Monday, March 6, 2017

Confessions of a tenacious writer

I love to read. And lately I've been reading a lot of YA and middle grade books because my work-in-progress is for that demographic. There really is no rhyme or reason to the books I choose. If I like the premise, or the author is award-winning, that's usually what I read.

When I'm reading good fiction something almost always happens. And a couple of days ago it happened again. I opened a book, read the first sentence, and threw the book aside in despair.

"That's it. I'm never writing another word. That author just wrote the most perfect first sentence and paragraph in the existence of the universe. I quit."

Silly, I know, but I really did do that!

When I stumble on excellent writing like this, I have the strangest sense of euphoria and doom. Rockets fire off in my belly at the joy of reading something glorious. Those rockets are immediately extinguished by my angst. Will I ever be able to write as beautifully? Ever?

Wrong attitude, I know. I know. But admit it, you've done it, too. If you're a real writer, you've mourned over finely crafted sentences that failed to spill from your pen. And that's fine. We're entitled to feel a longing to be brilliant. The trick is to be challenged by great writing, not discouraged by it.

It may take years for me to craft sentences that match the brilliance of Kate DiCamillo or Natalie Babbitt. Maybe I will and maybe I won't. One thing's for sure: I won't if I quit. I'm convinced it's not always the most talented that succeed but the most persistent. I'm going to cling to that hunger to write sparkling, crystal prose the same way my Boston Terrier bull dog latches on to his rubber tire:

I'm not going to quit because I have this tiny ember of hope inside that someday I will write an award-winning story. Sometimes the ember is flaming and large. And then, sometimes, when I read the most perfect sentence ever written, it settles to a small cinder.

But what roasts the best marshmallows? Embers. These deceptively-small crumbs of fire can be fanned into flames. If we keep writing, those little flames have the potential to become great bonfires crackling with hope. Quit writing and they go completely out. That is just too sad for me to think about. Without fire there is no light or warmth  in the darkness.

This writing dream isn't all about me. (How many times I remind myself of this!) It's not about winning awards or even about writing better than someone else. It's about conveying the good news. It's about heralding truth.

Even if I never win a Newberry or Carol, if I've reached one soul and changed their mind toward Jesus? The reward is enough. And if I can do it with as well-crafted a story as those I read, that's all the better.

I hear too often (from the secular publishing community) that Christian writers aren't as good at their craft as secular writers. I don't agree, of course, but this reminds me that we should be striving even more for excellence. We don't write for just any audience. We write for a King to His children. We are writing for royalty. And they deserve the best story-tellers of all.

What are some of your favorite first lines and paragraphs? What sentences have your favorite writers written that are good enough to be framed?  I'd love to know. Weigh in below! I'll include them in our workshop notes on March 18 in Fort Wayne at our chapter meeting.

Karla Akins first novel, The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots was published in August, 2013.  A Pair of Miracles: A Story of Autism, Faith and Determined Parenting is due out in summer/fall of 2017 from Kregel.  She currently serves as President of ACFW-Indiana Chapter. 

Photo credits: 
Bonfire by Trzypiece - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Embers by by Jens Buurgaard Nielsen


  1. I'm a big Anne Tyler fan. In her novel The Beginner's Goodbye, the first line is, "The strangest thing about my wife's return from the dead was how other people reacted." How could you not read more?

    1. Exactly! I love compelling first lines. I'm trying to learn that craft.