Tag Archives: spiritual writing

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

Why the world needs you.

Why does the world need you?

I had a thought recently that seemed out of nowhere. It's not the kind of thing I normally come up with. But it was sitting there when I went to write at my usual time, and it sounded like something I've heard for a long time but just never picked it up to look at.

Nothing is fragile. And everything
is.

What kind of crazy talk is that? Not being one to let crazy deter me, I started to think about it. I've been discovering recently that there is nothing outside redemption. I've held the head knowledge of that a long time, but until this year, I've never experienced it and felt it like I have now. Nothing that can’t be
made new. All life is constantly being transformed, revised. Renewed.

I know that the great power holding everything together brings all the
world to life.

And yet it's also self-evident that everything we see and touch, everything we do and
feel and are, all of it is unstable, constantly changing, constantly moving
toward decay.

Nothing is fragile, but everything is.

Even as order and beauty and truth expand exponentially in every direction, the
vast, dark wilderness of chaos is expanding too. You only have to look to see that both these
things are undeniable.

But the question I'm left with as I sat down to write that day was Why does the world need you?

Because I write?

This is what we do, and it's not a small thing. If you think of words as bread that gives life, “As often as you do this,” we serve to remind by our remembering. What if every time we wrote, we remembered as well? We don't live on food alone, but by the words we’re
given, taking part in the transforming work of the truth. We get to make all things new. Redeemed. The words are God’s, the Word that speaks to life is Jesus. And we are the sharers of the Word.

Think of all language as a holy expression of meaning from nothing. A calling out from chaos to ordained order. With every word, the dark marks on paper build, until the whole world is made new. From that angle, anything but awe-struck gratitude feels insufficient.

This is the great work to which we’ve been called. And through the words, we are constantly communing.

So when I write with this as my reality, I naturally
start to speak God’s voice: “You are unconditionally, unfathomably loved. Just for who
you are today, who I made. Who you were and who you are becoming complete the
picture of the beauty you are. But today, you already are the greatest beauty
you could possibly conceive of.”

And that's a voice I love to hear.

So why does the world need you?

Well, do you believe this?

Sometimes I don’t believe it. Or maybe I just get distracted
from it. It’s so easy to forget. But the writing time is also space to wait and
trust. As often as I do this, I sit and the words come and I remember to consider
how big God is. How he knows everything. How nothing is too fragile and
everything is, but the source of all things is the source of my words too. And
I am one who knows and sees and so I must remember and serve the world and make
it new.

Why does the world need you?

Can the world need anything more than this? Do you know this?
And can you write?

Seeing Beauty, Part 4

I came upon a strange little connection last night while I
was playing piano that I never thought of before. Something of a synthesizing
metaphor that may help explain what learning to see beauty really requires. Or at least, what it's required for me.

Are these fleeting thoughts worth grabbing and exploring?

I was playing music, realizing that my old habit of
overusing the sustain pedal was in full swing and trying to resist it, but my
bad habit and the combo of my lack of practicing on this particular song made
it nearly impossible for me to help my foot just riding that pedal. I
remembered my guild judge assessment from elementary school writing something
about it, how I “tended to favor” the pedal a bit too much, and I’m unable to
excuse the fact that it’s been going on that long.

Can I face the truth of that, the deeper implications of
what it may reveal about me?

The point is, I had just made the realization that I’d held
God’s promptings at bay my whole life because of the clichés and deadening
effect of so many sincere, but manipulative Christians using unsubstantiated
“godtalk” (as Petersen so earth-shatteringly talks about–> here <–you owe it to yourself to read this. Often). 

Pastors, leaders, people who should
know better as the “pinnacle of God’s chosen,” are constantly falling and failing in the
morass of banal Christian-speak that extracts the sacred out and makes it
commonplace. I thought how unless the Holy Spirit breathes life into us and our
lives, our words will have no power. Besides that, we’ll have nothing
worthwhile to share. I have been this way too. And the difficulty of remaining open to God’s leading is
why it’s so common to lose the touch, lose the daily, hard searching that gives
us truth and beauty, goodness and love to explore and then share. I think this
is a very big part of the reason so much of Christian teaching is unhelpful.

Ask yourself why the phrase “God is good” so often sounds so
trite.

In music, you can’t pretend. There’s no covering up
sloppiness or undisciplined playing because it’s a fundamental lack of
knowledge due to a lack of regular practice. Plain and simple. It's just as true for writers. And in life, the
overwhelming problem for any believer who’s been in church a while is apathy,
the inescapable pandemic. Christians who pretend to have deep current
knowledge of God, many all the while cover up their lack of regular spiritual
practice behind Christianese, lingo, clichéd phrases, and the “God-talk” Eugene
Petersen has identified. Have you noticed? Basically, the world is overrun with walking-dead
Christians trying to hide their unbelief and dead faith. And as anyone who has
mastered a skill knows, you can’t cover a lack of practice.

But many of us probably know firsthand why someone would want to.

You also can’t cover for a lack of insight. So often I see
writing that’s uninspired. I see people with good ideas, passable talent, even
some good editing and shaping skills. But their work doesn’t reveal anything
exceptional. And that’s always because they aren’t focused on what really
matters. I know because I have been there. If you aren’t able to see what’s going on behind everyday reality,
none of your powers of translation will matter. You’ll have nothing of real
value to say.

What big questions are you asking and seeking out answers
to?

Writers have to see what others don’t see. That’s the first
skill to acquire. Knowing how to share it is secondary. And if you’re trying to
cover for a lack of regular practice, neglecting the work of pulling back the curtain to find
what’s really going on back there, it won’t go unnoticed. You can’t cover for
it. It might sound better than it would otherwise, but it’s still going to be
full of mistakes.  

What “mistakes” does it seem God allowed in your life?

It’s easier to ignore the leadings, the moments we get new
thoughts like this. It doesn’t mean anything, after all. Everyone gets them.
And it may take some real time to consider what of use might be there. But this is
the daily choice: will we seek first the kingdom, or will we not? Sometimes we
might not want the answer. We might not believe there is one, or maybe we think
simply accepting is better, and living with the unanswered questions. Is that more dignified? More holy?

At some point, I realized relationship requires communication. Maybe some can just accept. I have to talk (okay, shout). Then I have to listen. Often I'm not ready to. I'm not mature enough yet. I have to wonder if others feel the same. Are we afraid
we’ll get silence in return? If beauty is everywhere, can there be beauty in
the waiting too?

How can we commit to such a painful daily practice of
seeking out the answers, even in the most painful places?

Maybe a better question is, how can we not? It seems to me,
to see beauty, you may first need to be willing to look long and hard at the
opposite. And maybe sometimes to wait there in the uncomfortable spot. Maybe you'll have to yell a bit. But that's the deal. That's all part of it. And for real, seasoned writers, I really believe there's no other way to share the real stuff. Don’t hesitate to take me up on that challenge. Sure, there's real good in easy beauty too, no doubt. But it's not all that. And I guess I want to encourage you not to be afraid of it. You'll make it through if you're honest and don't move on too quickly. Try starting today.

  

Thank you to Ann, who helped to
inspire this thought.

Crossing Over: Who Is Your Audience?

In the closing month of 2008, Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion released these findings:

  • 20% of Americans said they have “heard God’s voice”
  • 55% feel they are protected by a guardian angel
  • 23% say they have witnessed a miraculous physical healing


In a similar survey in 2005, 67% of Americans were convinced heaven exists. Dick Staub made an interesting related commentary recently about all these spiritual seekers (estimates say it’s commonly around 82% of Americans) who perpetually come up empty in their spiritual search. This is not a new audience.



 


But the “spiritually interested” audience is this group. Among their primary interests are a spiritual reality that isn’t immediately apparent to the five senses. They are not necessarily looking for doctrine, Bible studies, or tips on successful living. They are not even necessarily looking for verifiable proof, tangible evidence, or practical application of this spiritual reality. Their interest is more elemental—tracking closely with universal human curiosity. To wit, the spiritually interested are:


  • Open to new ideas and possibilities
  • Eager to consider new ways of looking at life and reality and the universe
  • Concerned about issues such as personal freedom, self-realization, destiny, fulfillment
  • Not geared to motivators such as paranoia, shame, legalism, and fear. In contrast to many evangelicals, these motivators are off-putting to the spiritually interested.
  • If God exists, they want to know that he/she/it loves them  
  • Tuned into invisible reality, which includes spiritual reality, parallel reality, mystical reality, supernatural phenomena, mystery, spiritual power, intersections between the physical realm and the spiritual realm, and direct experience of these things
  • Tuned into spiritual power, especially as it helps them live everyday life and achieve their goals/desires/aspirations
  • Interested in exerting control over external circumstances through spiritual means
  • Driven by direct experience over theory, logic, or arguments
  • Open to new possibilities, not bound to dogma, religious systems, schools of thought or worldviews.


This “cafeteria-style” approach to belief, religion, and spirituality is exhibited in the self-improvement fields, which lends itself very nicely to current CBA and ABA nonfiction focused on self-help and a humanistic worldview. In fiction, this is harder to quantify, but redemptive stories that illuminate a benevolent, engaged, and beneficial spiritual reality are aiming at this broad audience. But in fiction and in nonfiction, this audience is interested in information that illuminates:

  • Natural laws of the universe and how one can live in harmony with it
  • Special wisdom and/or knowledge about those laws, power within them, and often control over them for personal gain and making sense of chaotic life
  • The future and what lies ahead
  • The other side, heaven, the afterlife, angels, the parallel spiritual realm, non-corporeal experience


In general, the types, genres and categories for these books is broad. They can be fiction or non, straight-forward or deceptive, traditional or quirky, literary or crassly commercial. They may have direct discussion of spiritual reality or opt for organic discussion of spiritual reality woven in. They may speak of Christianity as a supernatural faith, of meeting God & the devil on Haight-Asbury, or finding Heaven in an oil-slicked parking lot. They may be tame or surprisingly wild, serious or funny, artless or crafted, emotional or intellectual, scientific or not. Most will engage with experimental elements that break assumptions and illuminate a supernatural theme (which can include everything from vampires to superheroes to commercial thrillers to literary magical realism).



 


Some comparative titles to this audience:


The Shack, William Young (Windblown Media)


Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, David Gregory (WaterBrook)


The Secret, Rhonda Byrne (Atria)


A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle (Plume)


The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle (New World Library).


90 Minutes in Heaven, Don Piper with Cecil Murphey (Revell/Baker)


The Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs (S&S)


Walking the Bible, Bruce Feiler (Harper)


Journey of Desire, John Eldredge (Nelson)


The Faith Club, Idliby, Oliver, Warner (Free Press)


What Jesus Meant, Garry Willis (Viking)


The Traveler’s Gift, Andy Andrews (Nelson)


Closer Than Your Skin, Susan Hill (WaterBrook)



 


Dean Koontz and Stephen King. Francis Collins and Timothy Keller. This audience is not a new one. Obviously, this creates something of a “supercategory” that quickly becomes unwieldy. But for readers of this blog, I hope you see how it may include books that present an indirect gospel essence to those not yet convinced. Books of this nature don’t sound like a typical Evangelical Christian book, largely because they aren’t written by your typical Evangelical Christian. Yet these books can still be completely orthodox and in line with the biblical account while connecting with an audience most Christian books will never reach. This is why publishing to the “spiritually interested” is a significant growth area and we need to find out how best to position ourselves to intentionally and strategically target this market.



 


That is the million dollar question. If your book with spiritual themes can invite anybody in no matter what they believe, and put them on an equal footing, without teaching or preaching, that’s the first step. If you allow readers to draw their own conclusions, if you are comfortable asking “What if ….?,” and allownig your curiosity to guide you, you can write for this audience. If you acknowledge that there is still much to be discovered about the universe, the challenges of life, God, spiritual reality, etc., and you are someone who asks Why me? instead of feeling grand or entitled to your opinions, you have the voice. This makes you valueable to this type of reader. Because these readers are looking for authenticity, an author who knows enough to ask that question and not expect an answer is someone different than those the establishment likes to hype. Nine times out of 10, they’re more real. And readers want their books for that reason.



 


This is how you will open the door wide to the “emerging” readership.