Be candid for a moment. What are you after as a writer? What is it that propels you, that sets the blood running through your veins and makes your fingers itch to type? Here’s a list of common driving motives from my own experience (in no particular order). This is an embarrassing list, but repentance starts with honesty.
- Purpose: Writing gives you a sense of purpose, a way of contributing to the world. And with that purpose comes a sense of importance, of personal value.
- Recognition: Writing draws something out of you so that others can see it. It puts the inside on the outside. And since we all have a deep-seated longing for acceptance, we hope that others will recognize something special in us (and that they’ll praise us for it). This goes hand in hand with egoism.
- Respect: Respect is social. It means that you’re admired and esteemed by other people, which provides a sense of validation. But this is also usually just an ego-booster. It elevates your self-worth, but does so based purely on the reactions of others. In biblical terms, this is equivalent to the “fear of man.”
- Success: Nobody longs for failure and disappointment. While there are many definitions for what it means to be “successful” as a writer, they all share the affirmative whisper: “You did it. You did what you set out to do, and you did it well.” This, again, gives you a sense of validation. It also suggests that you have value in the world, which goes back to purpose.
- Illumination: I’ve said before that I write to change readers’ perspectives. I want to take a candle that I’ve been given and pass it along to readers. I want them to see the world by its amber glow.
- Discovery: I write to learn, to discover. Writing is a means of thinking, for me. If I don’t write, I won’t learn. Truth won’t percolate. I won’t grow.
- Creativity: I’ve learned that I’m a born creator; I love to make things. I have an artist’s heart and a poet’s mind. That doesn’t mean my writing is always beautiful and poetic, but that’s what I hope it will be. That’s what stirs my soul. When I don’t create, I feel empty. In other words, I feel purposeless (#1) and unsuccessful (#4).
- Education: Much of the time, we write to pass along information that others simply don’t have yet. We write to educate readers. This is related to illumination, but it’s more on the level of facts and data rather than perspective-changing ideas.
- Livelihood: While writing isn’t a viable primary source of income for most authors, there is still a monetary motive. You can supplement your primary income with what you write. This is much more of a reality for widely read authors.
Now, here’s the sad part: most of these motives end up lifting you up, or exalting you in the eyes of others. But Jesus Christ had a concise message for his disciples and the surrounding listeners: “What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
Did you catch that? Abomination. Not a “disappointment” or “shortcoming,” but an abomination. The Greek word (bdelugma) means “something strongly detested,” on the same footing as idolatry. We’re not talking about menial sins; we’re talking about the worship of things other than God. And God detests it.
So, what should you be after as a writer? In a phrase: the glory of God. And if that’s what you’re after, then these other motives should begin to fade. They made not disappear entirely, since we’re all still struggling with sin. But the result of having God’s glory as your primary motive in writing would seem to lead to the following.
- Purpose: Because your purpose is to glorify God, you’ll be uncomfortable when others try to glorify you. You’ll feel squeamish in the face of compliments.
- Recognition: While you can certainly receive recognition for what you write, you want that recognition to be God-oriented. It’s less of “Look at what God did through me” and more of “Look at what God did through me.” God has made you special, and people will probably recognize that in your prose. But take up a John 3:30 mentality. With whatever you write, God must increase, and you must decrease. If you’re looking to increase, you’re looking to step in front of Christ.
- Respect: It’s never safe to base your worth on what other people think, even though we seem bent on doing this. The most important thing that validates you is not something you can write; it’s something you can read: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). In Christ, even at your worst, you have eternal worth in the eyes of God. Do you want more than that? If you really don’t, then you won’t go looking for respect from other people. If you do want more than that, then it’s time to check your heart.
- Success: If glorifying God is your aim, here’s what “success” looks like: Somebody reads what you’ve written, has an encounter with the character and grace of God, and walks away changed. That’s success.
- Illumination: Go ahead and keep passing your candles along to readers. But remind them where the light’s come from (John 8:12).
- Discovery: By all means, keep writing to discover, for you’ll glorify God by learning more about who he is and what the world is like from a myriad of perspectives!
- Creativity: Do you know who the source of creativity is? The Trinity. (That’ll be the subject of another post.) So, yes, keep creating. Keep crafting. Keep imaging God. The joy of being a Christian artist or writer is that you will never run out of content, but you will also never do something that is completely original. Originality is God’s territory. Writers cross the border and come back to the world of men with stories to tell. If you have a problem with that, you need to learn more about who God is and who you are.
- Education: The exposition of facts can glorify God as much as the exposition of art. Tell the truth, but tell it with grace and beauty.
- Livelihood: You already possess everything (2 Cor. 6:10). If you honestly believe that, then the monetary motive won’t be so gripping. It’s still there, and that’s okay. It’s okay to want to provide for your family. But don’t get grumpy when your royalties check is less than $12. God is your provider. He’s more than able to find ways to bless you financially through your writing, but also more than able to do so through other means.
I hope and pray that God will continue to shape me as I write, drawing me out of my own self-centeredness to glorify him and serve readers with Christ-like humility. This is going to be a life-long endeavor. Thank God that I’m in a life-long relationship with him.