As he worked to sharpen his own writing craft, Caleb Breakey discovered that solid encouragement and loving instruction make great writers. Besides working on his own writing ventures, Caleb founded CalebBreakey.com, an online community for teen writers. Using the power of encouragement, Caleb is striving to refine teens into the next generation of great writers.
Writing piqued my interest when I was 10 or 11 years old. I remember penning a story about my family’s three-wheeler and how going “full throttle”—a blazing 15 miles per hour—shook me to the core. To this day, my brothers won’t let me live that story down.
Being a sports lover, I also followed my church’s softball team as if the players were Major Leaguers. Even before the season started, I loved assigning positions, creating batting orders, and wondering which player deserved the most lucrative contract (should they ever get paid). So I started writing a fictitious newsletter and distributing it to the church mailboxes. I wrote to entertain myself and, in turn, entertained others.
I remember thinking to myself, “I could do this forever.”
How did your homeschool experience help develop your love of writing?
My mom always encouraged my writing and let me pursue creativity even if the curriculum didn’t necessarily call for “fictitious softball newsletters.”
I still had to learn other subjects, but she saw the potential and let me pursue my passion outside the box of boring old English (can I say that?). I latched on to what I loved and developed my craft every day, instead of always focusing on bringing my weaknesses up to par. (The book StrengthsFinder 2.0 comes to mind).
After graduating high school, what steps did you take to pursue your passion for writing?
I started college when I was 17 thanks to my state’s running start program. I didn’t do well on the SAT — math or English — nor did I test into an upper-level English class. Felt pretty puny.
But one day an English teacher read my work aloud. I couldn’t believe it. Did he really like my work? The encouragement was enough to press on for a long, long time. I took a journalism class and decided I wanted to pursue sports journalism. I acquired internships first at my state capitol and then with MLB.com, covering the New York Yankees for a season.
Before long, I craved deeper stories, so I wrote fiction and enrolled in the Christian Writers Guild’s Journeyman and Craftsman courses. Just last month, I signed with a literary agent.
You have experience in a wide variety of genres including sports writing, reviews, and fiction. Which is your favorite and why?
Fiction is wonderful because it’s so incredibly difficult and rewarding. No one knows precisely what makes a great story. You learn from the best, you learn from the worst. There are rules to be followed, and rules to be broken. You never know which words and scenes will etch themselves into the minds of your readers. You just write until your mind hurts and your fingers ache and you couldn’t possibly make your story any better. Writing fiction is the ultimate marathon with the ultimate reward.
Non-fiction, meanwhile, boasts pages upon pages of some of the world’s deepest passion. I’m currently bleeding my first non-fiction book onto the page and I’m finding that 1) the writing comes easier than fiction; but 2) channeling passion into words is like funneling the Amazon into a barrel. It takes an extraordinary amount of discipline to guide the outpouring of one’s heart.
What aspect of the writing process do you most enjoy?
This might sound rudimentary, but . . . writing. That’s my final answer. Sometimes I get so caught up in editing and researching and marketing that I forget the utter joy of just writing. To watch words, scenes, stories and meaning grow in front of me evokes a feeling so rich and textured that I cannot help but create and explore more and more.
What challenges do you face in writing, from coming up with an idea to getting it published? How do you overcome them?
Ideas tend to come to me quickly because I read a lot. Reading stretches your imagination, which in turn creates room for your own ideas to grow into something greater.
When it comes to writing, my greatest challenge is focus. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in the “do this” and “do that” mentality of social media and marketing. While these aspects are certainly important, nothing can replace the bum-in-chair time at the computer or notepad.
Your wife, Brittney, (also homeschooled) writes as well. How do the two of you work as a team in your writing endeavors?
Oh, wow. Where to start? Brittney is my teammate. My coffee date. My encourager. My editor. My brainstorm partner. My I-understand-you-have-to-write tonighter. She loves the written word and knows my longings, my brokenness, and my joys better than anyone on this planet. She recognizes the unusual blood that fills my veins. She understands what makes me tick because the same tick, tick, tick moves within her.
In short, it takes a writer to know a writer, but it takes a gift from God to love a writer.
Brittney is my gift from God.
What major truths do you strive to communicate through writing?
No matter what I write, I strive to pull others into a great exploration of the sweet and oftentimes bitter longings that swirl and churn within the human heart. Life is beautiful chaos—beautiful because of faith, hope, and love, and chaos because of our reaction to that faith, hope, and love.
In my few years of experience, I’ve found that many wordsmiths focus on critique with no encouragement. Their common response to new writers is: “This is (one word of encouragement), but (one hundred words of critique) . . .”
I believe this kind of encouragement is about as helpful as an umbrella made of tissues. Genuine encouragement, though, holds more power than two dozen gallons of red ink. And CalebBreakey.com is about encouragement. About love-filled critique through video blogs and audio edits. Of course, the site is much more than encouragement, but I’ll let the curious ones go check it out on their own.
What inspired you to found CalebBreakey.com?
Having pursued book writing for three years, I learned both the power of encouragement and the dismantling of critique.
It’s true that every writer must have a thick skin. Yet I believe that many experienced writers, editors, and agents take that truth for granted. Instead of praising the good and working through the bad, they rip out the bad until only a shell remains of the writing and of the writer. It’s sad, and I wanted a place for young writers to receive due praise for their work along with solid feedback.
Through CalebBreaky.com you invest in teen writers. Why did you choose to reach this age group?
Right now, I’m living my dream to write full-time. But I almost didn’t pursue that dream because of what others said and thought about my writing. That’s how we writers work. We long for just a little affirmation because we don’t know if our work is any good.
If you take the greatest writer in the world, transport him into the mind and body of his youth, and put a person into his life who thinks every word he writes stinks — then goodbye greatest writer. But true encouragement and loving critique can fuel the worst writer into something great.
What do you hope your generation of writers can bring to the literary world?
A deep exploration of truth. Of everything we hate and everything we love. Of everything we see and everything we don’t see. Of everything behind us and everything before us. I hope this generation searches for truth until truth itself becomes their heartbeat.