I recently had the privilege of speaking at the Northwest Christian Writers Association, which I joined in 2007. Following are the notes from my talk. Links to segments of the video are provided in the text.
Six years ago I showed up at my first Northwest Christian Writers Association meeting. I was excited because I had spent the last year writing a book. I knew it was ready to be published and I was ready to quit my day job. I quickly learned three things:
– It was NOT ready to be published
– Most authors have one thing in common–a day job
– BUT I was part of a community that could help me find that path to understanding three things:
– The SPIRIT of being a writer
– The CRAFT of being a writer
– The WRITING industry and how it works
My story. Like most books my story was based on a “What if?” Twilight was based on “what if” a high school girl moved to a remote town on the Washington coast and fell in love with a vampire. “What if” the rapture occurred today led to the best selling series of Left Behind books and at least one really bad movie.
My “what if is based on the following biblical passage:
John 21:20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple [John] whom Jesus loved was following them. When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? …” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”
I always wondered, “What if” Jesus really did mean that and John was still alive. In 2006 I was working on a project at the RAND Corporation. The husband of one of the team members was a TV scriptwriter. I pitched the idea to him who liked it. He pitched it to several producers but they were looking for the next Lost. Something more “edgy.” He suggested I write it as a book. To this day I don’t know whether to bless or curse him
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
Faith and persistence. Prayer, persistence and patience equals published.
My wife and I recently finished reading the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor – Harvard Professor MDiv at Harvard. In 200 studies on 275,000 people world wide: happiness leads to success in nearly every domain, including work, health, friendship, sociability, creativity, and energy. Here’s a short video of a talk by Shawn:
Our culture teaches success = happiness. But is that true? Look at “successful” people like the Kardashians, Lindsay Lohan, or lottery winners. Are they happy?
Happiness is not just singing a “Don’t worry, be happy” song. It’s taking concrete actions: gratitude, developing good habits, focusing on achievement. (I highly recommend the book. See a summary of it in this short clip by Shawn:
Happiness first, success later. Don’t expect that success will lead to happiness.
In the movie Invincible – Vince Papale (played by Mark Wahlberg) was a substitute high school teacher whose wife dumped him and left behind this note: “You’ll never go anywhere, never make a name for yourself and never make any money.” He used this to motivate himself to earn a spot on the Philadelphia Eagles even though he’d never played college football. (Good movie—based on a true story.)
Personally, I use positive reminders. I carry a bookmark with a quote from a note that Mick Silva (formerly of WaterBrook Multnomah) gave me: Mick said he believed I had it in my to be a career writer. That quote on a bookmark reminds me of my goal and my potential.
A quote: “By the time I was fourteen … the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.” Stephen King. Imagine if Stephen had quit in the face of that discouragement.
“The opposite of success is not failure, but learning” Rachelle Gardner
On Writing by Stephen King – Audio version narrated by him is excellent
The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
– Warning: both resources have great lessons but use inappropriate language.
I used an example of “The Bar” and how it applies to writing. Examples:
– For a tax accountant “the bar” is completing a tax return for a client and passing any audit.
– For a realtor “the bar” is selling your client’s house at a good price.
But “the bar” for a writer is much more subjective. You might think (as I did) that your writing met the bar. But it depends strongly on quality, needs of the market, and competition—things you don’t control. So how do you as a writer “meet the bar”?
Perfect practice makes perfect
In Outliers Malcolm Gladwell talks about spending the time to become an expert. Typically 10,000 hours is needed to develop true proficiency. The Beatles, Bill Gates, violinists, and writers are all examples of this rule of thumb.
How do you make sure you “do the time?”:
– Read books on the craft
– Work with a critique group or partner
– Go to classes
– Do the time: Stephen King: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
– James Rubart told me of his accountability group: Each person had a word count for the week. If they failed to meet that count they paid $50 to each of the other members ($200 total). Led to lots of late nights. What happened to those five people: John Olson – six books (Christie Award); Katie Cushman – 7 books (Bethany House); Jim Rubart -sixth coming in May (Christie Award Winner); Jenn Doucette – 2 books; Katie Vorreiter – 3 unpublished books–have done well in contests
How to make sure you do the time? I used “the rocks in the jar analogy” to talk about doing what’s important first. Read it here if you haven’t heard of it.
For many of us we treat distractions like FaceBook and TV as “big rocks” when they should be pebbles. If we’re writers our writing time should be big rocks.
Things that I do to make sure I do the time:
– Write for thirty minutes in morning before reading the paper or going to work. Use a time on my iPhone.
– I make sure my work in progress is accessible from anywhere. I use Box but DropBox, SkyDrive, Google Docs or other on-line locations make it accessible for you.
– Reward myself for goals such as completing a first draft; submitting an article, etc. You might buy yourself a book or CD. I finished a proposal, which required a major rewrite. My reward was a nice bike jersey because it was a big effort.
Sometimes you have to hire a coach. You hire people to do your taxes, teach you golf, Laurie and I once hired someone for 1:1 kayaking lessons
I’ve hired personal writing coaches twice:
– Jeff Gerke – Marcher Lord Press. Working with him fixed some basic problems I had and led to a third place finish in the Marcher Lord Select on-line contest in 2009. People who became acquainted with my work through that contest still talk about it.
– Mick Silva of Your Writers Group – Last spring. Led to some specific suggestions and validation of what I was doing. Has greatly improved the manuscript.
Chip MacGregor of MacGregor literary has said that good writing will win out. I have to–you have to–do the things that make sure my writing meets the bar.
– Writing the Breakout Novel Donald Maass
– The First Five Pages Noah Lukeman
– Advanced Fiction Writing – Randy Ingermanson. Sign up for his eZine.
They say “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” but in the writing industry it’s both!
Randy Ingermanson of Advanced Fiction Writing says when you go to a conference, “Think contacts, not contracts.”
Have you ever seen a TV show or movie where a writer just sent in a book and got a contract? That’s not that way it normally works.
Personal example: five months after joining NCWA I wrote an article to submit to Focus on the Family Magazine. I worked with my critique group, read submission guidelines, and it led to my first paid international publication. Teamwork paid off.
Do be a writer you need to do things that make you uncomfortable: Writers tend to be introverts and don’t like:
– Marketing – self-promotion
Understand the market – What’s in demand. Can you alter your work to fit the market without compromising it? I added a romantic angle to my book. Didn’t compromise the character and made it stronger—and more marketable.
As you navigate–don’t expect overnight success:
– Timing: Expect ten years, 3-5 novels. Books like The Shack by William P Young are like winning the lottery. You don’t (I hope) base your retirement plan on winning the lottery. Your writing career shouldn’t be based on that strategy either.
– Mrs. Maria Ann Hirschmann, grew up in Nazi Germany former Member Hitler Youth said, “God’s timing is perfect and it’s always later than ours.”
– Christian Writer’s Coach: How to Get the Most out of a Writer’s Conference. It’s about more than conferences.
– Advanced Fiction Writing – Randy Ingermanson. Again, sign up for his eZine.
Guide to resources:
– People around you
1. The Spirit: Faith and persistence
2. The Craft: Put in the time–quality time
3. The Industry: Understand the process and connect with people.
Stephen King: “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, . . . or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”
In your writing journey walk in faith, do the work to honor your calling, and connect to the community of faith-based writers around you because writing is a team sport