For the Writers – What it Takes

Talent and skill are not synonyms. You are born with talent, but you develop skill. Developing skill costs two things that many of us are unwilling to invest: time and effort.

My father-in-law took Jeni and I out for a few holes on Southwood, and this particular par 5 had the Master’s bitter of McIlroy and sweet of Schwartzel in one frustratingly beautiful stretch.

My approach landed about 15 feet off the green and about 40 feet from the hole. On my next shot, my sand wedge made pure contact and the ball landed exactly where I intended. As if on a string, it meandered down the slope, angling to my left, and dropped softly into the cup. An eagle! Well, not exactly.

On the tee, my driver made sweet contact and launched the ball… due right and hundreds of yards into the woods. So, I placed a second ball on the tee and swung again. This time I sent it down the right side of the fairway with quite a bit of spin. About 120 yards into its journey, the ball took a hard right and went searching for my first. So, I had to hit another, this time I was hitting my 5th shot and I was still on the tee. I smoked it, hit it right on the screws, and apparently bad things come in threes, because it too was lost in the botanical abyss. When I finally put a ball in play, from the women’s tees, I was hitting the aforementioned approach as my 8th shot. My chip-in “eagle” was actually, what my father-in-law called, a “Tin Cup 9.” Glimpses of latent talent buried under an unwillingness to invest the time or effort into developing the skills of golf.

I’ve found a similar dynamic at work in my writing. From the first sermons I ever gave, I depended on “inspiration” – moments of mystical clarity when entire messages would flash into my mind. When I began blogging, I worked under the same paradigm. I’d see a road sign, experience a moment of inspiration, and write a post. It was glorious, and simple, and short-lived. But, “the journey” has helped to reinforce something I’ve heard time and again, writing is work.

It’s one thing to have a cute story to tell and utilize talent in doing so. Having the discipline to write, regardless of “inspiration,” Is a different thing entirely. It’s easy to pick up a novel, listen to a sports-talk radio show, or observe a painting and think, “I could do that.” We don’t see the countless hours of work that went into the finished project, instead we assume some great moment of inspiration or spontaneity, and voila!

“I’ll be as encouraging as possible, because it’s my nature and because I love this job and I want you to love it, too.  But if you don’t want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well…” – Stephen King, On Writing, p. 144

I think Mr. King would take issue with the “Voila Theory,” and Mr. King is not someone I want to upset. REDRUM.

Pastor and author John Piper agrees with King.

If I have learned anything in these twenty years… it is that beauty and truth do not come by mystical revelations and inspirations in a moment of motionless mental waiting. Beauty and truth and compelling depth come by painstaking thinking and trial and praying and self-correcting.

Instead of leaving the mind idle, I pray, and then I bend every fiber of effort in my mind and body to think and create.
– John Piper, TASTE and SEE, excerpt taken from, “A life well-lived is like writing a good poem.

King’s written more than 45 novels and Piper’s put out more than 30 books himself, not to mention all the sermons he writes. These guys know a thing or two about the skill of writing, so I’m inclined to listen.

If you want to write, you have to write. You can’t wait for inspiration to happen; you have to sit down and go to work. You can’t stand on the shore and wait for the rapids to take you downstream; you have to put your kayak in the water and start paddling.

Ernest Hemingway espoused re-writing:  “I rise at first light, and I start by reading and editing everything I have written to the point where I left off.  That way I go through a book several hundred times, honing it until it gets an edge like a fighter’s sword.  I rewrote the ending of ‘A Farewell to Arms’ 39 times in manuscript and over 30 times in proof trying to get it right.”  – Max Lucado, The Write Stuff

Does that sound like inspiration or effort to you? I think Hemingway considered his talent something to be buttressed with skill and exerted great effort in making it so. If I want to write well, I must do the same, and so must you.

Be it writing, singing, throwing a curveball, or milking a cow; you must work to develop the necessary skills. You don’t need to write a great novel today, but you do need to write a good sentence. Skill is developed in the small things. The things that others take for granted and you’ll never be recognized for. Jordan was famous because of his clutch shooting but he was successful because of his willingness to work.

I’ve learned that if I want to be a writer, a good writer, I have to work at it. I can’t rest on talent alone; like the wind under a bird’s wings, I must develop skills and discipline, so that my talent can produce flight.

You must do the same.

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9 comments

  1. Well Ryan not sure if you remember me, but oh well. As I type this I am sitting at my desk. On the desk is a computer and a piece of paper. At the top of this piece of paper are the numbers 4-40. 4 meaning the chapter and 40 meaning the page in that chapter. I am writing a book entitled Limbo and I have about 60 hand-written (double spaced. Helps with corrections in the margins) pages. I read this article and it spoke to me; almost literally. I have read on writing and knew you meant business when I saw the quote. Just wanted to say that if I had not been working on this book when I stopped to read this I would have kicked off the heels and ran to get my book. Writing is hard and takes a lot out of you but it is so fun and i love it. I love what you do and hope you keep on speaking to writers (especially young writers) cause God knows we need it.
    –Dylon Tucker

  2. Well Ryan not sure if you remember me, but oh well. As I type this I am sitting at my desk. On the desk is a computer and a piece of paper. At the top of this piece of paper are the numbers 4-40. 4 meaning the chapter and 40 meaning the page in that chapter. I am writing a book entitled Limbo and I have about 60 hand-written (double spaced. Helps with corrections in the margins) pages. I read this article and it spoke to me; almost literally. I have read on writing and knew you meant business when I saw the quote. Just wanted to say that if I had not been working on this book when I stopped to read this I would have kicked off the heels and ran to get my book. Writing is hard and takes a lot out of you but it is so fun and i love it. I love what you do and hope you keep on speaking to writers (especially young writers) cause God knows we need it.
    –Dylon Tucker

    1. Of course I remember you Dylon. It’s great to hear from you, and I’m thrilled you’re writing. What’s Limbo about? Mystery, Sci-fi, adventure?? Make sure you subscribe to the blog, I’d love to hear from you as I go. I’m learning as I go, so the more working writers who contribute the better.

      1. Well as a preacher you may find the topic quite odd, but it is just a book and totally fictitious.It has religious people and places but is 100% my imagination and in no way is meant to offend anyone of the Christian faith. It is about people who go to Hell (not going to sugar coat it). In this book Hell is controlled by Lucifer (i have heard from a couple people (i would like you confirm) that Lucifer does not rule he is punished like everyone else) and as we also know Lucifer is not nice. He basically got board with usual pain that he inflicts on people and decided to switch it up a bit. Instead of him hurting the people he wanted to see the people hurt each other like the Roman Gladiator movies. The people however had no incentive. there was no reward for doing as he said so the people did nothing. So then Lucifer created Limbo. It is like Earth but not as perfect because he is inferior to God and could not create what God can. When a person dies who is bound for Hell they instead go to Limbo where they must win a two-sided war and if their side wins there reward is Heaven. Do not worry, i will not contradict our faith in a way that makes people believe it. It is totally fictitious. And i must say that it feels weird writing a book like this (as you can imagine). I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic and please cut the sugar coated comments, i want hard truth. HONEST reviews will not kill me, they will make my book better.

  3. Dylon, I have a few thoughts, but I can’t offer an “Honest review” without reading your work. Some general thoughts on topic and theme will have to suffice.

    One of the features I admire in fiction is accurate details. I’ve always enjoyed Michael Crichton and he researches like mad to write those accurate details in his fiction, and his topics have a wide range. So, if you’re going to write about Hell I would encourage you to do your homework. As strange as it might sound, a Bible scholar would be where you begin – Hell is a Christian idea after all. Randy Alcorn is an expert on Heaven, but offers this on Hell, “Hell will be agonizingly dull, small and insignificant, without company, purpose or accomplishment. It will not have it’s own stories; it will merely be a footnote in history, a crack in the pavement. As the new universe moves gloriously onward, Hell and it’s occupants will exist in utter inactivity and insignificance, an eternal non-life of regret and—perhaps—diminishing personhood.” It’s a vary different idea than Satan leading legions.

    I’m not saying don’t write the book, but maybe tweak the setting. (I’ll offer some ideas further on)

    I enjoyed the National Treasure movies because they wove a great story into American history. The key was the story lived in the “I wonder ifs,” “Maybes,” and “it’s possibles.” They stuck to the facts, which gave the story’s resonance with all of us. Resonance is a good thing.

    Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code, did a similar work. He wrote pure fiction, but tried to use some fringe Biblical theory to create a provocative novel. The church lit him up. He attacked the character of God – not a good play, in my book at least. My point is, I wouldn’t intentionally write something on a false premise, nor would I write about something I was ignorant about.

    So, here are some suggestions:

    Keep Limbo, but remove Satan and Hell. Keep it “totally ficitious.” Create a warlord, call him “The Massey;” then create an evil land, call it “Franklin Valley.”

    Keep Hell and Satan, but study up. Write your fiction, but make it authentic. Your idea has multiple inaccuracies: Lucifer won’t rule Hell, Lucifer cannot create, the Bible explicitly says that man will die ONCE and then face judgement therefore the idea of earning a second chance after death is fatally flawed, the Bible is also clear that people are saved by grace not by works, and Hell’s residents won’t have meaningful purpose. You concept sounds more like the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. While I do not agree with the doctrine, if I were to write about it I would study the experts. Read up on Purgatory if you want a Purgatory-like feel to your story. Also, Dante’s Inferno would be a good resource. I didn’t enjoy it, in fact I didn’t finish it because the writing style wasn’t my flavor, but it deals with Hell in a Purgatory vein. However, if you want to stick with your first path, know that Lucifer does have some dominion on Earth, He can pervert things God already made, and he can twist peoples minds while they’re here. I’d recommend reading “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis – it’s about to scheming demons developing strategy to win the hearts of men.

    Don’t stop writing.

    Know that your story will evolve as you go. I had an idea that took a completely different direction after I read an article and now the idea is better, richer, and one I’m even more excited about.

    Don’t stop writing.

  4. I understand all that you are saying however the false hoods are (in my opinion) essential to the book because it makes the book so wrong on all branches of religion. I have been told that it is like Purgatory before but that person went on to say that the facts or details were wrong. Then you a non-catholic says that it is wrong because 1 you cannot have 2 lives, Lucifer cannot create and so on. So this book is 100% false on all levels. That is exactly what I am going for. If it were correct in all details of our faith then my imagination would be hindered. like a lemon for instance, if i limit myself to rules and squeeze the lemon the juices will come out but if I disregard the rules than i can squeeze the lemon all day and the juice never stops.

    Like I said this book has religious figures and places but they are molded to be my own and not how they are. If i made almost true and tweaked slightly the Christians would be mad about the tweaking and then i would have to remove the additives and basically rewrite the bible to please them, but i would be chastised for rewriting the bible and that’s no good. By making details wrong the Christians can say, “This is so wrong that don’t know where to begin.” Perfect. after they realize that this is so wrong it is beyond repair they then can enjoy the story without saying “Hey this is inaccurate because in Isaiah… ” And like you said “He attacked the character of God – not a good play, in my book at least.” I already addressed this before I wrote a word of the book. God IS NOT A CHARACTER. Sure he is mentioned but very briefly but is never talked about in a bad way. the only biblical character whose image will be attacked is Lucifer. EVERY one in the book hates him.

    This is not me being defensive this is stuff i have thought about. Since 6th grade almost every second of every day i think about my books. I have 8 book ideas many of them are developed enough that i could name off every character and the plot off the top of my head without hesitation (I could tell you details later but not in a public blog; you understand i’m sure). and this is the only book that brings in anything Biblical into the plot. all my books are vastly different from sci-fi to historical fiction and one horror (not strait up gore more Steven King style).

    While i am thinking about it i too LOVE Micheal Crichton one of my first favorite books was Sphere and most of my books have science in them cause of his influence. On my book shelf i have 8 Crichton books. But the one book that made want to write more than any other The Stand by Stephen King. It is amazing after i had been reading the book for about thirty minutes and i looked up every time i was confused as to where i was. I was literally wishing that the events no matter how bad would happen to me. i mean 60% of humanity dies and i sorta wanted it to happen for brief sick moments to experience this book! You must read it if you haven’t.

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