I met Ethan Bryan on Twitter when Aaron Smith (@culturalsavage) introduced us. I liked Ethan right away. He was forthright and funny, and he didn’t just talk about writing – he wrote. And he used his words to change the world. I hope you’ll read his interview, pick up his books, and be inspired that your words truly do make a difference.
On April 1, Striking Out ALS: A Hero’s Tale was released through eLectio Publishing (https://electiopublishing.com/). It’s my second baseball book and deals with dreams, friends, and being who God whispered us to be. The story starts with my desire to go to Fantasy Camp and play baseball one more time, to tell the stories of playing the greatest of games alongside my childhood heroes. To wear a jersey with my name and number on the back. To swing for the fences and see if I have more than warning-track power. But that’s not where the story ends.
What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
I always read before bed. Usually Star Wars, Pete Rose’s Winning Baseball, or George Brett’s Born to Hit. I also read the sports page and Calvin & Hobbes first thing every morning, to which I attribute my current love for baseball and good theology.
In second grade, I wrote a story for school about a bald kid who plays baseball and becomes the team’s hero. In third grade, I wrote a voluntary book report on Jackie Robinson and how baseball lead the way for racial integration into society.
In seventh grade everyone was asked to write an essay on three wishes the first week of school. I don’t have a clue what my three wishes were, but I remember the teacher pulling me aside and telling me it was one of the best she had ever read. She then noticed that I didn’t double-space my writing, which should have reduced my grade in half. “Oh well, good writers instinctively know which rules to break,” she said.
In high school, I won a significant scholarship essay contest. When I went to the award presentation, I was notified ten minutes ahead of time that I was disqualified at the last minute for including the name of my school in the essay. They said that was written in the rules, but I never saw it. I still don’t understand how it made it through three or four rounds of judging and declaring a winner without someone DQ-ing me much earlier. Broke that rule and got busted.
What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
I wake up, get dressed, fix waffles for my daughters, take my oldest daughter to school, and drive to the coffee shop where I sit in the back corner for two hours and write as many words as I have for that day. After that, I will relocate, usually to my house or a library and write the words that I’m under contract to write—usually curriculum for one youth ministry project or another.
Who are you reading now?
Loren Broaddus’ The Birthing Tree and Weight, two of the best books of poetry I’ve ever read. Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro, which I’m pretty certain he wrote just for me. J.R. Woodward’s Creating a Missional Culture, because missional theology resonates deep in me. And I’m reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to my youngest daughter.
What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
This question is impossible to answer. I love the vision and heart of Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution. It was the first book I bought from Hearts & Minds Books in Dallastown, PA and introduced me to Byron Borger. Every book I’ve bought from Hearts & Minds is one of my all-time favorite books. Byron is simply the best book-seller in the country.
Three books by Robert Benson are also my favorite: The Echo Within, Between the Dreaming and the Coming True, and The Game. I had the chance to go to dinner with Benson once, as well as to a baseball game. His words have a way of stirring my imagination and helping me better hear God’s whisper in me.
I absolutely love the entire Harry Potter series and wish I could write like that. I love baseball books, especially Joe Posnanski’s The Soul of Baseball. I love Nouwen and Merton (Thoughts in Solitude is impossible to read quickly. Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit is another favorite and I still want to read her latest work. Pressfield’s The War of Art helped me realize that writing my story is not selfish, and spoke to me at a critical time in my life. Stories from Batstone’s Not For Sale are always dancing around in my brain as well, as I try and find ways to connect my passions and gifts in being a “modern abolitionist.”
How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
I understand the need for a platform, especially if any agent or traditional publishing house is going to look at my work. If I have a couple ten thousand friends on Facebook and Twitter who are reading my words and interacting with me, then that will guarantee some book sales and make it worthwhile for someone to take the time to create the interior layout and set the font and get the ISBN number, and on and on.
But I don’t trust Facebook and exited out of there after being an early adopter. Twitter’s fun, and I find myself thinking in phrases to tweet throughout the day. I’m thankful I don’t have a phone with internet access or I’d never get off Twitter.
A couple of friends finally convinced me to re-start blogging again, and that has been fun. I think one of my posts actually got 9 reads. Almost double digits. Pretty sweet in my opinion.
What stirs inside me, however, are the words, the stories, the dreams, the whispers. If I’m not writing what’s in my heart, no one will. I don’t really expect to make New York Times bestseller lists. I don’t want to be traveling five days a week speaking here and signing books there. I’m a narrative, missional theologian. I write stories about the new friends I make and the simple ways I see God’s kingdom breaking into earth.
So I only have 270 followers on Twitter. Big deal. Numbers don’t accurately measure anything.
I guess the short answer is, I spend way more time writing and way little time building a platform. Which is not the advice of Michael Hyatt or numerous others. And I’m fine with that.
What is a typical day like for you?
I write in the morning and try and talk to new friends before and after I write. I go home for lunch and play with my dog, maybe going for a walk if it’s nice outside. I read some news, some books, and take a nap. Somewhere in there I drink a Dr Pepper and go workout if it’s a good day. I pick up my oldest daughter from school and write a little more. A few times a week I’ll do the dishes and fold laundry. I eat dinner around the table with my family. After the girls are in bed, I’ll lose a game of Settlers of Catan to my wife and we’ll finish the evening watching The Big Bang Theory or Lost. I’ll read for a few minutes and usually have bizarre and detailed dreams.
Describe your dream writing space?
What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
I’ve received so many rejection emails and letters from agents and publishing houses I’ve lost count. But they can’t tell me “no” unless I ask them to look at it, to read it. I just figure amassing rejections is part and parcel of the business and I must be doing something right to even be acknowledged.
Probably, however, the hardest critique I’ve ever received was that my writing was selfish and arrogant and not what I needed to be spending my time doing. That night was when I read these words from Pressfield’s The War of Art:
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.
I got up the next morning and continued writing.
What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
I think Pressfield’s words are the best advice I could offer: Your writing is a gift. Give us your best. Don’t give in to Resistance, Distractions, or Doubt. Do the hard and tediously boring work of writing your words every day. Your stories will help bear witness to God’s kingdom come on earth. We need your stories.
Ethan D. Bryan is bald, has a cool scar from an ACL surgery, and once wrote an award winning anthem for his beloved KC Royals. He is now dreaming of a book about playing catch to end human trafficking. So far, he is failing miserably about bringing it to life. He blogs at http://www.ethanbryan.wordpress.com