The Key To Successful Writing Is … (Plus Jerry B. Jenkins Book Giveaway)

Writing is hard work. Don’t agree so quickly. Wait till you’ve been dragged down the bumpy road toward publication a few times. For now, admit that you suspect you’re something special. The exceptional exception.

For you, writing will be a breeze. Editors will clamor for your work. You foresee a bidding war over your next book, with your bank account the big winner. Is that Reader’s Digest on the phone?

Not so fast.


Guest column by Jerry B. Jenkins who is the author of more than 180 books with sales of more than 70 million copies, including the best-selling Left Behind series. Jerry’s writing has appeared in Time, Reader’s Digest, Parade, Guideposts, and dozens of Christian periodicals. Twenty of his books have reached The New York Times best-seller list (seven debuting number one).  He owns the Christian Writers Guild ( and Jenkins Entertainment, a filmmaking company. He is also a contributing editor to Writer’s Digest.

GIVEAWAY: Jerry is excited to give away a free autographed copy of his new novel, The Breakthrough (A Precinct 11 Novel), to a random commenter. Comment within two weeks; winner must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before.


I was talking with an editor friend, a veteran of many writers conferences, who has seen all levels of competency. “It’s rare that you find a first-timer who really gets it,” she said. Writing is not a hobby, a spare-time activity, or something to play at. It’s work.

For me, writing is as exhausting as physical labor. After writing and publishing more than 180 books, that still surprises me.

Sometimes, on deadline, I’ll sit at the keyboard for six, eight, ten hours or more. When I’m finished, I’m as spent as if I’ve been ditch-digging all day. I don’t understand it. Writing doesn’t seem physically taxing, but it is. I guess it’s a fact that you must be constantly thinking in order to write.

Creativity will cost you, wear you out.

Don’t ever get the idea writing is easy. If it is, you’re not working hard enough. The stuff that comes easy takes the most rewriting. And stuff that comes hard reads the easiest.

A psychologist friend once asked if I would have lunch with him and give him a few tips. “I’m thinking about doing a little freelance writing in my spare time,” he said.

“Interesting,” I said. “I’ve been thinking about doing a little psychological counseling in my spare time.”

“I didn’t know you were trained for that.”

“Gotcha,” I said.

When you hang out your shingle as a writer, be prepared for unintended slights like that.

People tell me all the time that they have a book in them, if they only had time to write.

That would be like my saying I have a sermon in me, if only I had time to prepare it. Pulpit work is something a person is trained and set apart for.

If people want to tell themselves they could be the one-in-a-thousand writer who could sell a manuscript to a book publisher, if they could only find the time, fine. They’ll learn the truth when they sit before the blank computer screen.

So don’t be one of those who just talks about it or plays at it. Work at it.

Get more advice from Jerry B. Jenkins
& other bestselling authors by picking up your copy of
The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, 2nd Edition


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36 thoughts on “The Key To Successful Writing Is … (Plus Jerry B. Jenkins Book Giveaway)

  1. BB

    Congratulations on your successfull career. Writing 180 books is an incredible acheivement. I agree that writing is hard work, but finding the time to write is even harder. I’ll think about you the next time I tell myself that I can’t sit down to write because something else is more important. Hopefully, that will encourage me to finish what I started.

  2. Alena23

    Writing is exhausting, but it is so rewarding. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and challenges – so nice to know we all share the same difficulties when writing.

  3. happyJQ

    I really appreciate the statement, “Don’t ever get the idea writing is easy. If it is, you’re not working hard enough. The stuff that comes easy takes the most rewriting. And stuff that comes hard reads the easiest.”
    Sometimes, for me, the writing does come easy; the rough draft, the quick blurb, the speedy press release or marketing communication. However, that isn’t dream fulfillment for me. That is not what God has called me to do. Even though God has anointed me to write, to share His good news, I shy away from the big projects. I’m afraid I’ll fail. I’m afraid I’ll succeed. Ridiculous! The above quote is going on my white board in my office, along with one of my favorite Bible promises: “I can do ALL things, through Christ, who strengthens me.”

  4. gayidle

    Writing is indeed hard work…learning the hard way the discipline that it takes to just sit down and begin the process each and everyday!! Inspiration follows perspiration!!
    Thanks for the encouragement!

  5. writingitout

    It’s extremely reassuring to know that a published author feels that it’s still difficult to write at times. I occasionally get the bug where I can sit and write 20 pages flat with no interruption. Typically, though, it’s exactly as you say. It’s the cliche “writing is rewriting.” Many people who write only occasionally do not feel this way. Of course it’s going to come easy if you only write every so often, when you get that “inspiration.” However, putting pen to paper every single day, i.e. you consider yourself a writer, that’s tough work. Fighting through whatever it is that’s keeping you from writing fluently line after line, that’s the battle writers face.

  6. evelynwrites

    First of all, I’m still recovering from the shock of learning that you’ve published 180 books. I need to print this blog post and leave it where my beloved will see it and maybe gain a better understanding why writing exhausts me. Kudos to you. I’m totally inspired.

  7. timothy.hicks

    Great point about writing taking our effort and time. The times I made myself sit down and complete a writing project, I felt accomplished. When I made excuses or felt too busy to write, I fell further and further behind schedule. It was never easy to find time, so I had to change my priorities from watching TV or movies, I had the same amount of time as everyone else. When I couldn’t find time to write, I had to make time.

  8. Scott M

    I used to think writing was indeed easy. Friends and colleagues in my non-writing profession told me I was a great writer. I wrote with near-perfect grammar and punctuation, with clarity, and with every thought flowing in seamless transition to the next. I spent time crafting work documents and e-mails and the notes in every Christmas card I wrote. It all came so naturally. I took a correspondence course and my instructor praised each piece I submitted. I sold a short story, had another recognized as honorable mention in a contest, and received handwritten notes with rejection letters.

    That was over a year ago. I now sit at my computer nearly every day, unable to put more than a few sentences on the blank screen, despite having filled several notebooks with ideas and notes and outlines. The words fail to navigate the pathway from my brain to my fingertips. I realize that what I’m trying to do is hard work. Then I get up and go read something by someone who already figured it out. Who am I kidding? I’ll never be able to write like that.

    But I’m back at the computer, trying again. I don’t know if that’s the key to successful writing. But I’m convinced that NOT sitting here, not struggling with every thought and word and sentence, is the key to unsuccessful writing.

  9. CLKone

    Once I start writing, I have trouble getting it out of my head. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I can’t carry a conversation. I forget to change clothes. I have to write. And what is worse, I have to rewrite. I read what I wrote out loud, to myself. I think I need to see your psychologist friend.

    Seriously, reading your credits and blog momentarily transported me back to Miss R’s French 3 class where a sense of never measuring up overwhelmed me on a daily basis. I look at your accomplishments and they begin to resemble the titles of the insurmountable grammar text chapters from the perspective of an insecure teen who sidled into class unprepared.

    Miss R’s disapproving glare was based on the same premise as your blog: hard work required. Even as a teen I got that, and suppressed somewhere in the conscience of anyone who “has a book in them they’d write if they had the time” has to be the understanding that it is going to be work.

    I love your anecdote of the psychologist, and the analogy of sermon writing reserved for those trained and set apart.

    Thank you for speaking the truth. I won’t ask you to go easy on those of us with a generous mental image of success. Even the daydreaming breaks that refuel the mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting writing sessions…need the balance of realistic goals.

    I would be pleased to receive an autographed copy of your book! You have certainly earned my admiration.

  10. dkeymel

    I am not published. I think – someday. I work at it but at my age of over 70, I wonder why I try. I think it is because we do what we are led to do. We are where God places us. I read the Left Behind Series and loved it. I have several other of your books. You are truly blessed. We are blessed thru your teaching. Thank you.

  11. blaisemi

    Writing is hard work and it requires time and focus to do well. The most difficult thing for me is convincing my husband that when I’m at the computer, I’m “at the office.” Even when nothing’s happening on the screen or he doesn’t see my fingers flying over the keyboard, I’m actually working. He also doesn’t understand that this isn’t a job with two 15-minute breaks and a half-hour for lunch. A break may be two hours and I may forget to eat.

    One thing my husband is right about, though. I do need to take more time away from the computer to exercise and get refreshed. Sometimes too much focus can make me tunnel-blind.

  12. sddblake

    Writing is definitely hard work. If I could just transport what’s in my brain directly onto paper, that would be great. It’s the actual process of getting the idea from inside me into a format that make sense and is interesting to others that is so hard.

  13. Debbie157

    I like to write as a way of expressing and processing feelings. I also write amusing stories about mishaps in my life. You know, things that are not funny in the moment–like the dog getting sprayed by a skunk–but funny later on when I tell it. To me, being a “successful writer” is producing stories that a friend or family member enjoys reading.

  14. reclarkjr

    As a devotional writer I can relate to the work ethic that must be in place if you are going to meet the daily requirement for writing. I know that each new day brings with it an empty page that must be filled. Not merely filled with a string of sentences, but a daily devotional piece that is bathed in prayer and shared with the assurance that my words are going to fill a basic need in someone’s life.

    This element of personal responsibility to my readers along with the work of putting thoughts into words that can change lives brings a sense of purpose into the mere process of writing.

    Thanks for your encouragement!

  15. Maggie78

    I totally agree with the point you are making, Jerry. The writing life requires a dedicated work ethic and unending perseverance. Yet, we are blessed when we follow our passion for sharing our creative gift through the written word. Look forward to reading your latest book.

  16. Laura S.

    I have just started to really work at writing and it is exhausting. Exhausting emotionally and physically which is very different for me. My previous job was just tedious now I find that you have to dig deep within yourself and understand who you are and what you want. I find the struggle to produce to be the most rewarding feeling.

  17. dtapley

    I write largely scientific and technical pieces, mostly supplemental materials for college-level textbooks. Even though I am highly credentialed in my area of expertise, I find writing to be arduous. People who know me assume I can just bang this stuff out with minimal effort — and that includes some of the editors I’ve worked for.

    Sitting there and producing worthwhile product is hard work. Thank you for affirming that, Jerry.

  18. Heart2Heart

    I read your book “Riven” and recommended it to several other people. I loved it! I hope someday to attain success in writing quality work with good moral fiber.

  19. soulbird

    Yeah, I had the idea for years that I could please both myself and others ~ have a full-time job that helped pay the bills and write in my “spare time”. Unfortunately, I discovered that my vision of writing could not come to fruition this way. I had to make a choice. I chose writing. Now, even though I’m a full-time freelance writer and the money is slow to come (seeing as I’m just starting out), I have to remind myself that God will give me the desires of my heart if I only trust him through the rough parts of making my way into the writing world. And I’ve discovered that writing, while my passion in life it may be, is just as exhausting if not more so than any other job I’ve ever done. I understand how having a passionate drive to succeed in a career you love can be exhausting. In writing my first book, I had to take time away from everyone/everything to really get it off the ground. And while I was able to get a lot done in that time, I was completely exhausted both mentally and physically, spending quite a bit of time afterwards simply recovering from it in order to function again, much less continue to write. Many non-writers fail to understand the mental and physical strain involved (unless, of course, they are high schoolers struggling through a term paper).

  20. mindbuilder

    Before I became a freelancer, I ran a remodeling business. It’s very true that writing is as difficult as any physical work! I’m putting in as much time working at writing as I ever did in construction and the results are not as immediately tangible. Writing requires tremendous mental staying power and demands an extraordinary commitment not required in other professions. There is a trade-off that makes it all worthwhile – the satisfaction of creating something unique, of being able to participate in the greatest artistic exchange with a power greater than yourself. There is nothing else like it. I’m so happy to be a writer!

  21. evwings

    You must prepare yourself as you would in any field. After that you must do it! Like with any career/job/hobby/exercising, etc, the more you do it, the better you become. All of that is setting goals that are reasonable and no setting yourself up for defeat. When you reach your first goal, you set a second and so on until you accomplish what you have desired. An example set 1 to 2 hours of writing per day. When that gets too easy, make it 2 to 4 hours a day, etc. until you are writing yourself to being exhausted. When under the gun, you’ll know you CAN do it, not think maybe you can. All in all, you need to remember to take care of yourself or you’ll not be able to accomplish much at all.

  22. penney

    You can say you are a writer, or going to write a million times. It is not time that is the question. “I’m going to exercise, stop smoking, mow the lawn. I just don’t have the time.” It is discipline and desire that makes you put aside all other parts of life and put pen to paper. I have all the desire in the world. I have accumulated all the notes needed, and type various chapters or sections and little short stories, but it has taken ten plus years to realize I need to discipline my time and choices to do that which I deeply desire.

  23. Kaylyn

    I’m an unpublished writer and I have had so many people say, “How hard can it be to write a children’s book?” I usually reply the same way you do. I have found that writing for children is very taxing since the current themes come and go so quickly. I try to focus on either unusual themes or tried-and-true themes like getting a hair cut.
    Thanks for your encouragement in that all of my hard work is worth it.

  24. cbulice

    I was glad you made the comment about having a sermon in you. As a preacher, I understand the exhausting work of writing because sermon writing can take hours to create a 20 minute sermon. Still, I like writing short stories.

  25. llfried

    My wife thinks that I have a mistress. I get up from bed in the middle of the night, go to my computer and make notes. I take my morning cuppa to my home office and sit down at the computer. Before I leave the house and as soon as I get home, I check my email (for publisher responses, etc.).
    “You were on the computer again?” she asks. “What’s so fascinating? Why can’t I see what you’re doing?”
    “I need some privacy to write,” I say.
    “Privacy? I think something’s wrong. Why don’t you let me see your messages.”
    “Sure! Take a look at my messages.”
    “You agree too easily. I smell something fishy.”
    “Honest! I’m just writing. Really. It’s just some friends reviewing my stuff.”
    “So! If it’s so innocent, why don’t you let me read your stuff?”

  26. pacanime

    I think the hardest part of writing for someone who isn’t a big name author yet is convincing others that you’re not wasting your time. Writing is an individual activity and sometimes others might see you as being self-absorbed. while you do it.

  27. Karen Meyer

    Your comment to your psychologist friend made me laugh out loud. Training to be a writer doesn’t have to be professionally gained, though. I have three novels in print (regular publisher) and my training has been a degree in English and reading LOTS of how-to book on writing.

  28. Jefferson Loiselle

    This is something that I personally am now in the process of learning. Writing is like any other career. If you want to be good at it, you need to work hard at the craft. It cannot be a hobby that you get to when you have the time. For years that was my problem and it is only recently with hard work and determination that I can see progress. I have always believed that the more the writing process hurts the better it will be. At the end of a writing session I am mentally and physically taxed. It is so nice to hear that not only am I not alone, but I am also on the right track.

  29. thedoctor1

    Writing is a job like any other. But what makes it stand out, freedom. The freedom to create the “in between the lines” parts of life. Being able to sit down and put in a hard day’s work for your mind and body. Having the passion to write adds to the meaning of it all. For me the key to successful writing is this; freedom and passion. These two combine are what makes me keep going in writing. I spend my time in between writing, reading more on how to improve my writing, as well reading more for the writing. Hearing stories like this on a daily basis inspires me to be more successful.

    1. HuffmanHanni

      The freedom I have felt writing the past year has fueled a passion in me that I didn’t know existed. I kept yearning to find my voice and realized it was through writing. I am still working on being completely and totally uninhibited in my writing but I know it will get there eventually.

      My husband has been happy for me because writing makes me happy. He commented a few weeks ago it seems to be the first thing I’ve been passionate about since we’ve been together. My therapists have noticed a positive change and have commented that writing has helped my self-esteem.

      I work in a boring, dead-end job so my lunch hour is heaven for me. When I get back to work, I have noticed I am still stuck in writer’s mode. I even keep a little pad of paper by my desk so I can jot down quick notes. Writing just exercises my brain in a way that just seems to click. Great reminder that writing is indeed work and not for the faint of heart!

  30. Caycel

    After a day of writing, I finally leave my house and walk to pick my girls up from school. My brain is still stuck in writer’s mode, and having a hard time shifting gears into Mommy mode, so I walk in a bit of a daze. It’s too bright outside, and everything seems a bit fuzzy around the edges. Writing-hangover.

  31. Cruz

    As an aspiring writer, it is reassuring to read that an accomplished writer’s also feels as if a full day of writing or battling with a blank screen is as exhausting as performing hard labor. Nice to know, I’m not alone.


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