Writing with Others: The Art of Collaboration

I never intended to be a collaborator.

For the record, my plan was to be a wildly successful, insanely rich novelist. People were going to mention me in hushed, awestruck tones along with other “last name only” fiction writers. You know: Peretti, Dekker, Grisham, Koontz, King, Pence.

I broke into book publishing in 2001 by writing computer books. In 2003, my dream was fulfilled. I was a published—and soon to be famous—novelist. By 2005, despite excellent reviews, my “career” had pretty much ground to a halt. In fact, in May of that year I hung up my keyboard and joined the prison ministry staff of a large Dallas mega-church, feeling that my grand experiment in full-time freelance writing was a failure.

God had other plans.

James H. Pence (left) and Terry Caffey
James H. Pence (left) and Terry Caffey

In an earlier post (Oct. 1, 2011 – “You Never Know”), I told the story of how God took a single page from my out-of-print novel Blind Sight and used it to change the life of Terry Caffey, a man whose family was brutally murdered. God not only used that page to change Terry’s life; He also used it to change the entire direction of my writing.

In January of 2009, Terry asked me to help him write a book that would tell his story.

I hadn’t written or published in four years and, as I already mentioned, collaboration was not in my long-term plans. However, because I wanted to encourage Terry, I agreed to help him write a book proposal.

Because of the intense media interest in Terry’s story, Tyndale snapped up the proposal and put the book on an accelerated publication schedule. We signed a contract in March of ’09 and the book was set for a September release.

I had to write it in twelve weeks.

The accelerated writing schedule was probably a good thing because I didn’t have the time to give in to sheer panic. I’d never collaborated before, and I had no earthly idea how to go about it. But it was a door that God had opened, and so I trusted Him for the wisdom.

I dusted off my little digital voice recorder and began interviewing Terry. Then I worked at outlining the book, selecting the stories that would go into it, even using my fiction-writing skills to lay out a plot-line.

As I worked with Terry and wrote what would become Terror by Night, I began to notice something unexpected.

I was enjoying myself immensely.

I love telling stories, but I had no idea how much I would enjoy helping other people tell their stories.

And so now I happily call myself a collaborator. Since the publication of Terror by Night, I wrote More Godthe amazing story of Nate Lytle, a young surfer who made a miraculous recovery from a massive traumatic brain injury. I also collaborated with bestselling author Stephen Arterburn on a novella titled The Encounter. Soon I’ll begin writing the story of Herb Samme, a dad who lost his son in Iraq and then went there–at age 59–as a civilian contractor to finish his son’s tour and walk in his footsteps.

I never intended to be a collaborator; I wanted to write my own books.

But God led me through an unexpected door and down an unplanned path. He showed me that I can be a blessing to others by using my writing abilities to help them write their books. And in doing so, He changed the direction of my writing ministry.

Has God placed some unexpected doors or unplanned paths before you? I hope that in 2013 you’ll take a chance and go through them.

You never know what God might do.

“A person plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9, NET Bible).

[Tomorrow, Dec. 13th at 3:30 p.m., Central time, James will be leading a free webinar titled “Writing with Others: The Art of Collaboration” over at The Bestseller Society. You can register for the webinar here: http://www.bestsellersociety.com/events/the-art-of-collaboration-with-james-pence/ ]

13 Replies to “Writing with Others: The Art of Collaboration”

  1. What an encouraging, God honoring post. Indeed, we can all take comfort in knowing our Lord directs our steps…and our writing…and our ministries. He can do more than we think or ask, and often does. Thanks for sharing, James.

  2. How wonderful to hear about God’s workings in your life, James – I call it the modern-day Bible – how God is moving and working today. I, too, was called unexpectedly almost a year ago to quit my part-time communications job at a museum & after compiling, editing and publishing an eight-author devo book (as a volunteer!), to work with Christian non-fiction writers as a book coach. Over the past year, I have been blessed to work with eight people to help them write their manuscript or book proposal – or both! I have thoroughly enjoyed what God has taught me profesionally, spiritually and emotionally through the process (trial by fire, in some cases!) And it looks like there will be some publishing successes on the horizon shortly! I never knew this career existed a year ago, much less that I was qualified to do it. I am so blessed by such a creative Creator!

  3. What an inspirational post. It convicted me, reminding me of the opportunity I let slip away many years ago when I was approached by a managing editor at a major magazine about doing some ghost writing for the publication. I felt it wasn’t right for me at the time and have kicked myself for that decision over and over in the years that followed. Said editor has long since departed but magazine is still going strong.

    I assure you, no matter what doors open in 2013, I’m plowing through them.

  4. Thanks for this post, James. I’ve had several people approach me lately about writing a book with them. Honestly, I didn’t think collaboration would be a good fit for me. Then, I read your story.

    So, who knows? I just know that I don’t want to ignore any door that the Lord might be opening for me. And I know that God has equipped me as a writing instructor to encourage other people to tell the stories that matter most.

    So, thanks again for your powerful story! Btw, I’ll keep you posted; I might need some tips from an expert! Happy New Year!

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