Being a writer is strange in a lot of ways. Insight is hard to come by. Yet writing is so rewarding. Getting an email from someone saying, “God really spoke to me through that,” makes a piece worth the time, effort and scrutiny it goes through. Being able to share insights of God’s character is priceless.
Plenty of times I start writing with an idea not knowing where it will lead, and it takes me on a wild ride that I never could have expected. It teaches me. Here are some tips if you’re feeling the itch:
[HAVE SOMETHING WORTH SAYING ]
But sometimes I have nothing to say. I start without a concrete point, and in the end, I am wondering, “What was I trying to say? How can I say it if I don’t even know what I’m trying to say?” C.S. Lewis, when asked for tips on how to write well, said, “First, know exactly what you want to say. Second, say just that.” Well, there you go. Words without meaning are empty, and quite frankly, they are a waste. As a writer, I have wasted more than my quota of words, whether it is writing on a subject on which I have no knowledge, or from not knowing what I am trying to say.
Rejection is hard for a writer. My grandmother is a wonderful and wise woman, very skilled and knowledgeable in English, being a former English teacher at a college. I remember sending my first few essays to her for her to critique. Thinking they were wonderful pieces, I sent them away, expecting her to make a few grammatical corrections and that’s it. However, that is not what happened. She sent them back, saying, in essence, “This is terrible. You have potential, but you do not know what you are trying to say. I as a reader know even less what you are trying to say. Your style is good, but the content needs to be clearer and less vague.” That was hard to hear. Yet, it was what I needed.
I learned from my grandmother that clarity is essential in writing, and vagueness and abstractions need to be avoided. She is right. Now, I send her columns and articles, and usually she applauds them and offers her suggestions. Having someone be that honest is hard, but it makes you stronger and better. Supposing she had read my first few essays and sent them back saying, “These are wonderful,” I would still not know how to write.
[KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE]
There are times when I write what I think is a clear and wonderful piece, but no one else gets it. There are times when I write what I think of as a weak piece, and people like it. They get something from it. There are sentences that I think are poignant and perfect, but the editor axes them. Sometimes I put in what I think is a witty comment, but people see it as going off the deep end.
[BE A CHANNEL]
Writing sometimes makes me feel hypocritical as well. I remember writing a column for the Edmonton Journal, my local city newspaper, about how Christians need to love the church despite its faults if they want it to change. I remember the weekend I wrote the column – I felt the message with such conviction. It made all the sense in the world. But, by the time it was in the paper a week later, my fire had died. Sure, I believed everything I wrote was good and true, but I didn’t feel it. It wasn’t my creed. Then people started coming up to me and saying, “I read your column in the Journal! It was excellent! I really got something out of it.”
That kind of thing leaves a person feeling strange. Someone says to me, “Partially because of what you wrote, I haven’t given up on the church,” and meanwhile I am ready to give up on the church. The insight was good, yes, but it passed through me like a gust of wind.
I like what Philip Yancey has to say about this. He struggles with the same thing: delivering a message that he wrote with conviction when he no longer feels it. He concludes that he has to be “a clay pot,” willing to carry God’s message regardless of whether he still feels it or not. That, I suppose, is the right way to look at it. Simply because I do not always “practice what I preach” does not mean I should not preach. That does not mean I should not share the insight God has graciously given to me, if only for a time. It doesn’t mean I’m hypocritical – it means I’m human.
Simply put, my writings do not reflect my life. My writings say where I should be; my life is somewhere below that. I write on the importance of prayer, and I haven’t prayed for a week. I write on “faith in action,” but I am horribly inactive. I write on how obedience is fundamental to Christian growth, yet I am disobedient. I write on how people should love the church, yet I despise the church. I think almost any writer can testify to this. It’s a struggle. C. S. Lewis, Philip Yancey, Chuck Swindoll, Max Lucado, Henri Nouwen – all of them are (or were) just people. People like you and I, people who make mistakes, who struggle to grow and obey. Yet I am grateful for the gift they have given the church in their writings, even if they as people fall short of their writings. In fact, their shortcomings are a sort of real encouragement. Knowing that they can articulate what they want to be while not being there yet is encouraging. It’s encouraging to me as a person; it’s encouraging to me as a writer.
Being a writer means people will criticize, scrutinize, and analyze your work, often unreasonably (or so it seems.) It means you will experience a lot of rejection and failure. It means that often you will not say what you are trying to say. But it also means you get to try again, and often you get it right. You get to share with people that which is priceless. And for that reason, it’s all worth it.
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