A Bathroom, a Penny, and a Magazine Part Four
This is part four of a blog series. If you haven't read parts one-three, start here to catch up!
It took Michelangelo four years to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It took America's top scientists and engineers almost a decade to get a man on the moon (or a secret location near White Sands for my conspiracy theory peeps). It took Noah decades, maybe more than a Century, to build the ark.
My point? Not everything is done overnight. Some things are built over a lifetime, and that's what makes them worth it. All great things, though, seem to have a breakthrough moment, a time when the vision is clear and the purpose begins to drive the vision.
I wrote the first draft of Fate of the Watchman in my Sophomore or Junior year of high school. It wasn't called that then. I can't remember what it was called, but it was a short story with the same basic premise. I wrote a modified version sometime later, and that story just sat for nearly two decades. Fast forward to the time in my life when I was fully committed to the Lord and fully committed to writing, and I remembered that story world.
"All great things, though, seem to have a breakthrough moment, a time when the vision is clear and the purpose begins to drive the vision."
I thought, why not take that world and turn it into a story that matches what I want to write, now? I had no idea what my writing voice was or who I was as a writer. Oh sure, I knew what I wanted to be, but I was all over the place with my craft. So, I sat down and wrote a short story in one sitting called "The Midnight Cry." (The title changed later, for many reasons) It felt good to write again. When I got done, I shut my computer and forgot about that story for the next few years while I wrote about all kinds of things and produced zero publishable work.
That time wasn't wasted. I spent every free minute learning, practicing, and honing the craft of writing. I wasn't in a perfect place, nor will I ever be, but I had found my voice. That's when the Lord reminded me of "The Midnight Cry."
And so, I went to work on revising it, cringing my way through a re-reading of my novice attempt at words with structure and stuff. Yeah, it was scary. During my break from that story, I had learned some things about myself:
I'm an outliner. Sorry, I just can't do the seat-of-the-pants writing thing.
So...I went to work forming an outline that had an actual plot!
I have a message, a purpose. MY WHY.
So...I thought and prayed about the best way to communicate that through the story world and characters of this story.
I wrote a new draft, hated it, and put it away to work on new projects. Inevitably, I had to come back to it. I realized it was one of the characters that was bothering me, along with some very lifeless prose. I wrote a new draft, almost entirely from scratch, hated it, and put it away to work on new projects.
And then, I had that breakthrough moment.
I regularly get a magazine in the mail from the Voice of the Martyrs ministry. It is always a difficult read because it shows the absolute struggle of the persecuted church around the world in over 60 countries. (You can subscribe to this free newsletter here) It hurts, and it's hard to read. Well, I got an issue in the mail, but I never read it. I thought about how terrible that was of me at one point, and I decided it would be perfect to add to one of the characters in my story: a guy that has willfully ignored the struggle of those around him.
"I finally got myself together and opened it up."
I actually wrote an entire scene with that thought in mind, along with some specific mentions of the character having a subscription to the same magazine but never reading them when they come to him in the mail. I wanted the scene to be something that really showed the reality of persecution, and I wanted the reader to be convicted enough to get involved through prayer, missions, or by monetary donations. Something. The scene is gut wrenching, and it was very difficult to write. It was emotionally draining.
Then irony introduced itself and slapped some conviction into me. I had that issue of The Voice of the Martyrs sitting on my nightstand or dresser for about two months, and I had never even cracked the first page open. I finally got myself together and opened it up. Imagine my horror when I randomly opened the magazine to a page and not only saw pictures similar to what I had just written but read a story that eerily matched the scene I had created. Obviously, the circumstances were different, but I had basically told the story of the people in the article, even though I had never read, or even seen, the article!
My conviction was immediate. Remorse, repentance, guilt, shame. It all hit me like a flood. It was actually more like an under toe, sucking me out to see with no chance for escape. I was devastated, and I could only weep. OK, weep sounds like I was sitting on my couch with some tears and a tissue all Hollywood style.
I broke down like a truck that just got fixed by a blind mechanic. I cried so hard that I had permanent ugly cry face. My wife had no idea what was going on, so I tried to explain it to her through my convulsions and sobs (while not giving spoilers to the story). In that moment, I vowed that if I ever published the story, I would donate half of what I make to The Voice of the Martyrs ministries.
Now that it's actually going to be published (which is a story all by itself that I will tell in Part 5), I stand by that vow. I recently reached out to VOM to tell them my intentions, and they are thankful for the support. So, just know that if you purchase a copy of Fate of the Watchman, you will be giving in support of persecuted Christians around the world.
So, I didn't write this story in one sitting, even though several of the "drafts" were written that way. I wrote this story over the course of a lifetime. In this book, I have included scenes that can only be depicted through the lens of memory. It is the most challenging thing I have ever written. I have stopped and started several times because of the emotional and spiritual battle I faced while writing it. I feel like it took a significant chunk out of me, a chunk I am finally content to have sacrificed.
In Part five, I'll tell the story of how an email from my uncle and a single tweet launched this book into my first-ever publishing contract with a traditional publisher of Christian fiction.
Fate of the Watchman will be released in October. If you would like to learn more about The Voice of the Martyrs ministry, or if you would like to donate or pledge to pray for a VOM worker, you can visit their website here.