This morning, two of my favorite Scripture texts became real to me as never before. You probably love these passages as well. The first is Isaiah 40:28–31.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
The second similar text is Psalm 103:1–5.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
All my adult life, I’ve considered these as beautiful, meaningful, and true verses. But they hadn’t come to expression in my life. I knew God did all these things in the figurative sense, even in the literal sense for some people. I saw God blessing me in many of these ways over and over; however, I felt older and weaker as I aged.
Yesterday was particularly brutal for some reason. Perhaps recent grief sapped my physical strength. Maybe my adrenaline reserves had been depleted. I suspect I’m fighting off a cold. Whatever the reasons, my physical strength seemed at an especially low ebb. Immediately after dinner, I fell asleep in my recliner. I woke and spent a brief time on the computer, before stumbling to bed at 10:00.
And I felt just as exhausted when I woke this morning. Although I’d slept fairly well, I was still tired. I crafted some correspondence and did a little online research that initially seemed a waste of precious time. Then I did my devotions.
I’m reading The One Year Chronological Bible, published by Tyndale, and I finished Job this morning. I absolutely love that book of the Bible! I love God’s direct speech to a mere mortal: “Brace yourself like a man” (Job 38:3, 40:7). I love God’s vivid imagery and relentless litany describing His power and sovereignty.
We’re all a bit like Job at times. When we suffer with no apparent cause, a niggling part of our sinful nature would like to give God a piece of our mind. Certainly, we’re tempted to ask, “Why?” But as someone once suggested to my husband and me, better questions to ask God might be, “What do You want to teach me through this?” and “How do You want me to serve You in this?”
As I spent time communing with God after my Bible reading, I realized how my earlier correspondence and online research had piqued my literary interests and fueled my flagging creativity.
The more I thought and prayed, the more I became aware of God’s blessings in my life and His awesome power. Is anything too hard for the God who laid the earth’s foundation and marked off its dimensions, who stretched a measuring line across it and laid its cornerstone, while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy (Job 38:4–7)?
My spirit was refreshed and my strength renewed. I felt as eager to tackle my work as a war horse spoiling for battle (Job 39:19–25). I’m rising on eagle wings.
Since last March, I’ve been writing biographical sketches about Puritans. These will appear in Puritan Heroes, which I’m writing with Dr. Joel Beeke for Reformation Heritage Books.Puritan Heroes will be formatted similarly to RHB’s popular Reformation Heroes. Marketed for all ages, it will be written to appeal to twelve-year-old readers.
This is a big project that I was reluctant to take on. Puritans? What do I know about the Puritans? The required research seemed staggering. And weren’t the Puritans a bit boring? How in the world would I make biographical information about them interesting to adolescents?
But the Lord led me to believe this was something I should do, so I signed the contract. My life seemed busy before, but it has been intense since. And, like most people, I have family and other commitments that keep me from focusing exclusively on work.
As usual for a large project, I created a chart to schedule my writing. I’d have about three weeks per Puritan. Wow! That was tight. A little too tight for comfort, but I kept on schedule…until what we euphemistically call “the holidays.” That oxymoronic time of year when we feast and fellowship with family, giving thanks to God for all He’s given us and (a short time later) praising Him for the great gift of salvation through Immanuel, God with us. The last two months of one year and the beginning of the next are full of joy, but always seems to include unavoidable stress. This year, my schedule became unexpectedly complicated with another project and family matters.
I fell behind on the Puritans. Still, I’m more than halfway through the project with the first drafts for twelve of the twenty-two proposed subjects completed. I’ve focused on one at a time, and God has provided the information needed for each story.
Something surprising happened along the way. I fell in love with the Puritans. I felt an amazing affinity for each individual and rejoiced in their wholehearted faith. I had long known Anne Bradstreet as a fellow poet and kindred spirit, but many of these dead white men now live vibrantly in my mind as well.
What joy to learn from John Howe about Delighting in God, to witness the marital love and fruitful ministry of Joseph and Theodosia Alleine, and to discover the “warm-hearted divinity” of Richard Sibbes (p. 128, Richard Sibbes, Early Stuart Preacher of Piety by Harold Patton Shelly).
Lord willing, Puritan Heroes will be close to being in your hands by this time next year. Meanwhile, I’m embracing the challenges and blessings of my Puritan journey.
When you’re submitting a manuscript to publishing professionals, you want to avoid written work that screams, “Amateur!”
While editors may be able to plow past glaring errors and see the potential of your epic story, why create roadblocks? You may think your manuscript looks fine, but someone in the industry can spot amateur mistakes at a glance.
Formatting is the foundation that supports the content of your submission. This reminds me of the birdbath my husband’s father made decades ago. Constructed of concrete, rocks, and a tire rim, it’s heavy. Far too weighty to sit directly on the dirt of my flower bed. It may look okay from one side, but a different angle clearly displays its actual tilt. It needs a solid foundation.
In much the same way, your view of your work may differ from the perspective of an industry professional. Before reading a word, an editor can spot basic formatting mistakes that identify the writer as an amateur. Give your work a solid foundation to avoid an initial off-kilter impression.
This post addresses five basic formatting errors to avoid: not double spacing, extra spacing, double spaces, emphasis formatting, and fancy fonts. Those first three sound spacey, don’t they? And a couple of them may sound like double speak, but they’re not. Trust me.
Not double spacing
Manuscripts ought to be double-spaced. It’s true that some kinds of work or parts of submissions may be single-spaced. For example, my magazine editor prefers that I single-space my article and paste it into the body of an email message. Also, a synopsis or query letter in a book proposal could be single-spaced. But the line spacing for all manuscripts should be formatted as double.
To do this in my version of Word, I go to Format on the main menu, pull down Paragraphs, and click on the Indents and Spacing tab. Then I chose Double under the Line spacing option. If you have another software or newer version of Word (which is very likely), you can do a quick online search to find directions or a tutorial.
As an aside, always check for a publisher’s guidelines and follow them. Why cause an editor to shake her head and think, “Didn’t this writer read our submission guidelines?”
Extra spacing (first line indent thrown in for FREE!)
While you’re formatting your document for double-spaced text, take a moment to check for extra spacing between paragraphs. You don’t want six, twelve, or more points of extra space either before or after each paragraph. In my version of Word, I can make this choice directly beside Line spacing. Find the Before and After boxes under Spacing and click on the up or down arrow until you reach zero. This will avoid unsightly extra spacing between paragraphs in your manuscript.
Before you leave that Indents and Spacing box, look under Indentation and choose a First Line indent of .5 inches. If you’re already back in the document, you can format this with the indentation indicators on the left side of the ruler. They look like two triangles touching each other above a tiny bar. Move only the top triangle to the right a half inch.
Many amateur writers indent the first line of each paragraph by hitting the tab button. This isn’t something a publishing professional will immediately see, unless they happen to highlight hidden markings. But should you be so fortunate to secure a contract, the copy editor will not appreciate having to reformat all those tabs. And don’t you want to be your copy editor’s friend?
This formatting issue may seem to contradict the first one I listed, but I’m now referring to spaces between sentences rather than spaces between lines. Given my age, I totally get this problem. I well recall my high school typing instructor’s command to insert two spaces after each period that ends a sentence. What surprises me is how often younger writers do this.
Here’s the deal: computers are smarter than typewriters. They automatically format the correct amount of space between sentences. When you press the space bar twice, you format a wide space that looks weird. Period. Space. Then type the next sentence.
If you’ve hit the space bar twice throughout an entire manuscript and now want to change all those extra-wide spaces between sentences, it’s an easy fix. Use the Edit menu to Find and Replace every instance of two spaces with one space. Bam! Done. Works slick.
You want to emphasize a word or a phrase, so you underline it, right? Wrong. In these technology-driven days, underlining indicates a hyperlink. Don’t confuse your reader or frustrate an editor by underlining anything that isn’t a hyperlink.
Perhaps you should bold words you want to emphasis? No. While style guidelines vary, editors seem to frown on bold formatting. The best thing is to write in a way that clearly shows the emphasis. But if you simply must highlight a word or phrase, use italics.
Italics also are sometimes used for thoughts inserted into first-person or deep point-of-view narratives. But it’s a good idea to use italics sparingly.
And exclamation points? Almost every editor advocates avoiding them. Some go so far as to say (perhaps tongue-in-cheek, but I’m not totally sure) to use only one per manuscript! (I know, sometimes you simply HAVE to use one.) Oh, and that ALL CAPS thing? You know it conveys shouting and is considered rude, right?
If you can find style guidelines telling you how to use bold and italics for a particular publisher, go with them. Otherwise, use special formatting sparingly. Bottom line? Write for emphasis, don’t format for it.
Editors don’t like fancy fonts. Unusual fonts make text difficult to read and distract from the content. You don’t want to distract an editor from your scintillating story, do you? Stick with tried and true fonts like Times New Roman (still the most frequent one I see listed on guidelines) or Arial.
I’ll admit I sometimes use Verdana or Tahoma or Trebuchet, depending on the editor or organization. If you’re self-publishing a book, you’ll want to use something other than the old standbys. You should do some research to see what fonts are recommended for the type of book you’re publishing and what fonts to avoid. For most submissions, however, I recommend sticking with plain Jane fonts.
Again, if you’re submitting something to a specific magazine or publisher, check the website for guidelines. Then follow them to the letter. Why risk annoying an editor because you didn’t take time to read and follow published guidelines?
To recap, these are five glaring formatting errors:
Not double-spacing between lines
Extra spacing between paragraphs
Double spaces between sentences
Formatting for emphasis
An editor may look past these formatting mistakes and actually read the submission before judging the writer’s ability. But why detract from your writing with poor formatting? Why not lay a level foundation to support your stellar writing?
This year, I’ve been working in my flower bed. I placed a stone foundation under that heavy birdbath. The picture of the process gives you a glimpse of the difficulty involved. Although I tried to do it myself, I had to accept assistance in order to accomplish my goal.
Laying a basic formatting foundation isn’t nearly as difficult as placing the birdbath on a stone. But I hope this post will help you avoid appearing inexperienced. Taking time to format your work according to industry standards will help your manuscript croon, “Professional.”
God often weaves my life’s tapestry with interlocking threads.
One of my favorite songs in the psalter is Psalm 90, a prayer of Moses, which I’ve reflected on over the years here and here and here. I also wrote a meditation on it that appears in my devotional A Month of Sundays. But in recent weeks, personal circumstances have caused my husband and me to refer frequently to its petition: “Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us” (verse 15a).
God seemed to embroider my tapestry with a golden thread last Sunday evening, when guest pastor Rev. Mark Vander Hart (a longtime family friend) preached on Psalm 90. You can listen to his sermon, A Necessary Prayer to Establish Us, via a link on this sermon page (5-3-15 PM).
Only three days later, the May 6 morning reflection in the Morning and Evening devotional by Charles Spurgeon was based on 1 John 4:14 and reinforced the concept of God as our dwelling place. Spurgeon asked, “Do you want a house for your soul?” He made the point that this dwelling comes “without price,” even though we would like “to pay a respectable rent” and “do something” to win Christ and have the house. We can pay nothing but the “ground-rent of loving and serving him forever,” dwelling in Jesus and feasting on his love.
When this world shall have melted like a dream, our house shall live, and stand more imperishable than marble, more solid than granite, self-existent as God, for it is God himself–“We dwell in him.”
When Rev. Vander Hart spoke about God as our dwelling place, he referred to Ephesians 1:3-10 and emphasized about how God chose us from the foundation of the world and how we’ve been with him a long, long time.
Rev. Vander Hart’s references to deadlines especially resonated with me. As a writer, I live with constant deadlines. Each day I face outside and self-imposed deadlines. But Sunday’s sermon reminded me of my ultimate deadline: death.
Rather than being morbid, that reminder is motivating. We don’t see how God weaves every thread into the tapestry of our lives. But the Utlimate Weaver creates each of his children into a beautiful masterpiece.
He provides six days each week to work for him, and he gives each of us our own personal and inevitable deadline. He has determined our exact number of days (Psalm 139:16). Let’s make the most of them!
How would you like to spend several days participating in a productive workshop and living within a creative community? Attend Glen West!
Many years ago, Gideon Strauss and I chatted about Christianity and culture. I was writing a series of articles for Christian Renewalon Christians in the arts, and he’s passionate about promoting art and leadership excellence to influence culture. I lamented my lack of community with other writers who want to produce work of excellent literary quality that would interest mainstream publishers. Gideon said, “Many of my writing friends recommend the Glen.”
In the intervening seven years, I researched the Glen Workshop, subscribed to Image journal, and read each Image/Update email newsletter. Every year I studied the listings of workshops and instructors, longing to attend, but for many different reasons it didn’t work out. Last fall, I saw the instructor for this year’s fiction class at Glen West would be Larry Woiwode. I was familiar with Woiwode’s work and had interviewed him for my earlier series. I knew it was my time.
Glen West daily exceeded my expectations. The workshop, worship, community, and setting combined to create a memorable and priceless experience.
Larry Woiwode led the workshop with a laid-back style that complemented his organizational preparation and productive instruction. Our group consisted of 15 unique individuals from widely divergent backgrounds and at differing writing stages, ranging from college to retirement age, but each one was a competent writer who brought insight to the discussion. Meeting the other writers brought greater appreciation for their work, and working together developed a stimulating group dynamic.
Evening worship set an almost sacramental seal to the close of the day as we quietly and reverently focused on the Creator who bestows creativity.
Glen West’s community is incredible. Even longtime attendees are warm and welcoming to newcomers. A sense of underlying creative energy is palpable.
It’s difficult for me to determine how much of this energy comes from workshop, worship, community, or setting. I believe it’s a combination of all the above. Certainly setting plays a significant role.
Santa Fe means “Holy Faith.” Native Americans valued the area as a sacred location, and Spanish missions brought Christianity in the early 1600s. Today hundreds of artists live and work in Santa Fe, whose streets are lined with art galleries. At 7000 feet above sea level, Santa Fe’s rare air is crisp and fragrant with pine, pinion, and sage. Striking clouds tower in the intense sky above green-dotted brown hills and layered blue mountains. At night familiar constellations appear lower and closer.
The Glen West experience was a series of meaningful events, each of which I’d have liked to take time to process, but came one on top of the other to produce a cumulative emotional impact. Think summer Bible camp on steroids. Image Journal proclaims: Art, Faith, Mystery. At Glen West, those theoretical aspects became experiential realities.
Say “Autumnal Equinox” aloud. Notice the way it rolls off the tongue? “Autumnal Equinox” is a phrase I love to say.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the autumnal equinox comes at 9:49 CDT today, September 22. It marks the beginning of fall and a time when day and night are equal (from the Latin words aequus “equal” and nox “night”). Well, sort of equal. If you look at the time for sunrise in your area and then look at the time for sunset, you’ll notice that it doesn’t add up to exactly 12 hours of daylight. The Old Farmer’s Almanacexplains it this way:
On the equinoxes, the very center of the Sun sets just 12 hours after it rises. But the day begins when the upper edge of the Sun reaches the horizon (which happens a bit before the center rises), and it doesn’t end until the entire Sun has set. Not only that, but the Sun is actually visible when it is below the horizon, as Earth’s atmosphere refracts the Sun’s rays and bends them in an arc over the horizon. According to our former astronomer, George Greenstein, “If the Sun were to shrink to a starlike point and we lived in a world without air, the spring and fall equinoxes would truly have ‘equal nights.'”
Here’s a short and sweet article on the autumnal equinox from timeanddate.com: September Equinox.
If you want to see the earth’s position at the autumnal and vernal equinoxes, as well as the winter and summer solstices, check out the graphic at eSky’s Autumnal Equinox page.
I love to say “Autumnal Equinox,” but I also love thinking about it. Why? Because it reminds me that God is a God of order who causes the seasons to come and go in their appointed times with precise regularity. He created the sun and the earth and controls their relationship with each other. Just as he keeps the earth spinning straight on its axis today, he keeps my life from spinning out of control.
Do you feel as if you’re spinning your wheels and getting nowhere? Do busyness and stress make you feel like things are spinning out of control? Hit the pause button of your thoughts and take time to praise God for creation’s rhythm. Extol him for creating a complex, but orderly cosmos. Thank him for continuing to control all things so you don’t have to. Rest in the Lord!
On our honeymoon 40 years ago, David and I tented in Yellowstone National Park. When we walked into Old Faithful Inn, we were so struck by its rustic architecture and unique beauty that we said, “We’re going to come back and stay here some day.”
We vaguely thought “some day” would be when we were old and rich, maybe our 25th anniversary. By the time our 25th anniversary arrived, we joked that we were halfway there: we were old. But we were so poor that we didn’t trust our old vehicle and borrowed our son’s, which blew a head gasket in South Dakota. Although the trip was marred by time-consuming and expensive vehicle problems, we rented a van and made it to Old Faithful Inn to spend our reserved night in the newest part of the building. We sat on a balcony and watched people come and go on our one wonderful evening. As soon as we slept in the rented van on our way back to pick up the repaired vehicle, that relaxing evening seemed like a distant dream.
David and I talked in January about how we’d like to celebrate our 40th anniversary, and we thought there was no place we’d rather visit than Old Faithful Inn. We made reservations for three August nights in the “Old House,” where rooms are really not all that expensive if you don’t mind walking down the hall to a shared bathroom. We set aside some money for the trip.
Then David had rotator cuff surgery, and by now he’s been off work for five months. Having exhausted his sick leave, he began using annual leave. When August arrived, we asked, “Can we afford to go to Yellowstone?” In addition to the financial question, other burdens made us wonder about the wisdom of such a lengthy and expensive vacation. But David was off work anyway and we had some money set aside, so after much prayer and discussion, we decided to go. We did, however, implement economy measures: we packed two coolers with food, a crate with canned goods, and took along lots of camping gear and a very small tent.
We spent three nights in the tent and two nights in camping cabins (providentially one blustery night in Cody, WY, and the other in a campground where an 800-lb grizzly roamed). We stayed our two Saturday nights in hotels so we could use a private bathroom to shower before Sunday worship. And we spent three nights at Old Faithful Inn!
Walking on the Inn’s balconies is like stepping out of time into a more relaxed era. Sitting or writing on original furniture transports your mind and spirit from modern mundane into timeless treasure.
Our time at Old Faithful Inn was so precious that we postponed checking out as long as we could. We truly grieved the prospect of leaving.
Finally picking up the last of our luggage and our metal keys, we went downstairs to check out. The clerk typed on her keyboard and scanned her screen. “Your balance has been paid by your children.”
“What?” I couldn’t process what she’d just said. I thought I heard David crying beside me, but he claims I was the first to cry. The clerk smiled at us while she repeated, “Your balance has been paid by your children.” She passed us a box of tissues. The woman working beside her began to cry. The gal in the office behind them stood up and asked, “What’s wrong?” When they told her, she began to cry.
Our clerk dabbed her eyes. “Excuse me a moment.” She came back with a wooden box of Yellowstone wild huckleberry cordials that she presented to us as a gift from the Inn. God had turned our mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11).
Isn’t that what he does so often? We view something as negative or distressing until we see how he is using it as a positive and helpful experience, even a great gift. In what ways have you seen God turn your mourning into dancing?
May you see such gifts in your life today! And may he help you pull mourners to their feet and begin dancing!
Sometimes God speak so directly we can almost hear his whisper in our ear.
For several weeks, this blog has been primarily in silent mode while I work hard to complete a devotional manuscript. [I’ll post more specifics about that when appropriate.] With my intense writing schedule, the most I’ve managed is posting the occasional Christian Renewal article. And I’m pretty far behind on that!
This morning I’m working on the devotional for Day 29 from Hebrews 13:5-6. Taking a brief hydration break, I heated water for tea and pulled from the cabinet a package my husband bought for me some time ago: Scripture tea, which is Chai green tea. I held the package in my hand in amazement. The photo on the front of the package depicted a cup with a tea bag string draped over its edge, whose tab proclaimed, “I will never leave you nor forsake you. Hebrews 13:5”!
As if that wasn’t enough, I took out an individually-wrapped tea bag with this verse on the wrapper, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Proverbs 3:5,” which is my Day 15 focus!
I felt compelled to share these clear evidences of God’s presence with me in this project and began typing this blog entry. Only now do I see that the actual tab dangling beside my mug says, “Yes, every man is a fool who gets rich on earth but not in heaven. Luke 12:21 TLB.” You guessed it–Luke 12 was the subject of Day 19’s devotional!
What am I that God is mindful of me? That he cares for me? (Psalm 8:4)
On this wonderful Wednesday, I’m wondering about promotion, which is a two-edged sword for the Christian who writes. One side of the blade cuts with the necessity of self-promotion, while the other side slices with the desire for kingdom promotion.
I write to glorify God. When I begin thinking about my name on the cover of a book, I try to resist the siren desire for personal fame and remember that it’s all about glorifying God’s name.
Because that’s my basic philosophy, I’ve resisted securing an agent. There may be a time when I feel called to do that, but for now I attempt to rest in God’s sovereignty.
God is my agent. But the reality is that if the things I believe God calls me to write are to be published, sold, and read by anyone, I must actively market them myself. Too few Christians, especially in Reformed circles, support and promote fellow believers who are authors, poets, and artists—even those whose work they admire.
Few things scream “Self-promotion” as much as book proposals. Essentially, a book proposal requires selling yourself and your book idea. And if that sounds a bit like prostitution, it may because a few vague similarities exist.
Writing involves vulnerability. One peels away layers of protection and exposes private thoughts to the harsh gaze of critics.
I’d hoped to submit three book proposals before the end of October, but that appears increasingly impossible as November 1 looms. I’d appreciate prayer if the Lord brings me to your mind over the next few weeks.
What is your view of book proposals? How do you view the division between self-promotion and kingdom promotion? What kinds of things do you do to promote your work in Christ’s kingdom?
This morning I noticed that article’s link on how to “Use a Daily Log to Keep Yourself Focused on Productivity.” At the advice of my fellow work-at-home friend, Angela, I’ve used an Excel timecard for years. And I’ve journaled for many more years. But the idea of a log appealingly incorporates elements of both in a more immediate format.
I often find myself looking at my timecard and thinking, “What have I done for the last two hours?” Or worse, “What have I done for the last two days?” I’m beginning a log today as a more immediate way of tracking my time.
My most effective time management tool came from an interview with the prolific writer Leland Ryken, who revealed that he often works in two-hour blocks. That sage advice has been extremely helpful. Limiting myself to two hours on one task forces me to focus. And after concentrating hard on two hours of writing, my finite mind is ready for a brief break before tackling something new.
But I confess that my overloaded brain sometimes seeks respite by squandering precious minutes playing Free Cell. Who am I kidding by thinking I’m keeping Alzheimer’s at bay?
What things do you do to keep on task while working at the computer? How do you structure your time in your home office?