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.
As I skim through all this information, I’m always interested to read what the experts say makes a person a writer.
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.
P.S. Linking up this week with Kelly Balarie at Purposeful Faith as she collects the “Best Writing Tips of 2016.”