How to Find Your Identity As a Christian Writer: Wordsmithing, Brandcraft, and Aspiration

Paul Maxwell, Ph.D.

Paul Maxwell, Ph.D., writes about theology, mental health, marketing, and fitness. Paul has been writing on for over a decade.

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Most writers don’t succeed. They slog along on their blog, with stagnant readership and no clear path to success. Here’s what most of them don’t realize: If you acquire a certain set of skills (like Liam Neeson), you can literally have hundreds of thousands of captive audience members who are interested in everything you write.

I know many people who have achieved this kind of success, and all of them used these specific skills. Every single writer I know who has failed has been told: “You need to learn these skills,” and they scoff, and continue writing on their sporadic days off from their barista jobs.

You can absolutely be a successful writer. But you have to be open to doing more than writing. You have to learn writing’s sister skill that sets apart the “aspiring writer” from the “professional writer.”

“Becoming independent, prolific, recognized, and most importantly, successful, requires a combined skilfulness of wordsmithing and brandcraft.”

Again—the most important thing to understand that most writers never understand is this: Being a successful writer isn’t just about writing. Becoming independent, prolific, recognized, and most importantly, successful, requires a combined skilfulness of wordsmithing and brandcraft.

Wordsmithing + Brandcraft = Killshot

I’m not going to speak about writing per se very much, but rather brandcraft. Think of becoming a successful writer like becoming a successful assassin. Writing has to do with wordsmithing. Wordsmithing is like a sniper taking aim at each word, peering through the mist of conceptual unclarity and vocabularic possibility, perching on the perfect syntactical rooftop, and taking a single shot. Word by word. Shot by shot.

Brandcraft, on the other hand, is like preparing to assassinate a target. Think of all the work an assassin must do to successfully complete his task—stalking his target, tracking his movements, strategizing his available opportunities, preparing his perch, and planning his clean escape. What does all of this work do? It distinguishes him from the amateur. Preparation enables the assassin to get a shot worth taking—and the project of brandcraft enables the writer to write pieces that will have the highest positive effect toward his goal, and the least net negative blowback.

“But marketing is so sleazy.” 

If you only focus on wordsmithing, you might as well buy a lane at the local shooting range and fire way—just keep a private diary and scribble your heart out like a madman. But if you cultivate the skills and tools of brandcraft—building an audience, marketing yourself, writing SEO rich content, keeping your ear to the cultural ground to find a moment to pull the trigger and speak prophetically, and building your email list—you may just have what it takes to become a true professional.

A writer who has focused only on the craft of writing measures his success in Facebook Huzzahs from his college roommates. A real, bona fide writer measures his success in goal-relevant analytics tied directly to a reader list that he owns and operates through email, membership, sales, or publication opportunities.

“Christian writers must assume differently, argue differently, recruit different source material, avoid certain language, and understand the unique audience dynamics that yield the greatest success”

To become successful, you must learn how to transform yourself from an amateur blogger to a professional writer in the Christian space through learning to do more than write. Writing for Christians is different from writing for a pure general market. Christian writers must assume differently, argue differently, recruit different source material, avoid certain language, and understand the unique audience dynamics that yield the greatest success in your unique venture of becoming a Christian writer.

The most costly dishonesty 

It all comes down to one thing: What do you want?

If you’re not honest with yourself about your answer to this question, you will not only fail—you will forever wonder: “What if…?” What if you actually thought about the endgame of your writing? What if you actually allowed yourself to think bigger than shares on Facebook? What if you actually allowed yourself to break free from the shackles of false modesty and neutered aspiration and pursued your real goal?

Ask yourself right now—what is your real personal and professional aspiration for your writing? When you delete all of your pious qualifications about how you don’t want to build a platform, what’s left? Are you satisfied running a personal blog? Is your goal to be featured on a major Christian publication? If so, which? But more importantly, to what end? It’s important for you to do the deep work of asking yourself: Why do I want what I want? Stop thinking in 10-week terms, and start thinking in 5-year terms.

Writing is one of the most powerful forces in the world. If you master the crafts of wordsmithing and brandcraft, you are the closest thing to Professor X in our reality. At the intersection of wordsmithing and brandcraft is persuasion. If you can become a persuasive writer, you can influence human decisions. You can amass hundreds of thousands of minds to consider your arguments, your ideas, and your propositions.

But first, like any good assassin, you must ask: “What motivates me and why?”

There’s no hack for it. There’s no shortcut. Nobody can answer the question for you. And it’s not an easy question to answer.

But once you find your answer to the question, you’ve found your true purpose. And purpose is the nuclear energy of writing success. It enables you to bulldoze through the early phase of low readership, the overinflated egos of nit-picking editors, and the smithy cynics snipping at your heels on social media.

“What motivates me and why?”

Answer the question. Your entire life hangs in your response.

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