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Words for Word People, Week 1 – “Jesus”

The word of the week is “Jesus,” which is kind of an ambitious place to start.

I type the word “Jesus” on a regular basis – I work with many manuscripts that revolve around him (or Him?). Recently, I was doing a round of quick edits on something and I accidentally edited the “u” out of one of the many instances of “Jesus.”

“Jess.”

I paused my editing whirlwind to laugh. One exempt vowel, and “Jess” is being baptized in the Jordan, which is still great, but certainly lacks same significance.

One “u.”

I don’t think anyone needs to be obsessive about “getting it right” the first time, especially when it comes to words. I am decidedly on the side of just getting out of the way and WRITING, of allowing the many others in the chain of publication to take care of things like a missing “u.”

But when I do catch things like that, I am grateful for the reminder that combing through a manuscript for little oddities matters because words matter. And, evidently, one “u” can change everything.

Words for Word People, Week 2 – “Antiphon”

I should probably write one of these for myself that defines the word “week.”

The word of the week is “antiphon.”

An antiphon is a line of a psalm that is repeated between each of the stanzas, kind of like a single-line chorus. In traditional services, psalms are sung together this way. The cantor, up at the front, sings the antiphon, then extends their arm, inviting everyone else to repeat it. After each of the cantor’s stanzas, all gathered repeat the antiphon.

This is an efficient way to get people to sing together without much rehearsal. Psalms and antiphons. The same line, over and over. The meaning of “The Lord hears the cry of the poor,” evolves throughout the psalm, as each new stanza contributes to and builds upon that original idea. To understand something, we need to hear it repeated in different contexts.

Too many books (and book concepts) lack antiphons. The ideas are lined up neatly, each in their own chapter “box.” But starting another chapter is like starting a new book. The best books say just one thing – there’s only one antiphon, and it’s repeated after every stanza. Every idea hearkens back to the antiphon, every example supports the antiphon, and, as the reader sees the same antiphon again and again, she finally comes to understand what it means.

If you want to write a great book, don’t try to say the right things. Say just one thing.

In a memoir, you’re the protagonist.

“You can also never forget that you are the protagonist in your story. Not the hero; most writers are uncomfortable with that– they weren’t trying to be a hero and they don’t feel like a hero. But you are the central actor in your story.” (William Zinsser. Writing About Your Life, p. 163)

Don’t usually disagree with the king of style and craft. But I do on this one. What’s the use in writing about a loser. You can. Most memoirs are sad. But in the good ones, the central figure — you — winds up looking at a rising sun or a flower beginning to bloom. There is hope. Someone’s getting out of something, beginning to believe again, and beginning to hope. Life can rise up out of the depths. No matter what you’ve had to go through to get to this point. John

10 Rejections

That is the goal for this afternoon. But what I’m learning is that most good work is done in the morning, and I only have half an hour left to get rejected 10 times. Off the start line at 3:04 p.m. sharp.

One down. I asked for coffee AND rejection in that email. I had to rearrange my sentences a few times.

Two down. I am not sure if I had already sent the same email to that contact or not…

And as it turns out, that contact has an auto-reply for medical leave (say short prayer for contact…). Not sure if I should still count that rejection.

I’m counting it.

Three and Four down. I shamelessly asked to be on that contact’s podcast, so that should be two rejections with one email.

Five down.

Six down.

Seven down. I included the URL of this website in that email, which might have been a little risky…

Well, one affirmative reply for the coffee. And another out of the office email.

Eight down.

Does it count as a rejection if I can’t find the email I’m looking for?

Nine down.

And the toddlers are back, so I am out with nine at 3:43 p.m. Looking forward to tomorrow’s rejection.

A New Beginning

 

As a writer, sometimes you need a new beginning. Pascal said, “The last thing one settles in writing a book is what one should put in first.” As an editor that’s one thing we always looked at. Did the story begin in the right place? Maybe it didn’t. Maybe it began one chapter after the first chapter you wrote. Maybe two chapters after the first chapter. Maybe you had to write those first chapters to settle into the real first chapter, eliminating the little things here and there that you need to get out of the way for the real story to begin. I learned this in a really tough way. I hung onto those first two chapters through the first two drafts. And the story didn’t come that way. It had to come a third way. I dropped the first two chapters. Then things opened up.

John

 

 

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