I want to devote Thursdays to advice for writers, so to kick it off, here’s a post by Elizabeth Hagen, the pastor of Washington Plaza Baptist Church, on Lake Anne in Reston, VA, used with her permission. Elizabeth’s blog is called Preacher on the Plaza and is worth reading, with wonderful insights, trenchant commentary and a warm inclusive tone. It’s also well-written. You can check it out at http://preacherontheplaza.wordpress.com/.
Recently I have found myself being asked more about writing. Such as: “How do I find time to do so much of it?” ”How do I decide what to write about?” “Why write a blog when you don’t know if anyone out there is really reading?”
I giggle a little to think that someone would ask me such questions because only in the past six months have I been able to confidently say that I am a writer as much as I am a pastor among other things. Yet, the truth of the matter is that I’ve been steady at the discipline of blogging since 2006– back before it was cool– and have loved every minute of it. If you want to make me smile, let’s have a conversation about writing.
If you want to know why I blog, check out the “About Elizabeth page.” For the rest, here’s my in the process of learning list for today:
1. You must write and write a lot to get better at it. Sounds un-profound, but it’s true. There is no magic formula to being a writer. As much as you might have a natural inclination for words, you have to learn the craft. Blessed be the friends who read you stuff even when it is bad and don’t tell you how bad it really is– these are the people you need in your life cheering you on believing in the fact that it will get better. They’ll be plenty of editors or critical blog commenters who will tell you the truth!
2. If you are going to be a writer, you need to know when is your time of day when ideas come. For me this is annoyingly the moment I put my head on my pillow at night. I lay there and my head floods with topics for new blogs or ideas for how I want to arrange the chapters of my upcoming book project. I try to fight it, telling myself to forget until morning. But, usually such a declaration doesn’t work. So, I say, if creativity calls, run with it. (Just don’t publish a blog after 11 pm. Most I know are usually sorry for this in the am).
3. Write with heart. Again, not profound. But often, I’ve found readers forgiving me for a multitude of grammar sins if they know I believe and am passionate about what I am trying to say. Especially in persuasive writing (which is what I mostly do– sermons and op ed type pieces), readers need to know you personally care about what you describe. There’s nothing worse to read, I think, than a journalistic type writer trying to give you the facts and then expecting you to care when you have no idea if the writer cares first! Caring of course don’t have to explicit. People know if you do or don’t implicitly.
4. Make friends with other writers. Non-writers just don’t see prose they way a writer does. My mom or my husband, for example, will read my stuff and will often comments in helpful ways, but their feedback is never as a good as that of my writing friends. Fellow writers will tell me that I had “a nice turn of phrase” or “this theme connection really made the essay work” or “I didn’t start liking you as a character until half way through the chapter.” Other writers speak your langauge and so you always need to stick close to them.
5. Do not be afraid of the delete button. In the beginning of my weekly writing career, especially with sermons, I was really anxious about cutting large chunks of the piece out. I had worked so hard! It was so sad to see a paragraph go that I would cut and paste it into another word document hoping to come back to it later. The funny thing is that I NEVER would need it. Sometimes the delete button can be your writing project’s very best friend. Though a tear may be shed, the best thing is to just go with it. Tear the band-aid quickly though and you’ll feel better for it.
And, most of all read about writing. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is one of my favorites.