Not an Agent

I took this shot the other night when the kids were doing sparklers.

I took this shot the other night when the kids were doing sparklers.

I am in the process of getting my young adult (YA) novel ready for submission to an agent. I’ve created an entire file full of synopses and “back of the book” blurbs of different lengths, character descriptions, chapter summaries, market analyses, etc,–all the elements different agents want in the proposals writers send to them.

In the middle of writing all these documents, I realized I must also trim the novel itself because right now its word count—which is often required on the first page of the proposal—is long enough that many agents won’t even read all those other carefully crafted pieces—or the manuscript itself.

When I told my husband this, he protested (sweet man). “What if it needs to be that long? What if it actually decreases its quality to shorten it?”

Years of cutting news and magazine articles down to word count specifications make me doubtful of that. A good cutting generally clears the fluff so the essential and good stand out more clearly.

Besides, the question of quality is moot. I read my husband this quote from Chuck Sambuchino at Writer’s Digest:

“Agents have so many queries that they are looking for reasons to say no. They are looking for mistakes, chinks in the armor, to cut their query stack down by one. And if you adopt the mentality that your book has to be long, then you are giving them ammunition to reject you.”

I transition here to the real point of this blog post.

As I was cutting last week, feeling a bit overwhelmed and very uncertain, I thought, “Oh, God, I am so thankful you are not like an agent!”

It’s true! God is not looking for reasons to turn us away, to narrow the field.

He is longing, in fact, to accept us, all of us, with open arms. He calls for us.

But as I thought about this more, I realized I/we act as though God were an agent.

Following his quote above, Chuck Sambuchino went on to say that writers can, of course, assume that all the fine points of their manuscript will outweigh the flaws, that agents will be so amazed by them, they will overlook the too-long word count or editing errors or…

We do the same with God. We come speaking of our tidy editing, acceptable word counts, stunning plot, or brilliant characters; we spread chapter summaries, 35- 50- and 75-word summaries, a 2-page synopsis, character descriptions, and a back-of-book blurb out on the table.

We pretend God is an agent we must impress.

We pretend we can impress Him.

Agents’ requirements remind me of the Old Testament Law, which Hebrews tells us could never make us perfect and Galatians calls “our guardian until Christ came.”

When we continue to live under the Law, coming to God with hands full of our offerings, our work, He will not accept any of it; He rejects it because every bit of it is flawed.

But here is an incredible difference: He hopes we will agree with His assessment.

Because that is the one thing, the only thing, that will gain us entrance with God: our acknowledgment that we need His provision (Christ), that we are incapable of producing anything acceptable.

He wants us to cry out in desperation for Him.

When we do, He crushes us in His arms.

Because though He can’t accept our work, doesn’t want our work…

He does want us.

Let my words be few

The plan--hatched between PJ and Dad--was for him to pick red--for the Chicago Bulls, of course. But PJ saw the BRIGHT orange and was hooked.  So Dave drew a Bears symbol on instead!

The plan–hatched between PJ and Dad–was for him to pick red–for the Chicago Bulls, of course. But PJ saw the BRIGHT orange and was hooked.
So Dave drew a Bears symbol on instead!

I was lecturing–again. I don’t even remember which child it was, but behind him or her, Dave was signaling “STOP”: running his forefinger cutthroat along his neck; then putting his hands up, palms facing me; finally using the choir director’s sign for “and end.”

I got the hint, finally, and said, “Okay, I’m done.” I looked at the child. “Do you understand? Really?” Dave began the cycle of motions again.

The child left, and my shoulders sagged. “Suggestions?” I asked Dave. “I feel like I say the same things over and over and over.”

“And you say them well,” he said. “Too well. You say it, and then you add an illustration, and then you think of another way to say it, and then their eyes are glazing over. Must be the writer in you. Try fewer words.”

Funny how my mouth hasn’t caught up with the lessons my fingers have had to learn.

I used to hate writing word counts. I remember the first time an editor told me a piece had to be drastically reduced in length. There’s no way, I thought. That will ruin it!

It didn’t. In fact, it made it tighter, cleaner. Now I consider word counts a challenge and, eventually–when the cutting is complete, a real blessing to the overall piece.

It’s harder with the words we say, though. With writing, I can let it all out and then cut it before anyone else reads it. We can’t, however, rewind the words we say. Any revision, editing, or cutting has to be done BEFORE they leave our mouths.

“Let your words be few,” Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 5:2. He’s referring to prayer, but I think it’s a good mantra for us whenever we find ourselves with a runaway tongue. 

So many sins are related to what we say–and it’s usually because we talk too MUCH, not too little. Sometimes we have diarrhea of the mouth–completely unfiltered and unchecked (this makes me think of the illustration in James 3 of the tongue as a raging fire). Sometimes we are like a dripping faucet, nagging incessantly. Other times we may not be guilty of unkindness with our words, but we certainly can’t be accused of thoughtfulness either. Like a shallow stream our words gush on and on without much substance.

Proverbs 18:4 says, “Wise words are like deep waters; wisdom flows from the wise like a bubbling brook.” This contrasts what Job said about his very talkative friends. “You’re like unseasonable brooks that dry up in hot weather,” he told them.

Our words should come from a well of wisdom dug by the Holy Spirit. They should come forth, not in a gush but in a gentle flow. I get the impression that deep thought has taken place in the well BEFORE there is any output. The result is that the words are refreshing and helpful. Even reproof comes out of this wisdom, and encouragement is its underlying motivation.

Thought before speech; a gentle flow rather than a flood.

In other words, I need to think about my word count in my speech just as I do in my writing.

This makes sense, doesn’t it! How on earth will my children remember a lesson expressed in a torrent of words, no matter how well it is expressed. But simple directives or statements–like the Proverbs–have a better chance of sticking.

Our household rule for words is pretty simple: “If it won’t do good, don’t say it. If it WILL, DO.” I say this rule to my kids often enough that they tend to recite it with me when I start it. Sometimes THEY start it.

It’s a good rule for me to follow too.

Except I need to add “And then STOP!” at the end of it!



A few more verses about words:

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips. Psalm 141:3

In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise. Proverbs 10:19

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs 25:11

Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls. Proverbs 25:28

When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. Proverbs 31:26

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:41

Then Judas and Silas, both being prophets, spoke at length to the believers, encouraging and strengthening their faith. Acts 15:32

Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; When he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.  Proverbs 17:28