Encouraging Words from Author/Speaker Tim Shoemaker

A great deal of my writing goes into interview articles. One of my favorite assignments is covering book authors.
Not only do they share wisdom for writers but also they give great encouragement for Christian living. Today, I want to share an excerpt from an interview I did with author Tim Shoemaker.
Tim Shoemaker is the author of eleven books including Dangerous Devotions for Guys and Smashed Tomatoes, Bottle Rockets…and Other Devotionals You Can Do With Your Kids.  
In May 2013, his book, Code of Silence, was named in the Top Ten List of Crime Novels for Youth in Booklist Online. Back Before Dark is the sequel, and it came out in the spring of 2013.

Tim speaks at “churches, para-church organizations such as Focus on the Family, Iron Sharpens Iron Men’s Conferences, International Network of Children’s Ministry, Moody Pastors Conference, at men’s retreats, women’s groups, couples retreats, Youth Worker conventions, homeschool conventions, and conduct Family Devotion Workshops all across the country.” 

Tim thanks for carving some time out of your schedule for this interview. I know you’ve been writing and speaking full-time since 2004. How many years did you write before doing it full-time? Share with us how your writing journey began.
I’ve been writing since sometime in the early 90’s, at least. I wrote things for my three sons, mainly. Most of the writing was family devotional things that I did with the kids—object lesson and activity-oriented stuff to teach spiritual truth. I also loved telling them stories, and they’d ask me to write them down.  In time, I started doing that.
 And my youngest son had a hard time reading—so to encourage him along I wrote stories for him—at his reading and interest level. What I didn’t see at the time was that God was preparing me to write for a bigger audience.

I notice your writing now falls into two categories: one for parents and youth workers and the other is fiction for boys. First, I want to ask about your writing for parents and youth workers. What drew you to this genre?

As a dad, I struggled to effectively teach my boys about God and the principles he gave us to live by. I had a stack of books for family devotions, none of which really worked for long. Then I started doing little object lessons to teach spiritual truth. Blowing up eggs in the microwave. Smashing tomatoes. Shooting model rockets. All kinds of things. The boys listened. Learned. Enjoyed it. And with every object lesson or activity, they were getting a nugget of truth etched into their mind.
So eventually I started writing them down—thinking maybe my sons could use them with their own kids when they grew up. Then, at a writer’s conference, I was showing an acquisitions editor some fiction—and it was clearly with the wrong publishing house for that. “What else do you have?” he said. I almost answered “nothing” because the fiction was all I’d planned to present. That was my dream. Then the devotionals popped into my mind. I mentioned them—and he loved the examples I was giving him. The devotionals were written with all the passion of a dad’s love—and that started a series of books.  I had no idea God was using the writing I was doing for my kids to launch something bigger. 
Since I struggled to teach my kids, I totally understood other parents—especially dads—as they wrestled to convey spiritual truth in a way that their kids would listen. God developed a passion in me to help them, too. That’s where the speaking came in.
As for writing for youth workers, that was a natural path to take. I’d been working with youth for years. The same devotionals that worked for my boys at home worked for kids in a youth group. Really well. So when Group Publications approached me about doing a book, by God’s grace I was ready. Isn’t it amazing how God paves the way without us even being aware of it?

You have awesome titles in your devotion books for guys. Boys are naturally drawn to things like “Puking Pumpkins.” When you write your devotions for boys, what is your writing process? Do you think of a devotional first and then incorporate something similar to a “puking pumpkin” into it? Or, do you think of the puking pumpkin first, and then tie in a devotional?
It happens both ways. Sometimes there is a truth I want to convey, and I pray for a clear—and sometimes crazy way to present it. Other times I see something or hear about something and think—wow…there has to be a devotional in there somewhere.

A man spoke to me at a conference and asked if I’d ever tried electrocuting a pickle. I was instantly intrigued. “No, what does it do?” When I got home, I tried it, and God helped me see how perfectly that illustrated a basic but tough truth of our faith. I’ve used that demo with men and students many times since. I have a proposal for another book of devotionals out there—and “Electro-pickle” (or “Franken-pickle”) will definitely be in there.

Do you have a set routine for writing each day? What helps you stay on task?
I have a routine for the start of my day. I get up with my wife. Walk a couple miles. Pray. Memorize. Have devotions, journal, and have breakfast. Then I get to work. When I’m really in a time crunch, I write first. That would be the most important thing to keep me on task. Write before I start anything else.
When the weather permits, I write outside. Other times I’ll go to a fast food place. Usually I’m at home. Sometimes the change of environment helps me stay more alert. 
I’m not able to write every day. It takes me a lot of time to prep for speaking engagements, too.
The big time killer is email, Facebook, etc. If I start with that stuff, I’ll likely lose a lot of writing time.

Writers hear about building their platforms. Any thoughts you would like to share about that?
That’s a tough one, because my story isn’t all that typical. I had seven books published before I ever had a platform. But I was busy with work, my family, and in ministry at church. When we had to close our business in 2004 I felt I was to go “all in” on the writing.  I thought God was going to open the doors for the fiction writing. That didn’t happen. Not for years.
But God was working in me. Changing me. Making me the person I should be so I could do the job he had for me. I was talking to a pastor friend, sharing my burden for men and how they often avoided teaching their kids spiritually. “If I could just get men in a room,” I said, “I know I can help them over the hurdles holding them back.”
He looked at me. “Why don’t you come and do it at my church?” It hit me so hard. When I said that thing about getting men in a room, it was a figure of speech. I didn’t really mean I wanted to get men in a room and speak to them. I was scared to death. But I knew I was supposed to do it—so I did. And when I did, I found just how needed it was—and how easily men could be helped. It launched a speaking element of my life that I hadn’t pursued or manufactured. Sure, I had to do work, don’t get me wrong. But God brought the opportunity to me. He put the burden in my heart. My job was not to run away and hide from it—even when I was so afraid to do it.
So the lesson there is if God puts some opportunity in front of you—even if you think it is miles out of your comfort zone—think really hard before saying “no” to it. If I had declined, I would have missed so much.
And there is a timing factor to it. I spoke at a children’s ministry conference, presenting teachers with easy and concrete ways they can increase the effectiveness of their teaching, and a woman came up to me after I was finished. Now, I wasn’t the main speaker. I was just teaching a workshop.  She told me how much she’d learned and how excited she was—and how this is the type of thing she’d been looking for at the conference—but hadn’t found until our session. Then she asked something I never forgot. “Where have you been?” The question took me off guard. I knew what she was saying. She saw the gray at my temples—and the fact that I had something to say—but I wasn’t on the main speaker roster. I was a “no name” to her. “I’ve been raising my family.” That was all I could say.
Here are the lessons I took away from that. One, don’t force a platform before you’re ready. Believe me, I wish I’d have been ready when I was younger.  But God knew when I was ready—and he opened the door. Two, if you’ve got kids at home—they’re your priority. Be really careful about doing something that will hurt your influence at home or the time you should be having with your mate and kids.
Some people work so hard to build a platform—at the expense of their marriage and personal peace and their kids. They’re not just building a platform—they’re building a scaffold. And they’ll hang themselves on it if they aren’t careful. Your years with the kids are short. And life is too long to live with the regret of knowing you weren’t the parent you could have been because you were too busy building a platform.
When the time was right for my fiction to be published—it happened. It was so clearly God’s timing, I wish I could tell you about it. Sure, I wished it was sooner, but I see how smart God was with his perfect timing. I couldn’t make my fiction take off before the time was right—and when the time was right I couldn’t mess it up. We’ve got to trust God with all this. Work hard—of course.  Learn the craft—absolutely.  And work at being the consistent—real—Christian you should be. Yes, you’ll likely need a platform…but don’t build it at the expense of your family. Yes, you’ll likely need a platform, but be careful not to start building a platform before you’ve built the person. Make sense? 

I know your three sons are now grown, but how did you balance your writing and speaking engagements when your sons were younger and still at home?
I’m glad you’re zeroing in on this because I think it’s important. My two older boys were in college when the speaking really started. My priority was my kids—so God in his grace didn’t really bring the speaking opportunities until later.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Should I really be out telling people how to raise their kids when mine aren’t raised yet? I think some try to get into a speaking ministry a bit young—and it is something to be really careful about.
For the last few years, my wife usually travels with me when I speak, unless it’s a men’s retreat or a writer’s conference. This is a really important thing. We stay close. Have time together. Go out on a date after I’m done speaking.

With the writing, I have to be careful not to push it into the evening. My wife is good about helping me stay balanced. I usually write off in a quiet spot or behind a closed door, but my wife and kids have to be my first priority. If I don’t get that right—what do I really have to share with others? I heard a writer say once “My kids know when I’m on a deadline—and my door is shut—that I’m not to be bothered.” They laughed and remarked how that it wasn’t unusual for their door to be shut like that for several weeks. The audience laughed. And I grieved for her. She’d missed the mark. She was so busy with her message for the masses she didn’t think about the message she was sending to her kids. No book we’ll ever write is more important than our kids.
My youngest is twenty-three now, living at home and studying to be a paramedic. I still read him chapters after I’ve written them to see what he thinks. Try to keep the kids involved and part of the process. Incorporate their suggestions where you can.  I’ve had input from each of my sons that have prompted me to rewrite a chapter or section of a book. And the writing was better for it.

What advice would you offer to beginning writers? 
I think I’ve learned some of my most valuable tips at writing conferences. If you can attend a conference… do it. I love teaching fiction—and if you’re like me—actually hearing someone explain a technique helps you learn faster and better. 

 If you are a Christian—and you’re writing for Christians—watch your walk. Be the real deal. Don’t cut short your time with God so that you can write.

Don’t be discouraged. If this is part of God’s purpose for your life, then you can be sure he is going to help. And if he’s helping you—that’s a good thing. I’m always praying he infuses my writing with his power.
Keep writing. Have credible people read it and give you feedback.  Often a writer’s conference will offer a critique of part of your manuscript. This can be hard, but I learned some valuable lessons this way.

And if your passion is for fiction—don’t discount want you’re doing. Stories are powerful. They can convict, instruct, inspire, and encourage people more effectively than non-fiction many times. Keep learning so you can tell your story in the most compelling way.

Thank you, Tim! Your words will be an encouragement to all our readers.
To read the full two-part interview go to www.write2ignite.com