I want to talk a little about what I have learned on my writing journey. This is not an “I have arrived” commentary or an attempt to tell you all I know. It is merely a reflection passed from one wanderer to another along this path that I’ll probably be traveling for the rest of my life. I haven’t arrived; in fact I’m right in the middle—or most likely still in the beginning. And even though I haven’t published one novel yet, I have come to realize some things that I consider to be very important as I press on.
Now, I don’t credit myself at all. In fact, I have been extremely privileged to learn from others who are further along in the journey than me. After a conference like Realm Makers, which I just got back from, I feel it is a really good time to ponder and evaluate where I am at as a writer, an artist, and as a person. So I hope I can offer a little encouragement for your own journey as a fellow traveler.
First of all, I have learned that sometimes we all need an outside perspective to show us that we’re further along than we think. And we need both God and people to help remind us what is most important to us in our writing/artistic journeys. At the conference, I got to share with one of the authors who taught some sessions a little about my own journey. Honestly I wasn’t even talking about my writing journey, just my life journey. This particular author emphasizes the importance of knowing your “life theme” and how that theme is going to come through in all the stories you write. He asks people to tell him their three favorite movies and from that he can often determine the common theme that runs through all of them. This theme is more than likely at least one of their “life themes.” I found it interesting that of the movies I told him, one of the common threads in all three stories was that they each involved a particular character who had to convince the main character to leave behind the things they once deemed so important so that they could embrace what they really wanted out of life. The adventure they craved. The connection they longed for. Each of these main characters had to begin to see themselves differently—to see that they had accomplished more than they realized, or that they were smarter or more valuable than they knew. That it wasn’t about their failures, their hang-ups, or the times they felt alone. They were living life, and there was more to be lived. The author I was talking to told me that I am living the adventure, even if I don’t feel like it. I do have courage, even when I feel so afraid. See, we can’t always see ourselves accurately. We need others to drop little reminders that we’re doing good; that no matter where we’re at, we’re moving forward and in fact inspiring people in the process.
Secondly, we’ve got to realize and remember that we all learn and work at our own pace. You should feel no shame for being where you are at, regardless of your age, your education level, your experiences. We’re all in different phases and go different paces in each aspect of life. Think of a baby. Does every baby learn to walk at the same exact age? Do they learn certain words at the exact same rate? No. And they are no less valuable for the fact. I know authors my own age who have published a handful of books, some who are only starting their first, some who are about to publish their first, and some who have written several and are yet to be published. Not one of us is lagging behind or in a bad place. We are learning and pursuing and working. We are trying and failing, and learning and trying and failing again. Then we have breakthrough moments. Then we fail again. Friends, this is life. This is how we grow, and it’s a beautiful thing! I am learning not to let discouragement get the best of me when I look back and realize I could have done something better. Oh well. Now I know. I will always have another chance. If we are hard on ourselves because we’re not meeting our biggest goals fast enough, we will only be crushed under that weight. Let go of your need to have it all together, your need to succeed every time you try something, and give yourself grace for the process. I can almost guarantee you will become a more compassionate and influential person if you learn from the process instead of pushing and pushing when you or your project just needs more time.
Number three. People are going to be involved. Contrary to popular belief, writing is not a solo venture; it is done in community. And really, what better way to do it? As artists, it is really easy to feel alone, to even resolve ourselves to the reality that what we’re called to is a lonely venture. I know I’ve given into the feeling. Don’t get me wrong—yes, you will always experience lonely moments in this journey. But you also have to realize how many people are willing to support you! Now, I’ll be honest and say as a combined introvert and people lover, there are things I both like and dislike about this reality. You see, involving people requires courage, vulnerability, and getting out of your comfort zone. There is a big part of me that is totally content with just sitting alone and writing my stories. But these solo writing sessions are only one of the steps in the whole writing process. If you are a writer, sure—you can avoid involving people. But you won’t get far if you want your stories to be heard. We need each other, see? I am so blessed to have so many other writer/author friends that I can bounce ideas off, go to for prayer and support, or ask questions. I also always have those people who offer to beta read my work or just encourage me that I’m doing something worthwhile. I just have to be courageous enough to share it with them. Some advice: share your work with those who are the most persistent in wanting to read it, as well as those who know things you may not or who have different life experiences.
Aside from other writers and supportive friends, you are going to have to engage with people in the publishing process. Just be aware that you are going to be encountering and talking to and pitching to many people in this industry. Embrace it. Embrace them. Take courage and share what you’ve written. Also don’t let fear keep you from a potential opportunity—ask those you look up to in the industry your questions, and keep asking, keep trying. Always try to stay humble and gracious in the process. We are all here to help each other. So keep sharing until your work finds its place.
The last aspect of the “people” thing I want to touch on is our readers. If you want your work to be read, you’re going to encounter the people who read it. One of the most important parts of writing a story is connection; we want people to find themselves in our stories; we want our books relate with their needs and desires. So make friends! But don’t do it for marketing purposes; people want to be treated as people, not potential customers. Remember often why you’re doing what you’re doing, because getting published or selling books will not satisfy you.
This final lesson I’ve learned may be the most difficult, but I believe it is so important to address: I think that any story worth telling is going to rattle some cages. Disagreement is inevitable, because people love to have their opinions, and that’s okay. Really. Realize the moment you put your work out there, you’re going to be questioned. Your theology may be attacked, even your character. Not everyone is going to agree with or like what you write. It’s okay! Your story is not for everyone. The most important thing, if you are a follower of Jesus, is to stay grounded in your relationship with him and your identity. Don’t let the “rattled” rattle you, and don’t think that just because you get attacked you are doing something wrong. You may very well be doing something right. Stay true to God and don’t let your life process be compromised by the opinions of others. I feel like I’ve had to learn this through my whole life, because I have faced so much fear of man through all the different seasons of my journey. I have a tendency to feel the need to defend myself because I don’t want to be misunderstood, but wasn’t Jesus the most misunderstood person of all time? We have to realize that sometimes we’ll be right and sometimes we’ll be wrong, but neither we nor our writing lose value just because we don’t have it all figured out. So don’t take a handful of misunderstandings as rejection or failure, or as a roadblock in your spiritual or writing journeys. Stay humble, keep learning, and most of all, stay plugged into your Source—Jesus. Our stories will minister to some and not to others. Our job is not to control people’s reactions. We can’t and were never meant to do that. Let that be a sigh of relief, and keep creating!
The things I have faced in these beginning stages of my writing journey have certainly stirred up plenty of emotions. I would encourage you to not be afraid of emotions. Don’t shun them or judge yourself for feeling afraid, uncertain, insecure. I feel this way all the time, but I’m not going to let it stop me from pursuing my passion. Don’t let your emotions keep you stuck or lie to you. You have a story to tell. So do I. Let’s remind ourselves often of why we’re doing this, of what sparked this dream in the first place. Dream bigger than getting published or making millions. That’s not what it’s about; if it is, you’ll only find yourself crushed under the weight of the “success” game.
Be encouraged, and fear not!