Guest Blog by Mark Jones
What goes into writing a book? This seems to me to be a relevant question at a website like this.
One should have some relative competence in the area they are writing. I doubt I’ll ever write a book on marriage or raising children. Those who write such books are brave, indeed. Instead I stick to books on Christ and God. Errr…
The writer should have the tools available to be able to write a good book. Expertise on the topic of the book isn’t necessarily required at the beginning, but there should be an ability to learn as one writes (so Augustine) and have the tools to know how to research, read, and relay information.
The tools are, in a sense, useless unless the writer has a burden for a particular project. The desire to throw yourself into a topic has to be there, otherwise you may end up frustrated and, as a result, writing a very poor book that frustrates your audience.
With that said, I wonder if readers understand what goes into writing a book? I’ve had to wake up in the night and send thoughts to my email so that I don’t forget my moment of inspiration. Sometimes in the morning the “moment of inspiration” doesn’t appear all that inspired, but sometimes it does.
There’s also the vast amount of reading that takes place, most of which isn’t going to find its way anywhere near the book. But there’s always that one quote or thought, in the middle of a treatise, that makes it all worthwhile.
Then there’s the paragraphs and chapters that get written that need to be excised or re-written. This is painful, but necessary. Hours of work can go up in flames. But I’m sure many great books are written in the midst of great forest fires around the author.
One of the best aspects of writing a book is when the author enters into the “zone.” I mean this: writing a book is like a massive train trying to get going. At first very little appears to be happening, but eventually the train gets going and momentum becomes everything. It is important to stay in that zone, for the accomplishment can far outweigh the effort when, at the beginning, the effort far outweighs the accomplishment. Of course, the “zone” may mean being a little distant as a human being in relation to others. Your wife or children may feel as though a new man is living in the house, but, hey, that’s why wives and children are very often found on the dedication page (which is the only page my wife reads).
I should say something about the publisher. You haven’t written a book – or, I should say, you aren’t writing a book – unless you have a contract with a publisher. And even then you haven’t written a book until the book is actually published. I’ve often heard many people say they are writing a book, but not only are the ill-equipped to be doing so, but they also do not have a publisher who is willing to publish their masterpiece.
Returning to a point above, one of the most rewarding things about writing is the learning process that takes place as one writes. There are times when you feel totally inadequate to the task before you, but as you keep on reading and learning you begin to develop a pattern of thinking that gives you something to say. It is a humbling experience to realize how little one knows, but I still love learning things that I never knew and being able to put them down for others to read since they, too, may not have been aware of certain theological truths.
Then there is the inevitable waiting process for the publisher. I am not joking when I say that I can write books faster than publishers can put them into print. At first, I sort of expected they could turn around my manuscript in a couple of months, but it takes longer than that. I am only starting to appreciate what goes into publishing a book, but I do wonder (secretly, mind you) if there isn’t some great conspiracy against authors for some reason I’ll never understand.
Maybe it is because publishers love getting lots of commendations and the same people keep getting asked, and so they aren’t able to drop everything, read the book, and get back with a lively “puff.” Thankfully, some don’t even read the book, but just say something nice and wonderful in an attempt to speed up the process.
Finally, the book gets printed. And what is the most painful part? It is seeing others hold your baby before you do. I have seen people on Facebook say, “Look what arrived today,” and there is a picture of my book which I have not yet held in my hand. There should be some rule that the printer immediately send the book via UPS/FedEx to the author so that the author doesn’t have to see such a grotesque sight on Facebook of someone holding his child before he does.
So, there you have it. Take up and write…or not.
Mark Jones (Twitter handle: Mark_Jones_PCA) is Minister at Faith Vancouver Church (PCA). He is also Research Associate in the Faculty of Theology at University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa. He lectures at various seminaries around the world and is currently writing a book titled, God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God (Crossway, 2017) and Faith, Hope, and Love (Crossway, 2017).
Other titles by Dr. Jones include the following:
A Puritan Theology (co-authored with Joel Beeke)
The Ashgate Companion to John Owen’s Theology (co-edited with Kelly Kapic)