A couple of Saturdays ago I got to reconnect with a few of my favorite people—the leadership team of my writers’ group here in McHenry, Illinois.
We call ourselves Kaleo Creatives—“kaleo” being a Greek verb, meaning “to call, to name, to address.” Our mission? “To encourage, equip, and tangibly support one another in our writing, speaking, and journey of faith.”
We five ladies hadn’t been together since April, so we started by catching up on all of the travels and trauma and triumphs of the summer. It had been a doozy for several of us.
Eventually, though, we turned the conversation to the business at hand—our writerly plans for the year. We got organized for our monthly workshops. We coordinated responsibilities for our Facebook group. And along the way, we wondered aloud yet again: “What do our writers need? How can we spur them on in the mission to which they are called? What is standing in their way? And how can we help them overcome all the hurdles?”
We talked about logistical possibilities—books that might encourage the group, our dream of holding a writers’ retreat, the location of our annual Christmas brunch.
But we also shared our hearts—our desire to speak truth into the lives of writers, and the importance of helping them dispel the lies. The lies often hold us back more than anything else; this we well knew. The lies can keep us captive. The lies can keep us quiet.
I’ve been writing—and mentoring other writers—for a long time now. I’ve watched many writers wrestle with lies like the ones I’ll share below, and I myself have believed them more often than I like to admit. Let’s be honest. Sometimes, I still do.
But one of the biggest blessings of a writing community is being surrounded by other writers, who understand the struggle, who will whisper truth in your ear at just the right time—or who will even shake your shoulders and shout it to your face when necessary.
So, here I am whispering (and shaking, and shouting) some of the lies that we are too often tempted to believe—and the truth, to which we must keep coming back.
Lie #1: I am not good enough.
This potentially lethal lie is as old as Moses and his burning bush. And it often comes hand-in-hand with its close cousin…“I’m not as good as _____.”
Unfortunately, to dispel this lie, I can’t simply say to you, “Oh, come on. Sure you are.” Empty flattery, that would be, and you would do well to hear it as such. Clearly, I have no way of knowing how your writing skills measure up against anyone else’s.
But I can tell you this with certainty: It doesn’t really matter. That sort of comparison isn’t helpful or relevant.
So, first of all, let me encourage you to set aside your self-consciousness and lean into courage. Learn to assess your writing objectively—with healthy humility and honesty. And then—no matter how strong your writing already is—work to make it stronger. Develop your abilities. Hone your craft. And seek out both training and support.
Learn to see your writing more as a collaborative endeavor—and less as a competitive one. When we maintain that mindset, we can see other writers as team members and cheerleaders, rather than opponents. We view their good writing as an inspiration, rather than a threat. We respond to others’ success with excitement and celebration, not self-pity or shame. We let their work challenge and encourage us. We let it stretch us beyond what we thought we could do. We become better because of it.
So, to that end—read, read, read. Read the classics. Read contemporary greats. Read what your friends write. Read widely and wisely. Read for enjoyment, and read to learn.
Carefully study the craft of the best. Notice their use of language and details, images and action. Notice their syntax and their structure, their rhythm and their rhyme. Then try to mimic their good technique in your own work. Imitation is a great way to grow.
And as you read, keep writing. Write, write, write.
Writing is not a feature—like high cheekbones—that only a few have been blessed with at birth and the rest of us are doomed to only wish for wistfully. Writing is a skill that we all develop. And just like with any other skill—the only possible way to improve is to practice.
Lie #2: I’ll write later.
Sure, it is true that sometimes God does press the “pause” button. Sometimes He will slow us down. Sometimes when we are tempted to rush ahead, He tells us clearly, “No. Not yet.” Sometimes He has more work to do in us to prepare us for the work and the writing that He will call us to do. Sometimes this is the case.
Other times, however, it is not His foot on the brake. Other times that foot is our own fear. Other times our procrastination is a by-product of laziness or distraction or a myriad of other excuses.
In those cases, to delay is to disobey.
Lie #3: I don’t have time.
If you told me that you don’t have time to write, I would respond with this simple truth: “Yes. You do.” You have time. You have the same 24 hours a day and 7 days a week that the rest of us have. You have time.
If you said to me, “I just can’t find time to write,” I would tell you, “You never will.”
Time is not something we find. Writing time will not fall into our laps while we’re busy doing other things. We will not stumble across it or discover it, covered in lint, at the bottom of our purse. If your life suddenly opened up—like the parting of the Red Sea—with a clear path between you and the book you are called to write, it would be a miracle of similar proportion.
If you looked at me with sheepish eyes and murmured, “I know, I know. I need to make time to write,” my sympathetic response would be, “I’m sorry, but you can’t.”
Time is not something we can make or manufacture; it is not a resource that we can multiply or grow. We will never get more of it than we already have, and once it is spent, it is well and truly gone.
Time, instead, is something we steward. We make choices every day about how we will allot each hour. Sometimes we order our time flippantly, sometimes we do so with great deliberation, thought, and prayer.
So if God has indeed called us to write, we must set aside the necessary time and guard it fiercely. We have to prioritize and probably say “no” to some other lovely things. Writing will require sacrifice, dedication, and discipline. It may mean earlier mornings or later nights. We may fall behind on our favorite Netflix show. The laundry may lie in an unfolded heap for one more day.
But as we choose to prioritize writing in our schedule—30 minutes every morning or three times a week, over lunch—we will slowly see it become a habit. We will gradually learn to think and see and live like writers. And we will write with the unparalleled satisfaction of knowing that we are moving toward a goal to which God has called.
Lie #4: I have nothing new to say.
Yes, there is truth in the old cliché, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
The chances of you having a truly and completely original idea may be rather slim. Many other people have likely written on the same topics as you. They may have even made very similar points.
However, they have not addressed the subject from your point of view. They have not included your observations and your illustrations. They do not have your particular humor or insight. They have not tailor-made their content for your audience. They have not written in your voice. And they do not have your heart.
Think about Toyota, Nike, and General Mills. They don’t consider the advertising landscape and decide that other companies have already communicated everything there is to say about automobiles and running shoes and delicious breakfast foods. Of course not. They know that if they kept quiet they would cease to exist. Their raison d’etre would disappear. So they speak up. They believe in their products, and they want the world to know of their value.
May we be similarly driven, similarly bold. God has given each one of us a message to share and a reason to be. So speak up.
Yes, work on your craft (see Lie #1), but don’t put upon yourself the pressure to be perfect or shockingly original or an expert in the field.
Just join the conversation. The world needs more voices of truth and grace and redemption and love! Be one of them.
Lie #5: No one will read my writing.
The truth is that we have zero control over who reads our work. We never know how many will see it or what will be their response. We don’t know if we will attract the attention of an agent or an editor, or if our soul-wrenching writing will fall on deaf ears. Our audience might just be our mom, or it might be millions.
The truth is is also this: Gathering an audience isn’t our job. It’s God’s.
Our job is to do the work of writing, to love our audience—whoever and however big they may be—to hone our craft, and to trust the outcome to His capable hands.
Trust the One who can move hearts—the hearts of readers and publishers alike. Trust Him to speak through our words to do His good work.
So we write.
We write out of obedience. We write because God has called us to do so and saying “no” is not an option.
We write as warriors. We write because God continues to raise up an army, who will fight for truth and grace with pen and page.
We write as a spiritual discipline. We write because God meets us in that space. We see Him and hear from Him and record what He reveals.
We write for our community. We write to understand and articulate the human experience, to communicate empathy and hope and love. We write to connect. We write to know we’re not alone.
We write as an act of stewardship. We write to manage well the gifts we have been given—the gifts of language and time and voice and life itself.
We write as His creatures, created in the image of a creative God. Our writing is one of the many ways by which we image Him. And our words are our worship.