The Theologist / Lucy Peppiatt / Finding Time for Writing

The Theologist is your guide to all things writing and publishing in the fields of theology and biblical studies, from finding inspiration for your work to reading the best literature on writing, from overcoming writing obstacles to finding writing mentors, and more. In this installation of The Theologist, we at Wipf and Stock were honored to interview Lucy Peppiatt, Principal at WTC, a theological college in Gloucestershire, England. Peppiatt is also the author of a handful of books with Cascade, including The Disciple: On Becoming Truly Human (2012), Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in 1 Corinthians (2015), and Cascade Companion The Imago Dei: Humanity Made in the Image of God (2022).

Do you have food items or beverages you tend to enjoy while writing? Any music you like to listen to? If so, what?

On rare occasions I get so engrossed in my writing I hardly get up to get a drink or food. Then I find time flies by. But when I’m struggling to pull something together, I take lots of little breaks for drinks and snacks and then keep coming back to the same paragraph. For drinks, I make coffee or drink water. I don’t have a coffee ritual like one of my sons who weighs his coffee and then dribbles water over it! I’m totally happy with a cafetière as long as it’s a metal thermos one and not a glass one because I like my coffee very hot. We have a medium-strength Colombian coffee we like and I drink it black with no sugar. I also drink quite a lot of water and I love sparkling water with lemon. In the last year I’ve gone fully gluten free and mostly dairy free for health reasons, which is good because my health is way better, but is also sad as wholemeal toast and marmite was always my go to snack. Now I snack on nuts, crisps (chips), fruit, chocolate, popcorn, anything that I can pick randomly at while thinking.

I can’t understand how people can listen to music while they write. I don’t need it to be fully quiet and don’t mind the background noise of life, kids playing next door, people chatting in a next door room, washing machine whirring, etc., but I can’t have music playing when I write because I find it too distracting. For me, listening to music is what I do when I switch off and I relax.

What part of the research/writing/publishing process is the most fun for you?

I love the first part of research, thinking about an idea, talking it through with friends, reading around the subject, finding good conversation partners, people you agree with and disagree with. I love stumbling across an idea or phrase in someone else’s work that helps to further my thinking. I also love landing on an expression or a word that I’ve been trying to search for and then it comes when I’m walking the dog or having a bath or washing up and I know I’ve got just the right word or phrase I was looking for to express what I want.  

I also love the part of writing when you have all your material in one document and you’re just crafting the final piece, moving things around, trying to decide where to put that great quote you found, building your argument, and discovering as you do how you want to shape everything and where you want to end up. I often find at that stage that something surprises me, something I hadn’t seen before or an emphasis I hadn’t appreciated just pops out. 

Does anyone in your family read your books? Why or why not?

Many members of my family read my books for which I’m very grateful. I’m in an unusual situation where all my four sons and my husband have all studied theology (four of them up to MA level) as well as one daughter-in-law who studied a Grad Dip with WTC and another who is beginning her PhD in systematic theology. So yes, they engage with my work and have opinions! My husband talked through every thought in Women and Worship with me although I think he only read The Disciple (my first book) recently. One of our funny stories is of him standing up at an event a few years ago and saying, “Do buy my wife’s book, The Disciple, I’ve heard it’s really good.” At least he’s honest!

I was also really touched that when my mother was alive, she read all my work and was proud of me for becoming an author. She and my father were very literary and loved books, history, and poetry. She died less than a year after Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women was published and I miss not sharing my books with them. She and my father both championed women so they loved that I wrote on the topic of how the Bible honors women as equal to men. I also have four siblings and seven siblings-in-law. I know some of them read my books as well and they’re all very supportive.

I have nephews and nieces who have studied theology as well and they read my books. My nephew told me he was in church the other day when the preacher mentioned one of my books and he said he sat bolt upright—I don’t think he was listening much til then. Haha. And one of my favorite photos is of one of my nieces aged about nine sitting in a chair and reading Unveiling Paul’s Women. Good to start young!

What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

Finding the blocks of time I’d really love to have to write. I know most of us who write are always trying to fit it into busy lives and there’s no way around that. You have to get used to writing in snatched moments and not waiting for that two-week or one-week or even just one- or two-day stint! It’s time-consuming writing in little batches because you’re always going over old ground to get back into the swing of things. You have to read back to recover your train of thought and then you start tweaking and editing what you’ve already written and it all just takes longer than you want.

The other thing I find hard is that I’ve never had a sizable faculty or department to process ideas with. I’ve had wonderful colleagues over the years on a very small team, but I think it would be amazing to be part of a research seminar like the one I used to attend at King’s College, London for my MA. I feel as though my work would have been much better if I’d had that. Having said that, I’m so grateful for the people who have read my work along the way and given me great feedback and I definitely couldn’t have written as much without them.

The last thing I’d say I find difficult is being sent the ms for the gazillionth time to proofread yet again! It’s so boring reading your work over and over when you just want to forget it about it by then.

What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?

If they’ve got a contract, I’d say many congratulations and well done! If they’ve started to write, but don’t yet have a contract, I’d say hang in there. I think my advice would be don’t worry about trying to wow people with your brilliant ideas, just write something you really believe in or are excited about. If you’re really interested in the ideas then you’ll naturally engage your readers because this will come through and they’ll be interested because you are. In a sense I think people should write for their own sakes rather than anyone else’s. Write because you think it’s worthwhile not because you think you have to convince everyone else that it is.  

A piece of advice Scot McKnight gave me was invaluable. Write with someone in mind and write the book for them. When I was struggling to write Unveiling Paul’s Women, I shared with him that I didn’t feel I was pitching it right and he gave me this advice. I did exactly that and as soon as I had that person in my mind, the book came together. The funny thing was that I met someone later who had the exact same profile of the person I’d chosen to write the book for. She came to ask me a whole load of questions I’d already answered in Unveiling.

How do you discern between those ideas for book projects that are worthwhile and those that are not?

I think you can only discern those things in conversation with other academics, publishers, and students. There are a lot of people around who can help you to make that decision. If you try and go about this discernment process on your own you can never be sure you’re not deceiving yourself that you have a great idea that no one else is going to understand. Or it may be the opposite. You may think the idea isn’t worthwhile and someone persuades you it is. Scot McKnight, Dan Reid, and Cindy Bunch all persuaded me that writing Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women was worthwhile. When I got cold feet after a few months, Dan Reid totally persuaded me to persevere and I’m so glad he did and I did. I get so many messages from women and men about how that book has helped them, which makes me very happy.

Sometimes you think there are just too many books on a subject to make your contribution worthwhile, but there won’t be one written by you, someone with your voice, your background, your unique perspective. That can make writing a new book on an old topic really worthwhile. I think there are a lot of people who need to hear that.

Was there a moment (or sequence of moments) when the “mystifying veil” around book publishing was torn for you? Tell us about that moment and what you learned from it.

I don’t think I particularly understand that question because I had an unusual route into publishing as an academic and didn’t really know what I was doing anyway. I was so green when it came to publishing my first book, I don’t think I had anything to be disabused of. For lots of reasons, I hadn’t published while I was writing my PhD. It was as much as I could handle just to write the PhD with everything else that was going on in my life. When I finished my PhD, I gave a talk at a Christian festival and a friend of mine who had been in my MA class with me at King’s and had attended the talk told me I should make it into a book. I was completely taken aback but took his feedback seriously and submitted a proposal to Robin Parry at Wipf and Stock. We hadn’t met at that point and to my astonishment, he accepted it straight away. Ever since then, Robin has become a great friend and I’ve had him and many others to talk to about what I should try and publish and why and every decision we made seemed to make sense to me. I suppose what I’m saying is that everyone around me has always been helpful, but then I also think I’m not that ambitious. I’m content that I followed an unusual path with what I’ve published crossing over between NT and systematics. I’ve also responded to a number of invitations to contribute to volumes if I like the idea of the volume and feel as though I have something to contribute, which I’ve really enjoyed. Short projects are different from larger ones and require something different from you. Generally I’ve just been happy to do what I do.

What have you found helpful in confronting imposter syndrome in your writing and publishing and/or in dealing with criticism of your work?

I don’t suffer so badly from imposter syndrome with my writing as much as I used to giving academic papers. There’s something really anonymous about writing a book where you can put something out there and then just carry on with your life. In some ways, you can forget about it. When you give an academic paper you’re right there in the room with people who are cleverer and more knowledgeable than you and it can be very intimidating. Before a book goes out, I want to make sure I haven’t said anything really stupid that I’ll regret having put in writing, so I do a lot of reading and re-reading and I’m enormously grateful to Murray Rae who was my PhD supervisor and still reads stuff I write! I trust his judgement and know that he’ll pick up on things that don’t sound right. I also have other people read my work as well which all helps. I think my main concern is that if people disagree with me, it’s not because I did a shoddy job, it’s simply because we don’t see eye to eye, which is totally fine.

I do read reviews of my work and I don’t mind at all if someone doesn’t agree with me as long as I feel they’ve engaged with my work and understood what I was saying and they have an intelligent response. I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I say and I enjoy academic debate with people I respect. If someone hasn’t read my work properly or misrepresents me that’s just annoying!

How do you celebrate when you finish writing a book?

I find it hard that it takes so very long to finish writing a book and the end is so drifty. It’s a wonderful feeling to finally finish your ms, put the last full stop (period) in place, and send it off with a great flourish. Then it comes back to you again and again with changes and tweaks and typos etc. Then finally the ms is accepted, the cover is chosen, the endorsements are in, the foreword is written, and then you wait for quite a long time for it to be published. I see three moments of celebration in there: (1) when you first submit the ms., (2) when the publisher tells you it’s all done, and (3) when you have the book in your hand. The first one I celebrate with a nice meal and a nice bottle of wine with my husband or whoever’s around. The second one probably the same, but I often try and time it so I have a proper day off planned the next day to go for a long walk in the woods or by the sea. The third one is huge and exciting and I think warrants a glass of champagne and posting pictures on social media! I’m always deeply touched by how warmly other academics respond when you publish something. You receive so many lovely congratulations from others on getting a book out.

Has writing and publishing books changed the way you see yourself?

Yes, it’s definitely changed the way I see myself. I had no idea before I was in my mid-40s that I would love writing as much as I do. I wrote The Disciple when I was 47. I’ve always known I love words and reading, but writing is just a special treat for me and feels like a huge privilege. I feel it’s one of the few places I can be creative in a way that suits me. I also surprised myself by how much I like to spend time thinking and writing on my own. I’m a big extrovert and so thought that writing wouldn’t suit me so well, but it does. I’m grateful for the people who encouraged me to write, especially because I’m a woman who came late to academia and spent many years bringing up my children, managing a home, running groups and services in church, and studying part-time. When I started writing, my confidence was low, but writing helped me because it was such a joy to write and I felt quite competent at it. In a funny way, I’m very happy in my own skin when I write.

What books are you currently reading?

My two contemporary books I’m currently reading are Steven Duby, Jesus and the God of Classical Theism and Adonis Vidu, The Same God who Works All Things. I think they’re both brilliant and giving me lots of food for thought as well as material for teaching.

On my bedside table I have Gregory of Nyssa, Dogmatic Treatises and Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place. I’m re-reading this book because I gave it to a non-Christian friend who was talking to me about the horrors of the concentration camps and we ended up talking about what hope might look like in despair. I read it first over thirty years ago and not since. It’s a truly remarkable book. 

Do you have any activities that particularly help you get your mind off your writing projects, when necessary?

Unfortunately, the work of running a college takes my mind off my writing projects! I wish it didn’t quite so much although I also do really love my work so I’m not really complaining. If I want to unwind, my first choice is to cook or watch something undemanding on TV. I also love eating and chatting with family and friends, taking my dog for a walk, gardening a bit, and mindless chores in the house.

Lucy Peppiatt is the Principal of WTC, a theological college in the UK, where she lectures in Christian Doctrine and in Spiritual Formation. She is the author of a number of books including The DiscipleWomen and Worship at CorinthUnveiling Paul’s Women, and The Imago Dei. She and her husband live in Bristol where they attend and serve at Crossnet Church. 


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