Category Archives: Some writing reality checks

Reality Check #3: You’re STILL Not Original

"Originality is the fine art of remembering what you hear but forgetting where you heard it."Laurence J. Peter
"Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats."Howard Aiken
"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."C. S. Lewis
"Genius might well be defined as the ability to makes a platitude sound as though it were an original remark."L. B. Walton
"About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment."Josh Billings
"Originality is simply a pair of fresh eyes."Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Why do we resist the thought that we might be unoriginal? Ecclesiastes says there is nothing new under the sun. Does that not apply to people? I understand the emotional distress it might cause to consider, but remember the deadliest of sins is pride and diverting attention away from the original source and onto self. Can I still feel good about myself and be dead to self? Of course! All cynical and argumentative tendencies aside, the common definition of originality is not only an impediment to true confidence, it’s fundamentally opposed to the truest characteristic of Christian writers, that of being like Christ. Dying to self, getting out of the way of God’s work, pointing others to the One who originated everything that is, this is the goal. Our semantics and perspectives get in the way here, but we can’t be precise because we’re not original. We’re all gummed up by our personalities, opinions, and experiences, none of which are chosen by us.

I suppose I could have said YOU ARE NOT IMPORTANT and have been just as accurate. But that’s no less offensive to some. I’m simply trying to point out that if the choice for Christian writers is either to write what comes from you or what comes from God, why do we attempt to be seen as original or important? I’d rather see that you’re merely a vessel for what is greater than you and that your perspective is appropriately focused on what is greater.

Self vs. God. Where’s your drive derive? When it’s not about you, the pressure’s off. You can be yourself, confident in the gift God’s given you to write from your heart. It’s a paradox, to be sure: how we can all be so particular and unique, and yet still nothing new to God. Having his perspective on things can be revolutionary, and frequently paradoxical. I hope you’ll consider the idea that if you’ll get out of the way, you’ll see a greater view of what’s really important.

So, yes. Moving on. Next time I’ll have Susan Meissner’s response to a little comment she made about writing fast, in response to Athol’s great post on the pace of publishing. Come on back.

Reality Check #2: You Aren’t Original

Just FYI, the woman who brought hand cream on a plane is in custody tonight, so you can rest easy tonight. Come on! Ladies, quit jerking around and just give up the lotion already!

Okay. Sorry. That’s done. Originally, this began in my hard drive as a post on creativity, how to be creative and cultivate it and all that. But honestly, I’m not so sure that’s quite The Full M-to-the-onty on what’s really stacked against you in your publishing program, if you get my message.

Now this isn’t an idea that will sell you a lot of books. And it’s not going to make you all warm and fuzzy inside, either. But the fact of it is, creativity is largely irrelevant because, I’ve got to tell you, YOU ARE NOT ORIGINAL. I’ve been noodling about this recently, and I think one of the reasons truly inspiring people are published is that many of them have given up this idea that they’re so creative and unique. Certainly, there are examples of authors who are confoundingly obsessed with being creative and unique (like those who print their proposals on purple paper…I mean, who doesn’t recognize that pure genius?). But most big CBA names aren’t published because they’re so original.

I mean, they’re just not. You think Kincade is unique? How about Jenkins and LaHaye? Or maybe Frank Peretti. Ted Dekker? T.D. Jakes? Joyce Meyer? Phil Vischer? Michael W. Smith? Mr. Jell-O-steen himself? Sure, they’re great. But they’re not original. Was Jesus original? Even he was a few years behind those earlier messiahs. No, the sage was right: there is nothing new under the sun. Okay, I’ll give you Rush Limbaugh. There will never be anyone as creative and unique as Rush. But that goes without saying. And he’s it. Okay, and maybe Jakes. And Dino. But that’s it!

Christian writers, get past this idea of being different and original. I mean, be special, but not because you’re so creative or original, or whatever. Are you smarter, funnier, better-looking, more deserving than others? If any of that was the criteria, we’d all be up stinky creek. None of us measure up. Not only would we have to be constantly changing our identities to stay up with the times, we’d have to rely on the hope that no one prettier, smarter, or funnier came along. And someone always would because the world is bigger than Colorado Springs, at least according to Mapquest. Some people do base their worth on a false sense of specialness, sadly, seemingly unaware that the secret to being special is not any of these superficial things. It’s…well, it turns out Rick Warren was right! It’s purpose that matters. It’s not what you do or even so much how you do it. It’s what comes out of your God-given passion that matters. The piece of him he gave you to share. The sharing of Him who gave you that peace.

You’re a conduit. Yes. That is all. That is enough. The device for transmitting the divine. So forget the false confidence and hyping yourself up to believe something you’re not. Charisma sells, yes. But that charisma needs to derive from your core passion, whatever that is. And don’t accept any less—from anyone. If you really want to change the world, start there.

Alright? So I’m thinking this should apply to the way we view the world, this broken, twisted-up, decaying piece of rock hurtling through space. We need more Christians who understand this, their specialness that’s not about uniqueness. Use your piece of the eternal to affect the present. And when you write, think about the effect you’ll have on generations in the future of your dedicating not to what’s unique, but what’s everlasting.

Reality Check #1: Charisma Sells

So. A while back I promised some revelations about the inner workings of Christian publishing, for which you’ve all been exceptionally patient. I do appreciate it, as I’m trying to get this silly novel in shape. But I’m excited about some of the discussions going on post-ICRS on the CBA landscape, and I just can’t stay silent ’bout some unavoidable publishing realities no longer!

Now I apologize if some of you are so up on the Christian publishing news and processes that you know this stuff already. There’s always Dave’s insightful and informative blog you can learn more from. But over the course of the next few months, I’m going to be grinding up some sacred cows and a few of you are going to have to drink the water. There’s been a lot of idealism about publishing put forth, some of it by me in the early days of this blog, and I think it’s time some of that was balanced with a healthy dose of reality. So if you stick with me through this process, I think you’ll find some enlightening food for thought.

Fact is, in my weaker moments I worry about how I’m coming off. Oftentimes, it’s just this selfish, like the familiar worry that I’ve alienated allies in this business and that when I do finally pubish my first novel, there will be some major negative reception, like, in the Christian publishing guide I’ll be listed as Mick Silva, See Ignorant Critical Rube, page 289. Every author dreads finding themselves surrounded by bad publicity, shunned by their contemporaries, and/or lambasted in Publisher’s Weekly as a writer that’s “probably good enough for the Christian market.” And as I say, in my weaker moments, that’s me.

In my better moments, I’m more concerned about the kind of works we’re producing in Christian publishing, when the dominant force is sales, and what has sold well previously, either for another house or in another market, like in, say, film, television, or popular music. Even though most people will tell you they’re most interested in what is new, unique, fresh, or different, the fact is, Sales folks know what’s familiar sells. Joel Osteen will sell more with a book on fashionable dog sweaters than any of us with the hottest topic in the country, whatever that might be. And sure, Joel’s dominance is the result of a dynamic ministry that’s taken years to establish, and an incredible message that’s been crafted and positioned to reach the widest demographic possible. But those are intangibles. What you could point to as reasons for his appeal can just as easily be cast as reasons to publish Joe Schmoe’s book on fashionable dog sweaters. Joe’s been speaking for 165 years and has a church of 27 zillion, but you don’t see him getting a publishing deal. So what’s the difference?

In a word: charisma. Now there are arguments to be made for the importance of charisma when you’re a fiction author as opposed to a nonfiction, self-help, motivational author (See Chris Farley as Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker on SNL). Yes, I agree fiction authors should be largely immune to these considerations, but the fact is, many of you don’t have book contracts because you aren’t charismatic about your business in the most complimentary meaning of the term. And you can complain all you want about platform publishing and celebrity-driven projects, but the fact is, the Osteens of the world have something others want, and that’s always going to be more marketable than the no-name dog sweater guy.

So, you know this already? Okay, but have you sat down to work on it? Where’s your charisma coming from? Publishers want people with charisma, and when I realize that, I look at myself sitting on the other side of the table from my editor self and I realize I have some work to do. Sure I’ve got some ideas, some humor and cynicism, maybe a little unusual experience to contribute to my work, but really, what’s marketable about me? Unless I can step up and be comfortable with the idea of selling my ideas and my mission while holding my own in the high water of publicity and promotions, I’m not going to prove to any acquisitions editor the merit of my message. And frankly, that motivates me.

I don’t want to be a Matt Foley, repelling people. I want to make people feel good having been with me. I want them to catch the vision. Fact is, that’s an unqualified skill of the best authors in Christian publishing. There are many more essential qualities that go with charisma–not least of all an ability to phrase your message in a compelling and memorable way. But those skills get plenty of lip-service, and I don’t hear a lot of people talking about the charisma aspect very often.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, that’s been my rumination for the evening. Tune in next time when we’ll look at another large-ish reality influencing publishing decisions. Until then, keep practicing those engaging looks and compelling responses in your bathroom mirror.