Uncertainty can dog Christian writers, and it often takes us by surprise. We expect to be all calm and spiritual, not scared and hiding under a blanket.
Why does it happen?
Imagination is deeply personal
Baring our imagination and creativity is intimidating. It’s a window to the soul. When someone rejects or judges our creativity, it cuts deep.
John Cleese is quoted as having said: “Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.”
This fear can be enough to stop some of us writing the thing we long to write – maybe even the thing we’ve been called to write.
But “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10 NIV)
The fear that sparks wisdom is a deep-seated reverence, but also a perspective adjustment: our God is much bigger than our fears and failures.
Even experienced writers encounter self-doubt
I’ve often said the collective noun should be “an insecurity of writers”.
We might be startled to find that even writers we see as successful face self-doubt, but it’s less surprising when you consider that:
- it’s one of the few professions where you can work diligently for years and yet never see the outcome you are aiming for (for example, a published book)
- despite the assumptions made by many non-writers, the hourly rate for most writers is far too low to pay a mortgage
- while you’re writing, everyone has an opinion on how and why you should do it
- creative writing is frequently criticised once it’s published.
Think about, say, an engineer being expected to work confidently under all those conditions.
We are afraid of dishonouring God
On top of the stresses common to all writers, the Christian writer has an extra pressure. We want to bring honour to God by what we write, and frequently worry about whether our words are doing so.
I don’t think that’s an altogether bad fear. Humility is an excellent trait in a Christian writer.
I find comfort in the fact that God can take my faltering words and turn them into what he needs them to be when the moment arises. (I’m encouraged that one time he even got his message out via a donkey – Numbers 22.)
I pray that God will give me the words he wants to say to the person he knows is going to read them.
Confusion about God’s priorities
I once spent three months in Europe working on a book project. Every night, the teenager on the other side of my paper-thin bedroom wall would come home at 1 am and put on loud music for a couple of hours.
I became furious and exhausted and just a little bit desperate.
I felt like a zombie and struggled to concentrate.
I prayed and prayed for God to “fix it” so I could get some sleep, because didn’t he know the important book project – the whole reason I was there – was suffering?
I prayed and prayed.
The teenager kept coming home at 1 am.
My sleep kept getting decimated.
And somewhere along the way, I finally realised that maybe God’s top priority was for me to grow in godliness in the midst of challenges.
How do we know if we’ve succeeded as Gracewriters?
We often innocently assume, based on what we think is happening for other people, that there’ll be a particular outcome if we obey God’s call to write.
We might call this outcome “success”, which looks different for each of us, but often includes a sizeable readership, or recognition, or financial reward.
And then when the expected “success” doesn’t come, we think we’ve failed, or displeased God, or misheard him in the first place and were never meant to write.
Putting aside for the moment any pride that might be worming its way in there, how can we regain momentum?
Let me share some stats:
- Average full-time-author income in the UK: £10,500. (Authors Licensing and Collecting Society, 2018)
- Average full-time-author income in the USA: $6,080. (Statista/The Authors Guild, 2017)
- In a study of Australian commercial publishers, 90% of titles sold fewer than 120 copies, and half sold fewer than 6 copies. (University of Melbourne Book Industry Study 2009)
Maybe you are more “successful” than you realise.
And maybe “success” in the world’s terms has very little to do with it. If God is calling you to write for just one particular reader that he knows needs your message, will you do it?
I was talking to another Gracewriter this week and she said: “All I keep coming back to is I’ve been called to obedience not success. If God says write, I write.”
Do you have a longing to write that niggles away at you and doesn’t go away? Over many years and many writers, I’ve noticed a longing like that is usually not a mistake.
Write, Gracewriters, if it’s what you yearn to do. Write, and let God take care of the outcome.
Susan Lambert says
This is an insightful reminder that to be obedient to God in our writing is so very important. Self doubt is a formidable opponent. I also recall when I was writing my memoir that I would think ” If one person reads my story and it helps them or reveals something of Jesus to them it will be worth the struggle to write it.”
Thanks for sharing with us Belinda.
Belinda Pollard says
I often found encouragement in a similar thought, Sue. It takes away the pressure of needing to be a “success” in the world’s terms. Thank you for your encouragement.
Ray Woodrow says
Thank you, Belinda, it’s good to know that even accomplished/successful writers suffer self-doubt. And I think our reasons for self-doubt are as varied as we are. Unfortunately, sometimes those reasons are, or can become, excuses for not soldiering on with the task. Or that might just be me.
Belinda Pollard says
I doubt it’s just you, Ray. 🙂 And yes, I think most of us wonder at times. In terms of the publishing industry, every writer is only as good as their next book, and that’s a lot of pressure to bear, especially for any writer who has had a massive bestseller early in their career.
Glennis Paine says
Thanks, once more for the encouragement to write, create. One of the things I wrestle with is – Is it what I want to do or what God wants for me at this time? I enjoy writing and learning about this craft, not knowing what the outcome will be but do trust in Him for my days and time spent doing what I do. Also, like the comments about leaving it too late – and Moses starting at 80 – I often think about Abram and Sarah in that vein 🙂 Blessings everyone.
Belinda Pollard says
I know that feeling so well, Glennis. I often wished there was a magical way to know whether it was God’s will for me to write, or just my will. It finally occurred to me that I didn’t agonise nearly so much about whether or not to, say, watch a television show. And I enjoy writing even more than I enjoy watching television. So why not allocate my “wasted time” to writing instead? I do also have a sense that as we continue write we gradually get a clearer vision for why we’re doing it…
Dawn Dicker says
Great point, Belinda – sometimes when we stop deliberating and just get started on a promising but uncertain path, the reasons for doing it appear along the way.
Belinda Pollard says
So true, Dawn. I remember hearing the illustration many years ago that you have to start a horse walking before you can change its direction, and I think that might also apply to creative endeavours. Once we have that momentum, God can nudge us to fine-tune our course.
Karen Kepert says
This is a little bit of the story I tell when I visit churches:
I had been writing songs for a long time but no one was interested in using them in my local church. Even when I was leading worship, the songs were still just sitting there not being used. I felt like time was running out because I wasn’t a spring-chicken any more. Eventually I got to the point where I decided it was all too late and this obviously wasn’t God’s plan for me. So I had a huge argument with Him one night and told Him I must have got it all wrong. I must be crazy to think I could do this. He obviously didn’t want me to use my music, and I should just stop writing songs.
From then on things started to move. Suddenly the books I read and the sermons I listened to were about stepping out and using our gifts. God was telling me the waiting was over and it was time to start. It seemed like He’d waited until I’d got to the point where I would just let it all go. I needed to surrender to Him. Finally He could use me.
Then doubt set in. First of all, I was too old. Who’d want someone my age singing to them? But then I read EDWJ and it talked about us never being too old for ministry. Then I thought no-one would like my music – it’s not a popular style. Eventually I realised Satan was trying to discourage me and I fought it off with prayer.
So I thought okay I’ll do this, but hang on God, I don’t have a full team yet and I need to get my songs sounding really good. When I’ve got my act together, I’ll start. But God wasn’t going to wait. Gradually the doors started to open…
I still go through these doubts at times, and I still hate ringing churches for gigs because of the fear of rejection, but I have to just keep handing it back to God and believe He will lead me where He wants me to go.
It’s very easy to be discouraged when no-one seems interested in what we do, but we need to remember God sees it all and loves our work. He gave us the gift of writing and we need to not be put off by what we think others are going to think of us.
Belinda Pollard says
I love your story, Karen. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. I actually found a similar thing with the Gracewriters community. I had felt a calling to set it up, tried to do so, felt like I was pushing water uphill with a rake, thought maybe I’d got it all wrong… and then suddenly in this strange time on Earth, God said, “This is what I was preparing you and Gracewriters for. Now GO!” If he had tried to explain it to me two years ago, how could I even have begun to understand it?
As for being too old, I understand how you feel, but please let me remind you that Moses was 80 when he started his life’s work. 😉
Thanks, Belinda )i(
A very timely reminder that being called and being obedient doesn’t look the same for any of us. And usually, it looks nothing like we imagine it ought to. I think that is part of God’s creative nature, taking us by surprise and showing us something so unexpected He launches us off on another adventure…
Belinda Pollard says
Thanks so much, Chrissy. When I’m startled by the places my creativity is taking me, it often startles me all over again to remember that God is *the* Creator. We get our creativity from him… <3