The Day I Gave Up Writing
When my first novel was published it received some decent critical attention and was short-listed for a couple of notable awards. Over the next ten years I also published several dozen short stories. It looked to me as if everything was beginning to come together for my life as a Christian who wrote books.
Then everything dried up. The novel went out of print. Publishers who said they would put out a second edition reneged on their promises. I had a second novel that was looking for a home, but no one was opening the door for the book or me. The pressure of trying to find time to write books and stories no one seemed to want got to be too much. One morning I hatched a plan – be done with it! Be done with writing and submitting manuscripts and bearing editors’ rejections and broken promises! End the suffering quickly and effortlessly! Crumple all plot notes, delete all links, trash all computer files, get rid of anything and everything that had to do with creative writing.
So I did. I erased a number of links to publishers and editors, moved files to the virtual wastebasket, deleted emails that had to do with my “dried up as a wine skin in the smoke” writing career, and placed everything that was on paper – and this was more than ten years ago so there was more paper correspondence then –straight into the fireplace. It took several hours but soon I was happy to see my bridges back into a life of writing had all been burned – except for setting a match to the mounds of paper in the fireplace and permanently removing the contents of my computer trash can (I rubbed my hands with glee at the header in the trash menu that read: DELETE FOREVER).
I can honestly say I felt like a new man. No more worries about badgering editors regarding the manuscripts I’d sent them. No more hours spent pounding away at the keyboard when I was already dead tired from my day job. No more looking in the mail for an acceptance letter or scanning emails for names like Zondervan, Baker, Barbour, or Harvest House. No more longing for royalty checks that had at least four or five figures instead of two. I felt like dancing. Imagine all the extra time I’d have again just to live and pray and play and – read! It was a good feeling. The cross of trying to be a Christian author no longer had to be borne
But there was a glitch. I went to the mailbox in the afternoon sun. I opened it, tugged out the envelopes, and headed home, dreaming of matches, and combustible paper, and the removal of a 16 ton weight from my back and mind. All remained well until I sorted through the mail. One letter jumped out at me.
You may think it was a publishing offer from Alfred A. Knopf & Sons, or Harper & Row, or an announcement from the Pulitzer Prize Committee. But my story did not take that twist. Instead, what jumped out at me was a letter with the massive eagle seal of the US government on it – the seal practically covered the face of the envelope –and an address that included words like US Consulate, Istanbul, Turkey. And I thought: Oh, great! Now what have I done?
I opened it. It was a letter from a person on the consulate staff, a US citizen. He told me what a difference a story I had written had meant to him. It was a long ago story in a long ago magazine but somehow he had gotten his hands on it, read it through several times, and realized that God was, somehow, speaking to him through it. He’d thought about it, prayed about it, and realized an embassy career was not for him. He was going to be a pastor, the best pastor he could be, and love God, love people, and love the human race with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Then came the curve ball. It seemed to come from this young man but I knew, by its sheer power and velocity, who it had really come from, who had really pitched it. Thank you for what God has done through you, the young man wrote. I pray he will continue to use your writing to bless, challenge, encourage, and refresh. The Lord be with you and in all the stories you put on paper.
I sat stunned in my chair, one part of my mind trying to calculate when the letter had been written and posted, how long it had been in transit across the Atlantic, how it could have arrived at our mailbox on this very day above all other days. But it didn’t matter, in the end. There it was. I had no arguments left. I pulled the sheaves of paper out of the fireplace and tidied them. Brought my files out of the virtual wastebasket and never clicked on DELETE FOREVER.
Published or unpublished, famous or infamous, for richer or poorer, I was a writer, a Christian who told stories, a man selected by God to be an author whether I liked it or not, through thick and thin, dark or light, good times and bad times. Whatever else I might do in my lifetime, I was a writer, a God writer, and that was now settled, period, end of sentence, world without end, amen.
So what happened next? Well, I kept writing. A couple of years later, my first novel was republished. Then, because the short stories were somewhat popular, a volume of them was put together and launched. Followed by a second volume. Then a man who liked the stories told Harper One San Francisco I would be a good candidate to write commentary in a study Bible they were putting out. Then the man who republished my first novel and my two books of short stories told a man in the USA about me and he soon became my literary agent. And because of him, and my work with Harper One, and a zealous editor at Zondervan, two inspirational books called Rooted and Streams were published. And because an editor at another publishing house liked Rooted I was invited to submit a proposal for a book in the same vein and in a few months a contract was offered with Baker for Majestic & Wild.
Then a challenge by my agent to write a piece of Amish fiction set in America – something I said I’d never write because so many were already doing it – really put the wheels in motion. A contract from Barbour came my way for that book a year after I’d finished it. Then another editor, from another firm, who was too late to pick up on what Barbour had picked up on, waited for my next manuscript, pounced on it, and I had an offer from Harvest House in Oregon six weeks later. Then another offer. And another offer. And another offer.
My head spun on its axis. I committed myself to doing more writing. A trickle of contracts became a flood. became a flood. In one year, four books were published. The following year, it was six. When people ask what I do now, I tell them the truth: I’m a writer. I couldn’t do what publishers and editors are asking me to do without being anything less.
God, after pitching me out at home plate with a letter from Istanbul, set me up with bases loaded a little over a decade later and gave me a Grand Slam. I’m still astonished at the turnaround in my fortunes. It did not happen overnight. But happen it did.
So this is my roundabout way of telling you that if you feel it in you to be a writer, and you really can’t get away from wanting to create and publish what you create, if it’s in your heart and mind and soul and you know God is in it somehow or other, then go ahead and make the time and write. Write and never give up. Never. Never. Never. Never.
This is my story of restoration