Redemption Happens When We Are Called to Light, Not Just Away from Darkness

Rohr forWriters

Richard Rohr writes:

“Anything downright ‘good,’ anything that shakes you with its ‘trueness,’ and anything that sucks you into its beauty does not just educate you; it transforms you. True religion proceeds like the twelve-step program—‘by attraction and not promotion.’ Simone Weil sad it so well: ‘There is only one fault, only one: our inability to feed upon light.’” Immortal Diamond pg. 77

 

When the darkness touches our lives, we’ll only recover by finding the light. That’s the hardest thing about Christianity for me most days. We don’t heal or take any positive steps forward by retaliating. If anything, we make the pain go deeper and that much harder to heal.

When I’ve been wronged or I see injustice, I want to attack, demolish, and avenge. With an important caveat about speaking truth and protecting ourselves from toxic relationships or situations, I’ve only truly recovered from the manipulation, judgment, or anger of others by finding God’s deeper love for me and for others. I’ve found life and even a sense of triumph by letting go of the ways I’ve been wronged in order to forgive.

Writing out of a place of anger or out of my wounds only perpetuates the darkness until I can move toward the light of God’s presence and love.

And here is the great irony of writing. I find that I must write out of the places of my deepest wounds, pain, fear, and shame, but the goal isn’t to rage against them, to call out others, or to even justify myself. When I’m in a healthy place, I explore these dark places through my writing in order to shine light on them, to expose their darkness with the contrasting power of God’s light.

Several of my author friends have a rule that they won’t write about their darkest moments until they’ve had a little time to recover and gather perspective. While there’s certainly a place for writing through your thoughts in the midst of the darkness, there’s also a great deal of wisdom in waiting a little bit for the light to break through. The risks of writing for others in the darkness could be great.

I can say this for myself, and I suspect that it is true for many, but I won’t point fingers: I have never been more liable to spread the darkness than when I’m in the midst of it myself. It’s the adage, “Hurt people will hurt people.”

The hardest thing to realize after going through a number of toxic and damaging church experiences was that I too had become a toxic, damaging person. The havoc that hit my own life from divisive congregations and being treated like fuel for the programs of the church infected me, and I spread that pain to others. Darkness will only bring more darkness.

I had to be healed by God’s light before I could become a presence of healing and redemption.

The words we type into our blog posts and social media profiles have real power to spread more darkness or more light. What we pass on is what we’ve been “feeding on,” to use Simone Weil’s words.

If we have only been exposed to the darkness of anger, intimidation, rejection, bullying, and injustice among one group, we may carry that same darkness to a different group. You could be judged and attacked among conservative Christians, only to find the same vices when you migrate to the liberal Christians, or vice versa.

I care less and less these days about labels and camps. One pastor once said, “I care more about your tone than your theology.” The issue of tone-policing aside, there’s something to that. Have you been feeding on the light of God’s love and does that love make you caring, inclusive, and centered on drawing others to that love? Or have you fed on the darkness that accuses, attacks, and diminishes?

We all have met someone who feeds on light and who draws us in with the acceptance of love.

We all know that darkness and light can be equally attractive.

We may forget that darkness can also transform us.

I have spent a lot of time perpetuating the darkness by telling people to stop indulging in the darkness without feeding on the light myself. I have been most transformed when those who feed on the light invite me to join them. Despite my failures in feeding on the darkness, I have found the most potential for healing and redemptive transformation when I’ve been called toward the light.

May we all find the healing we need in the light of God’s presence in our lives.

 

Rohr for Writers: Sacrifice and the Trap of Unmet Expectations

Rohr forWriters

I didn’t know there was a wrong to way to make a sacrifice. Shouldn’t the act be enough by itself?

Back in college I went out of my way to help a friend. I mean, I took the better part of my day to help him out. Huge, huge sacrifice! Epic! Look at how much I care for you!

He didn’t respond with much gratitude if any, and I just about lost it. The nerve! How dare he! I spent my day helping you, and you can’t even say thank you?

Richard Rohr has something to say about all of this, and it’s especially timely for my writing work:

“’Sacrifice’ usually leads to a well-hidden sense of entitlement and perpetuates the vicious cycle of merit, a mind-set that leads most of us to assume that we are more deserving than others because of what we have given or done. As the old saying goes, all expectations and self-sacrifice are just resentments waiting to happen.”

Immortal Diamond pg. 47

While most writers struggle with comparing ourselves to others, there’s another subtle trap that we can all fall into: the trap of resentment.

Writing requires sacrifices and commitments that can prove costly, and we can begin to expect a return that is in keeping with what we have given up. As we place a premium on our time, effort, and expertise, we can begin to resent the signs that our “investments” in writing aren’t bringing the proper “returns.”

If only “those people” would notice our sacrifices!

I write in Pray, Write, Grow that I had to learn that my writing is a gift to others. A gift isn’t a transaction. While some of us in a more affluent culture have certainly turned gift-giving into quid pro quo transaction where a gift given must equal the gift received, the nature of a true gift removes any hint of expecting anything in return.

That’s what makes writing so taxing sometimes. We could spend hours, days, and months honing a piece of writing only to see it sink into obscurity. Our audience owes of nothing. Sometimes the gift is well-received and sometimes it remains largely “unopened.”

I’ve been there. Heck, I’ve LIVED there for months at a time. There’s been no greater challenge than watching a book I’ve labored over fizzle as readers see it, shrug, and walk away.

Anything we do for others can become a resentment trap if it has called for sacrifices. We can begin thinking, “I had to give up so much for you! The least you could do is appreciate it on my terms!”

The moment we fall into the resentment trap, we turn a “gift” into a transaction, even if we’re not expecting something tangible in return. We’ve made a particular response or affirmation part of the exchange.

At the root of all this, we return to the core issue of identity. Where do you find your identity? Do you let God define who you are and what you’re worth? Do you let your work or other people determine your value?

Most writers I know hate editing, but what really breaks us is the publicity and marketing process—the moment when we put our finished work in front of readers and pray that some read it, enjoy it, and, hopefully, share it with others.

Letting go of my hopes and expectations for my writing has been excruciating. It feels like I’m giving up or at least setting my sites ridiculously low.

Letting go of my hopes and expectations for my writing has also been liberating. I just have to be faithful. I have to write where I feel led. And if I’m only going to base my success on faithfulness, then I’m only more motivated to make sure my work lines up with God’s direction for my life.

Can you see how that works?

If I’m only writing out of a sense of faithfulness to God, then I better sort out God’s direction first.

Without that direction, my work is a complete waste of time. If I’m not looking for anyone else’s approval or applause, I need to at least make sure the starting point is solid. If praise and applause follow, that’s nice, but it’s not the foundation or the driving force behind what I write.

May we learn how to make sacrifices without falling into the trap of resentment.

May we find the freedom and joy of giving our creative work to others as a true gift.

About This Series

Rohr for Writers is a new blog series at www.edcyzewski.com that is based on the ways Richard Rohr’s writing speaks to writers. We’re going to spend the first few weeks looking at key quotes from Immortal Diamond.

Learn More about Prayer and Writing

You can grow in both your prayer and writing by developing the same practices. Check out my new book Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together to learn simple exercises you can incorporate into your day right now.

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Rohr for Writers: Above All Else, Avoid Success

Rohr forWriters

How many times have I rejected God’s mercy because it came clothed in failure and disappointment?

No one signs up for an exciting new career or work opportunity with the goal of utterly and completely failing. And yet, how many of us have fallen flat on our faces at one time or another?

In my writing I’ve experienced a roller coaster of encouragement and discouragement. Each day is a new adventure in measuring incremental success and trying to reach just a few more readers than the day before.

While working to attract readers, writers are especially at the mercy of others in order to achieve success. If people aren’t interested in our work, then we may as well scribble notes on paper and fold them into paper airplanes. If influential people above us don’t offer guidance, endorsements, and marketing help, we’ll most likely flounder.

It’s hard to see the mercy in failure. When you’re on the outside looking in at those who are enjoying success, it sure seems like the successful figures in the writing world are living the dream, writing books in trendy cafes (mine is full of broken chairs and dust), and talking about their ideas for adoring audiences. We don’t see the inherent drawbacks in success.

Richard Rohr clues us in:

“A too early or too successful self becomes a total life agenda, occasionally for good but more often for ill… Our ongoing curiosity about our True Self seems to lessen if we settle into any ‘successful’ role. We have then allowed others to define us from the outside, although we do not realize it.”

Immortal Diamond, pg 27-28

Mind you, that isn’t to say that every successful writer, especially those who are young, are inherently captive to the demands of his/her audience. Rather, they are the ones who face the greatest challenges when trying to hold onto a clear sense of their true selves when there are so many temptations to seek validation elsewhere. They are the most likely to make a habit of measuring themselves according to the standards of others.

More to our point here, every successful writer I’ve talked to is quick to point out the drawbacks. They are targets for criticism, endure crazy scrutiny in the public eye, and often wonder which new friendships are genuine and which are just trying to take advantage of their success. It’s not all about living the dream each and every day, even if they can afford better coffee than the average writer.

If anything, my successful friends have humbly reminded me that just reaching a point of achievement in your career can be tremendously unfulfilling. At the very least, success can be a fragile thing that is sure to fade at one point. And when it does fade, we are left wondering what remains.

Rohr makes his case in stronger language when he goes on to quote Thomas Merton on pg 28:

“‘Be anything you like, be madmen… and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success. If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only to how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.’ Success is hardly ever your True Self, only your early window dressing. It gives you some momentum for the journey, but it is never the real goal.”

Reading this, I’m well aware that it’s perfectly reasonable to say that Merton was “successful” as a monk and as a writer. We’re still talking about him, aren’t we? That sounds pretty successful to me.

So, if anything, I’m encouraged to read Rohr and Merton’s words on success. Writers can achieve success for a season while still remembering that it is fleeting and ultimately a poor substitute for recognizing our identity as God’s beloved people. The great trap of success is that once people start to notice us, they will begin to try to define us and will most certainly judge us, and we’ll be tempted to give their words tremendous power—even drowning out what God says about us.

Think about that for a minute.

If you’re going to write, you’re going to receive feedback on social media, comments, reviews, emails, and (the introvert’s nightmare) phone calls based on your work. You’re going to see people leave one or two star reviews along with comments like, “Didn’t speak to me.” You’re going to have your faith, integrity, and intelligence questioned.

By the same token, you could be told that you’re brilliant and amazing. You could be told that you’re the hope for the future—the person who could save the church or at least a segment of the church. You’re going to be praised and honored for your achievements.

The crazy thing, according to Rohr and Merton, is this: Praise can be more threatening to our spiritual health than criticism. While negative reviews or insults can be deeply wounding, we can at least see what they are and take steps toward counseling and healing.

There is no ready balm for the damage done by success. Who would think of going into counseling to counteract the negative side of success? We may even tell such a person to stop being ridiculous.

Rohr and Merton remind us that success can exert tremendous power over us, trying to define who we are and what we are worth. If we can’t counteract our steps toward success with the grounding knowledge of God’s love and acceptance, then we are better off having failed in the first place.

There is great mercy in failure. Failure is an opportunity to step into our true selves, as loved and even praised by God as his beautiful creations, even when we don’t receive praise at the times and places of our choosing.

Learn More about Prayer and Writing

Check out my new book Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together to learn simple spirituality and creativity practices you can incorporate into your day right now. It’s $.99 on pre-order until March 11th when it releases.

About This Series

Rohr for Writers is a new blog series at www.edcyzewski.com that is based on the ways Richard Rohr’s writing speaks to writers. We’re going to spend the first few weeks looking at key quotes from Immortal Diamond. Click on the Prayer category to read other posts in the series. 

You’re an Amazing Writer and I Hate You

fist-hate-writers

When my friend J.R. moved to Texas in order to take a new job as a pastor, he started tagging every related post on social media with the hashtag: #Texodus. I had the simultaneous reaction of absolutely loving that tag and hating myself for not being so fresh, clever, and inventive.

It’s as if all of the creativity in the world had been bottled up and shipped to Texas that week. Creativity had taken its own #Texodus…

And then the other day, author Jen Hatmaker shared that her family had just discovered this parody of hipster parenting on Pinterest, complete with a fictional child named Quinoa. Hatmaker mentioned on Facebook that she both loved it and hated it because it was so clever.

It was basically a transcript of my own thoughts… just with the implied southern drawl that I add to everyone from Texas on social media.

I love how author Anne Lamott writes with bracing honesty about both celebrating and lamenting the success of other authors. This isn’t just about the fear of fellow authors filling up the coveted spots at major publishers—though I’m sure there’s some fear of that too. This is about guilt and comparison and the fear that we’re never doing enough or never writing anything good enough. Fellow writers become our anecdotal evidence.

See! She’s publishing articles in those journals! I’ll never keep up with her!

He just wrote an amazing book for my favorite publisher. I can’t match that!

It’s also really easy to overestimate the success of other writers. Perhaps I see a writer publish a great book, and I’m filled with envy at his talent and notoriety, but he’s on the other end lamenting that the book hasn’t sold enough to earn back an advance and is looking at the writers above him who are getting bestseller stickers slapped on their books left and right.

And let’s not overlook this: it’s hard to sell books—especially if you want to do everything ethically. Some of my favorite books aren’t bestsellers, and some of the books I hate—I mean with a white, hot, passionate hate—are bestsellers that make someone’s list of amazeball books every year. So when you’re struggling as a commercial or indie author, it’s easy to start making comparisons and to start wondering if your book would do a bit better if you had half of the resources available to another author.

I can’t speak definitively on this, but as I try to sort out the state of my own soul with all of this book publishing envy, jealousy, and carefully controlled hatred, I think most of my restlessness is based on a low opinion of myself. I lack confidence most days in my own calling and in my own developing talent. I forget all of the times that I’ve felt God giving me a steady shove to keep at this writing thing.

Perhaps I even begin to envy the gifts or callings of others. I forget that I have my own style, stories, and messages to pass along, and so long as I’m offering them to others as a gift, I don’t have to worry about the success that others have.

That feels like the kind of cliché line a loser writer believes when he can’t measure up to “successful writers.” However, I always have to remind myself that someone will sell more books and achieve more success. Comparison is its own never ending punishment. You can only break out of it by writing out of a sense of conviction and always improving your work because you’ve been called to do your best as a service to others, not because you want to hit a bestseller list or ten.

As with most things, there’s a fine line here. Every writer needs to read in order to improve. I’ve flipped through memoirs and novels and marveled at how a particular author wove the various storylines and characters together. Those books challenged me to become a better writer.

However, if we aren’t rooted in God’s presence, calling, and strength, we’ll move from disappointment to envy to self-loathing over and over again.

We each have to sort out our own paths to peace and contentment within the callings God give us. What works for me may not work for everyone else. But I do know what has failed me over and over again. I know what other writers have shared with me.

The envy and jealousy that comes with comparing ourselves to others minimizes the work God is doing in and through us. God can work through us, but sometimes we have to turn our eyes away from what everyone else is doing so that we can say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

 

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.”)

Publishing a Book Is Not NEAT

book publishing is hard

 

In case you were wondering, publishing a book is not “neat” in any sense of the word.

Writing a book is messy.

Writing a book is demanding.

Writing a book is heartbreaking.

Writing a book demands sacrifices of yourself and everyone close to you.

Writing a book will drain you, punch you in the gut, and then kick you while you’re down.

When you finally hold that book in your hands after years of fighting, chopping, and spilling your heart onto the page, it will be surreal. It will be amazing. You’ll also think something like, “Well, it’s about damn time.” And then you’ll go take a nap or collapse onto the couch to sob a little… and then take a nap.

I outlined my publishing journey in my book A Path to Publishing (download the whole book for free), and the most common response I hear from readers is despair. When I walk new authors through the book marketing process, many of them just want to crawl into the fetal position.

And I haven’t even mentioned the absolute worst part of book publishing. And no, it’s not a bad review.

The worst part about publishing is the staggering indifference of most readers to your work.

Marketing a carefully crafted book is draining and demanding, but few may read it no matter how hard you try to spread the word. Remember, J.K. Rowling published a book under a pen name, and it hardly sold any copies. This is someone who has penned enduring bestsellers that have defined an entire generation of young readers, and she couldn’t even rack up a few thousand readers when using a different name.

Do you have any idea how daunting that is?

All of this is profoundly NOT NEAT.

* * *

I do a lot of author coaching both formally and informally, and I often refer new authors to my Path to Publishing book and encourage them to write with questions about the next step. If they can’t even finish the book, then they’re clearly not determined enough to publish a book—they probably just think publishing is “neat” until you read about the demands of the step-by-step process.

The people who will succeed in book publishing cannot go into it because they think it’s neat. They need a stronger driving force to carry them through all of the politics, discouragement, and exhaustion.

Writing a book has to be an unstoppable mission or a haunting presence that you can’t shake. You have to find yourself scribbling down ideas, dreaming of book covers, and imagining what your readers want.

I would go so far as saying that it’s like the words bottled up in the prophet Jeremiah that were a fire in his bones. If he didn’t let them out, they would have consumed him.

Authors must be driven write. There’s something inside of us that we simply can’t switch off. And perhaps we’ll still say that publishing a book would be neat, but deep down it must be more than. It must be a driving passion.

* * *

When I talk to friends about book publishing and I learn that one of them is considering it, I often say something like this, “I’ll help you, but I also want to spare you from pain. This is going to hurt.”

The pain of publishing is one of the most common reflections I’ve heard from fellow writers. It… just… hurts. That isn’t to say that it’s bad to have that pain. You just need to really want that finished book project if you’re going to endure that kind of pain.

The most worthy goals in life often call us to the greatest pain.

In the Christian faith we talk about the cost of discipleship, laying our lives down for the cause of Christ. If you feel a calling or desire to write, there will be a sacrifice and it will hurt, but there are certainly rewards if you can fight past the pain.

In fact, I would even say that we can even resist some of the pain in publishing. We can choose to ignore which influencers or friends have ignored our book. We can stop comparing our success to other authors.

Instead, we can look at the people whose lives have been changed by our work.

We can be grateful that we finally breathed these words of fire onto the page and they didn’t consume us.

We can be grateful that we’ve created something that could outlive us.

We can be grateful that we’ve persevered and accomplished something that only a small group of people are willing to endure.

Book publishing is not for everyone. In fact, even with the ease of self-publishing, there are lots of people who should focus on other creative outlets, such as podcasting, creating short videos, or blogging. A book can effectively communicate ideas to a lot of people, but it’s not the only way to reach a large group of people with ideas or stories.

Writing and publishing several books has been the most meaningful work I’ve done. If I had a few days, weeks, or months left to live, I’d keep publishing. It’s the best kind of challenge I can imagine. It results in something I’m proud of.

As much as I love it, I can assure you that publishing a book is not “neat.”

 

 

 

Want to Get Published? Get a Discounted Nonfiction Book Proposal Evaluation This May

 

book-proposal-editingIf there’s one thing that’s tough for new writers, it’s putting together a successful book proposal that effectively pitches a book idea, promotes their qualifications, and demonstrates an ability to market a book to an existing audience of readers.

No one goes into publishing with the experience required to write a good proposal since it combines marketing with top notch writing. Most writers are good at one of those two things, but it’s hard to merge them together into one document.

I’ve been working on book proposals since 2005, and my first book proposal was terrible. I needed someone with experience to help me figure out the best way to make my project clear and appealing. After selling five of my own projects to publishers and advising countless aspiring authors on their proposals, I have an idea of what will and will not work for a nonfiction book proposal.

This past winter I offered a huge discount on nonfiction book proposal evaluations ($200 per evaluation), and I had a great time helping aspiring writers improve their proposals. Now that the end of the semester is here, and I’ll have more time to work on writing projects, I’m offering six discounted evaluations for the month of May at the same rate: $200 per proposal. 

That’s a savings of $100 from my usual price of $300 per proposal. I’ll also toss in a free download of my book A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Nonfiction Book. 

Remember, there are only 6 slots available at this price, and it’s first come, first serve. 

 

 

How does it work? 

Sign up in the form below during May 2014. I’ll write back as soon as I can.

Send me what you have, including 1-2 sample chapters and any marketing information and a summary of your nonfiction book. I’ll set a deadline for the project and will format what you have into a proposal with feedback on what needs to be rewritten or added.

I can’t promise success, but I can promise feedback and suggestions that will improve your chances of catching an editor or agent’s eye.

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What Could Writers Learn from Monastic Ministry?

writing ministry like monastic ministryWhen I started to take my writing seriously, I hit a point where I had to cut out some interests and leisure activities from my life, including most sports (except hockey OF COURSE), television shows, radio, and almost all of “pop culture” (I dare you to ask me about the latest top 40 songs or movies in theaters). That was the only way to make some space for my work.

There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all, and if I wanted to take writing seriously, I had to make some sacrifices. When I saw how badly I wanted to write, these weren’t very difficult sacrifices to make. In fact, I’ve sometimes made a loose connection between my calling to write with the calling of a monk.

Mind you, these are “loose” connections, but it’s not so far-fetched to compare the calling of the writer to the calling of a monk—at least a writer who is committed to seriously writing. In fact, I’d suggest that many writers could stand to learn a bit from the commitments of the monastic way of life.

Without minimizing the commitments of monks, here are a few ways writers resemble monks:

 

Monks and Writers Withdraw

Monks devote their lives to prayer and work. Some may be more in tune with the times than others, but generally the task of the monk is withdrawing from the pleasures of this world in order more perfectly align themselves with God.

Monks serve as a living signpost of sorts that the goals and promises of our world are fleeting and feeble.

Withdrawing is essential for writers. Writers can’t just hammer out 1,000 words while watching a hockey game or while a kid hammers on your leg with stuffed rabbit—not that I’ve tried to do either…

We have to withdraw for contemplation and reflection in order to feed our writing time. Time for reflection is needed in addition to the actual time we sit down to write.

Those of us with kids and other commitments will need to withdraw in small chunks of time, be that while doing the dishes, showering, driving, or taking a walk. I’ve had to cut way back on my podcasts over the years just to make sure my mind has time to develop ideas before I sit down to write.

If you keep saying, “I don’t have anything to write about,” there’s a good chance you need more time to withdraw and let your mind wander.

 

Monks and Writers Develop Awareness

From my outsider perspective, it strikes me that a major part of monastic work is learning to become aware—especially aware of what can get in the way of God’s presence. If a monk’s primary task is to commune with God, the first step is to remove the obstacles that get in the way of God.

Writers learn a similar kind of awareness—identifying their emotions, stories, and contexts and then sharing stories and ideas that flesh them out. We have to recognize what drives us, what stirs our anger, and what leaves us devastated.

When we write from this place of awareness, we create meaningful connections with readers. We’ll hear people say, “You put my experiences into words perfectly.”

I don’t think writers have a special “writer sense” that allows us to see the world differently. The main difference is that good writers take time to become aware of the world and then reflect longer.

There aren’t extra hours in a day that writers get. We have to develop our awareness and then let it flow into our writing, testing out different phrases and metaphors as we work on putting it all into words.

 

Monks and Writers Practice and Practice and Practice

Monks take vows of long-term commitment to their way of life. It is a life-long apprenticeship that they won’t get right overnight.

Writers commit to the long term with their work. Developing a personal style and learning how to effectively communicate with readers in print is no small matter. I started writing for publication back in 2005, and I’m just now starting to understand what I need to aim for in my writing—whether I can actually succeed at connecting with readers in the end is another matter entirely!

Keep working at your writing. Keep practicing draft after draft after draft. I have found that new writers, myself included, tend to overestimate their abilities, even if they have to overcome their insecurities in the first place. There’s no way around it. We have to labor over our words, absorb feedback, and keep hammering at our keyboards and scratching with our pens.

 

Monks and Writers Serve

Writing serves others just as monks have a calling to serve the church. They create a space for the holy through both their monasteries and their practices. Whether monks host retreats, intercede for others, or provide for the needs of others, the monastic life is not self-serving.

Writers learn this lesson as they figure out  how to write for an audience, providing what their readers need and connecting with them on a level that matters to them. When I started out as a writer, I tended to “preach” to my readers. I ranted and lectured.

I’m still learning to this day the art of writing books that say, “Do you struggle with this? Me too, here’s my story…” It’s far easier to just tell people what to think. That can be a ministry I suppose, but ministry is far more likely to happen when we share the stories of our imperfections and struggles, inviting readers to join us as we try to sort things out.

 

Is This a Stretch?

It may be a stretch to compare writers and monks, but if Micha Boyett can compare stay at home moms to monks, it’s worth a shot. My experience of monasticism is limited to what I have read and to a few conversations with monks. It’s not exhaustive by any means.

Nevertheless, I can’t help noticing the connections between the ministry of monks and the ministry of writers. And if we can’t imagine how a writer could possibly be like a monk, perhaps we’d be better off if we could start imagining such a notion and give it a shot next time we struggle to focus or hit a creative roadblock.

I’m Offering a Big Discount for Book Proposal Evaluations This Winter

book proposal editing penAt the start of 2005 I had just finished seminary and had a long, rambling paper from an independent study that I wanted to publish. I had no idea what I was doing, so I started asking around at my seminary, and my professor put me in touch with an editor. The editor sent me a book proposal template, I filled it out, hit send, and waited.

I waited, and waited, and waited.

Finally, he replied with a firm “No.” His message made two things clear:

This was not a good book idea.

I wasn’t the guy to write it even if it was.

Crestfallen, I tried to redeem myself by contacting two other publishers. I once again filled out my book proposal according to their guidelines, and they also rejected me. I’m sure I still have the emails buried in my GMail account, but I’m afraid to look.

I finally signed on with an agent who overhauled my proposal several times before we pitched the book again.

The idea was still basically the same.

I was still the same guy, albeit with a blog.

As if my agent had accomplished something magical, NavPress signed me to a contract to write what later became Coffeehouse Theology. It’s no mistake that my book was only accepted after I received professional help.

Why Are Book Proposals So Hard to Write?

Nonfiction book proposals require a unique blend of creative writing and marketing know-how. You have to pitch a winning idea, demonstrate that people want to read it, list ways you can reach those people, prove you have the credentials to write it, and convince an editor that they’re the right publisher for this book.

Over the years I’ve pitched a variety of nonfiction book projects to many publishers, and while it hasn’t necessarily become easier, I have a much better idea of what works and what doesn’t work. In 2013 alone I signed three book contracts based on my proposals.

Along the way, I routinely overhauled my proposals and refined the message of each unique section. I’ve also consulted with a number of aspiring authors on their proposals, and many of them have since been published.

A Special Offer for You…

This winter, I’m offering 10 nonfiction book proposal critiques for $200 each, a $100 savings from my regular price of $300 per critique. I’ll also throw in a copy of my book A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Nonfiction Book to help you refine your proposal along the way.

I’ll offer the critiques on a first-come, first-served basis, aiming to work on 2-3 proposals a week, with the last day of March as my end date.

THIS IS FOR NONFICTION BOOKS ONLY.

If you’re interested in signing up or if you have questions, email me at edcyzewski (at) gmail.com.

What I’ll Do for Your Nonfiction Book Proposal

Nonfiction book proposals can be divided into two basic sections: the marketing information (book summary, audience, promise for readers, competing works, publicity, etc.) and the book content (chapter list and 2-3 sample chapters).

I’ll read through your proposal from the perspective of a potential editor. I’ve worked with and spoken to enough editors that I have a clear idea of how most publishers approach book proposals. I’ll suggest revisions, offer ideas, and do everything I can to point you in the right direction for your project.

While I can’t guarantee that an agent will take you on as a client or that an editor will accept it, a professional critique will increase your chances of acceptance exponentially. I can’t think of a single author I know who has sold a book proposal without some kind of professional help.

I’m not saying you can’t write a proposal on your own. There are some great books out there that will walk you through it. However, if it’s your goal to publish a book, a personal evaluation of your project will give you specific, concrete ideas that you can work on today and help you spot problems in your proposal before an editor emails you about them.

Questions? Email me at edcyzewski (at) gmail.com.

 

Why Now?

I’ve been using book proposal critiques over the years to barter for marketing or design services, as well as to simply help out friends. This winter I have a chance to buy back some study guides for Coffeehouse Theology from my publisher before they go out of print. I put a lot of work into these study guides, and I believe they can still help readers think about what they believe and where their beliefs come from.

This book proposal experiment will help me buy and ship the study guides, saving them from getting pulped. So if you love books, your money is going toward a worthy cause!

What to Do When You Don’t Have Time to Write

stop-watch-timeDo you frequently lament how busy you are?

Do you fret over how little you can accomplish each day?

I’ve been there, and I’m going to walk you through the way I’ve been processing these questions.

If you don’t have enough time to accomplish all of the writing projects on your list, there are really only two options available. However, before I spell them out, I’d like to suggest what ISN’T an option:

Feeling Guilty

A few months ago I reviewed where I was emotionally, and I realized that I felt guilty and miserable at the end of every single work day. This led to some hard questions: “If I love to write, why do I always feel terrible at the end of the day?”

The answer had a lot to do with my expectations and how I spent my time. Writing wasn’t the problem. The act of writing felt like my ideal calling. My problems came when I looked back at my day.

If I was going to write for the long term, I needed to find a way around this guilt that had been tainting my career.

Improving Your Efficiency

While you can probably quit social media and improve your efficiency or use a tool like Freedom to stay offline in order to make your writing time more productive, there’s a chance that you’ll burn yourself out trying to work faster.

While improving your productivity can give you a boost to finish a project, much like finishing a race with a sprint, you can’t sprint every day for every week. That’s how you burn out. Quite simply, if you can’t find time to work on a book project in the first place, you won’t make things better by becoming “more efficient.”

Sacrificing Family and Personal Time

I’ve read books by successful writers and business leaders, and they often talk about putting in the extra hours to make a project happen. Once again, that works for a short burst of time, but you and your family will suffer over time. This is not sustainable for the long term.

What You Can Do When You Don’t Have Time to Write

Still feeling stuck? Maybe a little desperate? OK, here are your two options if you don’t have enough time to write:

Turn Unnecessary Leisure Time Into Writing Time

While we all need some time to exercise, relax, and hang out with friends and family, I’ll bet that we all have unnecessary leisure time that we don’t need. In order to turn that leisure time into writing time, we may have to make some radical sacrifices—or at least, these sacrifices will seem radical at first but I honestly believe they won’t feel like sacrifices in retrospect.

In my own case, I generally only watch hockey when doing the dishes or folding laundry. I rarely sit down and watch a hockey game. If I’ve spent time with my wife, set up my work schedule for the following day, and caught up on my house work, I go to bed as early as possible so that I can wake up at 5 am to write. That means I watch a lot less TV than in the past, I never play games on my computer or tablet, and I never listen to the news.

Where you make cuts will depend on your own priorities, however, if writing really is important and you feel like there’s an unfulfilled longing in your life, look over all of the different television shows you watch or the games you play and ask what function they provide in your life. While you can hang on to some of them, I’ll bet that writing for an hour or two each day instead will make you feel a lot better.

Cut Your List of Writing Projects

There are no easy solutions here if you don’t have enough time to write. While we live on a tight budget and I’m stingy with my time, I’m aware that sometimes I simply can’t find enough time to accomplish everything that I want to do.

There are seasons in life when it’s completely appropriate to make some cuts. If the alternative is feeling guilty and unfulfilled every day, I think you’ll agree that resetting our personal expectations will feel much better as an alternative!

Before we had a baby, I used to spend about half of my time working on book projects and the other half on paying client work, but I also had some fiction side projects that I really enjoyed. I even attended writing groups where they knew very little about my nonfiction work. To them I was more of an aspiring novelist!

When the baby arrived, the fiction had to go onto the back burner, and I had to cut back my work for books and clients. I can usually accomplish 5 things in a given day when I’m juggling a baby, provided I can wake up early, my wife gives me a two hour break, and my son takes a decent nap. Without any of those conditions, my to-do list goes down in flames.

I’ve been learning the hard way that it’s OK to fall short each day. I can’t always knock everything off my to do list. If I can accomplish 70-90% of my projects, that’s still a passing average, and it’s something I can celebrate.

In Conclusion: Be Kind to Yourself

I’ll bet that most writers need to mix some cuts in their leisure time with more realistic to do lists. Each day is a little different than the one before it, so standards can be tough to set, especially when you’re freelancing from home.

Wherever you find yourself, the best advice I can give you as a full or part time writer is to be kind to yourself. Celebrate each small victory, and don’t be afraid to end your day with a cup of tea on the couch or a beer on the porch.

No matter how much you accomplish, there will always be more to do. That’s both what keeps us going each day and what can burn us out. Work hard today and celebrate. No one else will celebrate for you.

Want to Dig Into This Topic Further?

If this post speaks to where you’re at, this topic and many others will be part of what myself and long time freelancer Kristin Tennant will cover at the Renew and Refine Retreat for Writers on May 24-26 in Watervliet, MI.

Learn more or register today at www.renewandrefine.com.