How to Establish Yourself as a Christian Writer
“Why?” is perhaps the most meddlesome one-word question we can utter.
“Why did you do that?” “Why do you take up space on this planet? “Why do you write and publish books?”
For most Christian writers, the immediate answer is the expected one: “I publish books to glorify God and touch people’s lives.”
The response sounds noble, but is it really true, and if so, to what degree?
“Why do I write?” is a question I have asked myself more than once.
The truth is that most of us live with mixed motives. So, while any devoted believer would labor for the glory of God and the benefit of others, there are often self-centered motives buried in the mix. This is especially true when it comes to our identities as writers, and more fundamentally, as Christians.
Christian Writer Identity
On the surface, our identities involve the characteristics that make us unique as individuals, but beneath that obvious exterior, something more lurks. To carry any real weight, an identity must provide us with a sense of significance. The word glory is more often used in the Bible, although I think we understand it less.
I prefer not to identify myself as a somewhat Geeky, middle-aged male who is slowly losing his hair while also waging a nonstop battle against the growth of his waistline. I would much prefer to say that Bob Santos is a dynamic leader who excels at writing Christian books—be it true or not. I don’t just want an identity; I want an identity that makes me somebody.
So, while our identities might be unique, our basic motivations are not. And it is here—in the realm of motivations—that the Lord calls us to take a sharp turn from our natural human tendencies.
Christian Writer: Fig Leaves
In our world’s system, it is customary for people to acquire a sense of identity through modern-day “fig leaves” such as appearance, performance, possessions, status, knowledge, and association with important people. Life is spent adorning ourselves with glorious leaves so that we can appear to be climbing the ladder of success. But there are some huge problems with this approach.
To begin with, human badges of glory are fragile and fleeting. For example, if the fig leaf of appearance becomes my significance, anxiousness will gnaw at my heart as I fight a relentless battle against aging. And if performance is my standard, the threat of potential failure will never stop nipping at my heels.
Second, a fig-leaf approach to significance is pride-based and will produce the rotten fruit thereof. If we think that we succeed in our efforts to meet human standards, we will lift our cocky heads in arrogance, looking down with disdain upon those “lowly peons” who fail to qualify. But if we are the ones who fail, we will slink into the shadows of shame, envy, and subtle hatred, nursing animosity toward the “privileged elite.”
Christian Writer: Liberty
The Lord’s good design for the Christian life provides us with an unshakable sense of security while also liberating us from the grip of human pride. In a fascinating twist of irony, our identities come not from ourselve, but from whom our Creator declares us to be.
As Christian authors, we are the children of the King of Glory—the best-selling Author in the history of the universe. And though such lofty status is undeserved, the King of kings and Lord of lords has chosen to lift us from the muck and mire of sin to be seated with Christ in the heavenly places. What we do as indie authors never determines our identities. Rather, both our actions and our motives flow from the lofty status graciously given by God.
The ramifications of a Christian identity mean everything for those who write and publish Christian books. From a worldly perspective, we must labor hard, if not perfectly, to feel good about ourselves. But when we are secure in Christ, we are free to love well and grow in our craft as Christian writers.
Why Are We Here?
Several years ago, I was asked to officiate a wedding in a well-to-do area of Florida. Our communication faltered, and while driving to the venue I received a call from the bride’s mother. At that moment, “Where are you?” felt almost as unsettling as “Why?”
Thankfully, I was not far away, but I sensed that an uncomfortable situation awaited me. Those feelings were confirmed as I walked through the door to find the entire wedding party—about twenty people—standing in a semicircle, looking as though they were about to walk the plank above shark-infested waters. And, of course, they were all looking to me for direction!
A bit unnerved, I asked a simple question. “Why are we here?” As a few eyebrows raised, I continued. “Are we here to pull off the perfect wedding, or are we here because we love this young couple and want to bless their day?”
I explained that we wanted to do the very best we could to provide an awesome wedding ceremony. But if we somehow stumbled, the Lord would redeem the situation, and it would become a fun memory for the bride and groom. What a relief it was to feel the tension dissipate, and what a wonderful wedding followed!
Excellence vs. Perfection
When I write, I try to think in terms of excellence rather than perfection. This is because the pursuit of perfection has an awful lot of me in the mix. If the book falls short, I take it personally, as though my identity were somehow at risk. This same concern fills the writing process with fear and makes procrastination a constant barrier.
On the contrary, I view the pursuit of excellence as being love-motivated. Because I love the Lord and want to bless others, I seek to produce the best-quality Christian books that I can. And if my efforts happen to be less than perfect, as they often are, I can rest with the confidence that I did my best, knowing that the Lord will somehow redeem my shortcomings.
At first glance, we might think that this love-based approach leads to poorer quality work, but I think the opposite is true. If our identities are wrapped up in the quality of our work, every red mark on a manuscript feels like a dagger to the heart. And without a major publishing house holding the feet of an indie author to the fire, not only will quality suffer, procrastination will loom as a seemingly insurmountable barrier.
If our identities are secure as the beloved children of God, we can accept honest and caring critiques of our work. We are also more likely to overcome the many fears that mark the world of indie publishing. And if we get highly skilled people involved, the quality of our books will skyrocket—a huge need in the self-publishing sphere.
A secure identity in Christ will also help us identify the genre that best suits our abilities. As highlighted by Reid Ashbaucher in his CIPA blog, “Book Publishing: What New Authors Should Understand about the Industry,” choosing a genre that is out of an author’s skillset is a bad idea. Striving to produce a perfect book, when I lack the basic abilities to get it done, will put me on a clear path to anxiety and depression.
In so many ways, the quest for perfection holds us back, while the pursuit of love takes us far beyond our natural inclinations.
Why Do You Write?
I would like to say that I have learned these lessons quickly and fully, but the deeper foundations of life take time to develop. Self-publishing my first book was such an anxious endeavor; how vulnerable I felt in laying myself wide open to what is often an unforgiving public.
Subsequent efforts have gone better, with both the quality of my work improving and my identity in Christ growing more secure. Sure, I still detest putting typos into print, but they no longer haunt me day and night. What I do and who I am are two different issues.
I close where I began. “Why do you write and publish books?” Is it to validate yourself by proving your abilities? Or is it to honor the Lord by touching the lives of others with meaningful content? If we get our motives to write right, everything else will follow in its time!
Bob Santos is the founder and president of Search for Me Ministries, Inc. (https://sfme.org). His most recent release is titled The Search for Rest: Fifty Days to a More Peaceful Life.