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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Writing Tips from an Apostle

I love to read about the Apostle Paul. I memorize his words, drink up his theology, and try to emulate his passion.

Simply put, Paul is my favorite writer. And as I was studying one of his letters recently, I realized that he has much to teach aspiring authors, especially those of us who want to glorify God through our work.

In Colossians 3, Paul gives nine tips (quoted from Eugene Peterson’s Bible paraphrase The Message, p. 428-429) that have helped me immensely as a writer:

1. Be content with obscurity. What wanna-be writer hasn’t dreamed of six-figure advances, bidding wars and movie-of-the-week deals? Yet Paul says the way to peace is to be happy doing what you’re doing—for the sheer pleasure of it.

2. Cultivate thankfulness. Often, I tend to see my writing life as a life of “have not’s”: I have not gotten a stellar book contract yet, and I have not made much money from this endeavor. Yet—I have the freedom to write (not a small thing, after 9/11), the joy of putting my ideas on paper, and the pleasure of seeing them in print in magazines.

3. Do your best. If I strive to be the most excellent writer I can be, my work will get noticed . . . eventually.

4. Wear love. Not many angry writers get published. Oh, there are the few exceptions, but the general rule is that editors don’t like to publish—and, therefore, put up with--divas. When I approach editors the way I’d like to be treated, (another Biblical concept) I find them much more willing to work with me, and even hand me future assignments.

5. Be gracious in speech. I recently got a rejection from a magazine after I’d sent them two rewrites on an article. I nursed my wounded pride for a while, and then called to ask graciously, “Could you give me a reason for this?”

6. Stay alert. As we all know, the market is constantly changing. I must stay abreast of trends through magazines, conferences and the Internet.

7. Bring out the best in others. When I was a pre-teen, I had an uncle in publishing who showed me how to get started. Now I like to mentor aspiring writers. Helping others is part of yet another biblical mandate: “To whom much is given, much is required.”

8. Pray all the time. Paul doesn’t have to remind me about this one—I pray when I’m writing (“Oh, please give me the words”), when I’m re-writing (“Oh, give me the other words!”), and after I’ve submitted (“Please don’t let them hate this”) Sometimes I feel a bit like Sally Field receiving her Oscar (“They like me!”) when I tear open an envelope and find an acceptance letter—but I’m also praying, “Thank you!”

9. Don’t suppress the Spirit. While Paul is talking to his fellow Christians about the
Holy Spirit, I also believe all writers must work to avoid suppressing our own
spirits—our personalities--when an editor asks us to rework a piece. We must let our own voices ring!

Whether he was exhorting, rebuking or affirming his readers, Paul definitely had a distinctive tone--which is something I am working on in my own writing.

My favorite "Paul passage" has an encouraging tone. God led me to it one evening after I had gotten three rejections in the same week, all from publishers I was longing to work with. From I Thessalonians 5: "God didn't set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ . . . So speak [or write!] encouraging words to one another. Build up hope, so you'll all be together in this . . . Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens . . .The One who called you is completely dependable. If He said it, He'll do it!" (The Message)

So write like there's no tomorrow, pray constantly, and remember: what He said, He'll do—even through you.

Dena Dyer (Amazing Grace-land, my blog)


Linda said...

What a wonderful,Godly, balanced way to look at writing. It resonated with me. I haven't submitted many things, but the few times I have I've gotten those form rejection letters (couldn't they at least be a little personal). I have a really hard time with rejection - so I very maturely tear up the letter and vow never to submit another thing again!! I think you have a much healthier attitude. Thanks for the wise words :)

Gina said...

Great insight and what a wonderful way to look at the scriptures especially in times of rejection. I think we all need to save this post and refer to it often!

Thanks Dena

Jennifer said...

What wonderful tips. I have a feeling that living this way helps you enjoy your writing, too, instead of become so focused on the end result.

Staci Stallings said...

Wow, Dena! I've been living this way and writing this way for a long time now. St. Paul is my favorite because of the conviction and surrender he lived in his ministry. Now I see how the two (my writing like this and my love of St. Paul) make perfect sense together. Thanks so much for pointing this out!

GeorgianaD said...

Thanks for the encouraging word! Sometimes it's easy to get distracted by the goal, instead of looking at the journey.

Jackie Castle said...

I really liked this. It's great for writing, but applies to life in general as well.

Would it be ok if I post a link on my blog to this? I'd like other people to maybe have a chance to look at it.

Vicki said...

Excellent, excellent. I need to print this out and keep beside my own computer. Thank you, Dena.