If It Ain’t on the Page, Then It Ain’t on the Stage. I’ve had a few heaven-sent moments where “being a writer” bore tasty fruit. Here’s one.
My daughter Kami and I had just flown from Los Angeles to London for spring break. We were blinky-eyed with jet lag, conked out in this rented flat. Hours later, she was still snoring, but I got up and began padding around the cramped kitchen. I switched on the 13-inch black and white “telly” and flipped through the lineup.
A broadcast came on exploring the merging of Christianity and media in the American market. The exposé had its cynical Moral Majority moments, but all at once, I snapped to attention. Somehow the producers had gained access to a 30-second video clip I HAD SCRIPTED two years earlier at the Adventist Media Center. Entitled “Jesus Is Coming Again,” we’d produced it for the recent General Conference Session, and there was MY SCRIPT rattling through that cheap plastic speaker in ye olde England, eight time zones away. Wow.
As fun as that was, I got a bigger thrill visiting a smallish church on the isolated side of Maui. (No, I don’t spend my whole life jetting to exotic locales; more on writers’ remuneration shortly!) But during the Sabbath potluck, I chatted with a pair of sweet primary-age kids who blurted with adoring gazes: “We read all your Bucky Stone books!”
“You did? NO way.”
But they had. Those kids had devoured all 10 volumes and knew the storylines better than I did. “You shouldn’t have had Lisa and Bucky break up!” they scolded me.
How to Become a Writer
If you set your sights on being a writer, for sure, that’s the motivation: touching lives and inspiring nice citizens of Maui (and elsewhere) to seek God’s kingdom. So there’s a glib answer to the question: How do I become a writer? You write. That’s it. You sit down, find the icon for Word, and don’t get up until there are 500 of ‘em on the screen. I’ve done that for decades, and it works.
I grew up a missionary kid in humid northern Thailand. Dirt roads, rice and mangoes, and for sure no TV. I count that as a blessing because, hey, that limited Chiang Mai universe forced me to be a voracious reader. There was a dinky hole-in-the-wall English-language library downtown; my favorite activity was “going to USIS.” (United States Information Service) They had a row of orange books on the lives of famous Americans. I gobbled up that kid-friendly propaganda – easily one or two books a week – and developed an innate sense of how words flow and sentences should be structured. To this day, I hardly know the difference between a noun and a verb, and for sure can’t diagram a sentence, but gleaned a whopping good (and decently spelled out) vocabulary from those formative Asia years, nose stuck in an orange book.
So you’ve got the writing bug and hopefully the genes to match. But can you make a living? In this age of print-on-demand and Amazon downloads, for every Stephen King or Jan Karon, there are a thousand wannabes who write their great American novel or Christian devotional and then can’t land a publishing deal. Twice I was sitting on a pretty okay manuscript and even landed an agent, but they couldn’t manage a sale in today’s glutted market. One actually quit the business, confiding: “David, today’s publishing model is entirely busted.” Still, it does happen; there’s always a Top 10 bestseller list with 10 titles. If you’re good enough, and if heaven and fate choose to bless your efforts, who knows?
Hired to Write
Perhaps you have the same good fortune I did, where your employment is tied in with an entity that needs a steady flow of good writing. Adventist conferences all need communications staff; I spent a joyous decade as the head scriptwriter for the Voice of Prophecy radio ministry. My whole career was to read my Bible and immerse myself in fascinating slices of life: good books, the drama of world headlines, trivia, and thought-provoking moments from the ICU or Dodger Stadium or even hometown kid memories from Chiang Mai. The VOP house committee told me: “Please just write. We need a 1600-word script from you.”
“Um . . . okay.” And I did! That was great, and yes, there are careers like that out there. If you can develop a reputation for excellence, and responsible, accurate journalism, and fidelity to grace-bathed Christianity, the Lord might have a dream job waiting with your name on it.
Beyond that, if you’re a wordsmith with a flair for sparkling copy, freelance opportunities are here and there. I have a friend who monthly writes fundraising letters for Christian media organizations at $500 per package. The assignments that land on my doorstep can net me a comfortable $50 an hour, and most gigs are actually fun to research and create.
It all comes with the honor of helping illuminate the sweetness of God’s kingdom. Remember those kids in Maui? I really need to go back and check on them.
David B. Smith writes from Southern California.