The Damaged Author

Anyone can easily identify a person who has been damaged by life and in need of help.

The same is true with damaged authors.

If you are in this category, writing about your experiences and the lessons learned can be both cathartic and spiritually fruitful, but taking a damaged-life perspective into the professional world of book publishing will rarely work for anyone.

If you know someone who is discouraged, angry, bitter and living a tortured life, you should think twice about suggesting they publish a book for commercial purposes. Write it, yes. Publish it to the world, no.

Think of it this way, would you suggest to someone who us struggling with how others see them, to venture into a work where criticism and judging are part of the daily experience?

It would be like suggesting someone with an eating disorder enter an eating contest.

Bad idea.

About fifteen years ago when attending a national Christian conference, a woman approached and handed me a proposal for her book. I had never met her before that moment.

Her book proposal was a difficult tale of unspeakable abuse from her childhood by male relatives, even her father. Hers was the kind of past resulting from the presence of sin and evil in the world.

While God was most certainly in the process of dealing with and redeeming her past, when I suggested it wasn’t something I could recommend to a publisher, she quickly went into “damaged” mode, angrily suggesting I turned it down because all men were alike and I was probably abusing my own children.

I told her it was an unfair and unjust accusation against me and she quickly apologized with tears.

She was a damaged author. Many, many things needed to happen before she was ready to be exposed to the rigors of commercial publishing. Maybe the story needed to be written, reminding the writer of a life-process with God working throughout, but it probably needed to stay unpublished for a while. Maybe forever.

While agents and publishers send rejection notices every day because we cannot work with everyone, we can easily forget we are often rejecting damaged people, which can be wrenching.

Every time I press “send” on my email to an author I’ve decided not to consider working with, I think of the damaged authors who have responded in the past with angry replies borne out of the carnage of their earlier lives.

Today, my message is for authors who are damaged or authors who know someone who has been beaten up by life and the evil in it.

If you are an author working through the damage from your past, keep praying, look to Scripture, seek Godly counsel and community. God has you in the palm of his hand, the same hand, which dug the oceans, pushed up the mountains and threw the stars across the universe. They are strong hands and they won’t let you go. Keep writing. To some, writing thoughts and experiences about God’s work in your life is like etching in wet cement, which once dry and hard becomes part of the foundation on which you stand victorious over sin in this life.

If you know a damaged author, pray for them, pray with them, provide them encouragement and every spiritual fruit, which is part of your growing Christian life.

But probably best to recommend they avoid jumping right into commercial publishing for a while, even self-publishing.

Once God has given some victory over the damage, a book written with God’s strength and courage could be used to change lives.

For everything there is a season.


27 Responses to The Damaged Author

  1. Rebekah Dorris May 16, 2017 at 4:43 am #

    Oh, I love this! So true. Just because someone’s at a bad place in their story doesn’t mean their story is bad. It just means the Author hasn’t shown them the ending yet. May each damaged writer remember your last line and keep the faith. God bless!

  2. Connie Almony May 16, 2017 at 5:32 am #

    Excellent advice, Dan. I think it’s even more important in this age of quick access to self-publishing. Now that the author has this avenue of what seems on the surface, an easy way to publish, they may be more tempted to use it in order to stave off the feeling of rejection from publishers. That is not a good reason to eschew it because like you said, they will still feel the scrutiny of reviewers and the like (of an untried manuscript), who have no desire or need to be kind. Before an author chooses to seek publication of any kind, he/she should allow others to read the work (friends, family, critique partners). If he is not comfortable doing that then how much more uncomfortable will he be once it is out where the world can see, and it can no longer be retrieved.

    Having said that, I believe we are all damaged … in some way. That’s why we need a Savior! But in a world that seems to prize the damage, almost encouraging us to settle in that place, I think people are craving to be inspired toward healing. That is the best reason to wait–when your story has something to offer the reader!

    And yes, pray for that author!

  3. Tracey solomon May 16, 2017 at 5:35 am #

    One of the things I appreciate about you is your candor and care. Yes, even for damaged authors. I think
    It’s because to you, we’re all people, humans. Not just authors. Children of God.

    Keep the humanity in publishing. Protect those who’s stories need to be safe. As a broken person myself, I know that I don’t always know what’s for me and what’s to share. But, I’m learning!

  4. Judith Robl May 16, 2017 at 5:52 am #

    This is valuable advice, well written and heart filtered.

    In 1992 and again in 1999 I experienced some traumatic events in my life. They led to a study on forgiveness among other studies (not an easy job at all) and eventually to a total rebuilding work that is not yet complete.

    The twenty-five and eighteen years between then and now have taught me a lot. And God isn’t finished with the work yet.

    Waiting puts perspective on the events of the trauma and helps us to grow in dependence on the Lord.

    Dependence on Him is the only way to negotiate life on this earth.

    Thank you for caring and sharing, Dan.

  5. B.J. Taylor May 16, 2017 at 5:59 am #

    Fabulous post. Sometimes there are short periods of damage in our lives when our writing isn’t clear…it’s in that muddy place where nothing seems to feel good. Good advice all the way around and I enjoyed your post very much.
    Thank you,

  6. Belinda King May 16, 2017 at 6:09 am #

    I disagree completely. For years I had disdain for the “Christian” books because of a lack of authenticity. Supremely successful memoir writer Dani Shapiro writes with the authenticity I seek and exactly what you suggest should be avoided. I am thankful that Paul didn’t read your advice.

    • Dan Balow May 16, 2017 at 6:41 am #

      This is all about timing and an author being prepared to accept those things which accompany “going public.” They might never be ready.

      Shapiro was a successful author before, so her memoirs were not her first foray into publishing.

      The apostle Paul spent nine quiet years in Tarsus after his conversion in preparation before venturing out into a hostile world.

      Achieving some level of closure on the damage is important.

    • Jaime May 16, 2017 at 8:37 am #

      I think, too, that he is not saying that people wouldn’t be interested in reading about another person’s damage. New and raw wounds would quickly become best-sellers most of the time, I’m sure. So it’s not that the book itself wouldn’t be interesting or successful or authentic.

      He is talking about saving the writer from themselves. We can read a great book, but we will never have any idea if having said book published actually damaged the author even more in some way. Many things have been written and published, I am sure, that have left the author even more broken. But that doesn’t make a good story, so we don’t hear about it.

      What Dan is doing, in word and in practice, is protecting the authors who can’t yet see their own limitations and vulnerabilities. That is maturity and integrity above making an easy dollar. He isn’t saying to never publish our story, he is recommending that before we do we should be far enough along in the healing process that we can handle all of the difficulties and attacks that come when we put any piece of writing out there. And that we can look back on the event from the outside with the proper, healthy perspective – not putting out words that will embarrass us later, when we can’t take them back.

  7. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 16, 2017 at 6:56 am #

    This is a needed and thoughtful, compassionate essay, Dan. Thanks for writing it.

    There is perhaps another reason not to try to publish from your place of damage; if successful, that damage will always be a part of your public persona. You’ll never be able to ‘put it behind you’; Oprah’s second question will always be “Now tell us about the abuse you endured as a child.”

    I don’t suggest a Pollyannish whitewash of the past, but what would serve better would be to let one’s pain inform one’s writing, rather than drive it.

    And be a private person. Readers love an air of mystery in their author-heroes.

    • Dan Balow May 16, 2017 at 7:05 am #

      What a great point Andrew.

      I hadn’t thought about the long-term effect for a person who would rather move on from it. Millstones are heavy.

      Good stuff.

  8. Karen Sargent May 16, 2017 at 7:14 am #

    Dan, thank you for this: “God has you in the palm of his hand, the same hand, which dug the oceans, pushed up the mountains and threw the stars across the universe. They are strong hands and they won’t let you go.” Beautiful.

  9. Chris Moss May 16, 2017 at 7:32 am #

    Damage. It is so hard not to wallow in precious damage. But if you place that damage at the feet of Jesus, He heals and transforms your story! I will never forget where I came from, but I will never go back intentionally. I am loving this chapter of my story because I have trusted God and nurtured my faith in God’s bigger plan. My husband says it well: “Why would you make your whole identity about some painful experience(s), when there is so much more of you that others will love?”

  10. Lisa Evola May 16, 2017 at 7:43 am #

    I needed this Dan. Thank you so much. You are right, the judgement and criticism can be extreme and not many can handle what will come from that kind of exposure. But writing the story as well as telling it through other creative means such as painting etc, can go far in the healing process. Thank you for your candor and encouragement.

  11. Betsy Stretar May 16, 2017 at 7:53 am #

    This is great advice here Dan. I remember being at The Christian Writers Guild conference some years ago – and hearing one of the speakers talk about living what you write. He said…in essence, first do the living- then do the writing. I think his exact quote was, “live what you write.” I too had been writing from a place of hurt and at that point, was still working through my wounds. Although I was writing it from a place of hope and resolve, I sensed the timing wasn’t right…that I had more living to do. I laid my manuscript aside (that was about eight years ago) and just recently picked it back up. I am seeing with fresh eyes what I was unable to see then and I’m reworking my outline to reflect a much healthier perpective. I apprecaite the way you brought this topic into view for us. Thank you.

  12. Dave Peever May 16, 2017 at 8:08 am #

    Great advice – as a pastor I run into people wanting to share their struggles publicly but they do not understand the feeling of nakedness and in some cases violation even though they wanted to share without anyone pressuring them . I have my own story that I have shared publicly both in sermon format and in my blog but only the pieces that I feel both help others (not just make me feel better because I got it off my chest) and are ready for public airing. I have developed a way to test what should be shared. I use it and think can help others wanting to share in in print or on stage. I call it “Scars, Scabs and Open Wounds”

    Scars: Struggles/experiences that no longer dominate you – much of the healing has taken place. Like a scar, there is a permanent effect on you but it is highly unlikely to become an open wound again. These are the safest to share.

    Scabs: Struggles/experiences that are beginning to heal. Like a scab, if you do not protect yourself it may become an open wound again. Sharing should be limited to trusted friends or church small group.

    Open Wounds: Struggles/experiences that are fresh. Like an open wound, the bleeding needs to be stopped or you will be in more trouble. Sharing must be limited to those who can truly help like a spouse, parent, councillor or pastor.

    The one thing that can’t be put into this rule of thumb is the honesty you need to have with yourself when figuring out where you are at in your journey – Scar, Scab or Open Wound.

    • Dan Balow May 16, 2017 at 8:10 am #

      What a great contribution to the blog community today Dave.

      Thank you.

    • Carol Ashby May 16, 2017 at 8:36 am #

      Scars, scabs, and open wounds–what a great way to describe this, Dave. Apart from our own lives, it’s also a useful concept for how we think about and develop the characters in our novels.

    • Henry Styron May 16, 2017 at 11:49 am #

      Very helpful tool, pastor. Well said.

  13. Susan E. Richardson May 16, 2017 at 8:56 am #

    I’d like to share another piece from the perspective of the wounded author. When you first find yourself standing blinking in the light of God’s power and grace, with broken shackles at your feet, once you have given thanks, your first impulse is to look back over your shoulder at the darkness you’ve just left and want to tell someone how you came to be in the light. “If they could just hear my story and see how God worked, then they could be free, too!” Our fervent desire is to see others experience what we have.

    Story is powerful. But when it comes to healing, it is not powerful enough alone. When you speak of woundedness, someone else’s story can inform your journey, but nothing can replace the need to bring your own story – doubts, fear, anger, pain and all – and let it intersect with God’s power in your life to create your story.

    Still, the desire to tell is strong and common. From inside you can’t tell if the time is right or not. Sometimes that patch of Godlight you’re standing in is just the break in the clouds before the next storm and piece of growth for you.

    The message is simple: understand and honor that deep desire to share freedom. You may not be the means. The time may not be right. But keep that piece of understanding what drives us out to tell where we’ve been.

  14. Norma Brumbaugh May 16, 2017 at 9:27 am #

    These things are delicate. We all know a few authors/speakers who are writing/speaking out of that place of pain, the unhealed hurts, unmet needs, and unresolved issues. The reader is taken on a journey with them as they walk through the healing process and find God as their enough. I, personally, was on the side of healing before I took to pen or speech to share my message of God’s healing and transformation in me. That is when the message gains power, when God has freed, healed, and renewed the inner person. I have a series of questions I ask people when they come to me wanting to put their story out there, for the very reasons you have written.
    Damaged people need hope, care and love, but they also need honesty, truth and a mirror to their soul. Maybe it is our honor and mission to redirect them as best we can since we have the platform to do so. Like you have hinted, many people are stuck in their stories. We can give them a hand up by providing a glimpse into the solution. I will ask, ” Where are you at in your healing?” It opens a door.

  15. Henry Styron May 16, 2017 at 11:50 am #

    Thank you, Dan. Eloquent, compassionate, courageous, and helpful.

  16. Jay Payleitner May 16, 2017 at 1:23 pm #

    Solid stuff.
    I had the privilege of producing radio with both Josh McDowell and Philip Yancey when their stories of enduring childhood abuse finally came out. Both men were hugely successful authors. But they waited for complete healing until they told their deeper, darker stories.

  17. Stephanie May 16, 2017 at 1:32 pm #

    This is great! Thank you for this beautiful and encouraging post.

  18. Columba Smith May 16, 2017 at 10:01 pm #

    I put my book on hold shortly after I began attending Celebrate Recovery for my struggle with codependency. I hadn’t recovered from the issues from my past, and I realized I needed some deeper healing before my book could help anyone. I’m so glad I did. God has done a lot in a very short time.

  19. Sheri Dean Parmelee May 17, 2017 at 10:02 am #

    Thanks for awesome advice, Dan.

  20. Edward Lane May 17, 2017 at 11:45 pm #

    Excellent advice! Sometimes it’s better to pause for cool reflection before writing.

  21. Heather Roberts June 13, 2017 at 5:15 pm #

    I am both sorry and pleased to hear that every time you push send with a rejection attached that you think of that person who may or may not be wounded and the effect your actions may have. Thank you for handling everyone with care and for your obvious devotion to mankind. I will join you in praying that the wounded author receive victory through the Lord Jesus Christ.

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