For transparency’s sake I should mention two things.
First, I have lived in the magazine and newspaper publishing industry for quite a few years, but have yet to enter the world of book publishing, which I hope to claim this summer. I am not yet, a book author.
Second, this valuable lesson was shared with me in my first visit with an agent a few weeks ago, and it’s working for me. It is not, however, an original idea.
I had an idea for a book, one that I thought was quite good. Because of the true stories and the nature of the book’s focus I, of course, thought I had a best-seller on the way. When the agent shared this story with me, over a two-hour conversation, it changed my thinking and created a focus that has helped the words almost write themselves.
The story comes from Ezekiel 37, and you may know it as the story of the “dry bones.”
The context surrounds God‘s disappointment with His beloved Israel, its fall and His commands to Ezekiel to restore it to its former greatness. We can divide the story of Chapter 37 into three distinct parts that any writer may apply to the process of completing a great manuscript.
“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry. He said to me, “Son of Man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, You know.” Again He said to me,” prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ This says the Lord God to these bones, ‘Behold I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the Lord.'”
Ezekiel knew full well that God wanted him to make this project fly. And his instruction, which was three-fold, applies to each of us as writers.
GATHER THE BONES:
Before we begin with anything, we must assemble a skeleton, a framework, a context that establishes a relational foundation for all that follows. To publish a great book, we must first break it down to the bones. We may have great things in mind, but we’re going to have to have something on which to hang them.
PUT THE FLESH ON THE BONES:
Now, let’s cover the bones in a relational way. Stories. That simple. How will what you write ring true with the reader so that he or she may say, “That’s me. I get that. I’ve been there, done that.” Watch the great public speakers who every so often through a presentation take a break to simply tell a story … and watch how the dynamics of the audience reaction changes. Because God created us to be relational, we love relationships and the understanding of relationships.
BREATHE LIFE INTO THE BONES:
Think of it in this way as it relates to the reader. So what does all this mean? What is the takeaway? What is the lesson here? What is it about this book that will cause the reader never, ever to look, or think about it the same way again?
Maybe like you, I always thought if I had a great story, or a great lesson, or some highly unusual circumstance, I could write it well enough to make a great book. I now realize I was wrong. Each element must come together, the bones, the flesh and the breath.
It makes sense to me, and I wanted to share it with those of you who share the same dream.
Execute – and be excellent.