Monday, 20 August 2018

Called to Write

by Jeanette O'Hagan

Called to Write

So God has called you to be writer. He's given you a special story or message to tell which you know will be a blessing for others, Or He's given you the passion, the talents, the opportunity to write. It should be easy, shouldn't it? We write the blog posts, article and books and the readers will come.

Last year I shared the following parable on Australasian Christian Writers (ACW). I believe it is just as relevant today.

One day, the CEO of a large company goes on an extended international trip. She gives each of her three area-managers funds to invest while she is away. When she returns, she calls each of them into her executive office to report on their outcomes. Stephen made a killing in renewal energy futures, Zoe more than doubled the seed-investment in property developments.
The third exec is obviously nervous as he enters her office. He fidgets with his tie, fumbles the sugar spoon as he stirs his coffee.
'So Philip, how have your investments prospered?'
The young man clears his throat and pushes a folder across her desk.
Her eyebrows shoot up. 'What's this, a bank statement? Two per cent interest?'
'Yes, boss,' he mutters. 'I knew you can't stand failure. So, I put your money in the safest place I could think of.'
'You knew I can't stand failure? You could have least put it in a growth fund.'
The next day, the CEO made Stephen and Zoe partners of the company, while Philip received a redundancy package.

I've changed a few details but you probably recognise the gist of Jesus' parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). No doubt we could draw different lessons from this biblical short story (dare I say flash fiction) - but one thing seems clear to me. The CEO (or master) expected his managers (or servants) to invest and multiply his money. Perhaps even take risks with it. The one thing that got the boss' blood boiling, was playing it safe, failing to invest wisely. It seems, God expects us to invest, certainly in the sharing the gospel message, but also in the gifts, abilities and passions He has given us.

Think about it. If God calls us to missions or to the ministry, wouldn't we need to prepare, train, connect with a support base, work with others? It is no different with writing.

If God has called us to be writers, then surely He wants us to invest in our vocation. To take risks even. To give it focus, time and effort. Whether we wish to write as a ministry, as a hobby or hope to earn a living from our writing, it is usually not enough just to write without investing in the craft, in knowledge and connections.

How might we invest in our writing?

Make time to write

The first step is to make writing a priority. This can be hard when we have other responsibilities and demands on our time, and there can be seasons, fallow times, when our focus needs to be elsewhere. Still, if we are serious about writing, we need to write.

It helps to make a regular time and place. It might be weekly, or perhaps daily. Even if it's half an hour when everyone has gone to bed or before anyone rises, or in your lunch time at work or waiting in the car at soccer practice. You fill in the blanks.

Don't wait for inspiration. Don't worry too much whether what you writing is good or bad (you can edit afterwards). If you are really stuck, maybe do some writing exercises to warm up, or read over what you wrote in the last session. 

I'm convinced that sitting down and writing on a regular basis helps creativity to flow.

Learn how to write

'Anyone can string a few words together.' 

Yes, but that doesn't mean the words will connect with readers. Which is fine if we're writing a journal or as therapy (and there is nothing wrong with that). But if we we are called or have the passion to share our story or stories, then we need to learn how to hone our storytelling. 

This includes the basics like spelling and grammar, but also includes what makes a compelling blog post, or, for fiction -- genre, story structure, plot, compelling dialogue, point of view, character arcs and world-building. Non-fiction and memoir can use some of these elements and have their own skills to master.

We can learn a lot of this as avid readers. Even so, while some of these elements might be timeless, there are different style and story telling preferences in different eras. What may have worked in the nineteenth century or even in the 1990s may not be as accessible to readers in 2019.

Courses, workshops, conferences, critique groups, blog posts, podcasts, books are all resources we can access to improve and develop our writing.

Get relevant feedback.

Iron sharpens iron. 

As hard as it may be, getting feedback from critique partners, beta readers, and editors help us to see our writing with new eyes, to identify rough spots or plot holes that will pull readers from the page.

Feedback is invaluable part of writing, with two caveats. Choose your feedback partners wisely and remember you are the writer. You are not obliged to accept every piece of feedback you receive. A critique partner who writes historical romance may not like fantasy aspects in your epic fantasy and vice versa. Not all editors are experienced or understand more recent expectations in fiction or non-fiction writing. 

Even so, if a beta-reader or editor flags an issue, it's worth taking note - even if you find a different solution to the one suggested. And understand the 'why' of the rules, before you decide break them.

Look for opportunities

At some point, our novel or memoir or blogpost is ready to be launched into the world. 

So, how will we make it available to readers? Do we put our writing up on somewhere like Wattpad - where a lot of content is provided for free - or on our own blog or someone else's or share it in a newsletter or specific group (a support or interest group, extended family)?

If we decide to publish, then should we seek a traditional publisher or got the Indie publishing route (while avoiding predatory or vanity publishers)? Either way we will need to promote our work (look for ways to make our work visible and to connect with potential readers).

And while we wait, we can keep on writing, learning, honing and giving back to the community by encouraging and supporting other writers. 

To last the distance as writers, we need Commitment - not to give up, but to keep on going despite setbacks and obstacles - and Covenant - the willingness to keep God at the centre of what we do, to honour Him and trust Him with the results.

Whatever we do, let's not be like Philip in our re-told parable and bury what we've been given through fear or complacency or pride.

Images © Jeanette O'Hagan 2017

Jeanette started spinning tales in the world of Nardva at the age of eight or nine. She enjoys writing secondary world fiction, poetry, blogging and editing. Her Nardvan stories span continents, time and cultures. They involve a mixture of courtly intrigue, adventure, romance and/or shapeshifters and magic users. She has published numerous short stories, poems, two novellas and her debut novel, Akrad's Children and new release Ruhanna's Flight and other stories.

Jeanette has practised medicine, studied communication, history, theology and a Master of Arts (Writing). She loves reading, painting, travel, catching up for coffee with friends, pondering the meaning of life. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and children.

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  1. Great post Jenny. Loved your special parable - a very telling one. You've mentioned some important aspects of pursuing our calling. Loved the picture of the waiting room. :) Also loved the reference to both commitment and covenant. So important to keep going despite setbacks which occur to all of us. Thanks Jenny for giving us reasons and methods of continuing to continue. We all need that push from time to time in order to reach the finish line, doing all He calls us to. May we be faithful.

    1. Thanks, Anusha. Glad it's been encouraging - and agreed, like running a marathon (or just starting out), we need the boost of supporters to cheer us on, provided refreshing water, encourage to keep going. So thankful for your generous support and encouragement along the way.

  2. Thanks Jenny. That's a great spin on the Parable of the Talents. I think writing is one of the best ways of investing in the Kingdom. Think of all of those prophets, disciples, and believers who wrote the Bible. Their legacy is still touching lives today. But it's easy to forget that we also have to make that investment of our time, talents and money if we want to see fruit. And the investment we make with other writers is also so critical. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Hi Nola, I like how you think. I'm thinking to of C S Lewis and how both his fiction and non-fiction still have impact today.

  3. Hi Jenny, that's a great post. We knew when we're called to write because it can be such a burden with so many potential pitfalls the deter the fainthearted. Your take on the parable is convicting, poor Philip :) And your suggestions for investing in our writing are spot on and encouraging.

    1. Hi Paula. I always had a soft spot for the servant in the original parable, maybe because it's easy to relate to. But I thinking it's also exciting that God wants us to do play it safe. Glad the suggestions were on the mark and encouraging.

  4. Wow! This very day I was (again) seeking God's wisdom, asking Him for clarity about what to do next, and to what extent, in terms of investing, spending, and risk-taking.

    1. Glad the post hit the mark with God's timing. Thanks Mazzy.

  5. An excellent parable, and lots of great tips! Thanks, Jeanette.

  6. This is a great post, Jenny. I love the retelling of the parable and your practical tips.

  7. Hi Jeanette, I enjoyed reading your parable. My morning devotion was about knowing where my treasure is and I have invested so much time in my writing lately that I have heaps of things to discuss with God each day. Now I can add what will I do with this investment to my list )i(

    1. Love that the post dovetailed with your morning devotion. May God bless and prosper your writing investments and journey.

  8. I really like your use of the word covenant - keeping God at the centre. Without this and a calling and committment we wont get far.

  9. The wonderful thing about investing for the Kingdom of God, is that the investment and the dividends keep on working, eternally.

  10. Awesome post, full of sound advice summed up in all the necessary, practical points. You hit all the nails on the head, Jeanette. :)

  11. Thank you for sharing this again today - so very relevant to me right now! Committing today to invest my time and talents and sticking with tenacity to my commitment!

  12. It was great to read this again, Jenny. It’s a good post. The one thing I’d add is courage. The parable of the talents is also about fear. There’s so much writing advice spinning around us at the moment. Publish now. Wait and publish when you’ve written 5 books. 10 books. You need to advertise, you need to do content marketing. And the ones who fear leave their work nestling in the files of their computer- afraid to Set it free in case they get ‘it’ wrong. Whatever ‘it’ is.
    May we all continue to encourage one another to invest in our craft and to have th courage to release our work into the world.