Not every writer enjoys the idea of revisiting past work, but it can actually be a really good thing. Here are a few reasons why.
On the anniversary of submitting the completed manuscript of my next book, let’s take a look at the unglamorous side of writing (which we really need).
Years ago, I was advised that if I have to choose between clarity and cleverness to choose cleverness. Here’s why that is good advice for writers.
It’s said that developing a skill requires lots of practice. While that may be true, here’s how writing less is helping me be a better writer.
Back in 2015, while I still lived in Canada, I began working on a blog series for For the Church reflecting on my first 10 years as a Christian, and what I wish I’d known then. While at an event in Nashville in May of that year, Jared Wilson were talking about the series. He said five words that stuck with me: “This should be a book.”
I started noodling with it, working on a rough proposal, figuring out the outline, and playing with rough content for certain chapters. Then, I got my job with Lifeway. Suddenly, it was 2020, and I still had more or less the same amount of work on it as I did back in 2015: a handful of notes, a couple of sample chapters, and a work-in-progress proposal.
“It’s now or never, I thought.” So I talked to Dave Schroeder about it. He and I had talked about it on and off for ages (because that’s what we do). Knowing Dave, I was certain he’d give me the straight goods: if this was better off just staying a blog series, cool. If it had legs to be something more, even better. He felt it was the latter, and we got to work polishing the proposal, filling in some gaps, and then starting to make inquiries. The summer turned to fall turned to winter. 2020 passed and 2021 took its place. And as winter turned to spring, and the book found a home with Lexham Press, along with a tentative release window: Spring 2022.
4 months and 44,444 words later, the project that began as a reflection on what I wish I’d known as a new Christian is now in the hands of my editor.
There is still so much more to do, as it’s technically the first finished draft. And there will be a lot more to say in the future, including what we are actually calling this thing.
But for now, an open tab in my brain is closed for the first time in six years. And it feels really good.
Late last week, I was able to share the image that every writer loves and seems obligated to share on the social medias. The discreet contract image:
In the latter half of 2018, I was working on a big project that required me to redirect my time away from the blog so that I could knock it out! The project was a lot of fun to write, and is related to the image that is above. In fact, it’s actually going to be released soon.
But I still can’t tell you what it is.
But very soon; probably the beginning of February, realistically. So thanks for being patient there.
What have I got going on?
But there are some other pretty amazing things that are going on right now when it comes to the writing life:
- There is another project related to the big project that I’m working on right now that is scheduled to be released in the fall.
- I’m hard at work on a Bible study session for The Gospel Project for Adults on the book of Obadiah, which will be ready for groups to use at the end of the year.
- I’m also writing a good chunk of 99 videos for another project for The Gospel Project.
- I’m working on proposals for another two new books, one for grown-ups and one for smaller people. We’ll see what happens. Maybe they’ll be picked up. Maybe they won’t. God knows, and I’m okay with that.
- I’m still getting my blogging groove back. I still love doing it, so I’m going to keep doing it as much as I can.
A consistent theme in this writer’s life
There’s a key theme in a lot of what I’ve shared: waiting.
- Waiting to talk about what you want to talk about.
- Waiting for the idea to come together.
- Waiting for responses.
You get the idea. You might think that it’s driving me nuts to have to keep waiting to talk about all the things. And to some degree, yeah, it does. But I can wait for now. Because soon the waiting is going to end on one of these things. Then the another. And another. At least until there’s something else happening that I will get to wait to tell you about.
Every so often, I like to give a glimpse into the life of a writer—or at least one specific writer (that being me). Every writer has a different process. Each of us approaches the work differently, from beginning to end. And often it changes from season to season in life. So here’s a quick look at what that looks like for me at the moment.
- Come up with a good idea. Or at least an Idea I think is good. Noodle around with it a little.
- Throw it all away. Because I realize it wasn’t that good.
- Play around in the proposal writing process. Working on samples, figuring out the idea and whatnot.
- Work through a different idea. Which works out to be blog content much of the time.
- See a book that might be similar that’s just been published. Panic.
- Temporarily shelve the project. Something more urgent came up, most likely work-related.
- Return to the idea. The project got finished and the other book wasn’t all that much like it after all, so no copying (yay!).
- Wait. Because waiting is a huge part of my process right now, and along with it comes much uncertainty about my ability to write well. Because all the evidence that would suggest my doubts are unfounded apparently isn’t enough for my fragile ego.
As you can probably guess, I’ve got some ideas floating around. I don’t know quite what they look like yet, but I’m at some stage in this process with several projects at the moment. One is between points two and three. Another is at points six and seven. Another still is at point eight. Another one… well, I’m not sure if it even fits the list well. (Not that this is an exhaustive or sequential list, of course…)
But anyway. There are plans afoot. And maybe I’ll even be able to share something about one of them in the near future. We’ll see.
Because many writers tend to be terrible self-promoters, you might think writers to be humble. After all, writers are focused on the craft, not the accolades or the sales. (Definitely not the sales.) But this is less true than some might think. At least, as it applies to me. Which is, I hope, an indication of some level of self-awareness. Anyway…
I’m an irregularly published author. My first book came out in 2011. The second in 2012. Then there was nothing for a while.1 So it’s not like I’m one of those guys releasing a book a year. But with another one coming out soon, I started thinking about the weird things I’ve seen writers—myself especially—brag about. Here are a few:
How many times we’ve been published. See above.
Endorsers. Specifically, how many cumulatively, and how many “names”. I love endorsements, and have been glad to see very kind words of encouragement from people I respect and personally enjoy on all my books. But I know there was a tendency early on to be a bit braggy, because people can assume you’re connected based on who wrote something nice about your book (which may or may not be true).
Footnotes/endnotes. When I started writing, I was watching/listening to a bunch of folks who wore the number of footnotes they had in their books like a badge of honor, as if having 1000 made it better than having 100. So with some friends, I would use that as a selling point. I love footnotes and endnotes, but it took me too long to really get it through my head that it doesn’t matter how many there are in a book. What matters is how good the book actually is.
The writing process itself. It’s as easy to oversell the difficulty of writing as it is to undersell it. The truth is, the process is different for everyone, and for every project. Sometimes writing seems effortless. Other times, it is a soul-crushing nightmare. Sometimes it’s both in the same project. Everything in the writing process—from writer’s block to actually finding the time to do it—is an opportunity for putting on airs.
Most writers I know, including me, don’t mean to be braggy about these things, because often they’re not actually worth bragging about. But even so, we do it. Maybe it’s a cry for help. Maybe it’s social anxiety (also a cry for help). Or perhaps it’s a “safe” way for us to release a bit of our pent-up pride. However you look at it, though, it’s something I know that I’m guarding my heart against this time around.
- Aside from a fake book I came up with as a gag one year, and a real one that is based on something else I wrote.
I’ve been working on some crazy huge writing projects for the last six months. One, you found out about last week thanks to Brian tweeting about it. Devotional Doctrine is, as far as my editors and I are concerned, done.
Content is locked.
Caveats are caveated.
Endnotes are endnoted.
Marketing plans are planned.
Final review by one person on the team is in progress, then we’re off to design for release in a couple of months (yep, we’re working fast on this).
But that’s not all. Yesterday, I got to see the fruit of a really big project a whole team of us have been working on for the last several months (I’ll tell you more about it soon). This one is a video based on a script I wrote, and it looks and sounds amazing. Better than I could have imagined, in fact. I can’t wait to share it with you all when it’s ready.
But for now, here’s what I get to do: I get to, for one day, breathe a sigh of relief. I get to pause, reflect, and then get ready to start again on the next thing. This is one of the things that keeps me sane as I work on big projects, and as I work with teams working on big projects. I want to make sure I get that time to just stop and catch my breath, even if it’s just one day.
So, today is, more or less, that day. What that means for me is I will just focus on the regular stuff I have to do. And it will be good. Because every time I get to do this—when I get to pause and reflect, it means I’ve hit a goal. I’ve accomplished something on the way to the bigger goals I’m working toward this year. And with each step, I’m getting closer to the big nap I might get to take in October or November before the next race begins.
For now, though, I’m going to enjoy this one, and continue to tease you all a little more with it until it’s time for me to show you all what I’m talking about.
The book is nearly done, but the conclusion is not yet written. There’s probably a sermon illustration in that.
I’m flying through my edits on Devotional Doctrine, and have maybe half a dozen small things left to address. But one big element I didn’t include when I was writing it the first time: a conclusion.
Like many authors, I’m not great at writing these. Like many readers, I hate when they don’t appear. So that’s what I’m writing today, trying to wrap up this book—one that sat in the back of my mind for nearly 2 years before I even started it[1. Yes, that means I was thinking about it before I officially joined the Gospel Project team.].
So far, there are only five words, borrowed from C.S. Lewis:
Further up and further in.
We’ll see where it ends up.