My first book came out yesterday. Early this morning, I used scissors to cut across the packing tape on the box of copies I’d ordered. I took one out and held it in my hands. I wanted to reflect on what it felt like, as a writer, to hold your very first book. So, here it goes.
As it turns out, the feeling was different from what I expected. I thought I would feel joy or pride or gratitude. I’d worked on this book for years, and now finally it was here: a thing I could touch, a collection of paper, ink, and glue. Now, that makes it sound trivial. In fact, the hard work of several people, and some highly developed technology, went into producing this “thing.” It’s not just the writing that accounts for a book; it’s the thought and planning, the drafting, the editing, the revision, the proofing, the typesetting, the indexing, the cover design, and so on. Much goes into the production of these little objects.
Yet, if you imagined as a writer that the feeling you would experience would be overwhelming excitement and pride, you might be sorely disappointed. I think that’s the case for several reasons. First, as a writer, I find my joy in creation, in the process of seeing the world differently as I’m writing. Writing is a means of discovery for me. So, receiving a hard copy of something I’ve written signals the end of an expedition, which is always a little sad. Second, the book is the culmination of hours and weeks and months of labor, so it’s not as if what you hold in your hands is brand new, strictly speaking. The printed book is the flowerhead at the end of a stem that’s been growing for quite some time. Third, as a Christian, I know that the glory I’m tempted to grasp in writing anything is not mine to take. A writer’s glory is a stolen glory. With me, as with all writers, Christ worked by the power of the Spirit to do what the Father had planned to do in eternity past (Eph. 2:10). It is his planing and labor that brought the project to fruition (1 Cor. 3:7). And all throughout the process of studying and writing, I had to rely on the Trinity to help me combat my sinful ego and shortsightedness. This book that I hold came about not because of me, but in spite of me.
As I write this, I realize how horribly depressing it sounds. I just received my first book in the mail. Shouldn’t I be celebrating? Shouldn’t I be promoting it? Sure, and I’ll get to that soon enough, since I believe that what God has led me to write has the potential to change many minds and hearts. But I was reminded this morning that holding a book in my hands is incomparable with holding my three-week-old daughter.
Just before 6:00am, her little head rested against my palm and fingertips. She looked up at me with her dark blue eyes and searched . . . . She searched me. The feeling I experienced in that moment is something only parents can understand. It’s a mix of wonder, slight discomfort, and joy. And her searching made me ruminate on the richness of life. For as she searched me, I thought about who I was. Then I thought of how our other children had searched me, and how I have searched the eyes of my wife this way, and how I probably searched my mother’s and father’s eyes as an infant. This ancient practice is a searching for identity and consolation: a deeply human thing.
Publishing a book will not give you a new identity, and it probably won’t bring consolation (though we all have our illusions). When it comes down to it, publishing a book should remind you of your smallness, of your need for others, and of the little role you play in God’s greatness. Holding the book this morning and then holding my daughter made me understand that I, too, am a searcher. I search the face of God for my identity and consolation.
If we look for those things in a printed book, my friends, we will be sorely disappointed. But if we stay focused on the God who is working through us to do what pleases him, we will be able to see a book for what it is: a stepping stone in a world of water, a place for readers to put their feet down, stand, and survey the richness of life. If you’re kind enough to read this book, that’s my prayer for you.