Sacrificial Writing

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Many years ago at a writer’s conference, an editor shared that the saddest thing to her was seeing an author, year after year, still clutching the same dog-eared manuscript to her chest, pitching it to anyone who would listen. Gulp!

I got to thinking about that today because I got a fabulous multi-book offer today for one of my almost-debut authors. (I won’t say who yet, since we haven’t accepted. But, of course that author already knows.)

Guess what? It wasn’t the first full book I had pitched for her. That one may never see the light of day. It wasn’t the second full book, though I love that one and still hope that someday it will be published. It wasn’t her third fully fleshed-out idea either. Nor was it the series I’m so excited about, though that may be down the road. I guess I’d say this was her fifth or sixth– some of those partially written and two or three fully written. I’m guessing she may have written half a million words before she hit this stunning proposal that saw two top publishers vying for it. That’s sacrificial writing.

Do you see the difference? The author who came to the same conferences with the same manuscript was treating her book as an idol of sorts. If you asked her about it she would say, “But I love this story. This is my finest work.” She couldn’t lay it down and write another book.

My soon-to-be-published author refused to treat her books as idols. If one didn’t “take,” she was willingly ready to lay that manuscript down and start another one. It didn’t mean she was any less committed to her stories than the other author. She just knew that so much of success has to do with the right idea at the right time. And with each book her writing was polished. Her sacrificial writing paved the way for her ministry.

You may have noticed I am using theological terms here. I know our blog community will understand. We need to recognize any idols in our life and in our writing and lay them at the foot of the throne. A hard sacrifice for sure– a writing sacrifice.

Here are some of the things that may give us a hint that some sacrificial writing is in order. Why don’t you play the agent here for a change. Pick one. Tell us. . . what would you say to the following?

This book is the book of my heart.

But this book is the first in a series of five books and I have them all written.

This is the very book God has put on my heart to write.

I know everyone has passed on this book but I’ve rewritten and it’s much better. Can you shop it again?

Confession: This was a difficult blog to write because we all hold tight to our creations. I know as an agent I find it hard to give up when I’ve invested in a book I love. But just as I need to search my motives for those books I can’t give up, we all need to check ourselves that our writing continue to be a sacrifice– a gift– and never an idol.



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  1. The tallest towers haughtily stand
    upon ferroconcrete in sightless soil;
    so, too, will your oeuvre ascend,
    borne on the ghost-words of hidden toil

  2. “This is the very book God has put on my heart to write.”
    “God put it on your heart to WRITE.” Writing does not equal publishing. Perhaps he put it on your heart for the lessons you would learn:
    * To develop your writing skills
    * To teach you the discipline of writing to completion
    * To embed principles in your heart that will serve as the foundation for future books or other ministry
    * To grow in you the fruit of the Spirit so that if/when the time comes for you to be a published author, you will be spiritually mature enough to fill that role with his grace.

  3. Angie Arndt says:

    I’ve been guilty, too, wasting precious years by bringing the same rewritten book to conferences. I like the term, “sacrificial writing” because anything we write should be offered on His altar to do as He wills. And even if our words are never read by anyone else, our books should always challenge us to be better, writing to be obedient, not for other’s praise.

  4. Congratulations to you and the almost debut author on the amazing offer. Perseverance and waiting patiently are difficult but so worth the reward – in all instances, not just writing. Bless you for keeping him/him as a client and pressing on.

    Despite the heavy topic, this was a very encouraging post Wendy. Thank you. Sometimes I find my actual idol isn’t the book itself but the idea of being published in general. God and I are working together, but His usual whisper is to be patient, wait, and trust Him. It is definitely a constant laying my hope and ambitions down to submit to whatever His plans may be while continuing write. Thank you for the article and the reminder. Have a blessed day.

  5. Great advice. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Dana McNeely says:

    “Write the next book” is not exactly new advice, but the list of writerly comments leads to introspection, especially the last. Sometimes it’s hard to know when the rewriting is finished and it’s time to move on. And it’s hard to know where to draw the line between being admirably persistent or stupidly banging your head against a wall.

    • True, Dana. I guess maybe it’s at that point of uncertainty that we lean into the wisdom of those whose voices we trust?

      • Wendy Lawton says:

        Right, Jeanne. This is usually something we can’t ascertain in a vacuum. We need our trusted voices.

    • Katie Powner says:

      Yes! No one wants to “give up.” I have a completed novel that hasn’t found any traction, but when I started a new novel I didn’t feel like I was giving up on the other one. Just setting it aside for now. Maybe it will never be published, or maybe now is just not the right time.

    • I think sometimes you have to “give up” on a story for a few years until new ability is learned, until a cool and calculating brutality comes upon you and you are able to fiercely cut huge chunks out of the story that you were not willing to before. This has happened to me. I recently cut 33,000 words out of an old ms. and wow it was better for that brutal surgery. Of course I haven’t sold it yet … but it definitely improved for having been abandoned for 4 years.

      • Wendy Lawton says:

        Excellent point, Kristen. Sometimes we put it aside and when we come back to we find our skill has grown by leaps and bounds.

  7. Thought about this some more during a very dark night that underscored the impermanence of life. Don’t now if the thoughts were illuminating or not, but here goes.
    * My first book, BPH, told the story that brought me to writing in the first place; it was worth pushing as hard as I could, if only because of that, and eventually got a traditional royalty contract from a vanity publisher which has since gone belly-up. It achieved a modest success (for which I got almost no royalties) but the experience was worth it (and thanks to Carol Ashby, it will soon be available again).
    * My life today is haunted by projects that will remain unfinished and will be lost as I fade. It can’t be helped, and on reflection on’es tempted to think of the time spent in vain…recall David Cassidy’s poignant final words, “So much time wasted.”
    * That trail of thought, though, leads to an evil brooding wasteland, because implicit therein is a temporal finality to our work, and to ourselves. Trying to reach for beauty is never a waste; the God that bottles our sometimes profligate tears gently captures the butterflies of our hope, and nurtures them as we nurse hearts broken on the cold anvil of a fallen world.
    * And one morning that will never slant into an evening, He and we will chase again our fluttering dreams, on feet made light and fleet by love, and made clean by a washing in His Blood.
    * Dear writer, the endless halls you walk, beloved manuscript in hand past banks of closed unsmiling doors and into what seems a greyly darkling future, may be the only road that truly leads Home.

    • Andrew, such pertinent thoughts. Your words remind me that as we journey, we learn. We can only write what God’s helped us to know. And the longer we walk with Him, the more our stories, our writing, our perspective change (and hopefully deepen). You may have projects that will never see the light of day. But, you, Andrew, have changed and grown. And though you may not see another book published, your life has become a book we’ve read—both here, on your blog, and other places where you comment and share. Your words share the journey into hope and freedom from many things.
      *That said, your comment got me wondering if we will have books in heaven. If we do, I bet we writers won’t have to go through the long publishing waits. 😉 Maybe not . . . it was just a fun thought.

      • Jeanne, your words really made my day…and today has been rough.
        * I’m sure we will have books in Heaven, and that e will have work and challenges to make them the best they can be.
        * But we will have Help, the best Editor in the business.

    • Unfinished projects seem to mock us. But we have done what we were called to do and something has been gained in the process. The divine looks at our faithfulness to the calling/task we’ve been given. I’m so glad you’ve hung in there, Andrew. You have given and given to others out of an abundance of wit, knowledge, and caring. Many of us consider you a friend. We respect your willingness to “go there,” where life gets messy. Thanks.

      • Norma, my friend, thank you so much for this…and I fully agree that God looks at the faithful heart we put into the tasks He’s given us. Bravo!
        * I’m so honoured, touched, and “in tears, now” to be considered a friend.

    • Love these thoughts and words. Andrew, the spinner of golden words.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      “Dear writer, the endless halls you walk, beloved manuscript in hand past banks of closed unsmiling doors and into what seems a greyly darkling future, may be the only road that truly leads Home.”

    • Naomi says:

      This is beautiful, and profound. Thank you for sharing with us, Andrew; we are certainly made all the more richer in heart and mind from your deep well of thoughts. 🙂

  8. Wendy, I realize how difficult this was, but it’s certainly necessary. I’ve tried on several occasions to rewrite the first and second novels I composed–they’re still on my hard drive, mainly because of my sentimental attachment to them.

    And this activity doesn’t stop once we’ve had a novel or two published. I have on my desk a novel that I love, but my wife (my first reader, and often the voice of reason on my writing) says this should never see the light of day. There’s something about admitting that not every line we compose is golden that is anathema to authors, myself included. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Wendy, what a great post. I appreciate your points. I can see how easy it is to get caught up in trying to get one book sold. But, I hadn’t thought of that book as an idol before. Wow. Great perspective.
    *I’ve discovered that each book I write is a book of my heart. My first book holds my passion for marriage, and it is . . . my first book. My second book tapped in to other aspects of my heart. My third book helped me discover my message/life theme—that message that will probably come through every book I may write. And my current manuscript draws on many things about which I care deeply. So, I think each book can be a book of our hearts.

  10. Congratulations, Wendy. And what a sweet reminder not to cling too much to things of this world but to just keep writing. Keep growing.

  11. Yep, I’ve been there. My first picture book ms. was one where I prayed for an idea and God gave me one and I wrote it and pitched to absolutely everyone. During that same prayer, crazy as it seems, God gave me a full length ms. idea. He is gracious to help, even in what seems insignificant to others, but is huge to us. However, that wonderful inspiration does not mean our story is industry ready. I spent a year writing and four years revising that story. I pitched it everywhere. It was and is the story of my heart. I started it fourteen years ago and still go back and revise it and pitch it at conferences. I even have an Ancient Assyrian costume to wear at conferences that goes with that ms. Four of the agents here have rejected that ms. one of them has rejected it three times (I know, I know! I’m foolish!!!) and I still love it. But although my love remains strong, I have written ten other ms. since those first two. Yes, I will keep going back and revising my first loves. But I am also moving forward with new ideas and new ways of writing. That new writing and what it has taught me might someday enable me to revise my beloved Assyrian story to the place of publication. Who knows. But whatever happens, I will continue to both write and revise. So yeah, I suppose I would tell your imaginary writer this whole long and convoluted story and watch their eyes glaze over in horror if they asked one of the questions above. Poor thing! Maybe half the story …

    • Kristen, yah, you go girl! I am doing the same. All my WIPS I love for different reasons,.amd I can revise as I work on others. It’s like cooking and having something in the crockpot on low, something, maybe even more than one thing, in the oven–just on different racks, a pot cooking on the stove top and a dish in the microwave, with last
      but not least ingredients Bri g gathered for a brand new recipe. All of them made with passion and excitement over each finished piece de resistance. Each one is served to the awaiting guests only when it has been cooked or baked to completion. Every true cook and every passionate artists knows the value of knowing when something is done and ready for presentation. I am both a passionate artist and a true cook.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Not foolish. Persistent. And there’s no shame in that. I passed a couple times on some of my long time clients before we sealed the deal.

  12. I find this post interesting. I’m glad the author’s diligence and perseverance is paying off. You never know what’s down the road and around the bend. Glad she has you to represent her. You, also, have persevered. Yay, Wendy!

  13. Sarah Sundin says:

    The very first novel I wrote I KNOW God put on my heart to write. As in “I had a dream” knew, deep in my soul. However, that didn’t mean God meant for that book to be published. Now I know it never will, nor do I want it to be, nor do I want anyone to read it ever. That applies to my second book too.

    But God put it on my heart to write it – so that I would enter the writing community, learn to write, learn about the publishing industry, and eventually write the publishable novel. He also had some hard lessons to teach me about patience, trusting Him and His timing, and obeying when you can’t see the path ahead of you.

    So it’s important for us authors to realize that God can give us stories…but maybe not for the purpose we first imagine. He’s far bigger and greater than our limited imaginations!

  14. Congratulations, Wendy, to both of you. This post is a relief to me as I struggle with feeling like a quitter whenever I start a new project. But knowing the old ones may yet see the light of a publisher’s ink helps me find my way forward. Goodbye doesn’t have to be forever–it’s a season–maybe. 🙂
    To “This book is the book of my heart” I would say real writers write every manuscript from the heart. Some are simply stepping stones to future published work and some are the work that’s chosen to see the light of publication. Keep writing because that’s what writers do best.
    Blessings ~ Wendy Mac

  15. Jerusha Agen says:

    Great advice, Wendy! So many things hide in our hearts and hold us back until we recognize them for what they are–idols. Thank you for addressing this issue with writing!

  16. Wonderful advice. Thank you.

  17. Amanda Dykes says:

    God is so patient to teach us. My first conference, years ago at Mount Hermon (the one where I met you!), I did the “hike to the cross” on Palm Sunday. There was a woman in the group who, when we reached the top of the hill, asked if she could say something. She had brought her writing bag on the hike, lugged it all the way up the hill, because she wanted to lay it down at the foot of the cross. I remember it so clearly– her humble, heartfelt words explaining how her prayer was to write as an act of worship, to not make it an idol, to surrender it all to our Lord– the way the moment was graced with the golden first light of day. And God awakened a slowly-growing-something in my heart that moment. He continues to teach it to me today, how he communes with us in surrender and sacrifice so deeply, how that is where the gift of this writing journey is. I’m so thankful for his continued patience in awakening my heart to this day by day, and so thankful for you, Wendy!

  18. “This is the very book God has put on my heart.”

    One of the many valuable things I learned at a recent speaker conference also applies to writing–Just because we feel compelled to say/write something doesn’t necessarily mean God is telling us to, or that we are supposed to say/write it right now.

    I’m learning to be careful with “God put this on my heart,” whether I’m saying it about a book proposal, a blog post, a random Facebook comment, or a conversation with a friend. Sometimes, I’M the one who put it on my heart. At the same time, it is not up to me to decide what God did or didn’t nudge someone to write.

    So, if I were playing the role of agent, I would tell this person, “That’s wonderful if He put this book on your heart, but for some reason it isn’t grabbing the attention of editors right now. How about if you put this project away for a while and ask God what else He wants you to write?”

  19. Teresa Haugh says:

    In my ACFW interview with Brandy Bruce last month, she talked about her new book that was 20 years in the making. She never gave up on her manuscript, but was grateful she didn’t publish it when she was younger.

  20. Susan Sage says:

    I love this, Wendy. I have a completed book, declined by two publishers (which I celebrated and yes, I know that’s not many), as well as two partials. I am currently doing the background work and research for a series. Each step, though some would call them steps backwards, are still steps forward to me. I even notice the improvement in the craft as I hone, learn, and grow.
    I appreciate the reminder not to allow the work that God has given to become an idol. He must be the only One I serve.
    Thank you and God bless.

  21. Jane Daly says:

    I totally agree. I’ve had my agent pitch 2 different novels for me with no takers. I’m working on my 4th or 5th novel, hoping one will be picked up. the others? well, they’re sitting in the proverbial drawer, and may or may not see the light of day.

  22. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Thought-provoking post, Wendy. I’ve written, polished, pitched, and then moved on. And later I’ve returned to earlier works and revised as I learned my craft better. Haven’t thought of them as idols ~ but ’tis worth being aware. And I thank you so much for sharing this story of your debut author. I appreciate the encouragement as I persevere.

  23. Rich Herberding says:

    This seems like the extension of an author so tied to a title/cover image/minor detail that they lose the big goal.

    When I started speakin, then writing I couldnt imagine a different title, but was open to it. In the years since i have become excited about the new direction allowed by a new title/subtitle, but am still open to do whatever it takes.

    Bringing this idea back to the theological, how many souls have been lost over the years because the previous generation put their methods (minor things) of evangelism over the message of the Gospel (the big thing)?

  24. Rachel L says:

    This post is so encouraging! As someone who is preparing her fifth novel to query, with the first four languishing as files on a flash drive, I’ve wondered if anything I write is going to interest an agent, much less a publisher or readers. But rather than holding out for that first book to sell, I’ve gone back to the start four times, each book teaching me something, giving me joy, and the process becomes easier. Congrats to you and your author on finally launching her work!