Artists and Influencers :: they’re teaching me about writing

artists & influencers :: a series at chatting at the sky

Last Monday, I introduced a series inspired by this question: What do you know for sure?

I tried to come up with a response to that question, but instead of a list of answers coming to mind, I kept seeing a list of people.

And so I bring you Artists & Influencers.

For the next several Mondays I will share with you some people who are helping me uncover and affirm those things I know for sure about a variety of topics and challenge you to identify and celebrate who those people are in your own life.

So for today, let’s talk about writing.

Donald Miller has a post up today called How My Faith Has Changed Since Blue Like Jazz. It’s an interesting read, but the thing that caught my attention was simply this: his faith has changed since he wrote Blue Like Jazz.

One reason why it feels like so much pressure to write a book is because I have thought that everything I put in my books has to be Completely And Undeniably True Without Possibility Of Changing.

Writing does not represent that for me anymore. I’m not writing scripture, I’m writing blog posts and I’m writing books. The kind of writing I do is not evidence of absolute truth, but of a person who is absolutely alive.

I will always work to pursue and represent truth, but to carry the burden of only writing what I will agree with for the rest of my life? Impossible.

In the spirit of embracing change, growth, and learning from artists and influencers, here are 5 people who are helping me uncover what I know for sure about writing:

1. My husband.

My most encouraging words for you often come after a discouraging time alone. But what moves me from the “discouraging time” to the “encouraging words” is conversation, usually with my husband.

When I am stuck, trying hard to write it out doesn’t always work. I need him to remind me of what I know is true, to point out the holes in my reasoning, to ask me questions and expect an answer.

If you are a writer who is having a hard time writing, try having a conversation instead.

artists and influencers

2. Christa Wells.

Christa is a singer/songwriter living in Raleigh who I also consider a friend. Back in October, she wrote a two-post series called How to Love Your Independent Artist. Here’s something she said that resonated with me:

“I think people often believe all artists are hoping for the same things: notoriety, money, awards, platinum albums, or even just to be picked up by a label. We are all either on our way or not on our way due to unfortunate circumstances.

If we weren’t after those things, then what could possibly be the point?

The reality is that the majority of professional artists do want all of those things. But there are many of us who honestly don’t.”

And then she said this, something I’m beginning to know as true, true, true, true, true:

“The longer we stay in or around the business, the more we’re aware that all good things come at some cost. Those costs are too high for some of us.”

Not all singer/songwriters have the same goals.

Not all writers do, either.

And all good things come at some cost. Even good things cast shadows.

It is important to work out and continue to uncover why you write and who you are writing for. My reasons may not fit with the latest marketing trends and they may not produce impressive numbers. I’m continually drawn to writing content that feels like it is for a smaller number of people.

Sometimes that’s hard for me to accept. But it would be harder for me to write differently just so more people would read.

3. Jon Acuff. 

I don’t know Jon personally, but when I am in danger of feeling the weight of responsibility and overwhelmed with The Serious And Important Work I’m doing, it helps to remember these words of his:

“Have fun. Don’t take yourself so seriously. You’re not discovering penicillin. You’re writing a book. If you ever find yourself becoming pretentious about the magnitude of what you are doing, go write at the library.

There are tens of thousands of books there that some other author once thought, If I don’t share this book with the world, the world will be incomplete. Writing a book is hard work, but don’t put the pressure of ‘changing the world’ on every page you write. You’ll cripple yourself and not enjoy the process even a little bit.”

In other words:


image source

4. My editor, Andrea Doering.

Last week I received the first round of edits for my next book, to release in November. I will spare you the details of her edits, of which there are many. But here’s one thing I can say with confidence: I have a lot to learn about the craft of writing.

In the past, that was overwhelming to me. Now, it’s strangely comforting.

Andrea is an artist in the way she eloquently encourages and speaks into my strengths while also calling out a more courageous voice that she knows is in me.

I learn and embrace the rules of writing in order to release my clearest, most powerful message. I have her to thank for that.

5. You. 

Last Wednesday, I spent several hours responding to email from readers. I read every email I get but I can’t always respond to them all the way I want.

But that day, I did. There was a moment when I was overcome with emotion – it almost felt sacred to me.

The fog of discouragement and self-doubt lifted and I could see how the cycle of words given to me turned over into words given to you.

Generally it is important for me to remember what Jon Acuff says – lighten up!

But sometimes, on days like last Wednesday, it’s nice for me to remember that even though every page doesn’t have to change the world, there will be some pages that do. And it is good and right to celebrate that.

These are some of the artists and influencers who are helping me uncover what I know for sure about writing. What about you? Who are the people in this season of life who are teaching you about writing? What are they saying?


  1. says

    I love your honesty and the notion that all things – even good things – come at a cost.

    I consider myself a writer, but only because I have moments when I can’t NOT write. Even though I pray my writing helps others in some small way, I don’t strive and stress because I know (for sure) that my writing helps me in big ways.

    My biggest teacher? Still the Lord. And, oh, does He have so much more to teach me.

    Looking forward to November!!

  2. says

    Good – I don’t even have words.

    Donald’s post was so comforting.

    And yours is too, all imperfect and what not talking about the certainty of things in the midst of the uncertainty of others.

    Keep calling us artists (just people, really) out – somehow, you’re good at it.


  3. says

    Oh my, this is just divine. My husband often talks me back into reality too. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the same person today without his influence. I”m not even sure I would be writing the way I am without his belief in me. And Emily, you have a way of sharing honestly about your own fears that makes me feel like I”m not alone in this. Thank you for being vunerable. This is going to be a great series.

  4. says

    I needed to read this post, Emily. It seems like everytime I allow myself to be discouraged about my writing, the Lord finds ways to send me encouragement. Today, you were the vessel for that. :-)

    Blessings to you,
    Anna K.

  5. says

    Um…. My list looks a lot like yours. Well, MY husband, not yours. But also Jon Acuff, Don Miller, you, your sister, the Thinklings in general, Daniel Pink, Chris Guillebeau, Ken Robinson, Anne Lamott, my editor, my agent, my pastor and his wife (new friends of ours here), Seth Godin, Gary Thomas, several homeschooling moms because I admire the HECK out of them, Elizabeth Berg, Ina Garten. To name a few.

    Love you.

  6. says

    I totally identify with the conversation thing…for an internal processor like me, sometimes batting ideas back and forth with a safe, honest friend is surprisingly helpful.

  7. says

    To be FPFG’s copycat, I would say you. Since I surely won’t be the last to write that, I guess it’s okay to copy. Also, it’s TRUE.

    This post, girl? One of my favorites of all time. And I *adore* your Andrea. Such a magnificent heart and soul she has!

    Have a beautiful week, friend. I love you.

  8. says

    I love this post. I especially related and very much liked your #2 where you quoted Christa Wells. Not that I am in ANY danger of the “notoriety, money, awards, platinum albums, or even just to be picked up by a label” part! My list would be: 1. My Husband, who is my spiritual spring board and best-est friend. 2. Friends who are NO longer, I appreciate our honest conversations the most. 3. Friends who are left in my life, because they are still there. 4. Authors past and present, there are so many words that walk us right past ourselves, we just have to find the ones who write them. (And I’ve found a few of those and the right post {wink})

  9. says

    “even good things can cast shadows”.
    Coming up on my 3 year of blogging I’m noticing that. I could try to grow my blog but frankly at this point it’s not worth it. And why? When I started I wanted to be successful, but now I don’t know that I want to pay for it. I think I could be successful, hilariously, but now other things are more important to me. I loved this. It was freedom in a letter.

  10. says

    I find comfort in your words and the words of these other wise souls. Thanks Emily for pulling this together. This soothes my spirit today for reasons even I don’t totally understand. But it does and I am grateful.

  11. says

    Ah, I love this post. I love hearing what other people do to get inspired, or stay grounded, etc. I have been reading a lot of the archives of two of my favorite blogs : FIMBY (i.e. Renee Tougas at and Penelope Trunk (.com). The writing styles of each are so different, and yet I feel I learn a lot from these women about truth, humor, cleverness, and even cyclical storyline in 800 words or less. I’m a blogger myself with much smaller aspirations for my blog (per se) than these two women, but their voice just speaks to me. That, and anything Anne Lamott says. She makes me laugh so hard I cry.
    I can’t wait for the next post on Monday. :)
    Sarah M

  12. says

    Oh, thank you thank you thank you! This was my God whisper for the day…the day in which I was doubting so much that I could really write my book…everything you said was everything I needed to hear.

    You–it is your words that have most often gotten me over a hump and stepping more fully into the art I am called to create.

  13. says

    My pastor, who writes constantly, and who reminds me constantly that there are “stories of rescue” going on in my life and in the lives of others- all the time. He has always encouraged me to write 1,000 words a day.

    Anne Lamott, who always helps me to remember that if I write, I am a writer. I don’t have to be published or famous for that to be so. I never leave the house without a notebook (or 2 or 3) because she reminds me that you never know when inspiration will strike.

  14. says

    These are words are so encouraging. Though I have blogged for a while, I have just now gotten down to the business of writing. And it is weird and hard and wonderful, all pushed together. My husband is teaching me the most, by his encouraging words and unyielding support, he is teaching to embrace this part of me and pursue it with wild abandon.

  15. says

    I really enjoyed this post and I’m so looking forward to the rest of the series. I have been encouraged by Donald Miller and Jon Acuff as well. And YES, YES, YES! Talking with the hubby is wonderful. He draws me out. He helps me see underneath the surface of things.

  16. says

    what a gift in my inbox today. thanks for this. sometimes i tend to zap the joy right out of writing. but it doesn’t have to be that way! this was a good reminder.

  17. says

    Thank you so much for this. I just wrote a post today on the discouragement in writing and blogging sometimes. This is a recent dream of mine. In face, I gained much inspiration from you at Influence! I feel what I have to say doesn’t connect with everyone, and in the past that hurt for some reason.. but now I find myself comfortable with it..I really liked what you said about “not everyone writes for the same reason.”…so very true…

  18. says

    What a refreshing post! I just stumbled across your blog through an InfluenceNet retweet, and I’m so glad I read this. When I was in college as a writing major, all everyone ever wanted to know was what kind of a job you can get with an English degree, or when I wanted my first book published. But the truth is, I never wanted to be published! The writing was always for me, and I’m fine with that. Now that I’ve started my own editing business, all people want to know is if I’m making money from it, and they all seem to have suggestions on this law firm or that academic publisher who would probably pay a lot: but I don’t care! No one seems to understand that I’m an editor because I love making books that I truly believe in into the best possible thing they can be, and I love working with authors that I like as people to hone their writing skills. This post just really affirmed for me that I’m not wrong to think this way, that it’s ok to not always be all about success as society views it.

  19. says

    I have been spending time reading through some of your archived posts. I’ve already read most of them, but I was drawn to come back one more time. I was feeling as though writing was a silly dream of mine – one I longed for but, like most of the fantastical dreams in my life, one that was never going to come true.
    I was feeling “less-than” – so discouraged and quite willing to give it all up for good. I had written over 30,000 words of a book I thought was a big part of the dream, and I walked away from them. I began to, for the millionth time, bring up all the past failures and wonder how God could use someone so flawed.
    Then I began reading your words and a felt a little flicker of hope begin to revive. This all sounds so dramatic (I do tend to be rather a drama queen), but at my season of life I’m not willing to waste the days and moments chasing dreams He didn’t put in my heart. The little flicker has persisted. Your words have encouraged Emily. They are so filled with grace and truth and your heart. Thank you for faithfully sharing.

  20. says


    Thank you for giving us a window into your art. Not getting it perfect has kept me from stepping out at all for a very long time. As a Bible study teacher I felt responsible to God to perfect my theology before I ever wrote, for fear I might not get it right. I love Jon Acuff’s two words, “More you.” Not more perfect, not more right, but more me. I am not perfect and I can’t expect everything I write to be either.

  21. says

    You always seem to answer the questions I didn’t know I needed to ask. I need to sit with this for a while, think on who is influencing me and why, and what I’m hoping for as a writer. I’ve just begun to wonder what it will take to pursue this path, how much I’m willing to give, and defining my end goals as a writer. Fame and fortune? Not so much. But pages that lead to change? Yes, please!

  22. says

    So much here resonates with me!

    There are many great bloggers I learn from — just a few, Michael Hyatt, (enlist others in your growth journey), Mary DeMuth (transparency is healing), Jeff Goins, (believe you’re a writer) and you (space for art, quietness, space to be who you are) and Jesus (his ways are not mine and he can accomplish more through my simple obedience of writing than I know or need to know)

  23. says

    Well, for starters, your writing certainly challenges my own–which is why I keep coming back here! I’d also include my husband, my mentor, my prayer partner, the Holy Spirit. And I like how Jane Austen can turn a phrase, how Tolstoy can paint a portrait, and how CS Lewis can explain something old in a fresh way. Wow, I want to go spend my evening reading!

    Your thoughts here echo much of my own. The most life-changing lesson I learned over the past year or two is one that you mention here, about the good and the shadows. My mentor puts it this way, “Every choice has loss.” So true. I wasted much time agonizing over decisions because I wanted to make The Good and Right Choice, but eventually learned that nothing is pure in this world. There is always joy and there is always loss, and they are always mixed up together.

  24. leanne duncan says

    WOW! what an empowering thought. ‘ I’m not writing scripture, I’m writing blog posts and I’m writing books. The kind of writing I do is not evidence of absolute truth, but of a person who is absolutely alive. I will always work to pursue and represent truth, but to carry the burden of only writing what I will agree with for the rest of my life? Impossible.’ I can only imagine the freedom to write and the joy in writing that followed after you embraced this profound insight. Thanks for sharing this very personal insight, I am grateful for your influence.

  25. says

    How how I loved this post. (And I think it speaks volumes of your influence and dearness at the amazing women writers posting in the comments here :) I am getting ready to start a blog series on Resources for Creatives, and I was starting to doubt myself and doing the series at all…why am I just giving people other resources, instead of writing them myself? THANK YOU for reassuring me through your words that it is needed and important. I am so looking forward to your next book. Thank you for inspiring me!

  26. says

    Emily, love this post. Your blog has been a breath of fresh air for me for a few years now, but I don’t think I’ve ever left a comment! Only recently have I come to grips with the fact that calling myself a writer does not mean I’m putting myself in league with Tolstoy–and have gone so far as to launch a blog of my own. :) I know that since I’ve started, I’ll be visiting your site more–to be inspired and encouraged by someone who’s familiar with all the struggles of writers. You and Jeff Goins are my favs to read on the subject!

  27. says

    Such a good list. I resonate with that first one, the part about the need to stop the writing and start a conversation, only multiplied by a gazillion. I’ll stop writing for days, weeks, long stretches and mull things over with friends and my husband and come back again. I don’t claim to know tons about writing, but writers who inspire me in it are many. Amber Haines did a beautiful series on concrete writing this fall – that challenged me tons. Makoto Fujimura’s writing about art resonates deeply too, with my art and writing. And I love what Elora Ramirez writes about the intersection of writing and art and the soul, too.

  28. says

    This is such a refreshing and much needed post as we sit, stuck in the doldrums of January. I think I’ll come back to this post tomorrow, the day after, the day after that and…well, you get the point. There are so many quotable lines.

    My current (unknowing) writing inspiration: the children’s area at Barnes and Noble, Renee Tougas, my son, who is just starting to read, and YOU (well, now you know.)


  29. says

    You always give me food for thought. I don’t read you everyday, but when I do, I usually find myself catching up on what I’ve missed and you always have something to inspire me. Today you made me realize that writing is a gift and I should not take it lightly, which means I should be thinking about those who inspire me to be better.
    I guess that means you would have to be on my list of those who inspire me. You see, when I first really discovered this blogging world it was through – I had inadvertently clicked on Encouragement for Today and your sister was guest posting. Of course I checked out her blog (still do) and fell in love with blogland. Not only were her posts inspiring, but she led me to other bloggers that I have enjoyed, including you.
    I have two passions – decorating and writing. I had thought about a devotional blog off and on and then when I saw all the home decor blogs out there that was what I wanted. So, I started a blog with the main purpose of talking about our little house and the changes we made to it. But more often than not, I found myself writing about other things (sometimes not even writing at all). So, I visit Nesting Place and I’m resolved to showcase my love of decorating, then I visit your blog and I think, no, I should really be focusing on the inspirational writing. I try to merge the two and that may be ok. I just feel right now that I’m still figuring out my purpose with it all and even, if at all. So, as part of the journey I come here, and I visit other blogs on my blog roll and discover new blogs and mull things over and somehow it all helps me think it through. Except, when it doesn’t.

    Some days it all feels like too many voices clamoring for attention and that is when I am reminded of Him. After all, He is the one I need to hear. His voice should be my greatest influence. When I allow Him to be my guide and listen for that still, small voice – that is when the best writing comes. That is when I am on track for fulfilling His purpose for me and my writing. And that is exciting. Waiting for Him to lead. Thanks for writing here so we can all be inspired. (And, forgive me for writing a blog post in your comments!)

  30. says

    Emily. Love love lived this! Naming the journey and unfolding of Christ in you and coming to know. Its so challenging with the pressures to arrive in the faith. We need more models of this!

  31. says

    I love this new series and especially this quote from your post: “It is important to work out and continue to uncover why you write and who you are writing for. My reasons may not fit with the latest marketing trends and they may not produce impressive numbers. I’m continually drawn to writing content that feels like it is for a smaller number of people.

    Sometimes that’s hard for me to accept. But it would be harder for me to write differently just so more people would read.”

    As a new-ish blogger I am doing the research on marketing, etc., but find myself continually in a struggle between what I feel compelled to write and what I should write for the market. I know it is a balance between Spirit-led writing and common sense business, and I’m sure there’s a way to find the balance between the two. I’m so looking forward to joining you on the journey!

  32. says

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  34. says

    I found myself “stalled in the water” waiting to catch a fresh wind….wandering and browsing and reading and then there was THIS. So thankful for the next steps into the next moment of the next page–guilt free, pressure free, worldly chaos and inner critic free….. just to do what I know I’ve been called to do. Thanks for just doing what you are called to do so I could find you here.

  35. says

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