One Thing Every Writer Needs

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Seldom can we boil down our needs to one thing, but in the case of a writer, I’ve been thinking that without this one thing, a writer is nothing.

Every writer needs belief.

I was reminded of this imperative the other day when one of my clients, on hearing that a publisher had serious interest in his manuscript, replied, “They like my writing!?”

I, as the agent, was lost in the euphoria of a sale, of a published book, of moving a career forward, but the writer heard affirmation, belief in his writing.

For a writer, belief resides in:

  1. Oneself. Without the nudging sense that you are able to be coherent and maybe even articulate on paper, you wouldn’t even try to write a book. The germ of an idea isn’t enough to urge you on; kayakingit’s belief–regardless how tiny–that causes you to put your fingers to the keys.
  2. Others. Where would a writer be without a spouse, a parent, a teacher, an editor or an agent who said, “I do believe you can write that book”? Well, the answer is, you’d be without a book. That belief often is not only spoken but also acted on. While you’re writing, others try to lighten your load and do without your presence. Through making meals, doing laundry, taking care of the kids, ignoring your 3 a.m. alarm that gets you up to write before beginning a full day of other work, those who believe in you endure you while you write. And listen to your ideas burbling over, read your manuscript, brainstorm titles with you, dream about the day the book is published. What, or what, would you do without others’ belief that you can pull off this massive pouring out of yourself?
  3. Your calling. You know that writing is an expensive task: It requires all of your heart, soul and mind. And it’s not to be undertaken by the faint of heart or the easily discouraged. The ones who thrive best under the heat lamp of the publishing industry are those who believe they are called to write, that they must write, that life would be so much less if they stopped writing.

Yes, belief is the one thing a writer needs. This post is a tribute to each of you who have found belief, the most powerful impetus you could ask for to go forth and create.

Who first believed in you as a writer? What other sources of belief spur you on?

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  1. Thanks for your post, this is so true! My husband was the first to believe in me. When I made the terrifying announcement that I had started writing a book, he didn’t laugh or looked confused, instead he thought it was a great idea. Now most of my encouragement comes from my critique partners – it really increases my faith in myself when they let me know they’re excitedly waiting to read more, even while pointing out areas of improvement.

  2. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Oh, THANK YOU for this post, Janet. ‘Tis affirmation and that’s always welcome. Who first? A coworker many years before I began writing 1st book told me I should write a book to help children living in homes scarred by domestic violence. Her comment periodically returned and sparked my imagination. Critique group members are a gift of gold. And can’t ignore messages from the pros in the business that are encouraging. It’s like you all are shining a light a few steps (or many!) ahead of this unfamiliar path. Blessings.

  3. Michelle Ule says:

    I read this out loud to my patron of the arts and our son.

    Thank you.

  4. What a great post, Janet! I love the way you organized it, and called out the salient points.
    * Belief is something with which I have lately been struggling, because external circumstances have gotten massively grimmer, and this has affected my outlook…and especially my self-confidence. But there is a way through this Slough of Despond.
    * First, the support of this community, and my own blog community, are the springs to which I can return when parched to the point of hopelessness. The Living Water is here, in community…for wherever two or more are gathered…
    * Second, I know I can write. I’ve been published, and have gotten good reviews (though perhaps I haven’t earned my spurs as I have no one-stars on Amazon? Bah. I’ve earned them).
    * Third, as a specifically Christian writer, I call to mind the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. My mission is to spread the Gospel, period, full stop, through parables of my own. And the important thing about the Vineyard is that the workers were paid for showing up…not for their productivity,nor for the time they spent. If I never convinced anyone of the Good News…I did show up. I have tried.
    * Fourth, and pursuant to (3) above, there is the Parable of the Sower. Only a part of that which I have tried to sow will fall on fertile ground…but in that parable is the assurance that the fertile ground IS there.
    * Fifth, the calling is uncompromising, and I have no right to say, “Well, I believe in my message, but having a lack of commercial success…I lose confidence.” This places me squarely where I don’t want to be…in the error of Ananias and Saphira, holding something back from God. Either my writing is a commitment, or it isn’t; the self-imposed double standard that gives weight of judgement to both the Almighty and secular judges is an affront to God.
    * Sixth, following that Christian calling is no guarantee of secular acceptance, but it’s incumbent on me to step beyond the Christian ‘bubble’. The publishing industry…even CBA publishers…work in a secular world, and I have to claim ‘citizenship’ with my work (while not accepting secular valuation), just as Paul invoked his Roman citizenship. It ended uncomfortably for him, and he died knowing that churches were planted…but would they survive? So, too, the lot of the Christian writer. Our seeds are planted; we will not likely see them sprout.
    * Belief, like faith, is no bright spark of exultation, nor the warm-fuzzy of feeling, or the dogmatic acceptance of creed. Like faith, it’s a living thing that has to be nurtured with the water of consistency placed upon the fertile soil of Scripture.

    • Carol Ashby says:

      Andrew, I agree wholeheartedly with your points 3 through 5. I couldn’t have put it better.

    • A robust AMEN! to your parable reference, Andrew.

      Jesus told stories to get his heavenly point across to his earthly listeners. He has given me the talent of story-telling–spoken and written. It isn’t commercial success that drives me (not that I’d turn it down). If I didn’t write, I would be–as you said–holding something back from God. I would be ignoring his glorious gift.

    • Jackie Layton says:

      AMEN! Thanks for adding to Janet’s comments, Andrew. Being obedient to God is one of my daily prayers. He’s called me to write, so I write. I love you reminding us of the workers in the vineyard. And the parable not to hold back. Wow, I think you could do a series on ways we hold back and that dishonors God.
      Thanks, my friend. I hope you have a blessed day!

    • So well said, Andrew!

    • Janet Grant says:

      Thank you, Andrew, for adding so much with your thoughts here, especially regarding the parables. I appreciate your perspective on the vineyard workers: what counted was showing up, not how much time was spent working, nor how much of the crop a person picked.

  5. Carol Ashby says:

    The thing that spurs me on to write is the absolute conviction that God called me to write heart-twisting stories of human love and spiritual transformation, where realistic characters struggle to live out their love for Jesus when the desires of their hearts are pulling them in another direction. He called me to portray in my books the struggle and triumph that come from faithfulness to Him above all else. I guess the first person to believe in me as a writer of fiction is me, not because of personal arrogance, but because I know when God calls a person to do something, He will equip them to do it faithfully and well. I’ve seen that so many times in my life and the lives of other believers that I know He’ll do it with me in this calling to write. I’m ready to pour whatever it takes into developing and maturing what He gives me to fulfill that calling.

  6. Thank you! This is great.
    *i find great affirmation in the doors that God opens. First, it was the idea to write a book and a year of researching the process and brainstorming. Then, he nudged me to rebrand my blog and social media. It’s been a whirlwind from there: I found a writers group that I love, I’m starting a podcast to broaden my reach, and I just signed up for a conference.
    *It gives me a lot of peace to focus on the part of the writing journey I’m in right now because God continues to unfold opportunities.
    *I’m thankful for the belief the people around me have expressed because as a single mom of young kids, writing is not an easy task to fit into my day, but so many people are helping to make it happen.

  7. Jackie Layton says:

    Hi Janet, my husband was the first to believe in me. Even when disaster struck our family a few years ago and I put my craft books and writing away in the attic. He was the one who kept encouraging me to go back and write.

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful post with us today.

  8. Beautiful, Janet. “Regardless how tiny” … “if you just have faith the size of a mustard seed” tiny. I remember my first article assignment … I was to interview a young lady from Brazil, on mission in Africa. I was so scared … nervous that her story was placed in my seemingly incapable hands … and my sister-in-law said, “Shelli, you can do this.” Then after several years of writing for a missions on-line site, my editor said, “Shelli, I’ve been following your writing … would you write for our magazine?” God brings me encouragement from so many places, but I get the most right here.

  9. Lara Hosselton says:

    Thank you for this post, Janet. In all honesty I have to say I believed in myself first, as a writer. Capturing creative thoughts on paper is something I’ve done since childhood, but it wasn’t until God visually blasted me with an idea that I realized my love of writing was actually a calling He’d been preparing me for. Hopefully I won’t disappoint.
    *I’ve found critique groups and this blog to be my second source of encouragement. In my humble opinion, another writer or someone in that profession is the only other person who not only understands your need to write, but the reason you continue to ride the literary roller coaster of dreams. How many of us have tried, perhaps even begged to get off that wild ride, but couldn’t? LOL
    *Of course God is my biggest cheerleader. His inspiration and encouragement keeps my creative thoughts flowing and my fingers on the keyboard, albeit I sometimes hear him say, “Lara, get the lead out and finish this book, already!”

    • Janet Grant says:

      Lara, you bring up one of the greatest aspects of someone who believes in you: They prod us forward. I’m not sure God has ever used the phrase “get the lead out” with me, but if he did, I’d probably get the lead out!

  10. Jaxon M King says:

    It was my friend, author Madison Daniel, who first inspired me to write. I had always thought I wanted to write a novel, but believed it would just be another hobby. But after sharing that with Madison, he told me to “just write it!” He said he would help me with the publishing process, if I would just get the words down. Three years later, I had my first novel published through Amazon. Along the way, I truly felt God pulling me along, which was a wonderful motivator. I felt that with my Heavenly Father backing me and my writing, well …

    • Janet Grant says:

      Hooray for Madison’s saying, “Just write it,” as if writing a manuscript were like snapping one’s fingers. When someone who’s in the game invites you in to play, it seems more doable.

  11. What a lovely post, Janet! My first source of affirmation came from a sixth-grade teacher. In hindsight, I don’t know if she was genuine in her praise or just encouraging a student to continue to try at something, but it worked and spurred me on. My husband has been telling me since the early days of our marriage that I should write a book, and now I have teen daughters who affirm me. It is a wonderful blessing to have people who believe in you!

  12. A further thought…while I can, because I’m behind held upright by two Pit Bulls to be able to type this.
    * Belief can and should be nurtured through maintaining a positive outlook, and the following methods may help –
    1) Keep an accessible archive of positive feedback – emails, blog comments, etc. Keep it up-to-date, even when you’re depressed and tempted to slough it off. (Hey, I used the word ‘slough, with two meanings, twice in one day…brag brag brag.).
    2) Take care of your physical being; your body is God’s temple, and why would he want to visit long in a place that’s in utter disrepair? Eat right, exercise, and keep hours that are as regular as possible.
    3) Take in only positive Soul Food; if sad songs make you feel so bad they make you feel ‘good’in feeling bad…ditch ’em. Likewise, avoid nihilistic philosophical treatises. Nietzsche’s an idiot (though not technically a Nihilist, but close enough).
    4) Think before you speak, and speak only positively (unless something negative is unavoidable). We are what we think; we are also what we say. If presidential politics drive you nuts, don’t follow it, don’t make sarcastic remarks on the candidates; sarcasm’s not particularly healthy. Your vote matters, but it’s not worth your quality of life.
    5) Regularly participate in activity in which you excel, and which you enjoy; the positive feeling you get in one area has been shown to carry over into others. Time spent playing golf, if it’s good for you, is not wasted; it’s a refill of positive energy that will help your writing.
    6) Read Scripture every day, and pray, in your own manner.

    • Andrew, you are wise. (And I mean a wise man, not a wise guy.) Thanks for sharing your wisdom here.

    • Jackie Layton says:

      Andrew, I had a group of friends in college. The guys lived in one apartment, and whenever X and his girlfriend got into a fight, he’d listen to a specific country singer. One of his roommates always knew when they’d gotten into a spat because he’d hear the country singer. He always told X listening to that music was no good for him. He’d totally agree with your thoughts on what kind of music to listen to.

    • Lori Benton says:

      “Regularly participate in activity in which you excel, and which you enjoy; the positive feeling you get in one area has been shown to carry over into others. Time spent playing golf, if it’s good for you, is not wasted; it’s a refill of positive energy that will help your writing.”

      I SO agree with this, Andrew!

      Also my pastor has said if he could only say one more thing to us it would be: “Read your Bible and pray, Every. Single. Day.”

  13. My friends, when I was in high school, then the others I shared my stories with were the first to believe in my writing. The critique group I belong to probably was the second group, and it’s they who have spurred me on in the last few years. Thanks for sharing this post, Janet!

  14. My husband rarely read fiction, until I came along.
    I’d rarely ever done any in depth research, until my husband came along.
    When we were dating, he was close to losing his research job because the owner of the company truly actually thought scientists discovered new things everyday. Oh, and one of the company cars was a Ferrari. I am not making that up. So yeah, a slight mismanagement of funds.
    One evening, as we watched baseball (so boring) he said “Would you still love me if I didn’t have a job?”
    I shrugged and said “Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”
    He’s told me many times since then that my short statement blew him away and it was in that moment that he knew he was going to marry me.
    Why? because I believed in HIM, and I didn’t measure his worth to me in his job as a geneticist.
    When I started writing, Hubs knew the critical value of “boots on the ground” research. He knew that by going to where my stories were set, and meeting the people for whom the story was a living history, that I’d write better. That I’d care more, and that emotion would find itself on the page.
    I cannot count how many times I’ve been at my laptop at 2am and he’s tiptoed downstairs for a snack, smiled and said “You can do this. I’m proud of you. You’re going to be great.”
    In looking at funds for ACFW and another writing event later in October, Hubs has said, “You need to go. I’m not sure how, but I’m going to try to get you there.”
    I may have to choose which event to attend (October!!). I may have to walk there. But he knows how important personal connections are and he also knows I’ve worked hard.
    *John is the captain of the home team.*
    Then there are my friends. The ones who write, and the ones who read. I have a tight team of supporters behind and beside me. One in particular knows a thing or two about books, and has blessed me with her unwavering belief in my work. I am humbled by that support and encouragement.
    But ahhh, then there’s Mary Keeley.
    What can I say? Other than I know what it is like to be un-agented and to read things about people’s agents and how it hurts to not have one. Fear not, God will provide.
    And when He does? be ready to work harder, because your agent KNOWS what she/he is talking about. If she says “cut another 10K.” Do it.
    Just do what she says. Go ahead and blink and ask questions. But when an agent says “I believe in this story”. she does.
    And for someone who writes against the tide? Having an agent who can read the waves is critical.
    *Mary is the captain of the away team.*
    My King is weaving them all together, and wrapping me in the warmth I need to feel. He pours His wisdom and words into me, and warming me from the inside.
    I am thankful beyond words that He has chosen me to write for Him.

  15. I read your title, and I wondered what your One Thing would be. As soon as I saw Belief, I knew you were right. And for the areas you focused on, again, YES!
    *When others believe in us as writers, there is something strengthening that helps us to go on, in spite of setbacks.
    *A dear friend was the first one who expressed belief in me. She taught me the beginnings of the writing craft and encouraged me in my writing. And then there’s my husband. He was on-board from the first time I mentioned that I thought I might, maybe, have a story to write. He’s continued to believe in and support me as I pursue writing and publication. I can’t imagine doing this without him behind me.
    *I have both writing and non-writing friends who also believe in me. They’ve been encouragers when I needed to hear something.
    *And God, who keeps confirming that I am where He wants me to be. Knowing this helps me to press in when things are hard.

  16. Who first believed in me…my first grade teacher, a Jr. High teacher, High school teachers, but most importantly my husband who convinced me to take that first long distance writing course and urged me to go to a local writer’s conference every year even when it meant him being alone with our 3 active boys all weekend as he juggled his job as well (camp directors do not get weekend off, especially in May). He is not a big fan of comedic romance and yet he is a big fan of me. Love that man. He shows me he cares in so many ways, and a belief in my writing is one of the best!

    • Janet Grant says:

      I think we were all picturing life for your husband on that writers conference weekend when he’s juggling camp director duties with taking care of those three boys. He’s a hero, all right.

      • So true, and after making the camp run smoothly for 50 ladies (the writer’s retreat falls over our Camas Ladies Retreat) the man stays up playing board games in the evening with those same wonderful rowdy boys and our dish washers. Have you ever tried to teach a strategy board game (the kind of thoughtful, plan ahead 5 turns, epic battle that makes adults who are used to stuff like risk and chess groan) to children, active children none-the-less? He does it and the boys have a blast, leaping around the table in between their turns to burn off energy.

  17. This is spot on. Belief drives everything.
    I never had any one believe in my ability to write at the beginning. But I recall the first time I used my writing to persuade. I was taking a grad level course on multicultural education. We were to write a paper on how socioeconomics impacts children, especially the poor in America. I didn’t fully agree with the premise, because it isn’t the whole story. I decided to write a story about a poor family who didn’t fit the mold, who were rich in family life but poor in $. It was my family’s story. The class was huge, filled with teachers, and I was quiet as a mouse. When the prof gave back the papers, he said, “Who is
    Norma Wieland.” I raised my hand. He came over and spoke to me about my story, and my writing ability. He had written some comments on the paper too. I knew it was the quiet emotion in my story that had drawn in him. He acknowledged that there are exceptions to the rule so to speak. But it was a great moment for me and helped validate what I believed about my writing “potential.”

  18. Thank you, Janet, for including the words of your client: “They like my writing!?” That’s exactly what I’d say.
    I don’t get writer’s block as much as I get confidence block. But my husband, who nudged me to write my first manuscript, is my “tribe”. He surprised me with a new camera and told me it was for my writing “business”. It blessed me to tears when he said that.
    I have to write, I love to write. And even though I’m not sure what my writing/publishing future holds, I’ll continue to hold my pen daily as I scribble out poems and prose to share in the hopes of igniting a passion in others for the Author of life. Having novels, devotionals, or memoirs published will be a bonus. Either way, I’m here to stay–because I believe.
    Blessings ~ Wendy Mac

  19. Janetta says:

    My speech teacher, Mr. Young. Later, when I took writing more serious, my family. They are my cheerleaders, for sure.

  20. I remember really clearly the first person who believed in me as a writer and who convinced me I was doing the right thing. She was the editor of a city magazine I’d queried for a profile. She gave me the assignment and when I turned it in, she called me up and said “Wow. It’s like you took my idea and made it a better version of itself. Your writing made me sit up and take notice. That doesn’t happen a lot.”

    I think my response was “Der . . . what?”

    It happened again a few years later when a publisher and I were emailing back and forth about me maybe getting a job in publishing and she poopooed my efforts. “You’re a great writer. You need to spend all your time writing.”

    I had a hard time wrapping my head around someone at her level saying that to me.

    Thank God I took her advice. Now I tell other writers to believe in themselves and believe that whatever they are writing, it is vital to understand no one else could possibly do it as well as they can and they need to stay busy and get that story finished.