by Matt Mikalatos
We spend a lot of time talking about the skills needed to be a writer and precious little talking about the character and heart writing requires.
Yes, writing is rewriting, and one must learn all the rules about commas, when to use a semicolon, and what precisely a dangling participle is—and why the characters in a novel might very well use one if their English teacher is not in the room.
We must learn tenses and techniques and tools like alliteration. We need to learn that one should never use the word “very” and also learn to see for ourselves that we just used it in the second paragraph and perhaps we should cut it, but also doesn’t it give the sentence a certain rhythm?
A dizzying number of skills, abilities, gifts, talents, and tools are required. So we go to conferences, we attend seminars, we write so much that we find old notebooks filled with words we don’t remember, unmistakably in our own handwriting.
But we rarely talk about the immense character it takes to write.
We need honesty to tell our readers, “Here is who I am, who you are, who we are.”
We need courage to submit that story, to press send on that manuscript, to ask that author we respect for a minute of their time.
We need perseverance on those days that seem filled with endless rejections.
We need patience and kindness for the human beings involved in publishing, for our readers, for our one-star reviewers.
And perhaps the most difficult things of all: recognizing that each of us has been fearfully and wonderfully made, and that our interests and insights and the stories we most desperately want to bring into the world are of value, are worth fighting for, are worth shaping until they match our exact vision—not because it will make us rich, not because it’s “in demand” in the publishing world, but because there is a holy joy in creating, and that joy is contagious to our readers.
In the end, the most important writing tip may be: we must learn to truly, honestly love our readers. Not just communicate with them, but know what they need in their most secret heart of hearts and find a way to give it to them.
Our stories are gifts, and the best gifts make us feel known.
Matt Mikalatos is an author, screenwriter, and speaker. He wrote his first published novel, Imaginary Jesus, over winter break from his job (he was a missionary at the time). His first nonfiction book was written while his small children were in the bathtub (they got long baths in those days). He has written memoirs, speculative fiction, YA, MG, picture books, and most recently while in a TV writers’ room (Going Home, from Sony Affirm), he wrote a movie (Legacy Peak, also Sony Affirm). He has two graphic novels on the way. His most recent book, Loving Disagreement, coauthored with Kathy Khang, won the Englewood Review of Books “Best Book of the Year” in 2023. Learn more about Matt at www.mikalatos.com/.
Matt will keynote at the upcoming 2024 Cascade Christian Writers Spring Conference, Saturday March 16 in Salem, Oregon. He will also teach two workshops: “Screenwriting and Community Storytelling” and “Changing the World Through Young Adult Literature.” For more information about the full conference schedule and workshops, visit our conference page.