Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Word Love Wednesday :: RUE Your Words

What’s your art?

Once a week, we gather here to discuss the art of writing. Not publishing--that’s a big world that involves marketing and business. Not the message itself--you already know in your heart what you want to say. Rather, we discuss the nuts and bolts that contribute to powerful delivery of your message--for the love of the written word.

Today’s tip: Resist the Urge to Explain. You have read over-explanations; you have probably written some of them. In my case, it usually comes from a sincere intention to help the reader feel invited into the moment, but sometimes it leads to too much backstory.

Backstory weighs a story down; if that weight comes right at the beginning of a story, before a reader is hooked, you might actually be able to see the reader’s eyes glaze over as she moves her mouse to click on to the next story. You have 5 seconds (50 words) to persuade your reader to stick with you--make the most of that time.

So how can you lighten up a little? Try any of these three tricks:
  1. Start with a bang--jump right into the middle of the action. "Ring! Ring! The telephone's insistent call sucked her out of reverie. She tucked her thoughts away and turned her attention to Valerie's shrill voice on the other end of the line."
  2. Start by declaring the topic sentence of your piece. "Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, yet more than 25% of moms neglect to train their children to eat it." A quotation, Scripture reference, or statistic can work well to encapsulate the point you are about to make.
  3. Start with an unusual thought that grabs the reader’s attention. "We learned more from the egg that didn't fry on the sidewalk than we ever did in school."

One strategy I use to lighten up my piece is to simply cut out the first paragraph of the first draft. Often I only end up needing a few words from those opening sentences to set the stage just as effectively in much less space.

It boils down to this silly acronym: RUE your words. Resist the Urge to Explain.

As you write this week, be aware of your backstory. Practice starting in the middle of the story. Practice finding quotes or Bible references to place at the beginning. Practice phrasing a thought in such a way that makes the reader say, “I want to read more!” Practice cutting your first paragraph, and see if the story really loses anything.

Now, let’s think about last week’s assignment: set yourself a goal to write so much a week. What was your goal? How did you do? I am still writing a lot more than I did earlier in the summer; but I found I need to write a lot on the weekend in order to focus on my other responsibilities during the week. My new goal for this week is to get four blog posts in the hopper by the end of the weekend, so I can use weeknight free time on other writing projects.

Join the conversation! Remember, you can comment something as simple as, "I am a writer!" The more you say it, the more your confidence grows. Tell us your writing goals; tell us your experience cutting out the backstory as you try to chisel out the best presentation of your message.

Photo Credit

Monday, August 8, 2011

Homeschool Report :: 2011 Week 1

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

We got a small taste last week of what homeschool can look like. It definitely does not look like traditional school. I still feel a little crazy to think I can be the kids' teacher, but I hope that with every successful day (defined very loosely of course), my confidence will grow.

On Monday, homeschool looked like wallowing in a new bucket of geometric shapes. The kids didn't come up for air for nearly an hour.

I wrote a nice "Why I want a clean house" mission statement (more like a prayer): Lord, bless all who enter my home, and fill them with your peace. Release me from chaos, so I can focus on the needs of others.

On Tuesday, homeschool looked like creating a new animal out of clay, and naming it. Adam had a tough job naming all the animals, you know! Miss Boo's creation received the title of doliphant (part dolphin, part elephant), although I see more resemblance to jet plane, hummingbird, and aardvark.

For my project, I cleaned out the fridge and freezer. Only took 15 minutes due to it having been cleaned three months ago. Love that!

On Wednesday, homeschool looked like building a musical instrument, to celebrate that music has been around almost since the beginning. Lots of hammering in the garage happened on this day. We also visited the library.

I started out trying to get my kitchen counters cleared off, but got mired in the details. We accidentally paid the mortgage twice, resulting in some administrative distractions including a lengthy visit to the bank.

On Thursday, homeschool looked like buildling a puzzle map of Africa while we made cards to send a girl we sponsor in Malawi, through World Vision. We also made beads for the baby to string, and baked cookies.

Also on Thursday, we did that egg-on-the-sidewalk thing you may have heard me talking about. What a fiasco! First it didn't cook as fast as I expected, even in 106 degree temps on a black asphalt street. But I couldn't wait around because it was dinner time. I carried the baby back inside, set her down--and slipped a disk in my back.

After crawling into the living room and laying on the floor for ten minutes, I finished making dinner and dragged myself to my writers' group meeting, forgetting all about the egg. By the time I checked it at 10pm, it had cooked after all.

Never did clean out the stove and microwave, but they were pretty neat so I'm still okay.

By Friday, my back hurt, my intentions were melted in the heat, and it was time for a pool party and some grocery shopping. We did zero school, and ended the week with a house in its usual state of slight disarray. Ah, well.  It was a week, and I will count it as such. I met several new friends, both online and in person, that encourage me.

I have no idea what Friday's cleaning assignment was. Doesn't matter, I didn't do it. Weekends are for catching up, so that's why I built only 5 projects into each week. Unfortunately, we also spent the entire weekend getting out of the house, so my Monday morning is looking pretty scary already. Guess I'll just back up to day 3, on top of the neverending laundry mountain, and aim to finish goals 3-7 this week.

Not feeling especially victorious after one week, but not yet beaten down and discouraged, either. I suppose if you ask, "How's it going?" I would have to say, "About what I would expect after the first lap of 36. Anything can still happen!"

This week, we will work toward a getting-started routine that includes breakfast, getting dressed, and a little Bible time; then we will do math first, followed by our Mystery of History lessons. As time permits, we will set up a roly-poly observation station and start asking questions.

We will also be working in a visit to Discount Tire; a trip to the chiropractor for me; and 8-10 hours of writing time as I work on a workshop class, an interactive discipleship "party" for a half dozen pre-tweens, and a Bible study lesson.

What does your homeschool week look like?

Hip Homeschool Hop Button
This post is linked up with the Hip Homeschool Hop.
Because I'm chill like that.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

On New Beginnings

This post is linked up to the Not-Back-To-School Blog Hop. Hoping to meet a few new homeschool friends this way--I am still very much building my homeschool tribe!

Not Back to School Blog Hop

In March, I reacted. Pulled my 9 year old treasure (an amazing gift, who stretches me more than I thought possible) out of the world I had misgivings about sending her to in the first place, and declared I would homeschool this one while we decided what to do next.

Now, I purpose. This week I become the full time teacher of the 9 year old and of her 6 year old brother. We will study the Mystery of History together, beginning at the beginning and working our way through the Resurrection of Christ. 2 year old baby will be coloring a lot of printables this year, I think.

We will study biology together, using a handful of books and a house full of odds and ends for experimenting and learning about classification of living things; move into the human body after Christmas; and finish with botany and ecology by the end of the year.

The 4th grader will work her way through Teaching Textbooks for math, while I play counting, calendar, money, and other math games with the 1st grader. What math does a 6 year old need to know, anyway? Adding? Story problems? Parts of a pie? I think we'll do okay.

We will all do a little First Language Lessons and Spelling Power, and I intend to get my writing-resistant daughter to develop handwriting and composition skills by narrating and documenting the things we study in all the other areas.

If I am totally awesome, we will listen to classical music each Thursday while alternating art studies between drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, and collage. And studying art styles & artists, musicians & music history. We might even learn a Latin prayer by the end of the year.

Oh, and I have a subject this year, too: Cleaning the house, 5 days a week. I'll be using Sarah Mae's 31 Days to Clean. Best $5 investment I have made in a long time. I hope it helps bring some peace to our home, because summer has been way too chaotic and disorganized.

I honestly don't know how I will be able to accomplish an entire year of homeschool to my personal satisfaction. But I do know that the discipleship of my children is my primary responsibility, and this is the way I choose to do it right now.

I also know I don't do it alone. Jehovah Shammah, The Lord my companion, stands by my side.

What are you attempting this week, that can only happen with the Lord Your Companion?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Word Love #1 :: Own It

Do you want to write, or do you want to be published?

This question challenged me at She Speaks. After having considered myself “a writer” for four years, I attended the conference hoping to both improve my writing skills and to get a foothold in the world of publishing. In addition to accomplishing both of these goals, my time at the conference also taught me the vast difference between the two.

Andrea Doering, executive editor for Revell Books, encouraged writers that if we have ever shared a blog post for the world to see, we may consider ourselves published. We may even have a larger audience through blogging and speaking than we would reach through traditional publication.

As a blogger, I can consider myself a published writer. I have had a few other pieces published to larger audiences, but let’s stick with the blogging for right now. As a blogger, I have the ability to write whatever weighs on my heart, without having to go through an editor. I can interact with my audience directly, thus lending strength to my influence with this audience. I can post links to my content all over the internet, constantly growing the reach of my message. To be honest, the more I consider these facts, the more I think I am quite happy just blogging here in my own corner.

So, then, when is it time to seek publication? According to Andrea, these two questions help determine the answer:

1. Is there something I can do with a book length work that I cannot do with a blog?
2. Is there a reader I want to reach that I can not reach with a blog?

I can think of answers to these questions that might indicate my readiness to publish. For instance, if I had an active speaking schedule, I’d like to have something to take with me that gives my whole message in context. Also, while many readers spend many hours a week reading blogs, I would imagine still more than half the potential audience has yet to call the online world their primary information source.

So do I want to write, or do I want to be published?

At this point in my career, I personally want to write. Blogging offers all the publication I need for the moment. Publication, the traditional bookish kind, will require a lot of hard work and dedication to a message God is still refining in my mind. The message may grow large enough to push beyond this venue; and thanks to the direction of these two questions, I will know the time has come to move to the next step.

What about you? Do you thread words from your thoughts onto paper? Do you aspire to share a message with whatever audience you can reach?

If you want to get published, follow people who talk publishing:
Terry Whalin
Michael Hyatt
Seth Godin
Rachelle Gardner
Mary DeMuth

But if right now you just want to write, then this place is for you. You can be published right now, through the wonders of blogging.

And, here is the fun part! You can learn to communicate your message as clearly as possible. Today starts a new weekly series, Word Love Wednesday. Every week, we will look at a tip to improve your writing. Ready? Set? Word.

WORD LOVE #1: OWN IT. Determine whether your goal is to write, or to get published.

If you want to write, call yourself a writer. Go ahead, say it out loud! Post it in the comments here if you need to.

Then start doing it. Just start. Journal, blog, volunteer to write the office newsletter, make a creative grocery list! Whatever works for you, as long as you pick up the pen (or sit at the keyboard) and say something. Set yourself a goal to write a certain amount by next Wednesday, then come back here and check in. Nobody will check your work, but we want to cheer you on! If nothing else, come see if I made my goal of posting four times during our first week of homeschool.

I also want to share with you my personal favorite guide on the subject of writing. I'm thinking of giving away a copy to a Word Love commenter in a few weeks. Would you like that? Here it is, check out the reviews.

An Introduction to Christian Writing:
An Indepth Companion to the Complete Writing Experience
by Ethel Herr.

Where are you in your writing journey today? Where do you aspire to go?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

She Reflects :: On The Greater Gift

I may be almost out of She Speaks downloads.

Except for a new series beginning tomorrow on how to better communicate your message, of course. Every Wednesday I will be sharing one tip on how to tighten up your writing. Called, "For the Love of the Word Wednesday." Do you like it? That's going to be funny to me whenever I start muttering about having to get that Wednesday post up, For the Love.

Anyway. So, other than For the Love Wednesday, and all the extra-amazing blogging about to go on over here (are you rolling your eyes yet? I am, but giggling all the while), I just have one post left about She Speaks. The only catch is, you have to do a little hop to see it. But I promise it delivers. OK?

Read my post, The Greater Gift, about Ann Voskamp's keynote message, and my She Speaks encounter with Jehovah Shammah over at

May you be blessed abundantly today, by the God who does not limit his presence to churches or temples, but is accessible to all who love and obey him!

Monday, August 1, 2011

She Reflects :: On Divine Appointments

He knew better than to bother with me before the conference: 
I was too focused.

He knew better than to waste his efforts on me during the conference: 
I was too confident.

He knew better than to start in on me during the trip home: 
I was surrounded by too many fellow attendees.

In fact, I can't think of a time in my life that I have felt more protected, sure of my calling, and supported than I did last weekend. 

The night before my trip to Charlotte, as I sank exhausted into bed for a three hour nap before morning, an unexpected warmth washed over me. God reassured me, tenderly, that I was on my way to a divine appointment. What a gift, to carry that with me all weekend!

At the end of my flight day, I collected my suitcase off the conveyer belt, turned around, and saw the one person of 650--the one person in all of Charlotte--that I already knew personally. The rest of the evening was spent in catching up and sharing with Laurel, a leader in my home church whose office I shared during my summer ministry internship over a decade ago. What a gift, to start the weekend with one who has known me since I came of age, who knows my parents and knows me!

At dinner, we invited a few others to share our table. Halfway through the meal, Katie suddenly recognized me as a blog friend. We have followed one another's stories for three years, and there she was sitting six inches away from me! What a gift, to realize all this blogging business has real people on the other end of it, and that we can meet in a place like this. My world grew three sizes in an instant.

Before my first publisher appointment the next afternoon, I connected with Shona and Caroline, two more friends I had known only through the internet. Both supportive, both helping me work out some of my jitters. What a gift, to have Caroline sit me down 20 minutes before my time and let me practice my pitch on her!

Walking through the hall later, I saw a face I thought I recognized. Squeee! Emily, whose magical, thoughtful prose first cast me a vision for a blog that could be a living thing, engaged in conversation with me. What a gift, a treasure to satisfy my secret desire to meet her in person. And she really is as sweet and just-right as she seems.

On through the weekend, the divine appointments continued. Clear through the entire trip home, through date night at the end, through the beginning of the next week as I unpacked, counted, and treasured each gift.

The mountaintop high didn't end Tuesday, when I learned the Captain would be taking a business trip for the remainder of the week.

It didn't end Wednesday, when Lulu found scissors and cut her lovely goldilocks for the second time in a week.

It didn't end Thursday, when I worked on an article until 3am, and went to my room to find ants milling around on the floor of my closet.

But oh, my friends, all good things come to an end. And that sneaky prowling enemy just lurked, waiting for his opportunity. Friday, the mountaintop experience came to an abrupt end.

At 8am, I got a call that the Captain's flight home from D.C. had been cancelled and rerouted, which would cause him to miss the last flight into town, thereby stranding him overnight in Dallas.

At 10am, I found inappropriate months-old pictures on my phone, taken by my children, who apparently didn't realize that their potty humor mini videos and body part gallery would be viewable by me. And that's all you need to know about that.

At noon, the baby ran around the house yelling potty words learned from the children in the above description. She also regressed a bit in her potty training progress from before my trip, and had two accidents on my sofa. At this point, I outlawed all potty words and banned laughter from the house.

At 2pm, I took out the trash, which led to the discovery of a moldy yogurt container in the bottom of the can; which led to a delay in taking out the trash, which led to the bag leaking a clear bile-smelling liquid on the floor and carpet; which led to floor mopping and a bleach incident (bad for my bleach-fumes allergy); which led to the discovery of rotting potatoes in the pantry next to the new trash bags; which really put me over the top for the day, smell-wise. At this point the kids were enlisted as slave labor; and they folded laundry (a first), picked up and vacuumed the living rooms, and otherwise earned their keep for a few moments.

At 4pm I didn't care anymore, and went back to bed.

At 6pm I took the kids out for dinner and a few groceries, whereupon my exuberant boy chased the baby right out of the store through the low grocery cart opening while several horrified busybodies stared and blocked my path as I shed my dignity and chased her like the sassypants she is.

At 8pm I got a nice call from my sister-in-law, during which the kids took total advantage and messed up all their beautiful tidying progress from earlier (see 2pm).

At 10pm the Captain called, and after we traded war stories from the day (my story being far better than his), I belatedly realized I had just stolen all his joy and anticipation for coming home the next morning. Oops. I hate when I do that. Kind of a downer moment on which to end a defeating sort of day.

But I had a slip of a dream remain with me all day. I dreamed about another appointment, one I haven't had yet, in which a nice lady smiled at me and asked for my book proposal. Her interest, and obvious belief in me, set my heart right at ease. It's a nugget to store with that peace and tenderness moment given the night before my trip, to reassure me through all the other moments. I am on the right path, and I have confirmation of it in the many divine appointments I seem to be keeping all along the way.

That sneaky old enemy may have scored a round on me, but he will not win. I am confident of this, that the one who began this good work in me will be faithful to complete it. And I am confident he will complete the work he is doing in you, too. Just treasure your gifts and watch out for those divine appointments!