The Sins of My Writing

Spellcheck says everything’s good. But I’ve learned not to fully trust spellcheck. So, I read over it – one … last … time …

Yep, all looks good. I hit send or print or whatever pushes my writings into public view. In this particular case, it’s a blog post.

I’m never sure how many folks will read my blog, but I hope it’s well received by all who invest five minutes of their lives. I put my heart and soul into it and, frankly, I believe the content and writing is some of my better work. Perhaps it will have a positive impact. That’s always the goal – to get people to think and act in ways that help them grow like Jesus.

So off goes the post into the cyber world, released and free. And I move on to other things.

Then comes that email from a loving friend who gently points out the typo. Not just a random typo, but a typo in the lead (or, if you prefer, the lede). Sure, it’s the second paragraph, but it’s still part of the lead. First word of the first sentence in the second paragraph – standing out like a zit on the forehead of a teenager on prom night. Image should be imagine. Spellcheck won’t catch that, by the way.

I sigh. I thank my friend. I update the post on my website, although by now I suspect that everyone who will read it already has, and I’m certain that each of them snickered at the whiff. Another shot across the bow of my credibility. My insecure self whispers: See, I told you. You’re a hack. This is why you’ll never really make it as a writer.

Little things have always risen up to bite my writing in big ways, and especially spelling. I misspelled water in an elementary school spelling bee, and a high school teacher told me I’d never be a good writer because I was such a poor speller. As a cub reporter for a newspaper, one of my egregious spelling errors resulted in an editor getting chewed out. And I once misspelled a billionaire’s name in a magazine article.

But image instead of imagine wasn’t really a spelling error. I know how to spell imagine without looking it up. It was more of an oversight. It’s one of those words that this writer’s eyes – those eyes that have become all too comfortable with the content – are prone to see as correct, even when it is not. Reading it one more time seldom matters. I look at image and see imagine.

Unless you, too, write professionally or have some other form of OCD, you might think this is much ado about nothing. You’d say that chances are, very few people noticed, and those who did probably didn’t care. Maybe. But I care. And I suspect there’s something in your life – in everyone’s life – that you care deeply about doing well but that you fail at from time to time.

What then? Grace. Forgiveness. Growth.

In my experience, it’s all but impossible to grow like Jesus when I’m wallowing in self-pity that’s swimming in self-doubt. I have to remind myself that Christ died for my sins, that I am forgiven, and that I can walk and live in that forgiveness.

When Jesus encountered and confronted sinners, He never condoned their sins. He offered forgiveness and commanded them to stop their sinful behaviors. (See John 5:14 or John 8:11) So even with something as seemingly trivial as a mental error/typo/misspelling, I am compelled to admit my mistake, embrace forgiveness and try to avoid repeating that mistake.

How? I’ll be more aware of that word, but I’m also investing in a copy editor. Every writer needs one. I’ve avoided it because, well, it’s an expense – either I’m paying someone money or I’m imposing on a friendship. But I work with clients all the time who want to avoid this expense, and I always tell them that doing so is a huge mistake. Every writer needs an editor, usually more than one. It’s time to heed my own advice.

We all need others to help us walk through this broken world – someone who helps us edit our lives. That was a key point of the image/imagine post. And while we’ll never get it totally right, that type of discipleship helps us walk more comfortably in the peace and joy that come from grace and forgiveness.

(Note: My good friend and super wordsmith James Gilzow edited this piece, and I assure you it’s better now than it was when I sent it to him!)


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Grit: A weapon against enemies of the good

There’s an old saying that we should never let great become the enemy of the good. You’ll see it written in different forms, but they all pretty much draw on the idea expressed by Voltaire: “The best is the enemy of the good.”

So I almost didn’t write a blog this week because I felt certain I couldn’t give it my best. I had several ideas for things to write about, but I was slammed by a variety of projects. I didn’t want to give them less than my best, but I wanted to keep my personal commitment to write a weekly blog. It’s an exercise that helps me grow as a writer and as a person, and that hopefully helps a few readers along the way.

So what to do?

I started by reflecting on Voltaire, and then I made the simple decision to act by writing something. Anything. And this is what I produced.front-cover

Frankly, I don’t know that this blog reflects my best, but then again, I seldom finish anything I write without thinking I somehow could have done better.

In Forging Grit, the short book Mike Thompson and I authored that was published last year, we tell the story of a business leader who survives a plane crash in Nepal and finds himself in a seemingly hopeless situation. He learns about grit from the women in a village and he develops the grit he needs to survive. We define grit as a passion for getting something done and the fortitude to see it through even when obstacles seem overwhelming.

There were no overwhelming obstacles preventing me from writing something this week, but there was one significant obstacle: My initiative. So I needed some personal grit to put down these words. Hopefully they weren’t a waste of your time. They weren’t a waste of mine.

As Helen Keller said, “I cannot do everything, but I can do something. I must not fail to do the something that I can do.”

Are you feeling a bit stuck? Is the best becoming the enemy of your good?  Take Helen’s advice. Show some grit and do the something that you can do.

 

 

3 Keys to Life-changing Headlines!

Because “how-to” blogs are really popular and because I like to deviate from time to time from my norm, today I shall provide advice on how to write a great headline for blogs and online articles. Even if you don’t write blogs or online articles, you’ll no doubt find this information entertaining, if not life-changing. So read it and share it with a million of your friends.

As with my more faith-oriented blogs, I don’t claim to always practice what I preach. But when it comes to headlines, I do have some credibility. As a newspaper journalist in a former life, I sometimes wrote headlines for the print edition of the Arkansas Democrat. And, in fact, I even won an award for one.

That probably prompts at least three questions. 1.) “What’s a print edition?” 2.) “Do they really give awards for writing headlines?” And 2.) “OK, then, Mr. Smarty Pants, what won you the award?”

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1987 Wimbledon Champion Pat Cash

So a print edition is like what you read online only it comes printed on paper. Some publications still provide this option, but more frequently they’re found only in museums. The answer to No. 2. Is, “Yes.” Well, I assume they still do. But I know they once did, because I’ve got a certificate in a box somewhere to prove it. And as for my award-winning headline, it described an Associated Press story about the 1987 men’s tennis championship at Wimbledon. You no doubt recall that Pat Cash upset Ivan Lendl, the Czechoslovakian who was ranked No. 1 in the world at the time. So the headline read: “Cash better than Czech at Wimbledon.”

This leads perfectly into the first of my tips for blog/article headline writing, which, to be clear, is different from writing headlines for print editions of a newspaper.

  1. Make it clever. If that were easy, of course, we’d all do it more often, and not just in headlines. As it is, some of us try and most of us fail. But keep trying even if you keep failing. Filter your attempts through a lame-o-meter. My personal lame-o-meter isn’t very accurate, so I usually ask for a second opinion from my wife. Most headlines don’t survive a good lame-o-meter, which is why so few headlines are clever.
  2. Make a practical promise. For the most part, this involves creating a list in your blog or article and then selling that list at the start of the headline. Fast Company is great at this. I get regular emails from Fast Company that woo me into their content. One such email included headlines that promised, among other things, “Two items that …,” “Four steps to …,” “9 methods of …,” and “Three easy steps for …” But there are other ways do to this. That same Fast Company email also had headlines that included “a surprisingly simple trick for…” and the ever-popular “How to …” and “When to …”
  3. Make an aspirational promise. It’s great to promise practical advice, but it needs to take readers someplace they want to go. It has to meet their so-called “felt needs.” Again, I turn to the masters, Fast Company, for my examples. Their articles/blogs promised to help me be more productive, be happier, have more breakthrough ideas, lead more effective meetings, be a better listener, avoided a wasted day, boost my productivity, embrace uncertainty, and choose my career path. And that was just from one email!

If you can somehow combine a practical promise, an aspirational promise, and just the right dash of cleverness, well, then you have yourself a winner. It will lead to “opens” and “visits” and “clicks” for all the content you “curate.” And it will change your life!