As I’ve written previously, my writing has suffered over the last several years. There has been a dearth of ideas and energy. Even my journal writing is stilted and terse.
The best place to uncover the cause of my writing drought would be my motivations. For many years, I’ve had the idea/dream of writing a book. Part of it came from the desire to see my writing encourage or challenge people. Some other part of me longs to be the protagonist from a bad movie, who quits their 8 to 5 job to “follow their passion.” I tried following my passion in the past, and it led to heartache and debt. Looking back, a bit wiser and chastened, much of my good desire to write was infused with the desire to impress and/or prove my worth.
In 2014, a UK publisher approached me to write a technical book. I figured why not and tried to shape the opportunity to fit my dream. I wrote about a technology that was on a downward trend and the marketing was my responsibility. It was a trying experience and I’m glad I did it, but the whole experience soured me on writing for a publisher. When the topic of my book came up, I felt like a fraud. In my mind, a book that sold less than 50 copies was not impressive and didn’t bolster my self-confidence.
Just as I talked about criticism, imposter syndrome, and a fear of failure, my conflicted motivations feel more like a symptom instead of the cause. I’m not discounting the effect these things have on me let alone how my depression has likely exasperated them from time to time. However, I’m still trying to get the to root cause.
Which leads me to my next clue in this mystery. During the multiple rewrites of my series introduction, I did some stream of consciousness writing, in particular about my issue with writing. Re-reading a particular passage in preparation for this article, I noticed it hinted at some deeper issues and I want to include it for context.
The fear that hangs over me is “What if.” What if I remain broken? What if I’m unable to write like I used to? What will happen to all the stories rattling around in my head? Will they just slowly rot like neglected firewood?
I have this notebook that has accumulated scraps of paper with story ideas. Some are the frantic first draft that languish after I ran out of steam. Most are an interesting hook for a story but that’s it. There’s no plot to hang a story on. After several tries and watching stories not progress beyond a few paragraphs, they stay in the notebook to be joined by others. To stare back at me when I see it on the shelf in my closet. To whisper to me, “Will you try again or will you take the easy way out and not even try?”
After I die, what will someone think of that random collection of words? Likely they won’t even know what it is and just throw it away. They are just words jammed into a book. A testament of things left unsaid. Of adventures not taken. Of emotions not expressed.
Let’s leave aside the melodrama and that self-pity makes my writing verbose and flowery. The first thing I can see in all this is fear. A fear of not leaving a legacy, of not taking a risk. Some of these thoughts were influenced as I researched my family history and was thinking about legacy and what’s left when we depart this life.
But that’s not all of it. After losing my last job, I spent a lot of time navel-gazing. One question I started asking, “Have I made some mistake and gotten off the path God has for my life?” I was also dealing with serious depression at the time and little by little I began to believe the lie. I became so focused on how I screwed up and began to think God couldn’t use me anymore. All lies, but it became easier to believe them.
While I prepared this post, I kept coming back to those statements that bubbled up from the depths of my heart. I wondered, why did I feel my notebook was mocking me? If I’m honest with myself, part of me believes this is another area where I’ve not lived up to what God is calling me to.
I’ve found another symptom, and it feels like I’m making progress so I’ll press on. When I’ve had an idea for a long-form piece of fiction, and I’ve gotten past the fear and imposter syndrome, I come upon another roadblock. The questions come forward. “Is this just my vanity? Do I just want to be known as a writer?” I had a professor in seminary who didn’t read fiction because in his words there was so much work to be done for the Gospel that he didn’t want to waste time on fiction. I didn’t agree with him but I think over time some of his idea has influenced how I perceive creating.
The counter to this position is the idea that since we are created in the image of God, then by extension we reflect God’s creative nature1. As we write, paint, sculpt, etc, we are to glorify God. In Exodus, we see God giving his Spirit to empower men to create works of art for the tabernacle.
The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.” Exodus 31:1-5 ESV
After studying scripture, I don’t believe creating is a vain effort. I think our motives need to be weighed but if in the end the desire is to glorify God, then I think we need to do it. It is an act of worship.
In the end, all of these are just results of a deeper issue. I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever find the cause. Then as I crossed the parking lot after church this weekend, it struck me. I was thinking about the sermon, how Jesus’s life was one of the Word and of the Spirit. The same characteristics were evident in the early church. They spoke the Word and were empowered by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit then connected the verse about Bezalel to the sermon. Along with the struggles I’ve endured over the last few years, my spiritual life has been anemic. My life has not been empowered by the Spirit.
We all have the capacity to create because we are image-bearers of God. However, in my case I think I’m more like Bezalel. Without the Spirit working in me, my ability to create has been muted. After months of looking at the symptoms, I now have the cause. I’ve limited the Spirit in my life, and as a result there’s been none left over to spill out into creating. As I restore the stones of remembrance and draw close to God, I’m interested to see how my writing is affected.