Today, I finally can announce that Something Like Faith is in paperback, available now, and existing in physical form in the real world.
I’ve had an exceptionally discouraging week. The timing of this book coming out helps. Now the novel is available in paperback and ebook along with both formats of God Enters In. That starts to look like I’ve accomplished something.
Therefore, I hope you can allow whatever self-indulgence in my writing a post about writing a book. It’s actually going to be about a broader issue or two. But it is also a writing post.
I’ve described some of my journey in becoming a writer. I still have to grit my teeth and make myself say those words directly, “I. Am. A writer.” Apologies, disclaimers, self-deprecating comments spring to my lips (or fingertips). I’m not yet making a living as a writer, which is certainly not the only measure but is a weighty and pragmatic measure, nonetheless.
Doing a little archeological research, I found drafts of a short story titled “A Faith That Endures” going back to March of (ready for this?) 2001. But’s it’s probably older than that. So I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I’ve been working on this freaking novel for twenty years. I realized the spacing of the ebook manuscript was off, meaning I had to go through and fix it “by hand,” line by line (plus hunt down the typos), which sounds like no big deal until you realize it’s a 300-page, 131,000 word novel.
I’m now going to tell you something vulnerable: typically, when you go back and read something old you’ve written from long ago, you will feel acute embarrassment, a cringe factor of 8.5 or above. I had to read through Something Like Faith again and, um, I cried. Reading my own manuscript. That might be narcissism. But I don’t think the book is crap that I imagined was good a long time ago, before I learned to write. Neither do I believe it’s a world-shaking novel (that one’s still in front of me). I’m not sure if it hits me so hard because I’m in a different place in life in relation to some of these things I’ve written about–dad, home, shame, boundaries, reconciliation–or if I’m just so deeply invested in the characters.
This is the wonder of fiction: Paxton, Guin, Jeff, Emily, and Phil exist because I thought of them and wrote them. But they’re real to me, friends with flaws and strengths, senses of humor and dysfunctions. When I want you to read this book I wrote, I want to introduce my friends to my other friends. And yes, that may be a little too imaginative with my invisible, made-up buddies, but isn’t that how this art form works, knowing characters intimately and becoming personally invested in them? Don’t we give them life by living through them?
Art also works this way: I might be racist. I might hold grudges. I might both love my father and wish he were someone else, something else. I might fall in love with the most perfect person in all God’s creation…and then find out I’m very wrong and have to decide this time whether I am “in love”–and even what I believe love to be. I can wrestle with all of that reading a single chapter and maybe, just maybe, when I close the book I know myself a little better. I might be furious with all these racists around me and then realize, through that character I’m reading about, through that story I’m now living vicariously, that I’m who I can’t stand.
I wrote this novel that assuredly, consciously is not about me–it says so, right in the preface–and yet…
But it’s also about you. Even if you don’t identify fully with a single character,* it’s the same as what I hope to achieve with my blog, that reading along you will both care what’s happening and think, “Oh hey, that’s me!”
“Anyway, everyone’s tangled up with conflicting intentions. That’s not just me, right?” (chapter 6, page 64)
I don’t plot or outline. I wrote 300 pages by imagining these characters and watching to see what they would do next. That might strike you as quite a feat or, if you are an outline-style writer, as a ridiculous thing to have done for a really long time. John Iriving (A Prayer for Owen Meany, The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules) outlines exhaustively and says I’m an amateur for not doing so, which, well…yeah. But I have to write how I write. Don’t worry, Stephen King states, “Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.” One great thing about writing, you can always find some master who has sold a quadrillion books who will think the same as you do about the writing process. That’s not because you’re right; you can find one because there are wildly diverse approaches to writing and what works for one person…works for that person.
For me, writing is like watching a movie and then describing what I’ve seen. So I’ll get in arguments in my head, “No, that’s not really what he did,” or “She didn’t sound like that.” Often the sense of frustration comes from being able to see it clearly and vividly but not describe it nearly as well. To me, making an outline would be like skipping through scenes to catch certain words, beginnings and endings, but the action wouldn’t make sense. But having said that, sometimes I get stuck in a scene and can’t for the life of me see what’s happening next, so I have to work on something else–like a nice, friendly blog post. Later I’ll come back and try again.
Editing, for me, is a completely different experience. I think that will need to be its own post. Editing is the hard part. But it uses the brain in a completely different way than writing the story.
I have to tell you a couple more things. First, I needed a lot of help to get even this far, and I got that help from some amazing people. I am blessed with an incredible wife and true friends. Everyone who encouraged me in this process made a huge difference to me, and I mean beyond simply having a novel now available for reading. Adrien and Paul must be named by name because they read drafts upon drafts and believed in me and helped keep up my morale. “Keeping up morale” is a different phrasing of “not giving in to discouragement.”
Second, this is a modest accomplishment that I’m celebrating and I know that. It’s a long way from going to my head. God hasn’t gone out of the way humble me in some time. But since the whole process is alternately terrifying and discouraging, you can be dang sure we’re gonna raise a glass when there’s something to toast.
Finally, I’m going to need to improve my website (including this blog) dramatically because, not to put this too gently, I suck at marketing. I like writing. So far I haven’t enjoyed marketing. But I won’t get to write unless I can market my writing, as well. So I must do that now. I will need some help in this process. I will certainly need your prayers.
*The books I find truly unreadable are the ones in which I can find no one with whom I can identify. The hardest books to read are the ones in which I see the darkness in a character and do identify.