for the artist who worries her motives are wrong

lightAs soon as I saw her name pop up on my caller ID, my stomach dropped swiftly into China. It was a little after 3 pm on the afternoon of November 4, 2009. The kids ate graham crackers, watching Clifford the Big Red Dog.

Walking across the room, I picked up the ringing phone, shaky hands, pounding heart.

“Emily! We had a wonderful talk about your book during our pub board meeting today . . . ”

Now I was in the kitchen though I don’t remember how I got there.

“We all love your proposal . . .”

Sitting, I’m not sure what to think.

“. . . Would you be willing to write two books for us?”

And there it was. Until that point, everything book-writing was playing house. Now I was being offered a real job and I was scared.

I was afraid I couldn’t do it.

I was afraid I would disappoint them once it was done.

But one of my biggest fears at the time was I was doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Do I just want to say I wrote a book? See my name on the cover? Be famous? Be admired? Win?

The truth is, my motives were mixed. Three books and four years later, they still are. Sometimes that scares me. But if I always waited to do things until my motives were clear and un-mixed, maybe I would never do anything at all.

I have to be careful not to give too much power to motivation. I spend lots of time analyzing my thoughts and actions – wanting to live on the outside in perfect congruence with my inside. This isn’t a bad thing, but it can be too idealistic. It helps me to admit my own weakness and to face those ugly places where my motives are unclear.

But facing them doesn’t mean wallowing in self-hatred. Facing them means admitting I’m a mess without Christ. Face it, and then turn away. Because I believe I’m a spirit who has a soul and lives in a body, my deepest identity is spirit where my life is joined with God. This is where my true self exists, the seat of my desire, the beloved union with my beloved Christ.

In this place, there is no mixing, no deceit, no two-faced imposter.

I’m learning to do the next right thing, mixed motives and all. I’m learning to bring my motives into the presence of Jesus and trust him to work them out, recognizing He has put a new heart within me.

In my soul – my mind, will, and emotion – I am capable of both wholeness as well as brokenness, gratitude as well as selfishness. But my motives are not the truest thing about me.

Desire speaks of something deeper, something beyond motivation. Here in the deepest part of who I am, in the seat of my personality sits Christ.

Christ, in whom all things are made.

Christ, who came first.

Christ, who holds all things together.

Christ, who lives in me.

I worry with wringing hands and furrowed brow that maybe I want glory for myself. You know, sometimes I do. It really shouldn’t surprise me.

But in the deepest part, in the most secret place, this is no longer my deepest truth. I have been given a new heart, a new Spirit alive within me. He is my hope of glory.

31 daysToday is day 23 in our series on Living Art. Click here to see all the posts in the series.

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If you’re following along with us in the book club, Chapter 2 discussion is up at Bloom.

You can watch the video here and listen to some of my own thought processes as I struggle through writing the book.

this is your courage, fully released

It’s October, 2012. I fly to Colorado, touch down in a land of pointy red rocks taller than skyscrapers, flat land nestled up to the Rockies.

I rent a car that smells like cologne and cigarette smoke. Memories of my father-in-law hit me like a wall. I tear up the minute I get inside. He’s been gone over a year now.colorado springsAs I drive away from the airport toward those massive mountains, I feel a bit desperate for the familiar. Even though my surroundings are beautiful, I have a strange desire to add trees to the landscape in my mind – give me tall pines and green leafy foliage, the comfort of my East Coast home. This feels like a longing for something deeper, but I try to avoid it by listening to Ingrid Michaelson’s Turn to Stone.

Her voice helps a little.

I drive up I-25 to find Panera – eat lunch, a cookie and a bottle of water. If anyone is going to avoid altitude sickness, it’s this girl.

The Garden of the Gods takes my breath away. I haven’t traveled a ton in my life, but I have lived in Michigan, Iowa and Indiana; North Carolina with her rolling hills and South Carolina with her Low Country charm. I’ve visited Canada, Spain, Los Angeles, Maine, and the Philippines.

colorado springs garden of the gods 2But here in Colorado Springs, those red rocks in The Garden of the Gods might be the oddest things I’ve ever seen in real life. I’m certain the people who live here think these mountains are normal. But I have a hunch we might be on Mars. This land is dry, different, and strangely beautiful.

I’m here for a week to take a class, but really I see it as a personal retreat. By now I’ve written and released two books with moderate success and I need some time of quiet listening. I need a deep breath.


I haven’t hit any best-seller lists or won any awards. But the books have sold well enough and I’ve signed a contract to write a third.

My room has two beds, a desk, a chair, a window. No TV, thankfully. I wish I had a TV. Give me the evening news, a reality show, anything to distract me from myself.

I have dinner with Larry and Rachael Crabb. He’s written more books than I can count, has more degrees than I can remember and understands his own inadequacy in a way that shows both deep humility as well as profound masculinity that I can’t explain but puts me at ease.

I share with them about this book I’m working on, how it’s due at the end of the year, how I’m struggling and circling around the word art. I tell them I’m nervous, worried that I’m not cut out for this work. I tell them I can’t get the work off my mind.

They seem to understand.

But Larry knows how to initiate a conversation that matters, so he wants to know about more than just the writing. He asks me what my friends would say about me if they were here. I tell him a few words I think they might say, none that particularly excite me.

Then he asks what I wished they would say.


It comes out before I have a chance to remember not to say it. I don’t even realize I think that. What about kind? Giving? Supportive? Nope. Smart is the word that comes out.

And then I start to cry.

In my great insecurity, I am most concerned about smart people reading my words and thinking them small and uninformed.

“If I had to preach your funeral tomorrow,” he says, “I would say ‘Here lies Emily, a woman with almost fully released courage.”

I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. On the one hand, Larry Crabb just hypothetically killed me. On the other, he pointed out how I’m living scared. And the worst part is, he’s right.

Just as I’m trying to decide how to respond, Rachael leans over closer to me, “You want to get rid of that ‘almost’ don’t you?”

Yes. Getting rid of the ‘almost’ is the only appropriate response. But how?

The next day, we gather to listen to Dr. Crabb teach about the power of relating with people in the energy of Christ rather than always trying to prescribe them help. He emphasizes four words and I write them down in my notebook.


Engage. Arouse. Envision. Release.

He’s talking about what it looks like to have conversations that matter, to be believers in the world and to be with others in a living, centered, relational way. But all I can think about is art.

I think about my trip years ago to New York City with my college roommate, Faith – how we went to see Wicked and I wanted to weep through the entire performance because it was all so beautiful.

I think about being 17 and listening to Sarah Masen sing and play her guitar in my high school youth group, how she didn’t just sing notes, she sang story. And yes, she was talented, but she was also generous.

I think about the watercolor hanging in our kitchen, painted by small hands, offered as a gift.

The kind of art that moves us, the kind of art that leaves a trail, the kind of art that makes an impression is not the bossy kind.

Art doesn’t diagnose, treat, advise, scold or lecture. Art doesn’t lie, manipulate, assign, or prescribe.

Art engages, arouses, envisions, and releases.

Isn’t that our job, too?

Art, the human kind.

school of spiritual direction dinner

It’s been over a year since my trip to Colorado Springs. That book I struggled so much to communicate is now fully written and perhaps even on your bedside table.

I believe I’ve finally made the connection between making art and living art. I have Dr. Crabb partly to thank for that.

Now it doesn’t seem to matter as much if smart people read my words and think I’m ill-informed. I am finally beginning to live as the artist I am without apology.

You can, too.

As an artist among fellow image-bearers, you are not to ask, Did I do this exactly right? 

Maybe you did and maybe you didn’t. Or maybe you’re asking the wrong question.

Instead, your job is to decide, Was I me? Did I offer my genuine self into the presence of others as myself? Or did I show up as an imposter?

In your profession you may be required to diagnose or advise or lecture or fix.

But as a human living among humans, your job is one of an artist, not a know-it-all or an expert.


Make a mess, be a sloppy first draft, scribble in the margin.

But don’t turn in someone else’s work. We just want you, fully alive as you. We want the person of Jesus relating with us through the filter of your unique personality. And whatever comes out as a result of that?

This is your art. This is your courage, fully released.

This is day 9 of 31 Days of Living Art. Click here to see all the posts in the series.

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If you are interested in joining a book club to read A Million Little Ways (the book I share here in this post), visit Bloom (in)courage for all the details, including the reading schedule and how to apply for a sponsored book if you are unable to purchase one. We’ll officially begin on October 21. I hope you’ll join us.

4 simple tips to know before you write your first book

This past weekend I spent some time in Charlotte at the She Speaks Conference, a training conference for writers and speakers in ministry. I co-led a session about writing with my editor, Andrea Doering. Before the conference, a friend asked me “Is there anything you wish you knew before writing your first book?” I planned to answer that question at the end of our workshop but we ran out of time.

There are a thousand things I wish I knew before I wrote my first book, but I’ve picked four to share here.

write your first book

simple tips to know before your write your first book:

1. Your writing will never be 100% ready.

I was reminded of this while reading Bossypants by Tina Fey. She said this is something she learned from Lorne Michaels while working at Saturday Night Live. He said, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.”

After writing on a blog for many years, I always knew this about writing in general, but I didn’t realize how much it would apply to book writing, too. I always thought once you write a book, it won’t be published and sold until it was pretty much perfected. It’s true, it goes through many drafts, a whole team of editors, not to mention the countless writing and re-writing on the author’s part.

You will work hard and do your very best and strive for excellence. But there is a point where you have to agree that you have done all you can do even if there is still room to grow.

You have to release it and move on. I didn’t realize how hard this would be when I started, but now I understand it’s part of the process.


2. Book writing is more like a plane than a helicopter.

For me, blog writing is a lot like a helicopter. I have learned to write in faster spurts, to move quickly from a blank screen to a finished blog post with a beginning, middle, and ending. If I have an hour, I can sit and nearly finish a post (many people can write posts much more quickly than that, but an hour is about what it takes me. This post, for example, has taken me 2 hours. Blerg.)

When I started writing my first book, I approached it the same way – Oh, you’re taking the kids to the park for an hour? I’ll just work on my book! 

I would sit down in the small crack of time I had and try to work on the book, becoming quickly frustrated when I would still be struggling to get started as they walked through the door after their outing.

I have had to learn that book writing feels more like riding in an airplane than a helicopter. I need a long runway to get in the headspace to work on the book and I also need a long runway to come back down. This is probably not true for everyone, but it is for me.

Because of that, I schedule my time accordingly. I choose certain days during the week or the month that are assigned for book writing days – these are the days when I know I’ll have a minimum of three consecutive hours to work. I save the cracks of time to work on other kinds of writing, like articles or blog posts.

3. It’s okay to use your name in your blog title. 

When I started this blog, I didn’t plan to write books. I just wanted to write. Now that I have books, it has been a bit confusing for people sometimes that my blog is Chatting at the Sky rather than just my name. I’ve heard Ann Voskamp say similar things about her blog, A Holy Experience. But we’ve learned to make it work.

One way around this is I also own so if you go there, you’ll find a landing page that will bring you here. But if I had it to do over again, I would probably have used my name from the beginning in conjunction with Chatting at the Sky. It isn’t ego-centric to do this – it just makes it easier for people to find you. I still love the title, Chatting at the Sky, but I also have plans to incorporate my name more into the front page of the blog for people who are new.

Here are some authors who do this well: Nish Weiseth, Shauna Niequist, Holley Gerth, and Ally Vesterfelt.

4. If you publish a book, you don’t have to become a speaker.

I’m ducking now to avoid all the darts the marketing geniuses are aiming my way.

One of the reasons I was terrified to write books at the beginning was because I assumed I had to become A Very Polished Professional Speaker and that just isn’t me. I thought maybe my publisher would require me to speak a certain number of times a year or something. They do not.

I am a homebody and I have three young kids still at home. I don’t like to fly and I get twirly in crowds of people. A Very Polished Professional Speaker I am not.

It’s true, speaking is a great way to get your message out, to meet people, and to sell books. But it isn’t the only way. I am learning to enjoy speaking more and more as opportunities come up, but I feel released from the pressure to do it a certain way.

I have a lot to learn, but I’m learning at my own pace and giving myself the freedom to try things and learn as I go.

This fall, for example, I have committed to seven different events between August and November. Here is a partial list of my fall schedule with a few events I’ve yet to announce. This is more speaking than I’ve ever done in that span of time. I didn’t start out speaking very much. It has grown over time, as it fits with my family and our season of life.

With John being home now and my next book releasing, we figured this is a good time to commit to say yes to more events than usual. Maybe we’ll never do it that way again, I don’t know.

Don’t let your fear of speaking keep you from writing. Go in with your eyes open, but don’t let it paralyze you. Write what you feel called to write and don’t worry yet about all that might come along with it.

There are many more things I could share here, but for now I’ll stop at four. If you are interested in learning more about publishing, might I suggest the Re:Write conference in Austin? My agent Esther Fedorkevich started this conference to connect writers with people, resources, and knowledge to help grow their careers.

That's me with Esther and my sister, The Nester. Esther represents both of us - she's the best in the business!
Me with Esther (left) and my sister. Esther represents both of us – she’s a genius at what she does.

I’m excited to join her in Austin in October. If you register for Re:Write, you can use this promo code for $100 off your ticket: FREEMAN2013. Space is limited to 150 to keep the setting intimate. And if you attend the conference using this promo code, you’ll receive an invitation to a small gathering just for us while we’re there.

If you are interested in learning more about my own personal publishing story, I recently shared it with Tsh on the Simple Mom podcast. I’m no expert, but I’m happy to share what I’ve learned along the way.

the one question people ask me the most

Once every six weeks or so, I join my friend Tsh (Simple Mom) on her HomeFries podcast. We tend to talk about very important issues like the Oscars, our favorite food, and episodes of Friends.

Tsh and me with short hair at the beach in 2011.
Tsh and me with short hair at the beach in 2011.

This week, we decided to be a bit more intentional and attempt to tackle a question we both get a lot. Here it is:

How did you get your book published?”

People come at it from different angles, wanting to know about the proposal writing process, how to get an agent, or some other detail of the process. But the bottom line is questions about publishing are by far what shows up most often in my inbox. As in, nearly every day.

I love and hate this question – love it because I want to help people and it’s a gift to have people trust me enough to ask. I am willing to share everything I know. But I also hate it because I don’t know that much. The way I did it isn’t necessarily the way to do it. It’s just my story. And there are a bajillion people who dedicate entire blogs and books to this topic.

Even though you can google anything you want to know about publishing, I realize one of the really cool things about blogging is you can hear personal stories from the authors themselves. Sometimes that’s more helpful for you than the technicalities of the business.

So here we are, adding two more voices to the conversation about publishing. It’s informal (as you will quickly discover) and entirely about us (and also our big selves) but if you have an idea you might want to write a book and you are wondering where to begin, perhaps these words will be helpful to you.

You can listen to the conversation Tsh and I had about publishing here. If you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, here is a detailed break-down of the conversation for you to peruse and fast forward at your leisure:

simple-mom-podcast-0:55 We spend the first two minutes making disclaimers. So that’s informational and not annoying at all.

2:50 Where to get started and the question almost all writers struggle with.

4:30 Why I was embarrassed at my first writer’s conference.

7:25 What I did after my first writer’s conference.

8:44 Book Proposal: what it is, getting started, resources, how long it took us, and why it’s so important.

15:20 Details about the market analysis section of the proposal and how it can make you crazy if you let it.

20:56 Different ways you can package a proposal

23:34 Agents – what it felt like not having one, how we met ours, how to perhaps find one

34:30 On having a blog

37:50 A few generic thoughts from us about traffic and stats. It’s life-changing.

39:50 What happens after the book is published – on brand, platform, marketing and self-promotion.

42:00 Owning your influence and knowing your limits

48:33 Some thoughts on reviews, feedback and releasing your work to the reader

58:00 On having unicorns

58:40 Where you can go to learn more about the publishing process from people who know a lot more than we do.

So there you have it. In the show notes, Tsh included a lot of the links we mentioned so you might want to check those out. Though I would prefer to talk about writing over publishing, I have a few events planned this year where I will be doing a little of both. The conference I mentioned in the show is called She Speaks. This summer will be my fourth year teaching a workshop there. I will also be in Austin in October to speak at the Re:Write conference.

Is there anything we didn’t cover in the podcast you would like to know more about? Maybe we could point you in the right direction.

when it’s good to keep your art a secret

At 11 am this past Monday morning, I sent off a manuscript to my editor, thousands of words that will become my third book. It is as complete as I am able to make it right now and I’m thankful to have that massive deadline behind me.

I realize I haven’t talked about this book much on the blog and I’m not sure how I feel about that. With the first book, you knew about it when it was only a book proposal and were so kind to walk with me through each step.

With this book, I signed a contract and had it half-written three months before I even mentioned it here.

I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things along the way – one is that I need to save my breath because if I chatter away about a project too long before it comes out, then I’ll be chattering away about the same things for two years straight. No fun there. This next book is due to release in November of 2013 and so I just don’t want to wear you out by talking about it too much too soon.

But that isn’t the only reason why I’ve kept it to myself. I think part of it also has to do with knowing what is to come, in a way. I know that sooner or later, these words will be available to anyone gracious enough to accept them as well as those who might not.

That doesn’t scare me like it did the first time around. But it does make me a little tired to think of it. There is a time for sharing and speaking out. But I’m learning that my own rhythm of listening, creating, and waiting comes first.

There is a sweetness for me in keeping quiet this time, in holding my art close to my chest for a while, in sitting with my words and ideas in silence month after month before I begin to talk about them, in carrying my questions with a few people before I ask them in front of many.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to write. I’m thankful to you for reading. We already have a title and a subtitle for this next book that I can’t wait to share with you, but it isn’t yet time.

And so the manuscript sits in the inboxes of my editor and my agent and I pray my words make sense to them. I’ll know soon enough.

Do you have a project still in the stage of sacred waiting? What are the challenges and blessings for you as you hold your art close to your chest?