Overcoming Challenges Writers Face
Recently I was asked to speak at a writers conference on overcoming challenges. I decided to focus on overcoming challenges as a writer. I’ve faced a ton of challenges as a writer, so let me regale you with stories illustrating overcoming challenges. As you read you will hopefully be thinking, “Wait a minute. Now I know why God let me have that experience.” Or you may be thinking, “Whoa, I know now how I can better prepare for overcoming writing challenges."
I was 25 and single, weeks away from graduating from Bible college, and writing my testimony for a chapel presentation. Yet what do you say when you are 25 and still don’t know what God has in mind for you? Two weeks before the end of the school year I was walking the streets of Winnipeg, Canada, on a sunny May day selling, of all things, our college yearbook, determined to win first prize in the annual sales contest. I landed at the home of the publisher of a German Mennonite weekly, who was sitting on his porch and he said, “Come sit down.” After I sat down the publisher said, “At the next meeting of our board two months from now I will be asking the board to approve the founding of an English equivalent of our German weekly. Would you like to be the editor?”
So what had I done to prepare to overcome the challenge of developing a weekly for a denomination that had not had an English publication? God led me to prepare for writing weekly editorials and articles in his unique way.
- While working as first aid and warehouseman at a silver and zinc mine after my sophomore year in university, I spent a week before the Lord asking what he wanted from me. He made it clear that he wanted me to be a messenger for him, but when or how I had no clue. In prayer I committed myself to have as great an impact as possible on a worldwide basis. A few weeks later a mountain climbing accident put me in the local mission hospital. While flat on my back for three and a half months I saw an ad that shouted “You can write.” I enrolled in The Beginning Christian Writer course, seven lessons for $15. I did my lessons the next summer on an island while employed by the B.C. Forest Service. The weekly editor on that island had all the lessons from the journalism course of the Newspaper Institute of America—and he let me study them as well.
- That fall I arrived at the Mennonite Brethren Bible College, having studied and written all summer. Before the classes started I walked down the street to the denominational publishing house and approached the publisher, asking if he had any proofreading opportunities. Turned out he did. Though he soon discontinued the publication, he had seen my work.
- I began writing articles based on interviews for a weekly Mennonite publication. Christmas of my senior year the president of the college asked if I would tackle doing publicity for the college. I agreed—and among others submitted articles to the publisher for whom I had done proofreading. That publisher was the one who later invited me to become founding editor of his new weekly.
What can we glean from my experience?
- We can overcome challenges only if we are in touch with the Lord and moving forward in the opportunities he presents. I would never have entered the journalistic field without doing the assignments in that seven-lesson course on writing news articles. Ironically, nearly 50 years later Jerry Jenkins asked me to write the lessons for a new Apprentice Course.
- The Lord gives us all kinds of life experiences and challenges that prepare us for a future challenge. For two years, 1960-62, I was manager of the selling floor of the Moody Bookstore at Moody Bible Institute. Every week we had to contend with groups of African American kids wandering into the store. Little did I know that 10 years later I would be challenged to write Junior High Sunday school curriculum for African American inner city kids. Those kids flooding the store helped me visualize what I was writing for. What job has been preparing you for a writing challenge? You may not be seeing it now, but faithful service leads to the Lord giving you a new and probably expanded challenge.
- Sometimes what we volunteer for is part of God’s preparation for a writing challenge. While working almost round the clock as founding editor of the British Columbia Business Journal in the late 1960s, I volunteered to work with the Christian Service Brigade kids in our church because our son was in the 8-11 year-old group. Every week I worked with those kids on their projects, told them stories, listened to their conversation. God saw that as preparation for a new challenge.
In 1970 we had moved to Glen Ellyn, IL for my new job as editorial director at Moody Press. One day the editorial director at the head office of Christian Service Brigade jumped over our back fence and knocked on our door. His mission? “The writer for the Bible study in our magazines is chronically late—and this time I am up against the deadline and no Bible study,” he told me. Would I be willing to write a Bible study? Well, our son was again involved in Christian Service Brigade, so sure. I delivered a creative new approach to Bible study involving a fiction story based on our son’s experiences the next evening. I wrote that Bible study for 10 years. My two years as volunteer interacting with boys had prepared me! Ten years later when I was with Christian Herald Association we put 12 of those Bible studies in book form and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association picked it up and for a number of years sent it to kids who accepted Christ at Crusades.
Your focus may be on writing a novel or a non-fiction book, but what volunteer opportunity does God have waiting for you that will help you overcome a writing challenge?
Sometimes one challenge is God’s preparation for an even more difficult challenge. When the apostle Paul arrived in Jerusalem after his fourth missionary journey he was rushed by a mob of misinformed zealots. They had heard he was actively witnessing to Gentiles and even bringing them into the temple in Jerusalem. He was rescued from the mob by Roman soldiers, who later under cover of darkness escorted him out of Jerusalem to Caesarea, where he lay in prison for two years. He was brought out of prison to testify before both the Roman governor and the King Agrippa, whom the Romans had appointed king over the whole region. He met those two challenges with presentations so brilliant that the Roman governor exclaimed, “Your learning has made you mad.”
Yet God was using these opportunities to testify before secular rulers to prepare Paul for an even greater challenge, an appearance before the Roman emporer. But God had still more challenges to prepare him for that—travel through the greatest storm the Mediterranean could throw at the ship carrying the apostle Paul and his Roman captors to Rome. His challenge was to keep up the spirits of the ship’s crew and captain during about three weeks of continuous storm. And God helped him do that by appearing to him at night and encouraging him.
While I had written or ghosted 14 books and hundreds of articles, written scores of newsletters and fundraising letters for Christian organizations, and done public relations for others, I faced my greatest writing challenge in September 2001. Jerry Jenkins had announced to his new board for the Christian Writers Guild that Les Stobbe would be writing a new apprentice course, and inviting others to write specialty lessons. I had no degree in journalism, no experience as a professor of journalism or writing, though I had taught English in high school and journalism workshops at writers’ conferences for decades. But when I sat down at my keyboard and faced a blank screen I was faced with a huge challenge. So every day for three months I bowed my head before the computer screen and asked the Holy Spirit to give me the outline and the points I needed to cover for Lesson 1, then Lesson 2, then Lesson 3, and so on for 34 lessons. In a truly unbelievable, amazing way the Holy Spirit gave me the opening ideas, the outline for each lesson. I am a living illustration of the apostle Paul’s statement in Philippians 4:13 that “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.”
What challenge are you facing? Know that God has been aware of it throughout all eternity and has been preparing you through one challenge after another for the one you are facing right now.