by Allen Arnold
I recently read about the unexpected publishing success of Orphan Train. It’s a novel set in present-day Maine and Depression-era Minnesota. This fifth book from Christina Baker Kline has turned out to be a sleeper hit of the year, with more than one million copies sold.
I’m intrigued by the book’s premise.
But it’s the subhead of the article that caught my attention.
“Unlikely Tale Punches Author’s Ticket to Top”
Wouldn’t you love for this to be describing your book?
A former publisher, I now find myself waiting for the right publisher to say yes to my proposal.
The other side of the desk felt much more comfortable.
I realize an author not only feels alone while writing…but maybe even more so as long as the book’s future is uncertain.
Maybe that sense of alone-ness is why the title of Kline’s book hit me on a personal level. Symbolically, the words “Orphan Train” describes the ride many writers find themselves on. It’s not usually a ride to the top.
But often a ride they take by themself.
The Orphan Spirit
And yet this is the great paradox.
As Christian writers, we write by ourselves
but we are never truly alone.
God is with us.
He invites us to create with him.
But so often we run with our calling and try to do it on our own.
We write for God. Even about God.
But if we’re not actively approaching our calling with him, then we are acting as a spiritual orphan rather than as his son or daughter.
God says, “I want you all for myself. I’ll be a Father to you; you’ll be sons and daughters to me.” (2 Corinthians 6)
It’s true. The primary reason he gives us our gifting is to spend time with us. He’s far more interested in the story you’re living than in the story you’re writing. While he may have huge plans for your book, his main plan is for your heart…and for relationship.
Trust me. The glow received from a great review or a bestseller will fade quickly. I’ve been around hundreds of authors as a publisher and seen just how brief the joy can be. But the glow from being in God’s presence during the creation of your novel? That will echo into eternity.
Do You Want to Ride?
Imagine stepping out of a forest clearing and seeing a small corral. Inside are two stallions.
A seasoned rancher is smiling at you. His worn cowboy hat cocked to the side. His boot propped on a rail.
His eyes twinkle as he asks, “Do you want to ride?”
That’s the invitation.
That’s why there are two stallions.
Because he’s calling you into something you were
never intended to do alone.
He doesn’t invite you onto a train with pre-set tracks.
Who needs a guide for that?
He presents you with a stallion and shouts “follow me” as he heads into the wild.
You can’t ride with him and still be an orphan. He only invites and initiates his sons and daughters. And if he’s called you to write, he will see you through.
The Staying Psalm
That’s why I love Psalm 27:14.
I call it the Staying Psalm.
Stay with God!
I’ll say it again:
Stay with God
Staying is active in this context.
It doesn’t mean stay still. It means stay close.
Remember, you’re on a stallion following God.
Sometimes he’s riding at your side.
Sometimes he’s leading the charge.
And sometimes, he falls back a bit to see where you head.
It’s how a good father trains his child to ride well.
The psalm starts and ends with the same plea – stay with God.
In the middle, we’re told to take heart – because nothing great ever happens without great heart. Then he urges us to not quit.
Don’t give up. Don’t lose your unique voice. Don’t be disheartened.
It’s time to step off the Orphan Train.
There are two stallions waiting.
And one has your name on it.
From the mountains of Colorado, Allen Arnold leads Content & Resources for Ransomed Heart – a ministry founded by the New York Times Bestselling Author of Wild at Heart, John Eldredge. Before that, Allen worked at several top advertising agencies in Dallas (think Mad Men without the sharp suits) and then spent 20 years in Christian Publishing at Thomas Nelson – the last decade as founder and publisher of Thomas Nelson Fiction.
Allen is passionate about helping artists tell better stories from an awakened heart. He will be keynoting at the Oregon Christian Writer’s Conference August 4th – 7th – speaking on how to create with God.
Represented by Steve Laube, The Creative Motive is Allen’s first book.
Thanks for the boost–or the kick in the pants the morning Allen! I love the staying definition. It seems to be a theme for me the la,st few weeks. I love how God has themes for His orphans!
Allen, greetings from the Eastern European country of Belarus! I’m here for a couple more weeks to preach and assist in Christian children’s camps. This afternoon I’ve been pulling together thoughts for a sermon on the topic of adoption (Gal. 4) when I paused to check this blog for today. Bingo! Your topic immediately hit home. I already regard my writing as a form of worship, but your post today has deepened my thoughts in this area. Thanks for this, and welcome to the less comfortable side of the publishing desk!
Recent developments in my writing career seriously attest to what you’ve talked about, Allen. I knew I could write the book Jesus had given me, and I also knew I was not equipped to market and promote it should it be published. As the book was completed, I gave the next piece to him, and he came through beyond what I could imagine. I have a contract, and all marketing is included. I cringe at the thought of what would have happened had I tried to do it on my own. God WILL take care of the calling he’s placed on us, if we let him.
What a great thought! Thank you…
Thanks for the timely post – and for admitting it is more uncomfortable on the other side of the desk. After a rough writing year I needed the encouragement of The Staying Psalm.
Allen, thank you for this beautifully written reminder and much needed encouragement!
Janet Ann Collins
This post reminds me of that old song, Cosmic Cowboy. Does anyone else remember it?
Allen, I have to admit this very post embodies why I have been so inspired by your faith journey. It is something that just flows from you when you teach and speak.
A few years back I pitched at a table where you were having lunch. Since that time God has shown me time and again how true it is that our journey brings us closer to Him when we allow it to. His divine appointments are always better than any we have of our own perseverance. Thank you so much for these encouraging thoughts! I look forward to reading your first book… as to being on the same side of the table as the rest of us… welcome.
Allen, I loved this post. I try to pray and invite God into the process when I sit down to write, or to edit. I need to remember, though, to invite Him into every aspect of my life.
I loved what you said here: “He’s far more interested in the story you’re living than in the story you’re writing. While he may have huge plans for your book, his main plan is for your heart…and for relationship.”
I read your words on this concept on another blog a few months back, and I’m still pondering it. I want to ride that stallion with him.
Thanks so much for sharing this perspective!
Allen, Thank you so much for this post. Thank you for the image of riding with the Lord, and for the staying Psalm. Your words have been a gift to me ever since your first “Live Free – Write Free” sessions at ACFW.
Blessings to you.
James L. Rubart
(Love riding with you and God, A2.)
What a wonderful post. The words you share are always so encouraging, pointing directly back to the One who called us and is faithful to walk with us and complete the heart-work, word-work, and creative-work He’s begun. If I can offer just a snippet of encouragement back your way– a few weeks ago, I’d read two different blog posts from you (one on NovelRocket, one on OCW conference blog), and I kept thinking “Gosh, I hope he writes a book.” So, that lone line tucked within your wisdom and encouragement above, the one where you hint at waiting on proposal news? What a gift to hear! I’ll say a prayer for you, your family, your ministry and words and proposal. Thank you for your faithful service to God and your commitment to truth and encouragement.
Amanda – thank you so much for your encouragement about the book I’m writing. It is on the wildness and the intimacy of creating with God – and will be about 25,000 words. The kind of book that you can breathe deep while reading – and finish in an evening (but hopefully return to again and again). I just made the decision to go Indie with it yesterday primarily because publishers feel the message is just too niche. I sense there’s a larger creative audience – so I’m excited to see what His plans are for it when I release it this fall. Your prayers are much appreciated!
Arnold, thank you for the update– how exciting! I’ll keep my ear to the ground for news of the book’s release this fall. Putting it on my list of books to read this year right now, and joining in prayer for whomever God wants to reach through this! Thank you for being an instrument of His words, so atuned to His heart.
*blush* I mean Allen! I was writing and juggling kids and clearly not excelling at multi-tasking. 😉 My heartfelt apologies!
Allen, I’m glad you decided to go indie, and will be sharing your wisdom with us that much sooner. Meanwhile, do you have a blog we can follow? This guest blog post leaves me wanting to “hear” more of your thoughts.
Count on me to purchase one of your books, when it’s out. 🙂
Excellent post with thought provoking insight.
Ever ride that stallion with a willing heart in green horn britches?
Sometime you move at a trot, other times you move at a gallop and then you’re running. In the breath taking joy of it all you forget at the end of the day you will face the blistered bottom of a dude at a dude ranch.
Like everything according to His master plan, everything takes time. In time the horse becomes routine under the saddle and the pain goes away while the joy remains – green horn no more.
Riding with God isn’t easy,but He knows just what we need and the time it will take to get there.
You’re right, stay with it and watch what happens. Success is in His hands. I’m in it for the long haul – I’m in it for the ride into the sunset, but I’m not in it alone.
Thanks for reminding me that these green horn britches will not last forever.
Thank you for this wonderful post!
Great, encouraging post reminding me of a much needed attitude for my writing. Reminding me to stop and get close to Him. Real close, 🙂 The novel I am working on now has a woman stopping along the roadside to watch a stallion race down the fence line. Right on target!
Thanks for the summary of your excellent Mount Hermon workshop last spring. (I ordered the tapes and am prayerfully moving through them.) This year was very difficult for me, When I met with you at the conference, I felt so lost as a writer… But God used that workshop and this post as a reminder to stay focused on my primary call; knowing God. It also encouraged me to persevere in the call to write–and keep writing–as a servant/child of God and not a slave to “the market.”
Particularly relevant to me today was, ” . . . if he’s called you to write, he will see you through it.” In the process, I’m going to learn a lot about God’s heart–and mine. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and insight!