The Next Level

I have a book in my library at home that, every time I pick it up to read, scares the whoopie out of me. I read a few pages and am troubled so much by the words that I have to put it down. The book is Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray.

Maybe that’s where the seed of an idea came for my Christian suspense trilogy, The Champion. Because even though on the surface it’s about a pastor’s lifelong battle against demonic powers in business, entertainment and politics, it’s a lot more than that. The theme raises the question: what does it mean to truly surrender to God’s will? The pastor Harris Borden asks to be used by God for great things, but he finds that taking things to the next level has implications that he may not be prepared for.

Two summers ago, I felt I was at a plateau in my writing. Because of this, I attended a summer workshop in Park City, Utah. It was there that I found that I was ready to take my writing to the next level IF (and this was a big if) I was willing to bring my “A” game each and every time I wrote. That sounds simple on the surface, but like Harris Borden, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I’ve been writing a long time, and I already have people telling me I’m a good writer. How does one take it up a notch?

Fast forward two years. I have several books in self-publish mode, and I am almost ready to launch The Champion into the public arena one way or another. But wait. I get one review for one of my books stating that is in bad need of an editor, and then I get another that says virtually the same thing. When I ask a colleague to read through The Champion, I get the message that it is good, but it is not there yet. There is still work to be done.

And then I pick up a book called Story by Robert McKee. From that I realize that I have the basic skills, but am I willing to pay the price to take my writing from good to great? If The Champion were to be the last set of books I were to ever write, how would the world remember me?

I recently read a column by a fellow Tweeter who talked about what writers could learn from J.R.R. Tolkien. When he was working on The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, he continually had his friend C.S. Lewis encouraging him. “You can do better than this,” he would tell him. Tolkien struggled with overwork as a professor (I can commiserate), was lonely for his son, who was off in the Royal Navy, and didn’t really think much of his own writing ability. But he somehow found the time–and the determination–to write the classic set of books that are his legacy. I think about him when I look at my own writing. Am I willing to do the same?

The other issue that comes up when talking about either surrendering to God or surrendering to the art of writing your very best is recognition. Will I still serve God if what I do is never acknowledged? Will I still write if no one ever reads it? It is not an easy question if you are honest with yourself, and honesty is one of those things writers should cherish above all.

The question remains for me: Do I want to relax and enjoy what years I have left, comfortable in my own complacency, both as a Christian and as a writer? Or do I have the courage to take it to the next level, regardless of what it costs?

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