Do the write thing
Wright, N. (2004) ‘Do the Write Thing’, Candle & Keyboard, Association of Christian Writers, May, p4
The email flashed and the words jumped out from the screen. It was news from a journal editor, ‘We are pleased to confirm…’, and I could hardly contain myself. Seeing Jesus Christ honoured in secular print is a wonderful thing and the adrenalin rush is extraordinary.
I’ve learned through experience that courage is an important first step to getting things published. Putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, carries its risks because writing is self-disclosure and leaves us vulnerable to hurtful criticism. A crushing response to my first submission had painful impact, shooting like lightning from mind to heart.
Perseverance is an important quality. Getting up from bruised knees to brush off rejection is a key lesson in personal and professional maturity. I wrote my second article with a far greater sense of care and humility and, as a result, received a more sympathetic critique. The moral of this story really is that, if at first you don’t succeed, do try – and try again.
Patience is another important factor. I try to acknowledge my current limitations and to start writing from where I am now. I’ve found that a letter to a newspaper or magazine is a good way to test ideas and improve technique. Some journals don’t pay fees but do give experience and exposure. Every piece in print is a platform for the next so I mention to editors where else I’ve been published.
I also explain briefly areas in which I’ve trained, studied or gained specific experience, insofar as they relate to the article I’m writing. I trust this helps create confidence that I have some genuine knowledge of the field being addressed. Even secular editors are often open to Christian writers if we show sensitively that our ideas can be justified. Views that convey aggression or unreasonable dogmatism are usually rejected.
An editorial critique can provide invaluable insight and so, if I receive feedback, I read very carefully between the proverbial lines. If the length of a piece has been changed, I check to see the new word count. If the content has been amended, I check to see what emphasis it now reflects. If terminology has been altered, I make note of the publisher’s own language. In this way, even rejections can prove beneficial.
I’ve also found that it’s important to choose your angle carefully. Most ideas and events can be lifted and dramatised through use of a novel perspective and so I will often draft and re-draft a piece as if crafting a work of art. ‘How else could I express this idea?’ ‘What could make this more compelling?’ Use of metaphors, analogies and language from the readers’ own world can, in true incarnational style, help create a sense of connection.
Editors are human beings and are generally impressed if writers convey appropriate personal and professional respect, e.g. by responding positively to critique, paying careful attention to guidelines and always meeting agreed deadlines. I always try to write to an editor as a real person and not simply as a means to a publishing end. I trust this approach helps convey Christian values that match my written words.
I’ve occasionally received hostile responses from editors and readers and try to respond with Christian grace. Although understandable, a retreat to an emotionally-defended place blocks potential for open dialogue and the redeeming work of the Spirit. Overall, I’m learning that prayer and supportive friends are as critical to the Christian writer as creative, technical and linguistic skills. May God be honoured through us.