Winston Churchill has been credited with the saying, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” That may be nowhere truer than in publishing, and certainly in Christian publishing. The right attitude can make or break a writer. And the right attitude can take a fair writer to places that a gifted writer with a bad attitude can never go.
What kinds of attitudes should a writer have? I can think of eight, to start:
- I don’t just want to be “a writer;” I write
When people find out I’m a writer, they invariably say something like, “Ooh, I’ve thought of being a writer. I’ve got this idea for a book.” But being a writer isn’t only about coming up with ideas; it involves actually putting words on paper, moving them around, and making them sit up straight and sing in such a way that everyone wants to listen.
- My words are not Scripture
Not long ago I offered a writer friend some suggestions that virtually any critique group would have made. Her response was something like, “That’s the way I heard it in my head.”
I resisted the impulse to say, “Well, then your head needs hearing aids.” Because I’m a classy guy. We’re still friends, but I’ve decided that I’m not the right person to help her. Or, more accurately, she’s not the right person to receive help from me.
Every writer I know, including the most published ones, needs criticism and editing. Some more than others, of course, but every writer will do well to remember that the canon of Scripture closed more than a thousand years ago, and your words aren’t in it.
- I’m a constant learner
I’ve met writers who act like they know it all. But I don’t think I’ve ever hired one or taken one on as a client. Writers are constant learners. That’s one of the reasons I love writing, because I’m always learning something new, which makes the research, the writing, the editing, and the rewriting all a labor of love rather than a frustration because “grammar is icky.” It also prompts me to invite critique, because I learn so much when others give me feedback on my work.
- I like people
Sure, writers tend to be introverts. But the good ones know there’s no substitute for networking. A cynic may say, “It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know.” I say, “publishing, like life, is all about relationships.”
That’s why going to workshops and conferences and meeting editors, agents, and other writers is important. When an editor receives a manuscript from someone she’s never met, it just doesn’t get the same reception as one with a cover letter that says, “I enjoyed meeting you at Rabbit Hash Writers’ Conference and I’m so glad you expressed an interest in my idea.”
- I’m not the most important person in an editor’s or agent’s schedule today
I once accompanied a book editor as he ducked into his high-rise office between meetings, and saw a FedEx envelope atop the piles on his desk. He snatched it, read the sender’s name, and then chucked it across the office.
“Some writers,” he said, “think they’re the most important person in my life.”
I caught a peek at the sender’s name before the envelope turned into air mail. It was a much-published author, whose books I had read. But he irked his editor that day, probably not for the first time. Editors’ desks are piled with paperwork and their inboxes are jammed with manuscripts and proposals. The sheer volume of email, phone calls, contracts, and more that they must deal with is mind-boggling. So, always remember that you’re dealing with busy people who want to help you but have a few other things to do, too.
- I’m probably not going to get rich
If you’re writing for money, you’re writing for the wrong reason. Most writers aren’t making a living at it. Including me. If you’re young, single, and have someone else paying for your health insurance, you can take the chance. Rule of thumb: Don’t quit the day job until you’re making as much money as a writer as you’re making the other 40 hours a week.
- I’m not content to labor in obscurity
I once heard an aspiring writer assert, “I don’t want to become famous. I am perfectly fine with being a nobody.” It seemed to me to be a strange mixture of pride and humility. But why would a publisher want to invest thousands of dollars in producing a book by someone who doesn’t want to reach more and more people with his or her message?
- If he can do it, I can too
Novelist Bill Crider tells the wonderful story of doing a book signing with several other writers. One of them came up to him afterward and said, “You don’t remember me, but I was at your session at a writers’ workshop a couple of years ago, and you’re the reason I got published.” He was pretty flattered, naturally, and asked her what he had said that inspired her.
“It wasn’t anything you said,” she answered. “After listening to you, I figured that if you could do it, so could I.”