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 anything published.
After the death of one of my favorite uncles who served as a missionary for over twenty-five years, I realized I had no idea what he had experienced along the way. I also have a songbook and a set of commentaries that once belonged to my great-great grandfather who was a circuit-riding preacher in the 19th century. Again, I have no clue about what he learned in his walk of faith.
So one day, I sat down to write some of the stories of my life. I wrote about my failures and some lessons learned the hard way. I wrote about my heart and about my deepest convictions regarding God, faith, and grace. In the beginning, my journaling was simply an act of love for the generations who would follow in my wake.
After reading my ramblings, my wife said, “This is really good. I think you should consider getting it published.” I literally laughed and said, “Who would want to read about my life?”
Just for the fun of it, however, I passed a very rough draft along to some friends. Imagine my surprise when they agreed with my wife! In fact, one of them said, “I heard about this writing conference called Re:Write; I think you should enter it.”
Honestly, I laughed again. It seemed preposterous to me that anyone would be interested in stories written by a guy named Bubna (yes, pronounced boob-nah) who lived in the middle of nowhere on the backside of Hicksville. (I love Spokane, but it’s no NYC or LA.)
Something in me (apparently God) said, “Do it.” So with less than twenty-four hours to the entry deadline, I spent an entire day working on the lengthy book proposal required for entrance in the contest. I remember thinking as I emailed it off, “I wonder if anything will ever come out of all of this time and effort?”
Trust me when I say no one was more surprised than me when I won that contest which included a $15,000 check, an amazing agent (Esther Fedorkevich, The Fedd Agency), and a book contract with Tyndale. The rest, as they say, is history.
To say that my life has been radically changed over the past year 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 this past year:
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 performer? 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, 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; working title: 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 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. (What? Obama! You’re too busy?) Yet Epic Grace ended up with twenty-four amazing endorsements. The list includes several best-selling and award-winning authors and a number of mega-church pastors. Here’s what you need to know: I asked over fifty people. Do the math; that means I had an over 50% 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 actually 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. Sadly, somebody once said, “Your life gets lived while you are doing other things.” I so 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 and not to do and when to do it.” He answered my prayer. (I also learned how to live with less sleep!)
Author and friend, Mary DeMuth, told the Re:Write attendees, “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!
Check out the Re:Write Conference happening in Austin, Texas, October 18-20. It’s one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to (and yes, I would say that even if I hadn’t won the contest last year!).