People say I should write a book. Should I?

Several people have suggested me that I should write a book about my loss and my journey through grief. I am not really a writer, and it seems like there are already a lot of books out there by people who have lost family members. I also know that most books that are submitted to publishers are rejected. Some people say I should write a book if it would help me heal even if I don't seek to get it published. I'd really like an honest opinion from someone who's been there.

People throw around "you should write a book" to people who have had an incredible experience very freely, especially to those who have been blogging about the experience. I think they mean: "your experience has been powerful and moving to me," "your story is unique," "you have had the kind of experience that lots of people write books about," and "I have been blessed by hearing what you have to share." It is a way of affirming the person who has been through hardship. But of course, rarely are the people who say this experienced in the publishing industry.

I think you are wise to wonder whether or not the process of writing would be helpful whether or not it is published commercially. But my experience is that though someone may start out writing saying that it is useful even if it is not of interest to a publisher, usually after putting all of the work into it, it is hard to let the dream that it be published die. And when the book is about loved ones who have died, we want to extend their lives and give meaning to their deaths by seeing their story in print, so when a publisher isn't interested, it can feel like another death, and certainly another deep disappointment, a sense that we have failed in extending their impact.

Sometimes people choose to self-publish, and that is easier and more economical now than ever. But it is a huge investment of energy and emotion and money, and if there is no built-in channel for building awareness and distribution beyond just people who know you or heard about your loss, usually people end up with lots of books in their garage and a sense of frustration that their dreams for God using their story in the lives of other people through a book has been a disappointment.

What I often suggest to people if they think they are interested in writing about their experience for the benefit of others is that they start with trying writing a magazine, newspaper, or website article. This is a good test of whether or not a person has something to say to readers beyond simply telling a story. It is also a good test of whether or not people outside the person's acquaintances are interested in what the writer has to say. Also, this can sometimes fulfill the need to tell the story.

A significant question is, "Are you a writer?"  People who are writers by nature and talent should consider writing about their experience. Those who are not writers most likely should not. It only makes sense to get someone else to write your story if you are a celebrity who has the power of celebrity to sell a book.

But I think the biggest question is this: Is writing a book the only, the best, or the most natural way for you to be a good steward of this experience so that God might use it in the lives of others?   It is for a few people. For others, there are other ways that are a far better fit with their personality, their strengths, and the opportunities presented to them.

One more thought. The key to whether or not you have a book in you is not whether or not you have a story. The key is whether you have insight on your experience that you can express in a compelling way. If you will look at my book, Holding on to Hope, you will find that it really has very little of my story. It is primarily a book about relating to God in the midst of suffering using my story to illustrate the points.  Or if you've seen the book, A Grace Disguised you'll see the same thing—his story is there, but story is only a small part of what is being communicated. It is his insight and teaching points that are most significant.

There are lots of voices out there today who will say that there is power in simply telling your story. To an extent that is true. But our stories alone have little power to inspire or change lives. What is more important is figuring out how to use our stories to tell God's story.