Building a Life out of Words

Whenever someone asks me to review a book they’ve written, I approach the task with an equal mix of flattery and trepidation–flattered that my opinion of their work means something to them and wary that I won’t be able to write a glowing, positive AND honest review.

After receiving one book a year or so ago and realizing I couldn’t possibly in good conscious write a positive or even passing review, I made a personal decision that I would rather not write anything at all than write a bad review of something a person has devoted so much of their life to. (For the record, the author of this book is not anyone I’ve ever heard of or had any personal interaction with. It was sent to me by a well meaning publicist who probably assumed because I was a Christian I would give an automatic glowing review for a fellow Christian.)

When I received a request from Shawn Smucker to review his latest book, “Building a Life out of Words”, I was again flattered and wary. I’ve not read any of Shawn’s previous books, but based upon what I’ve read from him online, I know him to be a talented writer. But what gave me pause was the title of his book.

What I’m about to say will probably not win me any friends in the writing community, but here goes.

I’m not a big fan of writers writing about writing.

Unless they’re of the caliber of Stephen King, Steven Presswood or E. B. White, I consider (probably unfairly) whether they have the gravitas required to give advice about the craft of writing or a writer’s life. And yes, I know I’ve written several stories about writing, but I’m just a blogger. Furthermore, my writing posts are primarily from the viewpoint of the reader, not from that of someone who claims to be an expert in the field.

However, a few pages into Shawn’s book I realized that I had been wringing my hands for naught, because Building a Life out of Words succeeded in accomplishing one of the most important goals (for me, anyway) of compelling writing:

Show, don’t tell.

Shawn doesn’t tell you that you will fail and be rejected, he shows you his own failures and rejections with a raw honesty and humility that I rarely ever see in the written word.

He doesn’t tell you the importance of a supportive wife and family, he shows you how his wife Maile believed in what most spouses might consider a silly pipe dream with stories of sacrifice, loyalty, love and understanding that, even now as I think of them make me want to give that woman a giant hug.

But I don’t want to give the impressions that this book is just about the difficulties of life as a full time writer. Shawn also shares his victories–big and small–and reminds us that perseverance is every bit as important as passion, regardless of whether you aspire to write, paint, perform, run your own business or (insert dream job here).

Using first person narrative, personal journal entries and stories contributed by other writers and bloggers, Building a Life out of Words is less of a blueprint of how to write full time and more a reflective and encouraging handbook for anyone who feels like the life they long for is beyond their grasp.

The book is peppered with encouraging quotes from Shawn, all worthy of clipping and pasting onto your refrigerator, but it was his closing words that I found most encouraging:

This is what I hope for you. Not that you would be known as “that person who gave up their job to do what they loved to do.” As good as that sounds, and as exciting as that would be, that step is just the beginning of a wider, deeper, richer story.

I hope that you will be known as a person who lives. Really lives. Someone who makes decisions, not based on what’s expected, but on what’s possible. Someone who does things, not because everyone else is doing them, but because it’s what you want to do more than anything else in the world.

Now that would be a life worth living.

– Shawn Smucker

Got a dream life waiting?

I dare you to move.

Shawn Smucker is the author of several books, and is currently living out of a forty-five foot trailer, traveling the countryside with his wife Maile and their four children. You can catch up with his comings and going at ShaunSmucker.com

You can order Building a Life out of Words here.

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