I admit, when I hear someone suggest that you can take your blog posts and turn them into a book, I am skeptical. But when I really thought about it, for all my skepticism, and as much as it pains me to admit it, my first book, To Love Is Christ, came about just that way. Let me explain.
On August 1, 2002 I made a vow to God. He and I weren’t on the best of terms at the time, and when I finally got fed up hearing myself complain, or filling my journal with more whine, I decided to do something dramatic. My strategy was both simple and logical. That morning I decided since the Scripture tells me that God is love, I would write every day for one year on that one subject, love. That was it. That was my strategy.
Having a successful marriage (a ridiculously wonderful wife), I knew I was good for a few months of self-generated text, all my pent up wisdom, all the ooze and rhapsody of a well-tuned lyric. But beyond that, beyond those first few months, my thought was that God himself would have to supply the details.
Being 2002, I could hardly call it a blog at the time, but I did vow to post one entry on my web site every day and to do so by 12 noon. I obligated myself to a deadline and to an audience. It wasn’t long before I began to add a benediction to each post, such as “May your Christ be a warm one. May your Christianity be a door and not a wall.”
Fifteen months from that first day in August, I had a manuscript that was eight inches deep. Somewhere during that time, Benita and I moved to Franklin, Tennessee.
I had been introduced to Jack Countryman by Gloria Gaither. Jack published beautiful devotional books for Thomas Nelson at the time, often with a CD in the back. I gave Jack a proposal with a copy of my recording In The Mourning: For Those Who Grieve in the hope of getting a book deal (I had put a booklet together to go with the music). Jack and his crew ultimately turned down the project, but his editor gave me a wonderful review of my writing. Jack told me if I had anything else, please bring it to him.
It was a start.
Once this huge manuscript had grown under my hand, I took the benedictions (there were one thousand of them) and put together what I then called The May Book because each benediction began with the word “may” and the metaphor of the month itself is so powerful with its suggestion of new life, I couldn’t resist. Nelson liked it, and wanted to publish it, but thought it might work better as a devotional. That was fortunate, I told them, because I had eight inches of devotional.
They asked me to compress each entry to two hundred words or less. After moaning a bit, I worked with their editor, Alice Sullivan, for months to compress this tall, wordy, over-the-top mess to a trim, readable, accessible devotional. During the editorial process, some days were as long as sixteen to eighteen hours. I hardly noticed.
Two things came out of the experience. Okay, maybe three. I will list them.
- The regularity, the discipline, the day to day obligation made a writer out of me.
- Forcing myself to condense each entry to 200 words or less taught me the art of compression, of discovering what was necessary, what was excess, and what was not (what Williams Tyndale and Shakespeare called “pith”). To discover where the true music lay. I developed a kind of editorial savagery. Being a songwriter, I suppose I had a head start on the process.
- I got a book deal. The advance was not huge by any standard, but who cared? I WAS PUBLISHED. And the little event did wonderful things to my thought life, to my confidence, and to my renewed perception of God, and life.
I am forever grateful to Thomas Nelson, who worked with me in my nativity as an author to awaken my instincts, to season and sharpen them for good use. I’ve written many books since then, for Nelson and other publishers. I am grateful to God as well, who proved himself as good as his description, as John defined him, and for putting the dare in me in the first place.
God is love. Of that I am certain.
To Love Is Christ, as I titled it, will always be special to me. It is deliciously tweetable. Certainly, its voice is more lyrical than my other books, but it was the logical step in my evolution as a writer, in my transition from music to books.
So, I have put a muzzle on my skepticism. Your blog content can, indeed, become a book. That is, with a few necessary conditions. And as much as writers writing about writing on the internet borders on downright creepy at times, here are five conditions, five necessary obligations, that must be satisfied if your blog is to be publishable.
- Hard work. There is no way to circumnavigate this one.
- Obligating yourself to write every day. No exceptions.
- Developing an editorial savagery, or even better, a great ear. I have become somewhat lactose intolerant, that is, I am (hopefully) able to detect cheese when I am guilty of manufacturing it, or when I hear it. Ernest Hemingway called it by another, more colorful name, but to be able to detect it is critical. The ear is the primary organ for the writer.
- Learn and develop the art of restraint.
- Love language. Love it. Never stop learning the craft.
That’s it. Happy blogmaking. Of the list above, I’m particularly fond of #5. Content is great. It’s critical. But it is execution alone that will set you apart.