I’ve been asked 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 is never a problem for me. Perhaps it’s because I do so many other things besides writing. When I get to it I’m so ready words tend to pour out of me. I learned long ago that I should never wait for inspiration or a good beginning. I 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. Later, I labor over the right words, and there’s no block because I’m already looking at something on the screen.
For me, the toughest part about being a writer is working on the big books, the ones that take a couple of years. In my research for Heaven I read over a hundred and fifty books on Heaven, 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?”
It’s really something you have to accept by faith, trusting that a measurable result will come, even if the book isn’t read by people for another two years. 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.)
The payoff comes when the book is published and I receive feedback like these three letters:
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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...”
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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.
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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.
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Sometimes we get to see results firsthand. One night after Nanci and I were leaving the theatre, Nanci noticed a man leaning on a walker, struggling in the wind and rain. I got out to help him to his car. He seemed exhausted, so I asked if I could drive him home.
He declined, but I insisted we follow him so I could help get him into his apartment. He pulled out, swerving through the parking lot. We prayed he wouldn’t make it to the street. God answered that prayer when he accidentally ended up in the drive-through line at Jack in the Box. That allowed me to get into his car, so I could drive him home, Nanci following.
When we reached his place, we talked. George had been a political science professor at San Francisco State University. Shelves full of books by Karl Marx (who was not one of the Marx brothers, by the way) made it safe to assume George wasn’t a great fan of your average Bible-believing Christian. But he wondered why we’d helped him, what was our angle. I told him it was because we’re followers of Christ. Jesus said to love people, and it was a privilege to help him out, no big deal.
I left George my book In Light of Eternity, and I prayed God would touch his life. We figured maybe we’d hear the rest of the story in eternity, but in George’s case, we didn’t have to wait that long.
Three months later my assistant, Kathy, woke up with a medical problem she’d never had before and hasn’t had since. She went to her doctor, whom she hadn’t seen in a year. She brought him In Light of Eternity. When he saw it he said, “One of my patients was carrying that same book. He wished he could talk with the author.”
The doctor wrote down George’s phone number. I called and went to see him. He was full of questions about Jesus Christ and grace and forgiveness. We talked for several hours. I saw God’s Spirit at work. George prayed, confessed his sin, and gave his life to Christ.
For more information on the subject of Heaven, see Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven.