Friday, August 6, 2010

Why Do I Write?

The better question is, “For whom do I write?”

One day in the early 1990s I walked into a Christian bookstore in Springfield, MO, and felt overwhelmed. So many books! How could I possibly write something new that had never been written before?

It was as though the Lord said that every one of those books had been written for at least one particular person. The book might not be a success by publishing standards, but it was a success in God’s eyes. Words on the written page change people’s lives.

In 1993 an idea formed in my mind, and it wouldn’t let me rest. Finally, I lay on my face and cried out to God to let me write a book that would fulfill His purpose. The rest is a remarkable story of how the Lord truly moves in ways we can’t even imagine.

Someone at church knew a Christian agent. I sent a proposal to him, and that weekend he took it to Palm Springs, CA, where he and his wife drove for a quick vacation. Unexpectedly, he ran into the fiction acquisitions editor for Thomas Nelson, who also was in Palm Springs for a short vacation.

The agent mentioned my proposal, and the Nelson editor told him it was just the kind of spiritual warfare manuscript they were looking for as a “competitor” to Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness.

In the meantime I had asked a friend, Carrie Younce, to write the book with me since she seemed invested in the story. The Nelson editor presented the proposal to Pub Board, and I was asked to write a detailed chapter-by-chapter synopsis since the book wasn’t finished yet. After they were satisfied with its viability, they offered us a contract. It happened incredibly fast.

After Carrie and I joined together as an author team, the book was finished in two weeks. It was as though the Holy Spirit sat in the room with us, day after day, and on some days, we wrote as many as forty-plus pages together. It was an amazing experience and one I’m not sure could be repeated.

Here’s a brief description of the novel Sedona Storm that became a bestseller in 1994:

“When a reporter exposes a bizarre series of cult murders,
she soon finds herself running for her own life.”
At the core of the story is the issue of abortion and its consequences. Abortion is never mentioned on the cover or in any advertising copy. It was a topic not many would have touched.

But soon after the book was released, the sister of a woman at church was kicked out of a troubled relationship by her boyfriend because she was pregnant. She ran to her sister’s home and scheduled an abortion. She saw Sedona Storm on the coffee table (our friend had not even read the book) and asked if she could take it to her room. She was bored.

At the end of the day she walked downstairs and told her sister, “If this is the Jesus you know, then this is the Jesus I want.” She gave her life to Christ and canceled the abortion.

The second book in the series, Secrets of the Gathering Darkness, which was not as successful as Sedona Storm, was dedicated to Zachary, the little boy who was born six months later to the woman who had planned to abort him.

As a Christian and a writer, your calling is not to become a bestselling author, although publishing houses might disagree with me. Your calling is to write the truth . . . to write the story that burns in your heart like fire shut up in your bones. Learn your craft and write the story that pleases your God.

Please let me know if this blog has inspired or helped you in any way. This is a two-way conversation. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor every day, and we need to hear from everyone so that we can learn from experience. Also, leave me a note about a topic that you would like to see me cover: business plans/financials; the printing process; how sales work; in-house marketing or publicity. Nothing is off limits. Let’s talk.


  1. "As a Christian and a writer, your calling is not to become a bestselling author, although publishing houses might disagree with me. Your calling is to write the truth"

    Well said!

  2. Hello Barbara!
    While I was reading this post I had goosebumps the entire time. Oh, to have a story in my heart (that I can effectively put on paper) that draws another person to Christ! That's the ultimate goal!

    Thanks for the reminder that God holds all the details.

    ~ Lacie Nezbeth

  3. Your calling is to write the truth . . . to write the story that burns in your heart like fire shut up in your bones. Learn your craft and write the story that pleases your God."


    I hope I remember this always.
    ~ Wendy

  4. I really needed this today, Barbara. I'm trying to find an agent for a book about a 16 y.o. girl who "has to get married" in the rural South 1950s. She gives her life to Jesus, becomes a strong young woman, and leads many to Him. It's a difficult sell, but I can wait. You've encouraged me tremendously, reminding me that sometimes God does things just for one person. Thank you.

  5. What an inspiring post! I've never felt more strongly about writing as I have with the last few books I've written and it's wonderful for an editor to tell authors to stay true to what they believe--to the stories of their hearts.

    Your blog has been a blessing of encouragement and information. I'm an unpublished writer so any posts on the path (challenges, ideas, advice) to publication are helpful. Have a great weekend!

  6. "like fire shut up in your bones" Ah, what a line! You gave words to this passion I feel. What an inspirational post, Barbara.

    Between this post and the last few posts over at Novel Matters (a blog by several of Books and Such clients), the theme seems to be, write honest. Write what's on your heart.

    That's what I want to do. That's what I pray to do.

    P.S. Now I must find a copy of that book. I haven't read it yet!

  7. I've had that overwhelming feeling in a bookstore.

    Your calling is to write the truth, the passion that burns, if only to change the life of one person.

    Absolutely. Inspirational.

  8. What an awesome story! One of my goals is to someday receive a letter from someone who read my book telling how it blessed them.

    Now I'm off to see if Sedona Storm is still available!!

  9. I started this blog because I felt the Lord telling me it was what He wanted me to do. I thought instead that I would switch back to writing novels. But as usual, God led me down the right road. If I've inspired even one writer to follow His leading and write what is true, then I've done my job.

    As for Sedona Storm, it's only available as a used book on Amazon. My coauthor and I own the rights now to both Sedona Storm and Secrets of the Gathering Darkness. I'm editing and revising Sedona Storm so that we can put it into an e-book. I've learned so much about editing in the intervening years that I can see every flaw. LOL But it did it's job, even if it was written for just one.

    Thanks for your comments!

  10. Barbara:

    Evidence that if our books just touch one person, we have done God's work. Powerful story.

  11. Thank you for encouraging authors to write what God puts on their hearts. I never want to become so tied to marketability that I miss His still, small voice.

    Susan :)

  12. Wow, what a story! Thanks for sharing, Barbara! Two weeks? Now that's divine intervention!

    I received an e-mail yesterday from someone who read my children's book, My Special Someone, to her daughter to prepare her for her newly adopted baby sister. I couldn't stop grinning! Our little book blessed someone. What an amazing feeling.

  13. Great post, Barbara. That kind of experience puts it all in perspective, doesn't it? Would you rather write an NYT bestseller or a sales dud that saves a little boy's life?

    Incidentally, I just finished Sedona Storm today. It's a great story, and I can see why it was a bestseller. Too bad that Nelson pulled the plug after just two books--though if they hadn't, you might never have gotten into editing. Which would have been a tragedy from my personal perspective. :-)

  14. TWO WEEKS??? Amazing enough by itself--but to finish in 2 weeks writing WITH someone? That is definitely a God thing.

  15. It was definitely a God-thing!

    The best experience for an author is to receive a letter from someone who has read your book and been blessed, Sherry. :)

    And you're right, Rick. If Nelson hadn't canceled the third book, I'd probably still be writing and working a full-time job somewhere. When we wrote Sedona Storm, we knew nothing about the inside of a publishing house. Instead, I became an editor, through another set of God moves, and now I can write about the process and help other writers. Funny how life works. :)

  16. I love, love, love the power of fiction to broach difficult truths--sometimes more effectivly than non-fiction. Perhaps your own experience is why you are willing to consider topics other Christian publishers are afraid to touch. Thank you, Barbara, for this post.

  17. Thank you. I needed so much to hear this today. As writers, we will never please everyone. But if we can change one life, give one person hope, we have done our job.

  18. Absolutely inspired me, Barbara. All your posts do. I wonder what God has in store for Zachary to do. It would be fun to see one day. I've always felt that the stories I write are for someone. I think we feel it in our spirit when we write.

    The series I'm writing now, although presented with a good deal of humor, has spent years developing within me. Gathered from snippets overheard in church hallways, it finally worked its way from my heart to my fingertips and onto the screen.

    I no one ever sees them beyond a few friends, I pray at least they will be touched.

  19. It's wonderful that you know the publishing process from both sides of the table.

  20. Whenever I go into a bookstore, it's with fear and trembling. All those books! On every topic imaginable! What could I have to offer the world?

    When I wrote my first book (The Adoption Decision: 15 Things You Want to Know about Adoption), I knew that every angle about adoptive parenting I could come up with had already been covered in another book or magazine article.

    So, with the Lord's leading, I reverted to my journalist roots, interviewed 40+ families who's been touched by adoption (in both positive and negative ways), and used their stories as the foundation for the "15 things."

    Apparently, it's working -- it has been 3 years since Harvest House published the book and it's selling better now than ever.

    It's all about sharing your story from your unique perspective... and no matter how many books there are in the world, only you can share from your uniqueness.

    For those of you who hope to have a book published but it hasn't happened yet, I encourage you to start a niche blog. A blog not only helps you fine-tune your writing skills, but it provides you with some concrete statistics you can show an acquisitions editor that prove there are potential book buyers out there for your topic.

  21. It is amazing how God works when we seek His will. This past spring I prayed for God to show me if I was to pursue publication and continue writing. Within a week, author Colleen L. Reece of over 104+ titles and 6 million copies sold, both read and edited my historical romance, Redemption Road, and is helping find an agent. If only I had sought His will sooner. :)

    Thank you for sharing your story. I'm ordering Sedona Storm now! I love Frank E. Peretti and am excited to read your story.

  22. Why I am amazed when God moves. He put a story in my mind in 2006 and I started it. In 2009 there was a short story contest. I took out this beginning and completed a short story. It made Honorable Mention in the contest. This encouraged me to finish, polish and submit a novel begun in 2003. Writing for one, where will it take me next?

  23. I wonder, too, Ane what God has in store for Zachary. He would be about 16 now.

    Melissa and Sally, your stories inspired me! One of my favorite activities at a Bible study or fellowship is to sit around and remember what the Lord has done for us. That's when I recall that we overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony.

    And thanks for your unique story about your adoption book, Laura. If you want to learn more about how to blog and finding your niche, check out Laura's She spoke at Mount Hermon, and even though I could only listen to the CDs of her sessions, she inspired me to take the leap into the blogosphere. Without her inspiration, it might have taken me much longer to start a blog. Many thanks, Laura!

    Tomorrow's blog? The elevator pitch.

  24. So I have this non-fiction murder mystery I want to write from its inception in 1990, to the wrongful conviction of innocent woman in 1995 and to the present day to include the efforts of her childhood friend to prove her innocence. Coincidentally, her childhood friend was entertwined with the same social circle as those who are responsible for the murder. It involves police corruption, prosecutorial misconduct and cover up as the prosecuting attorney is now running for elected District Attorney. Someone once suggested I look to Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" for guidance. Any suggestions