"See Places That No Longer Exist"
Two clipped advertisements sit on my desktop. They were dropped there by our staff editor, who loves to catch mistakes that make it into print. I think it gives him some internal amusement to find these.
The first advertisement is for a bus company, and the headline reads "The Only Tour of Its Kind." This is followed by some bulleted items:
The second ad is for some Shakespearean performances that "celebrate the summer ... with a picnic on the lawn and a performance under the stars." The plays are:
Now those of us in the publishing field can't get too smug about this, because, as much as we try to prevent them, "errers" are just part and parcel of our lives. The writer will fine-tune a manuscript, then react in horror at all the red marks an editor made on his or her beloved writing. First readers (who critique manuscripts anonymously for publishers) catch mistakes. Copy editors find more, and, as much as we hate to have it happen, printer's "errers" still make their way into first editions. I once had a paragraph in an introduction of a book so garbled I couldn't catch the meaning—and I was the author! When I pointed out the gaffe out to my editor, she said, "Don't feel too badly about this. No one reads introductions"! (Obviously, I read introductions—I love introductions. They're sort of an esoteric prequel to the author's intent, a secret insight for the reader.) And if "no one reads them," why have any?
Writing is 80% a matter of catching the "errers" (and here, my editor has written in the column, "Do you mean '80% of writing is catching the errors'?") Perhaps this is why I'm not touchy about fair criticism. I've been edited for most of my adult life, since I began writing professionally when I was in my mid-twenties. Believe me, I would much rather have a copy editor catch my mistakes than have them appear in the final printed product. A good editor can make a mediocre writer better. A great editor can make a good writer look brilliant.
Writing is an exercise in morality. A writing professor taught me that each word choice is a moral choice because it essentially answers the questions, Is it really true? Does this word actually convey the meaning of what I am attempting to say? Is it the right word?
In manuscript-review groups, where writers sit around and read their work to other writers—perhaps with a teacher present—it is amazing how false a word can sound when you read it aloud. Oooh, you think with an inward squirm. That is really bad. What was I trying to do? Impress my listeners? Please.
This same professor taught me that if I am writing and there is a tickle at the back of my conscious mind, I need to pay attention. PAY ATTENTION! I'm not feeling right about a sentence, or a paragraph, or a concept. Something false, an "errer," exists here. Delete, erase, change, correct, keep searching—rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
So here's the deal. Because life so closely parallels the writing process, I would like to offer a mentoring opportunity to those who want to write. ("Oh, Mrs. Mains," some starry-eyed young thing will say to me. "I'd really like to do what you do." Ruthlessly, I generally counter, "No, you don't. You probably don't want to do what I do. You just think you want to do what I do. Some 80% of what I do is correct "'errers.'") A writer friend, Virginia Stem Owens, asked me what I was working on. My reply? I said, "I'm learning to be true. I'm finding it to be really hard work."
I would love to teach would-be writers (or new writers) how to be true in themselves and in their creative work. So, if there are those on the Soulish Food list who really, really want to get the words right, I have several HUGE projects I can't put together without help. If you will come alongside me and assist with these projects, my promise is:
• To teach you how to write the best way possible, by writing.
I will need a commitment of ONE YEAR (from January 2008 to January 2009) and a once-a-month team training meeting. There will be no fee for this, and you will be working for me—assisting me with my projects. However, I promise that if I feel you have potential as a professional writer and you want to walk further in this arduous 80% process, I will be happy to mentor as far as I am able.
Writing is a spiritual journey (even for the supposedly non-religious). I do not know how to write apart from a life of prayer, of listening, of being attendant to the world around me and to the God who works through that world. I will be teaching from that perspective.
If this is of interest to you and if you are tough enough to stick it out, please contact me at . I promise that the 20% inspiration part is worth the effort. I do not want any starry-eyed volunteers. Please understand, we will not be seeing places that no longer exist.
Three-Day Retreat of Silence
Monday, February 11 - Thursday, February 14, 2008
Karen Mains and Brenna Jones will be retreat directors. We have room for 12 women at St. Mary's Monastery in Rock Island, Illinois. Cost for three days and nights, including all meals, is $250. We need a $50 deposit upon registration; make your check out to Hungry Souls and mail it to our registrar Susan Hands at Box 30, Wheaton, IL 60189. To register, contact Susan Hands at or 1-630-293-4500. The deadline for registration is January 15, 2008!
The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted each week on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the weekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to www.HungrySouls.org.
As much as we try to prevent them, "errers" are just part and parcel of our lives.