In this seventh episode of the Gracewriters Podcast, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss whether we need to improve as writers, and practical steps we can take to do so. How does our faith intersect with this goal, and how do we tackle perfectionism and negativity?
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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:
- Do we actually need to improve?
- What practical steps can we take?
- What role does faith and spirituality play in this?
- How do we manage perfectionism and negativity?
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- 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 7 – learning how to be a better writer. I’m Belinda Pollard, I’m an author, speaker and blogger and I’ve been helping people to write and publish books for more than 20 years. You can find links to my books and my blogs at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Joy, I write sweet romance and I live in Brisbane in Queensland, Australia and you can find me on allisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi everybody, I’m Donita Bundy, I’m a writer, blogger and creative writing teacher and you can find out all about me at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you guys. So, our topic today, it’s about learning to be a better writer. There’s a few questions that we are planning to cover today. Do we need to get better as writers? What sort of things can we do to improve? What role does the spiritual side of our lives, of our faith, play in the process? And how do we manage that perfectionism and negativity that are so common among writers? Donita, I might throw to you first, what is the value of doing the best job that we can?
Donita Bundy: Well to begin with, I think you nailed it when you recently blogged on the Gracewriters website – how to write Christian memoir – and you started off with that verse from Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord,” and you challenged us to strive for excellence. And I believe that that encompasses everything we do in our Christian life.
Some of us believe that writing is our calling and it’s a gift from God, and I was reflecting on that this week as I’ve been reading through Deuteronomy and it just jumped out at me that there were the Israelites waiting at the border of the Promised Land and God says, “There you go, there’s the gift, there’s blessing. Go and get it.”
And they had to, before they could receive that and use it, they had to cross the Jordan using a miracle, then they had to divide the land up fairly between the 12 tribes. Then they had to subdue and conquer the land, the people that already lived there, and then they had to learn what it was to be farmers, because they had first of all been slaves in Egypt, and then the previous generation had been nomads in the desert and they didn’t know what it was to be settled farmers in the Promised Land. So, God put them there for a purpose, to be His salt and light to all the people travelling through that hub in the ancient near east. So, they had their purpose to live well in the land and glorify God by utilising the gift they were given. They also had to do that to their best ability to protect their neighbours, the other tribes. If they dropped the ball, then the enemy could come in through their land. So, they had to use their gift to glorify God and protect their brothers and sisters. If we believe that writing is our gift, it’s the same, we have to work at it and learn how to use it to the glory of God, and to lift up and edify our brothers and sisters in Christ.
But then there are some of us who don’t believe that it’s a calling. Writing is something that we do because we just love it and we love to tell stories. But it’s the same, because of who we are, children of God, and because of who we follow, the Lord Christ, and the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we have the responsibility to glorify God, that is our purpose in all that we do. And again, that verse, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord.”
So, whether we write gracenotes and we weave that message of the love of God and His truth through our writing to a mainstream audience, or whether we write challenging and encouraging messages to a Christian audience, whatever we do we are doing for the glory of the Lord. So that is our purpose and our calling. Regardless of who we are writing to, regardless of what we’re writing, that is our purpose, to glorify God and to do it well to the best of our ability is our act of worship, which is what we find in Romans 12:1-3.
So regardless of how we come at our writing or how we see it, I think as Christians we have the responsibility to do the best we can, to not only glorify the Lord but also build up and encourage those around us. So, yes I think that’s where I come from, in that. That it’s a responsibility as a Christian to do the best we can to improve our writing.
Belinda Pollard: That’s fantastic thoughts, Donita. There is a couple of thoughts that were just triggered for me as you were talking there. One of them was the, I think it’s the Westminster Shorter Catechism, or something, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” I think, doesn’t that sound like a fabulous life, doesn’t that trigger something. Yes. And another thing that I was thinking of, I was thinking, why do we sometimes, and I’ve managed volunteers in the past and there’s different kinds of volunteers. There are volunteers who are just so totally in there, and then the volunteers who are thinking, it’s just volunteering I’ll just do whatever I do. And I’m thinking about as Christians, I think sometimes we think because we are forgiven sinners and we know we can’t be perfect, then we think there’s no need to strive. And I think, we’re not striving for salvation we’re are just excited and moving forward and increasing our skills. So, thank you for the way that you’ve brought that through.
Alison, I’m interested to see what you might have come up with for us, in terms of, because you love doing your research and we really value the amazing things you come up with, what have you come up with in terms of some of the practical steps we could take to improve our writing?
Alison Joy: I think the two main things that came through, when you try to put into the search engine, there’s two things that keep coming up over and over again, and that is reading and writing. So, you want to be a better writer, you have to read more, you have to read anything and everything. Not just the good stuff, read the bad stuff, read in your genre, not in your genre. Look at good writing, pull it apart, see what they do, take notes when you’re reading if you see something that catches your eye and you think, I like the way they’ve said that, or I like the way they’ve done that.
The more you read the more it’s going to sink in and just be a part of your psyche, so you can help when you’re actually writing your own words, you’ve got all that background. I guess if you’re learning from the good, you’re just watching and learning all the time, it just sort of seeps in. I think reading and writing is very important so, just read and keep reading. I think that’s the thing that I found that a lot of people who are good writers are very avid readers and they seem to go hand in hand.
And I think you’ve got to write as well. You’re not going to get better, unless, the more you do it the better you’re going to get. It’s the same for me with my photography, I came into it not knowing a whole lot and then I just keep practising and practising, so the more I do it the better I get. There’s a lot of challenges for me on the way because where I shoot at church some of the rooms are very bad lighting, but I think, well the more I do it, the better I’m going to get at it.
So, the same with writing, the more you write the better you are going to get at it, even if you can only devote 10-15 minutes a day, at least that’s something that you’re being consistent with and you’re building on it and building on it and building on it.
You can also look around and maybe find online podcasts or online courses you can do. A lot of them will be free. I scored one earlier in the year that was amazing that only cost me, I think $5, and it was just so full of information, it was just incredible. And then I’ve done other courses and think, mmm yeah. So sometimes it a little bit hit and miss but if you’ve got recommendations from other people that have done things that might be able to help you, give you a direction of as to where you can find some resources.
Maybe have a writing partner, someone you can work with, someone you can bounce ideas off. Maybe go to the extent of hiring a writing coach, if you can do that. Or you just need to get honest feedback, even if it’s from writing partners or beta readers or whatever, however you choose.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, I’m a great fan of beta readers, I find them really useful with my work. And just for the listeners out there, “beta”, “bayta”, “better”, it’s pronounced different ways in different countries but we’re talking about the same thing. It’s a person who, usually a volunteer, who reads our work from a reader’s point of view and gives their thoughts and responses and reactions, so that we can see our writing through someone else’s eyes. I find it incredibly useful when I’m wanting to do developmental editing on my own work to get that insight from how someone else has seen it because often you don’t even know what you haven’t made clear. You don’t even know what you have over described or over explained, and that feedback can really help.
Alison Joy: Some other tips are, I know the three of us when we get outside, out in the wide world and we are walking or doing exercise sometimes do get ideas that way. I always sleep with a notebook next to the bed so I can scribble out anything that hits me in the middle of the night. So, things like that, just little things like that, it can make a difference that can all add up.
Belinda Pollard: Another little tip, I mention this sometimes to writers, I find I’ve never been a person who really read poetry very much, but I’ve found that someone recommended to me a daily Writer’s Almanac that sends out a new good poem every day, and I’ve found that quite interesting because poetry is a type of writing where the words are so spare, each word has to carry almost a 100 kilograms of weight because it’s got to be so carefully chosen. I find it inspiring to see what people can do with that and it helps me to think about how I might be able to do some of that stuff in my work. That’s the Writer’s Almanac, if you google Writer’s Almanac and I think it’s run by Garrison Keillor, who is an American writer. It’s not a Christian thing, it’s just a general thing, but I’ve found it very useful.
Did you have thoughts on that, Donita?
Donita Bundy: Yes, as some of you might know, I teach creative writing at a High School. I teach year 7 and year 8 class and I have them for a 2-year program and one term, term 3, in our first year is always poetry and it’s met with groans from some and cheers from others. But the reason why I do it, is that the tools that you have to use in poetry strengthen our writing. We go through a whole series of 10 different types of poems, each one looking at different things, each one hopefully strengthening the tool box that the kids have. And then once we have finished that unit of poetry, we always go back to that, drawing on those tools that we’ve used.
And another thing you both said, but I really want to stress, the importance of feedback, we do that a lot in the class. But it takes a lot for these kids, and I know for myself as well when I first started, to have the bravery, the courage to share your work and then the humility to receive that feedback. But I tell my kids, and I know as a truth for myself, you will not get better if you don’t get feedback. That is huge and until you can overcome that fear of what someone else is going to say, you really cannot move forward. So, the courage and the humility for the feedback and yes, poetry there’s so many great skills and tools that we need in poetry that really strengthen and enhance our writing. So yes, totally agree with those points. Yes.
Belinda Pollard: Fantastic. The third one that we were going to look at today was the spiritual aspect of it. As we’re Gracewriters, Christians who write to change popular culture, and we’re trying to weave in gracenotes into our writing, whether we write for Christian audiences or secular audiences, mainstream general market audiences. Some of the things that I was thinking about as I was thinking about that and how it affects us, I think we do need to take it seriously, and as you were saying Donita, some of us view it as a calling, some of us don’t, but I think we still need to view it as a ministry. It’s an opportunity, it’s a gift, whether you see it as a spiritual gift you’ve been given to write or just a more practical gift. You have a gift and gifts are to be exercised.
So, we have this opportunity and this urgency, necessity, priority to take it seriously, but I think one of the things we sometimes forget is that growing as a Gracewriter also involves growing as a Christian. So, we need to be working, I love the way, I think its sort of more in the Catholic streams, they refer to ‘spiritual formation’. And we’ve got to be thinking: I’m forming as a writer, but I need to also be forming as a child of God, as a person who is growing in godliness, as a person who is growing in the fruit of the spirit, Galatians 5, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
What am I doing to work on growing in those aspects of myself as a person, what am I doing to grow in my knowledge of God and His purposes? Through some serious Bible study, whatever form that might take, through trying to grow a prayer practice, a daily practice. One of the things I’ve found so encouraging with the monthly Gracewriters Zoom catch-up, is the way that we’ve been encouraging each other in prayer and in just some of those things, like every hour, stopping, breathing, turning it back to God. Giving it back to God, breathing Him in and thinking about how He’s involved in all we are doing. That aspect of Christian community I have found so, so encouraging and helpful particularly over the last couple of years. I’ve had more Christian writers that I’ve been able to connect with and talk about and nut out some of the things we’re wrestling with.
Yes, what do you guys think, have you found any of those aspects helpful? Challenging?
Alison Joy: Yes. All of the above!
Donita Bundy: I think before you can write about God, you have to know God and God is a God who wants to be known personally and it’s a relationship. So, before we can have those gracenotes, before we can encourage one another, we need to be on that journey and in that relationship and it’s not just a one step and that’s it, it’s a continual journey. So, yes, before we can write about a topic, we have to know what that topic is and if we want to introduce God into our writing we have to know Him on a daily basis and so, yes, totally agree. It’s part of the whole sphere of being a Christian, it’s part of our life and I think that comes back to the Romans 12:1-3, it’s part of our everyday living sacrifice, knowing Him and sharing Him and doing that with integrity.
Belinda Pollard: And be transformed by the renewing of your mind. I can’t actually remember what the reference is for that one, but yes.
Donita Bundy: That’s Romans 12:1-3.
Belinda Pollard: It is in that one, is it?
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you. I wondered if it was and then I thought, aww not sure!
Donita Bundy: Yes!
Belinda Pollard: That fourth aspect, managing perfectionism, managing negativity, keeping legalism out of it. Thoughts? How do we keep those types of things in mind as we’re working on growing as Gracewriters?
Alison Joy: I think it’s an ongoing process. We’re humans, so it’s just a fact that it’s going to be there, and we have to deal with it on a daily basis, on an hourly basis, on a minute by minute basis sometimes. And you’ve just got to work around it the best that you can. Some days you’ll do well, and sometimes days like, “Oh no! Why am I doing this?!”
Belinda Pollard: And that community of writers, I think, is so helpful with that. Donita was going to say something.
Donita Bundy: In that blog post you were suggesting, strive for excellence does not mean strive for perfection. We have to acknowledge that we’re not perfect and we won’t be. God is. We’re not. We follow a perfect God, but we have to acknowledge that we are not perfect. And so humbly accept that but take the responsibility to strive for the best we can be, knowing that we are broken and fallen and there will be those days that we are not doing as well, as Alison said, but also living in a world that will not necessarily want to hear the message we’ve got to say. In the world of the arts, not everybody likes the way that we write, or how we write it, so we are going to get negativity. So, it’s just part of living in this world, I think, so it’s a balance.
Belinda Pollard: And I would say to every writer out there, we’ve all got to start somewhere and it’s okay to start somewhere and grow. The fact that we are working towards excellence, we’re wanting to grow in our skills and abilities does not mean that we will be there at the start. You can’t be at the end of your journey when you leave the front door and that’s okay. I’ve seen a lot of growth in my own ability as a writer over the past decade and I’m hoping the next decade will have just as much growth again and it’s exciting. Exciting to move ahead in that. Any last comments?
Donita Bundy: Just keep going and if you write because you enjoy it, if you write because you’re compelled and you have that joy, just keep finding that joy and giving it to God and just know that it’s an up and down journey and everyone does the up and down journey, which is why it’s so important to be part of the community and just find the joy and pursue it and give it to God and find others to journey with you.
Alison Joy: I think if you look at that verse in 1 Timothy 4, just don’t neglect the gift you have and practise and immerse yourself in them so that everyone can see your progress.
Belinda Pollard: Fantastic. Thank you Donita Bundy and Alison Joy. I’m Belinda Pollard. How about I pray for us and the writers out there before we go.
Heavenly Father, we just thank you for the Gracewriters that you have brought to listen to this podcast. You know who each of them are, you know what they’re writing, you know where they’re up to, you know the longings that they have and the desire that they have to write and to continue to grow and to find ways to honour and glorify you in what they write. So, we commit them to you, we pray that you will encourage them, we pray that you will give them opportunities and places and people and connections that will help them to grow and to be encouraged. And we commit it all to you, Lord, in the name of Jesus and in the power of his blood. Amen.
Donita Bundy: Amen.
Alison Joy: Amen.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you everybody and we will see you next time on the 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 effect Christian writers. Connect with us at gracewriters.com. We’d love to see you there.