01 Aug Whispers
I’ve been hearing it these past few years.
That whisper of regret. Of failure. Of dissatisfaction.
When I was a starry-eyed teenager, after I’d started writing a historical novel set in 1860, a mentor took me along to a critique group meeting. It was the first time I’d experienced such a phenomenon. I read a scene from my novel to the group of middle-aged writers gathered around a table in the back room of a restaurant.
My words struck them as brilliant. I remember some of their comments. They couldn’t believe it was a rough draft. My writing pulled them right into the scene. They gushed about my way with words, amazed that someone so young could create such a compelling work of art.
My mentor dropped me off at home afterwards, her eyes shining.
“You give us hope,” she told me.
And I went into the house, sailing about ten feet above the ground.
I think I expected it to be easy. I knew there would be a few rejections, but then the acceptances would surely come rolling in, and the world would start to recognize my genius, just as those writers at the critique group had. I would become a household name, win awards, sit in my office surrounded by hardcover copies of my own books. They were destined to be classics.
What I didn’t expect was that crushing critique I received a few years later, when a respected author ripped my proposal to shreds.
I didn’t expect to look back at that moment nearly twenty years later and still feel the sting.
I didn’t know I would have to work so hard. I didn’t know my children would completely consume my life and I’d be distracted by pursuing fitness and natural health and hours wasted on the internet.
I didn’t know it would take so many years to see that first book in print.
And I certainly didn’t know that book would flop, be called a mistake, make me question myself, wonder whether I even know how to hear God’s voice because he wouldn’t have led me this way if it was going to fail.
Two years ago, when I was writing my second book, I thought it was my time. I thought, “This is the book. This is the agent that’s going to be my ticket to success.”
I can say with certainty that I’ve been working as hard as I reasonably can for the last two years, and it still hasn’t happened.
The whispers have infiltrated my brain at times. I’ve wondered, “Am I even supposed to be doing this? Am I wasting my time? Should I be homeschooling my kids instead? Or watching Netflix? Or reading all the great books that have already been created? I could get a regular job that makes actual money, and some of our other dreams might come true.”
If I could only let go of this one dream.
But then I know I can’t. I couldn’t not write. Even if I never publish another book. I would still sneak away somewhere and put words down on paper.
A couple weeks ago, I went to the Montrose Christian Writers Conference, as I do pretty much every July. The writer friends I’ve made there—the ones who hold me up and keep my head above water when it comes to this work—were mostly together. We went out for dinner one night, and between bites of Stromboli, I told them I felt myself slipping into that abyss of despair. That I was beginning to wonder if this would ever work out.
You know what they did? They started building me up, speaking truth to me, reminding me how my writing touches people, touches them, even though I’m not wildly successful. Even though the sales aren’t there, and I’ve quit trying to get an agent with my second book, and I’m floundering through the muddy middle of the rough draft of my third.
“Okay,” I breathed. “I’m not listening to Satan’s lies anymore. I’m going to keep going. This is what I’m called to.”
The next day, I attended a workshop led by a writer I’d respected long before I met him at the conference.
He shared the thoughts he’d been having only a few years ago. They were achingly familiar.
I’ve been trying to do this for so many years. Should I keep wasting my time?
Then he wrote a book called The Day the Angels Fell. And everything changed.
“You don’t know what can happen in the next month, the next year, or certainly the next three years,” he said.
“Okay,” I breathed. “I’m going to keep going. This is what I’m called to do.”
“Failure is part and parcel of writing,” he said. “Failure is part and parcel of living. And If you want to be a writer and you give up after a couple of years, then I would suggest with all respect that perhaps you didn’t really want to be a writer in the first place.”
I realized, suddenly shaken, that I’d been going about this the past few years with the wrong goal in sight.
What is success, really? What did I think it would do for me if I got an agent? If I was published by one of the top five publishing houses? If my book sold well? And what does that even mean? Would I be satisfied if I was below number 1 on the New York Times Bestseller List?
Would any of this be enough to take away my self-doubt?
Could this definition of success make me more or less important in God’s eyes?
And knowing that it can’t, how stupid is it to keep striving like this?
I thought success would validate me.
I wanted the world to say, “You are a writer. You’re not a wannabe. You’re good at this.”
I wanted my friends and family to be proud of me.
With Alex Landragin’s words still vibrating in my earbuds, I realized that I can’t do this for success. That I have to be okay even if none of it ever works out the way I think I want it to. I have to surrender this to God and really do it for Him. Because it’s what He called me to do, and it does touch people and the few people who bought my book actually liked it.
God made me with this gift, and I can’t help but make the most it.
I know success (whatever that is) won’t validate me.
I’m already valid. I am God’s beloved. I don’t need to be anything more than that.
I’m also pretty good with words, though. I want to reach more people. But even if I don’t, that’s okay.
I’m still going to keep going, because this is what I’m called to do.
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