by Christine Sine.
Many of you know that I am in the process of writing a book on creative spirituality. A number of you are writing books of your own. Others are hoping to. Many have asked about the process I use so I thought you might like a glimpse into what I have been doing over the last few months.
Writing a book is like embarking on a journey. It requires much preparation, involves some hard slogging and discipline, is best conducted in the company of friends and always includes some unexpected surprises. It is as much about creating an enjoyable process as producing a useful product.
I could just about write a book on this topic alone so thought that I would break it up into small chunks that are easy to digest. If there is advice you would like to share with others about your own writing process please comment below – we learn from each other.
There are ten steps I want to share with you – here are the first three!
Step One: Define your topic and your audience
What do you want to communicate or teach with this book? Writing is not about waffling on paper. We need to have a clear idea of where we want to go and what we want our audience to take away from the book.
Who is your intended audience and why would they be interested in this topic?“ Who will read your book and why” are important question that should be addressed up front. This can be more fully addressed in the marketing strategy, but if we do not know our audience from the beginning we will not know the best ways to connect and inspire them.
Why should you rather than someone else write this book? Years ago Philip Yancey told me “write to your passion.” It was very important advice that I continue to remind myself of when embarking on a new project.
Even then I find narrowing down my topic is not easy. There is always so much I want to say! Yes I can be verbose both in spoken and written words. Rather than covering a broad overview, consider how you could go deep with one element of the topic. This allows you to share much more information with your reader and gives you the opportunity to write additional books related to the topic.
Step Two: Research your topic
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9) This is always a good starting point. It keeps us humble and willing to listen to the wisdom of others.
It is unlikely that you are writing on something that no one has written about before. Identifying who has already written on your topic, what they said and why you think you have something fresh to contribute are always important considerations. Don’t be discouraged when you find a book that seems to say much of what you wanted to write about. What I find is that the spirit of God often speaks through many voices on a topic at the same time. We need all the voices that God has anointed.
There are four types of research that I find helpful before starting on a draft for a book
- Reading – What are the best books and web articles available on this topic? When starting on a new project I enlist the help of my social media followers to get their book & website recommendations. For my most recent book project the list of suggested reading was a little overwhelming which made me aware that I had not communicated my topic very well and that there were already a lot of books out there that dealt with creative spirituality. On the other hand I got some very valuable advice that has helped me shape my book to make it uniquely my own.
- Conversation – Who are both the writers and practitioners you need to consult as you write this book? How will you engage with them? What questions would you like to ask them? It might be helpful to develop a set of questions that you ask each person you talk to. Working on a list like this often helps us clarify our thinking, objectives and goals.
I suggest connect to four groups of people: those who are experts on your topic, those who are practitioners, those who are searchers for information on your topic. And lastly to friends that can help you gather research or critique the research you are doing. How will each of these groups enable you to create a richer product?
- Visitation – Talking to people about what they are doing is great but visiting is even more effective as it helps us visualize and then put into words what we are seeing. It is also a good source of images and stories for your writing project. Before you plan visits ask yourself: what will I gain from this visit that I would not gain from a conversation? Again a list of questions that you send out before the visit might be helpful.
- Experimentation – my writing revolves around creative spiritual practices. I like to experiment with my own practices as well as gathering examples that others have created and trying them out. My creativity has blossomed as I worked on this book which is very encouraging for me as it suggests that I am on the right track.
Research needs to both precede and follow the writing of an outline. Preliminary research helps me know the elements I want to incorporate in a book. Writing the outline after that helps me know where I need more research.
Step Three: Recruit Collaborators
“A three fold cord is not easily broken”. In 2010 I was introduced to the Quaker discernment process, a group process that encouraged reflection, prayer and discernment in the context of community, moving us from a task oriented to a discernment oriented approach. In Mustard Seed Associates we came to see this as an essential part of any meeting as it focused on ourselves as community rather than on the tasks we needed to accomplish.
Like our meetings, most projects, especially the writing of books, are task-oriented. We have limited time to write. We have an agenda. We have deadlines. We open in prayer, knock out the details, and close in prayer to ask God to bless our words and our process. A better way is to weave prayer and spiritual attentiveness throughout the process, so that the writing moves from “task orientation” to “discernment orientation.” to make this happen we need friends, collaborators and advisors.
Recruiting a team of 3-5 people who can help guide you on the path to a completed manuscript will strengthen what you write and how you develop your book. They don’t need to be experts on the topic, though at least one or 2 of the people should be knowledgeable about your topic. Make sure that at least half of this team are part of your target audience. Consider this as a pilot discussion group for testing your product. Schedule a monthly meeting either individually or as a group (https://zoom.us/ is a good tool for such meetings if your team is not local.)
This is part of a 4 post series. Here is the entire series