Philip Gulley spoke at last week’s Indiana Faith and Writing Conference at Anderson University, where he told how he first gained a national readership. It began when he was pastor of a Quaker church in central Indiana that consisted of 12 elderly people. When he asked for ideas about how to draw more people into the life of the congregation, one of his parishioners said, “Seems like all the big churches have newsletters. Why don’t you put out a newsletter–and write a column in it every week?”

“What would I write about?”

“Just write about Jesus.”

A footnote to this conversation: Ten years earlier, Philip had pulled an “F” in his English composition class at Marian College. He’d persuaded the instructor (a Catholic nun) to nudge it up to a “D” so he wouldn’t lose his scholarship by making a solemn promise that he would never write for publication. But time had passed and times were hard, so he decided to renege on his promise…at least for the church newsletter.

He wrote about simple, everyday subjects with spiritual insight and whimsical humor. Eventually, someone sent a copy of his newsletter to ABC radio host Paul Harvey, who read one of Philip’s columns on his national broadcast. The next day, a call came from the publisher of Multnomah Press in Oregon, who wanted to know if he had other articles like that.

Not long after, Multnomah published Philip’s first book. Soon, his work began appearing on the New York Times best-seller list.

“Do your best with every piece that you write,” he told us. “You never know who will read it or where it will go. That 500-word newsletter column took me two days to write, but how was I to know that millions of people would hear it?”

Another footnote: As Philip Gulley’s reputation grew, he returned for an alumni function Marian College and was confronted by a stern-faced nun who said, “You just couldn’t resist, could you?”

That’s right, Sister. It’s the writer’s curse!