Note: I recently did a breakout session at the 2014 Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference held at George Fox University. By request, I have provided here the essence of my notes from this session.
My journey as a writer has been a bit unusual. I actually started my book (Epic Grace: Chronicles of a Recovering Idiot, Tyndale) as a journal for my children and grandchildren. I had no aspirations of getting published.
Trust me when I say that no one was more surprised than I was when I won the 2012 Re:Write Conference writer’s contest, which included a $15,000 check, an amazing agent (Esther Fedorkevich of The Fedd Agency), and a book contract with Tyndale Momentum.
To say that my life has been radically changed over the past eighteen months would be a gross understatement. I still pinch myself on a regular basis just to make sure it hasn’t all been a dream. I am humbled, grateful, and continually blown away.
Let me briefly share with you a few lessons I’ve learned along the way:
1. Don’t write to be validated; write for the benefit of others and God’s Kingdom.
It’s not just about you (or me). More than once, I’ve been tempted to write out of some foolish need to be approved by others. I’ve lived too much of my life with a performance orientation. Here’s an important question we all need to wrestle with: Why are you doing what you are doing? Why do you write (if you’re a writer) or sing (if you’re a singer)? If it’s truly an act of selfless love for the benefit of others, I believe God will bless you beyond your wildest imagination.
2. Have a humble heart and a hefty hide.
I wrote this note in my personal journal early in the editing process of my book: What’s black and blue and red all over? A rookie author and his manuscript in the hands of a professional editor! It was a bit painful at first. When you’ve created something and you’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into a manuscript, it’s like having a baby, and nobody wants to be told their baby isn’t perfect. However, one day it hit me: My editor is making me a better me. I learned to humbly listen, and I’ve grown because of it.
3. Stay the course and keep writing. You are not as bad, or as good, as you might think.
Dealing with the emotional aspects of writing is critical. I’ve finished a couple of marathons in my life, and I know from experience that you have to put in a lot of time and miles to prepare for 26.2 miles of running. Frankly, I’m a better writer today than I was a year ago, and I will continue to grow. I have no idea how Epic Grace will do in the market, but I’m excited about my next book (already in progress with the working title of Epic Life), and I believe it will be better.
4. If you don’t ask—the answer is always no.
No one likes to be rejected. Asking professional people and successful authors for an endorsement can be emotionally risky. You had better learn how to deal with rejection. But if you don’t ask for the support, you’ll probably never get it. No one called me and offered to write an endorsement; I called them. You’d be surprised to know who I asked. Admittedly, I got a little too bold and crazy. Yet Epic Grace ended up with twenty-four amazing endorsements. The list includes several bestselling and award-winning authors and a number of megachurch pastors.
Here’s what you need to know: I asked more than fifty people. Do the math; that means I had more than a 50 percent rejection rate. It’s okay. Deal with it, and just keep asking. It’s good for your character.
5. If you don’t manage your time well, you won’t manage to survive.
We’re all busy. I pastor a large church. I have a large family. I already have a very full and fulfilling life. At first, I had no idea how I was going to meet all the demands and keep all the plates spinning. It was a serious concern. It’s like the line in John Lennon’s song “Beautiful Boy”: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I did not want that to be true of me. My goal has always been to live with intentionality and purpose. So I prayed hard, “God, give me the wisdom to know what to do, what not to do, and when to do it.” He answered my prayer. (I also learned how to live with less sleep!)
6. There’s a right and wrong way to use social media to promote your book.
People hate advertising, unless there’s something in it for them. As cool as your book might be, most people won’t be interested in getting bombarded by your pleas of desperation: “Please buy my book.” That being said, if you can show them why they should read your book and what they will gain from it, they’ll be lining up to make the purchase.
It’s also extremely important to engage people in conversation. Ask them questions in every post and be sure to respond with your thoughts or insights.
7. How we define success has everything to do with how successful we’ll be.
Our culture tends to define success in some very obvious ways. You are a success if your book becomes a bestseller or wins an award.
In God’s economy, however, success is defined differently:
a. Success is obedience.
b. Success is faithfulness (using your gift with diligence).
c. Success is defined as one changed life at a time.
Whether you have an agent or book deal or not . . . let me suggest that you define success as making a difference in the lives of others through faithful obedience to your calling to write.
Author and friend Mary DeMuth told me, “If you are going to persevere and be in this for the long haul, you have to know you are called to write. Keep writing and God will honor your faithfulness.” I treasure those words.
I’m still growing, still learning, and still amazed at the goodness of God. And I wouldn’t trade this past year for anything. It truly has been epic!
May Jesus lead and bless you in your journey.