by Jim Denney, adapted from
ANSWERS TO SATISFY THE SOUL:
Clear, Straight Answers to 20 of Life’s Most Perplexing Questions
In April 1914, when C. S. Lewis was fifteen-and-a-half, he went with his father and brother to the Belfast home of Joseph and Mary Greeves. Their youngest son, Arthur, was three years older than Lewis. Years earlier, a doctor had misdiagnosed Arthur with a “weak heart.” As a result, Mary Greeves coddled Arthur and made him spend most of his days in bed as a semi-invalid.
Lewis went to Arthur’s room and found the young man reading. The book in Arthur’s hands was Myths of the Norsemen by Hélène Adeline Guerber—one of Lewis’s own favorites. Lewis and Arthur bonded over their shared love of Norse eddas and sagas. For the rest of his life, C. S. Lewis regarded Arthur Greeves as his closest friend, next to his brother Warren. Both dreamed of being writers, and they exchanged many letters filled with literary ideas, plans, and opinions.
Greeves and Lewis lived very different lives. Greeves was spoiled and pampered by a worrying mother. Lewis had lived a very hard life since age nine, when his mother died. That’s when his father shipped him off to the Wynyard School in Watford, England—a place Lewis remembered as a house of horrors and punishments, ruled by a brutal man who was later arrested for the cruelties he inflicted on the boys at Wynyard. Perhaps the hardships in his life motivated Lewis to focus intensely on his career goals.
Arthur dreamed of being published and shared many story ideas with Lewis, who repeatedly told him he had a great talent for writing. Yet Arthur never seemed to finish anything he started, and he never managed to get published. Again and again, Lewis coaxed Arthur to finish his stories and submit them for publication.
“You have plenty of imagination,” Lewis wrote Arthur in 1916, “and what you want is practice, practice, practice. It doesn’t matter what we write . . . so long as we write continually as well as we can. I feel that every time I write a page either of prose or of verse, with real effort, even if it’s thrown into the fire the next minute, I am so much further on.”
Three years later, when Lewis was discharged after serving in World War I, he again wrote to Arthur, urging him, “Do get on with the writing: as you said yourself, it at least needs no physical energy and I am sure you only need to stick at it.”
In time, C. S. Lewis became one of the best-loved authors of the twentieth century, famed especially for Mere Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia. But Arthur lived his entire life without being published.
Lewis devoted himself to a focused, daily regimen of writing. Arthur wrote only when he felt “inspired.” Writing for publication is a dream for many people like Arthur. But the dream only becomes a reality if you stick to it, focus, and never give up.
The world is full of people who dream of writing that novel or building that dream house or starting a business or launching a singing career. “Sure, I could do that,” they say, “and someday I just might.” But they never do and they never will. They keep their dreams in a shoebox, tied up with string, shoved under the bed—because they lack the courage to put their dreams to the test.
When I first decided to take the plunge into fulltime freelance writing, I knew it would mean no more regular paychecks, no employer-paid health insurance, no retirement plan, no paid vacation. I talked to a couple of other writers who had each been in the business for ten years or more, seeking their advice.
One told me, “You happened to call me just as I’m quitting the freelance life and taking a job with a publishing house. Jim, I just couldn’t take it anymore. My advice to you is this: Don’t even think of fulltime freelance writing unless you have at least a year’s worth of living expenses saved up.”
The other writer I talked to had more than five million copies of his various books in print—and he did all his writing in his spare time. From 9 to 5, he headed up a nonprofit organization. He told me, “Don’t quit your day job. Do your writing evenings and weekends, and make sure you have a regular paycheck.” Not much encouragement there, either.
I corresponded by email with a Hugo- and Nebula-winning science fiction writer, one of the top names in the field, and he told me how the bank had repossessed his house during his first couple of years as a fulltime writer. So he couldn’t offer much encouragement—but he wished me luck.
What should I do? Should I listen to those veteran writers who advised me (with excellent justification) not to even consider such a foolish move? Or should I pursue my dream? I knew I had the discipline and experience to be a writer. I had already had a few books published while writing part-time. So I took the plunge.
And it was tough—incredibly tough. Worse than I imagined it would be. If I had it to do over again, I would do everything differently. But I survived and eventually thrived as a writer.
The key to success in writing or any other endeavor is focus. You have to focus on the work at hand, regardless of distractions and interruptions. You have to focus on moving forward, no matter what obstacles are in your way. You have to focus on your goals, despite rejections and setbacks.
Richard Hooker spent seven years writing his Korean War comedy novel M*A*S*H. It was rejected by twenty-one publishers before William Morrow & Co. published it. The book became an immediate bestseller and spun off a hugely successful movie and TV series—but it wouldn’t have happened without intense focus and dogged perseverance.
Mystery writer Donald Westlake used to paper the walls of his apartment with rejection slips. The day he sold his first story to a magazine, he celebrated by ripping those rejection slips off the wall—all 204 of them. He became one of the most successful writers in America—but he never would have gotten anywhere without an intense focus on his dreams.
So what are your dreams for the future? What is God calling you to do with your life? It might be a novel or a nonfiction book, or a new church or an after-school program for kids, or a run for public office, or a new business on the Internet. All you have to do is focus on the dream God has given you, work hard at it every day, and persevere, persevere, persevere.
For how long?
As long is it takes for that dream to come true.
SATISFY THE SOUL:
Clear, Straight Answers to 20 of Life’s Most Perplexing Questions
by Jim Denney
(Kindle Edition: $2.99)
“Read this book and save yourself a lifetime of searching and wondering. The answers you seek are all right here!”
—Jack Canfield, author of Dare to Win and the Chicken Soup for the Soul series
“Grab an arm-load of Answers to Satisfy the Soul! Buy one for yourself, one to lend out, and a dozen to give as gifts. You’ve got a lot of friends who need this book!”
—Pat Williams, author of Character Carved in Stone
“If you are on a quest for success, happiness, love, meaning, or God, this book is for you. Whatever you seek in life, Answers to Satisfy the Soul will speed you on your journey.”
—John C. Maxwell, author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership
What a sad story about Lewis’s friend. But what an inspiring post! Thanks so much for sharing!
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Yes, Bridget, very sad. There’s so much wasted potential in the world, so many unused gifts and talents. If only we could inspire everyone to focus on the dream God has called them to! —Jim D.