Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Advice To a Newbie Writer

This month the writers at Quills and Inkblotts are thinking back to their early days of writing, and sharing advice they would give themselves if they could.

I have to go back nearly five years, to Fall of 2011. That's when my husband listened to me falter, and shrug, and attempt to explain this writing "thing" which I didn't even fully understand. He was gracious to give me two full days alone to write (with three children under 7, that was an extravagant gift to me). I cranked out 10,000 words in those two days. When the weekend was over, I emerged from my cocoon smiling, exhausted, and excited about what I had created.

I've added hundreds of thousands of words to those first ones, in the form of four complete manuscripts (and one partially written one), two blogs, and pages and pages of journaling. 

If I could go back to that faltering, excited newbie writer, I would tell her three things.

1.  It's not ready yet. It's not even close.
Stop fantasizing about your adoring fans, and how much they are going to love your work. You think it's great. It's not. Don't waste a single second thinking about querying (silly me, you don't even know that word yet), contests, and publication. You're not there yet. 

This will be a long process for you. There will be starts and stops, and massive "life stuff" that suffocates the writing flame. Let it happen. The flame won't go out entirely. It will be a pilot light, fragile, blue, and flickering in cobwebby shadows in the basement of your mind. When the time is right, the flame will roar to life again. You will successfully knock the cobwebs away, and open the document. The story will change in ways your mind can't conceive right now. After all this time, you will have eyes to see how much you've learned about writing, about life, and about God. That has to happen. You can't rush it, so just keep pinging away on the keyboard for now, and know that it's not ready yet.

2. You are not alone.
I know you feel like the only person on earth who has had this crazy idea: I think I'll try to write a book. You walk past shelves at the library, lightly touching the cellophane-wrapped spines as you pass them, convinced those authors are mythical beasts. They don't exist in your world. Normal, suburban nobodies like you don't dream this dream. They don't devote copious isolated hours to this strange task which may never come to fruition. 

In a few short years (they will feel long to you, but they aren't), God will make you see that your greatest need as a writer is to have a reader. You will pray for that constantly for a while, feeling acutely lonely, and then He will direct you to ACFW. You will discover a whole world full of people exactly like you, the ones who dreamed this dream, devoted themselves to their creative labor, and came together online to encourage, critique, and remind one another that they are not alone. This will change everything for you. Remember to thank God for this when it happens.

3. Take the pressure off yourself. God is sovereign over this.
You will read Ephesians 4:1 "I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge to you walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called." And you will hope writing is what God has called you to do. You will wonder, what does it look like to walk in a manner worthy of it? A thousand words a day every day? A blog post every week? Post clicks, likes, and shares? Saving up for conference? The Almighty Book Deal?

This verse will weigh heavy on you as the years of striving pass with nothing much to show for your work. You will begin to doubt this is what God called you to do. "I'm trying!" your heart will cry out in shame that you were wrong, and in fear that you've wasted your time, your witness, your life.
Then one Spring day in early 2016 God will pry your eyes open and make you see the pride in all your striving. He'll show you how your heart was tangled up in self-righteous knots, and how your ambition, though it has always been sincerely to please him, was also bound up in your own glory, the work of your hands, the thing you would create. You hoped it would please him, but you also hoped it would please a publisher; that it would make you feel satisfied, productive, and accomplished.  

That's not your calling, my friend. Your calling is so much bigger than writing, so much longer-lasting. It is eternal.

Your calling is to live a life justified, in fellowship with Christ Jesus. It looks like patience. It looks like obedience. You don't need to strive. The striving is done. It was done by One more qualified and able than you.

But there is work. If your calling is to live in fellowship with Christ, then your work is that which builds up the body of Christ. This can be done through writing fiction; through creating characters who struggle with disunity, who learn, and who grow in their faith. It is right to use this writing gift to tell the story of a people who loved the Lord. It is a fitting labor.

This I know today, after five years of writing: I am at rest.
I still don't have it all figured out. I still have made very little of myself in the writing world. Truthfully, I am not worthy of this writing work. I confess that to you, Dear Reader, and to God. Yet the work continues, and will continue until God takes from me this dream, and sets my heart on another. Until that day, this work of my hands, this thimble of foam, I offer trembling to Christ, to do with what he will--to keep it hidden, or to give it wings--whatever would be to the benefit to his beloved people, the Church. I can rest in that.

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