One of America’s Premier Religion Writers, Jonathan Merritt, has just released his new book: Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words are Vanishing — And How We Can Revive Them.
It’s beautiful, thought-provoking, and even provocative. But the project that was supposed to take one year took almost five. The Write Brilliant Academy recently sat down with Jonathan to find out why. During our time together, he shared some rich lessons on writing that guarantee to make your next project better. Read on
Write Brilliant Academy: You originally planned to write this book in one year, but it took you nearly four. What took so much longer than you thought in the writing of the book?
Merritt: For one thing, the idea was far bigger than I anticipated. I simply could not do the topic justice in one year. I tend to take on more aggressive topics than I probably should. But in addition to this, I developed a chronic pain disorder in the middle of the project that shipwrecked my life, severely limited my work output, and wrecked me emotionally.
I write about this in my book, but there’s a lesson in it for writers. We have to learn to recognize and respond to our own limitations. If you have four children or if your parent is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or if you have to take on a second job to pay the rent, you’re not going to be able to write with the intensity that you might otherwise. And that’s okay. Whatever you can muster is enough.
I used to work 12- to 14-hour days, and I can’t do that anymore. An 8-hour day is about the best I can do most days. I have had to learn to look at my writerly self in the mirror each day and say, “All you can do today is enough.”
Write Brilliant Academy: You’ve done some deep and beautiful research on the meaning of words and language in Learning to Speak God From Scratch. What advice do you have for writers who want to do more thoughtful research?
Merritt: Usually when writers want to prove a big point, the reach for a poll. And there are plenty of these out there today to be harvested. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, In “Learning to Speak God from Scratch,” for example, I draw from a poll I commissioned with Barna Group of more than 1,000 Americans. But just pulling a poll is not enough to carry the point home.
I often say that, “Information is convincing, but inspiration is compelling.” You want both. So the quantitative research of polls and surveys should always be paired with quantitative research embodied in stories and anecdotes. The most compelling parts of my book are the stories of real human beings who are exhibiting the findings of my poll through their actual lives.
Write Brilliant Academy: For the second half of the book, you explore words like grace and spirit. How did you choose your words using the Write Brilliant strategy of an audience-focused, content-driven approach?
Merritt: I didn’t sit down and pick 19 words that I thought were interesting. Instead, I let most of these words choose me. My life led them to me. For example, the word pain is in the book. I certainly didn’t expect to write about that because I didn’t expect to develop a chronic pain disorder. But that was the story I lived and so that was the story I told.
I was not the slave to an arbitrary outline. But the audience was very important in the process too. Every chapter is written with the reader in mind. And there were many essays that were cut in editing because, even though I personally liked them, they did not serve my target audience. I snipped and clipped with my readers in mind. It was a painful process, but it produced a better book.
Write Brilliant Academy: Tell us about what you’re doing to market your book and which aspects of the marketing were your ideas and rested on your shoulders. What can an author today expect a publisher to do to promote their book?
Merritt: My marketing approach is summed up in two words: “Do everything.” I’m not relying on any single approach to sell the book. I’ve lined up a 16-week speaking tour. I pushed for an amazing publisher to help garner both Christian and mainstream media. I have called in favors with every friend I know. I’m paying out of pocket for a mailing to influencers who can help promote the book.
I’m doing a special podcast around the book. I’ve done a giveaway at jonathanmerritt.com of my favorite things to catch readers’ attention. I’ve got an amazing launch team of more than 200 superstars. And I’ve got a YouTube series coming out where I’m conducting man on the street interviews in time square. These days, you have to push in every way and see what sticks. There is no silver bullet.
Write Brilliant Academy: If you were to begin writing this book again today, how would you approach the writing different?
Merritt: I would have made it even more personal and even more practical. There is a lot of personal narrative in the book, but there were some struggles I experienced that I didn’t include in the book that I think might have given the book even more heart. And even though the book includes a super-practical appendix titled, “A How-To Guide for Seekers and Speakers” I often wonder if it could have been even more prescriptive. But I don’t let myself Monday-morning-quarterback too much. I did my best in this book, and I really believe it is my best book yet. No regrets.
Write Brilliant Academy: After writing this book, what’s the biggest piece of encouragement you have for writers?
Merritt: I’d tell young writer this: “If you’re struggling with demons and inner-critics, don’t worry. We all do.” When I was just starting out, I thought I would get past the discouragement and fear and anxiety if only I could publish an article with a big-time publication, if only I could write a book, if only I could land an interview on a coveted television show.
I’ve done all these things, but those struggles are still there. You don’t eliminate them; you just learn to manage them. So when you hear the discouraging whispers telling you that you’re not good enough or will never make it, know that you’re not alone.
If you haven’t ordered a copy of Learning to Speak God from Scratch, we encourage you to pick up a copy today. You’ll not only learn about this important topic but also learn firsthand from a maestro with words.
Click here to order the book today.
To learn more about The Write Brilliant Academy, enjoy our 3-part FREE video series Jumpstart My Writing.
The email timestamp read 6:38 AM, and the first lines aroused a bit of suspicion in me: “From Jesus, via me.”
I’m a bit of a skeptic when I’m told someone has a “message from God” for me. Call me skeptical, but it seems there might be a little room for interpretive error.
This time the sender was a dear friend. The kind of friend you can trust with these sorts of emails. Her words altered my life’s trajectory.
I’m a recovering perfectionist, and I’d been struggling with writing. Perfectionism doesn’t mix well with writing. No matter how good our work may be, perfectionism tells us that it isn’t good enough.
Most of the time I would stare at the blinking cursor on a blank screen unable to move my fingers. How would I ever write anything that anyone would want to read?
I knew the kind of content capable authors penned, and I couldn’t create anything close to the quality of their work. But God kept nudging me onward.
As I scrolled through my friend’s email, four words marked the beginning of a change in my thinking. Four words I needed to believe and own. Four words every writer should speak out loud at least once per day.
Just 13 letters, but a boatload of power contained within.
If you feel a sacred calling to put words on paper—and you follow it—then you are a writer. Not should be, might be, or will be. You are.
These words encourage us to step out in courage, fighting the fear of not being smart enough or capable enough.
If you feel a sacred calling to put words on paper and follow it—then you ARE a writer. Click To Tweet
The first time I read this phrase, belief sparked inside me. My fingers started moving, and I wrote. And wrote. And wrote.
It was terrible. But I kept writing and kept learning and growing. I listened to tough criticism about my writing (which proves exceptionally difficult as a recovering perfectionist, but is vital if you want to improve). And, most importantly, I registered for training with great people like Margaret and Jonathan, soaking in as much wisdom as I could.
Image courtesy of Moody Publishers
Today, I’m not as good a writer as I will be tomorrow. But I’m better than I was. And I’ve published my first book!
So give it a try. Look yourself in the mirror and speak those four words. Make yourself write them out. Don’t just believe you can be a writer. Believe you already are.
After you believe, then start to evaluate. Take an honest assessment of where your work can be stronger. What habits do you have that need broken? What grammar skills need tightening? How can you make your stories more captivating?
Having a brilliant writer critique your work may be the most painful and most helpful step you can take. It stings, but it’s worth it.
Be encouraged today. You have a story. Something to share. Press through the fear and get started.
After all, you are a writer.
For even more writing tips, sign up for our FREE 3-part mini course designed to help you start writing, sustain your writing, and share your writing.
Click here to jumpstart your writing now.
Laura Dingman is a writer, minister, blogger, and proud Write Brilliant alum. She is also author of I Am Found: Quitting the Game of Hide and Seek with God and Others.
"Jonathan and Margaret are two of the best writing coaches in America, and I've learned much from them over the years. Their Write Brilliant program will help you grow deep roots and a wide reach. Do not wait to sign-up!"
– Gabe Lyons
Bestselling author of Good Faith and founder of Q
"I highly recommend Jonathan and Margaret's program for writers of any level!"
– Jennie Allen,
bestselling author of Nothing to Prove and founder of IF:Gathering
"The firehose of information I absorbed through Write Brilliant transformed the way I write. Jonathan and Margaret bring a combined breadth of knowledge and a straight-shooting style that helped me clarify my target audience, expand my platform, and get practical about what it takes to dedicate myself to my craft. I learned more in this one course than in all past conferences, books, blogs, and videos I’ve engaged. Write Brilliant is a one-stop-shop for taking your writing to the next level."
– September Vaudrey,
author of Colors of Goodbye
"In all my years of leading organizations, I've encountered dozens of how-to programs, but none of them has been more effective then this one. I should know. The Write Brilliant strategy gave me the boost of confidence I needed to create two books on leadership. Whether you want to author a book or just create a blog, make sure you don't miss this fantastic course."
– Brad Lomenick,
author of H3 Leadership and former director of Catalyst