The Journey of a Novel – Step 1

For the past almost 40 years, I have written nonfiction. Four nonfiction books, 11 compilations and hundreds of published articles. With my Type-A personality and my spiritual gift of teaching, nonfiction has always been my comfort zone. And since I have had success with nonfiction, it also seemed to be my life’s genre. Tell the facts. Teach the reader.

Then God started healing me from some of those Type-A strongholds and stretching me away from comfort zones. The first step in the process seemed innocent enough, and truthfully – until I signed my latest publishing contract – I had not realized how important Step 1 actually was.

About four years ago, I was minding my own business as I listened to another writer teach a workshop. Like so often in life, I had no idea that a momentous turn of events was about to happen. During the workshop, I took notes and planned another nonfiction article. At the end of the evening, I won a free Writer’s Digest book – my choice.

For writers, the Writer’s Digest books are like the epistles of the Bible – great information in readable form. Most beginning writers can’t afford these books, so we spend hours in the library soaking in knowledge from best-selling writers who have found success. Since I now had the opportunity to own a free Writer’s Digest book, I jumped at the chance.

On the gift table were scores of books, all with fascinating titles and how-to instructions. I thumbed through the nonfiction books, looking for the one that might teach me how to sell more articles or how to become one of those best-selling authors. From the corner of my eye, a dark purple cover seemed to stand out. I pulled it out of the pack, but quickly put it back. “The Handbook of Novel Writing” certainly wasn’t the book I needed. I was, after all, a nonfiction writer – teller of facts, teacher of readers.

I tried for at least fifteen minutes to ignore that purple cover, but God kept whispering, “That’s the one. Take that one.”

I don’t know why we even bother to argue with God. He’s going to win. Always. “But God, I’m a nonfiction writer and this is a free book. Got it? FREE. I don’t want to waste a free book on fiction. I don’t write fiction. I don’t even read fiction.”

He repeated. “Take the purple one. The one about writing a novel.” When God repeats something, pay attention.

Totally disgusted, I picked up the book and tucked it inside my briefcase. At home, I put it on a far shelf and tried to ignore it for at least two weeks. But every time I walked into my office, that purple cover stared at me. Every time I started to read another book, that novel-writing book seemed to yell, “Pick me. Pick me.”

Finally. “Okay, okay. I’ll read the stupid thing.”

Like most Writer’s Digest books, it was thorough and interesting. I highlighted several sections, certain that I would never use the information but fascinated with the process. Without committing myself to ever write a novel, I began to realize that while nonfiction writers tell the facts, well-written novels tell the truth. And in that process, they also teach the reader.

Hmm – could it possibly be that within the healing of strongholds and the stretching of comfort zones, God might be changing my genre? Was there a story God wanted me to tell? And if so, how should that happen?

Stay tuned for Step 2

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