“Ye shall not surely die.” Ever since the snake whispered in Eve’s ear in the Garden of Eden, mankind has been susceptible to lies. Our volatile emotions open up vulnerabilities for falsehood to sink its teeth into.
As writers, a distorted mindset can hinder our growth, damage our creative potential, separate us from reality, prevent us from accomplishing goals, and trap us in despair. We need to equip ourselves with the truth so we can combat the attitudes that could cause us to stumble.
1. My Writing Is Ready for Publication
Countless people have predicted that their first novel, or even their second, will be the next New York Times bestseller. When I read their writing, though, it’s less than amazing.
These writers have poured blood, sweat, and tears into their stories—which is a triumph in and of itself. They’ve dreamed up characters and a plot, but that’s only the foundation. They have yet to hone their craft, learn the industry, and develop their voices.
If we prematurely assume that our writing qualifies for publication, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. Publishing is a world of nos. Agents will turn down our manuscripts. Publishing houses will decline our pitches. Editors will shred our masterpieces and tell us to make changes we never expected. Most authors write several novels before gaining acceptance. If a new writer sends her first query with stars in her eyes, a rejection might devastate her so that she quits writing.
Right now I’m an official staff writer for Story Embers, I have a published novella that’s receiving positive reviews, I blog consistently, and I’ve finished four novels. Yet I still get rejection letters. Two separate agents requested my full manuscript, read it, and reported that they liked it, but it didn’t fit the genre I’d labeled it as.
Writers always have room to improve their skills and expand their understanding of story craft. Overconfidence can hold us back from wonderful and necessary growth.
2. My Identity Hinges on Publication
I’ve heard many writers agonize over another year passing without achieving publication. If we don’t break into the market within a certain time frame, we fear that we’re failures. Once we have an agent, a contract, or books on the shelf, we think we’ll feel validated.
But when we obsess over our publishing status, we may fall prey to scams and vanity presses. Or we might rush into self-publishing with a weak manuscript. Self-publishing isn’t an unwise choice (that’s another lie we sometimes swallow), but it is if we’re driven by impatience. Later, when we realize we’ve released a half-baked story to the public, we’ll regret it.
If we write, we’re writers. Being published or unpublished won’t alter who we are. Neither will traditional or self-publishing. Publication doesn’t place us on a platform of “arrival” where we stay forever. As writers and human beings, we’re constantly changing and growing and learning.
3. I Can Write with My Eyes Closed vs. My Manuscript Belongs in the Trash
Picture the scene from Tangled where Rapunzel swings back and forth between excitement and guilt about leaving her tower. Writers are like that.
We imagine breezing through the writing process and handing agents a novel they’ll be beating down doors to publish. Then we’ll be rich and famous, tour alongside best-selling authors, and retire early.
I’m sorry, but that’s a fairy tale. Writing takes a ton of work, and navigating the industry demands even more effort. Authors who do land a contract rarely reach J. K. Rowling’s popularity.
At this collision with reality, aspiring authors often crumple up their stories and fling themselves on the couch for Netflix and ice cream. We worry that our writing isn’t good enough and neither are we. No one will ever want to read our words. What’s the point of trying?
Both outlooks poison our creativity. Believing that writing is easy makes us lazy about studying the craft. Believing that it’s futile paralyzes us from creating anything at all.
We’ll face challenges and setbacks. But we must persevere. If you’re here reading this, you probably feel led by God to write in some capacity—whether for fun or a career. God doesn’t call us to failure. He might stretch us to exertion, but when we hold a finished story we can be proud of, the struggle will be worthwhile.
4. How I Spend My Time Now Doesn’t Matter
As a teenager and beginning writer, I knew that publication was far off. So I figured I didn’t need to polish a story that wouldn’t be leaving my desk. And why should I familiarize myself with the publishing industry if I wouldn’t be diving into it yet?
But that’s unsound philosophy—especially if we hope to pursue writing as a career. Though being unpublished does give us a measure of freedom, we shouldn’t squander it.
When my novella Red as Blood placed in Rooglewood’s Five Poisoned Apples contest, I had never edited any of the novels I’d drafted. I’d write a story, declare it done, and move on to the next. So the multiple rounds of extensive revisions I went through with Red as Blood slapped me in the face. If I had attempted to tighten my prose and infuse emotion into my scenes earlier, maybe the professional edits wouldn’t have been as rough.
The publisher suggested I create an author Facebook page prior to the book launch. When I sat down to do it, I realized I had no idea what genre I was passionate about. Red as Blood was Gaslamp fantasy, but I was also writing a dystopian novel and planning a historical romance. Displaying all those genres would have been like a neon sign flashing the words, “I can’t commit!”
Spending your early writing days exploring different genres can help you find your bearings, which is why you need to keep the future in mind. What do you love about the genre you’re currently writing? What strengths do you have that specifically cater to it? Enjoy your freedom as a developing author, but treat it as a season to experiment and refine your talents.
5. I Need to be Perfect Before I Start Writing
Writers tend to be terrified that they’ll produce junk if they haven’t plotted out every aspect of every scene in a story. Or they dash off a chapter only to scrap it for being incoherent. But a sloppy first draft is better than a blank page. You can spruce up a draft but not an empty document.
We live in a fallen world as broken human beings. No matter how many times we tweak our manuscripts or fill out plot outlines, our writing will never be flawless. Even books by best-selling authors contain typos and instances of telling, plus receive negative reviews from readers who didn’t resonate with the theme.
And that’s okay.
You don’t have to be unsurpassed in skill. You just need to apply yourself to the task. Frederick Smith said, “Fear of failure must never be a reason not to try something.” That is absolutely true. Don’t let the illusion of perfection restrain you from chasing your goals.
Overcoming the Lies
You might wrestle with all or none of these. Maybe different lies are hissing in your ear. But the first step is to recognize that you’ve been listening to the wrong voice and turn to the right one. After Eve ate the fruit, she hid instead of confessing her sin, and that only worsened the situation.
While Scripture doesn’t directly address the writing profession, its teachings can be applied to any area of our lives. Since God inspired approximately forty authors to contribute to the Bible, I think He knows how to encourage us.
- Be humble. “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians 3:12). Celebrating our writing successes is fine—but we must be careful not to view ourselves more highly than we should.
- Be brave. “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9). God is with us through drafting, researching, editing, querying, and rejections or acceptances. We don’t need to fret over mistakes or people’s opinions of our work. We can write the stories on our hearts and trust God with the results.
- Be proactive. “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). God doesn’t want us to be idle or content with low standards. Once we’ve aligned our goals with His will to the best of our ability, we need to start tilling up the ground around us.
- Seek help. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). If lies are inundating you, ask God for discernment and endurance, or confide in a godly friend/relative. Talking about our struggles robs them of power.
God has laid stories on your heart for a reason. Tune out the devil’s deceitful words, crank up your favorite battle song, and continue pressing your fingers to the keyboard one letter at a time.
Maddie Morrow grew up with her mom reading to her and her dad telling stories about cowboys hunting Bigfoot. The combination sparked her love of writing early, and she’s been lost in her notebooks ever since. Aside from writing, she enjoys loud music, good horses, and hardcover books. She lives on a farm in Nebraska with her husband and son. Her Gaslamp novella, Red as Blood, won the 2018 Snow White retelling contest hosted by Rooglewood Press, and it released in December 2018 with the Five Poisoned Apples collection.