Deep POV: Confessions of a Christian Writer

The ramblings of an emergent-realistic-edgy-working-for-God-and-the-pay-isn’t-that-great-sometimes-confused-christian-fiction writer (uh, that would be me).

Sunday, August 15, 2004

So, You Want to Write, Do You?

Here's another article I wrote for the May 2003 issue of One Write Way, the newsletter of American Christian Writers of Ventura County.

It’s been bothering you for a long time now. Years, maybe. You love to write. For that matter, you love to read, too, and sometimes when you do, you find yourself thinking, “I could do better than that.” You’ve scribbled in your journal or composed inspiring messages to friends; you do small devotionals that bless people; you’ve written letters to the editor and they’ve been published; you’ve taken some steps in the right direction, but you’re still not sure you can call yourself a writer. You want to go further. How do you get that forward momentum? Even more important, how to you keep it?

Commit to a Specific Period of Writing. It doesn’t have to be every day. It could be three times a week or on the weekends or fifteen minutes every night. The point is to write, to be working on the gift God has given you. And when you do this, get the support of your family. Tell them what you’re doing and ask them to not interrupt you during that period. Then obey your own rule: don’t answer the phone, an e-mail or your door if someone knocks. Unless you smell smoke, be unavailable!

Commit to a Specific Amount of Writing. Promise yourself you’ll write for a specified period. It could be time: “I’ll write for twenty minutes.” It could be pages. “One-half hour every day!” Most effective, though, is number of words. Figure out what you’re comfortable with, then set it as a goal. “I’ll write 250 words every day.”

Find a Specific Place to Write. Your bedroom. A spare room in the house. The basement. In the library. Even at Starbucks. Set up a specific area that’s yours even if it means keeping everything in a box on a shelf or in a briefcase. Think of yourself as a professional.

Give Yourself Permission to Write Anything. A gifted writer and author of many books, Carol Gift Page, talks about three stages of writing: Pre-write, Free-write, and Re-Write. Pre-write is the period before you start; you dream and plan what needs to be said. Free-Write is just as it implies: you give yourself permission to write. You don’t edit. You don’t judge. You ask that critic looking over your shoulder to take a coffee break. You simply write. If you’re at the keyboard and have to close your eyes to do this, please do so. And then, later, you re-write, i.e., you edit. The reason many writers never succeed in writing is because they refuse to take that middle step—they will not risk failure or anything short of perfection. Don’t be one of those writers. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Break Down What You Want to Do in Small, Easy-To-Manage Steps. You want to write the great American novel, but feel overwhelmed by the task? Break it down. Decide on your characters. Write descriptions of them. Interview them to find out what they’re like. Look for pictures of them in magazines. Begin to outline your plot and see if a theme emerges. Read a book like, “The Complete Guide to Writing and Selling the Christian Novel” by Penelope Stokes. If you’ve never written fiction before, try writing something a little less intimidating—how about a short story? The same idea applies to any form of writing.

Create Goals and Actions Steps. Begin to lay out the small steps listed above. How much time will you need for each step? Put it on a calendar or write it up in a list. Become accountable to yourself. Even better, become accountable to someone else. A spouse or a friend. Create expectations for yourself and then, each time you enter your workspace during your specified writing time, check off what you’re able to accomplish.

Pray. Most importantly, take it to the Lord! Ask Him to help you with every step—to give you the strength and the courage to walk down the path He’s laid out for you. Rely on His strength. Remember, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13) is much more than just words on a page. It’s true … a truth for you to remember every time doubt creeps in.