The house is quiet and the window is open, letting in only the swaying sound of the breeze. My Bible is beside me, as are a handful of books I’ve recently read—few things stir the creation of my own words like soaking in others’. The ideas are ready, having been dancing in my mind for days, learning their steps before I let them out for their best attempt at a meaningful performance. The urge to put sentences down, to sort and untangle and organize words, it’s spilling over right now; I think any artist knows that feeling, because it doesn’t go away until we do the work dancing in our minds, until we create as we were made to create.
I love this part.
When I write, I wait for the spilling over, for the words to almost make their way off my fingertips. They have to be ready; forcing words too early is the same as picking fruit that isn’t ripe—the sweetness of meaning has all but lost its potential in a rush to hit that daunting ‘post’ button. I know this now, but it has been a lesson many years in the making.
Sometimes I confuse the writing with wanting to be a writer, and the later gets me all kinds of confused.
I’ve tried to keep a schedule, I’ve tried starting a catchy series, I’ve tried being a creative copy of someone else, and I’ve thought about all the things one could do for their writing career: newsletters, hashtags, allthemarketingthings. These methods haven’t worked for me. They’ve lacked the authenticity of someone who actually knows what it means to have a brand (what?) and they have felt forced and uncomfortable—a good sign that perhaps I am in someone else’s sweet spot, but I’m not in mine.
For a lot of years, writing was about me. It was about the lessons my twenty-five year old self thought she knew (ha!). It was about being a new mama who thought she understood the sacrifice motherhood required of her (not even close). And it was about a faith that operated primarily as a means of avoiding the hard things in life, because I was a classic abuser of the term “blessing” with a tendency to correlate performance with wordly results.
The problem with that is results are not always good for your heart. As a writer, good results can make much of you and that’s a prideful heart, and bad results can undermine your vulnerability and effort, and that’s a broken heart. The former makes you feel like you are so important and should probably write books forever and the later makes you feel like you should quit tomorrow. As with any work that is fundamentally about us, the ping pong of emotions that striving for acceptance plays with is totally exhausting.
But as writing started to become a response to what was actually happening in my life, I realized two vital things: the first is that I am never out of material if I write honestly, and the second is that I would never manufacture the sort of fulfillment I was looking for as a writer outside of God. The difference between writing and wanting to be a writer cleared up as I started to understand the difference between the gift and the Giver. And I think in anything we do, understanding the distinction is vital.
I think about writing like catching fireflies. You watch and wait and slowly lean in to grab your prize, just like a writer listens and sees and slowly lets the thoughts build momentum until reaching for the page with the hope that she can grab them. Sometimes that golden glow is captured on the first attempt—but most of the time it takes a few tries, just ask the writer. But if you keep watching and keep listening and just keep trying, you’ll catch something, proudly sealing the lid and setting your firefly on the deck. But what happens next for me is the most important part: the writer wants the applause of the process, the words of affirmation that all her work to grab the firefly was admirable and that she must be quite a talented person to make such a gorgeous catch. But the writing, it sits beautifully on its own, forcing people’s eyes to admire only what is brightened by the catch.
The writer wants all eyes on the gift. The writing wants all eyes on the Giver, on God. The first is who I am, a sinner saved by grace. The second is what I do—respond to that grace with things I’ve been given to respond with. But in either case, only the grace is worth illuminating.