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This book should have been on my list of best books of 2019, but I finished it in the last hours of the year, too late to include on my list.

It was one of my last mistakes of 2019, and one of the first I’m fixing this year.

Andrew Peterson is someone you should know. His music — Is He Worthy? or His Heart Beats or the Behold the Lamb of God album, for instance — is a gift to the church. He’s also a writer, and I hear he draws too.

He’s written Adorning the Dark as both a memoir and a handbook for anyone who wants to tell the truth beautifully. That includes writers, songwriters, musicians, preachers, and more.

Memoir

Peterson’s book is encouraging as a memoir. He’s a big deal now, but he started out as a waiter at Olive Garden, using dial-up to scour the Internet for possible gigs. After weeks of trying, he couldn’t get a single gig — until he found an unpaid one at a church picnic seven hours away, only to see that one canceled at the last minute. Every artist started as a struggling one.

I also love about more recent stories: of going to bed at 3:00 a.m. with a few ideas scribbled on the page, maybe a melody or a chord progression, revisiting the work in the morning, often finding that none of it is any good; of hearing someone ask for one of his books in Barnes and Noble, only to find them reacting dismissively when he introduced himself.

Adorning the Dark gives us a glimpse at the kind of work and life necessary to produce art. I appreciated getting to know Peterson better, and his story encouraged me.

Handbook

But Adorning the Dark is more than a memoir; it’s a handbook too. It even includes an afterword with 15 lessons, as well as advice throughout the book on serving the work, serving the audience, getting our identity from him God than from our work, finding a community to help us with our work, and more.

I love his advice, for instance, on not knowing what to write:

“O God,” you pray, “I’m so small and the universe is so big. What can I possibly say? What can I add to this explosion of glory? My mind is slow and unsteady, my heart is twisted and tired, my hands are smudged with sin. I have nothing—nothing—to offer.”

Write about that.

“What do you mean?”

Write about your smallness. Write about your sin, your heart, your inability to say anything worth saying. Watch what happens.

No artist’s journey will be the same, but many of the same principles apply. “Whether you’re writing a sermon, a poem, or a mystery novel, you have to do the work of boiling it down … Find out what’s essential, what’s sweetest, and boil away the rest.” Peterson shares principles that will help you in your creative work, sharing both his learnings and his mistakes.

Adorning the Dark is one of the best and most enjoyable books I read last year. If you’re a writer, a preacher, a songwriter, or an artist, I think you’ll enjoy it too.

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Adorning the Dark
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