To Would-Be Writers: My Advice on Writing and Getting Published
If you are trying to become published, stop looking for short cuts. Do not ask a published friend to introduce you to an editor, do not print your manuscript on pink paper, and do not send it to your favorite author in an e-mail. Simply write an irresistible story. Keep working at it until you find an editor who agrees.
Face the possibility that you may be called to write for your children, your grandchildren, your church newsletter, and other local venues. That is a ministry in itself, and a worthy one. Do not disparage any of these avenues, but do your best at them. Anyone who writes is a writer. Never forget that.
There are many people who really don’t want to be writers, they want to be published. If you think being published will make all your dreams come true, think again. Life will go on pretty much the way it did before. People who know you well will be, for the most part, singularly unimpressed. They will view your work as a nice little hobby, or think it is only being carried in local bookstores. People who view you with stars in their eyes will do so largely out of ignorance—either they don’t know you or they don’t know what being a writer is really like. When they get to know you as an ordinary person, or when they learn how hard writing can be, those stars will vanish.
Life as a published author is not an endless junket of book signings. It’s a seemingly endless round of sitting at a desk, staring at a computer, and hoping against hope that the words rolling from the ends of your fingertips can carry the spark of life and a glimmer of truth to the reader you HOPE will pick up the book. It’s living by feast and famine, walking in faith that your finances will be provided and your creative well replenished.
Once you are published, doors do not always open easily, fans do not routinely flock, people unrelated to your mother usually do not stand in line to praise your work. Getting your foot in the door is hard; keeping it there can be even harder. The work you did to get published will have to be improved upon. You will have to grow, to sweat, to strain, to keep improving. Most of the “overnight successes” you read about have been quietly laboring for years.
You will receive fan letters from people who say your book is the best thing they have ever read. Do not believe them; they say that to everyone. You will also receive letters from people who say you’re the worst writer alive and could not possibly be a Christian. Do not believe them, either. You will also receive occasional letters from people who gently point out areas where you may have erred—those letters you may take to heart, for they may be God’s way of correcting you.
If your book does not do as well as you have hoped, you will be tempted to become critical and envious of others’ success, to complain about your editors, your marketing department, your reviewers and bookstores. You will find that life is a never-ending struggle to walk in obedience to the Lord who called you to follow him. You will have to avoid being distracted by marketing plans and promotional gimmicks and best-seller lists. You will have to cast your dreams of million dollar sales on the altar and realize that if God calls you to write books that sell ten thousand, that is better than selling a zillion copies of a book not written in obedience. At some point, you will have to decide—are you writing for the praise of men or the glory of God?
Writing is a job like anything else, neither higher nor lower than the calling of the Christian dentist, minister, teacher, or day care worker. We have to see ourselves as ministers to an unseen audience many months away, and trust that the Lord will place books in the proper hands. We have to struggle against pride when a book does well; we have to struggle against discouragement when a book does not.
We have to be kind enough to rejoice when a brother or sister succeeds; we have to resist the inner editor and critic who would (incorrectly) assure us our work is better. We have to guard against the self-censor who urges us to write to the market instead of writing the story God places on our hearts; yet we must not be such a slave to stories of our own egotistic imagination that we place them outside the realm of the average reader. Most of all, we have to be walking in Truth enough to know what springs from Self, and what from Spirit.
We must work to keep the unity in the bond of love, for other writers are our co-laborers, whether they write in our genre or not, whether they sell alongside us or not. We must banish the word “competition” from our tongues, for we are pulling the same yoke, straining for the same purpose: to honor God with our livelihood. We must not allow others to put us on a pedestal, for writing is like anything else—if God calls us to do it, we are to do it wholeheartedly, as unto the Lord. When glory or praise is given, it belongs to Him, for creativity springs from the Creator. (And if we are honest, we will admit that we are constantly torn between wanting to believe we are special and knowing we are completely human.)
We must recognize that each of us are unique, with different voices, styles, and callings. My job is not to write like my brother or sister, my job is to write the truths God places upon my heart.
Being a writer is a unique joy, for none of life’s experiences are ever wasted. But this means that the people around you may grow wary, and some of the things you write, if they are honest, may hurt. If you write from a place of honesty, you will bare parts of yourself you would never display before a neighbor, yet you do it, hoping your revelation will spare some other person some pain.
Writing is hard. Some days I can’t imagine why any sane person would ever want to do this. Other days, I know I’m the most blessed woman alive.
It all boils down to this: the creation finds joy doing the thing he or she was created to do. Birds put forth effort to fly, salmon expend energy swimming upstream, and writing requires hard work.
I suppose it’s that simple.