The pastor said to me, “When I retire, I’m going to write a book. I have all these great stories and experiences I’m itching to tell. That’s what I’m going to do.”
I said, “No, you won’t.”
He was taken aback.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I’ve heard it too many times. Preachers who have not written anything more than copy for the church sign think that when they hang it up, they’re suddenly going to transform themselves into authors. And it’s not going to happen. It never happens.”
“Why do you think that is?” he asked.
“No one can go a lifetime without writing and suddenly flip a switch and write an entire book. Especially one worth reading.”
He agreed to give that some thought.
Let me say up front that I’m no authority on this subject. I’ve written hundreds of articles but only a few books (seven actually).
For thirty years, I’ve written for Christian magazines. A few of my articles have made it into seminary textbooks. And I’ve published books of my cartoons, one series of which sold over 300,000 copies. But only late in life have I written what Dad once called “an actual book,” meaning a volume of only words and no cartoons.
All my life, I have written. As a seminarian in my mid-20s, while pastoring a small church on Alligator Bayou some 25 miles west of New Orleans, I wrote a devotional column for our weekly newspaper. That was exactly 50 years ago, and I’m still typing away. I write for this blog, have a page in each issue of Lifeway’s Deacon Magazine (“My Favorite Deacon”), and am always working on the next book.
To all the pastors who want to write that all-important book of memoirs when they retire, I have a few words of counsel:
1) Read constantly. The point is, this is how you learn what good writing looks like. And just as importantly, you learn to recognize terrible writing.
The would-be writer who does not read much will turn out material amateurish to an embarrassing degree. Teachers of music and poetry speak of amateurs with no knowledge of the basics showing them compositions which “God gave me.”
A few years back, when someone sent me several cassette tapes of songs they had written direct from the throne of God, I passed them along to my favorite music professor (who happened also to be our minister of music). Later, I asked, “What did you think of my friend’s music?” He was quiet a moment, then said, “Joe, it’s junk. Trash. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard.”
Yikes. My problem then was going back to my friend and giving him the bad news as tactfully as possible.
There is no substitute for learning the basics of writing. And nothing accomplishes this more than reading a great deal of excellent writing.
2) Write a great deal.
“I don’t have time now,” the pastor says. “But after I retire, I’ll have lots of time.”
“I beg to differ,” I say. “You have plenty of time now.”
Pause. No response.
“You have the same amount of time everyone else does–168 hours a week. It’s a matter of priorities, of deciding what to do with your time.”
I once asked Pastor Larry Kennedy how he found the time to write books. We were neighboring pastors, he at Amory and I in Columbus, Mississippi. He said, “I get up early and write an hour every morning.”
That’s how it’s done. You find slivers of time wherever you can, and you write. And if you cannot “find” them, you create them.
If nothing else, Pastor, open your Word program and write for that, things you never intend anyone else to see. You’re practicing, trying to learn the craft, to “find your voice,” as they say.