Man writing in notebook

Writing the Perfect Book

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In today’s post, I’d like to reflect briefly on the process of writing, editing, and publishing a book, and how difficult that process is — especially for authors who are inclined towards perfectionism.

The athlete who is to participate in a world championship will have spent a great deal of time in training, and perhaps a great deal of time being focused on a single race. When the time for their race comes around, they will focus all their energy on putting in the best performance they possibly can, and they hope they will win the race, perhaps achieving a ‘personal best’ or even a world record. When they have crossed the finish line, and the race is over, and once the momentary euphoria fades, they will almost immediately begin thinking about their areas of weakness and how they can be improved, and about the next championship on their calendar that they hope to participate in.

Authors are similar to athletes in respect of some of these things (only with more tea and cake, perhaps, and less well-defined sets of abs…). Sport can be addictive, and so can writing and publishing books. As a book nears completion, the author will be focused entirely on the publication date (which is, in a sense, their ‘race day’), and how they can strengthen their chance of success by reading through and editing the manuscript many times (a kind of ‘practice’). They will hope to find a great editor to help them improve their work (their equivalent of having a ‘personal trainer’), and they will seek to finalise the best possible artwork (their equivalent of getting the best sports clothing and equipment, perhaps).

It is a facet of being human that there always seems to be a goal we are striving towards. God places a vision on our heart and in our mind, and that vision stays with us in the background as we go about our daily activities, like a kind of anchor, or ‘life focus’, which gives our life meaning. We are always striving after the next ‘personal best’; the next promotion in our job, the move to a bigger house, etc. As soon as one goal is achieved, the next one comes to the forefront of our mind, and so we are always striving and never satisfied. Such is the human predicament; for many people, at least.

All of these discussions are relatable to the processes involved with being an author. When an author is consumed with working on a book project, the book can seem like the most important thing in the world, but following publication, we start thinking about what we might have done better, and the next book which we feel inspired to write and which we hope will be even better; another step forward; a rung higher on the ladder; better use of language; better formatting; better artwork; more profound subject matter; more correct use of semi-colons; etc.

In light of these considerations, I think it would be fair to say that an author’s work is never done. When I look back at the first two books I ever wrote, I appreciate that they were well produced, but while at the time of writing they were the best I could do, looking back there are so many areas where they fall short. Thank God for second and third editions!

An author will never produce a perfect work. It is impossible for anyone to do so. At some point in their career, an author must just ‘let go’, appreciating the fact that a piece of creative work is never finished, only abandoned. There are minor things that I regret about every book, article, blurb, book cover, etc, that I have ever worked on. There will always be imperfections in my work, and I have learned that I must live with this truth while always striving to be the best writer I can possibly be.

Reader, whenever you read a book by an author, especially in the domains of philosophy and theology, please be sensitive to the fact they are on a journey, and the book you are reading represents only a snapshot of a moment in time. I hope readers will always appreciate this in reference to my own work, as perhaps more than some other authors my thinking has shifted around a lot, partly due to my schizoaffective disorder, which means I can go through seasons of high mood, and seasons of depression, for instance.

I always try to produce written work that is unaffected by emotions, of course, but the thoughts I have had during different phases in my life have at times produced stark contrast in my written work — some books and articles were written during times when I’ve felt I wholeheartedly embrace the Christian faith, while others were written during periods of doubt and questioning, or times when my reality has undergone a significant shift due to psychosis, for instance.

The way I would like people to regard my body of work is as a tool to assist them in their own spiritual journey — that my immersive explorations of different spiritual paths, and my wrestling with life’s big questions from different viewpoints, can serve them as they grapple with all of the big problems and questions of philosophy and theology for themselves.

If you’d like to see all of the books I have written to date, with all of their many imperfections, you can do so on the books page. Thanks be to God for the blessing of writing, and thank you for reading and following this blog.