Thursday, November 26, 2009

What Editors Want

As I try to take the next step in my calling to a writing ministry, I have frequently used this blog to muse about tips from a writer’s perspective I think may work for other aspiring writers out there. Today I want to continue to explore strategies for strengthening our efforts to establish a community of published A/P writers, but this time from a different perspective……

An Experiment in Editing
Recently I completed a six-day stint as an editor for a special project. In a nutshell I had to collect 22 pieces (ranging from 5 to 25 pages), apply an overall formatting scheme, and then do a surface-level mechanics edit. It was extremely eye-opening to be the person on the other end of the email this time—not the lone writer hammering out a down-to-the-wire response, but the person frantically trying to chorale 22 of those lone writers.

Lessons Learned
The project had bumps along the way, and as I look back in hindsight, I realize there are some things to be gleaned from the process to apply to our publication efforts as writers. Here goes:

  1. Grammar matters. Editors love, love, love clean copy that we can breeze right through. An editor should not be your personal proofreader; instead, she should be able to focus on the content and message of the piece without being distracted by careless mechanics. In addition to the extra time it adds to the editor’s job, it sends the message that you didn’t care enough about what you were saying to take the time to really read and perfect it.
    Moral: spend the extra time it takes to create error-free grammar and have others read your work to make certain it’s perfect.

  2. Follow the rules. In my case, writers didn’t have any instruction or specific house rules, so submissions ran the gamut of citation styles, formatting, etc. It took quite a bit of time to try to bring them together in a uniform look for the project. From this I realized how frustrating it must be for editors who do have house rules and yet get submissions from writers who didn’t take the time to comply. I would imagine editors get so tired of correcting things that house rules clearly specify that they don’t even bother reading submissions that aren’t compliant at first glance.
    Moral: Before submitting your work to any publication or publishing house, scour its website for submission guidelines / house rules and follow them to the letter.

  3. Be on time. Sigh. The hardest part of the project was hounding overdue writers. For this project there were some extenuating circumstances, which I understood, and I certainly didn’t take the overdue cases personally. However, again I got a glimpse into the life of an editor and how exasperating it must be to beg writers for files. The end result is the editor sitting up all hours of the night because the writer cut into the editor’s time before print deadline. It can come across as selfish of the writer, and after experiencing the pressure of print deadlines, I can see now why many publishers will not get anywhere near a writer who has a reputation for being bad with deadlines.

What else?
We’ve got to keep our editors happy and do all we can to make their job easy since they control our destiny with the publication or publishing house. After doing the hard work of writing, we don’t want to then turn around and blow our chances by handling the submission process poorly or antagonizing the make-or-break editor. So I’d love more insider tips from any editors out there who know the joys and frustrations of working with writers. What have I missed? Anyone out there who’s not necessarily an editor but could thing of other checklist items to add?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Recreating Acts 2:38

If you ever visit Italy, you'll return intoxicated by art. It's everywhere in every variation, but mostly visual: sculpture, fountains, mosaics, paintings of every type, statues, and students made up like interactive statues.

We recently returned from an 11-day holiday throughout central Italy, mostly in Roma and Firenze, and I returning burning with a couple of observations that apply:

Beauty will always elicit an unconscious response from the soul--Michelangelo's David is breathtaking. Neither pictures nor reproductions do it proper justice. We spent about an hour circling it from every angle, largely in awe. A few days later we were craning our necks to inhale the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Again, there's nothing like the original.

In both cases, despite my fatigue (we walked 5ish miles daily) and jet lag, different praise choruses (another art form) start circling through my mind in response to both. Nothing was in my mind, then I was suddenly singing. My soul yearned to praise the One who invented beauty just as my dazzled mind appreciated the artist's creation of beauty.

No matter our artistic abilities, they should always strive to form something beautiful so that the reader/viewer/listener's soul will respond anew to the original Creator.

Acts 2 Opportunities
The Catholics know how to reach believers and unbelievers through art. We could learn a lot from them.

The Galleria della Accademia in Florence is a small, second-rate museum with the world's most famous sculpture (David). As we were wandering through a room of unimpressive altar pieces, I spied one with flames. A large Mary sat in the middle with 6 tiny disciples on either side. It was the Day of Pentecost. The explanation below the altar piece explained that even though Pentecost was a major moment in church history, it was rarely translated into art.

I later saw a lovely bronze sculpture in the Vatican by Lello Scorzelli entitled "Pentecostale" (1967-1973 if I read it correctly). I was enraptured by the explosion over Mary and the disciples. My heart quickened. We were anxious to get to the Sistine, but this sculpture . . . it stopped me.

That night, I saw a rather unimpressive painting of Pentecost at the Guerrieri Chapel atop Roma's Spanish Steps (see top photo), but nothing else recreating Acts 2 in these two major cities of art.

Despite 1700+ years of artistic endeavors by the Catholic Church (and other religions), art has yet to create definitive moments of Pentecost. This is our opportunity. Acts 1-2 are our touchstone scriptures. We should be all over this.

Beauty Makes Believers
Art gives us the opportunity to make Christians and non-believers see Christ as we do--and be changed by the experience. It is through these cracks of artistic experience that we can touch unbelievers and help make them believers.

It's like the true story of the English professor who said (paraphrase), "I am an atheist, but when I read Flannery O'Conner, I beieve."

My writing must unveil interesting situations with real people of all stripes, including Pentecostals who are living the difference of Acts 2. It must surprise and entertain and provoke response while still attempting to create a beauty I'm not even sure I'm capable of producing. My artistic vision has a better opportunity to shine through because of art history's oversight. So does yours.

"There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." -Leonard Cohen

Monday, November 16, 2009

My Mother Is a Fish

Ay, ay, ay. It's been quite a week. I planned to have my post up this weekend, but after a delayed flight and a night stranded in Houston, alas, it was not to be.

Gaping holes to be filled
I call myself a lover of literature, and I am, but it still pains me to realize how much of the greats I have yet to get a taste of. There's still a gaping hole as far as the Russians are concerned. Dostoevsky and Tolstoy are still highly-regarded yet dusty and untouched statues on a pedestal in my literary gallery. I keep saying I'll get around to them.

As I Lay Dying
But I've finally made a decent effort on filling my William Faulkner hole. Faulkner being American and Southernly connected as I am, I had no excuse not to. In my defense, I have read a few Faulkner short stories here and there, but As I Lay Dying was my first Faulkner novel experience.

I won't sit here and give a book review, and I won't talk about stream of consciousness, or how Faulkner deftly weaves the story through interconnected perspectives, or existentialism, or the famed "My mother is a fish." I'll let you read it yourself if you haven't already. But I will say that an interesting detail to me is that the main characters, "country people," perceive their speech differently than the way the "town people" perceive the country people's speech.

The power of perception
What I mean is, when the country people of the story are reporting on their own dialogue, though it is simple and sometimes ungrammatical, words are spelled correctly without consideration of accent. It's clear though colloquial. On the other hand, when the town people depict the country people's speech, 'it' becomes 'hit,' 'can' becomes 'kin' and 'where' becomes 'wher.' Just the way the town people describe the "country" dialogue makes it clear that they view the country people, if not condescendingly, in a different way than the country people view themselves.

Here it comes . . .
I like the idea of applying literary postulations to things outside of the text. I wonder about the power of perception, how there is often a disconnect between the way we perceive ourselves and the way we are perceived. I wonder if that has any implications on us, as people who strive to be Christlike. Should others' perceptions of us hold weight?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Random Assortment of Literary-ish Things

First: Thanks Chantell for cluing me in to reading "The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible--as Literally as Possible" by A. J. Adams. For general book reviews (and purchase), click here. The thing I primarily appreciate about the book is the exposure to what a fresh read of the Bible affords the reader. A further benefit, is that it underscores the truth that religious knowledge comes by means of DOING (this is amply illustrated in Adams experience with prayer). In addition to the interesting content, the book is well written in an accessible (and often tongue in cheek) humorous fashion that somehow carefully avoids any mockery or belittling of anyone's religious beliefs. This is a feat in and of itself.

Second: UGST hosted the 9th (10th? I should know this...) Symposium last month. Various papers were presented and can be accessed from the UGST website here. I did not go to all the sessions, but the paper I most highly recommend is the "Apostolic Chaplaincy in a Pluralistic World" as well as the response to this paper by Patrick Dotson. On a side, but related, note, this paper was presented concurrently with the Bernard-Segraves session on 1 Corinthians 11. Help me, but I am slightly concerned with the fate of our movement when there was far more buzz and excitement around this latter session (2 men discussing women's hair in the church) than the former which addresses how we can be "in the world, but not of it." I'm not saying there isn't or shouldn't be a place to re-examine 1 Corinthians 11, I'm just wondering about the disparity in the level of hype (my perception) around the two topics. Am I too sensitive?

Hopefully, I'll get an opportunity to add more info to things later...or maybe now's the time to have conversation!