Learning to Become an Author
I used to think writing a book was just for authors.
Since I clearly wasn’t an author, I obviously couldn’t write a book. Yet as I write this blog, there is a book with my name on it sitting on the desk next to me. It is somewhat baffling.
Writing a book has been an interesting journey. I went into it with no idea what it would take or if I could do it. Growing up, I read a lot, and I suppose from the time I first read an adventure story, I wondered if I could ever write a book. However, my older sister was "the writer," and I was more into sports and "mathy" kinds of things. She went on to become an excellent journalist, editor, and author, while I went on to become . . . a camp director.
For several years, I’ve believed that I probably had two or three books in me, waiting patiently to find their way out. But as a camp director, living onsite, and raising a couple of children, there was never the time nor the energy to start. As I neared fifty years of age, something in my biological clock hit a strange chord, and I realized that if I was ever going to write a book, it had better be soon. Was this the start of my mid-life crisis? Of course not!
Graciously, in 2016, my board agreed to give me a three-month Sabbatical, and I spent the first seven weeks gallivanting across Europe with my wife, son, and daughter, clearing out the cobwebs of my mind, and gaining new perspectives and revitalization. The last five weeks I spent mostly away from my family at my mother’s place in Victoria, walking, praying, listening to sermons, and . . . writing.
I decided my first attempt at writing a book should probably be about something of which I had considerable knowledge, so I chose to write about Christian camp leadership. Realizing that there were other fine books on the subject, and having taught leadership training to young people for many years, I decided to take a different approach than was popular. I chose to tell a story about camp leaders, interjecting learning points along the way.
I think it was both a good and a bad idea to write it half as a novel. The good of it is that it makes it more readable and accessible to my target audience. The bad of it is that it increased the difficulty considerably, which was perhaps a little ambitious for my first book. Writing fiction is much harder than non-fiction, and tying it in with leadership training proved to be a huge undertaking. I felt a little like a figure skater adding quad jumps to my program before I was consistently able to land a triple. The ice is every bit as hard as one would expect, and some of my spills have been spectacular.
However, I thoroughly enjoyed those days of writing, and by the end of my Sabbatical, I had written over 20,000 words, or about a third of the book, and I had a strong outline for the rest. It was a productive time, as I had also managed to write a couple of songs, walk a couple of hundred kilometers, reacquaint with old friends, and generally get my spiritual, physical, and emotional health back to a good place.
Things were immediately busy when I got back home and to work, of course, and I had to mostly leave the book untouched for the next month and a half, which was somewhat discouraging. Also on the discouraging side was a chance meeting with an old friend who was an author. I mentioned to him that I was writing a book and told him how far I had progressed, but he seemed uninterested and informed me that I was about 5% of the way. What I heard from his body language (probably not what he meant) was that I really hadn’t accomplished anything yet. I think he was trying to help my face the realities of the job ahead of me, but it wasn’t necessarily what I needed or wanted to hear at that moment.
Technically, regarding the time it takes to produce a book (especially a first book), he probably wasn’t far from the mark. I would say that the actual writing of the first draft of a book is the easiest and most enjoyable part of the project. The endless editing and revising, the formatting, the waiting to hear back from first readers – all these things would prove to be consuming in terms of time and energy. However, like any project, getting started can be a big struggle, so I had in fact accomplished something significant.
I think the hardest thing for most would-be authors (I’ve been in contact with many) is the discouragement that easily sets in. Many have likened it to the long process of having a baby: the months of hope and the intense pains of labor that seem to never end. I suppose it is like anything one creates. There is this constant fear that others won’t love your work, that it isn’t good enough, that all your efforts have been wasted. There is a fear of rejection that is hard to get past.
I have gone through a rollercoaster of feelings on this project. Sending my early draft out for people to read was truly terrifying. Some genuinely loved it, and I felt so rewarded to hear their comments, while others had no use for it whatsoever. Some of the criticisms from people I respect were hard to take, yet I constantly tried to swallow my pride, listen, and learn from what they were saying. My final manuscript has reflected this, but it was hard. It has also been difficult and time-consuming to send it off to people who just never got around to reading it. I realize that their lives are busy, but a number of people somewhat close to me said they would read it and never did. Worse was my suspicion that maybe they did read it, hated it, and did not get back to me because they wanted to spare my feelings!
The book is done and ready to be marketed. This is probably the worst part for me. On the one hand, I believe that it will be very useful for camp workers, so I want to get it into their hands. But on the other hand, I fear the bad reviews and nasty comments that will come from others. There is also the whole part of having to put myself “out there” as an author. I don’t seek accolades; I simply want to help young people become the best leaders they can be. Yet everything I read talks about what I need to do as an author, such as a website, presence in social media, blogs, book-launch parties, and so on. Honestly, I sincerely don’t want it to be about me. If the book is any good at all, I want the praise to go to my heavenly Father who enabled me to do this.
Indeed, writing books is only for authors, yet by the act of writing, I have somehow become an author. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m a good author, but I am learning lots, and I hope to continue to improve. I am so thankful for everyone who has helped me get as far as I have, especially my lovely wife, Leanne, who has helped considerably with the editing and formatting. It has been a long journey, but it has been worthwhile. If you are an author, if you want to become an author, or if you enjoyed reading about my journey into writing, feel free to comment below. If I can somehow help or encourage you in your journey, feel free to contact me at any time. God bless.
Craig W. Douglas