Category Archives: Postmodernism

Still Loving Ya, Miley: A Final(?) Word

 

Two camps. Two paths. They say that’s all there are.

The low road and the high. Lovers v. haters.

And hate it or learn to love it, no one gets out. Everyone has to decide.

Which way will I go?

The way of the world or the way of the Lord?

We hear of these all our lives and we think we know which one’s good and which is bad.

But it’s not so easy, is it? We’re all in these cages always trying to figure out which way we’re headed, and which way others are going. It’s part are the way God made us. And part is our own making.

Haters wound, thinking they’re loving and that can become part of your cage. But their light is darkness, and as one of the “corrected” I can promise you, they don’t know the truth. And many people need to get free of folks who call hate love. Their ignorance is responsible for much that’s wrong in the world.

Still, they’re human. And they don’t always realize how their words sound. They don’t get how simply opening their mouths can shut someone else’s. And they don’t know all the people they’ll never hear from, never know, never set free because they think they have things all figured. Makes you wish they’d wonder what others sound like some time, doesn’t it? Don’t they want to know?

I guess I’ve been “corrected” quite a bit. But the stink of it is, any reaction from us only proves them right. It’s just like their shock over your new image—it serves to prove you right. But see, it doesn’t mean you are any more than it means they are, and swallowing each others’ scorn, it only makes each side stronger.

So I guess I don’t know where that leaves us. It seems you may fight and blow it off for many years. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to hold onto you with so many people thinking they have a right to you. I think God preserves my relative obscurity as a gift every day.

But don’t let anyone tell you Jesus would ever give anyone a thumbs down.

People can judge all day long. But not him.

He knows hating does no good. And he’s all about doing good.

Unfortunately, people aren’t. Jesus did a whole lot of stuff we can’t. He said don’t resist what you call evil. And for the life of me, I can’t manage that, though I try. I do know when you do, you see what evil really is—just goodness inside out, some love that lost its way. Truth gets twisted. Beauty sullied. There’s no evil without first good. God made it all good and it got all screwed up but we don’t need to fear this. It’ll be all good again someday.

But for now, all we need to know, all you need to know is that the power in us is God-breathed. It’s put there in our tongues and in our words and it’s the very power of life and death.

“Judge not lest ye be judged.” Jesus said that one too, though we argue it away and say it doesn’t mean not judging people.

“Correcting” in love is usually a sham because what’s loving to the person you’re correcting? What feels loved, seen, known? No one really knows. We know love isn’t a feeling but a decision, but Jesus never asked us to be other people’s conscience. He asked us to get in their shoes and walk a mile. And he said to let the blind lead the blind into a pit.

He knows who’s right. I’ll let him sort it out. But here are some ideas I’ve got:

1. Maybe we need to struggle to need him. Maybe that’s the only way we realize we need him?

2. When you stand in authority, someone always wants to knock you down. But kneel in powerlessness and suddenly no one’s left to judge.

3. I don’t know how many people it will take rebelling against God because of “God’s people” before his self-proclaimed defenders finally surrender, but just remember: God never asked us to deny people their freedom. He told us to set people free.

4. Spend as much time as you can imagining all that’s possible when we finally know even in all our “sin” how Jesus not only defends us and lets us off the hook, he sees and affirms us exactly as he made us.

5. If grace is what saves us, may we affirm everyone’s right to experience it. I agree with ending all restrictions on what Jesus made free because his sacrifice was good enough.

6. It’s not our job to save anyone, to set ourselves apart, or do any of the works faith requires. That’s his job. And he does it very well.

And even if you don’t agree and you still hope for a win between the camps, I hope it’s okay if I give up for you and say thanks for all you did to help me see my need to. I’ve needed to surrender to his free-love anarchy more fully. I don’t give up in hopes of anything changing, though I will pray for an end to all restrictions on those who must be allowed to speak without judgment, prejudice or discrimination.

And just remember he says, “Come to Me and I will give you rest.” Rest is not selfish, not what selfish people do. Rest is what you’re made for, next to him and in him and him in you and not ahead or behind or in fear or control.

Everything’s his doing. Give him back your everything and be truly free.

Freedom isn’t always an easy place to live. But there’s nowhere safer.

The Story Uses You

I'm a PK (pastor's kid). So for many years I resisted anything that smacked of churchy Christianity.

But stories could always circumnavigate my barriers.

Jesus knew this too–the story was everything. When he asked which man did the right thing, everyone knew it was the Samaritan. Story sticks in the brain and causes the hearer to rethink their ideas in light of what their minds can no longer deny.

That's because fiction or nonfiction, a story is its own proof. It either works or it doesn't. And when it works, that's something no other method (business, campaign, powerpoint, one-sheet) can match.

Without a story, nothing gets done. Good grief. Case studies abound. If you don't believe the best stories create an unstoppable force by now, it's time to get studying, my friend. For example–check out the video here too ("Unstoppable") Or here: poetry is apparently rocket fuel for brains (think poetry isn't story? think again) Or check out the power of "case studies," i.e. stories.

Your work may be many things. But when we all get home at the end of the day and tell our spouses about it, it's always a story.

Feel free (as I did for many years) to avoid the unbeatable power of story and go for something "better." Technology. Ads. SEO. Fun activities. A bunch of bullet points. A convincing blog post. Plenty of things can assist story. But there is nothing better than story.

It's always inevitably about the story.

As an editor, I urge people not to try to "use" a story as subservient illustration. It may work for some pastors and already-well-known business gurus. But you need to know a good story uses you. Defines you. Creates you. Show you accept this and your readers will respect you. If you don't have an unstoppable story of your own yet (and you probably don't), try to tell others' as best you can. Just be careful: be a user and try to profit from story and you will fail. The new rules favor a new sincerity.

We'll be learning more on the power of story all year with Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook at YourWritersGroup.com.

There are many ways to learn about story, so even if you can't commit to reading this book with us, do yourself a favor and engage your brain in a good story today.

See what you learn…

Editor to Author: Letter to a Memoir Writer

Dearest Author,

I've been thinking about worth lately.

What's your story worth?

At a recent writers conference I taught a workshop on how I saw publishing changing. Modern publishing, the only time in history when we've had separate "markets" for books, has begun to fracture and redistribute. I've shared several times about how The Shack has shifted things. It isn't just a book, of course, it's a bridge. And those bridges are inevitable because it isn't only spiritual people or Christians who recognize God as creator.  

Blue Like Jazz came well before it and created connections between the Christian and secular markets. Lauren Winner's memoir Girl Meets God made some connection points before that, similar to how Eat, Pray, Love did more recently, from the other side of the spiritual divide. Several spiritual/worldly, secular/sacred books have become best-sellers as bridges in the long history of such books since the beginning of print, and some people have traced this line back to the best-selling book of all time: The Bible.

The Secret. The Purpose-Driven Life. The Alchemist. The Celestine Prophesy. The Late Great Planet Earth. Pilgrim's Progress. Books you've never heard of have sold over 30 million copies: Steps to Christ by Ellen White, In His Steps by Charles Sheldon, late-19th century Congregational minister and advocate of the ever-intriguing idea of "Christian socialism." Even Nikolai Tesla wrote about his life a true spiritual man and world-renouned scientist in My Inventions. The Canterbury Tales, The Odyssey, and The Divine Comedy by Dante, written in 1304, has "sold" more than anyone knows and we have no idea how it or any of these books have changed readers and the history of spiritual thought, becoming seeds for the trees of countless theologies.

But of course, we know this is what books are–seeds. And this is what they do: define life and defy death.

"So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."

So this story that's a part of you, that is you, that defines your work and all of your effort and sacrifices to share it completely (or as completely as possible) for others to use–what's it really worth?

Don't answer. You can't. Simply try to see the fullness of the question clearly. Continue on…

Do you know where your worth is really found?

Yes, in God's ownership of the life and love he's created you to embody (1 John 4:7-12). His ownership, creating, protecting, guiding and infusing of his great, unchanging spirit into us. He dies that we might live (parents always understand this principle). And we die that others might live through our sacrifices. This is the daily work of writing.

Do you know what that is really worth?

Intimately known and held, seen and heard and helped in every way, this knowledge is invaluable, isn't it? We can talk of worth and value, and shift our understanding of that from copies sold to readers influenced, but it's the knowledge a reader will have by the end of your story that makes what you're doing truly valuable. And this understanding of how God fills us and dies for us is the greatest wisdom, the most valuable in the world. And if you are practicing that, that makes what you're doing invaluable.

I want to give you, as a witness of your discovery of that unchanging love, my invaluable opinion on it, my affirmation that you've been seen and heard and that what you've written down is completely worthy. And with your assurance that it's been well established and others will see it and respond, you can continue, knowing it's incredible and invaluable. 

So do you see what your story is really worth?

Because there's no true price tag you can put on it. There's no proper estimating the value of my work, my seeing it, or others' receiving it either. It's in-valuable. We have to simply trust together that whatever comes of it is just a small piece of its fullest value as a seed for God to use, and not at all connected to the worth of what you've written, or what I've done to help. I know you've sacrificed and given for your story, and I've been brought into the processing of it, but regardless of how it will be published and the realities of our modern marketplace, you must know:

What's your story really worth?

I remain your solid co-laborer in the process of delivering these invaluable words. Never assign its worth to money, public perception, publication, or anything else. Your heart is here, and that's established and it's something you have written definitively, and just as we have agreed together at the outset here, others will when they read it.

We don't know how it will all play out. But I'm on your side and not looking for specific outcomes big or small. Don't think in terms of what's "fair," but decide you will pay with your life what's necessary to give to this project. What you give is directly proportional to what that seed will be able to produce in readers. And in terms of return and profit, I believe Cohelo is right: the universe will conspire in our favor.

So what's your story really worth?

 

Your Loving Editor,

Mick

This Dangerous Platform

Writers who are honest feel fear about self-promotion.

The initial excitement and hope fades into something else, and those fears can blossom into putrid black blooms. (Did you know there's a guy leading seminars on how to make videos go viral who intentionally falls off a stage and posts the videos on YouTube as examples? The quest for fame does make people do some pretty stupid things.)

I get one of two questions from authors when they're about to be published. The first is, "What should I do to get the message out?" And the second: "What if I become a phony?" (they don't always use that term. But I know what they mean.) Phonies are people who fake it. They don't feel real, so they have to pretend they know what being real is. And they desperately have to prove it to you. But even if you have fame shoved on you, problems with being a phony only come when you begin to worry about it. Fame requires authenticity and people know the real deal when they see it.

"But won't I have to change?" they ask. Well, yes, but you always have to change, even if you don't become well-known. Remember Holden Caufield's big fear? After the success of The Catcher In the Rye, part of the reason Salinger disappeared was because Holden was a part of him, and when fame came, it became his prison. Can we blame him?

How do you write without being affected by all that noise? You have to ignore it. People will not like it and they won't always like what you write. But fame or no fame, everything changes you and it's your job to take it all as it comes and continue responding positively and inspiring the same. Everything is an opportunity to invest a little more.

Many people say “God, if you make me famous, I’ll use it for your glory” but if you really meant that would you want to be famous? I’ve told several authors I’d only take their book forward if they promised not to become a phony when the accolades came. Most have no trouble saying it, expecting few accolades. People who stand on truth are far from the danger of falling off their platform, big or little. I haven’t seen many dramatic changes in authors who went on to become famous in their genre or area of expertise because I tend to work with well-grounded people. No matter what you might get at some conferences and reading the trades, publishing books isn't much like American Idol.

I once read a great email from Dave Eggers whose postmodern memoir Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius went on to become a #1 bestseller for several months, and somewhat launched the "young po-mo memoir" publishing phenom (along with Augusten Burroughs, Haven Kimmel, Lauren Winner, Don Miller, several others). Eggers denounced the perception that fame had made him a phony, contesting he didn't much care if people thought he'd sold out. Because look what he was able to do with it, much more good than he'd ever been able to before. I think that's something. How does a kid with his story end up with that truth–that giving to others for a higher purpose is the real focus and worrying about selling out is so juvenile and self-conscious?

I've always been a myopic kid, so concerned about "selling out." But once I saw how adolescent it really was, I decided to be done with it. The right question is, "Am I selling out right now to the idea of changing things for the better?" Because that's entirely up to you. I’ve had a half dose of fame since growing up in a fishbowl as a pastor's kid, possibly to inoculate me and convince me it's a necessary evil and certainly not something to strive for.

You may think you'd like fame, but believe me, sane people don't like it. You think it'd be so nice being known, being of interest. But fame is never really being "known." What people know, they want it from you, and many act as though they have a right to claim it. They don't, but when you're famous, you don't get to decide that. I grew up the oldest son of the senior pastor at a growing church. I was known in that little circle in our small town, so even becoming a book editor took me time to embrace. I still don't enjoy the attention I sometimes face. People come with all kinds of expectations that feel very similar to being told I had to perform perfectly to set a good example, and that this was God's plan for me, to do good things so others would. Then God would be happy. I never knew if what I was doing was enough or good enough, and most the time, I fought the desire to secretly rebel just to get the voices out and deny their access.

In my limited experience, the more people you encounter, the harder it becomes to hear God.

The struggle is good and worthwhile, but my portion of fame has taught me that the challenge is only an opportunity when I'm striving very hard against it to hold onto resting in God. Will you become a phony? Or are you sold out to changing things for the better?

People who become phony are people who don’t know themselves. They want to present an image and fit in because they lack assurance about who they really are. Most of us know this on some level, but plenty of folks–self-proclaimed Christians–self-promote like crazy, as though becoming famous may finally convince them they're lovable and finally overwhelm their fragile egos with sufficient evidence that they're good enough and smart enough for people to like, doggone it. And some become crazy, attention-grabbing loud mouths.

Listen: when there’s no misunderstanding about where our identity is secured, that doesn't happen. On the other hand, if there’s a in you wanting to be liked, affirmed, comforted by a surrogate daddy, you will smell desperate. And it's a bad cologne. Writers conferences usually reek with it, people desperate to be published. It’s hard to miss. But the real phonies are those with an entourage. They have handlers and no real ability to write. The book is their next chance to be a star and pop the panacea to keep the affirmation fixes coming, the endless fixes that haven’t quite fixed them. Regular folk don't have to worry much about becoming a vampire like them.

My best advice for those worried about self-promotion is to get with your maker right now. Do some soul work and ask the omniscient Creator to point out any place where there’s still a desperation in you to be loved, affirmed, comforted or known. He'll show you and your eyes will be opened. Do the work he gives you. And forget everything else and just keep doing it. Give that to him and let him fill that void in you. You will find your peace and no substitute can look attractive when you have that.

And from there, you won’t have to shun the limelight, though you may want to. If you can use it as one more of his gifts for reconnecting with others, you may end up feeling his smile on you. Imagine his pride in you for investing wisely. Be realistic and don't expect it to be easy, invasive fans waiting to confront you about your sins, mobs of hungry faces looking for a morsel of your flesh, enemies who'd like a chance to stone you. Most people won't care. It normally takes a long time in publishing to gain people's attention. But some will care too much. And they'll hurt you with their hurts.

Remember your real goal is hearing those words: “Well done. Well done my wonderful son, my wonderful daughter of grace.”

Faith is a gift. It is not an ability to gain. It is not a commitment to muster. God supplies it to those who ask for it. So ask. And use your platform the same way you use all his gifts, to highlight the wonders you’ve been shown. To point others to the source. To turn their eager faces to the one who provided your eyes to see it. The ones who help you craft it. The supporters who readers need to know have helped and invested so they could receive it. The endless gifts given to make more and more opportunities to share his love.

As a good friend of mine likes to say, all is grace. And I've discovered it’s really true. All is grace. So what part of ALL do we not yet understand?

Answering Cross-Market Questions

Welcome spiritually-curious readers and writers. If you have questions about the audience of The Shack or wonder about the best ways to reach this nebulous psychographic of readers, you're in the right place.

 

Ready to look at our burning questions from last time?

 

Q: Why are these [spiritually-interested] books without a clear goal or “take-away” so vastly superior for this audience?

 

This is an answer you need when it comes time to pitch your book. Bottom line: the experience of these books IS the take-away. The story is the appeal. Fiction and non-, the point is in the journey, not the goal or destination. This means the emphasis is on allowing the entire progression of the narrative to “teach” the message, and not offering the usual didactic, message-driven approach propped up by illustrations or manipulated scenes in a novel. Authors of these books start at a different place, often intending to discover alongside the reader, not to design a coersive read. Largely, these are writers seeking after mystery and beauty, not answers or reassurance.

 

Q: What's the best way to prove I can reach these readers?

 

By doing it. Reaching this audience absolutely requires a satisfying read like the one I just described. Whether that’s self-help, memoir, fiction, or investigative journalism, you have to get people talking about the amazing and unique experience your book is. And that writing skill goes hand-in-hand with your skill in marketing. The shift toward more author-driven marketing is strong proof of our increased desire to hear an authentic individual’s story as opposed to the familiar hard-sell coersion tactics of ad campaigns and publicity spin-doctors. You either embrace this new-world thinking and feel passionately about it, or you don’t. As I always point out to potential authors, if you’re onto something and you know it, it’s just a matter of time before others know it too. Ultimately, your marketing should be an extension of your passionate search in your writing. How you prove that is by being an authentically passionate connector (We’ll get more specific about this in next week’s post).

 

Q: Should I just self-publish my spiritually-interested book?

 

Good question. It follows a more important one: Do I have one book or several? If you are a career writer, you need to put in the time to your craft and learning the business to find a partner you feel best understands you and serves your ambition level. If you have one book or one burning story within you, it might be best to look outside of professional publishing. I make this distinction when it comes to spiritually-interested books because few writers can (or want to) write several. Staying in a perpetual state of searching is hard to keep up (ask Don Miller). There’s something of a life-stage consideration here—an age where self-awareness and spiritual evaluation is where you are, and a possibly more spiritually-mature stage where you are more decided in your outlook. Your comfort with mystery vs. assurance may change over time and that’s normal. Another reason is producing your book on your own can actually be a benefit in reaching this audience since you aren’t affiliated with any established, traditional house and won’t have to cater to them or compromise to fit their assumptions about the audience. Smart readers like yours are very aware of that dynamic and actually like the idea of an undiluted read (The Shack as exhibit A here again).

 

Q: Are some publishers and retailers really actively seeking these books?

 

Absolutely. In fact, I’m not sure you can find an adult general trade publisher in Christian or general market who wouldn’t be open to looking at a book for the spiritually-interested audience. All will have their own particular flavors and assumptions, but again, self-publishing is a great way to prove you have an audience and can connect with them before attempting to find a publishing partner. Of course, you need to consider how well a potential Christian publisher partner is able to reach the general market, because the place these readers are generally not is Christian bookstores or the Christian shelves at Barnes and Noble. If you see yourself next to John Eldredge and Bruce Wilkinson, you might want to reconsider your approach.

 

As always, your questions, comments and complaints are welcome and appreciated. Next time we’ll talk about what you can specifically do to find readers and build a following. Until then, don’t sweat any of this–and keep writing!