Frustration-free proof-reading

Proofreading is hard. Really hard. Have you ever noticed how you can wash a paintbrush forever and the paint keeps coming? Texts and typos are like that: proof and proof and proof your text, and mistakes keep pouring out.

Well, I have discovered a master secret for proofreading: text-to-speech software. The human eye is too smart, often filling in what “should” be there and so glossing past a mistake. Computers are mercilessly dumb. Whatever you have printed, they just read it, and if it’s a typo then it will sound strange.

Any time I write an important letter, a blog post, or anything else that is (a) destined for scrutiny and (b) relatively short, I crank it through my text-to-speech software. I use Natural Reader, but there are great free options as well.

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Update on the novel writing

For those of you tracking my adventure in novel writing, the word is in.  At a writer’s conference last June the owner of a literary agency invited me to submit my work, and a few days ago I got this note:

Dear Jeremy,

Thank you for allowing me to read your submission for THE ROBOT’S MAKER. I really enjoyed your engaging narrative voice as well as the light touches of humor throughout. However, I unfortunately didn’t quite fall in love with the story in the way I would need to to offer you representation. Therefore, I do not think we would be the correct agents to market this project in today’s competitive book publishing industry.

Thanks so much for the opportunity to read your work. I wish you the best of luck with THE ROBOT’S MAKER and your future endeavors.

All best,

Shira S. Hoffman

Now isn’t that about the sweetest rejection letter one could ask for? I’m truly grateful to have achieved my first goal, which was to get a rejection letter from a literary agent.

Continue reading “Update on the novel writing”

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It’s all a plot

When I was in graduate school at Marquette University, I had the opportunity to see their amazing Tolkien collection.  Among the displays of Tolkien’s handwritten LOR drafts, I saw an interesting chart Tolkien had made for himself.  At a point where Frodo and Sam are in Mordor, Aragorn and company are fighting somewhere else, and Merry and Pippin are with the Ents, Tolkien had drawn parallel vertical columns on a page with one column dedicated to summarizing each line of action.  Items that lined up with each other across the columns were happening at the same time–he had written dates in the margins to get the chronology exact.  This arrangement let him see, for example, what Pippin was doing in the forest when Aragorn was fighting a battle at the city.

I have never seen this technique described in a book about writing, but it sure makes sense to me.  So when I reached a point in my own story where I couldn’t keep the interweaving plot lines straight in my mind, I had a white-board session with a vertical column for each major character:

I know the good guys have to win, but I don't know how....
I know the good guys have to win, but I don’t know how….

I don’t know how the story ends yet, but I’m really hoping it ends faster than the Lord of the Rings.

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The Year of Writing

For me, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God is a wonderful way to start the year 2015, because this is to be the year of writing.  Most of my hopes for the coming twelve months seem less matter for resolutions than matter for prayer:  health, sanity, equilibrium, organization—that last one in particular just needs a miracle.  But this much is resolved for 2015:  I will write and write and write.

I will write theological stuff, of course.  A particular book has been gestating for too long, and I need to birth the thing before it gets so big it breaks something.  I do not have so much a thesis in mind as a vision:  lots of dots connect in my mind, and I need to get the whole web down on paper.  Have you ever wondered how the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ connects to the idea of the Great Books?  Have you ever sat up trying to see how the fact of the Trinity relates to the experience of reading Scripture?  Well, stay tuned.

But maybe even more that than, I need to write fiction.  My colleagues are puzzled by the urge, but I’ll repeat the key word:  need.

Something magical happens when you write a story:  connections appear that you could never have seen any other way.  Are you puzzled by a story in the Bible?  Try your hand at writing a novella about it and you’ll see it open before your wondering eyes.  Stuck on planning a party?  Write a short story about what happened at the party and you’ll suddenly see how to lay everything out.  Or at least, that’s what happens for me and for lots of other people.

This is the drive, I suspect, behind the Jewish tradition of Midrash.  As long as you sit in front of the text and “respect” it, that is, leave it alone and try to hear its voice without in any way affecting it, the text holds its dearest secrets close.  But when you see the text as a bunch of dots on a paper just waiting for you to draw all the lines, suddenly the thing rushes out to embrace you and explain itself to you.

I find that the magic lingers long after I have stopped writing.  If I have written fiction recently, everything in life is more creative and energetic.  I see more connections everywhere, my theology comes alive, my kids enjoy me more—and heck, sometimes I’m even more organized!

By now, I suppose you are wondering what all this has to do with the Solemnity of Mary of the Mother of God.  Well, Mary should be the writer’s patroness:  she published just one Word and has been getting continual press ever since.  Mary the mother of God, pray for us.

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