A Word About…Books
April 13, 2017
by Ken Jones
WE ARE A FAMILY of musings and stories and books. In fact, I come from a long line of storytellers. Some people talk with their hands. Some people talk with their eyes. I have to talk with my stories. Without my stories, I fumble for things to say. I struggle to communicate. But with stories, musings, “first-person-happenings-to-me,” I am freed from the need to think in words, and I can communicate in pictures drawn with sights and sounds and smells. I guess that’s why I love to write.
I should not have been surprised, I suppose, when my oldest son, Marcus, approached me. He was seven.
“Dad, I think I’m gonna write a book.” I pulled the paper I was reading down below the horizon of my eyes and looked full into the face of my son, the budding seven-year-old author. I smiled and said, “Good idea, but we’ll have to have some guidelines. Writers always work with guidelines.” I could tell by his expression that his seven-year-old mind struggled with the meaning of guidelines, but the context didn’t give him a clue.
I said, “Guidelines are rules. You can’t do your writing on little slips of paper or brown lunch bags and expect to get anywhere. You need to be organized and prepared. I’ll make the guidelines for you, OK?” He was obviously thrilled with my acceptance of the idea of his book and readily agreed.
“These are your guidelines,” I said. “I will buy a book of blank pages and you fill it with words and ideas and thoughts. A real book with lots of pages will make writing easier for you, and you can keep everything together. The only other guideline is that when you’re finished with the book, I get to keep it until you’re old enough to care for it yourself.” My proposal seemed reasonable to him, and together we drove to pick up a blank journal at the store.
After dinner that night, as I sat reading in the living room, Marcus approached me and said he wanted to begin writing right away. “Can I have my book now?” I nodded, and he went to find his mother, who dispensed all household treasures. She handed him a new pencil and the journal we had purchased. He disappeared into his bedroom lair.
He came back about ten minutes later, tears filling his eyes. It was obvious he had come upon some terrible disaster. He stood next to me, wishing I would notice. I obliged.
“What’s the trouble, little buddy?”
“Nothin’.” A hide-and-seek answer inviting me to come and find him. I played the game.
“Come on pal. What’s the trouble?”
Now the tears were bigger, and the wells of his eyes were too full to serve as a reservoir. As drops rolled down his face, he said, “O Dad; I can’t think of anything to write in this stupid book!” An honest admission. (More authors would do well to be so transparent.)
I picked him up and put my arms around him. We just rocked for a while before I spoke.
“You have to understand something as a writer. Writing a book is not like going to the store and buying a loaf of bread. It’s a lot of hard work.”
That answer was a start for him, but I knew this conversation was not finished yet. He turned his head and looked in my direction. “How do those guys who write good books do it?” he said. He knew I would know the answer. I didn’t write books for a living, of course. I was a pastor. But I was also his dad, and when you’re seven years old, dads know everything (or have to act like they do!)
I said, “Well they don’t just sit down and start in without thinking. Good writing takes a lot of good thinking. You have to put some ‘white space’ into your life. You may need to get off in a corner somewhere … and just sit and think about life. Then, if a great idea comes to you, you write it down.”
We rocked for another ten minutes or so, talking about cats and kites and “Can we go get some ice cream?” sorts of things before he finally got off my lap and I went back to my reading.
I glanced over several minutes. My seven-year-old had pulled up an overstuffed chair to the fireplace. After moments of struggle, he turned and sat down in the chair, placing his feet on the hearth next to the fire, hoping heat and inspiration would transfer from sole to soul. Here was one deep in thought. Here was one putting some ‘white space’ into his life. He felt a book coming on, but before he could write it, he had to think.
After a few reflective moments, he was back in his room — short, young fingers wrapped around a brand new pencil with an unused eraser — printing short, young words, reflecting deeply profound seven-year-old thoughts.
Marcus is forty-six years old now, and I still have that journal. I think I’ll give it to him, so he can remember what it was like to be seven years old.
Unless you write books for a living, my guess is that you haven’t given any thought to writer’s block this week. Because of the frantic and wearying pace of life for most doctors, it may have been months or even years since you pulled your life up to a fireplace. That’s tragic, because everyone is a budding author, even doctors. The Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians, “You are living epistles, known and read by men.” As a doctor, you’re not writing a book. Your life is a book. While you read the words of my life, someone else reads the words of yours. All of us spend our lives every day in life’s library, reading others and we’re being read, watching others, while we’re being watched.
It really doesn’t matter if you’re seven or seventy. It doesn’t matter if you’re a life coach or a life-saver. Writing a good book is not like going to the store to buy a loaf of bread. I’m often called upon to coach doctors who aren’t really sure they’re saying what they’d like to say with their lives. And coaching can be a quiet corner, a safe place to pull up a chair, and think. Putting white space in our lives isn’t easy. But if it’s going to happen, it will be because we intentionally insert it into an otherwise chaotic existence.
As I think about the ‘book’ my life represents, I’m struck by a poignant thought: It’s all too obvious that really great literature is hard to come by these days. I owe it to myself and to God to be the best ‘me’ I can be, because … nobody likes to read a boring book.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).