A Big Risk Isn’t Always What You Think


I  often compare the risk of releasing a book with jumping off a cliff. I don’t know what waits over the edge, how far I’ll drop, or how I’ll land.

As I prepared for Write without Crushing Your Soul to release, I had an epiphany of sorts: anything related to my work isn’t an actual cliff. Yes, my work is important, but the stakes aren’t “cliff jumping” high.

A major challenge at work or with a family member or some other situation in life may appear to be a leap off a cliff. It may feel like a major leap in the moment. The reality is that such situations are more of a ledge or a wall, not a massive leap into the unknown that could make or break us.

I have made the mistake of assuming too much was riding on the success of my work.

My work is important, but it’s not a cliff.

The cliff I’ve had to jump of off, sometimes every day, revolves around my identity, whether I know that I am God’s beloved, and whether I can let something wholly beyond myself carry me to safety when I leap.

Each day I can find my identity in my work, in what other people think of me, or in some other talent or skill. I can take the leap into my day and expect these accomplishments or people to carry me to safety.

Richard Rohr reminds us that you can’t really do anything to find your true self in God. You can only nurture it and give it room to take hold in your life.

Each day I’m faced with a decision to work harder at validating my identity or resting deeper in my identity as God’s beloved.

Life can be terrifying sometimes. We face pain, loss, disappointment, and struggle. We can feel like we’ll never dig ourselves out of the mountain of work, debt, and failure we’ve amassed.

As I jump off the cliff, the reality I am slow to realize is this: I am already held even before my feet leave the ground. I am held safe in Christ as his beloved child, and if that isn’t good enough before I jump, it sure won’t be good enough after I jump.

Every failure, every stumble, every time we fall flat on our faces after a giant leap is painful, but these are never the end.

Write without Crushing Your Soul is primarily addressed to writers, but the central message in this book extends to any kind of work that threatens to supplant your identity as God’s beloved.

Sustainable work that doesn’t crush our souls means we fight tooth and nail to preserve a place where God can whisper the truth about ourselves.

Sustainable work means we stop listening to every self-crowned master, expert, super-ninja, and high flying CEO who weigh us down with impossible to-do lists and impossible goals that may well only crush our souls.

Sustainable work means we work to set and reset boundaries and more limited goals because we understand that our calling to work is below our calling to God and our calling to others.

Failure isn’t just an option. It’s inevitable. And when you do fail at your work, there’s nothing that can touch the furious longing of God for you. There’s nothing about your work that has to end your relationships.

You are held and loved today, so take the leap, use your talents to do your best work possible, and don’t worry about the moment after you jump.


This post was originally sent to my newsletter subscribers. You can join my bi-weekly email list and get two free eBooks.


Want to learn more about Write without Crushing Your Soul? Here are the links:

Kindle | iBooks | Nook | Kobo | Print

Celebrate Father’s Day by Pre-Ordering First Draft Father for $.99

First Draft FatherSurprise! I’m celebrating Father’s Day by announcing my new book that’s “due” on July 14th and offering a $.99 pre-order on Kindle.
First Draft Father: An Anxiety-Ridden Writer’s Unedited Introduction to Parenthood
The Story
After a lot of promptings from friends and family, I converted my popular First Draft Father blog series and related posts into this book. I’m releasing it on July 14th in both print and a variety of eBook formats the ($.99 pre-order ends on release).

About First Draft Father

The only thing author Ed Cyzewski feared more than a rejection email was parenthood.
After struggling to establish himself as a full time writer in his 20’s, he began his 30’s with more questions about his career, more anxiety about parenthood, and a baby on the way. First Draft Father documents the rough draft of a new father’s experience working from home through a weekly journal. Along the way his faith and writing career were revised in ways he never expected.

Your Writing Problem Isn’t Too Little Time

bombI’m all for peaceful, non-combative metaphors that describe the work of writing and any other creative pursuit. However, when it comes to time management and creating space to write, only military metaphors can truly capture what’s going on today.

Brands, companies, and marketers are waging war against you. The battle is for your time and money.

Companies are on a full war footing, invading your visual and audio space through any means possible. Cell phones are mobile advertising tools that just happen to be phones. Computers are being turned into ad placement billboards that happen to provide productivity tools. Television and radio dump ads into our lives at a blinding speed along with our favorite shows and sports.

When I walk down the street I see ads on billboards, newspaper stands, buses, and benches. I could be listening to a podcast sponsored by a company. I could also browse the internet on my phone and buy anything from shoes to a new computer.

With so many companies desperately working to catch your attention so that they can sell you something and keep their profits rising, your only choice is to counterattack by working all the harder to guard your mind and your creative time.

Today, you don’t just happen to write. There are far too many distractions around, and many of those distractions are linked to selling products for companies that need to keep selling products in order to survive. They NEED to distract you. That is a huge part of their marketing plan. With so many options for how we can spend our time, writers must be equally intentional and strategic.

Here are some of the ways I fight back:

How to Start the Day

I make a list of everything I need to do each day. The night before I leave my to do list on my desk and note what I’ll do first. I have a backup project in case I get stuck.

Social Media Boundaries

I only look at social media on my tablet while standing in the kitchen in the morning. Once I sit down to work, I try to avoid the internet altogether until after two hours of work. I don’t visit Facebook unless I know what I’ll be doing next.

Use Pen and Paper

By using pen and paper to outline and draft my chapters, I can provide myself with extremely focused writing time. In addition, I usually revise my first drafts significantly, so drafting it on paper makes it easier to revise a chapter when I enter it into a computer. When I get into the hard work of book editing, I often print out my chapter and make changes with my pen first.

Understand How Habits Work

I learned that my first move when I get stuck on a writing project is to bail out and check my email. That has been my habit for years now. Once I realized that I was using email as a pressure relief valve, I started using Freedom to cut off my internet connection while working on an offline project. If I need to be online, I try to set time goals for myself so that I have a better incentive to stay focused.

Take Breaks that Make a Difference

The sweet spot for advertisers is the bored, listless, or frustrated consumer who is looking for something to make him/her feel better. I’ll be the first to admit that I like wearing my new hiking shoes and our new car is a pleasure to drive. Buying new things brings a measure of happiness and a rush of sorts. However, if your goal is to write a book, to post to a blog regularly, or to get published in a magazine, you’ll need clearly defined work time and leisure time.

Read books that will expand your imagination or teach you something you can write about. Take a walk without a phone or headphones on to clear your mind (bring along a little notebook too!). Watch a creative or inspiring show that will help you relax without tuning in for an all-day marathon. Leisure is great, but only if you use it to refresh yourself rather than making it the goal of your life.


Does This Resonate with You?

If developing a strategy for your writing and creative time makes sense to you and you live within driving distance of southwest Michigan, consider joining myself and fellow writer Kristin Tennant for the Renew & Refine Retreat for Writers on May 24-26.

We’ll provide professional, creative, and spiritual sessions for writers looking to take their work to the next level. And best yet, our early bird rate of $225 includes all sessions, meals, and lodging (It increases by $50 on April 1st).

Learn more at www.renewandrefine.com today!

Why Hire a Professional Writer? 5 Reasons to Hire a Writer

Perhaps you’re running a business, and you’re considering whether it’s really worth hiring a writer to put together a communications piece. Or perhaps you’re a writer hoping to be hired by a company, but you aren’t quite sure how to quantify the value you bring.

Based on my experiences as a freelance writer over the past five years, here are some reasons why it’s worth hiring a professional writer:

  • Writers offer an outside perspective and feedback that add clarity to a message.
  • Writers choose stronger and fewer words in the pursuit of clarity.
  • Writers know how to delete the parts of a message that aren’t working.
  • Writers have experience quickly recognizing problems in a book, article, or communications piece.
  • Writers with experience know techniques and forms that work for particular writing pieces.

Whether editing a book or writing copy for a web site, I find that my clients usually hire me because I can quickly write something clear and concise. Most of my clients feel lost in a forest of words and ideas, and I chop out the non-essentials that are obscuring the path forward, leaving the sturdy trees and adding blazes so they know which way to go.

In fact, my book A Path to Publishing does something quite similar for prospective authors.

Ironically, even the most talented authors need talented editors, who are also skilled writers by another name, to eliminate rabbit trails and dead ends. That’s because no matter how good you are, when it’s your own book, article, press release, web site, newsletter, or whatever else, you’re often too close to the material to effectively evaluate its clarity.

That’s where writers can prove invaluable. Every author and business has something to communicate, and writers help send that message out quickly and effectively.

However, the monetary value of a writer’s work is quite another matter, even if we can all appreciate the need for writers today. A fair wage for writers is where we’re going next, though I can’t promise to be completely objective on that one.

Book Deal Fail: Lessons in Publishing Every Writer Needs to Know

I think would-be authors spend so much time working on their masterpieces that they may well be blind-sided when their book deals fall apart. It can happen to every author and aspiring author.

This past summer a book deal of mine fell to pieces in grand fashion over the course of a week. It was quite difficult, but at the same time I think matters ended on pretty good terms for all parties involved.

The planets had aligned perfectly for the deal to fail. So it goes.

Here are a few lessons to save in your bookmark folder so that you’re prepared should this ever happen to you:

Book Deals Can Fail, and It’s OK

Your career can survive and you can end the deal on good terms with your publisher. Really, I mean it. It can be a bit embarrassing to admit that your deal fell apart, but you can survive it. If you’re approaching your career wisely, you’ll already have another project or two in mind that you can jump into.

Give Yourself Time to Process

I needed about three days to process my situation before I felt able to have a constructive conversation and make a good decision. Expect to be angry and a bit low. It will pass, and in fact, it has to pass. You have books to write!

Seek Advice

In my own case I consulted my agent and several other agents at her firm. They helped me sort through my options and the appropriate responses. Every e-mail I sent to the publisher was filtered through them first. In addition, there were other authors and publishing professionals who offered me some good advice and even did some helpful research on my behalf.

Know Your Publisher’s Interests and Trends

If a publisher wants to terminate your book deal, take some time to look at it from the publisher’s perspective and examine the publisher’s concerns and goals. Perhaps you and your book aren’t a good fit with this publisher for the coming years anyway.

Prepare a Plan B, C, and D

Your book project does not have to die with this contract. Spring into action and seek out other publishers and if not another major publishing house, look into smaller press, ebook, and self-publishing options. The technology and marketing tools are out there for many authors to sell quite a few books on their own.

Even if your book never sees the light of day, you can always cannibalize chapters for submission to magazines that may provide a larger audience of readers and a comparable amount of money in the long run. Perhaps you can also steal a few chapters and stories to write your next book, which you should have already been working on anyway.

End On Good Terms

Life is too short to play the blame game. Publishing is a really tough business and sometimes book deals fall apart. Maybe it was your fault and maybe it wasn’t.

You gain nothing by burning your bridges with your former publisher, and you also never know how well connected they may be in the larger publishing world. Even if you lost the deal, you can still hold your head up high by moving on and resolving to make the next deal work.

How to Write a First Draft of a Book

Writing a book is a long, drawn-out process. It’s hard to say when you’re “done” other than that moment when the book arrives in your mail box and sits on your coffee table like a long lost friend. Nevertheless, along the way there are certain mile stones to aim for and to celebrate.

Yesterday I wrapped up the first draft of my next book Saving Evangelicals from Themselves. The first draft often entails the lion’s share of the book writing process. There is research, brainstorming, organizing, stream of consciousness writing, editing, reorganizing, more writing, and more editing and polishing.

By 5 PM yesterday I had my draft completely finished and ready for the publisher. It even came close to the 60,000 word count with a total of 61,610 words. I’d like to share a little bit about the process of writing a first draft of a book. I hope this helps as you plunge into your own projects.

Read… A Lot

You don’t need to quote directly from every book or cite everything, but read, skim, or browse as many books as you can in your topic area. You want to communicate your own ideas in fresh ways, while giving credit where it is due.


Set up Google Alerts for your subject areas, read and tag articles using del.icio.us, dig through surveys, and look up articles in key papers and magazines such as Time, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and any other magazine closely related to your topic. For myself I keep a close eye on Christianity Today.

Organize and Outline

You need to know where your book is going, and so a rough outline is necessary. Don’t be afraid to delete, add, or reorder chapters as you set out. Better now than later. Set up a rough idea of each chapter’s trajectory.

Write, Write, Write

I like to just cut loose and write a ton once I have some research and outlines to provide general guidance. I end up scrapping at least 25-35% of what I write, but the core that remains is generally pretty solid. Let your mind wander, write about things you care about, and think deeply about your topic. Always keep in mind your one-two sentence summary of your book from your proposal (you did put together a proposal first, right? If not, do that NOW!)

Fill In Gaps

After you have a good chunk of material together, you need to fill in the gaps with more research, quotes, and stories. Try to get a sense of the flow of your chapter. Are you on target? Can readers follow with you? Are they still interested? Have you backed up your claims? This is the time to ask hard questions and to be critical of your work. I have a scrap folder for each book with a document that matches each chapter. Many scrap documents have at least 7 pages of material in them. That means you need to keep adding content to your chapters, making sure you’ve sharpened your points.

Seek Opinions

When you’re relatively confident you have a solid chunk of chapter, seek out a friend or two to read it. Ask them to point out places where stories don’t work, ideas need to be developed, or the whole thing falls off course. I recommend at least two different readers since people can be very different in how they read something.

Never Stop Researching

Hopefully you’ve been keeping up on your field while you’re doing the heavy part of the writing. By saving key stories and articles on del.icio.us I have saved myself on several occasions. You never know when a crucial piece of information will surface.

The Critical Read-Through

Keeping in mind your book’s focus, reader-benefits, and goals, read through each chapter with a critical eye to anything that doesn’t fit, discredits you as a writer, loses your readers, or doesn’t sound quite right. Kill adverbs without mercy, tighten up sentence structure, delete a lot, insert strong verbs, and make sure you begin and end with bang.

Hit Send, Tell a Friend, and Buy Yourself a Treat

It’s a wonderful feeling to hit the send button when you’re done with a key phase of a book project. Celebrate the moment, treat yourself to something you enjoy, and share the joy of the moment with your friends. Chances are you won’t be celebrating when your editor writes back in two months with the revisions you need to make… 😉