Thursday, October 15, 2009

Guest Blogger Katherine Swarts Shares "What Makes a Real Writer?"


Bring up the subject of writing at any large social gathering, and, sure as death and taxes, someone will pipe up with a reason why he or she always wanted to be an author but can’t:

· “I have a great idea for a novel, but I just don’t have time to write it.”
· “People say I have talent, but I never can think of anything to write about.”
· “I have writer’s block.”
· “I have to wait for inspiration.”
· “I’ve tried, but only the big names get published anymore.”

More often than not, these “reasons” are really excuses for being lazy, prideful, afraid to risk failure, or afraid of what might come with success. People who really want to write make time for it. Writers who are willing to succeed work hard at learning how to do it.

Then there are those who lie around dreaming of the day they’ll dash off some great work straight out of their heads, drop it in the mail to an editor, and rest in luxury the rest of their lives as the royalties pour in. These people are setting themselves up for a dark future once they finally do get around to dashing something off, see their expectations of instant and easy success fall flat, and sink into bitterness because “no one will give me a break.” Rarely do they consider that perhaps their writing really isn’t (yet) good enough to publish.

And Christian writers can be among the worst offenders. Every major Christian publisher’s editorial staff will testify to cringing whenever the phrase “God gave me this message” appears in a query letter. Editors have learned from experience that this usually means, “God dictated this to me word for word, and it’s your Christian duty to publish it immediately and unedited.” And that the work accompanying the query letter usually looks unedited—in the extreme.

Nowhere in the Bible does God promise wealth and physical comfort for all who do His work—indeed, many passages (John 16:33 and 2 Timothy 3:12 just for starters) promise exactly the opposite to the majority of believers. And Scripture definitely does not advocate any idea remotely resembling “do a little work for God for a short time and He’ll reward you with years free for idleness”—which, if they were honest about it, is exactly the scenario many aspiring Christian writers are hoping for. They think they’re writing for God’s glory, but not far beneath the surface their primary interest is in feeding their own pride and their fleshly appetites.

The best antidote, for anyone who feels inspired to write something for the public in God’s name, is to keep in mind Colossians 3:23:

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” [NIV]

Not even—especially not—for yourself.
Copyright Katherine Swarts
Katherine is a B2B newsletter and blog writer at
Click the article title to Visit her blog:
New Songs From the Heart


  1. An interesting look into the minds of aspiring writers...or at least the "lesser informed". I myself do not have inclinations on becoming a writer persay, but I do admire the time and talent that goes into both published and lesser known pieces. Whether I like the result or not, I can at the very least respect the effort.

  2. I agree! When I review, I try to consider what that individual has meant to say through the book. Hopefully, I will grasp it and pass it on to other readers! But I do worry, sometimes, that individuals do not have sufficient self-knowledge--for not everybody can successfully write a book. It is those individuals for whom I can appreciate the effort, but must challenge their efforts, hopefully as respectfully as I can--this is the hard part of reviewing...

  3. Also, not every writer can successfully write every kind of material. I’ve written book reviews myself, several for _Christian Home & School_, but I try never to review fiction. I rarely forgive an author for an ending, character, or plot twist I personally hate--regardless of its actual appropriateness to the story or the story's objective literary merit.

  4. Katherine, I think you may have hit on what makes a writer versus a reviewer/reader. When I first started reviewing professionally, I had to work on exactly the issue you mention; that is, to be objective. If a book was not one I found interesting in the first few chapters, I just stopped reading it. But you can't do that when you are reviewing a book. I remember on nonfiction book that really bothered me...and a more recent fiction book... I successfully got past my personal feelings on the nonfiction, but the parts in the fiction book that I reacted to, I couldn't forgive...but there was much about the book I didn't like, so finally, I just deleted my review. I think that is the only review ever where I couldn't get past my personal opinions, and, I had to admit that it showed in my review--that was the main reason I deleted it.

    You are correct that not every writer can write every kind of material. I've seen a number of successful nonfiction writers who have been unsuccess moving into fiction.

    For me, I know that I don't have the creativity to write fiction, though I've been writing nonfiction for business for many years. Never had a desire to write a book, though...and now, retired, I'm reading all the fiction I can get, just enjoying!

    Katherine, you may want to join my group on Facebook called Reviewers is very informal and if you see a book that is posted, you could contact the author directly. Check it out!