Monday, April 15, 2013

Best Advice of All

Just keep plugging along. That's the best advice for writers. And try not to fret too much when a publisher delays publication. I learned about a woman last week who had expected her book to be published by Eerdmans here in Grand Rapids 2 years ago, and it still isn't out. That's just plain sad. I had expected my book The Biographical Bible to be available mid September, now Baker is saying mid November. It's already listed on Amazon with that later publication date.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Teaching Moment

Yesterday (2-24-13) was Sunday Birthday Dinner out for Zachary, grandson, now twelve. We have a little exercise going with our 4 grandkids, having them keep journals for---hate to say it---money, a great big $100 bill at Christmas. Zach was reading from his and he began a sentence with So. Mitch interrupted and said, You can't start a sentence with SO. I interrupted him and said Yes you can! So, Zachary continued his reading. Ashley also read from hers. (Mitch, the critic left his home.) It turns out Ashley is entering a contest to win a prize---an essay on world hunger. I gave her a bit of advice. I suggested she start with the most fascinating personal interest story she can find on the topic of world hunger, keeping it short and tight with strong verbs. Then go on with the essay, but keep the facts and figures to a minimum. Story-based always works best.

So, getting back to the matter of starting a sentence with SO. What a stupid rule. It only serves to make kids hate writing. SO not only serves to open a sentence, but also a paragraph and an entire story or essay or book: So the hunched over old hag walks into the bar. . . . Right there you catch the reader's attention. I'm not a rule-oriented person, as is evident in a ditty I wrote for my Creative Writing class more than three decades ago. I can't remember all the verses, but it goes something like this:

Forget syntax and grammer
Throw spelling out the door,
the parts of speech is for the birds
Don't study them no more.

Go burn your dictionary
with it, your speling book
for gerends and infinitives
deserve no further look.

Where comes this strange new teaching
How did it come it pass?
It's Tucker's brand new english corse
Creative Writing Class!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cure for the Block

Is writer's block hindering your creative expressions?  Are you looking for a cure?  Here's the fool-proof remedy.  Go out to the nearest grocery or box store.  Buy a 2-pound bag of peanut M&Ms, dump them in a mixing bowl on your desk next to your screen and treat yourself to one for every sentence you write.  Chunk down a bonus blue at the end of each paragraph.  It works for me every time.

But simply writing sentences and paragraphs and pigging out won't get you published.  So here in this blog you will find some helpful tips from a not very good writer.

The truth is, I'm not a very good writer.  I've read way too much good writing to know that.  But, according to some statistics I read recently, I would be in the very top percentile of author money-makers.  That hardly means I'm getting rich through writing, but more than 98% of published writers make less than I do.  The big millionaire writers make up a small fraction of 1%.

How do I do it.  Consider some of the following suggestions:
  • Listen to the commentary on Joan Didion a best-selling writer: She was an avid reader, spending her adolescence typing out Ernest Hemingway's writings to learn how sentence structures work.
  • Everyone knows that to be a good writer one must read.  But every novice writer should go a step further.  I recently read a partial manuscript of a friend (and accomplished artist) who would like to publish historical romance.  Her introduction was weak.  I challenged her to cull from her collection the top-selling novels in that genre and copy---yes, PLAGIARIZE---the first paragraphs of the book, inserting her own names and places.  After she's done that with a dozen books, she'll be ready to write an introduction that will pull the reader into the book.
  • The first page is the most important in the entire volume---especially if one is writing fiction.  Perhaps seasoned authors with their own bestsellers in their briefcases can afford a slow beginning, but new authors seeking to catch the eye of an agent or editor must grab the reader immediately.  Here are the opening paragraphs of my church history text due out in August 2011.

When Saint Bruno in his younger years was studying in Paris the city was caught up in a sea of mourning.  A renowned monastic scholar, much admired for his holy life, had died. But as the funeral cortege proceeded to the tomb, the dead scholar rose out of the coffin and cried out,  “By God’s righteous judgment, I am accursed.”  Utterly astounded, the officiating clerics delay the funeral until the following day.  But the same shocking episode occurs again, and still again, the day after.   So terrified—and convicted of sin—is Bruno that he goes straightaway into the desert to meditate and soon thereafter in 1084 founds the Carthusians, a cloistered order of monks and nuns.  On September 14, 1224, while praying on the mountain of Verna, Saint Francis receives the stigmata—the very wounds of the crucified Christ.  On July 2, 1505, Martin Luther, having been struck down by lightning, promises Saint Anne he will become a monk. Some two centuries later, American evangelist William Tennent awakens in the night realizing the toes on one foot are missing—snatched by the Devil.
The history of Christianity is a fascinating narrative roiling with legends and lies, facts, figures, daring feats and disputations.  Wild and well-nigh impenetrable, it snares the unsuspecting reader by its captivating content. Indeed, having once started down the rabbit trail of church history, it turns into an exhilarating hunt.  That is why studying the subject is not only a serious enterprise but also entertaining—and addictive

History is often perceived to be boring so I seek to grab the attention of the reader at the get-go and hopefully in the process sell the book to a general audience, not just to students whose professor has assigned it as a required text. 
  • History is my specialty, and that brings me to my next point.  It is very difficult to break into such a broad field as historical romance---especially with one's first book.  Far better to write in a specialized field with less competition.  I know a woman who is writing a book on the history of a particular Michigan lighthouse.  Her very specialized field is local lighthouse history and her chances of getting published to a limited audience is better than if she, as an unknown author, were to write on the Founding Fathers, an area already saturated with books.


  I.  Philosophical Considerations

A.  Writing is a pragmatic venture; write what sells and is published

B.  Writing is a creative venture; be free to dream and think “outside the box”

C.  Writing is a craft, but be wary of too much focus on composition

D.  Writing is a good occupational sideline: part-time or flextime

E.  Writing opens doors to ministry: conference speaking, teaching, consulting, etc.

 II. Practical Considerations

A.  Discipline yourself to keep a schedule

B.  Snatch small segments of time and expect insights an inconvenient times

C.  Be aware of your "body clock" and other personal idiosyncrasies

D.  Team up with someone whose abilities complement your own

E.  Combine writing with other interests and activities

F.  Read widely in your field and outside your field of interest

G.  Look for new ideas--and old ideas with a fresh slant

H.  Start small--in church publications or specialty magazines

I.  Investigate publishers and network with people in the writing field

J.  Make your proposal letter (query) the best-written work you ever do

K. Invest in a computer—hardware and software that will aid your efforts

L.  Think and plan ahead by keeping computer and paper files of ideas and materials

III.  Psychological Considerations

A.  Be positive about your writing, but also be realistic

B.  Seek out critics, and welcome criticism

C.  Remember that publishers are looking for new authors

D.  Accept rejection letters as part of the writing process

            E.  Don't give up; keep trying

Some notes on "Tricks of the Trade"

        ***Learning to write

            Permissible Plagiarism: 

Choosing a publisher--if you have that luxury

Should you stay with one publisher or move around?

Local publishers are often easier to work with--if not get 800 phone #


Authors can negotiate--contract books available

Don't expect a lot for first book

Avoid vanity press

Royalties--14% of net



Number of books to be printed

Advertising budget

Publicity--my brochures

Author Advantages

Opens doors to all sorts of other ministry

Allows for flexibility and freedom in schedule

Good for parents who want to be home with children

Combine work and play--read/write on vacation

Income tax deductions




Home office

Creativity and imagination are critical

     This is not merely advice for poets and novelists; it’s critical for scholars.  Scientists must have imagination to discover cures for diseases or develop better aircraft.  My brother is a metallurgist, with patents in his name—discoveries that required imagination.

     No matter what the field, biblical studies, church education, theology, spiritual formation, the key to publishing is discovering and presenting something significant that hasn’t been said before—AND saying it in a way that captures the reader’s attention.

Reason and Imagination

Utilizing Story

Utilizing other interests and disciplines

Raising issues and questions others have not developed

Combining writing with other duties


Mark Helprin once offered this advice to an aspiring writer on how best to construct a work, to grab the attention of the reader (and here I can only paraphrase, as I have misplaced the source document): "Treat your story as if a stone thrown into a still pool, coming to rest at the bottom. Then dive in after it." The paraphrase is accurate enough for my purposes, and the message is clear: Know well the end of your journey before you begin it.

Little did I know then, when I had meandered across Helprin's advice, that it would be central to my ability to write my thoughts on "A Soldier of the Great War."

Bob Zeidler, 

This piece by Paul Pacheco-Vega hits some very important points.
1. Write every day.
2. Give yourself the best tools to write.
3. Write as you would speak (aka, read it aloud as you write).
4. Have others read to give you feedback.
5. Read a lot, read across disciplines. [I would say read good writers.]
6. Write for your audience.
7. Write without interruptions.
8. Take care of yourself.
9. Practice your writing by writing a lot.
10. When stuck, write by hand.