A college professor and novelist talks about the business of writing, how to jumpstart a writing career, and how to get published.
Eight Rules for Writing
by Rebecca Deel
Do you have a Facebook page or blog? Do you tweet, text, write lyrics or poetry? Have you written a resume, cover letter, or business plan? Do you pen letters to Mom or contribute to church newsletters and bulletins? Would Eric Thomsen, editor of ONE Magazine, ask you to write an article? Does a New York Times bestselling novel simmer inside you?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you are a writer. God takes writing seriously, and so should you.
The Bible includes 407 references to writing and writers. One of those references found in Habakkuk 2:2 says, “And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain….”
Six years ago, my then nine-year-old son walked into the bedroom where I sat with a yellow legal pad, creating my novel’s first sentence. He asked me one question: “Mom, how do you write a book?”
At first I wanted to brush his question off with “Not now, sweetheart. I need to squeeze more words from my brain.”
But a small voice inside stopped me. It said two things. One, take this question seriously; it isn’t a “standard” request. And, two, writing will occupy him for a while.
I told Austin to jot down story events, and make sure the guys in white hats win on the last page. Since he didn’t watch John Wayne movies, I had to explain who the guys in white hats were.
When I ventured from my bedroom an hour later, Austin was still working on his manuscript. He finished the three-part story a few days and 7,563 words later. That’s 31 pages of double-spaced type.
While Austin wrote his 31-page story, I wrote one page. I went back to the small voice and said, “Lord, I want to be like Austin!” I wanted to finish my story from beginning to end. I yearned for confidence in my ability to energize the boring parts and mend plot holes.
You may not harbor aspirations to become a best-selling author, but you write. Whether emailing friends, family, co-workers, or sharing thoughts on Facebook, we write every day.
All writing can be improved. Don’t worry. A writing upgrade doesn’t require diagramming sentences or mastering Latin. Over the last six years by watching Austin, I’ve learned eight writing rules.
Rule #1: Read
Writers must read. Read your Bible first then read whatever else catches your attention. Good writers read books from every genre. Learn from other writers. Best-selling author Dean Koontz’ novels unveil the beauty and rhythm of language. Mystery writer Robert B. Parker’s books showcase masterful dialogue. The Bible demonstrates lean writing with deep meaning.
No whining about a lack of good books. Like westerns? Grab Louis L’Amour and ride the open range under a blazing sky. Prefer political intrigue? Try Vince Flynn. Nobody is a tougher undercover operative than Mitch Rapp. Don’t read fiction? Select a biography. Just read.
Rule #2: Live
Pay attention to the world around you. People-watch at the mall. Visit new places and historical sites. Volunteer in the community and witness life. Don’t be a hermit writer and disappear behind legal pads or computer screens. How can we write about and connect with people if we hide from life?
Rule #3: Write
Habakkuk 2:2 says, “Write the vision.” Despite our preference, procrastination is not a Christian discipline. Thinking about writing doesn’t count as writing.
A writer’s worst enemy is a blank page or screen. If our pages remain blank, we are dreamers, not writers. Ever notice how stories, articles, letters, or blog posts humming with life in our minds disintegrate transitioning from our brain to the page? But any words are better than no words. You can’t edit blank pages.
In his book On Writing, Stephen King says if we can’t finish a 90,000-word novel in three months, we aren’t working hard enough. Ninety thousand words is 360 double-spaced pages. King writes 2,500 words a day. Every day. No wonder he’s a best-selling author.
Don’t have time to write a blog post or letter to your congressman? Writing doesn’t require a two-hour time block. Quit procrastinating! Fifteen minutes at a time, you can write the next book in a best-selling series or at least a blog post.
Stephen King advises writing the first draft with “the door closed.” In other words, write for yourself the first time through the manuscript or letter. On the second pass, write with the door open or write for the reader.
Rule #4: Keep It Simple
Short sentences and familiar words raise comprehension. If someone reads what we write and asks for clarification, our mission failed. We write to express, not impress.
Short paragraphs also aid understanding. White space on a page enables easier reading and comprehension.
Rule #5: Polish
God smoothes rough edges from our lives. Rough-draft manuscripts need polishing as well. Contrary to what we wish, first drafts are seldom fit for reader consumption. But a jewel lurks beneath those ragged words. Our job is to cut away the grit and reveal the gem.
Only God’s writing needs no editing. The rest of us need to memorize Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Stein on Writing. No writer crafts a perfect first draft. So go ahead and have fun with that first draft—write with passive verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Tell yourself that you’re the next Ted Dekker or Terri Blackstock. After the dust settles, use a red pen and the delete key to add muscle and action.
Polishing doesn’t allow 2:00 a.m. creation of the business plan due by sunrise. An off-the-cuff letter of recommendation won’t result in quality work.
Rule #6: Tap Your Biorhythm
Some people wake cheerfully before the worms. Others stumble through the day on coffee, hitting their stride just as the sun sinks beneath the horizon.
Austin discovered his creativity peaks between 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. He capitalizes on that, frequently producing 20 manuscript pages per session. Of course, that pace might originate from a Mom-enforced 9:00 p.m. bedtime during the school year. Committing those scenes to the screen before bedtime becomes a race against the clock.
I’m more creative in the early afternoon. Even my editing sessions fizzle by 7:00 p.m. Austin considers that a good thing since we share the same laptop.
When is your best writing time? If you wake with your motor revved, set the alarm for an earlier hour and write. Write better with music playing? Plug in the headphones and get to work. If you are a night owl, wait until moonrise before powering up the laptop.
Rule #7: Discipline
Be faithful. Make an appointment with yourself to write. Fifteen minutes, 1,000 words, one page. Writers write, inspired or not. Our Christian walk is one of discipline. We will never be writers without committing words to paper or screen.
During an average year, New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts publishes six new books and releases four reprints. She treats writing as a regular job.
Robert B. Parker pens four book series and publishes four or five books per year. He writes ten pages every day. Another New York Times bestselling author, Jayne Ann Krentz, works from 7:00 a.m. to noon, writing three series under three names. Allison Brennan, mother of five children, writes five days a week, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Screenwriter Sheldon Turner rises at 3:57 every morning and writes.
Austin, now 15 and a full-time student, writes 100,000-word fantasy novels. He just completed his fourth manuscript.
So what’s your excuse? You work, go to school, or carry heavy church responsibilities? You’re sleep deprived?
Most Christian writers have full-time jobs and families. They hold various positions in churches. Yet they rise early, labor late, or write on breaks and lunch, producing articles, Bible studies, and books.
God gave these authors a gift they use daily. What about you? Are you using your writing gift daily?
Rule #8: Honor the Calling
Whether writing to entertain or educate, we must write to the best of our ability. This means no email prayer requests containing typos, no church signs with misspelled words or incorrect grammar, and no bulletins filled with mistakes.
What we write matters. Letters written by Paul became books in the New Testament. Those letters became part of a Book that turned the world upside down and led people to a Savior. Our writing reflects Christ.
Not a grammar guru? Buy a grammar book. Keep a dictionary handy. Use a thesaurus. Don’t depend on spell check.
Jesus commanded us to occupy until He comes. Writers must write until He returns. What are you writing today? An email to a friend? Check it before you press send. Is it concise? Is it correct? Is it necessary? Posting to Facebook today or writing on a friend’s wall? Remember, a future employer may read what you write tomorrow.
If you prefer the scent of new books over new cars, then write. If you love words, write. Free Will Baptists need articles, Bible studies, Sunday School curriculum, commentaries, textbooks, biographies, and outstanding fiction. We need wordsmiths to craft New York Times bestsellers. Are you that writer?
One warning. Unwrap your writing gift with care. Great power lurks in pens and keyboards.
About the Writer: Dr. Rebecca Deel has taught in the Business Department at Free Will Baptist Bible College since 1988. She is completing the third in a series of
Christian fiction novels.