The Trick to Becoming an Author

Pavillion_d'Armide_by_A._Benois_05The other day, a colleague asked me if I thought the burgeoning popularity of memoir-style books of the sort I had published had to do with the fact that the people who read them wanted to write such books themselves.

Reflecting on what he asked, it occurs to me now that—the underlying argument being that my writing’s appeal had nothing to do with my writing itself but only the envy of my readers and that the underlying argument of my readers’ envy being that anyone could write as well as I could—I should have gotten offended. But I didn’t. (Thanks, surely, to the Holy Spirit, who tries to protect me, usually in vain, from bouts of narcissism that make me think I’m a great writer and cause me to take offense at any reminder that I’m not.)

I didn’t get offended, too, because I knew, as anyone who’s ever published a book of any sort does, that what he said was true. We know it from the people who show up in our doorways wanting publishing advice. We know it from acquaintances who know about our good luck as writers and come up to us in the grocery store, or sitting at the vet’s office, or walking to our cars after church, and want to tell us their latest book idea. We know it from the mail we get when our books come out. Fast on the heels of a fan email, if not within the fan email itself, comes a question about how to get the fan’s own work published.

Everyone these days has not just a story in them, as they used to say, but a published book—even though it’s rarely written or even begun. All it takes to write a book, the would-be writer hopes or believes, is an idea and the need to tell it. What happens between that and getting something published is a trick they plan to learn from established writers.

But there is no trick. Just the arduous and time-consuming work of writing and rewriting and sending stuff out and waiting and trying to believe there’s a chance that someone who makes a difference in the world of publishing likes it and finding out there mostly isn’t (or, if you really are lucky, that there might be a chance with some major changes to what you’ve written) and then writing and rewriting again. That’s the part no one wants to hear or even know about. That to be a writer is to write. Period.

They’re like Simon the Magician, that guy in the book of Acts who—though Luke makes clear that he’s a genuine believer—tries to buy from the apostles the trick of touching people and thereby filling them with the Holy Spirit.

“Just teach me the trick of getting published!” EveryWriter begs. Often, as Simon does, they even offer to pay for the trick.

But there is no trick.

Sermons on Simon’s story often go on about how wrong-headed Simon was, thinking to buy the Holy Spirit, and sometimes they posit that Simon wasn’t really a believer at all, even if Luke says he was. But such sermons miss the point, I think—whether it’s the gift of writing we’re talking about or of imparting the Holy Spirit. Being a servant of the word, or the Word, is not a magic trick. You have to get out there and do it.

Hard Work--George Herriman 1907-11-24That said, I remember having had the same response to other writers’ writing—not just to their memoirs but to their novels and even textbooks. I’ve thought to myself, if they can do it, why then so can I. And so began this article and that book. So began my current writing project, a novel–my first. So began, indeed, my entire career as a writer.

If others can do it, so can you, but don’t sit around hoping to discover some trick to make it happen effortlessly. If you want to write, if you want to inspire others, if you want to fill them with good news, with the very spirit of God, you’ll just have to get out there and do it.

9 Replies to “The Trick to Becoming an Author”

  1. Nice post! I especially enjoyed the last paragraph and how you tied blessing others thru writing to blessing others with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

    There really is no trick…

  2. I’m the person who received encouraging advice from an award winning author (who happens to also be my friend). It’s true she gave me the push I needed to not give up on my novel.

    I’m the person who always wanted to write a book.

    I’m the person who thought a story with a fantastic premise would be enough. It wasn’t’. I thought everyone would love my characters. They didn’t. I thought I’d revised and edited my manuscript enough. I hadn’t.

    Now when I read I book, I understand (maybe) what it takes to write a book. And for that, I’m thankful and will remain forever humble.

    Writers need encouragement from other writers. Thanks to you, many are inspired.

    1. Hi, Heather. I hope you haven’t misunderstood me to mean that we shouldn’t encourage one another as writers. Of course, we should. Just, as new writers I think we often long to discover a way to make writing less arduous than it is. But it’s just not possible. Writing takes work. That’s all I meant.

  3. It’s all true. To write a book, one must begin writing, and writing and writing. I found that my best work comes after I get myself before the greatest Author of all, my Lord Jesus.

  4. I’ve just read an interview with a NYT-bestselling author where she says she reads her book thirty (yes, 30) times before it goes to print – one time out loud. If there’s a ‘trick’ to becoming an author, I think she shows the trick is sheer hard work.

    1. Reading aloud–though it’s time consuming and it can be hard to find a willing listener for a whole book (which, I believe, is a necessary part of reading aloud)–is just the best way to figure out how you want to revise. Thanks, Iola.

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