A Journey in Words
There’s a hum beneath me I can half hear, half feel, punctuated by the rumble of wheels on iron. Ahead of me, a whistle blows. I’m riding the rails for the first time in my life, up the Pacific Coast from Southern California to the mountains and valleys of British Columbia, Canada. I’m in desert mountains now: sand, stone, and scrub. I’m watching the rock formations when suddenly we round a corner and the ocean catches me by surprise. The sea is green and rough under the morning sun, flecked with foam, the wind whipping the surface of the water till it looks like stucco in motion.
The sight sends me scrambling for words to describe it. I’m a wordsmith. Give me a pen or a keyboard and I can share my world with you. I’ve always loved the written word. My parents, bless them, homeschooled me, which gave me the opportunity to pursue that love.
I wrote my first novel when I was 13. Entitled Theodore Pharris Saves the Universe, it chronicled an 8-year-old’s attempt to save the entire universe from a race of slightly cracked aliens. It wasn’t Jane Eyre, but it was a start. It gave me the confidence every writer needs to move forward: the confidence of having written. My dad read it and honestly critiqued it, enabling me to edit and strengthen the story. Paradoxical as it seems, kind criticism can do as much for a writer as encouragement. When you’ve taken a piece of writing from the first line to the last and then painstakingly edited it until it reaches its full potential, you’re a true writer.
Charged up by that first finished project, I set out to learn everything I could about writing. I made good use of the library, studying the works of authors I liked and delving into dozens of books on writing. The reams of advice, both good and bad, that I picked up in those books helped me to think critically about writing. I discovered that I loved to critique and edit my work. I started to help friends with their writing, editing and ghostwriting articles, promotional materials, church newsletters, and even a screenplay. I was able to serve others with my developing skills while growing as a writer. I couldn’t have had a better start. These days, writing actually pays, but I try to remind myself regularly that it’s all about serving others.
Post-Theodore, Dad challenged me again. “If you could tell your generation anything,” he said, “what would it be? Think of the most significant thing in the world to you and write that.”When I was 17, I started writing an email devotional every month called “Letters to a Samuel Generation.”I sent it out to family and friends, and eventually my subscription list grew to include readers all over the world. In the meantime, I kept writing novels and stories, studying writing, and using writing to help out anywhere I could. I also started to study market guidelines and send out articles here and there.
In 2005, I took two major steps in my journey. I began working as a freelance editor and proofreader, and I self-published a book called Lord, Teach Us to Pray: Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer. The book is a collection of articles from “Letters to a Samuel Generation,”stemming from my study of the Lord’s Prayer during a difficult time in my life. I hope to publish other books in the future, remembering the challenge my father gave me.
I know I’m not alone in my passion for the written word. Mine isn’t the only heart that beats faster at the idea of being “a writer.”I notice a particular love for writing among homeschoolers, many of whom were raised on stories and sound philosophy in a way that institutionallyschooled children often miss. And I’m excited about the idea of more and more homeschoolers—parents, students, and graduates—pouring into the world of published writing. Homeschoolers have a unique view of our world because, in many ways, they’ve been raised outside our culture and thus can see it with a unique clarity.
Through blogging, articles, stories, novels, poetry, nonfiction, and every other form of writing, homeschoolers have the ability to speak on love, family, marriage, culture, spiritual life, and so many other important aspects of living. Today more than ever, we need people with the power to put truth into words. If you love to write, or desire to begin, put your all into it. Write. Learn. Serve. Like everything worthwhile, becoming an accomplished writer takes discipline. And like everything worthwhile, it’s worth the work. If God has given you the gift of writing, take the time to develop it.
If you’re in a place where your writing is good enough to be read, don’t hide it under a bushel. You can use words to serve others and make a difference in our world. If you have yet to see yourself in print, there are a few steps you can take to move yourself toward that goal:[numlist type=”normal”] [listitem][important]Learn to write a query letter.[/important] The initial point of contact between a writer and the editor of a magazine or publishing house is not the article or book manuscript itself, but a one-page sales letter called a query. If you’ve never written a query letter, it’s time you learned how. Many good books can coach you through the process. Have a look at your local library.[/listitem] [listitem][important]Research the market.[/important] Directories such as Writer’s Market and Sally Stuart’s Christian Writer’s Market Guide are excellent resources that can point you to the right home for your article, book, or idea. But don’t overlook smaller, local markets, even those that don’t pay. Every published piece counts on your r sum , and starting small will help you get your foot in the door when it’s time to go bigger. Find out how you can write for your local community newspaper, church newsletter, homeschool email list, or websites you like. The only way to know if a door will open is to knock on it.[/listitem] [listitem][important]Write.[/important] Until your fingers fall off. My passion is for writing, not for marketing my writing. If I spend all of my time on the business end of things, I lose heart. Keep writing, even if nothing you’re writing seems to sell. Keep writing just because God gave you this gift and you’re going to use it. Blogging can be a great way to keep your spirits up, giving you both practice and an audience.[/listitem] [listitem][important]Live a little.[/important] I’m talking to you, O feverish writer behind a keyboard. I know from experience that writers (especially those who have graduated from homeschool and are not yet parenting their own families) can tend to get a little unbalanced. Remember that writing is a way of commenting on and enriching life. If you’re not out there living life to the fullest, you’ll have nothing to comment on. The more you live your life as unto the Lord, the more you will gain in wisdom and truth, and yes, in words.[/listitem] [/numlist]
On the train as I write this, a man in his 60s and a boy of 19, seated a few rows behind me, are discussing the meaning of life. They seem a little confused. Meditation is good; reincarnation is possible; nature is great; and God probably exists, because if He didn’t, who would let everyone into Heaven at the end of the day? These two are separated widely by age and experience, but I notice that both of them keep referring to various authors and their ideas, and the older man swears by a ratty paperback he’s got with him. Eavesdropping reminds me again why I write. People need to hear the truth, to have it presented to them in the many unique ways made possible by the individual voices and talents of the messengers.
As I finish writing, most of the day has gone. I’m still riding the train, but it’s too dark to see the scenery, and most conversations around me have fallen silent. I’m headed into unknown territory, just as I am with my new publishing adventure. In a way, publishing is taking me back to the beginning: I need to renew my passion, to educate myself and work diligently, and to start by serving.
Writing has forced me to cut through much of life’s chaff and search for the heart of the matter. I want people to see Jesus in my writing. I want them to come away with a greater understanding of what it means to be people of the gospel and really live. The written word is powerful. Through fiction, through poetry, through devotional, inspirational, or straight-up practical writing, we can share the truth.[/section]