Several years ago, a colleague
asked me to take a look at a collection of writings he had compiled
over the years. He said he intended to put them into a book someday. I
cringed. This man was not a writer and may not appreciate an honest
critique of his work. I smiled and agreed to meet with him again soon
to discuss his project.
Later, when I opened his
notepad, it took only a glance to see that I was in for trouble. There
was little, if any, punctuation, and it appeared to have been written
in some kind of metered format, like poetry or proverbs. After reading
a couple of pages, I was in shock. It was mostly written in first
person, as if spoken by God Himself; seemingly directed to my
colleague, but often switching on the fly to all believers.
When we next met, and as gently
as possible, I told him that in my humble judgment most Christians
might have a problem with anything written as if penned by God Himself.
Next, I recommended a book on grammar and suggested how he could
rewrite his project into a more common devotional format. Feeling a
little sorry for what must have felt like a bomb going off in the man’s
heart, I offered what little encouragement I could.
Gracious as always, he kept
quiet until I had finished. If he was upset by anything I said, he
didn’t show it. He asked if he could take a brief moment of prayer
before responding. He bowed his head for what could not have been
longer than ten seconds. I was not prepared for what happened next. He
lifted his eyes and announced that he took my concerns before the Lord,
but God had commanded that it was to be printed as written. I was
dumfounded. If he really believed that his writings were the very
dictation of God, then why bring them to me for my input in the first
I wish I’d had the wisdom to
keep my mouth shut. But that has never been one of my strong points. I
opened his collection to one particular line that was especially
confusing and asked him what it said. Without punctuation it was
impossible to divine if it was a question, a statement, or, for that
matter, what it was even trying to say.
He seemed genuinely surprised.
It may have made perfect sense to him when he had first written it, but
now not even he could figure its meaning. He acknowledged that it was
flawed, and for a moment, I had hope for my minister friend. But then
he bowed his head in prayer, but for scarcely more than a second, and
confirmed that it was to remain as written. This time I kept my mouth
shut. Evidently, at least a few of the mysteries of God would have to
remain so for a while longer.
I felt sorry for him. Was it his
ego that kept him from accepting the flaws in what he had written?
Perhaps. Had my criticism caused some kind of crisis of faith? I
sincerely hope not. I only know that in all good conscience, I had done
what I felt was right. I hope that with time, my words might find their
way into his mind and heart.
Does God speak to His people?
Absolutely. In John 10:27 Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I
know them, and they follow Me” (NKJV). I would be lost (literally)
without God’s comfort, encouragement, and, yes, even His life-giving
rebukes. After all, experiencing a living relationship with God is what
makes Christianity different from every other religion.
God speaks to writers too.
Between the ACFW, ChristianWriters.com, and the various writer groups I
have participated in over the years, I have had the joy of meeting many
wonderful folk. I never tire of hearing the stories of how they got
started writing and especially the dynamics of how God interacts with
their creative processes. Many said that, like me, they felt that God
has called them to write. Others said their calling was limited to a
special project of one kind or another. I have many friends who write
outside the Christian market but still take their faith seriously and
seek God’s input as they write.
A few days ago, I came across a
message on ChristianWriters.com by one of our newer members that made
me smile. She had just finished the first draft of her first novel and
was eagerly seeking advice as to agents that she might choose from. I
could almost feel the excited anticipation of untold fame and riches
that would surely soon be hers.
I chuckled as I read the gentle
but cautious advice by some of our more seasoned members. While showing
excitement at her accomplishment, they encouraged her to take a few
days to celebrate, and then get to work perfecting her project. They
advised her to submit her work to our critique workshops. Good advice
As I read this new member’s
thread, it brought back memories of my own excitement after finishing
the first draft of my first novel. I remember seeking the input of a
few of my best friends and family members, all of whom offered the
highest of praise. Then, while still feeling the afterglow of their
tributes, I took my “baby” to a writer friend who had several published
novels under her belt. She congratulated me on finishing my novel,
promised to give it a read, and then offer any helpful advice she might
be able to give me.
When the fateful meeting did at
last came to pass, I remember sitting on the edge of my seat awaiting
her feedback—my heart in my throat. She started by repeating her former
congratulations for actually finishing a novel. But nothing could have
prepared me for what she said next. “I think this would make for a nice
outline for a complete rewrite.” Then she went on to share a few
important rules such as “show, don’t tell” and recommended a few books
on writing. Trying not to show my devastation, I smiled and thanked
her. My mind spun as I watched her walk away.
It was bitter medicine, but I
sucked it up and thanked God for sending me someone with the wisdom to
tell me what I needed to hear, painful though it was. Then I did just
as she suggested—I rewrote the entire novel using the old one as an
outline. As she suggested, I added scenes to better show the story
rather than tell. When I finally finished a month or so later, I had
something I could be proud of. It was a long way from being finished,
but now I had the keys needed to get it there.
Oh the joys of being me. I hope
that my own story might help lessen the sting of your first critique,
or at least make you chuckle as you go about your day. Until next
month, God bless you. Keep writing for Jesus.