“We’d like to publish your devotional.” My heart did a cartwheel when I read those words on a postcard from The Upper Room editor. I still have that postcard, from 1990. Back when my roots were a natural blond, and manuscripts and acceptance (or rejection) letters traveled via snail mail.
I wasn’t new to writing. Prior to having kids, I’d worked for a newspaper, writing feature articles. But, I left my paid writing job to become a stay-at-home mom. Family became my priority. Personal journals became my only writing outlet until . . . my two toddlers caught chickenpox and decided to share them with me. Quarantined for weeks, I tried not to scratch my itchy skin and wrote a 250-word devotional about gratitude. Thus began my freelance writing career and the arduous journey of—becoming.
Here’s what I mean:
In 2007, yes, twelve years ago, a nonfiction narrative idea crept into my head and hijacked my life. Sometimes, I’ve sat in front of my laptop and shouted, “Whose idea was this? Why did I think I could write a book? Go back to what you know—devotional and first-person stories.”
Please don’t think I lack the discipline to write every day. Or, that I type slowly. I also wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist (despite editing my text messages before I send them). So what’s taking me so long to finish my book? I’ve concluded, I’m still on the journey of becoming.
Becoming a better writer: My college degree in English helped me diagram a sentence, write an essay, and avoid using a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence—a rule I’ve broken many times. When I worked as a newspaper journalist, I told the facts. I told people’s stories instead of showing them. Only to say, writing a nonfiction narrative book forced me to set aside the English major and journalist inside me. I’ve had to pursue my craft to become a better writer. I read books about writing. I attend professional writer’s conferences. I listen to podcasts on writing. I belong to Inspire Christian Writers and attend a critique group. Writing well might come naturally and quickly for others (forgive the ‘ly words), but we never stop learning if we want to become a better writer.
Becoming more authentic: When I started my book, I focused on all the mechanics. Use strong verbs. Analyze my plot structure. Find my voice. Determine my readers. I had to ask myself, “If I’m the protagonist in my book, can readers relate to me?” I thought I was real. I allowed readers to see how I struggled with trusting God. Now, when I read those early drafts, my vulnerability has as much shock and awe as if I’d raised my skirt a half an inch so the readers could peak at the hem of my slip. I don’t have to be naked and tell all, but if I want readers to feel like they’re walking in my shoes, I have to become more authentic.
Becoming transformed: My book is about intimacy with God and inward transformation. In 2007, I thought I had the Bible knowledge, experience, and wisdom (albeit human) to write about this subject. However, I discovered there were some lessons that I still had to live—and own—before I could write about the subject with any authority. I could explain how God uses suffering to make us more like Christ, or, I could show how God used my personal journey to change my heart. However, that also meant I had to slow down. Without some healthy distance . . . and in some cases, healing . . . between my personal experience and my written words, I may draw the wrong conclusions. For me, waiting for God to teach me about Himself and change me has been the most difficult part of the writing journey. But, honestly, God’s Spirit will take whatever I’m doing to transform my heart. So He might as well use my writing.
How about you? What’s one thing you’ve learned from your journey that’s helped you become a better writer?
Then again, perhaps you’re new to this writing journey. You’re just now testing the water to see if you want to dive in. Or, you’ve been writing for years and feel as though you’ve been treading water. Take heart my fellow writers, whoever you are, and breathe.
Remember, it’s the rare author who becomes an overnight success. Most writers have to do the hard work: learn the craft, write and rewrite, and keep our eyes on Jesus on this journey to become a better writer.