A Recipe for Success in Writing and in Life

Please welcome the second in our series of first-time Inspire bloggers, who also happens to be Inspire’s Events Director, Terrie Hellard-Brown.

We all know the importance of using the right ingredients in a recipe so that it will turn out right. Forget one, and everyone knows it. Add the wrong ones, and, well, that’s where we get dishes like “Tuna Surprise.” A writing career also needs the right ingredients to be successful. Often, we think of those as being creativity, ingenuity, and language mastery. However, three additional, important ones a writer should possess are lifelong learning, teachability, and humility.

Albert Einstein said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” That is especially true for us as we begin the journey of a writing career. The landscape of the publishing world has changed greatly in recent years. To succeed we must learn, adapt, and grow so we can navigate this landscape. Jim Kwik, expert on speed-reading and memory, says that life-long learning keeps our brains healthy and functioning better, and, for a writer, that is essential.

Being a life-long learner requires that we are teachable. Humility and teachability go together. It really is impossible to be teachable without being humble. The Bible teaches us in Proverbs 11:2, AMP:

When pride comes [boiling up with an arrogant attitude of self-importance], then come dishonor and shame, But with the humble [the teachable who have been chiseled by trial and who have learned to walk humbly with God] there is wisdom and soundness of mind.

What a huge promise from Scripture! We grow in wisdom when we remain humble and teachable.

So, if humility and teachability are our essential ingredients, defensiveness is our “salt in the sugar canister.” We really must strive to be teachable in all areas of our lives. Where is your blind spot? Where are you weakest when trying to receive help or criticism? We must be teachable in our:

1. Spiritual Walk with God

Christianity is a relationship that is always growing when we are humble and teachable. Walking in right relationship with Christ requires that we are teachable. Being called by God to be writers, we cannot know exactly what that means, or how our writing careers will unfold, unless we are humble and teachable in our walk with God. Our understanding of His plan is always being clarified and revealed. When I was a teenager, my pastor’s wife was talking about the will of God. She said that when God gives us a calling, we hold onto it, but we hold onto it loosely. It is His vision and plan, and He will change it and mold it into exactly what He wants. I’ve always remembered that, especially when it comes to my desire and calling to be a writer. God may have called us to write, but He may not have called us to be published in a traditional way. He may have called us to minister through our writing in ways we’ve not even thought of before. So, being open, teachable, and obedient is our real job as Christian writers.

2. Critique Groups

We often feel like our writing is “our baby,” and we want to protect it. Not to be indelicate, but if we aren’t sharing our writing at least in a critique group, we aren’t writers, we’re journalers. And, truly, that’s fine if that is what God wants us to be. Journaling is therapeutic and often inspiring and clarifying for us, but one of the first steps of being a writer is getting our writing in front of other people. One of the best ways to start is with a critique group. It’s a safer place for debuting our writing, because

  1. We are there to get critiqued, so we’re more prepared for feedback.
  2. We’re also critiquing other writers’ work which helps us grow as writers.
  3. We’re consistently writing to have material to submit to a group.
  4. We’re working on our craft with each other.
  5. We’re putting our work in front of like-minded people.

Read more about this topic in “Write with Endurance” and “Stirring Up the Gift within You” on the Inspire blog.

3. Knowledge of Language and Grammar

We would like to think that once we learn grammar and language and graduate from those classes in Middle School that we’re done. Oh, if only that were true! Language is alive and continually changing, and we must keep up with it. It is hard sometimes. Rules we’ve been taught sometimes become obsolete, and what was once wrong is now acceptable. Plus, different publishers have different rules for the formatting and grammar usage they want. As writers, it is our responsibility to follow those rules. It’s part of being a professional writer. You can learn about some of the specific requirements for different publishers in “Writer’s Market 2018” or “The Christian Writers Market Guide 2018.”


4. Craft

Each genre has its own style and requirements. We all can learn how to improve our craft no matter how long we have been writers. Writing ability should be an always-improving, ever-evolving craft. So, we must be always seeking knowledge of the genre(s) we write, writing craft, and techniques. You may enjoy the book “Steering the Craft” by Ursula K. Le Guin for working on craft. Each section includes exercises to practice the craft of writing.

5. Completion of any Work

Truthfully, we could edit forever. So many different ways exist for saying something and telling a story that we could edit a story forever and become absolutely crippled in our process of sharing it.

6. Speaking and Promoting

Today’s authors need to be adept in public speaking, and publishers expect us to have an audience and to know how to help in the promotion and advertising of our work. Frankly, it can be overwhelming if we aren’t careful. Plus, the vast majority of writers seem to be introverts who would pretty much rather do anything else other than speaking publicly. If you are struggling with public speaking, you may want to check out some books such as “Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives, and Other Introverts” by Joanna Penn.

One last little piece of advice I learned from a boss I had years ago. When someone is critiquing you, and you are having a hard time being teachable and humble, instead of defending or explaining, simply ask, “Is there anything else?” As long as they continue to have things to share, keep asking the question, “Anything else?” It is interesting how that simple question will change your mindset to listen and learn, and if someone is attacking you about something, it also disarms them when their motives are not helpful.

So be careful how you listen; for whoever has [a teachable heart], to him more [understanding] will be given; and whoever does not have [a longing for truth], even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him. (Luke 8:18, AMP)

How about you? What other ingredients do we need for our writing careers to be all they can be?

About Terrie Hellard-Brown 3 Articles
Terrie Hellard-Brown is an Orange County California native but grew up in Oklahoma, spent fifteen years as a missionary in Taiwan, and has now settled in the Sacramento area. She is a writer, teacher, minister, entrepreneur, wife, and mom. But mostly, she’s just a Christian trying to live out her faith on a day-to-day basis. She’s always loved writing and has been published several times throughout her career. Her favorite topics relate to living the Christian life, but she’s also written several children’s books that her oldest daughter has helped to illustrate.