Thursday, January 31, 2013

Day 31: My Favourite Thing

Okay, here we are, the last day of January, and January Blog-a-Day, and I'm clicking my heels! Yippee! I made it. Almost. I may not blog again until next January, so enjoy this one while it lasts.

Thankfully, the topic for the final day is "Favourite." Note the English spelling. I'm assuming that means it must be slightly uppity. But I've been watching Downton Abbey with my homeys so I should be able to swing that.

I have lots of "favourite" things, but the one I am going to talk about is writing. I love writing, but not for the reason(s) I originally thought I would love it. Please allow me to explain. (There, didn't that sound uppity?)

When I was in high school, I DIDN'T love writing. Well, I didn't hate it; I guess I was just indifferent to it. I have my mom to thank for turning me toward a lifelong love affair with the written word. I've been a reader since I was very young, voraciously devouring book after book. I loved all kinds of books, but my favorite genre by the time I got to high school was science fiction. I think sci fi transported me to a place beyond imagination, a future where pretty much anything goes. The idea that we aren't alone in the universe, that it is stocked with other creatures (some of them perhaps sentient) in a manner supportive of the great diversity and creativity that I believe to be true of our magnificent Creator God, filled me with hope and inspiration.

Nevermind that the majority of science fiction writers were atheists. (Which I still don't understand to this day ... how can a brilliant mind like Carl Sagan look out upon the universe in wonder and so adamantly and arrogantly claim that it all came about by happenstance? Absurd.) The best sci fi writers, the TRULY GREAT sci fi writers (like C.S. Lewis and others), understood the importance of giving God His rightful place in the picture of the future. He gives the universe its true sense of purpose.

So, in high school I was eating up every sci fi author I could lay hands on ... Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Silverberg, David Brin, Frank Herbert, Ben Bova, you name it. And, I'm talking classical, hard-core sci fi; not so much the populist stuff like Star Wars and Star Trek (not that I mind watching the shows).

Until college I never really considered myself a writer, even though I did a lot of my own writing for pleasure, mostly poetry. (I've already shared the story of how my English teacher in the 11th grade shared my poetry with other classes, which was my wife's first introduction to my weird and wonderful brain.)

But my mom, God bless her soul, recognized some sort of latent writing ability in me and so began a campaign to get me to write something for the annual youth writing contest hosted by one of her favorite inspirational pulp magazines, Guideposts. My initial response was an adamant "Never!" I'm not sure why, I think I just had too many other pressing things going on, and didn't see the value. But, like the persistent widow of Luke 18 who daily presented her case to the uncaring judge, she finally wore me down and I wrote and submitted an article, mostly to get her off my back.

And, lo and behold, that article won a Guideposts Youth Writing Award in 1975, the year I graduated from high school. The scholarship grant which accompanied that article, $500 — which may be small by scholarship standards but was a lot of money to a 17-year-old — and the fan mail I received from predominantly female readers who swooned at my prose, combined forces to convince me that writing was cool. So, for entirely the wrong reasons (love and money and fame), I began to pursue a possible career in writing.

My story since that time is speckled with both successes and failures. Mostly failures, but some successes. I was in the advanced placement English class my senior year of high school, studied hard, and received a "5" (the highest score possible and the highest score in the history of my high school) on the CLEP test. This allowed me to bypass dum-dum English in college and I enrolled instead in a senior-level literature course. This was my first introduction to the fact that college English was entirely unlike high school English. The course professor gave me a D for my efforts, and that was generous.

So I scaled back my ambitions a bit, and became a Journalism/Creative Writing major (with a magazine editing emphasis, and a minor in Bible). I edited Biola's student newspaper, The Chimes, and thoroughly enjoyed that experience. I worked for a year, full-time, for Biola's PR department as a writer. One of the articles I prepared as part of my job, I later modified and submitted to Campus Crusade's "Athletes in Action" magazine. About the time I graduated from college, that article won the "Best Personality Feature of the Year" award from the Evangelical Press Association in 1981.

Now I really was full of myself, and while working odd jobs after college, set out to become the next great American novelist. I spent five years on a historical fantasy novel, and on the (ultimately unsuccessful) effort to see it published, and also wrote many other magazine articles as well as hired-gun pieces.

In the early 90s, after building then selling a marginally successful technology business, I focused my efforts full-time on writing. I wrote and published two nonfiction books, the first as a ghostwriter and the second as a co-author. I also got credit as a book editor for a third published book with the same co-author. For a few years I enjoyed my writing and editing career, but was not making much money at it, certainly not enough to support a family. Fortunately my wife had a well-paying job in nursing administration. But early in 1994, after a minor health crisis, she decided she needed a break and that I should get a real job.

The Lord used this situation to direct my steps back to World Vision (where I had worked part-time in 1992-93), into a full-time writing and editing position that seemed tailor-made for what I wanted to do. In late 1995 we made the corporate relocation with World Vision up to the state of Washington, and I helped my manager hire other writings into our growing department.

Most of my writing supported our efforts to report back to World Vision's major donors on what their donations were accomplishing, but I also did some ghost writing to support our president, Bob Seiple. But my writing career suddenly took a turn onto a dead-end street when a difficult piece I had written on his behalf (and on a topic for which I was woefully ill-prepared to write) created some embarrassing problems for him with other international partners in the World Vision family. That was my last ghostwriting assignment for the president (who himself was shortly to transition out of his role with World Vision); and to complicate matters further, after three years of writing major donor reports, I was feeling burned-out.

But God knew what He was doing, and had a plan to transition me into a role where I would be able to use my interest in and experience with new technologies to put World Vision on the World Wide Web in 1997. With minimal assistance and lots of opposition I was able to build many of the foundational features that in the 16 years since that day have proven to be so successful for World Vision — features like online child sponsorship, World Vision's first online Gift Catalog, etc. I also built World Vision's first intranet, its first emergency relief partnership extranet, and assisted our international office with its web site.

Naturally these efforts became quickly larger than any single person, and I was privileged to be able to hire and manage many of the staff who worked alongside me to build World Vision's internet business during its early days. Eventually the program became bigger than my natural abilities to lead it (today there are something like 70 staff involved in the internet business unit and related efforts) and so I transitioned into specialty areas that were closer to what I really felt called and gifted to do — writing and content. I edited World Vision's e-zine (monthly email newsletter), provided content for the homepage, and eventually managed a team of writers that was supporting these efforts. I did some work on usability and architecture, and eventually moved off into a peripheral web effort, supporting World Vision's public radio program until its cancellation in 2011.

When the radio program was cancelled, I received a pink slip and knew I was at another crossroads. There were two positions at World Vision I was interested in ... the first was a writing position supporting World Vision's president, Rich Stearns, who had succeeded Bob Seiple back about the time the internet program was spinning up. The second was a new media strategist position with World Vision's Media Relations division. I applied for both, and was told I had the second position if I wanted it. But the lure of writing kept calling to me, so I also poured my heart and soul into applying for the writer position.

Out of more than a hundred applicants, I was one of two internal (and two external) finalists. But ultimately the job went to the most qualified applicant, a proven author and editor with the world's largest Christian magazine. (And, a very cool and creative guy, to boot. I have no doubt the right choice was made.) And of course this left me at the old, familiar crossroads: Had God really called me to be a writer? Why had I so frequently experienced that "death of a dream?"

I don't know what's in store for the future, as far as writing goes. I have some 20 years' worth of writing projects outlined, but no time to work on them. (Perhaps I will retire some day and be able to focus on these projects, without any of the silly pressures related to money, fame, etc.) I still love writing, but not for the reasons I loved it back when I was 17; I have no illusions now about getting rich or famous. I love it because it is an outlet for imagination and creative expression. I love it for the craft. I love it just because I feel God made me to do it.

And I also love it because it has the unique power to connect people to the things that really matter. I look at C. S. Lewis, a very "ordinary" guy (in every way other than his brilliance, his imagination, his writing ability, and his humble love and passion for Truth), who has made this incredibly remarkable dent on the world through his gifts as a communicator. I've read that Lewis has touched far more people for Christ than Billy Graham ever did or could. Combine that potential with the new media that are changing the world even as we speak ... for instance, Global Media Outreach (GMO), which I volunteer with, sometimes reaches a million people a day with the message of the Gospel! Such a thing exceeds even Billy Graham's wildest dreams. As a medium for communication of the good, for sharing the Truth, the internet and social media have enormous, previously unimagined, potential.

So, there's my favourite thing ... combine the written word with the potential of new media to multiply its powerful impact in the lives of millions ... THAT pushes my buttons!

What's your favourite thing?


Lindsey said...

Mmmm I really love this. Dare I say one of my favourite posts of yours I've read yet.

This part: "I love it because it is an outlet for imagination and creative expression. I love it for the craft." -- GOLD! Exactly the reason I love writing, too. For it's craft. For it's creativity. For it's ability to express feeling and thought.

Thanks for writing with us this month. And if you're in for February: PS: This one has no daily commitment. So much better already.

Larry Short said...

Thanks Lindsey! I realize my post was WAAAAYYYYYYY too long ... but I'll chalk that up to my love for writing! ;)