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O Me of Little Faith

Matthew Paul Turner is a fellow writer and long-time digital friend (one of those weird cyber-friendships where we’ve known each other for years but have never actually hung out in person) who has recently released a new book, Hokey Pokey, on the subject of exploring one’s calling in life. Matthew’s books are funny, insightful, and filled with great personal stories. Anyone at the stage in life where they’re trying to figure out who they are and what they’re supposed to do will find great comfort in a book like Hokey Pokey.

Matthew was kind enough to stop by here as part of his international blog tour to promote Hokey Pokey (which, by the way, is as fun to type as it is to say…especially in italics). Here’s Part 1 of the interview, which will continue tomorrow. When you’ve finished reading, stop by his blog (Jesus Needs New PR) and say hi.

JB: Hey, Matthew. Thanks for bringing your blog tour to our neighborhood.

MPT: Hey Jason! Thanks for being a part of my “blog tour.” What does “blog tour” mean anyway? I’m not touring anywhere. In fact, I’m doing this interview from the comfort of my living room. Maybe it’s one of those things that we’ll only understand in Heaven, like grace and tonsils.

And a reason for the existence of mosquitoes, if I have my way. So, tell us about the book. What is it about, who is it for, and why did you choose the idea of “calling” as the subject?

MPT: The book is called Hokey Pokey: Curious People Finding What Life’s All About. As you said, it’s about “calling.” But this isn’t one of those “seven-steps to figuring it out” life books; it’s more about the frustrations and obstacles one might face in the process of “figuring it out.” I talk about calling being a “journey,” one that involves curiosity.

We talk a lot here about the nitty-gritty details of writing — like how it works and what it looks like. How did you become a writer and get your first book published?

Five years ago I lost my job at CCM Magazine. The one thing I really enjoyed about that job—other than the people—was writing. Because of an email relationship that I had with Cameron Strang at Relevant, he and I almost immediately began talking about book ideas. We ended up landing on the concept for The Christian Culture Survival Guide. So I had a book deal like four weeks after I lost my job. At the time though, Relevant was a small publisher and since I knew Cameron, I didn’t have to go through the normal loopholes to get a book deal.

So was writing a book always a goal for you?

Writing was never my goal. Of course, I did have that one book idea—you know, the one that everybody thinks they have—and like everybody, I believed my idea would sell millions. But other than that, I sort of tripped into writing. Was it a “God-thing”? Maybe. But I don’t know that for sure.

Do you have an agent? If so, do you recommend beginning writers get an agent? If not, why not?

I don’t have an agent. I’m in the process of looking for one now. Some might disagree, but I’ve never needed an agent. But I don’t believe that’s “normal.” Since I’ve never had an agent, I can’t answer the second part of that question.

Good enough. Another question: What is the writing process like for you? What does it look like?

Do I have a process? Hmm. Well, I try to write something everyday. Sometimes that happens, and sometimes I just sit and stare at my laptop, look at blogs, or check my sales numbers at Amazon.com. I’d like to be cool enough to say that I don’t ever do that, but I’m not.

I don’t ever do that.

(crickets)

Anyway, when I write I usually do it at home. I sit on my red couch and write most of the day. When my wife gets off work, I take a break until she goes to bed, and then I usually write for at least a couple more hours. That varies to some degree in the weeks leading up to a hardcore deadline.

Do you make it up on the fly or work from an outline?

I usually have a little bit of an outline when I write a book, but I’ve found that hardcore outlines limit my ability to think and write creatively, and so I try to avoid them whenever possible.

Was the process of writing this book any different from your other books? Did you do anything new?

I did travel to several cities to conduct interviews for this book. A friend and I went out on the road and talked to people about their calling. We talked to pastors, a homeless man, a CEO of a major company—people with lots of varying views and definitions about the topic. But other than that, my books processes are pretty much the same.

What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing Hokey Pokey? Did it confirm or clarify anything about your own calling?

I probably learn a little something about myself in every book that I write. With this one, I relearned the importance of listening and how much it relates to “calling.” I relearned the need for me to listen to God. To other people. To my heart. All of these things. I’m naturally a talker. I can talk all the time, and even though I appreciate the words and thoughts I have to say, most of the time, my talk is just noise that I create with my mouth. And in regards to calling, those of us who want to make a difference in the world and also “find ourselves” in the process, it’s so important to listen.

For me, that lesson led to a lot questions about my calling as a writer. I realize that ?
??writer” isn’t my only calling as a human being. But it’s the part of my life that creates the most “noise,” and how much noise is one person supposed to create. I sometimes think about what Oprah feels when she gets home and she’s sitting in her living room all by herself. Is she annoyed by the noise she creates?

I guess the one thing I’ve learned about writing is that, while it’s my way of making a living, I no longer want to write just to be busy or to have money in my checking account. Which in the Christian market is a great temptation, because unless you have a hit book, writers don’t make a ton of money. So it’s imperative sometimes to keep writing, and creating noise. The stuff that I will write in the future will hopefully be stuff that I believe in, am passionate about, and will reveal my heart to be a good listener.

———-

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of the interview, in which Matthew and I discuss truthiness in the Christian market, what it takes for beginning writers to get their feet wet in the publishing world, and how he uses his blog to connect with his readers.

Buy Matthew Paul Turner’s Hokey Pokey.

DON’T buy this Hokey Pokey book. It is enjoyable enough but you’ll probably be disappointed.

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