4 Steps to Turning a Writing Dream Into Reality

Author:
Publish date:

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.)

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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 writer—is 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.)

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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?

  • Interview with Steve Laube, agent who seeks Christian works.
  • Agent Chip MacGregor On: Changes in Christian Publishing.
  • Tips from Cecil Murphey, author of 90 Minutes in Heaven.
  • Interview with Rachelle Gardner, agent who seeks Christian works.

  • Confused about formatting? Check out Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript.
  • Read about What Agents Hate: Chapter 1 Pet Peeves.
  • Want the most complete database of agents and what genres they're looking for? Buy the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents today!
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