10 rules of writing from Elmore Leonard

If you’re creating something new you are most likely writing – a lot. And so it behooves us all to continue to hone our skills as writers.

Back in the day I read lots of books by Elmore Leonard. He wrote hardboiled crime thrillers like Get Shorty, Rum Punch and Maximum Bob and. His books are always entertaining and funny. His writing is sparse and lean, taking his cue from Hemingway no doubt. 

Leonard’s novels sold well and he had a loyal fan base. As a result, he was sought after as a writing teacher. Keep in mind, Leonard was writing fiction. But I think some of his rules will work whether you’re writing fiction, nonfiction, blogging or tweeting.

Here’s some of his lessons that you can incorporate into your writing practice.

  1. Write the first draft by hand. In fact, Leonard wrote all of his books longhand.
  2. Write early in the morning before the day begins to infiltrate your thoughts. (Leonard wouldn’t even have his coffee until he finished 2 pages.
  3. Know what you want to say before you start writing.
  4. Don’t outline. (This was Leonard’s advice for the 1st draft of a work of fiction.) His point was for writers to find the story/idea as they wrote.)
  5. The first draft isn’t real. Nobody care so do anything you want. The point of the first draft is to get it written.
  6. Readers no longer like to read big blocks of text.
  7. Writing is a process. It’s a practice of putting one word down after the other. It’s like building a wall, one brick at a time.
  8. You MUST NOT wait for inspiration to write.  You will never write anything if this is the case.
  9. Tell a story. This is the first rule of writing.
  10. Fill a quota each day. Whether it’s the number of words or pages, you must have a quota.

And don’t forget to read some of his books.

Happy writing.

50 Things You Can Do to Keep the Focus

You would agree, one should always try to keep the focus on the main things in life; to not get too distracted by what the world says is important. If you’re a Jesus follower, God and people are our focus.

Yet all of us get distracted or lured away from this focus. It happens for seasons and then we realize we’re far away from who we want to be and numb to what God is doing in our lives. We find we’re too busy for the people. We become tired and overwhelmed and sense that things are out or rhythm.

Several months ago, I emerged from such a season. I had lost my focus. I became distracted. I became tired and overwhelmed. No matter how hard I tried, I felt I was always behind. I was running in a million different directions and felt I wasn’t accomplishing anything.

I hit the pause button during a one-day retreat. I realized that day my actions weren’t aligned with my behaviors.

I created this list to help me get back on track. It’s helped.

Reviewing it, I see it’s a menagerie of personal aphorisms, reminders and practical ideas.

Perhaps one or two of these things might help…

  1. Less is ALWAYS better.
  2. Spend focused and intentional time reading the Bible.
  3. Meditate on one verse everyday.
  4. Pray. (You knew this though.)
  5. Spend more time each of your children.
  6. Schedule time with people on your calendar.
  7. Don’t buy things you don’t need.
  8. You control your attitude. Choose to be positive. Choose to see it through God’s eyes.
  9. Trust people more.
  10. CHOOSE to worry less; trust God more.
  11. Keep running. Running is sacred space. (Insert your favorite activity here.)
  12. Embrace your flaws and imperfections.
  13. You can control your thoughts.
  14. Don’t try to control things you can’t. Let God have it.
  15. Don’t over-schedule yourself.
  16. Pray more.
  17. Make time to journal.
  18. Set aside the mobile device. It’s not as important as you think.
  19. Sabbath once a week.
  20. Let go of false expectations for myself; for others
  21. Don’t procrastinate when you know what needs to be done.
  22. Be grateful. Seriously just be more grateful.
  23. Be generous. Seriously, just be more generous.
  24. Understand the difference between needs and wants when it comes to stuff.
  25. Notice the little things all around you…they matter.
  26. Laugh more.
  27. Talk to people from other cultures and ask them to tell you their stories.
  28. Have more fun. (Schedule it if you must.)
  29. Spend more time with family and friends
  30. Be comfortable with being
  31. Take more naps
  32. Listen to more live music
  33. Get rid of cable – it’s distracting.
  34. Give stuff away that you don’t need.
  35. Stop trying to accomplish all of your goals; identify the ones you can achieve.
  36. Control your calendar – make time for the important things first.
  37. Read more books, especially classics.
  38. Go for more walks.
  39. Visit an art gallery.
  40. Take up a new hobby.
  41. Write more thank you notes.
  42. Plan less and play more.
  43. Realize you have limitations.
  44. Be part of a small group.
  45. Mentor someone younger.
  46. Meet older people and find ways to connect with them…or serve them.
  47. Learn to be comfortable with silence. This is how you’ll hear from God.
  48. Encourage one person a day
  49. Never complain
  50. Thank the people around you for being in your life.

To be sure, this list is not exhaustive. I’ve missed much. But when it comes to keeping my focus on God and people, they’ve helped.

What would you add? What would you take away? How do you keep your focus on what’s important?

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A Checklist for Teaching and Communicating

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? -Romans 10:14.

Billy Sunday
Billy Sunday in Action

Teaching is a privilege. While it’s not my primary role, I do get the opportunity once or twice a quarter to teach at one of our locations.

It’s important that the church planter (who is often the primary communicator) continue to grow in the craft.

Here’s what I’ve learned about being a communicator. I look over this every time I have the opportunity to speak.

  • Preach the Gospel
  • It’s all about Jesus. People need to see Jesus through your words.
  • It’s not about you. It’s about the people in the room.
  • Stay focused on the message. Keep on the Big Idea.
  • Have fun.
  • Speak naturally as if you are speaking to just one person.
  • Slow down. Speak in a natural rhythm.
  • Get away from your notes, but not too far.
  • Be genuine.
  • Be authentic. Ensure people understand how this message has influenced your life.
  • Passion is good. Being emotional and intense is good.
  • Stick with your ‘voice’ and don’t imitate others.
  • Make eye contact with people in the audience
  • Keep it simple.
  • Vary the pace.

I am sure there are many other things to consider. But this list does it for me.

What other advice do you have for teachers and communicators of the Gospel?

5 Traits of Starters

So you want to start something and you don’t know if you can pull it off? Let me encourage you by identifying 5 traits I think all starters have.

I’ve gotten to know a few people who’ve started things over the years. Start

I’ve sat in board rooms with billionaires who made a fortune selling us stuff. (Don’t ask me to tell you who it is because I won’t…but it was a pretty cool meeting.)  I’ve sat across the table from church planters who are passionate about launching a new church. I’ve spent the evening with a young couple realize their dream to help orphans in the world find a better life. There are many,many more examples.

All of these starters have these 5 key traits.

  • They are willing to sacrifice. They are willing to sacrifice their time, talents and treasure to make it happen. They know starting something is going to cost them. Early on in the project they go all in on it. 
  • They are willing to include others. While there are exceptions, the majority of people I know who want to start new things are EAGER to include others. They share their ideas and ask for help. They seek partners and solicit advice from experts.
  • They are willing to take risks. They understand that starting new will be hard and sometimes scary. But they do it anyway.
  • They see a preferred future. That is they are willing to talk about what could be, despite not knowing how they are going to get there. They are willing to move forward despite not knowing where it all might lead. 
  • They want to make the world a better place. Even those who start stuff to make money believe their product/service will help people in some way. They want people’s lives to be better in some tangible or intangible way.

While there are certainly more traits starters bring to the table, they have all shared at least these. 

My own experience confirms these traits. I’ve started lots of stuff: A business within a business, planted churches, heck – even launched this blog. I’ve started stuff that has been succesful and tried starting stuff that has crashed and burned. I think I am serial starter and I know I have all of these traits. I will always be trying to start new things and it’s because in one way or another, I have these traits.

What about you? If you’re dreaming of starting something new, ask yourself: Do I share these traits? If so, which of these are easiest for you to get your head around? Which require you to take a leap of faith? Leave a comment and let us in on it.

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How to Make a Great To-Do List

How do you know what’s important today? How do you know what to finish before you start something else? A well-constructed to-do list is the answer.

Anyone who knows me would confirm I love to-do lists. I don’t love the list itself. I love what it represents: getting stuff done. Who of us doesn’t want to come to the end of a long day and see what we’ve managed to accomplish. There are many advantages of keeping a to-do list (or lists). We’ll talk about those later.

A friend recently asked if i’d show her how I organize my day with a to-do list.

Very simply, I have 4 x 6 post it notes. I divide it as follows:

Date

A
A
A
B
B
B
C
C
C

I spend a little time writing down what I am going to do. This morning reflection is critical

A = must get done
B = should get done
C = might get done.

I have three items for each section (total of 9). It works for me.

Yours may be different. I suppose it doesn’t matter. just as long as you’re prioritizing you do to list each day.