Writing isn’t what it is cracked up to be. It’s even better. That is, writing, whether it’s for your own personal pleasure, the ear of an audience, or book form, is hard work. There are no secrets. That’s the only secret. Writing well . . . that requires even more hard work. I’ve now written 3 books (Heaven on Earth and The Feast are published, Tearing Down the Walls soon to be published).
I’m not writing as an expert, a best-selling author, or even as a guru. I’m a minister in a local community of faith who loves to write. I love to write because I love to read. I am convinced, the older I get, the two can’t be separated. And yes, if you are wondering, I’m listening to classical music and drinking coffee as I write this.
Since writing my first book, The Feast, I’ve had many conversations with friends and acquaintances about writing. Almost to a person, people respond, “Ohhh, I really want to write a book.” There are variations of this expression but the gist is the same: almost everyone has thought about what it might be like to write a book.
Some practical wisdom.
1. Let me just say that while it’s a great, formative process, writing won’t change your life. The same personal issues you had before you publish your magnum opus will be there when the dust settles from the “citizen of the year” parade your hometown threw you after your book made the New York Times Best-Seller list.
2. Writing is hard work. It’s much more like building a house (though I’ve never done meaningful labor in this area) than having a moment of divine inspiration. In fact, the inspiration usually comes while you are working hard on something else.
3. Your goal should not be to “publish.” Your goal should be to write a great, relevant, insightful, moving book. Saying “I’m published” is about status, power, and prestige (even though, ironically, it won’t bring you a great deal of money unless your name is Lucado). We need more art (music, preaching, writing, song-writing that moves people; art that wakes people from their slumber). We need more art that is fitting to splendor of the creator of the universe.
4. Writing is an act of faith and discovery. It is a discipline that can shape your impressions and experiences of God as much as praying, serving the poor, or caring for the broken. You will encounter God and God’s creation in ways you can’t predict.
5. Writing is always merely an extension of your life. Stephen King, after enduring a hellish few years, moved his infamous writing desk from the center of his office to a corner to physically remind himself that his life life was more important than his writing life.
6. Writing is a communal experience. I have several friends who read what I’m writing. Friends who rarely, if ever, respond with “Josh, this chapter changed my life” but instead write things like “you can do better” or “this isn’t clear” or “this is not your best work.”
7. Writing is confession. Writing is about telling the truth as you see the truth. The writers who speak to me most clearly (e.g. Barbara Brown Taylor, Ian Cron, Buechner) do not write as authoritative experts (though they might actually be such). Rather, they write from a posture of humility; a “this-is-what-it-looks-like-from-my-perspective” voice. More as a guide than a talking head on cable news.
If you have never written but have always wanted to, go for it. What do you have to lose? If you love to write but feel stuck, life has a way of pulling you out of the ditch. Take a deep breath and go for a walk. If you are in the zone, writing chapters effortlessly, we can’t wait to see what God is going to do with your inspired words.