ACFW 2012: Allen Arnold and James Rubart On Living Free and Writing Free
During the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference last week, former vice president of Thomas Nelson Publishers Allen Arnold and award winning author Jim Rubart presented the workshop “Live Free. Write Free.” which focused on what they call the “heart of the storyteller.”
Because writing is a performance-driven profession, it can be easy for authors to be subsumed by their career and neglect themselves. This can be harmful to the writer as well as their writing. As Allen says, “You can’t write what you aren’t.” So during their presentation, these two speakers gave some important tips on how writers can stay true to themselves and their message. The advice given during this interactive workshop was for authors, but there were also some great gems that everyone can use in their daily lives.
Feeling inadequate and being unable to write.
Allen says that he has seen many, many authors struggle with writing. At one time or another, every author will feel like they can’t get their characters right or the plot is not flowing. This leads to a lack of joy in their writing. Allen warns that this is not a problem with writing techniques, but actually an issue within the writer’s heart.
James says that in order for him to write he “guards [his] heart”. Over the years, he has realized several truths about himself including what he needs to relax. Important for him are solitude, the ability to shut off email and other distractions and taking time to focus on family and his faith. All of these things help James to recharge and none of them have to do with writing. However, he says when he does get back to writing, he is reinvigorated.
In order to find what you need — not things you have to do, but things you want to do — James suggests making a list and sticking to it. This will mean a lot of re-prioritizing, which is not easy but oftentimes necessary.
Becoming disenchanted with our work and ourselves.
Allen says that writing it is so easy to become performance-driven. Amazon rankings, reviews and other external markers become a barometer of how we judge ourselves. This can lead to a cycle of feeling overwhelmed and alone.
James says as an author, he has had to detach from much of these measuring sticks. (He reveals that he rarely reads reviews anymore). Because writers are in the public eye, they invite criticism. James relates this situation to fighting a war. “When you are close to the front lines, you have a better chance of getting shot.” So rather than relying on often anonymous critiques, James has found a support system that he trusts will guide him to creating his best work. This is why, he says, it is so important to find a great editor and agent.
Losing your identity.
Allen warns that so often a person’s identity can become so tangled up in their work and it becomes hard to find where you end and where your writing begins. Allen says that with the media training available today writers have a hundred ways to tell people about their story. But this is not what you want to do. He warns writers not to be “machines”. When you walk into a room, don’t say “Here am I” but instead “How are you.”
James agrees that too much spotlight on yourself can mean that you forget others. He says that it is important to turn attention back onto others. He advises to ask people about themselves. Find out what their story is and care about them like they care about you.
James and Allen ended their workshop with reminding the audience that everyone faces deadlines and the dreaded "to do" lists. And while there are consequences when making trade-offs, it is important to nurture your authentic inner self and not just your writer self.