Friday Five: Jennifer Schuchman
Jennifer Schuchman is a bestselling author and speaker. Her recent work includes a collaboration with former NFL MVP, Kurt Warner on his New York Times Bestseller, First Things First and a collaboration with Brenda Warner on her latest, One Call Away.
Jennifer has written or co-written numerous books, has contributed articles to leading evangelical publications and has garnered several prestigious writing awards.
I met Jennifer several years ago at the Write to Publish Conference where we were both sort of exploring the idea of publishing. It’s amazing how far God has brought her ministry.
Today I asked her to stop by and answer some questions about the writing life.
How did your writing journey begin?
From the time I was very young, my mother recognized that I had a talent for writing, so she took me to professional writing conferences even while I was still in elementary school. At those conferences, I met a lot of middle-aged women who wore purple and overflowed with story ideas. I was young, didn’t like purple, and wasn’t overflowing with ideas to write about. In fact, I didn’t have any ideas. I did want to accomplish something big, but I didn’t see doing that as a writer. So while some people were late-blooming writers because they didn’t have a role model, from an early age, I chose not to be a writer because I didn’t think I had much in common with my role models.
Although I didn’t see a future as a writer, I did continue to write. Throughout my academic career I entered writing competitions and often won prizes (money, trips, awards, etc.). At work I often offered to write press releases, sales copy, and presentations. As a volunteer, I wrote curriculum for churches and non-profit organizations. And as a mom, I ended up writing the school musicals at my son’s school.
I even wrote and published some articles “just for resume fodder,” but despite all the professional work I did, I refused to call myself a writer. When people said I should write professionally, my flippant answer was, “If God wants me to write, he’ll send an editor to my front door.” By now I knew God was calling me to write, but I refused to follow his call without some sort of divine “proof.” Looking back it might have even been a fear of failure (or perhaps even of success). In either case, I was flagrantly disobedient because I knew what He was asking and I refused.
One day when I had finished packing up costumes from the musical at my son’s school and I had a few days of free time on my hands, I prayed at my desk. I told God that I would do whatever he wanted. If he wanted me to be a better wife and iron the baskets of clean laundry accumulating in my bedroom (as if that made me a good wife), I would. If he wanted me to get more involved in my son’s school, I would. And if he wanted me to be a writer, well, okay, I would—but I wouldn’t like it.
During that prayer, I got an idea for an article. That was rather significant since a lack of ideas was one of the reasons I wouldn’t call myself a writer. So I turned on the computer to write it down. As soon I did, I got an unexpected e-mail from a magazine editor with an assignment. Apparently, he had written the e-mail just as I was praying. I knew that was more than a coincidence, so I stopped and prayed again. I told God that if he wanted me to be a writer, I promised to work hard and always grow in my craft. I also promised that if he sent mentors to me I would mentor others who wanted to write.
Since then, I’ve received many confirmations that this is God’s plan for my life. At a writer’s conference not long after I prayed that prayer, I felt like God said to me, “I don’t always need writers with lots of ideas. Sometimes I just need writers who will take assignments.”
That has been my vision for my writing career since then. I am a writer who takes assignments. Although I started writing out of obedience and a clear sense of calling, I have found tremendous joy in what I do. It is clear that I am doing what God called me to do. And I discovered something else—those passionate, purple-wearing women who overflowed with creative ideas were very different from me. But that didn’t mean we weren’t all writers. The difference was, they were fiction writers and I focused on non-fiction. I didn’t have to be just like them in order to be a writer.
You’ve done a lot of collaborative work. Is it difficult to write a book in someone else’s voice?
For “authors” (the celebrity or person who tells the story) who’ve never written before, seeing their words on the paper is like hearing their voice on tape. They often don’t recognize it and aren’t sure they like it. Or they want the book written just like they speak, like a stream of consciousness. So not only is it challenging to capture their voice, but to capture their voice in a way that is also palatable for a reader.
You’ve written with former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner and his wife, Brenda. How did this partnership happen?
Kurt and Brenda had interviewed a number of writers for a book they were doing with Tyndale, and they hadn’t found the right one. My editor at Tyndale, Carole Traver, recommended that I interview for the job and I got it. I spent six days talking with the Warners, learning their story. Then I wrote the 80,000-word book in 19 days, turning it in a day before it was due. I credit Carole for not only taking a risk on me (I hadn’t done that kind of work before), but for helping me discover that I really enjoyed collaborative writing. That type of writing turned out to be perfect for someone who has few ideas and likes to take assignments (see above). The Warners’ book went on to become a New York Times bestseller. Then two years later, Brenda asked me to do her memoir, One Call Away. It released in September from Thomas Nelson.
Lots of people dream of a writing career, but do you think many understand how much work it is?
The professionals do.
It’s easy to think of writing as some kind of glamor job, but those who’ve had any kind of success at it can tell you how hard they’ve worked. It’s a tough job—emotionally and mentally. It’s a lot like being in school, with deadlines hanging over you, and always more you could do to make your work better. Also, when you work on short deadlines like I do, you can have physical problems, like neck pain, back and shoulder aches, and repetitive wrist injuries (I recently had carpal tunnel surgery).
However, I’ve also worked under the blazing sun for hours in Kenya, breaking large stones into gravel. Writing is a breeze compared to that. Whether your work is hard or easy depends on what you’re comparing it to. If it gets easy, we probably need to step up and learn new skills. I am never content to let my writing skills stay where they are. I am always seeking to get better at what I do.
If you could give one piece of advice to an emerging writer, what would that be?
Good writers get published. Humble and hard-working writers get good.