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Writing for Love


Somebody once asked if awards had changed my life.

No. And yes.

During my journalism days, some of my stories won national awards—stories about young fathers dying of brain cancer, and single mothers whose severely handicapped children blessed multiple lives, and a death row inmate who met weekly with his chaplain then killed himself right before the state planned to execute him. By grace beyond measure, my maiden effort at novel writing won a Christy Award.

This month, Booklist, the magazine of the American Library Association, named The Clouds Roll Away one of the top ten romance novels of 2010.

All wonderful. All joyful.

But humbling.

Because no matter what accolades have dropped from the sky, my life remains challenging. Dirty socks. Bills. Too much information about the latest celebrities. And every morning—every single morning—the blank page.

Much more importantly, awards aren’t the point.

Sure, right. Awards aren’t the point. Whatever.

Yes, that statement does sound like platitude.

But the point—the crux—of writing comes down to motive.

Here’s a list of good motives: Write to reach hearts. Write to show readers something extraordinary. Write to encourage good in the world. Write because God put the story on your heart.

But never, ever write for awards. It’s the equivalent of writing for money; before you know it, you’ve joined the world’s oldest profession.

My motive for writing The Clouds Roll Away was to show Raleigh Harmon’s need for love. As a secondary motive, I hoped Raleigh’s need would reflect the world’s need, which is why the book takes place at Christmas, when “love came down” (thank you, Christina Rossetti).

I didn’t set out to write a romance. And I certainly never expected any award. I only hoped to show the God-shaped hole in the human heart.

Ironically, when my publisher told me the Booklist news, my first thought was of the fallow years.

That’s what I’ve named the years when I quit writing. My family needed full attention, and then some. Young children. A dying father. A husband starting his own business. I walked away from the computer and spent most of my time at the kitchen sink, where Proverbs 11:25 was taped to the window: “He who waters will himself be watered.”

The fallow years blossomed into a garden paling my imagination. “Oh, what gracious lessons some of us have learned at sick beds!” wrote Charles Spurgeon.

I’m deeply grateful to Booklist for recognizing The Clouds Roll Away. Honored, and humbled.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, a good motive and a blank page are waiting.

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