Chances are at some point in your life you’ve had an idea while in the shower, in traffic or in a blue-grey office cubicle and thought, “Wow! That would make a really great book.”
You might have even jotted down a title or a paragraph or two. Perhaps you began an outline in your journal or did some online research. But then what? Odds are just as high that your fantastic idea is still hiding in your soul somewhere waiting to be told.
It’s an age-old problem. There’s a reason more of us run 5K races than marathons. It’s no surprise that health clubs are busier during the resolution-heavy months of January and February than during any other time of year. And do you know how many projects around the house I’ve started and not finished? Me neither, but I bet my wife does.
At first, the idea pulls at your shirttail for attention. But as time passes, the energy to do something about it passes, too. Life is busy. Work is hectic. The kids are a priority. All true, right? But what if that initial thought, that glorious piece of originality, that uncut diamond, could change a life? What if the book hiding in your soul just waiting to be written could inspire a single person to live his or her life differently?
A few days ago I received a letter from a woman incarcerated in the Midwest. The letter was handwritten on a torn half-sheet of yellow legal paper and bore an ominous black prison ink-stamp. The woman explained how one of my books rolled past her cell on a metal library cart.
She checked it out, read it slowly, and revealed that the story brought her a unique sense of hope. She also wrote how she felt closer to God and had a fresh view of repentance. With its misspellings, sloppy handwriting and torn edges, it was easily one of the most beautiful letters I’ve ever received. I will cherish it.
What if that idea you’ve got tucked away could prompt such a letter? Whether fiction or non-fiction, short story or screenplay, what if you have a concept unique to you and you alone? What if it's shouting at you to share it?
If you’ve read my books, you already know that I’m not going to win a Pulitzer Prize or National-Book-of-the-Year award. I’m hardly an expert. However, what I do know is that no award or bestseller list can match the sheer joy of finishing what we start, even if it’s for an audience of exactly one.
Through the years I’ve developed a few tips to remind myself how to continuously uncover my own ideas and guide them to the surface and ultimately to conclusion. Here are five of them:
People who don’t read, don’t write. Maintain at least a one-to-one ratio of hours spent reading versus writing. You would be stunned at how many with a dream of writing a book never actually read one.
2. Share your idea
Too often we’re afraid someone will steal our concept and write it behind our backs. Does the miniscule chance of that happening outweigh the much more likely risk that the story dies with you? Don’t fear! Go tell a handful of your favorite, trusted people your idea and if they don’t dose off, it’s probably a good one.
3. Keep a writing journal
You should always have a small notebook handy in your car, desk, briefcase or purse. When an idea hits, no matter how trivial it seems, write it down as soon as possible. Refer to your notes often, even if you don’t have time to advance the story.
4. Write five days a week
Even if it’s only a few hundreds words or a few well-crafted lines, advance your story every single working day. Then take one day for yourself to clear your mind and one day for the Lord to remind you that your talents are not an accident.
Basketball players pray over free throws, surgeons pray as they don scrubs, actors pray before the show and painters pray for inspiration. So why not pray before you invite that idea from your soul to the page? Pray for guidance, pray for clarity, pray for purpose.
I wish I could promise following these tips or any others will guarantee that one day you will see your book for sale at Barnes and Noble or that Oprah invites you to sit on her couch. Maybe that happens; maybe it doesn’t. Someday a million people could read your first book and the ones that follow.
Or, perhaps, only one person reads it. But the words — your words — could bring them peace when they need it most.
Wouldn't that be worth it?