How do you know you’re a writer? I have been reading some books from Jeff Goins lately, and he deals with this over and over again, probably because writers ask themselves this very question ad nauseam.
You are a writer, he says, if you write (Goins, 2012). You just need to claim the title for yourself and stop looking for someone else to give you confirmation or permission (see chapters 1-2). Fairly simple, isn’t it?
I found Goins’ advice encouraging. Part of being a writer, at least for me, is being plagued by self-doubt. Am I really a writer? Am I legitimate? What do I have to do to make sure that everyone is okay with me claiming that title? Goins suggests that these sorts of questions are keeping you from doing what you were made to do: write.
Now, I would add to his advice a word that I feel is absolutely vital: calling. Writing is not just something you love, something you have a passion to do. It is a calling, and a calling is given by God alone. There is a danger in our culture, an assumption that grows in power and influence each day: you are whatever you WANT to be. That assumption ignores God’s Lordship in your life. Certainly, God gives us the desire to do what he calls us to do (Phil. 2:13), but the desire itself, the wanting, is not what defines us. What defines us is God’s purpose, and that means our desire must conform to what God has revealed to us in Scripture. In other words, our desire must conform to the image of Christ. That, my friends, is a calling: when passion is governed by Christlikeness.
A Dog Let off His Leash
Now, I would be the first to admit my enthusiasm for the passion element. As I was driving home from work the other evening, I thought of an image that reflects how I feel as a writer. When I wake up early, have a cup of coffee, and start striking the keys, I feel a sense of wildness. I feel like a dog let off his leash. The world turns into a forest before me: I can run through it, stomping the dirt, propelling my mind and spirit forward, exploring the terrain, taking in the scents of new ideas and fresh perspectives. It’s exhilarating!
A Dog Back on His Leash
But the dog has to come back to the leash at some point. The world values unbridled freedom; the triune God demands freedom within his own spoken boundaries. He asks us to use our God-given freedom and passion always in submission to the Lordship of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). We are not writers merely because we write. We are writers because we write for him.
Now, I can attest that God is happy to let writers off the leash, to let them run wild and explore the world he spoke and sustains with his word (Heb. 1:3). But unbridled freedom is not his endgame. And we can see all too easily what happens when unbridled freedom gets the best of us: we return to the God of grace covered in mud and looking for forgiveness.
I think of the golden retriever I had many years ago: Hunter. He would sometimes bolt into the woods near my childhood home because I let him off his leash. When he returned, he coat was encrusted with deer feces. He smelled horrible, and looked just as bad. He always needed a bath when he returned from being let off his leash. It is similar with us.
When you write, if you feel like a dog let off his leash, that’s a good thing. But as you run wildly through the woods, remember the boundaries that God has set for you. Remember that you must, at some point, return to your master. He will let you run free more often than you think. But he always calls you back to himself, to examine the words you have written in the light of his Word.
Run, my fellow canines. Run. But don’t forget your loving master. He’s the one who can lead you deeper into the woods.
Goins, Jeff. You Are a Writer (So Start ACTING Like One). Tribe Press, 2012.