Why Write? What's Success? And Surviving the Writing Roller Coaster
It’s funny, but God has seen fit to give me writing gifts on the last three New Year’s Days.
On New Year’s Day 2017 I made a resolution to write a book (No topic in mind or any idea how to start, just a desire to grow as a writer.).
On New Year’s Day 2018 I awoke at 4am with my book idea and went down to the kitchen counter and outlined my book in the dark (After an entire year of asking God to lead me in this! Also, at lunch that day I received a fortune cookie at PF Chang’s that read “This year your dream will come true.” I have zero respect for fortunes, but I liked that one.).
On New Year’s Day 2019 I turned in my first book manuscript to my publisher (The book idea from 1/1/18 became a book proposal in 4/2018 and a book contract in 7/2018, which became a book five months later.).
While these New Year’s gifts are interestingly timed and make for memorable milestones, they are only small pebbles on a broad and long road of writing. I’m sharing bits of my journey below as (what I hope will be) an encouragement to other bloggers and hopeful book writers.
I realize that compared to most writers, my journey is teeny and inconsequential and (Lord, willing) only just begun. But I believe writing is part of my ministry, part of my calling, part of how God has invited me to invest in eternity. So it’s not so much my story, but a small detail in his.
My hope is that any reader of this post will be spurred—to keep writing, to keep studying, to keep working, to keep ministering, to keep serving, to keep plodding—to keep doing whatever it is you feel God has asked you to do, even if it feels silly or scary or unnoticed.
Why Write Anyway?
To share updates, joys, and sorrows with friends, families, and supporters
With an English teacher mom and a lawyer dad, I was bound to be a communicator. Words were spoken, read, and written in mass quantities in my childhood home. I was editor of my high school paper and went to college for journalism. I was a professional grant writer before I was a missionary. When we moved overseas as missionaries, I emailed family weekly and supporters monthly. I began blogging around 2007 to document our adoption journey and keep our loved ones in the loop.
Ministering to expats overseas meant that many women who I had the pleasure of leading to Christ or discipling moved away from our local church. They would read my blog to keep up with our family and church, but also personally email me or comment on the blog with a spiritual or theological questions. Sometimes the questions were duplicated by another woman, or I sensed a common theme. So I began blogging as a means of continuing my discipleship relationship with the women who had passed through our lives overseas. Obviously, discipleship through blogging is inferior to discipleship through life and personal time. But I saw it as one effective tool that God could use to both bolster my own faith and study of the scriptures and to encourage women who were far away.
To expand resources, or as I like to say, “To get in the game”
In my almost two-decades of women’s ministry I have often lamented the lack of Biblical resources written by women and for women. The number of authors, Bible studies, and in-depth books and tools have always felt sparse to me (To be sure, they exist and I praise God for theologically-rooted women writers and their work! But I’d love to see more!). Additionally, I have been both heartbroken and angry about the fluff that’s marketed to women, causing real destruction.
Over the last several years, as my writing abilities and audience have grown, I have had a growing sense of, “Put me in the game, coach!” I have felt increasingly like I’m on the sidelines, warming up, and chomping at the bit for a turn on the field. It feels urgent to me to provide whatever resources God would enable me to create to my sisters in him. I want to help get more scriptural substance out there to other women. I want to spend myself on growing in the Lord, honoring him, and sharing that fruit with other women.
The primary motive for me in wanting to write a book was to get in the game, to get more Christ-centered material onto the shelves and into the hands of other women. Writing and blogging regularly for almost two decades prior to having any interest or perceived calling in writing a book laid helpful groundwork so that I was ready when the time came.
Does Writing “Success” Come From Hard Work or Lucky Breaks?
First, define success
My husband and I love mission statements. We have one for our family. We have one for our ministry. I have one for my writing. It’s impossible, in my opinion, to know where you’re going or if you’re actually getting there, without a mission statement.
Mine for writing is:
To Honor the Lord and Serve the Reader
If my writing honors God (as in, it elevates him, centralizes the gospel, gives him the credit he’s due) and if it serves the reader (in any way, perhaps somewhat superficially or maybe in-depth theologically) then I feel it is successful.
If my writing is read by a handful of women that I know, it serves them and it honors God, then I feel successful. If my writing is read by thousands and does the same thing, then I feel successful. It is absolutely tempting to equate numbers with success. But I know that’s not accurate. Having and staying committed to a mission statement keeps me on a “successful” path (also, having accountability from friends, my husband, and mentors, really helps).
Second, work hard, by and unto the Lord
Whether on the mission field, in motherhood, in my marriage, in writing, or anywhere, if my work isn’t by God and for God then I will languish. It’s true, apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5). My energy must be from him and my goal must be for him, or my work is in vain. I know very well what it feels like to work from my own efforts and energy and for my own glory. It’s frustrating, defeating, and leaves me hollow. It’s an area I am prone to sin and must always ask God for help.
When my heart is rooted in the Lord and my work flows from that, I am able to exert myself and the results are sweet. Rather than frustration, he gives contentment. Rather than defeat, he gives energy. Rather than feeling hollow, he gives me the fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).
In sum, working hard with all of Christ’s energy in me (Colossians 1:29), is in itself, success.
Third, “lucky breaks” are up to Jesus
In all of life, we are called to be faithful, but it’s God who has to be fruitful. He’s the fruit grower, the change maker, the author and redeemer. Only God writes our story. He equips us and gifts us and calls us to steward all things for his name’s sake, but the results are up to him.
God has been very kind to give me a few “lucky breaks,” or rather, in his providence, he’s opened doors according to his perfect will—doors that I didn’t even know were there. My writing journey has been marked by him, for whatever reason, resourcing me with some tools to expand my audience and pave the way for my blog readership to grow and a book contract to become a possibility. The book is now written, but it’s purely up to the Lord to see how well it will sell or who will read it or what impact it will have in the world. He’s enabled me to be faithful to the call and opportunity, but the fruit is up to him.
“Lucky breaks” (God’s providential gifts) are only useful if you’ve already put in the hard work. I want to be clear: the hard work I have done as a writer has been by the Lord’s hand—he’s the one who gives life and breath and everything else (Acts 17:25), including the resources and skills to know how to write, the tools to write, and the time and desire to write. He made me a writer, so the hard work is to his credit, not my own.
But on some level, I had to choose to do the work. I had to jump off the high dive and feel foolish and stumble my way through learning how to blog and be willing to say the wrong things the wrong way and to grow. On some mysterious level, I had to steward all that God gave me, dig in, and write.
The reservoir of writing and all that the effort and learning produced in me, made the “lucky breaks” a possibility. No one can discover your writing if you don’t write! No one will be served by your words if you don’t put them out there.
The Roller Coaster and Staying Grounded
The roller coaster of writing is a wild one. The hills and drops can be internal: I’m a great writer, I love what I wrote! I’m a terrible writer, I hate everything I’ve ever written. Or they can be external: Tons of people read my words, I’m famous! No one reads my words, I’m a huge loser. I can’t wait to wake up and write tomorrow! I hope I never have to write another word again.
This is where the mission statement is crucial. I have mine written in multiple places to remind myself that writing is not about me. It’s about honoring the Lord and serving the reader. It’s by God and for God. It’s to love him and my neighbor. It’s not about my reputation or my feelings or my perceived success or failures. It’s by Jesus and for Jesus and it’s not about me.
At the end of the day every Christian writer has to ask him or herself if it’s worth it? Are we called? Did God gift us and equip us and ask us to walk by faith and not by sight? Is it his story and is it important enough to share?
When I put my book proposal together in early 2018, I was wracked by the violent swing from self-exaltation to self-loathing. I finally had to decide that even that struggle was worth it. I believed that God had asked me to jump into the game. That the message of his glory and his power and his goodness that I could share with other women was worth it. Even if I stumbled and looked stupid. Even if I made a mess in the process. It was worth it to me to try to proclaim his name in the unique way that he would enable me, for the unique audience he would give me.
It’s not about me or anything I bring to the table. It’s about him and his truth and goodness and glory. For that, I’m willing to work hard and take a risk. And it’s up to him to bring the results that he’s interested in.
The New Year’s writing gifts that God has given me are sweet reminders that this process belongs to him. Next New Year’s Day I will be preparing for launch day, as my book is set to release on 1/14/20. What a thrill.
Until then, and by the grace of God alone, I will keep writing to honor the Lord and serve the reader, I will work hard with all his energy in me and call that success, I will trust him for his providential gifts, and I will ask him to keep me from both self-exaltation and self-loathing by reminding me daily that it’s not about me, it’s all about him.