Let’s Get Sticky

I am in love with my very special guest and have been for over 45 years. Charles Huff is not only my wonderful husband, he’s a writer as well. His blog, Boosterclub, focuses on insights from the Scripture and his own life lessons. He has a book shelf dedicated to biographies of famous and infamous people.  Today, I’ve asked him to share some writing insights from the life of Winston Churchill.

charles huff headshot

Sticky Statements

Have you heard of sticky sentences? That’s cardiac arrest for our masterpieces, right? Those are the sentences that drag your readers to a stop. I am betting you’ve heard the instruction to be ruthless in self-editing as you strive to eliminate many reader distractions. So, why am I calling us to get sticky? Because I recently learned about sticky statements (not to be confused with those pesky sticky sentences). Sticky statements are those words you want to stick to your audience long after they have read your article or book or listened to your speech. They should move, motivate or be memorable—whether in non-fiction or fiction.

I think sometimes they happen by accident. I remember some classic lines from movies we’ve been told were delivered by an actor off-script. Many months ago, my critique partners pulled out a line I had written rather off the cuff. They held it up as the most powerful line in the story. So, why work so hard at it? Well, because of a surprise history lesson I received.

Darkest Hour

My wife gave me a copy of the book Darkest Hour by Anthony McCarten after we had seen the movie. Intentional or not, McCarten gave us writers this crafting lesson about sticky statements from Winston Churchill. (The movie doesn’t express it, so read the book!

In the beginning we are introduced to a young Churchill. He’s a bit introverted and insecure. His insecurity grew as his leadership opportunities ended in disaster for England. He appeared to be the worst choice to hold any leadership position in government. When his name rose to the top consideration for Prime Minister, members of Parliament cringed at the thought. The king opposed him. But, they could not find anyone else. They seriously considered paying Hitler off through surrendering territories to him. They wanted to avoid war on their soil.

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Winston Churchill

 

Words hold tremendous power

How did such a man end up being a world hero? One of Churchill’s qualities and practices stands out as a primary reason. He ruthlessly self-edited, striving for sticky statements. McCarten explains that at age 22 Churchill immersed himself in the classics, reading Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. At age 23, he wrote an essay he called “The Scaffolding of Rhetoric.” He was convinced words held tremendous power when handled carefully. His own ruthless editing gave rise to the reputation that he spent one hour of preparation for each minute of a speech.

He seeded his speeches with tension, let anticipation rise, gave small payoffs only to create new tension. He kept his audiences engrossed through each rise and fall until he knew they were ready to jump to their feet. His conclusions were sharpened and driven home with his audiences through his word choice. They must be words that carried emotion. They had to be in the right order. He practiced in his room, pacing, pausing, gesticulating. Churchill often dropped them into conversations with others to gage the reactions and then change his speech accordingly.

History declares how well it paid off. Great Britain prepared to buckle before the military might of Hitler’s Germany until May 13, 1940. Churchill stood before the House of Commons (and in truth before the nation) and spoke the words that changed the heart of each of his countrymen. “I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

He ended with defining his aim: “I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”

 

dunkirk

Churchill inspired a nation. Every available boat was manned and  crossed the English Channel to rescue 340,000 soldiers.

 

He used his skills to convince the King of France not to surrender. He spoke with field commanders facing impossible odds to continue to the last man so the evacuation of Dunkirk would succeed. His carefully chosen words breathed courage and determination into men facing certain death. But for one man laboring over ruthless editing and sticky statements, the world would be a different place today.

We may never write anything that would have a world-changing impact. But we have the power to impact someone’s world. Sometimes you need to get sticky.

About Mr. Wonderful

See more of Charles Huff’s writings at www.chashuff.wordpress.com where he offers encouragement toward the abundant life Jesus promised. He is part of two anthologies: James Stuart Bell’s Gifts from Heaven: True Stories of Miraculous Answers to Prayer and Susan King’s Short and Sweet, Too. He has devotionals published at www.christiandevotions.us and The Upper Room. He and his wife are charter members of Word Weavers International of Aurora, Illinois.

What words from a book, movie or speech have inspired you? What is your process to create powerful words?

 

 

 

 

How God Answered This Writer’s Fleece

sheepskin-2

My fleece before the Lord involved finances not sheepskin.

In 2006 while on a mission trip in the Philippines I heard the Lord stirring in my heart to get serious about writing again. I’d put it aside as my life got busier and my discouragement heightened regarding getting paid for publication. I was alone on my writing journey and tired of the whole thing. But the prompting wouldn’t go away. When I arrived home, I challenged the Lord as Gideon had. I placed a fleece before God. “If you really want me to write again, I want to take this online writing course presented through the Christian Writer’s Guild. It’s pretty pricey and I don’t have the funds. If you want me to do this, provide the tuition.”

I’m sure God laughed at my resistance and at the same time said. “Cindy, watch how I answer this challenge.”

Shortly after I shared my fleece challenge with my husband, I got a letter in the mail. Months earlier I had received a letter from the same law firm regarding a class action suit against a car dealership. Apparently, they had run credit checks on mass numbers of people before sending out ads for their sale. This is illegal and the company was being sued. I was on the list of defendants. I thought at the time, “Why not.” I figured I would get a few dollars.

Well, the most recent letter confirmed I was receiving a settlement. I followed all the directions in the letter. Even confirming the law firm and lawsuit were legitimate before giving them my social security number. When the check arrived it was exactly what I needed to pay for the course. God couldn’t have made it any clearer. I enrolled in the two-year course, completing it in a year. When provides such clear direction you don’t mess around.

Next, I asked God for provision to attend the Writing for the Soul conference in Colorado, put on by Jerry Jenkins founder of the Christian Writer’s Guild. He reminded me I had enough credit card points to provide my airfare. I had never before redeemed any points and didn’t realize tickets were an

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Jerry Jenkins and I

option.

On the plane I sat with an author who told me how to write an elevator pitch. (I didn’t even know what that was.) At the conference, Susan King, editor of the Upper Room gave me tips on how to approach editors and publishers during appointments. I meet lots of writes at various stages of their careers and made new friends. I signed up for the journeymen course through CWG for fiction writing.

I was walking the path God had laid out for me and there was no turning back. I had to develop thick-skin and quell jealousy when it appeared someone’s path to publication was easier than mine. I struggled with prioritizing and allowing myself the pleasure of the writer’s moniker. (I still do.)

In the past ten years I have attended a writer’s conference every year. Although it is usually Write to Publish which is in my own backyard in Wheaton, Illinois. Looking back over these years I’ve seen how much one fleece has given me boldness to ask God for more direction. He continues to bring people and opportunities into my life that reinforce God’s calling to write.

The path gets rocky and hairpin curves abound but I know this is the journey he has set me on. It is up to me whether I will continue following his direction or, as in the past, sideline myself. I think this time I will reach my goal of multiple books published. God had provided support through other writers, their blogs, writing books and conferences. He has placed me in a community of wordsmiths whose goal I have embraced. We help one another get published and fulfill God’s calling on our lives. If not for that fleece and His clear answer I know I won’t be continuing on this less that glamorous undertaking.

 

What are your writing goals? What is happening in your life to guide you to your goals? Do you sense God’s leading? Please share with me in the comments; I’d love to hear about it.

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