Seven Thoughts on Pastors Writing Books
Rewind my life six years and I would tell you that one of my biggest dreams in life is to get a book published. I hoped that someday, somehow, somewhere, for somebody I would be able to write a book. I never dreamt I would have that opportunity so soon and so often. It’s much more than I deserve.
Since 2008, when Why We’re Not Emergent came out, I’ve done a lot of writing and a lot thinking about writing. With Stephen Furtick in the news for his mansion-to-be and Mark Driscoll facing accusations (and some evidence within his ministry) of plagiarism, I thought it would be worthwhile to write down a few thoughts on pastors writing books.
1. Writing for others is a privilege. That someone should listen to me is pretty nice. That someone would take days or weeks to work through something I’ve written is remarkable. That someone would pay money to do so is amazing. Writing is hard work, but authors should never forget that to be read is also a tremendous gift.
2. Writing should be in the service of others. I have no problem with Christian publishing houses trying to make money. They have bills to pay. They can run a business on good will and pious aspirations. Likewise, I don’t have a problem with authors—even pastor authors—being paid for their work (more on this in a moment). It doesn’t even bother me that some authors would write mainly to make a living. But if we are talking about pastors, then surely our writing must be an effort to serve others. If you are in ministry and want to get a book published so you can “arrive” or can be “somebody” or can speak at the top conferences, you better check your heart. And if you are a pastor who is seen as having “arrived” and being “somebody,” that person should check his heart every day.
I think I can honestly say that my desire to write and be published was mostly about a passion to say something worthwhile and a love for writing. I was thrilled when my first book (Freedom and Boundaries) was self-published. This meant my elders could read it, my church could read it, my parents could read it. I wasn’t thinking about anything bigger. I just wanted some of my ideas to get out there. But I also know I have to remind myself of these motives often. It’s easy to start with the best of intentions and end up being an author for all the wrong reasons—because someone tells you it’s time to publish another book, because you want another pay day, because you want to climb the ladder of ministry success. All of us who write must constantly ask the question: am I really doing this to serve others or to serve myself?
3. Writing should be kept in proportion. I’m glad I read Martyn Lloyd-Jones before I ever wrote a book because I can hear the Doctor in the back of my head saying, “The pastor is first of all a preacher and not a writer.” There is nothing wrong with being a writer first, but that’s simply not the calling of a pastor. I need to be a faithful preacher and a caring shepherd before I am a good writer. I’m very fortunate to have a church that values study and supports me in my writing. But I owe it to them, and to my calling as a pastor, to make sure that I do not become an author who pastors a church on the side.
4. Writing should be kept in perspective. Virtually nothing we are publishing today will be read in 20 years, let alone 50 or 100 or 500. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be published. It just means authors should not believe their own press clippings (or Facebook likes, or Twitter followers). I cringe every time I see another Christian author talk about his most important book EVER! or his new work that will revolutionize everything about everything. If an older man publishes his magnum opus, let the accolades roll in. But when 30somethings and 40somethings marvel slack-jawed at their own writings—sheesh. It’s embarrassing.
5. Writing should be overseen with accountability. I don’t think there is only one formula for how pastors handle royalties or how they manage writing time “on the clock” or “off the clock.” When I started writing more I asked a number of pastors I respected how they handled royalties. The responses were all over the map. It’s not a simple matter to determine how writing fits into a pastor’s ministry. On the one hand, churches usually benefit from pastors who write. It sharpens their thinking, feeds the congregation, expands the church’s “footprint,” and often enables the pastor to meet new people who become great friends and resources for the church. On the other hand, pastors must be honest that some of their writing (and all that is associated with the release of a book) is bound to take place on church time. More than that, they may sell their books to parishioners, use office staff for book related projects, and devote no small amount of their energies to a task that is not essential to the church’s ministry.
After my first or second book I made a point to set up an oversight committee comprised of three of my elders. I asked them to provide feedback on future projects and to work with me on a financial arrangement that seemed fair. I meet with this committee every few months. They have to approve my travel schedule and my major writing projects. They also get a detailed accounting of my finances every year. Our arrangement is that I give at least 25% of all royalties and honoraria to the church. We revisit this issue annually to see if the arrangement still makes sense. I am an open book with them, and they can ask me whatever they want (also, my salary is voted on by our consistory every year and any member of the church can see every line of my salary and benefits if they want to prior to voting on the budget). It’s been an invaluable process and the men have provided me with invaluable relationships. There is no one way to work with a pastor-author, except that there should be some governing body within his church that encourages, approves, and holds him accountable.
6. Writing should be done by the person whose name is on the cover. Several years ago I was reading through the final theology paper that graduating seminary students in our classis are required to write. As I kept reading I began to notice familiar phrases. Then I saw whole sentences or paragraphs that made me think, “Haven’t I read this before?” And then it dawned on me. I had read these sentences before, because I wrote them. This graduating senior had plagiarized the theology paper I had given to the same classis a few years before. We got together and talked through the issue in person. He was contrite and I chalked up his plagiarism to laziness and ignorance more than to malice. But what he had done was still wrong and a serious infraction (he ended up dropping out of the ordination process).
Whether in sermons or in print, it’s not okay for pastors to take credit for something that is not theirs. Granted, the lines can be blurry. But that doesn’t mean the line doesn’t exist. And just because it feels like the sin of sloth more than the sin of theft doesn’t make it less of an error.
And the same goes for ghostwriting and some research services. Again, I realize there is a place for people to help authors with editing, with research, with tracking down footnotes, with providing information and ideas. Every book is, in some degree, a collaborative process. But the simple fact is that for 99% of the reading public they assume that if your name is on the cover of a book that you wrote the book. If someone took your ideas and worked them into prose, then at least there should be a “with so-and-so.” If someone heavily edited your sermon transcripts into a well-crafted book, they should get some serious mention in the acknowledgements. And if research companies are writing whole chunks of our sermons and our written materials without any attribution, well, this is plain unacceptable. Writers gotta write their own stuff.
7. Writing should be done humbly. Getting published is a funny thing. I speak at conferences and have gotten to meet all sorts of wonderful Christians leaders all over the country and the world because Dave DeWit at Moody Publishers (now at Crossway) really liked the book Ted and I were working on. We got turned down by a bunch of other publishers. One guy liked it. Happened to be the right guy. At the right time. That’s the way the Lord’s providence works. I’m trying to be a good steward of it. But it doesn’t mean I’m a better pastor, let alone a better person, than ten thousand other men who (for whatever inscrutable reasons) haven’t had the opportunities I have.
And one last thought for my fellow authors: let’s err on the side of under-promotion. I get it. I know we want our message to get out there. I know a certain amount of promotion is unavoidable (hey, I made two videos for my last book). But don’t pressure your friends to do you favors. Don’t make your book sound like the greatest thing since the five solas. Don’t pass along all the kudos about your stuff. “Let another praise you, and when they do, go ahead and retweet your awesomeness”—I don’t think that’s what Proverbs had in mind. Better to sell fewer books than to look like a bozo getting to the top of the best sellers list. Writing is a privilege, and that should make us humble not hucksters.
Shared from Kevin DeYoung
6 Simple Ways To Stay Inspired As A Writer
It’s a contradiction we writers know all too well: wanting to write with every fibre of our being, but lacking the necessary inspiration to get started and/or keep going.
So what are we to do when creative motivation is lacking? Simply waiting around for inspiration to strike isn’t a viable option, but neither is forcing something onto the page just for the sake of writing. We’re left with no choice: we have to take inspiration into our own hands and seek it out ourselves.
1. Gain experience
It’s hard to write something truly good, something that profoundly connects with readers, if there’s no experience behind the writing. Now, when we say ‘experience’, we’re referring to both writing experience and general life experience. Let’s look at the difference between the two.
‘Wait a minute,’ you may be thinking. ‘Isn’t this a bit of a catch-22? If I’m having trouble finding inspiration to write, how can the solution be…to gain more writing experience?!’
We know it sounds tricky – and, truthfully, it can be. But there’s no getting around the facts: the main thing that makes your writing better is doing more of it. Writing and inspiration go hand-in-hand as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: often, the more you get stuck into writing, the more you’ll be inspired to continue writing, and so on.
Likewise, the more you write, the better you’ll get, and the more chance you have at success through publication or recognition. Oftentimes, a bit of encouragement and the reassurance that you’re doing something well can provide you with all the inspiration you need to keep going.
To get to that stage, though, you do need to face one of the most common problems for writers: getting started. But we have a few helpful hints in that vein, so read on…
It may sound clichéd, but the truth about literature is that when it comes down to it, all writing is about life. Every writer, whether consciously or subconsciously, draws on their own knowledge and experiences to inspire them and breathe life into their work.
As a writer seeking to be as prolific as possible, it can be easy to forget that actually living life is the best way to have things to write about! Spending all your time holed up, concentrating on putting words on the page, can actually be counterproductive. It’s impossible to write something that has real conviction, passion and impact if it’s not coming from a real place.
So, besides the natural course and events of your own life, what else about the world can inspire your writing?
Travel, of course, can be a wonderful muse; new cultures, new people and new adventures are all great catalysts for your creative spark. Getting out of your comfort zone and immersing yourself in unfamiliar places can refresh you and provide new perspectives from which to consider life.
However, you don’t necessarily need to spend six months abroad to foster inspiration for your next story. Seeking inspiration can be as simple as sitting in a café or on a park bench, people-watching and listening to snatches of conversation, observing the flow of the world around you and allowing it to blossom into concepts and stories.
2. Read widely
This one is a given, and it’s probably something you’ve heard many times before, but the importance of reading can’t be stressed enough. All good writers are readers too. No matter how individual a style or how natural a talent you have, your writing will always be made better by the other work you read and absorb.
Obviously, you should read extensively within the genre or style you intend to write in, but don’t limit yourself to that alone. Whenever you’re not writing, try to devour a variety of genres and forms. Explore fiction and non-fiction, short-form and long-form, poetry and short stories, magazine and blog articles… Read everything, and read often!
Reading becomes especially crucial when you’re lacking inspiration. We don’t necessarily mean that you should go searching for new ideas within other people’s works; while a brainwave might indeed strike you while you’re in the middle of a new novel, it’s more likely that reading will simply remind you why you became a writer in the first place. Try to use the work of other writers as a constant source of encouragement, inspiration and motivation.
When it comes to non-fiction, books about the craft of writing can come in especially handy. There’s an incredible number of books about writing out there, so the titles you find most helpful and inspiring will depend on your individual writing aspirations. To get you started, though, there are a few classic staples that we recommend, as they will serve any writer well. These include:
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- The Writing Book: A Practical Guide for Fiction Writers by Kate Grenville
- The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch
- Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury.
Here’s a great tip in today’s age of smartphones and social media: replace the time you’d usually spend aimlessly scrolling Facebook with some proper reading time. Whenever your hand automatically reaches for your phone during lunch breaks or before bed, redirect it towards a book instead! Your writing will thank you for it.
3. Be part of the writing community
Writing is something of a lonely pursuit. Solitary by nature and by necessity, the craft of writing demands that its pursuers spend a great deal of time inside their own heads. While this suits the majority of writers, there are times when it inevitably leads to frustration, a sense of isolation and a lack of inspiration.
When this is the case, it’s time to re-join the real world, and the best way to do so while also seeking inspiration is to connect with likeminded individuals in the writing community.
As we mentioned in point 2, the work of other writers is often a great source of inspiration – but what about writers themselves? Surely there’s no better way to motivate, reaffirm and refresh yourself than by reaching out to people who are just as passionate about writing as you are!
Obviously, this isn’t as easy as flicking Margaret Atwood an email to ask for a few tips. Instead, you’ll need to track down writers online or in your area – most of whom will be amateurs just like you – and start up a discussion, a joint project, or even just a new friendship.
A few good ways to immerse yourself in the writing community include:
- Joining a local writer’s group or your state Writer’s Centre;
- Attending literary festivals, events, classes and workshops;
- Participating in online forums, such as Facebook groups for writers;
- Exchanging work with other writers for feedback and critiques.
The pleasure and benefit you’ll gain simply by talking to another writer is a gift in itself. To discuss your shared passion and craft, and perhaps most importantly of all, to be reminded that other people are having the same difficulties as you… There are few things more encouraging or inspiring to a struggling writer.
4. Keep things in perspective
Writing anything at all – whether it be a well-developed short story or (gulp) an actual full-length novel – can be extremely daunting. An insurmountable wall of possibilities and obstacles can loom up before you, and questions like ‘Where do I start?’ or ‘How can I ever finish?’ can haunt even the most confident wordsmith.
At times like these, it pays not only to remember that you aren’t alone (see point 3), but also to have a sense of perspective. Tackle things in terms of the bigger picture: remind yourself that all writers have been where you are, and that the only way you can truly fail is never to start at all.
To lessen the intimidation factor, keep in mind that writing just a few hundred words every day will add up in the long run. Before you know it, you’ll have a solid foundation upon which to build and expand or refine and improve.
For every writer, crafting stories takes time and extensive effort, so don’t beat yourself up about the problems you can see with your manuscript or the length of time you’re taking to write it. Just take things one word at a time; after all, that’s the only way to get things done.
5. Know yourself as a writer
A writer, like any other professional, needs to know how to play to their strengths. By doing so, you’ll ensure that you’re at the top of your game, producing the best work possible – and you’ll also nip a lot of insecurity and doubt in the bud.
Don’t dwell on your writing’s weaknesses or despair over the aspects of the process you find most difficult. By all means, work to improve these elements, but never allow pessimism to consume you – and, most importantly, never compare yourself negatively to other writers. Instead, focus on what you do best and what you’re most passionate about, and you’ll always find the inspiration and motivation you need.
For instance, if you have a knack for immersive, detailed description, try to build your story around this technique, painting a vivid and engaging portrait for your readers. If you’re more suited to writing snappy, compelling dialogue, use that as a focal point in your writing instead – or even try out a completely different medium that favours dialogue, such as scriptwriting.
As well as knowing your strengths as a writer, you should also make a point of structuring your writing process around your strengths as a worker. For example, if you find you’re most creative and productive first thing in the morning, get up early and dedicate AM hours to writing. Night owls, on the other hand, might choose to rise later so they can stay up writing into the night.
The bottom line is that no two writers will ever write – or work – in exactly the same way. Use this to your advantage by honing in on your individual strengths and allowing them to inspire and guide your writing.
6. Focus on writing first and editing later
At one stage or another, you’ve no doubt come across this sage piece of advice: ‘Write drunk, edit sober’. (While it’s commonly attributed to Hemingway, there’s no evidence that he ever actually advised such a thing – but that’s another story for another day.) While we’re firm believers that you should do what works for you in order to be inspired, we’re not necessarily suggesting that you pop a bottle of red every time you want to write!
Rather, we’re saying that you shouldn’t hold yourself back in any way when creative inspiration strikes. Have you ever sat down to write and found the words flowing forth quickly, effortlessly, almost as if you couldn’t control them? Have you ever found yourself feeling suddenly compelled to scribble down a phrase, thought or idea, even though you’re not entirely sure of the direction it’s leading?
Our advice is to always embrace that feeling completely. Whenever you’re struck by pure inspiration like this, don’t interrupt its flow for anything – let alone to correct grammar, change a word or rearrange a sentence. Without overthinking it, allow yourself to write whatever comes naturally, and don’t stop until you’ve run out of words! Get everything out onto the page, even if it doesn’t quite make sense or isn’t as elegantly phrased as you’d like.
It’s easy to develop the habit of editing as you write, but the truth is, this is neither the most productive nor inspiring way to do things. The writing and editing sections of your brain are totally different. When you’re writing, you’re tapping a well of creativity; you’re giving your mind free rein and exploring any and every possibility. When you’re editing, however, you enter a much more critical mindset, applying judgement, logic and rules to strip your work back to its purest and most effective state.
Always remember that a first draft is just that. It can be sculpted and shaped to your liking a hundred times before it ever sees the light of day; what’s important is that you have some truly inspired raw material to work with in the first place.
So, writers: after all that, are you feeling any more inspired? If not, don’t worry. It could just be one of those days – we all have them. Take a break and come back to your writing later; but in the meantime, perhaps try out one of our suggestions and see if it stimulates your creativity. You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Shared from www.writersedit.com.
Five Reasons Every Pastor Should Be A Writer
If you’re a pastor, then you should be writing. Ok, wait! Before you start with a list of excuses just hear me out (besides, I know all the excuses because I regularly used them to avoid my responsibility as a writer).
As a pastor, your teaching is part of your spiritual fingerprint – make your impression through writing.
Writing is first and foremost an act of sheer will. It’s not easy. But if you are a pastor I am fully convinced that it’s a necessary part of your ministry. Here’s why:
Expanding Your Audience
At first, this sounds self-serving. However, remember the Apostle Paul’s desire to go to great lengths to reach people for Christ. He said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means, I might save some.” (1 Cor 9:22)
As a pastor, each week your audience is limited to the number of people that will attend your church on Sunday. That’s a problem because even if you could pack the building every single week there’s still a limit to how many chairs you can set up. And there’s even a limit to how many services you can hold.
These physical limitations are difficult to overcome, but by writing and publishing there is virtually no limit to how many people you can reach. Sure, it takes a while to build a good-sized audience, but it’s worth it.
Building a legacy
Here’s one of my frustrations as a pastor: I usually spend 10-15 hours praying about, thinking about, preparing, and writing a message to teach on Sunday morning. Then, when I’m done…it’s gone. Almost forever. No one may hear it again!
That’s a problem because I believe these messages to be God-ordained and important to the cause of Christianity. Not just to my parishioners but to Christians everywhere. I don’t want them to fade away forever.
A church and its leaders can have a great impact on the community both in terms of outreach and aid. But this is also true when it comes to the philosophy, doctrine, and teaching too.
As a pastor, your teaching is part of your “spiritual fingerprint” in the world. Allow those ideas to make an impression in the world through your writing.
As a pastor, you are in the business of creating fresh content every week. Literally, it’s your job to look into the scriptures and find innovative ways of communicating those important truths to your congregation. Like me, you take those ideas, format them to be captivating and interesting, and verbally deliver them in the form of a sermon.
While the sermon is meant to be spoken, those ideas can also become source material for your writing. Whether they become a book or a weekly blog, you have ready-to-go content on a regular basis. So, there’s no need to try to figure out what to write – just write what you are teaching.
There’s considerable evidence to suggest that much of the scripture we read each week on Sunday morning are parts of sermons, regularly given by the Apostle Paul. The book of Hebrews is one long sermon!
Note: you’ll notice that Sermon Series become great books, each sermon becoming a subsequent chapter of the book. This is one of the secrets of many ministry writers, from Timothy Keller to Chuck Swindoll.
Previously, getting published was difficult and expensive. It’s not that way anymore. A writer can publish a blog for a few dollars per month, if not for free. Platforms like Medium are also a great way to publish your thoughts.
Even if you desire to publish a printed book, self-publishing is so simple that there’s no reason not to do it.
Without question, published authors have greater chances to impact their community through speaking engagements, teaching opportunities, and additional writing prospects. This can lead to a larger audience but also to financial blessings as well. Some may shun the financial rewards that may accompany a writing career, but for many in ministry, this can be a realistic way to supplement ministry in a small church.
So where are you in the process of becoming a writer? Have you tried and failed? If so, keep trying! Develop a regular routine and stick with it.
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