Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
– Mary Oliver, “Sometimes”
I was a book editor, a speaker, and a writer for a decade before I realized that Christian writers all share similar delusions about what this work entails.
As I coach writers to embrace the struggle, the first lesson is to keep showing up for practice until that habit breaks through all the other barriers. Serving the reader, all authors must begin by taking their writing more seriously.
Memoirists, novelists, pastors, counselors and lots of amazing people have battled these lies and won.
I want to give you some of their fail-proof strategies for beating these lies for good.
But first, we’ve got to realize these lies are common, and they take writers out all the time. They attack your process, your book, and especially you yourself. And the major problem we have in fighting them is that they are spiritual. They aren’t primarily intellectual or physical, or even emotional, though they relate to all those areas as well.
But what’s derailing you isn’t any of the problems you have in the external world of your daily life. It’s your lack of spiritual defenses.
How do I know this is primarily a spiritual problem? Because life is spiritual, and trying to live as a WORD-saturated writer is hard. Working to reclaim, recall, and reestablish truth, love, justice, and mercy is incredibly draining. The work itself is incredibly difficult in all the usual ways, but it takes some time to understand that your major barrier is in the spiritual realm, and that you need to bring that down to earth, and deal with it in your physical reality.
It has taken me several years of working and fighting and struggling with myself to establish my writing schedule and process. And I’m still on the journey, but we’ve all got to conquer the foundational lies of the enemy.
Establish Your Process
That’s the big goal: to establish your writing process, the one that works for you. And everyone’s is a bit different and will change and require you to change at many different seasons and stages. But the work is the same—to capture what you’ve been given from the Spirit. It’s holy, sacred work! You’ve been called, whether you know it or not, and you will help your brothers and sisters.
So the first step is 1) claiming the permission to free yourself to write whatever needs to be said. Grace is endless and unlimited, so believe that and seek the truth that’s been buried.
Practically, that involves active, 2) daily showing up, recalling ourselves as “called” writers. Writing is WORD-work—with a capital W—an extension of THE WORD we carry, in unity with Christ, though our understanding of that is only partial and limited. We still work to capture in our books inspired words, to recall others back, and help piece them back together, or get them to join the great adventure once again.
And after permission, and showing up, establishing your process involves creating the right physical, mental, and emotional space to search out the spiritual truths and insights that will come. There will be sacrifice, some vulnerable truth-telling, but most of all, you’ll need that humble willingness to go wherever the spirit leads.
The first lie that can stop spirit-led writing is:
- You’re nobody. Who do you think you are? This is fear of who you may not be. This is about shame and the deep insecurity that comes from not knowing who you are. There are related fears of presumption. Some people become terrified of the attention, the spotlight, the idea of fame. Others crave it as their golden idol. The solution, the middle ground, is to forget what others think and just write the truth for God. His opinion is all that matters and he has said you are the one to write this. Do you trust him enough to simply write and not worry about who you are or aren’t?
That’s the permission you need to claim to get through the first draft. It’s free grace and it’s available to anyone who wants it.
When you’re afraid you’re nobody, just say, “but God says I’m somebody.”
- You can’t do this. You can’t handle this. / You aren’t ready for this. This is fear of all you don’t know. Maybe you’re too incompetent, or the task is too demanding. Maybe you have trouble learning. But none of this has to do with you not being enough. You absolutely have what it takes when you decide not to let your ignorance, inexperience or anxiety over your disqualifications stand in your way. You will be enabled, prepared, and made capable when you believe it’s not about your being enough, but that God in you is enough.
This is a primary lesson of every Bible story. The people in the stories were not enough. It wasn’t about them. Even Jesus. He frequently was overwhelmed and in his humanity, he didn’t have enough to give people. But in his Godhood, he did the miraculous. And he pointed the way to deep faith that releases captives and sets people free.
You might fear you don’t have the time to learn everything you need. Irrelevant. You have as much time as anyone. You make time for what you really want to do. Find it and protect it. Get help and delegate whatever’s stealing your time away. Or maybe you fear you can’t afford that training or the editing you need. Well, maybe you wait and budget and find alternative methods to learn what you need to first from the best books on editing and publishing. Writing is very egalitarian that way: either you can get what you need or you simply don’t need it.
Can you learn to research and discover what you need to adjust for the second draft when it’s time? There will be things you need to augment about your characters, plot, and settings, and things you need to diminish that are distracting. If you can let go of what you don’t know yet and look at the big picture, you can learn to design the intense emotional experience you want to give readers. That’s what matters. You can learn how to do it by doing it. Practicing.
- You’re too _____ (Fill in the blank):
This is fear of the past. The old nature. Things that hold you back. But you already know the old self has died and you know who’s now in charge. It’s not up to the old you. That voice doesn’t matter. Listen to your guide. The past is gone, the new has come. This goes back to the 1st lie and believing you’re trying to be someone you’re not.
But writing isn’t some sort of magical in-born talent—it’s not like singing where you’re just gifted with a beautiful voice or you’re not. Writing is a gift, but plenty of bestselling writers have no more natural talent than the average ditch-digger. They’ve just practiced it a lot.
In a way, the 6 lies are really 3: about where you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re headed.
But where you’ve been doesn’t define you any longer? Are you willing to accept that? It mattered, and it did shape you, but next time this lie that you’re “too whatever” comes up, remind that voice that no limitation in you is a limitation to God. He uses the most limited people all the time.
- You’re wasting your time. This can be fear of judgment, or fear of people rejecting you. Despite all the work and effort you’re putting in, it’s just not going to be enough, and you’ll never be able to achieve that bright vision you’ve seen in your head. It’s too far out there on the horizon. You should just give up and go work on some other pursuit because this one’s a pipe dream.
It’s insecurity, mostly, but it’s got a lot of fear of the unknown mixed in with it. You can’t know what’s going to happen, whether you’ll make money at this (probably not) or fall on your face and be a big failure. More than likely, you are going to fail the first few times out. You can’t win a marathon, let alone break records without failing a bit and getting some hard lessons in the process. Maybe your fear here isn’t so much about others as it is a fear of failure.
Let me remind you of something you hopefully already know: it’s not up to you. Very little is. Whether you fear failure or fear success—and those two do usually show up together, don’t they? Kind of like deep insecurity and an overblown ego—it’s the fear that’s the real problem. The lies are always going to be there. They’ll keep coming. You can’t do much about that. All you can do is learn to deal with them.
Some people try to hide out for years to keep from having to deal with the lies. But they can’t hurt you if you know how to handle them. If you’re not afraid anymore. Then they have no effect. And that’s the reason you’ve got to face this lie.
If you can accept that your failure or success is irrelevant to the practice of writing you do every day, then you win. It’s none of your business what’s going to happen. You don’t control that. All you can do is show up and prove that a writer isn’t someone who makes a lot of money from their writing, or even necessarily knows what they’re doing much of the time; a writer is just someone who writes a lot.
That’s what you need to know to push through draft 4, to refine the sentences, words and phrases, and focus on choosing the best words to give your work style and help distinguish your voice.
- You’re all alone. This is one of the most basic of all fears. Being alone when you work, it’s easy to assume you write in a vacuum. Many writers nurture a secret fear that they’re the only one who struggles like they do, or the only one who has never read Moby Dick, or who doesn’t know what a split infinitive is. Or who can’t afford to travel for research for their book. Writer have dealt with the writer problems since the beginning, and every writer has been a mom or a dad or a caregiver or held a full-time job, or whatever you think makes you the exception, or the complete outlier. Believe me, you’re not that special.
You’re not alone. You’re never alone. And that’s what you need to know to reach out to the people God brings to your life. Use their help and offer your own to them.
Critiques, editing, and coaching are all necessary input to becoming the whole and complete writer prepared to handle your reader’s questions.
- You don’t count. Your story, or idea, or the real reason you feel compelled to write your book—is buried deep in you, so it takes some unearthing. And it can feel like it changes as you go deeper. This can be hard to understand, so sometimes it can feel like a) you don’t know what you’re doing, which may be true, but you do have a deep reason, or b) your life just isn’t interesting enough, you didn’t live what others lived, or your story isn’t the kind that deserves a book. It’s not really that important.
Do you hear how that kind of sounds like, “You’re nobody?” It can be a very clear, direct, focused voice. And it can be hard to combat because maybe your reason for writing has changed, and it often will, expand, contract, or completely derail. And that’s when you’ll hear: it’s not worth it. Give up. You have nothing here. You don’t matter. Etc.
But it’s not true. The greatest books are still written as they always were, one day at a time.
Sometimes this lie sounds like, it’s all been written before and far better. And maybe it has. But not just like this, and not by you. New competing titles release every week, but none of that matters right now. Your perspective is limited, so find experienced, qualified, paid help to offer feedback. And trust them to tell you how to position it and shape it when it’s time for editing.
Despite what it seems, most books haven’t been written before, and certainly not by a person like you. And if it ends up too close to what another has done, there are ways to solve that.
You have been shaped to care about some things no one else does or even seems to see. That’s going to feel very isolating at times.
But all it takes is a cursory glance at all the authors who’ve had late-life success to know how false this is. Plenty of writers give up. The ones who become multi-published stick to it. They get help. They figure out their angle, their niche. They read and read and read. And they make friends who will help them believe in what they they’re doing.
Other writers, ministry partners, freelance editors and kind-hearted coaches, people who encouraged them to keep on. And they worked all of that into their book. It was hard to believe, but they now know it wasn’t just them who saw this. Others did see it and they needed this book to finally know the words.
You count. Your life mattered. You have every right and every reason to speak now, finally. You’re alive now. And you can make a difference for someone else now. For a lot of someones, if you’ll just believe it.
You see, because all of these are really just one big lie. The one that says you, right here and now should be very afraid. Be afraid! This lie underlies all the other lies (whoops—pun alert!). This is the core lie that has taken so many people out for so many years.
You know this already. You know all of this. My job is just to remind you, to wake you up to the fact that 1) you’re not alone in seeing it, and 2) you’re not alone in facing it. Maybe you just need to get practicing it. Once you realize it’s just par for the course, then you won’t need to get taken out by the lies. You can start fighting back smarter, with better tools. Work them into your writing process, and start thinking of facing this fear as the fundamental practice that leads to great books. For every writer, all of them are people who learned how to fight fear and win. And that has become for them, a spiritual practice.
If fear has you in its grip, try getting to your writing space, sitting down, and writing: “Fear God alone.” Reserve your reverence for the Creator and Sustainer. And forget your very good, valid reasons for not trusting, not believing, no hoping. You must feel loved to be able to trust again, so begin looking for what you’re grateful for. Start seeking the evidence of God’s hand in your life. He promises when you seek, you will what? You will find.
All you have to do is want it. It’s the wanting that matters.
You don’t have to give the lies power.
Fear not. Believe.
You are loved. And that love is your infinite power.