Book Review: You Are a Writer by Jeff Goins

It should be no secret that I love to write. If I hated to write then this blog wouldn’t make very much sense since I’m not really given to masochism. Not only do I love to write, but I love to learn and read about writing. Learning how others use words is fascinating to me. Maybe it’s because God created with just words, but there is something about writing and writers that resonates with my soul. Because of that, I’m always on the look out for a good book or blog that will help me grow further in my craft.

I found another one and it is pretty good.

Jeff Goins is a man dedicated to write about writing. The goal of his blog is to inspire other writers to take their art seriously, love it, and to write like crazy. Jeff even wrote a manifesto (for writers, not Communists) about his great epiphany that writers should write for the love of writing, not for fame. It seems like that should be a self-evident truth, but ask any writer and they will tell you that it is not as easy as it sounds. You can download The Writer’s Manifesto for free by subscribing to Jeff’s blog (which I recommend anyways if you like to write; his blog is golden).

Jeff has another ebook that is coming out fairly soon and I got the privilege to read an advanced copy of it. It is called You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One). This seems to be the follow up to The Writer’s Manifesto, where it’s main focus was on inspiring writers to write. You Are a Writer aims to show you what happens next.

BORN THIS WAY

This short ebook begins with a reiteration of the manifesto’s main points. Jeff believes that you are a writer because it is in your DNA; to borrow the words of Lady Gaga, you were “born this way” (not every day a pastor quotes Lady Gaga). Jeff tells us through a story that it was a friend who brought this truth to light for him. Jeff’s friend says, “You don’t have to want to be a writer. You are a writer. You just need to write” (15; page numbers are according to an advanced copy).

I like this because it reflects that God has created each person differently and has given them gifts to use. Our gifts are part of who God made us to be and when we aren’t using them, we are acting like the unfaithful servant who buried his money while his colleagues stewarded what they were given.

The key, Jeff writes, to being a writer is to start acting like one. When most of us think of acting like a writer we imagine some sort of scene out of the movie, Midnight in Paris—drinking, dancing, and smoking with Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds. While many writers do those things, a true writer loves the craft and writes with their passion as their guide. This led Jeff to wake up at 5:00am every morning to find time to write. You just do it, but it starts with believing you are a writer first. When you say, “I am a writer,” then that’s when you are one (23).

Although I understand the idea behind becoming a writer when you say you are one, but I still found it a fairly humorous point. I can say, “I am a lawyer” but unless I pass the bar exam and get hired at a firm, I am no more a lawyer than Lebron James is a NBA Finals champion. All that said, I understand that what Jeff means is that if you say you are a writer then you will believe it, and when you believe you are a writer, then you will write.

Jeff then divulges, what he believes, to be the secret to successful writing, “The only person you need to worry about writing for is you. This is the secret to satisfaction in anything: doing what gives you life and not trying to live up to others’ expectations” (27). While this may sound like effectively eliminating your readership, making the only person interested in your work to be you, Jeff explains it this way “If you’re ‘one in a million,’ and the world is full of seven billion people, that means there are seven thousand people just like you” (27). Most people would be pretty happy with seven thousand readers.

JUST WRITE

The rest of You Are a Writer then takes a more practical approach to show you how to be a writer. It takes great courage and hard work to be a writer. You must be willing to face rejection constantly, but it is in failing that you can find success.

Hard work is not the only thing a writer needs though. Jeff writes that you also need “1. A platform to share your writing; 2. A brand to build trust with readers; 3. Channels of connection to distribute your art” (39). Jeff then graces his readers with what I believe to be the most beneficial part of this book, practical advice on how to “ship” your writings. Many of us writers are a helpless lot, clutching our ideas and manuscripts but having no idea what to do with them. He shows how one of the best ways to build a platform is through a blog (that’s how he struck gold) and shows the less tech-savvy of us how to set one up. Jeff also shows another important way to build a platform and a brand, getting published through magazines and websites, even offering awesome templates for pitches.

INSPIRATIONAL & PRACTICAL

It’s not in his inspirational writings but in his practical advice, that I really Jeff Goins hits a home run. Don’t get me wrong. I think Jeff’s inspirational sections are helpful. His story about walking up at 5:00am to write has in fact motivated me to do the very same thing (it has been amazing!). But Jeff’s practical advice is what I personally benefited the most from. I am already motivated to write (hence, the blog), and so I don’t necessarily need to proclaim to myself that I was born to write. Nonetheless, I am sure that those struggling writers struggling with an identity crisis would benefit from most of the inspirational sections of this book.

Although I liked You Are a Writer and really like Jeff’s blog, I think his secret to successful writing was the one thing I really took issue with because as a pastor, I do not believe that the goal of any gift is to be used just for yourself. And furthermore, I do not believe that the secret to satisfaction is “doing what gives you life.” The Bible simply does not teach either of those things. If this were written by an unbeliever this probably wouldn’t have even caught my eye, but I know Jeff is a Christian (although writing for a broader audience) and so I feel compelled to be a little bit more picky.

I don’t think Jeff would disagree with me on this: the goal of any gift we have is to glorify God (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31; 14:25) and to build up/encourage others (cf. 1 Cor. 14:4-5; Eph. 4:12). I agree with Jeff that we should not allow the fear of man to dictate how and what we write but we should not replace others with ourselves; we should replace others with God and when we do that, others will be blessed. Here’s the best part though, we will be blessed too because we will be fulfilling what God created us to do. We will have a far greater satisfaction than “doing what gives you life” because we will be worshipping the one who gives life, through our writing. It reminds me of something Eric Liddell, the Scottish Olympic sprinter, who said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” When we live for God, we are in the best place we can be.

Does this mean that we have to write only theology books or Christian Amish Romance novels? No. Please, no. Just like the tiger glorifies God with its stripes, the writer glorifies God with his words. As Francis Schaeffer once wrote, “Christians should use these arts to the glory of God — not just as tracts, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.”

Write the stories God has put on your heart. Write as a reaction for what Christ has done for you on the cross. Write as worship. In that, God is pleased and you will be too. And if you are looking to grow in writing and steward the gift God has given you, especially through the medium of a blog, download this book. It’s available on Kindle and also through the You Are a Writer website. You will be blessed.
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