once wrote a piece about C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair
(for our book Finding God in the Land of Narnia). I
titled it “Bungled but Blessed.” That’s a pretty good description of my
life—particularly my life as a writer.
Well-meaning friends have asked,
“How have you managed to write books while raising a family and holding
down a full-time job? Do you stick to a regular, disciplined writing
schedule? Do you make a plan, map out a strategy, and set aside a
certain amount of time to write every day? Do you do your best work in
the morning, or at night?” I never know how to answer these questions.
For one thing, I’m nowhere near that highly organized.
In some ways I’m a lot like
Pierre Bezhukov, the quirky protagonist of Tolstoy’s novel War
and Peace. Pierre is a confirmed bungler. Half the time he
doesn’t know what he’s doing or why. Most of the time he doesn’t really
care. He exhibits poor judgment in a number of critical situations, and
as a result he winds up in a lot of trouble. But in spite of his faults
and flaws, Pierre has a way of stumbling into interesting situations,
and for some strange reason good things happen to him along the way. By
the end of the story, the bungler ends up blessed.
It’s sort of like that with me
and my writing. I’m not a “real” author. I’m just a guy who likes good
stories—always have, always will. Meanwhile, I do my best to hold down
a job and maintain a meaningful life outside the
workplace. I get up in the morning, go to the office, and try to please
my employer. At the end of the day I come home to my wife and kids.
Once in a while we watch Leave It to Beaver reruns.
On weekends I take long walks with my dogs in the hills behind my
house. I read books—lots of them—listen to music, learn new songs, and
play tunes with friends at local pubs and coffeehouses. I eat, sleep,
pray, and dream. On Sundays I go to church. Sometimes I even find time
to fool around with story ideas. In the process, things happen to me.
To date, the list includes twelve or thirteen published books.
has this come about? I’m not exactly sure. Why has the bungler ended up
so blessed? I honestly don’t know. I guess it all comes down to grace.
As Tolstoy sums up the story of Pierre, “If we admit that life can be
governed by reason, the possibility of life is destroyed.” In other
words, it’s not about schemes and strategies or how smart or clever or
talented or disciplined I am. It’s all about the plans and purposes of
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate
the value of hard work, and I know that a publisher’s deadline can be a
wonderful stimulus for the lazy and unmotivated. My theory is that if
something has to be written, it will be. In such a
case, necessity becomes the mother of invention. Under these
circumstances, the physical act of writing, like water spilled over a
tessellated floor, tends to find its way into the cracks and crannies
of a busy life. Looking at it from a purely human perspective, I guess
it would be fair to say that if you care enough to make a start and
keep chipping away at the block of stone, the work eventually gets
done. All this I understand. But I also believe with all my heart that
nothing comes about primarily as a result of my own efforts. Everything
depends upon the One who is writing my story and
adding His blessings to my bungled efforts.
Izaak, the hero of my
fantasy novel The Stone of Destiny, is another
bungler who ends up blessed. The big difference between Morgan and
Pierre—at least in the
beginning—is that Morgan has very definite ideas
about what he wants. What’s more, he’s come up with a detailed plan for
achieving his goals. His mother is dying of cancer and he’s determined
to see her healed. As a result, he pulls out his father’s old books on
the “science” of alchemy and starts working day and night to confect
the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, the materia prima,
the Elixir of Life, which is supposed to cure every disease. When he
hears rumors of another Stone of supernatural
virtue and magical power—Lia Fail, the Satisfaction
of All Desire, the legendary Stone of Destiny of Irish myth—he arrives
at the conclusion that there must be a connection between the two. From
that point forward he refuses to rest until he’s solved the mystery and
claimed the prize as his own.
Morgan, as you can see, is
highly motivated. Though bullied, belittled, and scorned by his
classmates, he’s a regular Type-A personality in the making. He’s
smart, inventive, focused, and intentional; in a hyphenated word, he’s
purpose-driven. The only problem is that, for reasons beyond his
control, his meticulously orchestrated schemes don’t work. In the end,
he botches everything through slavish devotion to his carefully laid
plans. It sounds like a tale with a tragic end, but it isn’t; because
in the final analysis, when all is said and done, Morgan still ends up
“How so?” you ask. Ah—that
would be giving the story away, wouldn’t it? If you really want to
know, you’ll have to read the book.
In the meantime, if you’ve got a
hankering to become an “Author by Night” in your own right, I’m afraid
I don’t have much advice for you. All I can say is set your pen to
paper (or your fingers to the keyboard), put one foot in front of the
other, and start stumbling down the rocky road. Work as hard as your
schedule permits. Pray and dream and trust. Do the best you can but
never forget the words of the wise king: “There are many plans in a
man’s heart, nevertheless, the LORD’s counsel—that
will stand” (Prov. 19:21 NKJV, emphasis added).