We were at a church librarians’ conference trying to gin up some interest in my books when a star-struck woman came up to my table and asked Christine breathlessly, “What’s it like being married to a famous author?” I’m thankful that my faithful wife didn’t burst out laughing and reply, “I’ll let you know … if it ever happens!”
No, the life of an author is rarely glamorous. If you’re in it for the notoriety or the money, most likely you’ll be disappointed. While a few among us have ascended to authorial paradise—able to support ourselves solely through our books and related activities—most of us peck away on our keyboards due to the indulgence (and financial lifelines) of loving spouses or our own outside hustling to pay the bills.
And yet if you tried to take away my computer, you’d have to pry it from my cold, dead fingers. I wouldn’t give up the writing life for anything. I can’t not write. That’s because I have seen the sovereign God (who, after all, calls Himself the Word) orchestrate the talents, events, and opportunities of my life into a writing ministry that I never expected, and He can do the same for you, whatever your calling.
When I was a tot, I created a hand-drawn book on white paper about a cartoon amphibian I named “Froggie.” Actually, my mother wrote down the words while I drew the pictures using a ballpoint pen and crayons. In elementary school, I helped found what would today be called a literary magazine featuring the writing of students (including mine). I was co-editor of my high school newspaper, The Predator, writing an editorial that exposed the habitual sleeping of a federally funded parking lot guard. In college, after failing to master my computer programming and business courses, I switched to journalism and immediately found my niche.
But I never really dreamed I would write books. Here’s how it happened.
I had been writing and editing articles about missions and evangelism for a newsletter for almost a decade when the call came—not from God, but from a Wheaton College professor. She asked me and a colleague to come to her class and discuss the top trends in world missions. A half an hour later, we gave a well-received presentation, and afterwards, I realized that maybe there was a book in this. So, drawing on my knowledge gained over the previous decade, I quickly pulled together Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century. When people ask me how long it took to write my first book, I answer, “Six months—and ten years.”
I thought that would be it as far as writing books, but I changed my mind while at a Christian publishers’ convention interviewing some well-known authors for Christianity Today. I was getting the sneaking suspicion—God forgive me—that they were no smarter or holier than I was. So I met with a friendly publisher there and shared an idea for a book. The result was my magnum opus: All That Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us. My next book came about after I ran into another Wheaton professor at a Christian lunch gathering at a high-powered investing firm. Years before I had helped Dr. Jerry Root put together an article on C.S. Lewis. After Jerry laid eyes on me during lunch, he quickly began sharing his vision for a book to include in his evangelism classes, and he wanted my help. Our combined prose became a unique volume on Christian outreach called The Sacrament of Evangelism.
One day a publisher in Illinois asked if I could write a small book on Bible prophecy (uncredited) that could be given away as a marketing premium. A few weeks later, however, the publisher dropped the project, but I didn’t drop the idea. A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy: 60 Predictions Everyone Should Know, my biggest seller, was born. Next up was God’s Story in 66 Verses: Understand the Entire Bible by Focusing on Just One Verse in Each Book, the idea for which came while I was teaching the Bible to fifth-grade boys. Another book, The Seven Signs of Jesus: God’s Proof for the Open-Minded began as a wedding message for my niece about Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding in Cana—the first of seven signs in John’s Gospel.
Authors, even published ones, are prone to self-doubt, and I had been going through a woe-is-me time during which I figured I had written my last book because (I feared) I no longer had a sufficient platform. Publishers wouldn’t touch me with a ten-foot slush pile. Then a publisher asked whether I was interested in writing about a beyond-famous 20th-century Protestant saint, Corrie ten Boom, and her best-seller The Hiding Place. (The encouraging Jerry Root had put in a good word for me.) Was I interested? Victorious: Corrie ten Boom and The Hiding Place is scheduled to be published in November.
Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” This has certainly been true for me. Looking back, I can see how the sovereign Lord used my decisions, gifts, and even seemingly chance meetings to direct my writing career to its present fruitfulness, even when I had no idea where I was headed. He can do the same for you. Here are some principles that I discerned at work in my story that may help you in yours:
- Find something you’re good at and water and fertilize it so that it can grow. For me, it was writing journalistic articles. For you, it may well be something completely different. Start small and see where God takes you.
- Become an expert. I developed a significant level of understanding about world missions and the global church, which opened several doors for me. Don’t be afraid to study and put in the time learning new things. In fact, never stop learning. If you can find a niche that others have overlooked, so much the better.
- Network, network, network! We writers are often shy, inhibited types, but my jobs required me to meet people, some of whom were happy to help with my career. Don’t be a hermit! Assist others whenever possible. You will probably discover many great people who would love to help you.
- Take a risk. Try something new and challenging. The only thing worse than failing is failing to try. Believe in yourself—even better, believe in a God who delights in leading and equipping His children for the works He has prepared for them (Ephesians 2:10).
- Don’t give up. There will be bumps and bruises, disappointments, and changes of plan (at least yours, not God’s) along the way. Unclench your hand and receive what He has for you. Keep going. In the hard times, don’t look too far ahead, don’t beat yourself up, and allow the Lord to minister to you day by day. Remember that your heavenly Father is in control.
Others have enjoyed bigger sales than I, but none has a bigger God. While I never planned to be a published author, the ultimate Author had other plans. He took my pitiful five loaves and two fish and multiplied them for His glory.
So as you finally crack open that book you’ve been wanting to read all summer, dream big. God’s dreams are bigger still—even if you don’t become famous.
Stan Guthrie is a life coach and a licensed minister, as well as an editor at large for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Stan is the author of the forthcoming book Victorious: Corrie ten Boom and The Hiding Place.