Knowing What to Expect

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it (Spanish philosopher George Santayana).

Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it (Winston Churchill).

If you remember the past and learn from history, you can see some things coming a long way off (Dan Balow, Literary Agent).

Books acquired by traditional publishers are a best-guess what readers will desire two to three years into the future. Experience, wisdom, and informed intuition are the tools editors use to determine what to publish. Even if a book is published quickly, it is desirable to have it relevant for years.

In a sense, Christian writers and publishers have it comparatively easy over those who are not believers. Since Christians see the world through the lens of Scripture, which never changes and is not subject to the winds of societal fads or trends, we are generally not in a desperate search for the next “big thing.” Doesn’t mean we don’t look for fresh ways to communicate. But theologically, things are pretty straightforward and immovable. For instance, we know for certain:

  • All humans are sinful, unable to make themselves righteous, and need to be saved by God’s grace.
  • God established certain righteous behaviors for our own good, like a loving Father does.
  • The Church is best when it is a humble servant of the living God, working for unity of its members and for the good of its neighbors.
  • The Church under duress is a powerful force for God’s Kingdom.
  • Jesus Christ will return to defeat evil once and for all; and Christian disciples will live forever in a new earth that we can hardly imagine, but we try.
  • We have no exact idea when the previous event will happen.

On a simpler, less theological level, for Christian writers the practical differences between those who are new at writing and those who are experienced and with a sense of historical context are also revealing.

New writers might see their potential careers as logical, predictable, and fair processes. But experienced writers, looking back, see their lives as nonlinear journeys where twists and turns take them here and there into unexpected places, far different than planned or imagined.  

Rarely is life logical, predictable, or fair. But writers learn from experience and have a pretty clear idea how to approach the future.

Still, this journey doesn’t make for a satisfying writers-conference workshop where new writers are looking for something concrete. So teachers like me will continue to present attendees with (hopefully) helpful and actionable items, frequently using the phrase “It depends” as a universal publishing disclaimer when asked for absolute truths about establishing a successful writing career.

Of course, there are some exceptions where a writer seemingly violates all the “rules” and still succeeds, but relying on exceptions is almost never a good strategy for a writer or publisher.

Looking back, experienced Christian authors know:

  • Everyone you work with is a spiritual and professional work-in-process.
  • Few things happen exactly the way they were supposed to.
  • Who are their real friends and who are not.
  • Readers are very important, but they can also be fickle and hard to figure out at times. (See previous point.)
  • From whence their talent, strength, meaning, and fruit come.

When you’ve been on a journey long enough, the path becomes familiar; and you can focus instead on the unexpected and amazing sights and sounds you might have missed otherwise.

Asking someone who traveled the road before what to expect is always a good idea. It’s why writers conferences and communities exist.

11 Responses to Knowing What to Expect

  1. Stephan June 3, 2021 at 6:17 am #

    Faith, practice and experience intertwined. Thx for the insight, Dan

  2. Julie Johnson June 3, 2021 at 6:45 am #

    Excellent points, Dan. Over the decades I’ve come to expect the unexpected and am learning to embrace it as « God-allowed » for my ultimate good. I recently read in a post by David Jeremiah, « In God’s hands intended evil becomes eventual good. »

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 3, 2021 at 7:04 am #

    Some say that we should reinvent
    God to suit each pagan view,
    so that He comes to represent
    the Scoobies out there with no clue
    and no desire to understand
    that God will do just what He meant,
    and they’ve placed heads into the sand
    that is really wet cement.
    I do not know when this will be,
    and neither did the Christ himself,
    but it’s best to place apostasy
    back upon its dusty shelf
    and come forward in repentance
    for fell can be the final sentence.

  4. Ronda Wells MD June 3, 2021 at 8:39 am #

    Well said!

  5. Denise June 3, 2021 at 10:08 am #

    I always enjoy Andrew’s poetry. Thank you.

    What hounds the soul, however, is Dan’s point that the experienced writer has learned who his true friends are. That snippet of sadness encourages me.

    I lost a friend over my first (and only) novel manuscript. She refused to say what was wrong with it and hadn’t responded to my repeated attempts to reach her for over a year. I finally stopped.

    It is said that doctrine divides believers from unbelievers. Now I see writing exposes old relationships to the light, dividing the building up ones from the suck you dry ones.

    We sinners, though saved by grace,
    Still cling to the sins of our fallen race.

  6. Beth Marshall June 3, 2021 at 12:11 pm #

    “Experienced writers, looking back, see their lives as non-linear journeys where twist and turns take them here and there into unexpected places, far different than planned or imagined.”
    – The truth!

    Looking forward to learning more at the Write to Publish Seminar later this month.

  7. Kathy June 3, 2021 at 2:47 pm #

    These are great reminders for us as we face the future, facing all those twists and turns. Thankfully, God is in control! Thank you for your post!

  8. Kristen Joy Wilks June 3, 2021 at 5:24 pm #

    Yeah, I had a very logical plan when I first started writing. It’s been interesting … but lovely all the same.

  9. Molly Jo Realy June 3, 2021 at 6:02 pm #

    This is a valid, timely post. We are called to write, but we are also called to minister, and allow ourselves to be ministered to. The relationships we build within the writing community can satisfy all those needs in a lovely, Godly way.

  10. Kathleen Freeman June 6, 2021 at 5:35 pm #

    Well-analyzed, yet full of heart, Dan. Nice!

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