Kevin Wiebe’s book, Faithful in Small Things: How to Serve the Needy When You’re One of Them (Herald Press), releases March 16, 2021. The Messenger asks a few questions about the book writing and publishing process. Kevin Wiebe is pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship in Coatsworth, Ontario.
The Messenger: Kevin, let’s start by asking what it is that compels you to write?
Kevin Wiebe: I have found that writing is a way that helps me make sense of things. When sorting out complicated topics in my mind, it can sometimes seem daunting as I try to account for various truths and countless facts. When I write things down, it helps me order these tangled webs of thought into something coherent. As I’ve learned more, grown in faith and increased in life experience, somewhere along the way my writing started resonating with people, so I’ve kept at it. A number of articles I’ve written over the years and some sections of my book were simply a reworking of my own late-night attempts to understand particular truths. Much of my written work comes from a place of deep personal searching, wrestling to figure out the truth of matters or to come to some conclusion about a particular nagging question.
TM: How did you decide on a particular topic?
KW: When it came to my book, I had several ideas for possible topics, and have developed a few more ideas since then. Being my first book, however, I chose to write about something I had studied a lot, worked hard at living out (though imperfectly), and something that had a deep personal connection to the story of my life. This topic seemed very natural to write about.
TM: How tough is it to be edited; do you really need a thick skin? How many revisions did your work have to go through?
KW: The simplest answer is that, yes, it is difficult, and one does need a thick skin, so to speak. So much of it boils down to proper expectations, knowing that there will be criticism, and realizing that when editors critique my work they are doing so with the express purpose of helping my writing be the best that it can be. Now that I am finished with writing the book, I honestly feel like the editing process gave me an education equivalent to an entire semester of university—or more. And as with any education, one must be willing to learn in order to benefit from it.
I went through several rounds of edits. After my very first draft, I went through it myself a couple times to make changes. Then I sent it to friends and colleagues who had perspectives I valued, and also whom I trusted to be brutally honest with me. I’m not going to lie, some of them were a bit worried that this might impact our friendship, but I explicitly told them not to tell me only what they liked, but rather where it had problems. One person came over and we spent a couple of hours just going through all the places where he thought it could use work. After that there were a few more rounds of editing, from the major developmental edit of the book that shaped some big-picture things, to the more detailed copy editing, to the final proof of the book that looked at little punctuation mistakes or layout issues. Is it hard to hear? Yes. But I have a deeper respect for each editor because of their brave and bold critiques, which helped make my writing so much better. Each person who gave input invested in me and in the goals I seek to accomplish through this book, for which I am deeply grateful.
TM: Do you worry about how the book is received?
KW: I imagine most authors worry about how their work will be received. I know that I can fail in how I understand things, and can also fail by inadequately communicating. Add to that the capacity we all have to misunderstand even the clearest communicators, and communication becomes a very messy ordeal. I do feel a certain level of trepidation to “put myself out there” so to speak, not only my ideas and my work, but also so many personal stories that take a measure of vulnerability. But I write in the hopes that we may take a few steps together along God’s path, even if we are just stumbling our way along.
TM: Do you worry that you missed something important when turning in the final draft? If so, how do you deal with that?
KW: The truth is that if I would wait to publish something until I thought every part of it was just right, I don’t think I would ever publish anything. There is always room for improvement, and there are always varying perspectives that could be better represented. I also know that I have learned and been inspired by people who are still just a work in progress; similarly my book represents some of what I have learned, up until the point of handing in the final manuscript and I hope that it may likewise be helpful to others. Even now before it is available there are new things I have learned.
While every author hopes that their words “stand the test of time” and will still be relevant and interesting many years down the road, I also hope I never stop learning and will ultimately be disappointed if I don’t learn more and grow beyond where I am at now.
There is also a strange phenomenon that I have experienced only a few times, where years after writing something I come back to it and read it again, and feel like I’m learning it anew. It may be my own forgetfulness or it may be that I wrote with wisdom beyond my years, or it may be that the truths of the Bible are simply more profound than I knew at the time of writing and came to understand them more deeply down the road. So while I know there will be areas that I will examine years later and realize could have been better, I hope that the pieces of it that are true and right and good will be what makes a difference.
TM: How much of your writing flows from inspiration, and how much comes from strict self-discipline? Do you notice a difference in quality between pieces that flow versus pieces that have to be “churned out”?
KW: Someone once told me, “Write hot, edit cold.” What they meant was that when inspiration strikes, take advantage of it and write with passion and zeal. When editing, be almost cold-hearted, not being emotionally attached to something just because I wrote it, willing to throw it away if it is no good.
This is generally how I write. I have found, however that there also needs to be a measure of discipline involved because if I don’t make time to write, then inspiration never has a chance to hit when I am in front of a keyboard. I generally like to plan my work well in advance, which affords me the opportunity to sit down to write without as much pressure to get it done in that moment. If inspiration doesn’t come and the words just don’t flow, then I am able to set it aside and come back to it another time.
Even still, there are always deadlines, and while I personally feel better about my work when it comes from a place of passionate zeal and fiery inspiration, there have also been times where I have toiled over writing a sermon all week, never feeling particularly “inspired,” and it seems like the good Lord uses those ones more profoundly than others that I felt passionate about.