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Feeling Discouraged?

seal on coverFeeling discouraged? Maybe these stories will give you the courage to keep going one more day.

You probably remember the movie The King’s Speech? What you might not know is the 73-year-old screenwriter, David Seidler, who won an Oscar for his screenplay, had only one other script produced–twenty years earlier.  

Kathryn Stockett’s first novel took her five years to write and was rejected by 60 agents. It went on to sell more than five million copies and became the award-winning motion picture The Help.

Bob Nelson wrote a screenplay while working on a odd late-night comedy show in Seattle called Almost Live. He was delighted when he sold his ms to a Hollywood producer, but then it sat for ten years. Occasionally he’d call and this semi-famous person would promise him he had forgotten him. Ten years is a long time to wait and I’m sure there were times when he felt discouraged. But finally that Hollywood genius put his words into film. And now Nebraska has been nominated for an Oscar as best movies of the year.  

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13 NLT).

Deadly Writing Mistake #5: Using Cliches (Part One)

A cliché is a phrase or word that has lost its original effectiveness or power from overuse. An example would be cute as a bug’s ear or dead as a doornail. What exactly do those phrases mean? Does anyone know what a doornail looks like? Have you ever seen a bug’s ear? Sure, you might never use these obvious clichés in your writing, but you might use others without knowing it. When a reader comes across a cliché, they read right past it. No image is triggered in their mind.

Why do we use clichés? Usually we reach for them when we’re in a hurry. They are on the surface of our brain and we grab for them when we’re searching for an easy description. They may even feel fresh. But if we use them too often, an editor may label us as hackneyed. Coming up with fresh similes and metaphors takes time. Some authors spend an hour trying to describe the sound of the ocean or the face of dead person. An example from P.D. James’ The Private Patient: “Rhoda Gadwyn was lying on her back, her two arms were raised awkwardly above her head, as if in a gesture of theatrical surprise.” Not only does this feel fresh, but her words trigger an image that sticks with the reader.

To avoid using clichés, learn to recognize them and cut them from your work. Below is a list of common ones.

Cliches of Comparison

As the day is long
Ate like a pig
Behaved like a lamb
Bigger than life
Black as night
Blind as a bat
Cold as ice
Cool as a cucumber
Cute as a bug’s ear
Dead as a doornail
Deep as the ocean
Drop like a hot potato
Drunk as a lord
Easy as pie
Eager beaver
Feeling your oats
Filled to the brim
Free as a bird
Free as a breeze
Fought like a tiger
Fresh as a daisy
Gentle as a lamb
Gentle breeze
Green as a gourd
Green as grass
Green with envy
Happy as a clam
Happy as a lark
Heart of gold
Hot as a firecracker
Hot as hell
Hungry as a bear
Jack of all trades
Lay low
Light as a feather
Like a flash
Like a graveyard
Like walking on eggs
Like water off a duck’s back
Naked as a jaybird
Naked as the day he/she was born
Out like a light
Please as punch
Pretty as a picture
Pure as a lily
Pure as the driven snow
Purple with anger
Quick as a flash
Quick as a mouse
Quick as a wink
Quicker than you can say Jack Robinson
Ran like deer
Silent as a tomb
Slept like a log
Sly as a fox
Smooth as glass
Snug as a bug in a rug
Sober as a judge
Soft as silk
Straight as die
Smooth as silk
Straight as an arrow
Strong as an ox
Stubborn as a mule
Sweet as honey
Sweet as sugar
Swift as a bird

Clichés of Description

Absent minded professor
Brilliant student
Brink of disaster
Briny deep
Burning question
Burst of applause
Busy executive
Calm before the storm
Cheeks like roses
Collapse of civilization
Dawn of hope
Debt of gratitude
Depths of despair
Forests of masts
Fund of knowledge
Harried housewife
Heart of gold
Impossible dream
Laurels of victory
Lips like cherries
Liquid brown eyes
Long arm of the law
Looked like a Greek god
Madonna-like face
Man of integrity
Mona Lisa smile
New horizons
Question of life or death
Remarkable technique
Rich reward
Ripe old age
Road to success
Rewards of industry
Sea of faces
Ship of state
Special occasion
Splendid achievement
Startling phenomenon
Straight and narrow
Sumptuous repast
Supreme sacrifice
Tall, dark, and handsome
Tide of events
Trials and tribulations
Ultimate goal
Unexpected turn of events
Word to the wise
Unknown factor
Unpleasant surprise
Veritable gold mind
Victor’s crown, spoils
Viselike grip

** Pat Kubia and Bob Howard, Writing Fiction, Nonfiction, and How to Publish, Reston Publishing Company, Inc., A Prentice-Hall Company (Reston Virginia, 1985), 89-90.

Deadly Writing Mistake #4: Unwilling to Rewrite

I have two writing friends who have both written several novels. Janet submitted her first novel to a major publishing house. The editors at this house asked her to rewrite her manuscript at least four times before they published it. Her seventh and eighth novels are due out in the coming year. Each of her books has required at least one or two rewrites, which is the norm in her genre, middle grade and YA fiction.

Robert has submitted his novels to major publishing houses and several agents. He too has received requests for rewrites, but he refuses to do them. He says he can’t be bothered. They need to take his books as is. He finds rewriting boring. Robert has never published and complains about how difficult it is to get published.

What would you do if asked to rewrite your manuscript? Do you think the hard work would be worth it?

Deadly Writing Mistake #3: Failing to Submit

I once had a student who flew helicopters in Vietnam, drove truck, worked as a policeman, fireman, and did just about every manly job you can name. His poetry about his war experiences made the class weep. He confided in me that he’d penned similar poems, but doubted he’d ever publish because he didn’t think he could ever overcome his fear of submitting. At that moment I became aware of how scary it can be to put our writings out there—for someone to judge, to say yea or nay to it.

No matter how great your idea, how beautiful your prose, how perfectly you’ve slanted your piece to fit a market, you’ll never publish something sitting in a file in your computer.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But you’d be surprised how difficult it is to take a chance, send something out, and risk rejection

If you’re struggling with submitting-itis, you’re not alone. I see this problem among the most gifted writers, including myself. I use the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” to help me. You may find another verse works for you. Go to Christ and pray, ask him to help you overcome this malady so you can fulfill your calling as a writer.

During my teaching year, I held a contest every year. I gave a prize to the person with the most rejections and a prize to the person with the most acceptances. Surprise! The same person won every single time.

1923 Teacher Code of Ethics

The Idaho Education News published the following code of ethics a teacher in 1923 had to sign. She must agree:

1. Not to get married. This contract becomes null and void immediately if the teacher marries.
2. Not to keep company with men.
3. To be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless she is in attendance at a school function.
4. Not to loiter downtown in ice cream parlors.
5. Not to leave town at any time without the permission of the chairman of the Board of Trustees.
6. Not to smoke cigarettes. This contract becomes null and void immediately if the teacher is found smoking.
7. Not to drink beer, wine or whisky. This contract becomes null and void immediately if the teacher is found drinking beer, wine, or whisky.
8. Not to ride in a carriage or automobile with any man except her brothers or father.
9. Not to dress in bright colors.
10. Not to dye her hair.
11. To wear at least two petticoats.
12. Not to wear dresses more than two inches above the ankles.
13. To keep the schoolroom clean; to sweep the classroom floor at least once daily; to scrub the classroom floor once a week with hot water and soap; to clean the blackboards at least once daily; to start the fire at 7 a.m. so the room will be warm at 8 a.m. when the children arrive; to carry out the ashes at least once daily.
14. Not to use face powder, mascara, or paint the lips.

The monthly salary for a teacher was $75.00.

Ilo-Vollmer Historical Society, School Bells & Ink Wells, (Craigmont, ID, 2011) pg. xix.

Deadly Writing Mistake #2: Writing without Know Your Audience

Bestselling author Tim LaHaye says he writes as if writing a letter to a friend. Who do you picture when you put pen to paper?

Magazines and book publishers have well-defined audiences. If you don’t know what market you’re targeting, then you don’t know who your audience is. Are they new believers or seasoned Christians who attend church regularly? Are they from a denomination where people sit politely in the pews or one where attenders dance and raise their hands to the music? Are they moms of preschoolers, teenagers, or senior citizens? If you think this doesn’t matter, then you’re making a deadly mistake.

When I write, I picture a specific person. If I can, I develop someone who would be a reader of the publication I’m targeting. This keeps me from bringing in material that wouldn’t interest my friend. This method keeps me from preaching because I imagine eyes rolling. I also anticipate arguments to my points and answer within my article. People often tell me my articles and books feels as if I’m writing to the reader—maybe this is why.

How do you determine a magazine of publishing house’s audience? Sometimes writing guidelines or Web sites state this information. For magazines, you can figure it out by glancing at advertisements. Viagra, retirement communities, and books by well-known mainstream preachers say one thing. Pampers, exercise equipment, health foods, and Christian romance say another. If there are no ads, read the articles. You can quickly conclude the average reader by the language, the amount of scripture used, and the slant of each piece.

Doing the hard work of determining audience, creating an average reader, and then writing to a single person, takes time and creativity. But in the end, your writing will be sharper. And you’re more likely to get that coveted yes from an editor.

Deadly Writing Mistake #1 Writing without Knowing the Market

Once there was a woman who went shopping. She found a lovely pair of red shoes on sale at Nordstrom’s. Delighted, she brought them home to her family. But they were too narrow for her sister, too short for her mother, and too big for her daughter. Disappointed, she put them away in her closet, never to be seen again.

This is the way it is when we write without knowing where to send our projects. We have to have an idea who will buy what we’re going to write before we begin. If you know where you’re going to send your finished article, then you’ll know:

• Length (editors will not cut 200 words out of your article)
• How much, if any, scripture to include
• Whether to use the name of Jesus, or the more generic God
• How much research to include, quotes from experts, or if your story is enough
• If the magazine prefers subheadings, or not
• The editor’s preference for openings
• Kinds of articles they take: how-tos, devotionals, expository, etc.

This is true of book publishers too. Writers’ guidelines will tell you if they take series only, the length and kinds of books they are seeking right now, and how to submit to them.

Where do you find this information? The Christian Writer’s Market Guide is published every year, but there is also the Children’s Market Guide, The Writer’s Market Guide (for the general market), and several others. Start here. Look up the magazines and publishing houses that interest you, then go to the Web sites listed for each publication. Here you will find writing guidelines, past articles, list of books published.

Finding a market after you’ve written an article, or a book, can be as frustrating as this knitter’s experience. Knowing the market before you write will save you disappointment, rejection, and your writings will end up in print instead of in a drawer.

Deadly Writing Mistakes

I’ve worked with hundreds of writers over the past twenty years. Some publish right away. Others languish and never see their name in print. Yet, almost all have the same abilities. In fact, many of the unpublished writers are among the most gifted. What makes the difference? I have identified some deadly mistakes and in the next several postings will talk about them. Perhaps you’ll see yourself and be able to correct them before you bury your writing in a drawer and give up your writing dreams.

Who Am I?

Do you struggle with your inner voice, mocking your faith? You’re not devout enough, you don’t spend enough time in the Word, you need to be closer to God? Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “Who Am I” just one month before he was executed. This is an English translation of the famous text.

“Am I then really all that which other men tell of, or am I only what I know of myself, restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness, trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation, tossing in expectation of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I?

This or the other? Am I one person today, and tomorrow another? Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? Or is something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I?

They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine.”

Sticks and Stones

Bev’s thick blonde hair flowed around her shoulders and down to her waist. Thin with hips a model would covet, I didn’t think she’d ever want to be friends with someone like me and so when she and her husband agreed to join my husband and me in our marriage ministry I was thrilled. Alone in a restroom, I finally had the opportunity to tell her how beautiful I thought she was.
“Me?”she said, sounding amazed. “What do you mean? I’m not beautiful.”
“Of course, you are.”
“No, look.” She pointed at bridge of her nose. “Don’t you see it?”
All I saw was a perfect nose. She turned sideways.
“The bump. Don’t you see it?”
Upon further examination, I noticed a small hump, but nothing extraordinary.
“I was teased growing up,” she said. “The other kids in my neighborhood called me witch. I don’t see anything but that bump when I look in the mirror.”
Suddenly I realized the power of name calling. This woman was in her thirties, long past the years of those childhood taunts. Yet they rang in her head, filtering the truth. How sad.