Some Thoughts on Writing and Publishing

books

“Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the University stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.” 

― Flannery O’Connor

Let me start by saying that I’m no authority on these things. But I get asked about publishing and writing in general often enough to justify me putting down some thoughts and advice I hope will encourage and discourage. I write these as a writer and as reader. A banker and sometimes pastor.

First, make sure you have the support of your elders in your church for your writing. Writing as a believer is for the benefit of the church. If you do not have the support of those who you would have lead you, then stop. Don’t write. Close this post, because there is no need for you to continue.

Second, make sure you have writers who will be gut-level honest about your writing. Not accountants, writers. While it is necessary for you to have non-writers affirm your writing, you need writers even more. And you need  writers who will be honest and not be the kind of people who will affirm you in hopes they get your support for their writing. You need to have people, especially writers, in your life who will tell you that you are not ready and need to take up knitting. Or manga. Anything for God’s sake.

Third, if you are writing for acclaim or money, you will more than likely be very disappointed. It’s just true. A hard truth, of course but truth nonetheless.

Fourth, you need to ask yourself if you are the kind of person who enjoys having written more than writing. If you are not, don’t do it. Chances are, you will not be read all that widely. You need to be in a place, emotionally and spiritually where you can write and not be read and that be OK.

Fifth, be prepared to be tested by what you’ve written. I wrote about contentment where you are and God has pushed me on that one every freaking day since. I wrote about our need as believers to be ok with being nobodies and I’ve proved to be a smashing success.

Writers and readers, feel free to add your own advice in the comments.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

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1. The beauty of Brennan Manning’s memoir is how it rings with the same tones of all the biblical “heroes.” It’s not pretty. The failures are stark. And the grace of the Gospel takes center stage.

2. I am truly afraid God has placed me in a situation where I must existentially deal with the propositions of my own book. Sometimes I can laugh about this. But often it is a very dark thought.

3. My weekend came with all the emotion of a vacation, which is nice because I’ll get another next week.

4. My social media feeds have devolved into a constant discussion of race and pornography wrapped in a Buzzfeed style of Christianity with numbered lists churning out new laws for us and everyone else to break.

5. I’m glad I’ve relearned the simple joy of opening a pack of baseball cards.

6. Please stop trying to write like Ann Voskamp.

7. I want my kids to experience grace and not the well-oiled machine of American moral religion. But I’m not sure how to do that apart from communicating forgiveness even more than the rules.

8. There are a lot reasons I enjoy the music of Van Morrison. The lack of politics and social issues is not the least of reasons.

9. It’s normal to look forward to the weekend and buying baseball cards, right?

10. I would rather fail at life in the eyes of the watching world and be with my wife than enjoy all that is considered success. I’d rather do without, with her.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

ragamuffin

1. My wife and I finished watching Ragamuffin, the movie about Rich Mullins last night. It’s a unique experience to watch a movie made about someone you have actually talked with. It’s not a great movie. But it’s good enough to do the job it set out to do. It made me miss him more than ever.

2. The St. Louis Cardinals’ pitchers and catchers report today and that makes all the difference on this Thursday.

3. I can remember the sadness when I heard rich Mullins had passed away and then thinking how it was just like him to go early.

4. One of the more telling points of our consumerism is our pickiness and snobbery surrounding what we eat and drink. Christians should be neither.

5. The first Rich Mullins song I remember latching onto was “Growing Young.” To this day I cannot sing along without being moved to the point of having to only listen.

6. I’ve named my fantasy baseball team “The Trench Arts.” Trench Art was art created by soldiers during WWII while in the “trenches.” they used mortars and helmets and spent shells. It helped get them through. To survive. It’s a weak analogy. But I need something of the sort to survive my weekdays.

7. I can’t remember the last time I had pizza. (hangs head)

8. I still have the copy of “a liturgy, a legacy and a ragamuffin band” I bought in 1993 in Auburn, AL.

9. Wait, I had pizza on Saturday. (wipes brow)

10. My wife’s first reaction after watching the movie about Rich Mullins was to start reading Brennan Manning’s A Ragamuffin Gospel, which is about as good a result as could be imagined.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

baseball

 

1. I ache for baseball season. I don’t know if this is a good thing but it feels like my childhood and that was a good thing.

2. The only privileged status Jesus enjoyed could not be seen.

3. Far too often I dream of someone famous getting ahold of my book and recommending it so I can make more money and take my wife on a date to Wendy’s.

4. When I write I’m thinking about Hemingway. Everyone is writing like Voskamp and Piper these days. I want to be Hemingway. A whole other Universe. Who cares if I get there? It’d be better to burn up in the stratosphere of singular writing than just get along on such well-trodden ground.

5. I’m going to two concerts in the next couple of months because growing up is stupid.

6. Social media is a good way for celebrities to engage the nobodies. But usually it’s just used for marketing and promotion. Christian or otherwise.

7. I finished an email interview this week. Only those of you with a stutter will understand how much I enjoyed not having to talk to people I couldn’t see.

8. My brilliant wife suggested we get a St. Louis Cardinals flag to fly by the front door of our house and it was then I fell in love all over again.

9. If “simul iustus et peccator” is true, we should not be surprised to see people acting in complete opposition to what they say they believe as Christians.

10. Repeat after me: “Dear God, Please find Matt a new job. Amen.”

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

fiveguys

1. Repeat after me: “Dear God, Please give Matt another job. Amen.”

2. Nine years ago, we were in the children’s hospital in Jackson, MS with Knox. Our joy at his birth turned into pure fear and confusion when he would stop breathing while sleeping. I’m not sure we got any sleep that first week or over the months following.

3. Some guys wrecked #diet2015 this week, I don’t know their names but I do know for certain there were five of them.

4. The mistake is to assume the primary way you live out the Christian life is through the events of the 501c3 organization that is a church. It is part of it. And an important part. But your home and place of work are more important.

5. Think about how wonderful the invention of recorded music is. We are used to the stuff and it’s all so disposable now, it’s hard to catch the weight of what we hear. But then you hear some music, an album that has a physical quality about it and you realize this was not always the case. People were not always able to just listen to music whenever they wanted. Music was an event. Music had weight. And the music sat between the silence and more silence.

6. Time is a luxury when money is scarce.

7. When I was much younger, I could not understand why my dad loved the warm weather so much. I now understand. My bones ache a lot less during the warm weather months. I begin to miss the yard work and the sweat more. I’ll complain in August, sure. But I look forward to the heat now.

8. We are part of a Supper Club with 2 other couples and we eat together at least once a month. We also have a group text we’ve kept going for about 3 years. My wife said, “I need them like air.” I agree.

9. I started doing some pre-marital counseling this week for a soon-to-be married couple. My wife and I have gotten a lot of advice over the years. But none so good as what we received in our own pre-marital counseling. So that’s what I’ll be relaying to these two.

10. My wife’s cheese grits topped with slow-cooked roast beef and au jus is only surpassed by herself.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1. I just watched No Direction Home again. It’s probably my 5th time to watch Scorsese’s documentary on Bob Dylan. And this time I saw something new. Dylan didn’t want to be an insider of any movement. Everyone wanted to be an insider with him and his circle. But he didn’t want any such thing. That’s something. Seems almost holy, if only by it, we mean “set apart.”

2. After losing half my goal for #2015, I gained it all back in one meal of pizza.

3. Book two is called The God of All My Tomorrows: A Memoir of Worry.

4. I miss telling my parents good news about the kids. I miss my mom’s easy tears of joy. And my dad’s ready smile.

5. If you cannot follow the money, you will see something extraordinary.

6. My wife made homemade yogurt. Next thing ya know, we’ll be raising chickens next to the compost pile. If she starts talking like Ann Voskamp, we’re gonna need a counselor.

7. Last year I read a lot of Hemingway, Buechner, and Marilynne Robinson and they have ruined me.

8. It is so strange to be told your book is “life-giving” while looking for life in other’s words yourself because the work you get paid for is sapping you of life. It’s nice to hear, of course. But strange what it brings.

9. I am the most thankful for prayer when it seems to be only thing I have for a given situation.

10. This weekend we will have seven 3rd grade boys spend the night at our house. And it’s supposed to rain. Prayers appreciated.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

mockingbird

1. We are on day 15 of #diet2015 and I can no longer even remember the last time I ate pizza.

2. I have applied for so many jobs over the past few years and gotten the standard rejection email so many times, I can feel a numbness setting in. That seems worse than the exhausted hope of disappointment I once felt. At least, that’s how I’d view it in someone else.

3. Giving away my book for free on Noisetrade is fun. We need the money. But honestly, that’s part of the fun and I cannot explain that at all.

4. There is no room in the message of the good news of what God has done in Jesus for preaching on our potential to do something special. It is crowded out by our sin and God’s grace.

5. Book two is coming.

6. Someone asked me if I still wanted to go back to pastoral ministry. That’s a complicated question. If I were approached, I would talk to a church. But I refuse to apply in the way I apply for other jobs outside of ministry.

7. The deeper I go into grace, the more I see how I forgive my own particular sins easier than I forgive the sins of others with which I do not struggle.

8. So far my New Years Resolution to enjoy my wife’s cooking is going well.

9. The more you see yourself as a sheep without a shepherd apart from the mercy of the Holy Spirit, the more likely you are to be kind to the discouraged and dying. You know the territory well.

10. The best investment we have made for 2015 has been The Mockingbird Devotional.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

truck

1. I don’t understand why people say they are humbled when they get an award. I’m always the opposite when I am complimented or recognized.

2. If you’re job description (self imposed or not) is to find something wrong, you will find something wrong.

3. You will be told you need to go see the movie Selma. The subject is important and so you will be encouraged to go for that reason. And you will be told by pastors and other Christian writers to do so. But here is the thing. Read about it before you go. Because if the historians are right, Selma got it wrong and has made LBJ the bad guy when it would have really been a Kennedy. The question that needs to be answered is, “Are truth and kindness important in telling history through film?” For the follower of Jesus, they are paramount.

4. Jesus prayed for those who shamed him in public. This is the difference between Christianity and other belief systems. He would not have us fight for his honor. We honor him when we love those who shame us and deride him and his way.

5. There is no one I’d rather be going through the fires of #diet2015 with than my wife.

6. A question to #the15 who are angry about the books being sold at Lifeway: Are you OK with C.S. Lewis?

7. I think there are two great problems in the Christian book publishing industry. The first is everyone wants to be on the NYT best seller list. So they (publisher, author, ghostwriter) will do whatever they can to get there. This is why ResultSource exists – to game the system and make it look like the book is selling well based on the quality of the book, itself. The second problem is the justification of bad writing and ghostwriting because the content is necessary and good. The ends justify the means. this strips the written of it’s inherent beauty and makes it merely a conduit of information. It’s like looking at a beautiful tree and only seeing baseball bats.

8. It is hard to live in the here and now when you pine for baseball season like I do.

9. This past Sunday I had a terrible scare with my truck. Thanks to God, I sustained no injuries and the truck was easily fixed. But it scared me in the moment. And then it scared me afterward the more I thought about what it would have been like if it had happened a moments earlier or later. That fear turned into something like worship.

10. I have not had pizza in at least a week because of #diet2015.

Music I’ve Enjoyed in 2014

Lazaretto

We listen to a lot of music in our house. Rare is the time when none is playing, even in the background. But often the music is in the foreground and I will listen to albums all the way through over and over and over. But it’s rarely about what is new. Maybe new to us. I am often late to the party. Sometimes years late. More, it’s about what is right for the time. I’m not sure I listened to enough new albums this year to make a “Best of 2014″ list. So, how about a more modest list of “Music I’ve Enjoyed in 2014″ in no particular order?

In the comment section tell what music you’ve loved in 2014.

1. NEEDTOBREATHE – Rivers in the Wasteland. I resisted listening to them for a long time due to their awful name. And I have a rule about not listening to music that might be heard in Lifeway. But this album is rare phenomena. Great lyrics, vocals and melodies in the world of CCM. Highlight: “Wasteland”

2. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream. I didn’t even listen to this one till the Tuesday before Christmas. I’ve now listened to it 22 23 times. The more I listen, the more I hear and the more I enjoy this strange album. Could be my favorite of the year. Highlight: “Burning”

3. U2 – Songs of Innocence. The only thing more surprising than how they released their newest album was the quality of the album. It may end up being one of their top albums. The lyrics are as powerful as any album they’ve put out. Not since Aching Baby have they been so brilliant. Highlight: “Iris”

4. BRMC – Live in London. When I saw them live in 2013, I felt as if I had seen something really special. Heard something that strummed the electric nerves of reality in a way, I had not experienced previously. This DVD/CD captures it well. I’ve watched it so many times it plays in my head regularly. Highlight: “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo”

5. Bill Mallonee – Winnowing. I’ve been listening to his songs for so many years, I don’t even know where nostalgia ends and just plain good americana music begins. I’m pretty sure, though, this is one of his best. He should be more famous than he is, but if he was, we may not have these hurting songs. Highlight: “Tap Your Heart On It’s Shoulder”

6. John Fullbright – Songs. I’m very new to this guy. But his music is the kind that makes you believe you’ve been listening to these songs for years. Incredible vocals. great songwriting. And when he gets on the piano, it all gets as wondrous as the night sky. Highlight: “Happy”

7. Steve Earle – El Corazon. This album is almost 20 years old. But it’s fairly new to me. And it’s an almost perfect album. The songs are varied. They range from standard Texas country to folk to near grunge followed by a song you will swear was one of Hank’s. Highlight: “Fort Worth Blues”

8. The Violet Burning – The Story of Our Lives. This 3 CD epic concept album has been around for a couple of years but I’ve never put in the effort to sit down and listen straight through. It takes some commitment. But it was so worth it and after doing so I made it a priority to do it again. And then again. It’s brilliant, and dark and then beautiful. Highlight: “br0ther part 1″

9. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams. I buy everything by David Ryan Adams. And I have about 60 bootlegs and unreleased albums. He’s just a genius and almost everything he does is at the very least interesting. Highlight: “Shadows”

10. Jack White – Lazaretto. This is such an odd mixture of songs. But it works in a way only Jack White could make it do so. And it may be my favorite album he has ever done. So infectious and full of little ear worms. Highlight: “Temporary Ground”

11. Corey Nolen – Drive Down South. I love country music. Not modern pop country. The real deal. And Corey delivers on this album produced by Brian Murphy of the Lone Bellow. Corey is also my neighbor and doing a house show at my place on Jan 10th with Ashley Spurling, who sang on all the Red Mountain Church albums. Highlight: “Haunt Me”

12. Thad Cockrell – To Be Loved. A voice that will blow you over the first time you hear it. I’d heard his name for years but had never really sat down and listened to him. But then we heard him do a few songs live with Andrew Peterson and I immediately went and bought his album and have not regretted that purchase one bit. Highlight: “To Be Loved”

13. Steve Taylor and The Perfect Foil Goliath. I’ve been waiting 20 years for this album. Seriously, it’s been over 20 years since Steve Taylor released an album. And this does not disappoint. It’s clever and brilliant punk rock and it was worth the wait. Highlight: “Comedian”

Random Thoughts Before Christmas

BTLOG

1) Someone asked me recently about some good Christian books to buy as presents. And by “good” they meant well-written. There are some. The problem? There is so little. Most is written by pastors who are writing like Piper or Warren. They aren’t looking to Hemingway or even Buechner. And instead of words bleeding onto the page money falls from stiff spines.

2) The anticipation of Advent has been supplanted by waiting for one of us to get sick.

3) Nothing has helped me get perspective this Christmas season more than Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God. And wine.

4) Jesus was born into a world of far more injustice than we may ever see in our lives. And yet he came. And the government is upon his shoulders.

5) My first gift this year was a huge box of bacon, setting the tone for the rest of all gift-giving.

6) When it comes to Christmas, the wonder over the lesson.

7) There is a part of me wanting to outgrow my desire to get presents at Christmas. but then there is part of me really, really wanting a record player.

8) This is my first orphan Christmas. My parents have gone on ahead to experience what is “not yet” of the incarnation for the rest of us.

9) If my five year old is still singing the wrong “words” to “Arf, the Erald Angels Sing” when Christmas is over, then the season will have been a success.

10) Serious. My favorite part of Christmas is buying gifts for Bethany. Buying gifts I cannot afford. Because she’d be happy with the smallest bit of thoughtfulness. But she is so much of a gift I cannot help but overspend.

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