About writing

What Kind of Tree Is Your Book?

For a moment, let’s think of writing books as if we were planting trees. What kind of trees are we planting? Of course we’d all like to plant a tree like that mentioned in Psalm 1 “which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.”  Even, better, perhaps, would be to plant a tree like those the apostle John describes in Revelation 22, “the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

But those aren’t trees we can plant. Or, perhaps I should say, we cannot be sure our trees, our books, will be “planted by streams of water,” like the tree in the Psalm, nor, especially “beside the river of the water of life,” like the tree in Genesis. We have to be content with the environment God provides for our trees – and we really can’t decide what that will be. We can’t choose where our books will be planted. So perhaps we should choose a type of tree to plant that can grow in the harshest of environments.

I had the privilege, last evening, of listening to Ray Vander Laan, a Bible teacher who makes videos for Focus on the Family. He mentioned the tamarisk tree Abraham planted in Beersheba after God had informed him that the land he was standing on would be given to him and his descendants forever, and after God had enabled Abraham to make peace with Abimelech, his only rival in the area (Gen. 21:33-4). Abraham planted the tree, not for himself, but for those descendants. They wouldn’t actually be back for nearly five centuries, but when they returned that tree would be there to provide shade.

We see the tamarisk tree in very few other places in scripture, but most notably in 1 Sam. 22:6, where King Saul has made the shade under a tamarisk tree his base of operations. In order to be large enough to provide that much shade, the tree had to be centuries old.

So if I were to choose the kind of tree I’d want my book to be like, I think I’d choose the tamarisk. It’s a kind of cedar that grows extremely slowly. It will grow in deserts, on the shores of salt seas, and in other places where most trees simply cannot grow. In the middle east, it is planted by families specifically for that reason. In generations to come, it can be relied upon to provide shade. It’s not for the one who planted it – he won’t live long enough to enjoy its shade. It’s for those future generations. It’s also easy to spot from a distance, because – well, because it’s the only tree there. Yes, it takes some attention. It needs to be watered and cared for. But with just that little bit of attention it will hold on for a very long time.

That makes it different from most of the books we see planted today. And also, perhaps, that should inform the process we use to plant our books. I read this quotation on my Writer’s Digest calendar for April 17: “Ultimately I’d rather write the best book I can write no matter how long it takes me than the best book I can write fast simply because the unrelenting pace of our society demands speed in all things,” (Junot Diaz). Let’s put these two thoughts together: we take the time it takes to write a great book because, in the generations to come, it will provide the shade that other generation needs.

Well, we knew we wouldn’t get rich from writing, most of us anyway. So why not write specifically for those who will need what we have to say taking the time necessary to get it to them as the best story we can corporately produce. Yeah, that’s you and your editor and your beta readers and your cover artist and your publisher and anyone else involved in the process. You didn’t think you’d get it done alone, did you?

And in case you’re worried that the Lord might return before you get it out there, maybe this piece of advice from C.S.Lewis will encourage you: “[Jesus’] teaching on the subject quite clearly consisted of three propositions. (1) That he will certainly return. (2) That we cannot possibly find out when. (3) And that therefore we must always be ready for him.” (‘The World’s Last Night’ p.99). Which means that we must always be about the business He has given us. In our case, that’s writing books. The best books we can. Books that will last long enough to give shade to many future generations. Maybe there will be no future generations, but we will have been found doing what He called us to do.

Relax. Do your job. Leave the rest to Him.

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