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How to write a book in 4 steps

I am writing a book. In my optimism and naivety, I thought it might be just like writing several blog posts, then binding them together. My method in writing blog posts is as follows: have a shower, have an idea, write it down flat-out, pause, consider, tweak – and voila! Chapter finished, onto the next chapter.

Turns out, the rumours are all true – writing a book is HARD. It’s not like blogging. You can’t just have an idea and go, you have to take a step back. You have the giant idea, but you need to untangle it, separate it, pick at it until it is in more manageable chunks. You move the chunks around a bit, consider them, give them names. Only then do you fill them with words.

In other words, it is a giant administration project: untangling, sorting, naming. It is the verbal equivalent of sitting in a supermarket with a truckload of recently-delivered stock, and sifting through it, sticking labels on each part, sending it off to the appropriate aisle. It sounds decidedly uncreative.

Was I getting it wrong?

I picked up my Bible for inspiration, and pondered to myself, ‘How did God go about the work of creating something?’. I didn’t have to look far.

It begins with emptiness

In the beginning…the earth was formless and empty, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Gen 1:1-2)

I hear the potential in these words, the excitement of what the triune God was about to create; the Spirit of God inhabiting the emptiness, poised, hovering over the timelessness and potential of pre-creation. Usually, when I look at a blank screen, I do as all true writers do – I panic.

But on a good day, I feel that same excitement, the hovering of an idea. And sometimes I even have that sense of God’s Spirit hovering with me.

Separate, then name

The first day, God separates light from darkness, and calls them ‘day’ and ‘night’.

The second day, God separates the two bodies of water, one from the other, above and below, and calls the dividing line ‘sky’.
The third day, God concentrates on the waters below. He gathers the water in one place, so that dry land appears: land separated from water. He names them ‘land’ and ‘seas’.

He’s spent three days on creation, and all He’s done is separate and name, separate and name. God is a secret administrator. Before He gets creative,

He gets organised.

I think of my boy, playing with his toys. He does the same: gathers the Lego characters together: ‘This is the house. This is the mummy and this is the little boy.’ It’s intuitive. He separates and names them. This naming is the necessary precursor to the play.

In sermon-writing it’s the same process: separate the passage, name the sections, fill with explanation, illustration, application. I find it when I do pastoral counselling: we have to untangle first, separate out the emotions, give them names – then the words flow and the healing comes. Even with baking, we separate the ingredients and measure them before we combine them and fill the container.

Fill

On the fourth day, God makes the sun, moon and stars. (He makes lights to fill the darkness.)

On the fifth day, God creates fish and sea creatures, and birds. (He fills the sea and sky.)
On the sixth day, God creates animals and humans. (He fills the land.)

I think of an artist, finishing the outline in pencil, and taking up the paintbrush and swooshing it all over the canvas, filling the shapes with an abundance of colour and texture. This is the fun part, the spilling over of words onto page, colour onto canvas, flesh onto skeleton.

See that it is good

I love that God is a poet, and that Genesis 1 is written as a poem, not as a science manual. I love that He sees His work and pauses at each stage and says that it is good; and at the end He says it is very good. It is so tempting to look at our work and be shy, and ashamed to call it good. Even though we are fallen, it is still possible for us to create things that are good, and we can call them good.

And I love that it takes time: God didn’t wave a magic wand and zap the earth into being, God the Trinity did it in stages, over a period of time. They rested at the end, celebrating all their work of creation.

This is the whole creative process: and it’s right there, in Genesis 1.

  1. The emptiness, the Spirit of God hovering;
  2. the separating and naming; and only then
  3. the filling; and finally
  4. the rest and celebration, seeing it it good.

We go through this same process every day, every time we create something.

I stare at the words, absorbing my discovery. My creative process mirrors God’s.

I don’t know why this should surprise me. After all, God is creator, painter of life, writer of redemption story. We are created in His image, and we are imprinted with that same desire to create.

I turn back to the blank screen, and feel the emptiness of it all, the fear of not having a good idea, the right words. I close my eyes, and remember that the same Spirit of God who hovered over the empty waters now hovers in my soul. The same God who made the hummingbird and humpback whale now dwells in me, and He loves to create whole worlds out of nothingness.

I take a breath. I will do this. I will gather my thoughts and have the courage to speak them. I will write this book. I raise my hands over the keyboard, and begin again.

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