It’s not what you do….

I don’t know about other writers, but when I am writing something, often I am talking to myself. This especially goes when I am writing a sermon or working on a novel. Novels, after all, are about the human condition, and believe me, I am very human.

A book I was working on last summer had a character who was faced with the choice with fame and fortune in the music business, or following what God had planned for him. More than once, he was asked if he would follow God, even if the task before him was something that seemed unimportant and would never gain him any recognition. It’s a question we should all ask ourselves every once in a while, especially us writers. Do we write for the recognition, or because God has called us to write? If we never receive any recognition, will we still be willing to do what God wants us to do?

As I mentioned, this question was an extension of my own life. Years ago I spent two years researching, planning and building a new national magazine called ParentTalk with my friend and fellow editor Randy Maxwell. We poured our hearts and souls into that project, and we were very proud of the end result. Unfortunately, the day came when Pacific Press told us that ParentTalk would be discontinued. I was given the unhappy task of telling our writers, advertisers and subscribers the bad news. I took the news hard, and I prayed for a long time about it all. How could this happen, I asked God, when every indication was that the magazine was doing good things, and we were happy doing them. I pondered this for several days before the following statement came into my mind: It’s not what you do that’s important. It’s who you are.

As writers, it’s often easy to get caught up in the identity of being a writer. It’s what I am, we say. But God is asking, is it really? Is being a writer what’s important? Or is it just a means to an end? Is it just an occupation, something that you are good at, like being a plumber, or a tailor or a businessman?

Well, maybe that’s taking it a little too far. I believe writing is a calling, just like being a doctor, teacher or pastor. Not everyone can do it, nor should everyone try. But we have to be careful to remember that writing is a means to an end. Like I told a student a few years ago: “It’s not enough to be able to write. You have to have something to say.”

Having the skills is not enough. You have to use the skills for a higher purpose.

So what’s your higher purpose?

8 thoughts on “It’s not what you do….

  1. How do you know if you can “do it?” Or if you are one of those who “should try?” How are you called to writing? Is 52 too late to learn the discipline (“tenacity; persistence”) that is needed? How do you tell if you “have something to say?”

    1. As the old saying goes, if you can do anything else, do it. Writing is a long, hard road. As for whether 52 is too late to learn the discipline, the obvious question comes up: How much time do you have to commit to learning it? Do you have 10,000 hours? Are you willing to push all other priorities aside? Probably the best test is whether there is some message inside you that is eating at you, trying to get out. Why do you want to write, and do you want it badly enough?

    2. If you want to write, then just write. Get yourself a free blog, like this one, and say what you want to say.

  2. I think there is danger in treating the label “writer” like a title, much as some actors would treat the label “actor/actress” as “Lord/Lady” (or “King/Queen” in some cases). It gives the bearer of said label a sense of self-importance and entitlement that isn’t exactly healthy.

    At the same time, we should take enjoyment in the label, so long as the label is what we want. Two people might say “I’m a plumber,” and have two very different emotions on their faces. To one, it is undesirable, to the other, it is joy.

    It is important to be a writer in the sense that it is important to do something you enjoy, not what importance the label lends to an individual. And in that regard, I do not believe it is just a means to an end.

    As for my higher purpose?

    My purpose in writing is fairly straightforward. I mean to affect people. I want to make people feel for the characters I write, and the places I take them to. I want to make people cry when bad things happen to my characters, and laugh when something good happens.
    I want to rouse people out of apathy. Even if it is only the apathy one might feel toward a story. If I can make people care about little things again, maybe they’ll be willing to start caring about big things too.

    Of course I hope that some of my spiritual, religious, or even socio-political sensibilities might be imparted in some way as well, but it is a minor concern to me, because of how I believe true change in those regards comes from person to person interaction. But hey, it’d be nice.

    Anywho, it was nice reading your blog! ^_^ Have a happy Sabbath!

  3. This is an interested question you have posed. I say if writing makes you happy, do it whether it is for the love of it or the money or recognition. We all need to follow our passions in life even if others do not understand. It is what makes us tick!

  4. I remember ParentTalk magazine — I loved it! I was sad to see it fold. I thought you and Randy were doing a wonderful job with a much-needed periodical.

  5. I’ve been writing seriously for a few years now and over that time I have realised that being a writer is not something I do but who I am. I have always been and will always be a writer. It’s who God made me to be. I’ve also discovered that my passion if for ‘picture books with purpose’ – books that not only entertain children and their parents but also provide some sort of helpful, therapeutic benefit as well. I really believe this passion is God-given as well. Of course it’s great to get those acceptance emails from a publisher but it’s not the mark of me as a writer. I try and take my skill set and use them for good in the world.

  6. WOW, now here is some strong food for thought. This is like what you were saying in class about figuring out your philosophy. I want my writing to reach people, I want the people who read my stories to not make the mistakes my characters have made which is usually an extension of myself, which means I want my writing to be a teaching tool that helps people grow and have a closer relationship with God because of it.

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