Sandy Vander Zicht from Zondervan was the guest speaker for this session. Can I tell you that I learned sooooo much in one hour that it has taken me all this time to truly absorb it? It was good stuff. That’s all I can say.
Lucky for you I’m sharing…
1. Write like you talk. Things to avoid:
- writing like a teacher (dictating, dry)
- writing like a preacher (bullying, fire and brimstone)
- writing like a dead person (don’t’ write to a bygone era)
When Sandy discussed these things there was laughter and a bit of shock in the room. Most of us at one time or another have actually done these things. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for these writings but it typically isn’t in a published book and it definitely isn’t for those seeking a book deal.
Your writing must reflect your personality. The reader wants to connect with you and that can only be done if your book is written in a conversational tone. Remember those old dry text books from school? You may have learned about the Spartans but did you really connect with these infamous military men? Did you feel like you had been taken on a trip to ancient Greece? Not likely. That is the difference between dry facts and living literature. Putting your personality into the writing creates an adventure that takes you to that place. It gives you something solid to grasp and help you to understand.
The old preachy preach books. Hmmph. The book is not your pulpit and your readers are not your congregation. Let me see a show of hands. How many of you would like to read a book that tears you down to nothing, tells you how worthless and invaluable you are, and how you can never get it right? Then, does it benefit you in any way for the writer to try to remedy the situation by quoting a bunch of scripture that doesn’t seem to fit with any of the problems that you have identified in your life?
I don’t think so. That doesn’t mean that someone won’t try to write that book though.
There is a way to speak the biblical truth without condemning and belittling people. The best way is by showing them, through testimony, that sin can be overcome. It takes on a whole new perspective when someone admits that they have fallen into a trap that led to sin and then shares a biblical perspective on how God brought them out of it. That does more that just a bunch of dictating dos and don’ts with consequences. If that method worked then we wouldn’t have need for the bible. It is full of testimonies that help to build our faith, encourage us, and it shares God’s love for us imperfect servants.
I never would have thought that people would write like dead people but come to think of it, I’ve read (or tried to read) a couple that may have been written by dead people. Books that seem to be written to women by women who lived in the 1800s is rampant. There were many great books that came from that era and unfortunately, too many women are trying to duplicate them. You are not CS Lewis. You are not the apostle Paul. You are not Corrie Ten Boom or Mother Theresa. Just be you and write to your audience.
She also mentioned that you should not use words that you would not normally use in conversation. It doesn’t make you appear smarter. It makes your reader feel ignorant.
2. Don’t write like you talk.
- Edit out filler language.
- Allow your book to breathe.
- Get to the point.
Filler language buys time until the person speaking can formulate another complete thought. Books aren’t on a clock so there is no need for “praise God” and “know what I mean” to be present throughout a book manuscript. Edit it out.
Make sure you use short, easy to read paragraphs and use subtitles to mark a shift in thoughts. This helps ease the reader into the fresh material. It also makes it easier for them to mark a place and to find it again later.
As far as getting to the point, Sandy stressed that the reader shouldn’t have to guess at what you are thinking or where this road is leading. In other words, if you drag the person on, paragraph after paragraph, then you will lose their interest.
3. Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite
- Read your book.
- Get objective opinions.
- Let the book rest.
- Eliminate unnecessary words.
The best thing you can do for your readers is to become one. Read each sentence aloud and preferably to someone else so that you can truly experience what your reader will experience. It was mentioned that Max Lucado reads his books over and over aloud to his agent before the book ever leaves his hands. He writes, reads aloud, fixes mistakes, reads aloud again, etc.
CS Lewis is quoted as saying that we should write with our ears and not our eyes. That is some good advice if you ask me!
She also mentioned that you should send your chapters to objective readers. That means don’t send it to your mom, or your husband. Don’t give it to your daughter or your best friend. You need an honest objective review. Your readers deserve that.
Another great tip was to let your book rest. Just walk away from it for a while then go back and read it. You won’t believe what you can notice days later with that fresh pair of eyes.
When you do go back over your script be sure to do some weeding. Take out all of the filler words, the redundant sentences, the bad metaphors, etc.
4. Show, Don’t Tell
This was probably the most profound point for me. She read a sample from a book proposal that she had received and it was dry, lifeless and well, just a bunch of statements. Then she read the reworked version for us. It came to life. You experienced it. You were really taken on a journey with her. You could feel the emotion of tucking in the children alone; smell the musk of bamboo; see the clock ticking away minute by minute; and hear the chirp of crickets outside the window while she wrestled with God over what He told her to do. We wanted to hear more and that is what works. That is what sells because it engages the reader.
You must write in real time and from your perspective.
5. Read, Read, Read
Real lots of books. Whether good or bad, books give you an idea of what works and what doesn’t.
That is all for now. Part two is on publishing and yes, I have many more notes from this session so I will post those in a couple of days.
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