This post from the archives has been freshly updated and expanded with my three main tips for those who want to write a book. Enjoy!
I often hear from aspiring writers asking for tips on how to make their dream of becoming a published author come true. Here are three steps I recommend for those whose eyes are set on a writing career.
Explore Your Motivation to Write
Why do you want to write? Why do you want to publish a book? Motivation matters—big time.
In 1 Samuel, we see the Israelites demanding the prophet Samuel to appoint them a king. There was nothing technically wrong with wanting a king (see Deuteronomy 17:14–20 for proof). The problem was why they wanted a king. Here it is, straight from their mouths:
“There shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam. 8:19–20, emphasis added).
God had a flawless record in fighting their battles for them, but they wanted a king who looked and acted like the kings of the nations around them. This was a direct rejection of God:
And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (v. 7, emphasis added).
God gave His people the king they wanted, but He warned them through Samuel that the day would come when they would cry out to God for relief from their king. On that day, God would not answer them (see vv. 10–18).
Motivation matters to God. And it should matter to us.
I’d encourage you to take some time to journal through these questions. Ask God to search your heart. Why do I want to become a well-known writer? Why do I want to publish a book? If you find less-than-lovely motives (or more like when you find less-than-lovely motives), confess them to God. Ask Him to cleanse you from sinful desires and to replace your ungodly motives with pure ones.
Write Like You Mean It
If you want to become a writer, you have to write. And write. And write. Dreaming won’t put words on the page.
If you’re anything like me, it’ll take you awhile to figure out what routine fits you. Try different options until you’ve figured out what works best in this season of life.
Are you an early riser . . . or could you be? Wake with the roosters, and write at a set time each morning.
Do you need a good amount of time to “get into the zone”? Maybe an extended Saturday date at Barnes & Noble would be just your thing. Consider inviting a friend along for accountability and an occasional laugh.
Warning: This will feel like work. Hard work. Because it is. This is why it’s important to know why you’re writing (back to that motivation thing). You’ll need a solid reason to sit down at your laptop again when others are out enjoying the sunshine with friends.
Don’t always choose writing over time with friends, though. You’ll need to read diversely and live well so you actually have deep thoughts to ponder, adventures to write about, questions to answer.
Once you’re into a rhythm of writing regularly, you might want to think about starting a blog (I recommend WordPress), so you can begin to grow an audience and so others can benefit from your words.
Once you’ve mastered the discipline of writing regularly, there’s one more thing to do.
Something Your Profs Won’t Tell You
Bestselling author Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth (author of nearly twenty books, with more than three million copies sold worldwide) never set out to become an author. She was approached by a publisher for her first book when she wasn’t well known. When I first heard that, I thought, Well, that worked for you, but then . . . you’reNancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. You’re special!
But then, miracle of miracles, it happened for me, too. Unbeknownst to me, a publisher had been reading my blog, and then they approached me about writing a book. Professors never even tell you that’s a possibility when you’re sitting in Writing 101! They spend all their time warning you that you’ll have to submit countless query letters and will receive scores of rejection letters.
There’s nothing wrong with sending query letters, but I think those writing profs would do well to also remind hopeful students that they live under God’s providence. While we were still unformed, God wrote in one of His books every day that was formed for us (Ps. 139:16). This same God opens doors no one can shut and shuts doors no one can open (Rev. 3:7).
Wait on God
One of the twelve “Cutting-Edge Commitments” of Life Action Ministries (the parent ministry of Revive Our Hearts where I’ve worked for the past eleven years) is faithfulness. They say it like this:
God has not called us to be “successful,” as the world measures success, but to be faithful. It is not our responsibility to promote ourselves or the outward, visible growth of our ministry. If we will take care of the “depth” of our lives, God will take care of the “breadth” of our ministry” (1 Cor. 3:12–14; 4:1–2).
So my counter-cultural advice to you would be rest. Wait. Stay close to Jesus. Be faithful with what God’s entrusted to you, even when it looks like no one is watching, when you don’t know how this could possibly be advancing your own dreams.
Regularly talk to God about your dreams. He will most likely ask you to die to them. But then, He is the resurrection and the life, and I’ve found He will often resurrect dead dreams when you least expect Him to.
How about you? What dream could you begin to work toward today?
As I share in this post to college grads, be patient if it doesn’t happen right away. Trust God and know that He doesn’t waste anything; He is still writing your story. True contentment is found in Him; not in a dream job.
Pursue your dream job (as long as you don’t have to sin to do your job), and trust God to open and close doors in His perfect, infinite wisdom.
Maybe you’ve clued in to the growing debate over assisted suicide, a debate about whether to allow patients the legal option to end their life. I predict we will hear more and more that assisted suicide is compassionate, that quality of life trumps sanctity of life every time. We say we want to end suffering . . . but at what cost?
A couple years ago a beautiful, young woman started a global conversation about “death with dignity” when she ended her life after she was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. I want to make sure her voice—and ultimately her choice to take her life—is not the only voice and choice you’re hearing about.
Would you allow me to introduce you to a few of my heroes who know what it is to suffer, to cling to God in trust, and to lead a purposeful, fulfilling life?
Meet Joni, A Quadriplegic
Joni Eareckson Tada became a quadriplegic at seventeen, during an unfortunate diving accident. As if that weren’t enough, she continually feels crippling pain and is a breast cancer survivor. Instead of wanting to end her life, though, she has led one of the most beautiful, surrendered, servant-hearted lives I have ever seen.
She has become an advocate for the disabled around the world—among other things—providing wheelchairs for those who otherwise would be confined to their beds.
Time and time again at the True Woman Conferences, Joni has spoken life into my soul. She has shared how God redeems our suffering, how our suffering is anything but insignificant, and how and why we should forgive those who have hurt us. She has also pointed to a deeper kind of healing and freedom than the healing and freedom of physical pain.
Just this month I emailed Joni about a work project. In her response, she included this personal update:
I’m always fascinated at the way God works in our lives. I’ve been in bed for the last five days healing a stubborn pressure sore, but oh, what a rich time of communion with Jesus! Hopefully, by tomorrow, I may be able to sit up. Prayers are always appreciated!
Now that is the kind of woman I long to become.
Meet Katie, A Chronic Neurological Lyme Patient
If it is sickness that brings me closer to Jesus, then it is a gift, and I am so thankful for it.
Katie Laitkep is a sweet, new friend. After ten years of pain and no answers, she was finally diagnosed with chronic neurological Lyme disease in 2010 and has been undergoing treatment ever since. In spite of symptoms continuing daily, she teaches hospitalized children and others unable to attend school in a traditional setting. She is a beautiful writer who blogs about the Lord’s perfect faithfulness in chronic pain.
“I will always long for health,” she says, “but if it is sickness that brings me closer to Jesus, then it is a gift, and I am so thankful for it.”
Meet Ian, A Survivor Left with a Brain Injury
I do not know Ian and Larissa personally, but their story has brought tears of wonder to my eyes. Ian and Larissa met at college in 2005 where they fell in love. In September of 2006, on his way to work to earn money for an engagement ring, Ian was involved in an accident that left him with a brain injury.
Four years later, they did marry, even though Ian could barely talk and couldn’t walk. After that came a book deal and lots of opportunities to share Jesus with the world. Watch their story here, and marvel at their selfless love for one another.
Meet Katherine, A Brain Stem Stroke Survivor
I’ve never met Jay and Katherine in person, but their story speaks volumes to me. Katherine, a former model and new mother, survived a massive brain stem stroke that nearly took her life. She spent forty days on life support, two years in brain rehab, and was left with a severely disabled body.
Watch any of her videos, though, and you will see that she is full of life and laughter. Her husband stayed with her through it all. They have two sons, and they’ve written a book together. And—in what she calls “upside-down kingdom irony”—Katherine just landed her biggest modeling job to date. Does that sound like a life lacking . . . quality?
Our Heroes and Our Teachers
All these “broken,” suffering people have pointed me—the supposed “healthy” and the “whole”—to the ultimate freedom and joy offered by Christ.
Please do not believe the lie that these people would be better off to end their suffering early and die. They are fulfilling God’s purposes, bringing great glory to Him, just as this blind man did:
And his [Jesus’] disciples asked him,“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:2–3).
These are our heroes. These are our teachers. We need them. Please do not take them from us.
“Let him go. Move on, already,” your friends tell you. “Like, yesterday. You should be over him by now!” After all, it has been months. Years.
But still, he haunts your thoughts—dropping by frequently, oblivious to the fact that he’s not welcome—threatening to sabotage not only your past but your present. Like a shackle attached to your ankle, you drag this dead hope of a relationship with you wherever you go.
Meet Someone Else Who Couldn’t Stop Looking Back
You’re not the only one who can’t seem to stop looking back with longing. Over and over in the book of Numbers, God’s people, the Israelites, rebel against Him. They get hung up on their cravings, (“What I wouldn’t do right now for a leek!”) and wish for their past as slaves to Pharaoh. Here’s just one example of them looking wistfully over their shoulders:
Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (Num. 14:1–4).
“Let us go back to Egypt”?! The Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for 420 years. It had not been a vacation. There were bricks to be made and backs to be whipped and no relief in sight . . . until God intervened. He sent Moses to perform mighty acts and deliver His people from their hard labor and heavy burdens.
So Close . . .
He then began to lead them to the Promised Land, the land He had promised their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In this particular passage above, they were poised to enter the Promised Land. Twelve spies had been sent to spy it out, and ten came back with a fearful report:
“The land . . . is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height . . . and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers” (13:32–33).
Two of the twelve spies, however, reported:
“The land . . . is an exceedingly good land. . . . Do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them” (14:7–9).
Stop looking back, and instead believe that your God is good—and that all He does is good—and move on.
But instead of believing the two spies—and ultimately believing God—the people of Israel chose fear over faith. They cried out with longing for the “good ol’ days” in slavery.
As a result of their unbelief, God destined them to forty years of wandering in the wilderness (one year for each day the spies spied out the Promised Land), and ensured their fears would become reality:
“What you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in the wilderness . . . not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except [the two spies who gave the good report]. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in” (14:28–31).
Let Him Go, and Move On
This is more than just a Bible story. Did you know that 1 Corinthians 10:11 tells us that these accounts were written for us, for our instruction? I know your circumstances are different, but like the Israelites, do you believe God made a mistake? That God held out on you? Do you believe life would be better if only this guy had pursued you?
Are you obeying God’s command to avoid idolatry (1 Cor. 10:7)? My guess is that if you’re still living under the shadow of this relationship that didn’t materialize, you have most likely idolized this guy. Please don’t confuse love for lust, covetousness, and idolatry.
Please don’t confuse love for lust, covetousness, and idolatry.
Repent of making the hope of this relationship your ultimate hope. Believe God and move forward under His leadership. He wants to bless you, if you will only trust His heart. He is drawing you away from the slavery of idolatry and covetousness and into the Promised Land of contentment as His treasured possession, living under His rule.
Stop looking back, and instead believe that your God is good—and that all He does is good—and move on. Move forward, and watch God bring you out into a broad, spacious place.