Breakfast Blend 08.16.14

How to Overcome the Myths of Creativity – FORBES: “We’ve convinced ourselves that certain jobs are for creatives and the rest of us don’t need to exercise our creativity in our jobs. But  every organization needs the new and useful ideas that come from its people. To get them, we need positive reinforcement as our people build back their courage to start creative thinking again…Here are his best tips for fostering creativity in your company and your life.”

Preaching Christ from Proverbs – ARMCHAIR THEOLOGY: “Wisdom or wisdom principles failed because they could not produce perfect obedience in believers, but could only serve to show, in an even greater way, the need for something more than these rules and principles. In other words, wisdom failed because it could show Israel what a God-fearing life should be but it could not produce that life.”

C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity – THE GOSPEL COALITION: “C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity is one of the most acclaimed and influential Christian works from the 20th century…But there must be a reason why it’s so poignant, even today. In C. S. Lewis and Mere Christianity: The Crisis that Created a Classic, Paul McCusker offers an explanation for the soul-stirring effects of reading Lewis’s classic.”

A Four-Part Interview with MacArthur on Preaching – LEADERS DON”T PANIC: “Recently I had the opportunity sit down with my former mentor and preaching legend John MacArthur. I asked John some critical questions about expository ministry. Over the next several days we’ll post these videos.”

5 Scientific Reasons TEDx talks are Wildly Addictive – PREZI: “In the last ten years researchers studying brain scans have learned more about the science of persuasion than we’ve ever known in all of civilization. That means we know what moves people, and we can prove it scientifically. After analyzing more than 500 TED presentations (adding up to over 150 hours of talks) and speaking directly to successful TED presenters and leading neuroscientists, I’ve discovered that the most popular TED presentations share five common elements that are all based on the science of persuasion. Best of all, you can use these five scientific principles to create more awe-inspiring presentations.”




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Writer Fail #16: Why Writing What You Love Isn’t Enough.

It’s okay to write for yourself. The first time. After that first draft, however, it’s time to move on – you need to write for someone.

Stephen King puts it this way: On the first draft, write with the door closed. On the second, write with it open.

When I first wrote both my fiction and non-fiction books, I wrote mainly for me. Like I said, this is a good start, because it means you’re writing something you’re passionate about.

But if you don’t then think: “Okay, what is the exact profile of the person who is going to be reading this?” then it’s like butchering a cow, carving out a perfect tenderloin, then setting it on the table for your guests raw.

Writing something you love is half the work. If you don’t do the other half, you still have a great product – it’s just not consumable.

Upon the second submission of my manuscripts to my publisher, my editor looked at my metaphors and verbiage and said: “You’re writing a book for teenagers, Nick. You really think they care about Shakespeare, Greco-Roman mythology and dead theologians?”

I thought, “Well they SHOULD!” Besides, I don’t like zombies.

But upon taking my editor’s advice, I found my writing began to transform – I was digging deep into youth culture, trying to understand the way they think, and the stories they love, and the people they admire.

And soon, writing became an act of love.

So, you need to decide who it is you’re writing for. In fact, even better – pick someone. Pick a real person you know, and go back through your manuscript and read it through their eyes. Rewrite everything to make them curious, to make them laugh out loud, to make them think. It’s not commercialism – it’s an act of love.

You might say it’s the difference between a clanging gong and an orchestra.


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Writer Fail #15: How to Write so People Want to Read More.

When I first sent my work to my publisher, I knew I had it in the bag. I had so many zingers, one-liners and well-put-together phrases – there was no WAY I could be rejected.

I really did. Looking back, I see some of that phraseology and think, “That was pretty nice.”

But went I sent it in, I promptly receive a, “This is okay, but it’s not what we’re looking for.”

“Not what you’re LOOKING FOR!?” I thought. “You have no taste. You have no style! You don’t UNDERSTAND ME.” I had spent hours upon hours perfecting every sentence – how could they not like it? It was driving me crazy.

So, I asked: “What is it you don’t like about this?”

They politely pointed out a few phrases in my work – well written, to be sure…but irrelevant. Confusing. Misplaced. It was all over the place, like paint splattered on an empty canvas.

Then I realized what I’d done. I’d broken the cardinal rule of writing, in all of my perfecting: I failed to kill my darlings.

I don’t know who said it first, but it’s true. Writers – you need to kill your darlings. Cut out everything that is irrelevant, no matter how poetic, funny or eye-popping it is. Cut it. The problem with my original work wasn’t the style – it was the substance. I had sentences I’d so finely tuned, that sounded so magical in my ears, that I didn’t want to let them go…even though they no longer fit my message. And because I failed to kill my darlings, I failed to produce something people wanted to read. My publisher was right – I was being artful, not helpful. People who wanted their ears tickled might read. But that’s about it.

Here’s an exercise William Zinsser does with all of his students: he takes their work, looks it over, then says: “This is good. Now cut it in half.” They object. They always object.

But time and again, says Zinsser, students come back with something 10x superior to what they’d created before. Why? They killed their darlings – those little irrelevancies that tickle our ego, but fail to contribute to our cause. And when we do that, we provide people with material they MUST read. All of it is relevant. All of it is useful. All of it is the cream of the crop.

And so people read on.

P.S. My editor did a version of this exercise with me, by giving me a word-count for each chapter I wrote, and had me outline the chapters bit-by-bit before I began. It did wonders for the final manuscript. You might consider doing the same to yourself – set a word-count, and see if you don’t write something 10x better than the original.


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Breakfast Blend 09.11.14

Haddon Robinson on Elements of a Good Sermon: YOUTUBE – Robinson addresses a few keys to what makes a sermon great.

How Habits Shape Everything – JAMES CLEAR: “In 1936, a man named Kurt Lewin wrote a simple equation that changed the way we think about habits and human behavior. The equation makes the following statement: Behavior is a function of the Person in their Environment. [1]”

The Politics of Fiction – TEDx: “Listening to stories widens the imagination; telling them lets us leap over cultural walls, embrace different experiences, feel what others feel. Elif Shafak builds on this simple idea to argue that fiction can overcome identity politics.”

Controversy: The Stuff of Stories – JT COCHRAN: “There is nothing more entertaining than a good story. And the one most entertained in the process is never the audience, though we often assume that is who it is. No. The most entertained of every story is not the recipient but the storyteller.”

Is Twitter Bad for Language? – HUFFPOST BOOKS: “Even basic analysis shows that language on Twitter is far from a degraded form. Below, I’ve compared the most common words on Twitter against the Oxford English Corpus — a collection of nearly 2.5 billion words of modern writing of all kinds — journalism, novels, blogs, papers, everything.”


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Writer Fail #14: Why Social Media Doesn’t Matter (Sort of).

A lot of social media gurus can tell you how to increase your facebook likes, drive your twitter followers or gear your writing toward pinterest users. There’s nothing wrong with these tactics. But the truth is, most people who want to be published are PROBABLY doing other things with their time.

When I first started building a platform, I focused a lot of time on trying to build an RSS feed. Then Twitter. Then Facebook.

But as it turns out, while these things aren’t wrong, they’re not the MOST important thing.

Believe it or not, study after study has shown that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, RSS, Goodreads, Pinterest or any other social media outlet do LITTLE in the way of driving people to your published work. Why?

They’re low commitment.

These are the cute but out-of-touch freshmen prom-date of the social-media world. Having 50,000 twitter followers might seem like a grand success, but there are a zillion ways to get 50,000 twitters, none of which are about winning people to your cause, your ideas, your passion.

So how do we spend our limited time building our platform?

Let’s just say you can’t beat the classics.

The magic formula is…Ready for it?….


Study after study (see “How to Sell Your First 1,000 Copies) has demonstrated that those who subscribe to your e-mail list are those who will buy your work. They’re the people who care so passionately about what you do that they’re willing to let you into their daily life. They’re willing to give you an extra-slot on the “I already have way too many of these” list. They are your disciples.

These are people who want to hear what you have to say.

Disciples buy books – not fans. So, if you only have time for one social media activity, use other tactics sparingly – focus on building that e-mail list.



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Breakfast Blend 09.09.14

What Effective Pastors Do with Their Time - THOM RAINER: “Leadership gurus will tell you that a primary skill of an effective leader is the ability to manage time for maximum productivity. Out of curiosity, our research team asked over 200 pastors to provide us an hour-by-hour calendar of a typical 168-hour week for them. Keep in mind that 168 hours represent all the hours in a week, so their reports included such mundane items as sleeping and eating.”

Get Your Own Platform Makeover - MICHAEL HYATT: “Are you frustrated that you aren’t getting the attention your message deserves? Do you know your message matters but can’t understand why more people aren’t finding and consuming the content you’re creating? Do you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels and not making any progress?”

Creativity Creep - THE NEW YORKER: “Every culture elects some central virtues, and creativity is one of ours. In fact, right now, we’re living through a creativity boom. Few qualities are more sought after, few skills more envied. Everyone wants to be more creative—how else, we think, can we become fully realized people?”

Write Until You Die – THE KILL ZONE: “People with regular jobs usually can’t wait to retire. A writer should never retire. Fight to be creative as long as you live. Do it this way…”

How ‘Gatsby’ Went from Flop to Great American Novel - NPR: “When book critic Maureen Corrigan first read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in high school, she was unimpressed…But today Corrigan considers The Great Gatsby to be the greatest American novel — and it’s the novel she loves more than any other.”

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Writer Fail #13: How to Make Your Writing “Pop”.

Full credit for this one goes to my lovely wife, Brenna. When she edited the first novel I ever wrote, she peppered me with questions: “Describe that bodily action for me – how does that work? What style of clothing is that? What KIND of brown?”

As she began to edit my work, I saw a recurring pattern: my work wasn’t realistic, because it wasn’t full of the little details that make it so.

Christopher Tolkien once noted in a documentary about his father that the one real magic trick his father (J.R.R. Tolkien) had was to imagine something, and convince us it really existed. How did he do this? Well – all of those pages and pages of detailed, vivid description you probably skipped the first time you read it?

That’s the secret.

Even IF you skipped the detail, knowing it was there did something to you psychologically, didn’t it? It made your subconscious say: “I don’t much care for it, but this guy does. He’s been there. It’s REAL.”

Stephen King notes in his forward to the Dark Tower series that what made Hansel and Gretel such an enduring tale wasn’t the witch, nor the candy-house. It was the bread-crumbs – it was this strange little detail that made the story oddly believable. When we think of that story, they’re the first thing that come to mind (unless you’ve seen some nasty 90’s film versions and were traumatized as a child…not that I DID, or anything…if that’s you, its more about the horror of seeing two kids who looked strikingly like your neighbors nearly tossed into an oven).

So – add those little details. Push yourself. What kind of candy bar? What sort of punch? What shade of red? It will do secret Tolkenian wonders.


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Writer Fail #12: Why Creativity Isn’t King.

In misguided attempts to sound profound, my early writing efforts were more or less streams of consciousness. It was a good mental exercise – it still is – but it’s not publishable. The reason the William Faulkners, James Joyces and Samuel Becketts of the world were able to do what they did was this: they were original.

They wrote in a stream-of-consciousness as a literary experiment. Imitation is impossible. If what you wrote makes sense to you, and no one else, it’s not ready to be published.

The temptation of this obscure, half-baked writing is this: it makes us feel intelligent. In fact, you can win a small, cultish crowd with this style (trying not to name names, here). But it’s a classic case of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – some misguided writers say things with unintelligible poetic gusto, and herald it as a case-study in prose. Decry them, and their followers – in an effort to sound intelligent themselves – obediently label you “incompetent.”

Listen: intelligence is clear – if you can’t be clear, you aren’t intelligent.

When we write obscure drivel in an attempt to be profound, we’re doing ourselves alone a favor. If that’s you, please stop. If you can’t be helpful – if you can’t be clear – put down your pen and walk away.


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Breakfast Blend 09.04.14

Words to Season Your Writing – ONE TRAIN WRECK AFTER ANOTHER: “Choosing words is hard. Even the most practiced writer, the ones whose writing allows the reader to savor the words chosen, works at choosing the right ones. I once read an interview with Maya Angelou in which she said that fifty drafts was fairly common for her to get something right. And Mark Twain noted that: … the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

One Simple Step to Better Writing - THE WRITE LIFE: “I’ve read a lot of writing by amateur writers both in my work as a professional editor and as the moderator of this blog, and I’ve found that there’s one, single piece of advice I give most often. If you master this technique, you will quickly go from a mediocre writer to someone who writes stories that people read and say, “Wow! You wrote this?” So how do you become a better writer?”

Lessons from Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow – KINGDOM PEOPLE: “One of the most interesting books to come across my desk in recent days is Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich. Dean Stroud has done a remarkable job translating and compiling sermons from courageous preachers who understood their times, recognized their fellow pastors’ defection from the gospel, and unapologetically proclaimed the truth no matter how the cost.”

Should Literature Be Considered Useful? – NEW YORK TIMES: “Each week in Bookends, two writers take on questions about the world of books. The critic Kenneth Burke once called literature “equipment for living.” This week, Adam Kirsch and Dana Stevens discuss whether literature should be valued for its utility.”

The Secret Key to Great Preaching – CHURCH LEADERS: “In John Stott’s classic work Between Two Worlds, he writes: In a world which seems either unwilling or unable to listen, how can we be persuaded to go on preaching, and learn to do so effectively? The essential secret is not mastering certain techniques but being mastered by certain convictions. In other words, theology is more important than methodology. (92) This quote captures what I’m trying to do as a pastor and preaching professor, equipping younger ministers of the word.”

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Writer Fail #11: Why You Can’t Finish.

When I first began writing, I wrote when I had time.

That is, I didn’t write.

If I did write, it would take me so long to write “like me” that by the time I finished I’d really just begun. When I read Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art”, I began setting a routine. It’s something he calls “training your muse”. The muse, he says, can be summoned by strict habit. Let him come when he will, and he’ll remain untrained. But train him to show up every morning at 6 O’Clock, and he’ll come a courting.

If you’re not a routine oriented person – well, let that be one more reason you need one for your writing. If you’re ever going to accomplish your project, you need to set aside the same time, every day, and hammer away.

Pressfield calls it “hiring yourself”. You become your boss, and you show up to work and leave when you say. There’s no opting out. No excuses. If the muse tells you he doesn’t feel like showing up, tell him you’ll sit there for an hour anyway.

Eventually, he’ll give up.

And you’ll finish your project.


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