Monday, September 15, 2014

What Does It Take to be a Writer?

Invariably, whenever I speak somewhere, someone will come up to me afterwards and say, “I’ve always wanted to write a book.”

Typically, I respond, “What’s holding you back?”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my years of writing, it’s this: The dream of writing will remain a dream if you never set pen to paper.

Writers write. Period. Not all that profound, really. But the mere two-word sentence made me sit up and take notice the first time I heard it through the Christian Writers Guild.
How true it is—writers write. About everything, from the maiden blush of spring to the birth of a baby. No subject is off limits to the one obsessed with observing life and crafting words into workable essays, articles, and stories based on those observations.

So, just what does it take to be a writer? Contrary to what you may think, writing is not synonymous with being published. I believe the qualities that make a writer are deeply engrained in a person. Here are a few I’ve noted in my writing journey.

 A writer loves words.

Early in my life, my mother instilled in me a love for language. Whenever she came across a word she didn’t know, she’d run to the dictionary housed on a shelf in our hallway and frantically flip through the pages until she located the word. Her hunger created a hunger in me. An insatiable appetite not only to gather new words, but to string those words into lovely sentences. Then to patch paragraphs together like a vintage quilt—cozy, familiar, something to treasure and pass down to others.

A writer observes life.

Just like an artist who must carefully sketch what s/he sees, the writer must carefully watch life. In all its forms. A child at play. An executive in his office. A preacher in the pulpit. A bee buzzing around a flower. A man in love with his wife. Not only does s/he take mental snapshots and literal notes of what s/he sees, but s/he also makes an interpretation of the underlying motivations of people at work and play, similar to the artist who interprets what s/he sees by applying chalk, pencil, or paint to paper or canvas.

The writer crafts articles, essays, and stories from what s/he observes. S/he also draws upon her own experiences, interactions with others, hobbies, jobs, volunteer activities, personality, talents, travels, spiritual life, research, family, and friends. Ideas abound, and the astute writer with a curiosity about life will pay attention to what’s around her.  

A writer loves to read.

Anything and everything. To be a good writer, one must read. A lot! My first memories of the written word revolve around my mother and a ticking clock. As a child, she read to me every day. Even when I entered school, she continued to read to me. Every day, I walked home for lunch. After we ate, she’d snuggle with me on the sofa to the sound of the Kuku clock ticking in the background and read from a Honey Bunch book (that really dates me; actually, the series was my mother’s as a young girl). How hard it was to walk back to school after that cozy encounter with Mama and Honey Bunch.
To this day, I love to read. Writing experts will tell you that writers often write in the genre in which they read. I largely agree; though I’ve known some exceptions. Reading helps a writer subconsciously pick up the nuances of language and play around with one’s own writing voice. 

A writer writes, regardless of the audience or lack thereof.

Because a writer loves words and how those words can be strung into sentences and then woven into paragraphs, s/he’s driven to set pen to paper, or fingers to keys. S/he can’t help herself. Whether s/he simply writes free-flowing prose or verse in her personal journal, a family memoir to pass down to her grandchildren, or a column for a church newsletter, she must write. For some, writing blossoms into other opportunities, such as penning articles for periodicals, stories for anthologies, or fiction for a publishing house. But regardless the platform, s/he will write. The words well up within her and spill out on the page, even if they are for her eyes only. 

The Christian writer writes first and foremost for an audience of One, to glorify the Lord. Indeed, I began journaling in college to help me process my spiritual growth. That habit stuck over the years. How many articles I’ve written based on those early journal writings, I can’t count. No writing effort is ever lost. 

A writer never gives up!

S/he can’t. S/he may decide to lay aside, for a time or indefinitely, certain aspects of her dream, but in the long run, s/he can never abandon her love completely. Her obsession with writing will follow her to the grave.

The Christian writer seeks the Lord’s guidance in all aspects of the writing life: goals, daily routine, platform, writing partners, and possible publication when the time is right. S/he seeks to develop a humble heart that values the input of others, seeks growth, and rejoices/weeps with her writer friends. I truly believe a humble heart is what keeps a writer going strong to the finish line. It’s often when s/he grapples for control, tries to force a door open, or run ahead of God that s/he gets discouraged and wants to quit. Humility takes whatever comes and thanks God for the process of learning and growth, no matter the outcome.

So, what’s it take to be a writer?

In short, a person who loves words, observes life, loves to read, puts pen to paper, and never gives up! These are the qualities that endure in a writer’s life, all the way to the finish line. 

Eileen Rife, author of Laughing with Lily, has been writing in some form or fashion ever since she could hold a pencil. She enjoys telling stories to her seven grandchildren whenever she gets a chance.,



Mary Harwell Sayler said...

Thanks, Eileen, for writing about writing! I'll highlight this on the Christian Poets & Writers blog - God bless.

Eileen Rife said...

Thanks, Mary!

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