Tag Archives: writing

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.

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.