Do You Have a Story to Tell?

What’s the difference between a person with a story to tell, and a writer?

What’s the difference between a person with something important to share, and a writer?

This is a tough one. I honestly think that everyone – yes, every single person – has a story to tell. Everyone has something valuable to say. But everyone might not be a writer.

Everyone has something amazing happen to them. A huge tragedy. A gigantic obstacle they overcame. An important lesson learned. A spectacular achievement. An epic love. But not everyone has the talent, drive, determination, skill to be a writer.

Everyone has a story. But it’s possible that not everyone has a book.

If you have an important story to tell, then ask yourself if you really want it to be a book. If so, then I encourage you to learn to be a writer. Do whatever it takes. Spend the time, learn the craft, practice, practice, practice. Get feedback. Take classes.

Become a writer.

If your publication dreams don’t seem to be coming true… NEVER think that means that you don’t have something important to say. Don’t assume it means your story isn’t worth sharing. It just might need to be shared in some other way besides a book. (Magazine articles? A website? A blog?)

Your story is important. What you have to say is valuable. Remember that. Whether or not anyone else ever calls you a writer.

(This is a repeat of a previously posted column.)

Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

26 Comments

  1. junie pawley on April 1, 2015 at 11:07 PM

    Rachelle, e-mail me, I feel like i’ve got a story or even a documentary to share, me posh June just out of prison argh. yeah even me ha ha xxx



  2. Michael Gray on April 2, 2009 at 12:45 PM

    >I have read on your blog and elswhere that the chance of getting a personal experience story published is small. What can someone with a great story and who has genuine writing talent do to give his book a fighting chance?



  3. Shannon on April 1, 2009 at 11:31 PM

    >Rachelle,

    I WANTED to tell the editor that it was a ridiculous notion, but I decided to NOT write what I knew on that occasion. 🙂

    Thanks for the input.

    Shannon



  4. Rachelle on April 1, 2009 at 5:30 PM

    >MisterChris —

    I don’t necessarily agree that a lack of interest in missionary books equates to Christians sidelining the Great Commission as unimportant.

    I think it’s about books, not about the Great Commission or a judgment on Christians.

    Perhaps it’s a combination of factors: For awhile there were too many missionary books, people had enough of them and this is a backlash; plus this is a generation that likes to DO things rather than read about other people doing them, hence the popularity of short-term missions. Other than that, I don’t know.



  5. Rachelle on April 1, 2009 at 5:18 PM

    >Shannon, it’s kind of a ridiculous notion that everyone’s writing has to be born out of their own experiences. There are thousands of writers and journalists who make their living writing terrific stories about things that are not part of their own personal lives. I suspect whoever turned down your article was trying to find a polite way to say “I just didn’t like your article.” Or perhaps they didn’t feel you connected deeply enough with the material so that it didn’t resonate. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t mean all writing is born of personal experience.

    Here’s a post that partly answers your question:
    http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/2008/07/write-what-you-know.html



  6. MisterChris on April 1, 2009 at 1:39 PM

    >To Rachelle –

    Thanks for the heads-up. I find that a travesty and perhaps a sign of the times. Not necessarily anything against publishers (or agents) 😉 but a judgement perhaps against the generation we live in. – That Christians would sideline the Great Commission as unimportant.

    I wonder how many churches and ministers would be interested in a modern-day Missionary Book. My mind wanders back to ‘Jesus Freak’ by Toby Mac, (the book, not the song) which was somewhat of a modern-day Foxes Book of Martyrs.

    Gee, it was, like, His last order. Couldn’t we even get THAT right? 🙁

    To Shannon,
    Cannot comment on non-fiction, other than that the facts have to be either out of solid research or first-hand knowledge. For fiction, now, you have to do research, but some things nobody has ever experienced…

    (Sorry, I’m turning into a YA Fantasy/SF writer in my midlife crisis.
    🙂



  7. Shannon on April 1, 2009 at 1:20 PM

    >Rachelle,

    I was recently turned down on an article because I was describing how three different types of people err differently because of the same (shared) misconception. The article was rejected because I couldn’t write with the voice of experience on all three accounts.

    I’m frustrated with the idea that ALL my writing needs to be born out of my own experiences. I LOVE to share the tiny paragraphs of my life, and I do agree that the voice of a fellow traveler is easiest to hear, but sometimes I find this constraining.

    Any advice?



  8. Sharon Ball on March 31, 2009 at 7:23 PM

    >When I started writing I asked the Lord to bless me with being a great writer. I’ll always remember what He told me. He said to work hard, learn, and practice. I knew right then it would be a challenging road, but well worth the effort.



  9. Rachelle on March 31, 2009 at 3:05 PM

    >JungleMom & MisterChris (and anyone else who's interested):

    You're right, there is a lack of current missionary stories out there. The prevailing idea in publishing is "missionary stories don't sell" and it it difficult-to-impossible to overcome it.

    I am currently representing an amazing, fun, funny book written by missionaries (in the Amazon jungles of Venezuela just like JungleMom). I chose to represent this fully knowing the biases against missionary books, but this one was just SO good, I thought if any book could overcome the traditional "wisdom," it was this one. So far, publishers just keep saying "no." Very discouraging, as you might imagine, for me and my authors.

    I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade. This is just a reality check for anyone thinking of writing a missionary book. Be aware from the outset that you are most likely looking at going to a small niche publisher (which you'll need to do on your own without an agent) or self-publish it, unless your story has been in the national news for some reason.

    Sometimes reality bites.



  10. MisterChris on March 31, 2009 at 2:44 PM

    >You know, Jungle Mom, just adding together the snippets from this comment thread, there’s a crying need for what you have to offer.

    I’ve often thought when reading through the ‘Heroes’ books to the kids in my ministry, that there doesn’t seem to be any stories out there of CURRENT and RECENT missionaries out there working for God.

    I tallied it up, and our church in the last 15 years has sent over 30 families to the mission field, to Korea, Uganda, Ghana, France, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, and to the Crow Indians in the States. And that’s just our church.

    I’ll bet there are thousands of compelling stories that would encourage young men and women in today’s world to make the sacrifice to GO or SEND.

    If you cannot find it inside yourself to write your story, I still say your story needs to be written, even if you have to find a good Christian writer who is established and can write your tales in a compelling way.

    Something perhaps along the lines of ‘The Land I Lost’, but from a Missionary Life perspective? (Short Vignette stories and glimpses, perhaps, of God working.)



  11. Jungle Mom on March 30, 2009 at 6:05 PM

    >Thank you so much for the direction!



  12. Rachelle on March 30, 2009 at 5:54 PM

    >Jungle Mom, there are hundreds of books on learning to write, including specific books on how to write memoir (which is what yours sounds like). There are also many writing courses, seminars and workshops, including some you can take online if you don’t have access to face-to-face instruction where you live. (Check out Christian Writers Guild, they have a course that’s done through email.) Sounds to me like you need to first, learn about crafting your book; then you’ll need to get educated about how the publishing industry works. There are hundreds of blogs and websites similar to mine, so once you get started web surfing, you will find no shortage of information available. You’ll be ready to query an agent when you have a saleable proposal and manuscript, not before.



  13. Jungle Mom on March 30, 2009 at 5:07 PM

    >I was directed to your blog by lady Glamis. I am a person with a lot of storeis to tell and share but not a writer.
    I live in Paraguay now, but spent 20 years living in the amazon jungle of Venezuela among a primitive tribe.
    My problem is that I really do not know where to begin. I have several short articles already, but not being a writer, I do not know how to make them cohesive and put them into book form. Do you have any advice or suggestions?



  14. Dawn on March 30, 2009 at 3:31 PM

    >Livia,

    I’ve pondered the same question – and I think that’s true.

    Perhaps greatness occurs when combining the two – life experience and skill – enables you to touch, move, teach, or excite a reader through written word.



  15. Chatty Kelly on March 30, 2009 at 11:22 AM

    >This is so true if you are familiar with the “90 Minutes in Heaven” book. Don Piper had a great great story to tell, but just couldn’t write it himself. That is where Cecil Murphey (a great writer!) came in. Together they had a best seller.

    So true today!



  16. Maggie May on March 30, 2009 at 10:40 AM

    >What a timely post for me. I just posted a memoir short story on my blog.



  17. Caitlin Murphy on March 30, 2009 at 10:20 AM

    >This is one of my biggest fears- that perhaps I truly am not a good writer, just someone with some stories. Thank you for the advice. I have to make myself into that writer I so want to be. I need to believe in myself. I need to keep working, learning, practicing…

    Caitlin Murphy



  18. Livia on March 30, 2009 at 10:07 AM

    >Interesting post. Do you think the opposite might exist as well? For example, a young person with an impressive command of language who doesn’t have yet have the necessary life experience to write a compelling story.



  19. Sharon A. Lavy on March 30, 2009 at 10:01 AM

    >Thanks for reposting these blogs, Rachelle. They are still timely.



  20. Lady Glamis on March 30, 2009 at 9:31 AM

    >Inspiring post. I think you’d like the story on this author’s blog It touched me and relates directly to what you’re saying.



  21. lynnrush on March 30, 2009 at 9:12 AM

    >Great post. I hadn’t seen this one yet. So true.



  22. Kim Kasch on March 30, 2009 at 9:01 AM

    >So many stories out there to tell
    So many people write so well

    Everyone may not have a book
    with the perfect marketing hook

    but what about a rhyme?
    There isn’t much time…

    April is National Poetry Month and I’m holding a ”Poetry Contest” on my blog – with prizes.



  23. elaine @ peace for the journey on March 30, 2009 at 8:27 AM

    >I’ve been writing my story for as long as I can remember. I recently came across a tattered blue folder amidst a box of “kept remembrances” from days gone by (diplomas, caps and gowns, awards, etc.). The folder seemed an odd “fit” with the rest of the boxed contents. Inside the folder were eleven papers I had written during my freshman year in college for my Advanced Composition Class. All of them had one thing in common … a generous amount of red scribbling and the accompanying grade of “C.”

    Twenty-five years later, I scratch my head and ponder their significance … my keeping of them. They were a painful prod all those years ago, but today, they are my “stone of remembrance” of just how far the Lord has carried me, brought me, and shaped me as a writer.

    And while my story may not harbor the “makings” of a blockbuster movie or a best-selling novel, it is mine to write; it is within my heart to do so. Thus, I will keep to pen for as long as the ink remains. It is a gracious gift of God’s intention–my life and the writing of it therein. May I always be found faithful in the task.

    peace~elaine



  24. casey on March 30, 2009 at 7:34 AM

    >I know this is a repeat post, but this is just what I needed to hear this Monday morning. While I’ve had a few things published, I sometimes doubt whether or not I have anything valuable to say. Discouragement keeps many writers from pressing on. But as for me…today I write! Thanks Rachelle!



  25. Yvonne on March 30, 2009 at 7:18 AM

    >As a writer, I hear stories from people, especially the older generation, and I want to write it down before it is forgotten. I don’t know if I’ll ever publish these memories, but I can at least give them to their families.

    I am also burdened with the lack of new missionary stories. Our children know David Livingston or Hudson Taylor, but God is working today. There are exciting stories of faithfulness and courage happening everyday. I feel the need to write them down. Can you imagine going to a retired missionary home and just sitting and listening to all their stories? Wow!



  26. Timothy Fish on March 30, 2009 at 6:29 AM

    >Just how many memoirs are in your inbox?

    In writing, it is so important that we make “eye contact” with our readers. Yes, we all have a story. We all have many stories. Some of them are interesting when we’re telling them to our friends. We’ve all struggled through life and have learned something from it, but the real question should be, what will our audience benefit from hearing?



I love words.

I love books and publishing and talking incessantly about them.

I love authors and all the intricacies of managing a writing life.

I sell. I negotiate. I coach. I brainstorm.

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