Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Keeping God in the writing journey

Many years ago now I went to my first writers’ weekend conducted by a secular writers’ organisation. I was new to it all and totally overawed by those around me who seemed to know exactly what they were doing. I listened to talks, asked some tentative questions and chatted to a few authors. At least, I tried to chat to them. They were pleasant enough and reasonably helpful – but I came away feeling slightly sorry for them and fervently hoping I would never end up like them. You see, when we talked, I had the distinct feeling they were very wrapped up in themselves and what they had written – perhaps even jealous of others there who had been more ‘successful’ or who had sold more books or won more awards.

Since thave been to quite a few more writers’ events and realised that perhaps many of those attending – even the ‘successful’ authors – may not be as sure of themselves as they appear to be. And I know a little more now, so am not as overawed as I was. Yes, I have definitely changed over the course of my nine year writing journey and of seeing five of my novels published and out there in the market. But how do I myself now come across to other authors or potential authors? Have I become a little proud and self-centred, perhaps even just a teensy bit envious of those whose novels or other works have sold better than mine?

When I began my writing journey, I knew clearly God had called me to do so. I decided my writing would always be God-honouring in every way. I would write as best as I could for God, working hard at it and taking advice on board. I would seek to reach out to others through my novels, particularly those outside church circles. I would write ‘from the heart’ and be very vulnerable in what I wrote, in the hope that others perhaps going through similar situations as my characters would relate strongly to them and be helped or encouraged in some way. And when and if my books were ‘successful’, I would seek to give God the honour and glory and not become puffed up myself. For that reason, I chose to put Psalm 115:1 at the top of the first page of my website:

Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.

But what about now? Was I giving God as much honour and glory as I should? Was I truly remembering that my novels had come into existence because of God’s call and because God had given me any writing gift I had? Was I as conscious of God’s presence around me, encouraging me and cheering me on each day, as I had been at the beginning? Was God still in fact at the very centre of my writing journey?

I have pondered these questions a lot during the past year in particular – so much so that I will be taking a workshop on this whole topic of ‘Keeping God in the writing journey’ as part of the Word Writers’ Fair in Brisbane on Saturday 12th November (see  I don’t want to be running a race that adds up to nothing in the end. So I am looking forward to sharing the challenges and hopefully helpful insights God has given me in this area and to hearing how others endeavour to keep God first as well.

So ... how are you doing at keeping God in your writing journey?  

Jo-Anne Berthelsen grew up in Brisbane and holds degrees in Arts and Theology and a diploma in Education. She has worked as a high school teacher, editor and secretary, as well as in local church ministry. Jo-Anne is passionate about touching hearts and lives through both the written and spoken word. She is the author of five published novels – ‘Heléna’, ‘All the Days of My Life’, ‘Laura’, ‘Jenna’ and ‘Heléna’s Legacy’. She is married to a retired minister and lives in Sydney. For more information about Jo-Anne and her novels, please visit her website,


  1. I've read that this can be a fickle and disloyal industry (which is perhaps not surprising given the difficulty of turning a profit). I resolved some time ago to try not be sucked in to that way of behaving, but to strive for the standard of behaviour that is expected of us from above.

    Even though I don't have much to offer, I also try to be as supportive as possible of other writers; for example, being generous with my time when reviewing drafts from other members of my writing group. At a (non-Christian) writers' conference I attended recently, the comment was made that writers tended to be clicky, usually dividing between the published and the rest. That's sad.

    But I'm still jealous of your publishing success!

  2. Thanks for the much needed reminder Jo-Anne. I'll be praying that your workshop is a real blessing to those who attend and in everything we will all bring glory to Him.
    Jennifer Ann

  3. I experienced something similar in a secular writers conference, Jo-Anne. I was a very raw beginner and felt even more so as the conference ended. It seemed like a boast-fest to me. Anyway, it spurred me on to write my utmost for the Lord. And to look for that "well done" from Him one day in the future. We want to so engage our readers that God's love will reach into their hearts and lives to heal, guide, and challenge.

  4. Thanks for your comments, Peter - although I wouldn't waste too much time being jealous of my 'publishing success'!!! I think your comment about trying not to be sucked into a way of thinking and behaving that is less that God-honouring is exactly what I was trying to say in this blog.

    And thanks, Jennifer, for your prayers re the workshop on this topic. I really appreciate that.

    And Rita, we must have gone to the same conference, I think! I guess the lesson is, as Peter says above, to try to be as helpful as possible to others, especially 'raw beginners' and not to leave them feeling discouraged or left out in any way. God bless!

  5. Thank you for the reminders, Jo-Anne. All through my nursing and Bible College days I had a glass covered plague on or near my desks. When we unpacked here in Tasmania I made sure to get it out again. Trouble is, sometimes the "too familiar" needs to be brought again to the forefront of my heart and mind which your post has done. This plaque reminds me: "Whatsover ye do, do all to the glory of God. 1Cor10:31
    Looking forward so much to seeing you again in November, Jo-Anne.

  6. I am so glad I changed the idea for my next blog post because I was going to talk about God in our writing.
    When I write I try not to "preach" too much. though the stories do uphold Godly/Christian principles.
    In the devotionals I do ask God to be with it and let something I say impact someone for the positive.


  7. That was a very timely reminder, Jo-Anne. It's so true that we can be easily seduced by our own importance, thereby ruining our helpfulness and witness to the glory of God. May God keep us humble.

  8. Hi Jo-Anne. I completely agree with you. My number one goal is to glorify God through writing - and tell the gospel story. Everything else is secondary to that. Thanks for sharing your heart. XXOO

  9. Writing is fun, seeing it in print is more fun, and the funnest thing of all is having readers tell you how much they've enjoyed your work. So as Christian authors, it behoves us to make the most of those fun opportunities, and pray consistently that God would inspire and guide our work. It would be awful to come to a point of having loads of fun, and realise that we've been wasting great opportunities to encourage and inspire others with Godly ideas and thoughts.
    Thanks for the reminder, it's good to have those ideas articulated and reinforced in our thinking.

  10. One challenge for me has been to keep God as my number one, and not my writing (don't know if anyone else has this problem). I love to write, sometimes a bit too much. So I have a little habit that keeps me from accidentally losing perspective: I wont let myself write anything, until I have done my Bible reading. :)

  11. Hi Jo-Anne, thanks for your insightful and thought provoking post :) For me it's a continual journey to seek His will for my writing, and to try and balance my writing commitments with other responsibilities in my life in a way that brings Him glory.

  12. We need reminders like this from time to time. I love writing. It's a bit like breathing to me, but I never used to feel I'd fit anywhere as I didn't believe I had the confident 'success' characteristic going which I'd observed in other authors. Each day I'm thankful for my encouraging fellow Aussie Christian authors. Ten years ago, I never would have believed I'd be part of such a supportive on-line community as this, and feel as if I really belonged.
    As always, I appreciate the reminder to place God first.

  13. Thanks for the timely reminder, Jo-Anne. Although I write mainly for teaching purposes on theological topics (and as such am always immersed in the Word), the focus on Jesus Himself can slip. That's my challenge - keeping focused on HIM.

  14. Thank you all, for your great comments and excellent insights. I wish I could line you all up in my workshop on this topic in November - the input would sure be fantastic! Mary, I hope that's a plaque you have on your desk though and not a 'plague' - although I know you have the flu. Looking forward to seeing you in November too.

  15. Jo-Anne. Thank you for your article! Today I was thinking about where I'm letting God 'be' in the writing I do, and then I read your words.

    And I'm excited that, by 'chance', I will be in Brisbane on the weekend of the conference you mention, although I don't fly in until sometime on the Saturday. I will do my best to change our flights so I can come along!

  16. It's a wonderful challenge to keep God in the writing, isn't it? Keeping the balance between a good plot, interesting characters, good writing style so that readers don't want to put the book down, - and most importantly of all - bringing them face to face with our awesome God, whether they are already Christians or not. It's what makes writing exciting for me as well as fun, and what gives me the motivation to keep going. The thought that God may be able to work through me as a writer and through my stories to draw people to Himself is such a privilede - something I offer to Him each time I work on a story. All the best with the workshop Jo-Anne. I look forward to seeing you and other writers there in Brisbane.

  17. That's amazing, Jackie! Hope you make it to the conference.

    And thanks too, Carol, for your comments. Everyone's ideas here have helped me greatly with that workshop preparation!

  18. Loving this conversation. Sometimes I wonder about the role of a publisher and how I can help the message as well as publish the right books and take God's message out. I am thankful that I can behind the books I publish or sell and it means that somewhere along the chain each book has the chance to touch someone. I pray that as writers and publishers that message never fails.

  19. Hi Jo-Anne
    Without God's creativity my writing is nothing as my school English marks prove.
    Without God's love permeating every part of the plot the writing is meaningless.
    Without God's imagination my plots would be boring!
    I don't think I could do this without the call and power of God.
    Maybe that is where we are different to the secular writers! Blessings!

  20. It is so easy to get carried away with success isn’t it? I think God delights in our achievements too, but as Christian writers we didn’t succeed on our own strength. Perhaps we come unstuck when we forget that our writing is also our ministry – our servitude to our Lord. We really are vessels of His will, and like our characters, we seek to know Him better.