In working with an aspiring author, there’s a good deal of listening involved—listening to what they say and listening to my own inner guidance. If I listen well, we’ll find a path that’s unique to that person—a path that helps them write a great book and also helps them connect with their authentic audience. And also a path that helps the person clarify and manifest their big-picture vision, whether it’s as an inspirational speaker, an internet-based business guru or a caped crusader.
The process is similar to the process of being a good writer. A good writer doesn’t just write from what he or she knows. He writes with an openness to what shows up in the moment—allowing himself and the reader to go deeper and experience new aha’s of insight. So, we do the “platform building”—the work of connecting with a readership in this same way.
Working with Patrick Vaughn is a great example of a holistic process that revealed itself step-by-step over time. In our consultations, we identified his passions, gifts and strengths, which led me to make recommendations that were often quite different from what I usually suggest to writers.
Lisa: So how did this all start—deciding to write a book and looking for support?
Patrick: I enjoy telling stories and was exploring where I might share them. The more I read the more I realized that most speakers have a book to provide a degree of credibility. But where would I start? Late one night I Googled “writing coaches.” “Lisa Tener” appeared, and I was intrigued!
Lisa: When we first spoke, you had several ideas. That first call we really worked on what book to write and what will make it compelling. What stands out for you?
Patrick: I had a very general idea of what I wanted to write about, but you helped me to focus on the theme of “unlikely” and “The Unlikely Preacher.” That was a huge breakthrough for me!
Lisa: Yes, we found your brand—who you are in the world and who you’re here to inspire. What were some of the questions you had at the beginning?
Patrick: The process of writing a book strikes me as daunting if not overwhelming. Where do I begin? Write a strong introduction? Work on a chapter by chapter outline? When it comes to style or methodology, one size doesn’t fit all. My thinking is not particularly linear. It can be, but more often I am captivated by bursts of inspiration. I needed someone who would walk beside me, hold me accountable, and help bring structure to the creative process. Developing structure continues to be my biggest challenge!
Lisa: One of the things that stands out for me is how we realized that you had a sense of who you wanted to write for, but those weren’t necessarily the people you were preaching to at church. We needed a way for you to connect with this new audience. I found myself making suggestions and recommendations that were different from my typical go-to platform building strategies, because they seemed to fit best with your style and your passions. Do you want to talk a bit about how you started connecting with your audience and developing a platform?
Patrick: I didn’t even know what a platform was! As you explained it, I began to understand the importance of developing relationships with potential readers. Initially, it seemed like it would be drudgery, but when you suggested I use video, my enthusiasm soared. I had never utilized video or recorded myself, but for many years I have been fascinated by television and movies. I tend to learn best when the visual and auditory are combined. While I am technologically challenged, I quickly learned the basics and discovered that I really enjoyed it. As I mentioned, I am a story teller at heart, and I love to meet people and ask them questions.
Lisa: Yes, I find video a bit daunting myself, but when I saw those videos of you preaching in church, I knew it was a perfect medium for you. So, you seem to have two kinds of videos. Do you want to share the two types and maybe a highlight from each?
Patrick: I actually have three types. One is when I sit or stand in front of the camera and record a short reflection. A couple of weeks ago I explored the story of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 and noted how Phillip embraces someone who is sexually and ethnically different. Also, I sometimes share brief excerpts from sermons. In this one for example, I describe a hilarious encounter with a woman I met at Starbucks. I still laugh at her wit! Occasionally, I interview guests, and I plan to offer these more often.
Lisa: What are some of the highlights—interviews you’ve done?
Patrick: I have interviewed Senator Chris Coons of Delaware and Coach Steve Spurrier of South Carolina. Both were incredibly gracious with their time, and I had a lot of fun. Coach Spurrier’s father was a Presbyterian pastor, and he shared that after he had won the Heisman award and after he won the national championship at Florida his dad asked him, “Do you ever think you should have stuck with baseball?” He was serious! We both laughed our heads off!
Lisa: After you’d been video blogging for some time, you and I had also discussed my go-to strategy: blogging, specifically the Huffington Post. It’s a powerful way to reach a large number of people over time—especially if your message has the potential to strike a nerve and go viral. So, how did you start?
Patrick: That question leaves me laughing! For a couple of years, I submitted essays to the state paper in Delaware, and they regularly published them. The feedback I received from strangers was rewarding and encouraged me to write more. But then the staff changed at the paper, and they no longer were interested in using my pieces. That’s when I reached out to Huff Po. It took months of persistence, submitting essays and eventually finding the appropriate editor. I sent him an article about Easter and he responded with an invitation to become a blogger for them. I never imagined that as a possibility, but I certainly appreciate the opportunity.
Lisa: So the first lesson there is persistence. You didn’t stop at ‘no.’ Many people get one rejection and never try again. Don't stop at 'no.' Click To Tweet You kept trying. So, what are some of the things you like about blogging?
Patrick: Writing does not come easily to me. I suspect it’s part of having ADD! But I love to weave stories and ideas together in a way that engages, challenges, and, even, entertains people.
Lisa: So does the short format help?
Patrick: Absolutely! In shorter pieces I can more easily see how all the pieces form a whole. In this regard it is quite similar to what I have been doing for nearly thirty years: writing sermons. I don’t mean “preachy,” but I have had a lot of experience in writing 1500 – 2000 word essays.
Lisa: How does blogging help you know your readers? What insights and benefits does it provide into writing a book for these readers?
Patrick: I’m still working on that. The piece that has gotten the most attention (Are You Fed Up With Church? 30 Million Say, “Yes!”) focused on the incredible number of people who have left the church. The size of the response tells me that this is a pressing issue for many people.
Lisa: So, it sounds like it confirmed that the audience you were initially thinking of is huge and hungry for something, potentially what you have to offer. Was it the research you were doing for your blog that confirmed your instincts about this audience?
Patrick: Yes, and the magnitude shocked me. I had no idea the audience would be so much larger than I had imagined. As we have discussed, my own experience of the church has included many disappointing and painful moments. Much of my desire to write is born in those experiences. It turns out that many others also struggle with these issues.
Lisa: How about comments on your blog. Are you learning anything about your readers?
Patrick: The comments have been somewhat enlightening if not occasionally amusing. One reader said I was “dense” and wondered why I wasn’t content to simply lead Presbyterians astray but was trying to lead others astray too! Yet, another reader replied to the same article, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!!” As the saying goes, “Haters will hate.” I value input but try to keep it all in perspective. Some people love what I write. Others are offended.
Lisa: Blogging can require developing a thick skin. In my arena, not so much, but when you’re writing about religion, well, that’s like playing with dynamite. I think there’s a plus and a minus to that. You’re going to get the haters, that’s the minus. But there’s also the potential to strike a nerve and go really viral and that’s pretty exciting.
Patrick: That is exciting, but I have learned that’s it nearly impossible to predict how many people will find a piece engaging. I thought that an essay I entitled, “Does Jesus Want You To Be Born Again?” would generate some interest, but it didn’t. Through a recent survey of my subscribers and through close attention to comments, I am still working to determine where I might touch people most deeply.
Lisa: You wrote your first ebook, Unlikely Glimpses of Grace, quite quickly; how did that come about? What did you learn in the process?
Patrick: A friend suggested I get a transcript of my forty favorite videos and put them in a short devotional book. I self published Unlikely Glimpses of Grace and it was an amazing process. I worked with an editor and book designer. I was thrilled when I first held a copy of it in my hands. Friends, including the regional paper near my hometown in South Carolina, organized two book signings. It was fun to see old friends and meet new ones, but these events stirred my anxiety much more than recording a video!
Lisa: It was a bit of a dress rehearsal for things to come but I know you’ll get used to it. I bet it felt a bit anxiety-producing to preach at first, right?
Patrick: Ha. That’s true! At first I was very nervous when I climbed into a pulpit. Now, it feels like a playground!
Lisa: How has blogging helped shape what you now see as your second book?
Patrick: Blogging has provided the theme I’d been seeking: what can we learn from those who are done with the church?
Lisa: Can you say a bit about your most recent post for the Huffington Post? It seems a controversial post about some very eye opening research.
Patrick: The research shows that 65 million people have left the church. 30.5 million still retain their faith in God but are disillusioned by the institution of the church. I began vlogging for such folks, but I didn’t have a name for them. I just sensed that there were a lot people who were spiritually curious or restless but wanted nothing to do with the life of a local congregation. My recent post about the Dones—those people who are done with church—increased my subscriber list by a significant percentage. To me, this demonstrates people’s strong interest in spirituality.
Lisa: What’s your writing process like? Do you have a writing ritual?
Patrick: I wish I had a writing ritual! My sleep pattern recently changed, and now I usually wake up at 5:00am. My goal is to devote an hour each morning to the manuscript. Even this small amount of time is a challenge! I work best when I have a clear deadline. I’m looking forward to working with you again, as having deadlines keeps me to a schedule!
Lisa: Anything else you want to share directly with readers of this post?
Patrick: If you have never considered vlogging, I hope you will try it. Evidence points to an increase in the use of video over the next few years in a wide variety of areas. People enjoy it and are coming to expect it. It can be a lot of fun!
Lisa: Any other tips to share with our readers?
Patrick: Find a home base! For me, that’s you, Lisa. You helped me to develop the practice of vlogging, and you noticed the “unlikely” theme that emerged in our musing exercises. After each breakthrough I focus on developing that dimension of the writing process, and then, when I am ready, I return home to begin the next leg of the journey.
Also, I would keep in mind that we are meaning-making creatures. We try to make sense of the world around us using a variety of words, symbols and narratives. As we write, we invariably share our worldview. Even if we are writing non-fiction our words beat to the rhythm of our own hearts. I think the challenge I face is one that all writers face to a certain degree: How much will I consciously reveal about myself? How vulnerable can I be? Will this particular self-disclosure help or hinder communication? These are important questions for all of us to keep in mind.
Patrick Vaughn was born and raised in South Carolina. After earning his graduate degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, he has served small and large churches in the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. You can also connect with Patrick Vaughn on Twitter or Facebook.