I remember the day I found out.
It was during session two of my first-year Creative Writing seminar at the University of Windsor. We had just received copies of each of our classmates’ current works-in-progress, and as I quickly scanned the photocopied pages in front of me, it was instantly clear.
I wasn’t the best writer in the room.
Right there I was tempted to do what most writers are tempted to do at some point.
I was tempted to quit.
After all, what was the point of writing, of producing a poem, an essay or a book, if someone else was bound to write a better one? Why offer the world a rhinestone when others are offering diamonds?
A certain part of us finds it easy to side with that kind of logic. The human part of us. The part of us that struggles with pride, that strives to be the best. The part of our nature that is at enmity with God: and our true self.
And even though I would receive Christ before my bachelor’s degree was complete, this lie continued to hinder my efforts to write for many years. Over the next 15 years I managed to produce only a smattering of poems, and to scribble down some ideas for potential future books. I submitted a suite of poems to a respected Canadian literary journal who selected two of them for publication. Realizing that they represented the best I had to offer, I became discouraged about writing and publishing once again.
After stepping down from full-time ministry in 2011, however, I experienced an unexpected resurgence of creativity and managed to plod my way through an entire book manuscript. Then, at just the right time, a friend informed me about a book publishing contest and encouraged me to enter.
A few months later, I received a phone call from a representative at Word Alive Press who informed me that my manuscript had been selected as winner of their annual Free Publishing contest in the non-fiction category.
I was initially thrilled, of course. But as I continued to receive feedback from friends and family members as well as suggestions from my editor, I found myself becoming overwhelmed by my sense of the manuscript’s shortcomings. By the time the first copies arrived at my door, most of my enthusiasm for my labour of love had faded.
Consequently, when it came to promoting and marketing the book I faltered. I was convinced that not only was the book not on a par with other books on the Christian market, but that it was unworthy to offer to others. Truthfully, I felt there was very little God could do with my book and my initial response amounted to hiding the book away like something shameful. Maybe in time I would write something that was worthy of being read and then I could market and promote that book.
As I shared my thoughts and disappointment with a friend over coffee one afternoon, a pained look came over my friend’s face. Filled with compassion, he told me that he was truly sorry to see such pain and disappointment come from something which should be a source of great joy and accomplishment.
He gently reminded me that life was a journey of learning and growing and that my book—indeed every book—reflected that. He also shared that God was undoubtedly pleased that I had poured my time and energy into something which was meant to glorify Him and that his heart is always to use even our most meagre gifts in the most extraordinary ways.
Although I continue to struggle with self-doubt, his words have stuck with me. Over the past 20 years, and in the process of writing and publishing my book, I recognize that I’ve learned several things.
First of all, I’ve had to find an answer to the question, Why write, when I’m not the best writer around (or even in the room)?
As believers, we write because in the Kingdom of God, it’s not important who is “the best”. Nor are we to compare ourselves—our gifts and talents—to others. All that matters in God’s economy is what we do with what we have. Jesus made it clear in the Parable of the Talents. The value of what we do depends not on the greatness of our gift, but on the greatness of its use—and there is no greater way to use our gift than to glorify God.
In fact, the smallest act of service to God is more significant than the greatest achievement motivated by selfish ambition. A friend of mine has struggled for many years over feeling “successful” employing his musical gifts. Recently I said to him, “If you serve in your church’s worship team for a single Sunday, you may already have surpassed in significance the lifetime achievements of the Rolling Stones.”
Our writing is a gift—and a passion—we give back to God. That is why I write.
The next question that arises is, Should I publish?
The answer to that one is perhaps more obvious than we think. Simply ask yourself, when you wrote that poem, story, article or book, did you hope that someone besides you would read it? Of course you did. So what is holding us back? Fear. Fear that our work won’t be enjoyed or accepted. That it won’t be “good enough” or deemed worthy for publication by an editor.
Of course, that is worldly, not biblical, thinking. 1 Peter 4:10 tells us that we are to use whatever gift we have received (writing is a gift) to serve others, faithfully administering the grace of God.
So you aren’t the best writer in town. But do you believe God could use your writing to bring someone closer to God, encourage them in their walk of faith, or impart some practical benefit? Then put it out there. And if publishing your writing in book form is not an option, you could always post it online, make copies of your work and distribute it to others, or bless someone with it in an email.
Ultimately, blessing people with what we write, as with any other gift, is an issue of stewardship. If you have a gift, use it. Don’t be concerned that you use it clumsily or imperfectly. And don’t fear criticism or rejection.
I’ve recently been reminding myself that my simple, flawed little book may be of more value in God’s sight than many of the books on the New York Times bestseller list. Not because I am more talented, or that my book is more intriguing, informative or insightful, but because of what I’m doing with my gift. Because I’m glorifying God. And if through my book I manage to nudge one person toward the Kingdom of God, encourage one heart, bless one person, then I have done my part, and I’m content.
For believers, writing is not about awards, good reviews or book sales. It’s not about fame or money. It’s about stewarding our gift. It’s about honoring God with what we’ve been given. Convinced of this, I have recently renewed my efforts to market and promote my book. Rather than shrink into the shadows I have decided like the Apostle Paul to “make much” of my ministry, not for my own sake, but for the sake of getting the word out, for the sake of those who God may touch through my writing.
For the same reason, I’ve decided that my next writing project will be to compile and endeavour to publish a collection of poems that have been gathering dust on my hard drive for a long time. I’ve spent countless hours writing, rewriting and editing them over the years. For what? So that someone will read and enjoy them.
Perhaps your writing has been gathering dust, and you find yourself holding back out of fear. As a fellow writer and believer I want to encourage you to use your gift to bless others. Put it out there. Get your writing into people’s hands (or inboxes) so that they can receive God’s grace through your gift. Then your writing isn’t just writing.
Michael Mendler lives and writes in Windsor, Ontario. A former youth pastor and agnostic (not in that order), Michael is the author of Concerning God (Word Alive Press 2013) and is currently editing a collection of poetry.
You can learn more via Michael’s Facebook page
or at the Concerning God website