A Christian Writer’s Regrets and What He’d Change

My career in Christian publishing is a bit like a ministry, but it’s also a bit like a business, which can make for difficult decisions about what feels true to my calling and what looks viable and sustainable. It’s no doubt a walk by faith, but it also calls for frequent reflection, assessment, and prayerful course adjustments.

I’ve been far from perfect in my decisions, and honestly there are times when a decision that appeared to be a mistake actually opened up a door later on. So within a year or two of this post going live, I may have a completely different take on some of my regrets!

Yet, each year I take stock of what I’ve done over the past 12 months and what I hope to do for the next 12 months.

I’m regularly journaling about whatever is on my mind, and oftentimes I jot notes about shifts in focus or direction for my writing.

While reading other books, I take notice of what works and what doesn’t work for me, and I try to blend those lessons with my own writing style.

All of that is to say, I think a lot about the direction and focus of my writing career as a Christian author. In no particular order, I wanted to share a few of the most important changes I’ve made or wish I had made.

I wish I’d written more in the first person about my own struggles and ideas rather than writing “should” posts that were preachy and critical of others.

As the format of this post seeks to embody right from the start, I wish I’d focused primarily on my own struggles and thoughts rather than targeting others or institutions. Mind you, there were times that were absolutely appropriate to address an issue or a person, but that should have been the exception for my format.

I started blogging at a time of wider discontent with the church, so I easily slipped into a critical posture in my posts as I picked apart all of the stuff that was wrong with the church. Having said that, I don’t think I was necessarily wrong with my assessment of things, but my approach was unhelpful and alienating.

If I had written more about my personal issues, challenges, and experiences, it would have provided a better format for discussing the pressing issues of the time and could have been more productive.

If I had written more about my personal issues, challenges, and experiences, it would have provided a better format for discussing the pressing issues of the time and could have been more productive.

I wish I’d spent more time thinking about the big picture of my writing career and where I’d like to end up in the long term.

During a conversation with my agent after the publication of my second book, he asked me, “Where do you want to be in five years?”

I had no idea what to say to that. I mean, I wanted to publish more books, right? But I didn’t really know enough about what kinds of books or what else I’d do with my time. There’s a lot more involved in book publishing than publishing books, and thinking about the longer term trajectory of my career could have helped me make better choices at the beginning.

I wish I’d spent a lot less time on social media.

I got into Christian publishing and writing in general when social media held out promises of bringing us together and making everything easy and better.

There were plenty of Christian authors in my circles who were really dynamic and engaging on social media. They were wired to thrive in that format.

I was not. Something about it never clicked for me, and it was a huge challenge to try to model my use of social media after people who were very different from me. I’m much happier just being myself, and I wish I had just been myself a lot sooner.

Now we know that social media is actually driving enormous wedges between us, making it easier to spread agitating nonsense, and is great for making memes go viral but not so much for selling books reliably.

I wasted too much time on social media. Any more time than five minutes a day was too much time. When I see hopeful authors on social media begging for more followers at the behest of an agent so they can impress a publisher, I’m sad on behalf of that author. A lot of disappointment and wasted time is coming their way.

I wish I’d kept my morning habit of waking up and writing at least 500 words before the start of the day. I used to post on my blog almost every day AND work on my book projects in the morning before my day job or during my lunch break.

My morning writing habit fell apart when I learned I was supposed to promote my writing and books on social media, so I started going on there first thing in the morning. Besides, it was fun to see what my friends were up to.

That early morning writing discipline is a hard one to bring back during this season of my life with small kids who can make mornings hard to plan sometimes. Even when I try to set boundaries around my social media use and even block it, I FEEL the draw of social media’s slot machine dopamine hit in comparison to the slow satisfaction of writing in the flow.

Even when I try to set boundaries around my social media use and even block it, I FEEL the draw of social media’s slot machine dopamine hit in comparison to the slow satisfaction of writing in the flow.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get past the temptation of social media in the morning, but I’m determined to make writing my top priority again first thing in the morning when my brain is ready to roll.

I wish I’d focused more on developing expertise in the things I cared about the most rather than the things I thought the church needed the most.

Having gone to seminary and bailing out on ministry in a church, writing became my plan B because it should have been Plan A from the start.

Yet, I had a brain crammed with ideas about theology and ministry. I saw challenges and stuff that was needed, so I started writing about it. But I made the mistake of focusing on what I knew about before asking if I was passionate about it.

After attending a bunch of theology conferences and feeling completely out of place, I realized that I could write about theology, but it wasn’t my passion. I have always been wired more for prayer, contemplation, and practical Christian living issues. It has been far more joyful and sustainable to write about the things I care about the most.

If Coffeehouse Theology was my attempt to write about what the church needed (and I still love that book and stand by its message), Flee, Be Silent, Pray is my book that embodies my passion and my story. I still feel that if I only published Flee, Be Silent, Pray, I would be completely satisfied by my career as an author. I will always write, but I don’t know if I can ever contribute something to the world that captures my passions quite like that book.

I wish I’d better understood what it takes to sell books and then planned my career accordingly.

Anyone can write a book, but not everyone can sell what they write. I had a lot to learn about audiences, an author’s expertise, how to write for an audience’s urgent pain points, and how to find the audience who is going to read my books. I still feel like I have a lot to learn–not to mention that book marketing continues to evolve every year.

The publishing industry has changed a lot since I first started out in 2006 and 2007 with Coffeehouse Theology. I’m sure some of the marketing stuff I’d read about back then would still work today, but now the marketing and publishing landscape is very different with email marketing, social media marketing, and other advertising platforms such as BookBub and Amazon’s ad ecosystem.

Selling books is hard work, but I definitely had the most success on my own, managing the marketing for my independent books.

While I’m grateful for the commercial publishers I’ve worked with and am proud of the work I’ve produced alongside some incredible editors, I’m also coming to terms with how ill-suited I am for commercial publishing. I often wonder if I should have invested more into independent publishing when I first tried it in 2010.

That’s all I’ve got for now. The comments are open for two weeks (closing comments limits spam) if you’d like to share your own regrets or do-overs with writing or whatever else.

I have compiled most of my thoughts about Christians and publishing in my book Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing. It’s often $4.99 on Kindle.

The Hidden Danger of Business for Creative Workers


“I just want to create things. I’ll let someone else handle the business and marketing side of things.” I hear this all of the time. I thought the same thing for a very, very long time.

That mindset may have been the most damaging mistake for my creative work. It laid a foundation for a myriad of other mistakes, resulting in hours and hours of work for books that suffered from my ignorance. Had I actually understood the business of publishing, how the industry has evolved, and where I fit into it (the hardest piece to sort out), I could have invested significantly more time in projects that would have been both creatively fulfilling and financially sustainable.

I’m not alone with my mistakes when it comes to the business side of creative work. I’ve seen friends literally lose control of their books because an inexperienced agent made a bad publishing deal with a new publisher who went out of business right after the book released. I’ve seen colleagues get more of less dropped by their publishers before or during their book releases, with publicists offer very vague, limited support.

Other professional writers and bloggers have suffered from SEO changes that hurt their websites or social media shifts, such as changes to Facebook’s author pages, that sent their click-throughs and ad revenue diving.

There are so many things that I wish I had done differently 5-6 years ago that could have helped myself immensely today. That isn’t to say that I wish I had given myself over completely to the business side of the publishing and writing industries. Rather, I wish I at least knew what I was missing and had been more intentional about the direction of my creative career.

Creative workers can mistakenly think that ignorance of business is a virtue that makes their work pure. 

Ignorance of the business end of creative work is by no means a virtue. It may actually hold your work back, deprive you of opportunities, and even prevent you from being generous with your work. For instance, some publishers make it very difficult to share a high quality eBook with potential readers and reviewers. You would think publishers understand the value of putting books in the hands of reviewers who can help improve your ranking on Amazon by putting your book over the 50-review threshold. However, there are many, many cases of employees at publishers shipping PDF’s of the book’s print file to reviewers, which appear as a mangled garble of words and punctuation in most eReaders.

The more you know about business and marketing going into creative work, the better off you’ll be in choosing the direction that is most sustainable and consistent with your values. I have taken one self-directed crash course after another in the publishing business and marketing. I’ve made enough mistakes over the years that I’ve been very motivated to sign up for industry publications and blogs such as Digital Book World, Jane Friedman’s blog, Writers Digest, Joanna Penn’s podcast, and many more. I’ve read books about the craft of writing, the business of writing, and how independent authors make it work. I’ve read about the marketing strategies and tactics that are available.

None of this has taken away from my creative vision. I’m not changing my plans dramatically. Rather, I’m learning where my creative work can overlap with the strategies that work best today.

Here’s the ironic part of this shift: the more I understand the publishing business and where I fit into it, the more I’ve been able to invest in the kind of work that I love. Back when I was completely ignorant of the publishing industry, I wasted so much time on social media, chasing influential people, and more or less wringing my hands about the things that didn’t work out.

With a better picture in my mind of what works and what doesn’t work, I’ve invested in tools that make my work time more efficient so I can focus on my creative projects and the freelancing that will help pay the bills.

Understanding the business side of my creative work means I can choose what to ignore and compensate for the gaps that creates. For my independent books I spend very little time courting endorsements or reviews on top blogs. Rather, I focus on sharing guest posts and give out the books liberally to all who will read and review them. It runs against some of the industry advice, but it feels like a good path for my work. It’s a choice that I’ve made with full awareness of my options.

These are the decisions that no one else could make for me. I couldn’t just “trust” the experts to tell me what to do. The experts can tell you what has worked for them and for other people, but they can’t tell you how to chart your creative career.

Most importantly, if you don’t set your own course with the backing of research and self-knowledge, you could end up running from half-baked ideas to half-hearted projects over and over again. It’s far better to spend time focusing on what you need to do and then jumping in with both feet and playing the long game. It’s a risk and you’ll certainly need to make adjustments along the way. However, it’s far better to give yourself to a particular plan in order to know with a fair amount of certainty that it doesn’t work than to dabble in three different directions without a clue about what would actually work if you give yourself fully to one of them. 

There’s a danger for creative workers when it comes to the business side of their work, but the danger in most cases is ignorance of business, rather than selling out. I only have my own network to go on, but I think the number of sell outs to business are far fewer than those who flounder because of ignorance of the business side of their work.

Authenticity and integrity do not demand ignorance of business.

If you value integrity and your creative vision, there’s no harm in learning about the business side of your creative work. Dig in and sort out which advice rings true and which doesn’t. Take a look at how you fit into your industry and how your creative work can either reach more people with this knowledge.

If any particular practice in your creative industry strikes you as troubling or unsustainable, no one will blame you for avoiding it. It’s better to see the opportunities and obstacles with clarity than to avoid them both in ignorance.



Keep Showing Up and Finishing Stuff


I didn’t hit rock bottom when I started out as a writer. Sure, I kept failing and struggling for a few years, but that wasn’t the worst part. No, the rock bottom came when I had experienced a little success, had some potential for even more success in the future, and then everything fell to pieces.

I met with a friend a few years ago when I didn’t know what else to do. As we talked through my fragile little career as a writer, I ended up with this resolution: Well, it’s not like anyone can stop me from writing, and it’s still what I know I need to do. So I’ll just keep writing.

In the weeks and months and years that followed that conversation, I kept writing books, pitching proposals, posting on my blog, and publishing independently. I kept sending newsletters. I kept attending conferences and connecting with my writing friends and colleagues.

I don’t know what it looked like on the outside, but I suspect that some people thought I was super focused and on target. From MY side of things, I felt like a wandering hot mess who couldn’t take my work to the next level—whatever that meant. I’m sure my definition of success changed weekly.

I didn’t do too many things right over the past ten years, but here are two things that I know worked: I showed up and I finished stuff.

I showed up to my desk each day to work on my projects and the work my clients needed. I showed up at conferences despite my track record of failures, and I kept connecting with colleagues and friends in Facebook groups despite my insecurities.

I won’t say that I’ve arrived or achieved success or reached any kind of milestone. Rather, I’m working on giving up these measurements and labels. This is the cliché of all Christian writing clichés. I’ve rolled my eyes when other writers shared it with me. But today, this is the truest and most helpful thing I have learned: My only goal in writing is to be faithful.

For me, being faithful means I show up and I finish stuff.

During a panel on independent publishing at the Festival of Faith and Writing I saw this same thread come up with each panelist, especially with Andi Cumbo-Floyd, Kris Camealy, and Shawn Smucker (see also this). Shawn shared, “Finishing stuff is important.” As those words sunk in, I realized that was at the heart of my resolution a few years back as I discussed my future with my friend. They could each write their own versions of this post, and I suspect that the message of each post would be roughly the same: show up and finish stuff.

No one can stop you from showing up, writing, and finishing stuff. Sure, people won’t read it, editors will reject it, and eager Facebook posts about your new project will slip away unnoticed into the ether. You’ll show up at events and wander around in search of conversations while everyone else seems to know everyone else. You’ll get really close to a big break, and then it will fall apart, never to materialize again—or so it seems.

I’ve been through all of this: the loneliness, the feeling out of place, the failure, the years of not being read, and the gnawing fear that I don’t belong anywhere and that perhaps there’s no hope for me to do anything meaningful or worthwhile.

I kept showing up to write because I couldn’t figure out what to do with myself. I kept showing up at writing events because it was the only place that made sense for me. I don’t know what it means to be successful any more, and there are times when I want to be more successful and times when I genuinely fear success. I know enough people who have suffered through the downside of success to believe that “success” at any level won’t solve all of my problems. Some days “success” just feels like exchanging one set of headaches and risks for another set of headaches and risks.

I don’t know what the best path forward is for myself most days or what the next step should be after enjoying a little bit of success here and there. I think that’s why these words ring true: “Show up and finish stuff.” It applies to any season and situation. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re on the brink of a major break, showing up and finishing stuff isn’t about measurements or goals or accolades. It’s about faithfulness and sticking with the things that God places before us.

To a certain degree we all start out with the same insecurities, struggles, and failures. No one gains experience without a ton of ground work and failure. Every successful writer I know has a very similar story of laboring over their work for years in obscurity. They suffered heartbreaks and failures. They were rejected and ignored. Of course all of these things hurt. They were devastating. Believe me, I could talk your ears off with all of my own stories of heartbreak and disappointment and devastation. How many hours do you have?

They all kept showing up and finishing stuff. And sure, they did other things. They learned and experimented and took risks and networked. That doesn’t mean they didn’t try out some different ways to make connections with readers. However, they did the work and kept showing up because they knew that faithfully doing the work and following through was their only calling card.

I honestly have equal respect for the person who has written several unpublished books and the person with multiple bestsellers. I think both people get it. They know what it’s like to faithfully show up, do the work, and finish. If that isn’t enough right now, I’m not sure what will make things that much better.

May we find the fulfillment and peace we crave in the simplicity of faithfulness. May we never believe the lie that online accolades and paper contracts are the measuring sticks of faithfully sharing the gifts we have been given from God.

The Hidden Cost of Free Stuff for Your Calling


I used to work with a youth pastor who had an “Aww shucks” way about him that hid a shrewdness that I’d associate with an oil tycoon or high stakes finance big wig. His office was littered with broken computers, sports equipment, and the literally “important” pile of stuff was always on the floor in front of his door. He looked like a classic youth pastor.

Those who thought they could boss him around quickly learned otherwise. He always had the right policy in place to keep the kids safe, each event had been carefully considered with the big picture in mind, and he always knew how to handle money.

Perhaps that last one about money impressed me the most because handling money has always been a mystery—at least, once you get past the part where I spend it on hockey tickets or a cheeseburger. Earning it and saving it have largely eluded me.

Whenever the youth pastor collected registration forms for any event or trip, he always asked for a modest deposit, typically between $10 and $20.

“The kids won’t flake out and the parents won’t forget if there’s a little money on the line,” he shared with me.

This, of course, is a pretty standard trick to prompt people to make a commitment. It was just the first time I saw how things worked behind the scenes at a church and an important lesson in the ways money changes behavior.

As I’ve taken one step after another toward my calling/vocation/career as a writer, I’m starting to see how the wealth of free writing and promotion tools has been a major set back in terms of my mindset and commitment level. In the past year I’ve started paying for more tools, and there’s an advantage in paying for tools, services, books, and even training.

While I love the democratic, accessible, free to join nature of so many internet tools, it does come with the very real risk of creating a culture of dabbling where creators fail to take themselves and their work seriously. Do we sign up for a bunch of free tools, play at writing, and then condemn ourselves to an eternal purgatory as a wannabe writer, photographer, or creator because we fear losing money or making a commitment?

Free stuff is great. Trying stuff for free is great. Freemiums are a super way to test out something without any financial risk. Free eBooks are really nice when you want the content in them. Free blogging tools, free social media services, and free management and marketing software are all wonderful for writers trying to get started on a tight budget. However, the inherent risk of setting up a free website, sending email newsletters for free, contacting fans for free through social media, and being able to set up eBooks for free by simply loading a Word file means that the point of entry is so low and accessible that we may never actually set worthy goals or take leaps of faith that actually require… faith.


In 2016 I wanted to finally take myself a little more seriously as a professional author, and one of the steps I needed to take was finally paying up for professional social media tools like Buffer, purchasing and learning Scrivener for writing and compiling eBooks, managing my invoices and expenses with Freshbooks (seriously, give it a spin and integrate PayPal for Business, it’s great!), and paying for the next level up in MailChimp (while giving ConvertKit a long look). It was time to graduate from all of the freemiums and to start using professional tools at a higher level just like any professional business venture.

Once I started paying a bit more each month for all of my tools, I started to think differently of myself and my work.

Were there ways I could improve my writing?

Could I write more books?

Are there ways to make myself more efficient?

Can I do a better job of planning my schedule each week?

I never thought of myself as puttering around or acting like an amateur, but the truth is that I hadn’t taken myself as seriously as I should have. I’d paid to attend writing conferences, but that didn’t translate into professional changes in my day to day operation. When I stopped trying to squeeze by with free, cheap stuff, I clicked into a mindset where I’d better make the most of the tools I’m paying to use.

The truth is that I run the risk of turning into a dabbler every day. I can switch from a person with a vision and calling into a person who just plays around with all of the free, cheap stuff and tries to just get by.

When I practice my Examen each evening, I try to look at whether I’ve stretched myself at some point throughout the day. The questions look something like this:

Did I step out in faith in some way?

Did I reach out to others vulnerably and honestly?

Did I need God or fall back on God in the course of my day?

Before you answer any of these questions or head off to guilt trip central with me, I want to suggest something very important. God is merciful and loving. God wants to restore us and when we are faithless, God is faithful. For every time that I’ve lost sight of the fact that God keeps calling me back to my writing work and the calling to write seriously, there is ample mercy and forgiveness that carry me back so that I can get my act together.

Dabbling isn’t an act of faith. I don’t need God’s help in order to play around in the fringes.

It’s not that spending money automatically means you’re living by faith. It’s not a magic trick. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll end up where you need to be any more than a $20 deposit guaranteed that the high school students will show up for the youth group event. Life happens. Distractions come up. Nothing is certain.

But perhaps you’ve been on the fence, aimless, or discouraged. Maybe you’re terrified of failure. Maybe you want to just play it safe. I know that feeling well. Man, I love playing it safe. There’s nothing better than home base. Who wants to try something new, risk failure, and then have to learn from a bunch of mistakes?


But I have some money on the line now. I’m taking little steps of faith. I’ve paid my deposit to keep pursuing my calling. I’m trying to avoid being an aimless dabbler. I’m trying to live by faith and to try things that require faith in God and, more importantly, God’s provision.

If I end up playing it safe today, I can fall back on God’s mercy and kindness. There’s always tomorrow. As my friend Ray Hollenbach says, “New morning, new mercies.”

Perhaps you can end your day by asking, “Where can I move toward living by faith tomorrow?” This isn’t about RESULTS or charts with gold stars or earned favor.

We’re learning to hear and then respond to a gentle whisper from God that sometimes calls us to take some big risks. We’re learning to put something real and tangible and risky on the line, trusting that God will go with us as we step out into the unknown, hoping that paying that deposit for the trip was worth it.





I Write for the Money

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I was one of those kids who could wander off into the woods and spend the better part of a day on a project.

When my teacher gave me a notebook that I could use for anything, anything at all, I filled it up with stories and drawings.

When my friend and I started thinking about a fun thing to do after school, we started writing a book together.

By the time I got to college, I’d heard all about finding a job that is respectable, like a lawyer or a doctor, and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Writing wasn’t even close to being on the radar. I honestly didn’t even know there were people called “copy writers” or “business writers” who got paid a living wage to work with words. I believed that words were just part of my childhood and that part of me needed to die in the service of finding a career.

My wife once said to me, “I can’t even imagine what kind of major you should have been in college.”

Truer words have never been spoken. I didn’t fit into any tidy career boxes. I have creative inclinations that drew me toward writing and reading, but I also had more interpersonal, pastoral inclinations that drew me toward ministry. The English and Bible majors weren’t good fits, and in the presence of both camps I felt like an imposter.

I replied to my wife, “Maybe if they had a major called ‘Professional F – – k ups’?”

Those were darker days.

I couldn’t even trace a clear path between that little kid who filled up piles of notebooks with stories and the young adult who set off for seminary for a career in ministry that never felt right. It was the least-worst least-right thing.

In the back of my mind, I kept hearing a little voice whispering: You could write on the side. I continued to hear it as I earned a degree for a career I wouldn’t pursue. When I turned to a job in the nonprofit sector, I still felt like an imposter, and that voice in the back of my mind grew louder: you could write on the side…

When I finally started listening to that voice to write, I had no idea how to make a living as a writer. I just knew that it was my last shot at some kind of a career.

I thought that I was finally becoming the kind of adult who made some sense out of that kid who would wander in the woods all day or who would fill up notebooks with stories. This was going to be the time when I finally linked a career with my actual identity. Right?

Not quite.

I started out with writing with the simple hope of earning a sustainable living. Yes, I wrote for the money. Writers should never be ashamed of creating high quality creative work or professional business pieces for a fair wage. That isn’t the same thing as being annoying about promotion or selling out for a paycheck. That also isn’t the same thing as writing in order to get famous. In fact, the latter distinction has been essential for me.

Unfortunately, many writers today are stuck in a kind of limbo between a perception that writing for a sustainable income means writing in order to get famous. This perception is grounded in an unnecessary reality that has unfortunately become all too normal.

When I started out as an author, I had the modest goal of writing for a respectable, sustainable audience. I never wanted to be the headliner at conferences, the go-to guy for hot takes on cable news, or a social media rock star. I just wanted to write and get paid for it.

I imagined my dad working long days as a plumber, often taking me on estimates in the evenings or going in for half or full days on Saturdays. That’s what I had in mind: hard work, a career that used my talents and abilities, and a paycheck at the end of the week.

Instead I found a carnival of conferences, social media personalities, Middle-school-style blog fights, and popularity contests.

I had no idea that the traditional publishing world has less and less room (and use?) for a working author. Rather, what I’ve discovered is a huge gap between the haves and have nots. There are the new authors who get picked up as a kind of Hail Mary pass and the big names who consistently earn their keep. The majority of the resources go the big names, and I honestly don’t blame publishers for choosing what works. However, the number of authors who can earn a living without engaging in the publicity circus are growing fewer and fewer.

I write for the money. I don’t write for fame or publicity. Today many authors are finding that you can’t write books for a living wage unless you also gun for the fame and publicity. A select few have carved their own way between the two, but I assure you they don’t have much by way of long term security. For the most part, I’ve chosen to release my latest books independently in order to earn a modest monthly wage on my own terms.

I don’t have easy answers here. I have found a middle ground that includes lots of freelancing, writing for blogs and websites combined with author coaching and editing things like books and proposals. I write my own books and release them independently while keeping communication channels with publishers open.

Perhaps I’m foolish, but I can’t let go of a few images in my mind.

I see that kid who filled up notebooks and then took long walks in the woods.

I see my dad removing his muddy boots in the garage and then scrubbing his hands in the kitchen sink.

I see my own notebook filled with ideas, dreams, and hopes. Sometimes the ideas in that notebook translate into a check, direct deposit from Amazon, or a PayPal payment. Sometimes those ideas turn into an appreciative note from a reader or a five-star review.

My kids don’t see muddy work boots or blackened hands in our home. They see torn-open envelopes, a computer, and a pile of fine point black pens next to my notebook.

I remember my dad sharing a plumber joke with me one day when he came home covered in mud.

“That’s not dirt,” he said. “That’s money.”

And so as I scribble again and again in my notebook…

“That’s not ink… that’s money.”

This is my career. This is my calling—who I’ve always been deep down to my core from the earliest days that I could write in a notebook or tap away on a keyboard. I write for the money that leads to a sustainable creative career, and I hope that more writers can do the same.

The Worst Has Already Happened and It’s Going to Be OK


Failure, rejection, isolation: these are just a few of the things I fear on a day to day basis. Perhaps I don’t even take the time to reflect on what I fear the most. Fear can simmer in the back of my mind.

In our work, in our relationships, and in our spirituality, we often fear the worst happening.

I fear that no one will care about my next book.

I fear that the people I respect will reject me or, worse, ignore me.

I fear not having close friendships while everyone else has tight-knit communities who rally around them and cheer them on.

Writing has pushed me to face these limits in so many ways on a regular basis. On many occasions the worst has happened. I’ve faced all of these fears, and without a doubt they have left me devastated, sad, and despairing about the future.

Then something unexpected happened: the sun rose on another day, and another after that.

I didn’t really have any choice in the matter. I had to figure out what to do next.

I may have endured some of these struggles quietly, but don’t mistake that for handling them gracefully.

Facing failure, seeing my worst fears come to life again and again, and staring into the vast expanse of loneliness for long seasons pushed me to also see all of the unhealthy ways I’d relied on flimsy crutches to keep myself standing. Things such as the validation of the crowd or of specific authors and editors were given far too much weight in determining the value of my work and my progress in my calling.

Rejection today does not mean it’s inevitable for next year or five years from now if I keep working and try something different.

Most striking, the perspective I’ve gained after facing my worst fears revealed to me that so many of my worst fears were already realized long before I thought I was facing them. In many cases I lived in either delusion or ignorance, and it took falling on my face dramatically to finally remove my own blinders.

I saw the hard truth: while I feared that readers would be apathetic about my work, I could finally see in hindsight that very few people cared about my writing when I started out, and rightfully so. I needed a lot of time to work on it and to build deeper connections.

I don’t know how to avoid starting off so fragile. I know that the number one fear of bloggers is that no one will read their posts. So many don’t start because of this fear. I worked at my blog for several years without seeing much traction. It was the worst.

Then the sun came up again and again and again. I tried something different, and things finally started moving forward. I could point to several different factors, but perhaps I most needed to fail before I could figure out the right way forward.

With so many things in life we have to ditch the narrative of steady progress. Writing has showed me that it’s more like a series of wrong turns, crashes, and stretches of progress. I’ve been all over the map, and I don’t think I could truly move forward until I finally felt stuck, lost, or banged up beyond usefulness.

I had to be jarred from my daydream. It took failure to make me realize just how tough things were at the outset. And yet, once I saw how bad things were, I finally saw that things could may be OK if I kept moving forward.

I have no doubt now that the bad days will come again and again. I also know that there will be good days and even days of slow, incremental progress. I know that I have a calling to write, but that doesn’t guarantee a smooth trip forward.

Writing has served as a kind of lab for living. It has given me a much higher tolerance for pain and failure in other areas of my life. I am learning that I may fail others at times in relationships, but I can make progress in being more considerate or less controlling. I may really hate the first three months of running, but at a certain point I’ll start to crave my weekday runs. I may really struggle to focus for five minutes during prayer, but if I keep failing and trying month after month, I can build myself up to 20 minutes of quiet meditation that feel far more natural—and needed.

I still fear plenty of things. Worry is a lifestyle or habit that I’m learning to break. Some days I fail dramatically at trusting God with my worries and cares. I’m grateful that I’ve failed enough to know that tomorrow promises another day to take a step forward.

Writing Must Be a Matter of Life or Death



There’s nothing like a doozy of a hyperbole to kick off a blog post…

It’s true that there are many excellent, useful, well-read blogs, books, and magazines that are decidedly not dealing with “life or death.” Rather, I’m talking about that feeling of life closing in on you, of losing hope, or wondering if you can go on another day. These struggles vary from one season of life to another.

The (few) nights I have to get dinner ready for the kids on my own sure feel like a life or death struggle in the moment. I’m never more open to a blog post with simple meal ideas or a humorous blog post about the zoo-like atmosphere of feeding small children while my own kids are sputtering milk and throwing things during dinner.

Whether or not I pray each day won’t necessarily save my life, but there are weeks when life feels like too much. I’m angry, tired, frustrated, and flat out up to here with one thing after another. My fuse is short. My mind is raging. To be blunt, the last thing I want to do is pray, and that is when I know that I need it the most.

Perhaps I pull up a prayer app on my phone, pick up a prayer book from my shelf, or see something striking from a friend on social media, and it hits me right where I’m at in the turmoil of the moment.

Writing rarely saves lives directly, unless it’s a survival book, medical literature, or addressing a serious mental health issue. More often, good writing speaks to a pain point, an area of struggle, or a weakness that continues to nag at us.

The writing I need and you need is a revelation, a great relief, and a significant step forward.

So many moments throughout the week feel like life or death struggles, and the thing that I’ve found is that I’ll only speak to those struggles if I take risks, if I dig deep into my own flaws and personal battles.

Herein is the risk of really writing. We can play about with attacks on what we are not, and there may be times when these help open our eyes. But the vast majority of the time, we need to learn how to survive and what to become.

I need to know how you handle the frustrations of failure in your work, low points of your day with the kids when you really blow your top, or how you keep your marriage together when there’s always more laundry, more dishes, and more emails from work.

How do you handle the uncertainty of moving?

How do you navigate the loneliness of visiting a new church?

How do you go on when you’ve been working on dinner all day and you burn it all to a hot, flaming crisp?

These are the moments where our faith, our spiritual disciplines, and our relationships meet the challenges of the every day. These are the moments when we’re grasping for lifelines.

We can sink or swim, and it may not be life and death, but it sure feels like our little corner of the world is crashing or falling apart for a moment.

Who will give the perspective, the next steps, and the hope that we need?

This is where our writing can step in with words of encouragement, empathy, and wisdom.

I used to think my writing was a success if lots of people read it, but I was dead wrong.

My writing is only a success if it helps people with these small or big “life or death” struggles that make up each day. Large numbers of readers are only a side benefit of helping people, ministering to them, and lifting them above what they thought would drag them down.


Write without Crushing Your Soul: The Trap of Doing What You Love

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Sometimes we fall into the trap of believing that we’ll find personal fulfillment by throwing ourselves into a job that we’ll love. In fact, the lure of a “dream job” could even lead to justifying an unhealthy obsession with our work.

While freelance writing or book publishing could provide a much more satisfying and flexible career for many, it’s certainly no substitute for the fulfillment that comes from cultivating a healthy prayer life, family life, and interior life.

Writing professionally and sustainably should force us to make some tough decisions and sacrifices, but those sacrifices shouldn’t extend to our families and spiritual lives.

If anything, a healthy spiritual life has been extremely important in my productivity as a writer. If I’m ever feeling stuck on a writing project, the solution isn’t necessarily to work into the evening. I typically need some time to rest, collect my thoughts, read a book, or just let my mind wander in order to be fully present for my family and for others.

Today’s post was adapted from my new book, Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing.

The eBook version is on sale for just $3.99:

Kindle | iBooks | Nook | Kobo | Print

Write without Crushing Your Soul: The Gifts of Rejection and Failure

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As you begin the writing process, remember this: nothing is wasted. If you want to write sustainably for years to come, every word you write is an investment in yourself as a writer.

Stop focusing on your output each month as the measure of your success. It’s more important that you’re learning and developing: creating healthy habits for outlining, writing first drafts with reckless abandon, and then revising with patience and awareness of your audience.

Over and over again, I’ve learned that there’s no shame in trying something new. Sometimes we fear the appearance of failure that we end up digging ourselves into deeper holes that make the sense of failure greater and greater. At a certain point we don’t just fear failure. We lose hope.

Rejection can be a terrible trial, but it can also prove extremely helpful for your soul. The rejection you face as a writer will force you to either live in misery or to find your soul’s true rest in Christ.

Any success you experience will fade with time, so the only real options you’ll eventually face boil down to disappointment in the counterfeit identity you’ve created as a successful writer or your real identity before God.

Today’s post was adapted from my new book, Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing.

The eBook version is on sale for just $3.99:

Kindle | iBooks | Nook | Kobo | Print

Write without Crushing Your Soul: Fighting Envy with Faithfulness

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While every writer should learn from others and should be personally confident in his/her own abilities, once we give in to the scarcity mentality, we distract ourselves, discourage ourselves from doing our best work, and make our success about what others are did yesterday than what we can do today. There are plenty of opportunities for all of us to grow and succeed.

The best cure I’ve found for envy is to focus on my own gifts, calling, and readers. In fact, it’s quite an insult to my readers if I spend all of my time envying someone else’s success. I’m essentially telling readers that they’re following the wrong writer!

When I focus on serving my own readers and give up on the soul-sucking envy that is fed by unhealthy comparison, I can direct my energy toward my own calling and audience.”

We have the rather obvious and basic task of accepting that we can only move forward from where we’re at instead of wishing we were further along or had made different choices. In addition, we can only go so far as our gifts and personal callings.

The good news is that we can often do more and go further than we expect. The bad news is that we often focus on the wrong things and the wrong direction.

We see someone else’s accomplishments and begin to desire them for ourselves. Another person’s calling may be the worst thing for us since we may not have the capacity to handle what others have. That is a humbling and freeing lesson!

We each have to figure out our own paths, even if we can learn a lot from those who have been more successful in different capacities and callings.

As I’ve let go of my hopes to duplicate the success of others, I’ve found a greater sense of peace with who I am and what I’m called to do. That has made me a calmer, gentler, kinder person.

I don’t resent writers who have been more successful, and when the successful complain about the challenges they face, I’m at least aware of when I start to resent them.

Today’s post was adapted from my new book, Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing.

The eBook version is on sale for just $3.99:

Kindle | iBooks | Nook | Kobo | Print