Some editors are truly good people. They encourage new writers and inspire all of us to walk a little closer to the Lord. There are some who have the gift of humor, anesthesia that numbs the pain of a hard topic so the truth can go deep. Many are people of their word. They say what they mean and mean what they say. Even fewer have “made it” in the publishing world and have the ability to carry and keep a reputation with all these virtues. James Watkins is one of the few.
I met Jim for the first time at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s conference. It was the sunrise of my author- journey, and I was dripping wet behind the ears. There is an honesty, and a transparency about him that draws you in. Add to that an amazing gift of humor, and I knew I’d love working with this man. He is professional, funny, creative, and…have I mentioned funny?
Without further ado, James Watkins!
How did your writing journey begin?
I knew I wanted to be a writer when, as a second-grader, I rewrote the ending of Pinocchio. I could suspend disbelief so that a wooden marionette could come to life-no strings attached. But to believe that the “live” puppet could become a real boy, that was too much for me. So, for a class writing assignment, I rewrote the ending and had the wooden Pinocchio die a painful, prolonged death of Dutch elm disease.
I was immediately sent to the school psychologist who suggested I could become a sociopath or a writer. Just kidding about the psychologist, but I was fortunate I had teachers who encouraged my so-called writing talent. By the time I had written plays for the elementary school to perform, journaled my deep, dark, depressed life as a junior-higher, and became the editor of the high school paper, I was hooked on writing!
I dabbled in writing for several years with a real job, then became an editor in our denomination’s publishing house, and eventually became more and more of a full-time writer.
With numerous books, hundreds of humorous blog posts and thousands of articles published, which is your favorite to write?
Yikes, that’s like asking who’s your favorite child or grandchild! They’re all very different, but all very wonderful in their own ways.
Blogs, obviously, are short, timely, and a guaranteed publication. As a former journalism major, I like to comment on current events. It’s almost “real time” on the Web. And I love the feedback.
Articles have a larger audience and are a bit more permanent. It’s amazing the number of people who write and say they were helped by an article and I think Wow! In what waiting room with twenty-year-old magazines did they find that piece!
As far as book, I love this Huckleberry Finn quotation: “There ain’t nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I’d a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn’t a tackled it, and I ain’t agoing to no more.” Yes, books provide more prestige (and radio and TV interviews), they are a huge challenge. I have sixteen under my belt, but I tell authors, if you want respect, write books; if you want readers, write for periodicals.
Actually, I love writing for all three venues.
When you’re working on a project, do you listen to music or have a specific routine? (Do you write in the morning, evening, can you stay on task?)
I’m totally Attention Deficit Disorder, so I can’t write with music, don’t have a specific routine and can’t stay on task, although I tend to write in the morning, rewrite in the afternoon. I try to have several projects going at one time, so when I get bored with one, I can move on to the next project. So, with a good “to do” list, I do get a lot done.
Name three character traits of a good writer.
How ‘bout seven, which just coincidentally are in one of my chapters in Writers on Writing (Wesleyan Publishing House), an anthology I edited with writing from Jerry B. Jenkins, Liz Curtis Higgs, and others?
4. Self-worth (You can’t define yourself as a writer or rejections will destroy you. I’m simply a beloved child of God who just happens to write. All the rejection slips in Colorado Springs can’t harm that sense of worth!)
5. Self-promotion (You can’t write MESSAGE without ME, so if God has given me a message, it’s up to me to get it out there!)
7. Other orientation (Writing is too hard to not have a support group of family and friends.)
What was your favorite book to write? Why?
That’s another one of those “Who’s your favorite child and grandchild?” questions. My most transparent and honest book is Squeezing Good Out of Bad (XarisCom). And it was my most fun since it’s written as a top ten list with lots of humor. Usually, though, my favorite book is the next one.
Share with our readers one example of how God orchestrated your steps to coincide with His plan.
My very first writing/editing job, as an editor of a teen magazine at Wesleyan Publishing House, came about when my pastor just happened to meet the executive editor at a ministerial meeting and they just happened to talk about what was happening at the church and just happened to talk about my editing an evangelistic newspaper for teens in the local community and the editor just happened to ask if I’d be interested in coming on board.
That was the first of many “just happened” events that led to published books, appearing on “The 700 Club,” and teaching writing with Cec Murphey for three weeks in India. (Of course, as believers, we know “just happened” situations are divine providence!)
Every good writer needs support from his spouse/family to succeed. What has your wife/family done or not done to help support you in your career?
My wife has been so supportive with my so-called writing/speaking career. She’s never once asked, “When are you going to find a real job?!” even when I was thinking I need to find a real job!
If you were to start your writing career all over again, what would you do differently?
I’m such a firm believer in the premise that God works all out for our good (Romans 8:28), that I probably wouldn’t change a thing, although I do regret not finishing my graduate work in communications. I think a “Christian writer” must first be a Christian who is trusting God each step of the way, listening to His instructions, and acknowledging Him in every aspect of his/her writing and speaking (Proverbs 3:5-6).
What’s the one marketing tool that’s helped you?
The Christian Writers’ Market Guide is, of course, the most important book in your writing library, but going to writers’ conferences and networking with editors and other writers is essential as well.
Are you a spontaneous Kindle/Nook man, or a traditional hardback book kind of guy?
I’m a go to the library and get books free kind of guy.
What’s the last book you’ve read?
Currently reading Jesus Calling by Sarah Young—for the third time.
Jack Bauer or the Lone Ranger?
Definitely the masked man! The Lone Ranger taught, “Shoot to disarm, never to harm.” I love the quote by Mary Hirsch: “Humor is a rubber sword that allows you to make a point without drawing blood.”