Author Dan Balow


I am using the 20th year remembrance of the death of Clifton Hillegass as inspiration to make a larger point about the direction an author’s life can take.

Clifton (pictured above is his statue in Kearney, NE) was the creator of CliffsNotes and passed away in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the age of 83 on May 5, 2001.

I assume most of you reading this post are aware of CliffsNotes and also of how much some educators and literature purists hated them and how much their students loved them. But you might be interested to know Clifton Hillegass’s original intent for the summary books was to point out the subtleties and nuances of great literature that might have been lost on a high-school or college student. He was a lover of great literature and plays, with no intention of diminishing them in any way.

To make a long story short, instead of CliffsNotes being used to illuminate, they were used instead of reading the actual book. So the apparent “scourge” of CliffsNotes rampaged over the decades, now consisting of 300+ titles with sales exceeding 100 million copies worldwide. In 1999, a similar type of product, SparkNotes started and is currently owned and sold by Barnes & Noble Bookstores.

By the way, there is a CliffsNotes version of the Old Testament, New Testament, and the complete Bible. Think of the time you can save!

So what’s the point today?

It doesn’t matter what your original purpose was for writing. You will be defined and directed by what you are successful doing. Even mild success has this effect.

In one sense, writing is no different than any other profession or pursuit. You might start out desiring something specific for your life and find a measure of success doing something else. Many people start off doing what they are educated and trained to do; but through success, end up doing something else for their lifework.

If you notice, I am not using theological words like predestined or gifted. Things like this are not always that dramatically spiritual. However, your life journey is never a mystery to God!

You had an idea. But God had a little different idea, involving a bit of Proverbs 16:9:

In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps (NIV).

And also a good dose of Romans 8:28:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (NIV).

There are pastors who started out ministering to their congregation, but found themselves with a fertile ministry in a specific area. Then after focusing their efforts there, they are heretofore known primarily by that fruitful ministry. They held tight to God’s providence, but loose to their plans.

Our future on this earth is driven far more by what God allows to be fruit-bearing than by what we want to be successful doing. Doesn’t mean you don’t have a vision behind what you do. Just don’t be surprised if God does something with your writing and life different than you originally planned.

Keep your mission big and eternal. Keep your plans small and flexible.

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