Your First Writing Assignment

If your writing doesn’t start with this practice, you’re cheating yourself.

Lauren Winner, author of the wonderful memoirs, Girl Meets God and Mudhouse Sabbath,  tells about an experience she had when a writing student of hers showed her part of a memoir that was astounding, far better than this student’s usual writing. Winner asked the student what had transformed her writing over the course of just a few months.

The student said she’d gotten stuck on a major piece she was writing and told her priest about it. The priest said, “Have you prayed about this?”

She hadn’t.

So she did.

And the quality of her writing soared.

Winner says, before that experience, and before she saw with her own eyes the transformation in that student’s writing, “It never occurred to me . . . that there might be a connection” between prayer and writing. But there totally is.

Fifteen or so years ago, I thought I was totally spent as a writer. I’d been through a three-year process of revision and revulsion on one book that had left me doubting my ability, and drained of all enthusiasm for writing.

So I prayed.

I do that when I get desperate and there’s nothing good on T.V.

And God sent me manna from heaven—in the form of an assignment to work on a project called The Prayer Bible. For the next couple months, I spent my workdays praying through the second half of the Old Testament and recording many of those prayers as prayer prompts for that Bible’s marginalia. It was a process that not only revived me, and stoked my prayer life; I believe it saved my writing ministry. It also changed the writing process for me. It made prayer an indispensable part of the process for me—so much so that I don’t know how I ever wrote a thing before I came to see the absolute connectedness between prayer and writing.

God was talking about writing as much as anything when he spoke to Zerubbabel through Zechariah: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6, NIV). If I truly believed that, why would I try to write anything in my own strength, apart from prayerful dependence on God? I pray before I write. I pray while I write. And then I pray after I write that God will even further transform my offering through the work of godly publishers, editors, designers, artists, and so on. I pray, not to change God or others but to change me. I pray for wisdom to manage my time wisely, for discipline to apply my mind to my writing and my butt to the chair. I pray for my memory (at least until I forget). For some writing projects, I’ve assembled a prayer team to support my writing with their prayers, and I’ve tried to keep them up-to-date via email.

If you are at least as wise as me (which is not a high bar at all), you will make prayer your first writing assignment every day. Before you sharpen your pencil or turn on your computer, before you outline, before you jump into a writing exercise or research task, pray. Pray before you write, as you write, after you write. Pray for self-awareness, for focus, for inspiration, for protection. Pray to hear God clearly and to respond to him fully. Pray (as I often do) to write better than you are capable of writing.

Put a Post-It note reminder on your computer screen. Set a reminder on your phone. Enlist a prayer partner. A prayer team, even. You might want to journal your prayers. You might learn to pray God’s Word, the process that rescued my writing. Whatever it takes, if prayer is not your first writing assignment every day, then please believe me when I say you’re cheating yourself, your readers, your editors, and even God, who will partner with you in your writing…for the asking.


99 Responses to Your First Writing Assignment

  1. Janine Rosche October 25, 2017 at 3:20 am #

    “It saved my writing ministry.” This line reminds why I started this venture in the first place. I want my work to minister to people. I’ve forgotten this, as I’ve learned about what is marketable, what is acceptable, what is profitable, etc I still see the wisdom in adhering to certain protocols that will get my works read by someone other than me. However, this reminds me not to clean up my characters’ redemptive arcs because some only want sweet romance. The stories that I love have both. The stories I feel called to write have both. I will be sure to follow this advice.

    • Bob Hostetler October 25, 2017 at 7:52 am #

      Thanks for the comment, Janine!

  2. Sharon Cowen October 25, 2017 at 5:07 am #

    Thank you, Bob. I needed this reminder. It’s not as much the writing, but the rest of the business that drives me to distraction, and sets me off course. I didn’t set out to be a writer, but now I feel stuck in the wilderness.

    • Bob Hostetler October 25, 2017 at 7:53 am #

      It can be a wilderness, but remember that God does some of his best work in the wilderness.

      • Sharon Cowen October 25, 2017 at 9:43 am #

        Thanks, Bob, for your encouragement about the wilderness. I do love trees. I figure if I thank God for everything, eventually, I’ll be on the right path, and even the ‘wrong path’ in my eyes might be the right path, huh?!

  3. Kathy Nickerson October 25, 2017 at 5:27 am #

    Thank you. Assignment accepted.

    • Bob Hostetler October 25, 2017 at 7:54 am #

      I would have responded sooner to your comment, but I was praying (see what I did there?).

  4. Loretta Eidson October 25, 2017 at 5:39 am #

    Prayer works! My life and my writing wouldn’t be what it is today without prayer.

  5. Joey Rudder October 25, 2017 at 5:42 am #

    Amen!!!! Thank you, Bob. Getting to work on that assignment right now…

    God bless you!

  6. Damon J. Gray October 25, 2017 at 5:52 am #

    I know it is not manly, so I’m losing a few “man points” here, but I cried as I read through this. Despite the fact that you laced it beautifully with bits of humor (one of which I Tweeted), this was a very convicting piece to read through, and I am ashamed of how pathetic my prayer life is. It is the most difficult aspect of my walk as a Christ-follower.

    Thank you for rattling my cage a bit, brother. I needed this badly.

    – damon

    • Callie Daruk October 25, 2017 at 6:45 am #

      Hi Damon, few things are more manly in my opinion. Bob has a way of cutting straight to the heart and I love that about him. I’m so glad you were encouraged.

    • Carol Ashby October 25, 2017 at 7:05 am #

      What’s the shortest verse in the Bible, Damon? The Ultimate Man shed tears. You get extra stars on your man card from me for acknowledging yours when they come from your love for God.

    • Bob Hostetler October 25, 2017 at 7:55 am #

      Damon, I agree with Callie and Carol…nothing unmanly about tears. ESPECIALLY if they lead to prayer!

  7. Deb October 25, 2017 at 6:03 am #

    I was just pleading with God the other day to take my chin and turn my face toward Him when life’s distractions overwhelm. I used to do that with my children when they were small, to make sure I had their attention but, even though we were face to face, their little eyes would often be looking around at the TV, their toys, their sibling – everything except me. My heavenly father so gently pointed out that I do that to Him. Must. Stop. Doing.That! Your post turned my face, once again. Thank you.

    • Bob Hostetler October 25, 2017 at 7:57 am #

      Great word picture, Deb. I much prefer that moment when God takes my chin and turns my face to him over those moments when he slaps me upside the head. Unfortunately, he has to do the latter one more often.

  8. Sarah Beth October 25, 2017 at 6:10 am #

    What a beautiful reminder. Thank you for this!

    • Bob Hostetler October 25, 2017 at 7:57 am #

      Thank YOU for the comment, Sarah.

  9. Melissa Henderson October 25, 2017 at 6:12 am #

    This is a great message. I have found when I pray before writing, the words come much easier. I pray God will give me the words He wants me to share with others.

    • Bob Hostetler October 25, 2017 at 7:57 am #

      Yes, Melissa. Thanks so much.

  10. Marie Wells Coutu October 25, 2017 at 6:12 am #

    So true! I was talking with a writing partner about a scene I had written that really turned out well. I said I didn’t know how I came up with it, but I realized later that it wasn’t me, it was God’s creativity in me. My writing and my day goes so much better when I start it with Him. Thank you.

  11. L Y Easley October 25, 2017 at 6:39 am #

    Bravo, a thousand times!

  12. Callie Daruk October 25, 2017 at 6:40 am #

    Bob, how beautiful and how very true. I began my memoir several years ago but putting words to paper felt like I was trying to pull myself out of quicksand. I put it away and prayed. I committed the manuscript to His providence and care. Three years went by and I knew it was time to begin writing again. This time, though very painful to write, each word flows. Every word is committed to prayer and to Him. Seeing the difference transformed me as a writer and I am eternally grateful. Thank you for this life altering assignment!

    • Bob Hostetler October 25, 2017 at 7:59 am #

      Thanks, Callie, for this comment and for your kind words above.

  13. LK Simonds October 25, 2017 at 7:11 am #

    This is the third time in two days the power and beauty of prayer has been brought to my attention, by three very different people. Waddaya reckon that’s all about?

  14. Chris Storm October 25, 2017 at 7:14 am #

    I ALWAYS pray before my fingers hit the keys for the holy spirit to guide me and for God to give me “knowledge and wisdom of all sorts of literature and learning” like he gave to Daniel. A big request? Sure, but our God is big.

    Steven King claims he has a “muse” that helps him write. King descends to the muse’s level and must do all the work while his muse sits and smokes cigars. Of course, this muse could be a symbol of many different things, including King’s most inner self.

    Whatever the case, King can have his muse.

    I’ll take God.

    • Bob Hostetler October 25, 2017 at 8:00 am #

      Muse, shmuse. I’m with you.

  15. Dan Story October 25, 2017 at 7:19 am #

    Thanks for this blog, Bob. As a writer trying to stay on top of my blogs, a new book in progress, and a contributing writer to the Christian Research Journal, I need this reminder. Again, thanks.

    Dan Story

    • Bob Hostetler October 25, 2017 at 8:00 am #

      Thanks for the comment, Dan.

  16. Brennan S McPherson October 25, 2017 at 7:24 am #

    Wow. This was actually a big eye-opener. Not that I don’t pray (I try to spend an hour each morning in prayer and scripture), but this post is about a total shift in approach and focus toward writing. I need to be way more intentional about this. Thanks so much, Bob!

    • Bob Hostetler October 25, 2017 at 8:01 am #

      Right there with you, Brennan.

  17. Shirlee Abbott October 25, 2017 at 7:30 am #

    Amen, brother!

    Almost daily, I picture myself humbly placing the words I write at the foot of the Throne of Grace. He is the Author and Finisher of my faith and my ministry. My best words are his. They are my offering.

  18. Carol Ashby October 25, 2017 at 7:41 am #

    Amen, Bob!

    I write novels of spiritual transformation set in Roman times. Even though each contains a heart-warming romance (that all start under exceedingly difficult conditions, not sweetly), the core conflict involves someone who doesn’t initially believe wrestling with whether they should. That means I need to write deep dialogue between believers and nonbelievers as the lost souls approach the point of decision. I’ve been blessed to have real-world conversations like these, and, boy, do I pray as I’m having them!

    I would be an utter fool if I failed to pray over what to write. I’d be an even bigger fool not to enlist prayer partners while I’m writing these sections. The first draft seems to flow from finger to keyboard, and I know I’m not smart enough to think up what appears on the screen on my own.

    The books are in market, and I pray for the buyer of each book to have their own faith encouraged and strengthened by the stories or to be drawn toward faith if they don’t know Jesus already. My heart sings in thanksgiving when a review tells me one of my books hit the mark.

    Dan posted some great prayers for writers on 10/4/2016. I pasted some of them in a Word document and added some quotes from Scripture (Eph. 5:16-17, 6:19-20, Prov. 16:2-4). Reading that focuses me on why I’m writing what I’m writing lest I ever start thinking it’s about me.

    • Bob Hostetler October 25, 2017 at 8:02 am #

      Thanks so much for sharing this, Carol.

  19. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 25, 2017 at 7:50 am #

    When barbara leaves for work, I ask her how I might pray for her today, and then email a prayer specific to those points for her to see on her arrival. (We communicate by email; I don’t have a phone as talking is very difficult.)

    AT lunch I send her some Scripture that connects to the prayers she’s requested.

    She finds it a nice support, and it’s also good for me, to connect with the transcendent in that concrete and specific way at the beginning of the day.

  20. Bob Hostetler October 25, 2017 at 8:03 am #

    I love this, Andrew. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Linda October 25, 2017 at 9:11 am #

    Thank you for sharing this. If only we understood how desperately we need God we might never be distracted from prayer. The older I get, and that’s getting pretty old, the more I understand I must be in prayer about everything.

  22. Kristen Joy Wilks October 25, 2017 at 9:39 am #

    Yes! I was just reminded of the Lord’s grace in the mundane and everyday parts of our lives, recently as I prayed for writing help and He answered graciously and swiftly with a plot twist that I had been stewing over for a year. He has not sent me an agent, but He graciously walks with me and helps me at every step of the way with Love and Power and Grace!

  23. Rebekah Millet October 25, 2017 at 10:10 am #

    THIS is amazing advice! I pray for my writing, but am not diligent about doing so each time before I start thinking about a scene, or putting my fingers to the keyboard. Thank you so much for this post.

  24. Rebecca Barlow Jordan October 25, 2017 at 10:16 am #

    Bob, I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for this great reminder.

  25. Mark Stevenson October 25, 2017 at 10:40 am #

    This has been my practice, whether I am speaking in public, preaching, leading worship, responding to e-mails, any business opportunities, big decisions, etc. So it stands that I would pray before writing. It also means God always is principal f taking the credit for what I do. There was a song rewrite several years back called Jesus is the Best Thing (that ever happened to me). One line in a verse says, “He’ll be there between each line of pain and glory.” I’ve sung this song in several venues. The rest of the song is applicable to writers, as well. Thanks for the reminder that this practice matters!

  26. Judi Clarke October 25, 2017 at 10:54 am #

    Thank you so much for this post, Bob. I particularly loved your prayer asking God to help you write better than you’re capable of writing. As people with callings from God to minister through writing, this is such a good reminder that we are doing His work, and He wants to empower it. Why is it so easy to receive the gift, hear the call, but then sit down to carry it out in my own strength – as if God’s gift was a one-time endowment I am solely responsible to manage? Write better than I’m capable of? Can I ask for that? Yes! Not for the purpose of achieving the outward symbols of “success” in the writing industry, but because it’s His message I’m called to convey. It’s His deal, not mine. And it deserves to be said in ways that are beyond the ability He’s given me. It is so like God to give us an assignment just beyond what our natural gait can keep up with, if we are to do it excellently. He wants to “enlarge our steps” and empower us to accomplish it. He calls us to trust and depend on Him – to tap into His supply for the tasks He’s given us. Thanks, Bob.

  27. Rachel McDaniel October 25, 2017 at 11:11 am #

    Bob, this was such a powerful and beautiful post. It seriously brought tears to my eyes. I love how you pointed out how God wants to partner with us. He wants to be an integral part of our everyday lives which includes our writing. I pray your post inspires many to invite His presence into their writing, their thoughts, and every area that needs His touch. Thank you.

  28. Karen Mace October 25, 2017 at 2:17 pm #

    Thanks so much for this Bob. I am a psychotherapist as well as a writer and I am always telling everyone I work with that prayer is an integral part of everything we do, that God wants to partner with us in even the small things – and I have been reminded by you this morning that I need to remember to do this too!

    Bless you.

  29. Karen Sargent October 25, 2017 at 7:00 pm #

    Conviction. Confession. Before I started my first ms, I laid across my bed and told God He would have to do this because I couldn’t, but I would follow wherever He led. I’ve been struggling with my second ms, which is frustrating because the story is so clear in my mind. But while I read your post, Bob, I realized I’ve never prayed about this ms and handed it off to God the way I did the first one. I experienced the connection between prayer and writing. How could I neglect it this time? Thank you.

    • Bob Hostetler October 25, 2017 at 7:03 pm #

      It’s so easy to forget, Karen. But God is gracious in graciously reminding us.

  30. Bob Hostetler October 25, 2017 at 7:04 pm #

    Wow, Rebekah. Your response floored me. Thanks so much.

  31. Cele LeBlanc October 25, 2017 at 7:48 pm #

    Great article. Thank you!

  32. Dave Barkey October 25, 2017 at 8:08 pm #

    Thank you. This is so refreshing and convicting.

  33. Mary Albers Felkins October 26, 2017 at 9:25 am #

    I’m a day late reading through the ever-amazing and useful Steve Laube daily blog article, having first trashed much of what clogs my inbox until I let the really worthwhile readings settle there, patiently waiting my rapt attention. This one had my rapt attention! I’d like to say I was too busy praying to get to this blog sooner but that would be untrue. I don’t know why the critical spiritual discipline of prayer, that which fuels and inspires my writing, gets shoved aside for far-less essential tasks. Bless you for taking it back to the top of essential tasks where it will always belong.

  34. Norma Brumbaugh October 26, 2017 at 12:08 pm #

    So true. Wonderful reminder. Thank you.

  35. Carlene Seghers October 27, 2017 at 3:19 am #

    Thank you for this reminder of the importance of prayer in the ministry of writing. I’ve trusted God’s hand in the task of writing. But I needed to hear this word of encouragement today.

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    While searching online for information on how to find an agent, I found your article “Who and What I’m Looking for as an Agent.” Clicking through your other posts, I found “Your First Writing Assignment.” Your challenging and convicting words will impact my own first assignment each day. Thank you. I look forward to reading more of what you’ve written.

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