Category Archives: Science

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,


Seeing Beauty, Part 2

The current state of publishing has me thinking about the future.


It’s hard not to these days. Everywhere you look there’s another announcement of the electronic squashing print. I imagine this big trash-can-head robot stomping books into the mud and I have to set down my quill and cry a little into my ink-stained tea mug.


But soon I regather my strength and then I start thinking of all the cool things to come. Futurists and other people who are paid to think about such things say that in 2020 you will be able to talk to anyone with auto-translator apps in your primary devices. But that’s just the start. Computers will be inside things and inside us and not on the desk. We’ll be able to enter full-immersion VR with images downloaded directly to our retinas, augmenting and even replacing reality in various ways. We’ll be interacting with virtual personalities and relying on them for several things—news and information, entertainment and companionship.


And according to one cyborg brainiac currently known as Ray Kurzweil, by 2029, the fastest computers ever heard of today will be affordable for virtually everyone on the planet. Many of us will be bio-engineered in several senses, both through implants and through computer-enhanced mental and physical capabilities in the computers embedded into our everyday objects. Cellular robots will be programable to repair anything at the molecular level, reversing aging, global problems, economic vulnerabilities, climate disruptions, and every manner of decline and decay. These robots will improve our brains and body functions and also make it possible to experience others’ emotional states and their attendant physical experiences. Organs will be created and recreated from tissue within and outside the body. Human life expectancy will increase and several common diseases will disappear. New ones, especially psychological disorders will continue to proliferate. (Much of this was mentioned by Ray here, toward the end of his talk:

And all of this makes me struggle to believe there will be much more beauty and sane people around to appreciate it in the coming decades. Sure, there will be advances and technologies never before seen and they will be widely appreciated and then mostly taken for granted as usual. But will much of the real beauty beneath, behind, and all around it be missed and inadvertently destroyed, as much or more than is happening today?


When I think about my kids growing up in this ever-more identity-variable landscape, I easily become overwhelmed. It’s bad enough thinking how Facebook and Twitter are making our boundaries more permeable and unreliable, but it’s a plink of acid rain to the sheer suffocating volume of inescapable existential asteroids hurtling toward us just beyond our perception.


(Imagine people wanting to move to the space station on Mars just to get away from the disturbing technological society we’ve created on Earth. It isn’t so far fetched to consider–the sci-fi writers are all wondering why I’d even bring it up.)


Normally all the unknown out there would be enough to make me want to move into a well-ventilated cave and take up the piccolo, but thanks to the current publishing environment, I’m about all out of freak-out these days.


Where will beauty be if we can’t even find it in our current world? More than ever, we need a different kind of futurist who sees where we’re heading and is holding us to the solid source of truth, love, and beauty. So often writers get frustrated that they aren’t getting the attention they think they deserve, but the hard truth is that they haven’t really found what deserves our attention. It’s easy to look around and excuse ourselves from responsibility—plenty of garbage gets published, why not this? We can dodge and remain stubbornly focused on what we want to say.


But what if there’s something higher, something more universal you haven’t considered? Even in your own small story the particulars point to a bigger, broader picture. And that picture has implications for all of us. What meaning are you making of your experience for others to glean? What fuller awareness are you making possible through sharing your discoveries?


And what transcendent beauty are you illuminating by the light of your simple words?