When I want to get a little whiny about how much I have going on at this moment in my life, I remind myself that Ed Cyzewski has a newborn son (Ethan) and has just released a book that he must now promote. (Ethan doesn’t require as much promotion; his cuteness carries him through.) So it is with humility and honor that I share my friend Ed with you today, even though he bashes Wuthering Heights.
1. Tell me about your latest project.
Oh, gosh. In what sense do you mean “latest”? My latest published book just came out: Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus. It’s a co-authored project where I seek to answer the question, “What does it look like to follow Jesus today if he isn’t ‘walking’ down the street?” I also just signed a book contract to co-author a book. It’s a project that combines historical fiction and accessible scholarship to present the book of Revelation as a hopeful narrative that was intended to be good news for people suffering persecution rather than terrifying them. I can’t say much more about this one, but it’s a book that has been really close to my heart, so I can’t wait to get moving on it. More news to come soon!
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
I wasn’t the most well-read kid, but I did have a creative side that I unfortunately ignored for years. It took a Master of Divinity Degree to make me realize I wasn’t cut out for ministry. I kept gravitating toward writing, and the more I look back, the more I see writing as an important part of my childhood. In 6th grade my teacher had us purchase an extra copybook that she called our Anything Book. I filled it without any goading. The stories were awful, but even if I resisted my creative calling for years as I tried to find a “practical” job, there are markers like my Anything Book that I can look back on as confirmations that I’m on the right track today.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
Routine? What’s that? Ever since Ethan arrived, routines are kaput. I used to wake up, pray/read scripture, write at a cafe for 3-4 hours, stop for lunch, and then hit some lighter creative, editorial, or marketing projects in the afternoon. The key is to never work on really important creative stuff in the 1-4 pm dead zone. I save that for editing, networking, or marketing.
4. Who are you reading now?
I’m reading Flunking Sainthood by Jana Reiss right now, and it is one of the best books I’ve read in quite a long time. Reiss is hilarious, perceptive, and brave enough to say all of the things our spiritual fathers and mothers have had coming to them. For example, she gets on Brother Lawrence for never actually giving practical suggestions, and she gets on Richard Foster’s case for being a TAD unrealistic in his approach to simplicity. It was like someone said everything that I haven’t been brave enough to say on my own.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
The Cost of Discipleship has been the most formative book for me personally. For sheer pleasure, it’s tough to beat Cold Comfort Farm. It’s sweet revenge for having to deal with Wuthering Heights and those insufferable lovers Heathcliffe and Catherine. The third one is a tough call, but I’ll say Traveling Mercies because Anne Lamott gave me permission to write about my issues with humor.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
I don’t think it’s possible. If I ever figure that out, I’ll write a book about it, market the snot out of it, and make gobs of money. Ha!
I’m not a bestselling author, so take my advice with a grain of salt, but I think two things are at least important in setting some boundaries between creative time and marketing time. The first is that you can schedule marketing with Hootsuite, and it’s quite easy to catch up on stuff you missed through Facebook. The second is that you need to guard your morning or evening creative time with a club. Don’t ever let marketing creep into that time. That to me is the end of my writing career. You need to market and network, but use your low points to do that stuff. During your creative time, use Freedom or a notepad to stay far away from the internet.
7.What is a typical day like for you?
With a newborn, no day is typical. We had a nice groove where I’d get up with him at 6 am to give my wife a few hours of sleep and I’d write on the porch with him in the swing for an hour or so until he starts squawking. I try to get at least 3-4 hours of writing done that will pay me in some form, whether that’s the end of the month for a business or in 1-2 years for a book project. How I accumulate those hours is quite random. I dedicate about 1 hour each day to my blog, but I try to make sure my blog is tied to a book project so that I can make the most of that time. If I had to blog about stuff that’s totally different from my books, I would have to give up one of the two.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
I need a spot with a ton of light, a desk with a solid but comfy chair, and a cup of tea or coffee depending on how sleep deprived I am. The trick is that half of the time I need to be in public at a cafe and half of the time I like to be at home. Too much of either leaves me stressed out or stir crazy.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
That’s an easy answer! I had my second book contract, wrote a draft of the whole book, and due to a variety of reasons, I launched my full time freelance career at that time. Within a week of leaving my day job, I learned from my book’s new editor (my previous editor had been laid off) that my book project needed to be completely rewritten because he personally disagreed with my theology and questioned my biblical integrity. I chose to shut down that book project rather than compromise my beliefs. I’ll be the first to admit that I was a bit pushy at times in the book, but after seeking counsel from my agent and editors that I knew, it was an obvious though difficult decision. Ironically, every point he contested had been mentioned in my previous books with the same publisher!
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
For writers looking to publish books: Beware writing advice that begins with something like this, “How to make your book a bestseller…” Any kind of road map to success is misleading because publishing has so many variables. I wrote a book called A Path to Publishing because I could only tell my own story. Every writer is unique and will work with different people who will lead to different paths. Learn from other writers, but never forget that each writer is an individual who needs to find his/her own way.
For any writer, I’d suggest learning to write what you really care about in your own style. I know that sounds horribly vague, but the most rewarding part of writing for me has been tapping into my own personality and letting that shine in my writing.
Ed Cyzewski (MDiv Biblical Theological Seminary) works as a freelance writer in Columbus, OH. He is the co-author of Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus and author of Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life, Divided We Unite, and A Path to Publishing. Ed writes regularly for a number of magazines and web sites. He blogs about freelance writing at: www.edcyz.com and theology at www.inamirrordimly.com.