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Posts Tagged ‘editing’

Jo 17I wonder if you can identify a time in your life when you decided against pursuing a particular career or course of action or when you perhaps closed the door on one part of your life and opted for a different direction. How did you feel as you made that decision?

I still remember the moment I turned my back on high school teaching in the late eighties and opted for an editing job instead. Part of me was relieved, while another part was sorry to walk away from the classroom setting and the opportunity to engage with so many young people. And I can well recollect my sorrow at leaving a ministry position over twelve years ago now, after agreeing to stay for a further four years. I knew God had something else for me to do, which turned out to be my whole writing journey, but I hated disappointing our church and walking away from a role I loved.

These decisions of mine, however, pale in comparison to the one made by the rich, young man we read about in Mark 10. Jesus gives this man the offer of a lifetime, in answer to his question about how he might inherit eternal life:

“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (21b)

It was not as if Jesus said this harshly at all. In the first part of that verse we see how much he cared for this young man and longed for him to make the right decision:

Jesus looked at him and loved him.

What beautiful words—so simple, yet so profound! Can you imagine the scene here? Can you perhaps put yourself right in that scene, either as an onlooker or even as that rich, young man for a few moments?

This week I did the latter. I imagined myself coming to Jesus with a sincere question about eternal life. I listened as Jesus responded and I answered him honestly. Then, it was as if I could not believe my eyes and ears. There was Jesus, looking straight at me with such love—and my heart almost turned over. But his words were too much for me. I wanted to follow him, but all the beautiful things I own flashed before my eyes—and I wanted them too. I turned away then from his loving face, but even as I did, my heart felt so, so heavy.

Now in reality, I am not this young man. But this experience of allowing Jesus’ words to come alive for me showed me things within myself even now, I believe. What holds me back from following Jesus with my whole heart each day? Are there areas in my life where I still turn from him and go my own way, unwilling to give him everything in response to his love for me? Or have I forgotten those eyes of love with which Jesus still looks at me today, just as that rich, young man experienced so long ago?

Let’s not walk away from those life-giving offers Jesus extends to each one of us. Let’s look him full in the face, listen—and follow.

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Jo 23I did not have a good attitude as I headed off to catch the train to the city. I was tired. I had writing to do at home and this meeting would take up most of my day. Why waste my time in this way?

I wondered that even more when only six people turned up for our meeting. Usually there were more than twice as many. I stifled a sigh and felt embarrassed for one person who was present for the first time. Surely she’d be disappointed to find the group was so small.

This new person introduced herself and shared about the challenges facing her. Others shared as well, including one lady who had only recently left hospital and was still far from well. When the new person had to leave early, I wondered again if she had felt it was worthwhile. The rest of us then prayed for the lady who had been ill—and straight away it was obvious how important this prayer was for her. We could almost see the weight being lifted off her shoulders as we gathered round her.

The next day, I received a call from the new person who had been present. She wanted to buy two of my books and was also recommending me as a speaker to friends she knew. I thanked her but also told her how sorry I was there had been so few people at our meeting.

‘Oh, that was fine,’ she told me. ‘I was just blown away by the group—it was amazing! I wouldn’t have shared all I did if the group had been any bigger. There’s no one else I can talk to about the things I told the group yesterday.’

How humbling it was to discover I had completely misjudged the situation. Then I realised that, had there been more people present, the lady who had been ill would also probably not have shared as much and we would have been unable to pray for her as we did. It would all have been worth it just for her—let alone for the new person as well. It was as if God had arranged it all just for them.

Yet that was not quite true, because we had all received prayer in the group. The others had prayed for me about completing my current manuscript, although, in my tiredness, I could not remember exactly what they had prayed. That night, I found myself able to get through much more editing than I would have expected—and the following day as well. I felt alert and empowered and more hopeful about this particular manuscript. Could this have happened as a result of those prayers the group had prayed? Hmm.

In my great wisdom, I had thought my trip into town was a waste of time. Yet God had it all in hand, went before us and brought great comfort and healing to us all that day. Who are we to outthink and criticise God? As Isaiah reminds us:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heaves are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

I’m so glad that’s the case—aren’t you?

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I’m on the home run – I think – with my first non-fiction book Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey, due for release in October by Even Before Publishing. A few days ago, the first layout version of the book arrived for me to check through and to get someone else to proofread as well. Now I know from past experience with my previous books how essential this meticulous proofreading is. But each time, I find such experiences somewhat disconcerting. As I discover this little mistake and that little oversight, I ask myself how these could ever have escaped my attention – as well as the attention of my two manuscript readers/editors – during our numerous checks prior to this. They seem so obvious now. Admittedly, some always tend to creep in during the editing process – as one thing is changed, so another is affected without noticing. And sometimes things happen as the manuscript is imported into a different program. But I know they will be there – I don’t assume anything with my work these days.

This time around, however, my experience has been even more interesting in that each day this week we have minded our five-month-old grandson. Can you picture him sitting on my lap, a little unhappy for some reason or another, reaching out his cute little hands towards my keyboard? Can you imagine my attempts to type sensible comments with one hand, while holding him firmly with the other?

Nevertheless, I have now succeeded in finishing it. Yet I am left with this weird feeling inside. Are there other mistakes I should have noticed? Are there more clumsy sentences I should have changed, even at this late stage? Have I acknowledged everything I should have acknowledged? Does the book do my lovely spiritual mentor justice? After all, this book is about the spiritual journey I have enjoyed with her over the past fifteen years – it reflects on her as well as on me.

And then as I reach for my Bible in order to sit in the sun and let God’s Word minister to me, even before I open it, I am reminded again of God’s amazing grace. God has been right beside me, through all the challenges of this week. And right now, God is saying a wonderful ‘Well done’ to me at another task completed to the best of my ability.

Yet as I let my mind relax and focus fully on God, I am reminded of another even deeper truth. Every day of my life, God sees my mistakes – my impatient words to a family member, my self-focus, my complaining about this or that, my self-doubt, my forgetting others who need my support. Yet God never gives up on me but continues to reach out in love, to forgive, to urge me on to do better. From God’s perspective, all my mistakes are gone. As Psalm 103:11-13 says:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him …

There are no hidden mistakes with God. God sees. God knows. God loves. God forgives. I still find that so amazing and freeing – and I pray with all my heart you do too.

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We have a very cute grandson. He is five months old now and has reached the stage of making interesting noises when you smile and talk to him. He has his own little language and loves it if you repeat the sounds he makes to him.

One day last week, I caught our daughter trying to teach him to say ‘Mum, Mum’. She’s hoping to get in quick, before he decides to say ‘Dadda’ first! How anxious we are to hear those first words from our children and grandchildren! It’s like they are real little people then, able to communicate with us on another level.

At the same time as my daughter was trying to get our grandson to say his first ‘words’, however, I was busy editing my two latest books. With the shorter of the two, I dispensed with over five thousand words. With the longer book, so far, over seven thousand words have wafted off into cyberspace somewhere. And that’s even after many previous edits. Now the irony of this situation soon struck me. Here was my daughter, trying hard for that very first real word from our Zain, while I, on the other hand, was wishing I had not been so verbose!

Words come so easily to so many of us – particularly writers. Yet with them comes a big responsibility. How many glib statements can slip from our tongues or end up on that computer screen when we dash off an email? Recently, I found an interesting verse in Ecclesiastes 5:2:

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

It reminded me of a time years ago when I was speaking regularly in our church. I felt then that God warned me not to get up and speak until the words I planned to say were burned into my own spirit. I felt God was pointing out I had no right to say things that were not true in my own experience and that I was not putting into practice myself. I am still glad of that strong warning today, as I prepare to speak somewhere and even as I write these blogs. No, my words are not often ‘few’, I have to admit, so in saying or writing the ‘many’, I know I need to be even more careful to honour God through them all.

I am reminded, too, of Jesus’ very stern words to the Pharisees on one occasion:

You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matt 12:34-37)

Now I will rejoice as much as our daughter when our little grandson says those first words – but I will also pray for him to speak words that honour God throughout his life. And may this be true for each of us. May our words, as the writer of Proverbs puts it (Prov 16:24), always be ‘sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

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Right now, I am in the middle of a lengthy task that has become quite familiar to me in the past few years. It is the task of destroying something I have been at great pains to create over many months—those wonderful, superfluous words in my latest manuscript.

Years ago, I would almost have died at the very thought. ‘No!’ I would scream. ‘These priceless pearls are all necessary to set the scene and make my meaning clear.’ Alas, I soon discovered this extra verbiage did not do anything of the sort. So I have disciplined myself since then to step back and try to see what I have written through someone else’s eyes—perhaps eyes more like my husband’s, who much prefers novels where the storyline is untrammelled by any excess baggage.

So in editing my seventh book and first non-fiction effort, I find I am relatively at ease in throwing out hundreds and even thousands of words over which I laboured long and hard. After telling a friend this recently, she commented how we may be quite content not to own this or that. But once we do own it, then it is much, much harder to consider throwing it out. It is ours. It is part of us now. How then could I possibly delete so many words I had created and now had a life out there on the page/screen?

Well, in many cases, I can see they have served their purpose. I needed them to help me shape what it was I really wanted to say. They were written in an initial burst of enthusiasm and insight, but now are either expendable or at least in line for a solid makeover. I can get rid of them without much regret then, knowing my work will be the better for it. I have learnt to be ruthless for the sake of what is to come.

But what about the rest of my life? What if some things are standing in the way of forging a better relationship with God? Yes, I can be ruthless is getting rid of material possessions, although I may cringe a little when it comes to books. And I can give away money to bless others and be used in God’s kingdom. But what about my precious time? And what about all those creative thoughts in my head I am loath to put aside in order to spend even a few reflective moments with my heavenly Father?

I suspect I need to employ a few more ruthless editing skills in my life in general in order to focus on the things that really are important—things like listening to God, reflecting on God’s Word, praying, doing what God wants me to do. Perhaps I need to have a mind like Paul’s when he writes in Philippians 4:7-8:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him …

How are you doing at hanging onto what is really important and getting rid of the rest? How are you at being ruthless in order to gain Christ?

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One day last week, I found myself waiting with one of our daughters at a medical centre so her new baby could be immunised. We waited … and waited … and waited. Eventually, with the baby’s feed time rapidly approaching, my daughter decided to call it quits and head for home.

“I’ll come back another day,” she said in an exasperated voice. “I hate waiting, don’t you?”

Later, I thought about that question a little more. On the whole, I realised, I don’t mind any normal sort of waiting—as long as I have the time and it doesn’t inconvenience me too much! And as an author, I should be used to it. After all, even when we have finished a manuscript, we still usually have a few long waiting periods ahead—firstly, while we wait for our editor or readers to go through it; secondly, while we wait to hear back (often a very long time) after submitting it to a publisher; thirdly, while we wait for the book to be released; and finally, while we wait for it to reach the bookshelves in the stores and for people to buy it!

Right now, I am in one such waiting period—not just for one book, but for two. They are both being considered by publishers and who knows whether these publishers will take them on? In the meantime, I am left sitting here, hoping and praying—and waiting.

A few years ago, when in the middle of a different waiting period, I was complaining loudly to a dear, older friend who has been my spiritual mentor for many years. I soon discovered she had a different perspective from me on it all.

“Could you view this waiting as an active time—perhaps even an honourable activity?” she challenged me gently one day, after listening yet again  to my whinges and moans.

It was such a simple but radical change in perspective for me to see waiting as part of the whole process and accept it, refusing to let it frustrate me. I needed to keep on trusting God and wait patiently, without wavering. This was further emphasised through a passage from Isaiah I read around the same time, Isaiah 30:15-18:

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,but you would have none of it.

You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’ Therefore, you will flee!

You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’ Therefore your pursuers will be swift!

A thousand will flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you will all flee away

till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop, like a banner on a hill.

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.

For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!

I believe God was showing me I was not to run around, trying to make things happen in my own strength. Instead, I was to look to God to bring it about and wait patiently. I did not envisage that meant I was to sit around idle, however. I needed to keep writing and praying and doing my best to look for speaking opportunities, but I also needed to listen well, acting when God said to and not before. And somehow I suspect that’s what I have to do right now too.

How about you? Have you discovered that waiting can actually be an ‘honourable activity’?

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Right now, I am surrounded by a sea of words. I’m swimming in them – everywhere I look! Even if I close my eyes, they are there, bobbing around and running into one another. You see, I’m deep in editing territory. Somehow I have acquired not one but two comprehensive non-fiction works by other authors to edit – and soon my own non-fiction work will return to me from my manuscript readers/editors, no doubt with many a red mark on it. On top of that, I have just finished critiquing the first fifty pages of three other manuscripts for a writing intensive day coming up.

Now I absolutely love writing. But I have to say I also enjoy editing – even editing my own work. There is nothing like throwing out by the bucket load the very words one has laboured over for hours. When I began my writing journey around eight years ago, I was horrified at the slightest suggestion I might need to dispense with some of those precious words I had so lovingly crafted. Now, six novels and a non-fiction work down the track, I find I don’t think twice about it – well, not usually, anyway. I’ve come to realise, you see, that if I created them all in the first place, I can probably do it again, with a bit of effort.

But what about editing others’ work? Now that’s quite a different matter. I tread very carefully indeed in this territory for several reasons. Firstly, I feel honoured when other authors choose make themselves vulnerable and trust me with their ‘baby’. I value that and want to respect the faith they have shown in me.

Secondly, I tread carefully because I want to appreciate who these authors are and what has gone on in their heads as they have crafted their novel or non-fiction work. I don’t want to come blundering in, trampling their ideas underfoot and failing to appreciate where they’re coming from and what has motivated them to write. They are children of God just as much as I am, with gifts to share with this world – and my task is essentially to help them use these gifts to the best of their ability.

Finally, I tread very carefully because I can so easily make snap decisions about the writing style of others – or even the topic they have chosen to write about – simply because it is not what or how I would write. I need to be impartial and not let my own likes and dislikes get in the way. After all, readers have widely differing tastes in books and in writing styles – no author can please everyone.

So I try to move forward with grace through my sea of words, treating other authors as God would treat them. Yes, I need to tell them the truth about their writing as I see it, which may be hard to hear at times – but I need to do it in love, and with kindness and compassion, as Paul urges us to do in Ephesians 4:15 and 32. I am only one voice. And I don’t have all the answers – I need to become a better author myself. But I believe they can too and I want to give of my best so they can give of their best.

And that’s one of the greatest privileges around, I believe.

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