By Hannah Howe
Note: Hannah Howe interned with me this spring during her final semester of college. She did a fine job and offers these lessons gleaned through her college and internship experiences.
During the past several years, I’ve pursued a BA in writing and interned with both Breathe Christian Writers Conference and AB Writing Services. Here are some of the most valuable writing lessons I’ve learned in the process.
Show. Don’t Tell.
Writers are truth-tellers. Often the most truthful way to describe anything is to share observations (using all five senses) rather than trying to name what’s going on.
Instead of telling your readers that a person was regretful or a room looked messy, let the reader see what you see that leads you to make those judgments. Did the person sigh and look down when they mentioned something that happened in the past? Were there socks and office supplies strewn throughout the room in odd places? Did the socks smell like wet cheese? These kinds of clues engage your readers and draw them into the story you’re telling, whether fiction or nonfiction.
You’re not selling your soul if you don’t just write novels.
I once heard someone say that more people make a living playing professional baseball than writing novels. There are lots of great novelists in the world, but the majority cannot rely on novel writing as a sole means of income.
People tend to make better art when they do not need to make money with it. If paying for housing and groceries depends on other people liking your art enough to buy it, more than likely your creativity will be stifled. But if you have another, more stable source of income, you are freer to take your creative writing in the direction you want and take risks!
So while you’re pursuing your creative writing dreams, don’t be afraid to use the things you’re good at to support yourself and/or your family. Plus, whenever you write anything, even if it’s for cereal boxes, you are learning and growing in your ability to arrange words well.
Be kind to other writers. It’s not a competition.
So often we as writers hesitate to give anyone else a leg up for fear that a win for them is a loss for us. Really, it’s the opposite. When we encourage, challenge, and learn from one another, we all grow. And when we help connect others with resources and opportunities, everyone’s network grows. Sometimes, though, we give and don’t receive anything in return. And that’s ok. It’s actually Christ-like.
I think this hesitation comes from a scarcity mentality—thinking there is not room for all of us to be successful writers. But we forget that each one of us has a unique voice and unique experiences that have shaped us. Even if we say similar things, each one of us says it a different way and connects with different readers.
It helps me to remember, also, that God is totally powerful and He loves me. I can rely on Him to let my voice be heard if I am seeking to be obedient to Him in all things and pressing into the opportunities He provides.
It’s good to be wise about what we share of our own creative projects and who we let see things that are precious to us. Jesus said in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” But let’s be generous in our encouragement and support of our fellow writers.
Prepare yourself for feedback.
Make your peace with what you’ve written beforehand so when someone edits or critiques your work, you are ready to receive their nuggets of gold. You may already have an idea what they will say, but you also may not.
You can only do what you can do; don’t beat yourself up for not knowing things. Do your research, work hard in the time you have, and then hold your work with loose fingers to those who know things you don’t yet.
Humility is easier when you don’t feel like you have to defend yourself. Remember that your worth is not tied to your writing. Remember that you can write. Remember that you want to become a better writer than you were yesterday.
Pay Your Estimated Tax
Last but not least, especially if you freelance, pay your estimated tax. It’s much more fun to get a check from the government at the end of the year than to have to send them one!