“The whole duty of a writer is to please and satisfy himself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one.”
So says E.B. White. And that advice, in various forms, is widely doled out among writers. “Write for yourself.” they tell you. Don’t worry about what the editor will think. Don’t worry about what your readers will think. Don’t worry about what anybody thinks, except YOU. Those worries will only stunt your creativity. Be yourself. Write for yourself. Write a story that you care about. Etc, etc, etc.
I don’t think I consciously applied that advice to my own writing, but it is amazingly easy to absorb something you hear and then act on it, without even really realizing you are doing it. And, consciously or unconsciously, that mindset had seeped into my writing habits somewhere.
That’s where the trouble started.
See, up until recently, I was struggling a lot with my writing. Beating my head against plot holes and chapters that weren’t working right. Running around and around in circles over a few sections that I didn’t know what to do with. It was incredibly frustrating. And when you’re frustrated, whatever you’re doing isn’t likely to seem like much fun. I wasn’t enjoying my writing anymore. And so…
I wasn’t writing.
Or not much, anyway. It would be a Monday or a Friday (my “writing” days) and I would suddenly find I had a dozen other things to do that were more pressing (and less stressful) than fighting with the old writing problems again. So I would procrastinate. Doing everything else I possibly could first, before finally dragging myself to the laptop and trying to write a little. Maybe for an hour or two. If that.
Pretty pitiful, really.
I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I just didn’t want to write anymore. I’d sunk into a motivationless morass that felt like a cousin to Bunyan’s Slough of Despond. And I was seriously stuck.
But then, all of the sudden, the lights came on. Someone (without intending to refer to my writing problem at all) happened to read me Colossians 3:23 – “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord and not unto men.”
BAM! It burst upon me like a revelation. Suddenly I knew how I’d ended up here! My problem was…I was writing “unto men.” Or more specifically, unto a woman.
I was acting like I was the boss here. This book was my project. Writing was my personal interest. And because it was all mine, mine, mine, I was treating it like a hobby. If “I” didn’t feel like doing it. Then I just…didn’t. Makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, it wasn’t like I had some outside boss to answer to. This was my own thing. I was the boss. So if the project wasn’t appealing to ME at the moment, I didn’t have any reason to slave over it. Right?
Because you see…I am NOT the boss around here.
I’ve always been particularly fond of Jesus’s parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). The one were the master gives his servants various amounts of silver (five talents to this one, two talents that one, etc) and goes away on a journey. When he returns, he inquires what they’ve done to make good use of those talents in his service. (Spoiler: burying the money in the ground was a BAD option.)
I’ve always thought it a wonderful coincidence that the word “talents,” which was an amount of money at that time, is the term we use to today refer to “gifts” or “natural abilities.”
Turns out though, it’s actually not a coincidence! According to the Oxford dictionary, our modern English use of the word is in fact a figurative allusion to that very parable! It basically encapsulates the idea that the abilities we are born with are the “talents” bestowed on us by our Creator.
Which means of course…
That they aren’t “ours” to bury! And furthermore, when we use (or don’t use) them, we don’t just have to answer to ourselves. We answer to the Master. And guess what? He expects us do something worthwhile with them!
When that reality finally dawned on me, it pretty much transformed my writing activities overnight. All of the sudden I realized I wasn’t writing just for me at all. I’m NOT the boss here. And if I’m going to have to answer to THE BIG BOSS for how I use my talents, than wasting my specified writing time in wandering around Facebook or reading a novel because I don’t “feel like it today” simply isn’t a viable option anymore.
With that in mind, I set up checks for myself to help break those lazy habits I’d acquired. First, I asked a writing friend to be a sort of “weekly accountability partner,” who would regularly ask me “How much did you write this week?” Then, shortly thereafter, I orchestrated even more accountability by posting a word count progress meter right on my blog.
It’s on the home page, if you want o scroll down and check it any time. It looks like this:
Well. Since changing all of that, I’ve been averaging 5,000 words per week. Five Thousand Words. (Though this week I did split my time between two different projects, so it won’t all show on the word-count meter). I’m pretty sure that’s more words in one week than I’d written in the preceded two months. And I often write five or more days per week, not just on my two official “writing days.” The more I write, the more I want to write, and the more excited I get about using my “talents” for the One who gave them too me.
I know I may not always be able to keep up this pace (life happens, you know) but Lord willing, I won’t wander into another immobilizing swamp of frustration and laziness as long as I keep on reminding myself who’s the real Boss around here.
Writing for an audience of one was a total disaster.
But writing for an audience of One…
…Now that’s a whole different story.