Give it a rest, he said

I’m a fan of transparency … of saying what I think and not just what sounds nice or what others want to hear. So here’s my daily dose of transparency: I’m swamped, and I need a break from this blog.

I love writing it. I’m thankful for the folks who read it. But the truth is, it doesn’t contribute much to the bottom line of my business. I don’t write it so that I can become famous or wealthy. I write it for two reasons: One, it’s good practice. Two, it’s an outlet for expressing ideas that somewhere deep in my heart I believe can add value to the lives of people who read it.

I don’t know how much value it actually provides to others, but for me the main value is this: It allows me to do something I love for no other reason than because I love it. That’s huge. But when I get stressed over my self-imposed deadlines and my commitment to write a blog every week, then I lose some of the joy that comes from writing it. I need a balance. I need the accountability that drives me to write but without the pressure that steals the joy from it.

For nearly a year, I’ve been praying about how to re-shape this website — growlikejesus.com — into something more useful to the world around me. I’ve thought of turning it into a portal site that provides resources for discipleship, which would open it up to more contributors and reduce the need for me to write as much. But God hasn’t opened the doors to make that happen. And I’ve thought of making it more of a home base for my writing business. For now, I’m leaving it as it is, but I’m cutting back on my blogging. I’m going to shoot for two a month, but it might be one. Really, I’m going to attempt to write as time allows and the Spirit commands. We shall see how often turns out to be.

In the meantime, I will leave you with this quote that I hope expresses how I feel about those who regularly read this blog: “Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

The Blog God Spiked

Several weeks ago, I wrote two blogs and scheduled them to post while Audrey and I were on vacation. When we returned, I realized one of them never posted. One of two things happened. I didn’t schedule it properly or my really, really smart, hi-tech blog posting system malfunctioned. You decide.

Last week, I reread the blog and decided to use it. I polished it up, sent it to a friend for proofing, and then reread it one last time yesterday morning with plans to post it today. That’s when it hit me: Don’t post this blog.

There’s nothing wrong with the content itself. Actually, I rather liked it. It wasn’t particularly deep, but it reflected my warped sense of humor and made a decent point about how leaders can use manual labor (e.g., not typing) to clear their minds and spark some creativity.

Then something dawned on me. About the time that blog was originally scheduled to post, someone I know died while doing the exact hard work I had described. I suddenly imagined his friends and family reading this tongue-in-cheek blog and finding no humor in it at all. My heart sank, but my spirits quickly lifted. There’s no greater feeling than to realize the hand of God somehow intervened in your life. I’ve experienced it in some big ways – like with the birth of my children or the day I realized Audrey was “the one” for me.

So, today’s blog is about the blog I didn’t write. The one God spiked for me – twice.

We never know when God will allow us to see how He is intervening, but our response should always be the same: Thank you, thank you, thank you.


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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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So, You Want to Write a Book? Step 1: Get real.

Advice to would-be authors

One of the ways I see writers making a living these days is by selling the dream of authorship. It works like this: Thousands upon thousands of people want to publish a book, so writers who have published books provide them with training, advice, and support – for a fee, of course. Much of my livelihood, in fact, works off this model. As a ghostwriter, I help would-be authors write and publish their messages, often in the form of books.

As with all good things, however, I’ve noticed this model has a dark side. Since the Internet-of-today is all about – jargon alert! – “scaling businesses through platform building,” some writing services are going bonkers with their mass-marketing approach to the business. Some offer great advice and services. But what some are marketing in attempt to scale their businesses is – and I know this will shock you – a distortion of the truth, aka, a lie.

Ring Lardner (famous author)

So at the risk of being labeled a fuddy-duddy, allow me to suggest that all aspiring authors of the world take a moment, pump their proverbial breaks, and evaluate a few deeper realities of writing and publishing. Before shelling out boatloads of money for help with your book project, carefully consider some of the deeper realities that reside beneath the “marketed truth.”

Marketed Truth: You can write a book in a few weeks.

Deeper Reality: Very few authors have written a good book that quickly. Writing with excellence takes time and effort. It’s not always hard. Sometimes the words flow easily and quickly. But it’s not always easy. Most of the time, in fact, the writing – and especially the rewriting – is challenging. Consider these words from a few successful writers:

  • “Easy reading is damned hard writing.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” – Thomas Mann
  • “When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.” – Enrique Jardiel Poncela
  • “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler

Marketed Truth: It’s easier and cheaper than ever to publish a book.

Deeper Reality: Services like Create Space make it easy, and you no longer need the help of a traditional New York-based publishing house. But … it still will cost you if you want a quality product. Even if you’re a great writer, you’ll need great editors (plural), a great designer to make it look good and great marketers to help sell it. You’ll have to spend time and money to get the attention of the book-buying public. And, ultimately, you still probably won’t sell very many books. Most likely, you will spend far, far more to write, publish and market the book than you will make on the sales from the book.

Marketed Truth: Everyone should write and publish a book.

Deeper Reality: Speaking of fuddy-duddys, anyone remember writer/contrarian Christopher Hitchens? I seldom agreed with much that he had to say, but that doesn’t mean he was never right. For instance, he’s generally credited with saying, “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.” Very true. And Walter Bagehot, a British essayist, once pointed out that, “The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything.” Also true. So if you are a great writer who doesn’t have much to say or a poor writer with nothing to say, you certainly can write and publish a book. But please don’t inflict it on the rest of us.

OK, enough cold water. The point of all this isn’t to discourage most of you from writing and publishing a book. Really, it’s not. The point is to encourage anyone who is thinking about writing and publishing a book to do so with a clear view of reality. Measure the costs. Set a budget. Be smart about it.

When I talk to people who are thinking about writing a book, I almost always encourage them to do so. That’s because most of them feel a compelling need to write something that’s on their heart. The bigger question is this: To what end? I believe God sometimes tells us to write a book, a blog, an essay, a poem, or some other musing simply so that we can process a lesson He wants us to learn. The audience is me and God (or you and God). No one else.

Writers write because they have no choice. The message within them longs to break free and live in some form, and to suppress that message is nothing short of disobedience. So write. And if you are so called, publish what you’ve written. And, if so called, market what you’ve published. But no matter where your obedience to a message takes you, bury your expectations. As the great Flannery O’Connor put it, “When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God’s business.”

Want Free Help? Here’s a Checklist.

Want some free tips to help you think through a potential book project? I put together this list a few years ago, and I periodically update it. Click here to read my Author’s Checklist. You don’t even have to give me your email address. All it costs you is the time it takes to click the link and read it. But, hey, if you want to sign up to receive my blog, by all means, go for it!

 

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Click here for more information on books I’ve written.  

Lessons from a Bad Golf Joke

What I learned from Bubba Watson

Bubba Watson didn’t have much to say when he failed to make the cut at last week’s Masters golf tournament, so he made a joke that he later admitted was as bad as his game. Watson, who has won the tournament twice, told a reporter after shooting a 78 in Friday’s round that, “Golf is tough; I don’t know if you’ve ever played it. But writing articles is easy.”

As you might expect, sports journalists fired back. That’s because sports journalists tend to only have a sense of humor when it’s aimed at someone else. I know, because I once was a sports journalist. At any rate, Watson later apologized, saying, “Obviously I made a bad joke, just like I played bad golf this week.”

Good for him. But even if he intended it as a joke, that doesn’t mean he was wrong. I’ve played golf. And I’ve written articles. I’ve never done either with Masters-level quality, but I can tell you that writing an article is far easier than hitting a 5-iron with accuracy, especially with thousands of people watching and a 30-mile-an-hour wind blowing. And I don’t care how poorly you write, you still probably write better than you play golf. Because, as Watson pointed out, golf is hard. If I shot at 78 at Augusta National, by the way, I’d be leaping for joy – even if I only played the front nine.

In my never-ended quest to learn something from everything, I reflected on this little slice (no pun intended) of American history and asked myself, “What can I learn from all of this?”

Mostly, it was a reminder: Don’t take myself too seriously. Don’t take offense too easily. Forgive others who take themselves too seriously. And don’t play golf for a living.

 

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?”

patcash_Gl_8jun09_pa_b_592x888
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!