The Road to Real is Paved with Brokenness

In the 17 months since I started blogging, I’ve read a lot about writing, the writing life and how to succeed as a writer in our electronic age. I’ve come across a few things I’m doing right, as well as plenty that I could do better or differently.

Rough road

As I skim through all this information, I’m always interested to read what the experts say makes a person a writer.

For example:

Real writers can’t not write.

Real writers write very day.

You can only call yourself a real writer if you have been paid for your writing.

I’m no expert, but if you’re trying to decide whether to call yourself a “real writer,” I think it’s more appropriate to consider who’s reading your stuff and how you feel about the actual writing process than it is to try to measure up to the standards set by these pithy declarations.

Sure, I have a journalism degree and years of professional experience, but from where I sit, a blogger with a couple hundred loyal followers who has been faithfully writing for six or seven years is as much of a writer as I am.

Maybe even more so.

There seems to be some glamour attached to writing that I think is misplaced. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. “Real writers” put their pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else. (Well, almost everyone else. But that’s another story for another day.)

I’m not saying that penning a book is not a worthy accomplishment or an admirable bucket-list item. I’ve written two, and I thoroughly enjoyed the process and the end result.

But what nobody tells would-be authors is that books go out of print, sometimes very quickly. When that happens, you are left with deep disappointment and hundreds of deeply discounted books (which you then have to haul around from house to house the next three times you move).

In the coming months, I will share more of my writing story, including situations when I’ve been humbled and what I learned when my words went away for years on end (which totally debunks the theory that real writers can’t not write, by the way).

For now, though, if you’re struggling with whether or not you can call yourself a writer, I have one simple suggestion.

Stop worrying about being a real writer and concentrate on producing writing that is real.

This doesn’t just apply to words on the page, of course. We should strive for authenticity in everything we do—whether we’re teaching, helping, running, encouraging, cleaning, baking, sewing, leading, designing, singing or serving. And not in a “Just keepin’ it real, Dawg” kind of way (this isn’t American Idol, after all).

Each of us should aim to be real in a from-the-heart, true-to-ourselves way, whatever that looks like for our individual personalities. But transparency and vulnerability are especially important for writers who want their work to connect with people on some deep level.

This might sound simple, but it’s far from easy. That’s because the road to real is paved with brokenness.

Perhaps a conversation between a toy horse and a stuffed rabbit who longs to be real (from Margery Williams’ children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit) can shed some light on how it works.

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

When a person who has experienced this kind of “becoming” sits down at her laptop and starts writing—freely and without fear of others’ opinions—the results can be breathtaking. Life-changing, even, especially when faith is the driving force behind the story.

Former slave trader John Newton famously wrote, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

In these profound lyrics, Newton brought his wretchedness out into the light, not to glorify or shame himself, but to draw a contrast between what he was and what he became because of God’s amazing grace.

That, I think, is what real writing is all about.

Yes, it’s about speaking honestly and openly about our whole selves. Yes, it’s about showing people they’re not alone. But mostly, it’s about pointing others to Jesus—the only one who can turn our sorrow into joy, replace our wretchedness with righteousness, and remove our shame by showering us with mercy.

Lois Flowers

P.S. Linking up this week with Kelly Balarie at Purposeful Faith as she collects the “Best Writing Tips of 2016.”



49 Responses to The Road to Real is Paved with Brokenness

  1. Kelly says:

    What a great post! I started a blog because God took teaching off the table and I needed some sort of outlet. I didn’t care much if anyone read my blog or not – there was some sort of satisfaction in it just being “out there.” I suppose it never crossed my mind of how to label myself – perhaps because I’ve been writing in some form or another ever since I penned those little stories needed for English class in grade school. Here I am, 8 years a supposed blogger, and about to publish my first book. I’ve been trying to decide about blogging my book and something you said made it clear that I should. I don’t want it to fade or gather dust on a shelf – I want it “out there” and how better to do it than through a new blog. Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Jennifer says:

    I love your description of what “real writing” means…drawing a distinction between who we were and who we are – not to shame ourselves for who we were or to glorify ourselves for who we are, but to show that we’re living proof of a God who is alive and active and working in our lives. You have encouraged this writer tonight! Thank you for linking this with us at Grace & Truth.

  3. This is a breath of fresh air for me right now, Lois. I so appreciate your sharing your experience and your thoughts. I didn’t know you’d written two books and had a journalism degree!!

    After a few years of blogging, some rejected magazine submissions, and still more goals ahead of me, I’m finally relaxing to call myself a writer. (Sshh, don’t tell anyone I said that! 🙂 )

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I think you have a wonderful ministry with your blog, Betsy, and I always enjoy reading your guests posts at other sites too. I would definitely call you a writer, so I’m glad you’re getting more comfortable with that tag too. 🙂

  4. “Stop worrying about being a real writer and focus on producing what is real.” Wow! That challenge will stick with me for a long time, Lois. Thank you. Great encouragement here today. I look forward to reading more of your writing story.

  5. “Bravery” is a word rarely associated with qualities required to be a good writer, but that’s what it takes to be real with pen and paper (or computer keyboard, as you will). I’ve been a paid writer for years, as a journalist and marketer, but only ventured into inspirational writing in the last year or two. There is where rubber meets the road, where being “real” is a requirement. For the first time, I’m having to be brave enough to take off my business “mask” and let others see my real story. It isn’t easy sometimes, and yet I am willing to do it for Jesus. If one person finds Him through my blog, then it’s all worth it! Thanks for this inspiration this morning. Happy to be linking up with you on Grace & Truth.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Linda, I have a similar background and know exactly what you mean about inspirational writing. When you add in that very personal element–writing from your own heart and life instead of reporting about someone else–it can be scary. But have you found, as I have, that it gets easier the more you do it? I hope so. And I totally agree: it is worth it if it draws even one person to Jesus. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts today. 🙂

  6. Liz says:

    So encouraging! Thank you for these words, Lois. I always say it tentatively, “I’m a … writer.” As if I’m waiting for approval from the other person. Or as if I’m moving into a defensive position before they can counter my claim. Writing seems so glamorous until you realize your eyes have glared over staring at the cursor on a blank page wearing yoga pants with a pencil in your hair and sticky notes scattered around your work-space while your coffee cools…. Sigh….

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Ah, you have the problem with cold coffee too … glad I’m not the only one, Liz! And to add to the glamour–right now I’m sitting in my dining room with my laptop on a kitchen towel so it doesn’t mess up the finish on the dining room table. To my right, one daughter is doing the dishes while listening to Broadway tunes on Pandora, and in the living room in front of me, my other daughter is listening to the Wicked soundtrack. To think I used to need total silence to write anything, and now I can write with two different soundtracks going at once. Write boldly and bravely, my friend … messy desk and all!

  7. Lois,
    Wonderful and encouraging post 🙂 Glad to know writers put on their pants one leg at a time (wink, whew, I passed that test)…This is so very true: “That’s because the road to real is paved with brokenness.” Thankful, the road is also paved with God’s love and grace otherwise I couldn’t have made it this far…Blessings to you 🙂

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Me neither, Dolly. And yes–about those pants. I’m going to have to write something soon about the people around here who actually DON’T put them on one leg at a time. 🙂 Thanks so much for your encouragement, my friend!

  8. Barbara says:

    Very inspiring post. I tend to forget this writing idea isn’t really about me other than God using me to share His message. I get hung up in my insecurities. Looking forward to reading more of your writing story.

  9. This post reminds me of one of my favorite writing quotes:

    “Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
    – William Faulkner

    Thank you for sharing! Your words are so inspiring! 🙂

    • Lois Flowers says:

      That’s a great quote, Lauren. Really, what’s the worst thing that can happen if we just “get it down,” like Faulkner says? Maybe we have to start over a couple dozen times, and maybe it takes us way longer than it should, but we just might end up with something really wonderful–something that really has an impact on someone else. Thanks for sharing this today!

  10. Thank you for this. The inner struggle about being a real writer (as if it’s a destination) is what has me all twisted up. The notion that it is not (and never will be) a destination, but it is a process of becoming by being, by doing, by thinking and processing.
    I am becoming.

  11. Brenda says:

    Indeed! Beautiful words, Lois. Something I’ve heard that has stuck with me is: “Serve the reader.” That’s the thing that I’m trying to keep at the forefront. (Keeping God the main thing, of course.) What makes me a “real writer” is that–I write. Not that it’s read, not that it’s published. Writers write. I write. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this, Lois. ((blessings))

  12. Very timely for me. Your words encourage me to keep my heart in what God has given me to say in the space He has provided, and to let Him manage the big picture. Blessings to you!

  13. “Stop worrying about being a real writer and concentrate on producing writing that is real.” This. Sometimes it feels like opening a vein up doesn’t it? Thank you for your good words and I’m looking forward to reading what else you have to say about your writing. 😉

    • Lois Flowers says:

      “Opening up a vein.” Yes–I think that’s a good way to put it, Lisa. I know you speak from experience here, and your faithfulness in writing your story is such an inspiration to me. 🙂

      • I think Mark Twain was the first one to refer to writing as “like opening a vein.” He certainly had a way with words, but he knew how difficult writing could be. He had his own style, as we all do, and the trick is to tell your own story and not compare yourself to others. This is a constant battle for me.

        • Lois Flowers says:

          I think that’s a battle for a lot of us, Suzy. If it’s not comparing the actual writing, it’s the blog stats and platform. Whatever it is, the result is the same–dissatisfaction and a lack of contentment! I think the most important thing is to use the unique voices God gives us to tell the stories He is writing for our lives, and then to trust Him for the results. For me, that last part is the hardest!

  14. Kristi Woods says:

    It is all about pointing others to Jesus ~ I’m sitting here, nodding my head in agreement. When it becomes “more” or morphs into a bungled mess of confusion, which it’s been for me lately, it’s time to stop and point back to the Star. I’m eagerly awaiting your next post in this series, Lois. #tellHisstory

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Oh Kristi … I’m sorry you’re in the bungled-mess-of-confusion phase right now. I often feel like I’m one or two words away from that myself, and you’re right–that’s when we need to move our focus from the horizontal to the vertical. It’s funny … the next post in this little series is one I’ve been thinking about writing for more than a year. I’m not sure why, or how relevant it will be to anyone else, but I just have the feeling I need to do it. Your comment is sweet encouragement for me to stop putting it off and just do it, so thank you for that!

  15. Lois, such true words here. I’ve thought about what makes a real writer, and I find it almost impossible to live up to some of the definitions. I came to writing relatively late, but it’s a part of who God created me to be. And that is enough, for me, to define me as a “real writer.” I work at my craft, and then trust God for the timing for what He gives me to write.

    And your words about writing real? Spot on. My one word for the year is Authenticity, and I’m learning how to live it better, even in my writing. I loved what you said about our writing pointing others to Jesus. Yes and Amen to that!

    I’m your neighbor this week at the #RaRaLinkup. 🙂

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Jeanne, I can totally relate to what you said about working at your craft and trusting God for the timing. The publishing world is so completely different than it was in the early 2000s when I wrote my books. After spending much of the next decade not really writing anything and certainly NOT doing anything to build a platform, it’s easy to get discouraged when I look around and see what it apparently takes to succeed as a writer today. But then I think about calling, and how God’s ways are not my ways. And I know that my assignment isn’t to worry about possible future failures, but just to write what I need to write! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts today … here’s to authenticity–in writing and in life!

      • Lois, it is hard to “make” it as a writer today. Platform and all that takes time to build. But, like you said, when our eyes are on Jesus, when our heart’s desire is to fulfill the calling He gave us and leave the results up to Him, there’s a measure of peace that comes from that. 🙂

  16. Thank you Lois for these reflections, so glad you linked these words to the #RaRaLinkup.

  17. Heidi says:

    So true and beautiful. Thank you, Lois!!

  18. Trudy says:

    Thank you for encouraging me today, Lois. Sometimes those “real writer” definitions can make one feel so discouraged and “not enough.” My heart especially grabbed onto this – “Stop worrying about being a real writer and concentrate on producing writing that is real.” Just being authentic wherever God places us and pointing others to Jesus is so much more important than being called a “real writer.”

  19. Profoundly thankful that I stopped by today. Your words were the reminder I needed after a month of wondering if my writing even mattered. Wiping a tear, and getting on with some real writing once more, friend.
    Thank you.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I’m so glad you stopped by too, Christine. Your writing is definitely real, and it definitely matters … to me and I’m certain to many others who find hope for themselves in the stories you share from your own struggles. Keep writing, my friend!

  20. SO good! “Stop worrying about being a real writer and concentrate on producing writing that is real.” You already know we share the same heart cry – but that certainly speaks to my heart today. It’s a good thing my “real” value isn’t tied to a paycheck because I’d be worth a whole lot of nothing. 😉 Thank you for the encouragement to dip deep and produce writing that is true.

  21. Linda Stoll says:

    Wow. Profound, Lois.

    ‘Writer’ is a difficult hat for me to wear comfortably. For years I’ve defined myself as a counselor who blogs. It still seems to suit me better as I have no plans to ever pen a book.

    And then someone out of nowhere calls me a writer and my heart just soars.

    No matter what the handle, I feel His pleasure when I hit that PUBLISH button.

    I know you understand …

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Linda, if you ever did pen a book, I would be lining up for an advance copy! I do like the phrase “counselor who blogs,” but though I’m not necessarily qualified to bestow such titles, I think you are definitely a writer. 🙂 Have a blessed day, my friend!

  22. Beautifully said. Bravo! Truth.

    (And I love “The Velveteen Rabbit.”)

  23. Bethany says:

    Lois,

    I’m so treasuring these words today. “Real writer” is a phrase that I don’t care about much when my eyes are on Him, but always seems to pop up with doubt when I start looking at me and what I’m capable of.

    Looking forward to these upcoming posts that delve more into your story! Blessings!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I know what you mean, Bethany. When I look at writing as part of my calling, I’m content and willing to trust God for the outcomes. When I start looking at the apparent “success” of everyone else and start comparing myself to that, contentment goes away and stress takes its place! Obviously, the better choice is to do as you say and keep my eyes on Him! 🙂

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