I recently finished writing my 22nd book in 12 years. Taking a little victory lap over the manuscript completion on social media, as one does, I received the usual recurring questions about productivity. “How you crank them out so fast?”
The truth is, they are not “cranked out,” fast or otherwise. (Just ask my editors!) But I do understand the curiosity about how one stays prolific as an author, especially when the curiosity comes from writers or aspiring writers themselves. How do I write so much? I’ve thought about it for a while, and here are my answers:
1. It’s my vocation.
On one level, the question feels odd. It can be like asking a pastor, “Dude, how do you write a sermon every week?” Well, it’s his job. Nobody says to a plumber, “How you get all those pipes fixed?” He just goes to work.
Writing isn’t exactly like preaching or plumbing, of course, but when you pursue a vocation, you go to work. Writing isn’t just something I do for fun on the side. It’s part of my livelihood. It doesn’t entirely pay the bills, of course, which is why I also maintain employment elsewhere. But writing is work that I’ve committed to as a service to my family, to others, and ultimately to God.
This is also why I get a little irked by drive-by commenters bemoaning that my books aren’t free. If you write about Christian stuff, you shouldn’t charge for it, the logic goes. Despite this being a completely unbiblical argument, it’s also theologically shallow and hypocritical. It posits an unnecessary divide between the “sacred” and the “secular” and is never asked of Christian janitors or car salesmen. Why don’t you bug them about working for free? They don’t turn off their faith when they go to work any more than I do.
The fact that writing “Christian stuff” is a ministry doesn’t make it any less my trade.
2. It feels good.
I frequently hear from some, “Dude, you’re a machine.” But no, I’m not. A machine isn’t thinking, isn’t working in the same sense that a writer is working. A machine also doesn’t bring a soul to its production, rapid advances in AI notwithstanding. Writing is work. Writing well on a regular basis is hard work. And yet—I feel wired (like a machine?) for this work. I have wanted to do this since the first grade, when in my little school journal, next to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I wrote Author.
Writing isn’t always fun and it’s rarely easy—otherwise, more people would do it, especially all those people who say “I’ve always wanted to write a book”—but when I write, I feel as though I’m tapping into what God has made me to be. Eric Liddell famously said, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” Well, when I write, I feel God’s pleasure. It’s both my vocation and also my avocation.
3. I don’t know what else to do.
People ask writers all the time, “Where do you get your ideas?” As if there’s some mystical idea farm out in the aether to which writers must journey when conditions are just right. It’s not usually writers who ask these questions, but people who want to have written. For writers, the question is weird. The real trouble isn’t getting ideas, it’s turning the ideas off!
Yes, writer’s block is a real thing, but it’s nearly always the result of one of two things: Not knowing how to say what you want to say, or just general fatigue. But it’s rarely about a lack of ideas.
My problem is sorting out the value of each idea that comes to me. Will this idea sustain a book? Or is it more of a blog post? Maybe it’s just worth a tweet? Or should I just keep it to myself? I usually know an idea is worth a book when I can’t shake it. I’ve been thinking about it for months, maybe years. I’m working on a treatment for a book about love right now. It began about three years ago when I decided to dedicate a good portion of my Christian reading for the year to the subject of love. Then I preached a few sermons at different places on the subject. I couldn’t shake it. I didn’t immediately begin writing a book, but I wrote an outline and came up with a book proposal, because I realized this idea will obviously be worth years of my focus.
The bottom line is, I just don’t know what else to do. I was bitten by writing bug as a child, and the infection still courses through my veins. I can’t turn it off.
4. It’s how I worship.
When the Lord gives you a gift—no matter what it is—you use it in dedication to him. I write a lot because I believe he has gifted me to do so, and I believe it would be poor stewardship not to be productive with it. This doesn’t mean you can’t worship if you can’t get published, of course. Publishing is not the issue. I was writing books before I got published, and I imagine I would keep writing them if one day the publishing offers all dried up. Publishing is just a way to help others worship with me. But I’m going to keep worshiping. God is worth my productivity.
None of these reasons may help you become more productive in your own writing. I know sometimes that’s what people want to know. I’m short on practical advice here. You basically just have to do the work. Make time. If something is important enough, you will find the space and energy to do it, even if it’s just a daily, momentary plodding. For myself, I rarely think of writing as a practical thing to do. I don’t set aside a certain time every day to write. (I probably should. I’d be a lot more productive!) It just comes out. And that’s how I write so much.