by Gregg Bridgeman
I am often called upon to convey the “most important thing” or the “most important tip” when it comes to writing stories, books, novels, or novellas from a Christian world view. I have struggled with this question many times because the honest answer, the answer that is often a bitter pill, is just one word.
Everything is equally important. While there are, of necessity, priorities and time constraints, the truth is that every word, every page, every prayer, every stylistic choice – everything is important. The choice of agent, editor, publisher, format – everything is important. Since it is quite impossible to sum up something as big as “everything” in the space and time available, I will strive to point out some writing tips that are merely essential. If you are missing these essentials, it is highly improbable that your writing endeavors will result in what God has planned.
Essential Attitude #1: Actively Love Writing
The first essential attitude is actively loving writing. Recognize what writing is, for better or worse, commit to it for richer or for poorer, and choose to love it every single day.
A very common saying these days is that one should, “Work smarter, not harder.” Personally, I have never respected this fallacious platitude. On its face, the sentiment disrespects the dignity of work by conflating “hard work” with low intelligence and sloth with high intelligence. Often in life the truth is that the smartest thing one can do is work harder. In reality, work is the only thing that can possibly lead to eventual success.
Writing is hard work. Roll up your sleeves every day. Or, in the biblical sense, gird up your loins. Writing is hard work followed by more hard work with some even harder work sprinkled on top and a dash of challenges and maybe some unforeseen hard work thrown in besides. It is emotionally draining, spiritually challenging, and physically demanding constant work.
In writing and in life, there is no such thing as a free lunch (TANSTAAFL). Everything about the writing and publishing process involves significant amounts of human effort. A successful writer will embrace the fact that any approach, “recipe for success,” tip, technique, tactic, or strategy is going to involve some hard work. A smart writer will open up his or her heart and mind to learn new or different ways to perform that necessary work when called upon.
Writing will keep you up at night until, when you finally drift off into an exhausted sleep, writing dominates your dreams. Writing will make you obsess over details and lose track of time. Writing will take you from loved ones while you leave them to visit faraway places and document imaginary events. Writing can make you look strange to the public. Many fiction writers know the humiliation that occurs when a fictional character whispers some arbitrary question, which then the fiction writer inadvertently answers aloud in a rather non sequitur fashion, often resulting in puzzled looks from every other living person within earshot. Writing will make your back ache, your fingers hurt, your wrists throb, your eyes red, your stomach hurt, and your breath smell like strong coffee in the morning and weak tea in the evening.
In order to do the work well, the simple fact is that you have to LOVE it. Successful, significant, enduring writers love the act of writing. They love everything about it. If you don’t love it, you have only two options:
1) Abandon it and move on.
2) Learn to love it (or rekindle your love for it).
1) Abandon it and move on.
Some people mistakenly think that writing is easy, or that they can put a bare minimum amount of effort into it and that crowds of enthusiastic “others” impatiently wait, perched on the very edges of their desk chairs, hoping to be called upon to pick up those bare bones and take on all the actual hard work involved, or that writing is secretly some kind of “get rich quick” scheme. Perhaps they love the idea of recognition, or wealth, or fame, or the notion of putting forth very little to no effort for some imagined greater reward.
True, these folks are misguided. The larger point is that this type of person does not have a shred of passion for–or even a mustard seed of genuine love for–the hard work that is writing.
If any of that resonates, I will be brutally honest with you. You ought to save yourself some time and trouble and take the leap to conclude that writing probably isn’t for you. Move on to something you feel is actually worth your love, hard work, sacrifice, and time.
Even if that doesn’t describe you, the fact is that if you don’t love it, if you are somehow constrained and unable or simply unwilling to sacrifice for it, you ought to come to terms with that, too. If you had that love once and just can’t rediscover it, if you can’t love every part of writing for whatever reason, the honest essential truth is that you have no business doing it.
As Christians especially, we are called upon to labor as if unto the Lord. If you cannot take this labor of love on responsibly and passionately give it everything that is in you, if you cannot love it as you love the Lord and offer your very utmost for Him, then it is unlikely that writing is your calling.
2) Learn to love it. (or rekindle your love for it).
Recognize that there is no way to write well that does not involve giving everything you have. It involves a lot of hard work, not a small amount of personal sacrifice, more of your time than you can imagine, and a tremendous amount of love for every bit of it.
A typical lifetime for any written work might look something like this:
You pour yourself out onto the printed page in the form of carefully crafted and meticulously considered words. This takes hard work and lots of time. It takes martial self-discipline. It takes personal motivation day in and day out. It takes perspective and endurance and energy you don’t even recognize that you have inside. It often takes multivitamins or caffeine. It might take catnaps or brisk walks depending on the time of day. No matter what, everything takes much, much longer than anticipated.
Once you have poured yourself out completely, you step back and take a look at the result of your loving effort. Like staring at yourself naked in the mirror, you suddenly see all the wrinkles and blemishes and love handles! Staring in abject horror, you become hypercritical of even the smallest imperfection. No matter how confident of a person you are, you battle with the stress of self-doubt at this point. You feel you must DO something to FIX all that and – just as with a strict new diet and rigorous exercise regimen – manuscript revision takes a lot of time, love, sacrifice, and a lot more hard work.
Eventually, you show it to a few trusted friends. If they are very good friends, they lovingly point out the remaining imperfections they find that you somehow maddeningly overlooked. You take it on the chin but the blow still stings. After you pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, and rub your sore jaw, there is yet more work to be done.
Finally, when at long last you have achieved your very best, you bravely show it to “your world.” Perhaps your world is an editor or editorial staff, or a peer or set of peers, or a writing support group. Many members of the world will tell you that they appreciate what you have done and at long last these precious crumbs are gratifying for you.
Ultimately, the manuscript reaches a wider audience. It reaches “the real world.” Then, somehow, perhaps creeping out from beneath moss covered stones or slithering forth from sticky subterranean dwellings, evil trolls appear.
Writers refer to these creatures as critics.
Having never worked nearly as hard as you have themselves, the critics ruthlessly toss rotten tomatoes in the general direction of the work-of-art you have lovingly worked so hard to perfect. In cabals, they congratulate each other for creating more and more potent poison in the form of public mockery or arrogant disdain.
Contending with harsh criticism, whether reasonable or not, is often equally challenging in terms of effort for a writer, at least on an emotional level.
Just as with sending a child out into the world, the emotional investment and sacrifice doesn’t end when the work ventures out from under the shelter of your roof and wanders boldly out into the real world. The work continues with branding and marketing and interviews and personal appearances that all take love and time and sacrifice and seemingly never-ending work.
To willingly take on this amount of work and stress, one must either be certifiably insane, or justifiably in love–in love with writing. To complete a manuscript and steward it from “Once upon a time” all the way to publication and to, all the while, remain grounded and human and sane takes love.
If you love the work and challenges and stress of writing, and as a result of that love you feel deeply passionate about every aspect of the work, then all of it – even the not so wonderful aspects of it, even the less than perfect parts of it – all of it can be deeply rewarding and fulfilling. If you don’t feel that love, if you don’t have that passion for the work, you must take yourself on a mini-journey of personal prayer and meditation during which you purposefully seek to rediscover the love and passion you once felt for writing.
Think of it this way. You are in a relationship with writing. Just as when any loved one—a parent or a sibling or your spouse—is not exactly your favorite person for one reason or another, you must repair and rebuild and hopefully restore the relationship and rekindle the passion. Pray and meditate upon the things that first attracted you to writing. Instead of unreasonably amplifying the negatives and dwelling on those things, focus on the positives. Envision and plan for the rewarding and fulfilling future you will soon enjoy if you lovingly work things out.
Every loving relationship requires sacrifice. Who wouldn’t choose to sacrifice time, hard work, and passion for a person we deeply love? Writing requires loving sacrifice, hard work, and passion, too.
In my next blog, I’ll explain Essential Attitude #2: Be Successful
Gregg Bridgeman, KCWC Publications Coordinator