A Word in the Void

Part 4 of the story of how I got started in writing a book, and the journey I took to finish it:

After a year of writing and editing, I was “enjoying” a long six month hiatus from the entire book project. Truth be told, my biggest enjoyment came from not having to think about the book any more.  I was sick of it.  I had spent so much thought, work, and energy on it that I simply had nothing left to give.  As I said in the last post, it wasn’t like I intended to walk away from it, but I completely lacked the motivation to go back.

It was a weird 6 months.  Every once in a while someone would ask me what was happening with the book.  The question often left me speechless, fumbling for some kind of answer (shocking!)  But I never had anything to say to them, because in all honesty I didn’t know.  I couldn’t tell if this was something I was ever going to want to go back to, or if it was a dead project.  I knew I had written it for a reason, but I wasn’t sure any more if it was ever going to see the light of day.  Every time I seriously considered picking it up again, I felt drained – like it was a black hole sucking down every ounce of my creative energy.

But One of my favorite things about God is His constant attentive awareness of our every thought, dream, and desire.  God knows about the things we dream of.  He knows about the things we’ve lost.  He knows about the places where we’ve tried and failed.  And the amazing thing is that He doesn’t forget!  The passage of time and the accumulation of dust don’t diminish His awareness.  He is always there, waiting for the perfect moment to fill the void that is created by our lack.

That’s what makes Genesis 1:2-3 one of my favorite passages in the Bible: And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

There was the earth – formless, lifeless, dark, empty … VOID.  But even then the Spirit of God was there, hovering, waiting.  And all it took was one utterance from God’s mouth to change the entire nature of that void and empty place.

Of course, in our “void” moments it can be so hard to see that way out.  We have such trouble imagining the incredible instantaneous change that can come from our empty situations.  Yes, we KNOW that all we need is one touch of God’s hand, one word from his mouth, but when the waiting seems endless and the darkness is so dark, our knowledge often conflicts with our expectation.

But my favorite thing about this verse is that it tells us that God spoke and there was light.  It was an instant change.  It wasn’t gradual.  You couldn’t see it coming.  In one moment darkness was upon the face of the deep, and in the next, that darkness was replaced with light.

We get so busy squinting at our horizons, looking for the first glimpses of a far off sunrise, that we lose track of how suddenly God’s answers will come upon us.  Or at least I do that … all the time.  You think I’d learn after all these years, right?  That was me though, squinting off into the distance, occasionally searching for a clue as to what (if anything) would become of this year’s worth of work that was now collecting dust on my shelf.  Little did I know how suddenly God would turn this situation around for my good and for His glory!

The Deafening Silence

Here’s part 3 of last year’s posts on this incredible experience of writing my first book.

So where did we last leave off?  If I recall correctly (and I know that I do, because I just went back to check) I had just realized that God’s purpose for this whole adventure was significantly bigger than I had first imagined.  I was holding a secret, a beautiful secret of a dream that I’d never even imagined wanting before.  It was impossible, it was insane, but it was there.

And in the meantime I was working on my manuscript, trying to turn my mess of words into a clear and precise expression of the powerful concept that God had placed in my heart.  And slowly but surely pieces were beginning to fall into place.  The hodgepodge of styles and ideas were starting to mesh together into something resembling a cohesive argument.  My words were starting to resemble a book!

But this is the point when things started to get hard – incredibly hard.

Here’s what would happen.  A friend or acquaintance would ask me what I was up to, and I would start to tell them about the book.  They would get excited and ask me if they could read it.  I would gladly say yes, tell them how eager I was for input, and then print out (or e-mail) the latest draft for them to read.

And then … nothing happened.  I wouldn’t hear back.  I would wait for a response for a month or two and then finally ask them about it.  Their response was always the same: “Oh yes, I started to read it, but then …” not one person I spoke to was able to tell me that they’d read the book through to the end.  Not one person was able to give me any kind of feedback whatsoever.  I can not express how frustrating it became.

Now before my friends and family read this and think I’m upset with them I need to clarify that I’m not.  I know, in all fairness, that the vast majority of these people were not avid readers – at least, not readers of this type of non-fiction.  This isn’t the type of book that they typically gobble up, and most of the time their eagerness to read it at all came more from their friendships with me than from an interest in the topic.  And aside from all of that I know without doubt that this was the way God designed the situation to happen – so how could I possibly be upset with anyone for doing exactly what He’d planned for them to do?  But in the midst of all of this, as it happened over and over again, the pattern was more disheartening that I can put into words.

I would work on a draft, run into someone who offered to read it, give it to them, and then hear nothing back.  And so I would go back to the manuscript and work through another draft – trying to make it better, more captivating, more un-put-down-able.  But the response never changed. It happened with my mother, my closest friends, my father, people from church … everywhere I looked there was someone who offered an open door that inevitably led me right into a brick wall.

The silence was deafening.

And the longer I went without any form of encouragement or critique the more the doubt and fear began to nibble at the edges of this dream.  I knew God was faithful – but I began to wonder if I was doing something wrong.  If I couldn’t get my friends to read this book, what were the chances that a stranger would care enough to pick it up, much less finish it?  And how was I ever going to get it published, distributed, and sold if I wasn’t even able to find supporters among the people whom I’ve always relied on?

At this point in my (I won’t say “panic” … let’s go with “struggle”) … at this point in my struggle I began, for the first time, to seriously consider the idea of self-publishing.  The very words “self-publishing” still send shivers down my spine – they conjure images of failure and mediocrity that harken back to those mailings I used to get in high school (We’d like to publish your poem – just send us $100 for your copy of the book).  Of course, now I know that self-publishing has undergone tremendous changes over the past ten years, and that the quality of self-published work has changed dramatically, but it was certainly my perception at the time.

And no, I hadn’t abandoned the idea of working with my church to start their own publishing house, but that dream was still so far over my horizon that I’d never seriously considered connecting it to my current project.

So I started doing research in between revisions.  I learned about self publishing, co-publishing, and what it takes to start a small publishing company.  I learned about the difference between “self publishing services” and websites that expected you to do all the work on your own.  I learned about buying ISBNs, about marketing and distribution, about print-on-demand technology, and about book layout and cover design.  I learned more about the production of a book than I’d ever imagined possible.

I spent weeks pouring over an incredible amount of data, and then one day I just stopped.  It wasn’t like I quit.  It wasn’t an intentional decision.  I had just printed out paper copies of my latest draft, just heard back from another friend who wanted to read the book, just sent her a copy, and was waiting (again) for a response.  And so I took a break for a week – and that week turned into many weeks.  Soon it was six months, and I hadn’t so much as opened the envelope where my latest paper manuscripts were waiting for me.

That was last October, and until this April that was as far as this story went.  I was at a standstill, and there was nothing left for me to do.  I felt like I was idling at a red light, just waiting for it to change to green.  But the more time I spent away from the whole thing, the less stressful it all became.  Yes, I still felt passionate about the topics my book discussed, and yes there was a piece of me that was still hungry for progress.  But in my soul I had nothing but peace.  I knew that this journey wasn’t over.  But I also knew that it wasn’t going to work in my time.

I think that’s the biggest lesson I learned from this period of frustrating silence and brick walls – that I would never be able to force God’s hand to move in my way or my time.  I knew that these dreams, these plans weren’t mine – they were His.  And with that knowledge came the assurance that He already had the answers in place.  He was going to give me exactly what He wanted, and when He did it was going to be glorious.  But until that moment, the best thing that I could do was learn to wait on Him.

A Broader Vision

Here’s the second of the posts that I’d written a year ago about the incredible journey I’ve been on in writing my first book.

After I’d finished the terrible first draft of the book, I set myself to the tedious task of editing the content.  At first I thought it would be a simple matter of polishing a few rough patches, but as I read through the text from beginning to end, the lack of flow really began to stand out to me.  I had done exactly what I’d imagined at the beginning of this process – I’d effectively written a dozen super-long blog entries.  They all worked as stand-alone pieces, but when I tried to patch them all together it became evident that they weren’t really fitting.

Now I don’t know about anyone else, but for me editing my own work is painfully difficult.  I’m fine with working on someone else’s text.  I was a writing tutor in college, and I’d always considered it my specialty to help student develop cohesive arguments and put them on paper.  I can’t diagram a sentence to save my life, but I’ve always been able to tell you when a sentence or paragraph felt “awkward”.  But when I already know what I’m reading – when it’s something I’ve written, it takes an active concentration to dig those pieces out, and a lot of work to re-imagine how they might fit together better.

So for the next six months or so my progress became difficult and slow.  I would work through a draft for several weeks, and then put it away for a week or two.  Then I would come back with a fresh perspective and find a whole new mess of problems.  I was playing author and editor at the same time, and the work seemed endless.

At the same time, in order to remind myself of what good writing sounded like, I started to pick up other Christian books from my shelf that I hadn’t read or hadn’t read in a while.  One of those books (again, there is a blog entry about this somewhere in my archives) was What You Do Best in the Body of Christ. I’d started reading it years before, and put it down after a chapter or two.  But this time as I was reading through it God began to speak to me in a very real and personal way.  So much of what was written was so based in practical common sense that it seemed almost foolish, but these logical and “obvious” statements inevitably led to questions that I’d never sat down to actively consider, and they were questions that needed answers.

The essential premise of the book is that we are each given a specific mix of personality, passion, and talent that God desires to use for His glory.  Finding the right way to use that mix is what will make us successful.  For example, not everyone who has a passion for evangelism is going to pursue it in the same way.  Some people love approaching strangers on the street, but there are others who are more comfortable inviting their neighbors over for coffee, while others were “born” to preach to large crowds of people all at once.  Finding the right way to use your gifts in pursuit of your passion is key to following your call.

Like I said – common sense, right?  But as I went through the exercises that the book suggested, and as I wrote my results down on paper and looked at them, it was like God was ripping a curtain away from an entire realm of possibilities that I’d never considered.  There were connections that were obvious, ministries into which I’d already fallen, work that I was already doing.  But at the same time God was revealing a path that I’d never even thought to consider.  If I tried to explain the dots that God was connecting in my head it wouldn’t make any sense, but they were there, and they were so clear that He might as well have written them out for me.  I was going to help my church start a publications ministry.  I was going to help them write and publish books, curriculums, and literature that could be read and used by the Body of Christ around the world.

Now anyone who knows me will know just how crazy that sounds.  I’m an accountant.  I have NO experience in publishing, and NO idea how that kind of business is run. I’m not a terrible writer, but that’s like wanting to start a record label and expecting to be successful because you’re not a terrible singer.  And on top of all of that I go to a smaller suburban satellite congregation of a much larger church in the city – it’s not exactly like I have easy access to the pastors to be making these kinds of out-of-the-blue propositions.

But there it was, as plain as day, and as soon as I saw it, it began bursting in my heart and my spirit like a bottle of soda that had been shaken and then opened.  It was impossible, absolutely absurd, a task to which I knew myself to be uniquely suited, and for which I was absurdly unqualified.  And yet somehow I knew that it was so right, so divinely inspired, that there could be no question.

There it was – the broader vision.  I had started this journey with an idea that I thought was big: I was going to write a book and get it published.  I was going to put words on a page that would help other Christians with their daily lives.  But God’s idea was bigger – so much bigger that it had never even entered into my realm of thinking.  It was still impossible, still absurd, but now it was there – like a seed that had been planted.

At this point there was nothing for me to do but to continue on the path that God had set me on.  And so I took this seed of a vision and I wrote it down.  I prayed over it.  And I set it in my heart.  And in the meantime – I continued to work on the book.  But this time it was different – I wasn’t an author struggling to edit my own work any more.  Now I was a future publisher, learning the ins and outs of editing from the perspective of an author as well as an editor.  Suddenly this monotonous task (and believe me, it was monotonous) was no longer a drudgery, but an incredible learning opportunity.

God had given me a broader vision, and it had changed my whole perspective.

Small Beginnings

It seems strange to be starting this blog so far into my journey as a first time writer/indy publisher. So I’ve been struggling on how to begin.  And then I hit a moment of (relative) genius: I decided to begin with what I’ve already written!

So I pulled up the entries I’d posted to my personal blog to copy them over here. And funnily enough, I discovered that the first entry was posted exactly one year ago today!

So without further ado – here’s what my writing journey looked like one year ago:

So much has been happening over the past few months, and I’m just bursting with the incredible news of it all, and so if it’s all right with you (and since I’m not waiting to hear, I’m going to presume it is), I’d like to venture off my beaten track and take the time to get a little more personal.

This whole story will probably take me several posts to finish, but it all started right here on this blog.  It began with a post I wrote almost two years ago entitled My Brother’s Keeper. But the point of this post isn’t to reference that one.  The point of this post is that when I wrote that one so many months ago I had no idea what kind of crazy journey it would take me on.  I had no clue how that first step would bring me to where I stand here and now.

You see, as I wrote that post God began to stir something inside me – I realized that this topic was bigger than a few paragraphs could cover.  What’s more, I realized that it was a topic that I felt very passionate about, an issue that I felt highlighted such a need within the Body of Christ – the need to define and examine what qualifies as rightly relating to one another.

The more I thought about it, the more passionate I got, and it wasn’t long before I started contemplating the B word … I decided to write a book.  “After all,” I thought, “How hard can this be?  I wrote a thesis in college.  That’s kind of like a book.  And I write in my blog all the time.  This’ll just be like a bunch of really long blog entries.”

I look back at my self in that blissful state of ignorance and I can’t help but shake my head and laugh piteously at that silly young woman who clearly has no clue what a rough road she’s about to travel.  Nevertheless, it was with ignorant bliss (as well as loads of encouragement from friends, family, and even my pastors) that I forged ahead into the writing process.

It took me two months of constant work to put all of my thoughts on paper.  I wrote a chapter at a time, sometimes switching from one to another half way through when I got stuck or bored.  At the end what I had was 12 chapters, 90 pages, and an absolute mess on my hands.  I mean it was awful.  The ideas were all there, but they were cobbled together in such a haphazard fashion that they weren’t even identifiable.  There was no continuity from chapter to chapter, the book lacked a style, it lacked an arc – it lacked a compelling through-line.  It was a mess.

Of course, having just devoted myself to 60 long hard days of furious writing, I had lost any sense of objectivity.  And so, still blissfully ignorant, I merrily sent the first draft of the manuscript to my mother for her opinion.  She agreed to read, critique, and help me edit.  And then she read it … and informed me that she didn’t think she was going to be able to work with me on it after all.

What a blow!  I mean don’t get me wrong – she was sweet as anything, and it was probably the kindest thing she could do for the daughter whom she loved so dearly.  But what I thought was “Oh my goodness, is it really THAT bad?  My own mother couldn’t find anything constructive to say?”

At that moment I felt so down, so defeated.  I felt like an utter failure, and I couldn’t understand why God would ever press me to start something like this if I was going to be so bad at it!

But that’s the thing about beginnings.  We expect our first steps on a new path to launch us up into the stars – and sometimes they do.  But more often than not, they leave us not far from where we started.  Sometimes we end up like David, who’s journey to the throne started when he was suddenly anointed by Samuel the prophet, and then just as suddenly found himself back in the field tending his sheep like nothing happened.  Sometimes we end up like Moses, who had a conversation with a bush in which God FORCED him to return to Egypt, only to meet resistance at every turn as soon as he arrived.

But we don’t remember David as a shepherd boy – we remember him as a giant slayer and king.  When we tell our children the story of Moses we don’t dwell on how miserable his situation was, we focus on the triumph of his success.  And if this (much humbler) journey that I’ve been taking has taught me anything, it has been that God is less interested in where our first steps take us than He is in where they will eventually lead us.

So I guess I’ll end this first post with this: If God has you at the beginning of something that seems to daunting for words, don’t worry about it.  Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, because God is setting you up for a breakthrough.  He’s setting you up for success in ways that you won’t understand, and preparing you for things that you don’t even know are coming.  So don’t despise your small beginnings.  They are the first steps into your greatness.