Writers frequently have doubts about their work. Award-winning author Tessa Afshar offers tips for how to resist self-doubt and the temptation to give up and keep going.
PREGNANCY – When my best friend became pregnant at the age of 40, I was struck by certain similarities between pregnancy, birth, and infant care and the writing life. My friend, an athletic yoga buff who swims a mile a day, started to waddle as she walked. By her 38th week, her hips hurt all the time. And when her seven-pound baby kicked, she sounded like a football player after a major collision. Pregnancy, I have found, isn’t for wimps.
Creating, researching, writing, and publishing a book isn’t either. No matter how talented, how disciplined, or how committed you may be, writing a book exacts a price.
BIRTH – Is painful! My friend, who was in labor for almost four days, came to a point when she wanted to give up. She had been worn thin, frayed by pain. And like giving birth, you can’t write a full-length book without a certain level of agony. In an interview about his writing, Khaled Hosseini, the author of The Kite Runner, who has sold more than 38 million books worldwide, said: “The temptation to give up, to surrender, is very, very strong. And you have to have faith in the work that you’re doing. You have to have faith that as dark and unlikely and as dreary as things may seem, that it’s worth pursuing.”
Most writers need to contend with the temptation to give up on a certain project, or even on the dream of writing itself. Because writing is hard. It requires constant sacrifice. Even giants like Hosseini get to the point of wanting to throw in the towel.
The discouragement can be internal and come in the form of self-doubt. I was talking to a successful radio show host with seven books under her belt. She said that with every single book, she hit a point when she began wondering if this book was a complete mistake.
The pain can also be external. Rejection is an excruciating fact of life for most writers. Add to the mix the sacrifices required of a writer. Where is my tan? My workout? My vacation? My time with my beloved friends? They’re in my novels.
LOVE YOUR BABY – Whether your baby grows up to be famous, feted by thousands and adored by the crowd, or if she turns out to be loved by just a handful of dear friends, you give her your all. Your heart, your strength, your best. Books are the same. You might be writing something that very few will want to read. But if God has called you to this project, its success by the world’s standards matters very little. He may have called you for the sake of a few who will be touched by your message, or He may have asked you to write for the masses. The point is, write what He has given you. Surrender the rest to Him.
CLEANING THE POOP – Regardless of how gifted a writer you are, like a mother with an infant, you will have a lot of poop to clean. It doesn’t mean your writing is poop, although sometimes as you edit, it’s tempting to fall into the trap of thinking such discouraging thoughts. Like babies, books come with the need to be cleaned up.
HOLDING YOUR BABY – Lest you think it’s all work and no play, there is nothing like holding that finished book in your hands and sharing it with the world. Part of the miracle of writing is that you can touch people you’ve never met. It’s the most amazing feeling when you realize God has used something you created in order to encourage or even transform another human being.
GOOD HELP – My friend couldn’t have this baby without the help of a midwife. Whether you are a published writer or not, find yourself talented editors who know your genre. Learn to receive constructive criticism. If you were walking around with a piece of toilet paper sticking out of your trousers, wouldn’t you rather have someone point it out to you? That’s the job of the editor. They show you the broccoli stuck between your teeth, the slip hanging down your leg. You just say thank you and fix it.
GOD’S PART – Ultimately, for me, writing is not a hobby. It’s not even a job. It is a call. I believe I was created to do this. The Bible says that God created us in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us (Ephesians 2:10). I believe, in my life, part of that work is writing. So God Himself is part of this messy, hard, and utterly joyous process. What, then, shall I say, when things become hard or seem untenable? Shall I walk away from God’s purpose? Shall I ditch my destiny just because it’s hard?
How about you? What are you going to do? Right now, will you resist self-doubt and despair and the temptation to give in? Pick the broccoli stuck in your teeth, and trust God with your work? King David, the poet, once said, “With God we shall do valiantly” (Psalm 60:12 rsv). Will you choose to do valiantly, write valiantly with God?
Tessa Afshar has received numerous awards and nominations since her first novel, Pearl in the Sand, won “New Author of the Year” by the Reader’s Choice Awards in 2011. World Magazine chose Harvest of Rubies as one of four notable books of 2012. Harvest of Gold won the prestigious 2014 Christy Award in the Historical Romance category. In the Field of Grace, based on the story of Ruth, was nominated for the Grace Award in 2015. Her latest title is In the Land of Silence (Tyndale, 2016). Tessa will keynote and teach a seven-hour coaching class, “Weaving Spiritual Themes into Fiction” at the 2017 OCW Summer Conference, August 15–18 in Portland. For more about Tessa and her books, visit www.tessaafshar.com/.