Writer’s block. The two dreaded little words that every writer loathes, yet can also relate to. Sometimes it can last a couple minutes, a couple hours, or even a couple days. In my case, it’s lasted the better part of two years, maybe even closer to three.
In my defense (as a writer!), I had purposefully taken a break from working on books for a while, mostly for my life to settle down after a lengthy divorce process, to renovate my home, and to refocus on my kids. In looking back over the last few years, there were many changes at many different levels and numerous adjustments that required patience, flexibility, and many sacrifices of time, energy, and focus. But while I had stopped working specifically on books, I had continued writing extensively through blogging and journalling, as well as reading much more often and deepening my relationship with God.
Over the last year, however, there many were times when I would pick up my latest (and possibly never-ending) story “Fountains of the Deep”, look over my notes, and settle in to start writing again. I’d have my coffee ready and my writing-spot perfect, place my fingers on the keyboard, and then… nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. You see, while the plot of the story may have been there, the “heart” of the story and the inspiration needed for it simply wasn’t. Even a well-plotted story without a heart isn’t much of a story at all, at least not really one worth reading. I tried blogging for awhile to keep myself writing, but even that has waned for the last year.
One of the dirty little secrets about writing books today is that for all the time, effort, and concentration it requires, most authors (in my experience) get very little out of it other than the self-satisfaction of seeing their work in print or on Amazon. Most books get lost in the avalanche of new ones that are published every year, particularly now with self-publishing. The royalty-rates are better, but there are far less royalties because of cheap (and free) book promotions on Amazon. Readers are more selective and leave fewer reviews. Since 2010, the self-publishing market has exploded, yet revenue has steadily dried up because of the volume and promos. The definition of what a “successful” writer looks like has become more and more nebulous. As I considered the efforts in finishing the book in relation to its returns, my writer’s block only seemed to grow worse. And while “Fountains of the Deep” will be my 20th book since 2008, I don’t feel like much of a success as a writer.
There was an article from Desiring God a few months ago by Vaneetha Rendall Risner called “Do You Wish You Had Accomplished More?” about the difference between successfulness and fruitfulness that really hit home with me. The takeaway idea I had initially gleaned from the article was that “God wants us to be fruitful, not successful.” The primary quote was from Mother Theresa: “God did not call me to be successful; he called me to be faithful.” And while the quote and most of the article was about pursuing faithfulness rather than success, for whatever reason my brain interpreted that as fruitfulness instead of faithfulness. After all, as Christians, if we’re really being faithful, then we should be fruitful, right? (Thank you, James.) Sometimes that’s true, but often not — faithfulness doesn’t guarantee fruitfulness. There’s only One Person in this vast universe that can accurately measure both faithfulness and fruitfulness, and neither one looks like how most of us define successfulness.
God wants us to be faithful and fruitful, not successful.
While the Desiring God article used John the Baptist as the main example of being faithful in the eyes of God yet a failure in the eyes of the world, Noah and Jeremiah are two similar examples that I tend to lean more towards. Noah ministered for possibly hundreds of years about repentance and the end of the world (as they knew it), yet his only “fruit” was the saving of his family and preserving of the various kinds that God had brought to him. Jeremiah’s “fruit” was even more negligible, having only won over one or two others during the course of his fifty-five year ministry. His ministry continued going from bad to worse, and he lost everything he loved. In fact, it seems like the more faithful and fruitful people become in the Bible, the less successful they become to the world. Yet in the end, they are the ones who bear the most and longest-lasting fruit. Ironic, isn’t it?
And while the difference between being successful and fruitful at first glance may not seem all that significant, it actually changes EVERYTHING, or at least it has for me. Rather than be concerned with creating the right characters, plots, eye-catching covers, snappy promos/marketing campaigns, and the downloads of my books (i.e., being successful), this new perspective has freed me to be able to write, blog, or journal to my heart’s content — or simply not write at all — to read or pray instead and not worry about it (being faithful AND fruitful).
Since embracing an attitude of “fruitfulness rather than successfulness” over the last several months, my own personal never-ending story (“Fountains of the Deep”) has been much more enjoyable and is actually flowing much better. The long dry-spell of writer’s block has been lifting. The characters are richer and the story is starting to write itself, rather than being silent (or worse, kicking and screaming!). When I bang my head against the dreaded writer’s block, that’s okay — maybe that’s God’s way of telling me it’s time to take a little break rather than worry about it and keep bruising my head against the wall. Maybe He’s telling me it’s time to pray, journal, read, take a walk, or simply do nothing. Rest and enjoy Him.
As I’ve been writing again, I’ve been thinking more about my disappointments over the lack of success of my books and all the effort involved, and remembering what a waste of time it felt like. Looking back, I think that was indicative of how my focus had been dramatically misdirected, towards making extra money and achieving my own measure of success rather than writing because I really enjoyed it and leaving the results to God instead of my own efforts. Instead of writing for pride, fame, royalties or even myself, I should have been writing for the Lord and doing my best to ignore those things. In the end, it only really matters what He thinks, doesn’t it? Even if I write every day for the rest of my life and no one else ever reads a single word of any of it, my joy and satisfaction and even my rewards will be the same: that He is pleased with me.
Whatever we do, God wants us to do with heart, joy, and liberty, rather than with staleness, grumbling, and obligation. Of course, there will be times where we have to do things that aren’t all that pleasant or enjoyable, but that’s part of life I suppose.
Whatever we do, God wants us to do with faithfulness and fruitfulness in mind, rather than with fame or fortune. Anyway, it’s nice to get up ridiculously early and walk to Starbucks in the mornings and be creative again — and actually enjoy it.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” — Colossians 3:23-24