What Are the Challenges and Payoffs of Writing?
I was asked recently about what the biggest payoffs and challenges in my writing are. One question was whether writer’s block is one of the difficulties.
Writer’s block hasn’t been a problem. Maybe it's because I do so many other things besides writing. When I finally get to writing after pushing all else aside, I'm so ready that words tend to pour out.
I learned long ago that I should never wait for inspiration or a good beginning. I ask God’s help and jump right in. I'll either cut it out or clean it up later. Years ago I heard someone say "Never edit at the point of conception." The best writing comes in revision, not creation—but you must have something to revise.
I think a lot of writer's block happens when people wait for the right words. I just write. As they say, it’s not inspiration, it’s perspiration. Later, I labor over the words, and there's no block because I'm already looking at something on the screen. I ask for God’s guidance and He’s faithful to help me in revision as much as first creation.
For me, the toughest part about being a writer is working on the big books, the ones that take a couple of years. Dominion was one of those, requiring extensive research to get inside the head of my African American journalist main character.
In my research for Heaven I read a hundred and fifty books on the subject, most of them long out of print. I did this over a three-year period, and of course, the more you research, the more you have to handle, and the more you have to cut. If you do five or six revisions, as I usually do, it's easy to lose sight of the end. I had some very discouraging times where I stayed up half the night and asked, "Lord, is this going to make a difference? Is it worth it?"
I’m working on one of those big books now, and it’s fascinating, but the clock is always ticking. My deadline is over five months away, but you don’t know how short a time five months is until you’re writing a big book under deadline.
Since it will be over a year before this particular book is published, I have to accept that nobody will benefit from my work for a very long time! It's really something you have to accept by faith, trusting that a measurable result will come, and that I am doing my work to honor the Lord, and if no one else ever sees it, He does. Perseverance is essential in writing...especially on larger projects. I sometimes get stretched to the brink. And that's good, because it takes me to my knees—apart from Him we can do nothing.
What about the payoffs of writing? The biggest payoffs come in three forms. One is the process itself, the research and the discipline of writing, which are good for the soul.
Another is when the royalties come in, we have the joy of giving them all away to God’s work all over the world (about three million dollars so far). Two months ago, we received a royalty check for $214,000. This time I delegated most of the giving decisions to our staff, board and family. It’s fun to support what you believe in, and when you’re involved in the decisions, you feel more connected. I can’t tell you the privilege Nanci and I feel of investing in exciting ministries all over the planet.
The third payoff is getting responses to the books, especially after you may have spent a couple of years working on it when no one but your editor and a few others have even seen it until publication. Sure, there are discouraging letters. But sometimes the feedback is wonderfully encouraging. Here are three letters below:
I have been contemplating for months how to end my life. Then this morning I was reading Chapter 25 in In Light of Eternity and it hit me like God himself was talking. You wrote, "There's something important I need to add here. As long as God keeps you on earth, it's where he wants you...”
Thank you for those words.
You may not remember me, but about 4 years ago you saw me reading a Bible in the Chicago airport on your way home from a conference. You stopped and gave me a copy of your book, Safely Home. I read it and a couple years later wrote you an email telling you how it impacted my life.
Well, now I am writing you again and telling you that Father used your book to begin and grow a passion and love for China in my heart. Now I am an English teacher at a university in China. Without saying much more you can guess what else Father has given me: the chance to share with hundreds of locals who have never heard the good news. I just thought that I'd let you know how Father used your book in my life and how He has led me to a team in China sharing and spreading His story.
Our helicopter pilot son was shot down in Iraq 2-27-91. He had sent us a letter to be opened only if he did not come back.
"Well, if you have to open this up, please don't worry about me. For once I know something you don't, what Heaven's like."
His words have travelled far—giving millions a hope for Heaven. I have been collecting "heaven" books all these years. Thanks for the best book of all about heaven, your book Heaven.
Well, my book Heaven may in fact not be the best, but what I care about is that it helped this mother deal with her son’s death. These three responses above help me get the answer to the question, “Was it worth all that research, all those long tiring nights of writing over a period of years?”