Reviewing the writing process

“What’s it like to write an article every week?” people sometimes ask.

“It makes the week fly by!” I usually respond.

All good writing starts with good ideas. And good ideas are birthed by other good ideas.

My college English professor, Darryl Tippens, was right: “You’ll never write a lot unless you read a lot.”

Put another way, all good readers aren’t good writers, but all good writers are good readers.

Oftentimes good ideas come to life as they’re dwelt upon. Hence, revising is paramount in the writing process.

I hated revising as a student. Proofreading felt like a waste of time. I now realize it makes or breaks a piece, and it has become a favorite part of my routine.

“Two words are not better than one,” Newberry Award winner Madeleine L’Engle said.

Especially if your throng doesn’t know what one of them means! Throng? It means audience.

William Zinsser, in his classic work On Writing Well, wrote:

“Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost…We all have an emotional equity in our first draft; we can’t believe that it wasn’t born perfect. But the odds are close to 100 per cent that it wasn’t.”

Getting an imperfect first draft down is half the battle. Fear of failure, fear of exposure, fear of apostrophes; the opposition is fierce.

Accept that your first draft will be crappy, Anne Lamott said, albeit in slightly smellier language.

In conquering the rough draft, no substitute exists for old-fashioned discipline.

“I only write when I feel like it,” Max Lucado told a writers’ conference once. “And I make sure I feel like it every morning at 9:00 a.m.”

“Write a page every day at the same place and time,” John Grisham told the New York Times in May. “Nothing will happen until you are producing at least one page per day.”

Grisham continued, “Early morning, lunch break, on the train, late at night — it doesn’t matter. Find the extra hour, go to the same place, shut the door. No exceptions, no excuses.”

But don’t keep the door shut forever. Try out your writing in other places.

Lucado suggests reading your writing to yourself, to a friend, out loud, in your bedroom, in your dining room, on your porch, etc. Hear how it sounds in different settings and before different audiences (a.k.a. throngs!).

Zinsser agrees, “Bear in mind, when you’re choosing your words and stringing them together, how they sound…Readers read with their eyes. But in fact they hear what they are reading far more than you realize.”

Then there’s the need for voice, which basically means being true to yourself.

“My commodity as a writer, whatever I’m writing about, is me,” wrote Zinsser. “And your commodity is you. Don’t alter your voice to fit your subject. Develop one voice that readers will recognize when they hear it on the page.”

Lamott also encourages personalization.

“You own everything that happened to you,” she wrote in Bird by Bird. “Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”


Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

 

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TXDOT Planning Roadways Around Boerne

Like it or not, Boerne has traded Bergmann’s for Buc-ee’s. You can rant, or you can rave, but you can’t not notice the extra fifteen seconds it takes you to pull out of an intersection near you.

Of all the ways population growth affects an area, none is more pronounced than vehicle congestion.

I may wait an extra week for a library book every once in a while, or I may wait periodically for a tennis court. But sitting in traffic impacts my life everyday.

“Transportation is a family values issue,” The Honorable Dan Branch used to tell a conservative Texas House of Representatives. “You can’t spend time with your family when you’re stuck in traffic.”

Branch’s remarks often came while lawmakers jockeyed either to reduce transportation funding or to siphon gas tax revenues into non-road areas of state government.

Boerne’s City Council and Kendall County’s Commissioners Court were on the right track when they linked up in 2015 to formally ask the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) to help preserve corridors for future roadways.

By mid-2016, TXDOT committed $250,000 – yes, $250,000 – for a comprehensive “Kendall Gateway Study.” TXDOT has since engaged multiple engineering and consulting firms, as well as various local stakeholder groups.

A January 2017 open house brought hundreds of concerned citizens from the woodworks along with dozens of comments about the mobility and congestion issues facing Kendall County.

After almost a year of talking, the study’s rubber is starting to hit the road. While we are still a few months away from conclusions, some points are rising to the surface.

“This study is data driven,” understated one of the project’s engineers. A report posted to the study’s Web site shows 283 pages of documentation about the aforementioned open house.

Every e-mailed, handwritten or spoken remark was captured for posterity’s sake. We’re largely saying the same things: keep Boerne desirable and create sufficient through routes and roadway redundancies.

In addition to the age-old tube strips across roadways, engineers are using Bluetooth-enabled traffic data collection methods.

If a vehicle has a GPS or mobile device emitting a Bluetooth signal, data collectors can tell not only from which direction it enters Boerne but also in which direction it leaves, purportedly without invading anyone’s privacy.

Of the traffic coming into Boerne from State Highway 46 (SH 46) east (i.e., Bergheim area), a majority is going west toward Kerrville, not into the country’s 7th largest city, San Antonio. Traffic from SH 46 west of Boerne tends to go toward San Antonio.

Increasingly, SH 46 is being used as an outer loop. As Loop 1604 gets more developed and congested, traffic flows from Interstate 35 and from Interstate 10 east of San Antonio are turning to SH 46.

Whether this data prioritizes a thoroughfare around Boerne’s northeast side from SH 46 to IH 10 West over a southeast connector from SH 46 to IH 10 East remains debatable.

What is not debatable is this: Not only do we have a lot of people moving to Boerne, we also have a lot of people moving through Boerne. Hopefully, we’re getting closer to deciding which route(s) they should take.

 

Follow Kevin Thompson at www.kwt.info.

A Bible Belt Survival Guide

Except for a single semester in college, I have never not lived in the Bible Belt. I’ve also experienced firsthand – and for long stretches – what some people call the buckles: Nashville, Dallas and Abilene.

For the carpetbaggers among us, the Bible Belt is that swath of the religious South not easily understood by eastern bluebloods, western free spirits or pragmatic midwesterners, though the latter likely relates the most.

The Bible Belt’s culture is frequently stereotyped in national entertainment and media circles.

It is even parodied within itself by folks – yes, folks – like Jon Acuff, editor of the Web site “Stuff Christians Like,” along with Christian comedians Tim Hawkins, Tripp Crosby and John Crist.

These content creators certainly differentiate between (A) making light of the idiosyncrasies of God’s people and (B) making fun of God.

They would likely point out that Jesus himself had his biggest field days with the religious people of his day.

The humorists might even adapt Churchill’s line, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others,” by saying the church is the worst form of religious organizations except for all the others.  Jesus did give his spirit to his body, after all.

But sometimes we maintain our sanity by laughing at ourselves, which is my intent with the following survival tips.

Whether your radio station is The Fish, The Rock, The Way, The River, K-LOVE or W-JOY, the same record labels seem to control the playlist. It includes the same five songs, and they all sound about the same. For artistic health, mix in some U2, Tim McGraw and Mat Kearney.

You will go to church with someone who makes you want to bathe in the baptistry when you finish talking to him. Tape your top grace-themed scriptures to your shampoo bottle.

There will be more service opportunities than you have time or energy to fulfill. Boundaries will blur as guilt creeps in. A well-timed decline of a volunteer solicitation may keep you from burning out in areas that matter more.

Small groups have many names: care groups, community groups, life groups, heart groups, Hebrews 10:25 groups. They all mean the same thing: Christianity is more relational, vulnerable and transparent than most of us would naturally prefer.

Whether your group is church-sanctioned or just a band of believers, intimate allies will keep Christianity relational, not just cultural. The church did start around a dinner table.

If you hire a plumber with a fish on his business card, he may not be any better at plumbing – or treat you any more honestly – than a plumber with a Harley sticker on his truck. As Reagan said, “Trust and verify.”

Finally, author John Eldredge tells the story of a tour guide he experienced in the Normandy region of France, site of the Allies’ 1944 D-Day invasion. The dull docent demonstrated nonchalance not commensurate with the heroism that happened there.

“He had all of the facts, but none of the story,” Eldredge observed.

For believers deep in the Bible Belt, may the same not be said of us.


Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Over the Hill, Under the Sea

I turned forty two weeks ago. Yes, I was born within a week of Elvis’ passing. Mom still thinks there’s a correlation.

Going over the hill is not as bad as I feared. It’s not a mountain, after all. And I still have hair, at least when viewed from the front.

From the back, it’s a different story.

Scientists call it male pattern baldness. My wife calls it a solar panel for a you-know-what machine. My kids call it a “Bob spot.”

I tell them it’s just proof that I know something. Then I remind the boys about the concept of heredity.

Hair changes, including the aggressive protrusion of hair from the insides of one’s ears, are among the differences time inspire.

Just as bodies change with the decades, so do the questions about the road of life.

The first decade of life demands, “Are we there yet?” The teenage years scream, “What a ride!” The twenties announce, “I’ve arrived.” The thirties, with its focus on kids and career, wonder, “Am I getting anywhere?”

Then, you get to the top of the proverbial hill and ask, “Do I like the view?” Many people don’t.

Here, a fork appears: Will I grow disgruntled with how things have turned out and take an off-ramp? Or will I stay the course and finish what I started?

People find plenty of justifications for the exits they take. By mid-life, the drip, drip, drip of life can fill to neck level. Life has a way of not meeting expectations, and a fortieth birthday can pronounce the disappointments.

The so-called mid-life crisis may not simply be a calculated, albeit selfish, decision. It may feel compulsive, like a survival mechanism, like a choice to remain viable.

We innately know at age forty that the ride down won’t be smooth or gradual. “Getting old is not for sissies,” old-timers say between doctor visits.

The best we can hope for is that the hilltop visit sharpens our focus on what’s important.

Blogger Morgan Snyder says most people spend their thirties building kingdoms: families, businesses, careers, organizations, etc.

He, instead, spent his thirties attempting to accumulate wisdom. He interviewed dozens of gray hairs and presented the results at www.becomegoodsoil.com.

Snyder concludes that people are like icebergs: ninety per cent is below the surface – their motives. The behavior and actions above the surface are driven by what lies beneath.

The person who excavates his life – and allows timeless wisdom from ancient paths to form a firm foundation – that is the person who takes the hill and keeps on climbing.


Follow Kevin Thompson at www.kwt.info.

 

Wisdom from Washington, finally

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts delivered a commencement address recently. It wasn’t Ivy League or even SEC. It was his son’s middle school graduation.

As most wisdom does, Roberts’ remarks turned conventional thinking on its head in a profoundly simple way. Most graduation speeches wish for the best. Roberts’ speech wished for the worst.

“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted.”

Roberts continued to wish bad luck for his listeners – so they would understand their “success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.” He also hoped they’d be periodically ignored, so their own listening skills would improve.

Speaking amidst an increasingly pompous culture, Roberts wished not just failure for the students, but also for their opponents to gloat over them. Then, he said, they would more greatly appreciate the virtue of sportsmanship.

And since the young men were finishing up at a prestigious New Hampshire boarding school, Roberts told them to recognize they were privileged but not to act like it.

“When you get to your new school, walk up and introduce yourself to the person who is raking the leaves, shoveling the snow or emptying the trash. Learn their name and call them by their name during your time at the school.”

Roberts knows the entitlement mentality can attack the privileged as much as it can attack the impoverished. He also knows it will lead to the demise of our nation.

If the world owes me something because of the family into which I was born, or because of the largeness – or smallness – of my bank account, I will not work; I will not strive to earn. The payment is already due.

Extrapolate the point across a country or across a generation and you’ll end up with an unproductive society. The “due tos” will surpass the “due froms” and insolvency is just around the corner.

“What did you do this weekend?” I asked a mid-twenties millennial at my company.

“Mostly played video games,” he answered. The young man works hard five days a week. A few video games on the weekend are probably in order.

For others, the ratio is reversed. A couple of days of hard work entitles them to five days of unwinding.

We all would do well to remember the starting thesis of Dr. Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Travelled: Life is difficult. It’s one problem to be solved after the next. It requires organization, diligence and perseverance.

And that, I think, was Justice Roberts’ point: Embrace adversity.

The successful life isn’t one void of challenges. It’s one that’s shaped by them. Sometimes they harden us. Sometimes they soften us. Always they strengthen us.

 

Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

 

From the mouths of babes

It’s time for quotable kid quotes a la the late Art Linkletter’s “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” I usually capture them for our family Christmas card, but with five young minds going many miles an hour, there’s plenty for a mid-year helping.

“What are you giving up for lent?” I asked our thirteen-year-old last spring. “Church,” he replied with a mischievous middle school smile. Then, more maturely, “Instagram.”

Our seven-year-old son was catch-and-release fishing recently. When we couldn’t get a deep hook out of one fish’s mouth, we cut the line and threw it back with the hook still in. He observed, “That fish now has a nose ring.”

His twin sister heard her voice bounce off a stone wall. “It made a gecko!”

During a recent rain shower, she saw a rainbow while driving down Interstate 10. “There’s a rainbow!” she said with excitement. The road noise kept her twin brother from hearing her clearly.

“Where’s Rambo?” he asked.

At a restaurant dinner, I explained that the drinks were not free. “You pretty much have to pay for everything you get in life,” I said so as to not pass up a teachable moment.

A seven-year-old needed clarity, “What about if you find it?”

His eight-year-old brother asked a brilliant question related to a retail industry turned on its head by e-commerce: “Does everything at JC Penney’s cost a penny?”

Speaking of money, the twins got some from their grandparents for their birthday. Our son opened the envelope and concluded the $50 check was solely for him. When I explained otherwise, he whined, “But 5 is an odd number; how do you split it?”

When we visited a friend’s church, our eight-year-old noticed a similarity between their minister and ours. “Do you have to be bald to be a preacher?” he inquired.

A few nights ago, I told his little brother to go to bed. His response: “But I haven’t yawned yet!”

His sister tried to bend the rules, too.

Dad: “Did you brush your teeth?”

Daughter: “Uhh, yeah.”

Dad: ”Are you telling the truth?”

Daughter, walking towards the bathroom: “I think I didn’t. Thank you, Dad.”

My pleasure.

Later, as I tucked her into bed, she “didn’t want to use the f-word” to describe an overweight school friend. Instead, she said “he had a big tummy.”

One morning I asked her if she would like some strawberries in her raisin bran. “No, thanks,” she said. “I’m not a grown-up yet.”

“I wish my birthday was on September 25,” our eight-year-old confided. When I asked why, he remarked as if I was missing something obvious, “Because it’s Christmas!”

It’s not just dates we get turned around. It’s words, as well.

“Mom, I need some sand hanitizer.”

“Dad, where should I put the kitty glitter?”

One time I heard this version of This Little Light of Mine:

“Hide it under the bushes, NO!”

It’s not just words we get wrong. It’s numbers, two. (Sic!)

“I know the firefighters’ pass code! It’s 1-1-9!”

And sometimes it’s the letters we get turned around, as in this text from my angel:

“i love you bab”

Follow Kevin Thompson at http://www.kwt.info.

A Weekend in the Sea Breeze

We took the kids to the coast last spring. Seven of us packed into my Toyota Land Cruiser. Despite its 200,000th mile being just around the corner, we took it over the minivan. We thought its more rugged nature would play better in the great outdoors.

I loaded the cruiser with enough beach inflatables to fill both the luggage rack up top and the luggage shelf that plugs into the back trailer hitch.

Ever seen an inflatable kayak? The seasonal inventory buyer at Costco has. He put about 30 “Sea Eagles” in his San Antonio stores five Christmases ago. One of them now sat on top of my SUV.

We rented a house in the middle of Old Rockport. It was a VRBVPO (Vacation Rental By Very Proud Owner).

It was a mile from the man-made Rockport beach, but by the decor inside, you’d think it was on its own island in the Caribbean. Our weekend was basically brought to us by the color turquoise.

Don’t get me wrong, “Sea Breeze Cottage” was worth the money. It just wasn’t always worth the wait.

Our kids are bigger now than when we took our last trip to the coast, but they are also more mature. We thought the two factors would cancel each other out. For the most part, they did.

Silence is golden on road trips with five kids, but it’s also frequently broken by “I’m hungry” or “Stop it!” or “How much farther?”

We played a game called “Catch Phrase” to pass the time. You’re supposed to get your teammates to guess a common phrase without using the words in the phrase itself. One of our younger children didn’t get the message.

“This is a house that’s at the beach. It’s a blank house.” (Beach house)

“This is a day we celebrate mothers.” (Mother’s Day)

“This is a pie that’s made in a pot. It has chicken in it.” (Chicken pot pie)

We got some great laughs, and his team got a nice win.

Once we arrived, coastal fishing was high on the agenda. Unfortunately, I’m not much help. Having grown up in a landlocked state, I’m basically a fish out of water.

Thankfully, the Good Lord sent an angel in the form of a retired Texas A&M marine biology professor. He had also doubled as a bay fishing guide for three decades until retiring a few years ago.

He pointed us to a green-lit pier and showed us how to bait live shrimp. We nabbed a few speckled trout.

On the way home, we took the ferry over to North Padre Island.

“Why do they call it an island when it’s part of Texas?” asked an 8-year-old on the third row. Great question. And why is that island sitting in the “Gulf of Mexico?”

“Gulf of Texas” makes better sense. I agree. Somebody call our state rep…it’s time for a referendum!

Speaking of referenda, our 6-year-old daughter decided one was in order. She polled her brothers, “Who wants a new dad? Raise your hand.” I couldn’t bear to see the results in the rearview mirror.

But then her sweet, angelic voice cast what may have been the deciding vote: “I don’t.”

With that, I found the strength to drive another mile.

 

Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.


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