Tuesday, May 20, 2014

“Write a book,” God said. 

Okay, not exactly. Sounds a bit too much like, “Build an ark.” But I felt the Spirit nudge me, regardless. 

The trouble was, writing a novel sounded even more difficult than building a 450-foot long boat. How many words go into a novel? To satisfy my curiosity, I went to the internet. According to several sources, novels typically clocked in at 75-100 thousand words. That’s not going to happen. 

I scanned the rest of the list. Young adult novels: 40-65 thousand. No way. 

Middle-grade fiction: 30 thousand. Hmm. That’s it—God wants me to be a children’s writer (insert heavenly choir here). 

I sat down to write the book. It was harder than even I had expected, but I persevered. The finished manuscript, an adventure story set during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, was great. 

So I went to a writer’s conference and showed the manuscript to several professionals. They said it was good. Just one problem—it was written more like a young adult book. Heavy, deep, introspective. “Why don’t you take it home and rewrite it for young adults?”

I’d already written 30 thousand words. How hard would it be to make it 60? Suddenly the prospect didn’t sound as daunting. Maybe God wanted me to write for teens! 

I got to work and before I knew it, I hit the word count. The YA book was a masterpiece. 

A niggling thought grew in the back of my mind. Wouldn’t this story be more powerful if the characters were adults, if the story went deeper than a YA historical would allow?

That’s insane. Rewrite the book for adults? God wanted me to shape future generations—children, teens. He never said anything about adults. Oh, wait… He never said anything about children, either. That was MY decision. Had I even asked Him? 

The doubts lingered, but I took the YA version of the book back to the conference the next year. This time editors started using words I’d never considered—pub board, cover art, marketing. Teen fiction must be where God wanted me.

So why did my heart ache? Why did I have this burning desire to rewrite the book one more time? I mentioned it to a few folks at the conference. Their jaws dropped. “Don’t touch it. Why rock the boat?” 

Maybe because I’d built my own boat. Not God’s. 

I went home in confusion. What should I do? Contact the editor and say, “I’m sorry—I know you love this YA novel, but I think God wants me to rewrite it. Again.” 

I put the manuscript aside and tried writing something new—but for which age group? Did God want me writing for teens or for adults? This time I asked Him. He didn’t answer—at least not right away. 

Months went by. One day I opened my email to see a note from the editor. “Is this project still available?” (Insert my hysterical laughter here). The next sentence gave me pause. “Would you consider rewriting the manuscript for adults?”

Would I? 

You mean, would I LISTEN to God? Would I TRUST that He would equip me to accomplish whatever He called me to do? Would I step out in OBEDIENCE as He asked?

Yes, I would.

That should be the happily-ever-after moment, but a deal with that first publisher never materialized. That’s another story, but it was actually the best possible outcome and completely in God’s hands. I did rewrite the book for adults, and I eventually contracted a different novel, Mistaken—written for adults—with Abingdon Press. A few months later, they offered me a second contract for a three-book series. The first of those books is Out of the Ruins, the story I’d written for three different age groups. Now written as a historical romance, Out of the Ruins is the work of my heart. 

God called me to step out in obedience. It took me three tries, but eventually I learned to trust Him. 

Out of the Ruins, Back Cover Copy: While her sister lies on her deathbed, Abby Fischer prays for a miracle. What Abby doesn’t expect, however, is for God’s answer to come in the form of the handsome Dr. Robert King, whose experimental treatment is risky at best.

As they work together toward a cure, Abby’s feelings for Robert become hopelessly entangled. Separated by the tragedy of the mighty San Francisco earthquake, their relationship suddenly takes a back seat to survival. With fires raging throughout the city, Abby fears for her life as she flees alone through burning streets. Where is God now? Will Robert find Abby, even as the world burns around them? Or has their love fallen with the ruins of the city?

Karen Barnett is the award-winning author of Mistaken and several articles published by Guideposts and other national magazines. Her latest release is Out of the Ruins (May 2014). She lives in Albany, Oregon, with her husband, two children, and an attention-loving dachshund named Mystery. For more information, visit her website KarenBarnettBooks.com.


  1. I'm glad you wrote it 3 times, Karen. It's a masterpiece!

  2. Thanks, Connie! Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I'd kept it as a children's book? It would probably still be sitting in a drawer somewhere. God designed some people to write for kids, but obviously it wasn't me. :)

  3. Karen, so enjoyed your story behind the story :) Wrote it once for the Son, once for the Father and once for the Holy Spirit. :) I would imagine He intended every rewrite, too. Once asked my favorite quote, I said "Only God writes in stone, the rest of us rewrite." When I looked up on the internet to see who said that, Google said ME! ah ha ha ha Can't wait to read OUT OF THE RUINS!

  4. Thank you, Karen, for this inspiring back story. I appreciate your vulnerable sharing and the reminder I'm to pray for His guidance and wait on it. Needed to be reminded today, both for writing and another project I'm passionate about. So glad to watch your obedience reap such lovely fruits!


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