In this article Angela Scheff from the Christopher Ferebee Agency interviews several amazing authors—Lisa Whittle, Jonathan Merritt and Leeana Tankersley—who describe their writing process and what surprised them about the publishing process.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT WRITING? WHAT DO YOU DISLIKE MOST ABOUT IT?
LW: I love the process of seeing the book unfold and turn into a complete heart offering. I see it much like painting a picture, which at first doesn’t look like much, but in the end, it’s a beautiful creation. I love the idea that the words God uses my fingers to write will help people—that always blows me away. Most of all, I love what happens between God and me while I’m writing and how He teaches me things I desperately need to learn.
I dislike the headspace I have to pop in and out of in order to still do daily life in the midst of trying to create. Coming in and out of writing is hard for me—I get consumed by a thought and then suddenly, I have to go to my son’s ballgame and have small talk with people. I find that challenging!
JM: I like the freedom. Every occupation has trade offs. If you’re a writer, you’re probably giving up money. Writers don’t make tons of cash, especially at first. If you’re a writer, you’re probably giving up security. Most writers don’t have a regular paycheck. If you’re a writer, you’re probably giving up serenity. The job is hectic and you’ll attract your share of haters. But if you’re a writer, you’ll gain a measure of freedom. If you value that—and I do—then you might enjoy being a writer.
LT: When I was 9, my parents divorced, and somehow I could not shake out that experience any other way than writing. I was intuitively drawn to writing, which both comforted me and saved me. I wrote poems about huge Clydesdales. I wrote about my broken heart even though I don’t think I realized it was broken. I was in shock and my system was stunned and I wrote.
Whether it was my own words or the words of someone else, I have been met so deeply and entirely by words. Certain voices and books have whispered my own truth to me when I could not name it for myself. I have laughed and cried along with perfect strangers through the portal of narrative, which always serves to remind us of both our wounds and our wonder. And I can think of no greater honor than to get to do that, too. To offer the simple loaves and fishes of my life and see if there might possibly be a moment of divine multiplication and nourishment that occurs. This is what art does for the human soul. Through truth and beauty, art sets us free. It saves us: word by word, image by image, line by line. God, I love that.
Working alone is probably writing’s biggest gift and biggest curse for me. I think God is often trying to get me to hush and stop squirming and retire my thinking cap that I am so attached to. He wants to partner with me in this work, but I am so often wanting a white board and a strategic plan and long boardroom table full of really smart people who can figure out my entire career for me.
Instead, God uses writing to quiet me down—which I both treasure and resent.
Over the years, God has rallied an incredible team around me and continues to do so. Agents, editors, readers, a therapist—it takes a village. And so I’m making peace with the solitary time—even though it’s not my first instinct—because I know it’s one of the ways that God gets me to hold still.
WHAT HAS SURPRISED YOU MOST ABOUT THE PUBLISHING PROCESS?
LW: How much of an intricate process it really is. It’s a lot of waiting, more waiting, and working diligently on all ends. Writers sometimes have a hard time saying we have a “real” job when we write books. Writing books is a business and a job, like everything else. I realized that fairly quickly when I began to write. I don’t have trouble saying I have a job anymore.
JM: How long it takes. I think most people who are unfamiliar with writing assume that books pop onto shelves in a matter of months. Not so. Most books take 18 to 24 months to create. Some take longer. The author has to come up with a good idea, turn that into a professional proposal, find an agent, shop the project to publishers, wait for offers, negotiate a contract, research and write the book, endure the editing process, and then navigate the tricky waters of marketing, publicity, and sales. It’s grueling. Writing is not for the faint of heart or the impatient.
LT: The publishing process requires a multitude of skills. Sometimes it feels like writing is 5% of the job and the rest is a magic combination of marketing, promoting, publicizing, speaking, selling, pre-selling, appearing, blogging, tweeting, posting, boosting, networking, filming, recording.
Truly, all of those efforts are required, and I think some people find this very energizing, but I tend to find this confusing. I’ve been surprised at how turned around I feel sometimes, unsure of where to put my best energy.