The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
—Psalm 23:1-3 (NKJV)
A funny thing happened on the way to a full time writing career: I burned out.
It all started out with The Epiphany of Joy, a book God told me in no uncertain terms to write. The book took over three years to build, from inspiration to Amazon launch, but its release represented much more than the realization of a lifetime goal of becoming a published writer—it opened my eyes to the miracle of God’s moment-by-moment Presence in my life.
You see, until God gave me that assignment, I hadn’t written much in years, and what I had written consisted of an eclectic smattering of newspaper articles, a monthly column, poetry, short horror stories, a self-published book titled You Might be a Writer, and a novel called On the Inside. During that time the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.
What I discovered from that previous season of determination peppered with a taste of successes was this: Trying to make a living writing while working more than full time and recovering from a divorce leads very quickly to a puddle of melted candle wax with two sputtering flames, one on each end. It was a lesson in priorities, pride, and God’s sovereignty. He brought me to my knees in a very real way during that turning point in my life, and I’ve been on them ever since.
It took almost two decades after that for the phoenix of my writing desire to flap its clumsy wings and re-emerge from the ashes of persistence. In the meantime I’d met, dated, and married my gorgeous wife, begat an amazing child, and engaged in the thrilling responsibility of raising her in the way she should go. So far, so good. When God told me in 2011 to write a book about joy, His timing couldn’t have been any better (go figure). In the three years it took to do the research, crank out the manuscript, and get the book released, I garnered lifelong lessons in faith, joy, God’s provision, and what it means to step out in total obedience to His commands.
When God tells you to do something, do it, no matter how odd or impossible it may seem. When God told Abraham to “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you,” (Genesis 12:1 NIV®), he went, “as the LORD had told him” (Genesis 12:2 NIV®). He didn’t even know where he was going, he just went! When God commanded Abraham to “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and . . . sacrifice him . . . as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you” (Genesis 22:2 NIV®), Abraham “set out for the place God had told him about” (Genesis 22:3 NIV®). Abraham was fully prepared to carry out God’s command with total trust. Again, he went. When God told me to “write a book about joy” and to “become a joy expert,” I said “Really, Lord?” but then I stepped out in obedience, quit my job, and worked to complete my assignment. I went. And on August 29, 2014, The Epiphany of Joy (and Melted Clowns, my first illustrated children’s book) went live on Amazon.com. With the Spirit’s full-time engagement, I fulfilled God’s command in a little over three years.
So determined was I to make a living writing, though, I immediately started working on The Dark Side of the Covers and On My Daddy’s Knee, two children’s readers based on stories Hannah and I made up and told each other in the car. I also continued to write and maintain my blog, market my books, and plan additional projects. But within a few months after the release of The Epiphany of Joy and Melted Clowns, the royalty checks dwindled and stopped coming for months at a time. Despite assurances from the Spirit to not fret about the lack of sales (“This is My book and I can do with it what I want,” He told me in church one day), I soon realized (or remembered) that making living at this craft was going to continue to be elusive and challenging. It was déjà vu all over again. As a result, I worked even harder to finish the manuscript for The Dark Side of the Covers, and I released 10 Little Hiccups, another children’s picture book illustrated by my neighbor, Ken Bryson. My publishing goal for 2015 was five additional titles. I missed the mark by four . . . .
Since then my creativity has all but dried up. The story ideas that used to roll out of my imagination in the middle of the night, waking me up and forcing me to write them down in a bedside journal under the glow of the bathroom nightlight, have all but quit visiting me. Some days I look forward to my morning writing sessions as intensely as I anticipate a visit to the tax assessor’s office to challenge my latest property tax hike. I can’t even seem to be able to make up a good tale any more when Hannah says, “Daddy, tell me a story.” I’m as dry as King Tut’s arm pit.
Several years ago, after an intense North Texas drought that left my trees wilted, my lawn crispy, and my temper short, I discovered a squishy patch of grass near my well house while trimming the weeds. After lifting off the lid covering the well head, I discovered the main pipe running from the head to my pressure tank had ruptured due to a pronounced shift in the housing—the persistent dryness in the soil had caused the brick structure to tilt, stressing the pipe until it split.
I called the company that had drilled my well, and the owner dispatched his two sons to correct the problem. “Do you know how a well works?” the oldest boy asked as he cut out the old pipe. He couldn’t have been more than 17 years old. His brother was 13.
“No,” I admitted.
“Well, most people think we drill into an underground lake,” the boy explained, “but it’s more like a slow-moving river. We drill the hole deeper than the level of the water and set the pump above the bottom. When the well kicks on it draws water out of the hole, and more water flows into the hole from above to replace it. It doesn’t come up from below.”
The picture from that explanation has stuck with me ever since; it’s a visual very pertinent to not only the proper operation of my water well but the healthy functioning of my creativity. Several months ago I realized that the constant pumping of words onto the page have outstripped the capacity of my well of inspiration. The pressure has gone to zero. The water of creativity flowing from above has not kept up with my self-imposed demand (i.e., from below), and I’ve allowed the difference between fiscal expectations and economic reality to cloud what little water I have left to pump. Talk about turbidity . . . .
I’ve shared my consternation about the pace of book sales to my wife, Mary, who feels my frustration as deeply as I do (because she has to live with me). “Maybe God intended you to write the book for your benefit rather than for the world’s,” she told me. Her pinpoint assessment shifted my thinking: maybe, just maybe, God gave me this assignment to not only test my faith and willingness to obey His commands, to “go,” but also to strip me of my deep-rooted addictions to security and to money.
Later I expressed my anxiety about the lack of sales to a good friend. “Did you ever think that God might have intended this book for you only?” he asked. “I mean, you’ve certainly changed because of what you did.” Hmm. What’s the test of prophecy? When two people say the exact same thing without having corroborated, then the word is probably a direct message from the Spirit.
Recently Scott Crenshaw, Senior Pastor of New River Fellowship in Hudson Oaks, Texas, related how, while on a sabbatical, he had put together a list of several dozen issues he wanted to place before God to work out. With pen in one hand and journal in the other, he set out one morning to step through each question in prayer. Before Scott got a chance to pray about the first issue, though, the Father interrupted him.
“Scott,” God said. “Quit seeking My hand. Seek My face.”
In other words, quit seeking God’s provision, but seek God Himself. Get the intimacy right (God’s face), then watch God’s hand move. The water must come from above before we can draw it out.
So . . . what’s next? What do I plan to do to replenish the well before trying to draw anything more out of it? First, I’m going to continue to seek God’s face instead of His provision in this area of my life. “. . . seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” Jesus commanded, “and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 NKJV). I’m going to read. A lot. On my nightstand is a pile of books begging me to open them—after I blow off the quarter inch of dust. I recently bought books by Dave Barry and Leigh Anne Jasheway to stimulate my funny bone. I’ve been reading a book introducing the concept of Creationism, and I just finished The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank by Erma Bombeck. I also plan to re-read the Bible.
I’m taking a DVD-based course called “The Art of Storytelling from Parents to Professionals.” At the suggestion of my publisher, I’m studying how to build a more effective author platform, and I’m learning how to build a website from the ground up. To mitigate my OCD, I’m organizing my workspace, computer, and ideas. To ensure the banker doesn’t come knocking at my door, I’ve committed to taking a full time directorship position at a small startup engineering company. I plan to take more walks, go on more camping trips, take my wife dancing more often. And did I mention I plan to read? And read some more?
So where does my writing go from here? I’ll continue to post the occasional thought or two on my blog site. I’ve also started writing my children’s chapter book series called The Jean Gang, a string of books based very loosely on my childhood and the trouble I got into with my two brothers and my sister while growing up in the woods of upstate New York. You know, fun stuff like that.
So let me leave you with this thought: A bubble isn’t a bubble until life is breathed into it, otherwise it’s just skin. This is certainly not adieu, but au revoir.
Until next time, be blessed. And if you have any words of wisdom for me to get through this creative soft spot, please share. I look forward to your input.
Copyright © 2015 by David C Hughes