In this fifth episode of the Gracewriters Podcast, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss the question: Should Christian writing be this hard?
New writers often think they are failing if they find writing hard, but the fact is, it’s a common complaint. We discuss ways to place a reality check on the difficulties, and how to push past them to the writing that we love to do.
Please keep your questions and topic suggestions coming, using the Podcast tab above.
Scroll down for audio, video, and a full transcript, or find the podcast on Apple Podcasts here: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/gracewriters-podcast/id1519376330
In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, accredited editor, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, author of sweet romance
- Donita Bundy, author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- Even experienced, successful writers often find writing to be hard work.
- How the struggle can help us grow as a person and as a writer.
Tips for how to enjoy our writing in spite of the challenges.
We would love to hear from you via the Podcast tab above:
- What topics would you like us to cover?
- What questions bother you in your own writing practice as a gracewriter?
- Which Christian writers would you like us to interview, and what would you like us to ask them?
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters podcast – Christian writers changing popular culture. Connect with us at Gracewriters.com.
Welcome to episode 5 – Should Christian writing be this hard. I’m Belinda Pollard the founder of Gracewriters. I’m an author, speaker and blogger and I’ve been helping people write and publish books for more than 20 years. You can find links to my books and my websites at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Joy. I’m a writer of sweet romance and I live in Brisbane and you can find my information on alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy. I’m a writer, a blogger and creative writing teacher. You can find out more about me at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you Donita and Alison, and welcome to this week’s podcast – Should Christian writing be this hard. I do a lot of coaching with writers and I find that often they are surprised to have found that it is hard, and they feel like they are a failure because they find it hard. So that’s one of the reasons that we thought we might have a look at this topic, this week. Alison, you’ve been doing some research for us, what have you found? Do other writers find writing easy and it’s just us?
Alison Joy: No, it’s not just us at all! It’s something that is common to probably all writers. I think if you typed in ‘writing’ and ‘hard’ into a search engine, it would come up with the plethora of quotes from different authors that have found it hard. Just a couple of things that I found that someone said ‘writing is hard work and anytime it comes easy, suspect it.’ Or, I like this one, ‘a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people’.
I think that’s the thing, everybody thinks they can writer, everybody thinks, ‘writing is easy’ and then you actually sit down, and do it and you go, ‘mmm, no’, it’s not quite as straight forward as you thought it was going to be. And even established authors, they find that not everybody has this great success that you think you’ll write a book and it’ll be a best seller, dah da da da dah. Everything will be wonderful, but it doesn’t work like that.
And in fact, a lot of people, a lot of authors have been rejected before they actually had success. So, for example, that book Chicken Soup for the Soul, that’s just been a runaway best seller, but it got 144 rejections before it even started. Dr Suess, he got 27 rejections for And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times. And just authors like James Joyce, James Baldwin, Agatha Christie, Kenneth Grahame, John Grisham, J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, they were all rejected at one time or another. And Louisa May Alcott from Little Women, she was told to stick to teaching. So, it’s quite common for authors or writers to be rejected.
Belinda Pollard: And when they were rejected like that, they didn’t know that they were going to go on to become J.K. Rowling or Stephen King that everybody’s heard of. They were just in a situation like us or like any writer when they are starting out. They didn’t know how the story ended.
Alison Joy: That’s right and they had to have the persistence to keep going or maybe the belief that if they kept trying to succeed. I mean, 144 rejections, that’s amazing to keep going time after time and again, to have that belief that ‘hey, this book is worthwhile’, is this book something that should be out there in the world.
Belinda Pollard: Persistence, perseverance – it’s a really good characteristic to have and I guess it’s one that we need to grow and develop as writers, isn’t it? We do have to persist, we do have to persevere, even just from the point of view, the first time that you ever write a full-length book, you don’t know if you can do it – the first time. You don’t know. You sit down and you hope that you can pull the whole thing together and then you have to persevere.
Donita Bundy: And when I’ve heard some authors say even when they’ve made it the first time and they’ve had a best seller, one of the hardest things to do is sit down and keep going because you’ve got to overcome, ‘What? I’ve just had a best seller, everyone’s expecting me to top that. How am I going to do it?’ Not that I’ve been there but I’ve heard others say that and I think that would also be really daunting. How do to you keep going after you’ve had success. So, it’s not only the lead up to writing and successfully publishing and maybe successfully selling some books, it’s the perseverance to keep going, not only after failure or rejection, but also to keep going after success. I think every step of the way, every step in the journey requires that perseverance.
Belinda Pollard: I saw a TED talk, a few years ago, by, I think it was Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, which has sold something like 20 million copies and she was talking about her second book and the terror of having to write her second book after this incredible success. Have a hunt for that on YouTube, it’s quite an interesting video showing how it was for her tackling trying to be a success the second time. And we have talked about success previously on the blog as well and what success really is for a Christian writer. What else did you find for us, Alison, in your research?
Alison Joy: I just think that, just because we’re Christians doesn’t mean that the journey is going to be easier for us. That because we’re Christian we’ve got some magical connection to God that’s going to make it easier for us. I mean, if you’ve been a Christian for more than five minutes you know it’s not an easy journey. I think that sometimes it’s the struggle that will develop stuff that’s more important in the end, maybe.
Belinda Pollard: And we also see, when we’re seeing what other people are producing, we’re only seeing the ones that won. We are only seeing, we’re not seeing the hours that they spent persevering through discouragement and rejection and just plain hard work. We’re seeing those outcomes and it’s a bit like some of the sporting stars, isn’t it, who have these amazing stats that are recorded forever but nobody ever thinks about all the balls they missed.
Alison Joy: Now, well that’s exactly right. I mean, Michael Jordan, what was he – legend, basketball legend, he made something like 24,000 shots on goals in his career, but he missed about half of them. But they don’t tell you that, they only tell you all the shots he made. You don’t see all the behind the scenes stuff, all the practice that he put in and the practice and the practice. I mean, somebody like baseballer, Babe Ruth, he hit like 700 plus home runs, but he struck out more times than that. It’s like 1,300 times he struck out. So, to get the success it goes hand in hand with the struggle or the failure. You can’t have one without the other, they seem to go together.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, that’s interesting. It’s like failure is the flipside of success and it’s a hard work thing, they’re both joined. They’re joined concepts and we can look at the half empty or the half full part of the glass on any given day and in our careers as writers as a whole.
Donita Bundy: It’s interesting that we actually read in Romans chapter 5 verse 3. It says, ‘Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance character and character hope.’ So, as you said Belinda, the failure and the success go hand in hand and I wonder how much of that failure builds the character that then leads into the perseverance. I think it’s all part of the one package and those people who pushed through the failure and the struggles and the hardships build that perseverance which results in success. Whether that success in the picture of sales or success in the picture of: you’ve achieved. You’ve pushed through those barriers and those failures and instead of allowing them to stop you and inhibit the forward movement, pushing through and what you’re learning as you push through, is building character. It’s seems that that’s part of the package, doesn’t it?
Belinda Pollard: I think one of the reasons that we sometimes come to writing and expect it to be easier, is because of the attitudes and input we might get from other people who are not necessarily doing writing in any great way. There’s a way of thinking that if you’ve got literacy skills then you can write. Clearly not everybody in the world can write but those who are blessed with literacy skills can write. You sit down, you start typing until you get to the end of your book or play or opera or whatever it is that you’re writing and then you stop. And people who have never actually done it don’t know that that’s not actually how it works.
I’ve got a saying, ‘staring is writing!’ because I’ve reorientated my office so that there’s a window behind my desk, so that I can gaze out because that gazing is part of my writing process. You can smell the burning almost. My wheels are turning in my head while I’m gazing. When I’m out walking, I’m writing. When I’m doing the washing up, I’m writing. It’s all part of the process and it is a big process. It’s a big process and it’s hard work. Isn’t anything that’s worthwhile, hard work?
Donita Bundy: Absolutely.
Alison Joy: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: How many things that you’ve done in your life that were easy and that you will remember forever?
Donita Bundy: I think writing, like you were saying Belinda, is not necessarily something that we do. I think writing is who we are. Like I say to my kids in my class, ‘if you want to come to class next week, we’re going to be drafting. That means from this point on, till next week, you need to be processing those thoughts that your story needs to develop. It needs time to grow and you need to give it space and light for that to happen. So therefore you need to focus on your story and allow it to percolate during the week. So, when you show up next week, you have something to write.’
Yes, like you’re saying, staring is writing, and I believe writing is not something we do. Writer is who we are, because it encompasses all of life. You’re always thinking, processing, pulling ideas out so that when you sit down it’s not just that moment in time, it’s packed by everything else around you.
Belinda Pollard: Those are great tips Donita, and you teach in a state school but what extra pieces of skill or information might you add to that advice for a Christian writer?
Donita Bundy: Personally, I can, and I’ve spoken to other Christian writers, not only do we have that space and time that we need to invest in our story writing before we sit down, I find prayer and asking. I’m someone who writes to a Christian audience, but I hope that my work crosses over into mainstream and it sits well in mainstream, even though when I write that’s not who I’m necessarily writing for, but prayerfully asking God to distil those thoughts and inspire those thoughts. What am I going to be writing? How can I wrap my story into the context that God wants me to write? So, if we are writing gracenotes, how do we prayerfully ask God, how do we do that? How do we take the message? How do we couch that or write that in, weave it in to the story? So as a Christian we don’t, as Alison said, ‘it’s not magic’, there’s nothing super magical that we have at our hands, but we do have God and we do pray because as Gracewriters it’s His message we want to weave into our story. He is the author of life, He is the Creator, He’s the ultimate in creator, so tapping into God and prayfully, before sitting down to write, I find, and giving Him the time and space to speak into that, it’s so valuable.
Belinda Pollard: I find it amazing, sometimes, to think about God and how he created by a word. If you look at Genesis, God spoke, and it was so. In the beginning of John, ‘in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’ Jesus was ‘the Word’. I find it interesting that God chooses to identify Himself to us as communication. So, communication is a very special thing that we as humans in the image of God have, and it is a very special task that we as writers have. It’s a beautiful task. We are sinful human beings, we will make mistakes, we will muddle around and get into a little bit of mess at times with our writing, but I know there are times that God’s Spirit can really speak through the words that He helps us put on the page.
Donita Bundy: I just think, take time and as we read through Scripture, we will see that Jesus in particular uses analogy to demonstrate the Kingdom of God. When God, when people were getting to know Him in the Old Testament, how did they remember the history when they weren’t writers? It was through storytelling and passing down, so as we are storytelling people and the message of God comes through story as well as history, narrative as well. We are set up and primed to receive story and so asking God how we take his message through each of us, who is an individual that he has created, to deliver that message in our own particular way. How do we take His message in our voice on to the page? We are set up to hear stories, we love stories, we learn through stories, we relate through stories. So not only was Jesus the Word, but early on, Christian and Jews were known as people of the book. That’s who we are.
Belinda Pollard: I think writing, as you say, we want that ‘magic wand’ Christianity. We want to be able to, perhaps, sit down at our keyboard and say, ‘dear God, please give me the words’ and then our fingers will just go at this massive speed and the words will gush forth from us and they will come out perfectly formed and we will not have to do anything to them after that. It’s not working that way for me? I think, we talked about this a few weeks ago on the podcast, we talked about that particular issue I was having with my work in progress, that I was working on and how I had to keep going back to God, talking to Him about this particular vexatious scene and keep working on it and keep praying and keep working and keep praying. I think, that is actually God saying, ‘Well that’s good, Belinda, you’re growing. My ultimate goal is not necessarily for you to have a perfectly formed book fall from your fingertips, but for you to grow.’ So we can take perhaps comfort and heart from the fact that if we are finding it hard to write our books, well perhaps God is helping us to grow through that process. Do you find, Alison, do you tend to pray when you’re doing your writing? Is it something that you’d like to do more of?
Alison Joy: Yes, it’s definitely something I think I should be doing more off. I know I heard Denise Hunter, a Christian writer in America, she just says she always prays before she sits down. I guess, it’s what we’ve been talking about in the other podcasts, sometimes you don’t feel like it’s worthy to pray about before you start because it’s not a worthy thing that you’re doing. But I think we should, and even if it doesn’t come easy all the time, we learn lessons along the way. God’s showing us stuff in and through what we’re doing. So just because it doesn’t flow the way we think it should be going, doesn’t mean to say it’s not worthwhile and we’re not doing what we should be.
Belinda Pollard: Very true, yes. I feel a bit convicted too, that I need to be just so much more deliberate about praying when I’m starting a writing session, when I’m in the midst of a writing session, when I’m thinking about my book, and when I’m away from it and I’m wresting with particular issues. I’m trying to do a rewrite on my work in progress at the moment. I’ve got a deadline with an editor and it’s not easy. I’ve got all my beta reader feedback and I’m trying to work through that, and that’s not easy. It’s all part of the process. I’m growing as a writer while I do it, I’m growing as a person while I do it, I’m growing as a Christian. Any final thoughts or pieces of inspiration for the writers out there?
Alison Joy: I just think, if you come into writing with a particular skill set and maybe yours Belinda is different from mine, is different to Donita’s, but we are given the grace to write from where we are, and we are going to develop more skills. The more we write the better we’re going to get, the more we do it. So just keep at it, keep persevering, keep plugging away at it. Lots of insights and titbits and wisdom from other writers and from God and from places you didn’t expect.
Donita Bundy: I think, the Christian life is hard. We wouldn’t need armour if it was easy so being Christian and living the Christian life is difficult, writing is difficult and so you put them together, it’s going to be difficult. But it’s a good thing to do and it’s so rewarding. I think even having the community of people who understand what it is to go through those trials, that we have something we can relate, even though we don’t, like you just said, Alison, we write different genres, we write a different way. And yet there is a community of writers and we can relate to that story and help each other along the way. Again, another benefit of being a gracewriter, we’re all Christians and we are all writers and we’re sharing the same journey. So that’s an encouraging thing as well.
Belinda Pollard: Fantastic. I’ll just quickly pray for us and for the gracewriters. Heavenly Father, we thank you that you have given us this task to do of writing. We thank you that we love it even though it’s hard. We thank you that you use it in ways that we can’t even sometimes imagine at the time that we’re writing. We thank you that you are working in us and in our words and that you are turning them into what you want them to be in the ears and minds of other people further down the track. We just pray that you will strengthen us by your Spirit for the task that you’ve given us and give us encouragement and hope. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Thank you, Donita Bundy and Alison Joy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you at the next Gracewriters podcast. Thank you for joining us today at the Gracewriters podcast – Christian writers changing popular culture. Subscribe to the blog to receive an invitation to our monthly catch-up on Zoom and to our free private online forum where members discuss topics that affect Christian writers. Connect with us at gracewriters.com. We’d love to see you there.
Dawn Dicker says
I especially appreciated the reminder that perseverance is required to achieve success—a Biblical concept that applies to all of life—and that failure is a stepping stone on the journey. If you aren’t failing, you aren’t growing!
Belinda Pollard says
Thank you so much, Dawn. I have certainly had plenty of stepping stones on my journey, and continue to have them.
Bill Brockmeier says
Ladies, once again, perfect timing for me on your topic. I’ve recently felt myself slipping into a doldrum of writing, at least in part, due to the loss of much of my writing community here. Though writing is, in some sense, a lonely “sport,” I seem to thrive best when connected to my writing “fellows” in community. You are helping to bridge that gap, though your homes are many thousands of miles from mine.
Today’s podcast didn’t turn up new ground for me, as I’m an “old guy” and have encountered these matters before. But you know, I needed to hear these things yet again! How quickly I seem to forget the important matters.
Donita’s mention of Romans and the progression of: difficulty >> perseverance >> character >> hope >> and finally to God, was a very apt word to me, and I will take that to heart.
And the all-too-obvious (and maybe that’s my problem: it’s TOO obvious!) matter of prayer being intimately connected to “hearing” from God as I prepare to write, was of major importance to me. I hope to take both of these things forward with me this coming week of writing. Thanks again.
Belinda Pollard says
Thanks Bill – so true that it’s not a new concept, but also good to chat about it with fellow writers. I have also found Gracewriters to provide an encouraging sense of fellowship during this time when we so often feel isolated. Glad you’ve found that too. 🙂