Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How to Know if You're Called to Be a Writer

by CJ Darlington

How can you know if God’s calling you to be a writer? Finding out doesn’t have to be mysterious or hard. But you won’t find the answer in your head, because God’s calling lives in our hearts.

Child’s Play

What did you love to do for fun as a kid? Often God will give us natural inclinations as children that coincide with our calling as adults. Have you always had a fascination with stories, books or writing? Chances are God’s put that in your heart. It’s not about skill. You can develop skills, but you can’t fabricate a calling.

I remember as a teen I begged God to show me what I was supposed to do with my life. I prayed and yearned to know. Right then. But if I had looked closely, I would’ve seen He was already leading and guiding me through my childhood dreams. I loved to read as a kid. One of my favorite activities was visiting the library, and I’d come home with bags full of books. I loved writing little stories about animals. My sister and I started a newspaper/magazine we peddled around the neighborhood for fifty cents.

When I was fifteen I started writing a story about two sisters. I had no idea that story would eventually become my first published novel, Thicker than Blood, or that the book would become the first in a series. Those initial pages were horrible, but I kept at it because it was something I couldn’t not do. That’s another way to recognize a God-given dream. Does it burn within you? I asked Jerry B. Jenkins once how beginning writers could know they were called to write, and he said if you can’t not write you may be called to write.

God puts desires and dreams in our hearts at an early age to guide us into our calling. 

And why wouldn’t He? Doesn’t it make sense He’d plant ideas in our hearts as children? As Psalms 139 says, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” It’s only as we get older that those dreams begin to fade due to the distractions and pressures of life. Take time and look back. Remember what you dreamed about as a kid. Maybe you’ll discover God’s been calling you for longer than you think.

It’s Never Too Late

You might be wondering, “Did I miss my calling? Have I wasted years of my life when I should’ve been writing?”

Even if you were supposed to start writing sooner, don’t despair. I like to think of life’s journey as walking down a road. The easiest way would be to stay on the straight path. But many of us veer off course. We might take a turn that wasn’t God’s direction for us. Note to self—don’t sweat it. God’s a God of love, forgiveness and grace. All we have to do is ask Him to get us back on track. And you know what? He will. No matter how many wrong turns you take, God can reprogram your life’s GPS and still get you to that final destination… the fulfillment of your dreams and His plans.

Here’s something I’m learning—nothing is ever wasted by God. Did you dream of being a writer but for whatever reason became a lawyer instead? Great! Maybe you can write a legal thriller. Your life experiences can help you create a character you might not have written otherwise. Did you become a nurse instead of writing the next Great American novel? Maybe you’ll share your knowledge and experience writing nonfiction articles about health. Or maybe you’ll write a historical novel, featuring a struggling doctor serving in the Vietnam War.

Even though I wrote stories when I was young and dreamed of someday publishing a book, writing wasn’t exactly paying the bills. So I followed another interest of mine—rare books. I became a book scout and sold used and rare books to local bookstores before eventually co-founding my own online bookstore with my sister, Tracy.

I was able to incorporate a lot of what I learned about rare books and the book business into my stories. A first edition of Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls plays an important role in Thicker than Blood, and that was one of the very first rare books I learned about. It might not have looked like I was on track for reaching my dreams during those grueling book scouting years, but God knew all along the experiences I’d need to write the novels I’m writing today. It was all part of God’s plan for my life after all.

Why write?

You’re sitting at the computer staring at a blank screen. The words aren’t coming. You start to think about everything else you could be doing, what you want for lunch, and the question flits through your mind, “How can I possibly impact the world with stories? What good is writing anyway?”

Think about this—God could’ve imparted his Word to us in many ways. He could’ve branded it on our minds or invented the iPad sooner. But what did He choose? He wrote His words down in a book. How many lives have been changed by that one Book alone? Do you think God would’ve chosen writing as his medium for conveying the gospel if there were something more powerful?

One day a couple years ago (or was it yesterday?) I was lamenting how hard writing is and the worth of it all. My mom asked me a question I’ve never forgotten. She said, “If everything you ever wrote reached only one person for the Lord, would you still do it?”
Maybe that’s a question we all need to ask ourselves. Your lifetime of words will impact at least one. When people read novels their defenses go down. They might not listen to a preacher or a family member or even their best friend. But stories are powerful. Jesus himself used stories liberally in his teachings. The Prodigal Son. The Good Samaritan. If anyone would know the most effective way to win people for the Lord, it would be the Lord Himself, don’t you think?

Writing novels is a vital calling. You can be called to write a novel the same way a preacher is called to preach. In the book Writer to Writer (originally published by Bethany House) by Bodie and Brock Thoene write:

“You have a unique perspective! No one has the combination of gifts of the Spirit in the same proportion that you do. No one! What’s more, God has been leading you through experiences and circumstances that contribute to you being you and no one else. No one has all your memories. Even identical twins have some experiences they haven’t shared. 
“If God is calling you to be a writer, then He will lead you from this point on. And you will soon discover that He has known all along that you’d have this desire and has been building into your life a whole set of unique events from which you’ll be able to draw your own one-of-a-kind perspective.”

Don’t Give Up

Maybe you do believe God’s calling you to pursue writing. You’re banging out the story of your heart at the keyboard, and you’d love to see it published. You figure you’ll finish it and send it off to a publisher, or slap it up on Amazon, and the rest will be history. Isn’t that the way it works? Well . . . not always. It wasn’t that way for me. It took fourteen very long years before my first book was published.

This is where trusting God comes in. If it was up to us we’d be published in months, not years. But you know the Scripture that says God’s ways are higher than our ways? It comes in really handy to remember that when it seems like our writing dreams are never going to come true.

I’m very glad I didn’t get published right away. As I look back I see God’s hand guiding me all those years ago opening some doors, closing others, leading me to where I am today. But it wasn’t easy to see then. I had a plan all figured out. If it had come true like I envisioned, it would’ve been a lot harder journey. God knew that.

Don’t give up on the discouraging days, because they will come. Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will succeed.” If you do, then you can’t fail. He’ll make sure you get where you need to be at just the right time.

C. J. Darlington has just released her fifth novel, Running on Empty. C. J. has loved to read since she was a kid dragging home bags of books from the library. When she was twelve she started dreaming about becoming a published author. That dream came true when her first novel Thicker than Blood won the 2008 Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest. It became the first book in the Thicker than Blood series, which also includes Bound by Guilt, Ties that Bind, and now Running on Empty. She has also written Jupiter Winds, the first book in a teen space adventure series. C. J. lives in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs and a Paint mare named Sky.


Kathy Rupff said...

Great post, CJ! Thank you so much!

Marlene Banks said...

A worthy subject and well said, CJ. I could so identify with what you wrote experientially. The love of books and writing from childhood, the long wait in getting published, and the passion to write. I understood exactly what you meant by "you can't not write". And you brought it all home for me with "It's Never Too Late". I was well in my fifties when my first novel was published by Moody Publishing. Although I always loved to write I didn't pursue it as a calling until late in life. God showed me in no uncertain terms that I was called to write but it did not happen easily. So this article really spoke to me.

Thanks for sharing,

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

You described so well my expereinces as a lover of books and wanting to create stories too. I expecially appreciate your saying that it's never too late to get started. This writing experience is part of my walk of faith while I seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness first. He has always been gracious and overrulled on my behalf so many times. I remind myself God directs my course and His timing for all things will be perfect. Thank you for your wise cousel and words of encouragement, CJ.

Linda Brooks Davis said...

Thank you for your insight, C.J. I'm a believer in finding and following your calling, as THE CALLING OF ELLA MCFARLAND attests. :-) "Never to late" certainly goes for me. I'm a 69-year-old debut novelist. I appreciate your following your calling as both a writer and a publisher.

C.J. Darlington said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! I appreciate your reading and am glad you enjoyed the article.