to the ones who want to write

About once a month, I get an email from a young person who (a) likes writing, (b) likes reading and (c) likes being Lutheran. The question presented is always the same: How do I do what you do? What do I write about? How do I get published? My answer: How much time ya got? writing2 Or . . .

1) Find someone who can help you discern if you are actually a good writer.

A lot of people like to write. Their moms tell them they’re good writers. But liking to write and having nice mothers doesn’t make you a writer. Find a college professor, a well-read neighbor, an honest friend or your pastor who will read a handful of the stuff you have written and then tell you if you can actually write.

2) If the answer to (1) is yes, then read, read, read.

Read the classics. Read poetry. Read politics and history and humor. Even if you don’t understand every word or thought, you will begin to discover what works in writing and what doesn’t. And when you have a degree in English (either earned in college or assumed due to all the books you’ve read at home), move on to theology (either at the seminary or, again, in your arm chair).

3) Talk to editors, reporters and publishers.

After college, I interned at Concordia Publishing House for a summer. Once a week, I picked a different editor to meet with, and I came loaded with questions. Ask questions, do your homework, dig into research and be prepared to learn. Side note: This is up to you to do, not your dad, not your mom, not your cousin’s friend who knew somebody who wrote a book once. You.

4) Write what you know.

A young woman asked me a couple of weeks ago, “What should I write about so that I can get published?” While being published is every writer’s goal, seeing your name above a bunch of schlock you don’t believe in and don’t care about isn’t the goal. Write about what you know: You are a baptized child of God. You sin. You repent. Jesus forgives you. You start again. Jesus loves you. He died for you. And He comes to you in His Word, in water, in His body and blood. Write about that. Write about what is yours because of Christ. That will be enough.

5) Tattoo the word “initiative” on your arm.

Or maybe just write it on a sticky note. But remember that writing requires work. It means research, editing, crossing words out, rewriting, being edited by others. It means being a self-starter. If you want to write, you have to work at it. There is a temptation to think that being an editor or writer means you get to sit in a dark corner pounding out angsty, life-changing work while never having to interact with others. That is false. In short, if you are scared or unwilling to learn or don’t like people or are afraid to ask questions, this work is probably not for you. writing3

6) Pick up the phone.

And I do not mean to text someone. Writing requires talking to other people: interviews, idea sharing, reviewing. It means that you are going to have to interact with other breathing humans. Side note: The Internet cannot do this for you.

7) Research the publications in which you want to be published.

As the editor of a magazine, I receive a gob of submissions every week. I can tell from the first two sentences if the author has spent time researching the publication or not. Study up, discover who the audience is and tweak accordingly, or you’re going to end up in the Deleted box.

8) Embrace rejection and failure.

We as a culture have harmed you in this regard, because from the time you were born, your parents and teachers have told you you’re the SMARTEST and most AMAZING and BEST writer they have EVER read in their ENTIRE life. But the dirty little secret is that your editor and other writers may not agree. This will be hard for you because they will see holes in your arguments, wonder where your transitions went and go to town (in red pen no less) on poorly worded sentences. Listen to those comments, adjust accordingly and try again. {Or you can blame it on your boss, argue that your writing is literary genius just as it is and never get published. Friendly hint: I don’t recommend this option.} writing4

9) Pick up other’s slack.

Take the stories nobody else wants to write. Be willing to stay late. Offer to pick up extra work. See number 5. This will show your boss, who may also be your editor, that you have the drive and tenacity it takes to make it somewhere in this business. And in this day and age, that will be something.

10) Be bold in how you think.

Life can be big if you want it to be. It can also be very small . . . if you want it to be. To be a writer, an editor, a hard worker, someone who takes the initiative, you must have (or be willing to cultivate) a sense of curiosity. Why do cows get up with their back legs first? Why will some people fight to the death over the Oxford comma? These are the things you’ll need to wonder about.

11) Ok. Here’s one more: Words mean things.

Write what you have to say. Then go back and check  your verbs. Plump them up. Don’t use “He said” and “She said” and “They said.” Go for “He noted” and “She reminded” and “They believed.” Slice the adjectives. Dice the repetitious stuff. Read your work again, and notice that it already sounds tighter and cleaner. So you want to be a writer. This is good (and right and salutary). Words mean things. Make sure yours do. writing1

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