Working with Kevin Bader on New Words has been one of those projects that was a true journey of “finding” the book. In some ways, the book was already inside Kevin, whole and complete and, yet, the book changed dramatically in some ways during the course of our work together. More than any other writer I’ve worked with, Kevin (pen name “Calvin Taylor”) weighed his words, refined diligently, obsessively even (but in a good way—a way that made for an extraordinary book).
Kevin’s Process of Writing a Spiritual Book
As we worked together, it became clear that his audience was different from his initial thinking. That required another major revision. Then he wordsmithed more than anyone I know, even life-long professional writers and authors.
I hope this interview gives you insight into the power of revision and one author’s profound journey. May you find inspiration in Kevin’s descriptions of his process, in the topic of the book, New Words and in the resilience and deep commitment of Kevin to his work.
One thing I felt in working with Kevin was the extraordinary love that poured forth on each page, in every sentence. What started out as anger a few drafts in, softened into a deep, abiding love that is palpable when reading New Words. I hope you feel some of that in this interview.
Lisa: You mentioned in Chapter One that New Words was like a house you came upon in the woods. You couldn’t just bring the reader there; you had to build the path to it. Can you say more about that process?
Kevin Bader: New Words started out as a very long journal entry. As I was driving on a nine hour ride home from a business trip, I was overcome with powerful messages that were pouring through me and out onto my journal pages. I had had experiences like that before, but never one that had sustained that long, and with information that I knew was not coming from me or my imagination or creativity, because I did not know any of the information that was coming. That experience is the core of New Words. Chapter 9 is a verbatim transcription from my journals…well, just about, some minor editing and revision here or there.
When I sat down to write the book, however, I figured that would be my starting point and onward I would go. But after many weeks of futility, I realized it was simply impossible to just bring the reader there on page one.
There had to be context, there had to be a clear definition of terms and how I would be using them—it turned out I had to spend a great deal of time and pages to make the path to that material—to that house in the woods. And so, in a way I was writing backwards from the point I most wanted to bring the reader to.
Of course when I did get my clear starting point, I worked a long time moving forward to bring the reader there step by step, and I found that it was as much a learning experience and journey for myself, building the context just right so the reader would be primed and ready when they finally got to that house.
And what a wonderful experience it was also, as I continued the journey forward from that house into new material and onto the end, as the book progressed into greater illumination for me, and hopefully of course for the reader.
“The Most Important Thing I Learned About Writing”
Lisa: When we were first introduced by your executive coach, Shyanne Smith, she described your writing as being deep but like drinking from a fire hose. You had so much to say and it came all pouring out. Maybe more than anyone I’ve ever worked with. Working on your book was a long process, partly because of the complexity of the ideas, the specific audience you were targeting and your concerns about alienating them, and your vision for what you wanted the book to accomplish. Can you share a bit about your journey?
Kevin Bader: It could take a long long time to answer that properly, but I will do my best to be brief. I was indeed a firehose when I first came to you, and what a challenge you had to deal with, because I wasn’t even aware I was a firehose.
I just thought I had some darn good powerful writing. I learned the first and most important thing from you that I have ever learned about writing. It has stuck with me every writing day and it is still my answer to people when they ask me what it’s like to write a book.
I answer, “To write is very easy. One can sit down and effortlessly fill up endless pages with inspired words. But to make it so every single reader is going to read those words and understand in perfect singularity exactly what you are wanting to communicate, that is a craft.”
It is a craft that for me has been the most challenging endeavor of my life.
Lisa: You take it very seriously and it shows in your writing. You finely tune until it sings!
Kevin: When I first gave you my writing, I was stunned and instantly humbled to learn that my writing was all over the place. You weren’t sure oftentimes whether I was saying one thing or another or another.
I began to have this earth-shattering revelation as a writer that, guess what? Just because you understand exactly what you mean doesn’t mean that everyone else is going to—one flick of a wrong word, or semantic, or syntax, and the meaning of a sentence can go astray (and another great lesson I learned over the years, if it can go astray even to one person—if there is even one possible avenue for going astray—the sentence is imperfect, and needs work).
This is the art of taking that firehose of water and converting it into a cool gentle stream from a half-on garden hose that any one person can drink from.
As a practice, when I edit now, I try to step into the head of any other type of person—especially those most different to me in beliefs, ideology, or persona—and read my words through their eyes. Sometimes I pick a Bible scholar and as I read I think, “Are they understanding me exactly as I intend?” Or sometimes for fun I pick a famous teacher or celebrity I admire and read through their eyes and ask the same question.
Lisa: I love that exercise. I often suggest imagining a specific reader in your intended market and writing for them, but this is an especially playful variation.
Lessons in Writing a Spiritual Book Tweet This
Lisa: When I read your latest published edition of New Words, so many years after we began working together, I was filled with a kind of awe. The book is so loving and profound. and yet it took a process to get to that place. Can you share with our readers some of the things you learned early in the process of developmental editing when we started together?
Kevin Bader: Another great lesson I learned through you, which also stays with me every writing day—came when you asked me the question, “Who are you writing to? Who is your reader?”
When I first came to you I had a lot more…vinegar and wit (to put it kindly) in my writing. I enjoyed being so clever. You made me realize that in my heart of hearts I was not at all writing for the people who already knew the information I was relating. I wasn’t writing for those who would appreciate reading something clever.
You saw that the body of my work had a genuine purpose of helping people—a mission of ridding the fear out of commonly held belief systems based on fear and replacing that with love at every turn—but that I also had this conflicting voice that was, well, a bit arrogant, and could come off as sounding condescending.
Even if it was just being clever, you helped me to ask myself at every turn, Is my reader going to understand this? Is my reader going to be inspired to keep reading this?
Letting Go of Material
Kevin: I became so crystal clear in those early years of my writing of exactly who my reader was, such that they were in my head reading as I typed every word. So much so, in fact, that I had to make great sacrifices at times—cut out whole pages, sections, chapters even, of material that I just loved, but I knew wasn’t for my reader.
It sounds odd to say, but my reader shaped me so much as a writer, sometimes I wonder if I will ever return to any semblance of who I once was. I feel solid now, so clear about what my mission is, my path is laid out before me, because I know all the work I want to do with my readers. And lo and behold, it turns out I relate to my reader because I am in great part my reader.
Lisa: Wow, that is truly profound! And I just want to point out that it’s a very hard thing to let go of cleverness or any particular thing you like about your writing, that you feel attached to. In that sense it is a spiritual process, where we need to let go of ego and attachments and allow the writing to become what it is in our hearts, in our vision, and in what our readers teach us about the book they need.
The Unintended Healing Process in Writing a Spiritual Book
Lisa: In the early versions of the book there was a fair amount of sarcasm towards—and frustration with—those people who preach through fear, rather than love. In the final published book, there is almost none of that. In fact you show a great deal of compassion for those who preach fear. It struck me that writing New Words and editing the book was more than just a process of writing but it was a healing process of forgiveness. Would you agree? If so, can you speak more about that healing process that came through in writing and refining this book?
Kevin Bader: There was much sarcasm and even venom towards those people who preach through fear, because one, my burning passion that started when I was very young and led to my writing was always about the spiritual oppression and harm done to innocent souls looking up to these types as spiritual authorities, and two, because I was all too clear that these men (I didn’t happen to know of any women who quite fit their bill) were driven much more than their egos then any genuine care for their flock.
I experienced a long process of healing that occurred to me while working on this book. I ended up writing a whole chapter about ego because I find it is essential to have clarity about what the ego is in order to have clarity on what spirit is (or God, or soul, whatever name you like).
Over the course of making that path to the house, and why it was so cathartic for me as well, was that I realized that these men weren’t necessarily malicious. Certainly over the course of history there have been those who were. But these men were simply driven by their egos, and unaware of it.
They were preaching their own message that they needed to be right and be comforted by for their own sake as much as their flock. And how did I come to know this? because lo and behold, turns out I had an ego as well, a rather mighty one at that.
I came to realize that my ego was the same as theirs, and all of our egos have in them universal themes—we are all alike in ways concerning ego.
Sure, I offered messages of love and light, but how was I any better in judging these preachers? I came to realize that my sarcasm and anger came not from them, as I always thought, but came from within myself in response to them.
This led to needing to forgive myself. To accept and realize I had an ego. To forgive and accept others for having their egos.
When I did that, love washed through me and overcame me. For lack of better words, I graduated to a new place of existence.
It opened me up to such a greater capacity for love and understanding of myself and all of us. As I say in the close of chapter 4 on ego:
We can’t all meditate in the mountains for twenty years, or go out to the desert and fast for forty days. We can, however, admit we are egoholics. We can smile to ourselves and say, ‘My name is _____, and I have a big ego.’
All that aside, you can catch more bees with honey than vinegar (clichés are clichés because the truth is always the truth).
Lisa: Wow, that is so beautiful and speaks to how writing a book often, usually, transforms the writer in profound ways. Writing a book is one of the most powerful personal growth tools I know! And writing a spiritual book magnifies that.
Challenges in Writing Under A Pseudonym Tweet This
Lisa: What challenges have you faced, writing under a pseudonym (or more accurately, under the name of a fictional character), particularly when it comes to building community and reaching readers?
Kevin Bader: Usually when I tell people my book is a spiritual text focused on Christianity, and later in the conversation it comes out that some of the things I say in the book might be controversial, it is assumed I picked a pseudonym to hide—to make things easy. That had nothing to do with it at all.
Originally, now many years ago, I was working hard on a novel about a guy named Calvin, who writes a book about Christianity, and what happens as a result. Over the time I working on his story, I became so fascinated in the book he was writing, that became the book I wrote. I am now working on that novel again, which will be called Calvin Speaks by Kevin Bader, and the two will go together in a set.
It has indeed been challenging because people almost have a natural dismay when I tell them the book is authored under a pseudonym. People really want to know the author of the book they are reading—even if I tell them it is me—they want to know my name is on it.
I know this from my own experience. There is always that moment as I am enthralled in a book, when I close it for the day, and stop to gaze at the picture and read the little blurb about the author. You feel you connect with them.
It has also been extra challenging because it is especially a no-no to write a non-fiction book under a pen name. So forget about any publishing deal ;-). But, I can tell you that people tend to get excited once I tell them the story of the larger project, and then they understand and it’s okay.
As for reaching readers, I have already done several public speaking engagements, and my standard process is to simply tell the truth before I even begin of why there is a pseudonym. But, alas, it has for sure been a much greater challenge sticking to my guns on this. Yet, I have no doubts in my inspiration for the larger project.
Lisa: How are you reaching readers?
Kevin Bader: I have tried and failed at attempting to sell the book on the street. For a time I had mobile kiosks…but good luck matching that overhead from book sales. On a good eight hour day I would sell two.
I am much more enjoying what I am doing now. I have been doing some talks here around town in San Diego. My most steady “gig” is I conduct a Bible study for some folks in town.
There is something about connecting with people live, delivering material and message in a perfectly clear and easy to follow manner, and fielding questions, that makes the material come alive.
People are affected by the work right then and there. That has inspired them not only to read my book, but it has inspired them to buy my book for several of their friends.
Now they want me to speak to groups of 100+ people. This feels like a true organic path opening up to many opportunities, albeit a lot slower than I initially expected.
Like most first time authors (probably?), I assumed I would write a great book; then it would simply make itself a best seller by virtue of it being such a wonderful book. That virtue and $2.50 will get you a subway ticket.
The Reader Response
Lisa: What is the response to New Words?
Kevin Bader: The response to New Words has been overwhelming. I always wanted to help people. That was the goal of this work from the start. It was always about freeing those from fear who are trapped in fear.
My message is intended for those that need it, not to tell anyone else what they ought to believe. I thought some of the things I said were so controversial that I would greatly offend many.
Just the opposite has happened. As you noted, because I weeded out to the best of my ability any and all words speaking from my own ego, and served love to the best of my ability, the book achieved its goals (it should be noted that such was a craft of thousands of hours of obsession with getting as close to perfection as I could…editing until such a time as I could I find nothing else to edit). There were indeed many readers who felt the love—who connected with the love—who deeply appreciated the messages.
But the handful of readers that touched me like no others, are the ones who wrote me letters telling me they were freed from a lifetime of fear.
Lisa: Wow. That is profound! What else did they say?
Kevin: That they felt in their heart and knew somewhere inside everything I had told them to be true, but lacked the documentation from the Bible or history to support it.
Lisa: And have you found some people are offended by your message or just don’t get it?
Kevin: Sure, there were a few who were indeed deeply offended. What is most interesting is that those people tended to decide what the book was saying and throw it down around page 40. Had they read it through, they might have had a different experience.
Even more interesting, was I had a few of those people tell me things in the book I never said! Talk about how we see things from our own perspectives and ego. To one woman I replied, “Please send me the exact quote and page number where I say that.” I never heard from her again.
[The positive feedback I received] has hooked me and inspired me for life, knowing that my work is indeed doing what I intended with all my heart and soul for it to do. But blessed be, the far majority of people have liked than disliked.
Lisa: That is a beautiful thing. Congratulations!
Kevin Bader regularly conducts Bible studies in the San Diego, CA area, as well as lectures about the content of New Words.