I’m shortsighted in my thinking and my yearning and my praying.

Chuck continues: “‘Lord, make me stable, long-suffering, and gracious,’ but don’t remove too many of my creature comforts.”

“‘Lord, teach me faith, make me strong,’ but don’t let me suffer.”

Chuck points out, “We want instant maturity, not the kind that requires sacrifice or emotional pain of hardship. ‘Lord, give me patience . . . and I want it right now!’” (Charles R. Swindoll, Great Days with the Great Lives)

You, like me, probably ask God to remove roadblocks and pot-holes.

We ask him to give us stress-free lives. We want carefree, peaceful days.

We want happiness and joy, not sadness.

We beg God to prevent heartbreaks and detours and setbacks.

But loved ones die. Health fades. Pandemics wreak havoc in countless ongoing ways. Finances dry up. Marriages fail. Children rebel. We do stupid things that hurt others and ruin our relationships. Careers crumble.

We cry out in pain when our plans collapse and our dreams die.

We feel broken and worry we’ll never be whole again—that in a sense we are dying. We’ll never return to “normal.”

But our perspective can change if we realize that every life has its sorrows and losses and disasters and failures and that if we cooperate with Him, God can use them for our good.

That’s what Romans 8:28 means: “We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him” (NCV).

But does God really do that? And if He does bring good from bad, how?

Chuck Swindoll continues, likening our experiences to a training course: “God’s spiritual boot camp . . . is designed for our development toward maturity. . . .”

Development, he said. Maturity. Like boot camps, our challenges—our road to maturity—can require self-discipline and hard work. A tenacious faith.

All the hard stuff God allows is designed to make us better, stronger. It’s a fine-tuning process, a way of encouraging us to change. With His help, we can leave behind what’s not so good and replace it with what’s better.

Because, let’s admit it. Each of us has rough edges, hard chips and slivers in our hearts, blind spots. Each of us is selectively hard of hearing. Each of us hangs on to some childishness. Selfishness.

But Bill Gaither’sold song offers us hope for the future: “All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife, but He made something beautiful out of my life.”

Read that again: “He made something beautiful out of my life.”

While writing your memoir,
look for the ways God has taken your heartbreaks,
your ragged edges, your tragedies, your regrets,
and made something beautiful of your life.

Look at this photo. 

Those delightful tiles were bludgeoned, seemingly destroyed. But within the ruins, someone saw worth and usefulness. Someone made something beautiful out of it—and gave it a lovely reason to exist, a way to serve a good purpose as a serving tray.

Examine your life. The Bible says God bestows on broken ones “a crown of beauty instead of ashes. . . .” (Isaiah 61:3) Even within the poundings and the breakings that you’ve experienced, God sees you as a child of great worth to Him, beloved and useful for His good purposes.

He has made and continues to make you increasingly beautiful in His sight.

He has given you a lovely reason to exist, ways to serve His good purposes while on this earth.

Take all the time you need to discover
the specific ways God has put together all your broken pieces
and made you beautiful and useful—useful to Him and to others.

In the process, ask yourself:
What, specifically, is the grout between my pieces?
What kinds of grace and mercy and love are represented by the grout?

Write your stories!

God can use your memoir to help others discover
how beloved and beautiful they are in God’s sight.
Your story can help others live loved.

“It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick.
But God will use your mess for good.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

You don’t have to be rich and famous to write a memoir

You don’t have to be rich or famous to write a memoir. Ordinary people write memoirs, too, and that’s good because the world needs more memoirs written by regular people. Families need more memoirs written by their relatives.

If you, an ordinary guy, publish a memoir, people won’t likely stop you on the street and ask if they can take a selfie with you. And you’ll probably need to keep your day job—and that’s because you probably won’t land a deal with a traditional, big-name publisher. Here’s why: Ordinary people’s stories seldom bring in a lot of money—and money is the bottom line for big publishers.

Don’t let that discourage you. Nowadays, everyday memoirists have several publishing options, thanks to the self-publishing industry. Another option is to print your book at a local printshop. Or you can write your stories for kids and grandkids and put them in three-ring binders along with photos.

Henri Nouwen observes: “There is much emphasis on notoriety and fame in our society. Our newspapers and television keep giving us the message: What counts is to be known, praised, and admired, whether you are a writer, an actor, a musician, or a politician.

“Still, real greatness is often hidden, humble, simple, and unobtrusive. It is not easy to trust ourselves and our actions without public affirmation. We must have strong self-confidence combined with deep humility.

Some of the greatest works of art and the most important works of peace were created by people who had no need for the limelight. They knew that what they were doing was their call[ing], and they did it with great patience, perseverance, and love.”  (Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey)

Don’t let fame and fortune be your primary goal because—believe this:

Studies have shown that kids are more stable
and successful if they know their family’s stories.

(I suspect that’s also true for those who are no longer kids.)

Stories are among God’s most powerful and effective tools. Your story can be among God’s most powerful and effective tools.

There’s a reason you don’t see spreadsheets and charts and bullet points and graphs in the Bible. Research shows that stories impact humans in ways other types of information don’t.

The Bible is full of stories because of the ways our hearts and minds respond to stories. We engage with a story’s message more than we do with databases and tables and lists.

Peter Guber explains:

“Stories . . . are far more than entertainment. They are the most effective form of human communication, more powerful than any other way of packaging information. . . .

“Without stories,” Guber continues, “we wouldn’t understand ourselves. [Stories] . . . give us much of the framework for much of our understanding. . . . While we think of stories as . . . something extraneous to real work, they turn out to be the cornerstone of consciousness.” (Read more at Writing your memoir: A sacred calling.)

You’ll like what Morgan Harper Nichols says:

“Tell the story of the mountain you climbed.
Your words could become a page
in someone else’s survival guide.”

Some of you might not have children, but you have friends, colleagues, neighbors, cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, friends from high school and college, former sweethearts—on and on.

Your memoir can benefit those people, and more.

The big question is this:

Will you write your story?

Or, if you’ve started writing your memoir,
will you finish writing it?
And place it into the hands of others?

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Kathleen Pooler’s new memoir, Just the Way He Walked

A few months ago, my friend Kathleen Pooler published her second memoir, Just the Way He Walked: A Mother’s Story of Hope and Healing. Congratulations, Kathy!

I was honored that she asked me to write an endorsement for her book, which I’m happy to share with you here:

“The deeper I read into Kathy’s story, the more I wanted to cry out to God, ‘How much should one person have to endure?’ Battling Stage Four Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, for decades she also agonized over her son’s drug and alcohol abuse.

“Kathy’s unfailing love for her son prompted everything she did to help him, yet he kept having relapses. Often driven to despair, she didn’t understand that her enabling hindered him from taking responsibility for his actions and choices.

“Kathy wrote: ‘It would take years and many Al-Anon meetings and prayers for me to break my addiction to his addiction and be able to set firm boundaries for myself and him.’

“Throughout it all, Kathy never stopped loving her son, always had hope for him and for herself, and always trusted God.

“Because her heart’s desire is to offer hope to those dealing with addictions, Kathy offers a wealth of materials at the end of her memoir. They include sixteen lessons she learned over twenty-three years, several pages of resources for parents of addicted children, and book discussion questions.

Just the Way He Walked: A Mother’s Story of Hope and Healing is a book you’ll want to share with others in need of inspiration and mentoring through Kathy’s tenacious faith and hope.” (Linda K. Thomas)

Here’s another endorsement:

“If family alcoholism and the author’s physical illness were this story’s only focus, readers would miss the pot of gold at the end—a rainbow of hope, one metaphor in Kathy Pooler’s excellent memoir, Just the Way He Walked. Though no sunshiny fairytale, Kathy’s courageous story takes the reader through the ugly to reveal the beautiful, reason enough to keep turning the pages in anticipation of a happy ending. . . .” (Marian Longnecker Beaman, author of Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a PlainGirl)

And here’s the book description from Amazon:

Just the Way He Walked: A Mother’s Story of Healing and Hope is a story of how one woman’s simultaneous battles of Stage Four Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and her young adult son’s addiction to alcohol and drugs test her resolve to never, ever give up hope. Written for parents, particularly mothers, of children who are addicted, this is a story of love, faith, hope, and breaking the cycle of addiction. Family relationships, father-son, mother-son, single parenting, the impact of addictions on families, and the need for education in breaking the cycle of addiction are all explored. The message of resilience and faith in the face of insurmountable odds serves as a testament of what is possible when one dares to hope.”

I hope you’ll recommend Just the Way He Walked
to friends, family, and your church’s staff and library.
It’s sure to be a rich resource for many.

And do Kathy a favor:
Leave a review on Amazon,
Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads.

Kathy is a retired family nurse practitioner and cancer survivor who’s passionate about sharing hope through storytelling. Several years ago, she also authored a memoir entitled Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse.

You’ll want to follow her blog, Memoir Writer’s Journey (click on that link), and her author page on Facebook (click on that link).

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Prepare to be amazed: What your process of writing can reveal

“What is your journey,” Rebecca S. Ramsey asks memoir-writers, “the big change you experienced that you want to share with the world?”

Rebecca’s question is important because memoir is about change, transformation. Your memoir needs to include your transformation.

Jon Franklin can help better understand what we call “the story arc.” He writes that a quality story “will consist of a real person who is confronted with a significant problem, who struggles diligently to solve that problem, and who ultimately succeeds—and in doing so becomes a different character.”

In other words, “A story consists of a sequence of actions that occur when a sympathetic character encounters a complicating situation that he confronts and solves.” (Writing for Story, Jon Franklin, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and a well-known pioneer in creative nonfiction)

So, the big question for you is:
What new person did you become
because of your experience?

Rebecca Ramsey asks it this way: “What were the little struggles and big struggles that got you from the beginning to end?

You’ll need to articulate that in writing before your memoir will be ready to publish. But that’s easier said than donemany people struggle to identify those turning points and defining moments.

How did she figure out that transformation in her life?

After much work (writing The Holy Éclair took her ten years), she discovered this: Writing helped her answer those questions. Something about the process helped her recognize the ways her life changed.

You don’t need to have all the answers
before you start writing.

Give yourself time to discover your story and write it—
even if it takes ten years like it did for Rebecca.

Within the process of writing,
ask yourself Rebecca’s questions
and search for the answers.

They are there.

Don’t give up. You’ll find them!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Your stories can help others through the coronavirus pandemic

At a time like this, when people around the world are frightened and grieving over the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, your stories can inspire courage. And tenacity. And faith. And hope. And practical, ingenious solutions in trying times—but only if you share your stories.

Below is an account I included in a collection of family stories for my grandkids, hoping it will help them somehow, somewhere, someday, in the same way my grandmother’s and mother’s stories helped me in an especially trying time.

“Mommy, tell us a story about the olden days!”

I wonder how many times my mother heard those excited words from my little brothers and me over the years. And she enjoyed telling us stories from her childhood. We loved sitting close to her and imagining scenes she created for us.

Many of her stories were from the 1930s, set in southeastern Ontario, Canada, in a farming area known as Glengarry County, the home of a number of Scotsmen and their families.

The Depression hit their lives very hard. Mom tells of having to wear shoes that were too small, shoes that left her feet disfigured. Grandpa worked the family farm and he also served as the postman, but still money was scarce. They raised chickens and cows and grew vegetables but sometimes their cupboards were nearly bare. I imagine that was especially true in winter months.

I also know that my grandparents knelt to pray every night before bed. I’m certain they prayed to God to keep their four daughters from going hungry during those lean years.

I remember one of my mother’s stories more vividly than others. She told about a time when their parents’ food supply had dwindled down to almost nothing, and they worried terribly. On one of those days, Grandma cooked a pot of soup for their family of six. I can picture her slicing up carrots and potatoes, and maybe an onion, maybe a piece of meat, or a soup bone. Maybe she put in dried beans, too.

Mom told us that the next day, all Grandma had for her family was that same soup but it wasn’t enough, so she added a carrot or two. The next day, the soup was still all they had so Grandma added a potato, or maybe an onion. This went on day after day and eventually Grandpa got a paycheck from the post office so they could buy groceries.

My mother must have thought of those days often when she was a young adult because sometimes our family had almost no food in our cupboards. Mom followed in her mother’s footsteps: She poured out her needs to God and she boiled a pot of soup. Each day she stretched it by adding an extra carrot or potato or onion, or maybe some of her canned tomatoes, while she told us the story of her mother stretching their soup in the same way back in the ’30s.

I grew up, married, and two years later had a baby, Matt. Twenty-two months later, our daughter Karen arrived more than a month early, unhealthy, and we ran up big medical bills. My husband, Dave, was a first-year teacher and our new health insurance wouldn’t cover Karen’s birth or extended hospital stay. 

In those days, 1971, Dave earned $7,200 a year, and we paid $90 a month for an old rental house. We had to be extremely frugal. I had one dress, one pair of jeans, one T-shirt, and I had scraped up enough money to buy turquoise polyester knit fabric to make myself a pants-suit.

We ate the cheapest food, never went to movies or restaurants, never spent money on hobbies. We bought only necessities, but money was still scarce.

In those days, we had no credit cards to see us through such times. Instead, we had to live within our means (which is not a bad thing; more people should try living that way).

In February, 1972, after we paid our bills on the first of the month, we had $28 left to buy food and everything else for the rest of the month. I was worried. I was stressed.

However, thanks to my mother’s story, I knew we could present our needs to God and that with His help we would make do with what we had, just like my mother and her mother before her. I assembled a big pot of soup: I had a soup bone with a little meat on it. I added carrots, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and maybe some peas or corn. Each day for a week I thought of my dear grandma and my mother as I added a new ingredient—maybe rice or another potato or carrot.

And, indeed, we did make it through that week, and the rest of the month, until Dave got his paycheck the first of March.

God said,
“Be very careful never to forget
what you have seen the Lord do for you.
Don’t forget them as long as you live!
And be sure to tell your children and grandchildren.”
(Deuteronomy 4:9)

That’s what my grandmother and mother did!

My grandmother had shown her daughter, my mother, how to trust God and make the best of the resources He had given them. My mother remembered her mother’s example, trusted God, and made the pot of soup stretch, and, perhaps most importantly, she told me the story of how God provided for them. Because of that, I handled my own little family’s need for food in the same way they did—I trusted God and stretched our soup with the resources He provided. (From Come and Listen: Let Me Tell You What God Has Done for Me [Psalm 66:16] by Linda K. Thomas)

What stories can you write for your kids and grandkids about your grandparents battling on—not giving up—through heartbreaking times? How did God give them strength and courage to persevere?

What stories can you tell about your parents’ tenacity in confronting overwhelming challenges? What stories can you write about yourself when you were younger? What helped your parents and you trust God for what seemed impossible?

Did your great-grandparents live through the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918? How about the awful Great Depression? Do you know their stories?

What stories can you write for your family about World War I? Pearl Harbor? World War II? The Vietnam War? The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks—9/11? What was God’s role in the midst of those desperate times?

Your stories could make all the difference
in the way your family members tackle their own calamities.

Write your stories!