Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thoughts on Writing

It finally happened!  I wrote a book! 

It’s a resource for pastors and church leaders – but I’m pretty sure everybody else will be able to draw some inspiration from it.  I’ve included plenty of Hayward stories.

The manuscript is completely edited and ready for typesetting.  They tell me it will be published next April.  I can hardly wait!

Authorship is quite a pilgrimage.  When I began, I had no idea what this project would entail.  Of course, that’s true for most worthwhile endeavors.  They take more energy than one initially supposes.  The process is somewhat like a pregnancy.  I was pregnant with an idea – and it took a lot of work to give birth.

But, my baby has been born, named,(Filled Up, Poured Out),  and is now being groomed for the public!

For over 20 years, I’ve said I wanted to write a book, but never got around to it.  Each January, I wrote a list of goals for the year – and “write a book” made the top five annually.  I had the dream, but it never became a reality.

Then, I happened upon a little book by Keith Drury, on how to write a book.  Drury explained that most books remain in the authors’ minds, unwritten, because there is no plan for turning the idea into a reality.

“If you are serious about writing,” Drury said, “you need to make a regular appointment with yourself to do it.”  If you wait until inspiration strikes, you’ll never get it done.  That was my problem,   I had the desire without a plan.

So, I immediately scheduled a weekly writing time – and stuck with it.  That was harder than I imagined.  On my first writing day, a parishioner called, wanting to meet with me that morning.  I almost caved in – but explained my situation, and found it was no problem at all to schedule another time.  Close call!

I created a writing space (a little desk) which represented my commitment to the project.  I also bought a special writing shirt, that I wore as a uniform.  Whenever I donned it, I became Mark, the Writer.

One of the most challenging aspects for me was outlining the whole project first.  My tendency is to dive in and see how things flow – but my editor wouldn’t let me do that.  He said I needed a map so I’d know where I was going.  It took a dozen false starts before I finally had a good outline.   After we finally nailed it, the project flowed.
Here are a few things I learned from my book writing process:

  1. The secret to good writing is rewriting.  Every first draft stinks, but by the sixth or seventh edit, it takes shape and sings.
  2. Word reduction makes writing crisp.  Don’t use four words where you could use one. 
  3. Avoid passive sentences.
  4. Play with your words.  Have fun creating pithy phrases and colorful word pictures.
  5. Eliminate as many adverbs as possible.  An adverb should never be used to prop up a weak verb.  Instead, kill them both and use a stronger verb.
  6. Declare war on exclamation points and quotation marks.  This was a challenge for me.  I love exclamation points, and riddled my manuscript with them.  Then, my ruthless editor eliminated them all.  “If you must rely on an exclamation point to give punch to a sentence, then it needs to be reworked.”  A good sentence carries its own punch.  When I protested, he relented and allowed me two exclamation points – to place wherever I wanted.  (I snuck in a few more, but don’t tell him!)  I think exclamation points are like pepper.  They add a zing, but should be sparingly.
  7. The same thing applies to quotation marks.
  8. Think of a specific person as your target, and then write with him/her in mind.  This makes the writing more personal, and less stilted.
  9. Don’t force material, even if you love it.  About 30% of what I wrote didn’t make the final cut.  It killed me to chop out good stuff I’d worked hard to create.  Yet, a good book requires sacrificing a few good ideas.  (Cut and paste helped soften this for me.  I imagine I’m going to use it somewhere else.)
  10. When the bus stops, get on.  The publication bus stopped for me and I hopped on.  This project wasn’t what I’d imagined my first book to be, but it was the one that presented itself, and gave me a golden opportunity to help others.
  11. Writing multiplies influence.  You can impact people you’ve never met with your thoughts – even after you’re dead.  That thought makes all the effort worthwhile.


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  2. Awesome. Can't wait to buy a copy!

  3. I am so thrilled and excited for you too. Your writer's list does sound tough to follow. I love exclamation points. They seem to fit our personality and enthusiasm. I'd like to know why "they" rule them out. Or why it's not ok to type in all caps. Who says that is necessarily "yelling". Who makes up this stuff?