Last week on the Gracewriters Podcast we talked about imposter syndrome, where we worry that our writing is not as good as people think.
I believe one of the root causes of this debilitating syndrome is that we have a false definition of “success” – our own or anyone else’s.
Three psychological problems
1. We misunderstand the “success” of others
We might admire or even envy another writer who seems to have everything we’ve been hoping for.
How often do we assume they produce glorious words with a flick of the fingers, drive around in stretch limos, get contracts on the first attempt, sell millions of copies of books/songs/poems/whatever?
Perhaps this writer is thinking all those things about someone else, while battling through their own daily challenges.
Here’s a quick reality check from the world of book publishing:
- Average full-time income for a professional author is about £10,000 (UK 2018) or $6000 (US 2017).
- In a study of Australian commercial publishers, 90% of titles sold fewer than 120 copies, and half sold fewer than 6 copies (2007/2008).
Glory and riches actually aren’t common in this biz.
2. We fail to recognise our own “success” when it happens
Because we have unrealistic expectations, our own achievements often don’t feel as spine-tingling as we expected.
So we doubt our achievements have value, and sometimes we don’t even notice them.
I spent so much time feeling inadequate because other writers were getting out their seventh book in a series that I failed to notice I’d actually published a book each year for four years, during a time of great personal stress and busyness – and that was actually quite a big deal.
I recommend we celebrate every achievement, taking a moment to pause and give thanks to God.
Celebrating isn’t about pride, it’s about joy. Joy is good. Take time to feel it.
3. The pressure to repeat any “success” sometimes drains it of joy
The industry gives the impression a writer is only as good as their next book, or their next song, or their next piece. That can be a deflating and stressful thought, especially if the first book in your two-book contract was a success, and now you need to write the second one.
Three spiritual truths
1. We’re called to obedience and trust, not “success”
God doesn’t actually love us more if we’ve sold a million copies or won awards or made readers gasp in admiration.
It’s always valuable to grow in skill and do the very best job we can, but our reverence and trust delights God more than our abilities.
His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
the Lord delights in those who fear him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love. (Psalm 147:10-11 NIV)
Perhaps he wants us to write quiet things in a quiet corner, and he will use them in small, extraordinary ways – sometimes even in ways we never get to see, this side of heaven.
(Figuring out exactly what we’ve been called to do can be a challenge, and we will talk more about that in the future at Gracewriters.)
2. Christian writing is a team sport
Because we generally write sitting alone at a keyboard or notebook, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we write as part of the body of Christ.
What this means in practice:
- When our fellowship works as it should, we encourage and support one another in staying on track, even when it’s tough and we don’t get the results we imagined.
- As one writer, I don’t need to cover all the things. God might have one part of the message for me to deliver, and scattered across the world he might have other writers – unknown to me – who are all playing their individual role and delivering another piece of the message. I might only hear the one little note I’m playing, but together we are playing a symphony.
3. We’re called to a particular focus
When my Dad was teaching me to drive all those years ago, he said, “The direction you look is the direction you’ll steer.” He told me this to:
- Help me figure out how to stay in my lane when I was learning to interpret that first weird feedback from the road via the steering wheel and pedals.
- Stop me accidentally veering off the road if I got distracted by something that was happening off to the side.
We are Christian writers, but we are also fallible humans, and we’ll get distracted at times, looking off to the side and wondering if we’re selling enough books or winning enough awards or getting enough response to our copy or social posts or blogs, or getting paid enough for whatever it is we write.
These are distractions, not the focus.
The focus is the writing God has called us to do, and it will be different for each one of us.
Focus is something we need to work at, not a magical, easy, wave-the-fairy-wand gift.
We need to work at staying in our lane, limiting those inevitable moments of distraction to quick glances, constantly turning our eyes back to the direction we’re heading.
We’re less likely to worry whether we are “successful” enough or not, if we just keep on doing the job in hand, and focusing on honouring and serving God.
Over time, focusing on the job builds momentum and purpose and clarity.
Jodie McCarthy says
Belinda, I absolutely needed this. I have printed out “Perhaps he wants us to write quiet things in a quiet corner” and put in on my inspiration board. Thank you.
Belinda Pollard says
I’m so glad, Jodie. Maybe it was especially for you?? (and me!) I had a feeling wash over me as I wrote that particular paragraph. My proofreader said to me: That paragraph sounds a bit funny, I’d leave it out. I said: oh no, that’s the most important paragraph.
Donita Bundy says
Another great post and a powerful message of perspective. Thank you.
Belinda Pollard says
Thank you Donita. 🙂
Bill Brockmeier says
Hear, hear! This was a wonderful discussion of a supremely important topic—not only for us who consider ourselves “writers,” but for pretty much any endeavor we might take on in life.
You mentioned “Perhaps he wants us to write quiet things in a quiet corner.” I’ve been coming to much that same place in my own writing. I have written about some pretty oddball things, often in an oddball sort of way, yet it has felt “right” for me, and “right” for what God put in my heart to write. However, for some time I was concerned about how these things might be received by others.
I believe God finally cut through all that thinking asking me the simple question—“Bill, what if you’re not writing for anyone else—but Me? Would it not be sufficient, if I called you to write simply for My own personal enjoyment? Would this audience of One not be sufficient for you?”
While I can’t say I know for a fact that He intends for my work to exclude other readers, these questions have certainly re-oriented what I am considering “success” in my writing. God has created me in a certain unique way (as He has every other human being), given me unique experiences, and calls me to express the heart He has given me in my own unique way. I am just beginning to discover the truth of what Eric Liddell told his sister (in the classic movie of faith, Chariots of Fire)—“God made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
What great insight and encouragement, Bill!
Belinda Pollard says
Ooh, that is a very intriguing insight, Bill. I’m going to take some time to ponder it…
Dawn Dicker says
Yes, I will be pondering your insight as well, Bill! And Belinda, your post is a great reminder of where we need to put our focus. I like your illustration comparing the need for focus to your dad teaching you how to drive – we need to look for God’s purpose and not give in to distracting thoughts and competing priorities.
Belinda Pollard says
Thank you Dawn. We do need to be constantly managing those competing thoughts. Every day, a new beginning!