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A Brief Intermission to Repeat Myself.

The day after I posted on the Mistake of Writing in a Bubble, Justin Taylor posted this brilliant excerpt – I’m totally reblogging it today, because it’s worth resaying, and this time from someone brilliant:

“Steven Pinker—Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and the chairman of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary—has a new book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. John McWhorter says that “Pinker has written the Strunk & White for a new century.”

Here is an excerpt of an excerpt in the Wall Street Journal:

Call it the Curse of Knowledge: a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know. . . .

The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn’t occur to the writer that her readers don’t know what she knows—that they haven’t mastered the argot of her guild, can’t divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualize a scene that to her is as clear as day. And so the writer doesn’t bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the necessary detail.

Pinker asks and answers how we can lift the curse of knowledge:

The traditional advice—always remember the reader over your shoulder—is not as effective as you might think. None of us has the power to see everyone else’s private thoughts, so just trying harder to put yourself in someone else’s shoes doesn’t make you much more accurate in figuring out what that person knows. But it’s a start. So for what it’s worth: Hey, I’m talking to you. Your readers know a lot less about your subject than you think, and unless you keep track of what you know that they don’t, you are guaranteed to confuse them.

A better way to exorcise the curse of knowledge is to close the loop, as the engineers say, and get a feedback signal from the world of readers—that is, show a draft to some people who are similar to your intended audience and find out whether they can follow it. Social psychologists have found that we are overconfident, sometimes to the point of delusion, about our ability to infer what other people think, even the people who are closest to us. Only when we ask those people do we discover that what’s obvious to us isn’t obvious to them.

The other way to escape the curse of knowledge is to show a draft to yourself, ideally after enough time has passed that the text is no longer familiar. If you are like me you will find yourself thinking, “What did I mean by that?” or “How does this follow?” or, all too often, “Who wrote this crap?” The form in which thoughts occur to a writer is rarely the same as the form in which they can be absorbed by a reader. Advice on writing is not so much advice on how to write as on how to revise.

Much advice on writing has the tone of moral counsel, as if being a good writer will make you a better person. Unfortunately for cosmic justice, many gifted writers are scoundrels, and many inept ones are the salt of the earth. But the imperative to overcome the curse of knowledge may be the bit of writerly advice that comes closest to being sound moral advice: Always try to lift yourself out of your parochial mind-set and find out how other people think and feel. It may not make you a better person in all spheres of life, but it will be a source of continuing kindness to your reader.

You can read the whole excerpt here and get the book here.”

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Breakfast Blend 09.30.14

How to Make a Homemade Frappuccino - PIONEER WOMAN: “Here are three very simple homemade versions of Starbucks’ famous blended Frappuccinos! They’re surprisingly easy to whip up at home, which is essential for me considering the closest Starbucks is five trillion thousand million hundred miles from my house.” (My one-day late gift to you for national coffee day…but who are we kidding? EVERY day is national coffee day!)

Is Blogging Bad for Your Academic Career? – CRUXSOLABLOG: “Once in a while a student will ask me if he or she should start a blog. Often enough this question is related to how a blog is perceived by PhD-studies programs and perhaps also colleges and seminaries where one might be hired.”

Isaac Asimov Predicts in 1964 What the World Will be Like in 2014 - OPEN CULTURE: “When New York City hosted The World’s Fair in 1964, Isaac Asimov, the prolific sci-fi author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, took the opportunity to wonder what the world would look like 50 years hence — assuming the world survived the nuclear threats of the Cold War. Writing in The New York Times, Asimov imagined a world that you might partly recognize today, a world where…”

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Writer Fail #22: Why Writing Alone is a Gospel Distortion.

Hand in hand with placing a Divine Hand on my writing came the idea that I could hole myself in a professional bubble while I wrote.  The idea was – if I was really good enough, I wouldn’t need help.

Recently, Pixar CEO Ed Catmull summarized the secret to Pixar’s success in his book, “Creativity Inc” using a single word: candidness. “At first,” he says, “Every Pixar story sucks.” The whole company runs by that idea – in order for a story to be truly meaningful, poignant and entertaining, it needs to be nurtured by a community.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes at least as much to write a manuscript.

Which is why I’ve always thought Christians ought to be better writers than they are. Presumably, the gospel humbles us (think Philippians 2). Which means: we don’t need to be defensive about our babies.

Presumably as well, the gospel unites us into a diverse community.

So presumably, Christian artists ought to have a wealth of valued outsight insight into the things they create.

Unfortunately, often-times my ego gets in the way of creating something beautiful, and good. I slide back into “This is Divine art, you fools!” rather than humbly accepting that I need to fish out my work to others before it’s ready.

So, if you want to create something beautiful: invite people into your writing (when you’re finished). And – let them be candid. Promise them you’ll close your mouth, and listen. Use the wealth of the Christian community to hone, sharpen and shape your work.

Because at first, every story sucks.

But when we humbly submit it to the wealth of perspectives around us, we create something beautiful, and for which we can’t ultimately take credit.

Which is probably the way it should be.

 

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Writer Fail #21: When I Threw in The Towel.

The other day, I was watching a video Michael Hyatt put out, and he said something like this:

“Blogging and platform building can take a long time. A lot of times, bloggers get frustrated when they don’t see the results they want. Day after day, they produce great content…but no one’s listening. So, they give up. But I always wonder – what would have happened if they had pressed through? That always seems to be the difference: some press through, and some give up. I bet if they’d pressed through, they could have done something amazing.”

I relate to this. Because I did throw in the towel, for a while.

My blogging lifestyle needed a makeover, sure. But I could have come to that conclusion while still blogging, couldn’t I? I’d had the idea for Scribblepreach when I was writing my former blog, and I knew I loved it at the time.

But I’d already tried that, and I didn’t want to get hurt again. I was too busy, had too many responsibilities, for something that wasn’t going anywhere.

So, I “took a break” (if you’re wondering what the difference is between taking a break and quitting, I think it’s this: you take a break when you finish something. You quit when you stop before it’s finished).

Thanks largely to the conviction of my BOB (Best Online Buddy) Tim Fall, I ended up picking it back up again. Here was a guy with a radically intense job (he’s a judge), getting up at 4:00 every morning and blogging every. single. day. And not only was he doing that, he was all over everyone else’s blogs with encouraging comments.

And that’s when I knew: I’d thrown in the towel too early (and if you’re wondering when is too early, the answer is, with blogging – always).

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tinker, alter and improve or even remake yourself in the blogosphere. It doesn’t mean you don’t scrap that first draft of your novel, or completely rewrite your non-fiction proposal.

It just means that to know if it works, you’re going to have to keep chugging – again, and again, and again, and again.

Until it works. Because, as a sage once said: “Writing is hard. But giving up doesn’t make it any easier.”

 

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Breakfast Blend 09.25.14

Two Big Reasons Our Evangelism is Ineffective – DESIRING GOD: “Love is inefficient. It slows down long enough to understand people and their objections to the gospel. Love recognizes people are complex, and meets them in their need: suffering, despair, indifference, cynicism, confusion. We should look to surface these objections in people’s lives.”

The Key To Good Storytelling Isn’t Perfection – PRESENTATION ZEN: “Some of the best stories are about failures and defeats. The Moth founder and writer George Dawes Green says in the Times article, “Nobody wants to hear about your triumphs. We want to hear about what a fool you are, because that’s what we are.”

7 Sentences that Sound Crazy but Are Grammatical – MENTAL FLOSS: “Let’s not look at grammar as a cold, harsh mistress. She can also be a fun, kooky aunt. Here are some tricks you can do to make crazy sounding sentences that are still grammatical.”

When Blogging Becomes a Slog – NY TIMES: “It started so innocently. Earlier this month, John and Sherry Petersik, the husband-and-wife duo behind the hugely popular home-renovation blog Young House Love, apologized to their readers for not writing their regular Thursday post, and asked how they felt about shorter posts when “we can’t write something juicy.”

What Michelangelo Taught Me About Writer’s Doubt – BETTER NOVEL PROJECT: “When there’s a giant obstacle blocking me from my desk chair, it’s always the same question: Why did I think I could be a writer?”

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Writer Fail #20: That One Time I Thought God Wrote My Manuscript…

This is awkward.

Remember that one time, when I wrote a book?

And then remember when somebody read it?

And remember when they said, “It’s not that good”?

I remember that one time. I remember the hot flush of emotions, the spewing little volcano of pride erupting from my subconscious. I remember knowing, just KNOWING, they were wrong.

Why? Because I knew God wanted me to write it. And I did write it. Therefore, anyone who said it wasn’t any good wasn’t just opposing me, they were opposing GOD.

Which is really just another way of saying, “I’m god, so back off, chump.”

Now THAT’S awkward. I cringe thinking about that reaction – it was the Adam in me, I swear. No, it was me, sitting on my throne, using God as an excuse to be god (funny how that works, isn’t it?) It wasn’t a Divine Hand on my art – it was deceitful pride, in my chest. That’s what made me say, “God told me to write this. Trump-card-so-there-never-talk-to-me-again.”

Christians – we are not allowed to say this. If you feel called to create something spectacular, then please for the glory of God, do not assume that creation will be ex nihilo.

Create knowing that you are broken, and flawed. Create knowing that you were given people to surround you, and tell you the truth, and sharpen you, “as iron sharpens iron” (Prov. 27:17). Create as somebody humble. Somebody who needs work. Somebody who will take a lifetime to come not-even-close to being like Jesus.

And expect to fail, again and again. That doesn’t mean God isn’t calling you. It means He’s calling you as YOU, a sinner, saved by grace, and sanctified over the long-haul. And sanctification includes our work – as we become like him, we work excellently like him. But not now. For now – listen. Be humble. Set your work apart: let your darling be purified as through fire.

Then, after this, release it.

Art, meet theology. Theology, meet humility.

Now carry on.

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Breakfast Blend 09.23.14

What’s Lost in Not Recognizing Campus Religious Groups – THE ATLANTIC: California State University’s recent decision to strip InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapters of their school affiliation undermines its ability to teach pluralism.

After 20 Novels, What’s the Editing Process? – LINDSAY BUROKER: As I close in on twenty novels (between my name and the new pen name, I should hit that number this Christmas, for my four-year self-publishing anniversary) and almost as many short stories and novellas, I guess it’s fair to say that I’ve developed a system.

Marilynne Robinson’s New Novel: Lila – THE GOSPEL COALITION: Lila is not a cheerful book, but it is a beautiful book. Robinson writes as convincingly as a sinner lately-loved as she did in the voice of a third-generation pastor. As I neared the end of the book, my reading slowed—not because I grew disinterested, but because I was sorry to see it end.

Are You Intellectually Humble? – THE TABLE: Even when you feel strongly about something, are you still aware that you could be wrong? Do you trust that truth has nothing to fear from investigation? When someone disagrees with your beliefs, do you view it as a personal attack? If so, why?

Amazon to Launch New Crowd Source Platform – THE DIGITAL READER: Here’s a new publishing program from Amazon which is so new that it doesn’t yet have a launch day, URL, or even a name.

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Writer Fail #19: On Not Letting Go.

I write quite a bit on this blog about writing. It creates a certain kind of pressure – I’m not sure anything I produce book-wise can impress the socks off anyone who skims my blog.

It’s a bit like digging a grave, then being told it’s your own.

And because of that, I feel I have it especially easy in the realm of excuse-making along the lines of, “My work isn’t ready yet.” When will it ever be ready? When it hails all writing rules in its every jot and tittle?

Well, sonny (yes, this is me addressing myself) – it’s never going to work. Not for you. Not for them. Not for the rules. Not for everyone, if that’s what you’re thinking.

Not everyone’s going to like it.

Still fewer, those who will be impressed by it.

Do I then have an excuse to tuck it under my bed, and call myself one of those sad geniuses who never quite finished the one-work-that-would-change-the-world-as-we-know-it? Because if it’s not that, it’s not worth publishing, right?

Wrong.

Because, it’s good enough to help people. And that’s what writing is about – helping people. Loving people. Understanding yourself, and the world around you. Digging into eachother’s shoes.

And I have enough for that. And it won’t be perfect. It will be flawed. And I am flawed. And that is why I make flawed things. And it’s not human to keep those flaws from people, like I don’t have them. That’s what writing is – putting those flaws on the table.

So don’t make it perfect. Make it honest. Then listen. And if they say they don’t like it, that’s okay. At least they don’t like the truth.

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Writer Fail #18: How to Increase Your Subscribers Ten-Fold.

Okay, so you have your blog, you have your niche. You love your niche. It’s helpful, it’s interesting and it’s relevant. You’re posting daily – you’ve got the first few months written out.

Now what?

Now you need to give people a reason to sign up right now.

Many people who visit your blog will be 50/50 on signing up for it. They’ll see you have great content. But people get a lot of e-mails, and the last thing they want is one more.

Unless you can prove that signing up, not just visiting, will be worth their while.

Which means: you need to give away your best stuff.

I’m not just talking about a collection of “the best of me” – I’m talking about an e-resource or book that promises immediate usefulness in the lives of those who click. Something you took time and energy to create. Something that makes people talk about you and your content.

For me, I took about a week to dig deep and research my “How to Be Well-Read in One Year or Less” e-resource. It’s only three pages, but it’s something you can’t get anywhere else. It’s relevant to my topic. And it’s incredibly useful – I use it myself about once a month at least.

I’m adding to that collection of resources my current series (with bonus materials) – “25 Mistakes I Made Before Getting Published (And How to Fix Them).” I’ll be offering this in addition to my three other free resources as an incentive to subscribe.

So, how do you go about creating an e-resource and sending it to subscribers? It’s actually very simple.

  • First, come up with your resource idea – it needs to be relevant to your blogging topic, and promise immediate usefulness.
  • Second, write it up.
  • Third, download a free pdf converter like Nitro Reader. Convert your file to pdf.
  • Fourth, sign up or an e-mail marketing site like Mailchimp or AWeber. I use AWeber, and they are phenomenal – they are expensive, but since they have increased my subscriber rate by TEN-fold, they’re well worth it. When I went to an advertiser with my blog stats, they happily offered to pay me a monthly fee worth double the cost of AWeber.
  • Create a “Sign Up Form”, and in your “reply” e-mail, attach your e-book.
  • Now, add the Sign-up form to your blog – you can check AWeber videos and ask for help on this (I did!) and they will be MORE than happy to assist.

Now you’re done!

I’m not exaggerating when I say since adding my incentives my blog sign-ups have increased times ten. It’s the best move I ever made, relative to blog traffic.

Now brainstorm some useful resources, and get them out there TODAY.

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Breakfast Blend 09.18.14

A Forgotten Key to Preaching – PRINCE ON PREACHING: “One of the most undervalued skills for effective preaching is Scripture saturation. With the dominance of a media culture, the perceived need for being thoroughly saturated with texts in general and the biblical storyline in particular has diminished.

The Five Most Persuasive Words in the English Language - COPYBLOGGER: When it comes to assembling persuasive copy, like any other construction job, you need to rely on your skills, experience, and toolbox. The toolbox of the writer is filled with words.

How to Memorize – HEAD HEART HAND: Unfortunately, few students are taught how to memorize, usually resulting in lots of inefficient and ineffective trial-and-error methods. Some of the following tips are based on research and some on my own experience of learning and teaching.

Why I Love George Whitefield – CROSSWAY: “This year it’s the 300th birthday of the great 18th century evangelist, George Whitefield. He’s less famous than his contemporary, John Wesley, because he didn’t really write hymns and didn’t start his own denomination. So what’s to love about George Whitefield?”

David Mitchell on Writing Routines – EXPLORE NOODLE: “I have kids [so] my routine has to fit in around being a dad. But that’s okay — in real life you can’t wait around for the Muse to show up, you have to look at the clock, think “I have 45 minutes before I have to be at the school gates”, and work out a scene or polish a piece of dialogue, etc.”

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