In today’s episode, I’m joined by my guest, Lori Ann Wood – author of the new book Divine Detour: The Path You’d Never Choose Can Lead to the Faith You’ve Always Wanted. We speak about the power of story and how to take thoughts from personal journaling and turn them into a book.
About Lori Ann Wood: Lori Ann lives in an empty nest in beautiful Bentonville, Arkansas, with her husband, the love of her life whom she found in ninth grade. Having discovered a serious heart condition almost too late, Lori Ann writes to encourage others to explore their difficult faith questions along the detours of life.
The Power of Story Tip #1 – Add Details
Lori Ann: When I started writing, I wrote short pieces, just trying to make sense of things myself. I was writing what was coming out of my heart in little fits and starts – even on sticky notes — and I thought, what am I gonna do with all of these little bits that I’ve written?
The whole basis of the book is my heart failure journey, and it was a sudden and unexpected diagnosis that I had no family history and no risk factors. It was an unusual story, but it wasn’t everyone’s story, so I struggled with how to make it useful for other people.
I began inserting those bits and pieces I had placed on sticky notes of my childhood, or raising young children, or being newly married. And as I began sharing parts of it with people, that was what they were reaching out to me about. They were saying, “My story’s not your story, but that sounds like my story.”
I added details that people could relate to. For example, one of the stories included a description of the lunchbox that I had when I was a kid and one of the readers reached out and said, “I have that same lunchbox!”
And so there were these little sparks of connection that made the reader trust me more because I was revealing parts of my past that they could identify with from their own experiences.
My story wasn’t the same story that everyone had, but it sort of rhymed with their story. These overlaps connected me to readers and encouraged them to keep reading. They might be thinking, “Oh, I wonder what else about her story is similar to mine?”
The Power of Story Tip #2 – Be Vulnerable
Lori Ann: Jesus taught in stories. That’s the way he got across his most important ideas. I really leaned into that and tried to show a lot of vulnerability and some empathy.
I love story, so I think when someone is willing to open up and share something about their own life, it creates a crack in their veneer that enables you see the real person in there. It makes that person someone you want to read more from.
Dalene: Yes, I agree. In your book, you share the story of when you were five years old and running away. Even though I never actually had the guts to run away, I thought about it as a young child. I think almost everyone can relate to that. Of course, your running away wasn’t very far — it was to the pasture. It’s so innocent, looking back, but so relatable.
It brings back that initial hurt that led you to want to run away. There’s always an underlying challenge, an underlying hurt, waiting to be addressed. It’s those type of life challenges that led you to divide your book into three overarching questions. Do you want to share what those life questions are?
Journaling and Personal Essays Based on 3 Life Questions
Lori Ann: Yeah, so the way that came about was, I read in the Bible about Jesus going into the desert right before his public ministry. And it was about then that I realized that all of these essays I had sort of had one of three themes to them. And those three themes were the three, we call ’em temptations, but they were really just internal questions that Jesus was asking himself in the desert.
And so I started to think, maybe I have something here. Maybe the questions that we all ask when we get what I call detoured into the desert or, and it could be a relationship or a financial detour or career detour. Mine was a health detour. But we start to ask those three questions.
Life Question #1
Lori Ann: The first one I call the question of worry. All the times when I was wrestling with things like loss and uncertainty and fear, I grouped those in the book under the question, “Is this life all there is?”
That relates to when Jesus was in the desert and Satan said, “Turn these stones into bread.” He was considering whether he should just concentrate on what’s happening physically.
Life Question #2
Lori Ann: And then the second section was where Satan said, “If you will jump from this cliff, [basically] I know that God will catch you and you won’t be harmed.”
I was wrestling with that too because I was thinking, I’m God’s child and he surely won’t let me be harmed. He’s going to protect me.
And so that question then became, “Is God always good?”
I know He’s there, but what’s happening doesn’t feel very good. And so I took a bunch of essays and a bunch of writings from that idea and put those into the second section.
Life Question #3
Lori Ann: The third section was when I was looking at things in my own life like disappointment and failure and waiting. It related to Jesus’ third temptation where Satan basically told Jesus to “bow down and all of these kingdoms will be yours.”
And the question that came out of that was, “Is God’s plan enough?”
While my essays didn’t always give concrete, definitive answers, what I tried to do was give the reader permission to ask their own questions as they go through their own life challenge.
Dalene: A lot of times we might think that it’s not good to question God, but I don’t know that we’re actually questioning God as much as questioning the circumstances that we’re in. He wants us to come to Him with everything. He already knows what we’re thinking, but He wants us to trust him enough to share it with Him ourselves.
I think your book is a beautiful picture of what it’s like to honestly struggle through these questions. You do a great job of inviting the reader to do that as well.
Questions Aren’t a Threat to Your Faith, But a Lifeline
Dalene: I had copied down a quote from your book in which you said,
“I still struggle with questions almost daily, but rather than seeing them as a threat to my faith, I see them as a lifeline to keeping it.” Lori Ann Wood
I thought that was a powerful statement. Do you still feel that way?
Lori Ann: I do. I’ve been a Christian all my life. I was raised in a Christian home and had a wonderful upbringing, and raised my children in the church. But when I got on this detour, these really basic questions were nagging at me.
At first, I felt a little bit like a fraud or a little bit guilty because I’m thinking, “How can I be this far into my faith and my life and still have such basic questions?” But back to that idea of vulnerability, I found that when I started asking those questions out loud in my writing, people who I had seen as longtime solid Christians were saying, “I’m struggling with that. I still ask that question
When people will hit those questions head on, they will come out with a stronger faith. The alternative is to just go, “Ooh, there’s a big question. I’m just going to walk away from faith because it doesn’t seem like it works out.”
Power of Story Tip #3 – Offer an Answer to People’s Faith Questions
Lori Ann: One of the main ideas of the book is questions. When I was researching my book proposal, I learned that two thirds of American adults who profess to be Christians say that they question God, and 22 million of those people turn to books to answer their questions.
That gave me the idea that questions are a big deal. I saw also in the general book market that society is shifting away from definitive answers and giving permission to ask a question in a constructive way.
And so my goal was to find a way to take that curiosity and doubt from all of these Christians and help them find a way to embrace their questions rather than run or hide from them or pretend they don’t exist. I want to help them use them to strengthen their faith. In my own personal experience, it had strengthened my faith.
Dalene: Those are some powerful statistics. I think it’s important that if you feel called to write a book, know you don’t have to have all the answers, but point people to the One Who does. That is what’s most important.
Address what God has placed on your heart. Whatever the story is, whatever the message is, whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, have the courage to step out and write it.
Writing Is Hard, But Full of Blessings
Dalene: Lori Ann, I’m sure you can attest to this: writing a book isn’t always easy. There’s a lot of self-doubt that goes in the writing process as well. But if we’re willing to put in the effort and follow God’s leading, there are blessings on the other side of that. Sometimes things that we don’t even recognize as we’re writing.
Lori Ann: Yes. I think a lot of people are this way, but I always felt like I had this book inside me. But I had children, I had a job, I had all of these things that had nothing to do with writing.
And I thought, someday when I know enough …when I’m an expert on something … I’m gonna write a book.
I love a quote I came across early in my writing:
“Not all storms come to destroy your life. Some storms come to clear your path.” Anonymous
I think that certainly applies in my writing journey. I had taught college for 20+ years but after I got heart failure, I couldn’t stand up. I didn’t have the energy and the stamina to lecture for two or three hours at a time. But I could sit and type all day long.
And although at first I didn’t see that it was a book, because again, I didn’t think I was an expert at anything, it became a book
I certainly did not sit down at my computer the first time and say, “I’m gonna write a book of Christian essays about the three questions that every life confronts.”
I would never have thought that. But that’s what the writing that was inside me came out to be.
Turning Personal Essays into a Published Book
Lori Ann: I was probably 75% finished writing my essays when I discovered they could be turned into a book about these three questions.
I didn’t want my medical story to be the overarching theme of the book, but I wanted it to be woven throughout the book.
So I did a lot of tweaking with the format and what ended up happening was that each question made up a section of the book and within each section, I included little snippets of journal entries. This way, the reader could follow my story if they wanted to, but if they weren’t interested in the medical story, there were enough other stories from my childhood, adulthood, and teaching throughout that they would still be interested in the book.
I actually went through my story three times because I went from diagnosis to current day in each section so readers could know that I was struggling with the same questions over and over and over.
That’s an encouragement, I think, for a lot of people to know it’s okay to not arrive at that final answer.
Self-Publish or Traditionally Publish? That Is the Question
Lori Ann: Before I started working with a writing coach, I began submitting book proposals to agents and publishing houses. Then as I worked with the coach, she said she could help me self-publish it if I wanted to get it out in a shorter timeframe.
I had completed all of my developmental edits and I still hadn’t heard back from any publishers or agents, so I chose the path to self-publish.
Then, in November of 2021, I did hear back from a small Christian publishing house and who offered to acquire my book if it was still available. I decided at that point that I would go with them.
That was a relief to me because with my energy level and me having to decide how I spend my days, I didn’t know that I wanted to spend it learning how to self-publish. I would’ve if I had to, but that was a relief.
They acquired it in November 2021 and it came out in February 2023, a few months ago. It’s been a good experience. As a smaller publisher, they’ve been really open to my input on the cover and all sorts of things.
Dalene: That’s fabulous. It’s not always our plan, but God’s, in how things work out.
What Is Your Goal with Your Book?
Dalene: In your introduction, it says:
“It was never my goal for you to be content, just reading my story. My purpose is to impact and empower you to live a better version of your own.” Lori Ann Wood
I was wondering if you’ve had any feedback yet from readers and if that is coming to pass.
Lori Ann: Yes. The short, contained, individual stories with a theme really appeal to people because when you’re in a health situation or grief or any other kind of trauma, you have a short attention span. So people love that.
But also, some of us process a lot by writing. People were asking me, “Is there going to be space to write in the book?”
I had never planned for that, so I approached my publisher and asked to create a companion journal. I worked feverishly on it and they made it happen.
So when the book came out, there also came out this companion journal. The book’s called Divine Detour and the companion journal is called Navigating Your Own Divine Detour.
Some people expect to have a place to process in a book and, other people just want a book to read. So having both has been a good compromise.
Lori Ann’s Recommendations – Books that Make an Impact
Dalene: As someone who has wanted to write a book most of your life, I’m assuming that you were a reader. Was there ever a book that really impacted you in some way?
Lori Ann: I probably have been most influenced by anything that Frederick Buechner writes, but especially The Longing for Home. It’s comprised of small stories that draw you in and allow you to examine your life and your faith.
That is what really gave me the idea that it’s okay to ask questions and it’s okay to not come up with a tidy answer to those questions in your writing.
Also, there’s a smaller circulation-kind-of book called Walking Through Twilight by Douglas Groothuis. It was one that really opened up my eyes to the idea of lamenting over a life situation and lamenting it in a healthy way that encourages people.
Sometimes we think of lament as, “Oh, it’s so depressing and sad and awful,” but his book really gave me the idea that it can be something that’s reaching toward God. It can be something that strengthens you.
Those two books really impacted me in the time when I was writing my book.
Don’t Despair – “Be Open to What the Book Wants to Be”
Dalene: Since this was your first book, and I have many listeners who are working on their first books, are any overarching tips or suggestions that you can share to help them along their journey?
Lori Ann: Be open to what the book wants to be. Like I said before, I thought I needed to be an expert on something and then I would figure out what that topic was, and then I’d research it and then write a book.
But sometimes the book that you need to write is something totally different. It might not be what you had envisioned or planned or thought you were even good at, so be open to whatever that book might be.
The Value of a Writing Mentor or Writing Coach
Lori Ann: I encourage you to find a writing mentor. I have had so many wonderful mentors and a lot of them were online because I wrote the bulk of my book during Covid. They are writers I have looked up to and formed a relationship with and have been able to ask questions. That was huge.
There are so many things that we can get from being mentored. A lot of them wrote an endorsement for my book.
And I’m looking forward to being able to mentor someone else as they start writing a new book and they’re a new author.
Those are just little side benefits that you don’t see coming, but they’re just such blessings in this journey because it can get really hard and discouraging, even after you have a contract and you’re past all the rejections. You still have to go through all the edits, then there’s the marketing, and there’s just so much that feels overwhelming.
It’s so nice to be able to have someone else who’s been there to say, “You’re doing okay.”
Connect with Lori Ann + Free Offers
Dalene: I know that in individuals are going to want to connect with you, and I know that you also have a special offer for our listeners.
Lori Ann: Yes, my website is loriannwood.com that has my book and companion journal on there.
The offer that I have is something that might spur someone on to figure out what that book is inside them. It’s called Five Prayers and Promises When You Can’t Talk to God and can be downloaded at loriannwood.com/hope.
I wrote that when I was really in the throes of my heart failure journey. I felt very disconnected from God so I started exploring what was true in the Bible. What is true in my life, what can I lean on? It’s the examining of my mind and my heart that grew into this book.
It would be a good thing for people to look at and see how they can take some of their own early information and actually grow it into a book.
Dalene: This is fantastic and super helpful and encouraging, Lori Ann. Thank you for taking the time to come on the show. And congratulations on your book!
Lori Ann: Thank you. And I would love to give a copy of the book to a listener. If you would want to do that, I would love to share it.
Dalene: Absolutely! Yes, I would love to do that.
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