It’s all about communication

There’s a very nice little mailbox standing at the end of our driveway. It meets all the requirements that Canada Post has for an individual rural mailbox … but our mail is not delivered there. Instead, we walk or drive the equivalent of about three city blocks to where a set of group, or community mailboxes are located.

Mailboxes

It’s not a huge problem for us to pick up our mail there. We’ve been doing it for almost twenty years. But recently Canada Post changed its services and began phasing out home delivery even in the cities, causing much indignation from those who have always enjoyed the convenience of door-to-door delivery. It’s an economic move for Canada Post.

I understand their rationale, but this business of raising postage costs while reducing services has been going on for many years, and I’ve never understood why they think charging us more but offering us less is going to make them more money. The more it costs me to mail a letter, the fewer letters I mail, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. This has the potential of being a constant downward spiral!

I like the personal touch of handwritten cards and letters, but as they become more expensive, I resort more to e-mail and telephone calls. When I look at the number of people I contact regularly through e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter, I recognize the convenience and immediacy of digital communication with them has many benefits. I probably wouldn’t handwrite long, newsy letters every few days if I needed to seal pages into envelopes, affix a costly stamp, and trundle them off to the post box, then wait a week for them to be delivered. Instead, I resort to a quick few paragraphs on the computer or iPhone, press ‘send’ … and my message is instantly in a friend’s home to be read at their convenience.

Is it a better way to communicate? I don’t think so, but as long as Canada Post continues to make it more expensive, more difficult and more time consuming to do it ‘the old fashioned way’, I won’t hesitate to follow the digital trend.

As a writer, I think communication is a big deal, but I seem to be in the minority when it comes to the personal version. Even cursive writing and penmanship are becoming a lost art as they are being phased out of the curriculum in many schools. I sometimes wonder if there is a correlation between the decline in personal communication and the breakdown of social standards — i.e., lack of respect for other people and for public property, ignorance of etiquette and common courtesies, etc.

That may be taking it a little too far, but it’s food for thought.

One dilemma that the decline in personal communication creates is in novel writing, where rapidly changing technologies outdate what would otherwise be timeless stories. Any mention of faxes, cell phones, thumb drives or CDs, for instance, will sandwich a story firmly in a particular decade, and possibly make it less relevant to potential readers.

We’ve come a long way from author Jack Whyte’s “cold stone slab and a chisel”* but I’m not sure every step has been in a desirable direction.

How do you address constantly changing methods of communication in your novel writing?

* Jack Whyte, Surrey International Writers’ Conference 2014

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The Frustration of Misunderstanding

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To be misunderstood can be the writer’s punishment
for having disturbed the reader’s peace.
The greater the disturbance, the greater the possibility of misunderstanding.

Anatole Broyard

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Lilacs

I read agents’ blogs for several reasons. One is to learn as much as I can about the publishing industry. Another is to learn what separates one agent from another as an author’s representative. I’m naïve enough to believe I’m eventually going to find the agent that God has in mind for me – that one person who believes in my work and wants to help me refine it, then be an advocate for it with publishing houses.

The agent/author relationship strikes me as being much like a marriage. There’s need of good communication, mutual understanding and appreciation, trust and commitment, and the willingness to apologize when necessary.

Until this past weekend I don’t think I’ve ever come across an agent who said, “I messed up royally,” but those are the exact words of Books & Such agent Rachelle Gardner, along with “I completely miscommunicated.” Personally, I didn’t think she messed up at all, but her blog post entitled “Will My Publisher Let Me Self-Publish Too?” in which she attempted “to explain the publishers’ concerns in this new age of hybrid authors who are both traditionally- and self-published,” set off an explosion among her readers. Several of them misunderstood her stance and took offence.

Such an outcry! But rather than show frustration with those who clearly missed her point, with her usual grace Rachelle accepted the blame for miscommunicating and took the time to respond to several commenters and write a second post* to clarify her words and correct the misunderstanding. What a wonderful example of Christian humility and patience!

Human nature often makes us want to defend our choices, to justify and argue. It’s not easy to take criticism, or to say, “I’m sorry. Let me try and get it right this time” when you weren’t wrong in the first place. In an industry that’s all about words, communication and relationships, Rachelle Gardner has demonstrated the qualities that set her apart as an extraordinary agent and author advocate.

What’s the one most important characteristic you would hope to find in an agent representing you and your work?

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Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating
than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

A tender answer turns away rage,
 but a prickly reply spikes anger.

Proverbs 15:1 (The Voice)
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* EXCERPT:

“On Monday I wrote a post in which I attempted to explain the publishers’ concerns in this new age of hybrid authors who are both traditionally- and self-published. But I messed up royally.

“In my effort to illuminate the publisher’s perspective on things, I inadvertently came across as completely defending the publishers’ viewpoints, and somehow being on the side of “Big Pub” (as some commenters put it) rather than being an advocate for authors. That was my mistake. I badly miscommunicated, and I regret it because it led to so much misunderstanding.” (Rachelle Gardner)

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Will Christmas cards become obsolete?

WooHoo!!! I’m done! Yes, I’m smirking. Every year about this time I begin to panic as I face the inevitable postal deadline for mailing out Christmas cards. It’s not like the middle of December doesn’t always arrive in the middle of December. It’s just that the date always sneaks up on me.

But not this year. With the help of my hubby, our little stack has been written, sealed, stamped and is ready to drop into the postbox today… before the middle of the month. How’s that for efficiency? (I don’t want an answer from those of you who amazingly mailed yours off on December 1st.)

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I like this annual tradition. I don’t like to be rushed with the selecting, composing and remembering as I write.

I know there are people who have given up on Christmas cards, finding them a chore, or preferring to save the cost of purchase and postage and avoid writer’s cramp in favour of sending an e-mailed greeting, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. I send the occasional Hallmark e-card myself. However, on the receiving end, unless I print out those messages, I can’t sit down with a coffee at my convenience and enjoy browsing through the cards multiple times, admiring the different designs and re-reading the messages from family members and friends old and new. I’m one of those oddities who savours Christmas newsletters, loves to catch up on the year’s happenings and study photos of everyone’s grandchildren.

Communication has seen a major overhaul in the past couple decades. I treasure Skype and iChat visits with my family, and adore the e-mailed digital photos taken one minute and delivered to my inbox the next. Instant text messages by the hundreds have replaced many conversations, reducing personal interaction, and yet I see how convenient they are.

I wouldn’t want our current technology to disappear, but neither would I like ‘the old ways’ to be discarded. Like print books and eBooks, I think there is justification for both methods to complement each other – times when each can meet a personal need.

When I mail these envelopes later today it will be with the hope that each recipient will share the same pleasure from the greeting that I get out of writing it – the same pleasure that I do when theirs arrives here. It is a cherished tradition, this age-old form of communicating our good will at Christmas.

(Did you notice that communication has ‘commune’ as its root?)

Do you think writers might enjoy this form of communication more than non-writers? Do you still send out traditional Christmas cards? Do you think they will eventually become obsolete?

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Seeing Clearly

Ah, yes… fog. If you click on over to The Pastor’s Wife Speaks blog today, you’ll find me there with a devotional on the importance of clarity in communication. Or maybe it has more to do with miscommunication. Whatever.

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The Pastor's Wife Speaks

Writing the Significant Versus the Superficial

This is a repost from two years ago. As I dug into the motivation of one of my characters last weekend, I encountered Cami Tang’s post on Seekerville regarding deep point of view, and somehow it seemed appropriate to revisit my thoughts.

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A couple years ago I wrote about recognizing the need to ‘go deep’ in my writing, to extract words that are uniquely my own, and I reinforced my conviction that nothing significant comes from the superficial. I had read Toni McGee Causey’s post on the Murderati blog where she prefaced her question about ‘Comfort Reading’  with three poignant pain-filled vignettes. And then she added, “Write…for her… for him… for us.” It was as if her words were aimed directly at me.

I’ve been brooding over her request. There is a cliché about facing one’s demons. If I descend into that part of the abyss where empathy resides, if I stay in the depths long enough to write what will be significant, who will I be when I resurface?

About storytelling Toni says, “We need to connect. We need to both transport somewhere other than our own daily circumstances and to connect to others, to know that someone out there understands us. Understands our fears, our desires. We need to escape, without physically abandoning our family and friends. Stories do that. We need the hope, the connection, the dream.”

She’s right, but storytelling for that purpose involves risk. Writing despite the risk takes courage.

I don’t know if I have that kind of courage. Do you? Can you reach deep down within and touch painful places that allow you to bring a character’s rawness onto the page?

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*Photographer: Salvatore Vuono

Another Use for Technology

Technology gets both kudos and criticism, depending on the perspective. Yes, we spend too much time on our assorted computerized toys… sometimes to the detriment of health and home life. But here’s one application of Apple’s new iPad that has to be a benefit nobody can deny.

I knew there was a reason why I love technology!

“Dog Speak” Says More Than You Might Imagine

My dog rarely makes a sound. He talks with his ears. If he needs to go outside he stands in the hallway and just looks at us… and looks… and looks. And eventually I notice the angle of his ears. There’s something about the way he holds them that suggests anxiety. When I ask if he wants to go outside the ears shoot up and he bounces around, silently proclaiming, “Yes, yes, that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to tell you!”

 

Although body language conveys a lot, people aren’t nearly as good at silent communication as animals. A talented pantomime can provide gestures that convey a lot but in my opinion the most effective communication is still a one-on-one verbal exchange.

 

Good communication between writers and their readers depends on both methods. For instance, we come to know characters through the author’s choice of words in a carefully constructed balance of description and dialogue. Fine tuning that balance is challenging but essential. Without it characters are flat, two dimensional, and their actions and conversations artificial… just words stalled on a page.

 

As a writer one of my goals is to help readers understand what the ears are saying.