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.”