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WRITE: One Item You Must Bring to Any Writer’s Conference

“My bags are packed, I’m ready to go. . .” This lyric from a popular song of my childhood expresses my feelings today as I make final preparation to leave for the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference. But I have a small problem: I’m not ready to go. Several hours of homeschool, thirty minutes or so of copying handouts, and at least one trip to the grocery store precede my departure. My bags are packed, but I’m not ready to go.  Not yet. This year, as thousands of conferees prepare to attend this or other writers conferences throughout the country, they’ll pack their bags. They’ll prepare book proposals. They’ll read up on how to impress an agent or editor. They’ll edit and re-edit, agonize and agitate. They’ll scrutinize the list of faculty in an effort to decide which classes to take and appointments to make. And they’ll pray (at least I hope they will). All this measured preparation, however, won’t do them any good if they fail to pack one essential item. As last year’s Florida conference began, I made a trip to Starbucks for one faculty member who couldn’t go more than a few hours without his chai tea latte. I picked up a toothbrush for an agent who forget hers.   But what’s the must-have item, the one thing every conferee should pack? Everyone can find it. All writers need it. But just as some travelers will leave behind their blow dryer or favorite pillow, many writers will neglect to pack one thing. Instead of this necessity, some writers carry with them a bundle of pride. Unwrapped, it prevents true listening and learning because it has its possessors convinced: the world awaits their words. No one says it better—or certainly not as well. Agents and editors will line up in gratitude for the privilege of representing and publishing them. And if this scenario doesn’t happen? Accusing fingers point at the publishing professionals, not the writers. Others leave pride behind and pack insecurity instead. “I’ll never get this,” they moan. “All the information overwhelms me.” Instead of taking notes or ordering CDs from conference workshops, they allow their own fear of failure to distract them. They avoid rejection, so they don’t dare make faculty appointments. And they return home without much of the knowledge and experience the conference offers. As I close my suitcase today, I’ll make sure not to leave out teachability. I have much to learn from my interactions with other writers, from speakers and workshop leaders, and from all who love to work with words. I’ll watch not only for what people are saying but for what God is showing me through the conference. Here in Florida, I’ll...

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WRITE: Critique or Criticism?

Over the past few years, I’ve had many opportunities to advise others on their writing. In my work as an editor, I correct and improve others’ work. As a collaborative writer, I write for those who don’t have the time, ability, or interest to write for themselves. As a book doctor, I work with my clients to take their manuscript from “good” to “great”—from words others can read to words others want to read. And as a writing mentor, I help others learn to view their work from an editor’s eye. This allows them to make needed corrections before someone else does. Last week, I had the opportunity to critique a friend’s short manuscript. I returned it with no small concern because I’d made a few big suggestions and several small ones. Have I gone too far? What will she say? Not only did my friend write back to thank me, but she made two profound comments. I’ll share one today and another in my next “Write” post. Her first comment: “I worked and worked on it, but I have no problem admitting I am just not experienced enough / haven’t learned enough (yet!) to see all the things you pointed out.” My friend displayed a quality I love. It’s the quality I see in those I consider my mentors, and it’s the one I ask God to give me. When she read my critique, my friend didn’t get upset. She didn’t fuss, whine, protest, or complain. She received what I said whether she intended to follow my advice or not (although, as a later draft showed, she did). In all these things, my friend showed that she’s teachable. You may think it obvious that a less experienced writer would want to learn from a more experienced one. That’s not always the case. In interactions with other writers, I’ve witnessed many who argued and complained about corrections to their writing. I’ve heard them refuse to make needed changes. And at times, I’ve done (or been tempted to do) the same thing. We often compare the writing process to delivering a child. Both involve labor. And when that word-baby finally arrives, it’s yours. None other is as wonderful or appealing. And if someone dares criticize your baby? Watch out! The difference comes in perspective. Do we see others’ suggestions as critique or criticism? Critique is offered with a view to improvement. Criticism expresses pent-up emotion. Critique builds up. Criticism tears down. I offer my writing suggestions as critique. And I love it when those who receive my words display a teachable spirit that helps them move forward. Lord, let it be so in me—in my writing work and in any...

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