Switching Blogs and Newsletter List

Hi all!

I know I haven’t exactly been a faithful blogger, but I’m going to take another stab at it with a new blog called “The Craft of Writing.” It will focus on helping writers, as well as giving updates about my writing career. This blog will be directed to both Christians and non-Christians.

Important: Because this is so different than the newsletter/blog you signed up for, I’m not importing this mailing list to the new blog.

I don’t intend to keep using this blog or mailing list, so if you want to hear from me, you must subscribe to my new blog. Please click here to do so: www.joshkelley.ink/newsletter-sign-up.html

And if you just want to read it, without subscribing, you can do so here: www.joshkelley.ink/craftofwriting

Many thanks!

Josh Kelley

A Great Book on Emotions

My friend Marc Schelske has written a great book on emotions stemming from his own story of minimizing, devaluing, and suppressing his feelings in the name of spiritual maturity, and I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy.

Part apologetic for emotions and part handbook, “The Wisdom of Your Heart” (David C. Cook Publishing) is a great resource for pastors, church leaders, counselors, and thoughtful Christians.

Listen, I know that emotions are tricky They can be blamed for many foolish decisions. I believe that “Listen to your heart,” in the way meant by popular culture, is some of the dumbest advice ever given. That being the case, should emotions be ignored as much as possible?

Absolutely not. They are a gift from God, say Schelske. Like our nervous system, they bring both pleasure and pain, and are vital for our wellbeing. The first two sections of “The Wisdom of Your Heart” serve as a compelling apologetic for emotions. This includes looking at God’s emotions.

But maybe you already believe this. Skip to the second half of the book, which is the best practical handbook on emotions I’ve read. It doesn’t simply help the reader understand what they are feeling, but what those feelings mean, what they are pointing to. Did you blow up at your wife over a seemingly benign comment about the trash? Dig deeper, Schelske says. Anger frequently means we feel threatened. Perhaps the anger comes from feeling like your worth as a husband being questioned.

I personally enjoyed reading this book and recommend it to you.

Great Little Tool for Self-Editing

In college, I took a class where we had to write a paper each week. We were allowed one “free” typo; after that, our grade would drop. I quickly learned that if I wanted an “A,” I had to have someone else edit it. I simply couldn’t catch all of my own typos, because I tended to see what I meant to write. I’m sure you can relate.

I still absolutely believe in the importance of having other people edit my work, but what about all those times I just want to send an email, update my Facebook status, or write a quick blog post?

I don’t always have the luxury of having someone else read my material first. I’m not sure about you, but there’ve been several times I’ve opted not to write a blog post (like this one) because it wasn’t worth the trouble.

I’ve discovered an app that is helping me in situations just like that: NaturalReader.  After downloading the software, I can simply click “Add New,” copy and paste my material, and have it read back to me (I can even slow down the reading speed). I find myself catching so many more typos than ever before.


I’m not saying this is a fool-proof system; I probably let a typo or two slip into this post. But it does take my errors from “bonehead” to merely “tolerable.” This in turn has increased my willingness to write new blog posts (again, like this one).

Give it a try and tell me what you think!

Radically Normal is Now Available as an Audiobook!

I’m very excited to announce the release of the Radically Normal audio book. It was a lot of fun narrating my own book and I’ve been told that the quality is comparable to best-selling books.

In Recording Studio

You can listen to a sample of the book on Audible. It includes my favorite story of the entire book (it’s about my bladder control issue).

Would you like a free copy?

If you have not yet joined Audible, you can sign up for a trial membership and get it free, which you’ll be able to keep even if you cancel. But PLEASE make my book your first freebie – this makes a significant impact on my end.

And please write an honest review after you listen – this also makes a big difference for me.

If you’re already a member of Audible and would be willing to write a review, I have a limited number of “reviewer’s copies” that I can give out. Please contact me at me@joshkelley.ink.

By the way, you don’t have to be a member of Audible to get my book – they have a free app for almost every platform.

If you use iTunes instead, I can’t offer you a free copy, but I’d love for you to pick up my book here.

Finally, I’d be very grateful if you shared this with any of your friends who like audio books.

To the glory of God and the joy of the saints!


Back in the Pulpit!

Even as I was hit by the disappointment of my book being taken out of print, I’m excited by some new things on the horizon. The first is seeing my wife Marilyn blossom as a writer. The last draft I saw of one chapter was really good. I believe that we will see a great book from her before too long.

I’m also working on my second book. Even though I don’t want to publicize the topic yet, I can tell you that it will make Radically Normal look safe by comparison. I’m enjoying writing something with a bit of an edge to it.

I’m also getting ready to launch a podcast with a friend that should be a lot of fun. More details to follow.

But here is the biggest thing right now: I’m preaching again! I’ve been invited to be the primary preacher at Citipoint’s Café Church in Mount Vernon. That means that I will be preaching there approximately every other Sunday and facilitating the leadership of the gathering.


We’re officially launching Café Church Mount Vernon a week from Sunday, on February 21st at 5:12 pm. There will be light snacks and I’ll be preaching from Radically Normal for the first two weeks. I’d love to have you there to cheer me on!

For more information, visit: www.citipointchurch.com


Disappointments and New Horizons

So my book has been remaindered. Yesterday, that word was a complete mystery to me, now it is has a bitter familiarity. Basically, it means that Harvest House will no longer carry paperback copies of Radically Normal (but they’ll continue carrying the eBook). The “upside” is that they’re offering me some the remaining inventory for a greatly reduced price. Anyone want to buy a case or two?

Doing some research, I’ve discovered that this is fairly common in the publishing industry and may have the positive effect of getting my book into more hands as folks find it on the bargain table. But there is no hiding that this is a huge disappointment and the loss of a dream. My editor and I both thought Radically Normal had the potential to be a bestseller; instead, it’s going out of print. I feel like God has let me down, to be honest.


This morning, as I was jogging, the sunrise lit up a low-laying cloud above the foothills. It looked like a pink fire, burning supernaturally on the mountain. Even as I was stunned by its beauty and ushered into God’s presence, the effect faded and it looked like a regular, gray cloud again. This day is a little grayer than others to be sure, but yet glimpses of God’s glory break through unexpectedly, giving me hope that he is leading me even now. I know that someday, I’ll look back and say “So that’s what you were doing.”

One important thought struck me as I continued my jog – I can no longer put any eggs in the Radically Normal basket. I hope and trust that this will motivate me to pursue my other endeavors, some of which that have me very excited, even more aggressively. What are those you ask? I think they are best saved for tomorrow’s post.

Sabbatical’s Over

When I closed my church’s doors for the last time, I felt like I was also closing the doors on being a pastor. After 15 years, I had been through too much and just didn’t want it any more. Now looking back, it’s easy to see that I hadn’t actually lost my pastoral calling; rather I was simply suffering from burnout.

As I said in my last post, our cross-country trip was not only a book tour, it was also a much-needed sabbatical. Now that we’ve been home for a little more than a month, Marilyn and I both feel it’s time to look for a church to pastor at. I just wrote my very first resume and am starting to submit it to various places.

I would appreciate your help in two ways:

1. Please pray for God’s guidance. That is our biggest need at this point.

2. Please forward my resume to anyone you think may be interested: http://www.joshkelley.ink/resume.html

My desire is to be either a teaching pastor or senior pastor at a multi-staff church (the past eight years taught me that I’m not wired to be a solo pastor!).

Thank you so much!

Divine Deception

11427290_10153351229973704_4814296511228219245_oAs most of you know, my family and I just returned from our eight-month, 40-state (and 2 province) road trip. Over the next several months, I’m going to post various stories about our adventure, from watching cowboys joust to meeting the pastor of “The Most Bombed Church in America.”

But first, I want to tell you a little more about the trip and how it began with a divine deception.

When we started our planning, I thought it would primarily be a book tour for my recently released book, Radically Normal. Sure, I knew we’d get to see some amazing sights and get a break from the brutal ministry experiences we’d been through, but that was secondary to the business aspect.

And this is where God tricked me. Early in the planning of the trip, the pastor of a church in Oregon invited me to speak at his church. The timing was perfect – he wanted me for the very first Sunday of our trip. Coincidence? I thought not. I was sure that meant I’d have speaking engagements almost every Sunday thereafter.

Not so. It’d be another four months before I spoke at another church. (For the record, my wife had far more realistic expectations.)

I spent the next several month frustrated by the lack of speaking engagements. Try as I might, I was only able to get a handful of small events. I wasn’t just frustrated, I was confused. What had I missed? What was God doing?

About halfway through the trip, relaxing in a hot tub somewhere in central Florida, I thought, “You know, this is really is a nice break from all that we went through over the last four years of ministry.”

Then it dawned on me, this trip wasn’t just about business, it was a much needed sabbatical. After all the pain we’d been through, we needed this trip to be refreshed and recharged. I needed to regain a heart for ministry.

Later that night, I wrote in my journal: “I don’t know why it took me so long to see that this trip was also a sabbatical. Yes I do know why; I was too busy being anxious. Isn’t that just like us – to be so busy striving that we can’t see the gift God is giving us?”

In my anxiousness to launch Radically Normal, I wasn’t willing to take the break I really needed. I thought I had too much to do, so God had to trick me into taking a break.

Sometimes God has to trick us because our plans are not his plans.

That is not to say that his plans always involve a hot tub, but they are always best. They always bring the greatest long-term joy and peace.

And so, even as my family has come back home and is living in the midst of even more uncertainty – Where are we going to live? Should I go back to pastoring? – I think I’m in a much better place to relax and enjoy the ride.

How about you: Have you ever tricked your kids into doing what you knew they really wanted? Have you ever felt as if God tricked you like that?

Writing Lessons from “The Hunger Games”

On our trip across the US, I had the joy and privilege of mentoring several aspiring authors. I’ve come to believe that’s part of my calling, so I’ve decided to begin freelancing as a writer’s coach. Click here if you’d like more info. I’m also going to post writing-related articles in hopes of helping other authors.

HungerGames_Updated_CCCall me a late adopter, but I only just read The Hunger Games, by Susanne Collins. Wow. Within three pages, I knew this lady could write. There are four quick lessons I’d like to share with you.

  1. Jump right into the action and then insert the background info.

Notice how the story starts immediately, without spending a chapter on Katniss’ story or what the Hunger Games are – “When I wake up, the other side of my bed is cold.” We don’t even learn the narrator’s name until page 5.

Instead, Collins deftly weaves the background in. “[I] grab my forage bag.” Without telling us that she is telling us, Collins tells us a lot about Katniss’ family and how they live. The result is a book that keeps a great pace without sacrificing depth.

What does this mean for you? There’s a fair chance you could remove the first chapter of your book and end up with a better story. Just because Tolkien could begin with chapters of background information doesn’t mean you can! (BTW, I’d argue that Tolkien was great in spite of such chapters, not because of them.)

  1. Show, don’t tell.

Related to the previous lesson, notice how little “telling” Collins does:

MinersDist12Our part of District 12, nicknamed the Seam, is usually crawling with coal miners heading out to the morning shift at this hour. Men and women with hunched shoulders, swollen knuckles, many of whom have long since stopped trying to scrub the coal dust out of their broken nails and the lines of their sunken faces.

Pay attention to how much information is hidden in those two sentences and how well she paints a picture.

Now read a sample of your work and highlight every place you tell the reader something. Challenge yourself to show it instead. It will be slow work at first, but (like any habit) it will become easier and eventually become second nature.

  1. This takes practice.

Now the bad news. No one is born writing this well. Not only did Collins write seven books before The Hunger Games, but she was also a screenwriter for years before that.

Everyone (myself included) wants to believe that their first book will be amazing, but good writing just takes a lot of practice. If you’re not willing to write half a dozen mediocre books in order to write one good one, this might not be the industry for you.

  1. Our stories should be eerily familiar

The most disturbing thing about The Hunger Games was not children fighting to the death (though that was enough), it was how familiar Katniss’ world looked to me. The Capitol was not that different from modern America. The Hunger Games not that different than watching “Survivor.”

Someone (I think it was Robert McKee) said that we read fiction in order to visit a world we’ve never been to, but then find ourselves once we get there. Sometimes we’ll like what we see about ourselves. Sometimes we won’t. Sometimes it will give us encouragement, sometimes a sharp rebuke.

The first part of that lesson is that our stories must connect with something deep inside our reader.

The second part is the danger of creating stories that we think they’ll relate to. But this results in stories that feel contrived. Better to tell stories that we relate to, then make sure the reader can see what we see. That is how The Hunger Games was born:

Flipping through the channels, Collins was suddenly struck by the lack of distinction between reality TV and coverage of the Iraq war. “We have so much programming coming at us all the time,” she says. “Is it too much? Are we becoming desensitized to the entire experience?…I can’t believe a certain amount of that isn’t happening.” Biography.com


I’d love to hear your thoughts – which of those lessons catches you the most? What would you add?

The Adventure of Going Home

As American, I think the points of the compass have a certain “feel” in our collective subconscious. For instance, north means cold and south means warm. What about east and west? East feels like old, established, tradition. West feels like new and adventure.

Traveling the country for eight months has cemented these feelings for me. The further east we went, the older everything got. A sense of tradition and history permeated the air. Driving toward the birthplace of our nation felt strangely like heading Home.

But as we took a left turn at Maine, dropping down to St. Louis then vaguely following Lewis and Clark’s path, I could feel the adventure of heading “out west.” It was easy to imagine its wildness to the early settlers.


Here is where it gets interesting for me – my family’s actual home is in the west, nearly as far west as one can go in the continental United States. The net effect was that going home felt like an adventure.

In one sense, that’s not surprising. We sold our house when we left and I don’t have a job, so coming home really is an adventure (prayers for guidance are welcome!).

But the sense of homecoming as an adventure has an even deeper meaning. Heaven will be the Great Adventure, not a place to sit around but where we’ll be entrusted with greater challenges than we can now imagine. Yet it will also be our Real Home, where we really belong. It will be our true Sabbath.

Somehow, this westward trip home help me understand heaven as both adventure and rest. Not completely, but enough that I’m more eager for it than ever.