Simple Writing is Smart Writing

When I was in high school trying to write reports and term papers, I had a difficult time. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get anything to sound right. Asking dad for advice, he looked at my futile attempts and said, “You’re trying to sound smart.”

“Huh?”

“You’re trying to empress your teachers. Quit it, and make it sound like yourself. Do the research, know what you’re writing about, but make it sound like yourself.” He then taught me a lesson I never forgot.

The most widely read magazine at the time, Reader’s Digest, was written on the 8th-grade level. Although enjoyed by professionals and academics, it was read and understood by 10-year-old kids. “You do need to increase your vocabulary. That’s a fact. But don’t try to impress anyone. Just convey information in a meaningful way.” Dad was right, of course.

That made life much easier for me. And as I write this today, I am reminded of a humorous conversation between my brother-in-law, Paul Anderson, and a scientist in Los Alamos, NM. Paul is an expert auto mechanic and understands everyday life quite well.

The scientist drove up to Paul’s shop one day and said, “Mr. Anderson, There seems to be a protrusion in one of my tires that allowed the air to escape.”

Paul responded, “Oh, you mean you got a flat?”

Upon which the man replied, “Yes, I guess you could say that.”

Whether we are writing or speaking, we should use concepts, syllables, and phrases that convey our thoughts in a meaningful manner to the listener and reader. That’s called proper communication.

The rule of thumb is to say things simply. If people have to ask you what you meant, you may have miscommunicated, or you simply need to explain in more detail. When I teach, tell stories, preach, or write, I communicate in such a way that children as well as scientists can understand me.

New writers, as I was back in high school, tend to use long words and complicated writing styles. That works if the writer needs an extra 150 words to fulfill the writing assignment. But if the writer understands what he/she is writing about, fewer words give space for more content. Here’s a case in point.

Back in 2004 as I began writing Bible Question & Answer articles for a New Mexico newspaper, Ralph the editor told me I had a limit of 250 words per article; and 250 words included the question. I asked, “How can I fully answer a Bible question with approximately 225 words?”

Ralph responded, “Anyone who understands what he believes can respond in 225-250 words.”

That was possibly some of the best writing mentoring I ever received! And I worked at it.

After six months Ralph said, “You’re doing very well, and I’m upping your limit to 350 words. Keep avoiding excessive words while filling the added space with content.”

Ralph then suggested that I select up to 65 of those articles and format them into a book. Following that advice resulted in my first book titled Insights on Faith & History. It has been updated and published in a second edition called Reflections on Faith & History. (See my blog for last week.)

Quoting from a Princeton University Report: “Write as simply and plainly as possible and it’s more likely you’ll be thought of as intelligent.”

Combining the advice from Dad, Ralph, and Princeton – and applying it – changed my life.

Keep in mind that writing doesn’t necessarily mean writing books. People write and mail letters to friends. We also write emails, texts, tweets, and a lot more. But depressingly, a lot of that is very poorly written.

So, if any of you want to increase your writing skills, there are several options. Here are only three. 1. Find a writer’s club and join it. 2. Sit down and write something you’re interested in and ask a friend to critique it for you. Accept his or her advice and rewrite it. Ask others to critique it next time. Learn from them. 3. Go to the internet and simply type in: Help in writing better. You’ll get a lot of good advice.

Remember: Simple Writing is Smart Writing. Have a great day, and Happy Writing.

Dickens and Christmas

Have you heard about the movie: The Man Who Invented Christmas?

Chris Knight, chief film critic for the National Post, said, “The movie is based on Les Standiford’s long-winded historical non-fiction from 2008, The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits.” Knight also said of the movie, “By all rights, The Man Who Invented Christmas should be a humbug. Instead, it’s a humdinger.”

Charles John Huffam Dickens was a prolific writer. One article says he is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era, and that he created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters. Several of them are: Jack Dawkins, the pick-pocket in Oliver Twist; Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, and Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol; Mr. Pott, the editor in The Pickwick Papers; and David Copperfield in David Copperfield.

Dickens was a prolific writer. But did he invent Christmas? Humbug!

But some pagan activities did intermingle with the sacred celebration.

Another commentary is from Ronald Hutton, an historian at Bristol University in the UK. He said, “It’s a mistake to say that our modern Christmas tradition comes directly from pre-Christian paganism. However, you’d be equally wrong to believe that Christmas is a modern phenomenon. As Christians spread their religion into Europe in the first centuries A.D., they ran into people living by a variety of local and regional religious creeds.”

One report says: “A Christian holiday honoring the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas evolved over two millennia into a worldwide religious and secular celebration, incorporating many pre-Christian, pagan traditions into the festivities along the way. Today, Christmas is a time for family and friends to get together and exchange gifts.”  (history.com/topics/christmas)

Philip Shaw, who researches early Germanic languages and Old English at Leicester University in the UK, said, “Early Christians wanted to convert pagans to Christianity, but they were also fascinated by their [pagan] traditions.”

Stephen Nissenbaum, author of “The Battle for Christmas”; Vintage, 1997) made a good case for an old Christmas celebration when he said, “If you want to show that Jesus was a real human being, not just somebody who appeared like a hologram, then what better way to think of him being born in a normal, humble human way than to celebrate his birth?”

Christmas celebrations developed independently around the world for almost 2,000 years. And why not? Jesus’ birth was probably one of the two most important events in the history of the world!

And that’s why we celebrate Christmas – God became man in order to redeem us and restore our fellowship with Himself. And he came as a baby, born in a manger.

But as mentioned previously, many of the Christmas festivities became corrupted. Instead of candlelight services or worship services, rowdy and drunken revelries became common. Therefore, many protestants rejected paganized Christmas celebrations. Early Protestants wanted to honor Jesus Christ, our Savior – not have a festivity which obscured Christ. Denouncing sin and frivolity, they gave necessities for life as gifts; avoiding superficial parties, they shared sacred meals.

But as some Protestants squelched the pagan revelry surrounding Christmas, they also put down anything associated with Christmas celebrations. They threw out the baby with the bathwater. In this case, they threw out observing the birth of Jesus with the pagan celebrations.

Enter Charles Dickens.

Noting societal debauchery, prevalent poverty, and abusive child labor in the 1840s, Dickens vowed to do something about it – and writing was what he did best. In six weeks, he wrote A Christmas Carol. If you’ve read it, you know why it became an immediate best-seller.

Dickens wanted to insert joy and gladness into a life filled with drudgery, dreariness and death. Without ignoring the seriousness of life, he portrayed the Spirit of Christmas filled with miracles and laughter. He also reminded society of the importance of blessing others by caring for those around them.

Did Dickens invent Christmas? No. But he did encourage joy and human-kindness, and inspired a positive change in society.

Jesus, who is God (John 1:1-3), came to earth to restore man’s relationship with himself. But he came as a baby (Matthew 1, Luke 1) so, as he grew, he could personally experience mankind’s trials, hardships, and joys.

Jesus loves you and desires for you to know him as he is today – God and Savior.

May the Lord bless you this Christmas season.

Down Memory Lane (pt.2)

For a couple of years, my brother, Paul, and I’ve been talking about preserving family memories. Our parents and parents-in-law are gone, two of our siblings are gone, and we don’t know what the future holds. Every time someone leaves this life, an encyclopedia of information evaporates into thin air.

How many times have you heard, or even said, “I didn’t really know him”? How many times have you thought, “How would he respond in this situation?” Or, “I know we grew up together, but what happened that gave her a different outlook on life than I have?”

It was time to start documenting Linzey family memories!

To begin, two major factors had to be considered.

1) Because everyone is so busy, the process must be simple. And

2) Because writing is seen as a chore, the process must be enjoyable.

The brainstorming session began.

Proverbs 17:22 informs us that a cheerful disposition (“a merry heart”) is good medicine to the body, but discouragement causes our health to deteriorate (“dries up the bones”).

We could let each sibling take turns choosing a topic to write about, but people’s minds sometimes go blank. Several of our siblings asked, “How do we choose a topic?” So Paul chose the Rememory Card® system. (Look up “Rememory Cards” on the web.) Nevertheless, with or without cards, here is the simple process Paul wrote.

  1. Decide how many months you would like the project to continue.
  2. Each week, take turns selecting a writing prompt and those joining the fun will write a memory on that topic. Write from a half to 2 pages per memory. Paul and I decided on one memory per week, but you can choose your own time cycle. We realized that if we waited too long, we’d lose the enjoyment and the momentum.
  3. Write whatever you want. Nobody will censor your language or stories.
  4. There is no pressure or mandate to write about every topic selected. If you don’t want to write about something, skip it.
  5. You may write about anyone in the family. Your stories don’t have to be only about yourself, however, you should be considerate of others’ feelings when writing about your family.
  6. You can draw from your whole history. Consider your whole childhood as well as your adult interaction with the family.
  7. This is a memoir project. Memory is not always accurate. In fact, it’s been demonstrated that nobody remembers perfectly. Also, we tend to interpret as we remember. We subconsciously fill in the blanks, expand, and erase some aspects of our experiences. So, we don’t challenge anyone’s memory. Memory is specific to the individual.
  8. Every family has both good and bad, painful and pleasant, positive and negative, funny and serious memories. Try to get your stories to reflect a balance and a blend of these dynamics.
  9. Not everybody will remember what you remember, so it might be a good idea to identify the year, the location, and the writer’s name after each person’s story.
  10. It’s OK if your stories focus on yourself, but, if possible, find a way to bring at least one other family member into the anecdote.
  11. This endeavor can create priceless documentation of your family history that your grandkids and great grandkids might never know otherwise.
  12. Simply take turns choosing a topic, gather the stories, and have someone compile them. If the family agrees, you may find a publishing company (expensive traditional or affordable self-publishing company) to format it and turn it into a family treasure.
  13. Keep in mind that this memory project is for your own benefit as well as for the rest of the family. And if you get brave, as my family might, you can have it published for the general public.

Our family started in January and will complete it in October. With six of us writing, we’ll have well-over 400 pages to edit and format into a family treasure.

There are ten kids in our family, with fifteen years between the oldest and youngest. Knowing that fact alone, you may understand why there’s a lot about each other that we don’t know – even coming out of the same family, same church, and same basic culture.

The fact is, we are all different and we all interpret life differently. But all six of us thoroughly enjoyed it, and, as a side benefit, this project has drawn us all closer than we’ve ever been before.

Down Memory Lane (pt.1)

In the summer of 2013, Carol and I were in Southern California when I learned that one of my cousin’s sons had died. Attending the graveside funeral, two other cousins and I began talking about family memories. The statement that caught my attention was, “When a person dies, all his or her memories are sealed in the coffin, never to be recovered – unless they were documented.”

Unless they were documented kept ringing through the corridors of my mind.

Documented how? When? In what circumstances?

We all know that nothing happens unless it is planned. Even accidents are planned out of ignorance by those who refuse to take safety precautions.

My cousins and I began talking about generating a family writing project, and the outcome could be a book of family memories. It could generate family cohesiveness. (We needed it!) We especially wanted to get memories from our surviving parents written down prior to their departure from this life. The farther back we can go, the stronger our family foundation will be. Our grandparents were already gone and our fathers (who were brothers) were gone. But our mothers were still here, and perhaps we could get the writing ball rolling. They could fill in memories of their husbands – our fathers.

Well, that didn’t happen. The only memories from our parents that we were able to compile was from their private writings in letters and diaries. And that wasn’t much.

When one of the cousins asked why we need to get memories written and what difference it would make, all I could say was, “For you, it wouldn’t make much difference because you are not interested in your past. And it infers that you aren’t interested in teaching your kids about their past. But enquiring minds want to know.” He openly agreed that it doesn’t matter to him, but that didn’t hurt our relationship. We still enjoy great camaraderie.

But I’ll answer that question for you folks.

Family history is important. Among other things, it helps to establish personal identity, self-esteem, and helps us understand the direction we’ve chosen to travel in life. Several examples follow.

Both of my parents were musicians, they came from a line of musicians, and my nine siblings and I are musicians. Dad was a chaplain, Mom’s side of the family includes a line of ministers of the Gospel, and nine of us siblings have been in or are in Christian ministry.

Dad was not only humorous, but quite pragmatic. What about the ten of us? All of us are pragmatists, and all but one has a well-developed sense of humor. Yes, we laugh a lot sometimes in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Let me add here, no matter how funny the story might be, try NOT to laugh at a funeral. It is the wrong place and the wrong time.

Everyone has quirks, traits, or habits that are peculiar to them. Why do we have them? Where did we get them? Does it matter?

It does matter for several reasons.

If we are being harassed or pestered about a personality trait, we might want to change. Understanding our past can assist us in making the change. But understanding our past can also strengthen our backbone if we don’t want to change. We just might like who we are!

I’ve been told often, “You’re just like your dad!” At first, I didn’t know how to take that hit. But when I stopped to analyze the situation, I was happy. I like my dad! So I was happy to be “just like him.”

One time I introduced Dad to some of my colleagues in New Mexico. After a few minutes of interaction, one of my friends said, “Chaplain Linzey, you’re just like your son.” Dad and I looked at each other, looked back at my friend, and broke out laughing. When the one who made the comment realized what he just said, he broke out into a big laugh, too.

Proverbs 17:22 informs us that a cheerful disposition (“a merry heart”) is good medicine to the body, but discouragement causes our health to deteriorate (“dries up the bones”).

So, what does that have to do with writing family memories?

Thanks for getting me back on track.

I have nine siblings. Two are in heaven, and two don’t have time to write. But six of us decided to get this family memory project going. I’ll tell you more next week.

What Have You Been Up To?

“Hey, Gene, I haven’t seen much of you lately. What have you been up to?”

You may have a different name than I do, but has anyone ever asked you that kind of question? Most likely.

I suppose I have been out of sight from many of my friends recently. Yes, the covid pandemic took its toll on socializing this past year – and still is to some degree. But I’ve been busy for other reasons.

As a former pastor, I receive calls to fill in for ministers when they are on vacation or attending church conferences. Sometimes they call me to preach or teach on a special topic. If you read my blogs, you know that I am a devoted follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But last year I added another role: I format books. What is it that? One man said, “I write em, you format em, P&L publishes em.” And that is true. It is laborious and time-consuming but rewarding. I enjoy hearing people say, “I never believed I would actually get that book written, let alone published.”

A question many people ask is, “Who do you work for?” My answer is, “I work for you, the author.” And that is the truthful answer. However, the company I represent is P&L Publishing and Literary Services. You can read about them on their web site at plpubandlit.com.

So, what does a formatter do? The process is not fast, but it is simple to understand.

  1. Someone writes a story. This can take anywhere from a week to several years. The manuscript could be a novel, a historical account, a devotional, a how-to teaching, a cookbook, how to catch fish, or about anything you can think of. But then the writer wants it published.
  2. This step often involves an editor. Not always, but often. The editor is a professional who improves the writing and makes the book a better product. You can find more about our editing services on plpubandlit.com. The next step is where I come in.
  3. The formatter gets the necessary information from the author, puts the manuscript in the proper format and uploads the manuscript. Many of my authors do not go through an editor, but just want to publish the book. As the man said, “I write em, you format em, P&L publishes em.”

I have obviously oversimplified the process, but it gives you an idea of the publishing procedure and what I do.

If you are interested in writing a book but don’t know how to start or go about it, P&L also offers mentoring and project development services. But my part is formatting. If you’ve been writing and you now want to get it published, contact P&L Publishing and Literary Services at plpubandlit.com. Tell them you heard about them on my blog. Or, you can contact me directly at masters.servant@cox.net.

And now you know what I’ve been up to lately: I preach, teach, write, and format. I hope to hear from you.

Have a great day.

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