4 Steps to Turning a Writing Dream Into Reality

Editor’s note: Daniel is excited to give
away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US48 to receive the print book by mail. You
can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Loretta won.)

 

       


Guest column by Daniel Darling, senior pastor of
Gages Lake Bible Church outside of Chicago. His
most recent book, iFaith: Connecting With God
in the 21st Century (Jan. 2011) asks “How does
technology affect one’s relationships, especially with
God?” His writing has been praised by authors such
as Jerry Jenkins (Left Behind) and Cecil Murphey
(90 Minutes in Heaven). Darling also authored Teen
People of the Bible and Crash Course. See his
website here

 

When I was a kid, I dreamed of being an author. I remember walking into bookstores and imagining my name on the spine of a book on the shelf. Today, I’m living that dream, with my third book, iFaith released in January. I don’t consider myself an expert, by any stretch, but I have learned a few pointers along the way, advice I like to pass on to those interested in starting their own writing journey.

1. START WRITING NOW

In his fascinating book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discovered something he called “The Ten Thousand Hour Rule.” In his research, he found that successful people who reached the pinnacle of their professions did so after applying ten years or ten thousand hours working at their craft.

At the age of 19, I went to work as a copywriter for a large Christian organization. I had a smidgen of talent, but owe much of my success to them for hiring me on potential. I spent nearly nine years cranking out copy on all sorts of stuff, from devotionals to web copy to long-form articles to celebrity interviews to radio and TV scripts. At the time, all this seemed rather ordinary. I wasn’t even writing in my own voice. I was mostly ghostwriting. But looking back, the pressure of producing quality copy on deadline helped me hone my craft. I did this for almost 9 years.

My advice to the emerging writeris to start writing. If you’re highly disciplined, start blogging on a schedule. Just crank out stuff and keep writing. If you’re undisciplined as I am, sign up for deadlines in any way you can. Point is: You get better at writing by writing.

2. SEEK PROFESSIONAL CRITICISM

I once received a heavily marked manuscript back from a book editor with the advice, “Dan, you’re not Hemingway.” She meant that my manuscript needed polishing. She was right. If you want to succeed and grow as a writer, you need to develop a thick skin. Don’t hang onto every turn of phrase as if it cannot be touched. Instead, open your work up to those who can take it from good to great: a healthy stable of critics.

I have three to four people who look at every book I write. One is a pastor-theologian, who helps me with the spiritual side of my work. Another is a terrific editor. She can move through a piece and give it the unvarnished opinion I need to make it shine. If you want to step your work up to the next level, seek out professional-level critiquing. Your mom’s nice comments may boost your confidence, but they won’t help your manuscript.


Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers’ Conferences:


3. WRITE BAD FIRST DRAFTS

In the movie, Finding Forrester, Sean Connery’s character gives a piece of advice to his young writing protégé. “Write the first draft with your heart, the rest of the drafts with your head.” Many times I sit in front of a blank screen, a deadline looming, time short. I have a wonderful outline, but the words for that first chapter just don’t seem to come. Or they come and are horrific. But I push ahead and get them on paper. I write until I can’t write anymore.

Then I close the computer thinking, What an idiot, why do I think I can write? But then I leave the manuscript for a few days, maybe a week. When I come back to it, I find hope again. Every major project goes through this same process, without exception. I have learned to write in short bursts. Every day, as I sit to write, I revisit a chunk from the day before, editing that first draft. I move this way through a book until completion. This write-edit-write method serves me well, ensuring that every chapter is rewritten to satisfaction.

4. LEARN, GROW, EXPAND

Sometimes you need to close the laptop and get out into the real world. That means you move beyond your project and refill the well of your soul with good music, entertainment, relationships, and good literature. What I mean is that to be a good writer, you, the person behind the words, must grow. I’m guessing, if you’re reading this blog, you’re well-tuned to the craft of writing through magazines, blogs, conferences, and books. That is good. Writers must constantly  sharpen their skills.

But you might consider refilling your well by enriching the other parts of your life. I’ve that my writing always improves when I am reading well in a variety of disciplines: including novels, classics, spirituality, self-help, biographies, and more. Often a good movie or timely sermon will spark new levels of creativity.

You also need rest. You are not superhuman. You’re human. When you’re brain is shut down, forget your project and enjoy your life. The well from which you draw your words must remain full.

Editor’s note: Daniel is excited to give
away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US48 to receive the print book by mail. You
can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before.
(Update: Loretta won.)

 

If you’re interested in Christian writing, check
out the May/June 2009 issue of WD, with a
joint interview with Jerry Jenkins and Stephen King.

 

Want more on this subject?

 

 

 

 

 

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34 thoughts on “4 Steps to Turning a Writing Dream Into Reality

  1. Elisabeth Kinsey

    Daniel,
    Thank you for the article which rings true in all I do as a writer. I am having a tough time finding serious writers who also are used to editing and give good feedback. I used to have a solid group but has since disbanded and although I am a regular user of Writers Digest groups, keep finding only dabbling writers who don’t give "detailed" or "experienced" feedback of which I am in dire need. I know you stated that you "have three to four people who look at every book I write." These are difficult to come by — and I’m very resourceful.

  2. Monica

    As a student who’s slowly learning what the writing field is all about, I found your points to be very encouraging and relieving. I actually started studying in this field because I wanted to do one (or two) of two things: travel writing and writing for a Christian website or magazine. So, it’s very encouraging to see tips from someone who has been successful in one of these areas.

    I couldn’t agree more with all of the points you’ve listed. I’m currently trying to apply number one, which is how I came across your article actually. Number two is a little difficult because, though I can handle constructive criticism, I’m not as thick-skinned as I should be in a field like this. But, I guess it’s a work in progress. I do number three all the time, and it has done me well. It’s become routine. Finally, I think number four is the most important of them all. I think to be a well-rounded and successful writer, one must be well-rounded in knowledge, character and experiences. It’s great to get out there and then let your life experiences impact your writing.

    The topic of your book is very intriguing, actually, and I’m looking forward to picking up a copy of it soon.

    God bless.

  3. Denise

    This is great advice. I have really been struggling with writing lately. The whole idea of writing bad is so hard for me! Once I put something down on paper that is not good I often get discouraged but I need to keep going! Thanks for this article I am going to apply these tips to my writing process. I see many people have said they don’t have time, but as with anything in life you have to make the time, with a little discipline and maybe a little less sleep it can be done. Thanks for the tips and good luck everyone!

  4. Jason Haas

    I’m intrigued by the book and how it might encourage people to utilize current tools/apps/etc. for connecting to God. I think it’s also important to remember that tried and true methods will never change, but the form in which they exist might alter a bit. If I win, I’d love to review the book for you too!

  5. Alycia C. Cooke

    Your points are so true! Every morning that I sit down at the keyboard is morning of hope, frustration and drama. I try to make my scenes inspire feeling first and move plot second. Neither of these things is easy, but finding constant sources of inspiration make the work go more smoothly. Listening to certain pieces of music while writing often helps me shape each scene’s mood and adds rhythm to the writing. Books on the craft by Ralph Keyes and James Gunn as well as my informal editing group have been a Godsend. I have learned so much in my six years of writing and hope to continue the trend. Thanks for the encouragement.
    Alycia
    http://alyciachristine.shutterfly.com

  6. Katherine

    I enjoyed reading the tips to make dreams a reality. Here is an idea I have used to help the process along. I wanted to quit having negative “background” thoughts where I doubted myself. To change my thinking patterns I started writing specific positive statements about my abilities and what progress I want to make in a journal at the beginning of each day. I write down things like, "I have personal experiences with telling my brain positive things about my abilities. I can use these experiences to write several articles that will help others create these same positive experiences for themselves. I will be able to research markets, slant my articles to suit their needs, and find those who will be interested in publishing my work. It may seem difficult at first, but I’ll keep writing and my efforts will pay off." It feels so good to tell myself specific things I can do and that I can really do them. Then I go to work.

  7. Ruth Hill

    You were a copy writer, who writes copy; not a copyrighter, who applies for and checks copyrights. In tip #4, it should say, "I’ve learned that…," instead of "I’ve that…." Otherwise, the tips are OK.

  8. Lily Elderkin

    Loved this; all seems so obvious but I really should do more of this! While I’ve been writing for what feels like forever, I also read Gladwell’s "Outliers" (he is truly one of the most amazing writers I have ever read, by the way) and I thought the 10,000 Hour Rule was very interesting. I hope to have begun to apply it to my life. I highly doubt that I have ACTUALLY been writing for ten years, continuously, enough to add up to 10,000 hours, but I like to think that I am on my way there.
    Thanks for this article that shows that any ordinary dreamer can one day see his name on the cover of a book!

  9. Davalynn Spencer

    Daniel,
    Thanks so much for the great advice and counsel. It is encouraging to see yet another successful author say, "Don’t quit!" Your priorities rang true with me in a good, balanced way.

    As a proofreader I caught one mistake: "When you’re brain is shut down, forget your project and enjoy your life." The you’re should be your. Of course, you know this! It’s one of those things we as writers do all the time. My pet mistake is using their in the wrong place; my fingers just like typing it. But because of what I do, I see the little errors. Like you said, have someone critique your work. Right on – uh, I mean, write on!

  10. Erica

    Creating deadlines is a great way to get yourself to write. I have recently used a writing class to work to a deadline. Otherwise I procrastinate indefinitely! I haven’t figured out yet how to institute my own imaginary deadlines, but that would work to get me writing. Writing a first draft with no editing or internal criticism is great too. Just get some words on paper, even if you are writing some kind of stream-of-consciousness piece about how you don’t know what to write! Be greedy for feedback and criticism. You don’t have to change what you have written, but it’s invaluable to hear what a potential reader thinks of your story. We have so many blind spots when we have created a piece in our own minds. A reader’s perceptions are so different!

  11. Ron Geagan

    Congratulations on your book, Daniel. And thank you for sharing your advice with those of us – like me – that need a little nudge to get started down the road to making dreams reality.

  12. LaToya Thompson

    The point of writing the first draft with your heart definitely would cure many a writer’s block. Also, as a former news reporter I agree with you on the daily deadline training. Congrats on your 3rd child (book)!

  13. April Washington

    This was some very interesting and informative information. Thank you! I am very interested in becoming the winner of your book offer. I write christian books and non-fiction. I will work harder to make sure my work is to the best that it can be. I love writing and spend lots of my time writing. Sometimes thoughts just come to me. Sometimes I start another project before I have finish the one I am on. I don’t know if this is good but when something is in my head I do not like to loose that thought. I have to start on it before I loose the meaning. I have a hard time staying focus sometimes because my mine is always wondering. Thank you for the information. If you read my comment thank you for your time and consideration also.
    My father is a Preacher also. We are Christians at the Church of Christ. May God Bless You in your ministry.

  14. MaDonna Maurer

    Great post! I just started editing my first novel and every time I look at it I think, "Why do I think I am a writer? This is just B.A.D." So, thanks for the reminder that all first drafts are bad, just write it. I’ll use my head now to sharpen it up and make it better.

  15. Gary Ludlam

    Great article. Inspirational to me at a time where I am growing more and more critical of my work.

    One thing I have done to get more time to write is to utilize my smart phone. That way my latest story or blog post is sitting right there in my pocket, waiting for me to be stuck in a waiting room, sitting outside the ballet studio, or rocking my littlest to sleep in a rocking chair. Not efficient, but it keeps me going!

    The big stumbling block for me is doing something with it when I am done. I have a Christian historical novel that has been sitting on a shelf for two years! I need to do the work to find likely agents and publishers, but I always seem to put it off. Ah well. There is always 2011!

    Gary
    http://littlewayofthefamily.wordpress.com

  16. Daniel Darling

    Loretta,

    Hey, great question. How do you find time to write when you’re busy. That could be a whole ‘nuther topic. Maybe Chuck would invite me to post on that. I’ve had to face that challenge in my own life. I’m a pastor, a husband, and a father of three kids.

    If it makes you feel good, I’m not a 4am person either. I hate 4am. 4 am is my mortal enemy. I’m a night owl and write between 10-2. I also don’t do a word count. I just write when there is an opportunity or deadline, which at this point are many!

    I would advise you to just squeeze some moments to write. Maybe start a blog and write short chunks. Or maybe find some markets or some areas where you can write, even it is press releases or letters or emails to someone to encourage them.

    I hear what you’re saying, though. It’s tough. Hang in there and don’t give up your dream.

  17. Connie Pilston Shoemaker

    Wow, connecting with the Creator is such a special topic to me. #4 is so huge getting out into the world. into HIS creation is so key to being creative! Thanks for the well articulated article. This whole site was blessing to me as well. Bookmarked it!

    Connie Pilston Shoemaker
    Kissed by the Creator
    http://kissedbythecreator.blogspot.com
    http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Kissed-by-the-Creator/141769015852210
    kissedbythecreator@gmail.com
    http://twitter.com/kissedbycreator
    http://www.linkedin.com/pub/connie-pilston-shoemaker/23/6a7/190

  18. ErinEM

    I just want to say that all of your advice works! You can’t do all 4 everyday, but keep persevering. If writing is truely your gift from God, as I believe mine is, you will have topics to write about; you will find, make, steal the time to write; and you will be satisfied even if you don’t see your name on a spine. Your ‘sweet spot’ is when you get to do what you passionatly love. I pray everyone finds their sweetspot.

  19. HeatherM

    This is excellent advice Daniel! I’m especially fond of #3. Once I figured out that I needed to allow myself to write a rough first draft the entire process changed for me in a good way.

  20. Loretta Brister

    All of this is common sense advice and I have re-read it several times to try to absorb it. The one that makes me pause is the first one: Start Writing Now. I have yet to figure out how to take time to write when my creative energy is zapped by professional and personal obligations. Even when I get the time, my brain is sluggish. So the advice on starting to write didn’t give me enough to apply it to my writing life. Please elaborate on how you find the time to write and still have your creative energy sparking.

    P.S. Please don’t tell me to get up at 4:00 a.m. to write. I’m a night owl.

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