(Note: this post was written in 2016 as a tribute.)
I couldn’t believe my ears.
“Would you be interested in helping Gary Smalley on his next book?”
“Um, yeah!” was my reply. As soon as I hung up the phone, mild panic set in…
Dr. Gary Smalley sold tens of millions of books and videos. He was an internationally recognized expert on the topic of relationships. What would writing for him be like? I would soon find out.
Today, I learned that Gary passed away.
As a tribute, here are seven things I learned from the process of writing with him. It was a true honor.
1. You don’t have to be a “gifted” writer to reach millions with your books. Gary was very open about his strengths, and completely comfortable with his non-strengths. In fact, he struggled as a student. Later he realized his “7th-Grade reading level” made his books relatable to more people.
2. You must enjoy the planning process, before one word is put on a page. In fact, he mentioned that the pre-writing meetings were his favorite part of the process. We could have met together for a month. And I would have enjoyed every minute.
3. When you live what you teach, writing a book is a natural outflow – not a chore. I had the privilege of meeting with some of Gary’s kids and grandkids. We shared meals together. He was the same man in every situation. This truth was evident: when you sow honor you’ll reap honor.
4. You must take chances with your writing. Honesty is scary. But honesty helps people.
5. A book should be an experience, not just a “read.” Every page, every sentence, must help the reader think and feel. I remember this charge from Gary in our first meeting. “I hope we can make people laugh and cry in every chapter.” I turned very pale after that statement. Holy cats – Is that even possible?!
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Gary learned to ask questions throughout his career. You don’t have to be “the expert” – you simply have to love people.
7. Start where you are. Most people assume Gary Smalley set out to be an internationally known author and speaker. In fact, he began his career researching relationships while he was leading a small group of college students in Waco, TX. Gary wasn’t enamored with books, he simply saw them as a tool to reach people’s hearts.
Most importantly, as Gary often said, “Life is relationships. The rest is just details.”
(Special thanks to my friend and mentor, John Mason for this opportunity)