Category Archives: A writer’s motivation

Revolution: At Your Service

It’s been interesting to see the conversation evolve about this writing revolution. My mind has been challenged by the voices of agreement and dissent. My heart has been convicted both about the need for specific action, and reassured about the vital purpose behind it.

But the more we engage with these thoughts, the better prepared we become to answer them in and through our writing. I’m NOT giving up the ghost, but I do feel compelled to guide the conversation to more constructive territory.

Do we agree that any thought of a message must arise as an afterthought to the central impulse of writing? How about the notion that if you try to write safely, you will fail to write well? There are many preconceptions one should have before setting out to write a book. One of them is to have as few preconceptions as possible. Another is to ensure you’re writing what God has put on your heart and made you passionate about. But aside from those, what’s the greatest reason to write? The answer, I think, is as simple as it is indisputable.

Sol Stein says the four he hears most often are to express, to teach, to be loved, or to make money. Each of these is inappropriate, in his estimation, because the real reason is to “provide the reader with an experience that is superior to the experiences the reader encounters in everyday life.” Fine and good.

But I think, for us at least, it’s broader than providing superior experiences. Maybe to “Love the Lord your God?” To evangelize? To worship, to reveal, to cause to wonder?

All of these are in our “charter” as Christian writers. All of them will be there on the page. But ultimately, you’ve got one central, ineluctable purpose: serving your reader. I’m not saying we make the reader our god, but that it’s only through this posture of humility and sacrifice to the reader’s needs that we can come to fulfill all the other purposes we have for writing. This is just reality.

There’s something about writers (and most editors I’ve known) that strikes me. We’ve all been rearranged by reading. We’ve been served by writers and shown things—as James said yesterday, new, bold, and daring. When we talk about serving the reader, we must be careful not to assume we’re writing to fulfill reader’s expectations. No. We serve by expanding their minds and growing their consciousness to appreciate new places they never knew they had inside. If a book fails at serving it will fail to sell.

Maybe we aren’t served by what’s currently offered in CBA, but that’s not their problem. It’s ours. While no book can serve every reader, “fluffy” books do serve. I’m not sure that point has been sufficiently made yet. There IS in fact, a direct correlation between books that sell, and books that serve readers, however that service is being fulfilled. People pay for books that meet their need, whatever the need might be. We may think they’re serving base needs, but it’s a difficult position to defend.

Not everyone is going to agree that your particular service to your readers is all that necessary. It’s a very subjective thing, these services we fulfill. At Focus, each book we produce is given a thorough analysis up front to determine who the principle audience will be and how their felt need will be met and exceeded. All books are required to serve readers above and beyond what’s already out there. If this is how publishers operate, this is good news for those of us who believe we have a service to fulfill that hasn’t yet been offered.

We’ve been making the case here for a few months that a significant segment of writers and readers are not being served by CBA. There are literally millions of readers not being served that CBA is literally dying to reach. My own opinion is that they’ve been given the chance to reach them time and again, but so far, most of the time, they opt for playing it safe. Not pushing. Not constructing works of beauty. Not illuminating God. This is a topic for another post (since I promised I’d stop going wiggy for a while.) If our case is to NOT draw the line at safety, not excuse Christian books for forfeiting the great commission, and never back away from the beauty to which we’re enslaved, maybe that’s the way we’ll come to see this revolution break through its own grand notions and become a good Samaritan again, choosing to serve both neglected CBA readers and abused fellow writers and editors who are in danger of forgetting their call.

This is how we’ll do it gang. Go in peace to love and serve your readers.

R & R

Just in case I somehow missed mentioning it, I’ll say right up front here that book publishing is a crazy, laborious, exasperating, and unbelievably fun process. And not unbelievable in the sense that it’s insanely fun all the time, but just that you wouldn’t believe me if I told you why I think it’s fun. I wouldn’t be able to stand it if it was any funner. Funnerer. No I’m not drunk. You are.

Though honestly, if it wasn’t for my great colleagues and the authors I get to work with, some of whom I neglect entirely too much, and others of which neglect me more than I care to mention, I wouldn’t have any fun at all. It always comes down to the people you’re around, and book publishing has a great storehouse of interesting nut-balls to draw from. You should really check it out if you haven’t ever been inside one. A publisher, that is.

It’s Saturday and we just spent far too much time today looking at model homes out in the new John Laing community (and when I say “out,” I mean where the sidewalk ends, man). We’d love to spring for one, but it might be too long to wait for them to build us one, so we’re undecided. Luckily, I got my writing done in the morning today so I was free and easy to have fun this afternoon.

And the other reason I mention it’s Saturday is so none of you start thinking I’m slacking on my book publishing conversation. We’ll get back to that soon enough, but it’s the weekend. You have to write on the weekend. No thinking about book business and all that. There will be plenty of time for that on Monday.

Weekends are the time to be reflective and imagine where you’d like to see yourself in 5 years, or maybe 3. Get a view of yourself from this side of the fence and see if you like yourself over there. If you do, keep doing what you’re doing. If not, change it. Make something good of your future–and here’s a thought. Make someone nut-ball happy today. Seriously. You’ll think I’m blowing smoke, but give it a try. Make your time count and see if you aren’t glad you did days, months, even years from now. I promise it’s more fun that sitting there reading this all day.

See ya’ll Monday.



What is it about these plastic-faced dolls that’s so creepy? Forgive the silly post today. But this was the image awaiting me when I came out to the front room this morning: the little Chucky doll, sitting on the futon, beckoning me into his sick, little world.

It struck me as funny. Why was he sitting there just so? I don’t really want to think about it. It’s too scary.

The True Goal

Young geeks,

Like me, you’ve probably experienced some singularly unhelpful encouragement somewhere along the line to “quit being so weird.” But whether you’ve received outright rejection or physical coercion, it probably hasn’t worked. Many people think the world doesn’t need our kind. So should we call up Extreme Makeover and beg them to help us fit in?

Why didn’t we ignore those bullies and just forget about it? Who knows. Instead, we consoled ourselves with imaginative stories where “our kind” were the unlikely heroes. And eventually tried our hand at writing and set out to find the really great, new, exciting character we’d always wanted to be.

The problem with this is that we just aren’t great, new, exciting people. We’re strange, misfit geeks. New fiction writers all suffer from this common delusion of becoming that really great, new, exciting person. And the delusion obscures The True Goal.

What makes us think stories are going to save us from geekiness? Or worse, why do we think we can convince the world they were missing out on us all those years misunderstanding us? We sort of sense The True Goal deep down is striving toward elusive mysteries. But we need each other to basically keep smacking the good sense back into our heads, that we can’t write fiction to teach. Say it with me: “I can’t write fiction to teach. I can only write fiction to learn.”

As Scott Cairns says, our job is to find out what we don’t know about ourselves. The goal isn’t to be made-over, but to expose our misfit souls and search for the truth. And if we happen to find it—well, we won’t. But that’s our True Goal. And that’s why our really great, new, exciting—and true—work is to revel in the wondrous, geeky people we are.

Okay, young geeks. More tomorrow.

Die, nemesis! Die!

To be perfectly honest, there is a deeper purpose behind my motivation to write. I do hope to convince people of something. Recently, it was well illustrated to me by an incident that happened at work.

During a reading I was giving of Annie Dillard, the point was made that she couldn’t be much of a Christian if she didn’t “take anything on faith.” Behind the guise of courtesy and understanding, I didn’t pounce on this little, gray-haired woman and say, “Of course, she doesn’t take everything on faith, you twit! She isn’t a mindless ninny like you!” In my better moments, I am able to reserve such rancor for the ignorance behind such comments, and not the commenters themselves. Fortunately, I controlled myself and agreed that if Dillard was raising too many unanswerable questions for everyone, we might read something else. A few more people agreed on the grounds that it was fairly thick reading so early in the morning, and we decided to move on to the “something else.”

But this is just the kind of thing over which I have trouble not hopping up on a soap box. The motivating force behind my writing is often this very questioning process that writers like Dillard reveal. And often, if my own search isn’t providing sufficient inspiration, the denouncement of small-minded Evangelical foolishness makes an acceptable stand in. It’s such a temptation to go on a holy crusade to ferret out the proof that the truer Christians are committed to working out their faith with fear and trembling–and the narrow-minded, faith-clingers are the ones responsible for the sad state the church finds itself in today, irrelevant and dying.

But no. I can’t insist others question and probe all things since I certainly don’t (though I aspire to). And if the Bible offers sufficient answers for some people, who am I to judge? While faith does require doubt, it is also not the natural equivalent of ignorance. But I struggle with this. I want to shake up, uproot, shock and frighten others into deeper understanding of the light because of its awesome, vital, and ineluctable weight on my own faith journey. When I read Dillard, I get a sense of running out of words, of finally being able to see beyond the barriers to the truth of life and art and music and beauty where all things intersect and God stands waiting just beyond my reach. And when others don’t see it—or even judge my worship as faithlessness—it is not my place to be self-righteous and judge them back. But there isn’t much that makes me want to start cracking heads more.

Because, on the other hand, can passion for God exist when His unknowable mystery is simply accepted on faith? Seekers are passionate because they realize their weakness, and the inescapable insufficiency of faith. Maybe those with stronger faith don’t need writers like Dillard. But for me, the knowledge of my fragile, incomplete understanding makes me eager and humble before God. I realize I do not possess the faith that can move mountains. Mine is the approximation, and often the masquerade of unswerving faith. I attempt to nudge up to greatness through borrowed words and unwieldy descriptions of the mystery with my stolen powers. And my passion may be mightier, but my heart is paper. And it’s the shame of this weakness that forms the central impetus of my journey.

Could it be otherwise, would I wish it so? It’s hard to say. At times I think it would be nice to feel the assurance of the thing hoped for. But more often, I realize that if I had that, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate Dillard and Buechner and the great faith tradition of seekers who came before me. And I realize that would be the greater loss.