I’ve attended the annual Breathe Writers Conference for four years now (if memory serves), and have been part of the planning committee for the last two years. It’s been a huge blessing to be part of this group. Not every wannabe gets to hang out with other published writers and learn from their experience. This wannabe doesn’t take that for granted and is deeply thankful for the opportunity.
Over the years at Breathe I’ve learned a lot about the act of writing – too much to put into one blog post. So, today I’m going to focus on just one idea that I’ve heard repeated in various ways every year at Breathe:
The act of writing puts you in the place of needing encouragement.
Encouragement from others who believe in you and your writing are as much an everyday part of the writing life as a moleskin journal and a laptop computer. During the first Breathe conference I attended and at every one after I’ve heard published writers, some with many books to their credit, say things like: “Fear and uncertainty don’t go away after you get published,” or “Find a group of others that believe in what you’re doing and help each other out,” or “Even though I had a book finished I still wondered if I was really a writer, I needed some encouragement.”
This is not something I expected when I got into writing. Did you?
I don’t think we often put ourselves in places where we will regularly need to be encouraged – I know I don’t – but that’s what writing does. Think about the last few things you’ve added to your life that have nothing to do with writing. Things like: a new hobby, a new exercise routine, a new diet, a new way to organize your bills, joining a weekly moms group, or joining a weekly pickup basketball game, or whatever. I don’t think that many of these require a lot of encouragement. Perhaps the diet and exercise do, depending upon how stringent you are with them, but most of these are things we do because we can control them. And we like it that way, don’t we?
We can choose how much time and money to spend on a hobby.
We can choose whether or not we feel like going to the pickup game today.
We can choose if we want to stick with our new bill organization system or if we want to change it for something better.
I don’t often think to myself, “Boy, I’d like really like to put something into my life that will force me to be humble and to look for encouragement from others. Something that will be a daily task and often create feelings of inadequacy.” Do you think that? Be honest. I don’t think that way. In so many words I think things like, “Boy, I’d really like to put something into my life that’s really fun and cool because I like to have fun and be cool.” (That’s about as deep as the river runs sometimes…)
But writing is different. “Writing is a lonely business.” We’ve all heard that before and I’ve learned that it’s true. While some days it can be a pretty euphoric creative experience, other days it can feel like you’re just typing and typing away at something that no one will ever read but you.
It is an art dependent on other people (readers), yet it is most often produced in a solitary state.
It’s also a tough way to make a living. (I’d guess that 95-99% of the authors I work with at Zondervan have a “day job” and do not make their living writing. But that’s a topic for another post.)
But there is an upside to all of this…
Being in a humble place, a place in which we’re forced to seek the encouragement and reassurance of other people, is a place in which we can experience incredible growth as a writer. When we swallow our pride and share our uncertainties we are setting ourselves up for greater success. It seems counter-intuitive, but maybe that’s exactly why it works.
If I’d never joined a writers group I wouldn’t be a writer today. If it wasn’t for their constant emails, calls, conversations, pats on the back, “atta boys,” and “you can do its” I wouldn’t be working on the second draft of a novel right now. If they hadn’t cajoled me into joining them in the 3-Day Novel contest back in 2008 I wouldn’t have three novellas drafted. Seriously, there’s no way I would’ve done all that on my own.
If it wasn’t for the gentle advice of a friend I would’ve never taken the copy editing course at the University of Wisconsin.
If it wasn’t for my wife’s constant support I wouldn’t be getting up early to write, or staying up late to write, or attending writers meetings, or planning the Breathe Conference, or skipping our favorite TV show so I can go write in the other room, or any of the other thousand ways she has said in so many words and actions, “You can do this. You are a writer.”
If my writers group had never encouraged me to start a blog you wouldn’t be reading this right now.
So what does all this mean?
I’ve read a bunch of books on writing (as I’m sure most of you have too). They talk a lot about style, form, the need to know your grammar inside and out, and how to write for a specific audience. All of that is great, but none of the books I’ve read truly unpack the idea that built into the writing life is a need for encouragement. It’s intrinsic to the act of writing. Writers need it to live. It’s marrow in our bones and oxygen in our lungs.
I didn’t really start to understand this until the first Breathe Conference I attended a few years back. Since then it’s a been a lesson that’s been re-affirmed numerous times along the way. I’ve heard the same thing from different sources: writers need encouragers. Writers need groups to bounce ideas off of. Writers need spouses and families who support their work. Writers need editors that believe in them and want to help them grow. Writers need other writers to be straight with them. Writers need to know that what they are doing is valuable.
That’s the most important thing I’ve learned about writing at the Breathe Conference.
Write strong, friends.