Tag: writing (page 1 of 12)

How to write a book with a friend

With the arrival on my front steps of a cardboard box of Shifting Stats Shaking the Church: 40 Canadian Churches Respond, a huge, sprawling project came to a close for me and for my friend and co-author Patricia Paddey.

It was a marathon of research and writing and rewriting that resulted in the satisfyingly chunky, beautiful-looking book I held in my hands last week. My friend Patricia had received her books a few days earlier, but waited until I had mine before she posted a photo of the book on her Facebook account. It occurred to me later that she had waited on purpose of course, sitting on her books (maybe not literally) for two full days before sharing the good news. I think this graceful and generous gesture characterizes the way we worked together, and the way it is possible for two writers (each possessing ego, drive and strong ideas) to write a book together.
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Good Stories Well Told

Last night I sat in a packed movie theatre in Oshawa watching The Drop Box.

It is, of course, the inspiring story of Pastor Lee Jong-Rak who installs a dropbox in the outside wall of his Seoul home for unwanted babies. The little compartment is lined with a blanket, equipped with a warming light bulb and can be opened from outside the home — to deposit baby, sometimes with umbilical cord still attached — and from inside the home to a bittersweet welcome. Bitter because no one is happy when a baby is abandoned. Sweet because the first thing Pastor Lee does is hold the child closely and thank God for the miracle in his hands.

There is a red glowing button that triggers a doorbell to alert Pastor Lee and his family (including at the time of filming about 15 children, many of them disabled) that someone new is about to enter this chaotic, messy, drooling, happy family.

I was struck with the expected things: the selflessness of the Pastor, his wife, daughter and the children who embrace the presence of each other. The value of “imperfect life” as seen in the severe handicap of the Pastor’s own son, a heartbreak that clearly broke the Pastor’s heart completely open, preparing it to receive what was to come: one after another after another less than perfect and less than wanted child, here perfectly loved, fully wanted.
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Reading hard stuff

I am reading a book written for people who can’t handle the real book which this book is about — and I’m finding this book hard. The book about the book (the one I am actually reading) is called How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. Maybe it says it all when I reveal that reading this book is part of my Lenten discipline. Each morning I sit down with it, a cup of tea, my big yellow highlighter, and an Anglican catechism (the other piece I took on for Lent, rather than give up candy for 40 days).

Clearly, getting through the original book, A Secular Age by Charles Taylor, would be for me the equivalent of building a rocket ship. Impossible. This is the second time in a year I have intentionally read something I found difficult. The other work was by Miroslav Volf, a Yale Divinity school professor of theology writing on grace and giving.
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Our super-clever writers group formula

There is going to be a big snow storm tonight, and so that means our writers group is meeting again. That’s just what happens. But who cares about the weather outside when inside a cozy, art-filled room there are writers inspiring each other? This is a writers group that grew from a David Festival writers workshop. My church, New Song, an artsy place of its own accord, offered to host and nuture the group.

The rest is writers group history.

Together, we brainstormed what our group might look like. We have created a rhythm to our gatherings that might be helpful to another fledgling group.

Here it is: First, we chose a book on writing, Bird by Bird by our beloved Anne Lamott, (well, beloved to most of us in the group, we’re not unanimous in our applause for this book, interestingly).

We read it between meetings and discuss two or three chapters each time we gather. That’s how we start off our meeting. What did we like about the chapter? What did we learn? What will we bring into our own writing?

Next, we have a time to learn from each other. Each meeting someone has volunteered ahead of time to come prepared to mentor the rest of us in a skill or trick of the trade. This democracy of learning is excellent in a group made up of published professionals along with writers taking their first steps forward.

We’ve been challenged in our adjectives (liven them up people!); the punishing length of our sentences; and received writing challenges like describing a young man walking his grandmother up a flight of stairs. I’m a veteran writer. But not of fiction. As I read my feeble little story out loud (note: even though I really, really didn’t want to and contemplated faking being sick so I could leave), I experienced that writers group vulnerability where you are waiting for people to double over laughing at you, but they give a polite little round of applause instead. That’s what writers groups are for!

Finally, we end our meeting reading bits of works in progress out loud. (To each other. In the room. Out loud.) Tough for everybody. Good for everybody.

If the reader wishes, we offer nurturing feedback. And that’s it. We’re in and out in two hours, sometimes less. We alternate nights, Tuesday one month, Wednesday the next, in order to catch as many people as we can. We’ve created a Facebook group page where we post interesting writing articles or blogs and such we wish to share. And that’s it. If you’re thinking about a writers group, you may plagiarize ours. Truly!

How to fight with an editor

As an editor I have had writers push back on edits. I’ve been amazed at times how angry and defensive some writers get, and how uninhibited they are in expressing it. It’s not that they can’t push back, it’s just that they could have better manners about it all.

As a writer I’ve done some pushing back myself. Recently, I had a long, brilliant, shimmering starry kind of a piece bounce back. It was gutted by the editor. The shimmer and the star dust had existed only in my mind.

All that work, gone.

My first feeling was one of dismay, followed by a need to curl up on the bed and sulk. I came close to just releasing the piece, surrendering it as is, to run as the editor’s version. I entertained the idea of asking my name to be taken off it completely. Pride kicked in. I thought of all the fairly high profile types I had interviewed for the piece. I didn’t want them to think that is how I wrote. Nor did I want the editor to think I was a baby. Or a princess. Or a cotton-headed ninny-muggin.

So, this is what I did:

1. I read my original piece again, alongside the editor’s version. I could see that some of what I thought was beauty in the original was actually bloated blather. Gosh, I hate that.

2. I consciously readjusted my thinking to focus on the reader and the piece and not my charming prose lost forever.

3. I emailed the editor and told him I was unhappy with the edit. I acknowledged that clearly I had not submitted what he wanted, and I wanted to work with him to produce a piece that we both could be happy with. I requested one day, 300 more words and the freedom to reintroduce some transitions I thought were necessary (and brilliant!!) along with an opening that better reflected my ability as a writer instead of the ick that was currently there (Important note: I did not say ‘ick’ to him). He said yes.

4. I put in that time and in the end I’m less happy than I was with my original, but more happy than I was with the edit. And my relationship with the editor was not damaged in the process.

A book I just finished helped me work my way through this encounter in a productive way. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

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