I'm taking a one-post break from writing on leadership and family ministry to give some practical advice to all of you out there who aspire to be a writer. Whether you're starting a blog, looking for a journal to publish your research, or a publisher to pitch your great American novel, all of us as writers need to be sharpened.
1. Write from your burning desire to say something, not to get published - It's really cool to see your name on Amazon, I won't lie. But the burning desire to say something should be your primary motivation to write something, not so you can get a publishing credit. Most of the best ideas that get circulated now are done via blog & social media, not traditional publishing routes. Your writing should come from a fire in your bones that reflects your passion. Otherwise (see #6 when someone says your baby is ugly) you'll lack the motivation to make it perfect.
2. Write because you have an idea that needs to be heard, not to get paid - I think every writer starts out expecting to swim in money like Scrooge McDuck, but the reality is less than 1% of writers earn a living off writing. Dream Teams has earned me about $150 this year, which is nowhere near the amount of time spent writing, editing, networking, and refining the book. But my premise behind it was an idea I wanted to get out there because I really do believe churches are less effective because they're not embracing a true sense of "Team Ministry."
3. Write when you don't feel like it - Writing is like exercise, you gotta do it even when you don't feel like it. When I'm in a writing project, I set a daily word-count goal (250-500) and I write until I hit that goal. Not all the words may make the cut, but the daily practice of writing a word count keeps me in the mindset that the project is a marathon, not a sprint. And every day you take off from exercise makes it that much harder to get back into the groove.
4. Write clearly and concisely - A lot of writers feel like they need to get everything out and in the end write way more than they should. When that happens, readers hit TL;DR Syndrome, and they don't even finish what you tried to say, because you never said it. Setting word count limits really causes you to zero in on one main thesis/idea, and forces you to budget your words in a way that maximizes what you want to say. Also, if your reader can't figure out in the first 3-4 sentences what you're trying to say, they won't find out. So be clear up front what you're saying, and be clear throughout what you're trying to say--I hate rhetorical questions, don't you?
5. Write something worth reading - This goes back to #1 and #2, if you want to put something out just to see if it gets picked up, it won't. When you write something, it needs to be worth the time (and money) of your reader. I'm delighted when people read Dream Teams and say they found it helpful, useful, and applicable. That was the point. There are literally thousands of books on teams, so I wanted to make sure what I said was worth the purchase price. Send your stuff out to friends and colleagues to get their feedback on what you're writing.
6. Don't take rejection personally - It will happen. Some publisher will tell you your baby is ugly or that your writing stinks--that's life, deal with it. They're not rejecting you, they're saying no to your work. Getting a rejection letter means someone took the time to read what you had to say because they thought enough of you to look at it. And many publishers will offer feedback on why they rejected it, which provides you an opportunity to sharpen what you wrote.
7. Find good editors - When you're consumed in a project, it's really easy to get sloppy. Most of us don't know the breadth of grammar rules, and when we type fast we're bound to have some typos. It's important to make sure you have good editors who will provide helpful and timely feedback. I always use 3 sets of eyes: Content to look at what I'm saying, Grammar/Style to look at how I'm saying it, and Readability to look at if things flow. Editors love getting credit, referrals, and Starbucks gift cards--it's worth the investment!
8. Talk to other writers - Doing this helps you stay fresh as you bounce ideas off other writers, helps you learn more techniques and practices for writing, and may help you network with editors, journals, and publishing houses.
9. Keep submitting proposals, drafts, and articles - Going back to #6, don't be discouraged if one place tells you no. There are always other places to submit your work. Do the edits they suggest, refine and revise your work, and keep sending it in places. If you really want to get your idea out there and it's worth hearing, eventually someone will pick it up.
10. Have a writing plan - All of us are wired differently, and we need to adjust our plan accordingly. Some people are morning-first, and can be extremely productive before 7am. I'm not. My peak time is between 9pm-Midnight. Also, when making a plan, give yourself a deadline and work backwards. Third, outline first before writing. Don't sit down with coffee and Word (or Pages) open and think it's just going to flow. Spend time crafting an outline that gives your writing bones, and then flesh it out with your coffee. Fourth, block time to write, or else it'll never happen. My wife is writing a Bible study curriculum for a national publisher right now (go Carrie!), and each week she sets aside 2-3 nights to hunker down. If she doesn't plan those nights, they pass with Netflix.
If you're a writer, what advice would you have for those starting out? Feel free to share!
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.