Personal Reflections on a Writing Journey
God is as big as any project He may lay on your heart
On Tuesday I shared the arrival of my new novel, The Four Gifts of the King. Thanks to so many of you who have ordered the book. I look forward to your reviews!
I’ve been asked to reflect briefly on how this work came into being. As you will see, it has truly been a journey of love, frustration and passion.
Shortly after publishing my first fictional work, The Third Conversion in 2008, I began to realize the power of story to convey deep truths in ways that are accessible and winsome. So many people were telling me that they’d read my stuff on fundraising as ministry, but it wasn’t until they saw it lived out in the lives of Carl and Walter in The Third Conversion that they “got it.” Over and over people said, “I needed to hear the words and see how this approach was actually put to use before it sank in.”
That started me wondering if the whole of steward theology could somehow be translated into a parable. And further, could it be a story that would touch the hearts of not only followers of Jesus, but of every soul that wanted that abundant life Jesus promised. The idea excited and overwhelmed me. I was not a seasoned fiction writer. I was not even, as I would later find out, a very good one.
But the idea kept percolating around in my mind, and a few characters and a basic story line began to emerge. It was on a walk with my wife while on vacation in Hawaii that I first shared these initial ideas (as you will read in the ‘Note from the Author’ at the beginning of the book). I even spent some vacation time writing the first chapter just to get ideas on paper (or a computer screen). They were rough and vague, but the journey was engaged.
Here was the challenge I faced: how do I 1) address sweeping themes like our relationship to God, ourselves, our neighbors and the creation itself, 2) incorporate themes of sin, loss, redemption and reconciliation without being preachy or close doors to readers who don’t share our faith, 3) and hold it all together with a compelling central story that captivates attention and opens hearts?
Whew! Clearly this was far beyond my abilities as a fledgling fiction writer. However, I plowed ahead anyway and after 18 months a novel took shape. I published a few copies myself and shared it with friends and family. They all said they loved it, which of course, is what friends and family do.
And then it sat…for five years.
One day in 2014, I came across the book and felt God asking me, “So, I guided you in writing this story, when are you going to get serious and do something with it?” I was convicted. That started me on the next phase of this journey. I decided to hire a top-notch fiction writing coach to help me ‘clean it up a bit’ and ready it for possible national publication. I found the perfect coach and sent her the manuscript with great excitement, anticipating a 2-3 month ‘tidying up’ process.
Her response was gracious, and devastating. I needed to do more than clean it up, I needed to learn to write good fiction. Ouch! Over the next six months she lovingly tore my writing apart word by word, and helped me hone the skills of a fiction writer. I had taken for granted what was required for quality fiction. No more.
Back and forth we went, her taking me deeper every time I thought I’d figured it out. My occasional frustrations were overcome by the quality of what I saw finally appearing on my computer screen. Slowly, I was becoming a somewhat more competent fiction writer.
Over that time the manuscript was significantly reshaped. The story stayed the same, but the style changed dramatically. Months turned into years and my coach became my editor for the polishing of the manuscript. Finally, in June, 2017, she pronounced it ‘publishable’.
Of course, now the real work began. Breaking into publishing as a new fiction writer is next to impossible. Even though I had published fairly extensively in the non-fiction world, and my fiction books had done reasonably well through Kingdom Life Publishing, I was considered an unproven, high risk newbie in this competitive market.
One phone call turned that around. In a truly divine moment, my dear friend Tami Heim introduced me to the acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing in New York. He agreed to review the manuscript as a favor to Tami. And so, I attached the file to an email and sent off ten years of work and a big piece of my heart to a stranger in New York. My steward theology told me, “This is not your novel, Scott, it belongs to God. He guided you in the story line and He will do with it what He will. You have been faithful in getting it this far, it’s time to put it in His hands, trust and be at peace.”
In other words, it’s time to practice what you preach…and write! And I did, sort of. In the next few weeks I had 2-3 conversations with the folks at Morgan James preparing the work for the publication team meeting where they would make the final decision. They were encouraging but kept my expectations in check. I gave it a 10-20% chance, and that was probably too optimistic.
I was driving home from an on-site visit with one of our cohort participants in Montana when a text came to my phone. It was from the publisher. Even before opening it I could see the first words in the thumbnail on the screen, “Congratulations…”
That was November, and now, just seven months later, I am holding the book in my hands. There are three big lessons this journey has taught me.
First, don’t be arrogant! Get help with things you’ve never done and be willing to put in the hard work if you want meaningful results.
Second, God is as big as any project He may lay on your heart. This was so much bigger than my capabilities on so many fronts. But if we are obedient, God is faithful.
Third, don’t do it alone. I had so many people along this journey who made the end result possible. I would have been better off being more intentional about engaging journey partners from the outset.
Good lessons learned, and I hope they encourage you on your own journey. So, where is God calling you to step out in faith? Where are His plans bigger than your capacity? Where are you relying on Him for the doors to open and the path to be made straight?
If you choose to read the novel I pray you are blessed by the story of Steward of Aiden Glenn, and find in his journey some keys that can help you in your own journey to see the King.
Blessings and Deep Peace!