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Copyrighted Material © 2011 courtesy of Julie-Allyson Ieron, joymediaservices.com

Behind my office, a commuter train zips down a smooth, straight track, carrying its passengers home after a day’s work in city center. But to reach this stretch of straight track after leaving the main station, the engineer had to navigate his silver bullet through a mile-long maze of sidetracks that weave in and out. These allow engineers operating other trains to deliver passengers to destinations across our sprawling metro area—north, south, east and west. If the switch operator had made one wrong decision, this train would be zipping to a different destination than the passengers expect. But the engineer wasn’t safe even after making it cleanly out of the station zone. At several spots along his way there were cross tracks leading to freight yards (wrong destination) and more sidetracks that could send him into a holding pattern. I’m guessing you’ve already made the connection between this train and your writing life. You have a destination in mind— publication, where people read what you write and use it to change their lives. And you want to zip down a smooth track. But a dizzying array of sidetracks crosses your path. You need a smart switch to help choose the right track at each decision point. From more than 25 years of sitting where you sit and from nearly as much time in the editor’s chair, I’ve discovered three switches that can keep you choosing the right track. While many sidetrack temptations keep you from writing at all, that’s a subject for another time. Here we’ll look at the decisions that can send the article, devotional or book you are writing onto a track toward the wrong destination. Track Switch 1: Write Fresh

The first is perhaps the greatest, because it affects your choice of destinations, your purpose for writing a piece. It needs to be fresh, vital, alive. It needs to offer readers something new—something they’ll value. Nothing will detour you faster than a reader or an editor getting a few sentences into your piece only to ruffle her brow and think, I’ve read this before. Or worse, What a waste of time! There’s nothing intriguing, useful or thought-provoking here. If you take this track, you’ll be on your way to destination Slushville (rejection) before your second paragraph closes. I think of Solomon’s observation, “Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out (Ecclesiastes 12:12, NLT). You don’t need to look far to know that writing is indeed endless. You could be reading 24/7 for 800 lifetimes over, if you tried to process all the words that bombard you. As Solomon pointed out, all this reading could wear you out. Your readers are no different. So, you need to work hard, brainstorm, tap into your God-given creativity to write from a new angle that adds something fresh to the discussion of an old topic. Your work needs to offer the reader something he’ll find worthwhile.

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Copyrighted Material © 2011 courtesy of Julie-Allyson Ieron, joymediaservices.com

Several years ago I decided to write a book on workplace integrity, Staying True in a World of Lies. Around that time, integrity was a source of discussion in schools, the media and boardrooms. With the demise of public corporations at the hands of financiers, people were talking about character. School buildings were blanketed with banners reading, “Character Counts!” Lots was being said. But I wanted to say something more substantial. So, I dug deeper. I discovered that although many people consider integrity doing what you say you’re going to do and not doing what you say you’re not going to do, the principle is broader than that. It’s about unity between what we think, what we say, and what we do—in every moment. That was fresh, and could add something to the general discussion. From there I began interviewing professionals in various career fields—asking them what challenged their integrity, who in their lives helped or hurt their practice of biblical truthfulness, what choices had they made that they wish they could change. This gave the book realism, because it addressed issues people were actually facing. Melding my uniqueness as a journalist with a timely topic, I created a book unlike anything else on the market. That’s what you need to do, too. Work hard to add something vibrant and biblically sound to discussions going on in the marketplace of ideas today. Track Switch 2: Write Sharp Okay, so you’ve made that first big decision to get your writing train on track by creatively choosing a fresh idea, but there’s another switch you’ll need to use at the next sidetrack

that will cross your way: you need to focus on your key point. Where a plethora of sidetracks will tempt you to scatter your thoughts and disorganize your logic, you need to stay the course if you want readers to “get it.” I had a week off recently, so I used it to do something fun—to start writing a novel (that will probably never see the light of day). Every serious writer has to have a novel in process, right? Anyway, I wrote the first two chapters and proudly sent them along to my first reader—expecting accolades and congratulations all around. What I’d forgotten, though, was that where I was trying to be artistic, hopscotching across years and continents in a single jump, my reader didn’t have the benefit of being inside my mind (I doubt she’d want to be in my mind, actually). But because my writing was scattered, rather than sharply focused, she couldn’t make the logical jumps required to understand the story. I needed to lead her along plausibly, smoothly. When I made that adjustment in the next draft, I hooked her on my story and made her care about my characters. This is true with all communication. We need to take that one theme that unites our piece, organize supporting points in a logical flow and transition smoothly to bring readers along with us. Of the New Testament writers, perhaps Luke models this best for us. He wrote with a specific purpose: Since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Luke 1:3-4, NIV). Every observation, story, quote, instruction Luke included in his reporting of Jesus’ life in his Gospel and of the growth of the early church in Acts, moves this purpose along. Page 2


Copyrighted Material © 2011 courtesy of Julie-Allyson Ieron, joymediaservices.com

Everything is focused on Jesus—Who He is, what He did, and what difference that makes to real people in real life. Everything is presented in an orderly manner to communicate clearly the truth about Jesus to Luke’s reader, a highly placed official named Theophilus. Following Luke’s example of presenting your well-focused material in logical order will move your writing train closer to Publication Junction. Track Switch 3: Write Tight But there’s one more switch. If you miss this one, your train may not be sent to Slushville, but you might idle in an interminable holding pattern just outside Publication Junction. I call it writing tight, but the four-letter version is the dreaded word edit. Does edit evoke images of a mad doctor opening his satchel of leeches above your fresh page of healthy prose with the intent of bleeding out its life? It isn’t as bad as all that. A good edit eliminates distracting words, wasted space, rabbit trails, careless errors and fluff that try a reader’s patience because of their empty calories. I am a tougher editor on my own work than any publisher’s editor has ever been. I don’t settle for anything less than vibrant writing where every word carries its weight, where not one could I eliminate without doing damage to the reader’s experience. Most of my best work I write a third to a half longer than my target word count. Then I force out every sentence, word, space or comma that isn’t crucial. And I find myself right at word count, with a tighter, clearer chapter or article.

whose first draft wasn’t 1800 words or more. To my mind on that writing day of each one, the draft was perfection personified. But when I reread it the next day, it was bloated with words, sentences, even whole paragraphs that were better left out. Once I’d used the machete, the trimmer and the emery board to bring each chapter to its allowed count, readers wrote back to talk not about the writing, but about how the message came through clearly and revolutionized their prayer lives. This reminded me that tight writing, sharp writing, fresh writing isn’t about the writing at all. Instead, it’s about getting the writing out of the way so the silver bullet of the message shimmers as it zips along a smooth track to the reader’s heart. Julie-Allyson Ieron (pronounced: I-RUN) is celebrating 25 years as an author, writing coach, editor, and conference speaker. Julie is passionate about coming alongside others to encourage them to pursue an everdeepening relationship with Christ. Visit her devotional blog for caregivers at: http://womencareforagingparents.blogspot.com. Become her “fan” on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/author.julieallyson.ieron, to get in on special fan-only offers for her books and software. A trimmed-down version of this article first appeared in issue #4 of the Salvation Army's ezine: Writer's Buzz in April 2011. Used here by permission of author Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved.

I did this in Praying Like Jesus, my 52-chapter book (one a week for a year) that focused on Jesus’ prayer for believers in John 17. Each chapter was to be 1000 words. But no matter how I tried to rein in my research and my enthusiasm, I can’t think of one chapter Page 3

On Track to Publication Junction  

A lighthearted look at preparing a manuscript to send to an editor for publication. Reminders to write tight and edit clearly, using a fun r...

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