Why do you write? I write books to resolve things that are bothering me, things I don’t have answers to. There are some people who, once they find an answer, decide to write a book about it. I’d be bored very quickly if that were true. My books are a process of exploration and investigation. So, I tend to tackle different problems with faith—things I wonder about or struggle with—through my writing.

Who do you have in mind when you write? Truthfully, I write books for myself, a great way to explore issues. I sense a kind of calling, though, to people for whom the faith formula hasn’t worked. I was one of those people, and I have a strong resistance to propaganda from the church because I heard a lot that just wasn’t true. The only thing I have to offer, really, is honesty, and if I hold to that then maybe the reader can trust me. I’ll say, “Okay, this is the way prayer is supposed to work and the way the Bible says it works, but you know what? It doesn’t work like that for me.”

Have you always aspired to be a writer?  How did you find that profession? I grew into writing because it fits my personality.  I’m an introvert, and I like to sort things through internally and process them.  I have described an unhealthy church upbringing.  Writing gives me the ability to go back and reclaim some of the words that were used, and abused, in my childhood.  Also, I look on other writers, such as C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton, as my “pastors” who brought me to faith, so I’m a strong believer in the power of words.  Writing reaches people at a different level.  It’s less threatening to many people than a sermon or even a conversation, because with writing the reader is in control.  You can sample one of my books, and if you don’t like it you just stop reading it!

Looking back, it seems I’ve always wanted to write at some level.  I worked on newspapers and yearbooks in high school and college, though probably wouldn’t have told you then that I was planning a career with words.  I started out writing articles for magazines.  Along the way, I discovered I was a good listener and, as an introvert, it fit my style to sort through life experiences on my own then try to express them on paper.  As I interviewed people, I found they were actually teaching me a great deal about life, faith, the world, and ultimately about God and his ways.  I always kept file folders of things that interested me, and I never ran out of things to write about.  Of course, I have always loved to read books, and have amassed a large library of a wide variety of titles and subjects.

Tell me about how you became a Christian writer.  Was it an epiphany or a “still small voice?” I’m afraid it was nothing so spiritual. Putting myself through Wheaton Graduate School, I needed a job.  In those days many Christian organizations were headquartered in Wheaton (before they saw the light and moved to Colorado).  I went up and down the street knocking on doors, and the only job offer I had came from Harold Myra, then Publisher of Campus Life.  That first year I filed reports on things like campus issues and the Urbana conference, while also writing brochure copy, organizing photo files, and doing anything else that came along.

Harold had created an ethos that valued writing above all else, and I aspired to it.  The process of mulling over life experiences and spitting them out on paper appealed to my introvert personality.  I literally learned on the job, working on active verbs, then sentence structure, then paragraphs and article structure.  Writing can be learned—I knew little about it when I started.

What got you interested in writing to the masses? I am one of the masses!  The best thing that happened to my writing career was my first job, writing for Campus Life magazine.  We all know how flighty and inattentive teenage readers are, and in this case many of the readers got the magazine subscription as a gift from Aunt Eunice or Aunt Mildred who were concerned about the kids’ spiritual welfare.  The magazine shows up, the teenager looks at it with a jaundiced eye, and it’s up to us editors and writers to ignite their interest.  That lesson—the reader is in charge, not the writer—got imprinted on me very early and has stayed with me.

Do you have a distinctive “voice” as a writer? Most books you come across in a Christian bookstore are written by an authority figure—a theologian, a pastor, a biblical scholar.  I’m not an authority figure, not a specialist, but more of a generalist.  I got my training as a journalist, and as a magazine editor I learned that you can never talk down to a reader.  That is my authentic stance; it’s who I am.  As a result, when I tackle complex subjects I don’t tackle them as an authority figure but approach them as an inquiring journalist.

I’m a pilgrim, just like you, sitting in a pew.  The difference is, my full time job is to go to the library and the experts to look for answers to my questions.  Most people have jobs and can only explore their questions at odd hours; investigation is my job.  That’s my natural voice, and not something I put on.

Do you think anyone can learn to be an effective Christian writer or is it an unnamed spiritual gift? I’m tempted to say anyone can learn, because I’ve seen it happen.  Yet I’ve read too much bad writing in unsolicited manuscripts to give an unqualified answer.  Perhaps it’s like music.  Anyone can learn to carry a tune, and virtually anyone can learn to play an instrument.  But a real musician, my, that’s a rare thing indeed.  And when you throw in “Christian writer,” that narrows the field even further.  Evangelicalism tends toward message, even propaganda, rather than discovery and art.  Look at the passages preached on in evangelical churches: most come from the Epistles, which represent only 10 percent of the Bible.  What about all the rest—poetry, psalms, history, story?  Sadly, evangelicals tend to neglect them.

Was there a point at which you felt this would be a career? I wrote my first book, Where Is God When It Hurts?, on weekends and evenings.  That was true of my next book also, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made.  I began to have the sinking feeling that I wasn’t giving everything I had to these projects.  How could I?  I had a full-time job.  By then I’d become Publisher of the magazine, involved in areas like advertising and circulation which had their own intrigue, but certainly kept me from writing.  So I took the plunge and decided to become a full-time freelancer.  We moved to downtown Chicago at the same time.  My wife worked, which helped settle the economic fear factor, but that was the moment when I committed myself to writing as a career.

Is there a book you’re most proud of? Of the 20 books I’ve written, my favorite is Soul Survivor.  It tells the story of 13 people who deeply influenced me and my faith.  I include a lot of autobiographical background as well, and really these are the people who rescued me from a toxic church and dysfunctional family.  It was a wonderful privilege to spend a year or so reflecting on how I am different because of my personal “heroes”—some of whom are dead, others happily living.  I recommend that experience for any person, to spend time reflecting on those who most affected you.

What is your normal writing day like?  Talk about the mechanics of your creative process.  Let’s think in terms of an article.  If I write a feature for Christianity Today, I allot about five days: two to get ready to write (interview, research, planning, outlining), one to compose the first draft, two to clean it up.  I began my career as an editor, so I emphasize that editing process.  Now, expand that over a year or more, and that same proportion applies to book writing.  I spent months researching and interviewing before tackling a subject like Prayer, for example, the subject of a recent book.  During those days, my word count was zero.

For me, all the pain comes in that composing process.  I hole away somewhere, work twelve hours a day, and write between 8,000-10,000 words a day (mostly drivel) just to get through the pain.  Then I spend whatever time it takes cleaning up.  Most books, I throw away about 100 pages before sending final copy to the publisher.

Writing is so internal, so in the head, that I need physical exercise in order to reconnect with the planet.  Fortunately, I live in the mountains in Colorado.  In the summer I mountain-bike, run, kayak, climb mountains; in the winter I ski, snowshoe, ice-skate.  I do this at the end of the day, hoping to purge my mind and get ready for an evening shift.

I do first drafts on the computer.  I bought my first computer in 1980, just when P.C.’s were coming out. (I guessed wrong, buying a DEC Rainbow model rather than an IBM compatible. What’s a DEC Rainbow? you ask.  My point exactly.)  Concerned that computers would affect the writing process, so I tried an experiment.  For one book I wrote one chapter in longhand, then the next on computer, then longhand, etc.  At the end, I couldn’t tell much difference, so I stopped the longhand.  Computers make revision so much easier.

On average, how long does it take for you to write a book? It would take about a year if I did nothing else.  I travel quite a bit, and do other projects on the side, so it ends up taking up to two years.  I mentioned the work ratio in writing an article, and the same holds true for books: 40% preparation (research, outlining, all those writing-avoidance tactics); 20% composing (all the paranoia and psychosis occur here); 40% cleaning up what I wrote (I began my career as an editor, so I truly value this editing process). While doing my book on Prayer, for example, I spent about six months in libraries before writing a word.

One of the characteristics of your writing is your use of quotes and stories.  You seem to find quotes or anecdotes that nobody else has used before.  How do you do that?  Are you that well read?  Or do you have some way to research and match quotes to what you want to say? Ah, the magic of a computer database.  I put a priority on reading, yes, and because we have no children, a night at the Yancey house usually involves an open book.  But I’d never remember those quotes and allusions without a database.  As I read a book, I note which parts strike me and file away a note under a variety of topics.  Then, when I get around to writing on that particular topic, I call up all the related notes.  Makes me look much smarter than I am.

How do you guard your time to do what’s most important? That is probably the single biggest challenge for a freelancer, or any self-employed person.  I’ve learned that a freelancer’s life is never balanced day-by-day, so I don’t even attempt that.  For three weeks at a time, I may hole up in a mountain cabin to do some writing, speaking only to the clerk at the grocery store.  Then I may do a series of booksignings in which I interact with scores of people each night.  I’ve always insisted on “down” time, though, which means the activities that get me outside of my head and connecting with the physical world.  The very process of that exertion clears my mind of distractions so that when I return to work, I’m fully present with that task.

What are some of the more common distractions you struggle with and what ways have you found to overcome them? Answering mail is my biggest distraction.  My mail mostly consists of people wanting something from me—an endorsement for a book, speaking requests, advice—as well as a steady stream of messages from readers.  Even though I try not to use email, I get emails forwarded to me from publishers every day or so.  I haven’t really found a way around this “distraction”; I merely try to work it into cracks in my schedule.  I answer a lot of mail sitting in the lobbies of airports, for example.  And whenever I feel overwhelmed I remind myself of the alternative: no mail.

What kind of review do you do on your life mission?  How do you make sure you stay on track?  Funny you should ask.  My readers give me the review I need.  Letters tell me whether I’ve communicated successfully or not, touching people in the heart.  Frankly, some of the books I feel best about are not my better-selling books.  I pay attention to that too. What provokes heartfelt response from one book and not another?

How do you decide what your next book will be about? There is no single answer.  Some of my books flow out of previous ones, or out of letters I get from readers.  For example, I wrote Where Is God When It Hurts? and heard from people who said, “My problem really isn’t physical pain, it’s more a sense of betrayal and disappointment with God.”  Out of that came Disappointment with God, and then more than a decade later I revisited many of the same questions in Reaching for the Invisible God.

I wrote The Jesus I Never Knew after teaching a class on the Bible in my church; a book on the Old Testament, The Bible Jesus Read, came out of that same class.  I wrote What’s So Amazing About Grace? out of my concern that Christians were becoming so politicized and were losing the defining characteristics of love and grace.

To tell you the truth, though, I have no idea what I’ll write next.  About ten years ago I made a list of topics I wanted to explore, and I’ve checked them off now.  Got any ideas?

Was there a link between coming out of your childhood church with your vocation as a writer? No doubt.  Journalism gave me a safe, outsider’s point of view.  I could interview, evaluate, sort through my reactions to people while maintaining professional distance as a writer.  Eventually, though, I had to lower those barriers and come to terms with my own faith.  Writing allowed me the opportunity to work out my faith in a quiet environment, on my own.  Even today I cling to that stance, of a solitary pilgrim struggling through difficult questions of faith—not an authority figure dispensing the church’s official position.

You said that you’ve been in recovery ever since your younger age in a legalistic church. Is it finally over? Do we ever recover from the scars of childhood?  Probably not. As a writer, however, I have the opportunity to self-reflect, to revisit the experiences of  a younger age.  I used to feel resentment and anger, and that faded away long ago.  Instead I feel pity for some of the misguided folks in my past, and compassion for those still stuck in an uptight, legalistic system.  I find that I need to concern myself more with avoiding the same trap.  It’s tempting for any of us to look down on others, assuming we have an enlightenment that they lack—the very pattern I experienced in my fundamentalist past.

What motivates you to tackle the issues others may avoid, such as the nature of grace and the mystery of pain? I write about questions I have.  I always write about subjects that are unresolved for me.  If I knew the answer before writing a book, I’d be bored within two weeks.  Instead, I have the luxury of spending a year and more on a vital question, interviewing people, studying the Bible, doing research.  Writing is my way of struggling and seeking resolution.  Always, when doing so, I try to maintain that stance of an ordinary pilgrim sitting in the pew, asking the same questions other pilgrims ask.

When you start a new book do you know how a book will end as you’re writing it?  Or does its direction unfold during the writing, research and/or creative process? I think I know how the book will develop, but it never ends up that way.  For instance, a few years back I thought I was going to write a book about how the daily Christian life works: how prayer works, and guidance.  Instead, as I started writing, I kept backing up and wondering how my words would sound to someone who isn’t even sure there’s a God.  The book (A Skeptic’s Guide to Faith) changed content and audience in the process of writing.  I cut 25,000 words from the final draft to fit this new direction, and then later took some of that material and wrote an entire book about prayer.  If I could only figure this pattern in advance, I’d save myself a lot of time and effort!  The same process happened with the book I planned on Christians and political issues: it became instead What’s So Amazing About Grace?, which takes a broader approach than I had been originally thinking.

How do your books speak to people, both inside and outside the church? As a writer I focus on my own experiences and my own pilgrimage.  Later, I’m shocked to find so many people identifying with what I wrote, even though they bring very different life circumstances.  I grew up in American fundamentalism, but I may hear from someone who survived a rigid Catholic upbringing, or had no church background at all.  In my case, I found that despite my kicking and screaming, despite all the church did to turn me away from God, I ended up in God’s loving arms.  That is good news indeed.

How do you see your role in impacting and influencing society? Ha!  You’ve got to understand what an isolated, lonely life a writer leads.  I feel like I live in a cave.  Every once in a while I emerge, and blink in the bright light like a mole.  People ask me questions like, “What are the five greatest trends facing the church today?”  How on earth should I know?  I’ve been sitting in my basement office.

Of course, truthfully, I get to travel to other countries, meet significant people, and have a view unavailable to many people.  But most of the time I have that tight focus of the introverted writer.  I don’t think about influencing society.  I think about my tiny role, staying faithful to a calling I’m still trying to figure out.  I cling to the stance of a solitary pilgrim, not beholden to organizations, free to ask questions and make criticisms.  If people respond to my writing, usually it’s because they share something of that pilgrim stance, complete with its suspicion of propaganda and authority.

If I do influence people, I hope it’s by helping cut through the dust and rediscovering the Gospel in a form closer to what Jesus intended to convey.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you like to do? The great thing about being a writer is that I get to do whatever I want.  I spent 10 years following Dr. Brand around, but didn’t have to spend the rest of my life in operating scrub clothes.  I can hike the Rocky Mountains and write about nature; travel to South Africa and write about reconciliation; study the Bible and write about Jesus.  Why would I want to be anything else?

You have spoken on the need for Christian writers to work subversively for change.  Can you expand on that? I believe it was Kierkegaard who first used the image of Christians as spies.  Think of the Old Testament stories of the spies sent to scout the Promised Land.  By all appearances they blended into the background of markets, conversations by the well, ordinary life in Canaan.  But they had a different set of eyes—two of them did, anyway.  They saw the cities of Canaan not as an impressive and sophisticated civilization but as a future home of God’s kingdom.  For those two, the imposing walls of Jericho inspired no fear.

In my own country, Abraham Lincoln commented that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin did more to turn the United States against slavery than all the politicians combined.  Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago almost singlehandedly exposed the lies of the Soviet Union.  What about us in the West now?  We idolize wealth, fame, and power; we’re a celebrity culture.  Just look at the movies we see, the magazines we read.  They don’t feature homeless people, ugly or even ordinary-looking people.  Yet Jesus held up the poor, the persecuted, those who mourn, as blessed, as heirs of the kingdom.  We’re called to see the world with different eyes, God’s eyes, and then present that vision in a convincing way.  That’s subversive.

Do you look at yourself as an “envelope pusher” with your writing? I see my writing as spiraling in from the margins of faith towards its center.  I began in the margins with books like Where Is God When It Hurts? and Disappointment with God because my nascent faith was barely hanging on at the margins.  But look at the topics of my recent books: Jesus, grace, prayer.  Those are pretty central.  If anyone sees me as pushing the envelope in those books, I’d tell them I’m not the pusher, the content is.  I’m not radical, Jesus is.  I try to take an honest, authentic look at our faith, and frankly, it’s radical stuff.  It’s an all-consuming life, not something you can get away with in an hour on Sunday.

I would say this, however.  A lot of Christian book-buyers look for books so that they can nod their heads and say, “Yes, Amen,” as they read.  What’s the point?  Why read something you already agree with?  I’d much rather a reader of one of my books scratch his or her head and say, “Hmm, not sure, I’ve never thought about that.”

What are some pieces of advice that you would give someone on writing well? First, begin reading.  Read good writing, on all kinds of subjects; read about other religions, other world views, and read good literature.  Take notes.  Keep files.  Yank out articles that make you mad or pique your interest.   You’ll begin to know what interests you deeply, and where your passions lie.  And then write from those passions.  The only writing worth writing (and reading) comes from your passion.  Many times I work out my confusions and doubts, or wrestle with God, through my writing.  That is what touches other people, too.

One other word of advice: always go over your material more times than you think you can stand, until you find nothing in obvious need of improvement.  And grow thick skin, so that you’re able to withstand criticism.

Young writers often make foolish mistakes. What is a mistake to avoid? P. D. James was asked what advice she would give to young writers.  James replied, “You must write, not just think you’re going to.  It doesn’t really matter what you tackle first, novel, short story or diary. And you must widen your vocabulary, enjoy words.  You must read widely, not in order to copy, but to find your own voice.  A student of architecture has to work at other buildings, see what other architects have done and ask why they were so good.  It’s a matter of going through life with all one’s senses alive, to be responsive to experience, to other people.”

Yet writing should come with a label, “Do not practice this alone.”  Starting out with an ideal of self-expression is suicidal because the writer daily fights isolation and loneliness.  Writing is communication, connection.  And when you begin, it’s best to find a supportive community, or writers’ group, who can point out what you’re doing wrong (feedback you need) while encouraging you to keep going (feedback you need more).  Having to expose your work while it’s in process is a good way to get you out of that isolation and shine some other light on it.  Otherwise, you’ll likely give up.  There are many of these groups online.

If you plan a career in writing, I don’t recommend trying to start out as a freelancer.  It’s just too tenuous an enterprise, too fraught with failure.   I recommend getting a job in publishing, any job.  From the inside, you’ll learn how editors make decisions, what a magazine’s or company’s “slant” is—the publisher’s way of thinking that you could never come up with on your own.  I worked for ten years at Campus Life magazine before striking out as a freelancer, and I’m always grateful for those years.

What obstacles and opportunities do you see for Christian writers in the years ahead? Opportunities are as great now as at any time.  The internet has opened up a whole new universe for publication.  Christian magazines are struggling, partly as a result of the internet, but book publishers are doing relatively well and finding ways to adapt to the digital age.  The field of fiction has mushroomed for Christian writers.

Obstacles?  The same as always, I suppose: dealing with issues of controversy, fending off pressures toward conformity and the tendency toward propaganda, a seduction to produce what sells rather than what truth-tells.  When a writer encounters these obstacles, I point him or her to the Bible.  I know of no more wise and honest book.  It tells all the flaws, but somehow redemptively.  We have a great model.

Which is more exciting for you, writing or speaking? I must say, I find nothing exciting about writing except when the book is published.  I think of it as something like childbirth, although it takes longer than nine months and weighs a lot less.  Writing is hard, tedious work, involving many rewrites and cul-de-sacs.

When I go somewhere to speak, I can actually meet some of my readers face to face, which completes the process.  It’s not a natural act for me, as an introvert, but I’ve learned to enjoy it over time.  I’m glad I have both aspects, the lonely work of writing and the extroverted work of speaking, which reminds me that my writing actually connects with someone.

You say that most of the time you are sitting in your office in the Rocky Mountains.  Yet your books tell of so many varied experiences, so many stories.  So what is the truth: how did you get these experiences if you’re in an office? Excellent question!  My book What Good Is God? tells of ten different locations where I had fascinating experiences, including some rather scary ones.  My life is almost schizophrenic.  When I am working on a book, which is most of my time, I do retreat to an office and try to get away from people.  I live in a small town in the mountains, making this possible.  Yet at heart I’m a journalist.  So the other part of time, I’m always looking for stimulating life experiences.  That part of my life is full of people and busyness and contacts.  All together, it’s a balanced life, but, as I say, never on the same day!

Is there a difference between “a Christian writer” and a person who is “a writer and a Christian”?  Yes, there is.  Take a parallel example in the world of music.  Most of the members of the band U2 are strong Christians, especially the lead singer and lyric writer Bono.  His faith permeates everything he writes.  And yet you wouldn’t call most of Bono’s songs “Christian.”  Early in their careers, the band made a deliberate choice not to specialize in “Christian music.”  Although as Christians they see the world from a point of view, they do not assume their audience shares that point of view.  I see something similar in the world of writing.  I know Christians who write romance novels, and some who write science fiction.  Those are very different books than the kind I write, and although the writers’ faith affects their products, that faith is not the main point of what they write.  Primarily, I write books that do focus on my faith.  I’ve tried writing other kinds of books, but they always feel like they’re leaving out something important to me.  So maybe I am a “Christian writer.”

In a 1986 article you wrote for Christian Century about  T. S. Eliot  and Christian society, you mentioned the moral incoherence of modernity, and that Eliot’s “fervent attempts to reshape the structure of  civilization came to naught.”  How have writers fared in this mission since then? In that article—and you may be the only person who remembers it!—I note that Eliot abandoned his artistic projects and devoted years to the more pragmatic goal of reshaping civilization.  Today, no one reads Eliot’s thoughts on politics and the economy.  We still study his poetry, however.  I wonder if his impact would have been greater if he had stuck to poetry instead of dabbling in social engineering.  Frankly, I don’t think Christian writers have added much to the goal of reshaping society and changing the world since Eliot’s time either.

Do you have any favorite poets or fiction writers?  Do you draw anything from them in your own writing? I read less poetry than I should, though Rilke, Yeats, and Auden can transport me.  I try to stay acquainted with modern fiction, occasionally reading winners of the Booker Prize, for example.  John Updike is hard to beat as a pure stylist and master of the English sentence—though as one critic complained, never has a person written better sentences about matters of less import.  Arundhati Roy  teaches me about point of view, J. M. Coetzee is a master of minimalism—I try to learn from everyone I read, noting images, sentence structure, unusual constructions.

You often mention Dostoevsky and Tolstoy in your writings.  What prompted you to start reading them? I was in my early 20s, and had not had a good education in literature.  Everyone kept telling me that Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were the greatest novelists who had ever lived.  I was shocked when I bought my first book and found a verse from the Bible as an epigraph.  As I read the novels, I was amazed at how thoroughly both authors’ perspective on the Christian faith infused them.  I learned much about how to write, and much about how to think Christianly, from these men.  They stood at the very threshold of the momentous changes about to occur in Russia, and predicted much of what would happen.  As many have noted, their novels kept alive the essence of Christian faith among the intelligentsia, in a time when that message was under attack.  Like many Russians, I suppose, I began reading them out of a thirst for great literature, and ended up being moved by a hidden Gospel message as well.

Could you talk about one work of creative art that has powerfully impacted you as a Christian? Frederick Buechner’s little book Telling the Truth rocked me when I read it.  An ordained minister and polished fiction writer, Buechner managed to bring new life to the old story of the Gospel.  That is my goal, in a sense: not to propose new ideas but to find new ways of expressing old truths.  Buechner does that consistently as well as anyone I know.

What relationship do you see between imagination and creativity, and the fruits of the Spirit? Both seem to represent a combination of gift and hard work.  We abide in the Spirit and gradually fruit such as love, peace, and faithfulness grow within us.  Likewise, we abide in the Spirit and find ways to express that reality creatively and imaginatively.  Yet both processes involve tedious work.  Gifts of creativity and spiritual gifts rarely feel like gifts to the one who has them; mainly, they feel like burdens or obligations.  Only as we exercise them do they assume the appearance of gifts.

For a writer, it is easy to become an elitist.  Have you ever, or do you still, struggle with pride as an author?  Any writer who doesn’t struggle with pride is unpublished.  Writing is essentially an act of arrogance: I think that something I have to say is worth your time.  Given that, can you express yourself in a way that honors the reader?  You better find a way, because readers have an infallible sense for when they’re being condescended to.  An author has a relationship with a reader, albeit an invisible one, and as with any relationship, mutual respect is the key ingredient.

Writing is an odd field because there is no more paranoia-producing, lonely occupation than sitting there with a blank computer screen wondering if you can come up with something that can capture people’s attention. So, that’s a very humbling aspect. But then, if the book works and you go out to a book signing or to speak somewhere, you meet people who say, “Oh, you’re so wonderful. You changed my life. You have all these answers.” Fortunately, for 80 percent of my life I’m sitting in the basement struggling and the other part seems like this unreal world. I would think the temptation is far greater for a professional speaker, even a pastor, or a rock star.

With all your success, how do you stay humble? I play golf!  Seriously, though, nothing that happens on the outside helps when you face that blank page or blank computer screen.  Writing is the most humbling act I know.  Nothing that has happened with prior books offers any guarantee that my current or next book will work, will connect with anyone, will show that I haven’t lost whatever spark I may have had.  Writing is a lonely, demanding craft, and the longer I do it the worse I feel, in a way, because I recognize more mistakes as I make them.  My job is to produce the best book I can; the publisher and readers determine what happens to that book, and that world seems very far apart from how I spend my time.

Have you ever considered writing fiction? I took several classes in fiction writing at the University of Chicago which convinced me I’m not a fiction writer. Somebody’s got to write essays. I do resist the label “nonfiction,” however. We don’t identify a dog as a noncat or a woman as a nonman. I’ve thought about a more exalted label, like “the literature of fact”—but it sounds way too pretentious. And that wouldn’t be humble, would it?

Copyright © 2010 by Philip Yancey