Scroll down for a chance to win a copy of Natalie Maki’s book, Flourish. Winner will be announced in the next Author Spotlight feature. Congratulations to last week’s winner of On Love’s Gentle Shore, Lisa B Redecop! Please e-mail your mailing address to my assistant Christen (email@example.com).
Despite our desire to flourish, many women, myself included, often hesitate to go straight to the source of all strength, the Word of God. Yet God promises, “If you seek me, you will find me” (Jeremiah 29:13). There’s no better way to know the character of God than to dive straight into the Bible.
Nearly four years ago, I finally dove straight in, beginning my journey with the Lord through the entirety of his Word. As I share what the Lord has taught me with honesty, redemptive vulnerability, and a dash of self-deprecating humor, my hope is that you will read this and say, “Ah, me too! And, where’s my Bible?” My heart’s desire is for all of us to walk in the fullness of life God has for us, to become deeply rooted in the Word, and to be able to say together, “I have seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).
I am a woman who wears many hats, occasionally, all in one day. I am an attorney, a writer, a mother, a wife, and soon to be an auntie! My favorite hat is the big old mom sunhat with a dorky under-neck tie that I wear while chasing around my delicious toddler daughter. I grew up in sunny California, attended Wheaton College just outside Chicago, and until recently, was living 15 blocks from the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. In October of last year, our family boomeranged back to California and I couldn’t be happier to be home. We totally skipped winter last year and I am not sorry.
Do you have a day job as well? If so, what is it?
A few years ago, the Lord used my frustrating quest for a day job (working as an attorney) to reveal his deeper purpose for me. He taught me that seasons filled with delays and disappointments on our end are really his kindness and care for us. When things happen that we don’t understand, we often think, “Why, God? Why didn’t I get this perfect job? Why isn’t this situation working out? What the heck are you doing up there?” There have been many times when I’ve sent those angry arrow prayers up to heaven, demanding to know why God wasn’t doing what I thought would be the best thing for my life. Looking back now, I can see, in almost every instance, no matter how unpleasant at the time, exactly what he was doing with me. If we let him, he uses every single situation and works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).
When did you start writing your first book?
I think I’ve been a writer for years without knowing it. I used to compose essays in my head as I fell asleep at night and crazy ideas for stories would come to me in the shower. I edited a book for a professor in college, and worked on law review in law school, all things that finally lead to the realization that I wanted to write a book about what God had been teaching me.
Nearly four years ago, I was in the midst of a dark post-law school season. I was unbelievably frustrated with my job situation or lack thereof. In a fit of anger, I threw open my Bible at the beginning and said, “I’m going to know you, God, whether you like it or not.” Turns out, he likes it very much. Even though I was a lifelong Christian, I had never read the entire Bible. I thought I knew God, and I did, but not at the level he longed for or the level I needed to abide in his presence. That fateful day began a rich and beautiful four-year long journey through the entirety of God’s Word and I wouldn’t trade that time with him for anything.
During that process, I started writing little things here or there and sending them to the close ladies in my life. At first, I just shared a psalm, or an encouraging sermon, or something profound I picked up during my devotions. Gradually, I began writing in my own words, putting words to what the Lord was doing in my heart. Slowly, very slowly, I became a writer. The email list grew and one woman asked, “Where can I read the rest of your pieces?” I said, “Uhh .. in my email ‘sent’ folder?” I started to ask the Lord, “What should I do with this? Should this be a book or a blog?” The idea of a blog sounded very intimidating to me but I felt a lot of peace about writing a book. I said, “Ok, Lord, I’m not writing this book until you give me a title. A few days later, he gave me the word “Flourish” from Psalm 52:8, “But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God, I trust in his unfailing love forever and ever.” A year and a half later, Flourish was born.
How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did the genre choose you? Please explain.
The genre definitely chose me. In fact, I made up a genre to categorize my writing—I call my book a devotional memoir because each chapter incorporates Scripture into whatever the Lord is working on in my heart like a devotional, yet I also share personal stories about his work on all facets of my heart, like my envy, my anger, my media consumption, or my worry.
I write honest, redemptively vulnerable (and hopefully self-deprecatingly humorous) essays about the intersection of real life and the power of God’s Word. People often say, “Wow, you’re so vulnerable and honest and open, it must be hard to share like that.” I smile and say thank you, but privately I’m thinking, “Oh no, should it be hard to share like this?! Doesn’t everyone else feel this way a little too?” My writing reflects my personality, and I don’t know how to be any other way. Sure, now everyone knows about my anger, my struggle with envy, and my tendency to worry the socks off of every situation, but come on, who doesn’t struggle with those things from time to time? If you don’t, please send me a note, I’d love to know your secret.
Writing absolutely energizes me. It’s definitely work, I have to exercise discipline to sit down and do it, but the Lord will often give me pieces almost fully formed. They swim around in my head persistently until I write them down. I feel wonderfully empty when I finally get all the words out, like my mind can be quiet because I’ve said what I needed to say. Writing really helps me process my own feelings and make sense of difficult situations or relationships. I’ve written more than one piece not fit for public consumption but the practice is incredibly therapeutic.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Yes. For me, so many things have to be right before I can write. I need to be well-rested and spiritually fed. I need to have time and space to think. I need perfect silence. I need a to-do list that’s been mostly dealt with, a cup of hot tea and a full tummy. Reading this list, it’s kind of amazing I ever get any writing done at all.
Do you create an outline before you begin? Do you have the end in mind, or do you just wait and see where the story takes you?
Sometimes I create an outline, sometimes I just start writing and see where the Lord takes me, although I usually have a few ideas ahead of time. When I’m in a hurry and won’t be able to write a full piece in one sitting, I run to my computer, open a new document, and jot down the title, two or three Scriptures, and enough ideas to jog my memory for when I actually get to sit down and write. I like to get everything out of my head and then re-organize and edit heavily later. I believe in lots and lots of editing. I personally edited the manuscript for Flourish at least nine times, and it was edited six times by other people. The passage of time is so important, that’s one of the things I like about writing a book over blogging. With a book, you have time to step away and come back to your work with fresh eyes. I think the end product usually ends up better because of it.
What kind of research do you do? How long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
The research for Flourish was done in the school of real life. That’s one of the reasons the book took so long to write. I could tell the book wasn’t finished yet, but you can’t Amazon Prime spiritual growth and maturity. It took time to learn what the Lord was trying to teach me, and then even more time to be able to distill that knowledge into an intelligible piece of writing that made sense to anyone else. When I finished the last chapter in draft form, I felt a release like, “Alright, it’s finally ready to move to the next stage.”
Are you part of a community of authors? If so, how has it helped you?
For starters, you have been so incredibly gracious with your time and wisdom. You’ve listened to all my crazy ideas over coffee and you’ve been so helpful in navigating this entirely new field. A few months ago, you asked me if I had ever thought about writing fiction. I said, “No way! I have no idea how to do that!” Yet as soon as I finished Flourish, the Lord gave me two ideas for fiction books, something I never would have had the courage to entertain without your encouragement. My dear friend Laura Thomas, the founder of Missionarymama.com, has been another wonderful resource. And I love picking the very experienced brain of my friend Maria Keffler, author of the Deo Volente series. I also rely heavily on my crew of first readers. I bounce all my new writing ideas, cover art, bio text, etc. off of them and they’re the ones I turn to when I feel like I’m crazy for pursuing this dream. It takes a village for most things in life, writing included.
Natalie Maki is an attorney and writer who lives in sunny California with her family. She is a graduate of the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University and Wheaton College. You will find her talking to strangers, reading great novels, hiking, eating delicious food, trying to wear pajamas as real clothes, and chasing sleep. Say hello at nataliemaki.com.