Category Archives: Writing

Lately I’m . . .

I don’t even remember the last time I posted one of these. This year has taken me away from Editionally quite a bit, so it’s only fair that I tell you what I’ve been up to.

Lately I’m . . . 

Missing Orlando and Lake Superior
We had a few really amazing vacations this summer, and I sincerely believe they upped my quality of life and enjoyment of the season.

I went to Orlando at the end of June for a database conference (way more fun than it sounds!), and Jonathan tagged along. We stayed at the Rosen Centre (AMAZING hotel!) for nine days and visited Cocoa Beach, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Universal Studios, Universal Islands of Adventure, and Typhoon Lagoon. I feel guilty for some reason, but I enjoyed Universal more than Disney. Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade were AMAZING! (Can someone in Minnesota please start selling frozen Butterbeer?)cocoabeachhogsmeade At the end of July, we met up with some of my family in Marquette, Michigan, and spent a week touring the Upper Peninsula. I wish I could convey how unbelievably beautiful it is up there. And besides that, I got to PET A BEAR! Bucket list: check!

littlepresqueisle marquette sprayfallsbabybear Loving my job
I’ve been in my new role for almost a year now, and I have never been so happy at work. l enjoyed my work as an administrative assistant, but I LOVE my coworkers and the database and communications work I’m doing now. And our church is healthier than I’ve ever seen it before. I’m definitely in my sweet spot.

Earlier this week, I came across an opening for my dream job. And you know what? I didn’t even click on the link. I just thought, “I don’t really want that anymore. I love where I am now, and that job isn’t me anymore.” If you know anything about the journey I’ve been on, you know that’s a BIG deal.

Planning a trip to the United Kingdom
Jonathan and I are going international! We’ve wanted to do some traveling for quite a while and next year is the year. I asked him if we could ease into it (I’ve never been anywhere but Canada) by going somewhere they speak English. And we both want to visit England, so we’re going to.

If we can make it happen, the plan is to visit England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. The trip will be a little about writers (Austen, Lewis, and Tolkein just to name a few), a little about heritage (I’m distantly related to the MacLeans who own Duart Castle in Scotland and we both have some Irish blood), and a little about curiousity (does anyone ever go to Wales?). Throw in a few super touristy things and it’ll be an amazing trip. I can’t wait.

Budgeting like it’s my job
Not only do we need to be saving like maniacs to make the UK trip happen, we’re paying off about $3,500 in unexpected car repairs and I need a new phone. So we’re keeping it super tight until . . . well, indefinitely.

I’ve been brainstorming ways to make a little extra to get there faster, and I’ve come up with everything from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to selling crocheted hats to friends on Facebook (are you interested?). And of course, I’m ALWAYS open to new editing projects, but I haven’t gotten many bites lately.

Trying to stick to Weight Watchers
This summer has been a huge struggle, but I’m hanging in there. I’ve lost about 31 pounds so far, and I’m almost half way to my goal of losing 70 pounds. I’m in a wedding next year, and I’d really love to hit my goal by then. If nothing else, definitely by the time we go on our trip.

It gets really tough to stick with it when you’ve already seen a ton of progress and you’re tired of having to put so much thought into something as “easy” as eating. I slip into old habits so quickly, despite knowing I’ll feel like garbage later.

Working up the courage to actually write that book
Apparently telling people I was going to write a book wasn’t actually enough motivation to do it. I’ve discovered that my anxiety extends to my writing, and I’m actually quite terrified of failure. Because, if I write my story and it doesn’t work, what do I have left to write? But between the Global Leadership Summit and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, I’m feeling inspired to find ways to do it anyway.

So, um… there you have it. I’ve noticed I feel like everything is “normal” and nothing too exciting is going on until I sit back and look at where I was a year ago. I’ve changed a lot, and I’m excited to see what happens next.

Am I a Writer?

Startup Stock Photos

Startup Stock Photos

Somewhere along the way, I stopped calling myself a writer and started calling myself an editor because it was easier. I was afraid of failing, and editing is easy. At least, easy enough. With most of the editing jobs I get, there’s usually a right and a wrong answer for everything. And I know the right answer. So that makes me an editor, right?

But the type of editing I really love is the line editing—the developmental editing that gets down into the guts of the words and moves things around. It’s like surgery. It looks at everything in there, takes out what doesn’t belong, moves things around, and adds in what’s missing. It’s problem solving.

And really, that’s what writing is, too. At least for me. It solves lots of problems by providing a form of communication, fostering understanding, forcing reflection, and encouraging learning and growth.

Guys, I’m finally writing a book.

It’s a memoir. I’ve been avoiding it for a while because, honestly, I’m afraid. I’m afraid it will be hard to write, that I won’t finish, that people will judge me, that my family will hate me, that I’ll have put so much time into something no one ever reads or even wants to read.

But all of those fears don’t matter if I think of writing as problem-solving. Writing this book will answer a lot of questions for me. It will teach me a new level of discipline. It will force me to wrestle with difficult relationships where I just feel stuck. It will be an act of faith and identity—I’m going to have to come to terms with who I am and be confident enough to share that with others.

So . . . I guess I’m a writer?

Not Writing

So does being a writer mean you do everything you can think of instead of writing because it’s just too hard? Like checking your email, looking at Facebook, going over your notes a tenth time, refilling your water bottle even though you’ve only had two swallows, or looking at Facebook again? Or perhaps even writing a blog post about not writing because you’d rather write that than write the thing you’re supposed to write?

Uggh. Welcome to my morning.

Every Girl Gets Confused by Janice Thompson

every girl gets confusedBased on the cover of Every Girl Gets Confused, I was expecting a fluffy, feel-good Christian romance with a predictable plot and a happy ending. One that I was maybe a little embarrassed to be seen reading because, well, do you see the cover?

When I read books, I want the main character to feel like my best friend. That did not happen. The main character, Katie, was flat. I didn’t get to know her—why she worked at the bridal shop, her passions, what she wanted out of life. I felt like I was getting the life story—Facebook style—of someone I kinda-sorta knew five years ago rather than getting the inside scoop from someone who trusted me enough to let me inside her head.

It was a pretty fluffy book with a happy ending, but there was too much fluff. I didn’t get interested in the story until I had already read three-quarters of it because there wasn’t a plot. I followed Katie, the main character, through a few low- or no-stakes work and relationship “conflicts,” but they weren’t really enough to keep me turning the pages. In the end, it was the storyline of a few secondary characters that drew me in.

There were a few other little things about the book that I struggled with . . .

Nearly ever character had an outside-the-box name: Queenie, Hibiscus, Twiggy, Dahlia, Eduardo . . . I know names in the south (it takes place in Texas) are a little different than here in the midwest, but it was over the top.

Each chapter was named after a Doris Day song and featured a quote by or about her. Every time I started a new chapter, I wondered what she had to do with anything. It wasn’t until at least 150 pages into the book that I found out why Doris Day was significant at all. And it was pretty minor.

I wanted to like this book. I really did. I wanted a light, fluffy, happy book. And while I feel like Every Girl Gets Confused got there eventually, it wasn’t worth wading through the first three-quarters.

2 stars—It was okay and I probably won’t recommend it.
(Read more about my rating system here.)

I received a copy of this book from Revell in exchange for my honest review. The opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher or author.


Do you want the inside scoop? I had a really hard time writing and posting this review.

I recently found out that when I write a review, the publisher adds it to all the other reviews and ships it off to the author. Uggh. If I give a book a less-than-positive review, I do it to help readers make the most of their reading time, not to hurt the writer of the book.

I’m intentional about giving books I love a lot of recognition on my blog and social media, but when I don’t like a book, I gloss over it a bit. I post the review on my blog and Amazon (because I have to) and rate it on Goodreads, but maybe I won’t post the link on social media. And if I do, I certainly won’t tag the author. Writers tend to be the sensitive type, and I’d rather not kill their confidence by letting them know I didn’t like their book. Because even if I didn’t, writing is hard work! I’m still pulling for them.

When I read through the Acknowledgements, I learned that Thompson lost a grandchild while she was writing this book. No wonder it wasn’t as good as it could have been! How can I blame her?

To complicate things further, I discovered one of my college professors is Thompson’s literary agent. Since I keep up with him casually on Facebook, that makes it even harder to share my honest opinion.

Maybe I just care too much about what people think of me? I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t like hurting people’s feelings, and sometimes being honest means I have to do that. Just doesn’t seem right, does it?

I’ve never read a book by Janice Thompson before. A quick Google search shows me that she’s written A TON of books. I don’t want to judge her based on just this one. So I think I’ll give her another shot and try one of her other books. I’m pretty sure I have one buried in the 2,000+ titles on my Kindle . . .

 

Magical Creativity

When I was in college, my writing professor was convinced that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. As a writer, I just didn’t think that was true. But I didn’t think it was the mystical, spiritual muse that others make it out to be, either. (Elizabeth Gilbert, for example. She’s a little too “out there” for me.) It had to be somewhere in between.

Recently I was listening to The TED Radio Hour—an episode called “The Source of Creativity.” One of the people Guy Raz talked to was a scientist who believes creativity is a neurological process, a process that suppresses the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is the part that takes care of conscious self-monitoring, the part that’s afraid to be wrong, the part that inhibits your behavior and tries to prevent mistakes.

When your prefrontal cortex is active, you’re much less likely to be creative. I was thinking about what that means in my own life. And I was thinking about when I’m most creative. I realized it happens most when I’m doing muscle-memory-type tasks—walking in a familiar place, showering, driving—things my body just does on autopilot and my brain doesn’t really need to self-monitor. That’s when I come up with my best ideas.

“Artisitic creativity is magical, but it’s not magic.” —Charles Limb

Most writers will tell you that, to be a good writer, you need to just sit down and do it habitually. You need a schedule, a regular time to sit in the same place every day and just do it. Essentially, you’re creating another muscle memory process—another habit that frees up that prefrontal cortex from having to work so the rest of your brain can create great ideas. The results are magical, but the process—not so much.

I don’t know about you, but this significantly changes how I approach writing.

 

 

Reviewing Books is Hard

So You Want to Review Books-Can I be really honest with you for a minute?

Writing book reviews is hard.

Especially when you make a personal connection with the author. That happens more than I would’ve thought.

I write reviews primarily to help other readers figure out what to spend “reading hours” on. There are a lot of amazing books out there, and if you spend your time reading the okay ones, you might miss the life-changing ones. (I also love getting free books, but that’s another post.)

But I’m also a writer. Not a book writer (at least not at this point), but a writer just the same. And I have lots of friends who are writers. Writers, like many other creatives, can be sensitive about their work. Sometimes criticism is really hard to take because their art is an extension of them. It’s all personal.

Striking a Balance
So here at Editionally, I’m caught between helping readers find great books and encouraging writers without crushing them. It’s a really, really tough place to be. I’ve been on launch teams, reviewed books written by people I love, and reviewed books upon authors’ requests. In each of those situations, I have a relational investment with the writer. And it’s really hard to be honest when I don’t like something. But I also don’t want readers to waste time reading just-okay books.

So if you’re a reader . . .
Please know that I’m trying to help you out. I’m giving you my opinion as a reader, an editor, and a friend of authors. I have reviewer friends who won’t say negative things about the books they read. I can’t do that in good conscience. But I also know that writers are real people, too. They work hard to write the books I review, and I’d much rather help them make their stories better than tear them to bits. I try to offer helpful feedback in a positive way.

P.S. The new star system I’m rolling out at the end of this post is just for you!

And if you’re a writer . . .
Writing is hard stuff and I’m pulling for you! My reviews aren’t meant to be personal attacks, and I don’t intend to call your ability as a writer into question. I may, however, point out how I would have done things differently. Whenever I write something critical about a book, I try to do it in a way that offers some type of a solution. I don’t say I didn’t like something without giving a reason. And if I do, call me on it! I also always try to find the positives in the books I read, but keep in mind that it’s so much easier to put my finger on the things I don’t like. They stick out. Good writing, however, tends to be “invisible.”

The Star System
Starting immediately, I’m going to assign a star rating to each book I read. It’s about as objective as I can get. You’ll be able to find the rating at the bottom of each book review post. Here’s the breakdown:

5 stars—I loved it and will recommend it to everyone.
4 stars—I liked it and will suggest it to those who might be interested.
3 stars—It was okay and I might recommend it to those who might be interested.
2 stars—It was okay and I probably won’t recommend it.
1 star—I didn’t like it and probably won’t recommend it.

Want to learn more about reviewing books? Check out So You Want to Review Books? and How to Write a Book Review

How to Write a Book Review

So You Want to Review Books- (1)Back in college, my writing professor would leave books in our mailboxes with notes that usually said something like “Review this book for Church Libraries.” More often than not, the books were horrible, and writing the reviews felt a lot like a writing major’s version of hazing. Especially since they didn’t have anything to do with our grades.

So I never thought I would actually seek out book reviews. Yet here I am with a blog that I started just so I could review books.

I’ve developed a basic template for writing reviews that’s based on what I learned in college, what I did when I made manuscript suggestions as an intern at Bethany House, and what works I, as a reader, want to know when I read a book review. Here are the basics:

  1. Take notes as you read. This isn’t really part of the template, but it’s an important step that I always regret skipping. Are there things that cause you to stop and re-read? Things you find confusing? Or endearing? What do you love about the book? How would you have done it differently if you were the writer? Or if you had been allowed to make suggestions to the author before it went to the presses? Are the memorable quotes or passages you want to draw attention to?
  2. Summarize the book in a few sentences. Introduce your reader to the main characters and plot or the thesis and background of the book. Sometimes I introduce the author and talk about whether I’ve read their work before. When appropriate, I explain how their life or experience qualifies them to write the book.
  3. Explain what you liked about the book and why. What worked? What made you turn the pages? (Personally, I think this is harder to pin down than what I didn’t like.)
  4. Explain what you didn’t like about the book and why. I always try to be gentle and give helpful feedback. If the writer actually reads your review (and it’s pretty likely), give something they can use to improve future writing.
  5. Compare the writing to other books and authors. This will help your readers identify it as something they should or shouldn’t read. This is an important part of reviewing a new or unknown author’s work.
  6. Make some general comments about the book. Overall, did you like it or dislike it? Is it something you’d recommend to others? Would you read other books by the same author?
  7. If appropriate, recommend the book for a specific audience. Is it a good choice for women? Moms of  young kids? History buffs? Readers of Ray Blackston*? Fans of Downton Abbey?
  8. Offer any necessary warnings. Are there any elements the reader should be warned about—controversial subjects, graphic scenes, sexuality, politics, language, theology issues?
  9. Make some personal comments about the book. Did it remind you of something that happened in your own life? Did it challenge you or give you a perspective you haven’t considered before? Why did you choose to review it?

Want some examples?
Tide and Tempest by Elizabeth Ludwig
Gypsy Duke by Felicia Mires
Ten Great Dates by Peter & Heather Larson and David & Claudia Arp
Unrivaled by Siri Mitchell

*Bonus book suggestion: Read Ray Blackston. He’s awesome.

This is the second post in a series on becoming a book reviewer. Check out my first post, So You Want to Review Books?, and stay tuned for new posts about my star system for book reviews and the challenges of reviewing books.

Introducing Editionally Editorial Services

Did you know I offer editorial services? Whether you’re looking for proofreading, copy editing, or even help with structure and organization, I’d love to help you polish your writing. Learn more on my editorial services page.

Writer Off the Leash by Michelle Griep

writer-off-the-leash-bookOkay, writer friends, I’ve got a great book for you to read—Writer Off the Leash by Michelle Griep.

(Does that name sound familiar? I just reviewed her new novel, Brentwood’s Ward.)

Michelle has been writing for a long time. As a writing teacher, an avid reader and book reviewer, a member of ACFW and MCWG, and the author of four other books (all novels), she knows a few things about writing.

In her endearing and snarky voice, she shares her best advice and favorite tips for writers, alongside a few one-liners that’ll make you giggle.

Writer Off the Leash is geared toward fiction writers, but it’s a quick read for anyone who enjoys (or wants to enjoy) writing. She covers motivation, the creative process, publishing, rejection, perseverence, the basics of putting a good story together, and the responsibilities of a writer.

Now, I have to admit that I edited this book for Michelle. But that doesn’t mean I can’t love it, does it? Because I do. If you’re looking for some writing inspiration, give this book a try. You can buy it here.

And if you want to know more about Michelle or see what else she has to say about writing, head over to her blog (also called Writer Off the Leash). While you’re at it, check out her novels. They’re pretty good, too :)

Living a Portfolio Life

Calling GoinsI’ve spent the last four years (at least) trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. I’ve been working at the church, but that didn’t seem like enough, even though I knew I was supposed to be there. And I made it to the last round of interviews for my dream job and then didn’t get it. I just couldn’t figure out what I was missing.

Until I read The Art of Work by Jeff Goins. In it, Jeff talks about the significance of calling and explains that it goes way beyond your day job. Your calling is the sum of many things—your skills, your job, your relationships, your interests—it’s the whole picture of your life, how you choose to spend your time and use your gifts.

I realized that I don’t have to spend my days agonizing over the ominous and evasive calling God has placed on my life because I’m living it right now.

My calling is to work at my church, to be a good wife and friend and sister, to spend my free time writing and reading and editing and blogging (and crocheting and sewing). My calling is to embrace where God has placed me, do what He has asked me to do, and give Him the glory no matter what.

And I think I’m okay with that.

Are you trying to wrap your mind around the idea of your calling? Check out Jeff’s book. It’ll get you asking the questions you need to ask to figure out what you’re meant to do. Visit this link to find out how to get a free copy and a ton of bonuses—you just pay shipping.

artofworkfree
*As a member of Jeff’s launch team for The Art of Work, I received a free copy of the book in exchange for spreading the word.