Focus on Faculty: OCW Annual Summer Coaching Conference
by Lindy Jacobs
Setting the Goals that Will Make Your Writing Dreams a Reality: An Interview with James L. Rubart
Some writers make it look so easy. Like Jim Rubart. In the short space of five years, Jim has made the leap from new writer to the award-winning and best-selling author of Rooms, Book of Days, The Chair, and this fall his first of five books with Thomas Nelson will be released. In addition to writing highly imaginative works of fiction, Jim is an inspiring speaker and will be our 2012 summer conference keynoter.
Jim also runs Barefoot Marketing and loves spending time with his wife and two teenage sons. Summer conference director Lindy Jacobs caught up with Jim between conferences and deadlines for a conversation about goals and the writing life.
It’s a brand-new year and everyone is evaluating the past 12 months and making resolutions for the coming year. Jim, the accolades are stacking up. You really have accomplished a lot in the past five or six years. Do you remember what it was like when you started your first book, Rooms? Did you set specific goals for yourself?
Yes. Kind of. Here’s what I mean. The first step in the journey of any writer who is a follower of Jesus should be to find a big chunk of time (a whole day if possible) to spend with the Lord in solitude and ask a simple question: “What do You want me to write?” For some people it might be novels, for others it could be devotionals, and for others the absolute best thing may be writing a blog that reaches a specific audience. There’s this unspoken belief that the finish line for all writers is to pen a novel or nonfiction book. I don’t think that’s true. First step, make sure you’re in sync with what the Lord is guiding you to write.
So, once you knew what you should be writing, did you give yourself deadlines? A set number of words a day?
When I heard Jesus tell me to be a novelist, I made a goal of writing 20 minutes a day. Not a lot, but I knew I could do that. And I looked for opportunities to improve my craft and learn about the publishing world.
Did you go to writing conferences?
Going to a conference should be every writer’s goal. That’s where the magic happens. Meeting agents, editors, and other writers and watching the Lord set up divine appointments. There’s a big difference between staring at the lake from the shore and taking a swim. If writers are serious, they need to get in the water. (By the way, the OCW conference is one of the best I’ve been to, both on a spiritual level and craft level.) For years I set a goal of going to a writing conference and never acted on it. I had goals in other areas of my life, and acted on them, but I never seemed to make it to that Seattle conference right in my backyard.
What held you back?
Pure, unadulterated fear. I was scared to show anyone my writing. Scared I had no talent. Scared I’d be laughed at and waste their time and mine. But after going I realized I was not alone. Every author I know had (and still has) self-doubt. If I may be so bold, aspiring writers need to realize this writing thing isn’t about them. If God has led them to write (and if they have a burning passion inside to write then I think He has) then they need to step into obedience and step out, even though they are afraid.
Well said! What are the big rocks (big goals) you would recommend for writers? In other words, the things writers need to focus on?
First, work at the craft. Hard. Treat it like getting a degree in medicine. Put in the hours. Study books like Fiction Writing for Dummies, Plot and Structure, Writing the Breakout Novel, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Those are obviously fiction-focused since I’m a novelist—but there are excellent nonfiction books as well.
Second, get your writing out there for people to evaluate. Find a critique group. Enter contests. Submit your writing at conferences.
Third, find a mentor. Don’t force this. Let God set it up. It will happen in His time. I met Randy Ingermanson at a conference, and he became a significant mentor and encourager to me when there were still gallons of water behind my ears, but that relationship happened naturally. Now, I have a few people I’m mentoring. It’s a way to give back.
Fourth, write down what you want to accomplish. And put a date on it. By when will you finish your goal? The simple act of writing your action plan down will do wonders. Then, if you really want to go crazy, share your plan with a friend and put a dollar amount against it. “If I don’t do XYZ by this date ________, I will owe you ___ dollars.” I’ve done this. It works.
I’ve heard your novel Rooms inspired a small-group study guide with a workbook and even a DVD. So, it’s clear the readers of your books are significantly impacted by your stories and your characters’ journeys. Was this part of what God showed you when you sat with Him in the beginning? Was this His desire and goal for you? To write stories that reveal life-changing truth?
I did pray about which story idea I should develop into a novel, but I didn’t set out to write a certain kind of story. I want to live with greater freedom. I want to be restored. I want to see Jesus heal people’s deep wounds and see them step into their destiny. A friend once said every pastor has only one sermon and they keep preaching it year after year using a different approach. What I’ve described above is my sermon, so all of my books will have a theme of freedom, restoration, and destiny. So I write what’s pounding around inside my heart and mind, and leave it up to the Holy Spirit if it’s going to impact someone or not.
Your themes of healing, restoration, and forgiveness are not new, but you seem to deliver them in a unique way that resonates. Where do you get your story ideas, and how do you develop them?
Too many comic books as a kid! Seriously, it’s just the way my brain works. But I do believe it can be taught. In fact, in addition to keynoting, I’ll be teaching an intensive coaching class on how to create unique ideas that carry spiritual weight at the OCW conference in August.
The summer conference theme this year is “Speak of His Wonders” from Psalm 105:2, which is right in line with your writing, Jim. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.
My pleasure! Can’t wait for the conference this summer. I believe Jesus will work powerfully in people’s lives.