Writers, Words, and Readers

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A writer’s words are his or her work. With the exception of contracted copy writing for an organization’s use, the writer and their words need to stay together.

As it goes for most every writer I know, I struggle to generate much in the way of income in this craft. Writers write, often, because they need to. Having a book in print is a thrill, of course, but rarely will it replace a car or put a kid through college, let alone provide a livable wage. Anyone who gets into writing for money will soon turn to other ventures. There are much easier ways to make a buck.

Writing is not easy. As William Zinsser wrote, “Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident.” Every page of good written work represents hours of investment. Writers don’t make widgets to put on a shelf and sell. We capture ideas. We preserve and tell stories. We look at the world and try to tell you something meaningful and, hopefully, true about it.

Historically, we’ve struggled to come up with the best way to monetize the writer’s work—their intellectual property. But one thing we’ve been clear on for centuries is that we should not plagiarize. Plagiarizing is coveting, lying, and stealing all rolled into one sin, with an added dash of dishonoring our parents and failing to honor the Sabbath by resting in someone else’s work.

Writers need to stay connected to their words. Writers love to play with words, and we have plenty of words to play with. What we’re short on is time. Any time our words are shared is an opportunity to gain new readers. This is what writers accumulate over time—words and readers. For those writers who stay at it—who keep writing, keep submitting, keep weathering the rejection notices, and keep honoring the contracts they do land—they build a body of work, and more importantly, people who will read what they write.

Why am I so concerned with gathering readers? Because the only way my books stand a chance of finding their way is for people to read them and tell others about them. In the end, solid writing and supportive readers are the best assets any author can have. Why? Because after all my friends have told their friends about my latest book, after the publisher’s marketing plan runs it course, after I’ve exhausted even myself by relentlessly posting about it on social media, words and readers are what’s left. They are what determine the lifespan of a book; do the words hold up, and are people still reading them?

[Side Bar: Please have mercy on authors (me) as they (I) promote their (my) books. They’re trying to help their work find its way, and there’s not a lot they can actually do besides tell people about it. We authors know tweeting about our work appears (and is) vain, is usually an exercise in futility, and is annoying to you. But we’re such hopeful creatures we believe you’ll understand, forgive our self-indulgence, and maybe even help us get the word out.]

Words and readers. The author’s work is to generate the first and try to join them to the second, hoping the second will then pass along the first. May the words find their way, and may the reader know who wrote them.

Russ Ramsey

Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003).

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