Saturday, March 12, 2016

Writing Lessons

By day, Liz Johnson works as a marketing manager, and she makes time to write late at night. Liz is the author of nine novels—including her latest, The Red Door Inn (Prince Edward Island Dreams, book 1)—and a New York Times bestselling novella. She makes her home in Nashville, where she enjoys exploring local music, theater, and making frequent trips to Arizona to dote on her nieces and nephews. She writes stories of true love filled with heart, humor, and happily ever afters. Connect with her at www.LizJohnsonBooks.com or www.Facebook.com/LizJohnsonBooks.

Writing Lessons

I was standing in line for coffee (well, in line with others in line for coffee—I prefer the near milkshake version) at a writers conference several years ago. The woman behind me was also alone and also wearing a nametag identifying her as part of the same conference. Feeling a little more extroverted than usual, I asked, "What do you write?"

I expected a quippy response—the kind of single-line identifier writers spend years perfecting. What I got instead was a tirade on the ills of Christian publishing and the narrow-mindedness of some editors not interested in books about missionaries in Africa.

After five full minutes, she harrumphed. "I just don't understand why God would call me to write this book, when no one seems to be interested."

I thought that probably translated into, "I had a couple painful editor appointments,” but I didn't say as much. Instead I gently—I hope I was gentle, anyway—suggested that perhaps God had called her to write the book so He could teach her something new.

To which she snapped, "I've already learned the lessons I wrote about in my book."

Thank goodness it was then my turn to order. Double that whip cream, please.

I wonder about that exchange every now and then. It was years ago, and I probably wouldn't recognize the woman again if she introduced herself. But I think about what I really meant to say, and if I'm listening to my own advice. You see, I think God uses the very process of writing and editing and pitching books to teach us amazing things. Even on the surface level, I've learned some incredible lessons, like perseverance pays off, flexibility is important, and big computer screens can hide bad hair days.

But there’s more to this whole putting thoughts to paper thing. Here are three lessons God has taught me through the course of writing my books.

1. My worth isn't in sales or how many books have my name on the cover.
Who I am is not how many people recognize me on the street (none, by the way) or what conference I'm asked (or not asked) to speak at. Doing the hard work of writing a book isn't about making a name for myself or being told I'm a wonderful writer (although that's nice to hear every now and then). Because in the darkness (I write best at night) it's just me and my computer and God. That time alone is 95% of my writing life. And in that time, when the enemy whispers lies into my ear (like I’ll never amount to anything or I’m not worthy), I cling to the reminder that my worth is wrapped up in one thing. I am a child of God. And I do what I do because it's the call He's given me. I’m called to use my talents and not bury them in the ground. The process of writing reminds me whose I am and whose voice I heed.

2. God's good gifts don't always come in the form of five-star reviews.
Matthew 7 talks about how God is a good Father, who wants to give His children good gifts. It’s easy to think that those gifts always come wrapped in red ribbons and blazing with stars. But sometimes the sweetest gifts come in a spurt of writing or an unexpected inspiration. My favorite of his gifts are epiphanies that fill in gaping plot holes I couldn’t fill on my own.

The passage I mentioned in Matthew follows the familiar “ask and it shall be given to you” line. I’ve discovered a joy in asking God for help and waiting to see how He’ll show up. Sometimes it’s through a kind word from a reader. Other times it’s in a brainstorming session with a fellow writer. And then there are the times when it’s a meal made by a friend who knows I’m on deadline and just need real food. When my eyes are open to them, I see His gifts everywhere.

3. I don't have to fear rejection.
Writers know the acute pain of dismissal better than most. We wrack up rejection letters with a butterfly net and wear them like a badge of honor. But that doesn’t mean they stop stinging. We pitch to our dream editors and agents, hold our breaths, and let out loud sighs when we hear back. “It’s not right for me.” “Your manuscript isn’t quite ready.” “It doesn’t fit into the market right now.” Or a reviewer plants a one-star review on your work, their words harsh and overly critical.

Industry experts tell us these aren’t personal rejections, but how could they not feel that way when we’ve poured our hearts into these stories? They hurt. Even after the 12th and 25th and 99th. (And they don’t hurt any less after you’ve published a book or six.)  What I’ve come to learn is that a rejection may burn, but it’s not lethal. It may leave a bruise, but it’ll heal. And in the midst of that pain, I continue to turn to one truth. God has promised never to leave me or forsake me. No matter what pain this life brings, His love is everlasting. I don’t have to fear rejection because He’ll never reject me.

Join the conversation. What have you learned through the process of writing, editing, and pitching your work?

The Red Door Inn
Marie Carrington is broke, desperate, and hoping to find sanctuary on Prince Edward Island while decorating a renovated bed-and-breakfast. Seth Sloane moved three thousand miles to help restore his uncle's Victorian B and B--and to forget about the fiancée who broke his heart. He wasn't expecting to have to babysit a woman with a taste for expensive antiques and a bewildering habit of jumping every time he brushes past her.

The only thing Marie and Seth agree on is that getting the Red Door Inn ready to open in just two months will take everything they've got—and they have to find a way to work together. In the process, they may find something infinitely sweeter than they ever imagined on this island of dreams.

5 comments:

Linore Burkard said...

Thanks for a nice column, Liz. Great reminders. :)

Southern-fried Fiction said...

Liz, I'm reading your book now and loving it!!

Liz Johnson said...

Thanks, Linore!

Ane, I'm thrilled you're enjoying the book! :) Thanks for hosting me today!

Marlene Banks said...

I have learned a plethora of lessons in my writing journey and some of them came directly from the actual craft itself. Lessons that span from me discovering the scope of my ability as a storyteller, learning better grammar and how to edit my work to the ever-evolving business of publishing and so on. Most of all I've learned how God works in my life concerning the gift He entrusted to me. I've experienced God's amazing grace and off the chain, off the hook, off the radar blessings. I've also learned of His hard lessons; of waiting on Him and dealing with rejection and disappointment on a large-long scale. I've learned to step back and follow the Holy Spirit's lead in this writing trek. Marlene does not try to pilot her own ship anymore, except on those brief slip ups in which I quickly repent. I've learned to take criticism without an attitude and even how to use it as a teaching tool if it's constructive. I've learned to receive praise with genuine humility and gratitude. God has shaped me in many ways through this gift in character, spiritual endurance and a greater knowledge of Him but most of all I have learned how to have a Kingdom perspective about all things concerning my life. Simply put, God is God and God is good.

Janice L. Dick said...

Thanks for this post, Liz. In my opinion, we can never get too much encouragement, and this piece is very encouraging. I can identify with the fears and insecurities, but also with the knowledge that God is in it all. As Marlene commented, God is good.