Sunday, September 09, 2007

Writers Write Till They Die

A colleague from China wrote recently asking me about writing…how to get started, tips on getting published, etc. I answered that the main thing about writers is they write. They write when they are on the train, waiting in government offices, even while walking (or at least I do, in my head).

It’s intriguing to me what people write about and even more surprising what people read. On our bookshelf are titles such as The Kalahari Typing School For Boys, One Night At A Call Center, Missiological Implications of Epistemological Shifts, and Yoga School Dropout. Biographies, Bible commentaries, political satire, travel and business books are all a part of our eclectic reading collection. So, when people ask me what to write about my standard answer is, “Whatever interests you.”

Publishing what you write takes a bit more focus. I started writing for our denominational bi-monthly publication many years ago. Emboldened by their acceptance I began submitting articles to Leadership, Christianity Today, Evangelical Missions Quarterly and a host of smaller known magazines. I published my own newsletter for years and a guy I never heard of wrote me the other day saying he always enjoyed those mimeographed mail-outs. Today, blogging is a way for me to get in my writing fix a couple of times a week and helps me quantify my thoughts as well as sharpen my craft. The main thing is…writers write.

Writing is a solitary activity, sometimes lonely. Yet, while alone with ones thoughts, it’s a chance to communicate with others, whether they read what you’ve labored over or not. Writers are people of process and the only instant gratification a writer receives is a well-turned phrase, a word that fits and making a blank sheet of paper (or computer screen) come alive with an intriguing thought or story.

Most of all, good writing is work. Writing is laborious, tedious and tiring. Nothing is more daunting than looking at an empty screen trying to express through words something meaningful. I’ve typed thousands of words no one will ever read; hundreds of paragraphs filed in the abyss of cyber hell because the thoughts and meaning never came together to make any sense.

Good prose, for me, must pass the “so what” test. In the Bible a passage may begin with “Therefore…” and I was taught to ask “what’s it there for?” (meaning, you need to read the verse above to understand what the "Therefore" is there for). If what I read, or write, has no entertainment or educational value and I come to the end saying "so what?" then it has been a waste of time.

Write then. Write about your adventures and lessons of life. Put your thoughts in a journal for your grandkids; send it to your friends or your mom (who will always cherish your scribbles). Master the craft and submit it to a magazine. Or, when everything else fails, get a blog site and let the “hits” determine if anyone is interested in your words. Above all, remember, writers write until they drop. Write until they pull your cold dead fingers from the keyboard.

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