A Tip for New Writers

Recently a writer friend wrote to me about a problem. She’d been writing non-fiction material (and successfully selling it). However, when she returned to fiction, she felt paralyzed.

She wrote, “I’m struggling when I try to write fiction. I’ve been working on a short story for a few days, and the sentences are so slow in coming! Sometimes I fear I may be overthinking it. I’ve learned about using strong verbs instead of too many adjectives and adverbs, about showing instead of telling, about not insulting the reader with too much description, about keeping the action going, about giving my characters layers. So I sit and stare at my screen instead of writing what I think isn’t good enough….”

I can relate, and I bet many of you writing colleagues can, too. If I spend even a few days writing non-fiction, it’s challenging to switch gears back to fiction-based thinking. Composing logical non-fiction material and crafting fictional characters into stories are different skills.

Maybe this lesson I learned will unshackle your own creativity: You must give yourself permission to write junk. Nobody’s first draft is a masterpiece. Even successful authors who teach writing courses don’t produce flawless prose on the first draft.

Writing is like creating a snow sculpture. Before you can sculpt, you must expend energy amassing a big, ugly pile of snow. After you’ve done that, you can take spoons and butter knives and start shaping the mass into a statue. But you can’t simply pick up handfuls of loose snow and pat them one at a time into the final, completed sculpture. You need the intermediate stages as you chip away and shape the snow into a shape worth seeing.

Similarly, in writing don’t worry if the words you type into your first draft are bland or break rules as they appear on the monitor. The first draft is the raw, creative stage. In it, you’re accumulating all your ideas (like piling up loose snow) into one spot and into a general shape. Once all the basic characters, ideas, and plot are there, you go back with your writer tools and rework that rough manuscript into the story you envisioned. If you’re a normal writer, you’ll need to work through it multiple times before the final version emerges. Even then, you’ll want to retouch it here and polish it there to make your final creation shine!

Those are the tips I shared with my struggling friend. Some days later, she wrote back to say, “It worked! Thank you so much for the advice. I may have to start paying you, lol.”

People paying a writer for his words? Now there’s a novel idea!

 

God Wants to Edit You

error

What does a good author do to make a manuscript worth publishing? Easy—that first draft must undergo a thorough editing. Fluff needs to be cut. The characters need deepening lest they remain cardboard cutouts. The author adds colorful details, vivid verbs, inspirational dialogue… Of course, errors in spelling and punctuation must go.

Imagine how horrible the literary world would be if all authors typed “The End” onto their first draft, declared it “good enough,” then published it without revisions. Scary notion, isn’t it?

Yet, just as each manuscript needs polishing to make the story shine, so do you. Bluntly, the Lord wants to edit you and me. Jesus is “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). If you’re one of our Author’s characters, He loves you more than any earthly author loves his novel. But that love doesn’t mean He wants you to remain a rough draft of your potential.

When a novelist sizes up his creation and cuts out paragraphs, scenes, or chapters, that doesn’t mean he hates his creation and wants to punish it. The writer is eliminating the dross to leave only gold. God does likewise. With loving care, He works to remove the vices and to polish our rough spots. Often a human author puts his hero through horrific events. So does God with us, but not just for fun or excitement.  When He chastises His children or allows troubles, just like the conscientious writer, He desires to improve us. Troubles have a way of refining people. They cause us to re-evaluate our priorities and cut out bad elements while driving us back to God.

However, imagine a scenario in which an author labors for hours to prune sloppy lines from a story, only to have the characters reinsert those shoddy portions when the author looks away. How exasperating that would be! Fictional characters can’t do that, of course. But humans can. God works to edit from our lives the pride, dishonesty, disobedience, lust, anger, vengeance, and other vices that mar us. Certainly it must grieve Him when we reinsert the junk into our lives.

In the story of your life, do you resist God’s editing? Do you fight to remain a rough draft? Or do you submit to God’s editing and polishing so you can shine like the Son?