I’m a Christian. And before you get all creeped out and run, let me tell you that I am not trying to convert you. Your faith or lack thereof is your business. I used to HATE when people tried to convert me. Hated their holier-than-thou attitude. Hated their assumption that their life was somehow better than mine. And I still hate that attitude. I’m not holier than anyone. I just believe in God now. As simple as that. This blog is about purpose. The purpose of your book. Your writing. But the context is a conversation I recently had about a book that is meant for Christians, so that is the only reason I mention my faith.
I recently wrote a book entitled What’s Your Story? Icebreaker Questions for Small Groups. In case you don’t know (because I didn’t know until a few years ago), a small group is a group of people who get together to discuss matters of faith. Most churches today have small groups. These small groups meet throughout the week, usually in homes, and can be composed of both Christians and people who are not believers, but who are seeking answers in their own way. Sometimes these small groups use books for topics (such as The Purpose Driven Life), like a book club. Very often, they begin the group with icebreaker questions – just for fun and to get to know each other better. So, I wrote a book of icebreaker questions for small groups. I recently sent an copy of the book to a friend and we had a short email exchange about the book.
I wrote, Maybe somewhere along the line someone in the world will read one of these silly little icebreaker questions and the resulting conversation will change someone’s life. After reading that, I started to think more about those words. As writers, we often have a difficult time explaining to others why we write. I mean, why would anyone choose to isolate themselves from the real world for months, or even years, to create an imaginary world? It is a very odd thing, this writing.
I believe there is a reason, a purpose, for every book written. As writers, we often think in terms of sales. I have to admit, I check my sales every day. It is fun to watch those numbers slowly creep upward. But sales may have nothing to do with the purpose of your book – or mine. Perhaps someone will read something in your book that will prompt them to send an email or call a long-estranged friend (Hello, Becky) or loved one. Perhaps a scene you wrote about how a character saved someone from drowning will save a real life. Perhaps your words will inspire and haunt another person to want to write.
When John Steinbeck wrote the short story, The Chrysanthemums in 1938, he had no way of knowing how his words would haunt me – more than sixty years later! The high gray-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world. On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot. On the broad, level land floor the gang plows bit deep and left the black earth shining like metal where the shares had cut. On the foothill ranches across the Salinas River, the yellow stubble fields seemed to be bathed in pale cold sunshine, but there was no sunshine in the valley now in December. The thick willow scrub along the river flamed with sharp and positive yellow leaves. It was a time of quiet and of waiting. The air was cold and tender. A light wind blew up from the southwest so that the farmers were mildly hopeful of a good rain before long; but fog and rain did not go together. Reading these achingly beautiful words absolutely inspires me. Did Steinbeck have any way of knowing the power his words would have over me? No. And neither do you.
You have no idea of the power your words may have upon one of your readers. I would go so far as to say – you have no idea of the purpose of your book. Which is a good thing. Because if you did, you would probably be so overwhelmed that you would not be able to write a single word. Choose your words carefully. You have fire and light and power at your fingertips. Celebrate the creation. Because someone is waiting to read your words. Maybe today. Maybe sixty years from now. Maybe one hundred years from now – long after you have gone. Because your words, your books, have a purpose that will long outlive your days on the planet.
Cheryl Shireman is the bestselling author of several novels, including Broken Resolutions, the Life is But a Dream series, and the Cooper Moon series. She is also the author of ten books for toddlers including the eight Let’s Learn About series focusing on different animals and I Love You When: For Girls and I Love You When: For Boys.