Wednesday 21 March 2018

Small Things, Slow Beginnings

by Jeanette O'Hagan

From small seeds, mighty Bunya Pines grow

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” Zechariah 4:10, NLV*
There is something exciting about the beginning, the start of something new, the very first moments pregnant with vision and hope. Perhaps that's why we celebrate them - engagements, weddings, births, first day at school, openings and launches. Those very first words on the blank page, the first time we type THE END, the first contract, the first time we hold our book in our hands, the first launch.

But often our high hopes are tested when things don't happen as fast or as big as we imagined. When our hopes begin to strain and things take longer than we expect or we face more obstacles or set backs than we believed possible. When it is easy to give up.

A few years ago, Australian marine scientist and multi-published novelist,  Ian Irvine, said: 

"Here’s the sad truth: most people who write a book will never get it published, half the writers who are published won’t see a second book in print, and most books published are never reprinted. What’s more, half the titles in any given bookshop won’t sell a single copy there, and most published writers won’t earn anything from their book apart from the advance."

In fact many people who start writing a novel never complete it.

That is rather depressing thought, though it doesn't discount the successes. Determination, hard work, adaptability, stick-ability and exploring new options all help.

It's not easy to find readers in a saturated and sometimes cynical market.

A couple of Saturdays ago, Omega Writers held it's second Book Fair in Brisbane - great venue with a wonderful and diverse range of authors, publishers, booksellers and editors including Rhiza Press/Wombat Books, Breath of Fresh Air Press, Gary Clark of Swamp cartoons, Kathy Hoopmann (All Cats have Asperger Syndrome) and our own award-winning authors such as Lynne Stringer, Adele Jones, David Bennett, Catriona McKeown, Ruth Bonetti, Hazel Barker, Anne Hamilton and more. As in the previous Book Fair - many of the authors read excepts of their works to an appreciative audience. It was good day with a small, steady trickle of readers and sales.

This year we pulled out the stops with advertising & we'd had positive feedback from some schools and organisations, so to be honest, I was hoping for a greater attendance of readers. A mob would have been just about right.

A wise person said to me, 'Do not despise the day of small things.'

In looking for the big and the grand, for the crowds and the accolades, we often miss 'the small things' that matter to God.

Over the next few days, various people mentioned how they had enjoyed the day and got special something out of it.

“Didn’t know what to expect. Thought it would be a small bunch of middle-aged authors. Surprised by the range and quality.’ One of new authors.  (Authors ranged from teen or twenties to 70plus, non-fiction & fiction for all ages.)

“This is so needed. It is becoming harder to find appropriate material for my children” Homeschooling Dad

“Treasure trove of great books from the Omega Book Writer's Fair last Saturday. I can't adequately express how much I enjoyed meeting authors and looking at books. ...  I was most excited to put books in my son's hands that are written FOR him, from his perspective and exploring the Asperger's world with positivity and humour! Love it!!” Mum whose son has Asperger's

"Wonderful event. Pity not more people came. Their Loss. Looking forward to Next year's event."

 In Sydney last weekend, I noticed a big hole in the ground - where a huge skyscraper were under construction. I was reminded of how long it takes to build the foundations.  Things worth doing, take time.

And I'm tickled that 'the Lord rejoices to see the work begin' Zechariah 4:10

As always, we come back to these questions. Why do we write? Why do we seek publication? Why do we look for readers of our scribblings, stories, books?

Called to serve

Just as God calls his anointed among the returned exiles (Zech 4:12) to serve Him, so we as Christians are called to serve in the church and in the world. For me, writing and encouraging other writers is part of that calling.

In line with God's character.

The one called does the work in line with God's plumbline (Zech 4:12). For Zerubabbel, this meant rebuilding the temple in line with God's purposes. 

For us, it means building in line with God's will and character. Which surely means doing the best work we can, being willing to learn, not cutting corners, and not becoming proud or slanted by wrong motives.

Not by might, but by God's Spirit 

While we labour --- learning, crafting, plotting, writing, connecting, promoting --- the impact of our work is ultimately in God's hands. He says, '“not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit said the Lord’ (Zech 4:6)'.  His timing is not always our timing, His objectives are not always our objectives.

He says to us, 'Do not despise the day of small beginnings.'

Do not be disheartened if things are not happening as fast or as big as we hope.  Good things take time to grow.

On the other hand, if we have success, if we are going well, do not despise others because nothing seems to be happening, or their sales are low. We don't know what impact another's work (or our own) might  have.  After all, Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime, and that was to his brother (or so I believe).

So whether Ian Irvine is right or not, is not the point. The returnees Zechariah addressed were a small, motley group facing an impossible situation, an overwhelming task, huge opposition, and yet God was at work among them. 

We have the same God at work in our midst. I can't wait to see what He will do.

* New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved

All images © Jeanette O'Hagan 2018

Jeanette recently published a collection of fantasy and sci-fi Nardvan stories, Ruhanna's Flight and other stories. She started spinning tales in the world of Nardva at the age of eight or nine. She enjoys writing secondary world fiction, poetry, blogging and editing. Her Nardvan stories span continents, time and cultures. They involve a mixture of courtly intrigue, adventure, romance and/or shapeshifters and magic users. She has published numerous short stories, poems, two novellas and her debut novel, Akrad's Children. Find her on Facebook or at her webpages Jeanette O'Hagan Writes or Jenny's Thread.


  1. Thanks for a heartening post. So often we forget that each step forward is an achievement. We expect big at the expense of gratitude.

  2. Great perspective, Jenny. It's easy to look for the statistics (How many attended? How many books were sold?), but there are other things that are harder to measure, like the great conversations had with readers, networking with other authors, touching someone with a reading, encouragement and knowledge gained at a workshop. Thanks for all of the work you put into it. I had a number of people asking me how it went, so hopefully more people will come and see for themselves next time. Big things can indeed come from small beginnings.

    1. Thanks Nola. Agreed - and yes, the best way to see how it goes is to come along. I like your logic :)

  3. Hi Jenny, what an encouraging lot to mull over. I think Ian Irvine's quote that you started off with isn't totally bleak, but helps us keep things in perspective. If we know that there's a good chance we'll only ever make a small splash, will we keep on going? Maybe that's the litmus test of a passion. So glad the book fair went off so well 😊

    1. Thanks, Paula, I like your way of looking at Ian Irvine's statement :)

  4. Yes, Jenny. Time and time again the Lord had proved how true your words are:
    While we labour --- learning, crafting, plotting, writing, connecting, promoting --- the impact of our work is ultimately in God's hands. He says, '“not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit said the Lord’ (Zech 4:6)'. His timing is not always our timing, His objectives are not always our objectives.
    I loved your blog. Thank you.

    1. Glad you loved it, Hazel. So glad we are not doing this alone :)

  5. A great reminder, thanks, Jenny... and a good start to the day.

    I am not usually on Facebook at 5.30 am but came to check for prayer updates and seeing as I was early, had a peep at what's happening here.
    It is easy to be discouraged, but the message in this is God sees, God knows, and He cares. Thank you. Now, to start the day properly.

  6. Hi Jenny, Thanks for your encouraging post. It can be easy to measure things by worldly standards (success = large numbers) and miss seeing the smaller blessings. I hope all the authors are encouraged by the feedback you shared with us. :)

  7. Thanks, Jenny, for this post and for all you did toward organising the event. It was a lovely day and I’m very glad I was able to be a part of it. It was inspiring to see other authors with all their writings and to glean wisdom from their journeys.


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