I am releasing my third book next week, which makes a recent online conversation rather relevant to me.
Several weeks ago, Michelle DeRusha published a blog post entitled, “Why I’m Quitting Book Writing.” She is the author of several books, including her most recent True You: Letting Go of Your False Self to Uncover the Person God Created. Her decision to abandon the world of traditional book publishing was certainly no impulsive decision, especially considering that she would be required to return the advance on the next book she had been contracted to write. DeRusha explains:
“I’ve learned the hard way over the last ten years of writing and publishing that staying whole and healthy in this vocation is, for me, not a simple matter of willpower, nor is it a simple matter of surrender. It’s not about trying harder or surrendering more. Believe me, I’ve done both.”
“I can’t separate my self – my whole, true self – from the platform-building, from the push to attract and attain more followers and subscribers, from the Amazon ranks. I can’t separate myself from what often feels like a relentless drive toward bigger, better and more. I can’t separate myself from wanting to be known, affirmed and recognized by the “right” people.”
DeRusha has expressed what most Christian authors have felt, including me—which is to say the seeming impossibility of writing for other souls while trying to keep hold of your own. It’s a mighty vortex, this roaring demand to find fans and followers, to grow a platform, and to sell your brand. (I would add that it’s additionally harder as a woman without the institutional support that many male authors enjoy.)
How do we write without losing our soul?
After I finished writing Surprised by Paradox, my third book in five years, like DeRusha, I, too, wondered if it wasn’t time to take a break, possibly even abandon the work altogether. In part, this was simply owed to fatigue. The words were spent, and I was spent with them. But I don’t think it was a simple case of burnout. There was a bone-deep discouragement about the work, about all that it required of me and the little it seemed to return. Of course I have enjoyed the process of writing three books and being asked to speak about them. But there have also been many days that I have half-fancied working retail.
I entered a period of discernment. I don’t know that this looked like anything other than keeping myself open to the voice of God on the particular question of my calling. What did God want me to do? I was happy to change course—happier still if it meant fluffing pillows at Restoration Hardware and buying throw pillows with my employee discount. I pursued the normal course of my spiritual practices—Scripture reading, prayer, fellowship, spiritual direction, service—all the while keeping my ear low to the ground, tuned to the whisper
And as is often true with God, he did not thunder his will from the heavens—THOU SHALT WRITE!—nor did he move my fingers involuntarily across my keyboard. But in small, ordinary ways, he confirmed that this is what I meant to be doing: that I’m meant to be an author, meant to stretch my writerly legs in the longer form of books, meant to do this work whatever the cost, whatever the return.
I wonder if you, reader/writer, have ever felt this way, too? Despite all the hassles and heartaches of the writing life, you know, somewhere deep in your bones, that you’ve got to stick with the work of words. It’s the way you make sense of the world and yourself in it. It’s your spiritual practice of paying attention, of naming, of loving. On the one hand, you know the sick and self-preoccupied pleasure you take out of the likes and the retweets and the shares of your posts. On the other, you feel the pleasure of God when you spin words, and, by unexpected grace, they sometimes turn to gold.
Tempted as you are to the solutions of either and or, you know that what you really need is a both-and. You understand that you’re both corrupt AND called.
How are we going to keep at this work? What’s going to keep us grounded? Having read DeRusha’s post (and knowing that her decision couldn’t be mine), I was pondering those questions for myself when I picked up an old/new book from my bookshelf, which I bought years ago off a table in some church foyer. Published by Crossway, it’s a compilation of three classic works by John Owen, the long dead Puritan pastor and theologian, entitled Overcoming Sin & Temptation. I’d read the first work—“Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers” (and written about it here), but I’d never finished the book. It has seemed like a good time to pick it up again—
Even share it here with you.
Though it’s a busy launch season for me (or maybe because it’s a busy launch season for me), I want to read and blog my way through Owen’s second work, “Of Temptation, the Nature and Power of it.” I’ll be sharing these reflections every week, and I’d love to have you join the conversation. And by this, I really mean conversation.
So, first question: what is our greatest JOY in writing? And what is your greatest GRIEF?