by Charles Martin, 2020 Keynote Speaker
Halfway through the writing of Long Way Gone, I discovered I’d written myself into what looked like a dead end. Or a black hole. It’d happened years before, so I tried to press in and listen for the story to bubble up. Crickets. I’ve heard it called writer’s block. It’s the second time in my career I’d come to a standstill with no way around. The first time ended badly. That memory echoed.
In desperation, I got up out of my chair, grabbed my Bible and walked out onto the pool deck where I began circling, reading the Psalms out loud. When I tired of this, I set down my Bible, raised my hands, and continued circling. Christy thought I was losing it. “Honey, do you have a plan B?”
No, I’ve never had a plan B.
I don’t know how many times I walked around our pool, but the words I kept repeating were, “Lord, Your word is true. More true than my circumstances. My circumstances don’t dictate my reality or Yours. Your Word reveals it. Help…Please help.”
This continued every day. For three weeks.
On normal days, I write anywhere from 500-1,000 words. I used to set lofty goals of 2,500 but discovered I prefer quality over quantity so while I can write more, I’d rather write less better. Somewhere in my fourth week, with a worried wife inside, I had an idea. Just a glimmer. I thought, “What have I got to lose?” So I walked inside, sat down, and started writing.
An hour in, I had to stop typing because I couldn’t see the screen. Tears make things blurry. The solution, the work-around, had been there all along. Hidden. It was as if the Lord had led me by the hand around a blind corner. “See?”
Ten thousand words later, I closed my laptop. It’s the most I’ve ever written in a single day. My fingers sounded like hummingbird wings.
Readers say a lot of praiseworthy stuff when it comes to my stories. Truth is, I probably sweat and pray my stories more than anything else. Somewhere in my many laps around the pool, I landed on Psalm 45. It was true then. It’s true now. I pray my pen is used to tell His story and I am somehow able to make His Great Name known to the nations, so He might receive praise.
The Christy Awards graciously declared Long Way Gone their “2017 Book of the Year.” When my editor called to tell me, I scratched my head and I thought, “Look what God did.” I certainly did not. I had nothing. Saw no daylight. But then He pulled back a curtain and shared with me the beauty of the love of the father for the son and how, no matter what any of us do, no matter what sin and shame we wrap ourselves in, there is no place on planet earth where the blood of Jesus can’t reach us. Nothing disqualifies us. No gone is too far gone. He’s still standing on the porch, eyes staring down the road. All we need do is turn around. Put one foot in front of the other. He’s already made a way. And when he sees us, He comes flying off the porch as if shot out of a canon and smothers our faces in kisses. That picture just shreds me. Every time. The God of the universe kissing my face, the son of squalor, who betrayed Him, rejected Him, and said, “You’re dead to me.” When I see this in my mind’s eye, I come undone.
After the soul-deep pain and doubt I’d experienced in writing Long Way Gone, I took a short break, and then set about writing a story I’d been thinking of for some time. It’s the story of a Vietnam veteran with a forty-five-year secret. Circumstances surface that bring him out of hiding and force him to wrestle with whether or not to reveal the truth. Problem is, if he does, somebody dies. And if he doesn’t, somebody dies. It’s a tough place.
I thought that writing it would be easier given the sweat equity I’d earned in Long Way Gone. That maybe I’d pushed through the blockage. That the words would flow.
They did not.
What I experienced was twice as bad. Twice as dark. Twice as quiet. I had no words.
To make matters worse, we had moved into a new house—with no pool.
Then the Lord led me to Psalm 84 and “Blessed is the man who’s strength is in You, who’s heart is set on pilgrimage.” So I set down my computer and lifted my arms. “Lord, my circumstances don’t dictate You, Your reality, or Your love for me. Your Word reveals it. I got nothing. Help. Please help.”
Then He pulled back the curtain and I cried like a baby.
Let me end with this—Pulling back my own curtain and allowing you to hear what really matters. My conversation with the Lord: Lord, God in Heaven, I don’t know what You’ll do with me or my stories, but I’m available. Selfishly, I’d like to ask that the writing of the next not be as tough as the last two. I could use a little boost. Either way, I’ll still be here. Longing for You. Crying out to You. From strength to strength, I will appear before You in Zion. You tell us if You are lifted up You will draw all men to Yourself. I pray my stories lift You up. I pray You increase, and I decrease. And I pray that somehow, through whatever way I am able to string words together I might make Your Great Name known to the nations, so You alone might receive glory and honor. I ask this in the matchless and undefeated name of Jesus.
(Originally published at https://charlesmartinbooks.com/blog/entry/the_truth_behind_book_of_the_year, November 12, 2017. Used with permission.)
Send Down the Rain released in May of 2018 and is a 2019 Christy Award finalist. All of the 2019 Christy Award finalist are listed here. Register for 2019 Art of Writing Conference and the Christy Award Gala here.
Charles Martin is the New York Times best-selling author of fifteen books, published in more than thirty-five countries and translated into as many languages. His titles include: Long Way Gone (winner of the 2017 Christy Book of the Year award) Chasing Fireflies (winner of the 2007 RT Reviewers Choice award) When Crickets Cry (winner of the 2007 Christian Book award for fiction) and Send Down the Rain (2019 Christy finalist).
In a departure from his novel writing, Charles Martin’s latest book shares key moments from his own journey as a disciple and bondservant of Christ, using a storyteller’s imagination to illuminate key moments of the Scriptures, primarily from the life and ministry of Jesus. What If It’s True? launches in January and will be available at the Mount Hermon conference in 2020.
Charles and his wife, Christy, live in Jacksonville, Florida, with their three boys. Find out more at charlesmartinbooks.com