Do you ever want to give up on writing?
The impulse to quit can strike at any moment. In the beginning, when you’re trying to start writing but can’t. In the middle, when a story just won’t do what you tell it to. Or even at the end, when you’ve written something amazing but can’t find anyone to share it with.
Writing isn’t just artistically difficult. It’s spiritually challenging.
The act of telling a story tests your character, your will, your physical strength, and your emotional grit. There are a thousand tiny moments along that way that can stop you in your tracks and intimidate the hell out of you.
“You’re not good enough!” that tiny moment of failure will cry. And it’s so tempting to believe it.
But you have to overcome that temptation. You have to believe that each failure will pass and lead to success.
And most importantly, you have to believe that you write stories not because of some accident or mistake in the cosmic order of things. You write because you were meant to write.
You are fulfilling a calling.
Doubt lurks along every step of the writing process.
Are you planning a new story? Prepare for Doubt to tell you that the story is dumb, no one will like it, and that you aren’t good enough to write it anyway.
Are you in the middle of a story? Prepare for Doubt to criticize every choice you’re making and tempt you to quit early, or not even keep writing at all.
Perhaps you’ve finished a story. Know that Doubt will remind you that the story sucks, no one wants to read it, and that if you have to revise or rewrite any of it, it’s because you’re horrible and never should have written it in the first place.
This is the voice of Doubt.
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield writes,
Fear and doubt feel like fire alarms, screaming at us to stop and get the heck out. “This is wrong,” our guts scream at us when we partake in the courageous act of telling a new story.
Yet every artist experiences these emotions — even the famous ones we revere and covet. J.K. Rowling often withered under the deadlines and expectations for her Harry Potter sequels. While so many of us were wondering “How do I write a Harry Potter book?” Rowling was anxiously wondering the same thing.
Doubt is normal. Fear is normal.
And frankly, doubt and fear are both good.
Pressfield continues in The War of Art,
If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), ‘Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?’ chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
Fear and doubt are proof of your genuine calling to write stories.
But what does it mean to be “called” to write?
Find Your Calling
Over the past two years I’ve been doing something “different,” and Doubt has had a lot to say.
I’m a classroom teacher by trade, creative writer by hobby. To me, that’s “normal.” But about two years ago I decided to focus on helping students win scholarships for college, and thereby reduce or eliminate their student debt. So instead of writing my own stories, I’m teaching kids how to use their scholarship essays to tell stories that engage the judges and help them win.
For the last two years Doubt has been feasting on my insecurities. To stay on-track and focused on the truth, I had lunch with a mentor named Stephen, a friend who has enjoyed lots of success in a variety of markets.
And while a lot was discussed and shared, the words that stuck out to me most were these:
“I can tell God is using your gifts, David,” he said. “Let God do something amazing.”
More than anything else Stephen shared, this advice hit me the hardest. It had nothing to do with the craft of writing, or building a website, or anything “practical.” Yet it had everything to do with crushing Doubt and replacing it with Confidence in a Calling.
3 Essential Elements of Your Calling
As you can probably tell, Stephen and I possess a common faith that you may or may not share. And that’s fine — the point of this article isn’t to promote one brand of faith over another.
But there are three elements of Calling contained in Stephen’s advice that I want to share with you. Because if you want to overcome Doubt and build Confidence in your writing, you will need to anchor yourself to a deep and purposeful Calling.
Ready to find your calling? Here are three truths about your calling you’ll need to understand.
1. Gifts Are Connected to Calling
Do you like writing? Do you find yourself daydreaming up new stories? Do you put off other activities so you can write these stories down?
Then you possess some gifts related to storytelling.
You don’t have to be the most talented or disciplined writer, either. Talent and discipline can both be nurtured and grown with time and continued practice (otherwise The Write Practice wouldn’t exist!).
But don’t let some negative feedback or not placing in a writing contest get you down (I haven’t placed in the last two contests I’ve entered, despite placing in my first two!). It’s easy to receive one or two pieces of negative feedback and assume we are unequipped for writing.
This is a lie.
If you want to tell stories and then sit down and attempt to write them, you are a writer with the proper gifts to do it.
2. Calling Is Supernatural
For one to be “called,” there must be a “caller.”
Humanity has a million answers to the question of who this caller is, of course, and this isn’t the place to argue who he/she/it is.
But to fully enjoy the benefits of being called to write stories, you have to explore the idea of who or what is calling you, and why.
If you believe in a god, why would he or she invest these gifts in you? What kind of relationship does that create? How does this relationship instill new meaning into your life?
And if you don’t believe in a god, what is it about stories and storytellers that makes humanity so unique? What does it mean to be among this group of people who add meaning and value to the human experience?
For me, the knowledge that I am supported by the God of the universe is empowering beyond description. I’m no longer alone. I’m on a mission.
3. Called to Something Amazing . . . for Others
When Stephen told me that I should let God do something amazing, he wasn’t telling me that God wanted to make me rich. He was reminding me that through me others will be served, and that this is a good and holy thing.
If you are filled with gifts, those gifts aren’t just for you (though you can and should enjoy them!). The gifting we possess is meant to be shared with others.
Your stories aren’t just for you. They’re for readers who need something.
Perhaps your readers need to be encouraged. Perhaps they need to be thrilled. No matter your genre or style, your readers come to you (or will come to you) out of a need that they can’t meet anywhere else.
Think about it: When a reader chooses a story, it is because that story is satisfying a hunger within. One could even call it a spiritual or existential hunger. Your story fills the need.
We are all hungry for more than what this life offers. We want justice and adventure, romance and mercy, flirtation with death and resurrection from the grave. We weep and cry and yell and cheer with characters who are complete fiction, but are alive and well in our minds.
Your story is meant to be a blessing to you, but especially to your reader. Let God, or who/whatever, do something amazing.
Confidently Called to Write
It’s easy to believe that our writing is pointless. For those of us living in market-driven economies like the United States, where your value is tied to your production or years of experience, writing a story doesn’t seem too valuable. To sit down and fulfill some “spiritual calling” will earn you some strange looks. And then Doubt roars its mighty roar.
Once more, Steven Pressfield has an encouraging word for us:
Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
Writing is hard to do already. That alone is enough to scare most of us.
But when Doubt is added, with all of its taunts and lies, writing and passing our passion and gifts on to others seems impossible.
Don’t be afraid. Remember that you are called to this.
Remember that you have unique gifts. They don’t have to be perfect to be good enough. They can be trained and disciplined with practice. You have incredible gifts.
Remember that you are called by something above and beyond our comprehension. A force or a god that wants you to use your storytelling to bless others.
And remember that your writing fills a need in more readers than you can imagine. It’s a need for something life itself rarely offers. It’s a taste, perhaps, of what life is supposed to be, but can’t be for so many tragic reasons.
You are called to the page as many missionaries are called to the desolate corners of the world. You are called to tell stories because the need is there and the need is deep.
Cling to this reality, explore how it is true for you, and then write with confidence.
You are called to be a writer.
Why are you called to be a writer? Let us know in the comments!
Readers come to stories because we want, even need, to experience something, and stories allow us to do that. For today’s practice, think of an emotion you want to evoke in your writing. Do you want your readers to experience joy? Celebration? Hope? Grief? Melancholy? Love?
Then, take fifteen minutes to write a story that’s inspired by that emotion. Maybe it’s a true story of a time you experienced that yourself. Or maybe it’s a fictional scene of a character facing that emotion.
When you’re done, share your story in the comments below. Be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers, too! What emotions do their stories evoke for you?
And remember, your writing is a gift. Thank you for sharing a piece of that gift with us!