are you writer material? (part 1)

Welcome to Writer’s Week!

Ever wondered if you have what it takes to be A Real Writer? First of all, let me just say that if you a.) like to write and you b.) write sometimes, then you’re A Real Writer. You don’t need a book with your name on the spine (although, if that’s your dream, I’m all about encouraging it).

If a career in writing appeals to you on any level, may I suggest a book called An Introduction to Christian Writing by Ethel Herr? The cover and title? Completely boring. But what’s inside? Love, love, love.

My copy of the book is all underlined and asterisked and littered with margin scribbles (all in my fave purple pen), and every now and again, I’ll pull it off the shelf and leaf through it, mostly reading the parts I know I love.

I got it out one night last week and was lying in bed skimming it. Gabe looked at the cover. “An introduction to Christian writing? Aren’t you a little past that point?”

“No,” I said. “It inspires me. It makes me happy.”

He rolled his eyes (lovingly).

Once every eight months or so, when I get the chance to hang out in Barnes & Noble, I browse for awhile but always end up at the books on writing. I mentioned in this post that I love to read fiction books about… books. And my non-fiction topic of choice is writing.

I get giddy reading someone who gets me. Like this:

I used to think that if something was important enough, I’d remember it until I got home, where I could simply write it down in my notebook like some normal functioning member of society. But then I wouldn’t. (Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott)

You will find your writer’s mind rarely–if ever–turns off. You may even find yourself wanting to stop in the middle of doing something to write about what you’re doing–whether you’re in the middle of dinner, a bath, or a party. (Pen on Fire, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett)

All the help my writing might provide others would be worth nothing if I failed my own family. My responsibility as a wife and mother is more than just doing things for them; it is doing things with them. I must guard against my tendency to become preoccupied with my work and must make a conscious decision to be there for them–to give them my full attention and to really listen to what they are saying and not saying. Children grow so quickly. Don’t sacrifice them on your writing altar. (Write His Answer, Marlene Bagnull)

Ethel Herr says that the key to being a “constantly producing writer” is passionate determination. This is good news. There’s no mention of stellar natural talent–just grit and desire. You can do this!

She makes a list of qualifications including: a love for people and a desire to serve them at their point of need; ability to discern significance; courage to speak up, even if your message is unpopular; and a clear assurance of your calling.

This is why I read a book with “Introduction” in the title, even though I’m technically past the introductory level. I love affirmation that I’m doing the right thing–and inspiration to do it better!

Here are some “technical qualifications” as she calls them:

1. a keen imagination; 2. an insatiable curiosity; 3. literary appreciation; 4. flexibility and a thick skin; 5. a persistent will to polish a project until it shines; and 6. ability to work in solitude.

I would add the following:

7. the willingness to sacrifice many fun things, in order to make time to write.

8. the discipline to sit down on your rear and write when it’s the last thing on earth you feel like doing.

9. the willingness to make what might amount to 50 cents an hour for the rest of your life.

10. if you’re having trouble with the thick skin thing, you need to surround yourself with people who love you no matter what.

I can already tell that I’m tempted to stretch this into Writer’s Month. But I know you’d miss all that other great stuff I’m always writing about.

Or at least the giveaways.

I can read some of your minds right now. That’s all great and fine, but what I really want to know is how can I find an agent and get a book published and become rich and famous?

When I figure that out, you’ll be the first to know.

So, tell me:

1. Where are you on your writing journey?

2. What dreams do you have?

3. What questions can I answer for you?

See you tomorrow! Have a great week!

23 thoughts on “are you writer material? (part 1)

  1. Pingback: so, you wanna get a book published? | Marla Taviano

  2. Kimberly

    I love this, thanks for the tips this week! I love writing, but hate to think of myself as a writer! I loved what you said about needing to write what you are doing, that’s what my blog is…all of a sudden, I just need to go write what is happening. I of course, have no intention of it ever going further than getting a few laughs, but I’m having a blast!

  3. Lisa R-p

    Reading each comment that has been shared so far has been fascinating. Now for my story. Writing is something that I have always loved and I am really nerdy because I enjoy it so much (according to my husband at least). I wrote a lot through junior high and high school. I even had a column in my local newspaper in junior high (it was an advice column for teens by a teen). I was the editor of my high school newspaper and went to journalism camp every summer. I wanted to be a writer or a librarian when I grew up — can you say introvert. Then I decided that I wanted to have more financial security. I also loved science — almost as much as writing. I have a degree in nursing, with a master’s degree in administration/leadership (I loved writing my master’s thesis — I wrote it while I was on bed rest with my first pregnancy). Now I am a hospital vice president of quality improvement. I write a lot everyday for work on topics of research/quality/leadership. I have developed, written, and taught curriculum on a wide variety of topics in those areas. Personally, I write a lot in my journal (always with a purple pen – thank you very much). I write newsletter articles routinely. I have always dreamed of someday writing a book on one of these topics, but then I lose my confidence and think that there are people who are more qualified than I to write on those topics — who would want to read my book.

  4. Kimberlee Conway Ireton

    Hi Marla,

    Thanks for your visit to my site yesterday and your encouraging comment. I so appreciate hearing other (published) writers’ stories. I think we need to tell each other about our failures (or our not-as-successful-we’d-have-liked successes) more often than we do, so when something similar happens to us, as it inevitably will, we don’t feel so alone.

    So thanks for telling me a little about your story–it’s so nice to know it’s not just me =)

  5. whimzie

    I’m looking forward to this series. Thanks so much for your willingness to share with us what you’ve learned about writing. What a generous gesture!

    Your first paragraph makes me feel squirmy. I certainly don’t see myself as a writer. I just seem to have been born with an excess number of words that I have to put somewhere so that I don’t explode…and to spare the ears of those who are near me.

    I used to say I write for myself, but I’d be lying if I said that I don’t appreciate feedback and/or knowing that something I’ve written struck a chord with another person. But I don’t know where I am on my journey. I’ve written a few dramas for church, ghost written/edited for a couple of pastors, and I have a blog.

    Questions: I’m just curious. From first idea to printed word, what’s the average length of time it takes to birth a book (or gestation length, if you will, Mrs. 52 Zoos)? I’d love to hear what you have to say about the tough skin part. Do you tend to take people’s criticisms to heart or do you feel confident enough in how you do what you do to let negative feedback go?

  6. Lisa H

    I have been journaling since I was in 3rd grade, I have a degree in professional writing, I was a technical writer and editor for five years, I have a blog, and I have written a few other short pieces, but I consider myself new to creative writing.

    My dream is to share the lessons I have learned from God with others. I have a passion to see Christians realize a deeper, more intimate relationship with the Lord. It hurts my heart when I see Christians leading luke-warm lives, so my dream is that God would use my writing to inspire others to be sold-out for God and not settle for mediocre lives.

    I have an idea for a book, but writing a book intimidates me right now, so I want to start small and write articles and devotionals. I also want to be more consistent and disciplined with my blogging.

    My questions are similar to Megan’s. How do you make the time to write when you have small children? What does your typical day look like? How many hours of sleep do you typically get? I am a total zombie if I get less than 6 hours of sleep (7-8 is more ideal), so staying up very late at night just doesn’t seem like it will work for me–not to mention I am exhausted by 10 pm since I get up at 5 am every day.

    I love the quote about not sacrificing your children on the altar of writing. That is always on my heart. I don’t want to neglect my children or my housework, but I am finding it very difficult to make the time to write.

    Thanks again for doing this, Marla. I love to hear from other writers, and I admire authors who take the time to help other writers. I am just coming out of a dark, trying time in my life, and my writing has taken a back seat while God has been rescuing me from a muddy pit. I’m so ready to get on with my life and get back into writing. Your (God’s) timing for this is perfect.

  7. Crissy

    – My writing journey…Well, I have lots of ideas some things actually written down, and God prompting me to do more. So, I am going to get this book you talk so highly of…I need all the help I can get.

    – Writing has never really been my dream. However, God seems to have other ideas. I have been given the honor of raising a child with some special challenges, and also have a passion for encouraging other parents. So, because of these things I have been able to share my story with some parenting groups (MOPS, and others). Now I am feeling the push to get it all down on paper. So, wherever God wants to take this is my dream, I am just going to hold on for the ride.

    – I don’t think I have any questions at this point. But I am sure they will come to me! 😉

    Bye the way…Love you bunches!!!

  8. Christy Lockstein

    1. I am just beginning my journey to become a published writer, because that really is my dream. I’m going to do NaNoWriMo in hopes of producing something worthy of sending to agents/publishers.

    2. My dream is to be published, and it’s not about the money, (although anything would be better than the little I’m making now) I want to write books that touch people’s hearts.

    3. How do I write a good query letter? That’s the scariest part of writing for me. I have one novel almost finished, but the idea of having to write a query letter to sell it has stalled me from finishing it for over three years!

  9. Mindy May

    1. I would love to be a writer. I do have a blog but since starting school I haven’t found the time or the energy to put thoughts into words.
    2.I would love to write a book and have it published. I would want it to be about having a drug addicted parent and how to understand and get over the hurts.
    3. My question for you would be why did you want to get into writing? Did you always know that is what you wanted to do?

  10. Joslyn

    Thank you for the very first paragraph. I went so far as to get a BA degree in creative writing, I got married a week after i graduated and moved across the country, got pregnant a few months later, and I’m sitting here, writing this comment five years later watching my children play on the floor. I have no made my writing a priority in my life, yet. My littlest has just weened (i’m still wearing ice packs) so maybe now that she’s more independent I can find some time for myself.

    I especially liked the quote about being present for our children, I’m going to check that book out, it sounds right up my alley.

    I do have some questions.

    1. How do you balance the mom-guilt and your writing? Especially when you were first starting out on the journey to writing your first book.

    2. Do you have any tips on shopping your manuscript around? I find that’s the most confusing part.

  11. Gail

    1. Where are you on your writing journey?
    Is “stalled out” a place? Stalled out on the driveway. There. That is a place. I’m at the “trying to discern what God wants for me in this arena.” I had felt a passion. Then a sense of “wait.” Now I’m wondering if it is fear that has paused me. Our current study at church (Priscilla Shirer’s Discerning the Voice of God) has been kicking my tail. So much so that I will have to make a move. Watch out, world.

    2. What dreams do you have?
    I’d love to write a book. I just can’t see in my dream what sort of book it will ultimately be. I’m still waiting for that direction.

    3. What questions can I answer for you?
    Talk a minute about your process of moving from a thousand ideas to narrowing in on a real, cohesive book topic.

    And thanks for the book recommendation. I will be purchasing soon.

  12. O

    1. I have 2 children’s books I have written and they are currently sitting on my bookshelf. I have a couple more in my mind, but since I haven’t done anything with the other 2, I haven’t felt motivated to write them.
    2. Dream to have them published and for kids and their parents to really get the message in them. They are after all about Jesus!
    3. How do you pick one subject or character when your head is swimming with ideas and “people”?

  13. Mandy

    1. Where are you on your writing journey? I didn’t think I was a writer until just recently. Then I found that I become really motivated to write when: a) God works in my life b) I grow and change c) I feel a burning desire to share what He’s done with others. Then I ask Him for enough time to sit down and write out what He’s given me – and He always provides (even with two busy little boys in the house). So I guess you could say I’m just beginning my journey. I’m so glad I found this blog at just the right time (I just read Is That All He Thinks About? a couple weeks ago – thanks for the great book!)

    2)What dreams do you have? I dream of sharing God with other women. God has given me a heart for women’s ministry lately – which is totally Him because I used to think I was unfit for the society of other women. I really want women to know that they are not alone, that God cherishes them and that He is completely trustworthy, that suffering has a purpose, and that nothing is wasted. I don’t care if I ever make a cent writing (although it would be kind of nice if I could add to my family’s income). Mostly, I just want to spread the word and share some hope. And just for chuckles: my ultimate dream is to become a Women of Faith speaker! I just think it’s awesome that God works in those women’s lives and they are willing to be open and honest and share their struggles on a stage in front of thousands of women. Very inspiring.
    3) What questions can I answer for you? I’m so new to this, that I’m not even sure if I have questions. I guess one would be, what’s it like to write about something really controversial and tell it like you see it and then have people really give you grief – even to the point of rejecting you/saying mean things to you? Has that happened to you (I hope not, but since I saw that you really like to tell the truth and not mince words, I suspect it may happen to you now and then). How do you handle rejection in the form of non-constructive criticism? Have you ever “put your foot in your mouth” while writing and then realized that you’ve made a mistake after your writing has already gone public (I’m thinking of starting a blog and I try to be careful about really prayerfully considering what to say and what not to say, but I also tend to really doubt myself to the point of sometimes not saying what I should for fear of saying too much). So how that for not having any questions? Thanks for doing this!

  14. Teresa

    1) Where am I on my writing journey? I am just beginning to put pen to paper. Some of people from my friendship, fellowship circle have encouraged me to write about my experiences. This morning I read the quesitons :What is the purpose of my pain? What is the end result? Maybe part of it is going to reveal itself through writing and ministering to those around me.
    2) My dreams are to move from writing my blog and page after page of notes to writing a book. Is my goal to get published? I guess I will leave that up to God. That would be my dream.
    3) Questions? How do you get all of your notes into something that makes sense?! I need to focus my writing on one central idea. I write an outline for chapter ideas, and find myself veering off in a different direction. Also, Do you set aside a certain amount of time each week to write when you are in the middle of a project? I have a ton of questions, but I am sure others will ask some of them!

    Thank you for this subject! It is timely and just what I needed.

  15. Lee Detrick

    well, I used to think so…………I used to think I was many things; my thinking has changed drastically. Where has my creativity gone?

  16. Rachel

    I’ve been a writer since I was a child. I lived in a small rural community growing up and decided to write a newsletter for my neighbors. I wrote for my high school and college paper (and was the editor of both). I graduated college with a Mass Communications degree with an emphasis in professional writing. After college, I wrote for local papers and a news station at my local Christian radio station.

    When I became a mom, I assumed I would continue writing from home full-time. Haha…oh! reality!

    So I started blogging. For a while, I felt like it just wasn’t enough. I wasn’t feeling like a “real” writer. Lately, God has shown me that my writing has simply taken a “new phase.”

    I am writing a special pregnancy story for my daughter, Anna. I am writing for my church newsletter. I am writing Sunday School and VBS curriculum…and I love it! It’s not where I thought I would be five years ago, but maybe this is where I am supposed to be. Doing work for His kingdom.

    I am excited to see where my writing takes me!

    My dream: To love what I do, whether I continue to write or not!

  17. Ali

    Writing journey? I currently do most of my writing on the computer, typing one-handed because I’m using my other hand to support my nursing daughter. And I’m constantly interrupted by the most adorable little man who wants to play race cars or flip through picture books.

    Dream? Live to see the day when both these children nap allowing me an hour of two-handed computer time.

    Questions? Have you ever considered writing a children’s book? I’d buy it for my kids. Just sayin’,

  18. Megan@SortaCrunchy

    Where am I in my writing journey? After writing copious amounts on and off from 5th grade 🙂 forward, I’ve just in the past year and a half begun to allow myself to (tentatively) use the label “writer” to describe myself.

    The quotes you highlighted were such an encouragement – I could relate entirely to each. The list of qualifications? Check, check, and check.

    I feel I have a message God has laid on my heart, and He’s helping me to toughen up my skin as I face multiple rejections on the road to publication. I can sense that He is prompting me to consider some pivotal questions as to what to do next. I know that more than anything, I want whatever comes from me to glorify Him.

    My dream is for someone to say “God really spoke to me through what you wrote” – whether that writing is on my blog, through a book, or even in a personal letter or email.

    Questions for you? I struggle MIGHTILY with the discipline thing. HUGE struggles. What does writing look like for you on a practical level. How much time during the day do you devote to writing? WHEN do you write? Do you take days off? Anything you can share in terms of learning the discipline and making it work while little ones are underfoot would be immensely helpful.

  19. janelle taviano

    you lost me at “literary appreciation” & persistance to polish…. the part of reaching people at their needs, you bet……what is inside me compels me to get it to the lost, for people to be “unreined from guilt, shame, and insecurity” to live in the wholeness of who Christ’ blood – says they are ? but thot to book…….from “crap” to ” eloquent words” hmmmmmmmmmmm ….someone just wrote me a message on “keep your eyes on your own paper”…..your paper is writing…that is for sure, mine ?

  20. Christine Lee Smith

    1. Where are you on your writing journey? Beginning – but trained.
    2. What dreams do you have? To use this gift God’s given me to help His people learn what I’ve learned in life. Particularly artists or Christians who are not yet free to be honest before God with their dreams and fears.
    3. What questions can I answer for you? I was trained as a journalist – writing in as kittle space as possible. How do I take “pamphlet” mentality to make a book?
    And – how do you begin? With an outline, introduction…or just a pen and paper? 🙂

  21. Bethany your sis

    The type of writing I most thoroughly enjoy is writing in my prayer journal. I kind of wrote a book when I cut out all my entries where I wrote to God about my future husband and pasted them in a book for Stewart as a wedding present.

    I would never want to be an official writer because I can not stand the thought of #5: “a persistent will to polish a project until it shines” I do not have the patience (long suffering would be the better word here) to keep working on something until it’s perfect. I like to spend a couple hours on something and be done. I enjoy quick gratification. If I spent a couple hours and had to go back and redo it all, I’d quit. I admire that character quality in writers–you are persevering and dedicated.

  22. Emily Kay

    My dreams of being a published author ended when I hit college. I wrote novel after novel from 3rd grade through high school and even sent several in to a bunch of publishers (all rejected, of course). I lived and breathed writing back then. A part of me still has that desire…but reality has pushed it to the recesses of my being. So now I blog. It’s my “writer’s outlet,” so to speak, and it keeps me focused on what’s truly important in my life. (Not that writing isn’t important, but for me it’s more trivial.) Every so often I get on a writing kick again. A couple of month ago I started writing a newly marrieds’ guide to cooking on a budget. But then life got in the way and I set it aside. Maybe some day (when I’m old and gray and have an empty nest) I’ll start really writing again, but for right now, God has me elsewhere. 🙂

  23. Peter P

    I want to be a writer because I love to write, however, I don’t think I have any of the ten ‘technical qualifications’ you listed (except maybe the last one).

    Thanks for the great post though, Marla

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