Originally published Tuesday, 10 June 2014.
I'm a baby writer. I'm studying and making mistakes and listening closely to leaders I respect, trying to navigate around a world where everyone with a computer is a writer. I've learned that sometimes, the message we're trying to communicate gets lost because of a number of barriers we set up along the way. Through trial and error, I've realized that avoiding them takes work, but that it also results in a message that is honest and meaningful, leaving room for people to join.
1. "It's been said, so why bother?"
The simple truth is that yes, it's ALL already been said and yes, it needs to be said again. We are all writers and storytellers. We each represent a life that is full of complex beauty and we experience growth in the exchange of our stories. Whether that happens over coffee, around the table or on paper (I would encourage a healthy blend of all three), it's in the telling and listening that we change. Your story is meaningful and we need to hear it.
Comparison is a beast. It robs us our voice by convincing us that our words need to sound like someone else's. And if it doesn't shut us up completely, it tries to change us into a watered-down version of that person we're reflecting. The world doesn't need carbon copies of established leaders. Jesus said He was making a new thing. What is the new thing He is making in you?
2. Assuming the reader hasn't already thought about what you have to say.
I know, didn't I just say that Jesus is doing a new thing in you and that's what you can offer the world? Yes. But He is also doing a new thing in the lives of your readers and you all share many of the same thoughts, struggles, and revelations. I try to stay open minded when it comes to articles and blogs floating around the internet, but the second a post takes on a tone of "you need to...you're missing...your problem is...", I move on.
The reader is smart and is working through life with the same depth as the writer, figuring things out and making adjustments. The most convicting, challenging pieces I have read were not written to inform me of something, they were written as a sincere reflection on the writer's own experience. It left the door open for me to see the ways my story aligned with theirs, rather than assuming that he or she knew what I was thinking without even asking. That is invitational.
3. Speaking for the purpose of being noticed.
The first time I wrote something that was relatively popular, I'll admit, I thought I had arrived somewhere that I now know doesn't really exist. Surely my book deal would be settled by the end of the week, my speaking schedule would take off and Christine Caine would call me up for her next podcast...or just to hang out! Ok not really, but I did think that I broke through into a place that meant something it didn't actually mean. There are three problems with writing for the sake of being noticed.
(1) It leads to bad writing. We just can't pen honest words if the goal is to create something that goes viral. People can taste it, like that slimy feeling on the roof of your mouth after eating something with fake sugar. They taste it and run. Good writing comes from someplace much more vulnerable than that, and it can't have anything to do with whether or not we are noticed. Some of the posts that meant the most to me barely showed up the radar for anyone else. But they were still words I needed to say, thoughts I needed to work through. The things I've written with the greatest buzz were never created with that in mind. This one in particular, a simple idea about how we relate to the world online, I wrote it in the car the night my grandfather began to die. It seemed silly at the time, a means of coping and processing. Some of the articles I followed it with, trying to recreate that reaction...well, I didn't publicize them for a reason :-)
(2) Easy come, easy go. Readers and followers will always flow out as quickly as they flowed in, because their worlds are unique and changing and what they want to read is going to change, so that approval...that sense of being noticed...it isn't something to cling to. Not even a little bit.
(3) Doing anything for the sake of being noticed leaves other people feeling used, which won't help any of us as writers or as humans.
4. Not listening to what others are saying.
Everything about our writing will be better when we are reading and listening to other voices. Our vocabulary, our tone, our ideas, the posture of our hearts...it is all sharpened by taking in and learning from other people. To tune them out will only drive us further away from anyone who might read what we have to say.
These are the roadblocks, and while each can be avoided with some intentional work, perhaps it takes something more as well. Maybe we set out in the right direction and are better able to maneuver around the problems when we begin from a place of humility, low to the ground, fully dependent on God, because that's where the heart change occurs and the life-giving words begin to form.