Think you might be a writer, too? (On becoming a writer, Part II & III)
For years I wrote in slices and slivers—whenever I could find the time. It was a thrilling and frustrating way to write, but it’s the time I had so I used it. Writing is my job now. (Or at least a major part of it.) I have deadlines and contracts and even a modest paycheck. The privilege of getting paid to do something I love is not lost on me, which is part of the reason I feel strongly about helping fellow writers. (The other reason is that I know how lonely the writer’s life can feel.)
While I’ll be the first to admit signing a book deal doesn’t shift me into the realm of expert, I have learned a few things about writing over the last several years. I’ve been getting more and more enquiries from other writers recently so thought I’d take the time to share here what I’m sharing with them behind the scenes, in case you are a writer (or “aspiring writer”) in need of some encouragement, too.
This will not be a “how to” post, as in how to develop your blog or how to land a book deal (plenty of experts can teach and coach you on those topics). But I do hope this will give you some practical things you can do to move forward, and—perhaps more importantly—some encouragement for your writer’s heart.
Fear, time, and all the reasons (excuses) we give for not writing
Maybe like me, you’ve thought things like: I’ll write when my baby sleeps through the night, when the kids get back to school, when I can afford a babysitter for a few hours a week, when I get that promotion and don’t have to stress as much about money, when I just get caught up on those clogged up emails, when I finish the plot line in my head, after I take that online course on How to Write a Best Seller in Three Easy Steps…
But I’ll tell you a little secret: there will always be a “good” reason not to write. (Those are actually called excuses.)
Let me tackle the biggest one first: most writers feel like we don’t have enough time to write… even if we do have plenty of time to write. For me, this feeling creeps in when I’ve been slacking on time management (not getting enough sleep, too much social media, too much multi-tasking, etc.) or when I’ve not been diligent to “brain dump” as needed and clear my head (and desk) of clutter. It can also happen when I don’t take time to care for my soul and spirit through prayer, meditation, and journaling.
Question to consider: What are the things you need to do in order to use the time you have well?
Writing in the cracks
For most of us, writing happens in the cracks of life; this is not a bad thing. You may be fortunate like I am to create some larger spaces in your days to meet that word count goal or finish a blog post or pen the letter you’ve had on your heart for the last three months. Or you may have all that time and yet still struggle to focus and write like you thought you could. (Raising my hand for this category, too!) Or you may only have tiny pockets of time and your writing is shoved between classes and commitments and parenting and housekeeping and deadlines. (There goes my hand again!) Emily Freeman calls this “writing in the cracks.”
But whatever sort of space you find (or create) for writing, seize it. Make your time serve you and let the words come. Writing for twenty minutes is better than not writing at all. Writing for a morning is better than passing all those mornings by until you can find a full day.
Newsflash: To be a writer, you actually have to write (as opposed to just thinking about it)
If you have a dream to write, you might need to hear a few things:
- There will never be “enough” time. Write in the time you have.
- There’s a chance it will never feel like the “right” time. Don’t waste your life waiting for everything to feel just so.
- You don’t have to know the end of your story before you write it. Begin at the beginning.
- Getting paid to write does not make you a writer—writing does. So write.
Do you see a theme here? Write. If you want to write, write. If you believe you’re meant to write, write. If you feel God’s pleasure when you write, by all means write. If you think you might be a writer but you still aren’t exactly sure, I can suggest an easy way to find out… Yup, you know my answer: write.
If all you do is think about writing but you don’t actually write, you’re a thinker, not a writer. So write. Be a writer. Write the words down—this isn’t complicated, but it is what makes you a writer.
The ‘imposter syndrome’
There was a time a few years ago when I was going through a personal transformation. I knew I was “meant” to write and had some sort of talent for it, but I struggled with the identity of it all. How could I call myself a creative? An artist? A writer? Aren’t those titles reserved for the elite? The uber-talented? The published? People who don’t write in yoga pants during their toddler’s afternoon naps? I have no credentials or training or permission. (Um, who gives that type of permission anyway?) I felt like identifying as a creative, or artist, or—gasp!—a writer would make me sound like a wanna-be. I felt like a fraud and I cared way too much what [certain] other people thought.
Within a short time frame I read A Million Little Ways (Emily Freeman) and Bird by Bird (Anne Lamont) and On Writing (Stephen King). This trifecta of inspiration and encouragement catalyzed an epiphany I needed to have: I write, therefore I am a writer. This simple little truth began to slowly change my life.
I felt challenged to own this identity, even while still feeling like an imposter. I changed my twitter bio and I updated my blog: Adriel Booker, writer. It was a small thing—that declaration—but it crystallized an internal shift that I was slowly coming to terms with: I was admitting to myself what I felt God leading me to do. I would own it regardless of the insecurities I still felt. No longer would I say, “I love to write.” I would say, “I am a writer.”
Dealing with baggage is not a one-off endeavor
Fast-forward a few years and I have no trouble calling myself a writer. (With enough practice, we can train ourselves to do most things we once thought were scary.) But I still struggle to “find the time.” I still sometimes feel inadequate due to my lack of formal training and technical knowledge about grammar and punctuation. At times I still look wistfully at other more-experienced writers as if they know the secret to being a “real” writer and wonder when I’ll feel like I assume they must feel. (Ha!) And yet even with all the baggage that occasionally re-appears on my doorstep, I know this: writers were made to write. And this: if writers don’t write, something inside us dies a little. And I also know this: writers can change the course of our lives if only we gave ourselves permission to incorporate writing into our daily routines.
So maybe you can write and you have a message you’d like to share, but you’re wondering if you’re the right person to deliver it. I mean, surely there’s someone else more qualified or more skilled, right?
Probably. Most definitely.
But in the words of one of my favorite children’s authors: “You are the one and only you.” (—Nancy Tillman, On the Night You Were Born.)
Anyone can have the same message burning in their bones, but they can’t say it the way you can. Anyone can share your idea or your insight, but they can’t unpack it the way you can. Anyone can have a similar story, but they can’t have yours.
Are you short on time? Write in the time you have.
Are you afraid? Write through the fear.
Are you feeling insecure? Write bravely, knowing your worth doesn’t change one little bit with how eloquent or clunky your words turn out to be.
Are you worried you won’t find the words? Write until you do.
Are you feeling illegitimate because no one yet recognizes you as a writer? Release your words to the world and know that is what makes you a writer. (Not a byline or a book deal or a certain number of pageviews or facebook ‘likes’.)
I dare you—start calling yourself a writer.
Hey Writer, try this:
If you’re making the leap (or have recently made the leap) toward calling yourself a writer, let me encourage you to do a few practical things:
1. Write for five minutes every day without predetermining the subject or self-editing as you go. Write stream of conscious. Set a timer. I promise you if you do this for six months you will find your voice. (And I would wager that some really amazing ideas will emerge through these five minute sessions—in between a lot of other nonsense and boring stuff of course.) It might take you a little while to start seeing the fruit of this discipline but I promise you it will come if you stick with it.
2. Start calling yourself a writer. Practice intentionally letting your internal narrative adjust and then begin admitting it to others: “I am a writer.” If they follow-up with the question, “What do you write?” and you’re still only writing journal entries, a simple “I write non-fiction narrative” will do for a response. *wink* You are, after all, a writer.
3. Find support among other writers. Writing can be lonely and isolating, so seek out and connect with others who can relate and spur you on with encouragement, tips, and solidarity. (I belong to an incredible group of Christian writers called Hope*Writers and my only regret is that I didn’t discover them sooner. You can join us if you’re interested.)
4. Read books that will inspire you to write. Yes, read fiction or memoirs or poetry to immerse yourself in language and style that moves you, but add books on writing and creativity to your reading diet as well. They’ll help you not only be motivated to write but will cause you to think about writing when you’re not. (I’ll list some of my favorites down below.)
5. Practice writing and practice editing, but not at the same time. I’m better at writing than I am at editing. By a mile. But one of the things that makes me a better writer is that I’ve learned to set aside my editing as much as possible while writing. Once I get the words on the page without over thinking or self-editing along the way I can shift into editing mode. If I’ve left space (days) in between the writing and editing, I’ll end up with much stronger writing overall. (Aren’t you glad I edited this several times from its initial 4000 word length?! A better editor could shave it down even more.)
Here’s your permission
In closing I’ll leave you with this:
If you are a writer, then write. And if you write, then you are a Writer. Own it. Become it. Start by calling yourself a writer.
So there. Someone has given you permission. (Pssst… you don’t actually need permission.)
p.s. If you missed it, here’s Part I in which I share more of my personal writing journey and how I landed a two-book deal: On Becoming a Writer.
On Becoming a Writer, Part III: Recommended resources for writers
Hope*Writers—membership site and facebook group for Christian writers. Note: I’m using an affiliate link here, meaning I get a small commission for referrals at no extra cost to you. But cross my heart I’d be linking to this membership even if there was no affiliate program involved. I adore these people and I don’t want to write without them. (Thanks for your support by using this link when you sign up.)
Hope*Writers podcast—I cannot speak highly enough about the Hope*Writers podcast and the professionals (writers and marketers) who host it. I’ve loved every single episode they’ve ever released and I always learn something new. (And it’s free!)
Hope*Writers 90 Day Direction course—for those of you needing help with writing direction or determining how to move forward. (Can you tell how much I love Hope*Writers?) I haven’t personally done this course but am familiar with a lot of the material and I can wholeheartedly endorse anything the H*W team produces.
Helpful newsletters, blogs, podcasts
Stephanie Smith’s Slant Letter—a monthly newsletter with insight and advice for writers. (She’s an editor at Zondervan so she knows her stuff.) Stephanie’s Slant Letter might be the only newsletter I open every time, without fail. So good.
Chad Allen’s blog—helping you find your voice and do your art. Chad is a respected publishing professional with years of experience. His blog is stuffed with helps, how to’s, and insight into the publishing industry. He also offers a course called Book Proposal Academy, which looks fantastic, and does personal coaching.
Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach podcast—short, succinct, and helpful episodes to encourage writers in creativity, curiosity, and productivity. Listen to Ann’s podcast here.
How to write a book proposal
Resources on writing book proposals—Mary DeMuth and Michael Hyatt both wrote excellent ebooks on how to write a book proposal. (Mary’s Write a Winning Non-Fiction Proposal: Get that Book Deal; Michael’s: Writing a Winning Non-Fiction Proposal.) I used both of these in crafting my own book proposal and found them so helpful. Mary is a seasoned author and Michael is the former CEO of a large Christian publisher. Both have a lot to offer.
Scrivener writing software changed my life! (And I am not exaggerating.) I use Scrivener not only for book-writing, but for all of my writing. I have different projects for every area of writing I do: book writing (one for every book and ebook in process), book proposals, blog post writing, newsletters, our family blog, our ministry blog, our non-profit’s website, a course I’m developing, teaching materials, etc. Do yourself a favor and invest the $40 to buy Scrivener, walk yourself through the two-hour tutorial that comes with the software, and never look back. You’re welcome.
My favorite books on writing, for writers:
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamont
- A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live, Emily Freeman
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King
- The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr
- Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, Madeleine L’Engle
- The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life, Marion Roach Smith
- The War of Art: Break Through Our Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battle, Steven Pressfield
- Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg
- On the Road, Jack Kerouac*
*On the Road is not a book about writing—I just love Kerouac and his writing style and rhythm. He was the first author to truly inspire me to write so will always have a place on my “favorite writing books” list, even if he doesn’t totally belong.
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Featured image by Pez.