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.”
Gotta love your #2, Bob. God and I have had some serious discussions about the words I put on a page. I fall in love with a sentence, and God says, “Take out the trash.”
My beautiful sentence is wrapped in pride–MY writing skill, MY word choice, MY clever sentence structure. God says, “unwrap the thought, and throw out your self-centered wrapping paper.” Yep, there’s a stuffed garbage bag at my spiritual curbside, and my writing is better for it.
It’s so easy to get pridefully possessive of our words, isn’t it? Thanks for the comment.
What?! I’m not the most important person in your schedule today? 🙁 Lol… Good morning, Bob. Or is it good night? I wrote all night. God, help me homeschool today. Great post. I like #1. After I finished editing more chapters and after submitting the new material to my proofreader, I had to stop by Twitterville, of course. Lots of known writers posting live about a good night of writing, 3 a.m. snacks, and the randomness of security lights at 3:51 a.m. Writers write, right? (When not throwing pity parties… Thanks for not having a #9 “I don’t worry about things beyond my control :o) Have a great day!
Well, see what you did now, Patricia? You made me wish I HAD added that #9!
Excellent inspiration to keep writing with the right attitude.
All of your points resonate with me, esp #9. If he can do it, I can too”. I used to think celebrities, many of whom I didn’t think had a brain, wrote their biographies. I thought, “If he can write and publish a book, so can I!” Now I know they have ghost writers. But sometimes ignorance can be bliss as I’ve written several middle grade biographies. I’ve forwarded this post to my 2 Christian writing groups and encouraged them to subscribe to hear more wisdom from your group. We heard you speak at Taylor University’s Writing Conference in 2017. I think you’re back in 2018, right?
Yes, I am, Kayleen. I can’t believe they’ve invited me back to the Taylor conference. Don’t know what they’re thinking.
This is a fantastic post and probably one of my favorites, by far! But your explanation of the author being just as important as the manuscript is true! I’ve read many novels I’ve loved but then research the author and found their character severely lacking. Let’s just say I didn’t read any more after that! Thank you for the motivation!
Thank you for the comment, Vanessa.
Great points. A couple of years ago I was at lunch during a writers conference at a table crowded with aspiring writers. The agent hosting our group asked each person about their work. One lady shared details of her work and proceeded to tell the rest of us that no one was going to critique her manuscript because it was exactly like she wanted it. The agent lifted her eyebrows and asked if anyone had taken a look at it. Her response resulted in multiple gasps around the table. “Oh yes, but that editor didn’t know what she was talking about. My work doesn’t need editing.” Wow! There really are people who think like this! Unbelievable!
There really are, Loretta. Unpublishable people, but people nonetheless. 🙂
Great list, Bob.
If I might add something, it’s discipline and its doppelganger, accountability. And I have a story, not about writing.
Many years ago I achieved the dream of my younger self and found the remains of an old aeroplane, a Kreider-Reisner 34, built in 1929 and neglected for almost seventy years. It was a twin to the Parks P-2A, the eponymous title ‘character’ of Richard Bach’s lovely book ‘Biplane’, is why I looked so hard for one; that slim volume inspired me so much!
But dreams are fools’ gold without sweat; the the KR gave me that from the beginning. When I sandblasted the fuselage (‘body’) steel-tube frame to free it from rust, the high-pressure stream ate through one of the most important tubes in the most horrible of places – between two welded-on metal plates that hold the wings on. It had rusted to paper-thin-ness from within, and I wanted to cry. The repair was dreadful to contemplate, full of delicate heavy grinding and requiring an absolutely accurate reconstruction of hot welded new steel.
I would have given anything to put it on the back burner, build new wings first, say (the wooden-frame wings I got were splinters, at least where the termites hadn’t eaten them).
But discipline was enforced, not by me so much, but by the people that helped me find the thing in the first place, and who wanted me to succeed. Not because of the aeroplane, even though there are fewer than ten KR-34s remaining; they wanted to bear witness to a win.
It would have been easy to let myself down and slink out of the project then and there, but it would have been harder to tell Robin Reid and Charlie Moore and Andrew King that, “Well, it was just too much.”
And so the repairs were done, as soon as they were found. It was as unpleasant a task as I had feared, and I hated every single moment, but when the new metal was in place it lined up where the old had been, and the scars of grafting, though visible, were strong.
The KR lives in Dallas now, under new care, because it had to be sold to pay the Mayo Clinic for telling me that I was inoperable, and my insurance company of the time (don’t have one now, ha!) decided not to contribute. There’s a learning there, albeit for another time.
But finishing wasn’t the lesson; the lesson was that even our most personal dreams need to be held up to the light of day, to give others the blessing of a chance to help us.
Discipline and accountability, absolutely, Andrew. And here I thought I had written the perfect blog post. 🙂
Bob, I’m so honoured! Being able to participate here is a privilege.
Rebekah, I just love the tribute to your Daddy, and the chance to meet him through your words. Than you for this1
Ah, these make me remember the first writing correspondence course I took with the Institute for Children’s Literature. At 18, my writing was perfect, my story sublime, my grammar in no need of editing! I was on my way to being a multi-published author. Then…the first lesson came back, and now, almost 40 years later, I’m finally able to say my writing will NEVER be perfect this side of heaven. But that experience is one of the reasons I love teaching young writers! Their enthusiasm for their craft will never be diminished if I can help it. Edit, I must, but with the eyes of my heart open to ways to help them keep their wonder and love of writing intact. A good attitude as a writer, teacher, and/or editor develops a greater understanding of wisdom and how God wants us to use it to serve His people. Thanks for sharing, Bob.
A great piece of advice I got from an early editor (and boss) was, “You never finish a piece of writing; you must abandon it.”
These are great, and so spot on, Bob. Two of them remind me yet again how similar being a writer is to doing scientific research.
The first is being a constant learner. If you don’t know the details, you can’t take the next step. I spent yesterday researching what plants grew at what altitude in the Alps, looking at maps to get distances, and finding images of the Great St. Bernard Pass so my characters can cross the pass on the way to rescue the hero’s friend before he dies in a Roman arena. We all know no price can be set on the value of a human life, but the Imperial Roman government would have disagreed. It set a standard scale for payments to the owner of a gladiator who was killed in the games. The cheapest was 250 denarii; the most expensive was 4000 denarii, based on the ranking of the gladiator and how extravagant the whole “show” was. Now I know how much my hero might have to pay to rescue his friend. Constant learner…that sure sums it up!
The second is feeling confident that I can do it, too. For success in research, I must assume if someone else has done something, I can, too, and then I can take it the next step in partnership with the rest of my team. When I try to write as part of God’s team, I can do all things when He wants me to.
S. Kim Henson
I laughed out loud at the last one. 🙂
I stood beside a fairly well known woman at a writers conference and listened to her tell an editor that God told her to write her manuscript. The editor turned away from her and started a conversation with me. That moment had a lasting impact as far as what not to say when meeting editors, publishers, and agents.
Thanks for an informative list of reminders.
What a great post! #1 made me smile. I recently started putting together a more serious author bio (embarrassed to admit I never put much thought into it until reading about its importance a few weeks ago) and realized something about myself, an epiphany really. Even as a little girl, writing has had a hold on my heart. There’s just something about it that I can’t shake, and I wouldn’t want to anyway. It’s the journey of my life God has been leading me on with all sorts of other goodies sprinkled along the path.
I better be careful. This is one of those posts where I could write way too much. But I know you’re busy, Bob, and I want to be respectful of your time. (See how I did that? 😉 ) I sincerely do appreciate this post. I want to have the right attitude as I move forward on this writing journey, bringing honor and glory to God and a professional camaraderie to those I work with.
Besides, I want to keep all my goofy attitudes here at home just for my husband and daughter. 🙂
Hi Bob, Your list is helpful, achievable, not pie in the sky. The writing task is the easiest part for me but the other items are a little more daunting. There’s an act of the will involved. I have to push through and determine to get to the other side. That in itself gives a sense of having accomplished the seemingly impossible. #2 made me wince a bit, hit a nerve. I will, on occasion, share my personal times of spiritual meditations in my writings. Writing can be a mission for some of us, a way to get our message out, to share it with the world. What better way than to reach for the brass ring, to do what we have to do to make it happen.
I liked your comment about having to ‘abandon’ the writing project at some point. So true. Thanks.
Hi Bob, this is excellent encouragement. It reminded me of the line I so often use, “The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.” Attitudes can really make or break success. Thank you for sharing each and every one with us!
Curtis Delk Rose
This is my first trip to this website, a “real” writer friend sent me an email copy of “The Writer’s Attitude” which i so thoroughly enjoyed that i wanted to say “Thank You”. i “want” to be a writer ‘again’! i was a bit of a Poet for many years, but i accendtly fell into doing sculptures in wood based on an odd Math concept called the “Mobius Band”. The first year after i started on the sculpture thing, my Poetry simply went away… i do miss it, but since i was never able to ‘sell’ my Poetry, i do occasionally sell one of my sculptures, and when You are as physically poor as i am, every little bit helps. i think i ‘feel a call’ to try writing again, especially to try to reach out to the children i lost when i left them with thier Mother in a “religios personality cult we had been in for over 12 years. You have been a great encouragment!
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Bob, I always get so much out of your blogs. Thank you for taking the time and effort to write them.
The comment you made in #1 reminded me of a gal I know. She never reads anything except Facebook and she has told me several times that she wants to publish her book about all the cutesy things her kids said while they were growing up. I, God forgive me, had an unkind thought. I didn’t say it, but, really who cares what her kids said?
Keep up the great work, Bob! We need you!
Love these reminders! 🙂 I am a constant learner, too.
Susan Mary Malone
Great advice, Bob. These are things I tell my writers every day. But oh, does it help coming from an agent 🙂
Heather Day Gilbert
That last one made me laugh! And yet it’s kind of true. I hadn’t read many books written in first-person (outside classics), and then I read the Twilight series (yes, I’ll admit it). I was impressed that a stay at home mom had written something so accessible and successful. That gave me the boost I needed to finally FINISH my first book, and I’ve been writing ever since. And many of my books are written in first person, as well. 🙂
Excellent post and food for thought. I’ve often wondered why bother pursuing a writing career if you don’t care if anyone reads your books? In my experience, you have to believe in your books more than ANYONE else does–including agents, editors, and others–just to stick with it over the years and to have the confidence to MARKET those books.
Bob, As usual, you tell the truth in a way that makes me nod, smile and laugh out loud. Thanks. I have a friend who resembles your comments in #2 and #3. She has written several books and paid a vanity publisher to publish them, but she’s never taken one writing class and doesn’t have a good grasp of grammar. I suggested she send to a writers’ conference and her response was that her experience qualifies her to teach at one. I then suggested she send a manuscript to an editor I know (hoping the feedback would be worthwhile). The editor passed on the manuscript as I expected and recommended to my friend that she learn to write with deep POV. My friend told me she googled deep POV, and now she knows what to do. Sigh. Reminds me of what Jesus asked the lame man, “Do you want to get well?”
All great points! I like #1 the best. Whenever I say I’m a writer, someone always says they want to be a writer too!!!
I hate to toss water on that silly spark in their eye, but its only fair to warn them, “It’s not for the faint of heart.”
Re-writes, critiques, rejection, edits, platform, rejection, social media, marketing, rejection, webpage, blog, rejection. Did I mention rejection?
So why do we keep writing? We love it. It’s what we do. We can’t live without it. It’s who we are.
Add more even responsibility for the Christian writer: We have a message, we long to heal, we want to help, we are called to be a voice. In fact, we have no choice.
Ann L. Coker
If your column today had been a check list I would have scored nicely. I love the struggle of writing. I’m grateful for all who have taught me the beauty and structure of putting words together so as to appreciate the clothing of thoughts.
Bob, I laughed out loud. How in the world did you come up with “Rabbit Hash Writers’ Conference”? Is that what some think this journey is all about? A kind of nature stew we must choke down? 😉 Maybe when we’re reworking a sentence that doesn’t sound the greatest…
All joking aside, thank you for the depth and relational effort of this post. Indeed encourages the writer’s soul. And onward!… to make sense of and work in this rabbit hash.
Actually Rabbi Hash is a Kentucky town not far from where I live. I’ve always liked the name. 🙂
Oh, that’s neat, there’s even a Rabbit Hash General Store! https://www.rabbithash.com/ Sounds like a great place to visit. The things you learn on agent websites… 😀
Bob, I laughed out loud. How in the world did you come up with “Rabbit Hash Writers’ Conference”? Is that what you think this is all about? A nature stew that we must choke down? 😉 Well, perhaps when we’re revising a sentence that doesn’t sound the greatest…
All joking aside, thank you for the depth and relational effort of this post. Indeed encourages the writer’s soul. Now, onward!… to make sense of and to work on this rabbit hash.
I loved the picture of the cat! He looks as though he’s really got an attitude!
I like your listing of the attitudes a writer needs to have. When I think about it, I see how God can use the writing process to refine a person who is a writer, because the process involves humility, patience, perseverance, a teachable spirit, and so many other traits. God can use just about anything to refine a person’s character; for some people, He uses the gift of writing.
Love your style in this post! Also related to number 2. My books follow the Bible for facts plus a huge amount of research. I read a lot in the same genre I write because I like it. However, I now understand why one reviewer said she was ‘wary’ reading about the Apostles.
Currently I am reading one on Luke, the apostle. Interesting, but the author has him a native of Germanicus. I looked it up, I usually check things and it is generally seen that he was born in Antioch.
It’s fiction, but I believe that reviewer was correct – write about ‘high-profile’ Biblical writers and go with facts where possible. I have started others and given up for things being too far-fetched. No, not evaluating against ‘my scripture’ but against the Bible and facts that are recorded in more than one source.
I admit it, I became addicted to research. Learning keeps my brain at work!
Thoroughly enjoyed your list, and they are all things we need to keep in mind.
I agree, Susan. The better known our subject, the more accurate we must be.
Just how is it that we go about getting a writer’s conference scheduled in Rabbit Hash?
Shena, Let’s get a writer’s retreat going, or at least explore for one. Rabbit Hash seems like a great, inspirational little town. What genre do you write?