400. The Five Stages of Blogging, and Other TMTF Trivia

TMTF will be taking a three-week break, during which it shall republish old posts on its usual schedule. The blog shall return with new content on November 30!

Today we celebrate four hundred posts on TMTF with a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the Five Stages of Blogging.

These describe the creative process experienced by people who write blogs. (They are unrelated to the Kübler-Ross model and its five stages of grief.) Of course, some bloggers may experience more than five stages. Some may experience fewer. The stages may vary from person to person. After all, every blogger is unique!

In writing posts for this blog, I have experienced five distinct stages. The easiest posts took only one or two, whereas the most difficult ones demanded all five.

In this extra-long and extra-special blog post, we’ll take a quick look at the Five Stages of Blogging. (This post took me through all of them.) Then I’ll share a few bits of TMTF trivia before concluding with grateful acknowledgements and a couple of announcements.

Here we go!

Blogging Stage One: Optimism

Blogging Stage 1, OptimismI enjoy thinking of ideas for new blog posts. It’s the effortless part of blogging: the deceptively easy warm-up to sitting down and, y’know, actually writing something.

Blogging Stage Two: Annoyance

Blogging Stage 2, AnnoyanceAt some point, I struggle to translate the exciting ideas in my head to words on a computer screen. Ideas are elusive. They don’t like to be pinned down. Sometimes, when written down, ideas change and grow in alarming ways. This is sometimes an amazing thing to see—except that by “sometimes” I mean “roughly 0.086% of the time.” It’s usually just annoying.

Blogging Stage Three: Frustration

Blogging Stage 3, FrustrationAt some point, annoyance escalates to frustration. I scowl at my laptop, mutter under my breath, brew another pot of coffee, and wish I had chosen a better hobby than blogging. I could have been a cyclist or amateur voice actor, after all. TMTF was an awful idea. At any rate, whatever post I’m trying to write is clearly a stinker. I should really just give it up.

Blogging Stage Four: Depression

Blogging Stage 4, DepressionFrustration darkens to depression, anguish, and bitter regret.

“I just… I just wanted to have a blog, y’know? I didn’t ask for this. This is impossible. I’ve put so much time and stuff, y’know, into this post, this one flipping post, man, and it’s a mess. It’s such a mess.

“Even if I fix it, and I’m not sure I can, it’ll take hours. Hours wasted, man, for one flipping blog post. Then I’ll write another post, and another post, and another flipping post. It never ends. Nothing new under the sun. It’s like that poem, y’know, about the mariner and the albatross. ‘Day after day, day after day, we stuck, no breath nor motion, as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.’ I’m stuck, man. This blog is my albatross.”

Then I stare into my empty coffee cup, crying on the inside.

Blogging Stage Five: Talking to Plush Toys

Blogging Stage 5, Talking to Plush ToysI can’t afford counseling. Don’t judge me.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About TMTF (but Were Afraid to Ask)

Moving on, here are a few pieces of TMTF trivia in celebration of four hundred posts.

  • This blog was inspired by Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like. His blog used humor to say meaningful things about culture, religion, and side hugs. I wanted to do the same kind of thing as Acuff, but with less hugging and more coffee jokes. I also wanted to build an audience (or as the publishing biz calls it, a platform) for my novel. Although the novel bombed, TMTF has stuck around.
  • At first, I treated blogging the way I treated creative writing. I constantly fussed and tweaked and revised, going so far as to edit old posts long after their release. It took me time to realize that a blog isn’t really a work of art, but a journey. Blog posts are footsteps. They represent a writer’s changing experiences, moods, beliefs, and opinions. Instead of worrying about the past, a blogger should keep moving forward.
  • For every hundred posts on this blog—not counting Geeky Wednesdays and creative writing—I try to do something extra-special. The hundredth post coincided with the release of my ill-fated novel. For the two hundredth post, I collaborated with Kevin McCreary (video and podcast producer) on an EPIC RAP BATTLE. (I had never rapped before, and it was a learning experience.) The three hundredth post featured an original animation by Crowne Prince (self-described rogue animator and antagonist) in which I sought counseling from DRWolf (YouTube personality and literal wolf) for my blogging problems. (The good doctor was a much better counselor than any of my plush toys.) I had planned something more ambitious for today in celebration of four hundred posts, but as Robert Burns reminds us, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” (Translation: Stuff happens.)

I love collaborating with creative people!

  • The format of this blog has changed gradually over time. (I’m a bit obsessive-compulsive about it, actually.) In a recent experiment, I’ve put key points in bold type in an attempt to make this blog more accessible. The idea is to let readers skim through blog posts, reading only the bold text and getting abbreviated versions. I’m honestly not sure how well this is working, and I could really use some feedback. Does the bold text help? Is it annoying? Distracting? Let me know in the comments!
  • My jokes about typewriter monkeys, as well as the name Typewriter Monkey Task Force, began on September 10, 2010 in an email to my family. My monkeys quickly became a running joke. When I decided to start a blog, I settled on typewriter monkeys as a consistent motif. It’s nice to have someone to blame when things go wrong.
TMTF clean (paper)

My dad, God bless him, handles most of the original art for this blog—monkeys and all.

Grateful Acknowledgements and Obligatory Threats

Speaking of typewriter monkeys, I have a few words for my blogging assistants, who have just set fire to a corner of my desk. These words aren’t appropriate for this blog, however, so I’ll have to settle for threats: If you monkeys don’t start behaving and put out that fire right this instant, I will end your employment and donate you to the zoo. I mean it this time.

Besides my usual threats, I guess I owe my dirty dozen a reluctant thank-you. Here’s to you, Sophia, Socrates, Plato, Hera, Penelope, Aristotle, Apollo, Euripides, Icarus, Athena, Phoebe, and Aquila. Thanks for working on my blog. I love you guys. At any rate, I’m trying.

As always, I owe my readers many thanks for their support and encouragement. Thank you so much for reading, commenting, liking posts here or on Facebook, writing guest posts, taking part in Be Nice to Someone on the Internet Day, and generally being wonderful. I appreciate every one of you.

You are awesomeSpecial thanks to my parents for their support over the years. My dad deserves an extra round of thanks for all the kind emails and monkey pictures. Thank you, old man. Special thanks also to JK Riki for being the most thoughtful and supportive reader in the history of people who read things. Seriously, JK, thank you.

As always, as I write about Disney villains, chain mail bikinis, and other nonsense, soli Deo gloria—to God be glory.

What Next?

TMTF will be taking a three-week break, during which I will republish old posts on its usual schedule. The blog shall return with new content on November 30!

In other news, TMTF will sponsor a Christmas fundraiser this December for charity! I’m still working on the details, but it will be very similar to last year’s fundraiser, with donor rewards and whatnot. I’m open to suggestions for rewards and fundraising, so feel free to share ideas via Twitter or the Contact page. I’ll release more information about the Christmas fundraiser at the end of this month.

We’ll be back!

God Is Sarcastic

“What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!”

~ Job 38:19-21

I’m often sarcastic, but that’s okay. God is sarcastic, too.

In the book of Job, God allows a righteous man to be tormented as a test of faith. It’s a paradoxical book, at once uplifting in showing the ultimate power and benevolence of God, and disturbing in depicting a God who allows a good person to suffer without any explanation. I’ve already said a thing or two about Job, and there’s more I could say, but for now I’ll simply point out how the book of Job proves that God can be really sarcastic.

Job spends most of the book arguing with his friends, defending his innocence as they accuse him of wrongdoing. If Job were innocent, they reason, why would God allow him to suffer? Job isn’t impressed by their arguments, and he proves to be quite sarcastic himself: “How you have helped the powerless!” he snaps in the twenty-sixth chapter. “How you have saved the arm that is feeble! What advice you have offered to one without wisdom! And what great insight you have displayed! Who has helped you utter these words? And whose spirit spoke from your mouth?”

Job’s biting sarcasm is surpassed only by God himself, who shows up a few chapters later. God doesn’t offer explanations or answer Job’s questions. Instead, he emphasizes his own absolute power and wisdom. However incomprehensible God seems, he knows what he’s doing. It’s not a terribly satisfying answer, but it’s enough for Job, and the book ends on a happier note with Job’s life restored.

God’s response to Job seems really harsh, especially when the Almighty gets sarcastic. After asking Job a long series of unanswerable questions, he adds, “Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!” His sarcasm only emphasizes how little Job—or any human being, for that matter—can comprehend of God’s nature.

There’s another lesson here: God uses sarcasm, which I cheerfully accept as license to be as sarcastic as I like. After all, Christians are commanded to be like God: Jesus Christ said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

In other words, by being sarcastic, I’m obeying the all-important commandment to be like God. Sarcasm is my moral and religious duty.

No, I’m not being serious. Yes, I’m being sarcastic, but not from any sense of religious obligation. Please don’t bombard me with angry emails or heavy stones! After all, it’s important to have a sense of humor, for as Jon Acuff reminds us, “Laughter is a gift from God. If we take it for granted and act like Christians can’t be funny, he’ll take it back. Like the unicorns.”

351. I Am Quitting

A lot has happened since I took a break from this blog three weeks ago. I watched Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix and acquired a beckoning cat figurine—oh, and I quit the job I’ve held for nearly three years.

Yeah, a lot has happened since I last wrote a blog post. This means today’s post is an extremely personal one. Brace yourself.

Well, first things first: my beckoning cat is wonderful. I’ve christened it Kogoro. It sits upon my bookshelf and waves its paw with leisurely dignity, welcoming high fives from passersby.


My maneki-neko, or beckoning cat, is supposed to bring good luck or something, but I use it mostly as a high-five machine.

That’s that for my beckoning cat, and I suppose I’ll save my thoughts on Marvel’s Daredevil for my next post. That brings me to the trivial matters of my impending unemployment and future plans.

For nearly three years, I’ve worked in a group home for gentlemen with disabilities in Berne, Indiana. I have been sort of a nurse, sort of a cook, sort of a housekeeper, and sort of a therapist, but mostly I’ve been a clown and a punching bag for eight special, needy, wonderful gentlemen. I’ll be officially resigned from this job by the beginning of May.

I have a number of reasons for quitting, but this is no place for me to describe them at length. I will state, for the record, that my decision has been pending for a long time. The gentlemen from the group home are one reason I’ve kept my job for so long, but a more selfish reason has been my fear of the future.

In spite of my English Education degree and teacher’s license, I’ve realized I don’t want to spend the next four decades teaching English. I want to work in writing, editing, and publishing.

However, since reaching that conclusion, I’ve been busy enough with work, blogging, and other commitments that I’ve made hardly any progress toward a long-term career. It has been hard enough maintaining the status quo of my day-to-day life: working, paying bills, helping support my younger brother, blogging, and drinking exorbitant amounts of coffee.

However, my workplace, which has always been stressful and a bit dysfunctional, has finally reached a point at which I can no longer meet its competing demands and unrealistic expectations. (In past months, I’ve occasionally been tempted to storm into my supervisor’s office, slam my hands against the desk Ace Attorney-style, and bellow “RAGE QUIT!” at the top of my lungs. I like to think my actual resignation is a little more dignified.) I think it’s time for me to let it go. I’ve mostly put off planning for the future, but my job is finally nudging me to move on.

What’s next?

For now, I’m applying for a part-time job while I look into career options. I’d like to build up freelance writing and editing on the side, and I’ll look for publishing internships willing to accept college graduates. With more time on my hands, I may write some fiction; anything is possible. I’ll continue to help support my younger brother. For as long as I remain in Berne, I’ll visit the gentlemen in the group home. Finally, I’ll continue blogging and drinking coffee and being silly—these things will probably never change.

I’m relieved to be moving on from my job, and excited to seek new opportunities. I’m also really scared. I am scared as heck, guys. It’s the same fear I felt upon graduating from college, and felt again upon ending my post-college visit to Uruguay and returning to Indiana. It’s a lost, shamed, lonely feeling—a nagging conviction that I really ought have it all figured out by now, or at least know where I should go from here. This feeling isn’t fair or rational, but I sure feel it, and it sucks.

I think Jon Acuff has the right idea when he suggests punching fear in the face. As scared and insecure as I feel, I mean to keep moving forward. At the very least, I mean to try. To echo my favorite apostle: I will always trust, always hope, and always persevere.

Long ago, when this blog was new, I wrote a post in which I quoted Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables: “My future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does.”

I’ve reached another bend in the road. What lies beyond? God only knows. Fortunately for me, I still trust God after all these years, so that thought is a comforting one.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to think about my future and give my beckoning cat a high five.

197. A Brief History of TMTF

I had to delve into the shadowed depths of my email archives, but I managed to pinpoint the exact day in history when the concept for this blog came to be.

On September 10, 2010 I sent a Kicking Cricket—one of my personal newsletters—that contained the following paragraphs.

My first step to kicking a Cricket is to experience an amusing/interesting/uncomfortable event. I then assemble my elite team of typewriter monkeys and explain exactly what happened.

“All right,” I say, “I want you all to take notes. Socrates, put down your typewriter. Thank you. Now, I was at the Acorn this morning—Hermes, stop poking Odysseus. If you two can’t sit next to each other without fighting I’m going to separate you. As I was saying, I was at the Acorn when a fellow came in with a girl riding on his shoulders. I’d never seen anything like it. For the last time, Socrates, put down the typewriter! So a chap came in carrying his girlfriend and ordered a meal. I want you to—Heracles! If I see you pinch Helen one more time, I’m going to be very angry.”

And so forth, until my TMTF (Typewriter Monkey Task Force) types out a draft of something that is readable and doesn’t bend the facts too much. I revise the draft, type it into my computer and send it forth to be read by my beloved family.

I didn’t intend my Typewriter Monkey Task Force to be anything more than a silly joke, but before long my monkeys were creeping into nearly every one of my newsletters.

These emails, which were titled Kicking Crickets and later renamed Closet Vikings after my favorite fake names for rock bands, consisted largely of the kinds of ramblings I post on this blog. From book reviews to spiritual reflections, my Crickets and Vikings shared my thoughts on, well, faith, writing, video games, literature, life, the universe and everything.

My typewriter monkeys quickly became a running gag. Their second appearance introduced their habit of striking frequently, and later emails showed the TMTF breaking typewriters, misusing fireworks and conducting scientific research to prove that “resemblance to Winston Churchill is a trait manifested by most healthy babies of European descent.”

Around the time I started the typewriter monkey gag in my newsletters, I discovered a hilariously funny blog called Stuff Christians Like that poked fun at the quirkiness of Christian culture. I’m a curmudgeon when it comes to a lot of religious stuff, so I loved it.

Many months later, I stumbled upon a letter to Jon Acuff, the blogger behind Stuff Christians Like. The writer of the letter had been disillusioned by the empty, dreary religious clutter surrounding God. Stuff Christians Like restored her faith by showing her how Christianity could be funny, happy and hopeful. By presenting serious insights in a comical way, Jon Acuff’s blog changed her life.

I finished reading the letter and came to a decision. Somewhere out there, I mused, is a person whose life can be changed by stupid typewriter monkey gags.

I was joking… well, sort of.

I decided to start a blog.

Right from the beginning, I knew what its theme and title would be: Typewriter Monkey Task Force, a blog about… well… anything.

After obtaining a fantastic header illustration from my old man, I spent a panicked week figuring out the WordPress blogging system and setting up my blog. On August 27, 2011, TMTF blundered hopefully onto the Internet landscape.

There have been many changes since. The blog’s original three-post-a-week schedule was reduced to two posts, and later supplemented by weekly installments of a novella I wrote as a serial. Following the novella’s conclusion, the schedule reverted to two posts until the recent introduction of Geeky Wednesdays. I also posted some random creative writing and a series of posts covering the basics of Christian living.

Types of posts have come and gone. Old features like the Turnspike Emails were cut, replaced by new ones such as Why [Insert Author Name] Is Awesome. Several writers and bloggers have shared guest posts, and I’ve been privileged to work with some incredibly generous, talented people.

Did I mention that my readers are awesome? Because they are.

You are.

For almost two years, TMTF has been a blessing to me. Certain posts have forced me to reconsider some of my views and beliefs. A few posts have permitted me, a reserved, introverted person, to share my struggles and vent my feelings openly. Many posts have been therapeutic, encouraging or simply fun to write.

Sure, keeping this blog’s deadlines has been stressful. No, TMTF hasn’t had the same phenomenal impact as greater blogs. Yes, my typewriter monkeys are often a nuisance.

All the same, I remain thankful for Typewriter Monkey Task Force.

150. Stuff I Wish I Had Known When I Started This Blog

As TMTF reaches its one hundred and fiftieth post, I wonder what would happen if I traveled back in time and visited myself. Would the resulting temporal paradox tear apart the universe, or would I merely offer my younger self a cup of tea and tell him how to write a blog?

Assuming the universe held together, here’s the advice Future Adam would give his younger self about blogging.

Listen up, Adam. You think you're so cool with your typewriter monkey picture, but you've got a lot to learn about writing a blog. Let your older, wiser self give you some advice.

Listen up, youngster. You think you’re so cool with your typewriter monkey picture and supercilious smirk, but you’ve got a lot to learn about blogging. Let your older, wiser self give you some advice.

Keep it short

When I began this blog, I wrote way too much. Nothing discourages a reader like massive blocks of text. Instead of rambling like an academic or a drunkard, I should have written shorter paragraphs and avoided needless repetition.

Plan for the future, and write blog posts ahead of time

Only recently have I begun planning out blog posts weeks in advance. It has made all the difference. It’s easier to follow a schedule than to make rushed decisions, and simply clicking the Publish button when a post is due is much better than writing one at the last minute!

Do not, under any circumstances, give your typewriter monkeys the blog’s password

I learned this the hard way.

Use visuals!

Early on, I hardly ever included pictures. That was a mistake. Illustrations entice readers to check out blog posts that would otherwise go unnoticed. Visuals also break up the monotony of black text against a white background. Finally, writing silly captions is fun.

Make it your blog, not an imitation of someone else’s

TMTF began as an imitation of Stuff Christians Like by Jon Acuff, except my blog was about topics other than, well, stuff Christians like. I tried to copy Acuff’s approach and style.

It took me a long time, but I finally accepted an important truth: I am not Jon Acuff. I am Adam, a guy with glasses who drinks too much coffee and writes about faith and grammar and severed human arms. Despite my faults and failures, no one does a better job of being Adam than I.

Success and popularity aren’t the same thing

When I began TMTF, I secretly hoped it would become as popular as Stuff Christians Like and other notable blogs. It hasn’t, and that’s okay. I enjoy writing this blog. I hope other people enjoy reading it. I hope it honors God. If I and others and God are all fine with TMTF, I think it’s a success.

Be encouraged

Since I began blogging, my writing has improved so much. I’ve learned a lot, and it’s been fun despite its challenges and frustrations. For every time I wanted to bang my head against a hard, flat surface, there was a time I flung up my arms and shouted “Yes!

Like life, faith and breaking records in Mario Kart, writing is hard.

Like life, faith and breaking records in Mario Kart, writing is totally worth it.

As we head into a new year—and as TMTF moves beyond one hundred and fifty posts—my typewriter monkeys and I would like to add just one more thing.

Thanks for reading!

74. Guest Posts Welcome!

Update: This blog is finished, and no longer accepts guest posts. Thanks all the same!

John Donne once observed, “No blog is an island.”

I may possibly be misquoting him, but the basic principle is the same. Few people can survive apart from other people. Few blogs can exist independently from other blogs. Like most people, most blogs are part of a community.

I’d never have begun TMTF without inspiration from bloggers like Jon Acuff and Wes Molebash. Community can be extremely important for writers; bloggers are no exception. As I’ve said before, just because writing can be a lonely form of art doesn’t mean it should be.

I’d love to feature guest posts more regularly on TMTF. Quoth Uncle Iroh, “It is important to draw wisdom from many different places. If you take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale.”

TMTF has already featured great guest posts on creativity, literary dialogue and the things we find when we clean out our Bibles. I would be delighted to present guest posts on other humorous, useful or unusual topics.

What criteria are needed for a guest post to be featured on TMTF?

It should be about faith, writing, video games, literature, TV, movies, or meaningful personal experiences.

Possible topics for guest posts include creative writing tips, spiritual insights, literary musings or humorous observations about gaming culture. Posts about celebrity hairstyles, trigonometry or rubber bands will be instantly rejected.

It should be well-written.

Guest posts should be coherent, succinct and easy to read. Between four hundred to eight hundred words is the ideal length. Grammatical errors and spelling mistakes shall be met with the full fury of my righteous indignation.

It should be funny, insightful or both.

I try to make every post on TMTF entertaining or edifying. I don’t always succeed. That makes it even more important for guest posts to succeed where I fail!

It should be pleasant.

TMTF is not an edgy or controversial blog, and there are already enough disputes, arguments and insults on the Internet without adding more. The purpose of this blog is “to impart hope or understanding or inspiration—or at the very least a healthy laugh—to someone who needs it.” Guest posts should honor that purpose.

If a guest post meets the above criteria, TMTF will be honored to feature it.

How can guest posts be submitted?

Behold! TMTF now has a Contact page! If you’re interested in submitting a guest post, simply use the contact form.

I may not accept every single submission. Some guest posts, however well-written, may not be well-suited for TMTF. In some cases I’ll suggest changes to guest posts to make them more suitable. In all cases I’ll do my best to be respectful of the work submitted.

I’m going to be guilty of shameless self-promotion and admit my typewriter monkeys and I are always delighted to write guest posts for other blogs. If you’re looking for a guest post about faith, writing, video games, literature, life, the universe or everything, let us know using the Contact page!

68. About Writing: Attitude

There was once a young man whom I’ll call Socrates.

(For the record, this was not the same Socrates as the one who pretended to tear out my heart or the one who gave me an RNA or the one who invented the Socratic method. This is a different Socrates.)

Socrates was a creative writer. A couple of years ago, we had a discussion about our writing projects. It turned out that we had both written fantasy novels and were in the process of revising our work. When Socrates heard about my novel, he offered to read it and offer feedback. I accepted his offer gratefully and gave him a manuscript of my novel.

A few days later, he handed me the manuscript of his novel and told me he was looking forward to hearing my criticism. This came as a surprise to me. I didn’t mind criticizing his novel, but he hadn’t asked for criticism and I hadn’t offered it. He simply gave me the manuscript and expected feedback.

It occurred to me that Socrates might have offered to read my novel only for the sake of obligating me to read his.

Nevertheless, I believed creative writers should stick together. If another creative writer wanted my criticism, I was happy to give it. Thus I plunged into the novel Socrates had written, marking his manuscript with mechanical pencil and thinking about what feedback to give him.

It was not a good novel. The novel had its strengths, of course, but it also had many weaknesses. The most glaring of these were myriad misspellings and grammar mistakes: the sort of errors a spellcheck program wouldn’t catch. Apart from typographical errors, the novel had a number of significant problems.

When criticizing a piece of writing, I believe it’s important to be honest and kind. Honesty can be carried to the extreme of disparagement. Kindness can be carried to the extreme of flattery. Neither disparagement nor flattery are helpful to a writer. As I read the manuscript of the novel, I tried to think of criticisms that would be helpful to Socrates.

I finished the manuscript and sent Socrates an email in which I commended the novel’s strengths, pointed out a few of its faults and suggested changes that could be made.

Socrates replied with an email in which he thanked me for my feedback, responded offhandedly to a few of my criticisms and promised to return the favor by giving me feedback on my novel. (He never did.) Regarding his own novel, he mentioned his intention to “go and work on it once more before I try to find a publisher.”

To be honest, I was left with rather a poor impression of Socrates as a creative writer. The mediocre quality of his writing had little to do with it. When I began writing, the quality of my writing was unspeakably awful. Every writer has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is usually pretty bad. As Jon Acuff once observed, the road to awesome always leads through the land of horrible.

No, my poor impression of Socrates came from his attitude toward writing. In our exchanges, I noticed several problems with his attitude—problems that are common among writers—problems of which I myself have often been guilty.

Writers shouldn’t use other people

It’s extremely important for writers to seek help from others. There is a difference, however, between seeking help from someone and using someone. In my exchanges with Socrates, it seemed that he offered to read my manuscript only to manipulate me into reading his. Writers should never consider other people mere tools or resources. The writer who criticizes my manuscript isn’t a feedback machine. The readers who follow my blog aren’t a statistic. These people are human beings with feelings and opinions and gifts. Treating them as mere tools or resources is wrong.

Writers should respect their readers enough to give them their best work

It’s not a huge deal, but I prefer not to read a manuscript full of typographical errors. I would have enjoyed the manuscript Socrates gave me much more had he taken the time to make sure it was at least written correctly.

Writers should be willing to accept criticism, especially when they ask for it

I received the impression from Socrates that he didn’t really care much for my criticism. I wouldn’t have minded much, except for two things. First, I had taken a lot of time to read his novel and give the best feedback I could. Second, he had asked specifically for my criticism. To ask for it, and then not to accept any of it, seemed a little rude. Writers shouldn’t blindly accept every bit of criticism they receive, but they should at least consider it—especially when they’ve asked for it.

Writers should help each other

Socrates offered to read my novel and give feedback, but he never did. Granted, he may have forgotten or been too busy, but our exchanges seemed unfairly one-sided. If writers accept help from others, they should also be willing to give help.

Writers should be realistic

When Socrates informed me that his plan for his manuscript was to “go and work on it once more before I try to find a publisher,” I had to shake my head. Even if his manuscript weren’t full of typographical errors, he would have had to revise it at least a few more times before it was even close to being presentable to publishers. Then he would have to begin the arduous process of finding a publisher: research the market, find an agent, write a novel proposal, find a publisher, sign a contract, submit the manuscript for editing, make necessary revisions, format the manuscript, promote the novel and so on. Writers mustn’t be daunted or discouraged by the difficulties of publishing, but they mustn’t be unrealistic either.

If it seems like I’m being pretty harsh toward Socrates and his attitude toward writing, I need to point out that I’ve made all of his mistakes myself. I’ve used people. I’ve given other people less than my best writing, been unwilling to accept good criticism and refused to help other writers. As for being unrealistic, I’ve been ridiculously naïve about the quality of my writing and the difficulty of publishing.

Here are two more mistakes I’ve made.

Writers shouldn’t assume their writing is awesome

Writers have a tendency to fall in love with their own writing because it’s exactly the kind of thing they enjoy reading. I like wry, thoughtful writing. I also like fantasy fiction. My novel happens to be a wry, thoughtful fantasy. It’s the sort of novel I would enjoy reading—but it may not be the sort of novel everyone else in the world would enjoy reading. Writers need to follow the Apostle Paul’s good advice: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.”

Writers shouldn’t assume their writing is awful

Writers also have a tendency to give up because they assume their writing is bad. Sometimes it is, and they need to keep practicing. Sometimes it isn’t, and they need to keep writing well. It’s difficult for writers to assess the quality of their own writing, which is why seeking help from others is so important.

It’s essential for writers to have the right attitude: to persevere, to be humble, to be willing to seek help, to be willing to give help and so on.

Have you struggled with any of these attitude problems? How do you deal with them? Let us know in the comments!

64. The Fear of Not Being Perfect

Do you ever suffer from the fear of not being perfect?

I do.

In fact, the fear of not being perfect has been one of my greatest struggles.

My Thursday Afternoon of the Soul, a year and a half of intense depression, occurred partly because I was constantly afraid that I wasn’t good enough.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned impacted me so deeply because I was focused on trying to be perfect instead of trying to help others.

I’ve still got my fair share of qualms, struggles and insecurities, but I’m no longer afraid that God will abandon me if I make too many mistakes.

(That’s a really good thing, ’cause I make lots of mistakes.)

I’m still trying to reconcile myself to the fact that certain areas of my life are less than perfect. Some things are beyond my control: my tragic inability to grow a beard, for example. Other things, things over which I have a little more control, frustrate me because I want them to be perfect and they aren’t.

I wonder how many people have given up on something because they weren’t perfect.

I wonder how many violin players have stopped practicing because their performances never sounded exactly right. I wonder how many painters have thrown away their brushes because they were tired of finding flaws in their paintings. I wonder how many poets have quit writing poetry because their poems were met with criticism or disinterest.

Sometimes it’s best to give up on something. If a hobby is costing extravagant amounts of time, money or effort, and clearly going nowhere, perhaps it’s wise to let it go. But I think we sometimes kill our dreams before they have a chance to grow.

For example, when I write, my greatest hindrance is the nagging conviction that writing is just a colossal waste of time. An insidious little voice whispers, You’re investing so much time and effort in your writing, and for what purpose? Your writing is full of faults. Nobody will read it. Your novel is clichéd. Nobody will buy it. Your blog is pointless. Nobody will like it. There are tens of thousands of better writers out there. You should spend your time doing something worthwhile.

I think pretty much every person has heard that voice. Some people listen to it. Some people refuse to listen.

Blogger Jon Acuff is one of the people who has refused to listen. “The road to awesome always leads through the land of horrible,” he wrote. “Go be horrible at something. It’s the only way to be awesome at everything.”

Web cartoonist Wes Molebash is another such person. “There will be many obstacles on your road to success,” he wrote, “so don’t build your own.”

Amateur animator JKR is yet another such person. “Don’t worry about failing,” he wrote. “You’re going to, and it’s okay. Just learn from whatever you don’t get quite right.”

Perseverance, I keep telling myself, is a much better quality that perfectionism.

I recently saw Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of The Adventures of Tintin, and one of its characters offered a wise piece of advice.

“There are plenty of others willing to call you a failure,” he said. “Don’t you ever say it of yourself.”

46. About Writing: Style

Jon Acuff tweeted something insightful the other day about literary style: “The only way to find your voice as a writer is to write. Fear says you need to find your voice BEFORE you write. Don’t listen.” A somewhat less positive opinion was once expressed about style by some writer or other: “Style is a terrible thing to happen to anybody.”

Literary style can be defined as the distinct voice of a writer. If the term voice is a little vague, it’s because it includes too many aspects to be covered in a single convenient word. An author’s voice consists of many elements: tone, the attitude of the writer; diction, the words the writer uses; syntax, the way the writer arranges those words; and more. Even basic elements like grammar and spelling make up a writer’s style—consider the immortal passage in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn in which the narrator declares: “Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me.”

So what exactly is this vague thing called style? The term voice isn’t very precise. Rather than try to pin down an exact definition, let’s get stylish and look at a few examples.

Let’s take a simple sentence: The boy ran around the corner and ran into his grandpa’s large stomach. Fairly bland, eh?

All right, let’s say the same thing as Huck Finn might: The young’un turned the corner and run slap into his grandpappy’s belly. The style is more colloquial, but the same basic information is conveyed.

What if our character is more sophisticated—say a butler like Jeeves from the stories by P.G. Wodehouse? Jeeves might express the situation thus: The lad careened round the corner and collided with the impressive bulk of his grandfather’s ample middle. Once again the sentence means more or less the same thing, but the style gives off a completely different vibe.

Style is a key component of storytelling. A mystery writer must describe complex situations in a way that keeps the reader engaged without becoming too confusing or hard to follow. A comedy writer must—obviously—be funny. A romance writer must convey the nuances of that most complicated of relationships, the romantic courtship, in a manner that’s vivid and believable. (I’m guessing about the romance writer, since most romances make my stomach hurt.) Apart from the unique, individual style of each writer, each literary genre demands a certain kind of writing.

What about that unique, individual style? If you’re a writer, how in blazes are you supposed to find your own voice?

You’ve probably guessed it if you’ve read my first post about writing, but the answer lies in reading and writing. Writers tend to imitate the styles they enjoy reading and refine their own style as they write.

An author isn’t limited to a single style, of course. Writers tailor their style to suit the sort of work they’re doing. For example, my style when I compose posts for TMTF tends to be conversational. My style when I write Solidarity reports, however, is plain and precise: a systematic, minimalist style I picked up from a couple of journalism classes in high school and college. Then there’s my style when I write fiction, which tends to be wry. I enjoy using dry humor, even in stories with melancholy events.

Style is often the thing that sets a writer apart and makes him or her truly memorable—or at the very least, fun to read.

What literary styles do you enjoy reading? Let us know in the comments!