Developing Your Signature Life Message

by Nancie Carmichael

What is your life message? What do you have to say that is yours alone to say? What can you give the world from the message God is crafting in you?

Developing your message takes a lifetime, and there’s never a place where we arrive. However, I have come to believe that each writer has a unique story to share with his or her world. What ingredients go into making this message? I believe these four things shape your message:

• Your heartwood
• Your choices
• Your passions
• Your experiences


You have a one-of-a-kind life…shaped by your genetics, your background, your family, and your experiences. If you were to go look at a tree that has been cut down and examine the rings close to the center where the rings are the tiniest, you would see the dense original part of the tree, the backbone, or the skeleton of the tree. That is heartwood. It’s the part of wood that builders like to put near the foundation because it’s dense—it’s resistant to insects and decay.

Try this quick writing activity:
#1 Describe both of your parents in a sentence or two.
#2 Describe yourself, personality-wise, as you were when you were a grade-school student.

Psychologists say the parent you first described probably has the most influence on your life, and you probably tend to be more like him or her.

Yourself as a grade-school student? Very likely who you are today. I tend to agree with this.

C. S. Lewis wrote that one of the greatest proofs of the eternally created soul is that sense of “that’s me.” Remember when you were a child, and some of your very vivid memories? That was you then, and it’s you now.

You may feel a little disconcerted after completing the above writing activity because you think, “I really don’t want to be like him [or her]. I spent a lifetime trying to get away from that heartwood!” But your heartwood is a unique gift from God. It is what makes you you. You never really get away from your childhood. Heartwood is sturdy stuff.

But the great thing is that along with the gift of heartwood, you are given something even more precious by our Creator, and that is the gift of choice. We choose how to respond to our heartwood.

It’s not so much the story of your life, as what you choose to believe (and rehearse) about the story of your life.

Embrace your own unique life with all its messy, wonderful complexity. And while you’re living it, journal it. Don’t write past the pain, nor over it. Write through it. Be honest about your life. C. S. Lewis said, “We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.” The Psalmist wrote, “You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom” (Ps. 51:6).


There are obvious choices we make that shape our lives—where to go to college, if we do; where we work; our friendships; our marriages…You may be thinking right now, “I wish I hadn’t made that choice!”

But the inner, more subtle choices we make—our beliefs—are just as life-shaping. Maybe more so. We continue to make these choices. We live our beliefs:

• We live what we choose to believe about God.
• We live what we choose to believe about our own heartwood.

And we write out of these beliefs.

We choose whether to take our writing seriously. (Or not. And always live with a sense of unfulfilled longing.) One day when I was a young mom, I cut my finger and needed stitches. At the hospital emergency room, the receptionist asked, “What is your occupation?” I took a deep breath, and for the first time in my life, said, “I’m a writer.”

At that point, I was doing good to write a grocery list. But the first person you must convince that you are a writer is yourself. And perhaps the most powerful encouragement you will receive as a writer is the encouragement you give yourself to persist and discipline your writing.

How do we choose to take our writing seriously? We choose by making a time and a place for it. Designating a desk in a certain, physical place. Setting a time. Investing in a computer. We choose to work on our craft by signing up for a writer’s conference, or taking a class on writing, or joining a writer’s critique group. And only we can decide. It’s not that glamorous. It’s just doing it.

It’s also true that we must feed our life’s message. In order for our message to “feed” others, we must “feed” ourself. How do we do that? We find mentors, living and dead. We read good books, thus learning to recognize good writing. And above all, we read the Living Word, letting it be distilled and applied to our lives. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts” (15:16).


Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21).

We become good at what we’re passionate about. It becomes a priority. Are you passionate about your call of writing?

This passion is a lifelong pursuit that we must prioritize. I remember being in my early twenties, feeling a strong desire to write, yet it seemed such an impossible dream. I kept trying, though. I wrote spasmodically in a journal late at night and while the children were napping; I wrote about what it meant to be a new mom, my worries and my fears. As I look back, I see how important it was that I fed that passion, even though I couldn’t pursue it full time then. I took a writer’s course; I began collecting books by authors on writing and picked their brains. I went to a writer’s conference.

We can be very passionate about something, yet not truly develop the message we are intended to give. We spend so much time on technique, on getting the style right, on crisp, good writing… But what is the message?

Paul’s passion to share the gospel of Christ was distilled in him—and his message was powerful and still affects millions.


Perhaps what drives you to write are powerful life-changing experiences. And what makes your unique message powerful? It’s letting God’s truth invade and transform your experiences. And you write out of that.

What do you do with your heartwood, your choices, your passions, your experiences? You thank God for them, even the breaking ones. You give out of them. You write out of them, and your message encourages and comforts others. And if you are not a writer, you live out of them. For indeed, you are a living letter, which, in the long run, may be the most powerful way to communicate.

Thank God for your heartwood, your choices, your passions, your experiences. They are for something. Take time to see the miracle that is your one-of-a-kind life, and give generously out of it.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.
—2 Corinthians 1:3–5

Nancie Carmichael
Deep River Books
Author of Selah and many other books