Today is the release date of my first book, Strive. While it’s an exciting (and nerve wracking) experience, the road to get here was anything but easy. Given the number of questions I’ve fielded lately about Strive, I figured I’d tell the story behind the story.
You see, the Strive story is all about editing. Starting a direction. Working towards a goal. Then changing direction. Altering. Correcting. Refining. And then doing it some more. So here’s the unedited story of how a very unEDITED book came into being…
It was September of 2010 and I was walking through Irving’s Market in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan, trying to keep a low profile. I was fresh off the NFL waiver wire as I’d just been cut by the Indianapolis Colts, and I was embarrassed and ashamed of what I deemed a failure. As I sat at a table across from a pastor/mentor/friend he challenged and encouraged me with two things:
- Remember God’s purposes for you. (I still remember him saying, “God may have placed you in that locker room just to impact one person. And that’s enough.” Wise words.)
- Journal in your daily devotional time. Write what you’re thinking, feeling, and experiencing.
Point one was hard to hear but made sense. Point two seemed flat out intimidating. I’d tried journaling before and I was lousy at it. I still am. I would consider myself introspective, but it’s more of an internal conversation than a “Dear Diary” type of musing. But in my brokenness, I attempted to take on the journal challenge.
After three days of empty pages in a notebook and some pent up frustration, things just weren’t working out. So I tried a new approach.
Journal to an audience.
I picked a verse of scripture that really captured my attention and pierced my heart as I read the Bible, I wrote it down, and then I attempted to journal as if I was communicating to someone else. I shared stories that came to mind, I shared what I was learning, and I shared what I was trying to do to change and grow as I dealt with my perceived failures.
After a while I had 15-20 entries done and I’d shared a couple with my wife Michelle. She had a co-worker who was going through a difficult time and she asked to share an entry with him. Then we had a friend from church who was going through a job change. I shared an entry about work and career with him (which made the unEDITED final cut into Strive, starting on page 29). There were a couple other sharing of devotionals that happened, and a lot of positive feedback, along with a suggestion:
“You should start a blog.”
Having no clue how to do this I did some research on blogging and before long I had a Blogger site set up called ENCOURAG3MENT, which had 3 goals—see a need, use your gifts, and meet the need. It was designed to provide simple, practical, daily ENCOURAG3MENT to move others toward using their God-given gifts to serve Him and others.
Writing is like exercise—do it every day and it goes a long way. ENCOURAG3MENT was great because it helped me practice, it helped me “exercise” my writing and try new things, and it was going directly to people each day who could be impacted by the content.
Over the course of 2011 and 2012 ENCOURAG3MENT grew steadily to several hundred followers and over 250 entries, along with some additional entries that I stored but never posted.
But everything changed in the Spring of 2012.
I was the head football coach at Gull Lake High School at the time, preparing to enter my second season, and I was considering using HUMANeX Ventures to evaluate the gifts and talents of our senior captains with a new assessment tool the company offered. A friend of mine who works at HUMANeX offered me free passes to their annual Impact & Legacy Summit, and I obliged.
As I sat in the back of the room, I couldn’t figure out why my table was empty. I was literally the only person at the table. (Loser!) It seemed odd, but I dismissed the thought and began taking notes as the likes of Tom Izzo, Sue Enquist, and more took the stage to speak.
At the lunch hour, I soon realized why my table was empty. It was the speakers’ table. That day I as I dined with the keynote speakers, God opened a door.
I ended up sitting next to, my now friend, Adrian Gostick. Adrian is an author, consultant, researcher, and business expert on culture and career. He has written New York Times bestselling books, most prominently The Carrot Principle, All In, and What Motivates Me (which I am reading now!) His consultancy, The Culture Works, helps individuals and businesses around the globe do more meaningful work and find more value in their careers.
Adrian and I had a great conversation across many topics. His son was a high school athlete at the time—a fine soccer player—and we discussed the possibility of him trying kicking/punting for football. We talked about work, family, life, and more. After the event we stayed in touch via email, and I shared the ENCOURAG3MENT blog as a way to share my faith in Jesus with him and also a way to stay in touch.
His response to the email floored me.
“I read the blog. You need to get published.”
The thought had never even crossed my mind. I had no clue how to go about publishing a book. But Adrian challenged me to prepare a manuscript when I was ready and to send it to him.
Editing a book is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.
Naïve to the process, I worked to put together a 100 day challenge of some of the most popular ENCOURAG3MENT blog posts and some never before read content and sent it to Adrian to take a look. Piece of cake! Right?
He ripped to shreds. (In a good way.)
His suggestions were wonderful, his feedback was honest, and his encouragement (no pun intended!) served as a catalyst for the book being released today. Adrian had 3 key pieces of advice:
- Tell more stories about your life. Your ideas are great but you need a platform first. People want to hear about your experiences.
- Give the reader action items. Something to do after they read a devotional.
- Put it in a weekly format. People are busy. This won’t overwhelm them and will help engage them for a longer period of time.
After about 4 months of early mornings and late nights I had Adrian’s suggestions implemented, but there was a long road ahead. Adrian helped share my manuscript with a couple of his contacts, which proved helpful later, but didn’t produce any immediate fruit. I submitted the manuscript to several publishers and all resulted in rejection. I met with a local author who self-published, but he was unable to commit the time and resources to helping support the endeavor. Then I talked to my friend Joel Penton, who is a 2-time author. He took a look at the manuscript and had some counsel.
“We have some work to do,” he said. “I’d recommend an editing team.”
Now came finding a publisher again. After striking out several more times, the break came when Bill Carmichael from Deep River Books contacted me. Bill has been involved with the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) over the years, and his team learned about Strive through the ECPA manuscript submission site. After getting to know Bill, we worked out an agreement and partnered together on October 25, 2014.
With joining the Deep River team came even more work! Finalizing the title, working on endorsements, cover design, marketing planning, typesetting the galley, distribution channels, and, you guessed it…
After Adrian’s edits and the editing team’s edits, 32% of Strive still needed some patching up.
As I reflect on the refining process over the course of a couple years, I can’t help but wonder…
What’s my percentage in life?
How often do I need editing? And how much? Where do I think I’m doing well, but there’s growth that needs to happen?
I think my percentage is a lot higher than 32%.
But today, as Strive goes out to the world, I’m grateful that our great God takes people like you and me, unedited and in need of severe correction, and he extends us grace. Yes, he edits us (if we will allow him), but he leads with grace. Loving, truth-filled grace. And if we embrace his love, and love him back, he edits us into the most useful form of who we are. 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 reminds us:
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
Yes we are unEDITED, but we are also his children—and that is worth celebrating. If God can use an average guy with no ability to journal his thoughts and no intention of writing a book, to publish one, he can use you to accomplish his purpose for your life as well. Nothing is beyond his editing power.
So there you have it…the story behind Strive. I hope you enjoy the heavily unEDITED final version and I pray it impacts your life in a meaningful way.
May you Strive for what matters most each day,