Lessons from Lunch

Monday, April 20, 2015

No, I’m not going to tell you that the Cobb salad I had on Saturday taught me that multiple ingredients make a story more interesting. That isn’t what I mean by lessons from lunch.

I drove 300 miles (round trip) on Saturday to hear a panel of respected authors speak at an ACFW Indiana luncheon. Some of the lessons I learned came from the panel (composed of Dawn Crandall, Denise Hunter, Rachael Phillips, and Cara Putman), but some came from the conversation beforehand. There were three quotes that I found particularly noteworthy. I am using the word “quotes” loosely, however. I haven’t taken shorthand since high school and may not have the words down exactly right, but they are substantially correct.

  • Writing something you aren’t interested in is like marrying the wrong person. While we were eating lunch, the people at my table were talking about the tension between writing as a business and writing what is on our hearts. Someone (possibly me) made the statement that if you aren’t excited about what you write, the product shows it. Then Darren Kehrer made the statement used here. He also said you end up hating the person you marry or the manuscript you have written.

         Some writers are so concerned about making money that they accept any assignments that come their way. The best writers are able to take what looks like an uninspiring assignment and find an approach that excites them. But I have also read articles and books that sound as if even the author was bored. I have taken several assignments over my writing career, and I’ve always managed to find the angle that gets me excited. But it is better to turn a project down than to put the reader to sleep.

  • Reading is the most important preparation for writing. Cara Putman made this statement during the panel, and she is in good company. In On Writing, Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

         Cara wasn’t just talking about reading for pleasure, however. We need to read a book that way first to get the full enjoyment from it. But Cara was saying that we also need to analyze the books we read to understand what makes them captivate us. As she got ready to write her first legal thriller, she took books by three authors she thinks are good at it and wrote a chapter-by-chapter summary for each. That showed her the plot pattern that can make a good thriller.

  • God is faithful, but He is not predictable. Rachael Phillips said this during the panel. Her point was that we may think we know where we are going or where God wants us to go with our writing, and all of a sudden He sends us down a different path. I’ve certainly found that to be true in my life.

         I tried writing fiction in my high school days, but by the time I was ready to write as a serious pursuit, I was convinced that non-fiction magazine articles were my forte. I would never write a book. God didn’t agree, and there I was writing a book proposal and signing a contract for my first non-fiction book, In God We Trust. Okay, so maybe I could handle non-fiction books. But I would never write fiction. Then I got an idea for an adult (as in grown-up, not X-rated) novel, and I wrote it. Then I wrote another, and I have just finished a third. None of those novels have been published yet, but they show the folly of saying “never.” My most recently completed project is a middle-grade historical novel. Each new genre has been harder than the previous one. God certainly knows how to challenge me. He must also laugh at my bold statements about what I can or will “never” do.

         I love reading mysteries, but I could never write one. Does anybody want to take bets?

The Cobb salad was good, but the lessons from lunch were even better.


The image at the head of this post shows Jo March reading. Jo March was Louisa May Alcott’s fictionalized version of herself, and she loved to read books as much as she loved to write them.

The picture was drawn by Frank T. Merrill and was included in the original edition of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. First published in 1868, the illustration is in the public domain because of its age.

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