The (Catholic) Writing Life
Because you asked . . .
Recently, I have had a number of people ask me how I became a Catholic writer – and whether I had any tips for them. The easiest and best answer is that God wanted me to do it.
He gave me the desire.
Whatever talent I have is because He put it there.
He opened the doors.
He matched my writing to the needs of editors so that what I wrote matched their publication needs. And He didn’t just do that once. He kept doing it. And doing it. And doing it.
Writing is a gift. It is a gift from God to the writer. It is a gift God gives to editors through the writer. It is a gift God uses for the ones He ultimately wishes to bless through the writer and the editor: the reader.
Writing is a gift from God, ultimately given for the reader. Many writers talk about their passion, their love for writing. And there must be passion. Without a doubt, you have to love writing. But to be a Catholic writer, you need more. You need to love the reader. The deepest part of you must want to be a gift to the editors for the readers. You must desire to be poured out – for them.
If writing is more for you than for God (and what He wants to do in the hearts of the readers), then you need to choose another work – or at least another kind of writing.
So, the first most important thing to keep in your mind and heart as a Catholic writer is that God is the author of all of it.
You simply give your fiat. You say yes to whatever He wants – or doesn’t want. And you must be willing to let it go. You have to be willing to give up writing, if that is God’s will. That may be the hardest part of all.
When I was in my 20s, I wrote a number of books. I have wanted to be a writer since I was in 9th grade, and once I had my degree, I started honing the craft.
I wrote a total of five books. I sent them to editors/publishers – back in the days when you had to send a hard copy of every manuscript. It cost a lot.
And none of it sold.
When I was in my early thirties, I managed to sell my first article to two Protestant publications (because I was Protestant back then). The papers had an enormous combined circulation. I thought this is it. This is where it begins.
And nothing happened after that.
I got so tired of trying to force something that was only up to God to make happen, that I quit. I quit writing.
Then, my father became very sick. It was so difficult to see him suffer, and my husband encouraged me to start writing again – not to be published – just as a catharsis. To get it down. To work it out. To talk to God.
The second most important thing to keep in your mind and heart as a Catholic writer is that you must be willing to walk away from all if it if God seems to be asking that of you.
If the doors keep shutting, if it seems like you are getting nowhere with this, if it seems like God is saying no or not now, let it go. It will be okay. If God wants you to write, He must take the lead. And if He’s leading you to one no after another, you need to listen.
My father passed away in 2003, and my grief sent me on a faith journey that led me to books by the saints. Those saints converted me.
How appropriate. The English major was led to the Catholic Church by way of books – by way of writing saints.
Even then, I did not put it together that God was saying now is the time to write. My only desire was to follow Christ straight to the Eucharist.
The third most important thing to keep in your mind and heart as a Catholic writer is that God will lead you if you are to write – and you have to be willing to write for God even if you write for no one else. Be willing to say: A prayer journal is enough for me if it is enough for God.
I wrote that journal for 18 months. And I thought that was all it would be. I filled spiral notebooks. I was back to writing by hand, like I had done when I first started writing in my twenties. No computer. Just me and a pen and paper. And God.
And it wasn’t really writing. It was praying. It was a prayer journal.
Just a couple of months before I came into the Church, I paused one day and looked at that journal. Could it be . . . I wondered. Could God be asking me to do what I had been willing to give up? Could it be, that after all this time and effort, I was supposed to send something to an editor again? Was the desire to write all about sharing right now, sharing this faith journey, this kind of writing?
What if God had given me the desire to write so that I would get the degree that had formed me as a writer – so that I would know what a comma splice is and a run-on and how to develop an essay and craft an idea? What if I was supposed to write and write and get one rejection after another so that I would discover my writing style? What if I had to write 1500 pages of junk so that I could begin writing what God wanted me to write? What if I had to turn fully to prayer, discover how to pray through writing, before I was ready to write for a reader?
Wouldn’t that make sense?
If the gift was from God and if it was ultimately for a reader that God loves dearly, wouldn’t He want me trained? Wouldn’t he want me to practice and practice before I ever was introduced to the one He loves dearly – the reader? Before I ever was given the awesome opportunity of touching that dear one’s life? Wouldn’t God want to know that I was willing to give it all up in order to realize that it wasn’t mine to begin with? And wouldn’t He want me to learn how to write as a prayer? Because, really, how could I ever write what He wanted me to write if I didn’t learn how to pray-through-writing?
The fourth most important thing to keep in your heart and mind as a Catholic writer is that you must learn how to write – which may mean a degree (or multiple degrees) in English. You must learn how to write – which may mean writing five books that never get published. You must learn how to write as you pray – which may take you through some really dark days and searching for God and reading/pondering the writings of the saints. You must learn how to write – for God and not for yourself.
And then you begin. God leads, and you begin to recognize the subtle movement of His divine hand as it opens the door to publication. You don’t barge through it. You tip toe.
And you are always ready to walk backwards and let it all go.
Which takes me to the next point.
The fifth most important thing to keep in your heart and mind as a Catholic writer is that you must practice total detachment. You pour yourself out, knowing it is for God & the reader. And if editors aren’t interested, you still see the writing as a gift to God. Yes, even if God does not use it, it is a gift back to Him.
There is great benefit in reading books about the writing life and joining writers’ groups, but my dearest friend in all the world (who is also a Catholic writer) has taught me something no writing book or writers’ group has ever taught me—how to trust that Our Lord will use the writing if He has need of it and how to offer it up as an offering of another kind if He chooses not to share it with others. Even articles and manuscripts that never make it to print can be a gift to God. They become the most sacrificial offerings a Christian writer can give. I am convinced that they are worth even more to the Sacred Heart – because they are total sacrifice.
I began writing commentary pieces for diocesan newspapers. The first article came right out of my prayer journal. I took a section of it and reworked it. I sent it to the editor of my local diocesan newspaper, and he published it. He asked for more.
That was the door opening – a subtle movement of God’s hand – without my knowing if it would ever lead to something more.
Within a few months, I was sending the article to other diocesan newspapers, and three more editors began publishing my column. Yes, the article had turned into a column. I kept sending the column out, and more editors began accepting it.
If an editor asked me to take him/her off my contact list. I. Did. It.
The writing wasn’t for me, remember? The writing was for God. And the editor’s request to be removed from my contact list simply meant was that God was saying not there. As long as some editors accepted what I sent, I would see that as God’s call to keep writing. If all editors stopped accepting what I sent, I would see that as God saying it was time to write a prayer journal and nothing more.
The sixth most important thing to keep in your heart and mind as a Catholic writer is that the writing is a gift from God to the editor for the reader. And God uses the editors to show you want He wants from you. Period. The editor is the door – and it is VERY important that you realize that. You will then see a rejection as just a word from God. That will save you from feeling terribly discouraged. You will see an acceptance as just a word from God. That will protect you from the sins of pride and arrogance and an inordinate attachment to the gift of writing.
The doors began opening, and in the last nine years, the column has been published in 58 diocesan newspapers. Sometimes, the column only ran one time in a particular paper. For some, the column runs every month.
And I have learned that the editor is the hand of God – sometimes saying yes, sometimes saying no, and sometimes even giving me the topic on which to write. This posture of the pen – knowing that God will speak to me through editors – has had yielded one amazing benefit. Some of the editors have become very dear to me. Just as I am in friendship with Christ, I am in friendship with many of the editors.
I have spent the last nine years doing other things that Catholic writers must do. I have taken theology classes, and I have read hundreds of Catholic books. Yes. Hundreds.
Recently, I became a member of the Catholic Press Association. Consider joining the CPA.
The seventh most important thing to keep in your heart and mind as a Catholic writer is that you will want to stay grounded in the faith and you will need to grow in your faith. You will also want to stay connected to groups that are faithful to Church teaching and support you as a Catholic writer.
What about writing books? Well, an amazing thing happened last May.
Here’s the backstory.
I thought that God was trying to tell me that diocesan writing (and writing for a few other periodicals) was what He wanted. I gave up book writing completely – because I thought that is what God wanted me to do.
I decided to stop pursuing it. I thought – if God wants to open that door, He will have to open it. I am done trying to strong arm the door.
And, then an acquisition editor contacted me and asked me to consider sending a book proposal for her to evaluate.
The publisher was a trustworthy Catholic publisher. And the editor came to me. I did not send a query letter. I did not contact the editor/publisher first. They contacted me.
Hand of God? I knew it was possible. Oh, what joy. But even then, I knew it was God who was in charge. If I tried, and it didn’t lead to a contract, then it was still a gift to God.
Last October, I was offered a book contract.
And I signed it.
So, you see. God leads. And He uses editors and publishers to lead us.
It is all a gift from Him- to the editors and publishers – for the readers . . .
except when it is just a gift from Him to Him and it never gets published at all. And that, my friend, is the greatest gift of all because it is the sacrificial gift that gives us a share in the Cross.
Blessings, Catholic writer.
All for Jesus through Mary.