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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Strategy for Aspiring Novelists

Adam Blumer is the author of Fatal Illusions (Kregel Publications) and The Tenth Plague (Kirkdale Press). A print journalism major in college, he works as a freelance writer and editor after serving in editorial roles for more than twenty years. He lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with his wife, Kim, and his daughters, Laura and Julia.

I was once in your shoes: scared, unsure of myself, full of dreams about being a published novelist. Now that God has opened the door for me, I’d like to pass on some wisdom I’ve learned over the years—often the hard way. Sometimes we have dreams but no true strategy for reaching them. I hope this strategy helps.

First, pray and ask God what He wants to do with your life. If your overriding desire is to write and you show an aptitude in that area, ask God whether He has a future for you as a published novelist. He will confirm His will by granting you publishing credentials, allowing you to win some contests, or opening other publication doors. These are confirmations that you’re heading in the right direction.

But before you get all starry eyed, take a minute to evaluate your motives. You may never be on the New York Times or CBA best-seller list. You need to be okay with that. You may never be rich or even make enough money to write full-time. You need to be okay with that. You may never be a famous author or even be considered well-known or “successful” as an author. You need to be okay with that, too.

Search your heart for why you want to write. If you knew your novels, stories, or articles would never be published, would you still write them? Are you writing for your own glory or because God has lit a fire in your soul you can’t put out?

Keep in mind that being an author is not for the faint of heart. At times, you’ll walk a lonely path littered by rejection letters, misunderstandings, criticisms, and self-doubts. Countless voices (including your own) will tell you your writing isn’t good enough. Don’t listen to those voices. Believe in the ability God has given to you, seek to learn and grow (mostly out of failure), and do the best with the ability God has placed in your hands. No one can do more than that. Then pray, work hard, and leave the rest to God.
Be sure writing is what God wants you to do. If He wants you to do something else, then run from writing as fast as you can. But if you’re certain He wants you to write, take steps to dedicate and commit yourself to that pursuit.
Weed your life of distractions and make writing your primary focus (after God and your family, of course). If you’re multitalented, set other abilities aside for writing. Look at your writing as ministry, as something God has uniquely called you to do for His glory. The written word is a powerful tool you can use for the glory of God—and yes, you can even do powerful things through stories.
If possible, find a location and set aside regular, consistent time in your schedule to write. Be dedicated. You’ll never grow unless you write often. (Think of concert pianists and how many hours they practice every day.)
Be prepared to be misunderstood for your commitment. Friends won’t understand when you say you can’t go to the basketball game because you need to write. Lots of people will view your writing as a hobby and won’t take you seriously. Just keep working hard, be dedicated to the craft, trust God, and don’t mind them. Someday, the Lord willing, those same people will ask you to autograph their copy of your novel.
Finally, no matter how difficult the journey gets and how defeated you feel at times, never ever give up. God placed you on this planet for a reason. He began a good work in you. Be certain He’ll complete it.

Practical Tips

§  Read the books you want to write. Conversely, write the books you want to read. Also read the best writing you can find (not necessarily what sells or is popular).

§  Read and reread your favorite novel. Study how the author portrays his characters, draws his setting, structures the plot, creates conflict, handles language, and builds to a natural and satisfying end.

§  Subscribe to and study Writer’s Digest magazine.

§  Check out the Writer’s Digest library of books and read as much about writing as you can. Study the craft of writing and always be willing to learn and change.

§  Take a class on writing or a writer’s correspondence course. (Writer’s Digest offers online workshops. By the way, Writer’s Digest isn’t paying me to promote their products and training. WD has helped me tremendously; the folks there will help you too.)

§  Join a writer’s critique group and develop thick skin. You’ll need it. (The ACFW offers some terrific groups.)

§  Network with wannabe authors like you. They may share the same struggles and questions.

§  Be willing to sit at the feet of those who’ve blazed the path you want to tread. Ask them questions. Read their books. Listen to the voice of experience.

§  Attend a writer’s conference (for example, the Write-to-Publish Conference held in Wheaton, Illinois, each summer) and talk to publishers, literary agents, and established authors. Humbly learn as much about Christian publishing as you can.

§  Study the books in the CBD catalog. Become familiar with the market you want to write for. By all means, become aware of what types of books publishers are buying, but always write from the heart. In other words, don’t just write what “sells.”

§  Start small with a short story or an inspirational article. Submit it to a magazine for publication. Be prepared to wait a while for a reply; the wheels of publishing can turn slowly. If you receive a rejection letter, take another look at your work and see if you can do something better. Then send the piece somewhere else. Repeat the process.

§  Never, ever give up. You may so close to reaching your goal and not even realize it. 

     Water turns to blood. Flies and gnats attack the innocent. Marc and Gillian Thayer’s vacation resort becomes a grisly murder scene, with a killer using the ten plagues of Egypt as his playbook for revenge.

When their friend turns up dead, Marc and Gillian put their vacation on hold, enlist the help of a retired homicide detective, and take a closer look at the bizarre plagues as they escalate in intensity. Meanwhile, a stranger is after the Thayers’ newly adopted baby. Will they uncover the truth behind the bitter agenda before the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn son?


Adam Blumer said...

Awesome! Thank you, Gina, for featuring me.

Stephanie Nelson said...

Wonderful article and so very encouraging! Thank you, Adam, for laying this out and for sharing your wisdom. :)


Rick Barry said...

Adam, as a personal friend I'm happy to have watched as you tread the road you describe. Keep pressing on!

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Definitely some concrete tips here--getting outside crits is crucial before submitting, especially your first "book-baby."

Gina Holmes said...

Great article, Adam. Thanks for being with us and sharing your wisdom.

Becky Doughty said...

Wonderful tips, Adam. It's so easy to get caught up in the formulas and the programs that are being offered, that we forget about what GOD'S purpose for our writing is.

Thanks for your words of encouragement.

Claude Nougat said...

Never give up! Wonderful advice, Adam, well said and well done!

And yes, even without bringing God into the equation (for me, He's too important for the task!), there is no question that literature has a role to play in society and it's not limited to entertainment. It raises questions, it provides answers, it helps us think through the challenges in our lives...For example, that's what Boomer lit is all about. It raises issues of concern to baby boomers, of what happens next when you face the Third Act in your life. Just like YA Lit raised issues of concern to adolescents, helping them along in the transition to adulthood.

Indeed, a lot of literature is about facing challenges and managing to succeed in the transition of one stage in life to the next...

Ron Estrada said...

Thanks for the envouragement, Adam. I've found writing to be fun again once I didn't focus on publication so much as telling the story.

Terrie Todd said...

Thank you, Adam. I'm printing this and putting it on the bulletin board over my desk.

Linda Strawn said...

Great advice, Adam. Personally, I find leaving it all up to God takes the heat off. Of course it's up to me to learn the craft and set aside the time to write, but knowing God will get my book in the right hands is a wonderful blessing.

Adam Blumer said...

You're welcome. Just sharing what God has shown me over the years. I'm glad the info is helpful.

Adam Blumer said...

Thanks, Rick. We certainly have been cheering each other on, haven't we? It's a hard road to walk alone. Thanks for being there to share in the journey. We can both press on.

Adam Blumer said...

Thanks, Heather! The feedback from others can be hard but is so very necessary in the process. Indeed, it's especially hard with that first baby. But it does get easier the more you do it. Thanks for sharing.

Adam Blumer said...

Thanks, Gina. Others have more wisdom to share, but I'm happy to share what I've learned so far along the journey. I'm truly honored to be here.

Adam Blumer said...

Thanks, Becky. I try to keep Matthew 6:33 front and enter. If we put God first, I truly believe He will go before us and lead the way. I'm glad the article was helpful.

Adam Blumer said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Claude. "Never give up" is something I have to say to myself so often. Even beyond my writing. God won't call us to a task He doesn't provide the strength to accomplish.

Adam Blumer said...

So true, Ron. We can get so wrapped up in whether the story will sell, for example, that writing is no longer fun. I'm guilty. Nice reminder. Thanks.

Adam Blumer said...

Oh wow. What a compliment. Thanks, Terrie. I'm glad the information is helpful.

Adam Blumer said...

Thanks, Linda. Trusting in God's sovereignty certainly takes off some of the pressure. I've sometimes been so stressed about publication that I've lost proper perspective. Been there, done that. I try to keep Matthew 6:33 my motto. "Seek God first." He has His plans, and I can rest in that fact.