When Do Christian Books Cause Too Much Damage?

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The last thing in the world that I want to do is write about that dating book—the one where the author now admits he had no actual experience in putting the book’s ideas into practice. He’s pretty sure that it’s wrong (calling it “speculative”), has been hearing people out, and even has started to formally collect feedback.

With no personal malice toward that author, I would very much like the rest of my life to pass without hearing about him or his dating book again. His book caused so much shame, judgment, and confusion in my own relationships that I’d like to assign it to the dust bin of history and move on. I’m just one of many Christians who grew up with this book and have spent significant time trying to work through the fall out. Even if you weren’t negatively impacted by the book, take a look at a small sample of the damage it has done:

What I Learned from Joshua Harris

Christian Boy Meets Christian Girl

I Kissed Shame Goodbye

Recovering from I Kissed Dating Goodbye

Storify of I Kissed Shame Goodbye Tweets

There are clearly better things to do than discuss books written by self-admittedly unqualified authors that have wounded us, the people we love and care for, or our evangelical brothers and sisters.

Here is my problem: That dating book is still for sale, and the simple fact that this book is for sale hints to me that everything we have feared about the Christian publishing industry may be true. Putting the most positive spin on this I can manage, the publisher of this book is at the very least unwittingly acting in a way that proves our worst fears

If I put my worst fears into stark language, they would be something like this: If you’re not a gay, drunk, adulterer, or heretic, you can write just about whatever you damn well please as a Christian author, provided that it makes money.

A lack of craft can be compensated with a ghost writer and a lack of substance can be excused provided the book makes money. If the book makes money but hurts people, the people who complain are just whiners, divisive Christians, or just collateral damage because the book didn’t harm everyone who read it.

Publishers have some limits, just not consistent limits.

Perry Noble? His latest book release was suspended because he was “too drunk.” Sorry, Perry. We can’t have alcohol abuse sullying the reputation of CHRISTIAN authors and publishers.

However, a pastor in Seattle could spiritually abuse people in his congregation, and he wrote a book on marriage—REAL marriage to boot.

And a very young conference speaker can totally handle writing a book about dating before he actually put any of it into practice. Never mind that the book has caused heartbreak and shame for many of our fellow Christians. It didn’t devastate everyone, so why not keep making money from it?

Where do we draw the line for a destructive book in Christian publishing?

We have piles and piles of stories from people who have experienced shame, intimacy problems, and unhealthy relationships because of this uninformed dating book. Sure, it may have helped some readers become a little more restrained, or at least confirmed their decision because a good looking author agreed with them. But shouldn’t the piles of stories AND the author’s admissions about the book’s speculative content prompt the publisher to pull this book from sale?

People can still buy this uninformed dating book after the author has gone on a national tour saying that he was wrong and has repeatedly apologized for it on Twitter. How is this possible?

I’ve been biding my time, waiting through one interview after another as the author goes on his anti-publicity tour where he admits he managed to publish a Christian book on dating that was deeply flawed and hoping that the publisher will pull the book. And so he says he’s sorry, people applaud his bravery, and then the next day people are still buying his bullshit dating book so that he can apologize to them in 10-15 years for their crippling shame and intimacy issues.

For all of the evangelical talk about preserving marriages, shouldn’t we be concerned that the “go to” dating book of a whole generation has been exposed by its own author as speculative? Doesn’t relying on a speculative dating book for advice sound like a “not strong” and “not healthy” way to start a marriage? Would we use a speculative book for advice on raising children? Shouldn’t we take all of the stories of hurt and heartbreak seriously and demand that the publisher pull I Kissed Dating Goodbye from all stores?

Well, the skeptics say, there were PLENTY of people who didn’t suffer shame and heartbreak, so what’ the big deal?

These are the people that the Christian publisher is no doubt listening to—the people who weren’t harmed by the book that is making them money. The bar has been set embarrassingly low.

Perhaps the people in charge at this publisher don’t see things this way. Perhaps they believe they are somehow doing great good in the world by keeping this book readily available. If they are living in this fantasy, I can only hope that spelling this out may help the light of reality start to shine in.

Looking at the publisher from the outside, there is no logical reason why this book should still be on sale. Period. A publisher somehow found the courage to suspend a book by a drunk pastor, but somehow a publisher is OK with a book by the author who is a well-meaning speaker who just did his honest best to help teens not have sex and made up a bunch of stuff along the way. If this is really a reflection of Christian publishing today, then we have a real credibility problem.

I write all of this as a Christian author who cares about the Christian publishing industry. I believe in many of the authors and editors I’ve worked with. We dare not lump everyone into the same boat here. There are many, many editors who would roll their eyes at the mere mention of this dating book. They know what we all know, but the opinions of individuals are quite different from the actions of organizations.

I know many, many Christian authors who invest years and years into their research and craft. They don’t speculate on anything. They seek out expert help, they go to workshops to get critical feedback, they read voraciously, and then they write really, really wonderful books that help make the body of Christ stronger. Readers may disagree with them on some points, but there aren’t entire movements of people sharing stories of shame, fear, anxiety, and heartbreak in response to their books.

I have also worked with Christian publishers who have extremely high standards. One editor at a favorite publisher of mine wrote in response to my 2006 book proposal that he frankly didn’t think I was qualified enough to write the book I had proposed. He was 100% right, and I had to work harder at my research and put my book ideas into practice in order to further refine them. When a publisher finally accepted my first book proposal, I had spent countless hours working with theology professors, pastors, small groups, and trusted friends. I had piles of research notes, and only a small percentage of them actually made it into my book. When I submitted my first draft, my editor pushed me to make it better, to do even more research, and to turn it into the best book I could produce. The book wasn’t a bestseller, but many college professors started to use my book for their classes, and I largely credit the people in the publishing industry for pushing me to make it a better book.

All of my first hand experiences in Christian publishing combined with my negative experiences with this dating book make this whole story extremely galling for me. I know that Christian publishing regularly does better than this. I know that there are excellent authors out there working with world class editors to give us books that don’t receive half of the attention of this dating book.

As much as I want to go my separate way from the author of this dating book and personally never hear from him again, I am grateful for the steps he has taken. I hope that he can move from remorse to actual repentance for his actions by also publicly calling for the removal of this book. I hope and pray that he can find his way again as a pastor, author, husband, and father. I just hope to God he doesn’t write another dating book.

At the very least, the publisher of this dating book owes us an explanation for why the book is still for sale. If the many stories about the damage of the book or the author’s admitted flaws about its content aren’t enough to prompt the suspending of this book, then we need to know what in the world the people at this publisher are thinking. Until they take action or offer an explanation, it sure looks like this dating book is only in print because it’s still making money, not because it makes the body of Christ stronger.

The Hidden Danger of Business for Creative Workers

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“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.

 

 

Hope for Weary and Discouraged Writers

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My book Write without Crushing Your Soul started with a very open-ended question while chatting with a group of Christian writers:

What surprised you about book publishing?

I kept my unfiltered response to myself, but I knew what I should have said:

It hurt like hell and crushed my soul over and over and over again.

To my surprise, a colleague who has published several well-received books with large publishers commented:

“I wasn’t prepared for how much publishing would hurt.”

His honest, vulnerable answer gave the rest of us permission to let out a kind of collective sigh of relief and weigh in with our own failures, disappointments, and struggles. We all had stories of pain and disappointment. Several expressed a fear that aspects of the publishing process were toxic for their souls.

No one was planning to give up on their publishing careers or putting an end to the writing they do for an audience. We were all committed to our work for the long term. However, we didn’t realize how unsustainable publishing has become for so many.

The pain and the challenges that face many writers today can wear you down if you don’t have sustainable practices and a pace that enables you to stick with it for the long term.

This is why I started working on How to Write without Crushing Your Soul.

  • Disappointments will come in book publishing
  • Sales will usually be disappointing.
  • Some reviews will be “meh.”
  • The influential people you care about won’t care about your book.
  • The promotions you plan may flop.
  • The stuff that you considered brilliant will be largely ignored.

And it gets more challenging if you work with a commercial publisher:

  • If you’ve never been a fan of social media, you’ll be expected to jump into it with both feet.
  • If you’ve never thought about how to sell books, you need to become an expert of sorts.
  • If you’ve never launched a book before, prepare yourself for a time-consuming, emotional roller coaster ride.
  • If you’ve never hosted a book event before, prepare yourself for either tough questions or an empty room.

I’ve been on just about every side of publishing. I’ve released books that succeeded and books that flopped. I’ve released books that were well-received by colleagues and books that hardly turned heads. I’ve heard from publishers that my email list and social media followers are ideal, and I’ve heard that I have no business publishing books.

Despite all of these ups and downs, I still persist in book publishing and know so many other writers who take on all of these same risks because there is something holy and freeing about the work.

Writers are creating something intensely personal and sharing it with the world in the hope that it will help their readers. It can be crushing to see that work go unread.

For those who persist to discover what their audiences need and how to reach them, it can be immensely fulfilling to see that work connect with readers.

How do we preserve our souls while still actively engaging in this important work?

We’ll find our own answers in two places: our mindsets and our practices.

For your mindset, begin here:

Writing cannot, in any way, shape, or form, become the source of your identity. Only God can give that to you.

A bad day, week, month, or year as a writer does not, in any way, diminish God’s love for you.

Writing is a calling to serve your audience.

The moment writing becomes a means of personal validation, you’ve handed over immense power to other people—power they don’t even want.

When “God so loved the world…” stops being enough for you, you’ll set off on a never-ending, diversion that will leave you restless and completely devoid of peace.

Writing from this place will be miserable, and it will be especially hard to bless others because the goal of writing is personal validation, not serving others.

Secondly, focusing your practices can also go a long way in saving your soul.

You can find plenty of posts sharing 50 ways to promote your book or 20 ways to grow your online platform, but most of us just need the two or three most effective ways to promote your book or writing.

Most of the writers I know who have enjoyed significant success have invested in just a few tools for connecting with readers, and everything else grows as a result. For instance, some popular bloggers I know focus on writing great posts and then hosting related conversations on their Facebook pages. I’ve personally chosen to publish short eBooks that I give away for free and then write personal email newsletters bi-weekly to those readers.

There are lots of different ways to reach readers. You can focus on developing Instagram, a podcast, Periscope videos, a weekly email newsletter, Thunderclap campaigns, or a blog that serves a niche of readers. When you’re releasing a book, don’t overlook advertising options such as Facebook ads or eBook discount sites—most of these are affordable or have lower cost options. Like I mentioned before, there are at least 50 ways to reach more readers with your writing.

Only you can tell what lines up the best with your personal talents, calling, and soul care.

Finding readers can be exhausting, so it’s best to develop the most sustainable ways that won’t eat away at your creative time, family time, and spiritual renewal.

You can’t win at everything. You can’t do it all. You’ll never be done.

I’m not a publicist by trade. I’m an author, but as more of the publicity work rests on authors, I’ve been forced to look long and hard for sustainable publicity practices for my writing work.

Perhaps the most important rule is that we need boundaries. We have to test out a few practices and then invest in those that land in the sweet spot between what works and what’s sustainable for us.

*****

A certain level of struggle and pain will be inevitable for writers. There’s no getting past that. When I talk to new writers and aspiring authors, I’m always quick to mention that writing for an audience will always bring some level of pain and struggle. It will be especially difficult for book publishing.

That isn’t to say it can’t be done or shouldn’t be done or that some authors have had an easier time at it than others.

My hope and my prayer for the readers of Write without Crushing Your Soul is that they’ll be prepared at the outset for the challenges and hardships coming their way as they set out on their writing careers.

I want my readers to be empowered to make the best possible decisions for their souls, their relationships, and their work.

I want my readers to be as prepared as possible for what awaits them so that they can fulfill their calling to write while keeping their souls healthy for the long term.

 

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

 

An Interview with Tara Owens on How Writers Care for Their Souls

What does soul care look like for writers?

What is the most important aspect of a writer’s career?

These are just a few of the questions I was fortunate enough to ask author and spiritual director Tara Owens when our paths crossed. We sat down for a 40-minute chat in a Barnes and Noble  (Note: the background music is loud but not overpowering, and I’ll happily send the file to anyone who can help remove it!). We also spent a little time discussing my new book, Write, Without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing, which releases November 10th and is available for a $1.99 pre-order until then.

Enjoy the interview!

Listen on SoundCloud or the direct file

Order the eBook version of
Write without Crushing Your Soul for just $3.99 today.

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 Kindle | iBooks | Nook | Kobo

About Tara Owens
Tara is a spiritual director and founder of Anam Cara Ministries, which is dedicated to the practice of soul friendship, of coming alongside in order to facilitate healing, wholeness, holiness and spiritual formation.  Check out her highly acclaimed book Embracing the Body. Reviewer Kristine Morris writes, “Through a gentle, compassionate exploration of our thoughts and feelings about our bodies, enhanced with exercises for reflection, Owens helps us to learn what it means to be at home in our own skin and sensitive to the body’s innate wisdom.”

Household Projects Are Like Dipping Your Hand in Boiling Water

 

First Draft FatherI should have known that starting a wood working project at 5:30 pm would end with me sticking my hand in boiling water. It was inevitable really. It all started with a terrible, terrible idea.

 

The Descent to Project Hell

15 minutes: that’s all I thought it would take to make a minor change to Ethan’s crib.

Earlier in the day I’d lowered Ethan’s crib to the bottom setting. Everything lined up perfectly. The crib looked quite safe until I looked under it. I noticed that wooden based holding the mattress buckled a little in the middle. A glance at floor level helped me see that the mattress platform of the crib had a serious dip in it.

I didn’t like the look of it, but I thought there was no way it could fall apart. It was all too tight. I went back to work.

But was it alright? The thought of it nagged me the rest of the afternoon.

By 5:30 I had wrapped up my work. My wife was due home in 15 minutes with Ethan after a full day visiting her friend who had just had a baby. I had 15 minutes. 15 minutes would give me plenty of time to cobble together a block of wood, cut some notches in it, and install it underneath the crib.

 

The Man Who Didn’t Measure

This was not a difficult job. Screw two pieces of wood together and cut two notches in it to hold up the crib platform. Simple, right?

I thought 15 minutes would be way more time than I needed. I would even be able to share on Facebook that I finally got a project done in the projected amount of time. Unfortunately, there were problems.

For starters, I honestly have no idea how to cut a “U” in a piece of wood. I started out chopping and hacking at odd angles. That took way longer than anticipated. Even so, I got it together. I shoved it under the crib, and then I noticed my first problem: the crib was now elevated on one side!

I didn’t cut my notches into the wood far enough. Or perhaps the floor in our old house was crooked. As I wandered down with my sad piece of wood, my wife walked in with Ethan.

 

Welcome Home! I’m Destroying Stuff!

As I talk about my plans here, it bears mentioning that my “15 minute” plan was intended to get this project done BEFORE she arrived home. I wanted to help her unload the car or snuggle Ethan. At the very least, I wanted to give her a short break before making dinner.

Instead she came home to me blabbering about crib safety and just needing a few more minutes to “fix” the crib with this chunk of wood that would provide support in the middle. I just needed to cut the notches down a bit.

Opting for the chisel, I pounded away at the wood while Julie made dinner. Ethan flopped around on the kitchen floor, unaware that I was slowly coming undone in the basement.

After the first chisel session, I learned that still further chiseling would be required. Back to the basement I returned to pound away at the chunk of wood.

Each swing of the hammer made me a little more frantic and worried. This was NOT the plan. I wanted to help. I wanted to keep my child safe. I wanted to finish this in 15 minutes.

I finally got the wood in place, and then I realized that my problem wasn’t just the chiseling in the two notches. I had to cut the entire piece of wood down a size.

Most intelligent people would stop a project at this point and wave the white flag. But I kept thinking about the safety of the crib. What if something happened?

 

Boiling Over

Besides quitting, the other thing I should have done was fetch the extension cord for the jig saw. It didn’t quite reach the wood at a favorable angle for the cuts I needed to do, but I just kept hacking away. I was rushing and trying to get this thing done. I could hear Ethan whining upstairs as my wife tried to wrap up dinner before his bed time.

With chunks of wood and sawdust creating a ring of madness in the basement, I emerged with my prized block of wood. I finally got it lodged into place, and entered the kitchen, ready to help.

She had Ethan in her arms, so she gave me the easy job.

“Can you dump the spaghetti into the pot?”

I’ve made spaghetti plenty of times. This was not hard. She even had the water rolling at a full boil.

As I dumped the pasta box over the water, it didn’t come out. Instead of turning the box upside down and shaking it into the pot, I gave it a sideways flick with my wrist. The spaghetti zipped across the pot of boiling water, sending about half of it on top of our (thankfully closed) trash can.

Seeing our dinner cascading toward the trash, my reflexes kicked in and I swiped at the pasta with my free right hand. I missed the pasta but not the pot. I stuck my entire hand in boiling water. With pasta all over the floor, I screamed and cursed and shoved my hand under cold water at the sink.

 

Cooling Down

Things didn’t go much better after that. Ethan had a rough evening, gagging on a teething biscuit before spitting up everything in his stomach. I had to leave story time to put another ice pack on my throbbing hand.

I traced it all back to my flawed project plans.

How many times have I ruined my day by trying to get a household project done “real quick”? (I’m not going to answer that question!)

The insanity of the moment burns, but the stress and worry that continues after the fact can also linger.

Thankfully my hand healed up overnight. I can write. I can do the dishes. And I assure you that I won’t attempt any household projects this week if I only have 15 minutes.

 

I’m celebrating the release of my book First Draft Father this week by sharing select chapters. It’s a compilation of an online journal that I kept after the birth of our first child, and it documents my journey from insecure, overworking writer to over-tired but over-joyed father.

 

Read more in First Draft Father.

 Order Your Copy:

Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Print via Amazon

When I Thought I’d Failed and Never Really Lost a Thing

 

First Draft Father

About two years ago I had one of those moments where I realized that weeks of hard work and planning had been undermined by a single click.

One click and everything would have been different, with all of my hard work humming like a finely tuned machine.

The plan was to give away my latest eBook, Creating Space, for free in the Kindle store on Cyber Monday and Tuesday. It was intended to be a kind of subversive, anti-consumption alternative to all of the technology deals out there–us Christians LOVE to be subversive. I wanted to give something away that wasn’t just a product to be consumed. It’s a product that encourages individual creativity, removing people from the consumerism cycle.

That was the plan at least.

I had sent hundreds of emails, lined up guest posts, and created graphics and banners all over the place advertising the free eBook download.

When the time came, the offer wasn’t live.

I’d apparently clicked on the wrong days because of the calendar layout that stuck Monday at the start of the week instead of Sunday.

Those Amazon heathens…

I vented, I huffed, I despaired. What should I do?

I usually take care of Ethan in the morning, but my wife graciously intervened and took him so that I could tend to damage control.

I sent emails apologizing and explaining the error.

I posted updates on Facebook, Twitter, and my blog about the mistake.

I contacted Amazon to try to salvage things, but it was too late.

I felt like the most unprofessional writer in the world.

I was venting just the other day in my journal that I love writing, but the marketing part annoys the heck out of me. It’s hard to know how to market a book that you love and believe in without pestering readers.

I see the general tweets and Facebook posts where folks vent about authors being so pushy with their books, and while I cringe at the thought that they’re talking about me, I do feel like my hands are tied.

There’s this chasm between authors who write books and people who want to read good books, and it’s hard to find the right people to read your books. So you try stuff like free eBook giveaways to see if you can reach people a little bit easier without asking for their money.

I had tried to innovate a little, and right out of the gate, I fell on my face. How humiliating.

After fixing what I could and resigning myself to the release going live on Tuesday, I walked upstairs and found Julie sitting down with Ethan to read him a book before his nap. It suddenly hit me that I really missed my morning time with Ethan.

I usually read him The Foot Book, so I settled in next to Julie and Ethan to read with the same voices and inflections I usually do. Everything was perfect, just as it should be. I took Ethan and rocked him to sleep as usual.

Once I was immersed in the rhymes: “Left foot, left foot, right foot, fight:” I came back down to reality from my funk.

Sure, I’d made a mistake. It wasn’t pleasant. It may have hurt my downloads.

But then again, I hadn’t really lost anything. Ethan got to whack the book as usual and protest being rocked to sleep. Everything most important was just how it should be, and that mattered far more than what wasn’t.

Best yet, when I emailed everyone to apologize, I made a huge spelling mistake in the subject line.

 

I’m celebrating the release of my book First Draft Father this week by sharing select chapters. It’s a compilation of an online journal that I kept after the birth of our first child, and it documents my journey from insecure, overworking writer to over-tired but over-joyed father.

 

Read more in First Draft Father.

Order Your Copy:

Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Print via Amazon

 

First Draft Father: When You Doubt, Just Start Singing

 

First Draft Father

I’m not quite sure when I started singing to Ethan on a regular basis. Perhaps it was the time I saw my wife Julie sing a high-pitched silly song to him and watched his face light up with a smile.

Now I sing for him all of the time. When I’m changing him. When I’m dressing him. When I’m bathing him.

When we knew that we were going to have a baby, I thought it would be great to sing for him. Then my mind came up completely blank with appropriate songs.

I used to lead worship in church. I’m a creative guy. I can do this: right?

Nothing.

With my mind empty and nothing planned, I just look Ethan in the eyes and start singing whatever comes to mind. Sometimes I make up my own lyrics to popular songs. Sometimes I make up lyrics to songs that aren’t so popular, with the chicken dance tune coming in handy for “lyric creation” on the fly.

Other times I’m rocking him to sleep, singing a little song I made up for him around the time he was born.

When he won’t fall asleep and wiggles in my arms in the still of the night, I sing one of the few hymns I’ve held onto. The last verse of Come Thou Fount is particularly moving for me.

Don’t we all feel that pull to wander, to put ourselves first, and to forget that we have a God who loves us dearly and who longs to hold us close?

I snuggle Ethan close to me, wrapping him around me so he can’t plank.

Prone to plank, Ethan, I feel it…

When I’m singing a made up song, such as my own version of a Johnny Cash chorus “You’re gonna cry, cry, cry,” or a hymn, I remember that anxious father who didn’t think he’d have anything to sing. How we underestimate ourselves.

And that underestimating makes so much sense to me as a writer, as a creative, as a father. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at my estimating abilities since I’m terrible at math to begin with. Toss in a dose of self-doubt and insecurity, and you’ll spend your evenings wandering dark hallways bored and lonely with frustration bristling off your lips.

Start singing. That’s the only rule.

Whether your faith is cold and struggling or you can’t figure out what the next sentence will be for your blog post.

You can get there, but you need to start singing.

Doubt only has power so long as you’re silent and immobile.

Faith is that leap into the dark uncertainty where we start singing not because we believe we can make a beautiful song when we start but that something beautiful will eventually come if we leap in.

Sing to God, and he just may show up.

Sing while you hammer out that draft and you might write a few sentences that strike you silent.

Sing to your child, and he may drift off to sleep with a faint smile that creeps out behind his gently pulsing pacifier.

 

I’m celebrating the release of my book First Draft Father this week by sharing select chapters. It’s a compilation of an online journal that I kept after the birth of our first child, and it documents my journey from insecure, overworking writer to over-tired but over-joyed father.

 

Read more in First Draft Father.

Order Your Copy:

Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Print via Amazon

Why We Have to Do Things the Wrong Way

 

First Draft Father

Every week there’s something new that Ethan can do. And some weeks he does things that I never saw coming. Take the train for instance:

One of his Nanas gave him a cool train set that is made of wood and has layers of wooden rectangles stacked up on each train frame. He’s at a place right now where he can hold small things or push things away from himself, but there’s no way he can line up a train and push it along the floor.

If anything, he knocks the train over and sends the stacked blocks flying all over the place.

That’s when something interesting happened.

One day I gave Ethan one of the trains to throw around while he sat next to me on the couch. Propped up in a corner, he dumped the blocks into his lap. With the lighter train platform in his hand, he started to fiercely whack the blocks with it. Over and over and over.

The new train game was enthralling. He could hold the blocks, throw the blocks, chew on the blocks, chew on the train, throw the train, hit things with the train, or hit things with the blocks.

What else would a baby do all day?

We have since turned him loose on his train a couple of days in a row now, and each time he’s completely delighted to bang around with his blocks.

I find it striking that I almost didn’t give him the train in the first place. I’d thought that he would just get frustrated with it. Perhaps I imagined him looking up at me with his eyes wide and his palms upturned, as if to say, “What am I supposed to do with this?”

He knew exactly what to do with it, even if my imagination was limited to the original intent of his toy: child pushing a carefully constructed train around on the floor.

There’s something in this story about parenting that I want to savor, but it’s really something that applies to so many other things in life. How many things are we afraid to try because we don’t think we’ll do them right or well?

Take writing for instance: I live in fear of the old book proposals and magazine articles from three, four, or five years ago lurking on my computer. They’re just so terrible. I worked hard on them, but whenever I accidentally open one, I catch myself cringing at my clunky openings, the meandering points, and the low quality ideas I once considered profound.

Mind you, I didn’t always write duds. I have gotten things published; I’ll have you know. The difference is that writing anything worthy of being published took so much time, so many drafts, and a parade of false starts and scrapped ideas.

I haven’t arrived at some magical place where I can hammer out a single draft and mail it in to a publisher, but I’ve learned so much about stringing words together and how to make them run on their tracks. I started out babbling my words, dumping them onto my page, and banging them together for a few hours.

The results at that time weren’t very orderly or helpful for anyone but myself. Over time the banging and clunking gave way to order. At a certain point, the words clicked together and started to hum along.

The only way to learn is to play with something new, even if you’re playing with it wrong. You just may end up enjoying yourself and picking up a new skill along the way.

 

I’m celebrating the release of my book First Draft Father this week by sharing select chapters. It’s a compilation of an online journal that I kept after the birth of our first child, and it documents my journey from insecure, overworking writer to over-tired but over-joyed father.

 

Read more in First Draft Father.

 Order Your Copy:

Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Print via Amazon

 

A Present God Is Missed by People Who Live in the Future

 

 

First Draft Father

There’s always a next thing you have to do whether you’re a writer or a stay at home parent.

For writers:

You can’t just write a book proposal. You need to show that you have other ideas for future books. You need to think of blog posts, articles for magazines, and additional places to build awareness around your work.

You can’t just publish a book and wait. You have to beg and beg and beg people for reviews, make endless asks for social media mentions, and seek out any place where you can sell your book to a group of people in your intended audience.

For parents:

You need to start the diaper washing and folding cycle early in the day if you want to have enough by the time evening rolls around.

You need to think about how much milk has been pumped into the bottle just in case you need it.

You need to watch for signs of sleepiness because heaven knows he’ll be a hellion if you wait too long to put him down for his nap.

I’m always thinking of the next thing, trying to anticipate the next moment. And when I grow weary, I just stop thinking and sort of flip my brain into neutral, not really thinking about anything all that much.

I catch myself moving, thinking, and worrying, and I realize that I’m not relaxed or calm or in the moment.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Anne Lamott about a moment like this, it’s that I need to breathe. So I suck in a deep breath and let it go. I can feel my shoulders relax. I force my brow to loosen up. I pay attention to my hands, making sure they’re not clenched.

I stop myself mentally, even if I still need to keep moving. I’m now in the moment–at least for a little while. Of course I’ll need to plan ahead all of the time, but always planning is a terribly stressful way to live with a child or to write.

Worst of all, living for the future alienates me from God, who desires to be with me in the moment and to provide for me today.

God can’t provide for the future because it isn’t here, and I think that obsession with the future is one of the ways we are unhinged and distanced from God.

I take my breath, say a pray from the Liturgy of the Hours, and I thank God that he’s given us breath, peace, and joy right now in this moment.

 

I’m celebrating the release of my book First Draft Father this week by sharing select chapters. It’s a compilation of an online journal that I kept after the birth of our first child, and it documents my journey from insecure, overworking writer to over-tired but over-joyed father.

 

Read more in First Draft Father.

Order Your Copy:

Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Print via Amazon

 

5 Thoughts on Reading Books and Online Articles

apple-ipad-mini

 

Most writers I know spend a lot of time reading books, articles, and blog posts. Part of my process of reading books and online writing involves using a couple of different e-Reading devices, namely a Nook Simple Touch and an iPad Mini.

Becoming a user of both has helped me understand the mentality of book readers today, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of reading on these devices. It’s not that I only understand the experience of this kind of reading—I also have a better grasp of what consumers are thinking when they purchase eBooks or read websites on mobile devices.

As a writer, I value being a part of the culture that’s actively reading books and articles. Here are a few thoughts on how I keep track of current trends in my field while also picking up books for devotional and pleasure reading:

(A quick note, I have linked to the Kindle editions of a few books with my affiliate account since Amazon had them listed with pretty decent sales when I first wrote this post.)

 

1. Print Books Are Still Important

Can we just stop the whole, “They’ll never replace print books. There’s something about holding a book in my hands, smelling it, and feeling the pages turn…”

I get it. I get it. We are attached to the tactile experience of reading a physical. I love physical books too.

There are books I use for research or devotional reading that I really appreciate having in print. I love underlining and making notes that I can easily access later. I know that e-readers offer functionality for both, but when it comes to research or leaving important notes to myself, I never ever return to my notes and highlights in an eBook. Print, for me personally is better in those cases. I know that others have a totally different workflow that makes better use of note taking in eBooks.

However, it doesn’t make sense to write off e-readers simply based on how they feel or based on one of the many ways they can be used. E-readers are fantastic for reading novels and tablets like an iPad Mini make it easy to read blog posts and magazine articles without interrupting my workflow on my computer.

In addition, the first thing I noticed about my Nook Simple Touch was that it actually made focusing on the content of the book really, really simple. Yes, it was not the same experience as a physical book, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t appreciate the content with an e-reader in my hand.

In fact, I felt more focused on the content than ever. Having a print book with two pages open at once started to feel distracting!

 

2. Simple e-Readers and Tablets Are VERY Different

The experience of reading on a device devoted primarily to simply reading is far more focused and relaxing since there’s no temptation to check your email or social media. Your options are limited to the books on your device, much like reading next to a shelf full of books.

I personally prefer the focused experience of reading a book on an e-ink screen on a light weight e-reading device. I read books and articles on my iPad Mini quite a bit, but it’s still bulky (compared to my Nook) and backlit. The latest version of the simple Nook e-reader has a glow light option that you can turn on in the evening if needed.

Tablets are much better for reading online articles, blog posts, and social media updates. You can modify the e-reading apps to have black backgrounds and white text, but you still have to contend with glare during the day and eye strain if you’re already on a computer all day.

 

3 E-Readers Make It Easy to Read a Ton of Books

It’s not just the advantage of storing tons of books in one place or having a huge, portable library that makes e-readers ideal. Those advantages are great too. However, there’s no escaping the convenience of quickly downloading tons of books on the cheap, whether you find them discounted or free from your library.

Besides picking up bundles of classic novels for a few bucks, many new books are discounted within a year of their release. I’ve picked up some great memoirs and nonfiction books because I was able to jump on a Kindle or Nook promotion. My latest score was a discounted version of Quiet by Susan Cain.

By the way, don’t feel bad about picking up eBooks on the cheap. Publishers do these price pulses in order to raise the visibility of a book before jacking up the price again. It’s a simple way to raise the visibility of a book after its initial launch.

Between discounted eBooks and copies I can download from my local library, I have access to tons of books. Some days it almost feels like I have too much power… And if I need to pick up a book immediately at its full eBook price, usually around $9.99, the purchasing process is dangerously simple.

When I saw that several publishing experts recommended the books Your First 1,000 Copies and Let’s Get Visible, I downloaded both before my book launch and dove into them immediately, picking up critical information that I immediately put into action.

 

4 The Joy of Customized Reading on E-Readers

One of the first eBooks I downloaded for my new Nook Simple Touch was the New Living Translation Bible. I just wanted to sit down and read scripture for long stretches of time, and I’ve found that translation useful for that, even if I’ll use other translations for study.

I have an NLT on my shelf next to my desk. It’s huge. It’s heavy. The spine is slowly falling apart. I’m sure I could have great fun rubbing the pages in my fingers and sniffing them, but isn’t the point of reading the words on the page?

The first thing I noticed when I sat down to read on my Nook Simple Touch was how simple and stripped down the experience is. It was just me and a single column of words on the page. I enlarged the font a bit to 16 points, which, by the way, was supposed to be the standard size for all on-screen fonts before some pretentious designer thought 12 point Helvetica on a screen was more aesthetically pleasing or whatever.

 

5 How I Use E-Readers and Tablets

The thing that used to kill me was finding time to read books, blogs and relevant articles for either my work or personal interest, especially when I have a newborn strapped to me in an Ergo Carrier. It’s just not practical to read books when you really need a one-handed reading experience and would rather the book be as light as possible. In addition, since we co-sleep with our newborn, I need a way to read in the dark.

Enter e-readers and tablets.

Most of my books are either purchased through Nook or Kindle. I still have plenty of print books, but when I need to just read, e-readers and tablets are the way to go.

I can now use a tool like Pocket to collect articles or blog posts all day and then follow up on them later on my iPad Mini. Feedly also helps me keep track of my favorite blogs and online magazines so that I know I can follow up on an interesting post later in the day.

I use the Kindle and Nook apps on my tablet when I need to read in the dark, and I store epic book collections on my Nook Simple Touch such as the complete works of PG Wodehouse, the complete works of Mark Twain, and several Bible translations.

I can basically access everything on my iPad, but when I just want to do some dedicated book reading, I tend to prefer the simple e-ink of my Nook. It’s really easy on the eyes, and there’s no temptation to visit Facebook or Twitter if I hit a slow part of a story or get distracted from my Bible reading.

Print books are still important, but e-readers and tablets are now essential parts of my work flow and leisure reading. I suspect that will be different for folks who aren’t avid readers or authors, but there are enough advantages to both kinds of e-readers that I think they’re worth checking out.

 

Do you read eBooks? Which devices do you use?

Not a fan of tablets and e-readers? What are your reasons?
(Note: You’re not allowed to say, “I just like hold a physical book.”)