E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard. — Anne Lamott


Anne Lamott, Chaim Potok, James Baldwin, Mark Doty, Marilynn Robinson – these are all writers I appreciate a great deal. I buy their books and read their words with vigor and fervor. They are my role models as a writer.

But when I think of the writer I most admire, I think of Shawn Smucker. Shawn has taken risks to make his writing life a reality, and even with those risks firmly before him, he has not sacrificed his relationships with his wife or his kids, he hasn’t become jaded or cold, and he hasn’t become arrogant. Plus, his writing – well, it calls to mind for me those soft rains that we’re having just now, the rains that dust the sky with the earthy scent of new life and turn the earth to emeralds.

Take this piece of Shawn’s writing:

I started to see how the things I labeled curses were actually blessings: a business in Virginia that wasn’t doing well enough to support us, and that growing mound of debt. Because without a faltering business and loads of debt, we would never have had the courage to make that choice. I can’t imagine making the leap under any other circumstances.

I kept driving. The night was still dark. God didn’t suddenly have someone call me and say they’d pay me $50,000 to write their book. I didn’t receive an email from a publisher offering me a 5-book, 6-figure deal.

The sun didn’t miraculously rise at night.

But my headlights were still lighting up the road. And for that night, and that journey, it was enough. We could make the whole trip that way.

Wow . . . yeah, wow.

So when I say that I am honored to be a part of anything Shawn writes, I mean that. I am deeply honored. Shawn’s newest book Building a Life Out of Words explores the journey he’s describing above, where he stepped out of the money-making business and took on life as a full-time writer – a family to support and all. I have a tiny piece in the book, but that’s not why you should get a copy – you should get a copy because it will inspire you, humble you, and force you to ask yourself what life you really want to live.

So take a few minutes to read Shawn’s website, and then go buy a copy of Building a Life Out of Words. It’s only $3.99, and it will change you . . . maybe you’ll start to follow the headlights of your own life just a bit further down the road.

If you could step out in complete faith, lay it all on the line, and live the life you dream of, what would you do?