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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Write from the Deep ~ Karen Ball & Erin Taylor Young

A publishing professional for over 30 years, Karen Ball has overseen fiction for Tyndale, Multnomah, Zondervan, and B&H Publishing Group. She’s worked with such notable authors as Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, Robin Jones Gunn, and many others. Karen is currently the owner of Karen Ball Publishing Services, LLC, a literary agent with the prestigious Steve Laube Agency, and an award-winning, best-selling author.

Erin Taylor Young is passionate about helping others embrace deep places with God. She’s an acquisitions editor and author liaison for Redbud Press, a publishing company she helped to found. She's also an award-winning humor writer. Her recent book, Surviving Henry: Adventures in Loving a Canine Catastrophe, has been repeatedly accused of making readers laugh until they cry.

Tell us about your new project.
K: Write from the Deep is a podcast and website resource to encourage writers, to help them remember why they're doing what they're doing, and to equip them so that they can rediscover the joy in the task God has given them, the task to share His truths through the vehicle of words.

E: What she said.

Where did the idea for this project come from?
K: Erin and I were together and I was telling her that I had noticed over the last several years how discouraged writers were. It doesn’t seem to matter if they’re just getting started or even if they’ve been successful, so many are struggling…feeling as though they’ve lost the joy of what they’re doing. I was so grieved that these amazing people who have shared so much with their readers, who’ve been given this task from God to bless and encourage and challenge others, are struggling to hold on to—or even regain—the passion and the joy of writing. I just kept wishing there was some way that I could help them.

E: And I’d been noticing that in the midst of writing conferences, where we’re focusing on craft and pitching projects, it can be so restorative and refreshing to hear teaching from people like Allen Arnold that focuses on the writer’s heart. I wished there was a way to bring that type of message to discouraged writers everywhere, or to those who feel overwhelmed, dry, or just plain used up.

How did the two of you get-together?
E: Karen’s teaching and writing—her underlying message of encouragement and her focus on obedience to God—has always resonated with me. She has a remarkable ability to speak truth into the hard places where we writers find ourselves. I’d been encouraging her to write a book based on her blog posts, but I could see she didn’t have the time to do it. One weekend as I was praying for her, the answer dawned on me. She needed a cowriter—someone to cull through material, organize and edit it, and help weave it all together into book form. It seemed the perfect solution to get the benefit of Karen’s 30-plus years of experience out there. Then came the next revelation—maybe I was supposed to be that cowriter. At which point I questioned whether this was an idea planted by God or just a random neural hiccup in my brain. I mean, compared to Karen, my publishing perspective is pretty dang puny. So I didn’t say a word to her about any of this. I figured if it was from God, He’d make sure it came up again, and then I’d know.

K: And here’s the beauty of how God works. That very weekend I was at a brainstorming retreat with a group of writer friends. We had just brainstormed the book that Erin’s been talking to me about. We pinpointed what the message and the focus should be, so I was really wanting to do this book. But as excited as I was about it, when I got back home the thought of going through all of my blog material and organizing it…it was so overwhelming to me, another thing to add to my already overloaded to-do list. I told God I’m willing, but I just can’t. Not on my own right now. So…any chance You can send me some help? A couple of months later, I went to visit Erin. I didn’t mention any of this to her, but it was very much on my mind and my heart.

E: As we were talking one morning, the idea of Karen writing a book came up again, and the issue of her lack of time being the stumbling block. That’s when God tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Tell her what you’ve been thinking…”

K: It was so funny, because Erin started to talk to me, and she was almost apologetic saying, “Don't feel like you need to do this,” and “Don't feel like this is something that you have to respond to”—

E: More like, “Don’t laugh at this, but…”

K: As I was listening to her, I think my mouth was probably hanging open. Everything she said hit home and resonated. I looked at her and told her, “This is God. Pure God.” Because what she was saying about coming alongside me and helping organize was exactly what I’ve been praying about. And God was telling her the same thing.

E: And the rest of Write From the Deep just came from that point.

So, then, what does Write From the Deep mean?
K:  That’s a great question because it means different things to different people. When I talk about writing from the deep, I mean those deep places of struggle, the places where it feels so dark—like you’re in a cave and you can’t see anything. You’re not sure where you’re going, where it’s even safe. All you can do is listen to that small whisper from God telling you, “Step here…stop. One step to the right…stop…”  You take one, trusting step at a time. That’s how publishing feels to so many people. Something else that I’ve noticed is that when we’re in those deep places, all we want to do is get out of them. And yet it’s in those very places that we find our truest voice and our truest message as writers. So we need to embrace those places... to listen to God and be with God and let Him refine us through them.

E: For me being in the deep is about soaking in God and in His word. It’s about embracing Him and letting Him sink deep into our hearts. When we’re in those deep places of pain it’s easy to close off and not let anyone or anything in. But so often the enemy is already in there with us. That’s why it’s so important to let God into those deep places. It’s where we’re the most vulnerable, it’s where we most need healing. And I think the deep is where His word can become clearest. It reminds me of how water soaks through the earth—how it filters into something more and more pure as it seeps through layers of dirt and rock. When we’re writing the messages that come from these places, we’re writing what we’re most passionate about, in our most authentic voice.

What made you choose the format of a podcast rather than blog?
E: I don’t think we ever intended it to be a podcast exactly, it just turned into one. There will still be books and a website, but at the same time we wanted something that was easier and more accessible for people who might be tired and who just can’t cope with reading right then. I was at the ACFW conference last year, and happened to be talking to Thomas Umstattd Jr., who does the Novel Marketing podcast with Jim Rubart, and the idea came to me about using a podcast to help meet the need of ministering to writers’ hearts. I ran the idea by Thomas to see if he knew of something already like it (and to see if it was dumb—that whole random neural hiccup thing and all). He thought about it for a couple minutes, nodded slowly, and said, “That’s a very interesting idea.”

K: It made great sense to me when Erin came to me and talked about doing a podcast, because, yes, we want to provide resources, but we also want create a sense of community, of a place where people can come and rest and find things to encourage and equip and energize them. A podcast is a great way to do that, because they can just click the button and listen. They can find our podcast on our website: and also on iTunes.

What else are writers going to find on your website?
E: We have all kinds of resources we hope will encourage people and help them through their deep places. We have books we recommend, videos, and we’ll do some craft tips as well. And we’re working on some collaborative book projects. But I think the primary thing is still the podcast.

K: We're doing different kinds of podcasts. Some will be just Erin and me talking about what we’ve seen and learned, some will even be on craft. And others will be conversations with writers who've experienced the struggles, or have gone deeper with God on their journey into writing. We hope to join people together, to say to them, “You’re not alone. This is a safe place for you.” 

We assume you’ve both been in deep places…
K&E: Absolutely. Too often.

So what keeps you going when you hit those places?
K: The knowledge that I don’t have to deal with all of this by myself. God is there with me every step of the way, and all I need to do is take my focus off the circumstances and get it back on Him. The fact that I have friends and counselors with whom I can talk and who will pray with and for me. People like Erin, who’ve been there themselves and can speak truth to me rather than platitudes. Also, the kinds of books and resources that we are putting on the website. The words from those who’ve known the emotions and struggles I’m facing. And you know, sometimes I find my greatest momentary encouragement from looking at funny things, whether it’s memes with funny sayings, cartoons…anything that can get me out of the funk and back into seeing things with a better perspective.

E: What keeps me going is the absolute perfect peace that we find when we go deeper into God. It draws me. It makes me hungry for more. It makes me thirsty to drink and let God fill me with the abundance of who He is and what He wants to give to me, which is really just Him. I keep finding that the more I know Him, the more I want to know more of Him. Being in His presence…that’s more powerful than anything I could find on earth.

What books have helped you the most in the deep places?
E: Okay, I’m going to stick with my focus here. I am one of those people who is serious about memorizing Scripture because it speaks to my heart like nothing else. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other great books out there, because there are. But one of my favorite books in the Bible is Jeremiah. You talk about deep places—here’s a prophet who never saw anyone listen to his words except to do the exact opposite of what he said. Or to use them as an excuse to arrest him and plot to kill him. Shoot, they even burned his book. How’s that for a bad review? Here’s a guy stuck in the midst of the consequences of Judah’s sin, and all he had was God, and all he could do was be obedient. And therein was his joy. I haven’t faced anything like that. He was a guy who walked in deep places and was faithful, and that inspires me.

K: I always go to the Psalms, because David is such a whiner. I relate to David. I relate to “How long, O Lord?” And yet, he always ends with praise, with an acknowledgment of who God is. And Streams in the Dessert. I’ve gone through that devotional every year since I discovered it because I always find new truth and new help in it. We like to forget that we’ve been called into a fellowship of suffering with Christ, but that’s exactly what this whole gig is. It’s about learning to be a servant, learning to keep hold of the Savior in the midst of the difficulties, in the pain. The writers in Streams always speak truth and peace to my heart.

Best advice you’ve been given in the deep places?
K: It's actually the same message we want to share through Write from the Deep, and that's the fact that I'm not alone. I never have to face any of this by myself. God is right there with me, and His heart is grieved even as my heart is grieved. He doesn’t delight in my struggles, but He’s present in them. He’s working to refine me, to make me a purer reflection of Christ.

E:  Remember your heart’s story. When we’re discouraged, when we’re frustrated, when we’re hurting, remembering our story is remembering how God took care of us in the past. How He led us through the wilderness and brought us to exactly the right place at exactly the right time. God’s credibility is in that. He wants us to remember those things because His past performance is His guarantee of future performance.

Worst advice?
K: “God can’t want you to be this unhappy.” That is, hands-down, the worst counsel I've ever been given. Because frankly, God isn't all that concerned about my “happiness.” He's concerned about my obedience, my refinement—and He's concerned about my joy— which is a far more powerful thing than happiness could ever be.

E: I get my advice from Karen, so it’s all been good.

K: It’s been great.

E: Yes. Right. That’s what I meant.

Erin, what is it like to work with Karen?
Ummm…chaos—in a nice way.

Karen, what’s it like to work with Erin?
Ummm…reaaaalllly organized—in a nice way.

E: And that’s why we make a good team. We balance each other.

Parting thoughts?
E: Write from the Deep is not about me, and it’s not about Karen. It’s about you. It’s about writers. It’s about anyone who wants to use creativity to share and to express the messages God has planted inside them. We want you to know that we’re here for you and we want to hear from you, too. Join us in the deep!

K: What she said. 


  1. Karen has a podcast??? Subscribed before I finished the article. I'm so glad someone in the Christian writing commutity started this. I was worried that I'd have to, and I can barely keep up with the one I have already. I can't wait to start listening! Thanks, ladies. I need all the encouragement I can get.

  2. I can feel my parched soul being watered already. Thank you both for doing this!


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