Saturday, March 02, 2019

How to Write and Publish--14--Eating the Elephant; Getting from Here to There

I was digging in some old files the other day and found a handwritten list. It was well over 20 years old, and it listed everything I had published up to that point. Two articles in Keepers at Home. Three stories in Companions. Two letters to the editor. A story in a Pathway magazine. And so on.

It wasn’t a long list, and every item was of great import and carefully noted. I’m sure I didn’t forget anything.

Most writers want to accumulate a body of work. It’s not enough to publish an article and then move on to hiking or furnace repair. We want to have created something of substance, a large pile of words, a collection. We want to have improved our skills over time. We want to have influenced the world.

A few days ago, I got a reminder on Facebook that five years ago, an article I wrote about my mom was reprinted in the Budget. I had totally forgotten.

The last time I spread out my books on a table at an authors’ event, someone came by, looked at the array, and exclaimed, “Wow! When did this happen?”

How did I get from hoarding every little success to actually forgetting that someone was reprinting an article, and from zero books, to one, to more than half a dozen?

One word at a time. One sentence, one paragraph, little by little, over and over.
Writers never have a sense of being finished. Even with my variety of books, I seem to end up sitting near Bob Welch or Jane Kirkpatrick at library fundraisers, and their stash of published works makes mine look sparse and a bit desperate.

Good writers also keep learning. You never learn everything about the craft, I’m told. In fact, Carrie Stuart Parks, the author/speaker I mentioned previously, told us that she was at a writers’ conference and there was Frank Peretti in the front row, taking notes, still learning how to write. Frank Peretti!

When we went to Kenya to revisit where Steven had come from, and then on to Poland to visit Paul’s brother John and his family, my friend Anita in Poland asked if I’d consider bringing her a little carved elephant from Kenya. She wanted to set it where she could see it often, and it would remind her of this adage: How do you eat an elephant? A bite at a time.

As I recall, her elephant was the task of learning the Polish language.

Now, I have an elephant in my Sparrow Nest to remind me of the same principle.  

On another scrap of paper around here is another list, carefully and thoroughly compiled. It’s a list of all the fiction I’ve written, and it’s a short and a bit pathetic. Everything I complete goes on that list, and believe me, I don’t forget anything. The only stories that have been published are two flip-books designed for vacation Bible schools that I wrote for Northern Youth Programs while we served in Canada a long time ago.

I know that if my body of fiction work is to accumulate into published stories and a table spread with books, it will do so like my nonfiction did: a word at a time, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a book.

It looks like a huge elephant. It will take lots of bites.

When I remember all the early mornings in front of the computer the last 18 years, writing my articles, and all the words squeezed reluctantly from my brain on down to my fingertips and the keyboard, it’s overwhelming. So I don’t dare think in such large terms.

I can set the timer for fifteen minutes and scoop words onto the page like sand into a pile. Drink some tea, change position, write for another fifteen. An early morning here, an afternoon there, notes scribbled while I’m cooking.

I hope to be a better writer in ten years, but I won’t get from here to there if I don’t read, practice, learn, and keep writing.

Little by little, a bite at a time. A word, a sentence, a paragraph, a story.

Thus is a body of work created.

Tomorrow: a few of your stories.


  1. Thanks for this. I shall place my beautiful elephant from Thailand on my desk. Immediately.

  2. That's so cool about Frank Peretti! And compared to you, I've got so little...I mean, my article count is in the hundreds, but I don't have any books. I want to make it as far as you!

    1. And I want to write more magazine articles!

  3. I am enjoying this series immensely, and I LOVE the elephant quote with the accompanying visual. Thanks, Anita and Dorcas!

  4. I've loved, loved, LOVED this series. Some of this I've learned myself through trial and error, much is very helpful as I imagine future steps in my writing journey.
    Thanks so much.

    1. You have accumulated an impressive body of work, Gina. Blessings as you take those "future steps."

  5. I named that elephant "Olek" --the Polish diminutive for Alexander. (Alexander the Great). I took him with me to Polish lessons, and then he'd sit in my classroom and I'd tell my English students his story and what it meant in their studies. Thanks again for the gift of him!
    After reading this series, I feel deep gratitude for your coaching in my faltering journey, as well as other helpful people I just "happened" to meet at the right time. And for having been spared harm from the alligators. I was very near to signing a contract with WinePress when my dad read the small print and I contacted you, who nudged me to self-publish. I've never regretted it.
    I'm still in awe at how words give life or death, and how God trusts us with that kind of power. Stunning.

    1. How fun to have you stop in here, Anita! Thanks for the update on Olek. I'm so happy I could be of help on the journey. And yes, stunning how we are entrusted with words.

  6. I think it was last summer I noticed your name on those flip stories from VBS. I remember being read them when I was in VBS. The CLP books are so much nicer now and we don't feel as needy for extra stories, so I don't think they've been used recently, but they were cool little stories!

  7. I have to admit the business behind publishing and writing seems so daunting to me that I feel like giving up before I start. Thank you for adding your valuable experience to this!