God Told Me to Write This Post

People always ask me about the clichés we hear in queries, and last week someone asked me what makes my eyes glaze over in a pitch. Here it is, hands-down:

“God told me to write this.” And let’s not forget its many variations. God laid it on my heart. God gave me this idea. God has called me to write this book.

I call it playing the God card and frankly, it doesn’t impress me. Now don’t jump to conclusions and vow (once again) to stop reading my blog forever. I’m not a heretic, but I may be constitutionally incapable of conveying my thoughts on this without the snark factor. Because you see, when you say “God told me to write this” the instant reaction (usually unspoken, thankfully) of most editors and agents is, “Yes, but God hasn’t told me to publish it.”

Don’t get me wrong. I recognize that as Christians, it’s vitally important that we try to follow God’s call on our lives and be obedient to His will. And I know that many writers feel directly divinely inspired to put their words on the page. But saying your idea came from God doesn’t help you get it published. It doesn’t make an editor or agent sit up and pay attention. It doesn’t give you a leg up on the competition. Because if you’re pitching your work in Christian publishing circles, everyone else can say the same thing. At least, we hope they can!

If you’re a Christian, then of course God is involved in your work. I assume your desire is to let Him speak through your writing. I expect you have moments where you feel your specific words came directly from the mouth of God. So, mention that God spoke these words into your life if it’s important to you, but don’t assume it will give you a selling advantage. In fact, only say it if you’re sure you’re simply conveying important information to the editor and not trying to use God’s name to help sell your book. That’s really playing the God card. It’s irreverent and it smacks of using God for your own ends. I believe that’s the true definition of taking the Lord’s name in vain. So please don’t do it.

Even if you’re sure that God has led you to write something, don’t mistake it to mean He’s telling you it will be published. It might be that God wants you to do it for reasons you can’t fathom―for your own growth, for example, or to develop your obedience. Maybe, as we discussed in the post on personal stories, he wants you to write it down to share with a select few other people. Being inspired by God doesn’t mean that your work necessarily fits into the publishing business, but it still could be pleasing to God, and glorify Him and make Him smile.

Don’t despair. Glorifying God is a worthy goal. If your work blesses the life of one person (even if that person is you) while giving glory to our Lord, then be assured it’s worth it. If you feel God has called you to it, then make like Nike and just do it. If you feel He’s also called you to pursue publication, do that too. If you believe He’s made you a promise that your book will become a million copy bestseller, you might just want to keep that little tidbit to yourself.

If you want credibility with your writing, don’t try to sell it based on the fact that God told you to write it. And you can trust me on that, because God told me to tell you all of this.

P.S. Lest you think I don’t “get” the idea that God really does inspire our
writing, please
read this post which I wrote a few months ago. I’m a writer, too. I get it.

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  • Anonymous

    >When I wrote my first book, all I had was the God card. Actually, it’s still all I really have. I know this is an exception to the rule, but God told my agent I was going to write my book, and my agent found me. I literally, got a call out of the blue after he read a newspaper article about me and tracked me down cross country. I’ll never forget that call. “Are you a women of faith? Want to write a book?” Weeks later, a two book deal. A few years later, we’ve done two more. Never been to a writing conference, never written anything substantial before, definately did not go to school for writing of any sorts. If my agent had not been obedient and I had not trusted God my books would not be published. So while the God card may not have *sold* my books it certainly gave us enough faith to make the mountains move. So while I agree that it must get old to hear and it may seem like people play the God card, I think we do need to leave room for God occasionally indeed saying “I want you to write this AND I want you to be published.” But that said, since God is God when you know its His will for you to write and be published you won’t have to scream it to the world because He will open the doors that need to be opened and close the ones that need to be closed. You just need to be obedient to walk through. That’s just my view.

  • Anne L.B.

    >I’m so glad to have Rachelle clarify this issue, and could not agree with her more. I have no doubt God has led me to write, and am grateful for all He has done in my life through it. But how much He wills me to be read is another matter entirely.

    Not only should we be careful not to use the Lord’s name in vain (what a clear way to put it!), but we also do well to distinguish between faith and presumption, especially when “claiming” a promise from God (as if He owes us anything).

    I do rely upon Him, and fully trust His Word, believing that I need only obey Him to be led in His perfect will. But to assume I know His plans for my future inevitably injects my will into the equation, and too easily brings me to a place not part of His plan. I unfortunately speak from painful experience.

    Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:2-3 NKJV)

  • Jessica

    >I don’t like it when people say that because it’s almost as if they’re being manipulative.
    The Bible is VERY clear in the old testament about claiming that God said something. Writers and all church people should be extremely wary of putting words in God’s mouth. And if you feel that it is imperative that you tell the agent/editor what God’s told you, double check your motives.
    Sometimes we feel things so strongly we assume it’s God. Maybe it’s just you, wanting to be published.
    And maybe it is God.
    I like the first post. Anon’s so right. You don’t have to shout if from the rooftops to get your way. If God’s got a plan for your writing, then that’s that.
    :-)
    No need to manipulate people around you.
    Rachelle, I think you handled this in a very sensitive way.
    I wonder if secular publishers have to deal with this?

  • Richard Mabry

    >Rachelle,
    I’m sure there are as many shadings and gradations of this syndrome as there are Christian writers (i.e., Christians who feel called to write). I can’t judge the accuracy or the sincerity of individual statements, but I must admit it’s a pretty immediate turn-off for me when given in the context of “…so publish it.”

    Looking back at my non-fiction book, I see God’s hand in its writing and publication at every turn. But there are lots of other books out there, written by sincere and dedicated Christians who feel they’re following God’s will, that will not be published. I don’t have an inside track in understanding God’s plan, but I do believe there is one–He just hasn’t shared it with us yet.

    I appreciate the way you’ve addressed a thorny subject with more sensitivity than snarkiness.

  • Mary DeMuth

    >Although I’m not a gatekeeper (agent, editor) in this industry, I read a lot of manuscripts when I am teaching at a conference. I hear the same words. And, in my head, I think this: (snark factor alert)

    Hmmm, if God told you to write this, why does He have such terrible grammar and sentence structure?

    I know! I’m so bad.

  • stayathomemomreview

    >I like to pray that my work no matter what will be used by him as a witnessing tool.

  • Anonymous

    >Do I feel God’s call on my heart to write? Yes.

    Do readers feel God’s presence when they read my writing?

    Ah…that’s the crucial question, isn’t it? And that is not mine to judge. If I choose to go the route of traditional publishing, an agent will judge that first, or an editor. Why should their God-call in choosing what to represent or publish be any less vital than my call to write?

    We’re all part of the Body, and we all have a critical role to play in this process. I may write from God’s call. All well and good. The agent or editor may reject from God’s call, too.

    As others have said, in my humble opinion, it’s when the writer implies “God told me to write this; therefore you must represent/publish it” that the lines get woefully blurred.

  • Karen Witemeyer

    >It is natural to feel the pressure to impress when we write a query. Unpublished authors don’t have much clout in the publishing world so we look for ways to enhance ourselves. We look for endorsements by published authors, or recommendations from those already represented. And if we don’t have these options, how tempting it is to drop the biggest name we can. The Creator, the Author and Perfector, God.

    However, I believe that we need to not only have faith in our own call, but faith in the call God places on the hearts of Christian agents and editors. Do I pray that God will intercede on my behalf and open doors for me in publishing? Yes. And then comes the hard part. I have to trust Him to do it. To close doors that would lead me in the wrong direction, and open doors that will take me where he wants me to go, even if the fog of the unknown is so thick that I can’t see where the path leads. If I try to force things, I get in the way of His plan.

    I think this idea is very similar to the concept of not writing preachy prose. Yes we want the truth God reveals to us to communicate to our reader, but creating preachy characters often turns off more readers and editors than infusing a more subtle message in our fiction.

    It is our job to plant seeds, and God’s job to give the increase. We get in trouble when we try to step into his position and force increase on our time table instead of waiting for Him.

  • Nicole

    >Motives and obedience . . . the heart condition. It comes out of us all the time. We are not “entitled” to get published. We are privileged to obey the Creator. It takes some soul searching to determine our motives. I wouldn’t have a single story without the Lord, but what He has for them is His business. I’m just his “go for”. :)

  • heather

    >Along with what Jessica said–I believe that’s getting to the heart of using God’s name in vain. Good idea to double check motives.
    With that in mind, can I say, “Publishing this book scares the devil”?
    Kidding.

  • Leslie

    >Nice post. Our acts of obedience may be on target with God’s will and still have surprising results. I like to make plans and work toward a goal, but I need to be willing to release my plan so that I can participate in God’s plan. It’s a worthy trade-off.

  • militia207

    >this post just tickles me pink !!!! Great post. Don’t know about how often this point comes up in the writing world but i am an avid football fan and although it is in every sport football is the most place you see it so i’m just picking on football.

    Every time somebody tackles somebody or scores a touchdown or kicks a field goal or intercepts a ball they just fall on one knee and point up to the heavens. It is done so often it is eye rolling nausiating.

    it always makes this newbie of a christian wonder did God really have anything to do with this guy slamming the QB into the ground for a 15 yard loss ? And if He did, why then 10 minutes later the very same QB is running into some receivers arms as he excitedly points up to God after a TD. which team does God root for on Sunday ? Do they fill out football pools in heaven too ?

  • Catherine West

    >I think, as in all things to do with writing, it’s subjective. If someone tells me God told them to write something or wash my car or give me a million dollars, who am I to tell them He didn’t?
    I wouldn’t necessarily use it in a query either, but there are definitely times when God speaks to me. I just don’t blog about it or share such information with people who really don’t need to hear it.
    The thing is, I think you as the receiver of such misplaced missives, need wisdom here. Maybe that person really does believe God told them to write that book, and maybe He did. We have no way of knowing that. The wisdom to pray for is whether or not He’s telling you to represent it.
    Unfortunately I am sure all of us can recall at least one instance in our lives when we heard the old God told me to, and you just knew it was a crock.

    I understood your post (I think) and I hope everyone else does too.

  • Rachelle

    >I hope I’ve clearly conveyed the point of my post. I’m most concerned about your motives for mentioning God in your pitch, and I want you to realize that when you do, you’re saying something we’ve all heard a thousand times before. Let’s make sure we use God’s name with reverence and sincerity, as opposed to the desire to increase our chances of publication.

  • Pam Halter

    >I remember including this phrase in a query letter MANY years ago when I was a total beginner and had not attended a writer’s conference yet:

    I feel I am gifted by God in the area of writing.

    ACK!!!

    No wonder I got rejections! What did I know? I was being totally sincere. I am thankful for God’s mercy in this, as I’ve learned so much since then and have been graciously published several times.

    Thanks for a great post, Rachelle. I hope lots of newbies will see it and learn. I sure wish I had known it in the beginnig.

  • Katy McKenna

    >This isn’t quite about the writing life, but I can’t say I have thought about it when I’m communicating with those in the publishing industry:

    The Jesus Freak group I belonged to in the early 1970s did not encourage dating. They pretty much taught that God would show you whom to marry, and then–in obedience and whether you “felt” love or not–you’d get married.

    Doug and I were friends (in a group) for more than two years before we had one date and then got engaged. During those two years, though, I knew of FIVE girls who told him “God told me we’re supposed to get married.”

    Doug is the kindest, most diplomatic gentleman in the world. He always said the same thing. “When God tells me, I’ll call you.”

    What did I learn from observation? That even though I really HAD heard from the Lord about our future, it would be wisdom to keep that to myself. Especially since God really was able to show Doug, without my help!

    And since he’d heard it all before, from the previous five girls, who evidently didn’t impress him much. :)

    BTW, we’ve been happily married 31 years.

  • elaine @ peace for the journey

    >You’ve laid a pretty big dinner on the table with this one. A lot to think about.

    We’re all fellow pilgrims traveling this road, and if I err with my words, let it be for my Jesus everytime.

    He is too precious to me to use him for my gain, and he is too precious to me not to mention his name should someone ask.

    I want my life to be a reflection of the Truth who resides within. Any other truth isn’t worthy of my pen.

    I’ll chew on this one for a while longer. Thanks for your thoughts in the matter.

    peace~elaine

  • Nicole

    >Re: the football athlete dropping to a knee and pointing to heaven . . . Why not? I can’t say what the motive is for an individual athlete, but they can be giving thanks for their ability and the blessing of achieving a good play. It’s so much more refreshing than watching them point to themselves as far as I’m concerned.

  • Anonymous

    >I’m also an agent and am writing anonymously here to protect the innocent. :-)

    Rachelle is right. We hear those words so often that they’ve become vain repetitions. And, too often, the claim of direct inspiration sounds glib instead of the momentous, burning-bush/holy-ground/ponder-it-in-your-heart thing it should be.

    This query may not be typical, but it’s one of the ones I recently received:

    I am a new writer and have never, ever submitted any work to any agent or publisher. But I had prayed about writing a worthwhile book and an idea just popped into my head one day. I have been working on that idea for 2 months now and am planning on completing it by the fall.
    It is an excellent idea…straight from the mind of God Himself and I am humbled He gave it to me, of all people!
    ————-

    Do you see why it becomes hard to see the words “God gave it to me” in a query letter and not groan?

  • Timothy Fish

    >Beloved, believe not every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. – I John 4:1

    I’m sure there are many reasons why people say that God told them to write. I think many of these people are sincere in what they say, though many are attributing something to God that he didn’t do. It seems to me that God tells me more about when I should keep my mouth shut than when I should speak.

  • Anonymous

    >The only time I used that line was when I decided to foster parent. My kids were against the idea so I explained that I felt a nagging voice telling me to do it and so they went along – for a while.

  • Anonymous

    >I totally see where Rachelle is coming from. I vaguely remember some of my very first queries. I admitt, the first ones where a little cheesy. But I had to learn. We have to let our work speak for itself. If it’s publishable, then it’s just a matter of finding the right agent. Agents are just like readers in that they can be turned on by certain kinds of book, whether it be an action thriller or a murder mystery. So we have to find the right one.
    I haven’t done that yet, but I hope that will happen in the near future.
    As for right now, I have been asked to write a monthly newsletter for our young adult group at church. And of course, my novel -about three pages at a time- is printed on the back page. I hope to one day tell them they will have to buy my book in order to finish reading it. I figured it out, I’ve got about ten years of material to draw from seeing my book is about 350 pages long. Hopefully, I’ll be published by then. If not, I shouldn’t have trouble having a second novel completed by then.
    If my book is publishable material, then I think it has a chance. I’m not ready to give even if I get turned down by the agent I’m currently submitting to. One way or another God’s will -will- be done.

  • A Noni Mouse

    >God gave me the ability to write, I write. God did not tell me to write, I just can’t not write.

    Whether other regulars on this site would call my writing Godly is a matter of doubt to me, which is why I keep my real name a secret, but I just wanted to say how much I appreciated this post, Rachelle. Hear Hear!

    A. Noni Mouse

  • Yvonne

    >Thank you for writing this post, Rachelle. I think we say certain phrases without thinking, but we are writers and should know the harm of cliches and redundancies. As Christians, in a world that uses the Lord’s name in vain so often, we should strive to use it reverently.

    I want God to use my writing to bless whomever he chooses to read it, whether it is published or not.
    This post has touched me and reminded me to be content with His will.

    BTW, I love the picture at the top

  • Kaci

    >Hullo! I’m new to your blog and decided not to lurk. Think I’ll stick around awhile. 0=)

    I can honestly say I’ve never used the “God told me to write this” thing. It doesn’t really work that way anyway, is my experience. God talks to me via story-form. And, most often, whatever he shows through the story is meant for me, and me alone.

    Anyone else who sees it, well, it’s icing on the cake, so to speak. Blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12?).

    Long way of saying it’s always snicker-worthy when I hear editors say things like this, just because I really can’t imagine anyone actually using that card on you.

    So yeah. I agree whole-heartedly.

  • J. et K.

    >Hi,

    I'm a first time visitor to you blog and absolutely loved this post. Thank you for approaching such a potentially sensitive topic with honesty and tact.

    I'll definitely be back to read more!

  • http://www.facebook.com/paxton.helling Paxton Helling

    Well said, it’s funny I usually avoid business with the ‘fish’ logo on their promotional stuff as well. I’m a Christian and feel that your work should stand on its own. Demonstrate––don’t tell.

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