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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sorry, Your Novel Needs To Be Gutted

In the fall of 2012, fellow Novel Rocket columnist Allen Arnold asked a question that rocked me.

Image courtesy of Master Isolated Images at

We were teaching a two-day course at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference called, Live Free, Write Free. 

As I stood beside Allen he looked out over the class and said, "If God asked you to write a 95,000 word novel over this next year, and you knew He was the only one who would ever see it, would you write it?"

Stop. Think about that for a moment.

Would you? You know how much work goes into a novel. Can you imagine putting the time and polish into a manuscript that would never be seen except by Him? 

My Turn

I thought about Allen's question back in '12 and assured myself, if God asked, I would write a novel only for Him. But I didn't think he'd take me up on it.

On April 1st of 2014, I turned in my seventh novel to my editor at Thomas Nelson. I'd gone through some of the toughest months of my life when writing it. I was so raw emotionally I honestly had no idea if the manuscript was gold or clay. 

When my editor's macro letter came back it was immersed in kindness, but it was impossible to blunt the devastatingly sharp message: The novel wasn't going to work. At all. Not an April Fool's joke, the manuscript needed to be gutted. 

After a few days of praying and talking to Darci, I got on the phone with my friend and editor and brainstormed what to do next. We chatted again a few weeks later, and by June we'd figured out how we could keep the foundation of the novel--we both still loved the concept--but how everything else needed to be torn down and rebuilt.

 Image courtesy of tiramisustudio at 

Why Didn't It Work?

I've frequently said that my novels are, in ways, my journals in published form. The issues I'm thrashing through, the questions, and pain and sorrow and joy that are pounding at my heart to get in or get out. 

The rejected manuscript? Raw. Too raw. I was too close to the story. It's one of my private journals that I came to realize needs to stay private. Writing it was cathartic. Healing. But it's one that needs to be just between Jesus and me. 

What About You?

Sometimes we writers have novels in drawers because we were still learning the craft and they aren't good enough to be published. But don't you think there are other times where it's a story that needs to be between just you and Him? I do. Now.

You know this well, but let me remind us: This writing thing isn't about the writing. It's about our relationship with the Creator. Sometimes we get to show others what the two of us have come up with. And it can have massive impact on their lives. 

But other times, we show only One, and that's enough.

James L. Rubart is the best-selling and Christy award winning author of six novels. He’s also a professional speaker, and marketer who helps businesses and authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, golfs, takes photos, and occasionally does sleight of hand. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and two sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at 


  1. One of my manuscripts went to committee several times and pub board, too. Yet nothing came of it. Now I wonder if that's not why. :-\

  2. Maybe your novel needed to be "gutted" for the publisher's taste and purpose, and, perhaps, now you agree, but you wrote it from that place deep in your heart - and your gut - that screamed for release. I say kudos for getting it down in novel form, for taking the time to expose your heart - rendered or tendered. If it's now between you and God, great. But I'm willing to bet it would've ministered to others if it truly came from the rawness of your soul.

  3. Such a character building thing for a find the courage to admit our work needs to rest with Jesus, knowing that obedience is better than the glory of publishing it. Good words that apply to many areas of our life. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  4. I haven't even written my first book yet, but these are great words. Even when I write a blog post, sometimes I spend hours on it, and then decide either this isn't the time or it's just between me and God. Thanks for the encouragement of who are we writing for?

  5. Jim - such a great post. I savor every book you've written (including this one that got gutted). The Kingdom of God operates in such a wild, counterintuitive way compared to our schedules and expectations. When a publisher passes on a manuscript from a skilled writer and passionate follower of Jesus, the world may see that time and creativity as lost. Or try to turn it into a lesson you are being taught. I think God is up to something far more intimate. Like the bottle of perfume lavished upon Jesus, that becomes a chance to lavish him with our imagination and creativity. I think he smiles as he welcomes you into a place of deeper shared intimacy. The One who created Story gives you the honor of presenting to him a story that from the beginning had a greater destiny than that of a normal book. Because this story was just for the two of you to enjoy together. Your offering of story to the original Storyteller. What an immense gift. Way to go, my friend!

  6. Indeed, Ane. Indeed.

    Thanks, Nicole. Maybe someday a there will be a few more private readers!

    Appreciate that, J.C. You're right, it does extend to the rest of life.

    Maybe you will someday, Mike!

    Love it, Diane.

    You sound like a writer, Allen. :) Powerful words. Thank you.

  7. Jim, sorry to hear this... What an ordeal....

    I know the Lord will work good for you!


  8. Jim, sorry to hear this... What an ordeal....

    I know the Lord will work good for you!



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