what I learned writing my first book
There are two ways to learn something—hearing of it, or experiencing it. And the experiencing often leaves a much deeper imprint on our lives.
I didn’t enjoy creative writing in grade school, but I enjoyed crafting my own stories. I wrote my first complete on-my-own story, for one of my sisters to illustrate when I was thirteen. And I was pretty pleased when I had finished—all thirteen hand-written pages of it. Rhianne’s Quest … so intriguing!
Six months later Voice of the Ashes began. I had little knowledge of what writing a book entailed. In fact, it was never meant to be a book; it was supposed to be a short story—maybe ten or fifteen pages—about a man in 19th century England handing out gospel tracts on the street. And here I am, nearly seven years later, with it still in my hands unpublished, but ten times its predicted size and so much the better for all the changes made.
One thing learned: Never compare yourself to other writers and feel discouraged because you aren’t good enough
The truth is that you aren’t good enough. But if God has given you a story to write, if you are writing to use your gifts for God, if you write to glorify Him and further His kingdom, He will enable you.
Maybe you haven’t written as many words as your friend, or your plot seems so much less intriguing. Fellow writer, writing is not about you: your reputation, how many words you can produce, or how many people will read your finished work. If God is pleased to use it, what more do you want? What is man’s praise next to our Lord’s “Well done, good and faithful servant”?
I spent many hours in doubt over my writing. I had so much less to show for myself. Others were winning contests or participating in writing groups, and here sat I, my faded orange notebook in hand, cranking the words out of myself like an old model T.
Hmmm … Another lesson: Don’t give up when the going is difficult
Writing can be hard. Most days I can’t sit down and write 2,000 words (as I did once with my short story Doug). Sometimes I sit down and can’t write anything at all. Back to those long ago days … I have a page in my orange notebook that has one word on it. Huge, bold letters: DITCHED. At that moment, I was ready to give up on poor Laurence—and my poor self.
Thankfully, the feeling didn’t last. A short time later, I picked it up and began scribbling words again. And that’s just it—feelings don’t last. Don’t give in to them.
So what do you do when those trying times come? Those times when you sit and look at your paper but can’t get your pen to bleed any words …
I learned one of the most important lessons here. The Bible should be our greatest inspiration
When my bucket hits the bottom of the inspiration well with a clanking sound, I know I need to be spending more time reading and meditating on scripture.
Sometimes when I was discouraged about a specific aspect of my book, I would stumble across a verse in my Bible reading time that spoke to it. Not that it necessarily answered any questions, but it made me realise, See, what you wrote isn’t so strange. Throughout history people have struggled with this problem …
The Bible is the only perfect book on this earth, a gift from our great God to us, His children. It is to be our lamp (Psalm 119:105), our hope (Psalm 130:5), our delight (Psalm 119: 174), our sword (Ephesians 6: 17), our comfort (Romans 15:4), and our accountability (Psalm 119: 11). It contains everything we need for life and godliness.
For a time, I made sure that whenever I sat down to write, I first opened my Bible and read a Psalm. It was so encouraging! It was a reminder that what I was sitting down to write was for the glory of the One who gave us the greatest Book of all time.
Well, the words kept coming. I graduated from the faded orange notebook to a black one, gave the story a new beginning, and plunged forward. Things were looking good.
There was just a little problem. Eventually, I was going to have to allow someone to read it.
Well, isn’t that the point? I asked myself. You want to publish books to share God’s love; of course people are going to read it.
It was hard—very hard, sometimes. I would give the portion I had printed off to one of my sisters, then go and hide in some corner of the basement and try not to think about the fact that someone was reading what I’d written.
I had to boil it down to the core problem: I was thinking of my own reputation. I was worried about what people would think of me when they read my stories. So I gave myself a hard slap and said, “What? Me? Why on earth am I worried about me? I should be worried about what people think of God.”
Seek God’s approval, not man’s
That goes for anything we do. But “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.”
The Lord is to be our glory. (For more on this topic, read my article Reaping Reputations)
Is He your glory?
T.R.Q.T. Watch for part two of Novel Ideas, which will cover other writing struggles: researching, responding to feedback, knowing when to stop editing, and more.