Thursday, October 18, 2012

Assumptions in the Writing Life

We bring our own baggage to the table with everything we approach in life.

This week, I told my literature students that we all walk around with assumptions, many times without even realizing it, and these things influence the way we look at stories. These assumptions come from many places: past experiences, beliefs, values, and preferences, to name a few. I told them to visualize a dog when I said the word, "dog," and then we compared the kinds of dogs they thought of. As you may have guessed, there was quite a difference, depending on their own experiences.

Maybe your "baggage" isn't heavy--maybe it's sparkly pink or has a Hawaiian print. On the other hand, maybe your baggage looks like it should've been retired fifty years ago and is threadbare, barely able to keep everything in.

But wherever you're going, you bring these things with you to the next stop. That's why it's so important we examine the assumptions we are making about our writing lives. These assumptions, in a way, are our baggage. If they're possible assumptions, we may be well-prepared with what we'll need to face the challenges of our writing lives. But if they're the wrong kind of assumptions . . . well, that can do a lot of harm.

Jim Rubart and Allen Arnold led a workshop at the ACFW called "Live Free, Write Free," on a similar topic. Personally I wasn't able to attend this session, but from what I've read about it online, their main point was that the heart of an author is going to affect the heart of her story. You can't help it. Engaging stories--even fiction--have to be honest. That's why, they say, examining your own heart can help you find a way past writer's block. If you want to read the full Afictionado article about this session, it comes highly recommended by me. You can find it at

Today I want to break down three main areas wherein our assumptions affect our lives: assumptions about God, assumptions about ourselves, and assumptions about writing.

Assumptions about God

I accepted Christ when I was five years old. And yet, it never ceases to amaze me how easily and quickly my focus wanders away from the character of God. I don't care if you've been a Christian since you were a child, or if you just accepted faith five minutes ago. We all struggle with having, and maintaining, a proper view of God. But a proper view of God is this:

  • God loves you. (John 3:16)
  • God has put these dreams on your heart. (Eph. 3:20)
  • God has gifted you with a gift that is unique to YOU and a calling only you can fill. (Rom. 12:6-8)
  • God desires for you to use those gifts for His kingdom. (Rom. 12)
  • God is not waiting to condemn you, but wants for you to live in freedom. (John 3:17)
  • God desires for your life to be full and abundant. (John 10:10)
  • God waits for you and never gives up. (Isaiah 30:18)
  • God desires for you to be confident in His purpose for your life and in His love. (Hebrews 10:35-36)

Thoughts of failure, insufficiency, confusion, and fear, are simply not God-given (2 Timothy 1:7). We have to take back our minds from the control these things have over us. Am I afraid of being rejected by my dream publishing houses? Well, yeah. We all are. But that fear can't keep us from going after our dreams. We need to hold our fear back, rather than the other way around. That takes a lot of will power, and requires us to be conscious of our assumptions in the first place. If you believe somewhere deep down that God doesn't really love you, nor does He care about your story or your dreams, lie can hold you back from your potential and purpose as an author.

Ask God to show you His thoughts toward you and your writing. If you're anything like me, you have a head-knowledge of that, but having it translated to your heart makes for one of those "wow" moments. At the conference this year, I caught a glimmer of what God wants to do in my life and realized it is so, so much more than anything I could plan or dream up. Don't limit God. 

Assumptions about Ourselves

Part of you assumes you can make it as a writer. Otherwise, you wouldn't be reading this blog. But how strong is that part of you? How strong is the inner voice pushing you on?

When you're around writing circles long enough and put yourself out there enough times, you have a choice what you're going to believe. Some feedback will make you think you're about to rocket to the NYT list, and other feedback will make you want to go crawl inside a hole.

Now, I'm not suggesting you only take the positive feedback and ignore anything negative. Definitely not a good idea. What I am suggesting is that you make a very critical break between yourself as a write-r and your story as writ-ing. I had do to this very early on in my English program, or I never would've made it out of there. The fact is, to be a writer, you must be very brave.

People are going to shoot you down. At the end of the day, you have to be able to realize that negative feedback has no bearing on your calling. Of course it's okay to get bummed out and eat one too many brownies afterwards. But don't quit over it. Don't let it go from your heat to that critical place... your heart.

We have to believe we can do it. We have to believe we have a call upon our lives, and that ministry is important. Not to sound overly spiritual, but I really believe the enemy wants us to think we don't have what it takes and we might as well give up trying. That nothing we do will ever make a difference in anyone else's lives, so we shouldn't waste time developing plots and character arcs. But don't we most often find success when we least expect it? You never know what might be just behind that hill you're facing. Don't turn back now.

Assumptions about Our Writing

What do you really believe about your ability to write? About your story?

Dream with me for a second. Can you see yourself on a bestseller's list someday? Signing books at a bookstore? Writing a story that someone will read on an airplane and find a greater since of purpose from?

Why do we sell ourselves short of these things? I'm not just talking about commercial success. I'm talking about effective writing. Somewhere along the line, after getting a certain number of rejections and/or harsh criticism, we learn to be cautious. But the writing life is so not a safe career. Don't let these kinds of commends leak over into your perspective about your ability to write. Protect your writing voice.

If you knew that one year from now, your book would be a bestseller, what would you be doing differently today to prepare for that? Start doing it. Whether it's reading more books on the craft, learning the mechanics of grammar, networking with industry professionals, or spending more time in prayer--take your writing seriously. Serious goals take serious output on our part to achieve, but they can be done.

How might assumptions affect the way we write? What sorts of assumptions do you have about your own writing life?

*Photos from,


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blogFacebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. Truth and love ooze out of every word. Thanks. We can do all things through Christ.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Wonderful. I'll need to come back again and re-read to soak in all the wisdom.

Angela said...

Thanks for that post, it was right on time.

Jill Weatherholt said...

God waits for you and never gives up. (Isaiah 30:18)
He never gives up on me so I'll never give up on my writing. Wonderful post, Ashley!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, Ashley. Such great truths. I hadn't thought about my assumptions as baggage, but you're right, they are.

Assumptions can affect my confidence in the calling God's placed on me, so I'm learning to be careful the messages I speak to myself. I try to always come back to why I'm writing and the truths God has shared with me so I don't go too far afield in my thoughts.

Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom, Ashley.

Lindsay Harrel said...

Love, love, love, but that's no surprise, since you wrote it, Ash!

I definitely think we all have assumptions we bring with us when we read and write stories. It's why two readers can react completely different to the same exact story. It's why witnesses to a car accident describe things differently. Everything we do--including writing--is shaded by our own experiences and assumptions.

I think the thing to do is examine whether those assumptions are right, though first, as you pointed out, we have to recognize that we even have them.

I also love your advice about not limiting God. How often do I make the assumption that I can put Him in a box? That I can understand Him or His ways or what He even wants for my life?

Ashley Clark said...

Thank you, Freya! So glad you stopped by. Love your profile picture. :)

Thanks Karen! That's how I feel about all your posts.

Angela, good to hear! Thanks for sharing!

Ashley Clark said...

Jill, be encouraged! God has a reason for giving you your story. Thanks for stopping by today!

Jeanne, I struggle with that too. I think we all do. That's why I love that verse about keeping your confidence! It's so easy to think of confidence as pride, when in actuality we NEED confidence in God's giftings and purposes for us in order to fulfill them. I can't wait to see what happens with your writing in months and years to come!

Linds, well said, girl! So true. It can be easy to let the wrong assumptions weigh us down rather than letting the right assumptions affirm us. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Ashely, this was so powerful, especially the first part about limiting God. I definitely have assumptions toward writing and my writing life in all these categories. It's great to see it broken down and put in a tangible way. We don't have to accept what our minds have preprogrammed us to accept. Wow, this is getting all philosophical :) Your post said it all better than I can and I appreciate it! I'll have to come back and read this again!

Ashley Clark said...

Aw, thanks, Cindy! I am so encouraged to hear that. Thanks for sharing!

Amanda Fanger said...

" have a head-knowledge of that, but having it translated to your heart makes for one of those "wow" moments...Don't limit God."

I think I just had one of those "wow" moments by reading this post. Absolutely beautiful! You've challenged me to really look at the way I approach my writing career. Thank you!