School has been in session in the United States for more than a month. This means that all across the country, children are facing the same question that has been asked for generations: “What did you learn today?”
To my mother’s utter frustration, I’d often answer her question with a blank stare and a mumbled, “I don’t know,” or even worse, “Nothing.” Sorry, Mom!
Many years later (no, I won’t tell you how many), I’ve realized I’m wasting my time if I don’t learn from my experiences. This applies to my writing as well as to everything else in life.
So with that, here are eight lessons I’ve learned the hard way (brought to you by the letter P 🙂 ).
- Preparation is foundational
My ability to speak and write in English doesn’t automatically equip me to be a writer. Good writers hone their craft, read their genre, and use appropriate tools. My growth as a writer depends on the preparation I invest in my writing.
2. Perseverance isn’t always pretty
Are you familiar with BIC? No, not the pen. BIC is an acronym for Butt in Chair. It means that whether I’m feeling brilliant or not, I sit at the computer during working hours and write. Regardless of writer’s block or the ice cream that’s calling my name from the freezer, if I’m a writer, I’d better be writing. When I’m looking at a blank page, I can still write something—even if it’s nothing more than “I can’t think of anything to write.”
3. Picture your audience
Too many authors claim in their book proposals that their book is for everyone. Newsflash: it’s not. When I’m writing, I like to imagine one specific person whom my book is for. Better yet, I place a picture next to my computer as a reminder. I’m not writing to a crowd, I’m writing to an individual. Am I clear as to that person’s age, gender, likes, and dislikes?
4. Process your experience
The adage “Write what you know” isn’t always necessary. Sometimes we write about what we’ve researched or what we want to know. Still, there’s a bit of me in everything I write. My attitudes, joys, and sorrows leak their way onto the page. It’s important that I process my experiences before I share them.
5. Proofreading isn’t optional
God bless editors! And critique partners. And beta readers. But no matter how many other people will read and check my work before I submit it, I can’t abdicate my responsibility to submit the cleanest manuscript possible. By the way, has anyone besides me noticed that no matter how many times you’ve read your words on the computer screen, there are always typos you miss until you print out your work?
6. Pace yourself
Balance is key. Yes, when I’m writing I need to practice BIC (see #2), but I can’t sit in front of a computer every free moment of every day. All work and no play makes Ava a dull writer. Family, church, exercise, recreation, and rest are also necessary components of a balanced life. I confess, I still struggle with this one. But God knew what was best for us when He commanded us to “remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8).
“Practice makes perfect,” or so the saying goes. Well, maybe the result won’t be perfect, but it should be better than it was at the start. The apostle Paul understood that when he wrote, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice” (Philippians 4:9). The bottom line is that I need to write . . . and keep writing. With each written word, I’m honing my craft.
8. Perspective is important
The dreaded book reviewer. Or critiquer. The one who reads my work and proceeds to rip it apart. If I take everything they said to heart, I’d put down my pen—or keyboard—and stop writing forever. I need to remember that I can’t please everyone and that I shouldn’t try to. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t keep an open mind to constructive criticism. But after listening, evaluating, and ensuring that I’m not being stubborn, I also have to be true to my voice and my story.
Lots of lessons. And these are just the beginning of what I’m learning. May I prove to be a good student.
Now it’s your turn. What writing lessons have you learned? (And no, they don’t have to begin with the letter P!)
Ava Pennington is a writer, Bible teacher, and speaker. Her newest book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is endorsed by Precepts founder Kay Arthur. Additionally, Ava is co-author of Faith Basics for Kids. The first two books in the series are Do You Love Me More? and Will I See You Today? She has also written numerous articles for magazines such as Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse, Today’s Christian Woman, Power for Living, and Called.
In addition to her writing, Ava also teaches a weekly Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class. She is a passionate speaker and teacher and delights in challenging audiences with the truth of God’s word in relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit her at AvaWrites.com.