Embrace Abandon

silhouette at sunset

As many of you know, I’ve recently returned home from a series of writers’ conferences. As I met with writers and read their proposals or sample chapters, one thing struck me over and over…

More and more writers are spending time writing what they think agents and editors want to see.

Is that bad? Well, yes and no.

No, because you need to understand what editors and agents are looking for. That’s part of being professional about your career. And yes, because what most of us—agents and editors—are looking for is passionate writing. Writing that comes from your heart and spirit. Writing that grabs you and shakes you and won’t let you go until it’s out on the page. In a word, what we want is your best. Your best message. Your best craft. Your best act of obedience to what God has given you to write.

One meeting with a writer brought this home to me. The woman sat down and handed me sample chapters from a romance novel she’d written. Even as she handed them to me she seemed…hesitant. I read the first few pages, and could tell her heart wasn’t in it. I handed it back to her with a few pointers. We still had time left, so I asked if she wanted to ask any questions. She bit her lip. “Well, I’ve got another project I’m working on, but it isn’t a romance.” She handed it to me and I read. It was leaps and bounds better in craft, but still needed some work. With about five minutes of time left, she looked down at the table. “I do have one other piece…” I held my hand out. She gave it to me, and I started to read.

And I read.

And I read.

It was stunning. Masterful. Heart-breakingly beautiful. The kind of writing that captured my heart and mind and took my breath away. I looked up at her, dumfounded. I’m sure my mouth was hanging open. I had one word for her: “Why?”

She blinked. “Why what?”

“Why did you give me that”—pointing at the less than stellar romance novel—“when you had this?”

She shared that she’d pitched that manuscript last year and no one wanted it. So she decided this year she’d give the agents/editors what they wanted.

“But you’re not passionate about writing romance novels, are you.” I made it a statement. She shook her head. “And you are passionate about this.” I held up the pages I’d just been reading.

Tears filled her eyes and she nodded. “Very much so.”

I lifted the pages and, with one swift movement, smacked her on the top of the head with them. “Stop it!”

She blinked again.

“Stop wasting your time and gift on writing you’re not passionate about. On writing that God hasn’t called you to write. Write this! And while you’re at it, send it to me. Now.”

Her face broke out in the biggest grin, and I responded in kind.

Friends, the difference in what that wonderful woman wrote when she was motivated by passion was remarkable. THAT’S the writing I’m looking for. That so many editors and agents are looking for.

So what do you do if what God is asking you write doesn’t seem to fit the market? Write it anyway. (After all, I’m betting God has a pretty good understanding of the stories and messages readers need, not just now, but down the road.) And even more than that, write it with everything you’ve got in you.

Write it with ABANDON.

Pour yourself into it. Pour your craft into it. Let His breath of creativity and passion infuse you such that you can’t wait to sit down at the keyboard and let it all come pouring out. If you’re that excited about what you’re writing, then odds are good that those of us who read it will be excited as well.

Yes, know the market. Yes, be informed and professional. But don’t ever let what other people say about what readers want keep you from writing what God has breathed into your heart and spirit. Don’t write to the market. Write to the call.

And in those moments when you feel you need to pull back, to be tentative or write something that doesn’t resonate within you, take a moment and watch the video below. Because it’s the best representation of living with ABANDON that I’ve seen in a very long time. Let this kind of delight and pure, unadulterated abandon infuse you and your writing. You’ll be blessed.

And so will your readers.




35 Responses to Embrace Abandon

  1. Anne Love October 9, 2013 at 3:50 am #

    Well that filled my cup to overflowing! I had an inkling of this sort of revelation while pinning to my character board a few weeks ago. I saw a great picture of Bono singing and it hit me–if I could just write like Bono sings–I’d have “it”. I think “it” might just be that sweet spot where passion meets call and finds words for it. I tried to insert a hyperlink to the photo, but couldn’t. You can find it at my Pinterest boards under “Characters & People I admire” if you want to see another image of embracing with abandon.

    And Karen, bless you for discerning so quickly where this woman was and what was happening with her writing–and sharing it here. You so intuitively put your finger on the spot, letting God breath into that moment in her career.

  2. Debra E. Marvin October 9, 2013 at 3:53 am #

    This is super advice! Wow. And how much more joy there is in any project when we are excited about it. the joy is contagious… apparently so for the husky’s owner who now has a destroyed leaf pile!

  3. Ron Estrada October 9, 2013 at 4:07 am #

    Thanks for the permission, Karen. Once I stopped worrying about publication and just enjoyed the journey, I found that my writing didn’t sound like it came off an assembly line. Great post and encouragement as always.

  4. Debby Mayne October 9, 2013 at 4:34 am #

    Thank you for such a great post, Karen! Lately I’ve been writing what I enjoy/feel/care about, and I can really see the difference.

  5. Terrance Austin October 9, 2013 at 5:28 am #

    Thanks Karen. This post is not only inspiring, but encouraging too. Bless you.

  6. Pamela S. Meyers October 9, 2013 at 5:32 am #

    Great post, Karen. And I loved the clip of the dog in the leaves. Gave me an early-morning chuckle. Is that your dog?

  7. Angie Dicken October 9, 2013 at 5:35 am #

    I absolutely love this!! If our writing isn’t connected to our hearts then how can we ever show the love of Christ? This reminds me of what Robin Jones Gunn spoke about at ACFW. I may have one special book of my heart for the time being, but I hope that all my books are obviously from my heart. Thanks for this, Karen!

  8. Gail Gaymer Martin October 9, 2013 at 6:10 am #

    Karen – Amazing advice and guidance. I can picutre you with your sense of humor and love sharing this with the writer. We all need to remember to write from our passion. Sometimes that’s difficult to do since a “line is a line” but in our hearts, we know where we belong and we keep the fire burning for that reason with the hope that doors open. Blessings.

  9. Casey October 9, 2013 at 6:48 am #

    Great Article…Karen Ball

  10. Kristine McGuire October 9, 2013 at 7:17 am #

    Love this!

  11. Janet Ann Collins October 9, 2013 at 7:59 am #

    Oh, yeah, that’s why I originally wanted to be a writer, isn’t it? It’s so nice to read something like this instead of more about how we must fit the mold, write what will sell, blah, blah, blah. Many thanks for posting this, Karen.

  12. Sonya Contreras October 9, 2013 at 8:04 am #

    Karen, thanks. Made me cry. That’s where I am. Cannot peg my writing as romantic unless you can be romantic in proclaiming YAHWEH’s name to the world. So where does that fit in?

    Thank you.

  13. Jenny Leo October 9, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    Love this! We Christian authors talk all the time about writing for an audience of One, and if that One is guiding us to write something that doesn’t seem to fit the market, we still should heed the call. An editor recently told me he personally loved my story but it’s “too unique” for his house. I was briefly tempted to make my current WIP “less unique” to fit the market, but that would be a mistake. I may be never be published, or not published for many many years, or be published only after my death (when someone will stumble across my faded and yellowed rough drafts and recognize my unsung literary genius, lol). Nonetheless I will write the stories I feel led to write.

  14. J.D. Maloy October 9, 2013 at 8:19 am #


    I’m off to make a pile of leaves.

    Does anyone need a rake? I have plenty to share.

  15. Sondra Kraak October 9, 2013 at 8:41 am #

    Wow. I think I’ll go finish my book now. I’m revved up. “Do not write to the market. Write to the call.” Count me in!

  16. Rajdeep October 9, 2013 at 8:50 am #

    Well said! And I thought you were gonna talk about the Newsboys! 😉 I can totally picture that moment when you tap her on the head and say Stop it. You’re cool, Steve. -Raj

  17. Sally Bradley October 9, 2013 at 9:29 am #

    Thank you so very, very much, Karen. I’ve read on another agent’s blog and another novelist’s blog this week that publishers are playing it safe, buying stuff that’s very much in the box, and aren’t willing to take a risk. And I write realistic, honest contemporary fiction. A risk.

    But I’m passionate about it. I believe in it. And I’ll trust God now to make an agent and then an editor passionate about it too.

  18. Jeanne Takenaka October 9, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    Karen, beautifully said. Thanks for the encouragement to write what’s on my heart. I sometimes worry that what’s on my heart won’t translate to much. But, the stories there are ones I love. I need to write them, and as Sally said, trust God to do what He will with them.

    I loved that husky. He made me laugh, but what I also thought about was the owner who let his dog make a mess of the leaves for the pure joy of playing with abandon. Isn’t that what God sometimes does for us? Lets us play around in things that could be messy, but also bring us such joy?

    Loved this.

  19. Effie-Alean Gross October 9, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    Thank you so much for this post…I read it in tears. I’ve written two novels with a Messianic Jewish character, but “there’s no interest by editors” has been the message to me. I’ve argued that at one time Amish novels weren’t in vogue, either. Now, you have confirmed my passion!
    I saw you at the ACFW conference in Indianapolis (and in Dallas), but I never had a chance to speak to you personally. I did attend your workshop in Dallas.
    Thank you for the encouragement today.
    All the best,
    Effie-Alean Gross

  20. Karen Ball October 9, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    Isn’t that husky priceless?? He’s not mine, though watching him made me want to head for the animal shelter to find another husky! I miss having a husky. But I am the happy owner of a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Kirby and an Aussie Terrier mix named Dakota (though we most often call her tBHoEN: the Black Hole of Emotional Need). You can see pix of them both on my Facebook Page.

    And for those of you wondering if your writing will amount to anything, friends, if you’re being obedient, THAT will amount to a lot. For you. For those around you. God uses those who are obedient, even when that obedience doesn’t seem to amount to much in our own eyes. We all struggle with the desire to make a difference. The wonderful news is that when we listen to His voice and do what He asks, HE makes a difference. In us. In our sphere of influence. And possibly in the world.

    Never doubt that He will bless and use your offering of obedience.

  21. Rachel Smith October 9, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    Beautiful words, Karen!

    I’m writing my passion now, and it shows. Funny part is it’s a romance sub-genre I had no idea actually existed and the absolute last thing I would have ever pegged myself as writing.

    Three 100,000 words novels in 18 months tells me I’m in the right place now. Writing is so much fun.

  22. Micky Wolf October 9, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    Karen, love it! Love it! Love it! Ah–make that woof, woof, woof! Perfect inspiration and encouragement this lovely fall day. Thank you!

  23. Julie Jarnagin October 9, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    I love this. I immediately forwarded it to a friend.

  24. Kay Aniel October 9, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Simply beautiful! It reminded me of what Leonardo da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” As a designer, I have come to embrace it. As a writer, I have learned the opposite. Only in abandon a wholehearted story is revealed, and only in abandon it is wholeheartedly finished.

    “Write it with ABANDON.” Thank you for reminding me today. SOLI DEO GLORIA!

  25. Marci Seither October 9, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    I love this quote from Mark Twain.. “The two most important days of a person’s life is the day they were born…and the other is the day they realize why they were born.” I totally think that writing to the calling, without abandon, is fully experiencing the joy of why we write.
    Thanks Karen, as always, you rock!

  26. lisa October 9, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

    That is just what I needed to hear. Thank you.

  27. V.V. Denman October 9, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    Yesss! I love this.

  28. Penny Zeller October 9, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    Wow, Karen ~ what an inspiring and encouraging post! Your words “After all, I’m betting God has a pretty good understanding of the stories and messages readers need, not just now, but down the road” is such a great reminder. He knows exactly where our writing paths will lead and He wants to lead us in that endeavor.

    Have a blessed rest of your week!

  29. Anna Labno October 9, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

    I loved it!

    Thank you.

  30. Donna Clark Goodrich October 10, 2013 at 2:27 am #

    I edited a number of articles by a writer that were dry and uninspiring. It seemed she was just grasping at ideas to write about. Then one day she sent me a handwritten story, saying, “I know this can’t be sold, but I just wanted you to read it.” True, it did need work, but I cried as I read her account of sitting by her daughter’s bedside after she delivered a stillborn baby. It was powerful!

  31. Carol McClain October 10, 2013 at 5:44 am #

    Hands down my favorite blog ever! And the most liberating advice I’d ever received!

  32. Peter DeHaan October 10, 2013 at 6:06 am #

    I’m writing what I’m passionate about.

    If no one’s interested, I will save it for later when tastes change or when I’m passionate enough to rework it so it will sell.

    The worst case is I will have poured myself into something that few will ever read, but I prefer that to sucking the joy out of writing by trying to chase trends.

  33. Rebecca D. Bruner October 10, 2013 at 8:46 am #

    Thank you so much for this, Karen. I have just completed a non-fiction manuscript that God burned into my heart. However, my inner critic has been whispering, “This is really risky. It’s not like the other stuff that’s out there. Will anybody want to take a chance on it?” Your message has confirmed that what matters is following God’s call with my writing, and letting Him take care of the rest. Bless you!

  34. April Gardner October 11, 2013 at 7:24 am #

    I wanna live/write with abandon!! Love this Newsboys song. Been singing it in my head since I read this article. Thanks, Karen!!

  35. Candy Arrington October 11, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    What a great post!

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