If you want to get published, start small.
I certainly embraced starting small. I’d written in journals for years, recording silly things like which boy I liked in seventh grade. When I became a Christian at fifteen, my journal became a place where I could pray, lament, and ponder spiritual questions. Because I’d always been in the habit of writing, a daily writing routine became second nature.
Laboring over words in obscurity before the tender gaze of Jesus will help you discover your voice—that elusive commodity for which writers pine. I write about how I found my voice (as well as everything I know about publishing) in my book, The 11 Secrets of Getting Published.
The lesson? Write when no one sees. Write things no one will read. Write because you have to. Write for the sheer joy of it, and leave the prospect getting published in God’s capable hands. Realize God may have different plans for your writing than you do, some that go way deeper.
Writing, simply put, helps us discover what’s inside us. It’s is a great adventure, revealing our worries, fears, and secret joys. It opens up new spaces for Jesus to heal. You don’t have to get published to experience these benefits.
God has used even my professional writing to change my heart. He’s helped me understand myself as I’ve placed words upon a page. When I wrote my first published novel, Watching the Tree Limbs, about a girl who’s being stalked by a neighborhood bully and desperately needs rescue, my editor told me that the ten-year-old character, Mara, had a problem. “She doesn’t react to all the stress in her life. She just internalizes it.”
I argued back. “But children in that kind of situation don’t have normal reactions to trauma. They don’t react. I know. I was one.”
She pushed, “But for the reader to truly experience the novel and have empathy for the character, she has to react.”
Suddenly I saw myself as a child. I hadn’t been encouraged to yell or cry or confront because if I did, I somehow felt I was to blame for my emotions. In one of the most healing acts of my life, I assigned emotions to my character I’d never allowed myself to experience in childhood—sad ones, angry ones, bewildering ones. And God used that to bring significant healing.
No matter where you are in your writing journey, penning journals, writing novels, you will eventually experience push back and discouragement. I wrote ten years of unpublished words before I saw the fruit of that labor. Ten years where I didn’t get published.
When years pass before recognition, remember Joseph. He became a powerful man—a savior of his people—but not before he endured horrendous trials. He labored faithfully in Potiphar’s house and then in utter obscurity in prison. Still, God saw him. Through the trials, God built character and empathy and courage into Joseph. In a celebrity-driven society, we tend to view Joseph in the latter chapters of Genesis, skipping over the pain. We want to be Joseph, but we don’t want to walk the rocky path he journeyed.
The lesson? As a writer, don’t despise your current circumstance or disdain humble beginnings. Be faithful in the smallest writing tasks. Edit for free. Send meaningful prose to a struggling friend. Write a poem to your spouse for the sake of blessing him or her. Jesus said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (Luke 16:19).
No matter where you find yourself today—as a successful novelist, a freelancer who can pay for housecleaning from his wages, or an obscure journal-writer—thank God for the place He’s planted you. The Message renders Zechariah 4:10a this way, “Does anyone dare despise this day of small beginnings?”
Revel in your obscurity before you get published. Just as Moses tended flocks forty years, Jesus labored relatively unseen for thirty-three years and Paul spent fourteen years (Galatians 2:1) in self-imposed exile, we—if we are to attempt great things for God—must not despise small beginnings.