When I published The Deep Things of God in 2010, I made a mental note to myself that I should eventually use this blog to let readers in on a fun little bit of extra information about the book. Then I lost the mental note somewhere on the mental desktop of my mental office. Now here it is a few years later, and something jogged my memory, so I’m finally getting around to mentioning this.
Once you’ve got this clue, it’s not really a big surprise what kind of word I’d put in there. The only question is why I’d do such a thing.
Some kind of authorial boredom is one reason. No matter how alert and focused I am on the task of composing and editing the prose on the page, some part of my mind is inevitably doing other kinds of processing simultaneously: listening to background music, planning little household tasks to get me up from the desk every 25 minutes or so, checking Twitter on a schedule instead of constantly. And one part of my mind needs to be playing games with words at all times: picking at etymologies, reversing letter sequences, scanning for anagrams, and other such nonsense.
Another reason is a quest for comprehensive unity, or at least a symbol of it: To spell out a single word over the course of a whole volume is a kind of gesture indicating that the book is about one thing. When I’m working on a writing project of a larger size, I’m constantly going back to the outline, making sure I am keeping a sense of the whole in mind and not getting lost in the parts. The outline needs to be visual: not just a list, but a diagram or shape of some kind. My visual outlines for this book always featured the requisite initial letter for each chapter, and I even changed the word when I made the major decision to cut a couple of chapters.
Finally, it helps an author to have some larger constraints in place instead of just writing into the void of absolute possibilities. As I wrote, I knew I had to fit things to this hidden-word structure. For example, even if I decided that I needed to change the opening gambit of a chapter, I still had to make it start with the letter T. Something about that was reassuring: I hadn’t left the grid, I was just changing the configuration a bit. This may sound like an arbitrary constraint that may have kept me from starting a chapter the best possible way (which, after all, might start with some other letter), but I experienced it as a challenge that sparked creativity.
I often do a few other little games and tricks with manuscripts, but this is the main one worth sharing. And I promise there are none in this blog post, so don’t bother reading initial letters to try to spell anything.
Finally, if this little revelation makes you wonder if I hid any words in my recent book Wesley on the Christian Life: The Heart Renewed in Love, the technical answer to that question would be “duh.”